Trishia cast a look aside and smiled at the woman who was sitting next to her in the car. Lucy looked as beautiful as ever and Trishia felt an intense wave of warmth travel all the way through her body, when a pair of dark-green eyes looked up at her and smiled.
"You look beautiful today," Trishia complimented her partner, reaching out her left hand to squeeze Lucy's knee gently . "That color really becomes you."
"You'd say that if I was wearing a potato sack," Lucy smiled. "But I appreciate it. Thank you."
"How are you feeling today?"
"Considering my night was violently cut short by my baby-sister's adventures, pretty good," Lucy answered, making Trishia laugh. "I do feel like I could sleep for another sixteen hours, though." She let out a shaky breath and grasped Trishia's hand in a tight grip. "We'll know more in two days," she added, not aware of the wistful tone in her voice.
"Yes, we will," Trishia smiled.
"They say third time is a charm," Lucy mused. "I'm almost afraid to hope, but you know, honey, deep down inside(,) I have this...feeling that's unlike anything I've felt before. The first time I was over the moon, we both were and the miscarriage came as a real shock. The second time(,) though, I had this sense of foreboding, like I knew I'd lose the baby." Lucy swallowed hard and lifted Trishia's hand to kiss the knuckles. "It's different now," she whispered.
Trishia's heart seemed to miss
a beat when she let Lucy's words sink in. If her partner was right then,
maybe, this time things would turn out right. Maybe, by the end of the
year, they would be able to hold their child.
Trishia breathed in deeply to calm her racing heart and cast a look aside when she heard Lucy chuckle.
"That's exactly how I feel," Lucy admitted with a gentle smile. "A mixture of fear and joy that seems to be too much for my poor heart to bear."
Trishia laughed and steered the car into a rest area at the side of the road.
"What are you doing?" Lucy asked with surprise.
"This," Trishia answered, turning around in her seat and wrapping her arms around her partner. "I felt like I needed to hold you, or bust at the seams."
"Then, by all means, hold me," Lucy whispered with a smile, pulling Trishia's head down for a kiss.
Long moments later, they stared at each other with teary eyes, both touched deeply by their shared joy and fear.
Lucy cupped Trishia's cheek and tenderly kissed the moist lips that were so close.
"This time it will be alright," she promised with confidence.
"I so want to believe that," Trishia whispered.
"Then(,) believe," Lucy smiled. "I do."
Trishia pressed Lucy's head against her shoulder and buried her nose in the thick, dark hair. Breathing in the scent that was so like her partner, she closed her eyes and allowed her senses to overtake her. Her heart that had been beating wildly, finally slowed down and Trishia was filled with the calm, peaceful feeling, only her partner's close presence could provide.
When she finally pulled back, her eyes were filled with wonder. She wasn't aware of the single tear that slid down her cheek, until Lucy wiped it away.
"I believe," she spoke softly.
"I know, I can see it in your eyes," Lucy smiled. "I love you, Trishia Waters."
"And I love you, Lucy McDonnell."
"You'd better," Lucy teased. "I really want to raise this child with you."
"Do you have any doubts?" Trishia asked and her eyes were serious.
"Never," Lucy shook her head. "You' re mine. As I am yours."
"That's absolutely right," Trishia nodded with a smile. Then she sighed. "Can I take you away to an undisclosed, tropical destination with good healthcare facilities?"
"Sure, honey," Lucy chuckled. "When would you want to leave?"
Trishia laughed and kissed Lucy's forehead, before releasing her.
"If only I could. But I'm afraid I've a mystery to solve. Your family managed to attract yet another nutcase. What's up with that? Is it hereditary?"
"Probably," Lucy answered cheerfully, while Trishia steered the car back onto the road. "Scary thought, huh?" she teased. "But it's too late now, sweetie," she added, patting her belly. "Maybe your sensible influence will have a positive effect."
"Let's hope so," Trishia mumbled,
making Lucy laugh.
A few hours later, after having enjoyed a nice lunch, Sam invited Trishia and Robin into her office to talk about the recent events. While they disappeared into the house, Fiona pulled a face and moodily played with one of Timothy's toys. She knew Sam had no reason to invite her into what appeared to be an executive meeting, but still, after the events of the previous night, she could not help feeling left out.
With a sigh, she stood up slowly to start clearing the table. Jody, Lucy and Alice were tucking in the toddlers for their afternoon nap, while Yarra and Joshua were in front of the house, playing with a wildly enthusiastic Kurt.
Carrying a stack of plates, Fiona walked into the kitchen, opened the dishwasher and started the process of loading the machine. Involuntarily, her thoughts traveled back to the previous afternoon and night and, for the umpteenth time, she wondered who could be the mysterious person in the picture and why that same person would try to hurt anybody. What was going on?
Fiona sucked in her bottom lip, much like Jody did when she was deep in thought, and she wished she was a fly on the wall of Sam's office. She really wanted to hear what Trishia had to say. Had the police discovered anything? Were there any tracks or leads? Had Trishia any idea who the person in the picture might be?
