For disclaimers see part 1
"I'm sorry about this road, ma'am," an apologetic voice sounded from the driver's seat. "There are just so many potholes."
"I know, son, don't worry about it," Gertrude answered in a tired voice. "It almost makes you wonder what the heck they're doing with our tax money, doesn't it?"
The Agent chuckled and avoided yet another part of the road where the Oklahoma weather and traffic had eaten away a big chunk of the surface. The treacherous holes were hard to see in the semi-darkness and Agent Van Zant did his utmost to make the ride a smooth one, hoping that soon they would reach a better maintained road. He had taken an instant liking to the elderly woman who had been entrusted into his care. Inspector Wilson had been very clear about it; take care of Gertrude Jensen like she is your own Grandmother.
Agent Van Zant smiled into the darkness. His assignment had not been hard. Gertrude Jensen was a delightful lady, who had already shared her recipe for the ultimate brownie with him and who had made the long drive to their destination a lot more pleasant with her wit and sense of humor.
"May I ask you a question?" Agent Van Zant asked after a brief silence.
"Sure, honey, go ahead," Gertrude encouraged, trying to suppress a yawn. She was bone-tired and wished she could go to sleep, potholes or no potholes. But she had never been able to doze off in a moving vehicle and today was no exception. She could only hope they would reach their destination soon, so she could rest her weary bones.
"Have you ever met Nathan Kendrick?"
"Yes, I have," Gertrude answered, having thought back to that first encounter many times over the past few days.
"What is he like? If you don't mind me asking," Agent Van Zant quickly added.
"Nathan is very charming," Gertrude answered. "He comes across as a real gentleman. He's polite and eloquent. I guess he would have made a great politician," she added with a trace of humor. "I'd be lying if I said I'd always known he had the potential to become what he is today, but I do remember a talk I once had with Hannah, my Granddaughter. I guess it had been the way I caught him looking at her. It made me feel uncomfortable. I asked her how much she knew about him and if she had ever had problems with him." Gertrude remembered that one evening and, involuntarily, she smiled. Hannah had been so young, and so in love with Rachel, whom she had just met. It had not been necessary to tell her Grandmother about her feelings for the young medical student; Gertrude had known and had silently cheered her on. The young blonde's response to her Grandmother's concern had been one of surprise. She had assured her Nathan was just a friend she had known almost all of her life. That he and Rachel were cousins had been a surprise and they had laughed about it. Hannah had even teased Nathan about keeping his cousin a secret to her. That was the moment Gertrude had caught the look in the young man's eyes that had her worried. Back then, she had decided it was jealousy, since she suspected Nathan had had a crush on Hannah for a very long time. Now, she knew better.
Gertrude let out a sigh and glanced aside to the young man who had been assigned to accompany her to a safe address. A strong jaw and elegant nose. His brown hair was cut short, almost a crew cut and he looked incredibly young.
By escorting her to a safe address, Gertrude knew the young Agent could have a run in with Nathan if the former OSBI Agent would be able to find them. She tried not to worry about the consequences that would have. Nathan was a seasoned Agent who was very smart, cunning and, Gertrude feared, ruthless. Agent Van Zant would probably not stand a chance against him.
"We're almost there, ma'am," Agent Van Zant promised, casting a glance at his companion's face that was a little paler and drawn than when they had started their drive. "Have you any idea where I'm taking you?"
Gertrude smiled and let out a soft chuckle.
"I think I do, Agent Van Zant, I think I do. Whose idea was it to house me there?"
"The Inspector, ma'am," Agent Van Zant answered with a smile.
"I thought as much," Gertrude nodded. "Remind me to bake him some brownies. And let's hope Jack Wilson's diversion tactics will have the desired effect."
Nathan gritted his teeth and glanced at the map he had put on the passenger seat. He wanted to beat Agent Van Zant to the safe address. How sweet would it be to be waiting for them and when they show up just pop up in front of them and saying:'Hello Agent, I'm here to relieve you of your burden.'
Nathan chuckled at the thought, immediately feeling better. He was so looking forward to surprising his former coworker. Not to mention the blow he would deal when calling Jack Wilson to tell him he had Gertrude Jensen. Hannah would freak out.
