Disclaimer: This story springs from my own imagination and the characters are all mine. Since this is a sequel to Murrook Farm and The Reef there will be some references to those stories. It's not absolutely necessary to read them first, but it might help in understanding a little more about the characters and past events.
This story depicts several loving relationships between women. If that's not your cup of tea, leave and get something else to drink. I really don't mind.
A heartfelt 'thank you' to my partner and to Norma, who are patient and kind enough to point out all my errors in grammar and style. I so appreciate the time and effort they put into betareading for me.
A 'Booyong' is a large tree that can be found in Australia. There will be an abundance of 'Booyongs' in this tale.
The four-wheel drive slowly made its way up the steep hill. The numerous small rocks and potholes regularly rocked the Ford Escape violently, shaking its driver vigorously who now and then elicited a muttered curse.
The dirt road was narrow, treacherous and formed the only path to the top of the mountain, snaking across the steep rainforest-covered slope. The recent abundant rainfall had left its mark on the road and here and there parts of the track had been washed away by the raging waters.
"I must be insane," Fiona McDonnell mumbled to herself, trying to avoid a particular pointed rock. She had no intention of getting stuck halfway up the mountain, especially not with a flat tire. "If I ever get off this mole-hill...alive, I'll kick Sam's shapely behind_"
Fiona gritted her teeth when the car suddenly drove over a large rock she was not able to avoid and let out a frustrated breath when she heard the tell-tale sound of one of her bags falling off the backseat.
"If that busted my camera, I'll...I'll...oh, never mind," she added with rapidly growing irritation. "Good heavens, this is only going up. How could Sam invest in a place with a road like this? She must have been temporarily nuts. Unless she plans on a helicopter service to fly the guests to the top and back again."
Carefully rounding another corner, Fiona let out a chuckle when her eyes noticed the sign on the side of the road.
"Kaiala [pr. 'kye arla' ]," she read the Aboriginal greeting. "Welcome indeed, oh you courageous traveler, who is still alive, but maybe not for long" she added with sarcasm.
In spite of the bad road, Fiona had to admit the part of the forest she was slowly traveling through, was absolutely beautiful. The lush bushes and trees alongside the road formed a huge wall of every shade of green imaginable and Fiona's keen eyes took it all in, with approval and eagerness. She knew the rainforest was an easy subject to capture in pictures. The beauty was abundant and simply everywhere.
Fiona narrowed her eyes and smiled when she finally saw the gate of the resort loom up, half-hidden by a fern that boldly covered the wooden structure that was in dire need of some serious maintenance.
"Great. Almost there," Fiona mumbled, blowing a strand of hair from her damp forehead. Even though the air conditioning in the car was on, the drive up the mountain had made her feel hot and sweaty and she was looking forward to leaving the car, stretching her legs and relaxing her hands that had been firmly holding the steering wheel for more than twenty minutes now.
A few minutes later, Fiona turned off the engine and released her grip on the wheel, wiping the sweaty palms of her hands on the khaki-colored shorts she was wearing.
"I wonder if there's anyone up here," she spoke aloud, opening the door of the car and getting out. She gratefully stretched her stiff body and took in a lung full of fresh forest air. Turning around, she cast a look at the small building that was identified by a sign as ' office' and she wrinkled her nose. The building looked like it didn't need much to collapse and again Fiona wondered why Sam had decided to invest her money in a project that needed so much work. But then, her sister-in-law had a fine nose for business, so, why argue with her? Even though the office was a dump, the forest itself was absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful.
"All right, McDonnell, get your butt in gear," Fiona scolded herself. "You have two whole days to make this trip worth while. Better get started as soon as possible."
Opening the backdoor of the car, Fiona pulled out two big camera bags that held all her equipment and purposefully strolled towards the small office building, where she knocked on the door, before stepping back a little.
Sam had told her that the manager of the resort would be around, but Fiona thought the place looked pretty desolated and she wondered if it had been such a good idea to drive up the mountain all by herself. She cast a look over her shoulder to make sure the car was still parked where she had left it, mentally calculating how long it would take her to reach the safety of the vehicle, when all of a sudden the door of the office was opened with a loud, screeching noise. Involuntarily, Fiona took another step back and her green eyes were wide when she looked at the person who had opened the door.
"G'day, can I help you?" a teenager, with thick blond hair that almost fell in his eyes, looked at her with unveiled curiosity and Fiona swallowed hard, trying to calm her racing heart.
"Hi," Fiona finally greeted him, annoyed with herself for having lost her composure. "My name is Fiona McDonnell and I'm here to..."
"You're the photographer," the boy interrupted with a happy grin. He suddenly stuck out a hand and introduced himself. "I'm glad you' re here. My name is Joshua Adams."
"Nice to meet you, Josh," Fiona smiled, already liking the lanky teenager with the charming smile. "Don't tell me you are the manager."
"Not really," Joshua laughed, shaking his head. "I really like it here, but I can't see myself running this place. I like the beach a lot better."
"I guess sand has its own attraction," Fiona grinned. Even when it does get into awkward places sometimes. "So, tell me Mr. Beach-bum, where can I find the manager?"
"See that track there?" Joshua pointed to a small path, carved between two trees. "Just follow it and you' ll run into Robbie after about a hundred meters, I guess. I'd show you, but I was told to stay here. We' re expecting some supplies," he helpfully added.
Fiona nodded in understanding and looked at the track Joshua had pointed out to her. If the freshly cut strangler fig was any indication, the path was recently cleared and she wondered if Robbie was responsible for that.
"Watch out for the machete," Joshua joked, as if reading her mind. "Make sure to make a lot of noise, if you don't want to lose a limb."
"Thanks," Fiona replied with a wry chuckle. "See you later...I hope."
"You bet," Joshua grinned and he wished he could have accompanied the tall dark- haired photographer. She didn't only look good, but she seemed funny as well.
With a sigh, Joshua Adams turned around and walked back to the small table in the corner of the office, where he let himself fall into a loudly protesting wooden chair. He picked up the book he had been reading and it only took him a few seconds to become captivated again by the well-written story.
Fiona carefully stepped over a small pile of freshly-cut branches and leaves, wondering if the track would lead her to one of the cabins that should be on the property. Sam had explained there were fifteen cabins scattered around, that were all in dire need of renovation and repair. But first, the grounds needed to be cleared and Fiona suspected that was exactly what Robbie was engaged in. Her suspicions were confirmed when her ears picked up the rhythmic sound of slashing, followed by the rustling of leaves.