"They' re probably studying the photo right now," Fiona mumbled to herself. "And it's my photo."
"What's with the long face, Fi?" Alice voice sounded unexpectedly, almost making Fiona jump.
"Oh, nothing," Fiona shrugged. "Just thinking, that's all. Aren't you supposed to read your fans a story?"
Alice smiled and leaned against the kitchen counter, while her clear blue eyes took in her friend's face.
"I had a feeling Lucy and Jody needed to talk. In private," she explained.
"Really?" Fiona asked and her face lit up. "Do you think that...?"
"I don't know, Fi. It's just...a feeling," Alice explained.
"Well, we all know you and your feelings," Fiona spoke, closing the door of the dishwasher and leaning her hip against it while she looked at her friend. "I've come to value your...feelings about certain things."
"You make me sound like an oracle," Alice softly snorted, but there was a smile in her eyes.
"You mean, you aren't?" Fiona teased and Alice laughed.
"That's my Fiona," she said, nudging her friend with her shoulder. "So, what's up with you?"
"What do you mean?" Fiona responded with a small frown.
"The long face. You didn't think I'd give up that easily, did you? When I walked into the kitchen, you were positively looking like you were upset about something. What's the matter?"
"Nothing," Fiona mumbled, avoiding Alice's eyes. "Do you want me to make some tea?"
"No, I don't," Alice answered, stepping closer to Fiona and grabbing her hand before she could escape. "I want to know what's on your mind, Fiona. Because there is something going on, no matter how much you want to deny it."
"I don't know, Alice," Fiona sighed, finally looking up at her friend with a sad expression in her eyes. "I'm just being childish. Maybe I'm PMS'ing," she added with a wry grin.
"I don't think so," Alice chuckled. "I know you're one of those few women who are hardly bothered by that, so stop making excuses."
"You know me too well," Fiona sighed, rolling her eyes. "But alright. I admire your persistence and it needs a reward." Fiona stuffed her hands in her pockets and stared at the kitchen floor, trying to make sense of herself.
"When you, Lucy and Jody left to tuck in the tornados, Sam, Trish and Robin went to the office and Yarra and Josh decided to give Kurt a run for his money. I think I...um...I don't know, I guess..."
"You felt like you were standing on the sidelines looking in," Alice gently finished the sentence.
"Something like that," Fiona shrugged. "It's stupid, I know, and I've no idea where it came from. I guess it annoyed me. The feeling, I mean, not that everyone jumped up and left."
"Maybe you' re tired," Alice suggested, deliberately providing a way out for her friend. "How is your head?"
"Still there," Fiona smiled. "And yes, I'm tired. I didn't get much sleep last night."
And I'm tired deep, down inside...But it's not like I can explain that. I don't even understand it myself...
"Maybe you should lie down for a while and take a nap," Alice suggested, chuckling when Fiona shot her a look of indignation.
"Are you kidding? And miss all the excitement? No, thanks." Fiona breathed in deeply, somehow feeling a little better already. "So, you really think I'll become an aunt again soon?"
"Oh, Fi, if only," Alice sighed. "Lucy and Trish have been through so much lately, they deserve some happiness."
"Yes, they do," Fiona agreed, while her thoughts returned to her bantering with Sam. Robin had seemed so relaxed, the difference with the almost haunted, serious expression had been amazing. Surely, Robin and Joshua deserved some happiness as well.
A hand suddenly grabbed her elbow and, startled, Fiona looked up into Alice's twinkling eyes.
"Still there?" she asked with a smile that created dimples in her cheeks.
"Oh, yes, sorry," Fiona mumbled. "I'm losing my mind."
"That's old news," Alice dead panned. "But we love you anyway," she added with a grin.
"Oh, wow, that's a relief," Fiona laughed, making a conscious effort to push away all the images and emotions that assaulted her senses. She would deal with them later. Maybe.
Alice extended her hand in invitation and felt a wave of relief when it was immediately grabbed by Fiona, who looked at her with a mischievous expression.
"Want to cause some trouble?" the blonde asked with sparkling eyes.
"Always," Fiona vowed.
"Good," Alice grinned. "I'm in the mood for a water fight. Do you want to be my partner in crime?"
"Are you kidding?" Fiona laughed.
"You have the best aim in the family. I'm all yours, slugger."
Trishia rubbed her tired eyes and continued to stare at the photograph in front of her. The obscured face increased the uneasy feeling she had, but it was interesting to see that the outline of the broad shoulders and the estimated height of the person in the picture, corresponded with the impression she had after studying the partial footprint.
It was great to be right. But it would be better if she would be able to put a name to the masked face.
"To answer your first question, Sam, no, I've never seen anything like this, nor have I ever heard about a case like this. It's all new to me," she finally spoke.
"Somehow I was afraid of that," Sam sighed, leaning back in her chair and studying the photo on her desk. Jody and the twins stared at her from within the framed picture. Even through the still image, Jody's eyes seemed to reach deep into her soul, strengthening Sam's resolve and determination.
"We need to find out more, Trish," she spoke.
