Breathless — part 3


Lois Kay

“Is it really time to get up already?” Hannah mumbled, pressing her face against a conveniently close shoulder. “Please, tell me it’s not Monday,” she added in a voice that was husky with sleep.

“It’s not Monday,” an amused voice answered and the blonde sighed in relief, snuggling closer to the warm body next to her and smiling when two arms slid around her body, pulling her even closer.

“Morning, favorite nurse of mine,” Rachel Kendrick dropped a kiss on the unruly blond hair that tickled her cheek and grinned when Hannah answered with something unintelligible.

“What was that?” she chuckled.

“It’s a good thing I’m your favorite nurse,” Hannah mumbled. “I like that.”

“I do too. I guess I’ll keep you,” Rachel gently teased, laughing when Hannah playfully bit her shoulder.

“And you decided that just now?” the blonde asked with feigned hurt. “All those months we’ve been together and...mmm.”

Hannah’s words were cut short by a pair of warm lips that descended on her mouth, quickly robbing her of speech. They kissed slowly, thoroughly tasting each other unhurriedly and when they finally broke apart, both women were breathless.

“You were saying?” Rachel whispered.

“Was I talking?” Hannah dreamily answered. “I can’t remember that. You just turned my brain to mush, along with a few other interesting places.”

“I did, huh?” Rachel smiled, running her fingers through Hannah’s hair, chuckling when the blonde softly moaned. “Do you want me to take care of those places? I might find them interesting as well.”

“Now you’re talking,” Hannah breathed, aware of the increase in her heartbeat. “I guess I can leave taking care of those places up to you, since you’re a Doctor and all that.”

Rachel’s dark-brown eyes shone with amusement when she looked at her lover’s flushed face with the smoldering blue eyes. It still surprised her how easily the blonde reacted to her touch. Sometimes, all it took was one kiss to make Hannah go limp within the circle of her arms. It was humbling and arousing at the same time and Rachel loved every second of their private encounters.

Very aware of Hannah’s body that was pressed close against her own and her lover’s roaming hands that, somehow had found their way underneath her shirt, Rachel let out a shuddering breath, finding it harder and harder not to let her body succumb to Hannah’s touch.

“Sweetheart, what are you doing?” she whispered hoarsely.

Hannah raised her head and she frowned, gently poking Rachel’s chest with her index finger.

“If I need to explain that, then I wonder where you’ve been all those other times we’ve made love,” she winked. “Tell me it was you, honey. I’d hate to think I did all those things to somebody else.”

The blonde grinned when Rachel rolled her eyes, but before the dark-haired woman could respond, her lips effectively swallowed the words her lover was about to utter. The Doctor softly moaned, aware of Hannah’s silent chuckle, but when the blonde slid her body atop her own and she unconsciously shifted to accommodate a smooth thigh, there was nothing left but the soft lips that set fire to her skin and the reaction of her body to the insistent touches.

“One day, you’ll be the death of me,” Rachel sighed a long time later, while her hands caressed the soft skin of Hannah’s back. “But what a way to go,” she added, kissing the blonde on the tip of her nose.

“You’ll be fine,” Hannah decided with a sigh. “You’ve got a whole lot more stamina than you give yourself credit for. I’m not worried about you.”

“I love you,” Rachel smiled, feeling incredibly relaxed, sated and happy.

“I love you, too,” Hannah smiled, burying her face against the soft, warm skin of Rachel’s neck. She let out a contented sigh, feeling thoroughly loved and protected. Involuntarily, her thoughts returned to the previous evening.

“How do you think Lauren and Maureen are doing?” she mused.

“They seemed fine last night,” Rachel answered innocently.

“You know that’s not what I’m talking about,” Hannah gently rebuked, pressing her lips against Rachel’s collarbone. “They’re so attracted to each other, it almost hurts my eyes just looking at them,” she continued, ignoring her lover’s laugh. “I wonder if they’ll ever‘fess up to it.”

“I’m sure they will,” Rachel nodded. “Lauren is waiting on purpose. I think she  wants to give Maureen some space to come to terms with her divorce.”