Although the sounds seemed very near, it took her another five minutes before she finally felt she was close enough to call out, but all of a sudden the noise had stopped and Fiona frowned, looking at a sharp edged machete, that was laying on a pile of leaves. Standing still, her head cocked, her eyes searched the wall of green in front of her, while her ears tried to pick up a sound that did not belong to the forest. It was hardly audible, but Fiona's hearing was well developed, and she slowly turned her head towards the regular breathing that seemed to come from behind her.
"I come in peace," she joked, lifting both her hands and slowly turning around, puzzled by the actions of this Robbie that Sam hired. If the manager of the resort was strong enough to clear an overgrown path with a machete, surely he wasn't afraid of her?
"Don't shoot or stab me, all right?" she continued with a chuckle. "I'm still young and I do have some nice plans for the future. One of those plans involves shooting the pictures for the brochure Sam Stevens wants of this place."
"Don't move," a low, husky voice suddenly sounded from behind a tree and Fiona's head jerked up, while her heart pounded in her chest. Involuntarily her eyes traveled to the machete on the ground and she quickly estimated the distance that separated her from the sharp metal that could easily be used as a weapon.
"Don't tell me I'm running into yet another murderous nutcase," she mumbled. "What am I? A trouble magnet?"
"I don't know about that," the voice answered with a hint of amusement. "But there's a snake right behind you."
Fiona froze. She practically grew up in and around the rainforest and she was familiar with its venomous reptiles. Fighting the urge to wipe her sweaty palms on her cotton clad thighs, she stood stock still, almost afraid to even breath.
"What kind?" she whispered, her eyes nervously darting around.
"Pseudechis porphyriacus," the voice calmly answered.
"Red-Bellied black snake," Fiona whispered, swallowing hard. "What is it doing here?"
"Who knows. Looking for frogs? Besides, it probably is asking itself that same question about you," the voice seemed to come closer, but Fiona did not dare to move or even turn her head. She felt drops of perspiration roll down her back and she hoped the snake would not be able to smell her fear.
"Don't move," the voice warned again. "Just...stay... where you are."
"Easier said than done," Fiona replied in a whisper. "I'm sweating so much I feel like a mini waterfall. Maybe if I stay here long enough I will create a river and drown it."
"All right, walk this way now," the annoyingly calm voice encouraged. "But slowly...very slowly. If you don't scare it, it will leave you alone."
Knowing the owner of the voice was right, Fiona decided to trust the stranger and slowly started to walk away from the snake, trying very hard not to run. She inched her way towards the place where, only moments before, the voice had sounded.
"All right, he's gone," the voice announced, audibly relieved. "It just took off in the other direction."
"Thank goodness," Fiona sighed, releasing a breath she didn't realize she had been holding.
"Sorry about that," the voice sounded, this time from beside her and Fiona turned, impatient to finally see the person she suspected had to be Robbie. "I think I might have disturbed him...or her. Hard to tell from where I was standing."
"I'm sure it is," Fiona chuckled.
The branches of a small bush were pushed aside and the first thing Fiona noticed was the sand-colored Akubra hat that was firmly planted on thick, brown hair that was tucked behind the owner's ears. Fiona's eyes only grew slightly wider when she took in the rest of the appearance.
"Are you Robbie?" she asked, mentally slapping herself for assuming Joshua had been referring to a man.
"Robin Adams, nice to meet you," the woman in front of her replied, extending her hand in greeting.
"Fiona McDonnell. Thanks for saving my life."
The woman laughed and Fiona immediately noticed the resemblance to the teenager in the office.
"I don't think I did save your life, but you' re welcome just the same. Red-bellies's usually only attack when you provoke them. You'd have been all right, I just wanted to make sure."
"I appreciate it," Fiona smiled. "So, is Joshua your brother?"
"Ah, you've met him already? Yes, he is. My baby brother, to be exact, although, he doesn't like it when I call him that."
"He pointed me in the right direction," Fiona explained. "I'm the photographer."
"I thought as much," Robin smiled, pointing at Fiona's bags. "Need a hand with those?"
"No, thanks. I'm used to hauling them around. Sam told me the manager would be able to show me some good spots to take some pictures. Are you the manager?"
"Yes, that's me," Robin answered, taking off her hat to wipe her forehead, before planting it firmly back on her damp hair. Her hazel eyes took in the tall form of the photographer in front of her, amazed by Fiona's youthful features. For some reason she had expected the photographer to be a lot older. Middle-aged...at least.
"How old are you?" she blurted, when curiosity got the better of her.
Fiona suppressed a sigh and the dark-green eyes in her freckled face turned a little darker. It was not the first time someone had a problem with her age. She knew she did look a lot younger than her actual age, which often annoyed her tremendously. She was tired of having to explain she really knew how to take a picture.
"Did you expect a middle-aged man in a safari outfit?" she asked, not able to hide the sarcasm in her voice, while her eyes looked at the smaller manager coolly.
Robin cast down her eyes and pressed her tongue against the inside of her cheek. She felt like a rebuked child, an emotion she didn't like at all, especially not since it was evoked by someone who was obviously a lot younger than she was.
"I'm old enough to do this, all right?" Fiona sighed, after an uncomfortable silence. " Just point me in the right direction and..."
"I'm sorry, Fiona," Robin interrupted, raising her head and looking into a pair of hooded eyes. "I pissed you off and I'm sorry. It's just that...yes, I did expect a middle-aged, cigar smoking bloke, dressed in a safari outfit. Guess I was wrong, huh?" she added with a wry chuckle. "The only thing Sam told me was that I could expect a photographer. That was all."
"Next time I see her, I'll kick her in the...you know where," Fiona promised, her annoyance melting under the guilt-filled gaze of Robin. "Besides, you surprised me as well. I thought 'Robbie' was a guy."
"Not this Robbie," Robin answered dryly, making Fiona grin.
"Since this first meeting was very...unusual, how about a cold drink?" Robin suggested. "I sure can use one."
"Sure, I'd like that," Fiona readily accepted the invitation. "Did you hack this whole path down on your own?"