"I know, Sam, believe me, I know," Trishia sighed, pushing the picture away with a feeling of disgust. "We' re working on it. As we speak, as a matter of fact. Maybe the dogs will be able to find something we overlooked."
"I hope so," Robin spoke up. "My imagination is starting to run rampant."
"I know what you mean," Sam nodded. "It's hard not to come up with crazy ideas."
"The idea that you, or Fiona could have been hit by that bullet drives me insane," Trishia groaned, casting a look at Robin. "Who could have known?"
"Don't blame yourself, Trishia," Robin answered. "Nobody knew. Maybe I should have called you, Sam, after Fiona told me she had seen somebody. I guess I didn't take her serious enough. She acted so casually."
"That's our Fi," Trishia smiled. "Sometimes it's hard to find out what goes on in her mind."
"She was joking about the Yowie," Robin mumbled. "But I should have gone down that hill and..."
"Absolutely not," Trishia interrupted in a stern voice. "You know the rules."
"I do," Robin sighed. "But still, I should have known better."
"Nobody expected this, Robin," Sam said. "We should all quit blaming ourselves and start working on a plan, since things are starting to develop a lot faster than we had anticipated."
Sam's words were followed by a silence. All three women were lost in thought and the only thing that could be heard were the sounds of laughter, the splashing of water and running footsteps.
"What the heck are they doing?" Trishia asked, suddenly jumping up and walking towards the window.
"Water fight," Sam smiled, knowingly. "For some strange reason, Alice loves water fights. I'm sure she's the one who started this. Usually, she gets a balloon or plastic bag and fills it up with ice-cold water." Sam laughed. "She never misses and believe me, I know."
Casting a look at Robin, she chuckled and pointed at the window.
"I bet you'll be able to see
Alice and Fiona teamed up against Yarra and poor Josh."
Robin grinned and jumped up to where Trishia was standing. The window provided a great view and, with a laugh, Robin watched her brother being chased by both Fiona and Alice, while Yarra was lying in the grass, soaking wet.
"I'm afraid they will wear him down," Trishia grinned, admiring Joshua's dodging skills. "And Yarra is not much help either."
"Yarra's been through this before," Sam's amused voice sounded behind them. "She knows resistance is futile. Those two are relentless."
Trishia, who knew Sam's words were true, smiled and her eyes followed the frantic movements of Joshua, who was still trying to get away from Alice and Fiona. Involuntarily, her thoughts traveled back to that one moment, several years ago, when she had done some chasing of her own, in an effort to capture the men who were trying to kidnap Sam. In the end, she had to shoot one of them in a situation where she hadn't been left any choice. It had destroyed her innocence. In her whole career as a police officer, she had only shot somebody twice. Both times, it had saved Sam's life.
Suddenly Trishia sucked in a breath and her body went rigid. Something that had been tickling the back of her mind suddenly came into full view and she mentally slapped herself for not having seen it before.
When she turned around to face Sam, the tall blonde noticed the fire in her friend's eyes and she tilted her head slightly in an unconscious, listening posture.
"Shoot," she encouraged.
Trishia nodded and her eyes darted to Robin, who was looking at her with a puzzled expression.
"Robin, does the name Hayes ring a bell?"
Robin frowned and tried to
remember if it did. Of course the name itself was not unusual, but had
she ever heard it in combination with something else? Something important
that could help them in the situation they were involved in at the moment.
"Hayes, Hayes," she slowly repeated, as if she was carefully tasting the word. "I'm not sure, Trish, I don't think that..."
All of a sudden, Robin's eyes shot wide open and all blood drained from her face. Quickly grabbing the closest chair, she was able to steady herself while, with lightning speed, a memory came rushing through her conscious mind.
I've told you once and I''ll tell you again, Joe, to get out of my sight and out of our lives. Leave your sister alone and take your dubious business with you. You and that friend of yours, what's his name, Hayes? You' ve caused enough trouble already. Get out of here before I call the police...
"My dad," she spoke in a hoarse voice. "I remember my dad using that name when he and Joe had a fight. It was only a few weeks before their car spun out of control and they..." Robin swallowed hard. "They crashed," she finished, barely audible.
Trishia, who had grabbed Robin's arm to prevent her from falling, suddenly let go as if she had burnt her hands. The expression on her face was one of complete astonishment when she looked at Sam, who now was very pale as well.
"Hayes? Steven Hayes?" Sam echoed, after carefully clearing her throat.
"Yes, or Little Steven ,as they called him," Robin answered, rubbing her forehead. "He was my uncle's friend. I've only seen him once, from a distance, but I remember he was pretty..." Robin's eyes went wide. "...tall," she ended in a whisper.
"Oh, my goodness," Sam whispered, turning around and letting herself fall into a chair. "Trish, I don't think that...How is it possible..."
"He's dead, Sam," Trishia answered in a firm voice. "He's dead, you were there."
"I know," Sam answered hoarsely. "How could I forget? But Trish, what if he has...could he have...?"
