Heart's Choice

Chapter 10

By

Lois Kay

The weather had turned out to be beautiful. The sun was shining and the sky was clear and crisp. The fields were basking in the warm light, their fresh, green grass standing proud and colorful after the long, dark days of winter. The temperature was very comfortable and sitting in the sun, out of reach from the still thin, somewhat chilly wind, was a luxurious treat.

The black and white Frisian cows were happily munching on the young grass, contented to be out of the confinement of the stables. No matter how big they were, there was nothing better than being outside and grazing green fields.

With a happy sigh Kyra stretched her denim clad legs in front of her and cast a look aside. She smiled when she noticed Emma was leaning her head back against the outer kitchen wall. Her eyes were closed and there was a content smile on her face as she soaked up the warmth she had missed so much during the winter months. She seemed so utterly relaxed that Kyra silently wondered whether her lover had fallen asleep on the little patch of soft grass underneath the kitchen window.

A ray of sun highlighted the red in her hair and Kyra had to seriously restrain herself from reaching out and raking her fingers through the thick, soft tresses. With a small sigh she shifted a little closer to her dozing companion and she was just wondering if Emma would wake up if she'd carefully rested her head against her shoulder, when a pair of sleepy blue eyes blinked and gazed up at her affectionately.

"Hey," the teacher smiled. "Did I just catch you staring at me?"

"What if I did?" Kyra quipped, grabbing Emma's right hand and lacing her fingers through the slightly longer ones.

"Mm...I don't know. I'd say you'd have to be careful."

Kyra let out a small chuckle and involuntarily her eyes darted towards the creek and back.

"Is this another rule I need to know about?"

"Not the last time I looked, unless my family made a few amendments I don't know anything about," Emma grinned. "I was just a little worried about my looks. That's all."

A pair of dark eyebrows rose into Kyra's hairline and she cast her lover a puzzled look.

"Why on earth would you worry about that? There's nothing wrong with the way you look."

"Not yet, but if you keep staring at me like that my looks will wear off pretty quick."

"Oh, you...brat," Kyra laughed, playfully swatting Emma's arm when she realized her lover was just teasing her. "I was just debating whether I should snuggle up, but you can just forget...whoa!"

A strong arm snaked out and quickly pulled her closer and in spite of her words, Kyra immediately wrapped her arm around Emma's waist and let out a happy sigh when she rested her head against Emma's shoulder and a strong hand started to

gently rub her back.

"I love this," she softly confessed. "I love it when you hold me. Do you think I'm addicted to you already?"

Emma lovingly squeezed the body in her arms and kissed the top of Kyra's head.

"I know I am," she quietly admitted. "Do you know how many times I wanted to touch you so badly I had to sit on my hands or just shove them in my pockets, because I didn't want to make a fool of myself? Or embarrass you?"

"You did?"

"From day one," Emma sighed.

"I must say you showed remarkable restraint then," Kyra mumbled, pressing her face in the crook of Emma's neck and breathing in her lover's scent.

"I didn't want to scare you away. Besides, I made you a promise: I'd wait."

Kyra lifted her head a little from its comfortable spot and peeked up into a pair of warm blue eyes.

"You're a very honorable woman, Emma Louise Altena," she smiled. "Remember the evening when I had that migraine? I was about to kiss you when the phone rang. I didn't know whether to be happy about that interruption or not. Of course, after that talk with Mother I had such a splitting headache it didn't matter anymore."

"That was an interesting night," Emma chuckled. "You basically gave me permission to help you get undressed and I was shaking like a leaf. And then when you were asleep and I was just...lying there, looking at you...I just..." she exhaled and laughed softly. "My hormones were not happy! Well, maybe my hormones were, but the rest of me wasn't."

"Poor baby," Kyra grinned, reaching out a hand and cupping Emma's cheek. "But I'm glad you got over that."

Eyes that reflected the clear spring sky turned an interesting shade of blue.

"Over what?"

"Shaking like a leaf when you undress me," Kyra grinned. "It didn't seem to bother you at all last night."

