For disclaimers see part 1
"He what?" Lucy almost spat, pushing her chair back and jumping up, her dark-green eyes were almost black with anger. "You re joking, right?"
"No, Im not," Trishia answered calmly, walking up to her partner and gently pushing her back into her chair. She understood Lucys reaction. She had been upset as well when Kevin Swanson had told her about Fionas portrait hanging in a prison cell.
Trishias eyes took in all the different facial expressions of the women and Joshua, sitting around the huge kitchen table. They all showed various degrees of shock and concern, except Fiona, who stared at Trishia with a mixture of surprise and amusement.
"You mean, Im famous in....certain circles?" she joked, trying to break the, almost, palpable tension in the room.
"Its not funny, Fiona," Lucy scolded, sending her youngest sister an angry glare.
Fiona just shrugged her shoulders and cast a look at Jody, who stared back at her with pensive eyes. She could tell her eldest sister was deeply worried. It was the small frown lines on her forehead and the slight pursing of her lips that gave it away. But Jody did not share Lucys temperament and she sat in silence, pondering over Trishias words. Lucy nibbled her bottom lip, wanting to jump up and pace, but she was being restrained by her lovers hand on her shoulder.
"You know, we re talking about Fred here," Fiona continued. "I dont have to remind you that he was the one who really didnt want to fry us in Sarahs and Megans house. He even gave you Sarahs gun. Remember, Sam?"
Sam slowly nodded and involuntarily her hand searched Jodys, needing the contact to keep the bad memories at bay. Nobody had been seriously hurt that day, but the idea of what could have happened had given Sam nightmares.
"Youve always defended that little criminal," Lucy accused her youngest sister with a deep sigh. "Whys that?"
"Because he wasnt such a bad person," Fiona answered with a hint of impatience in her voice, deliberately avoiding a pair of curious hazel eyes that stared at her from across the table. "He was just a poor kid, who was at the wrong place at the wrong time and met the wrong people. Probably not in that order."
Fionas gaze traveled to Alice and when their eyes met, they both smiled. Alice had been lucky when she had met Joan McDonnell, which had eventually led to her meeting Jody and Sam. Alice had often declared that the couple had saved her life in more than one way. They had taken her in and had offered her a home and a new family. But Alice knew from experience that living on the streets was all about survival. At times, she had been tempted to associate with people who promised her food and money, in exchange for dubious favors. Who knows what would have become of her had she not met the McDonnells ?
"I still dont like the idea of him having your picture up on his wall," Lucy mumbled, rubbing her forehead. She was tired and could feel the beginning of a headache. It made her grumpy, something she hated, which made her feel even worse.
"I just hope its a good picture," Fiona nodded."Hed better have put the freckles in, otherwise Im way too much like you."
In spite of everything, Lucy chuckled and she sent Fiona a grateful look. Leave it up to her kid sister to make her feel better.
"Dont worry about it," Trishia spoke in a calm voice. "That picture wont be there much longer. But I didnt call you all together here to talk about Freds artistic abilities. We ve some serious things to discuss. Apparently theres somebody who will go to great lengths to harm Sams business. I take the threats Kevin Swanson told me about seriously, on a personal level."
Trishias green-blue eyes traveled to Robin and for a brief moment the two women seemed to have a wordless conversation.
"First of all, I feel the need to clarify a few things," Trishia sighed, pushing away a strand of hair from her forehead.
"Yes, please," Fionas voice sounded, laced with a hint of humor. "I meant to ask you a few things and I feel this will be very enlightening. So please, go ahead."
"I will, if you promise to keep quiet. At least, until Im done." Trishia remarked with an exasperated look in Fionas direction.
"Sure," Fiona nodded with a crooked smile. "Go ahead, Senior-Sergeant. Im all ears."
Fiona leaned back into her chair, stretching her legs under the table and casually crossing her ankles. The expression in her eyes seemed to be bored, almost sleepy, but Trishia knew from experience that Fiona was in full listening mode and would hear and register every single word she would say. Trishia reached out for her glass of water and took a few cool sips. She needed to choose her words carefully.
" Alright," she finally started with a sigh, leaning her hands on the back of Lucys chair. "To make sense, I need to go back a few years. So bear with me. After the...episode... with The Reefs former manager, William Jenkins, and all the things that happened during that time, we were never really able to figure out if there had been somebody else behind the whole thing, an even bigger brain, so to speak." Trishia sent Fiona, who was about to open her mouth, a warning glance. "We tried to connect the dots we had, but somehow there were a few leads that we could never cash in on."