"Yup, I did and believe me, I' ll feel it in the morning," Robin sighed, rubbing a tired shoulder.
"I didn't know managers had to do stuff like that."
"They usually don't, but the person who was hired to do this called in sick this morning and since I can't afford to lose a lot of time, I decided to go ahead and start anyway."
Robin had walked towards a knapsack, she had hung on the branch of a tree and motioned Fiona to follow her, which the photographer obediently did.
They followed a track, that had been hardly visible and after a few minutes the wall of green that had surrounded them opened up and to Fiona's amazement they suddenly stood on the edge of a steep cliff. The view was breathtaking. As far as her eyes could see, Fiona saw nothing but hill-covered rainforest, forming a thick, lush, green carpet. Looking at the panorama gave her a sense of eternity, as if time no longer existed. It was a sea of living shades of green, a gem wrapped in the protective embrace of the clear blue sky and Fiona's hands itched to get her camera and lenses out and capture the endless beauty that was splayed out in front of her.
"I wouldn't mind building a little house right here," she mumbled.
"I know what you mean," Robins naturally husky voice sounded from behind her left shoulder. "I love this spot."
Robin put her knapsack on the surface of a flat rock and pulled out two bottles of water, handing one to Fiona, who shot her a hesitant look.
"I don't want to drink all your water," she objected half-heartedly. The drive up the mountain had left her thirsty.
"Take it. There's more where that came from, so you don't have to feel bad," Robin replied. "Besides, if I allow the photographer to dehydrate, Sam will kick my butt."
"I doubt that," Fiona grinned, gratefully accepting the bottle and uncapping it. "She'd say it's my own fault." Letting the cool water slide down her throat, she briefly closed her eyes, enjoying the sensation.
Leaning against a rock, drinking their water in comfortable silence, the women stared into the distance, both lost in their thoughts. Fiona's eyes followed a bird that was gliding high in the sky, painting lazy circles against the endless blue.
"Grey goshawk," Robin's voice sounded and Fiona nodded, she had recognized the bird of prey as well.
"Twenty-one," Fiona suddenly said, after taking another sip of cool water.
She cast a look at Robin Adams and softly chuckled when she saw the puzzled look on the other woman's face. She could tell that Robin's brain was busy trying to place the meaning of Fiona's words.
"Your age," she finally concluded, pleased when Fiona nodded.
"And don't tell me I don't look it," Fiona mumbled.
"But you don't," Robin chuckled. "I really thought you were a lot a younger. Hey, a lot of women would take that as a compliment," she added with a smile.
"Do you know how many times I had to show proof of my age, before some bartender would even consider giving me a beer?"
"That must have been traumatic," Robin laughed, amused by the mischievous twinkle in Fiona's eyes.
"It was," the dark-haired photographer nodded. "The first time I was at The Fence, they almost didn't let me in," she exaggerated,
Robin's brows rose into her hairline and she quickly took a sip of water to hide her surprise.
"The Other Side of the Fence in Brisbane?" she casually asked.
"Oh, you know the place?" Fiona grinned. "Yup. I have friends in Brisbane and they sometimes take me there. It's great fun," she added with a chuckle.
"I've studied there too," Robin softly said, clarifying her knowledge about the popular gay bar in Brisbane. Her hazel eyes suddenly held a hint of sadness and Fiona frowned, feeling the urge to ask Robin Adams what had caused that brief, pain-filled look. But Fiona swallowed the question and shot Robin a warm smile.
"What did you study? Partying?" she joked, which had the desired effect, because Robin laughed and Fiona mentally patted her shoulder for bringing that charming smile back on the other woman's face.
"No, it wasn't anything exciting like that. I studied biology, with a special interest in conservation biology, to be exact."
"No wonder Sam wanted you to have the job," Fiona replied, with a hint of admiration in her voice. "She really wants this to be an environmentally friendly park, or whatever you want to call it."
"It's a great idea," Robin nodded, taking off her hat and raking her fingers through her thick hair, unknowingly contributing to its disarray, much to Fiona's amusement. "I'm glad she bought the land and not that...idiot from Southport," Robin continued, her eyes suddenly ablaze with fire.
"I take it you don't like Gerry Wilkins?" Fiona grinned, understanding Robin's dislike. She had met the banker once and was anything but impressed by the pompous, arrogant man.
"No, I don't," Robin sighed, twirling her hat in her hands. "If it had been up to him, he'd have bought this mountain to turn it into one of his precious luxury resorts. Including helicopter platform," she added with disgust.
"Sam wants a helicopter platform as well," Fiona warned.
"I know, but that will only be for emergencies. Gerry Wilkins would fly all his guests up and down the mountain. Have you any idea how destructive that would be for the wildlife?"
"Hey, you're preaching to the converted," Fiona replied, holding up both hands in a defensive gesture. "I was very happy when Sam bought it away from under his nose. And she sure gained Yarra's everlasting gratitude," she chuckled, remembering the moment when an overjoyed Yarra had almost knocked Sam to the ground when she had hugged the tall blonde.
"My friend," Fiona explained. "She grew up in the bush and right now she's a vet. Just finished as a matter of fact."
Robin cast a look at the soft expression on Fiona's face and instinctively knew that Yarra was very important to the photographer. She let out a soft sigh when the tightly controlled longing unexpectedly reared its head, leaving her feeling sad and melancholic.
"Does she have a job yet?" Robin softly asked, knowing from experience how hard it could be to leave the safety of the university and step into the real world as a young professional.
"Right now she works at this clinic in Brisbane," Fiona answered. "But I know she'd love to come back to this area though. She grew up around here and she loves the bush."
"Yeah, I can relate to that," Robin smiled. "I love this area and I don't think I ever want to leave again."
"Joshua says he liked the beach better," Fiona grinned.
"I know and believe me, if things were going his way, he'd be there day and night."
"Ah, well, the beach is close enough from here," Fiona remarked, stretching her tall frame that was still a little stiff from her tense drive up the mountain. "Besides, I'm sure he can make himself useful around here, with all the chopping and stuff."
"I'd rather have him in the office," was Robin's unexpected curt remark and Fiona frowned. What did she say wrong this time?
"Sure," she drawled. "Whatever." She reached down to pick up her bags and flung them over her shoulder. "Well, thanks for the water. I guess I'll have a look around, so I'll get a feel for the place."