Emma chuckled and turned her head sideways so she could kiss the palm of Kyra's hand that was still resting against her cheek.

"It was like magic. I was so captivated by you, I didn't have the time to be nervous," Emma replied in a serious voice. "All I wanted was to make you feel desired and loved."

"And you did," Kyra breathed, leaning in to capture Emma's lips that were so close she couldn't resist the temptation. She didn't care if anyone could see them. She needed the contact and closeness with her lover, knowing that in a few days time, she would have to go back home and she wouldn't be able to see Emma for at least a whole week.

"Oh, My goodness! Would you look at that?" an amused voice sounded and Emma didn't need to look up to see it was her youngest sister, Imke. "Looks like you two continued where you left off last night, at the party."

"That's what you think," Hester's voice came from the kitchen. "I think they've been at it ever since."

Kyra hid her furiously blushing face against Emma's chest, feeling her lover's arms settle around her in a protective gesture.

"Imke, did I ever tell you that story when I was thirteen and I walked inside the barn and..."

"Emma!" Hester cried, rushing outside and casting her sister a warning glance, waving a spoon into her direction. "Don't you dare."

Emma just laughed and shifted to a more upright position, taking Kyra with her.

"See, honey? It works every time," she cheerfully told her still blushing lover.

Imke decided that Emma and Kyra looked really comfortable and with a happy sigh she let herself down on the field next to her sister. Using Emma's leg as a pillow she stretched her legs, crossing them at the ankles and closed her eyes.

"Tell me if you're not comfortable," Emma chuckled, affectionately ruffling the short, dark hair.

"Oh, don't worry, I will," Imke dryly replied.

"Where's Neville?" Emma inquired, burying her face in Kyra's curly hair with almost sensual abandon.

"He'll be by later," Imke yawned, not moving. "He and Willem had to do some last minute...something," she added with a soft snort. "It had something to do with tomorrow's cookout."

"Cookout?" Kyra's had lost its sleepiness and she glanced up at the smirking face of her lover.

"Another Altena tradition, Kyra," Imke explained. "Each Easter day we have a cookout, rain or shine. If the weather's bad, Dad and the guys put the stuff inside the big barn and we cook there. It's great to live on a farm," she added with a chuckle.

"How many grills do you need?" Kyra asked, mentally counting what would be required to feed such a large family.

"We don't," Emma dead panned.

Kyra frowned and looked at the teacher's face that stared back at her in all its seriousness.

"You don't?"

"No, dad has this old truck. We drive it where we want it, fill the flatbed with coals and stuff, cover it up with a gate and that's it. Ready."

"Yeah, right," Kyra snorted.

"It's great for family picnics," Emma continued in a serious voice. "We can take it just about anywhere."

"I don't believe you."

"Ask Imke."

Kyra looked at Emma's youngest sister, who had her hands clasped over her stomach and was shaking with silent laughter.

"You...you...what do I do with you?" Kyra laughed, slapping Emma's thigh. "I ask you a serious question and you just give me a goofy answer. I've never seen you like this." Kyra leaned in closer and playfully nibbled a tasty earlobe. "But I like it," she whispered in a husky voice.

"Girls, girls, you're in public, put a lid on it," Imke teased. "Besides, I'm only twenty two and that still is a very impressionable age, so cool it huh?"

"You're just jealous," Emma replied, tickling Imke behind her ear.

A blue eye popped open and regarded her older sister with a pensive expression.

"You know, sis, I'm glad you brought that up. Kyra looks positively radiant today, so, I was thinking, maybe you can give Neville some pointers, huh?"

For the second time in a few minutes Kyra's face turned beet red and while she hid the blush behind her hands, she softly groaned. Chuckling Emma securely wrapped her arms around Kyra and pulled her closer, casting her sister a look that was part amusement and part warning. Imke immediately understood and she turned around to put a hand on Kyra's knee, giving it a friendly squeeze.

"Sorry, Kyra, that was probably a little too much. You might have noticed we do tease each other a lot here, but I should have cut you some slack, because to you that's all new."