Trishia rubbed her forehead and sent Robin a quick glance. The biologist looked pale and tired and Trishia could tell by the way she was plucking at the hem of her t-shirt, the woman was nervous. Her eyes kept darting between Trishia and Fiona and mentally the police woman sighed. Considering Fionas reaction of that morning, she wondered how the photographer would react to what Trishia was about to tell them.
"About three months ago, Sam put an advertisement in the paper, asking for somebody who could run the new property she had recently purchased. Robin turned out to be the most suitable candidate and Sam put in a request for a routine background check. By pure coincidence, the form landed on my desk and I decided to do the check myself, since I knew Sam wanted to get on with the resort. I recognized Robins name."
Trishia gently squeezed Lucys shoulder, remembering how her partner had grilled her after they had come home the previous night. Somehow Lucy had known Trishia and Robin had met before and Trishias explanation that she could not yet reveal that information had been hard on Lucy. But the dark-haired woman trusted her partner and even though she was bursting with curiosity, she had merely nodded, determined to wait until her lover was able to tell her more.
"About six, seven years ago, I worked as an instructor at the shooting range. It was my job to make sure our rookies were able to use a weapon," Trishia paused and cast a look at Robin, who glanced up at her and slowly nodded.
"Robin was one of the rookies," she calmly added, registering the surprise in Fionas eyes.
Trishia knew she was not telling either Sam or Jody anything they did not know already. The couple sat close together, with Sams arm firmly wrapped around the smaller womans shoulder. Their eyes studied the faces around the table and Trishia noticed how Jody and Alice shared a knowing smile, while Yarras eyes were full of respect when they looked at Robin.
"You were a police...person?" Fiona could not restrain herself from responding, looking at Robin with barely veiled disappointment. If Robin and Trishia would have told her that before, she would have readily accepted it. Why the secrecy?
"Not really," Robin answered softly, feeling Joshuas arm protectively settle around her shoulders. "I planned to become one, like our dad was, but I never finished my training."
"What happened?" Alice asked gently. Something about Robin struck a cord and even though she hardly knew the biologist, she already did like her. The woman seemed a little lost, but Alice knew that if there was a family who could remedy that, it would be the McDonnells.
"My mother had a younger brother who...wasnt exactly an honest, taxpaying civilian. He..." Robin cleared her throat and took a sip of her coffee. "Apparently, he didnt like the fact that there would be another police officer in the family, so he did his best to slander my dads name, accusing him of accepting bribes. It was a clever set- up. There was an investigation and even though nothing could be proved, my dad was advised to resign. I couldnt handle the pressure, so I quit," Robin ended in a quiet voice.
"Thats horrible, Robin," Yarra spoke, her voice filled with sympathy.
"It was," she nodded. "Our dad deserved better than that. Much better."
"I guess that explains your gun and all that," Fiona responded, while her eyes traveled from Robin to Trishia and back again. "But Im sure theres more to it than that. Right?"
"Right," Trishia answered calmly. "Because a few weeks before Robin applied for the job, I had talked to her at the police station."
Fionas eyes, glued to Trishias face, were keen when she pushed herself upright in her chair.
"Go on," she drawled, wondering what Trishia would have to say, but Trishia looked at Robin and sent her an encouraging smile.
"Our parents died in a car accident," Robins husky voice filled the silence. "It took me a while to muster up the courage to go through their personal belongings in order to sort them out. When I finally did, about, I dont know, five, six months ago, I was going through my fathers personal correspondence, when I came across a letter he once received from my...uncle. It was after he had to resign as a police officer. I read the letter and at first didnt know what to think of it, let alone what to do with it. After talking it over with Josh, we decided to contact the police."
"So I received a phone call from the station down in Burleigh Heads, telling me they had something that would interest me," Trishia continued. "A letter in which Jeffrey Adams was offered a nice sum of money if he would share some sensitive police information with his brother-in-law. There werent a lot of specifics in the letter, but two things stood out. He mentioned The Reef. And, to my surprise, a name. I cant share any information about that yet, because we re still following some leads, but it looks interesting."
"The Reef?" Lucy frowned, craning her neck to look up at her partner who was still standing behind her chair. "But...what happened?" Lucy turned back to face Robin and looked at the younger woman with a puzzled expression on her face. "Im sure your dad didnt..."
"No, he didnt," Joshua answered quickly, eager to make known his father had nothing to do with what had happened a few years ago.
"Then, what did happen?" Yarra asked slowly.
Robin swallowed hard and her hand searched Joshuas for support. It immediately disappeared between his larger ones, while he gave it an encouraging squeeze.
