Fiona, who was casually leaning her shoulder against a tree, cast a concerned look at Robin.
"Are you falling asleep?" she asked with a hint of worry. It was possible the other woman, when she had slipped and fallen, had bumped her head a lot harder than she was willing to admit.
"No, I'm not," Robin sighed, opening her eyes. "But I admit that I'd love to doze off."
"I'm sorry about that," Fiona responded. "You must be very uncomfortable, not to mention in pain."
"I am," Robin answered, letting out a soft moan when she tried to change her position. Her sore body was rapidly going stiff, adding to the already almost unbearable discomfort. "But you could tell me a story," she joked weakly.
"I'm a lousy storyteller," Fiona chuckled. "You'd be asleep in minutes."
Robin smiled and cast a look at the tall, slender woman in front of her. Fiona McDonnell certainly was as attractive as her beautiful sister Lucy and the charming part about her was that Fiona could not care less.
"How long have Sam and Jody known each other?" she asked curiously. In the few hours she had been able to observe the couple, she had been intrigued by the obvious deep connection the two women shared.
"A lifetime," Fiona slowly answered, smiling when Robin's eyes opened wide.
"No, not literally. They have known each other ever since Jody was eighteen years old. I was only six at the time. So that's fifteen years ago."
"Have they been together all the time?"
For a brief moment, Fiona's face clouded over and Robin watched with interest when a flash of pain darkened the photographer's eyes.
"No, unfortunately not. Something happened and they were forced apart, until Sam came back about five years ago," Fiona related, not aware of the happiness that radiated from her expressive eyes.
"They married and now they'll live happily ever after," she concluded.
"Married?" Robin echoed. "You mean a commitment ceremony?"
"No," Fiona shook her head. "That's what Lucy and Trishia had. No, Jody and Sam are legally married, according to the Dutch law."
"Sam is Dutch?" Robin asked with surprise..
"Yes, she is, although you wouldn't know when you hear her talk. I've heard her curse in Dutch though, once or twice. It was funny. I asked her to teach me, but she refused to," Fiona grinned.
"They seem very happy together," Robin spoke softly, staring in the distance with a faraway look in her eyes.
"They are," Fiona nodded. "The day Sam came back was the best day in my life."
What's the matter with you, McDonnell? What's with the openness?
"It was, huh?" Robin drawled,
noticing the almost embarrassed way Fiona avoided her eyes. She suspected
the photographer had just accidentally revealed something she'd rather
keep to herself. Interesting.
"My first impression of Jody is that she's a wonderful person. Warm and loving. No wonder you wanted to see her happy," Robin guessed, knowing by Fiona's barely visible blush that she had discovered a major soft spot in the cynical photographer's armor: Jody.
"You know, Fiona McDonnell," Robin continued, resting her head against the tree and closing her eyes again. "I think you are a softie."
She smiled when she heard Fiona softly snort and, without looking at her, she knew Fiona's face was sporting an indignant frown.
"Well, Miss conservation biologist turned manager turned psycho-analyst, don't tell the world. They might not believe you."
"Is it the reputation thing?" Robin teased lightly.
"What else?" Fiona grinned, still feeling a little unsettled after Robin's words. They had been so true, it had given her an eerie feeling. How was it possible that somebody she had known for just a little over a day, could read her so well? Maybe it had been a lucky guess.
Fiona nibbled her bottom lip and observed the woman who was leaning against the tree. Robin's face had been cleaned up and Fiona had neatly used two butterflies to close the gash over her eyebrow. But the manager looked tired and, even with her eyes closed, she seemed to be in pain.
Fiona wished there was something she could do to help the other woman feel better. She knew the walk back up the steep hill would be very difficult for Robin and she was determined to support the other woman as much as she could.
That would be the right thing to do. It wasn't Robin's fault she was dragged into one of the McDonnell-Stevens' adventures and Fiona decided she felt somewhat responsible for the situation they were in.
Helping Robin and trying to
be nice would be the right thing to do. Besides, it was what Sam and Jody
expected from her. Right?
"What the heck?"
Trishia quickly, but carefully put her long legs to good use and with a few strides she was at Sam's side, following the blonde's gaze. As soon as her eyes noticed the discovery that had Sam frozen to the spot, she sucked in a breath.
From under one of the bushes something that suspiciously resembled a leg stuck out from under the branches. Only part of a shoe and what appeared to be a foot was visible, the rest was obscured from view.
Trishia looked around and bent down to pick up a long, thin branch. Stepping closer to the bush, she carefully put down her feet, trying to avoid trampling the scene. Using the crooked stick, she pushed aside the lower branches, so she could take a better look at what was dumped on the forest floor.
Sam followed Trishia's every move and she let out a shaky breath when the rest of her discovery came into view.
"Oh, thank goodness, it's just a shoe," she said with obvious relief, mentally slapping herself for the fact her imagination had gotten the best of her, at least for a brief moment.
"Actually, it's not," Trishia objected in a low voice. "It's covered in what seems to be blood. And there's a sock stuffed in there, also pretty bloody." Trishia cautiously moved a little closer. "I can't wait to see the lab results on this one," she mumbled. "I smell a rat."
