For disclaimers see part one.
It was still very dark outside when Lauren managed to crawl out of bed without waking up Maureen. It had been tempting to stay where she was, feeling the warm body of the other woman pressed against her back and her arm firmly wrapped around her waist. But Lauren was very aware of the turmoil Maureen had been in lately. She did not want the other Agent to be embarrassed when she woke up. So she had carefully disentangled herself from the red-head’s firm grip and had let out a sigh of relief when her feet had touched the cool hardwood floor.
About ten minutes later, after taking a quick shower, Lauren entered the cabin’s living room, immediately noticing the form of Agent van Zant in the recliner near the window. As soon as he heard the barely audible footsteps behind him, he jumped up to face the dark woman.
“Morning, Van Zant,” Lauren greeted him in a soft voice. “Anything to report?”
“Only if you count owls and a big buck that was sniffing around just a little while ago,” Van Zant answered dryly, making Lauren smile. “Do you think Nathan will try to come here?” he asked, casting her a curious look.
“Yes, I do,” Lauren nodded. “I don’t believe he’ll go for the trap they set for him in Sulphur. He’ll be making his way over here pretty soon.”
“We’re ready for him,” Van Zant mumbled, suppressing a yawn.
“Go take a nap, Agent,” Lauren suggested, giving the younger man a friendly pat of the shoulder. “I’ll take over from here.”
“Sure, alright,” Van Zant nodded. “Is...um...is Agent Rivers up as well?”
Lauren cast a look at the young man, his normally clean-shaven face was covered with a day old beard and he looked tired and worried.
“She’ll be here in a little while,” Lauren answered. “Go, Van Zant.”
He nodded, stuffed his cell phone that had been lying on the table next to him inside his pocket, turned around and left the room, not aware of a pair of pensive, dark eyes that stared at his retreating figure.
As soon as Van Zant had left the room, Lauren headed for the kitchen to make some coffee. One of her favorite times of the day was the morning, when the world was still quiet and she was allowed to let her eyes stare and give her thoughts free reign. This morning was no exception. While sipping her hot, fragrant coffee, Lauren stared in the distance, not seeing the calm, dark-blue shimmering of the lake through the tree line. Instead, her thoughts turned to Maureen Rivers and the response of her own body to the unexpected physical contact. Somehow, Lauren felt she had missed some important clues in her relationship with the other woman. How was it possible she had let her own feelings surprise her like that? It was so unlike her.
Letting out a sigh, Lauren remembered the conversation she had with Maureen the previous afternoon. All of a sudden, she saw the things they had discussed in a totally different light. Dark eyes stared unseeing while the echo of Maureen Rivers’ voice filled her mind.
“You know, I can’t blame Rob for anything. I basically deceived him from the start, even though, at the time I didn’t really know I was. Him being unfaithful wasn’t even a real shock. It was an eye-opener, really. The only hurt I felt when he told me ,was a bruised ego and regret for wasting so much time. So, when it was clear our, so- called ‘marriage’ was over, I felt free to...to...give into things I’d always been...curious about and...Do you remember that investigation we did in Tulsa a few months ago? The one at the Community Bank?...Do you remember that one Detective, the tall brunette?” Maureen’s voice had deepened and the barely audible quiver had given away her insecurity. Lauren had not answered. She had just nodded and patiently waited for Maureen to continue, which she did after taking a few big breaths. “After we closed the case, she invited me for a drink.” Maureen had swallowed hard and had avoided Lauren’s eyes. “I slept with her,” she confessed in a whisper.
Lauren shifted in her chair, remembering her surprise after Maureen’s words. It had taken her all the self-control she possessed to restrain herself from replying: ‘Really?’, knowing Maureen could do without her showing her astonishment so blatantly.
“How do you feel about that?” Lauren had finally managed to ask, her voice calm and gentle.
“Confused, kind of. I know I’ll never see her again. It...it was a...real one-night stand. It...I felt cheap and disappointed...I still do when I think about it.”
“Because it ...I had no feelings for her whatsoever, except some physical attraction. But it was still...it was...better than ...it was so different than being with Rob.”
“Different as in ‘good’?” Lauren had asked with a small smile.
“Oh, yeah,” Maureen had answered. She had finally looked up and returned Lauren’s smile, but the shadows had still been there.
“What’s hurting so much then?” the dark-haired woman asked.
“It left me with an empty feeling and I can’t help wondering what...how it would have been...with somebody...different,” Maureen had replied with difficulty, avoiding Lauren’s eyes.
“Somebody different,” Lauren repeated softly, feeling a flutter of fear deep inside her chest. “What if...?”
She did not finish the question, afraid of the answer. The morning had caused enough emotional turmoil already and Lauren knew she needed to stay focused. She had a job to do and losing her cool was something she could not allow herself to do. She had to be prepared for Nathan, because she was sure he was coming....sooner or later. So she tucked away the feelings that were bubbling up inside her, banishing them to the deep recesses of her heart, where they would wait until Lauren was ready to face them, or until they would become so prevalent nothing would be able to stop their ascent to the Agent’s conscious thoughts.
Lauren looked up when she heard the sound of a door closing and, to her annoyance, she immediately felt her heart skip a beat.
“Get a grip, DarkWolf,” she mumbled to herself as she got to her feet. When she turned around she saw Gertrude walking into the kitchen and she greeted the elderly woman with a warm smile.
“Good morning, Gertrude.”
“Good morning, Lauren,” Gertrude smiled back. “I couldn’t help noticing the enticing smell of a good cup of coffee. I just had to get up.”
“Sit down and let me pour you a cup, then,” Lauren laughed.
“Thanks, sweetie,” Gertrude answered, not seeing the raised eyebrow and the amused flicker in a pair of dark eyes. “How did you sleep?”
“I had a good sleep,” Lauren replied, feeling her skin grow warm when she remembered the moment Maureen had hugged her to her body, waking her up. “Knowing my brothers are out there to keep an eye on me helped a lot.”
“They strike me as very capable of looking after their sister,” Gertrude nodded and when Lauren looked up she noticed the amused twinkle in the clear blue eyes. “I bet they keep forgetting their sister can look after herself, but still, it’s sweet.”
“It is,” Lauren smiled. “And to be honest, Gertrude, it really does make me feel better they’re here. Nathan is so slick, it’s hard to anticipate his next move. I’ve no idea what he will come up with next. I do know he’ll be here, sooner or later.”
“I think you’ re right,” Gertrude nodded, sipping from her hot coffee. There was a brief silence in which both women were lost in thought. The cabin was still very quiet and, in the distance, they could hear the sound of a barking dog.
“May I ask you a personal question, Lauren?” Gertrude finally asked, while her eyes looked at the agent with gentle curiosity.
“Go ahead,” Lauren encouraged.
“I know it’s none of my business and you’re absolutely welcome to tell me that, but...,” Gertrude paused for a second to collect her thoughts. “I’ve got some experience with Hannah and the way she has mastered the skill of avoiding her own feelings. That’s why I couldn’t help noticing a few things last night. Are you aware of Agent’s Rivers feelings for you?”
