The Darkest Hour

by

Talaran

Copyright © 2000 by Talaran

(talaransrealm.hispeed.com)

 

Disclaimers: This is a sequel to my first story, Vendetta. There are things that happened in the first story that are relevant, so you may want to read that one first.

The two main characters and I think you know who they remind us of, are in deeply in love. There will be sexual interactions in this story so if this type of material disturbs you, you may wish to read something other than this story.

Part 4

Nic pulled into the driveway wondering if Carly and Jessie had returned from their shopping trip. After two hours of basketball practice, she was looking forward to a soak in the hot tub, with or without company. Even though she was in excellent shape, she was feeling a little tired and definitely sore in a couple of spots. But she was pleased with herself. Even though she hadn't played any hoops in a number of years, the skill was still there. It took some time for her to get into her shooting groove, but once she did, the jump shots started to fall regularly. Nic could tell that Patti Jenkins was pleased. At the conclusion of practice, Patti had had such a huge grin on her freckled face Nic thought that the woman's head might split in two.

Entering the back door, Nic nearly tripped over Harley, who was yowling up a storm. She soon realized the problem, as she took a step and her right foot nearly slid out from under her. The water that should have been in Harley's dish was all over the floor. "Did you do that?" Nic asked the black bundle she nuzzled with her nose. The cat purred contentedly while she pawed at Nic's dark bangs. "Let me get this cleaned up and I'll get you some more."

Thirty minutes later Nic was stretched out in the hot tub holding a steaming cup of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. The dreary gray morning had finally given way to the sun, which created a much warmer afternoon. With her head lying against the massage pillow, Nic closed her eyes and simply enjoyed the quiet, monotonous tones of the whirlpool. Occasionally a handful of sparrows would land on the deck and chirp away at each other, seemly oblivious of Nic's presence. Within a few minutes the warm, churning water had relaxed every muscle in Nic's body. Even her arms were feeling much better. She was going to wind up with a two-inch scar on her left forearm from the knife wound she had sustained a week ago. Running a slender finger over the gash on her right arm, from where the bullet had grazed her, she realized she'd have a bit of a scar there too.

Above the hum of the hot tub motor and the bubbling water she heard voices coming up the driveway. Without opening an eye Nic said, "It's about time you two got home."

Carly and Jessie rounded the corner carrying several parcels between them. "Well, don't you look comfortable," Carly commented as she ascended the stairs to the deck.

"And just when did you get back," Jessie asked, as she followed behind Carly.

"About two o'clock, give or take." Opening her eyes, which widened considerably once she noticed the packages the two women were carrying, Nic said, "Did you two leave anything at the mall?" Nic was pleased with how happy Carly was. Apparently shopping agrees with you, Nic thought. The blond was practically beaming. Nic noticed her sister looked rather cheerful, as well.

"Very funny, Nic," Jessie remarked. "You know it's much colder up here than either of us had expected, so we needed to get a few things." Dropping her packages onto the deck, she let out a sigh and plopped herself onto the built-in bench that ran along the deck railing.

"When is the U-Haul coming with the rest of it?"

Carly dropped her own packages on a nearby chaise lounge. Reaching her hand into the water she sent a handful in Nic's direction. "You know, if you aren't nice we won't give you the stuff we bought for you."

Nic rolled her eyes, "What could you possibly have gotten for me? Besides, you two were suppose to be shopping for yourselves."

"WellllÖI saw a few things I thought you would look great in, so I picked them up." Carly winked at her dark-haired lover, who looked good enough to eat, sitting in the hot tub in her royal blue one piece suit. "And there may even be some chocolate in the deal, if you behave."

Nic moved over to the edge of the tub, looking very much like a crocodile waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting antelope. A slow, sinister smile began to tug at the corners of Nic's mouth. Jessie recognized the look instantly. "I'd back up if I were you, Carly, or you might find yourself in the tub sooner than you think."

Carly held her lover's penetrating gaze. A wave of desire hit her, right between the legs, but she managed to control herself. As much as she wanted to jump into the tub, she wasn't eager to go in fully dressed, which was clearly what Nic had in mind. "Come on Jessie, let's go get changed."

Jessie shook her head vehemently. "No thanks. I need to go upstairs and take a nap. I didn't get much sleep last night. Besides, I'm sure you two would rather be alone." Jessie winked at her sister who shot her a knowing glance. Grabbing her things, Jessie moved into the house while Carly held the door open for her.