Trishia nodded and lead Robin to a chair, gesturing the young woman to take a seat. She took a much needed moment to collect her thoughts and sank down on Sam's favorite seat, at the edge of the desk. Things were starting to spin out of control and Trishia knew it was essential to keep a tight grip on the situation.
But how had she missed that clue? It was so obvious. Why hadn't she thought about Little Steven Hayes before? True, the man was dead, but maybe there could be a link between the deceased criminal and the tall, mysterious stranger in the forest.
In her mind Trishia had already started to make a list of priorities. She needed information and she needed it fast. With her police mask firmly in place to hide the turmoil inside, Trishia turned to Robin and sent her a calm, determined look.
"Robin, we need to talk."
Just after Trishia had taken a deep breath and was about to speak, her cell phone rang. With an apologetic look at Robin and Sam and a softly muttered curse, she pulled the device out of her pocket and brought it to her ear.
"Paul! I thought you'd be home by now," she greeted the caller. While the other person talked, Trishia frowned. "What? Really? No, no, I don't want you to do that. I'll be there in about thirty minutes. See you then. Thanks, Paul, I appreciate it."
Stuffing the phone back in her pocket, Trishia turned to Sam and sent her a look that was a mixture of apprehension and excitement.
"The dog team has found some tracks that lead all the way around the mountain to the valley on the other side. Now we know why we didn't find any tire tracks. This bloke must have had some infrared goggles. There's no way a person can take that route when it's pitch dark."
"Are you going over there?" Sam asked, rising up from her chair.
"Yes, I will," Trishia nodded.
"Then I'll come with you," Sam decided, raising a hand to stop Trishia from objecting. "I'm responsible for that place, Trish. I need to know what's going on."
"I'll come too," Robin spoke, jumping up from her chair. Her eyes traveled between Sam and Trishia and she shrugged her shoulders when she noticed their questioning looks.
"I'm fine, honest. Besides, I'm supposed to be the manager there. I've responsibilities as well."
"Well, I guess if Sam tags along, I can't keep you away either," Trishia sighed. "I don't have to remind the two of you not to wander off on your own, do I?"
"Of course not," Sam responded. "We just want to look around, Trish."
"Alright, let's tell the girls,
so we can leave."
Lucy and Jody were still in the children's bedroom. They had been reading the twins a story and even though the toddlers had dozed off and were sound asleep, the two sisters were still sitting on the windowsill, talking softly.
When Sam peeked around the corner, she could not help but smile. Although she could not hear any of the whispered words, the joyful, excited glow on both Jody's and Lucy's faces were testament to something she had been hoping and praying for. She was convinced her partner would tell her all about it later.
As soon as Jody caught Sam's gaze, she smiled brightly and grabbed her sister's hand, pulling her along with her. They tip-toed their way out of the twins' room and carefully closed the door behind them.
"What's up, honey?" Jody whispered, wrapping her arm around Sam's waist, while they headed for the kitchen.
"Trish just received a phone call. They found some tracks she wants to check out herself. Robin and I will go with her."
Jody halted in her steps and looked up at the tall blonde with a worried expression.
"Honey, is it...?
"Yes, it's safe," Sam smiled, kissing Jody's forehead. "Trishia is with us and besides, the place is crawling with police. Whoever was up there last night, won't be coming back today."
"I've a deja-vu," Jody mumbled. "I don't like this, Sam. At all. Please be careful."
"I promise," Sam spoke softly. "We'll be back before you know it. But just to be on the safe side, I have activated the security system. With that new gadget Peter's brother installed, you'll hear a warning as soon as anything bigger than a dog hits the dirt road."
"Alright, sweetie," Jody sighed. "I wish I could come with you."
"I know," Sam smiled, wrapping her arms around her smaller partner to pull her in for a hug. "I'll call you when we get there."
"I count on that," Jody answered, kissing Sam's shoulder. "Why do I have the feeling we're being plunged into yet another adventure?"
"Probably because we are," Sam replied dryly, before releasing her partner. "By the way..." Sam looked around and even though everybody else was outside she lowered her voice to a whisper. Her eyes were shining with excitement. "Is Lucy...?"
Jody chuckled and cast a glance outside, where her sister was leaning against Trishia, who had her arm wrapped around her waist. They were talking to Fiona, who seemed to be involved in an argument with the tall police officer.
"Nothing is official yet, so you can't say a word to anyone else. Lucy's convinced she's pregnant and she says that this time it's different. She really believes everything will be alright this time. But because of the first two miscarriages, they want to keep it quiet as long as possible."
"Which I can understand," Sam smiled brightly. "Wow, good news," she beamed. "It would be great if the twins would have a cousin to play with."
"Bully around, you mean," Jody grinned.
"In Taryn's case, yes," Sam smiled. "She's a little spitfire."
"I wonder where she got that trait from," Jody mused, but her eyes were twinkling.
Sam pretended to think deeply, which made Jody laugh softly. She knew what was coming next.
"See those two dark-haired beauties outside? One with and one without freckles? Are they related to you?" Sam asked with almost childish innocence.