"I guess it's not very likely for a person to lose a shoe like that in an overgrown part of the rainforest, huh?" Sam sighed.
"Not really," Trishia answered. "Especially, not this far away from any path or track. No, Sam, this was put here for a reason and I'm very eager to find out why."
"To get rid of...evidence of some sort?" Sam guessed.
"You'd think we'd find a whole body, if that was the case," Trishia replied, stretching her back and turning around to face her friend. "But then, we still might," she added somberly, looking around the dense area.
It would be hard work to find anything else that could give them a clue about what was going on. The forest was so dense, she could hardly see a couple of meters in front of her. She knew Fiona and Robin were close by; if she strained her ears she could hear their voices, but it was impossible to see them.
If somebody had tried to hide a body, Trishia knew they would definitely find more clues. She would need to get more of her people to the mountain, so they could do a thorough search of the grounds. Meter for meter.
"So much for a nice relaxed weekend," she sighed. "I need to get more people in here, Sam. And I'll need to seal off the area. I'm sorry, but until we've completed a search, I can't allow anyone up here. I'm afraid your restoration schedule will be completely messed up now."
"Yes, that's for sure," Sam sighed, raking her fingers through her hair. "How long do you think it will take?"
"At least a few days, maybe longer. It's a huge area, Sam, and the terrain is anything but easy. I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault, Trish," Sam answered in a tired voice, in her mind already going over the list of contractors she needed to call. This was going to cost the company a lot of money. Her brother and dad would not be happy.
Sam straightened her back and tried to ignore the dull pain in her leg. When she had seen Robin fall and roll down the hill, she had tried to reach the woman as fast as she could, but the steep, uneven forest floor had taken a toll on her leg. She had stumbled a few times when her feet had stepped on a slippery tree root and only her quick reflexes and a large dosage of luck had prevented her from sharing Robin's fate.
"Are you alright, Sam?" Trishia asked with concern. She knew her friend could be very hard on herself, pushing herself to the limit. But the last thing Trishia wanted was Sam being in pain.
"I'm okay," Sam answered with a weak smile. "Years ago, my orthopedic surgeon told me I had to give up mountaineering. I guess he was right," she added with a wry grin. "But I'll live. I'm sure Robin is in worse shape."
"I'm sure she is," Trishia agreed. "We need to get her back up there, so she can go to a hospital and get checked out. She really slammed hard into that tree. I'm worried about her."
"Do you need Fiona's camera before we leave?" Sam asked softly. "I can walk back and get it for you."
"You think she'll part with it?" Trishia smiled, knowing how precious the sensitive equipment was to her sister-in-law. Only on very rare occasions did Fiona allow somebody else to touch her cameras.
"I can try," Sam grinned. "I'll just use my 'Innocent Baby Blues routine'."
"Good luck on that one, mate," Trishia chuckled. "As far as I know, that only works with Jody."
"I'll be right back," Sam grinned, turning around and making her way through the dense bushes to where Robin and Fiona were waiting for them.
She found them both leaning against a tree, seemingly lost in thought. Robin had her eyes closed, her right arm was pressed against her stomach and was supported by her left arm in an effort to immobilize the hurt shoulder. Her face was drawn and pale and Sam realized she had to be in pain.
As soon as Sam had made her way through the bushes, Fiona had looked up and eyed her curiously.
"Did you find anything?" she asked softly.
Sam nodded and stepped closer.
"Yes, we did and Trishia wants some pictures. We need to go back up, so Trish can arrange for a search party, or whatever they call that. This area needs to be sealed off."
"What did you find?" Fiona frowned. "A dead body?"
Robin opened her eyes and sent Sam a tired, but inquisitive look.
"Did you?" her husky voice sounded.
"No," Sam shook her head. "Not yet anyway," she added dryly, telling them about the blood stained shoe and sock.
"Creepy," Robin mumbled, carefully rubbing her forehead where a big lump had appeared.
"At least, I'm glad I didn't drag you all out here for nothing," Fiona remarked, casting a guilt-filled glance at Robin. Turning her attention back to Sam, she nodded at the tall blonde and let her camera bag slid from her shoulder.
"You know how the thing works, don't you?" she asked, looking up with a puzzled expression when there was no answer. "Sam?"
"Oh...um...yes, I do. But...don't you want to...?"
Fiona shrugged her shoulders and tried very hard to look nonchalant.
"Nah, go ahead. I'm sure Trish doesn't want all the evidence ruined by my big feet. I trust you with my baby," she added with a grin.
"Um..sure, alright," Sam nodded, still lost for words after Fiona's suggestion. She had prepared herself for a discussion in which she would have tried to convince the stubborn photographer to let her or Trishia use the camera. Instead, Fiona had flabbergasted her by simply handing her the camera.
I've just witnessed a miracle.
"Great, thanks Fi. I'll be careful. I won't drop it, sit on it, or get it full of sand and bugs," Sam joked, glad to have regained her ability to string a few words together.
"If you do, you'll be the one taking it apart and cleaning it," Fiona threatened with a wink. "I'll need it for that pageant next week."
"It will be pampered," Sam
promised, turning around and heading back to the patiently waiting Trishia.
"Oh, right, the pageant," Robin softly chuckled. "Do you think it's too late for me to sign up for that? I might have a chance in the 'horror' category."