"Well, I guess it's just Öthe two of us," Carly said seductively.

Sapphire eyes sparkled in the afternoon light as Nic's mischievous smile turned into a provocative one. Suddenly, she didn't feel so tired anymore.

************************************

The Monday morning drive to work felt odd. The weekend had been great, but now Nic had an overwhelming sense of sadness that it was over. When she had kissed Carly goodbye, there was an undeniable ache in her heart. She was sure part of it had to do with the fact that Carly would be staying with Jimmy for a few days until she was sure he was able to get around okay. She tried to convince herself that she'd get over this feeling, but as she slipped her Ray-Bans on while she walked to her car she wasn't so sure. She had actually driven several blocks somewhat unconsciously and was surprised when she realized she was already at the high school. You're becoming a sentimental fool, Niki, she thought. Is that what love does to a person? The remembrance of spending Saturday afternoon in bed with Carly after they had relaxed and played in the hot tub for awhile pulled at Nic's heart. She smiled at the thoughts. She had never been fed chocolate covered raisins that way before and now she was sure she'd never be able to eat them again without remembering that special Saturday afternoon. God, I'm doomed for sure.

Sitting at a stoplight, she watched a group of five girls walking in unison, chatting and giggling as they crossed the street. Nic dropped her head back against the headrest and closed her eyes. Sometimes she felt like it was just yesterday that she was one of those kids, then at other times it felt like she could barely remember being that young. A horn blared, snapping her out of her melancholy. Stepping on the gas, Nic left the impatient asshole several blocks behind her.

Willing herself to think of something other than Carly and how much she missed her, she thought about the cryptic message Lieutenant Raimes had left on her answering machine on Sunday. After a lazy morning, Nic had taken Carly and Jessie out for brunch, after which they had stopped at the hospital to see Jimmy before they returned home. They had spent the remainder of the day lying about the house and Nic had been quite surprised that she hadn't even thought about checking her messages. When she finally did it had been too late to call the lieutenant back. So, after parking her car in the underground garage, Nic headed straight for his office, wondering the entire time what he had in store for her now.

*************************************

Jimmy was watching one of those annoying talk shows that for some unknown reason had become popular, when Carly walked into his hospital room. She was dressed in pale jeans and a red chamois shirt, which made her blonde hair seem that much blonder. As usual, she approached the bed with a bright smile as she kissed him on the cheek. "Well, are you ready to go home today?"

"Actually I was thinking about staying awhile longer."

Carly looked stunned. "Is something wrong? Arenít you feeling better?"

With a smug expression he said, "Carly, I'm kidding. Of course, I'm ready to leave this vacation paradise."

Carly swatted her brother on the leg, "Not funny, Jimmy! Don't scare me like that!"

"I'm sorry, Sis. I couldn't help myself. So, how are things with you and Nic?"

The sound of Nic's name alone made Carly beam. "They're good. Maybe, too good."

Jimmy was concerned by the tone in his sister's voice. He turned the volume down on the television. Patting the bed he commanded, "Sit down here and tell me just what you mean by that."

Reluctantly, Carly complied. She looked at her brother. His arm was still in a sling, his leg in a cast, but he was alive, and she knew she had Nic to thank for that. "Jimmy, do you ever feel sometimes like some things are too good to be true?"

Jimmy grabbed his sister's slender hand. "Everyone probably feels that way at some point in their lifeÖif they're lucky."

"I do feel lucky, Jimmy."

Jimmy nodded his head, "Of course you do. So I guess you're planning on moving to Larson?" He was certainly hopeful that that was his sister's intent.

Green eyes looked up, "Yes, I'm seriously thinking about it. But, I haven't told Nic anything, yet."

Jimmy scratched the stubble on his chin. "Why not?"

At first Carly didn't answer. She simply looked into her brother's warm, brown eyes. Slowly Carly closed her eyes and told Jimmy what she feared. "Because the thought of losing her scares me to death."

"Losing her? Why do you think you might lose her?"

Carly jumped off the bed and walked over to the window throwing her arms into the air. "Jesus, Jimmy, why do you think?" She spun around, her green eyes flaring. "Ten days ago I didn't even know Nic. What if she decides that she doesn't want to get tied down? Or, what if something happens to her? "

Jimmy wished he could walk over to his sister and hug her and tell her everything was going to be all right. He understood how precarious a cop's life was, probably more now than he ever did. "Squirt, listen to me. You know that being involved with a cop is not going to be easy. Everyday we put our lives on the line, but you can't go through life playing the 'What If' game."

