The Darkest Hour
Copyright © 2000 by Talaran
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 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 else.
Nic climbed the stairs to Jimmy's apartment, exhausted from the day's efforts to get a lead on the lethal drug that had killed a call girl two days prior. After spending the past eight hours rousting junkies from their diurnal lairs, they still had no clue as to who was behind the murder. Forensics had analyzed the white powder that had been collected at the scene and much to the Larson Police Department's dismay a new and highly lethal drug was on the street. That alone was a problem in itself, but the unknown killer who left 'AOD' as his moniker was what really worried Nic. This had all the markings of a serial killing spree. There weren't many people who could keep up with Nic when she was fired up about a case, but Kate had done alright. Much to Nic's surprise, her new partner had impressed her today. Especially when a wild-eyed, drugged out junkie surprised them when he flew out of a cardboard box, slamming Nic's head into a nearby brick wall. The impact had left her dazed. Kate, who had been several feet away, had responded with reflexes almost as fast as Nic's and had subdued the assailant in a matter of seconds. It was moments like those that spoke volumes about a partner's worth.
It was almost six thirty when Kate finally convinced Nic to call it a day. Just as she was about to rap on Jimmy's door her beeper vibrated. A slender, dark brow instantly rose at the number she saw when she thumbed the button. Now, I wonder how she got my beeper number? I'm going to have to have a talk with the desk sergeant about whom he should and should not give my number to. Nic knocked on the door and within seconds was greeted by a beaming blonde dressed in gray sweatpants and an oversized red sweatshirt.
"Hi there, stranger," Carly greeted her. "You look beat." Concern clouded her verdant eyes.
"I am. It's been a long day."
Glancing past her lover, the blonde's pale brows furrowed. "Where's Jessie? I thought she was coming over with you?"
"She left me a message that she ran into an old friend and was meeting up with her for dinner."
"Well then, I guess it's just the three of us."
Nic nodded as she stepped inside producing a delicate red rose from behind her back and offering it up to her girlfriend. The look on Carly's face made the trip to the florist worth it. I'm becoming such a mushball.
"Wow. What's this for?" Carly asked, as she inhaled the flower's sweet fragrance, clearly surprised by the token.
"I just wanted you to know that you were on my mind today."
Before Nic was able to utter another sound, Carly grabbed a fistful of her leather jacket and tugged. Their lips met in a slow, lingering kiss. Nic's arms instinctively enveloped the smaller woman, whose own arms were now wrapped tightly around the dark-haired detective's neck. Their tongues hungrily explored and danced until both women were breathless.
The sound registered in Nic's ears, but she was unwilling to release the precious body within her grasp. Their kiss deepened.
Jimmy cleared his throat once more. This time a blue eye popped open to search out the source of the disruption. Upon spotting her recuperating partner hobbling into the room, Nic grabbed hold of Carly's hips in a reluctant effort to break the kiss. Carly's eyes opened. Once she realized that Nic's attention was elsewhere she pulled away, slightly annoyed at the interruption.
"I don't mean to bother you two, but you might want to think about breathing."
"Nah." Nic waved her hand in the air. "Breathing is highly over-rated." Nic kicked the door closed then followed Carly over to the couch, interlacing their fingers as they made their way there.
"I agree," Carly said.
Jimmy sat down in the recliner. "So, what's the word on the Angel of Death case?"
Nic heard the words, but they didn't register because she was caught in the blonde's mesmerizing gaze.
"I missed you today," Carly said as she scooted closer to Nic.
"Me, too. I thought about you all day."
"That's sweet, Nic. Really?" She held the rose up to her nose and inhaled.
"You better believe it." I would have given anything to have spent the day with you.
"Well..." Jimmy said impatiently.
"Well what?" Nic asked, turning her attention to Jimmy.
"The Angel of Death case? What's happening?"
"The Angel of what? What the hell are you talking about?" Nic demanded.
Jimmy picked up the evening edition of the Larson Chronicle from the coffee table, opened it, then showed it to his perturbed partner. Splashed across the front page was a picture of Amber Timmons before her unfortunate demise, with the headline "Angel of Death Strikes again!"