"I don't think they have a category like that," Fiona answered. "But maybe we can suggest it and start a whole new trend. Can I be your manager?"
Robin smiled and through her thick eyelashes she glanced at the dark-haired woman, who was leaning against a tree, twirling a twig between long, slender fingers. She seemed so relaxed and at ease in the forest, it didn't surprise Robin she was a good photographer of nature. The photos she had seen in Sam's office were a testament to that. She wondered if Fiona would give her a tour of her studio. She really wanted to see more of the young woman's work.
"Doesn't your job keep you busy enough already?" she asked.
"I've a lot of energy," Fiona explained. "But yes, it might be a little too much. I have enough going on at the moment. I'll have to turn in a paper as well next week."
"A paper?" Robin asked with raised eyebrows.
"Yes, I'm wrapping up some stuff. This last paper should get me my degree in software engineering," Fiona answered casually. She noticed the look of surprise on Robin's face and chuckled.
"I'm more than just a pretty face, you know." she joked.
"Yes, I've noticed," Robin answered, delighted to have unraveled yet another piece of the 'Fiona McDonnell' puzzle. "I'm impressed."
"Don't be," Fiona answered in a serious tone. "I'm just me."
"Yes, but since you' re only twenty- one years old, you must have been really young when you started this study."
"What can I say? I'm a fast
reader," Fiona grinned. "It really bugs you I'm twenty-one, doesn't it?"
she teased, effortlessly changing the subject.
"Not really," Robin answered, shaking her head, which made her wince in pain. "I'm just amazed that you've accomplished so much already. I admire that."
"You've not done so badly yourself," Fiona replied, stuffing her hands back in her pocket and crossing her ankles. "You' re a conservation biologist, hired by Sam to run the new resort and you're...what? Twenty-five?"
"Oh, you flatterer," Robin smiled, amused by Fiona's attempt to divert the attention away from herself. "I'm a little older than that. I'll be twenty-eight in a few weeks."
"Cool, I like parties," Fiona smiled.
"Who says you're invited?" Robin shot back.
"Who else would take pictures on a professional level for just a piece of cake and a cup of coffee?" Fiona quipped.
"I think you have a point," Robin nodded, enjoying the light banter that distracted her from the pain in her bruised body.
"Of course I do," Fiona smiled brightly, sending Robin a triumphant look. Out of sight, but close enough to hear them talk softly, she heard the voices of Sam and Trishia and the expression on her face darkened.
"Do you think somebody was killed here?" she asked, feeling a shiver run down her back.
"I don't know, Fiona," Robin answered in a soft voice. "But if the shoe Sam was talking about is any indication, we might have a serious situation on our hands here."
"That sucks," Fiona mumbled. "I thought we've had our share of murder mysteries."
"Really? How so?"
Fiona shook her head and slowly exhaled, before shrugging her shoulders and pushing away from the tree she had been using as a backrest. She could hear Trishia and Sam approach.
"It's a long story," she answered. "I'll tell you some other time."
"I'll hold you to that," Robin replied, which earned her a small smile from the tall photographer.
"Alright, girls, we need to get out of here," Trishia greeted them, handing Fiona her camera back. "Are you alright, Fi?" she asked, looking at the younger woman with a mixture of concern and curiosity. It had been hard to believe Sam, when she had told her Fiona had just handed her the camera without a word of protest. It was weird and she wondered if the lack of sleep was catching up to her sister-in-law.
"I'm good," Fiona answered, taking over the camera and putting it back in the bag. She missed the puzzled glance Sam and Trishia exchanged, but Robin had noticed and, in spite of the pain she was in, she suppressed a smile.
The interaction between the different family members was definitely interesting.
"Okay, Robin, do you think you can walk?" Trishia asked gently, eying the manager with concern. The hike back up the hill was steep and slippery and there was a real risk of falling, for all of them.
"I have no choice," Robin answered calmly. "I'll have to grit my teeth and keep going."
"We' ll help you," Sam promised.
"I appreciate that, Sam, but I'm sure you'll have enough trouble getting back up," Robin answered, having seen the gradually worsening limp in the tall blonde's gait.
"We'll help," Fiona decided, putting her camera bag on the ground. "And the first thing you'll need is a sling to keep that arm from moving."
Before anyone had a chance to respond, Fiona had pulled her t-shirt over her head, leaving her clad in only a pair of shorts and a black sports bra. When she noticed the astonished looks she was receiving, she just shrugged her freckled shoulders and stepped closer to Robin.
"Don't look at me like that. I'm sure there's more to see on the beach and I'm sure the two of you see a naked woman every day. For heaven's sake, it's only a bra."
"And a nice one too," Sam chuckled.
"I'm sure Lucy has the same one," Trishia grinned. "It looks familiar."
"She probably has," Fiona nodded with a grin. "I bought this one on a rare shopping trip with mom and the sisters. Alright, Robin, carefully lift your arm a little, so I can slip this underneath."
Robin silently obeyed, very aware of the scarcely clad woman standing next to her. Breathing suddenly became a lot more difficult when her arm&; accidentally touched Fiona's bare skin. But the photographer, concentrating on her task, did not seem to notice and Robin slowly exhaled.