Robin Adams, you...fool.
Robin mentally slapped herself when she saw Fiona turn around and walk away. The photographer was not happy with her and she had every reason not to be. Robin knew she had not just been impolite, she had been plain rude.
Grabbing her knapsack she quickly followed Fiona, who had already disappeared in the thick wall of scrubs and ferns.
"I don't think I'll ever learn," Robin mumbled, ducking to avoid a branch and hoping Fiona would stay on the track. It was narrow and hardly visible and if the photographer went the wrong way, she could easily end up at the very edge of another steep cliff, one that was hardly visible through the thick foliage.
Robin quickened her step when she realized that an unsuspecting person ran the risk of getting seriously hurt if they would slip and fall over the cliff's edge.
Pushing away some branches, Robin ducked again and stumbled over a rock, flailing her arms to keep her balance and losing the knapsack in the process.
Softly muttering a curse, she bent down to pick it up, when all of a sudden she noticed a pair of legs, sticking out from under a bush. With a yelp she jumped back, stumbling over the same rock that had almost made her fall before and, with a loud thud, the back of her head collided with a tree.
For a moment Robin's view was reduced to seeing stars and she blinked her eyes rapidly, trying hard not to pass out. Using the tree as a support she slowly sank to the ground and groggily shook her head to get rid of the dizziness. Only when her head cleared a little, she remembered the legs and with wide eyes she stared at the thick, rubber soles of a pair of hiking boots that quickly changed their position when their owner jumped up and stepped through the bush.
Robin's eyes stared at the shoes and slowly traveled up a pair of long legs clad in khaki-colored shorts, until they finally met a pair of concerned dark-green eyes.
"What are you doing?" Fiona asked, kneeling down in front of Robin and casting the manager an inquisitive look.
Rubbing the back of her head, where she could feel a painful lump, Robin's eyes shot daggers at the photographer.
"What am I doing?" she repeated, not even trying to hide the anger in her voice. "What am I doing? What the heck were you doing? You scared me half to death. If that's your idea of a joke, I'm not amused."
Only then Robin noticed the camera in Fiona's hand and all of a sudden the photographer's action made sense. With a groan she closed her eyes and silently wished the ground would open up, to swallow her whole, missing the mixture of amusement and concern in Fiona's eyes.
"I'm sorry to have scared you," the photographer apologized. "I just...I thought I saw a lyrebird and I wanted to snap a shot."
"Did you get it?" Robin asked in a tired voice, her eyes still closed.
"Of course," Fiona answered with a rakish grin, giving Robin a friendly pat on her knee. "Did you hit your head?"
Robin softly chuckled and opened her eyes, startled to see Fiona sitting on the forest floor in front of her.
"That's a loaded question."
"Depends on whom you' re asking," Fiona smiled. "I'm sure there'll be a lot of people who'll tell you I've hit my head...lots of times," she added with a grin.
Robin reflexively smiled back and grabbed her akubra hat that had tumbled to the ground when she had lost her balance.
"I owe you another apology," she sighed. "That must be a record. We' ve met, how long ago? Thirty minutes ago? This is my second apology already."
"Don't worry about it," Fiona shrugged, extending a hand to help Robin back to her feet.
"But I do," Robin replied softly, grasping Fiona's hand and feeling herself pulled back onto her feet again, with a surprising amount of strength.
"I'm sorry I snapped at you. I'm very...sensitive, when it comes to my brother. I tend to...immediately jump into defense mode whenever I think somebody is criticizing him."
"That's not always a bad thing," Fiona remarked.
"Maybe not, but in this case it was. I'm sorry."
"Apology accepted," Fiona smiled, bending down to pick up Robin's knapsack and handing it to the manager. "I'm sorry you hurt yourself. But sometimes, when I think I see a great shot, I kind of stop thinking and just act. You probably thought you'd found a dead body in the bushes, when you saw my legs stick out."
"I have to admit it crossed my mind," Robin grinned.
"Taryn, honey, stop torturing your brother," Jody sighed, reaching across the dining-room table to relieve her daughter of the plastic spoon the toddler was using to hit her brother on his head.
Two year old Timothy McDonnell-Stevens looked at his mother with soulful blue eyes and Jody couldn't help but grin.
"You two are quite the pair," she chuckled, pushing away the strand of hair that almost fell in her eyes. "Just look at you two, there's applesauce all over your faces. You' re supposed to eat it, not use it as a facial mask," she mumbled, using a napkin to clean Timothy's cheeks, which made the toddler scrunch up his face in protest.
"Mama," Taryn cried out, bouncing up and down in her high chair with sparkling green eyes. "Mama."
"Mama will be home soon, sweetie," Jody answered, cleaning her son's hands. "You can give her a hard time then and I might even get some rest."
"Poor honey, do you need to be rescued?" an amused voice sounded from the doorway, making Jody almost jump. A warm smile covered her face when she turned around to look at the tall blond woman who was standing in the doorway, casually leaning against the wall.
"Sam_ You're home early_"
Samantha Stevens arched one eyebrow and cast her partner an inquisitive look.
"Is that a bad thing?" she asked, but Jody could see the twinkle in her eyes.
"It's a wonderful thing, you goof," she grinned, jumping up and walking towards her partner, who opened her arms in invitation. Jody didn't need more encouragement. She threw her arms around Sam's tall frame and immediately felt a pair of familiar hands slip around her waist. Letting out a sigh of contentment, Jody rested her cheek against Sam's shoulder and briefly closed her eyes.
"Are you tired?" Sam's voice tickled her ear, causing goose bumps to erupt in some very interesting places. Jody lifted her head and cast a look at her partner. Her green eyes shone with warmth and affection.
"Yes, I am," she admitted. "But if you have an interesting proposal I'm all ears," she added with a mischievous smile.
Sam's blue eyes narrowed and she bent her head closer, so she could give Jody a quick kiss on the nose.
"An interesting proposal, huh? Let me think...," she whispered, brushing her lips against her partners cheek. "Oh, I know something...." Sam pulled Jody closer and dropped a kiss on the top of her head.
"As soon as the rugrats are asleep, I'll give you the best massage you' ve ever had. You' ll be so relaxed, you'll be sleeping for the next four days."