Nic took one look at the picture and her head dropped, "Oh, great. That's all we need."
"What's wrong?" Carly inquired as she rubbed slow, lazy circles across Nic's back.
Nic grabbed the paper from Jimmy. "Yesterday, Kate and I were called in to assist on what may be turning into a serial murder case."
"But you're not with homicide," Carly stated with a quizzical look. "Why would they call you in on this case? And why are they calling this person the 'Angel of Death'?"
Nic removed her jacket, tossing it onto the back of the couch. With the heels of her hands she rubbed her tired eyes as she answered Carly's question. "Some overzealous reporter is dubbing it that because we found 'AOD' spelled out in a powdery substance at the scene. We don't even know if Angel of Death is what those letters stand for."
Jimmy's interest was piqued. "So, who caught the case?"
"Mosley and Dryden. There was a similar homicide four days ago," Nic replied. "Apparently there is a new and highly lethal drug on the street." She looked at Carly. "That's why we were called in. Narcotics has better connections in the..."
"Drug world?" Carly offered.
Nic smiled. "Yeah, the drug world." Nic tossed the paper onto the coffee table. "Now some damn reporter is going to give this lunatic the urge to do it again."
"You know reporters, Nic," Jimmy said, "anything for a headline."
At that comment, Carly rose. She had high hopes that she'd be on staff at the paper, but she didn't dare mention that right now. She wondered how Nic, and Jimmy, for that matter, would take the news if she did get the job. When she had gone on the interview she hadn't told Jimmy where she was going. Just that she had a job interview and she had made him swear that he wouldn't say a word to Nic. She wanted to tell Nic herself. Now, she had serious doubts about whether she had the courage to tell her. "You must be starving. Why don't we eat?"
Nic started to rise when her beeper vibrated again. "Shit!" she cursed. "I've got to make a call first." She immediately noticed the disquiet that darkened the blonde's face. "It's not work, don't worry."
Carly simply smiled, then made her way to the kitchen. I've got to mask my anxiety better than that. Nic's under enough stress, I don't need to add to it.
"I guess I'll help my sister in the kitchen," Jimmy said as he hobbled out of the room to give Nic some privacy.
Nic dialed her aunt's number and waited. She hadn't spoken to the woman in almost two years, which had suited Nic just fine. Her father's sister was far too overbearing for her tastes and it was all too often that she felt sorry that she had thrust Jessie into her aunt's arms so many years ago. After three rings, she heard her aunt's familiar voice. "Hello?"
"Hello, Aunt Sylvia."
"Nicole? Oh thank heavens you got my message."
Now it was Nic's turn to be concerned at the tension that seemed to seep through the phone. "Is something wrong with Uncle Al?"
"No, dear," she answered tersely. "Your uncle is finećand so am I."
"Well, I figured you were, since I am speaking with you. So, if you are both fine, then why on earth did you beep me?"
"Have you heard from your sister?" her aunt demanded.
That one question confirmed Nic's suspicions about her sister's sudden visit. She knew Jessie had been hiding something and now she was going to be blindsided by it. "Yes. She's here with me."
A heavy sigh came through the phone. "She's with you at the house?"
"I'm not at home at the moment, but, yes, she arrived a few days ago. I thought you knew."
"No, I didn't know. Jessica told me that she would be visiting a friend up in San Francisco. When I called there to talk to her, Shelley, I think that was her name, tried to cover for her, but I saw through that ruse."
"Well Jessie is fine. I'm glad that she decided to visit me."
"I just can't believe she did this without even consulting me?" Sylvia said resentfully.
"She is an adult, Aunt Sylvia. Or hasn't that ever occurred to you?"
"Nicole, I see no reason for you to talk to me with that tone. Of course I know she's an adult. But she could have at least told me that she was going to Larson. I wouldn't have said a word."
Sure you wouldn't. You don't want her here with me anymore than you would want her to be on the moon. "Since Jessie is fine, can we discuss this later? I'm really rather busy at the moment." She barely heard her aunt's reply as she disconnected the call and headed into the kitchen.