"You'll be covered in scratches before we get up there," she finally managed to say.
"I'll be fine," Fiona answered. "I'm used to scratches, leeches and sand-flees." She carefully tied a knot in the makeshift sling. "Not necessarily in that order," she added dryly.
"Yes, Fiona spends a lot of time crawling through the dirt," Sam provided helpfully, grabbing Fiona's camera bag and hanging it around her shoulder. Fiona, who was about to object, silently nodded when Sam shot her a warning look. Her sister- in-law was right. She would need both hands to help Robin.
"Alright, let's go," Trishia encouraged, walking in front of Robin so she could clear a path through the dense foliage, careful to bend back the branches that could swipe Robin's face or shoulder.
As by silent agreement, Fiona was walking behind Robin, quick to put a hand on the other woman's back when she threatened to lose her balance. The first time she felt her foot slip away from underneath her, Robin closed her eyes in horror, waiting for the painful thump when her body would hit the ground.
But a warm hand around her left arm provided the support she needed and with a sigh of relief, she shot Fiona a grateful look.
"No worries," was the calm reply. "I live to serve," Fiona added with a grin.
"It's appreciated," Robin mumbled, staring at the hill in front of her and wondering how she would ever make it back to the car.
"Hang in there, Robin," Trishia encouraged, having noticed the look of despair. "We'll get there."
"Sure, sure," Robin muttered. "The question is: when, though."
They continued their slow walk uphill, every now and then pausing to give Robin a chance to catch her breath. The breaks were short, because Robin knew the longer she would stand still, the harder it was to continue moving. Her head and ribs were throbbing in sync with the pumping of her heart, while every unexpected movement caused a sharp pain to shoot through her shoulder.
"Keep going," Fiona softly encouraged, aware of Robin's struggle. "I'll be right behind you, but I need to tie my shoelace," she explained, already kneeling down to put a new knot in the long, mud covered laces.
Keeping an eye on Robin, Fiona made quick work of tying her shoelaces and just when she wanted to get up, she became aware of a soft, hardly audible noise behind her. Experiencing the same sensation as the previous day, after having spotted the lone, dark figure in the forest, Fiona felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and she had to fight the urge to turn around. Goose bumps erupted all over her skin when she became aware of the eerie feeling that somebody was watching her. And that someone was close enough for her to hear the occasional rustling of leaves and footsteps, trying not to make a sound.
Feeling her heart pound in her chest, Fiona fought the urge to panic. Instead she took a deep breath, straightened up and quickly followed her companions, catching up with them after just a few seconds.
Walking very close behind Robin, she put a hand on the other woman's arm, seemingly supporting her in her difficult climb.
"Don't ask me why and don't turn around, but you'll have to ask Trishia to take a break for a moment," Fiona urged in a whisper.
Robin had only known Fiona for a short time, but the tone of her voice was deadly serious and she realized the photographer was not joking. Wiping her damp forehead, Robin looked up at Trishia, who was a few meters in front of her, bending back some thorn covered branches.
"Trish," Robin called out with a hoarse voice. "I need a break."
"Sure, Robin," Trishia immediately replied, casting a look at Sam, who was standing next to her, rubbing her right calf.
Fiona and Robin continued their climb, until they had reached the other two women. Staying behind Robin, Fiona looked at Trishia and when the police woman noticed the expression on her face, her eyes lost all fatigue. In an instant, Trishia Waters was in full police mode, alert and sharp.
"What's wrong?" she asked softly, scanning the bushes behind Fiona with clear, inquisitive eyes.
"There's someone following us," Fiona whispered. "I heard it when I was tying my shoelaces."
Trishia just nodded and cast a look at the distance they would still need to cover. She estimated it would take them at least another fifteen minutes to reach the path that lead back to the car. She wondered if their cell phones would work. They hadn't when they had been taking pictures of the shoe and the area they had found it in. Trishia had tried, but the forest had disturbed the signal. Maybe being higher on the hill would make a difference. She knew she had to try, preferably without their stalker noticing.
Moistening her dry lips, Trishia wondered if the person following them was the same one who had fired the shot the night before. In that case, he could be armed. And dangerous.
Softly muttering a curse, Trishia wished she would have given in to her instincts that morning, when she had debated whether to take her gun with her, or lock it in its drawer. Since they were going to Sam and Jody's, she had chosen to leave it at home.
Looking at Sam, her eyes traveled to Fiona and then to Robin. It was obvious to the other women that Trishia was in the process of making a decision.
"Alright, Robin. May I?" she spoke in low tone and the other woman nodded, reaching underneath her shirt, pulling out a small, but serious looking gun.
"What the heck?" Fiona almost exclaimed.
With wide eyes, she looked at the weapon Trishia was holding in her hands and she had to fight the urge to take a step back. Her gaze traveled to Trishia, who quickly checked the gun, taking it off safety, to Sam who looked worried, but not phased at all.
"I didn't know carrying a gun was part of the job description," Fiona coolly remarked, sending Sam an accusing look.
"I can explain, Fiona," Trishia answered calmly, keeping an eye on the trees and bushes behind them. "Things are not exactly what they seem."