"I know thatÖin here," Carly tapped on her skull, then pointed at her heart, "but in here I'm having a little trouble with it."

"Carly, you have to take it one day at a time, or you are going to drive yourself crazy. And as far as Nic not wanting to be tied down, I've never seen her happier than when she's with you."

A hint of a smile appeared on the blonde's face. "Really?"

"Really," Jimmy said.

She knew Jimmy was right. She saw it every time she looked at Nic. But, tucked in the dark recesses of her mind, Carly still feared losing what she had with Nic. And what made that fear so much more powerful was the fact that Carly didn't think she could even exist without Nic in her life.

***************************************

The soft knock almost went unnoticed by the balding man who was surveying several documents that were laid across his cluttered desk. "Come in," he said as he pushed his eyeglasses further up his nose.

Nic walked into the room and closed the door behind her. "Good morning, Lou."

Nic took a seat in one of the wooden chairs that sat in front of the lieutenant's desk. "Sorry I didn't call you, I got your message kinda late last night."

Harold Raimes peered at his detective over the top of his glasses. He had been her commanding officer for almost three years and in that time he had come to know her, as much as she allowed anyone to know her. Today she looked different to him. She seemed to have less of the hard edge to her tone and her swagger. Removing his glasses he leaned back in his chair. "So, I see you qualified on the range Saturday, not that I'm surprised."

Nic nodded her head without saying a word. Idly she slipped her thumb ring on and off her finger.

"How's Jimmy doing?"

"He's doing really well. He'll be released today."

The lieutenant smiled, causing several laugh lines to form around his eyes. "Great. How's your arm feeling?"

Nic felt a nervousness overtake her at the small talk the lieutenant was engaging her in. Something was up. He's beating around the bush about something, that's for sure. "It's healing nicely, thanks."

"I hear you are going to be playing basketball for the precinct team."

Nic's gaze narrowed, "Yes, I am. Patti has been after me for some time now. I guess she finally wore me down." What don't you want to tell me, lieutenant?

Swallowing hard, the aging lieutenant said, "Listen, Stone, the reason I asked you to see me this morning is because I need to pair you up with someone while Jimmy is recuperating."

Nic was afraid that might be what this was all about. Either that or she was going to be stuck on desk duty for the next six weeks. She wasn't sure which she dreaded more. Nic didn't warm up to people that easily, so she wasn't looking forward to breaking in someone new. "Who?" she asked in a disgusted tone.

"Katherine Shaw."

Nic's blue eyes seemed to electrify. "You're partnering me with a woman?" It's bad enough she was getting a new partner, even if it was temporary, but after the possessive display Carly had put on Friday night, Nic didn't relish the idea of telling her she had a female partner.

"Is that going to be a problem?" He knew she wouldn't be happy about the whole partner idea, but he hadn't expected this reaction.

Nic was tempted to fill the man in on the recent developments in her personal life, but she wasn't quite ready to share that information. "No, I guess not," she answered in a dismal tone.

"Good. She'll be here in any minute. She's a transfer from Cleveland."

"May I ask why I've been given this pleasure?"

"Partially because you are without your usual partner for at least the next four to six weeks."

"Yeah, what's the part you don't want to tell me about?"

"I was told to partner her with a woman by the higher ups, that's all I know. They didn't give me specifics. Maybe you should ask her about it."

A knock on the door interrupted their conversation. "Come in," Lieutenant Raimes said. Nic turned in her chair to get a look at her new partner.

A woman wearing a black, tailored suit entered the office. With a confident stride, she walked up to the lieutenant's desk and extended her hand. "Lieutenant Raimes, I'm Detective Katherine Shaw."

Raimes stood and accepted her greeting. Nic didn't bother standing. She was still sizing the woman up. Physically she looked like she was in excellent shape. She was thin and shorter than Nic by an inch or two, with cropped chestnut hair, a confident demeanor, and a pretty face, though one that looked older than she imagined the woman was.

"This is Detective Nicole Stone. She'll be working with you for the next few weeks while her partner is recuperating."

The woman turned and smiled at Nic, but before she could say anything she was caught in the fiery look of the woman's cobalt eyes. Slowly Nic rose and extended her hand. "Pleased to meet you, Katherine," Nic offered while they exchanged firm handshakes.