Carly managed to steer the dinner conversation to the upcoming holiday, which improved Nic's mood considerably, though at one point she considered flinging a forkful of mashed potatoes at her brother when it looked like he might bring the case back up. She knew he must be bored out of his mind and that he truly missed being on the streets with Nic, but she wanted them to enjoy the evening and that wouldn't be easy if Nic was in a foul mood.
After dinner they rejoined in the living room. Nic's stretched her long legs out across Carly's lap. After finishing off his dessert Jimmy had excused himself, which had surprised both Nic and Carly. He had insisted that he was much too tired to stay up, but Carly knew that he was simply trying to give her and Nic some time alone. She'd be sure to make him a special breakfast in the morning to show him how much she appreciated his thoughtfulness. With little fuss, Carly managed to get Nic's boots and socks off so that she could give her a foot massage. The low groans coming form her lover told her she was hitting some tender spots. Nic's lean, muscular frame was utterly relaxed and within a few minutes her breathing had slowed into a rhythm that told Carly she was asleep. Carly gazed at her lover undisturbed. You, my love, are more beautiful than anyone I have ever seen. How did I ever get so lucky? Nic tossed her head to the side, mumbling something inaudible. Carly noticed a discoloration above Nic's right eye. She hadn't seen it earlier because of Nic's bangs, but now she could see something was there. Just as she was about to lean over to get a better look the phone cracked the silence. Nic jerked upright with a look of fear clouding her face. The look pierced Carly's heart. She reached over and brushed the back of her hand across Nic's cheek. "Honey, it's okay. It's just the phone."
Nic instantly relaxed at the blonde's touch. Carly slid out from under the taller woman's legs and answered the phone.
"May I please speak with Carly Jamison?"
"This is Carly. Who is this?"
"Thomas Thorpe from the Larson Chronicle."
Carly gulped. Not now, please. I haven't told her yet. "Oh, yes. What can I do for you?"
Nic, now fully awake, sat up and rolled her neck from side to side. She tried to appear uninterested, but she couldn't help wondering who Carly was talking to at this hour.
"I just wanted to let you know that I would be very pleased if you would accept a staff photographer position with us. I was quite impressed by your portfolio and I think you will make an excellent addition to the Chronicle."
Carly was utterly speechless. She hadn't expected to hear from the Chronicle this quickly.
"Miss Jamison, are you there?"
"Umm, yes, I'm here."
"Would you be able to start on Monday morning?"
Carly's mind raced. What am I going to do about Jimmy? Maybe I can ask the aunts to stay for awhile? "Yes, Monday will be fine. Thanks so much for this opportunity Mr. Thorpe."
"My pleasure, Miss Jamison. I'll see you then. Good night."
"Goodnight." Hanging up the phone, Carly looked over at the woman that she adored and realized that she had some explaining to do.
"What do you mean you're going to quit? You don't just quit a job with National Geographic."
"Well, I am," Carly replied, crossing her arms defiantly over her chest in a pose Nic fought hard not to smile at. "I thought you'd be happy about my decision."
Nic ran her hand through her hair, frustration evident on her face. She wanted Carly to stay in Larson more than anything, but she didn't want her to throw away her career, either. How do I explain this without you thinking that I don't want you? The raven-haired woman paced across the floor. "Carly, I am happy about the fact that you want to stay here...with me, but I don't want you to regret it later on."
Carly had known that Nic was going to protest her decision. She just wasn't sure how she was going to get Nic to understand that a career, any career was meaningless to her, compared to sharing her life with Nic. "Why would I regret my decision, Nic? I love you and you love me, right? What could ever be more important than that?"
Nic stopped her pacing. Turning on her heels she locked eyes with this woman who had completely permeated her heart and soul. I don't think there is anything that I can deny you when I look into those eyes. "Nothing is more important than that," Nic admitted. Quickly crossing the distance between them, she engulfed the smaller woman in a heartfelt hug that pulled Carly off of her feet. "I'm sorry for getting upset with you." The smaller woman's anger dissipated, causing her to relax into the strong arms that surrounded her. Nic lowered her head and whispered, "I'm very happy that you want to stay here, Carly. The truth is...I can't imagine my life without you."