Nathan's smile disappeared when his thoughts turned to the blonde and for a brief moment he allowed himself to wonder how things would have been if Rachel had not shown up. Rachel. She had always been trouble; ever since they were kids.
"Bitch," Nathan mumbled, unconsciously tightening his grip on the steering wheel. "If it hadn't been for you, she would have been mine. But she will be cousin, eventually. First things first though," he whispered. "I'm almost there. Just a little further..."
Maureen glanced up from her book and smiled when she saw Lauren DarkWolf stretched out on the couch with Nicky tucked at her side. The toddler had fallen asleep during a third repeat of Lauren's version of 'Finding Nemo'. Maureen had been staring at her book, but she had not been reading. Instead, she had been listening to Lauren's voice; smooth and warm, with an undertone of dry humor that had Maureen hiding a smile behind her hand. The little girl had been hanging on to her every word, laughing in delight, until her eyes were so heavy with sleep she could not keep them open any longer. From the corner of her eye, Maureen had seen how Nicky's head had slowly but surely fallen back, until it was resting against the tall woman's chest. To Maureen, who did not have any children of her own and was not used to being around them, Lauren almost seemed like a magician. It was amazing how she had managed to keep the little girl entertained while her mother and Hannah were taking a well-deserved nap. Lauren was convinced the toddler had not even missed Rachel.
"Penny for your thoughts," a soft voice suddenly interrupted her musings.
Startled, Maureen looked up, straight into a pair of dark brown, almost black eyes and she nervously pushed back her hair.
"You're good with kids," Maureen answered, staring at the book in her lap, its story already forgotten.
"I've had a lot of practice," Lauren answered. "There are a lot of children in my family."
"How many?" Maureen could not help asking. Part of her was curious to find out more about the other Agent's private life, the other part was afraid to do so. The more she knew about Lauren DarkWolf, the harder it would be to work with her.
"Well, let me see," Lauren smiled. "I've got fourteen nieces and nephews and then there are all my cousins' children. I carefully estimate there are...about...twenty-five kids younger than sixteen in my family."
"Twenty-five?" Maureen echoed. "My goodness. What does your family do during Holidays? Rent the Cox Convention Center?" she joked.
"We all congregate at my Grandparents' house," Lauren smiled. "The walls are made out of elastic."
"They'd have to be," Maureen mumbled to Lauren's amusement.
There was a brief silence in which Maureen stared at the book in her lap, her eyes dark and pensive, while Lauren's eyes calmly studied the red-haired woman. She knew Maureen wanted to talk about something, she could see it in the nervous look in her eyes and in the way she avoided looking in her direction. Lauren really wanted the other Agent to take the initiative, but, knowing how stubborn Maureen could be, she decided to give her a gentle push in the right direction.
"What's wrong, Maureen?" she asked gently, immediately seeing the body tense. Unconsciously, Lauren held her breath, expecting Maureen to jump up and leave the room, but, to her surprise, the other Agent let out a small sigh and leaned back into her chair.
"Rob and I are getting a divorce," Maureen spoke in an emotionless voice. "He's found somebody who can be there for him all the time, as he put it. I guess I should have seen it coming and I think I did, it's just that...I made such a mess of things," Maureen sighed again, still not able to meet Lauren's eyes. "I never should have married him," she added, almost inaudibly.
Lauren did not immediately respond. It took her a few moments to process what Maureen had just told her and even though she was completely taken aback, she knew she had to tread lightly. Maureen Rivers was not the type of person who would bare her soul to just anyone and she did not want to violate the trust the other Agent had in her by responding too quickly and too insensitively.
"Why?" she finally asked. "Why do you say you never should have married him?"
"Because I didn't love him, not the way he deserved to be loved," Maureen sighed, rubbing her tired eyes. "I guess we were doomed from the start. We never really wanted the same things."
Maureen paused and bit her lip. She knew she had not really answered Lauren's question and she knew the dark-haired Agent would not let her get away with that. She was right.
"Why did you marry him if you didn't love him?"
"I was young and did what was expected of me; marry my high school boyfriend. I thought our friendship would be enough to build up our relationship." For the first time Maureen looked up, straight into a pair of compassionate eyes. "I was naive," she added with a wry smile. "One only has to look at Hannah and Rachel to know that what Rob and I had was a pathetic surrogate of the real thing."