Lauren, who had just taken a sip of coffee, almost spit it out again when Gertrude’s words reached her ears. She quickly put the cup down on the kitchen table and covered her mouth with her hand while she coughed.
“You’re not pulling punches, are you?” she finally managed to say, her voice hoarse and slightly quivering.
“I’m too old to be diplomatic,” Gertrude joked, making Lauren chuckle.
“Well, since you’re being so honest with me, I’ll return the favor,” Lauren sighed. “I wasn’t aware of it, until...until last night, really. And even then, I wasn’t sure, so I’m curious to find out how you reached your conclusion.”
“Observation,” Gertrude answered calmly. “When Hannah fell in love with Rachel, years ago, she had no clue about her feelings for a long time, although her parents and I had already figured it out. But we decided it was up to her to make sense of what she was feeling and come to her own conclusions.”
“What has changed that?” Lauren asked in a soft voice.
Gertrude sighed and reached across the table to gently cover Lauren’s larger hand with her own. Her blue eyes searched the Agent’s dark ones and she sent her a sad smile.
“Life is short, Lauren, too short sometimes to waste time with sitting around and waiting. I’ve lost my husband, my son and my daughter-in-law, all of whom still had so many dreams and plans for the future. They were never able to reach those dreams, but when they passed away, at least they had known love, real love and to me that is something so precious, I just can’t help myself when I see two people who should be together but are not. I just have to butt in and try to open their eyes.”
Lauren could not tear her eyes away from Gertrude’s intense gaze and she swallowed hard, feeling her heart pound in her chest. It was as if the elderly lady had suddenly opened her eyes, showing her truth and possibilities she had not been aware of.
“You think Maureen and I should be together?”
“Yes, dear, I do,” Gertrude nodded. “There’s a pull between the two of you you’re not even aware of. When you two are together, your whole demeanor is different than when you’re apart. Even when you or she leave the room for a few minutes things change, until the other one is back. I know you weren’t aware of that, but I saw it and I hope you’ll forgive me for sticking my nose in something that is not my business, but I just had to tell you. You’re both wonderful women and I just know you’ll be happier together than apart.”
Lauren shook her head and let out a soft laugh, while she shot Gertrude an appreciative look.
“I respect your honesty,” she said. “And I promise to heed your words, but I’m not sure if now is the time or place. There’s too much at stake here to lose my focus.”
“I understand,” Gertrude answered the warm smile and gently patted Lauren’s hand before releasing her. “But when this is all over, you might want to woo that attractive red-head. I could give you the names of a few nice, romantic restaurants,” Gertrude winked.
“I’m sure you could,” Lauren chuckled. “And I might hold you to that. Thank you, Gertrude,” Lauren added, referring to more than the offer to name some places to eat.
“You’re most welcome, sweetheart. I hope it will all work out for you.”
Lauren nodded and took another sip of her coffee, wondering why the burden she had felt before all of a sudden seemed so much lighter. She drained her cup and pushed back her chair intent on stepping outside a few minutes to get a breath of fresh air and to check up on her brothers. To her surprise, the door of Agent Van Zant’s room opened and the young man strolled back into the living room, looking tired and worried and, as Lauren noticed, he could barely control his agitation and nervousness.
“Van Zant,” she spoke. “What are you doing up?”
“Um...I can’t sleep,” the young man answered, avoiding her eyes. “I thought I’d make myself some hot tea and try again later.”
Lauren frowned, but before she could say anything, her cell phone started to ring.
“Excuse me,” she spoke, pulling the device off the clip on her belt.
“DarkWolf,” she spoke, turning away from Van Zant and walking towards the window. She stopped dead in her tracks when the voice on the other side reached her ear.
“Hello, Lauren,” a familiar voice sounded, immediately sending shivers down her back. “It’s nice to hear your voice. How’s Hannah?”
“That’s none of your business, you son of a bitch,” Lauren almost hissed.
“Tsk, tsk, Agent DarkWolf. Is that the proper way to address an old friend? You hurt my feelings.”
“What the hell do you want, Nathan?” she asked coldly, hearing the sharp intake of breath from Gertrude, while Van Zant almost dropped the cup he was holding. Lauren’s eyes scanned the tree line, looking for her brothers. She wanted to signal them, but they were nowhere in sight. She knew they were probably checking the parameters they had set around the cabin and she decided to try and buy some time. Nathan must be close for him to call her.
“What makes you think I want something?” he replied with feigned hurt.
“Maybe I just wanted to hear your voice.”
“Get to the point, asshole,” she spat, trying to control her rage. She knew losing her temper would not be the best way to interact with the psychopath Nathan was, but the moment she had heard his voice had brought back all the pain and hurt he had caused when Debra had been killed and Lauren was fighting for control. He knew her anger over Debra’s death was her weak spot in dealing with him, but she did not want to give him the satisfaction of fueling her rage. The best way to deal with Nathan Kendrick was to stay calm and level headed.
“You are so not being nice,” Nathan sighed. “Aren’t you going to ask me where I am?”
“Are you going to answer me?” Lauren replied in a cool voice.
“I might,” Nathan chuckled. “Are your brothers still there?”
“Who?” Lauren replied, feeling her blood go cold after Nathan’s question. He knew her brothers were there. How? Even Jack Wilson had no idea about Chuck and Joe.
“Stall, Lauren,” a voice in the back of her mind encouraged her. “Stall, buy time. Think!”
“Your brothers, the tall, dark warriors. Come on, DarkWolf, I’m not stupid. I know they’re there.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Kendrick. Have you been using those drugs again? You know, the ones that got you fired because you were dealing them? I should have known you couldn’t resist a taste yourself.”
“You bitch,” Nathan hissed in her ear and a small smile appeared on Lauren’s face. She had turned the tables on him, for now. He had wanted her angry, out of control, but instead she had managed to enrage him “You think you’re so smart, but you’re just as stupid as the rest.”
“I guess we’ll have to see about that,” Lauren answered calmly, feeling a wave of relief when her eyes fell on the familiar form of her brother, Chuck, emerging from behind a tree. “So, are you going to tell me what this is about or is this just a social call?”
Lauren sounded calm, but inside a storm was raging. How had Nathan found out about her brothers? Was he that close? Had he seen them? In order to observe the cabin, one had to come really close, since the small building was tucked away in the forest. She could hardly imagine her brothers would have missed anyone approaching them. That left only one other explanation; somebody in the cabin had informed Nathan about their whereabouts and the presence of her brothers. Lauren’s eyes traveled back to the room and the kitchen while she slowly turned around, making sure she kept her back towards the window. Gertrude, who was still sitting at the kitchen table looked pale and drawn. Her eyes were filled with a mixture of fear, anger and frustration and Lauren sent her a small, encouraging smile, immediately seeing some of the tension in the older woman’s body disappear. Lauren made a conscious effort to remain calm and unaffected when her eyes fell on Agent Van Zant, who was nervously fidgeting with a tea bag, almost pulling it apart with slightly trembling fingers.