Kyra exhaled and turned in Emma's arms so she could glance at the younger woman who was looking at her with an apologetic smile.

"Is that covered in that famous Altena rule book as well?" she asked, immediately seeing the twinkle in a pair of eyes that were similar in color to her lover's.

"Yup, no heavy teasing during the first six months," Imke nodded. "After that, you're fair game."

"That's very generous," Kyra grinned. "Good, that will give me enough time to prepare."

"You better watch it, sis," Emma warned Imke. "Kyra might not have had a lot of practice yet, but she's a natural."

Seeing Imke bite her lip and hearing Kyra grumble something unintelligible, Emma's blue eyes flew open wide when she realized what she had just said.

"I meant, the teasing," she defended herself with a groan. "Honest!"

Imke laughed and patted Emma's leg, before jumping back to her feet and brushing off her clothes.

"You got yourself into this one, Emmie. Good luck," she grinned stepping inside the kitchen.

"I was not talking about sex," Emma emphasized. "I would never put you on the spot like that, honey. I'm not like that. It just slipped out and..."

"You're cute when you're flustered," Kyra interrupted, her green eyes sparkling with warmth and affection.

"Mommy!"

Kyra turned her head towards the sound of Simon's voice and smiled when she noticed her son running out of the big barn. His clothes were covered in sand and there were bits of hay sticking out of his hair.

"Talking about cute," Emma smiled. "He fits right in with the rest of the rascals."

"I need to talk to him," Kyra softly spoke, turning her attention back to her lover, who gave her an understanding nod.

"I think you should. I'll join the girls in the kitchen and see if I can cause some trouble there. Besides, Mom has been asking me to write down the recipe for that stew you made me a few weeks ago. I guess now is a good time to do that."

Kyra nodded in agreement and jumped to her feet, extending her hand and helping Emma to get up.

"Simon and I will take a little walk. We won't go far."

"Take your time, sweetie," Emma replied, tucking a curl behind Kyra's ear and grinning when it immediately bounced back again. "I'll see you later."

"All right. I love you."

"I love you," Emma smiled, letting her eyes convey her feelings and seeing the emotions reflected back to her from the green depths of Kyra's.

Kyra exhaled slowly and turned around towards Simon, who hadn't slowed down and jumped into his mother's arms with a cheerful yell.

"Whoa, monkey man," she laughed.

"Mom, did you know that behind this big barn there's a little one as well and we can play there? We built a hut inside and you can only come in if you have the secret password."

"A secret password, huh?" Kyra repeated with a smile. "I guess I'll have to check that out later."

"It's for kids only," was Simon's serious reply and Kyra laughed, before putting her son back on his own two feet again. She looked at him and raked her fingers through his hair to get rid of some bits and pieces of hay and grass.

"Do you want to take a little walk with me, Simon? I need to talk to you about something."

Tucking his hand in her larger one he solemnly nodded and quietly walked alongside his mother towards the side of the house, where they sat down on the bank of the creek, overlooking the fields that stretched out towards the horizon. In the distance they could see the outline of another couple of farms, but other than that they only saw green pastures, cow filled fields and blue skies.

"Do you like it here, Simon?" Kyra softly asked, noticing how her son's serious expression was replaced by a sunny smile.

"I made a lot of friends," he enthusiastically replied.

"I'm glad to hear that," Kyra smiled, pulling Simon in her lap and holding him close, feeling his small body go limp against her chest.

"I need to talk to you about Emma," her voice was soft and wistful. "There have been some...changes," she added with a sigh, pondering over the best way to inform her young son about her relationship with his teacher.

"You kissed," Simon stated, while his small hands played with the ones that were resting on his stomach.

"We kissed," Kyra simply acknowledged. "But do you know why?"

Simon raised his gray eyes to meet his mother's deep green ones and a small frown creased his brow.

"Because you like her?"

"Yes, I do like her, a lot," Kyra smiled. "Simon, do you remember when uncle Jazz came to visit us a few weeks ago?" When the curly head nodded she continued. "And he brought Elvira with him, so we could meet her?"