"A divorce is pretty final," Lauren replied. "Have you..." she hesitated and saw Maureen shake her head.
"No, we don't need to work it out. There's nothing to work out," she added. "He's found somebody else, someone who apparently loves him and he wants to marry her. Especially since she's pregnant," Maureen said, pulling a face. "Rob finally gets what he has wanted for a long time. I don't begrudge him anything."
"Then why the sad face?" Lauren asked gently.
"Because it's hard to be alone," Maureen almost whispered, blinking away the tears that were stinging the back of her eyes.
"Why?" Lauren insisted in a soft voice.
"It gives me too much time to think and to worry about things I can't change."
Lauren nodded, understanding what Maureen was telling her.
"It's nice to have somebody to share your demons with," she agreed. "I'm sure it's hard to be facing those all by yourself." Lauren paused a moment, waiting for Maureen to look up. After a few seconds, the red-haired woman did and Lauren sent her a warm smile. "I'm a good listener. If you want to share some of your worries with me, I promise to be there for you."
"Thank you," Maureen nodded, wondering if she should take Lauren up on it. The words that were so regularly floating through her head had never been spoken aloud and she was afraid of how they would sound. Did she trust Lauren enough to bare her soul? If she didn't, who could she talk to instead? After a few moments of thought Maureen came to the sad conclusion there was nobody else.
"You'll be shocked," she tried to joke, but Lauren shook her head.
"I'm not shocked that easily. Unless you're Hannah's stalker and we've been chasing the wrong person all along."
In spite of the situation, Maureen laughed softly, appreciating Lauren's sense of humor.
"No matter how cute and sweet she is, I don't think Hannah's my type," Maureen answered. "As a matter of fact, I've got no idea what my type would be. Rob was my high school boyfriend and there's never been anyone else, not really," she added softly.
"Not really?" Lauren repeated, casting a curious look at the woman who was sitting in the big recliner. No matter how difficult it was for Maureen to talk about herself , she seemed pretty relaxed, which pleased Lauren, but the other Agent's words had made her curious to find out more.
"It's a long story," Maureen answered, having seen the interest in Lauren's eyes.
"I've got time," Lauren immediately answered, casting an affectionate look at the sleeping toddler, who was now practically draped across her chest. The little girl was fast asleep and Lauren carefully brushed a strand of dark hair away from Nicky's forehead. "This little yard ape is not going anywhere and by the lack of sounds from the other side of the cabin, I guess her parents are still in Dreamland as well. " Lauren looked up and caught Maureen's eyes. "If you want to talk, this is a good time."
A pair of blue eyes blinked lazily against the soft grey light that fell through the curtains that almost covered the entire window. It was hard to wake up, especially since Hannah was encased in the warm cocoon of Rachel's arms. The Doctor was spooned against her and the deep, regular breathing was a good indication she was still asleep.
Hannah closed her eyes and smiled, gently stroking the arm that was holding her in place. In her sleep, Rachel pulled her even closer and the blonde chuckled softly, feeling utterly loved and protected.
"What's so funny?" a sleepy voice sounded close to her ear.
Hannah turned her head and from the corner of her eye she could see Rachel's dark eyes looking at her sleepily. She kissed the skin that was closest to her lips, which happened to be the side of Rachel's nose.
"It was the way you were holding me," Hannah explained with a smile. "Like you were holding on for dear life."
"I was," Rachel answered, burrowing her face in the crook of Hannah's neck, breathing in deeply and letting out a contented sigh. "I'm holding you and I never want to let you go."
"You don't have to," Hannah smiled, turning in Rachel's arms so she could look at her without hurting her neck. "I'm yours for as long as you want me."
"How does 'forever' sound?" Rachel asked, the expression in her eyes warm and loving.
Hannah frowned and pretended to have to think about it, but there was a twinkle in her eyes. When, in reaction to Hannah's expression, Rachel started a pout, she burst out laughing.
"That's the cutest face," she said, not able to resist kissing a pair of warm lips that were so close. "By the way," she added after a few breathless moments, " was that a proposal?"
Rachel feigned surprise, making Hannah chuckle and pulled the blonde impossibly close against her warm, relaxed body.
"Well, I guess it was," she drawled with a touch of humor in her voice. "No, let me rephrase that: yes, it was a proposal. I admit, it was an unexpected one, but it's from my heart."