Katherine eyed the tall, dark haired detective who was dressed in black jeans and a gray silk shirt that hung loosely about her broad shoulders. She never felt that she intimidated easily, but the woman before her had such a commanding presence that Katherine began to feel a little uneasy. "Likewise," she said. "And my friends call me Kate."

Raimes watched the pair cautiously. He knew that Stone wouldn't be happy with the situation, but since she was the only available option he didn't have a choice. "Well, I'd personally like to welcome you to the 21st."

Kate looked over at the man who was now seated behind his desk. "Thank you, lieutenant. I'm sure I'll learn to love the 21st as much as I did my old precinct." She smiled inwardly at her comment, knowing that neither the lieutenant, nor her new partner, had the slightest idea how much she had come to hate her old precinct.

**************************************

Carly pulled the red Camaro up to the hospital doors where Jimmy waited in his wheelchair with an attendant. A huge smile burst onto his face at the site of his beloved car. "You know, I had been wondering how you were going to get me home."

Carly laughed as she opened the passenger side door. "Nic and I fetched your car on Sunday. I don't know why we hadn't thought of getting it sooner."

With the attendant's help Jimmy eased himself into the car. "If I know my partner, she probably liked the fact that you were depending on her to get around."

Closing the door, Carly thanked the young man who had assisted them, then she got in the driver's side. "What's that suppose to mean?"

"Nothing, reallyÖit's just that I think where you're concerned my partner may be a bit possessive."

"She's not the only one."

"Hey, I'm not that bad," Jimmy snapped.

Carly reached over and rubbed Jimmy's thigh. "No, you're not. But I am. Let me tell you about what your stupid sister did Friday night."

Jimmy looked at his sister with curious eyes as they drove out of the parking lot.

*******************************************

 

After two hours of familiarizing her new partner with the building and the Larson Police Department procedures, Nic was ready for a break. She had to give the woman credit, though. Kate listened intently to everything Nic told her and asked only a handful of questions. Realizing that the precinct wasn't the best place to have a quiet conversation, Nic asked the woman who sat across the desk from her if she wanted to grab some coffee at a local establishment. Kate smiled when Nic made the offer, so the pair went down to the parking garage to sign out a car.

They had just exited the elevator when Nic spied Don Casella and Larry Wallins heading their way. Don was a homicide detective with nearly twenty years on the force, while Larry was at least ten years younger than his partner. The older man was built like a brick house, a physique he had maintained since he was a Marine. Nic liked Don's no nonsense approach to police work.

"Hey, Stone! Congratulations on the Mayor's award! When are they giving it to you?" Don approached her and shook her hand firmly.

"I don't know. I haven't heard anything, yet."

"I think it's pretty damn special that one of our own has gotten two of the most prestigious awards a cop can get. And great work on that Marcone case, too! Glad to see a racket like that taken down." He slapped her on the back.

"Thanks, Don. Let me introduce my temporary partner." Nic looked at Kate who bristled at the 'temporary' part. "This is Katherine Shaw. She's a transfer from Cleveland."

The brunette extended her hand. Don grabbed her hand as they made eye contact. "Welcome to the 21st," he said.

"Thank you," Kate said. "I'm sure I will like it here." She turned and shook the other man's hand. She noted that he seemed to be content in his partner's shadow.

As Don and Larry began to walk away Don commented, "Don't let that one get you into any trouble."

Nic shot a look at the retreating pair. Kate looked at the taller woman with a raised eyebrow. "What's that suppose to mean?"

"Nothing, really," Nic said as they walked toward a row of unmarked cars.

 

******************************************

The diner was quite busy for ten thirty on a Monday morning. One of the waitresses was busy with a group of hard hats that were apparently on mid-morning break. The other waitress manned the counter where several other people were crouching over the counter on stools.

Nic studied the woman that sat across from her. Nic was curious about two things. How old was this woman and why had she decided to come to Larson?

The waitress finally approached with a pot of coffee in hand. She poured out two cups and returned with the requested bagels in a matter of seconds, which was unheard of. Nic figured the woman must be new to the job.

Kate spread cream cheese liberally over her bagel and noticed, with some annoyance, that her companion was staring at her. "Listen, if you've got a question, ask it. If you don't, then stop staring at me."

"Sorry, I didn't mean to offend you," Nic apologized.

"You didn't. I just think that if you have something to ask me, you should ask me. Not that I'll answer you."

Nic sipped her coffee. She appreciated someone with candor. It was rare to see these days. "Well, I was curious as to why you transferred to Larson?"