"Promises, promises," Jody smiled against the fabric of Sam's shirt. "But that massage sure sounds good though. By the way, how come you' re home so early? Not that I'm complaining, mind you."
"Well, I went by The Reef for that meeting I had scheduled, but Brian is doing a great job and there weren't any problems to report. Everything is going very smoothly."
"I've always known that Brian would make a great manager," Jody mumbled, feeling her body relax in the warm embrace of her lover.
"He told me he learned from the best," Sam replied, raking the fingers of her right hand through Jody's thick, reddish hair.
"I'm just really happy he didn't start looking for another job after he was shot in the lobby," Jody yawned, remembering that dreadful event.
"Or after Martin Coles tried to blow up the parking garage," Sam added with a soft sigh. "We sure have had some adventures, love. I'm glad those last few years have been peaceful and quiet."
"As if," Jody chuckled, lifting her head and kissing Sam's chin. "Ever since our twins arrived, life has been a little hectic, honey."
Sam grinned and cast a look at their two children, who were using the remnants of apple sauce on their plates to paint interesting figures on each other's faces. She smiled and winked at Timothy, which earned her a broad smile from her son.
"Mama, look_" he cried proudly, waving his spoon around.
Sam winced, but couldn't help laughing when the contents of his spoon flew through the air and landed squarely on the kitchen floor.
"Don't look," she warned her lover, pressing Jody's face against her shoulder. "They' re making a mess, but I'll clean it up, all right? Why don't you go outside, sit on the verandah, talk to Kurt for a while and in the meantime I'll see if I can find our kids underneath all this gooey stuff. As soon as we' re all clean, we'll join you." Sam kissed Jody's forehead and sent her a questioning look. "How about it?"
Jody's green eyes found Sam's clear blue ones and for a brief moment the redhead allowed herself to be swept away by the loving gaze that was directed to her and again she realized what a wonderful partner and parent her lover was. Sam always seemed to know what Jody needed and her timing was perfect.
"I love you," she said softly, using her fingertips to caress Sam's face.
Sam smiled and gently grasped Jody's hand, stilling it in its movement and pressing the fingertips against her lips.
"And I love you," she smiled. "Come on, go outside and relax. I have this Terrible Twin Tornado Control down pat."
Jody slowly pushed away from Sam's tall frame, immediately regretting the loss of contact, but she smiled when she looked up at the blonde.
"Is that one of Fiona's terms?"
"It is," Sam confessed. "Your sister comes up with the most interesting and appropriate descriptions of our offspring. She's very inventive."
"I know," Jody answered dryly, turning around and immediately noticing the mess their children had managed to create in just a short period of time. Taryn had applesauce all over her face and hair, just like her brother and one look at the kitchen floor showed her that paper towels would most likely not be sufficient to clean up all the bits and pieces that had landed in various parts of the kitchen.
Two pairs of innocent looking eyes, one a clear blue and the other one green, stared up at her and Jody bit back a smile.
"Are you sure you don't need any help, honey? I..."
A pair of strong hands landed on her shoulders and with a gentle shove Sam directed Jody towards the door that lead to the verandah.
"I'm sure. Go. Relax. I'll take care of this. Believe me, I can handle it."
"All right, sweetie. Just call me when you need me."
"I will," Sam smiled, knowing how hard it was for Jody to sit down while there was work to be done. "We' ll be joining you soon, so enjoy the peace and quiet while you can."
"I'll try, honey," Jody answered with a smile. She turned to face their children and playfully shook her finger. "Don't give mama a hard time, all right. She needs her energy to give me that massage later."
"Don't you worry," Sam called after her when she stepped out on the verandah. "I'll take real good care of you."
"I know," Jody chuckled, while closing the door behind her. "Boy, do I know."
With a sigh of utter contentment, Jody sank down in a chair, grateful for the chance Sam had given her to relax a little. She loved their children dearly and could not image her life without them, but trying to steer a pair of energetic twins through their ' terrible two's' was nothing less than a challenge and Jody was grateful for her partner's help. Sam had been very busy with the new resort her father's company had bought. The place had not been maintained and was completely run down and both Sam and Jody knew it would take a lot of effort and energy to create the environmentally friendly rainforest resort Sam envisioned. But knowing her partner, Jody knew if anyone could do it, it would be Sam.
With a smile Jody watched a big German Shepard run towards the house. Kurt let out a low, but happy bark and jumped on the porch, enthusiastically wagging his tail. Pressing his nose against Jody's leg he begged for attention that was freely given when his ears were scratched by experienced, strong fingers.
"Oh, you like that, huh?" Jody chuckled, watching Kurt close his eyes in pure bliss. "I could almost swear that Sam has taught you that. Hasn't she, boy?" she talked to the dog, who shamelessly yawned and put his big head on Jody's lap.
"Everybody thinks I have two children, but actually I have four," Jody mumbled to the dog, who answered with a low, throaty growl of pleasure.
Just as Jody closed her eyes and leaned her head against the back of the chair, the phone rang and with a frustrated sigh she opened one eye, shooting a dark glance at the noisy offender on the table next to her.
Knowing Sam had probably taken the twins into the bathroom she reached out a hand and picked up the phone. When she looked at the digital display she knew the caller was her sister.
"Hello, baby-sister," she teased. "How are you doing? Everything all right up on that mountain?"
"I'm glad you asked," Fiona's cheerful voice sounded in her ear. "Remind me to kick Sam's butt when I'm back. In spite of all the information she gave me about this place, she kind of...forgot...to mention the fact that the road up to the resort is a death trap."
"It is?" Jody asked with a frown, wondering how much truth there was in her sister's words. Fiona was known for her blatant exaggerations. "But you managed to get up there anyway."
"I did, but let me tell you, sis, it wasn't easy."
"I'm sure Sam will have that road fixed up," Jody replied.
"She'd better," Fiona chuckled. "Talking about the...my dear sister-in-law...is she around?"
"She's busy at the moment," Jody smiled when she heard splashing and laughter coming from the bathroom window. "Taryn and Tim were covered in applesauce and Sam is seeing if it will wash off or if it will have to wear off."
Jody heard Fiona laugh out loud and she could almost picture the mischievous look in her sister's eyes. Fiona adored the twins and the feeling was mutual. The three of them managed to get into all sorts of trouble on a regular base.
"What happened? Weren't you and Sam around to stop the double T's?"