"I remember my dad having a huge argument with my uncle," Robin spoke quietly. "I remember him saying that, out of respect for my mother, hed give my uncle a week to clean up his act. Three days later, our parents died in a car crash."
Looking at Robin and Joshua, Fiona noticed the pain on their faces and she cast down her eyes, swallowing hard and taking a deep breath to try and control her own raging emotions.
"Im sure that wasnt a coincidence," she said, looking at Trishia with blazing dark-green eyes. She knew it wasnt the police womans fault, but Robins story angered her. It was all so tragic and unfair. The look on Robins and Joshuas faces made her want to lash out at the one who had been responsible for their pain.
"We re looking into that, Fi," Trishia answered softly. "Believe me, were going over every little detail."
"But if Robins...uncle... was involved in all of this, what happened to him? I remember wannabee criminal Fred and the big ape. But I..." Fionas paused and while her eyes went wide, all blood drained from her face, leaving her pale and cold.
"Tell me it isnt true," she almost whispered, her eyes pleading when they bore into Trishias. But the tall police woman pursed her lips and slowly nodded.
"That...that...bastard... Joe Michaels, the one who tried to kill Sam and Megan, is Robins uncle? You re freaking kidding me!"
"Im afraid its true, Fiona," Robin answered with audible distress. "Im sorry."
"And the two of you knew?" she asked Sam, who didnt avoid Fionas eyes, but nodded calmly.
Fiona took a deep breath and pushed back her chair. She jumped up and walked to the door.
"I need some fresh air," her voice croaked, before she stepped outside and closed the door behind her, leaving the rest in shocked silence. It wasnt often Fiona McDonnell was upset and, on those rare occasions, she hardly ever showed it. Her emotional display had left the women in the kitchen in stunned silence.
It took her a few moments to compose herself, but when she did, Sam started to rise up from her chair to follow Fiona outside. A small, but strong hand on her arm stopped her.
"No, Sam, Ill go," Jody spoke, giving Sams arm a gentle but determined pull. The tall blonde obediently sank back in her chair, while Jody stood up. She sent Robin a small smile, before she turned to Trishia to give her an encouraging nod.
"Just continue, Trish. We ll be back...eventually," she added with a trace of humor.
Seven pairs of eyes followed Jody when she walked towards the door and disappeared out on the veranda. It remained silent for a long time.
Fiona stared in the distance, her foot kicking the trunk of a tree that had been struck by lightning a long time ago and had eventually crashed to the ground. A silent example of Mother Natures fury.
Fiona didnt enjoy the beautiful view, nor did she hear the happy sound of a nearby songbird. Her mind was trying very hard to make sense of the turmoil inside of her. She realized she had lost her composure and for some reason that was very disturbing to her. She never let her guard down like that. What was wrong with her?
With a deep sigh, Fiona threw her head back and looked at the sky. Some heavy clouds were massing together. A tell-tale sign of a storm brewing.
"How appropriate," she mumbled, before casting down her eyes again and staring at a little beetle that was doing its best to crawl into a little hole that seemed to be too small for him. But in the end he did it and Fiona chuckled when she realized the poor little bug would not have made it if Taryn had been around.
The sounds of footsteps through dry grass alerted Fiona that somebody was approaching. But she didnt have to look up to know who it was.
"You always know where to find me, dont you, sis?" she asked, the affection clearly audible in her soft voice.
"Sure I do," Jody answered, wrapping an arm around Fionas waist and giving her a loving squeeze. "Youre my baby-sister. I know more about you than you think."
"You do, huh?" Fiona smiled, while she wrapped her arm around Jodys shoulders. Somehow she needed the contact and after a few moments she knew why. Jody grounded her in a way nobody else could. It had always been that way and Fiona could not help wondering if that would ever change. She secretly hoped it wouldnt.
"Ive acted like an idiot," Fiona sighed with regret. "Im sorry about that. I didnt mean to be the disruptive element...again."
"What happened, Fi?" Jody asked, ignoring Fionas self-loathing.
"You were there, Pea, you know what happened," Fiona answered.
"I know the facts," Jody smiled at her sisters attempt to rationalize. "But I want to know what made you...react the way you did."
"It sure wasnt my usual uncaring self," Fiona replied, with a faint trace of bitterness in her voice.
"Is that how you perceive yourself? Uncaring?" Jody asked in a serious tone. "Your family and friends know better than that, sweetie."
"Oh, I dont know," Fiona sighed, raking her fingers through her hair. "I must be tired after everything that happened yesterday. I didnt get much sleep."