Pulling a face, Fiona sent the tall police woman an angry stare.
"Well, duh!" she almost sneered, feeling completely betrayed by the other three women. "Apparently, I am the only one who wasn't aware of the fact that we were on an official X-files mission. Silly me," she added cynically.
Fiona was angry and disappointed at the same time. She knew Trishia often was involved in things she could not talk about, but she understood and respected that. It came with the job. But discovering that Sam was involved as well, somehow, was a little more upsetting. And the knowledge that Robin, whom she had come to like and appreciate, had been able to fool her completely, was infuriating.
Conservation biologist. Yeah, right!
"Well, I'd love to hear all the explanations, but I'm afraid we have more pressing matters," she continued in a voice, void of any expression. "What's the plan, Trish?"
Robin had heard Fiona's voice change from anger to sarcasm to, finally, cool detachment and inwardly she cringed. Things had not been going according to plan, at all and the unexpected events had been upsetting to Fiona, who, Robin had discovered, was more sensitive than she cared to admit.
A quick glance at the photographer's face showed a pair of eyes that were dark with anger and Robin feared that the tentative friendship that had started to develop between herself and Fiona had come to an untimely ending.
"I'll walk behind Robin," Trishia's voice interrupted Robin's musings. "Keep going, Sam."
In a tense silence, the women continued their climb up the hill, unconsciously trying to increase their speed, fighting the urge to run or look over their shoulder. Trishia, holding her small cell phone in the palm of her hand, kept checking for a signal, but, to her utter frustration, the display showed her there was no signal yet.
"We rely on modern technology too much, anyway," she muttered, aware of the gun she had tucked in the waistband of her shorts. The feel of the weapon against her skin was both reassuring and chilling. She really hoped she would not be forced to use it.
Concentrating, Trishia discovered that Fiona was right. Not that she had been doubting the young photographer. The dark-green eyes had been deadly serious. At a small distance behind her, she could hear the soft rustling of leaves and the occasional heavier footstep, probably when their stalker's feet slipped off the root of a tree or a rock.
Trishia looked up and noticed how Fiona reached out to put her hand on Robin's left arm, so she could lead the woman around a big boulder that was blocking their way. Fiona's face was uncharacteristically drawn and Trishia noticed how she carefully avoided eye-contact with Robin.
With a small sigh, Trishia wondered if they had done the right thing. Maybe they should have told Fiona a little more about the situation, but then, nobody had expected things to get so out of control. She could imagine it must have been a shock for the youngest McDonnell to suddenly see Robin pull out a gun, while Fiona didn't know any more than that Robin was a biologist.
Trishia slowly exhaled. But Robin was. Among other things. It had not been a lie, but she realized Fiona felt like she had been deceived. And basically she had been, sort of, anyway.
Casting another look at the two women in front of her, Trishia decided she had to do some damage control. As soon as they got back home.
Robin bit her lip, while she winced in pain. The branch Fiona had carefully pulled away had suddenly slipped out of her hand, bouncing back and grazing Robin's shoulder.
Trying to catch her breath, she told herself how lucky she was it had not hit her with full force. She was convinced she would have passed out if that had happened.
"Oh crap! I'm sorry," Fiona's voice penetrated the foggy haze of pain. "I'm sorry, Robin."
Glancing up, Robin saw the shock and guilt in Fiona's eyes and she nodded carefully, ignoring the pain in her head.
"It's alright, Fiona," she answered with a hoarse voice. "It was an accident."
Fiona did not answer, she just extended her hand, making sure Robin would not slip and fall. They were nearly there. Fiona could tell by the flattening of the hillside where the path was and she knew it was only a few more minutes.
Glancing aside at the silently struggling Sam, she felt a lump rise in her throat and she swallowed hard. She wished she had not snapped at Sam. Her rational mind told her there had to be a reason for all the secrecy that seemed to surround the events of the last two days. She loved Sam deeply and knew the tall blonde always had a reason for the things she did. She trusted Sam. She always had and her sister's wife did not deserve the harsh words Fiona had spoken.
Fiona sighed, not aware of the sad look in her eyes. Trishia had not deserved it either and, come to think of it, neither did Robin. But she had felt like such an idiot, not knowing what was going on, not even knowing there was something going on in the first place. She knew Sam and Trishia well enough to know there had to be a good reason for their actions.
Fiona had reached the path and absentmindedly she reached out a hand to help Robin with the last, steep step. Then she turned her attention to Sam, who had put the camera bag on the ground and had bent over to massage her aching leg, softly muttering to herself.
"Is it a cramp, Sam?" she asked with concern, knowing how much they could hurt. Sam just nodded and limped to the side of the path where she had spotted a tree stump that could serve as a seat.
As soon as she sat down, Fiona knelt down in front of her, grabbing Sam's right foot and gently pressing the toes upward, like she had seen her sister do so many times before.
"Thanks, Fi," Sam breathed, feeling the cramp slowly subside, leaving her leg throbbing and tired. She smiled at the young woman and playfully ruffled the dark hair, immediately seeing the somber look disappear.
"About earlier, I...I'm sorry Sam, I shouldn't have..."