“Sounds like something you’d do,” Hannah mumbled.

“It makes sense, honey. I don’t think Lauren is the type to take a relationship lightly. Maureen needs to come to terms with her failed marriage and the fact that she’s in love with a woman. I’m sure that takes some time and adjusting.”

“You’re the voice of reason, as usual,” Hannah teased, but she was smiling. “I just want to see them happy. They seemed to be when they left, but when they came in it seemed like they were a little uncomfortable with each other. I’m glad they decided to spent the weekend together.”

“I just hope they won’t be called in. That would really suck. They need some time together.”


“So, what do you think about all this?” Maureen asked, glancing at Lauren over the rim of her coffee cup. “Any ideas yet?”

“No, not really,” Lauren sighed, absentmindedly chewing on a piece of toast.

After they had left the crime-scene, the first thing they had done was find a local diner that Deputy Henderson had recommended. The freshly brewed, strong coffee was welcomed by both women, who carefully sipped the hot liquid, enjoying the warm rush of caffeine through their tired bodies.

“We do have the appointment card, her wallet, the shoe, the newspaper clipping and the tire tracks,” Maureen mused, staring at Lauren through half-lidded eyes.

“Don’t forget the preliminary lab report,” Lauren nodded, referring to the phone call from the laboratory they had received just before they had left the crime-scene. “There were traces of methamphetamine on her clothes and skin.”

“But they don’t think that killed her?” Maureen shook her head. “I’d have thought she OD’ on something.”

“That seems the most logical conclusion,” Lauren admitted, grabbing a piece of freshly baked biscuit and popping it in her mouth. “But, apparently, there’s more to this than meets the eye. They found traces of something they need to have a closer look at. It might be a new drug, but it’s unclear what it is and where it comes from. It’s our job to figure that out.”

“I’m sure I could do my job a lot better if I wasn’t so tired,” Maureen sighed, sending the young waitress a grateful smile when she put a plate of hot food in front of her.

“Are you sure you’ll be able to eat all that?” Lauren chuckled.

“You bet,” Maureen nodded with a grin. “Gertrude’s amazing dinner is long gone and I’m hungry !”

“So I see,” Lauren smiled. “Well, who am I to come between you and your...stack of food.”

“It’s not that bad,” Maureen shrugged her shoulders, liberally pouring syrup over her pancakes. “Just a short stack of pancakes, eggs, bacon and a sausage.”

“And toast,” Lauren added, pointing to a small plate the waitress had placed at Maureen’s elbow.

“With jam,” Maureen grinned, winking at the woman across the table from her.

“Just let me know if you need help getting out of here,” Lauren remarked with a twinkle in her eyes. “I’m sure I’ll be able to borrow a cart or something, to wheel you out.”

“The good thing about pay backs is that the receiver usually never sees them coming,” Maureen answered without missing a beat, before sinking her teeth in a piece of pancake.

“Oh, a threat?” Lauren smiled, unconsciously leaning forward. Her brown eyes rested on Maureen’s bent head and stayed there, knowing the other woman would eventually look up. She didn’t have to wait too long. After a few moments of silence, Maureen raised her eyes and seeing the look of warm intensity in the other woman’s eyes, her skin immediately flushed a delicate pink. Inwardly, she groaned. Lauren’s face was so close she only would have to cross a very short distance to do what she had been dreaming about for a long time. But kissing Agent Darkwolf in a public place at their table in front of the window would certainly cause a riot. In more than one way. So Maureen exhaled slowly and frantically tried to come up with something intelligent to say. Anything really, to prevent her from making a total fool of herself. But it was hard, because Lauren was so close and she looked so good, even with the dark circles underneath her eyes, painted by lack of sleep.  Maureen had to restrain herself not to reach out a hand and caress the soft looking skin around Lauren’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Lauren spoke in a soft voice.

“About what?” Maureen frowned, letting out a shaky breath.

“About being here, instead of at the Lake. I had...I really had hoped we’d been able to spend some time together, without the work, the death and the misery.” Lauren smiled sadly and reached out a hand, covering Maureen’s with her own. She gave it a gentle squeeze before letting her go again. “Soon, I promise, we’ll take a weekend, or even longer, and spent time together. That is, if that’s what you want as well,” Lauren ended with hesitance.