"So they say," Jody chuckled. "But maybe I was adopted."
Now it was Sam's turn to laugh. Even though not all of the McDonnell children looked alike as much as Fiona and Lucy did, it was still clear they were all related.
"No, I'm sorry, honey," Sam spoke, shaking her head. "You're a McDonnell because, if you were adopted, than Michael must have been as well. You and he really look alike."
"I know," Jody smiled. "He's a handsome fellow."
"I'm so glad you' re not burdened with a false sense of modesty," Sam teased, knowing Jody had been joking. In her eyes, her partner was the most beautiful woman in the world. "But then, I keep telling you how beautiful you are."
"And I appreciate that," Jody nodded, lovingly patting Sam's cheek. "Although we both know that you're biased."
"Who? Me? Nah!"
Jody laughed and put a hand behind Sam's neck to pull her down for a quick kiss.
"You'd better get out there, before Trish and Fiona get into a serious disagreement. Judging by the look on her face, my sister is not happy."
"I bet she wants to come along as well," Sam sighed.
"Let her bring her camera,"
Jody suggested calmly, smiling at the look of surprise on Sam's face.
"You know, my love, that is a brilliant idea," she remarked. "You think that will keep her out of trouble?"
"It's worth a shot," Jody chuckled, while she opened the door to the veranda. "Although, with Fiona, you'll never know."
As soon as they stepped onto the veranda, Jody and Sam could hear the indignant tone in Fiona's voice when she pointed at Sam.
"Sam's a civilian," Fiona calmly remarked. "So is Robin. What does that make me? An alien?"
"Funny you'd ask," Lucy chuckled, but a gentle squeeze of Trishia's hand on her shoulder silenced her. The police officer had no time to witness one of Lucy's and Fiona's famous verbal sparring sessions.
"Trish," Sam's voice interrupted the discussion and when the police woman turned around, Jody noticed the exasperation in her sister-in-law's eyes.
"I don't want to undermine your authority, but Jody suggested we might need a photographer," Sam explained gently.
"Yes, you do," Fiona nodded enthusiastically. "I promise I won't be in your way. I'll be good. Honest. I'm always good."
That last remark made everybody laugh and Yarra, still dripping wet, gave her friend a friendly slap on the back.
"Fiona, honey, don't lay it on too thick, we might believe you."
Fiona just grinned and sent Jody a grateful look. Jody nodded and answered the photographer's gaze with a questioning one of her own.
"I promised you, Pea," Fiona answered the unspoken question.
"Good," Jody smiled. "I trust you, Red."
"Alright, let's go," Sam urged. Although she was curious about the tracks the dog team had discovered, she wanted to be back home as soon as possible. Preferably, before the twins awoke. One of her favorite things was, together with Jody, to lift the warm, sleepy bodies of her children out of their bed and quietly snuggle until they were completely awake. She cherished those peaceful moments together with her partner.
"I'll run down and grab my camera," Fiona called out, turning around and running down the hill. Kurt, who thought that was a great idea, followed her with a happy bark and within minutes the two of them disappeared around the corner of the little house.
"There was no need to run, we could have stopped there on the way down," Trishia mumbled, shaking her head over Fiona's enthusiasm.
"You know my sister," Lucy responded with a laugh. "She likes doing things the hard way."
"I know," Trishia sighed, making a mental note to keep Fiona within sight all the time. "I guess we'll be back in a couple of hours," she promised, turning to Lucy and sending her a warm smile.
"I'll be here," Lucy answered, giving her partner a quick hug. "Be careful."
"Always," Trishia promised.
Fiona looked around and wrinkled her nose in thought. She had taken pictures of the area where Trishia thought the masked intruder had parked his car. It was scary to realize that some stranger would go through a lot of trouble and hard work, to sneak up the mountain in the middle of the night. And Fiona was convinced the encounter had not been a coincidence. There was something going on and her instincts told her Trishia and Sam knew more about it than they were willing to share.
Kicking the forest floor with the toe of her once white sneakers Fiona's thoughts went back to that moment, years ago, when they had been trapped in Sarah's and Megan's house. Little Steven Hayes had tried to burn them alive, but thanks to Sam and Little Steven's young helper, Fred, whose conscience would not allow him to turn around and walk away, they had been able to escape a horrible death.
Although it had been several years ago, Fiona still felt a little nauseous when she realized what could have happened. She had tried to figure out what motivated a person to do something like that to another human being, but she had still not found the answer to that question. The only thing that would make sense was insanity. And that was what frightened her the most, although she would never admit that to anyone.
Fiona had lived through that ordeal unscathed, but she knew she was carrying the scars anyway. Like Jody, Lucy, and Sam.
The prospect of another person who would be able and willing to hurt her family and friends was upsetting. Fiona knew that Trishia and Sam would do anything in their power to keep them all safe, but she was determined not to sit around and wait until the mystery was solved. If needed, she would take action.
With a sigh, Fiona looked up
when she heard the muffled sound of approaching footsteps. When she noticed
Robin Adams making her way over to where she was standing, Fiona became
aware of an emotion that made her frown. It was a mixture of fear and excitement
and she wondered what could have caused that sensation.