"I know it is," Hannah mumbled against Rachel's shoulder. "And yes, forever sounds good to me as well."
"Good, that's settled then," Rachel sighed, lifting Hannah's head so she could kiss her.
"That was easy," Hannah replied, in between kisses. "And it didn't even hurt."
Rachel chuckled and pulled away, so she could look into the eyes she loved so much.
"I meant it, though."
"I know you did," Hannah replied softly, cupping Rachel's cheek and caressing the soft skin with her fingertips. "Besides, I have to admit I'd already decided you won't be able to get rid of me again."
"Good," Rachel smiled, kissing the tip of Hannah's nose. "When did you decide that?"
Hannah's face grew serious, while her eyes took in Rachel's tousled dark hair, the warm brown eyes and the smile that created a dimple in her cheek. The sight of the love she once had believed had been lost forever filled her with a joy and gratitude that made her heart overflow. She swallowed hard and blinked against the moisture in her eyes.
"Tears?" Rachel asked softly, brushing a drop of moisture away with her thumb.
"They're good tears," Hannah answered in a hoarse voice. "Waking up next to you is something...incredible. A few months ago, I wouldn't have believed it would ever be possible and yet, here we are and it's like those years without you have never happened. When you came back...I really wanted to...I wanted you to..." Hannah paused, carefully choosing her words. " I thought I'd finally started to get over you, but, when I was in the ER, after the accident and I heard your voice, I knew I wasn't. All the pain and grief were still there, but so were my feelings for you. I guess, deep down inside, I knew I couldn't just ignore you. You were such an important part of my life for such a long time, I decided that, no matter what your reasons for leaving me had been, I'd probably be happier with you than without you, in spite of all the things that had happened."
"I don't deserve you," Rachel whispered, humbled by Hannah's words. "I really don't."
"Tough luck," Hannah responded with a smile. "You just proposed to me and I accepted, so get over it."
"I will," Rachel nodded. "I'll do my best to make you happy."
"I am happy," the blonde replied, sliding her hand to the back of Rachel's neck, so she could pull her closer. "And I'd be even happier if you'd kiss me...like you mean it," she added with a wink.
"I'm sure I can do that," the Doctor promised, letting Hannah pull her down so their lips could meet in a slow, tender kiss that made her tingle, warming every inch of her body. Rachel let out a soft moan, slowly but surely losing herself completely in Hannah's soft, but persistent touches. Before she knew what was happening, she was on her back with Hannah on top her, claiming her lips in rapidly increasing passion. Insistent hands slid underneath her shirt, taking Rachel's breath away with achingly familiar touches she had missed so much. But, in the back of her mind, a small voice became louder by the second, until Rachel could no longer ignore it.
"Hannah, honey," she spoke with difficulty, pulling away from the blonde's soft, warm lips. "I'm afraid we'll have to stop. We're not alone in this cabin and..."
"Crud," Hannah answered, pressing her burning face against Rachel's chest. "You're right. Shucks.'
"I'm sorry," Rachel said with regret.
"It's not your fault," Hannah replied with a wry smile. "I shouldn't have let my hormones take off with me like that. Now, I need a cold shower."
"And you think you're the only one?" Rachel asked with a raised eyebrow, but the twinkle in her eyes showed Hannah she was teasing. "Can we shower together?"
"Oh, yes," Hannah immediately responded, making Rachel laugh. "I can't be held responsible for my actions though. I..."
"Say no more," Rachel interrupted with a grin. "If you want to hop in the shower, go right ahead. I'll be a very, very good girl and stay right here, because," Rachel lowered her voice and brought her face close to Hannah's, "I cant be held responsible for my actions either."
Hannah swallowed hard when she noticed the expression in the dark eyes that were staring at her at such a close range. How easy it would be to let all caution fly and lose herself in that warm gaze, like she had done so many times, such a long time ago.
"I'd better get up," she finally whispered, not moving an inch.
"I guess so," Rachel answered, staying exactly where she was.
After a few moments of intense silence, they both smiled.
"We're not making any progress here, are we?" Hannah's voice sounded amused.
" Not really," Rachel admitted with a nod. "Maybe we should both move at the same time. On the count of three, I'll move to the left and you'll move to the right."