"No worries, Red," Sam smiled, having seen the genuine regret on Fiona's face. "You were upset and I understand. I would have been too, if it had been me." Looking at Trishia, who was checking her phone again, Sam continued. "When we get back home, we'll need to talk. I don't want to leave you in the dark completely. You' re too smart for that, anyway. What were we thinking, huh?" she smiled.
"Obviously you weren't," Fiona shot back, relieved beyond words that Sam was so understanding.
"Inspector? It's me, Trishia. I need your permission..." Trishia lowered her voice and while she kept an eye on the hillside they had just climbed, she had a quick conversation with Carol Wong, her superior officer. When she was done, she tucked away the phone and cast a look at the three women who seemed to be in different stages of fatigue, with Fiona being the most energetic of them all.
The dark-haired photographer had jumped back up when she noticed Robin was trying to get her injured shoulder out of the makeshift sling.
"What are you doing?" she frowned.
"Getting you your shirt back," Robin answered, letting out a muffled moan when a sharp pain shot through her body.
"Leave it," Fiona replied. "You'll still have to walk to the car."
Robin opened her mouth to object, but a warning, yet sympathetic look from Sam stopped her.
"Come on, Robin, let's get you to the hospital," Trishia spoke loudly, gesturing the other three women to walk ahead of her on the path. Again, the police woman would bring up the rear, knowing that whoever was stalking them, was still there. But she had a plan. Carol Wong would send in a few more teams and had told Trishia she would inform the dog team that was still on the mountain. A patrol car had been at the office building of the resort and Trishia knew that any moment now, she could expect a few police officers to come running down the path. As soon as they would arrive, she would go back and try to figure out who had been following them. Hopefully, the element of surprise would be to their advantage. For now she wanted to give their stalker the impression they were not aware of his company. But soon, that would change.
"Sam," she called out softly, watching as the tall blonde turned her head and looked at her. Trishia gestured her to come closer and Sam half-turned to let Fiona and Robin pass.
Putting a hand on her friend's shoulder, Trishia encouraged Sam to keep walking, while she tried to divide her attention between the women she felt responsible for and the stalker who was still behind them, somewhere, hidden from view.
"Listen, Sam, there'rereinforcements on the way. As soon as they're here, I want you and the girls to keep going. Get into my car and get Robin to a hospital," she said, pressing her car keys in Sam's hand. "I'll get a ride home, don't worry about me,"she added, when she saw the expression on the other woman's face. "Just make sure that Robin and Fiona are safe."
"I will, don't worry," Sam nodded. "Give Lucy a call as soon as you can though. She'll only believe you're alright when she actually hears you say it. You know how she is," Sam added with a smile.
"I know, believe me," Trishia nodded, remembering the weeks and months following her shootout with Martin Coles. She had been shot in the shoulder and chest, but had been very, very lucky. The bullet had entered and exited without doing too much damage.
Lucy had been frantic with worry the first day Trisha had to return back to work, after a few weeks of intense rehabilitation. She had spent the day at home, pacing the livingroom, waiting for Trishia to call her every few hours, which the police woman did dutifully. Trishia's patience had paid off, because after a few weeks, Lucy's fear had subsided enough for her to talk to her partner rationally.
She had also talked to Sharon Jones, the wife of Trishia's police partner, who had been enormously helpful. The older woman had been able to help Lucy to find ways to channel and control her fear that would never disappear completely, but, at least, had become more manageable.
"Alright, Sam, here they are," Trishia spoke, hearing the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps. "Fiona, Robin, do as Sam tells you to do, I'll see you later." She looked Fiona straight in the eye and nodded. "We'll talk then."
Before Fiona could open her mouth to respond, four uniformed police officers suddenly came running around the corner and with a mixture of surprise and shock, Robin and Fiona watched Trishia turn around to head back into the forest, the police officers close behind her.
The sound of snapping twigs and branches made it clear to them that their stalker had decided to head in the other direction, back down the hill again, this time followed by five determined police officers.
"Alright, let's go," Sam sighed, wrapping an arm around Fiona's shoulders to give her a quick, one armed hug. "How are you holding up, Fi?"
"Pretty good, especially compared to the two of you," Fiona answered dryly. "I'm only half-naked, you two are in pain."
"I'm fine," Robin spoke up, but the tone in her voice belied the words.
"No, you're not," Fiona answered curtly. "You' re pretty banged up and we need to get you to a hospital."
"Not before I give you back your shirt," Robin replied with a stubborn expression on her face.
"I told you I don't need..."
"Yes, you do," Robin interrupted the photographer in a tone of voice that should have been a warning. The manager was tired and hurting.
Without saying another word, Robin started to ease her arm out of the makeshift sling, wincing when she jarred her injured shoulder.
"See? You need the thing," Fiona's voice immediately sounded, making Robin clench her jaw in frustration. Did the photographer never give up?
"I don't need it as much as you do. Unless you want to walk into that hospital attracting all sorts of attention."
"Maybe I like attention," Fiona responded in a cool voice.
"That wouldn't surprise me," Robin mumbled in a tired voice, using her left hand to lift the t-shirt over her head and hand it to Fiona. "Here, take it." And for crying out loud, put it back on!!! "Thanks for letting me use it. I really appreciate it, Fiona," she added softly.