Inwardly she chuckled.
Sam must be rubbing off on me. I'm becoming a protective mother hen as well. Oooh, scary!
"Enjoying the scenery?" Robin smiled.
"Sort of," Fiona drawled lazily. "The view would be a lot better without those people milling about."
"I know," Robin nodded, casting a look at a small group of police officers who were talking to each other on the side of the road.
"I'm being good," Fiona sighed,
casting a longing glance on the steep, overgrown
hillside behind her. "What I really would like to do, is walk up there and check out that area where he was when I took that picture. I'm sure I saw him dropping something."
"Did you tell Trishia that?" Robin asked, immediately knowing the answer when she saw the guilty look on Fiona's face.
"Why didn't you?" she sighed.
"To be honest, I forgot. I really did," Fiona answered. "I guess I should tell her, huh? But it's not like I can pinpoint the exact location. I need to be up there," she pointed to the area behind her," to be sure."
"Let's go tell her," Robin suggested. "She might want to hike up there, or better yet, we could drive up the usual track and walk from the resort. That would only be about ten to fifteen minutes. It would be a lot faster."
"And less sweatier," Fiona agreed, wiping some moisture from her forehead. "Alright, let's go and make a confession. I hope she won't bite my head off," she added with a mumble.
"Hey, you weren't exactly in the best shape last night, nor this morning," Robin remarked.
Fiona glanced at the woman next to her and sent her a small, appreciative smile.
"Thanks for defending my honor, but the truth is, I never forget anything. There's a serious risk I'll never hear the end of this."
"You're human," Robin answered simply.
"Really?" Fiona chuckled. "My dear sister was about to call me an alien before. Did you hear that?"
"I did," Robin laughed, remembering the conversation between the siblings. "Why did Jody call you 'Red'? Is that a nickname?"
"Yes, it is," Fiona nodded. "In the good old McDonnell tradition, everyone in our family has one."
"Really?" Robin asked. "So, why 'Red'?" she gently prodded.
"I see I can't win this one," Fiona sighed, rolling her eyes. "Alright, I'll tell you. When I was a kid, my hair was dark-red. Not the reddish blonde of Jody's hair, but really dark-red. That's where the name comes from. And when the color changed, the name stuck."
"Interesting," Robin mused, glancing at the thick, dark hair that fell loosely on the photographer's shoulders.
Fiona caught the gaze and softly chuckled. She knew it seemed hard to believe, since her hair was so dark, but she had been telling the truth.
"What are the other nicknames?" Robin asked curiously.
"Well, let me start from the top: Jody is Pea, Lucy is Freckles," Fiona grinned when she heard Robin chuckle. "Matthew, my eldest brother, is Romeo, Gerald is Bird and Michael is Specs."
"Specs?" Robin echoed.
"He had to wear glasses when he was little," Fiona explained, suppressing a smile when she noticed the indignant look on Robin's face.
"He was the one who came up with it," she explained quickly. "I guess he thought it was pretty cool, but apparently he didn't think ahead. I don't think he'd expected it to be permanent. Little did he know," she laughed.
"I still think it's a little...sad
that he's called that," Robin spoke.
"You and Jody," Fiona chuckled. "She never calls him Specs. She reckons it's mean. While nobody ever questioned calling me 'Red'."
"Somehow I think you can take it," Robin smiled, seeing the sparkle in Fiona's eyes.
"No compassion from you, huh?" Fiona pouted. "I see where I stand."
Actually, I don't. Not at all.
Inwardly, Fiona sighed and she sent Robin a small smile when the other woman laughed.
At least she had been able to make Robin laugh again. That was so much better than rubbing her the wrong way.
Unconsciously, Fiona straightened her back, all of a sudden feeling a lot better.
Trishia was very interested in Fiona's information and after some quick orders, they jumped in the car to drive to the other side of the mountain, where the dirt-road led to the office building of the new resort.
The drive was quiet and when Trishia had parked the car, she didn't waste any time. They had all jumped out and Fiona, carrying her camera bag on her shoulder, had led the way.
It did not take the photographer long to find the exact spot where she had located the dark- clad intruder.
"There," she pointed to a spot down the steep hill. "Do you see that Booyong tree with that strange, deformed bush on the left? It looks like a spider with twelve and a half legs."
Behind her, Fiona could hear Sam and Robin chuckle and she smiled.
"Do you see it?" she repeated, looking at Trishia who was intently staring at the designated spot.
"Yes, I believe I do," was the answer.
"Just before he disappeared behind that tree, I saw him drop something," Fiona explained. "On the right side of it."
Trishia slowly nodded and suppressed a sigh. She wasn't looking forward to descending down the steep hill. The vegetation was thick and looked almost impossible to penetrate. She knew that, before she would return to the car, her bare arms would be covered in scratches.
"Are we going down there?" Robin asked, already stepping off the path to start the difficult hike down the hillside.