"We were...otherwise occupied at that moment," Jody answered with as much dignity as possible.
"Oh, I get it," Fiona grinned. "You and Sam were making out and..."
"We were not," Jody interrupted, mentally slapping herself for responding. The best course of action, when her sister was teasing, was just to ignore her.
"It was just a simple hug," Jody sighed, wondering why she felt the need to defend herself. "And you know our kids, they're like you were when you were that age... quick to get into trouble. As a matter of fact, I believe you're still that way."
"Sometimes," Fiona laughed, enjoying the verbal sparring with her sister. "I did get into trouble a few times today," she confessed.
"You did? What happened?" Jody asked with concern.
With her typical sense of humor, Fiona told her sister about the way she and Robin Adams had met and what role a red-bellied black snake had played in it all. When she was done, Jody was laughing heartily, but she couldn't help warning her sister.
"Be careful, Fi. There might be a lot of snakes out there, especially since there haven't been many people in that area for a while."
"I'll be careful," Fiona promised. "Getting bitten by a snake is not my idea of a good time. By the way, sis," she added in one breath. "Did you happen to hear anything from Alice or Yarra today?"
"As a matter of fact, I did," Jody answered, propping her feet up on a chair. "Alice called this afternoon. They will be coming home this weekend." The redhead's voice sounded happy.
"Cool, I can drag them over here to give me a hand."
"You need help taking pictures?" Jody asked, surprised by her sister's words. Fiona was by far the most independent of her siblings and hearing her asking for help was a true novelty.
"No, of course not," Fiona answered, sounding a little miffed. "But there's a lot of work to be done here and one of the blokes who would create some order in the chaos called in sick and I just thought Yarra and Alice would like to come over here, help out a bit, camp out...just like the old times."
Jody took her time to digest the waterfall of words and only when she had processed them all, she made an effort to reply. She knew Sam had hired somebody who could clear the overgrown paths on the property, something that needed to be done first, before they could even think about doing something else. But she couldn't remember Sam telling her somebody called in sick. She made a mental note to ask her partner about that.
"You would spend your weekend slashing away vines and stuff on overgrown paths?" she finally answered, having a hard time imagining her youngest sister doing just that.
"Why not? It's for the greater good, right?" Fiona casually answered. "Besides, I plan on having Yarra and Alice do most of the work, while I take pictures," she added with a chuckle.
That was the Fiona Jody knew.
"What does the manager have to say about that?"
"Robin? I don't know," Fiona answered and Jody knew she was shrugging her shoulders. "Hard to tell what she thinks. She's here with her brother and no one else, so I thought Sam would appreciate us helping out a bit."
"I'm sure she does," Jody nodded. "What about this brother? Can he help as well?"
"I don't know, sis. He seems to be a nice kid, but his sister is very protective of him. When I suggested something like that this morning, she almost bit my head off."
"She did, huh?" Jody smiled at the incredulous tone in Fiona's voice. In spite of her often casual and aloof attitude, Fiona could be very sensitive, something she usually hid well. "Well, Sam told me a few things about this manager and I'm sure she' ll have a good reason. She did sound knowledgeable and very eager to take on this project."
"She must be, when she uses that machete herself," Jody heard Fiona mumble. "Looked like she had done that before."
Jody smiled and stuffed a soft pillow behind her head, so she could lean back and be utterly comfortable. She was enjoying the conversation with her youngest sister.
"So, tell me, Fi, what's the place like? I haven't been up that mountain in...well, ages. I think the last time I was up there, Megan and I were still together and even then the place was sorely run down."
"That is ages ago," Fiona admitted. "It's a...I want to say 'dump'. However, I don't think it's that bad, but it's pretty run down, sis. The only building that I've seen thus far, was the office and even that place looks like it could collapse at any given time. Like, when someone inside sneezes, or something."
"Then make sure not to sneeze tonight," Jody dryly replied.
"Don't worry," Fiona snorted. "I won't even be in the building. I'll pitch a tent, thank you very much. I'm not sleeping in that wobbly thing. I'll leave that to The woman from Snowy Mountain and her little brother."
"I didn't know Robin Adams had a horse," Jody dead panned.
"Sure you do," Fiona cheerfully answered. "Its name is Chip and it loves to sit on her shoulder_"
"Fiona_" Jody warned, knowing how cynical her sister could be.
"Don't worry, Pea. I promise to be civilized. Honest."
"You'd better. Don't forget Robin is kind of your boss right now."
"Yes, 'oops'," Jody repeated with a smile, having heard Fiona's chuckle.
"So, being the Big Boss' favorite sister-in-law wouldn't save me?"
"You'd better ask Sam that," Jody replied diplomatically. "But somehow I think you already know the answer to that question."
"In that case, I'd better keep a low profile...and take some good pictures in the process. Maybe I'll just associate with the brother. He's pretty cute."
"Sounds like a plan, Fiona," Jody smiled. "Just make sure you behave."
"Always," was the predictable answer.
Jody turned her head when she heard the door being opened and a huge smile adorned her face when she watched Sam walk out onto the porch with a freshly scrubbed child on each arm.
"Mommy_" Timothy beamed, stretching out his arms to Jody, almost jumping out of Sam's arm.
"Whoa, take it easy, Champ_" Sam exclaimed, tightening her grip on the wiggling boy. "Little Mister Wigglebutt," she added with a chuckle when a pair of clear blue eyes looked at her indignantly.
Timothy's face was scrunched up in a frown and Sam couldn't help laughing when she noticed an all too familiar pout.
"Oh, now you' re just like your mommy," she grinned, using her fingers to tickle the boy's side. "But all right, I'll put you down. Just make sure not to pull Kurt's ears."
"That's Taryn's favorite thing to do, honey," Jody dryly remarked, hearing Fiona's clear laugh when she held up the phone. "I'll trade you Fiona for Tim. How's that?"
Sam winked at her partner and bent down to steal a quick kiss.
"That's no trade_ That's a punishment," she joked, knowing full well that her sister-in-law could hear her loud and clear.
Jody just smiled and stretched out her arms to Timothy, who squealed happily when he landed on his mother's warm lap.