“Are you kidding?” Maureen softly snorted. “There’s nothing I want more. Besides, I need a break. I’m not sure how long I can keep this up without falling apart or, worse, killing a suspect.”

“We’ll get through it,” Lauren promised. “We just need to keep it together a little longer and when we’re done with this case, I’ll tell Jack Wilson he’ll have to give us some time off, or I’ll quit.”

Maureen stared at Lauren and let out a soft chuckle. But the brown eyes were serious and she quickly swallowed a sip of coffee.

“You mean it,” she spoke.

“I do,” Lauren nodded.

“What would you do?” the redhead asked. She could not imagine Lauren as anything else but a police officer.

“Fishing guide,” Lauren answered and Maureen laughed when she noticed the twinkle in her friend’s eyes. “I know Grand Lake like the palm of my hand. I could make it as a fishing guide. God knows it would be a heck of lot less stressful.”

“Well, if you decide on a career change, let me know,” Maureen encouraged. “I always wanted to learn how to fish.”

“Deal,” Lauren smiled, sipping her coffee.

The dark-haired Agent’s thoughts returned to the death of the young woman and the cold, heartless abandonment of the baby and deep down inside she felt anger bubble up. She welcomed the emotion, because it immediately drove away the exhaustion she felt. If she would be able to keep the anger below the surface she knew it would help her to focus on the task at hand. They needed to focus, she knew. It was too easy to be distracted by her feelings for the red-haired woman, but that was something she could not allow herself to do. She had to get a handle on her attraction for Maureen Lawrence, at least until she had the time to examine her feelings closer and explore the possibilities, if there would be any. Until then, she would bear the heavy beating of her heart, every time her eyes were caught by the green of Maureen’s.

“We’ll need to talk to some people,” Lauren heard Maureen speak and startled she looked up.


“I said, we need to talk to some people,” Maureen repeated, looking at the other woman with a frown. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Lauren quickly answered. “And yes, I agree, we need to find out if anybody has seen something out of the ordinary. Why don’t we finish breakfast and drive back to the area where the body was found? There are a couple of houses there.”

“A couple?” Maureen muttered. “You must have some undetected eye problem. I saw a house, only one, if you can call it a house and to me it didn’t look like anybody was living there. And if I’m wrong, I’ll strongly advise them to move.”

“You wanna bet?” Lauren suggested with an amused twinkle in her eyes.

“If someone actually lives there? Heck, yes,” Maureen laughed. “What’s the wager?”

Lauren felt a surge of warmth settle in the pit of her stomach when she saw the sparkle in Maureen’s eyes. It made her look years younger and, in Lauren’s eyes, incredibly cute.

“You tell me,” Lauren smiled.

“Oooh, I get to pick,” Maureen smiled, rubbing her hands together in anticipation. “Let me think here for a moment, because this is going to be good.”

“You’d better choose wisely, because you’re going to lose,” Lauren teased, laughing when Maureen snorted in response.

“I don’t think so, Wolfie. Alright, here’s the deal. If you are right, I’ll...cook you dinner and if...what?” Maureen asked, noticing the look of shock in Lauren’s eyes.

“Cooking? You?” Lauren leaned forward and lowered her voice, so only Maureen would be able to hear her. “Honey, no offense, but I’ve seen your fridge. The thought of you cooking is a little...unsettling,” Lauren continued, but there was a twinkle in her eyes.

“Then think of how much more special it will be,” the red-head nodded with a grin. “However, if I am right and nobody lives in with only half a roof, you, Agent Lauren Darkwolf, will cook for me,” Maureen purred.

“God, I hope I’m wrong,” Lauren sighed, which earned her a playful slap from her friend. “Can I, at least, be around when you cook for me, so I can give you some pointers?”

“That won’t be necessary, because I’ll win this bet,” Maureen answered with a smug smile.

“Pretty sure of yourself, huh?” Lauren smiled. “Alright, Lawrence, we’ll find out soon enough.”