Inwardly, Jody sighed. Fiona was rationalizing again.
"I know you didnt, but Ive seen you go without sleep before, Fi. What makes it different this time?"
"You little terrier," Fiona smiled, playfully shaking her sister. "Youre not giving up, are you?"
"Whats going on, Fi?" Jody repeated softly. She reached out a hand and tapped against Fionas chest. "In here. Whats going on in here?"
"Im sure you re not referring to the biological and physical aspects of my circulation," Fiona answered with a sad smile. "How do you know there is something?"
"I know you better than you think I do, little sister. You re not yourself. Your eyes are stormy, youre not as quick- witted as usual and you seem a little lost to me. Inside that pretty head of yours, youre probably turning around in circles, not knowing where to go, or what to do."
For a long time, Fiona stared at the ground, as if the grass that surrounded the blackened, dead tree could give her the answers she was looking for. When she finally raised her head, the expression on her face was open and vulnerable and Jody let out a small sigh of relief. Fiona was about to let her in.
"Im...confused," the photographer started in a soft voice. "Ive tried to figure out why and what caused it, but the funny thing is, Im confused about the confusion. I dont know whats happening with me, Jody, but I just dont feel like myself. Maybe it was the fact that somebody shot at...us...last night. Maybe all the work Ive been doing lately is finally catching up with me and Im in desperate need of some time off. Maybe its this whole situation we re all in again. Maybe its a combination of it all." Fiona let out a short laugh and shrugged er shoulders. "And maybe Im simply coming down with something. Fiona McDonnell, brought down by the flu."
"You re leaving out an important factor," Jody spoke gently. When she heard her sisters soft gasp of surprise, she knew she was right. Something that was both exhilarating and frightening.
"I am ?" Fiona asked with an hardly audible quiver in her voice.
"Yes, you are, sweetie. I dont want to force you to talk about things you re not ready for yet, but, am I right when I include Robin in the list of maybes?"
"Yes," Fiona breathed, squeezing her eyes shut to fight the tears that were threatening to emerge. "Its so...so...stupid, really, Jody. I dont know what to think about her. One moment I really....like...her, while the next moment Im ready to throttle her. Ive never felt so out of control. I mean, this morning, just before Trish came to pick us up, I told her stuff Id never told anyone before. Its annoying the heck out of me. Why am I doing that?"
"You really want an answer to that question?" Jody asked gently.
"I do," Fiona nodded. "But I also know Im the one wholl have to come up with it. This is my journey through the circus of emotions. And I can tell you, Pea, I dont like it at all."
Jody smiled and rubbed Fionas back in comforting, slow circles. Ever since her sister had been a baby, it had calmed her down when she was upset.
"I know, honey, I can tell by just looking at you. But you know what? In spite of your struggles, Im glad you re experiencing them. It will make you more complete, trust me."
"I dont know about that," Fiona sighed. "It feels like pulling teeth and when that happens, you re losing something. Right?"
Fiona chuckled when Jody rolled her eyes at her and playfully ruffled her hair. The dark-green eyes looked at her intently and Jody knew there was another question coming. She mentally braced herself, hoping she would be able to give her sister the answers she needed.
"I remember when we first met Sam," Fiona started. "But I was just a little squirt then and I missed the opportunity to observe you like I did Lucy." Fiona smiled when Jody softly chuckled. "How...when...I mean... goodness, now Im losing my ability to speak," Fiona groaned, letting out a frustrated sigh.
"I doubt it," Jody remarked dryly. "I know what you want to ask me, Fi, but when you say the words, it will be real, wont it?"
"Oh, God, yes," the photographer whispered. "But you know me, Jody, Im not the type to play hide and seek. Not even with myself."
"I know, so Ill be frank with you. You want me to tell you how I knew I had fallen in love with Sam." Jody saw Fiona swallow hard, but her sister nodded in agreement.
"From the first moment Sam and I met, I liked her," Jody said, not aware of the smile in her eyes. "I dont think Id ever been in love before, so I had no comparison. I simply liked her. When we went back home, after wed met that first time, I missed her and I couldnt wait to see her again. She made me feel things Id never felt before."
"Like what?" Fiona interrupted.
"Its hard to explain," Jody smiled. "But whenever I was with Sam, I felt happier than Id ever felt before. I felt complete, at home. Just after wed met, I felt like Id known her all my life. She made me feel safe and special."
"You are special," Fiona smiled, touched by the warmth and affection that radiated from her sisters face.
"So, what about the whole gay issue?" Fiona asked curiously. "How did it make you feel that you were in love with another woman?"