"Mommy, story? Please?" he asked, pointing at the colorful book on the table. To her delight Jody had discovered that their son loved books and the little boy could keep himself occupied for long periods of time, as long as he had a book. Taryn, on the other hand, was much more adventurous than her brother and Sam and Jody always had to keep an eye on their daughter because she was famous for getting herself into trouble. Sam called it a ' McDonnell' trade, while Jody was convinced it had to be Stevens' genes. Whatever it was, they still hadn't figured it out.
"Sure, sweetie," Jody answered, cuddling her son before reaching out and taking the book from the table. "What story do you like to hear?"
"Hey. Fi? What's up? Everything going according to plan?" Sam asked, leaning against the railing of the verandah, while keeping an eye on Taryn, who was steadily making her way over to Kurt. But the dog sensed the approach of his little Nemesis and, not bothering with etiquette, the German Shepard easily jumped over the railing, neatly landing on the grass. Without looking back, he casually strolled to his favorite spot, underneath a tall tree, where he lay down, his intelligent brown eyes never leaving the scene on the veranda.
"Hi, Sam. Seems like the bloke you hired to do some hard labor has abandoned you," Fiona casually remarked.
"What?" Sam exclaimed. "Are you serious? I talked to him yesterday and everything was all right. Why didn't Robin call me?"
"I don't know, Sam and I'm not telling you this to get her into trouble, but, like I told Jody, maybe Yarra and Alice would like to come over tomorrow evening. We can camp out and help a bit with clearing some tracks up here."
"Not on your life," Sam immediately replied. "Yarra and Alice can go over there and camp out, I don't care. But I don't want any of you hacking away with a machete. It's pretty dangerous work and you really need to know what you' re doing. I'll make arrangements and have it done as soon as possible. Is Robin around?"
"I guess," Fiona answered. "I just pitched up my tent. I'm not sleeping in that dangerous looking office building, Sam. Last time I saw Robin is when she went to finish that path she worked on today."
There was a brief silence and even though Sam did not speak at all, Fiona knew she had just said something that the tall blonde did not like.
"She's doing what?" Sam finally asked, sounding deceptively calm.
"Umm..she's uh...well, you know, clearing one of those paths," Fiona slowly answered, knowing deep down inside she had just given Robin Adams a whole new reason to be angry at her.
This time she' ll seriously bite my head off, she winced.
"Could you do me a favor, Fiona? Could you find her and tell her I' ll take care of tha? I'll have some people over first thing in the morning."
"Sure, no problem," Fiona answered. "I'll tell her. Um...any other messages I need to pass on?"
"No, Fi, thanks," Sam sighed, raking a hand through her unruly hair. "I'll have a talk with Robin sometime next week. Jody invited her and Joshua over for dinner. I'm sure I'll have the chance to hear how things are going when they are here."
"Okay, Sam. I'd better hunt her down then. I'll see you Sunday, if everything goes according to plan."
"I have faith in you, Fi, I'm sure you'll bring home some breathtaking photo's."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, sis," Fiona chuckled. "But I'll try to impress you."
"I know you will," Sam smiled. "Take care, Fi."
"I will. Give Jody and the twins a hug for me. See ya_"
Sam pressed the 'off' button on the phone and absentmindedly tapped the device against her thigh. Her blue eyes were staring into the distance and Jody, who cast a look at her silent partner, knew there was something on her mind...something serious. Sam only sucked in her bottom lip when she was worried or deep in thought and Jody smiled when she saw the striking resemblance between Timothy and Sam. But then, Sam and her brother Tom resembled each other so much, people who saw them together often thought they were twins.
"Honey?" Jody softly asked, seeing the electric blue eyes she loved so much slowly traveling her way. "Is everything all right?"
Sam slowly nodded and sent her partner a warm smile. She could never get enough of looking at Jody and their children. Her world revolved around those three people who held her heart so effortlessly.
"That man I hired to clear those paths called in sick. I need to talk to him and get a replacement as soon as possible. Do you mind if I make a few phone calls? I should be back in a little while."
"No, sweetie, I don't mind," Jody answered, automatically reaching out to rescue a little beetle from Taryn's insistent fingers.
"No, Taryn," she spoke forcefully, when a pair of green eyes shot her an accusing look. "Leave the beetle alone. You're squashing him."
Jody appreciated her daughter's love for nature, but she had a hard time understanding why Taryn was so fascinated with insects. The little girl loved to pick them up and play with them, but her parents saw the danger in those activities and did the best they could to keep Taryn and the bugs separated...for both species' sake.
Taryn produced an adorable pout while she looked at Sam, who laughed and shook her head.
"Don't give me that look, squirt. You know we don't like you torturing those poor little critters. You'll need to learn to play nice."
Pushing away from the railing, she blew her partner and children a kiss, before disappearing into the house, her mind already busy with the impending phone call.
Fiona carefully chose her way, while she followed the narrow, winding path that was scattered with freshly chopped branches and twigs. She briefly wondered who and how the manager was planning to get rid of the biological excess.
"Using a big rake, no doubt," she mumbled to herself, grinning when her mind's eye was immediately filled with an image of Robin trying to clean up the path she had created, her legs entangled in vines, while trying to fight off the branches that were trying to grab her.
With a sudden bounce in her step, the young photographer cheerfully whistled a tune, while making her way through the forest. After a few minutes she stopped and looked around with a puzzled expression on her face.
"Have I been here before or not?" she softly asked herself. "I'd swear I took the path I've been on before and it does look like someone has been here."
Fiona took the time to study her surroundings and after a little while she concluded that the path she had taken was not the same she had been on that morning.
"No surprise, since it's all very...green," Fiona chuckled, not worried at all. She knew that if she'd turn around, the track would lead her back to the office building. But being curious and inquisitive, Fiona wanted to know where the path would lead her and, without thinking twice, she decided to keep walking and see where she would end up. It was obvious to her that it had been used, although it had not been properly cleared yet. Believing there had to be a reason for it, she continued her walk, carefully stepping over a thick vine, that snaked across the path like a well-fed reptile.
After a little while, the path suddenly showed a sharp curve and Fiona knew she had to put her feet down carefully if she didn't want to risk tumbling down the steep cliff that doomed up at her right-hand side.
"Nice view though," she mumbled, planting her feet down firmly and pulling her camera from its protective case.