Lauren’s eyes grew cold and with the phone still firmly pressed against her left ear, her right hand reached behind her back in such a smooth, fast motion, in the time it had taken him to take a breath, Agent Van Zant was staring at the barrel of a gun. Lauren’s hand was steady when she walked closer and it was obvious to the young man she was ready to pull the trigger at any time.
“W...what?” he stammered and on the other side of the connection she could hear Nathan’s chuckle.
“You are so great to play with, Lauren,” his amused voice sounded. “You’ve already figured it out, haven’t you? But how do you know it’s Van Zant and not Rivers?”
For a split second Lauren froze, but then her body relaxed and she stepped even closer to Van Zant who looked positively sick.
“Because the phone call must have been made during the night. Van Zant was the one keeping watch and he was the one calling you. I bet if I check his cell phone, I’ll find your number in there.”
“Again, how do you know it wasn’t Rivers?”
“Because I do,” Lauren answered, unwilling to give Nathan more ammunition by telling him Maureen had been with her all night.
“You sound very sure of yourself,” Nathan spoke and Lauren detected a hint of insecurity in his voice.
“I am,” she answered with a cold smile. “So, again, what do you want Nathan?”
“You know what I want, DarkWolf. I want Hannah.”
“You can’t have her,” Lauren answered calmly, catching a movement from the corner of her eye. Hannah had entered the room and Rachel was standing right behind her with Nicky in her arms. They were frozen in place by the sight of Lauren aiming her gun directly at Van Zant’s heart.
“Go back into the bedroom and close the door,” she said, without taking her eyes off Van Zant. “But first, wake up Maureen.”
Hannah nodded and disappeared out of Lauren’s line of vision, as did Rachel when she stepped back into the room with Nicky firmly held into her arms.
“Are the girls up already? How convenient,” Nathan’s voice sing-songed and Lauren let out a slow breath. “I bet you think you’ve got this all under control, don’t you?” Nathan continued and this time his voice was cold and vicious.
“I’m not getting comfortable, if that’s what you think, Kendrick,” Lauren answered. “But I am looking forward to hauling your ass off to jail and throwing away the key. It will be so much fun to visit you while you’re on death row. It will provide me years of fun just to watch you rot away, while you wait for your appeals to run out. I wonder if it hurts, you know, those first few currents that run through your body. I bet it...”
“Shut up!” Nathan suddenly yelled into her ear. “Shut up, you bitch.”
“Oh, touchy subject, Nathan?”
Lauren felt more than she saw Maureen rushing through the hallway. Her long hair was bouncing around her shoulders when she slid behind Van Zant, expertly removing his gun from his belt. She pulled his hands down behind his back and, within seconds, the young man had been efficiently cuffed.
Lauren relaxed and sent Agent Rivers a grateful smile, lowering her weapon, but not putting it away.
“You want to know where I am? You want to know where I am?” Nathan’s disturbed voice yelled at her and involuntarily Lauren winced. “I’m staring at your Dad and Mom right now. How does that feel, DarkWolf? Huh? Wanna trade? Your Dad doesn’t like that nylon rope at all, it hurts his wrists. Do you think he’d scalp me if I hurt your Mom?”
It took Lauren a few seconds to register what she had just heard. All of a sudden she felt so sick, she had to swallow hard to keep down the bile that was rising in her throat. Her eyes were full of anger when they landed on Van Zant and the young man cringed.
“My Dad might not, but I will,” she stated in a cold voice. “If you hurt them, my brothers and I will hunt you down and take care of you in a way your worst nightmares can’t prepare you for. Your death will be slow, very slow, and I promise that when I scalp you, you’ll be fully aware of what I’m doing.”
There was a brief silence in which Lauren fought hard for self-control. She was aware of Maureen’s worried eyes and Van Zant’s sickly pale color and with satisfaction she heard Nathan’s labored breathing.
“Don’t like that visual, do you?” she sneered.
“I could kill them and hit the road. You’ll never find me.”
“You’re wrong, I will,” Lauren said with self-confidence. “You’re not in the city anymore, Kendrick. This is my turf.”
“I want you to give Van Zant his gun back and hand yours over to him. Then I want Rivers to tie you to a pole, so he can cuff her to the pole next to you. Then he’ll get Hannah and hit the road. I’ll give him a call to tell him where to meet me.”
“You’re delusional,” Lauren answered, wondering why Nathan had not mentioned her brothers.
“No! You are if you think you can get out of this one, DarkWolf.”
“You won’t be able to pull this off, Nathan,” Lauren replied in a calm voice. “I know you’re afraid to die and, I promise you this, if you don’t surrender, you will.”
Lauren had noticed Maureen had gotten her cell phone out and the red-head was talking to somebody in a soft, but urgent voice. She knew the other Agent was aware of what was going on and in spite of the tense situation, Lauren felt her heart warm at the knowledge she was not alone. Maureen was at her side and she could not have asked for a more intelligent, stronger partner. Holding up one finger behind Van Zant’s back, Maureen signaled her she needed another minute and Lauren nodded, knowing it was not hard to stall Nathan.
“I want Hannah,” Nathan repeated and this time it sounded like whining. Lauren knew he was mentally unstable and she realized she had to be cautious if she wanted her parents to get through their ordeal of being held hostage unscathed.
“You tell me you have my parents, but how do I know you’re not lying?” she spoke, casting a quick look outside to see her brother Chuck talk into his cell phone. He looked at the cabin and knowing he could see her she gave him a hand signal that told him to stay put, grateful for the silent communication skills their father had taught them on their many camping trips when they were young. Chuck signaled back he had understood her message and Lauren turned back to face Van Zant, who looked like he could faint any given minute. Lauren sent him a cold smile, before her eyes shifted to Maureen who had finished her conversation and was tucking her cell phone back into her pocket.
“I want to talk to my parents,” Lauren said in a firm tone.
“I want to talk to Hannah.”
“You already know she’s here,” Lauren replied. “I need to talk to my parents. We’re going around in circles here, Nathan. I can’t offer you any kind of deal if you don’t let me talk to my parents.”
There was another brief silence in which Lauren could hear the sound of mumbled voices and scuffling footsteps.
“Lauren?” her mother’s voice suddenly sounded and Agent DarkWolf swallowed hard, fighting for self-control.
“Mom, are you and Dad alright?” she asked, not able to hide the anxiety in her voice.
“For the most part,” her mother answered in a tired voice. “He has us tied to...”
“That’s enough,” Nathan’s voice suddenly sounded and Lauren could hear how he pulled the phone away from her mother. “Well, you’ve heard her. What’s my deal?”
“How about you letting them go and I’ll let you live?”
“How about you handing Van Zant his gun back and let him take Hannah?”
Lauren’s eyes shifted to the note Maureen had been writing and had pushed into her hand.