"Okay," Hannah chuckled with sparkling blue eyes. The playfulness she and Rachel had so easily shared in the past was something she had missed dearly. To know it still existed was priceless.
"One...Two...Two-and-a-half," Rachel counted with a wink. "Three."
Immediately, both women moved; Rachel to the right and Hannah to the left, which made them both burst out laughing.
"You fraud," Rachel accused the blonde, tickling her ribs, which made Hannah squirm underneath her agile fingers.
"Oh, right, listen who's talking," Hannah laughed, trying to grab Rachel's hands to stop the torture. "You moved the wrong way as well. I guess we both had the same wicked idea."
"Who are you calling wicked?" Rachel pouted, making Hannah softly snort.
"I swear, Doctor Kendrick, you and Nicky have the same pout," she said, finally able to grab Rachel's hands and press them against the mattress.
"Is it a cute one?"
"It's cute on Nicky," Hannah answered with a laugh.
"Oh, gee, thanks," Rachel answered, but her eyes were still twinkling. "I'm not cute then?"
"No," Hannah replied, leaning forward until their noses were almost touching. "You are beautiful."
Deliberately slowly, Hannah leaned in for a long, deep kiss that was not as passionate as the kisses they had shared before, but tender and warm. When, after a few intense moments, they finally broke apart, both women were smiling.
"That was nice, thank you," Rachel smiled, brushing away a strand of blond hair from Hannah's forehead. "Now it's easier to just relax and wait right here while you take a shower."
"Don't go anywhere, though," Hannah warned, dropping a kiss on the other woman's forehead.
"I wouldn't dare," Rachel promised solemnly. "Just hurry."
With a muttered curse, Nathan parked his car alongside the road, flipping on the switch of his halogen flashlight. With angry eyes he studied the map he had so carefully worked on before he left the city. Against all odds, he was lost. He had no idea what had happened or how, but somewhere he must have taken a wrong turn.
"I'm sure he said Sulphur and Paul's Valley," he muttered. "I've been here hundreds of times, how can I have missed that track going east?"
Impatiently, Nathan grabbed a small device from the passenger's chair and pressed a button. Immediately, a metallic voice filled the confined space of the car. In spite of the dubious quality of the tape, the voice was still clearly recognizable as Jack Wilson's.
"We need to make sure we carefully consider all our options. Gertrude Jensen needs to leave town immediately and I've already arranged a safe place for her. We know Nathan probably think she'll be going North, so I decided to take Gertrude to a house of an old friend of mine who's out of the country right now. It's between Sulphur and Paul's Valley. I won't mention the name of the road, just in case Nathan manages to hear this as well, but I assure you, Gertrude will be safe..."
Nathan pressed the 'off' button and practically threw the dictation recorder back on the chair. It bounced twice, before toppling over the side and ending up between the door and the seat.
"Do you think I'm stupid, Wilson? Like I don't know who your precious friend is. I know it's your brother and he lives around here somewhere. I swear I'll find the house. If it's the last thing I do."
"I haven't been here in a long time," Gertrude smiled, drinking in the surroundings with eager eyes. It was hard to see details, due to the quickly darkening sky. Still, she recognized where she was and her heart all of a sudden felt a lot lighter.
"I need to thank Inspector Wilson when all this is over," she mumbled, glancing aside to see Agent Van Zant smile.
"More brownies?" he asked with a chuckle.
"Probably," Gertrude laughed, feeling her fatigue rapidly disappear when her eyes caught sight of a cabin. Behind the closed curtains she saw soft, warm light and against the dark-grey sky she saw smoke billowing up from the chimney.
" Ha, the fireplace is in good use," she smiled, looking forward to relaxing near the fire. "This looks like a good place to be."
"I agree," Van Zant nodded, carefully steering the car down the narrow track towards the house. "I do hope they know we're coming. Agent DarkWolf has a black belt in karate. I'd hate to have to fend her off."
"Don't worry, I'll protect you," Gertrude promised, gently patting his knee.
"Thank you," Agent Van Zant chuckled, parking the car next to the dark-colored SUV. "Well, here goes nothing," he said, pulling a face. "Why don't you stay in the car while I check if the coast is clear, ma'am?"
"Somehow I think that's not necessary," Gertrude answered. "I think the coast has been pretty much covered already."