"She's his girlfriend," Simon stated.

"Yes, she is," Kyra smiled, pulling Simon closer and resting her cheek on the top of his head. "Do you understand what a girlfriend is, Simon?"

"Uncle Jazz said he always wants to be with her."

"He does, doesn't he?" Kyra smiled warmly, remembering the happy glow on her brother's face.

"Simon, honey, Emma and I...we..."

"Are you girlfriends?" Simon curiously asked. "Peter said you were, because you kissed and all that."

Thank you, Peter.

"Yes, we are," Kyra quietly admitted. "How does that make you feel?"

Simon shrugged his shoulders and snuggled a little closer, wrapping an arm around his mother's neck and pressing his face against her shoulder.

"Do you always want to be with her?"

Kyra felt her heart skip a beat and she took a moment to seriously ponder over her son's question. Did she want to build a life with Emma? Was she ready to come out? Would their very young relationship be strong enough to withstand the pressure from the outside world? Her mother would try anything to put as much strain on their relationship as she possibly could, Kyra realized that. No doubt she would not even hesitate to use Simon or Emma's past to accomplish that. Would it be worth it?

Slowly exhaling Kyra felt a weight lift off her shoulders and she nodded.

"I do," she calmly answered, knowing in her heart that the bond she and Emma shared was worth fighting for. "I really want to be with Emma forever."

"Are you going to marry her?" Simon asked with a hint of excitement in his voice.

Kyra let out a soft laugh and playfully nuzzled her son's neck, making him giggle.

"It's a bit early for that, sweetie. Emma and I want to take things slow and I think it's a good idea for us all to get used to each other first. What do you think?"

"I like Emma," Simon sighed.

"I know you do," Kyra smiled. "And she likes you a lot as well. But a lot of things will change, honey. We'll need to get used to that."

"When will Emma come to live with us then?"

"I don't know, Simon, Emma and I haven't talked about that yet. But I suppose it will happen when we are all ready for that."

"Okay," he drawled, sounding a little disappointed

"Hey, what's up?" Kyra asked, pulling back a little so she could look at her son's face that sported a little pout.

"I like it when Emma is with us," he whispered, fidgeting with the hem of her shirt. "You laugh a lot then and..." his eyes traveled up to Kyra's face and locked with her intense green ones that gazed at him a little startled. "It feels like...like being here, even if we're not," Simon ended, not knowing how to really explain his mother what he felt inside. It was happiness, longing and pain all wrapped up in one.

"Like being here with Emma's family?" Kyra slowly asked, seeing Simon nod and she suddenly understood what Simon meant. She felt it too. The warmth that came from being a part of a loving family. To be accepted for whom she was and what she was, without having to weigh her words on a golden scale. To be able to just be herself, without having to live up to expectations and not being judged.

Kyra felt a lump in her throat and she swallowed hard, not able to avoid the tears that stung the back of her eyes.

"It's like being a family, isn't it, honey?" she quietly asked, feeling a stab of pain when Simon nodded.

Again Kyra was confronted by her own desires that had made themselves known after she had met Emma. Before the teacher had come into her life, she had been content, believing she was happy and didn't need anyone else but her son. And even though she had often wondered if Simon would ever miss having a second parent in his life, the answer had never been as clear as it was now. He had missed it. Or maybe he only started missing it after Emma had become a regular guest in their house. No matter how much time Emma spent with Kyra, she had always gone to great lengths to make sure Simon never felt left out.

A smile crept up her face when she realized that Simon wanted the same thing she did: to have Emma as a part of their lives. Kyra realized she didn't have to worry about her son's acceptance of her relationship with the teacher and with a grateful sigh she hugged Simon close.

"I want that too, honey, the three of us being a family. And we will."

"Promise?"

"I promise," Kyra whispered, feeling a second arm slid around her neck. Simon hugged her close and a feeling of profound happiness bubbled up inside her chest.