"Actually, I wanted to suggest that the three of you stay here, while I go down," Trishia replied.
"Bad idea," Fiona remarked, shaking her head."You need a photographer."
Trishia cast a look at Sam, who shrugged her shoulders and nodded.
"Let's all go down then," Trishia sighed. "Because I'm sure I can't prevent Sam from coming along and I don't want Robin to stay here all by herself."
"It's not a bad idea, Trish.
We might need each other's help every now and then."
Sam knew her right leg would be very painful at the end of the day, but she was determined to accompany Trishia and Fiona in their little expedition. Even though the Australian bush was considered the safest one in the world, there could still be some unexpected, nasty surprises.
"Alright, let's spread out a little. If anyone slips and falls, I don't want them to cause a chain reaction."
"That would be nasty," Fiona agreed, stepping off the path, into the thick forest, carefully placing her feet on the dark soil.
The canopy of trees provided shelter against the sun, but the air was thick and the humidity high and within minutes the women could feel drops of perspiration roll down their foreheads and backs.
Cautiously, they descended the steep hill. Careful not to slip and fall, or get tangled up in the thick foliage. They had not been prepared to hike through the bushes and the sometimes thorny branches unmercifully scratched their skins..
"Don't you just love a relaxed hike on a Saturday afternoon?" Fiona cheerfully called out, wincing when the moment of inattention caused her leg to get tangled up in some lantana.
"Serves you right, McDonnell," she mumbled to herself, looking at the bleeding scratches on her right leg. "Stop trying to be funny and pay attention to where you put your grubby feet, or you'll end up being a poster child for band-aid."
"Are you alright, Fi?" Sam's concerned voice came from the left.
"Yes, just talking to the bushes."
"Are they listening?" Trishia quipped.
"As a matter of fact, yes, I think they are. I might have found my match. Finally," Fiona dead-panned, continuing her walk down the hill.
"Figures your match would be a prickly bush," Sam teased.
"What can I say?" Fiona grinned. "Soul mates do come in all sorts, shapes and sizes."
A glance aside showed her that
Robin was steadily making her way down, a look of total concentration on
her face. To Fiona, it was obvious the woman had experience in hiking through
difficult terrain. Seemingly without difficulty, she dodged the low-hanging
branches, while avoiding the thick, slippery tree roots the forest floor
was covered with.
It was as if Robin could feel Fiona's glance, because suddenly she looked up and when their eyes met she sent the photographer a small smile. That one moment of looking away from the ground in front of her, caused her foot to get caught behind a root and with a muffled expletive, Robin lost her balance and fell to the ground, hitting her shoulder against a tree with full force. The blow momentarily paralyzed her arm and even though she reached out to a nearby branch, she lacked the strength to grab hold of it to her to keep her from rolling down the hill.
Robin tried to pull up her knees and protect her head from bumping into a tree or a rock, but the fall had temporarily disoriented her and after a few seconds of rolling down the hill, her left side forcefully collided with a tree, bringing her to a full stop.
Lying face down, gasping for breath, Robin tried to push herself upright and she groaned in frustration and pain when her body refused to obey.
There were sounds of somebody sliding down the hill and plopping down next to her to the damp forest floor.
"Take it easy," a concerned voice suddenly sounded close to her ear. "I'll help you turn around. Easy, alright?"
Robin just groaned, not really registering the words, but responding to the voice.
A pair of strong hands carefully slid across her shoulders and waist and slowly turned her onto her back. That definitely made breathing a whole lot easier and Robin sent Fiona a grateful look.
"Why is it that when you and I are in the same forest, I always end up hurting myself?" she gasped.
"I've no idea, but I am sorry," Fiona mumbled, scanning Robin for visible injuries.
"We should stop doing that," Robin whispered with difficulty.
"I agree," Fiona nodded, looking up when both Sam and Trishia knelt down next to her.
"Are you alright, Robin?" Sam asked with concern, noticing the bleeding gash just above the woman's left eyebrow.
"I've felt better," Robin winced, trying to probe her left side with her right arm. Immediately, a sharp pain shot through her body and she bit her lip to prevent herself from crying out.
"I'd better check to see if anything is broken," Trishia said, mentally slapping herself for allowing the other three women to come with her. "Tell me if I hurt you, okay, Robin?"
"Don't worry, I will," the injured woman breathed.
Fiona, who was sitting on Robin's left side, watched how Trishia carefully examined Robin's arms and legs, unconsciously holding her breath when the police woman checked the range of motion on the right shoulder that had been slammed into a tree.
Robin trembled when Trishia touched her shoulder and her left hand grabbed Fiona's arm in a tight grip, blindly searching for support. Pursing her lips, Fiona suppressed a groan of pain, knowing Robin's fingers would leave a bruise.
"It doesn't seem to be broken," Trishia finally spoke softly. "But we need to go to a hospital anyway, to have it x-rayed."
"That's fine," Robin sighed. "I'm sure I have a few cracked ribs though."
"Let me feel," Trishia responded, shifting position so she could carefully probe Robin's ribs, which made the unfortunate woman leave another bruise of Fiona's arm.