"Ma'am?" Agent Van Zant asked with a puzzled expression on his face.
Gertrude didn't answer, but with her head she nodded towards the driver's window. With a frown Agent Van Zant turned his head to see what the elderly lady was talking about. Sucking in a breath he froze when he stared straight into the barrel of a gun.
With a delighted chuckle, Nathan parked his car off the road, between a few trees, hoping it would be invisible from the house. Making sure his gun was loaded and his back-up revolver was tucked into the belt of his pants, he cautiously closed the door of the car, slowly walking towards the house that was clearly outlined against the darkening sky.
Making sure to be as soundless as possible, he made his way down a slope that would lead him to the back of the house. Every now and then he paused, tilting his head to listen intently to the sounds around him. After a few more yards, he stopped again and, with a frown, he stared at the house he was slowly creeping closer to. There was something wrong. Something he could not put his finger on. Kneeling down in the grass that reached to his knees, he practically blended in with his surroundings, making it impossible for anyone in the house to see him. Reaching into one of the pockets of his thick, padded jacket, he pulled out a small pair of binoculars. He brought them to his eyes and patiently studied the house. Most of the lights inside were on and the curtains were closed. There was smoke coming from the chimney and for a moment Nathan doubted himself. It all looked perfectly normal. He know both Hannah and Rachel loved a fireplace and he knew they had not hesitated to make themselves a cozy fire.
"Probably to snuggle in front of," he mumbled to himself. "Perverts."
After a few minutes, Nathan tucked away the binoculars and he was just about to continue his journey, when a movement behind one of the curtains caught his eye. Holding his breath he knelt down again, all of a sudden feeling his heart pound inside his chest. He narrowed his eyes, pulling the binoculars out again.
A dark colored car had driven down the road at the front of the house and disappeared out of Nathan's sight. He had completely missed its approach because the driver had turned off the headlights.
Nathan increased his grip on the gun he had pulled from its hiding place and crawled a little further, making sure to keep his head low. It was of the utmost importance to stay hidden for as long as he could.
Slowly, very slowly, Agent Van Zant lifted his hands, so the owner of the gun could see he was not armed. Perspiration formed on his forehead when a large, gloved hand reached for the door handle.
"Don't move, ma'am," he warned in a hoarse voice. "Let me do the talking, alright?"
"Sure, honey," Gertrude nodded, hoping, for his sake, her young companion knew what he was doing.
The door was opened and a tall, dark clad person, his face hidden behind a green ski mask, bent down in order to cast a look at the car's occupants.
"Van Zant?" a deep voice asked, making the young Agent swallow hard.
"Who wants to know?" Van Zant replied with more bravery than he really felt.
A low chuckle was the answer and Van Zant suddenly wrecked his brain to remember where he had heard a similar chuckle like that before.
"Who's holding the gun?" the voice inquired with amusement.
"He has a point, you know," Gertrude answered, leaning forward a little so it was easier to look up to the tall man outside the car. "Son," she directed her attention to the stranger. "Are you related to that tall, cute police woman; Lauren?"
"Cute?" was the chuckled response. "Don't let her hear you say that, Mrs. Jensen. She'd probably disagree."
"You might be right," Gertrude nodded. "I've only seen her for a few minutes, but she seems the 'I'm tougher than my breeches type'."
"You're absolutely right, ma'am. You've got a sharp eye."
"And a lot of years under my belt," Gertrude chuckled. "So, are you done teasing this poor man?"
"I guess so," was the answer. "By the way, my name is Chuck. Nice to meet you, Mrs. Jensen. Van Zant," he nodded at the Agent who had slowly let down his hands, clenching them around the steering wheel to hide their trembling. Chuck DarkWolf had scared the living daylights out of him when he had pointed that gun at him. Van Zant realized the man had to have an enormous amount of self-confidence to have done a thing like that.
"I could have shot him," Van Zant mused, immediately mentally slapping himself. "Yeah, right, as if..."
"Do...um...do they know we're...did the Inspector contact Lauren?" he stammered, feeling very green and foolish.
"Yup, hours ago," a familiar voice suddenly sounded and when both Van Zant and Gertrude looked up, it was in the smiling face of Lauren DarkWolf.