Wilson is on the way, so are the locals. Orders: stay put. Stall. Sheriff’s department is surrounding your parent’s house as we speak.
“Oh, Lauren, by the way, have I mentioned your parents aren’t home anymore?” Nathan’s amused voice sounded. “I took them on a little road trip. I’m so nice.”
“Bastard,” Lauren spat, fighting for self-control.
“That’s not a nice thing to say to somebody who has the power to sniff out the lives of two people you care for so much. Or do you?”
“You wouldn’t know the meaning of the word ‘caring’,” Lauren answered. “You’re just a sick, piece of...” Maureen’s hand on her arm made her swallow the rest of the words and with a pained expression she stared into a pair of compassionate eyes.
“Give me the phone,” Maureen mouthed and Lauren shook her head.
“Give it, Lauren,” the red-head insisted. “I have a plan, trust me.”
Lauren did not move, but when Maureen reached out and gently pulled the phone from her grasp, she did not protest.
“Nathan?” Maureen spoke. “It’s me, Rivers. I’m going to work out a deal with you, because DarkWolf is involved too much. What do you want?”
Maureen noticed the flash of anger that crossed Lauren’s features and she grabbed the other woman’s hand while her eyes begged for trust and understanding. For a woman like Lauren, it was hard to simply give up control like that and trust someone else to take care of the crisis. In any other situation she would have refused, but something deep down inside told her to trust Maureen and let her handle it. She nodded and Maureen sent her a grateful smile before returning her attention back to the conversation with Nathan.
“Why would I trust you?” Nathan replied.
“How about this? I want to be home for Christmas, which is tomorrow, I’m sick and tired of all this crap and, on top of it all, I’m PMS’ing. I want this situation done and over with and I want to do it now. I don’t want to wait for a spineless inspector to throw his weight around, because he doesn’t know what he’s doing anyway. Where can we meet?”
Maureen visibly winced at her choice of words, hoping that they would never make it back to Jack Wilson. But she had to win some resemblance of trust and the best way to do that was to make Nathan believe she would throw all caution in the wind.
“When you leave the cabin and head North, three miles down the road, there’s an old barn. We can trade there; The DarkWolfs for Hannah.”
“What time?” Maureen asked.
“Hour from now.”
“You got it.”
Maureen ended the conversation and turned to Lauren to hand her back her cell phone. Without speaking a word she walked towards Van Zant, grabbed his arm and roughly pushed him into a chair.
“Talk to me,” she ordered, her eyes dark with anger.
“If you don’t talk to me right now, I swear I’ll have Chuck and Joe pull every word out of you with a blunt knife.”
Van Zant’s eyes traveled from Lauren to Maureen and back again and it was obvious the young man was on the verge of losing the contents of his stomach.
“I didn’t mean for this to happen,” he whispered. “Nathan...I...he...he knows something about my past and he said he’d make sure I’d be kicked out of the service and land in jail...I was...I didn’t think he’d take your parents hostage, I swear. I thought he’d show up and you could all overpower him and get it done and over with.”
“What kind of hold does he have on you?”
“When I was in college...I...I was involved in a hit-and-run accident,” Van Zant took a deep breath and cast down his eyes, not able to meet Maureen Rivers’ eyes. “I was the one running. The person I hit was in a coma for months and...and...eventually died...I had been drinking and...I ran,” he whispered.
“Is alcohol your vice?” Maureen asked relentlessly. “Is that how he got a grip on you?”
“I met him in a bar. I didn’t know it was him, I swear. We started talking and he kept buying me drinks.”
“And you spilled your guts, giving Nathan a nice grip on you. Good job, Van Zant,” Maureen spoke. “You managed to get us all in a busload of trouble here. But guess what?”
A pair of fearful eyes stared up at her and Maureen sent Van Zant a cool smile.
“You’re going to help us fix this.”
Straightening her back, Maureen half-turned and cast a look at Lauren who had signaled her brothers to come to the cabin, which they had done. Two tall figures were entering the door Lauren had opened and two pair of dark eyes scanned the cabin, landing on a handcuffed Van Zant who was staring at the floor, afraid to look up.
“What’s going on?” Chuck asked.
Lauren informed her brothers what had happened and to Chuck and Joe’s credit they listened intently to their sister and Maureen, without interrupting them. Once Agent Rivers had told them about her short conversation with Nathan, Chuck stepped closer to Van Zant who softly whimpered when a large hand grabbed his chin and forced his face up.
“You’re going to do exactly what we tell you to do,” he said in a calm voice that belied his anger. “And I do mean exactly. One wrong move and you’re toast, you got that?”
“Y...yes, sir,” Van Zant stammered, wishing he could rectify his past mistakes.
“Good, you’re coming with us.”
“Whoa, hold on, guys, what’s the plan?” Maureen asked, casting a look at Lauren, who was checking her gun.
“We’ll go meet Nathan,” she answered calmly.
“I got that, Agent DarkWolf,” Maureen answered, not able to hide her irritation. “But we need a plan. We’re both OSBI Agents and there’s some rules we’ll have to stick to. It’s been a while since a posse rode out to lynch the bad guy.”
“I won’t lynch him,” Lauren with a smile that did not reach her eyes.
“You can’t scalp him either,” Maureen added, making Chuck and Joe grin.
“I won’t,” Lauren smiled again, this time for real. “But I will get my folks out of his clutches, trust me.”
“Amen to that,” Chuck added and Joe nodded.
“Alright,” Maureen sighed. “So, what’s the plan?”
Hannah nervously looked at the clock, wishing she could speed up time and end the day. It had not been long since Lauren and her brothers had left the cabin, dragging Van Zant along with them, leaving them in the protective care of Maureen Rivers who was as nervous and tense as the rest of them. They had left it up to Maureen to inform them about what had happened and when the Agent had finished her story, Hannah had been visibly shaken, while Rachel had been very quiet and withdrawn.
Hannah cast a look at her lover and her heart went out to the Doctor. Even though she disliked Nathan as much as Hannah did, Rachel also had to come to terms with the fact that it was her cousin who was terrorizing their lives and who was currently holding two people hostage.
“What are you thinking?” Hannah asked softly, covering Rachel’s fidgeting fingers with her own.
“I’m hoping all of this will end without bloodshed,” Rachel sighed, looking at Nicky who was telling Gertrude her own version of ‘Finding Nemo’. A small smile crept across her face when she heard her daughter’s clear, high-pitched voice telling the elderly Lady about Nemo and the ‘tuwtles’
Rachel’s eyes traveled back to Hannah and she reached out to brush away a strand of blond hair from the nurse’s forehead.
“And if there’s any blood to be shed, I so hope it will be Nathan’s,” she added, not able to hide the bitterness in her voice.
“I second that,” Maureen’s voice came from her spot at the window. She had stood there ever since Lauren and her brothers had left. “If he hurts her parents...” she did not finish the sentence, because all of a sudden her throat constricted. If anything would happen to Lauren’s parents, the tall Agent would be heartbroken, which was a very unsettling thought, to say the least.