"To be honest, I never really gave it much thought," Jody replied. "Falling in love with Sam felt like the most natural thing in the world. I know we were raised to believe differently and I remember I was puzzled by that, because I couldnt imagine that what Sam and I had together could be wrong. So I just accepted it for what it was. I know there are a lot of people who struggle with their sexual identity, but, fortunately, I never had to go through that."
Jody cast a look at the pensive expression in a pair of dark-green eyes and her heart went out to her younger sister; she realized Fiona was fighting with some inner demons.
"What are the odds, sis?" Fiona sighed, rubbing her tired eyes and wincing when her fingers accidently touched a sensitive cut on her cheek.
"About what, sweetie?"
Fiona swallowed and looked down at her hands, trying to come up with the words that could explain how she was feeling deep down inside.
"There are six of us, three boys, three girls. It must be amazing that both you and Lucy are lesbians. Two girls from one family. In our case that would be...thirty-three percent. Im sure thats not in unison with current statistics," Fiona joked.
"Thirty-three point three," Jody corrected with a chuckle. "And who knows, it could even be fifty. Couldnt it?" she added softly.
"But thats...thats weird. That would be beyond comprehension," Fiona almost exclaimed.
"I dont think so," Jody answered calmly. "Besides, when Sam and I were in the Netherlands, I met a family with four children. Two of them were gay, so, that was fifty percent." Jody paused and put her hand on Fionas arm. "You know, Fi, hiding behind math and statistics wont make the feelings go away. You do realize that, dont you?"
"I knew youd say that," Fiona answered, almost grumpily, which made Jody laugh. "How can I deal with this, Jody? I dont know what to do."
"I know its confusing, sweetie, and I know you re upset, but try to stay true to yourself and be honest. I know you re an expert at hiding your feelings, but when youre behind that wall of yours, take the time to have a good look at whats inside your heart. Ignoring this wont make it go away, Fi. It could even make it worse. Dont run away from it."
"Im sure the first step will be the hardest," Fiona sighed, casting a frustrated look at her sister.
"So, if I tell you that...that," Fiona swallowed hard and moistened her dry lips, struggling to get the words out. She took a deep breath and unconsciously straightened her back. "If I tell you that I think... I might...be...in love with Robin, Id feel better?"
"Do you?" Jody smiled.
Fiona nibbled on her bottom lip, while she rocked on her heels. There was a twinkle in her eyes when she looked down at her sister, sending her a warm smile.
"You know, Pea, I think I do. At the moment, anyway. Im sure Ill be miserable again later."
Jody laughed and wrapped her arms around Fionas tall frame to give her a quick hug.
"Ill be here for you, Fi."
"I know and Im very grateful for that," Fiona sighed, dropping a kiss on the top of her sisters head. "Do you think the others will notice?"
"Alice has," Jody answered with honesty.
"She has? How?"
"I dont know," Jody smiled. "Its an Alice thing, I guess. You know how she goes by instinct and intuition."
"And how do you know that she knows?" Fiona inquired.
Jody looked up into a pair of puzzled dark-green eyes and she winked.
"Instinct and intuition," she answered with a smug smile.
"Oh, goodie," Fiona sighed. "Between the two of you, theres nothing I can hide, is there?"
"Probably not," Jody chuckled. "But knowing we both love you very much, might help you deal with it a little."
"This place is filled with women and love," Fiona answered dryly. "Maybe we should change the name of the property. What about...Sapphos Farm? Or Rainbow Amazons? Lesbian Lane, maybe."
"You re bad," Jody laughed. "But why dont you suggest it to Sam? Im sure shed be interested to know why you want to change it."
"Oh, no," Fiona replied quickly. "If Sam and Lucy find out, my life will be over! Are you going to tell Sam?"
"Not if you dont want me to," Jody replied seriously. "But I dont like to keep things from Sam. You dont have to be afraid, Fi. Sam can keep a secret. I know she loves to tease you, but if she knows how tough this is for you, she wont do that. Not until it becomes public, anyway," Jody added with a smile.
"That might never happen," Fiona answered in a somber voice. "Most of the time I just annoy the heck out of Robin."
Jody, remembering how Robins eyes had constantly darted to Fiona, just smiled and grabbed her sisters hand to pull her along while she started the short walk back to the house.
"Youd be surprised," she smiled.
"Here they come," Yarra announced with a hint of relief in her voice. She was worried about Fiona, who, besides Alice, was her best friend. It had not been like Fiona at all to lose her composure in front of people who were practically strangers and Yarra wondered what was wrong with the photographer.