From his cozy place in the warm circle of his mother's arms, Simon looked over her shoulder to see Emma standing outside the kitchen. She was leaning her shoulder against the wall, sipping from a steaming mug of freshly brewed coffee, while her other hand was shoved inside her pocket. Even from the distance Simon could see the radiant flash of blue when she smiled at him and he grinned back, raising a hand to give her a little wave.

"Emma's watching," he announced cheerfully, hearing his mother's soft laugh.

"Is she now? Do you want to go over and give her a hug as well?"

"Yeah," he laughed, untangling himself from his mother's loving grip.

With a smile Kyra turned around and watched her son run back to the farm house. Emma saw him coming and quickly put her mug on the windowsill, bending down on one knee and opening her arms wide when the small boy hurled himself against her. She effortlessly picked him up and when his small arms clasped around her neck in a tight grip she closed her eyes and silently sent up a prayer of thanks, realizing she had been blessed with a chance of something she never thought would be hers. A family of her own.

"Hey there, buddy," her warm voice greeted him. "This is one of the best hugs I've ever had."

"Mom gives good hugs too," Simon innocently replied. "All nice and warm."

"Yes, she does, doesn't she?" Emma smiled, opening her eyes to see her lover slowly stroll back towards them.

"Mom said we will be a family. She promised," he quickly added, just to make sure that Emma understood the seriousness of the situation.

"And you like that, huh?"

"Yes, a lot." The little boy pulled back a little. "Do you?"

"Yes, Simon," Emma answered in a hoarse voice. "I really like that a lot as well."

"Can I tell the others?" he eagerly asked.

"You sure can, buddy," Emma laughed, putting him down and ruffling his dark hair. "But why don't you go inside the kitchen first and have some milk and cookies? They are freshly baked," she winked. "Come on, I'll get you some."

With Simon's hand tucked inside her larger one Emma stepped inside the kitchen and walked up to her mother who was preparing another batch of delicious looking treats.

"Do we have a cookie for this handsome little fellow, Mom?" Emma asked with a smile.

Ann Altena looked up and sent Simon a warm smile.

"Of course I do. Come here, Simon," she encouraged, holding out an enticing looking cookie.

Simon took the treat with a smile and his mouth watered when the scent of cinnamon wafted up into his nose.

"Thank you...Em...Mrs. Altena," he politely thanked her, still a little confused about how to address Emma's mother properly. All his new friends called her ‘grandma'.

Ann Altena flawlessly picked up on his insecurity and shot her daughter a questioning look. Emma shrugged her shoulders and smiled while her mother knelt down in front of Simon, gently putting a hand on his shoulder.

"Listen, Simon. All the children here call me ‘grandma'. You can do that too, if you'd like. Would you?"

He silently nodded, but Ann Altena saw the mixture of relief and happiness in his gray eyes and she lovingly patted his shoulder.

"Good, that's settled then," she smiled.

"Now I have two grandmas," Simon announced in a serious voice.

"That's good. I'm happy about that," Ann Altena replied, equally serious. She eyed the boy who still stood before her and was chewing on his cookie with a pensive expression on his face. Except for his eyes, he was the spitting image of his mother and Ann Altena thought he was just adorable. From the first moment, when the little boy had politely introduced himself to her, she had opened her heart to him. And she knew her daughter would love Kyra's son like he was her own.

"My other grandma never makes cookies and she doesn't know how to make pancakes," he stated. "How come?"

"Well, Simon, even though baking cookies is not real hard, some people just...don't have the patience for it," she explained, carefully choosing her words. "Or the time."

"I guess my other grandma is busy a lot," he nodded. "I always have to take off my shoes and I can't get dirty. She says Maria only comes in on Thursdays and I have to keep things tidy. She sometimes picks me up from school on Wednesdays."

"That's nice of her," Ann Altena smiled.

"She tries to be, but it's hard for her" Simon replied with a wisdom that went way beyond his age. "Can I tell the others there are cookies?"

"You sure can, sweetie," Emma's mother laughed, getting back to her feet again and noticing Kyra, who was standing in the doorway with a pained expression on her face.

"Here, Mom, taste this," Simon enthusiastically encouraged handing his mother a piece of his treat, not aware of the sadness in her eyes. "They're almost as good as yours."