The silence that followed was so long and intense, Nicky paused her story and stared at the adults with insecurity written all over her face.
Rachel looked up and managed a smile, immediately seeing Nicky’s small form relax against Gertrude, who had her arm protectively wrapped around the small child.
“It’s alright, sweetie. I want to hear the rest of your story. I want to know what happened to the turtles”
“Awight,” Nicky beamed, immediately continuing her story with enthusiasm, not aware the adults could only understand part of her enticing tale.
Hannah let out a sigh, leaning against Rachel, who wrapped her arm around the blonde’s shoulders and pulled her close.
“I love you,” Hannah mumbled, pressing her face against the Doctor’s neck.
“I love you, too,” Rachel answered, equally soft. “It will be over soon, honey.”
“I hope so,” was the whispered answer.
The DarkWolfs had not wasted any time. As soon as they had left the cabin, they had started to plan and organize their strategy in detail. It had only taken a couple of phone calls to mobilize a few more friends and family members and when Chuck shut off his phone, stuffing it in his pocket, Lauren asked: ‘How many?’
“About thirty,” was the calm answer, but in his voice she could hear the pride and she sent him a smile.
“You know what to do,” she told him.
“Don’t worry, sis. Just take care of yourself. You won’t be alone.”
“I know,” Lauren nodded, opening the door of the car and stepping out, immediately feeling the icy cold wind blowing against her face. “Buzz me when they’re safe.”
‘When’, not ‘if’.
“I will,” Chuck nodded, closing the door and gesturing Van Zant to continue driving.
The cold wind stung her eyes when Lauren stared at the car until it had disappeared out of sight. Only then, she turned around and started her jog up the hill.
Nathan pulled the ski-mask over his head, making sure every inch of his skin was covered. He hated cold, especially when it was windy. It always made his ears hurt and he had promised himself after he had taken care of business, he would leave Oklahoma for good. Maybe he would go to Florida or California. Or even south Texas. As long as he did not have to deal with cold winters anymore. Nor the always blowing wind.
Cold, calculating eyes followed the car that was slowly approaching the cabin and he could not suppress a giggle. They would get a nasty surprise. What a bunch of idiots! Did they really think he would just sit around, waiting for them? Like he would bring his hostages to that barn! Lauren’s father, Jacob DarkWolf was a huge man and the only way Nathan had been able to control him was to use his wife as a living shield.
Again, Nathan chuckled. It had been so smart of him to let April DarkWolf tie her husband’s arms and legs. Tying her up had been easy. It was amazing a woman of April DarkWolf’’s size had such tall children. Lauren really had her Daddy’s genes.
“Well, no time to sit around and laugh,” Nathan decided, tucking away the binoculars. “There’s a cute blonde only a few hundred yards away from here who is dying to see me.”
Lauren stood motionless, using all her senses to keep an eye on her surroundings. The jacket Chuck had given her made her almost invisible in between the bushes and the trees and her ability to quietly blend in would be her best weapon. Although Nathan was extremely cruel and cunning, he had never really mastered the art of camouflage. He had always disliked getting down and dirty. It was something she would use to her advantage. As she had told him over the phone; this was her turf, the land she had grown up in, where she knew every rock and tree. Every sight and sound.
Tilting her head, Lauren was aware of the sound of rustling leaves that did not correspond with the strength of the wind, nor its direction and she nodded in contentment. Her prey had taken the bait. Her eyes scanned the trees, while the adrenaline pumped through her system in anticipation of the battle that certainly would take place. And the outcome would be in her favor, she was going to make sure of that.
The cell phone she had stuffed inside her pocket vibrated and, without taking her eyes from the tree line, she pulled it out so she could cast a quick glance at the display. Letting out a sigh of relief she put it back into place, while the words in the message were etched into her brain: “Safe! Get him.”
“Girls, it’s time to get into the kitchen,” Maureen calmly said, while her eyes never left the tree Lauren had pointed out to her just before she had left. If she had not known where to look, she would not have been able to detect the other Agent at all. Even while she knew where to look, it was still hard to see Lauren, who was standing motionless behind the tree.
The kitchen was the only area of the house without windows and it was relatively far away from the door. The area was open, but there was a narrow wall the other women could hide from Nathan’s eyes. Maureen did not expect Nathan to try and climb through a window, but she did not want to take any risks. It was her job to keep Hannah, Rachel, Nicky and Gertrude safe. If Nathan wanted to get to them, he would have to go through her.
Maureen quickly checked her gun, taking it off safety, while she made sure she had a few more clips within reach. If it came to a shoot-out, she wanted to be prepared.
Rachel was holding Nicky, while Hannah had grabbed Gertrude’s arm, guiding the elderly lady into the kitchen, where she sat her in a chair.
“Are you alright?” she asked, her face pale and her eyes wide with fear and anxiety.
“I’m fine, don’t worry about me,” Gertrude smiled.
“Mama?” Nicky asked. Watching her mother with big, brown eyes.
“It’s alright, Nicky. We’re waiting for Lauren to come back, okay?”
“Lauwen?” Nicky echoed with a smile. “Lauwen’s my fwiend.”
“I know,” Rachel smiled, hugging her daughter close with one arm while she extended the other one to wrap around Hannah, pulling the blonde close. She dropped a kiss on the soft blond hair and took a deep breath, willing her racing heart to calm down.
“I won’t let him hurt you,” she whispered in Hannah’s ear and the blonde nodded, lifting her head to look into Rachel’s eyes. Without breaking eye-contact, she reached up and, with her fingers, searched the top of the cabinet until she touched smooth, cool steel. Making sure to keep the gun out of Nicky’s sight, Hannah put it behind her on the counter.
“I won’t let anything happen to any of you, either,” she whispered, leaning in for a kiss. “Nathan’s game is going to end today.”
The goal was in sight, he could see the cabin and he could almost taste the victory. It was so sweet. Soon he would have accomplished what he had been craving for such a long time; Hannah would be his, forever. She would never be Rachel’s.
The thought of his cousin fueled his anger and his eyes turned to slits when they stared at the rapidly approaching cabin. Sometimes he wondered which feeling was stronger; his desire to control Hannah or his hate for his cousin. It was all her fault anyway. He would have been content with watching Hannah from a distance, fantasizing about them being together one day. She had never shown any interest in anybody after Rachel had left, which had been fine with him. That way it had not been necessary to get rid of anyone. Until Rachel came back and Hannah just fell for her all over again. Disgusting. All his hard work and his patience had been in vain. Hannah had thrown herself in Rachel’s arms and his cousin had won. Again. No more, though. Her victory over him was over. Within a few moments, he would make her watch while he would take what she loved the most; Hannah Jensen.
Nathan giggled and tightened his fingers around his gun, feeling comfort in the cold, hard steel.
Just a few more minutes...
Lauren’s eyes had not left the bulky form the second she had spotted it. With a raised eyebrow and a sly smile, she realized Nathan did not even try to hide his descent down the hill. He was slipping and sliding down as fast as he could, snapping twigs and branches in the process. Apparently he was so sure of himself, he was getting careless.