But seeing Fiona walk down the hill, her arm firmly wrapped around Jodys shoulders, talking and laughing, made Yarra believe that, whatever it was that was bothering her friend, it hadnt upset her that long. Visibly. Fiona was a very private person and her friends and family knew she was an expert at putting up a front.
"You alright?" Yarra asked when Fiona jumped up on the veranda, ignoring the three steps completely, which earned her a mumbled show off, from Jody.
"Im fine, thanks C.J.," Fiona smiled. "Sorry about that...emotional intermezzo."
"No worries," the dark-skinned woman replied. "After what Trishia told us, we all could use a break."
"So I didnt miss anything important?" Fiona asked, holding open the door for Jody and Yarra to step inside, away from the midday heat.
"Nope, nothing, except for Alices fresh coffee," Yarra chuckled, knowing how much her friend loved the caffeinated beverage. "But she might have something left for you."
"And you missed my arrival," a cheerful voice sounded behind her. With a huge smile, Fiona turned around to greet her brother.
"Hey, Mikey! Thats a surprise. You still havent grown much since the last time I saw you."
"We cant all be bean poles, stretch," Michael McDonnell laughed, giving his youngest sister a quick hug. Fiona was about ten centimeters taller than he was, but Michael didnt care. He had inherited his looks and height from his mothers side of the family, like Jody had, and he was content with that.
Only after greeting her brother, Fiona noticed someone else in the huge kitchen. With raised eyebrows and a cool glance she intercepted the look that was sent her way by a well-built, good-looking young man, whom she immediately classified as a surfer boy. Inwardly, she sighed when she noticed the way he leered at her.
Another one who thinks hes Gods gift to women. What the heck is Michael doing with an idiot like that?
"Oh, Fi, Jody, this is Ira, hes a class mate," Michael hurried to explain, aware of Fionas barely hidden disapproving look. "He came down with me this weekend, because his parents are away for a few days and he had nowhere to go."
"And I really wanted to meet Mikes family," Ira explained with a dazzling smile. "Ive heard so much about all of you."
"Its nice to meet you, Ira," Jody smiled warmly.
Fiona merely nodded and sank down on a kitchen chair, next to Joshua, who greeted her with an amused chuckle. He understood Fionas obvious dislike of Michaels friend. He didnt like Ira, either. To Joshua, the young man was way too polished and too aware of his good looks. And way too dense, Joshua observed, when Ira was still trying to catch the attention of Fiona, who studiously ignored him.
Glancing aside Joshua noticed the expression on his sisters face and he had to cough to hide the laugh that suddenly bubbled up inside. He could tell Robin was trying very hard to be polite and the expression on her face was a neutral one, but the murderous glare she sent Ira had not escaped him.
Joshua straightened up in his chair and looked around the kitchen with shining eyes. This was going to be an interesting afternoon.
"I guess well have to continue our...conversation later," Sam sighed, sending Trishia a tired look.
The police woman nodded and shrugged her shoulders.
"Im sorry, Sam. Its not that I dont trust Michael, its just that..."
"I know," Sam interrupted her friend. "And you re right. Its none of his business."
"Exactly," Trishia agreed. She cast a look at Ira, whose eyes darted between Fiona and Lucy, as if he couldnt decide on who to stare at.
"Want me to tell her shes taken?" Sams amused voice sounded and Trishia smiled wryly.
"Dont worry about it. Hes just a boy," she shrugged. "Testosterone-filled and way too bold, but a boy just the same."
"Well, if he keeps staring at Fiona like that he might be sorry. Shes not looking too happy," Sam grinned, amused by the dark looks the photographer kept sending across the table.
"Even if shed get all cynical on him, somehow I dont think hed understand. Do you?"
Sam laughed and shook her head.
"It might be the hormones that have caused a temporarily brain-freeze, but somehow Im afraid you re right."
"Its hard to be a young-adult," Trishia grinned, pushing away from the kitchen counter and stretching her tall frame. "I guess Ill take my McDonnell home and make sure she gets some rest. Ill leave the rest of the clan in your capable care," she chuckled. "Lets try and meet again somewhere tomorrow. Theres a lot we need to talk about." Trishia cast a look around the room, seeing everybody involved in some kind of conversation. For a moment she hesitated. Would it be fair to add more responsibility and pressure on Sams shoulders? Maybe not, but if there was one person she trusted blindly, it was Samantha Stevens.