It was twelve o'clock by the time Jessie returned home from her dinner engagement. She was tired, but it had been fun going out with Lisa and Cathy, two of her closest childhood friends. When she had moved away ten years ago, the trio had stayed in touch through letters and, eventually, email. Even though her body was tired, her spirit soared at the renewed friendship. She wondered how Nic's day had gone as she passed her sister's bedroom. Upon reaching her own room, she spotted a small piece of paper taped to the door.
Jess, we need to talk. Wake me when you get home. Nic
Oh, boy. What is this all about? Jessie wondered. She knew that if she didn't go talk to her sister right now she'd pay for it in the morning. Probably get a glass of water thrown on me while I'm sleeping, she thought. She ripped the note down, opened her door and tossed her shoes and jacket inside.
As soon as Jessie started opening Nic's door, Harley slid out and curled her long, black tail around the young woman's legs.
Jessie scooped the cat up then proceeded into the room. "Nic, it's Jessie." The tall form stretched out before her didn't even stir. "Maybe we should try the light, Harley. What do you think?" The cat nuzzled the woman's chin, purring contentedly. This time, when the light came on, Nic groaned. "Come on, sleepy head. You told me to wake you."
"Yeah, I know," Nic groaned as she rolled over, her black hair falling haphazardly over her pillow.
"Woah! What happened to you?" Jessie asked as she stared at the very noticeable bruise above Nic's eye.
"It's nothing," Nic grumbled as she pulled back the covers. She put her hand up to stop her sister's oncoming protest. "Don't you start in on me, too. I had all I could do to convince Carly that I was fine."
Realizing that Nic was not in the best of moods, Jessie relented. "So, sis, what's up?" she asked, attempting an air of casualness, though her guts were doing flip-flops.
"I got a call from Aunt Sylvia tonight."
Jessie gulped. "How is she?"
"Not too good. She's been a little frantic trying to figure out where you were." A dark brow arched. "Mind explaining what's going on?"
"Maybe we should go downstairs and have some tea and talk," Jessie suggested.
Nic let out a sigh as she eyeballed her sister and slipped out of the warmth of her bed. "Why do I have the feeling I'm not going to like anything you're going to tell me?"
"Maybe because you have incredible powers of perception, Sis," Jessie said walking out the bedroom door with her smirking sister right behind her.
Down in the kitchen, with the water heating on the stove, Nic sat across from her sister and waited. Nic thought that she looked very nice in her red pullover sweater over tan wool slacks. I wonder whom she met for dinner?
"I'm not sure where to begin exactly." Jessie's hazel eyes locked onto Nic's.
"Just start at the beginning, Jess. I'm not going anywhere."
Jessie smiled, took a deep breath then started to recount the past few years with Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Al. "It really wasn't as bad as it sounds, but the last couple of years have definitely been tougher. Maybe it's because I'm an adult now and I see her a little more clearly. She just doesn't like to relinquish any control...ever."
Sincere blue eyes met Jessie's. "I'm sorry, Jess. Why didn't you call me or write to me to let me know any of this?"
The sad and guilt-ridden look in her sister's eyes tore at Jessie's heart. "I don't know. I guess I figured you had your own problems to deal with and you didn't need me complicating things."
Nic reached across the table to hold Jessie's hand. She gave it a firm squeeze. "You are my sister. You could never complicate my life. I'm just sorry that I wasn't strong enough back then to keep you here with me."
A tear slid down Jessie's cheek at the apology. How many years had she longed to hear those words from her sister? She had hated Nicole every single day the entire first year she had spent with her aunt and uncle. Hated her for sending her away from her home, her friends, and everything she had ever known. But most of all she had hated being apart from her Nic. Jessie had looked up to her big sister as far back as she could remember. Then, in the blink of an eye, Jessie had lost her parents as well as her beloved sister. "I understand now why you couldn't, but it took along time for me to understand it. And for a long time..." Jessie paused, unsure if she should continue.
Nic grabbed a tissue from the box on the counter and handed it to Jessie. "For a long time, what?" Nic asked.
Jessie blotted her moist eyes then clenched the tissue into her fist. "I hated you." There, I told her. I didn't think I would ever tell her that. Hell, I didn't think I'd ever get the chance.