“Way to go, Nathan,” Lauren mumbled, making sure she had a good grip on her gun. “You’re showing your eagerness, buddy, and that will be your downfall.”
Knowing she would have no problem spotting him again, Lauren allowed her eyes to roam her surroundings and she smiled when she noticed a familiar red-head behind the window. Her eyes shifted and she nodded when her eyes fell on a few irregularities in the bushes. A well-known bird call reached her ears and Lauren smiled. The day would be theirs.
A few more yards and he would be there. Almost...almost...almost. Nathan could feel his heart pounding in his chest, while his breathing was labored. The cold air almost made him cough, but he was able to suppress it, he did not want to alarm the women inside the cabin. How stupid of DarkWolf and Rivers to rush to the barn. Now he would have all the time he needed to finish his job. He was sure they had left Hannah and Rachel in the cabin, because he had only seen three forms in the car. How stupid they were.
Finally, Nathan reached the porch. He slowed down, pulled off his ski mask and looked around the corner to make sure the coast was clear. With a chuckle, he realized they had not even left somebody to guard the cabin.
“Jack Wilson, this will be your downfall. Rachel, this will be the end of you. You won’t have another happy day for the rest of your life. My time has come.”
Balancing his gun in his hand, Nathan stepped closer to the porch. His eyes were shining in anticipation of what was about to happen. He was so giddy, he almost giggled.
As soon as he put his right foot on the first step, a strong voice called out behind him and when he turned in surprise, the door of the cabin behind him flew open and a strong leg kicked him in his back, making him lose his balance, staggering forwards, until he toppled over.
“Drop the gun, Nathan,” a cool voice sounded behind him.
Nathan, who had landed on his knees on the cold, hard ground, turned his head to see Maureen Rivers standing in the doorway with her gun aimed at his chest.
His eyes grew wide, but his surprise turned into anger when another voice sounded through the clear, morning air.
“Put your hands where I can see them, Kendrick.”
“DarkWolf,” Nathan whispered, stunned at the tall Agent’s presence. “Take one step closer, DarkWolf, and your parents will die.”
Lauren’s dark eyes never left the kneeling form in front of the cabin. She had her gun clenched in both her hands, her arms stretched, the gun aimed at Nathan’s chest. She was ready to fire. Her long legs ate up the distance, while her heart slammed against her rib cage. She was so close to slapping him in handcuffs. Finally, after all these years, there would be justice for Debra. And for all the other people Nathan had hurt.
“My parents are safe with my brothers, Nathan. Did you really think I wouldn’t see through your sick, little plan?”
Nathan’s eyes shifted, noticing at least ten forms emerging from the trees. Damn it! How could he have missed that? Where did they come from?
Without moving his head, Nathan could see his gun. It was so close. If he would move fast, he could grab it, roll, aim and shoot. The question was; who would be his victim? Maureen? Or Lauren? He had known Lauren longer and somehow he felt taking out Maureen would be devastating for the tall, dark warrior. His choice was made. It would be Maureen Rivers.
Lauren, who was only about ten yards away from him, could see Nathan’s fingers twitch and her eyes narrowed.
“Don’t even think about it, Nathan,” she called out, knowing her fear and anxiety was clearly audible. “If you move, I’ll have to shoot you.”
“Good luck with that,” Nathan mumbled with a chuckle, knowing he was in between Lauren and Maureen. If she wanted to shoot him, the dark Agent had to be careful not to hit her partner, so she would be hesitant to pull the trigger. Nathan hoped it would give him the second he needed to execute his plan.
Before Lauren could call out a warning, Nathan had grabbed his gun, turned and aimed at Maureen, who, as soon as she saw him move, threw herself off the porch in an attempt to avoid the bullet that was coming her way. There was no way she could take aim at Nathan, because Lauren was standing right behind him and Maureen did not want to risk hitting her. She knew Nathan had realized the same thing the moment he had turned towards her.
It was the longest couple of seconds in Lauren’s life. As if in slow motion she watched Nathan move, raising his arm and aiming his gun at Maureen who flung her body to the side, desperate to avoid being hit by a bullet. She knew he would have a better chance at hurting her by waiting until she would have hit the ground. As soon as Maureen would stop moving, if only for a split second, Nathan’s chances to seriously hurt her would increase by leaps and bounds.
It was as if an invisible hand guided Lauren’s arm when it followed Nathan’s movements. Her hand was steady when her finger tightened around the trigger and her eyes were focused on Nathan who was aiming for Maureen. When his arm lifted there was no time for thought, just for reaction. There was no hesitance when Lauren pulled the trigger. The sound of the shot echoed through the cold morning air, scaring a bird who flew up from the bushes. A split second after Lauren’s bullet had penetrated fabric, muscle and bone, another shot rang out, just as his gun slipped out of Nathan’s grip, skidding on the frozen ground before coming to rest in a patch of dry, brown grass.
After the first shot had rang out, Maureen had closed her eyes, holding her breath and waiting for the inevitable second shot. It came almost immediately and she cried out when a hot, searing pain shot through her leg. Warm, thick fluid immediately stained her jeans, cooling quickly in the cold air, leaving her cold and shivering.
“Maureen!” Lauren cried out, sprinting towards her fallen partner. Nathan was being taken care of, she knew, by two of her cousins who had flanked her when she had approached him. Jeremy had already taken care of the gun, she saw, making sure the heavily breathing Nathan would not be able to reach it, while Kevin stood over the fallen ex-Agent, his shotgun pointed at the bleeding man.
“Maureen,” Lauren breathed. “Where are you hit? Your leg,” she saw, tentatively touching the other woman’s thigh. “Where else?”
“Nowhere, just my leg,” Maureen answered through gritted teeth. “It hurts.”
“I bet it does,” Lauren answered, taking off her jacket and draping it around the shivering woman’s shoulders. One look at Maureen’s leg showed her there was a massive amount of blood and for a brief moment Lauren had to fight the panic she could feel rising inside.
“You’ll be fine,” she said in a hoarse voice, needing the reassurance herself. “You’ll be fine, just take it easy. I’ll go get Rachel.”
Without waiting for a reply, Lauren jumped to her feet and ran up the stairs, entering the cabin through the still open door.
“Rachel?” she called out. “Rachel? I need your help, Maureen is shot.”
“Damn,” Rachel’s voice sounded from the kitchen and, before Lauren knew what was happening, both Rachel and Hannah were hurrying past her towards Maureen.
“Are you alright, Lauren?” Gertrude’s worried voice sounded while she emerged from the kitchen with a subdued Nicky on her arm. “We heard two shots.”
“Nathan is down as well. I had to shoot him,” Lauren explained somberly. “He was trying to...he was aiming for Maureen. Thank God he only managed to hit her leg.”
Gertrude nodded and sent the Agent a weak smile. Hearing the two gunshots and not knowing who had been shot had left her a little shaken.