"Dont talk about this morning, or last night. If Michael asks about it, which he will, make up something. Whatever you do, dont mention anything about your security system and make sure to keep an eye on that Ira bloke. I dont trust him, Sam. I might be wrong, but I do have a gut feeling about this."
"Point taken," Sam answered softly, glad to know she wasnt the only one who had a bad feeling about Michaels friend. She didnt know what it was. Maybe the jovial way he had greeted everybody, as if he had known them for a long time. Or the way his smile never reached his blue eyes. Whatever it was, she was determined to keep an eye on the young man. And as soon as she had the chance, shed ask Michael about his friend.
"Ill keep in touch, Sam and as soon as I learn anything new about the case, Ill let you know."
"Thanks, Trish, I appreciate that," Sam nodded, giving the other woman a friendly pat on the shoulder. "Now, take your other half home, she looks like she needs a nap."
"So do I," Trishia grinned. "Ill call you later, Dutchie."
"Im counting on that, Aussie."
It was hours later. The darkness had set in and when Fiona and Robin slowly strolled back to the apartment, it was under a star-filled sky.
"I really like your brother," Robin spoke softly. "Hes so much like Jody, its amazing."
"Yeah, whats not to like?" Fiona smiled. "Mike is a great guy. I wonder why hes dragged along that...idiot. He never had shallow friends like that. Its against the family rules," she added jokingly.
"Sam was wondering about that as well," Robin answered. "I heard her ask him about it."
"She did? What did he say?" Fiona asked curiously. She would have loved to have had a chance to talk to her brother about it, but he and Ira had left before dinner, they would be meeting some friends at the beach.
"Well, its not my habit to eavesdrop on other peoples conversations, Fiona," Robin drawled, glancing aside at the photographer, who merely snorted and gently bumped her with her shoulder.
"Speak up, woman. I know youve heard something. This whole situation is weird enough as it is. Why else would Sam tell Mike that you and I got hurt while horseback riding?"
"Yes, that was a surprise," Robin mused.
"It sure was," Fiona agreed. "Did you see Yarras and Alices faces? They looked absolutely flabbergasted."
"But they got over that real quick," Robin spoke with admiration. "Its amazing how fast they picked up on Sams story. And Jody never even blinked!"
Fiona laughed and shook her head, adjusting her long strides to Robins shorter ones.
"Jodys very smart. She probably knew, just by looking at Sam, what she was going to say. Those two are the best team there is. They know each other so well, I swear they have telepathic conversations." Fiona glanced aside and smiled. "So, tell me, what did Mike tell Sam? I know you heard."
"He told Sam he hasnt known Ira that long, but hes a friend of a friend. You know how that goes. They hang out together in the same group. Apparently Ira asked Michael for a ride, because he wanted to visit his aunt, who lives around here. The aunt wasnt home and he had nowhere to go, so...to make a short story shorter, your brother offered him a place to stay for a couple of days."
"Sounds like Mike, alright," Fiona sighed. "Hes too trusting sometimes."
"Unlike you," Robin spoke softly, but there was no resentment in her voice, just a quiet recognition.
"Unlike me," Fiona admitted. "Ive different rules than Mike does. With me, people have to earn my trust. And respect."
"And friendship," Robin added gently.
"That, too," Fiona admitted reluctantly.
"Because you were hurt badly," Robin concluded, referring back to the conversation they had that morning. "Because people arent always who or what they seem."
"Thats right," Fiona answered softly. "You got it."
"The fact that Joe Michaels is my uncle bothers you, doesnt it?" Robin asked, her eyes followed the blinking lights of an airplane high in the darkened sky. Fiona didnt answer and Robin suppressed a sigh.
"If its any consolation, Joshua and I hardly know the man. Hes my mothers youngest brother and there was a fifteen year age difference between them. He was only ten when I was born and he and my grandparents lived on the other side of the country. We hardly ever saw him and then he hooked up with the wrong people and nobody knew where he lived. Until a few years ago." Robin sighed and rubbed her forehead. "But you know all about that story. Im just happy that hes off the street and spending the rest of his life in prison. Where he belongs," she added bitterly.
"I really dont care about that low-life being your uncle. That just proves the fact that even creeps can have a nice family. I was just surprised. I wish Id have known," Fiona sighed. "Because something, deep down inside, tells me hes involved in all this. Again."
"But how? Hes in a high security prison."
"All it takes is a dirty guard, or a buddy who is released and sends messages to one prisoner, who sends it to another one, and so forth, to finally land in Joes cell. There are many ways to distribute information. All it takes is some creativity."