Kate munched quietly on her bagel, noting the odd assortment of people that were gathered in the diner so late in the morning. She drank some coffee while she determined whether she would tell the beautiful detective why she was here. She looked into the cool blue eyes across from her and she thought she saw a kindred soul in them, but she had made that mistake before. "Let's just say that I got tired of Cleveland. I decided to transfer to Larson because I have some family not far from here." Kate wondered if she would ever tell this woman what had happened in Cleveland. It was still too painful for her to even think about.

Nic digested the information along with her bagel. The woman was clearly not in the mood to discuss her past. Nic didn't figure she would be. Her body language suggested as much. She was not the chatty type, which suited Nic just fine. "Good enough. Well, Kate, I hope that you come to like it here in Larson. Oh, and my friends call me Nic."

The corners of the brunette's mouth curled up slightly.

"Did you work Narcotics in Cleveland?"

"Yes, I did," Kate answered, a hint of pain passing over her face.

Nic noticed the brunette's expression changed for an instant. "Well, then I guess I don't need to tell you that tomorrow you need to dress down a bit."

Kate realized the suit she had put on this morning was not the usual attire for a narc. You just didn't blend into the environment well if you were wearing a suit. "Not to worry. Tomorrow I'll dress more appropriately." The dark haired woman was certainly different from any partner she had ever had before. She was an imposing figure, tall with broad shoulders and narrow hips. Kate sensed this woman had an unbelievable amount of power within her. It was something that she exuded in the way she carried herself. "Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

Softer blue eyes looked up. "Go ahead."

"That cop that we met in the garage. What awards was he talking about?"

Nic knew this topic was going to come up. She had cringed when Don mentioned it only because she knew she have to explain it to her new partner. Truth was that Nic hated being in the limelight, yet she often found herself there. "My partner, Jimmy, and I received the Governor's Medal of Bravery when we stopped a bank robbery that was in progress. AndÖI am suppose to get the Mayor's Award of Valor forÖ" Nic searched for the right words to describe what she had done, "taking down a major drug dealer." Nic diverted her eyes back to the coffee mug she held tightly in her hands. She hated talking about herself.

Kate listened and was impressed, but not surprised, by the news. Her instincts were usually on the money and she had a feeling when the lieutenant introduced her to Nicole Stone that she was meeting one of the best cops in the city. "Congratulations. I'm sure you more than earned it."

Nic smiled, then finished the last of her coffee. She felt her beeper vibrate on her hip. "I've got to call the station." Nic flipped open her cell phone and waited until someone picked up on the other end. "Okay, we're rolling." Closing the cell phone, she pulled some bills from her jacket and laid them on the table. "Come on, we've got a 187 to check out."

Kate gulped the remainder of her cup. "Why are we checking out a 187?"

"Detectives on the scene requested it," Nic answered as she headed for the door with her new partner a few steps behind her.

**********************************

A squad car and an unmarked car were parked along the right side of Grant Avenue with their lights flashing. The rest of the street was crammed full of cars. Nic pulled the Ford Taurus that they had checked out of the garage around the corner and squeezed it between an obnoxiously yellow VW Beetle and a rusted out Chevy.

Rounding the corner, Nic spotted a patrolman standing in the doorway of a four-story apartment building. The brown brick building was one of many that were scattered up and down Grant Avenue. Fifty years ago these apartment buildings were erected to provide housing to the city's dock workers. Now prostitutes, drug addicts, and parolees were the primary residents. Ascending the stairs, Nic and Kate talked to the patrolman then proceeded to a third floor apartment.

Both women flashed their shields at the officer who stood at the entrance to the apartment. He nodded, then opened the door for them.

Two men in gray suits stood over a body that was sprawled across the living room floor. Nic recognized both men. Carl Mosley and John Dryden were homicide detectives with the 21st. They had a solid reputation and had been partners for the past ten years. Mosley, the larger of the two men, looked up when Nic and Kate entered the room. Dryden was talking to someone on his cell phone.

"Morning, Stone. How's your partner doing?"

"He's on the mend. This is Katherine Shaw. She'll be partnering with me while Jimmy is out."

Kate shook the big man's hand, noticing that her smaller one completely disappeared in his grasp. "Nic to meet you." His smiling eyes indicated he was an amiable sort, but the black man was an imposing figure none the less. He towered over her. Kate estimated his solid build must be close to three hundred pounds. His partner, on the other hand, was easily a couple of inches shorter and a hundred pounds lighter. John Dryden ended his call and walked over to greet the unknown woman who had followed Stone in the room.