“Go to Maureen,” she encouraged. “She needs you now. Nicky and I are fine. Go.”
Lauren nodded and ran out of the house, trying to not look too anxious when she knelt next to Maureen, who was looking up at her with pain-filled eyes.
“Why is it that it never looks too bad in the movies?” she gasped, trying not to cry out in pain when Rachel’s experienced fingers probed her leg.
“Because, in the movies it’s always a flesh wound,” Rachel answered with a grim expression on her face. “In your case, the bullet seems to be lodged into your femur, You’ll need surgery to have it removed.” Rachel turned to Hannah and pointed to Maureen’s leg. “Honey, if you’d stop the bleeding, I’ll see if I can find anything to use as a dressing.”
“Master bathroom, right drawer of the cabinet in the corner,” Hannah answered, using her fingers to put pressure on Maureen’s groin in an effort to stop the steady flow of blood. “There’s a pretty good sized first-aid kit.”
“Be right back,” Rachel replied, jumping to her feet and running back into the house.
“Is there anything I can do?” Lauren asked, wiping her sweaty palms on her jeans.
“Comfort the patient,” Hannah answered with a small smile. The pressure she was applying was hurting Maureen, but it was slowing down the bleeding to a small trickle. Her eyes traveled to Nathan, who was moaning loudly, holding his arm where the bullet had gone straight through his shoulder. Jeremy was applying pressure to his wound, his face stoic.
“He’ll be fine, believe me,” Lauren remarked, seeing Hannah’s gaze.
“I’m sure he will be,” the blonde nodded. “Which is a good thing, because I’d hate to think he’d escape jail time.”
“I second that,” Maureen moaned. “I can’t complain, though,” she added with a quick glance at Lauren, who was looking pale and tired. “If it hadn’t been for you, I’d be in worse shape. That was a heck of a shot, Agent.”
“I meant for him to miss you.”
“He got my leg, which is better than my head or chest,” Maureen responded. “I’m sure this can be fixed, right Doc?” she asked Rachel who had found the first-aid kit and was kneeling down next to Maureen, cutting her jeans off her leg with the scissors she had found in the kit.
“No time to be modest,” Maureen grimaced when the fabric parted, revealing her leg all the way up to her hip.
“I’m sorry,” Rachel mumbled, eying the oozing wound in the center of Maureen’s thigh. A small lump indicated where the bullet had penetrated the thigh-bone, getting stuck in the process. “I’ll need to apply a pressure dressing, Maureen.”
“Why do I have the feeling I’m not going to like that?” Maureen replied in a quivering voice.
“Because it will hurt like hell,” Rachel answered in all honesty. “But you’ve lost quite some blood already and I need to try and stop that.”
“Do what you have to do, Rachel,” Maureen breathed, trying not to scream when the Doctor pressed a small stack of sterile gauzes on the wound.
“Want to hold my hand?” Lauren asked. “You’re allowed to squeeze as hard as you’d like.”
“Okay,” Maureen answered with a sob, grabbing Lauren’s hand. But instead of squeezing it, she pressed her face into it, stifling her cries while Rachel worked on her leg.
Lauren used her free hand to rub Maureen’s back in a silent gesture of comfort. She could feel wetness on the hand Maureen was pressing her face against and she knew the other woman was hurting so much, she was crying.
“If I could trade places with you, I would,” she whispered softly. There was no answer, but Maureen increased her grip on Lauren’s hand, pressing her face even closer. “Rachel will be done in a minute. Hang in there,” Lauren continued to encourage the red-head. “And the ambulance is on the way.”
“I’m done,” Rachel announced after a few moments in which the silence was only broken by soft gasps and moans from Maureen and angry, soft muttering from Nathan.
Rachel cast a look at Maureen’s pale face and sent the Agent an encouraging smile, gently patting her uninjured leg.
“I know it hurts, but you’ll be fine, Maureen. This is all fixable.”
Hannah, who had slowly eased off the pressure after Rachel had applied the pressure dressing, looked at the Doctor with insecurity written all over her face.
“Do...will we...I guess we need to take a look at Nathan as well,” she spoke softly.
“I’ll do it,” Rachel nodded. “There’s no need for you to expose yourself to him. He’s a nutcase.”
“That’s put pretty mildly,” Lauren mumbled, brushing a strand of red hair away from Maureen’s clammy forehead. “I’d say he’s a real psychopath. Look at his wound, Rachel, but try to ignore the rest of him. He’ll try to get a rise out of you. Make sure to stay on his hurt side and don’t get in between him and Kevin. I don’t trust Nathan.”
“I know,” Rachel nodded, getting to her feet. “But I won’t let him get to me,” she added, sending Hannah a warm smile. “Keep an eye on our patient here, alright?”
She turned and, after taking a deep breath, walked towards Nathan who was sitting on the cold ground, cradling his right arm with his left one.
“I’ll have a look at that,” she said in a voice that was emotionless.
Jeremy nodded and stood up, while Kevin never moved, keeping his shotgun aimed at Nathan who looked up at him with hate-filled eyes. His gaze shifted to Rachel and a snarl appeared on his face.
“What do you want, bitch? A family reunion?”
Rachel did not answer, but used her scissors to cut away some of the fabric from his shoulder, so she could examine the wound. Ignoring Nathan’s muttered comments, she managed to cut away enough clothing to see there was an entry- and an exit wound. The wound was bleeding, but not as profusely as Maureen’s had been. It was obvious Nathan’s shoulder had not sustained any major damage.
“You’ll live,” Rachel remarked dryly, dressing the wound with some gauzes.
“You shouldn’t,” Nathan spat with venom. “It’s not right, she should be mine, not yours. I wanted her first. We were friends when she didn’t even know you.”
“You can’t force love, Nathan,” Rachel answered as calmly as possible. He was trying to get to her, she knew and it was important to keep her composure.
“I was so close,” Nathan whispered, staring up at Rachel with a crazed look in his eyes. “If it hadn’t been for those two...two...traitors, Hannah would be mine now. I would have taken her away from you and you’d have been miserable for the rest of your pathetic life.”
“Like I said, you’ll live,” Rachel said between clenched teeth. She knew Nathan was sick and engaging him in a discussion would only be unsettling for her, so she got back to her feet, feeling sick when she realized it had been Nathan’s intent to kill Hannah. Walking back to where Hannah was still sitting next to Maureen, she knelt down and wrapped both her arms around the blonde, pulling her into a tight embrace.
“Are you alright?” Hannah asked softly, raking her fingers through Rachel’s dark hair. “Honey?”
Rachel sighed and lifted her head so she could look at the blonde. When she noticed the worried blue eyes she smiled, gave her a quick kiss on the lips, not caring who might be watching.
“I’m fine,” she answered and it was the truth. Holding Hannah was reassuring and comforting. It centered her in a way nothing or nobody ever could, which filled her with gratitude.
“I owe you two my happiness,” she said simply, turning to Maureen and Lauren. “And I’ll never be able to thank you.”