Kyra nibbled on the offered piece and bent down to give her son a quick hug.

"They are great," she admitted. "Go tell your friends about it."

"I will," he cried over his shoulder, already running towards the side of the big barn, where the little shed proved to be an excellent playground.

Kyra's eyes met Ann Altena's blue ones that looked at her with quiet compassion and she swallowed away the lump in her throat.

"Thank you," she simply stated, reaching out a hand to her lover and immediately feeling it enveloped by warm, strong fingers.

"Out of the mouth of babes," she wryly chuckled, thinking back at Simon's admission about her mother.

"You look like you could use some cookies and milk as well, Kyra," Hester softly remarked. "Come, sit down."

"Can I have coffee with that milk?" Kyra smiled, appreciatively sniffing the scent of freshly brewed coffee.

"Just what this family needed, another coffeeholic," Imke said, rolling her eyes. "Am I the only one who prefers tea?"

"You must be adopted," Hester teased, tossing a cookie towards her youngest sister, who snatched it out of mid air and immediately stuffed it in her mouth. "On second thought, I guess not," she added with a chuckle.

Kyra took a seat next to Emma, sending her lover a reassuring smile, but still needing the contact. She leaned against Emma's shoulder and exhaled slowly when a strong arm was immediately wrapped around her shoulders.

"Are you all right?" a soft voice tickled her ear and Kyra just had to turn her head a little and give the surprised Emma a quick kiss.

"I'm great," she sighed, lovingly stroking her lover's cheek. "I even think that..."

Familiar running footsteps made her look at the door and with a raised eyebrow she saw Simon entering the kitchen. From the look on his face she knew there was something wrong and with an inviting gesture she motioned him over.

"What's up, honey?"

Simon nibbled on his bottom lip and looked up at his mother with a mixture of insecurity and worry. She knew he was working hard to make a decision that apparently was a hard one. She could tell by the burrowing of his dark brows.

"Mom, you always say it's not nice to tell on your friends, huh?" he hesitantly started, staring at his feet.

Kyra untangled herself from Emma's arm and turned in her chair, so she could put her hands on Simon's shoulders.

"That's right, honey, I did tell you that, but there's something else I always say about that as well, isn't there?"

"If my friends are doing something really bad or dangerous, it's okay to tell a grown up," he almost whispered.

"That's right," Kyra nodded, using her thumb to brush away some sand that was clinging to his skin.

Simon looked up and his eyes darted from his mother's to Emma's and back again. He still didn't really know what to do. It was so hard sometimes to do the right thing. He was happy with his new friends and he didn't want to be a spoilsport and tell on them, but his mother's lessons were tugging on his heart.

"We made this hut, in the shed, behind the barn" he softly continued. "And it's really neat, Mom and we can all sit in it and it's like a fort. But you always say it's dangerous to play with fire."

Kyra's eyes went wide and behind her she could feel Emma's body stiffen, before her lover quickly pushed back her chair and started towards the kitchen door.

"Peter has matches and he...he was playing with them," Simon swallowed, feeling really bad about it, knowing he had probably just lost a new friend.

"Sonofa...," Emma cursed, stepping out of the kitchen into the yard. Her intention was to walk over to the shed and give her nephew a piece of her mind, but as soon as she came outside, she stopped dead in her tracks. For a moment the world stopped spinning and she could feel the blood freeze in her veins, before the adrenaline kicked in and cleared her mind so quickly, she almost felt dizzy.

"Mom, call 112, we have a fire," she shouted, taking off on a dead run towards the side of the barn, where the shed was. She knew the small wooden structure was usually packed with hay and she could only pray her father had already emptied the little building.

It was only a short distance between the farm house and the shed, maybe two hundred meters, but to Emma it seemed much more than that. As soon as she rounded the corner, she noticed her crying nephews and nieces standing outside the door of the shed where thick smoke came billowing out.

Grabbing the crying seven year old Steven by his arm she twirled him around.