"Being a software engineer, Ill take your word for it," Robin sighed, feeling drained and empty. The cool night air brushed against her skin and involuntarily she shivered, wishing she was in bed, asleep and warm.
Suddenly, she looked up and cast Fiona an amused glance. Softly laughing she shook her head.
"What?" Fiona urged, wondering what was so amusing.
"You did it again," Robin smiled. "I ask you a personal question and somehow we end up talking about something completely different."
"Its a talent," Fiona chuckled. "It took me years to refine it and I guess I dont even realize Im doing it," she added with a hint of regret in her voice. For a brief moment she hesitated, but then she took a deep, cleansing breath, feeling her heart pound in her chest.
"So, what did you want to know about me?"
Completely taken by surprise, Robin looked up and nearly lost her balance on the gravel road. It was Fionas hand on her arm that prevented her from falling and, with a wry smile, she looked up.
"Now, that was clumsy. Thanks, Fiona. Ending up rolling down the hill sounds very painful."
"It is, believe me," Fiona nodded. "Ive done it. Im sorry for springing that question on you. Im sure it was the last thing you expected."
Fionas voice bordered on being shy and Robin smiled. For some reason, Fiona had decided to open up to her and she knew that was something the photographer usually didnt do. It was an unexpected gift and Robin was very grateful for it.
"It shows you trust me," Robin spoke quietly. "Im glad you do. Especially in the situation we re in. But, to answer your question about what I want to know about you..."
What about everything? Every little detail there is to know. Even though that would probably take longer than a lifetime .
"Lets continue where we left off, this morning. You said you wanted to make sure your father would never stop loving Jody." Robin paused and decided to be completely honest and open with Fiona hoping it would not scare the other woman away. "That touched me deeply," she continued in a hoarse voice, wondering why, in spite of her aching, tired body, she wished they could continue their walk for hours. Maybe it was the intimacy of the darkness, but she felt like she and Fiona had grown a little closer and she wanted to treasure that feeling, lock it away in her heart and make it a part of herself.
"Its very selfless to wish something for somebody else and that proved to me what Ive been thinking all along. Ever since we first met." Robin glanced aside at the taller woman, who had her hands stuffed in the pockets of her shorts and who looked like she was casually strolling along. But the tense look of concentration on her face was an indication to Robin that she had Fionas undivided attention.
"You re a softie," she spoke warmly, smiling when she noticed the way Fiona shrugged her shoulders. "But your secret is safe with me, dont worry. What Id like to know is what happened. I dont want to pry, Fiona, and if you dont want to tell me, then thats fine with me, but what made your father stop loving Jody?"
"I dont mind telling you," Fiona answered softly.
She opened the door to the apartment and let Robin in, before turning around and securely locking the door and activating the security system that was linked to the one in the main house. Sams instructions had been very specific and Fiona knew there was a reason to be extra careful.
"This is not a diversion tactic, but do you want some hot tea?" Fiona asked with a smile.
"Please," Robin sighed. "I feel like I was dropped from an airplane....without a parachute. And Im cold."
"Make yourself comfortable on the couch. Ill be right back."
Fiona disappeared in the small kitchen and Robin, who had sank down in the soft pillows on the couch, let her eyes lazily drift across the room occasionally studying one of Fionas many photographs.
She had no idea how much time had passed, but when Fiona suddenly appeared with a tray, she looked up startled.
"Its just me," Fiona grinned, having seen the expression on Robins face. "Heres your tea, heres some water, and heres a pain pill. You look like you need one."
"Thank you," Robin sighed, feeling wonderfully pampered and taken care of. She looked up when a soft, warm blanket was draped around her shoulders and shot Fiona a grateful look.
"I dont want you to freeze to death," Fiona remarked dryly, letting her tall frame sink in a chair opposite Robin. "My story might be boring. So, if youd fall asleep, at least youd be comfy."
"Try me," Robin smiled, sipping her tea and watching Fiona with expectant eyes.
"I dont care how long it takes. Besides, its a big area, Im sure you can get close without attracting attention."
"But Ill have to be back in a few days."
"No worries. You do what you ve got to do. We ll take all the time we need. This needs to be good. You do understand that, dont you?"
"Yes, I do. I did make a few sketches already and by the time Im back, Ill have more. We might go back up there again tomorrow."
"Dont attract attention. These people are not stupid and I dont want them to suspect you. Maybe you should skip tomorrow and go back on your own. You ve all the high tech stuff you need to keep your distance and I want you to use it. Got it?"
"Yes, I got it."
"Good boy. See what you can find out tomorrow and call me at the same time. Make me proud!"
To be continued in part 9
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