“We just did our job,” Lauren smiled.
“Although free healthcare for the rest of my life would not be a bad thing,” Maureen joked in a tired voice.
“I hope you’re not planning on getting shot more often,” Hannah gently teased, chuckling when Maureen rolled her eyes.
“Don’t worry,” the red-head sighed. “Once is more than enough.”
After Maureen and Nathan had been whisked away in an ambulance, Rachel and Hannah stood on the porch, arm-in-arm, trying to wrap their minds around the fact that their ordeal was over.
“It’s a little unreal, isn’t it?” Hannah mused. “I guess I’d been under so much tension and stress, now it’s all over, I feel like a deflated balloon.”
“You don’t look like one,” Rachel joked, half-turning so she could wrap her arms around the blonde. Hannah leaned into the embrace and let out a contented sigh, wishing they could stay like that forever.
“I love your hugs,” she mumbled against the Doctor’s shoulder. “You make me feel so safe and loved.”
“I’m glad,” Rachel replied softly, kissing the smooth skin of Hannah’s forehead. “I love holding you.”
“We sound cheesy,” Hannah replied dryly, smiling when Rachel let out a soft laugh. “But I don’t care anyway.”
“Good, because I was about to make it even tackier,” Rachel chuckled, tilting her head and capturing Hannah’s lips in a slow, deep kiss. Hannah’s pulse quickened when Rachel’s lips deepened the kiss, making it impossible for her to breathe. All she knew to do was press her body even closer against Rachel’s, reveling in their closeness.
“We don’t have to run anymore,” she whispered, when they finally came up for air. “And tomorrow is Christmas.”
“Did you finish your shopping?” Rachel asked in a teasing voice, lazily planting a trail of kisses from the side of Hannah’s cheek down to her neck and back up again.
“I did, but I still need to get a thing or two,” Hannah moaned, fighting the urge to wrestle Rachel to the ground and have her way with her. “It’s...it’s,” closing her eyes Hannah moistened her dry lips, very aware of Rachel’s soft touches against her skin. “I need...something...for you,” she finally managed to finish her sentence.
“What are you getting me?” Rachel mumbled, wondering how Gertrude would respond if she would drag Hannah into the bedroom. She buried her face in Hannah’s soft hair and smiled when she her ears picked up a barely audible moan.
“I’m...not telling,” Hannah sighed, hooking her fingers into the belt loops of Rachel’s jeans, playfully shaking her.
“Stop getting me all hot and bothered,” the blonde laughed with flushed cheeks. “We’ll have to continue that later, in privacy,” she added, casting a look through the open door of the cabin. “Why don’t we pack up and wait for our ride? Or do we need to stay here?”
“No, Lauren will be back in a few hours. She said she had some explaining to do and she wanted to check up on Maureen before she drove us back.”
“I hope she’ll be alright,” Hannah sighed, feeling bad about the Agent being hurt while protecting them.
“She will be,” Rachel reassured the blonde, giving her a last, long kiss, leaving her gasping for breath.
“Later,” she whispered.
“Careful with that box, honey, why don’t you let the movers take care of that?”
“I’m fine, it’s not heavy,” Hannah muttered, casting Rachel an amused look. “I just want to help.” The blonde put down the box long enough to lean in and give her partner a quick kiss. “Stop worrying about me, Doctor. Besides, Granny asked me to take extra special care of this box because it has a lot of her memories in here.”
“Like what?” Rachel asked with a curious look.
“Baby pictures,” Hannah answered. “You know the ones, naked little baby on a hairy rug.”
Rachel laughed and playfully tugged a strand of blond hair.
“You know I need to see them later, don’t you?”
“Sure, in the privacy of our room,” Hannah winked. It was still amazing to her that she was actually moving in with Rachel, together with her Grandmother who had accepted Rachel’s offer to live with them without putting up a fight, which had been like a miracle.
“I’ll hold you to that,” Rachel whispered in her ear, quickly flicking the lobe with the tip of her tongue. When Hannah’s face flushed, she laughed and swatted the blonde on her behind.
“Back to work, woman.”
“Oh, I see how this relationship will work out,” Hannah mumbled, but there was a twinkle in her eyes.
“Need any help?” a familiar voice called out and when both Rachel and Hannah cast a look over their shoulders their eyes showed surprise.
“Lauren!” Hannah called out, putting down the box. “What a surprise. How are you doing?”
“I’m great,” Lauren DarkWolf smiled.
“So am I,” another voice sounded when Maureen Rivers appeared from behind the parked truck, supporting her weight with a pair of crutches.
“Hey, how are you doing?” Rachel asked with a laugh. “You look great.”
“Getting shot has its perks,” Maureen answered with a grin. “I got lots and lots of rest. No Agent partners to haul my butt out of bed in the middle of the night and I even managed to read a book or two.”
“Good for you,” Hannah laughed. “Why don’t you come in? I’ll make some coffee.”
“And don’t forget the brownies,” Lauren added, licking her lips in anticipation.
“Have you been talking to Gertrude?” Rachel asked with a chuckle.
“Well, yeah. Gertrude invited us over this morning,” Lauren answered with a shrug of her shoulders. “I guess she wanted me to help you guys move.”
“Not at all,” Gertrude’s voice sounded from the kitchen. “Lauren. Maureen, come in, girls. The coffee is ready.”
“What about the brownies?” Hannah called out.
“Of course,” was the reply. “Are you done unloading those boxes, honey?”
Hannah laughed and walked into the kitchen, putting the box on a side table so she could give her Grandmother a hug.
“Granny, what do I do with you?”
“Anything, as long as you don’t put me in a home,” Gertrude answered dryly.
“Don’t worry,” Hannah grinned. “I’m not up to that fight...yet,” she added, ducking when Gertrude wanted to give her hair a playful tug.
“Lauwen!” a happy, high-pitched voice sounded and when Lauren turned around she saw Nicky running up to her, hugging one of her long legs.
“Hey, squirt,” she laughed, bending down and lifting the toddler in her arms. “How have you been?”
“Nicky’s good,” the little girl beamed. “Nemo?”
“Yup, there ya go, Agent,” Maureen laughed, sinking down in one of the kitchen chairs. “You gotta tell her the story, but don’t worry, I’ll take care of your brownie.”
“I’m sure you would,” Lauren mumbled, taking a seat next to her with Nicky on her lap.
Rachel leaned against the doorsill while her dark eyes took in the scene in front of her. The warm, happy feeling intensified when a familiar arm snaked around her waist and a blond head was pressed against her shoulder.
“Seems to me your daughter has found herself a new hero,” Hannah smiled.
Rachel nodded and dropped a kiss on the blond head that was now tucked underneath her chin.
“Our daughter,” she corrected in a soft voice. She could feel Hannah’s body still, before the nurse slowly turned, so she could look Rachel into her warm, brown eyes. Swallowing hard she nodded, while a smile spread across her face.
“Our daughter,” she repeated.
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