"I feel a little lump here," Trishia announced with a worried look.
"That's old," Robin answered. "I had an accident once. Broke two ribs. It might be just cracked right now. I'd know more if I could get up. Can you help me up?"
"Are you sure?" Sam asked with concern.
"Yes, I am," Robin nodded. "Besides, I can't stay here." She glanced up at Fiona and managed a small smile. "I don't want the Yowie to get me."
"Alright, let's get you to your feet then," Trishia sighed, knowing Robin was right. She admired the woman's spirit. Robin knew the walk back up the hill would be very hard on her.
Sam and Trishia carefully helped Robin to her feet and while the woman was leaning her back against the tree that had broken her fall, she let out a relieved breath.
"I'm starting to think I'm having a lucky day," she said. "My side is a little sore, but other than that and my shoulder, I guess I'm okay."
"I'm glad," Trishia nodded. "I shouldn't have let you , Sam, or Fiona come. It's too..."
"It was my choice," Robin interrupted. "Now, while I stay here to gather up courage for the hike back up, why don't you check out that spider tree," Robin suggested, gesturing towards the tree Fiona had pointed out before and that was now only a few steps away.
"Alright. Fiona, you stay here, with Robin. When I need your camera, I'll let you know. Come on, Sam," Trishia spoke, making her way through the few bushes that separated her from her goal.
Robin's unexpected fall and collision with the tree had scared her senseless and she wanted to return back to the car as soon as possible. Even though Robin claimed to be alright, it was still possible the woman had sustained some internal injuries and the sooner they would be able to get to a hospital, the better it would be.
"Don't you want to sit down?" Fiona softly asked when Sam and Trishia had continued their hike.
"No, I don't. Well, I'd love to," Robin sighed. "But I'm afraid I won't be able to get up again if I do sit down. And I think breathing hurts less when I'm upright. Is my face bleeding? It feels funny."
"You have a cut just above your eyebrow," Fiona explained. "It's still bleeding. I can clean it up, if you want me to."
"Don't tell me you carry a first-aid kit around with you?"
"Of course," Fiona grinned, happy to see Robin was still in good spirits. "I spend a lot of time in nature, sometimes hours away from civilization. I'd like to be prepared for the worst."
"In that case, by all means. Do you have butterflies?" Robin asked, watching how Fiona pulled a little box out of her camera bag.
"I do," the photographer chuckled. "Like I said, I come prepared"
"You' re a woman after my heart," Robin sighed, leaning the back of her head against the tree and closing her eyes, while Fiona started to clean the cut with careful, gentle fingers.
"Oh, so now I'm a woman," Fiona teased. "While, yesterday, you wondered if I was old enough to be a photographer."
"It was an honest mistake," Robin defended herself with a smile. "You look so young. But you were right, I shouldn't have assumed things."
"No, you shouldn't have," Fiona responded in a serious tone. "But it's alright, I suppose we all make that mistake every now and then."
"Young and wise," Robin softly chuckled, ignoring the pain in her head.
"And those are just two of my excellent qualities," Fiona grinned. "Let's not forget my charm, wit and intelligence."
"Or your cynicism and talent to get into trouble."
"Might I remind you that this time it was you who happily tumbled down the mountain?" Fiona answered with gentle humor.
"I guess you' re right," Robin replied, opening her eyes, shocked by Fiona's close presence. She suppressed a tired smile when Fiona almost stepped back, but changed her mind immediately, carefully closing the gash in Robin's forehead with a butterfly.
"I should have paid attention," Robin mused, closing her eyes again, hearing a little voice in the back of her mind.
Yes, Robin Adams, you really should have! Or were you?
Trishia stepped over a dead tree that had been destroyed by lightning a long time ago. Just a few steps away from her was the tree Fiona had pointed out and Trishia's eyes scanned the forest floor, looking for anything that might be a clue in the case she had to solve.
She knew Sam was following her closely. She could hear her tall friend right behind her.
"We' re in the area, Sam," she spoke, without turning around. Her eyes were glued to the ground, systematically sweeping the area in front of her, looking for anything that seemed out of place.
"Let's go around that tree," she suggested. "I'll take the left, you take the right.
"Sure," Sam answered calmly, concentrating fully on her task. She knew how meticulous her sister-in-law was and she would hate to miss a clue. Or destroy one.
Passing the tree on the right hand side, Sam instinctively bent forward in an unconscious attempt to be closer to the ground. She halted when she noticed a trampled patch of dirt and carefully sidestepped it, halting in her tracks when her eyes fell on a nearby bush.
Quickly blinking her eyes a few times, Sam tried to convince herself that she wasn't imagining things. It was like a cold hand had grabbed her stomach and slowly started squeezing.
"Trish," she called out in a hoarse voice. "I found something."
The police woman's head appeared from behind a bush and she looked at Sam expectantly.
"What is it?" she asked with a frown, noticing the horror in her friend's eyes.
Sam swallowed hard and pointed at the bush to her right.
To be continued in part
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