"Get back to the house, Steve," she yelled at him. "Take the others with you," she pointed at the rest of the children.

"Anne is still in there," Steven howled in panic, pointing at the door, where eight year old Peter was trying to run back inside.

With a huge leap she jumped forward and grabbed her nephew by his arm, pulling him backwards and shoving him towards Steven.

"Go!" she yelled. "Get out of here. Now!"

A quick look over her shoulder showed her the children obediently started to run away from the fire. Imke and Kyra came skidding around the corner and for an endless moment Emma's eyes were caught in a terror filled green gaze. But then she took a deep gulp of fresh air, turned around and protecting her head with her arms she ran inside the building, disappearing into the smoke.

"Emma! No!" Kyra yelled, moving forward to follow her lover, but a strong grip on her arms hauled her back.

"No, Kyra," Imke cried out while the tears were running down her face. "Don't you dare go in there as well."

"I have to go. She needs me," Kyra sobbed, feeling her knees buckle underneath her body. Only Imke's strong arms prevented her from falling and clutching to each other they saw the rapidly increasing smoke, while the sound of a crackling fire filled them with horrific images.

Emma knew that what she was doing was extremely dangerous and utterly stupid. She had always been taught never to run into a burning building and she knew she only had a few minutes before the smoke would fill her lungs and carry her to a certain death. But all the fire drills she had ever had, never touched the subject of having a loved one inside a burning house. She couldn't just leave six year old Anne inside the shed to die. She had to try something. Anything.

"Anne! Anne!" she yelled at the top of her lungs, feeling the smoke sting her eyes and causing the tears to streak her already soot stained face.

Emma could feel the heat of the flames reflect off the skin of her bare arms and she tried not to look at the inferno that was rapidly consuming the inside of the shed. Instead she concentrated on the sounds around her.

Through the crackling noise of the fire she heard a faint sound in a corner and turning her head towards the source she tried to shout out her nieces name again, but she could only violently cough.

"Anne," her voice rasped.

A soft coughing and crying reached her ears and with a sense of profound relief Emma blindly hurried towards it. It was impossible to see anything and when her foot tangled in a piece of rope she instinctively stretched her hands out in front of her to brace for the expected impact. As soon as she hit the floor, she knew she had landed in a layer of soft, fragrant hay, but the side of her head collided with something hard and unyielding and she gasped in pain. Immediately she felt a steady trickle of blood make its way down her face. Sheer willpower helped her to fight the dizziness and Emma barely managed to not pass out.

"Anne," she coughed, realizing with a rapid feeling of panic that breathing was becoming harder by the second.

Pressing her face against the floor she tried to suck in the little oxygen that was left and crawled on hands and knees towards the corner where she knew there was an old workbench. Reaching out she felt around and when her hands touched a small body she sobbed in relief.

"Anne. Come here."

Tugging the shivering child against her body, Emma slowly stood up, fighting the

nausea that made her want to throw up. She swallowed hard and briefly wondered if the raspy, irregular breathing she could hear really was hers.

"We have to get out of here, honey," she coughed. "Hang on."

Only because, as a child, she had spent countless hours in the little shed, she knew where the exit was. She couldn't rely on her vision, because the smoke was so thick now that opening her eyes was just agony.

"Emma," a weak voice whispered. "I can't...breath"

Pushing Anne's face against her chest to protect her from the smoke as much as she could, Emma felt her legs go weak and she knew time was running out.

One chance. We only have one chance.

Mustering up courage from remembering the look in a pair of green eyes, she stumbled towards the place where she knew the door had to be.

Oh, God. I am so tired. I can't rest. I need to go. Need to get out. Kyra!

Pushing herself way beyond her physical limits, Emma concentrated on her legs and counted the steps that would lead them outside, away from the fire and the smoke.

Kyra had closed her eyes and her thoughts focused on her lover, who was still inside the shed that was fully ablaze now. Imke was still holding her arm in a vice like grip and Kyra knew that if Emma's sister wouldn't have grabbed her, she would have followed Emma into the inferno without thinking twice.