The words stung Nic like a slap across the face. But looking into her sister's eyes, she realized that she saw no hatred there. What she saw in those hazel eyes was love. "I'm sure you did. If it is any consolation, Jess, I hated myself."
Jessie blinked several times at the admission. That thought had never even occurred to her. She was about to say something when the teakettle whistled, bringing Nic to her feet. Jessie stared at the tall woman as she prepared their tea. They had a chance to recapture the closeness they once shared and Jessie wanted that with all her heart. She had never dreamed it was possible. When she had first decided to come to Larson, she wasn't sure how Nic would react. They hadn't spoken in almost a year. But there was no one else Jessie felt she could turn to, and now she was happy with the decision she had made.
Nic placed the cups on the table and returned to her seat. When she looked up she was surprised to find her sister smirking at her.
Jessie laughed, ruefully. "We have got to work on our communication, sis."
Nic laughed at the comment. She's right. We should have had this conversation years ago. "I think this is a pretty good start." Nic sipped her tea. "So, what was the final straw that drove you here?"
Jessie diverted her eyes to the table and fidgeted in her chair.
"Come on, don't clam up on me now," Nic chided.
After a deep breath and a gulp of her tea, which burned her tongue, Jessie said, "Do you remember when you told me that you thought you were a lesbian?"
Nic nearly spat a mouthful of tea clear across the table. "Yeah...but what..." Then it hit her.
"You had just turned sixteen," Jessie recounted. "I was teasing you about why you didn't want to date Tommy Adler. He was so handsome and he was so crazy about you."
Nic laughed at the recollection. "Yep, and you couldn't understand why I wasn't interested in him. I remember the look on your face when I told you who I was interested in."
Now it was Jessie's turn to laugh. "Oh, God. I was speechless. If you had asked me to guess who that person was, I never would have picked Lauren Michaels."
An image of Lauren in her royal blue, very short track shorts and impossibly tight tank top popped into Nic's mind causing her lips to curl into a salacious grin. It had been years since she had thought of her first love. "I wonder what Lauren would have done if she had known how I had felt about her?"
Jessie considered the question for a moment. "Well, if she was smart, she'd have been flattered."
Nic shook her head at the compliment. "Thanks, Jess. But I know better. We both do. She would have never spoken to me again, though maybe, now that I think about it that would have been better than pining after someone that I could never have."
"I know what you mean," Jessie lamented.
Realizing they had gotten off track, Nic steered the talk back to Jessie. "So, are you telling me that you have an unrequited love in your past, too?"
"Yeah, I guess I am." Jessie placed her teacup in the sink and leaned back against the counter. "And before you ask the obvious, yes, it was a girl."
"I suspected as much," Nic admitted.
"That's why I came here. Aunt Sylvia wants me to settle down. She has convinced herself that Mark Rothwell, the only son of her dearest friends, would be the perfect husband for me, irregardless if I agree or not.
Nic felt an anger stir deep within her. She had always disliked her aunt's overbearing nature, but because Nic had adored her father, she was always polite and respectful to his sister. That was until the day her parents had been taken from her. When her aunt stepped in to try and take over the funeral arrangements, Nic had defied her. At that moment her aunt had realized that she would never have any control over Nicole. "So, you haven't told her about not wanting to marry Mark?"
"Oh, I've told her many times that I don't want to marry that man. She just chooses not to listen. But...I haven't told her what my real preference is." Jessie smiled sweetly at her big sister.
Nic rolled her eyes. "That's where I come in, right?"
"Please, Nic," Jessie pleaded. "Will you talk to her for me?"
Nic looked at her sister knowing that she couldn't deny her request. "Yes, I'll talk to her. I'll call tonight after we get home. Don't forget, Carly's aunts are coming in tomorrow and we are all having dinner at Jimmy's."
"I didn't forget. Thanks, Nic. I really owe you one for this."
Nic stood up and rubbed her sister's back as they headed out of the kitchen. "I know you do. And you'll pay," Nic replied with a smug smile.
Jessie simply smiled back at her sister as they ascended the stairs.