Agent Lauren Darkwolf drove her vehicle slowly down the dirt-road, skillfully avoiding the holes that littered the dry, cracked surface.  Every now and then one of the tires slid into a deep track, violently rocking the car.

“Ooof,” Maureen blew out a breath and planted both hands against the dashboard to keep from being flung across the car. Lauren shot her an apologetic look and grimaced in sympathy.

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

“No problem,” Maureen muttered. “I just hope my pancakes will stay where they are. I can’t promise they will though,” she spoke through clenched teeth. “I tell you, Darkwolf, nobody in his right mind lives there.”

“I never said they had to be in their right mind,” Lauren replied, steering around a big branch that had landed at the side of the road, its smaller twigs sticking out like little tentacles, trying to grab on to anything that would try and pass them.

After Lauren’s remark, Maureen glanced aside and opened her mouth to reply, but changed her mind. Instead, she stuck her hand inside her jacket and pulled out her gun, sliding out the clip and carefully inspecting it before putting it back into place again.

“You’re making me nervous,” Lauren chuckled. “Why are you doing that? Nobody lives there, right?”

“Oh, ha ha,” Maureen mumbled. “I just want to make sure. I have no intention of shooting anyone today, or of getting shot. Once is enough.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” Lauren said, reaching out a hand to give Maureen’s knee a friendly pat. “I didn’t mean to make fun of that.”

“I know,” Maureen sighed. “And I’m okay with what happened, really. It could have been a lot worse, back then, but still, I’d like to make sure. If, and I repeat, if, anybody lives out here, they really be very hospitable, you know.”

“I know,” Lauren nodded, while her eyes traveled from the back of the house they were approaching to the old, run down truck that was parked in front of it. It looked like it would not be able to run anymore, but Lauren had seen vehicles in the same bad shape that had still managed to try and outrun a police car.

“Somebody is in the back,” she said matter-of-factly.

“You’re kidding,” Maureen hissed, leaning forward in her seat. “Did you see anyb...oh, there he is,” she said, having seen the figure of an old man exiting the back of the house, slowly walking toward the truck.

“Is that a shotgun he’s carrying?” she spoke, immediately knowing the answer when the old man leaned against the back of his truck, with the shotgun casually resting on his shoulder. “Looks like he knows how to use it, too,” she mumbled.

“Yup, he sure does,” Lauren nodded, parking the car alongside the dirt track and opening the door. Maureen followed her example and opened the passenger door, slowly exiting the car and making sure the old man could clearly see her hands, that were empty.

“Good morning,” Lauren called out. “How are you?”

The old man scratched his unkempt beard and spit on the ground, kicking up some dirt to cover the saliva that was dark from chewing tobacco.

“Pretty good,” he drawled. “What y’all want?”

Lauren held her hands to her side and stepped a little closer, respecting the fact that the man was obviously intent on exercising his right to defend his property, no matter how run down it might be.

“My name is Lauren Darkwolf and this is Maureen Lawrence,” she introduced herself. “We work for the OSBI and are investigating the death of a young lady. We’d like to ask you some questions, if that’s alright with you.”

Again, the old man spat on the ground before he turned his attention back to the two women.

“Got some ID?” he asked.

“Yes, sir, we do,” Maureen asked. “I’ll have to reach into my pocket to get it though,” she added.

“Go ahead,” the man encouraged. “I won’t shoot ya.”

“Better not,” Maureen mumbled, reaching into her pocket to pull out her leather covered ID. She flipped it open and held it up, so he could see it.

“Come closer, girl. My eyes are retired, like me.”

Maureen suppressed a nervous chuckle and the urge to ask him if it was a good idea to hold a shotgun while his eyesight was bad, but she decided against it.

“You, too,” he gestured Lauren. “C’mere.”

Lauren stepped closer, suppressing the urge to step in front of Maureen to shield her friend with her body, if necessary. She was sure her red-headed friend would not appreciate a gesture like that. Although Lauren realized Maureen was a very capable, experienced Agent, her eyes never left the old man when her friend held out her ID badge for him to see. Lauren calculated that, if it would come to a shoot-out, she would most likely be faster than the old man. First of all, she was a lot younger and her reflexes would be better and secondly, he was balancing his shotgun on his shoulder and it would take him at least two to three seconds to get it in position and aim. Enough for Lauren to pull her gun and disarm him.