"Hey, cutie," Chuck greeted his sister, who shot him a puzzled frown, but decided not to respond.
"I'm glad you made it," Lauren continued, ignoring her brother completely, which made him chuckle. "Hannah will be surprised."
"She doesn't know?" Gertrude asked with surprise.
"No," Lauren smiled. "She and Rachel took a nap, a long one," she added.
"Must have been a heck of a nap," Gertrude winked. "Are they alright? How's little Nicky?"
"Precious," Lauren smiled. "I bet she'll be happy to see you, since she kept telling me about 'Gwanny' and 'cookies', all the time giving me a puppy-dog look with those huge brown eyes of her."
Gertrude laughed and unbuckled her seatbelt when Lauren opened her door and invitingly extended her hand to help the elderly lady out of the car.
"So, are they still in bed?" Gertrude asked, looking forward to see her granddaughter and making sure she was alright.
"I don't know about that," Lauren answered. "But I know they're awake, because we heard them laugh and I think the shower is running at the moment."
"Good," Gertrude nodded. She cast a look at the cabin and for a brief moment she felt a stab of pain that was reflected in her eyes. Lauren noticed it and gently placed her hand on Gertrude's shoulder.
"Are you alright, ma'am?"
"Gertrude, please, or Granny," Gertrude answered with a small sigh. "Yes, I'm alright. I was just reminded of my son's dreams about this place. He wanted to retire here. Enjoy nature, fishing in the lake, taking hikes with Brenda, who loved ornithology. All those dreams and plans crushed in less than a minute...gone..."
"I'm sorry," Lauren responded in a soft voice. She was familiar with Hannah's background and Gregory and Brenda's car wreck had saddened her. She realized how blessed she was to have her entire family intact, including her parents and Grandparents. She knew that was not a given.
Gertrude nodded and reached up to give the hand on her shoulder a gentle pat.
"Thank you," she said. "Hannah and I have been through a rough time, so has Rachel, but we all made it. All we need to focus on right now is to keep Nathan away from them and haul his a...haul him off to jail so my Granddaughters can get on with their lives."
"Amen to that," Lauren nodded. "Are you ready to go inside?"
"More than ready," Gertrude agreed. "Besides, it's freezing out here."
Lauren took Gertrude's elbow and guided her towards the steps that led to the porch, careful to avoid tree roots and anything else that could trip the elderly woman. A quick glance towards the cabin showed her Maureen was standing in front of the window, watching their slow progress through the dark.
Lauren suppressed a sigh when her thoughts returned to the conversation she and Maureen had that evening. They had used Hannah's and Rachel's absence and Nicky's peaceful slumber to talk about what was bothering the red-haired Agent. It had surprised Lauren to hear what Maureen had been willing to tell her and it had left her more unsettled than she was willing to admit, even to herself. Their talk had showed her a completely different side of the often aloof and cool woman. Now she realized that attitude was just a shell Maureen used to protect herself from the outside world. Maureen was lonely, no matter how many people surrounded her. Lauren could only hope the other Agent would really allow her close enough to help her in her struggle with her demons.
Lauren sent the shadowy figure behind the curtain a small smile, realizing Maureen was not able to see it. She was determined to show her fellow Agent there was a way to overcome all the obstacles she faced. She liked Maureen. It would be worth it.
Muttering a curse, Nathan made himself even smaller, holding his breath when he studied the outline of the person whose profile was faintly painted on the curtain by the light inside the room.
It was easy to see it wasn't Lauren DarkWolf or Maureen Rivers, who weren't only taller than the shadow, but certainly a lot more feminine. It was obvious this was a man. A short, stocky build man with a square jaw line and a crew cut. It wasn't Agent Van Zant, because the young Agent was tall and slender.
Nathan's eyes flew to the next room and even though there was nobody standing in front of the window, he was sure he saw a small movement that resembled a person rubbing his head. Neither of the women he had hoped to meet had a hairstyle like that.
"It's a trap," he whispered to himself. "That son of a..." he hissed between clenched teeth, realizing Jack Wilson had deliberately steered him into the wrong direction, hoping to be able to catch him.
"Think again, Jack," Nathan spat, crawling back to the tree line on top of the hill. "That was a stupid move. You just played your hand and guess who has the trump card now?"
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To be continued in part 15
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