The sound of sirens came closer and Kyra prayed for the fire trucks to be in time, but one look at the shed threatened to shatter her dreams and future. If Emma couldn't manage to come out of the building by herself, it would be too late. Her lover was completely on her own.

"No. No," Kyra softly cried, staring at the door and willing her lover to appear, together with the little girl.

Emma's father had come running home from the field where he had been checking on his life stock and he was standing as close to the door as was possible. His large hands were clenched into fists and his body was rigid. Kyra didn't need to see his face to know that the tears were running down his cheeks.

After a few minutes, that seemed to last several lifetimes, Dirk Altena suddenly jumped forward, into the thick smoke, to almost immediately reappear, with a slumped Emma in his arms, who was still holding on to the limp form of her niece.

"Emma," Kyra cried out, pulling free from Imke's grip and surging forward. She practically flew while she covered the distance between herself and her lover and grabbing her Emma's other arm, she helped Dirk Altena to carry his daughter away from the fire. Only when they were out of reach from the smoke, the dairy farmer carefully lowered his daughter and granddaughter to the ground.

Warily loosening Emma's grip on the little girl, Dirk Altena lowered the six year old next to her aunt and quickly felt for a pulse. Little Anne was extremely pale, but her pulse was regular although a little weak. She was breathing on her own and Dirk Altena's attention shifted to Emma, where Kyra was feeling her lover's pulse and sobbing in relief when she found one.

"Is she breathing?" Dirk Altena rasped, not able to keep the panic out of his voice.

Kyra just nodded and soundlessly crying she brushed away Emma's hair from her forehead, frowning at the deep gash that had busted one of her eyebrows. It was surrounded by a big, dark spot and at first Kyra thought it was dirt, or soot, but then she realized it was a bruise.

Dark eyelashes fluttered and painfully red eyes blinked against the harsh light of the sun.

"Ouch," Emma breathed, immediately closing her eyes again. "It hurts," her voice croaked.

"Ssh, don't talk, honey," Kyra sniffed, wiping away her tears with the back of her hand. "Just lay still. The ambulance is on its way."

"Anne," Emma whispered, barely audible above the sound of the fire that was now seriously raging and the sirens that were so close, Kyra knew the fire truck and ambulance were just around the corner.

"Anne is all right, sweetie," Kyra reassured her lover. "Just lay still."

"Okay," Emma whispered, trying to moisten her dry lips and wincing when a halfhearted swallow seemed to set her raw throat on fire. "Thirsty."

"You can't drink now, love, I'm sorry. Just hang in there." Kyra looked up when from the corner of her eye she noticed the flashing lights of both the fire truck and at least two ambulances.

Then everything happened in a blur. She was gently pushed aside by a pair of ambulance nurses, who did a quick, but thorough check on Emma, while their coworkers were busy with little Anne.

"Let's get them to the emergency unit," one of the nurses, a tall, blond man urged, strapping Emma down onto a stretcher. Her nose and mouth were covered by an oxygen mask and the gash in her head had been covered by sterile gauze, the white fabric painfully contrasting with Emma's blood covered and soot stained face.

"Will she be all right?" Kyra asked in a strangled voice, while her eyes never left her lover's face.

A pair of friendly blue eyes met her anxious green ones and the male nurse sent her a reassuring smile.

"I'm sure she will be fine, ma'am. Right now it looks worse than it is. But she never stopped breathing and she's conscious and that's just what we need." He cast a look at his coworker and they exchanged glances. "You can ride with us if you'd like," he smiled.

Kyra turned around to cast a helpless look at Imke and Hester, who were looking pale and whose eyes were red and puffy from crying. She felt caught between the desire to be with her lover and the knowledge that her son needed her as well. The indecision on her face was painfully obvious, until Hester stepped forward and gently guided Kyra towards the waiting ambulance.

"Go with Emma, she needs you. We'll follow and bring Simon. All right?"

Kyra could only nod and she gave Hester a quick hug, before a strong hand helped her into the ambulance. The door was closed and within seconds they were on their way to the hospital.

To be continued in chapter 11

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