“Looks real to me,” the old man nodded, casting Maureen an approving look. “She with you?” he gestured to Lauren.

“She sure is,” the redhead answered, casting a look over her shoulder and winking at Lauren, who visibly relaxed.

Oh, look at that, Maureen mused. She was worried about me. How cute!

Lauren sent the old man a tight smile, still keeping a close eye on him and the shotgun he was holding.

“Sir, may we ask you a few questions?” she politely asked.

“Morton,” he muttered.

“Excuse me?”

“My name, it’s Morton. Call me that, or Mort or Morty. I don’t do ‘sir’. Not anymore.”

“Alright, Morton. May I ask...?” Lauren started, but she was interrupted by Morton, who brought his gun down and put it in the back of his truck. His now empty hands were stuffed inside his dirt-covered jeans.

“Go ahead, ask,” Morton spoke gruffly, looking at Lauren from under grizzly eyebrows.

“Did you see anything out of the ordinary yesterday?” Maureen asked, stuffing her hands in the pockets of her slacks.

“Yesterday?” Morton repeated with a drawl. Again, he turned his head and spit on the ground in an almost perfect arc. “Why?”

Maureen rolled her eyes and took a deep breath, intent on answering the old man, but the sight of a pair of amused dark eyes all of a sudden made her very self-conscious, which in turn irritated her. She knew how to ask questions. It wasn’t like she was a rookie. Over the years she had interrogated hundreds of people and she was ready to prove that to the silent Agent next to her.

“I can’t give you any information, but we’re investigating a crime.”

“Something I did?” Morton asked undisturbed.

“I don’t know, sir, have you done anything?”

“Yesterday?” Morton asked, scratching his beard and glancing aside at Maureen with a deep frown. “Lemme think...yeah, yeah, I did some stuff,” he nodded, seemingly unwilling to elaborate.

“Like what?” Maureen sighed, feeling she was losing patience and her grip on the conversation. She just wanted the questioning to be over, so she could go home and sleep.

“Drove to the city. Bank. Bait shop ‘n all that.”

Maureen sucked in her bottom lip and slowly counted to ten. She needed to stay calm. She was not sure if Morton was being vague on purpose or that he was deliberately pushing her buttons, but, when she looked up again, she noted the barely visible wink he sent her partner.

“Alright, Morton. I’m sure it’s great fun to play games, but you know what, I am really tired and not in the mood for this. So, if you...”

“Morton,” Lauren’s voice interrupted Maureen, while the dark Agent briefly touched Maureen’s shoulder. “Did you notice anything out of the ordinary yesterday? Maybe some folks that seemed out of place.”

“Sure did,” Morton nodded. “They came barreling down the road in one of them fancy foreign cars. Sure as hell scared the fire out of me. I thought they were fixin’ to run straight into my truck.”

“When was that?”

“Oh, ‘bout lunch time, I guess,” Morton shrugged.

“Do you remember what kind of car?”

“It was a dark one, blue or black. With some silver on the front. One of them pissants.”

Maureen shot Lauren a puzzled look, before returning her attention back to Morton.

“A what?”

“A pissant. One of them German cars.”

“A Passat?” Lauren asked with a barely audible quiver in her voice. The look on Maureen’s face was priceless. It was obvious the red- head did not know whether to be angry with Morton and arrest him for obstruction of the law, or just throw her head back and laugh.

“Yeah, that,” Morton grinned, nodding at Lauren, sending her an approving glance. “Like I said, one of them German cars,” he repeated.

“Did you see the driver?” Maureen asked, trying to ignore her annoyance with the old man. She had a feeling he would love to toy with her and she did not want to give him that pleasure.

“Nope, windows were too dark. ‘Sides, I was trying to keep my damn truck on the road. They left nothing but a cloud of dust.”

“What about a license plate?” Lauren tried her luck.