Fiona, who was about to make another of her trade-mark cynical remarks, changed her mind and mentally slapped herself. No matter how disappointed she was in Robin, the woman was injured and in pain. Going into a verbal sparring session with her would be very inconsiderate.
"Alright, since you' re so sure you don't need it anymore, " Fiona sighed, untying the knot in the shirt and quickly putting it back on again. It was wrinkled and damp and she detected the lingering smell of Robin's perfume. It was a light and fresh scent that reminded her of a crisp winter morning when the sun had just come up, painting the world in shades of orange, while nature was covered in morning dew, preparing for the day, waiting for the chill to be chased away by the comfortable warmth of the sun.
Fiona liked it.
Sam carefully put away her cell phone and turned around to walk back into the hospital again. The hallway leading to the waiting area of the emergency room was long. At the moment, almost too long for Sam who could feel the throbbing ache in her leg get worse with every step she took. What she needed was a soak in the jacuzzi she had installed when she and Jody bought the house. The tub was big enough for her to stretch out her legs and the combination of warm water and massaging bubbles always made her feel better. Especially, when she was accompanied by her partner.
Sam smiled when she replayed her conversation with Jody in her head. Her partner had been understanding, but worried. And even though she had just met Robin, she was in full mother-hen mode.
Sam almost chuckled. People who had just met Jody often were mistaken about the redhead, always complimenting her about her domestic abilities, not realizing Jody's mind was as sharp as Fiona's. In business, Sam never made a difficult decision without talking things through with her partner. She respected and valued her opinion more than anyone else's. Sam knew that Jody was her strength. In so many different ways.
"Hey, Red," Sam greeted Fiona, sinking next to her on the low, uncomfortable looking couch in the waiting room. "Did you hear anything yet?"
"No," Fiona shook her head. "That bloke said they could be a while. You'd think taking a few x-rays would be done in no time, huh?"
"Well, we don't know whatever's going on behind those doors," Sam replied, shifting in her seat. "They might have a hefty workload."
"I guess," Fiona shrugged her shoulders. She quietly looked around the waiting area. She detested the place. The last time she had been there was when Trishia had been shot. Fiona cast down her eyes and sighed. Talking a walk down memory lane was not always entertaining. They had feared for Trishia's life and only the surgeon who had repaired the damage, had been able to lift that constricting band of fear around their hearts.
"I know," she suddenly heard Sam's voice close to her ear, while a long arm wrapped around her shoulders. "I remember it, too. I'm so grateful we all survived that."
"Except for the bad guy," Fiona answered.
"Except for him," Sam repeated, knowing she would never be able to forget the image of Martin Coles and the madness in his eyes when he advanced on her and Trishia. The policewoman had done the only thing possible to stop him. She had shot him.
"Do you think we'll end up in a situation like that again, Sam?"
"I sure hope not," Sam sighed with a frown. "I hope Trish can get a hold of the person who was stalking us and solve this...situation. End of story. I hope."
"I bet it's a lot more complicated than that," Fiona answered, leaning against Sam. "It has to be." She glanced up at the tall blonde. "Sam, who and what is Robin?"
Sam, who had been expecting that question, dropped a kiss on the top of Fiona's head and pulled her closer. To her, Fiona would always be Jody's little sister.
"Robin Adams is who she says she is, a conservation biologist, whom I hired to manage the new resort," Sam answered softly. "I know there's more to it, Fiona, but you'll have to talk to Robin about that. And to Trish."
"Part of it is, yes."
"Is Robin some kind of undercover agent?"
"She's a conservation biologist, Fiona," Sam repeated gently. "That's why I wanted her on board."
"I get it," Fiona sighed. "You' re sworn to secrecy. But I felt like an idiot, Sam, when she handed Trish that gun, like I was in some sleazy B-movie, or something. For a moment. I didn't know what to think, or to believe. I still don't," she ended softly. "Not really."
"Samantha Stevens?" a voice called out and immediately both Sam and Fiona looked up to see an elderly man standing in the doorway. His glasses were balancing on the tip of his nose, while the bright hall light was reflected by his shiny, bald head.
"Yes, doctor," Sam answered politely, slowly getting to her feet.
He shot her a startled look when she towered over him and looked positively stunned when Fiona had risen to her full length as well.
"Um...oh, yes, yes," he stammered. "I...um...I'm Doctor James and I just received the results from the x-rays of your...um..employee, Miss Adams. Fortunately, there are no fractures of any sort. Her ribs on the left side are bruised and due to the blunt impact on the right shoulder, Miss Adams most likely received, what we call an AC sprain, which is an incomplete tear of the ligament between the acromion and clavicle," Doctor James explained, seeing Sam nod in understanding, while Fiona looked at him with a raised eyebrow. "Um...it's painful, but not serious. We'll give her a sling to immobilize the arm. I gave her a list of range of motion exercises she can do. The sooner she starts with those, the better. She received a prescription for some mild pain medication as well. She can take those as needed."
"What about her head?" Fiona asked, frowning at the doctor.
"We cleaned the laceration over her eye, but it did not need any stitches. I don't have the impression she sustained a concussion, but if she has any dizzy spells, nausea and vomiting, I'd like to see her come back here again. And to stay on the safe side, I'd suggest waking her up every two hours to check her level of consciousness."