Through the trees, ferns, shrubs and vines, Fiona aimed her lens between two trees. It was like nature had created a window and the view was simply breathtaking. In the far distance, the blue of the Pacific Ocean shimmered at the horizon, preceded by hills that showed every shade of green known to mankind.
After taking a few shots, Fiona lowered her camera and turned around to continue her walk, when, from the corner of her eye, she noticed a movement halfway down the hill.
She immediately knelt down, not wanting to ruin her chances of capturing some of the local wildlife. Hours spent in the forest with Yarra had taught her to wait patiently and motionlessly, until she could take the shots she really wanted.
Squinting her eyes, Fiona tried to make out the form that slowly, but steadily made its way across the steep hillside. The thick wall of green obscured it most of the time, but every now and then Fiona could glance at the dark form that had her puzzled. She was familiar with the local wildlife and the countless hikes with Yarra and Alice had resulted in a decent knowledge about all the flora and fauna.
"But I've never seen a wallaby that big, so, unless we do have ourselves a genuine Aussie Bigfoot, my guess is that somebody is sneaking around the place. I left Joshua at the office, so it can't be him and Robin is a lot smaller than this...person," Fiona mumbled to herself, instinctively crawling behind a bush to make sure she could not be seen. "In fact, this person would even make Sam look like a midget."
Zooming in on the dark form, Fiona was disappointed when she still could not get a clear picture, but stubbornly she followed it, her finger on the button, ready to push it. Even though she could not make out anything else but a dark, tall form making its way through the bushes, she did notice something was dropped on the forest floor. Immediately Fiona's camera started a soft clicking sound when she took picture after picture, until the dark form disappeared from view.
With a deep frown Fiona lowered her camera and stared at the point where she had seen the figure last. Her dark-green eyes held a pensive expression when she tried to come up with a reasonable explanation for the things she had just witnessed. Her thoughts went back a few years and an involuntarily shiver ran down her back when she remembered the crazed look in the eyes of Martin Coles, when he stood in front of Jody's car, with a burning Molotov-cocktail in his hand.
She knew the ex-police officer was dead. She had witnessed how Trishia had no other choice but to shoot him.
It was all in the past and Martin Coles was dead.
"Who the heck is this and what is he doing here?" Fiona mumbled, not able to push away the faint trace of fear that had settled in the pit of her stomach.
"Excuse me?" a puzzled voice suddenly sounded behind her and Fiona yelped uncharacteristically, immediately rolling to her side and pushing herself up. It only took her a split second to get back to her feet again and she was ready to bolt, when all of a sudden she looked into the curious eyes of Robin Adams.
Mumbling a popular expletive, Fiona let out a deep breath and leaned against a tree, hoping her legs were strong enough to carry her weight.
"You scared me into the next galaxy_" she sighed, shooting Robin an accusing glance. "I'm sure I have a gray hair now somewhere."
"Sorry about that," Robin answered, taking in the tall form in front of her with an inquisitive stare. Fiona McDonnell didn't strike her as a person who would be spooked easily, but the photographer was visibly pale and shaken up. "I..um...I didn't expect to see you here. Is lying on the ground something a lot of photographers do?" Robin joked and when Fiona looked up she noticed a twinkle in the manager's hazel eyes.
"Depends on their field of expertise, I guess," Fiona laughed, feeling tired now the tension had been drained from her body. She raked her fingers through her shoulder-length hair and took in a deep, cleansing breath.
"I'm sorry I surprised you like that," Robin apologized again. "I really didn't mean to. But...what were you doing anyway?"
"Looking for you," Fiona answered, seeing Robin's eyes travel from her face to the steep hill behind her and back again. The manager's eyebrows rose and Fiona chuckled.
"Not there," she explained. "Initially I was looking for you, but I got kind of...side-tracked."
"Local wildlife?" Robin smiled, frowning when Fiona shook her head.
"Is there any chance of a Yowie encounter around here?" Fiona casually asked, suppressing a grin when she saw the look of confusion on Robin's face.
"A Yowie encounter. You know, Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, or Yeti. Sasquatch. Whatever they call them."
Robin nibbled on her bottom lip and cast a look at Fiona's face, trying very hard to determine whether the young photographer was playing a joke on her or not. But Fiona's face held a serious expression while the dark-green eyes looked at her expectantly.
"I...um...I read the stories, but...there's still no consensus about whether the stories about the Yowie are real or not," Robin answered, carefully choosing her words. "Of course I'm no cryptozoologist, but...um...what exactly did you see?"
Fiona smiled, appreciating the way Robin had answered her question. The woman had taken her seriously, even though Fiona had been joking. She knew that what she had seen was human, since it had been wearing clothes, dark ones.
"There was somebody down there," Fiona explained, pointing towards the hillside where she had first noticed the figure. "And it wasn't a Yowie," she added with a smile.
It didn't escape Fiona's notice that, all of a sudden, Robin turned pale, while her eyes briefly flashed with something that could only be described as ' fear' .
"W..What do you mean you saw somebody down there?" Robin stammered, visibly nervous.
"I was looking for you, when I suddenly noticed some movement down the hill. I stopped and looked and then I saw something tall, on two legs, walking down there. I tried to get a good look, but I'm afraid there was too much green stuff blocking my view."
For some reason, Fiona didn't reveal the fact that she had taken some pictures, determined to enlarge them as soon as she would have the chance to view them on her computer..
"Is there anything wrong, Robin?" Fiona asked with concern, noticing how the manager's eyes nervously darted around.
"I..I don't know," was the soft answer. "I just don't like the idea of... strangers walking around here, especially not when it will be getting dark soon. Maybe we should head back. I...um...I don't want Joshua to be alone too long."
"Sure," Fiona answered, hoisting her camera bag over her shoulder and following Robin, who had turned around and already was on her way back. Fiona's long legs followed Robin with ease and while staring at the back of Robin's head, Fiona wondered what was going on exactly. The manager's reaction to her story had been very interesting and Fiona just knew that Robin had not told her the truth. She could feel it.
Fiona sighed and wrinkled her freckled nose in thought.
"I can smell a rat," she mused. "There's something going on here and I don't like it. And I'd better keep my eyes and ears open."
Fiona swallowed hard when she felt a tingling sensation run across her back, like somebody was watching her. Resisting the urge to look over her shoulder, she quickened her pace to keep up with Robin.
And I'm not sleeping in my tent tonight.
To be continued in part 2
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