“Oklahoma,” Morton answered with a nod. When he noticed Maureen opened her mouth to speak, he held up his hand and shook his head. “Nope, couldn’t read it,” he said.

“Anything else that stood out?” Lauren asked, giving her friend an encouraging nod. Maureen looked so tired, Lauren wanted to take her home as fast as she could, so she could get some rest. They both needed it. Desperately.

“Music,” Morton answered.

“Music?” Lauren echoed.

“Yup, pretty loud, too. Must have been a bunch of youngsters, playing that noise so loud. They must be deaf and if they ain’t, they will be soon.”

“Any specific music?”

“Loud,” Morton snorted. “I dunno. Lot’s of beat and bass.”

“So, a dark-colored Passat, with tinted windows, Oklahoma plate and loud music,” Lauren repeated, looking at Morton who nodded in agreement. “Which direction were they going?”

“West,” Morton pointed. “They came out of the neighbor’s road and went West.”

“Neighbors? Constance Perez?”

“Yup,” Morton said. “Is she alright?”

“She’s fine,” Lauren answered. “A bit shaken up, but she’ll be fine.”

“Did she find that baby?”

“How do you...?” Lauren started, but then she paused and let out a small chuckle. “Never mind. I’m from a small town myself and I know how fast news travels. I can’t give you any details, Morton. Sorry.”

“S’Alright,” he grinned. “I’ll hear about it soon enough.”

Lauren nodded and extended her hand, which Morton grabbed in a firm grip.

“Thanks for your help, Morton. I appreciate it.”

“No problem. Drop by anytime you need some information. I know all the folks around here. Most of them since they wore diapers.”

“We will, thanks, Morton,” Lauren smiled. Her dark eyes traveled to the back of the truck, where she knew he had put the shotgun. “What’s up with that?” she casually asked.

“Too many damn strangers around lately,” Morton spat. “They’re leaving I-40 and driving around all over the place. Most of ‘em young ones and they have guns. I don’t want no trouble, but I’ll defend myself. Little snots.”

“Who are they?” Maureen frowned.

“Dunno,” Morton shrugged. “They look like gangs to me. Too much mouth and too much money. They’re trouble, I’ll tell ya. Using these here roads as damn race tracks. Running back and forth like chickens with no head.”

“How often?” Lauren asked with keen interest.

“Couple ‘o times a week. Same cars. Same young folk. I tell ya, they’re trouble.” Again he spit on the dust-covered ground and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Y’all be careful now, y’hear,” he mumbled casting a look at the sky. “Weather’s gonna be rocky.”

“It is?” Maureen could not help asking, glancing up at the sky that was a perfect shade of blue. “I didn’t hear the forecast,” she spoke, wondering if they needed to keep an eye out for severe weather.

“Tornado chances are up,” Morton nodded.

Lauren cast a look at his house, noticing the lack of electricity wires running to it and she knew the old man spoke from good old fashioned gut-feeling and experience.

“We’ll keep that in mind,” she nodded.

“You’d better,” he grumbled. “Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”

“About those...gang members you just mentioned,” Lauren continued with a thoughtful expression on her face. “Do they...race up and down the same road, or...”

“From East to West and then a day or so later they come racing back again.”

“A pattern,” Maureen cast Lauren an appreciative look and felt a surge of anticipation. She did not know the specifics yet, but they were on to something, she was sure of that.

Lauren nodded and sent Morton a slow smile and Maureen could tell her friend was working on a plan.

“Can I ask you a favor, Morton?” Lauren asked, looking the old man square in the eyes. He nodded at her with a raised eyebrow. “Whenever you notice one of those cars again, could you keep track of what day and time they come by? I’m a little curious about that, I’m sure you’ll understand.”

“You bet,” Morton nodded with a grin, rolling his plug of Red Man from his right cheek to his left, before half-turning his head and spitting on the ground.