"She'll love that," Fiona mumbled, remembering Robin's first reaction when she had woken her up the previous night. It had not been one of delight
"Anyway, the nurse is helping her with the immobilizer right now," the physician continued cheerfully. "She'll be ready to go in a minute."
"Thank you, Doctor James," Sam smiled, shaking the smaller man's hand.
"It was my pleasure, Miss Stevens," he answered, smiling brightly. He gave Fiona a nod, turned around and disappeared behind one of the many doors in the long hallway.
Sam let out a breath. "Well, that's good news. Nothing broken."
"Does the tree count?" Fiona joked. "It might not be broken, but I'm sure there's a dent in it somewhere. That was quite a blow."
"It's very comforting to know you're so concerned with the tree," a tired, but cool voice sounded behind them.
Fiona mumbled a curse and turned around to face Robin. Why was it that she always managed to either to insult or aggravate the other woman? Unintentionally.
"I didn't mean it like that, Robin. It was a joke," Fiona tried to explain, but Robin just weakly raised her left hand and shook her head.
"I'm not in the mood, Fiona. Let's give it a rest, alright?"
And to Sam's amazement, Fiona shrugged her shoulders, stuffed her hands in her pockets and stepped aside, waiting for the other two women to head towards the exit. Robin had noticed the darkening of Fiona's eyes and she was about to apologize, again, but the photographer avoided her eyes intentionally, her face firmly set into a neutral expression.
With a small sigh, Robin followed Sam towards the exit, only wishing for one thing; to be able to lie down and go to sleep. The sooner the better.
Knowing she was in the company of four well-trained police officers, Trishia put her long legs to good use, dashing down the path, the others close behind her. Without saying anything, she jumped off the path into the bushes, wanting nothing more than to capture the person who had been stalking them. She had a lot of questions and was hungry for some answers.
"The pursuer pursued," she thought grimly, dodging a branch that almost slammed into her face. In front of her, she could hear the tell-tale sound of rustling leaves, snapping branches and running footsteps while the stalker tried to stay out of her reach.
Trishia's eyes were focused on the area in front of her, where she had seen a flash of a dark-green shirt. Determined to capture the owner of that piece of clothing, She knew she was getting closer, because every now and then her ears picked up a groan or a muttered curse. Obviously, she wasn't the only one who had trouble keeping her balance.
Running down the hill as fast as she could, Trishia tried not to think about Robin's fall. It would be so easy to slip and lose her balance. The speed with which she was moving would surely crash her into the first solid obstacle in her way. And that would be really painful.
"This is the police. Stop!" Trishia yelled, avoiding a tree root, by jumping over it, which made her almost slam into a bush.
She came to a skidding halt when all of a sudden the loud sound of snapping branches and a muffled yell reached her ears. Cautiously moving towards the source of the sound, Trishia rounded a few trees. There, in a shallow gully that was created by a small stream, she saw the person in the dark-green shirt lying on his side, gasping for breath. His khaki- colored pants were ripped in several places and Trishia saw a trickle of blood seep through the cotton, just below his knee.
"Police," she announced again, after taking a deep breath.
The other police officers were standing beside her, their hands on their weapons.
"Put your hands in the air," Trishia commanded.
"Okay, okay," a pain- filled voice answered. "Don't shoot. I'm unarmed, I swear. I only have a Swiss army knife."
Trishia raised a brow when she heard the youthful voice and cast a questioning look at one of the officers who was standing next to her. He nodded and cautiously stepped closer to the person on the ground.
"Stand up, son," he advised, not unfriendly.
With difficulty, the figure pushed himself up slowly and, when he finally stood at full length, Trishia's other brow joined its mate. In front of her stood a young boy who could not be older than twenty. Staring at her with obvious fear, he hardly reached Trishia's shoulder. Slightly disappointed, she realized their stalker could not be the one who had been captured by Fiona's camera. He was too slender and not tall enough.
"Who are you?" she asked in a no nonsense tone of voice and the boy swallowed hard.
"K...Kevin Swanson," he answered, still out of breath.
"What are you doing here, Kevin?"
"I...I can't really tell you, because...," he stammered in a hoarse voice.
"Because what?" Trishia asked, suppressing a sigh. Chasing a teenager down a steep hill on her Saturday off was not her idea of a good time. Not if she could spent the day in the company of her partner, who needed her.
"How do I know you're the police?" the boy asked hesitantly. "Anyone can wear a uniform like that," he said, pointing at the police officer standing next to him.
Whatever happens, don't trust anyone!!
The other police officers chuckled and Trishia shook her head. The boy was no fool, she had to give him that.
"Here's my ID," she said, opening her wallet and tossing it into his direction. He caught the leather casing and took his time to study her identification. After a little while, he nodded. Just when he was about to hand her back the wallet, a picture fell out and landed on the ground, face down.
The boy mumbled an apology and bent over to pick up the photo. He was about to hand it to Trishia, when his eyes fell on the photo, making him freeze in mid-motion.
His fingers trembled and his brown eyes were wide when he finally handed Trishia her photo of Lucy back.
“You know Fiona,” he whispered.
To be continued in part 7
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