"John Dryden, pleased to meet you." His first impression of the woman he was shaking hands with was that she was pretty in an ambiguous kind of way.

"So, what have you got here?" Nic walked closer to body of a woman who looked to be in her early twenties. She was lying face down on the floor halfway between the sofa and the television set. Long platinum blonde hair flowed over her face and down her back, partially obscuring the slinky black silk chemise she was wearing. On a nearby coffee table Nic noticed a white powder substance she assumed was cocaine. It had been arranged with a razor blade to spell out 'AOD'.

"Friday night we found another woman dead in a motel a few blocks from here. Same scenario, too. She was face down on the floor wearing a sexy negligée, the letters 'AOD' spelled out in cocaine near the body. Now three days later another one," Dryden said.

Nic looked at Kate who was jotting down the details on a notepad. "What was the COD on the first woman?"

"She had a large amount of that," he pointed to the powder on the coffee table, "in her system. It's not cocaine, or at least it's not what we know as cocaine. The chem lab is still analyzing it, but it looks like we might have a new and very lethal drug out there."

"Great," Nic commented as she shook her head slowly. "I take it this woman was a pro."

"That's my guess," Mosley said. "Her wallet was in the bedroom with five c-notes in it. She has an Oregon driver's license and a Blockbuster video card. That's it. No photos or credit cards."

Kate asked, "Did you check out her closet?"

"Yes," Dryden answered. "About a dozen dresses in mostly red and black. One short leather jacket, six pairs of high heels, a one pair of knee high black leather boots."

Nic crouched next to the body. Using a pen that she extracted from the inside pocket of her jacket she lifted several strands of hair off the dead woman's face revealing dilated pupils that stared blankly back at her. "Any idea what AOD stands for?"

"Always On Drugs," Kate offered sarcastically.

Nic raised an eyebrow at the statement and noticed her new partner was doing her best to suppress a smirk. Well, she has a sense of humor, at least, Nic thought. "I doubt it."

Dryden stated, "I don't know what it stands for, but I don't think she left it for us to find. Someone is leaving a calling card. The question is who and why?"

Mosley asked, "So, any ideas who might be behind this?"

Nic stood up. "No, not off the top of my head, anyway. But, Kate and I will do some checking and let you know what we find out. Can you see that we get a copy of the autopsy and anything forensics finds?"

"You bet," Mosley said. "We'd appreciate any help you can give us on this."

***************************

Carly opened her eyes and yawned as she stretched her stiff limbs. The clock in the kitchen told her it was four thirty. She was surprised at how quickly the afternoon slipped away. Nic had phoned around noon to see how she and Jimmy had made out. They made plans for Nic to come over for dinner after she was done with her shift.

After lunch Jimmy had looked so tired that it didn't take much convincing on Carly's part to get him to lie down in his room. After unsuccessfully trying to find anything good on television, she settled on one of those awful afternoon soap operas. She managed to watch about ten minutes of it before sleep claimed her. Carly wondered what anyone saw in those shows. They were all the same. Everyone on the show eventually slept with everyone else on the show. That thought had brought her mind to Nic. She wondered where Nic was and whether she was thinking about her. Then her thoughts turned to the encounter they had had on the couch that Carly was now curled up on. She wondered how they had managed to finish cleaning the apartment at all. She smiled at the rumination. Her body melted into the soft couch cushions and she closed her eyes, allowing the vision of a certain dark haired detective to roam through her mind.

The phone rang causing Carly to lunge for it, thinking it might be Nic. She was disappointed when she heard her aunt's voice on the other end.

"Hello, Aunt Rose." Carly rolled her neck as she listened to her aunt. Bones cracked back into place with the movement. She was half paying attention to the woman on the other end of the line when something caught her attention. "What did you say?"

"I said your aunt and I will be in Larson on Wednesday so that we can spend Thanksgiving with the two of you. Is that a problem, dear?"

The blonde closed her eyes. She loved her aunts dearly, but she wasn't ready to fill them in on everything that had transpired in the past week. Sighing deeply, Carly answered, "No, of course it's not a problem."

"Good. Let me give you the flight information so that you can pick us up at the airport."

Carly scribbled the flight details down and spent the next five minutes answering her aunts questions regarding Jimmy's health, all the while thinking about how she would tell her aunts about her decision to remain in Larson.

***********************************

TBCÖ


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