Maureen winced and tried not to look at the dark spots on the dusty road. Her grandfather had chewed tobacco and one day, when she was about eight years old she had secretly taken a pinch out of the can he had left on the table. She had stuffed the strong smelling substance in her mouth, immediately regretting that move, because it was like the inside of her mouth and her tongue were on fire. Running to the kitchen sink, she had been ready to spit out the contents of her mouth, when the door was opened and her grandmother had come in. Feeling trapped, Maureen had swallowed the tobacco and shortly after that she had become incredibly sick. It had taken her more than a full day to be able to keep any kind of food down. The dark-colored blobs of saliva on the ground reminded her of that fateful day and, to her horror, the memories triggered a wave of nausea that made her acutely aware of the large breakfast she had consumed.

A warm hand on her shoulder made her look up into the concerned eyes of Lauren Darkwolf.

“You don’t look all that great,” Lauren spoke softly. “Why don’t you go sit in the car with the engine running, so the air conditioning will cool you off a little,” she suggested in a gentle voice. “I’ll be with you in a few minutes.”

Maureen was about to protest. She wanted Lauren to understand that she was tough enough to handle a stressful day on only a few hours of sleep, but the genuine warmth in the dark-brown eyes made her change her mind. With a small sigh of defeat, she slowly nodded and closed her fingers around the keys Lauren pressed into her hand.

“Don’t be surprised to find me asleep,” she said with a wry smile.

“I won’t,” Lauren smiled, giving her friend a gentle pat on the back. “Go on, I’m right behind you.”

Maureen nodded and, after sending Morton a small smile, she turned around and slowly walked back to the car.

“She’s something else,” Morton chuckled. “Little spitfire.”

“Were you yanking her chain for a reason?” Lauren asked calmly.

Morton chewed his tobacco, while he cast Lauren an inquisitive look. The dark woman patiently waited while the old man got rid of another mouthful of spit. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and chuckled again.

“I thought it would be fun to rile her up a bit,” he finally confessed. “Sides, she’s got you as her protector, doesn’t she?” he shrugged.

For a brief moment Lauren was speechless. Was she that transparent? Here was an old man who lived in a severely run down house and looked like he had not had a decent bath in a very long time. A lot of people would not grant him a second look, but the moment she had walked up to him, he had recognized something she had been carefully trying to keep hidden.

“There’s nothing wrong with your eyes,” she finally answered with a small smile.

“Only when it suits me,” he admitted with a grin. “Your partner reminds me of somebody I knew, a long time ago. Teasing her was always great fun. I guess I couldn’t help myself.” Morton looked up into a pair of pensive dark eyes. He liked the tall woman and he felt like he could trust her. “My wife,” he continued. “She was an Irish lass and she had the red hair and freckles.”  Morton paused while his eyes followed a circling hawk high in the sky. “Died in childbirth, she and the baby both.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Lauren replied in a soft voice.

Morton nodded and pulled a red bandana out of his pocket, using it to wipe the perspiration of his forehead.

“It’s been a long time ago. They’re both buried underneath that big oak over there,” he pointed toward a hill behind the house where Lauren could see a small fenced off plot. Even from a distance she could tell it looked meticulously maintained. “She loved this land and we had big plans for this place,” Morton said, after clearing his throat. “I promised her we’d always live here. No punk will make me break that promise. I’d shoot them first, ya know,” Morton almost growled.

“Gotcha,” Lauren answered, understanding what Morton was telling her. He was willing to keep his eyes open so he could give her some more information about the coming and going of cars that Lauren suspected to be connected to drug runs. But Morton was intent on protecting his property and Lauren knew he had every right to do so.

“Just be careful,” Lauren warned the old man. “If you’re right and they do have guns, you don’t want to provoke a shoot-out.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll keep a low profile,” Morton promised with a chuckle. “I can play dumb real well.”

“I’m sure you can,” Lauren smiled. “I’ll be back sometime this week.”

“Make sure to drop by,” Morton nodded. “And tell that pretty lass to get some sleep. Seems to me like she needs it.”

“I will,” Lauren promised. “Take care, Morton. Thanks for the information.”

“You bet,” the old man replied, leaning his back against his truck while watching Lauren walk back to the car where Maureen was waiting for her. He had a feeling he would see the dark woman again real soon and he suspected it would not be a social visit.


To be continued

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