For disclaimers see part 1




Lois Kay

Yarra Kirby smiled, her dark-brown eyes shining with happiness when she cast a look at the blonde who was sitting next to her. Alice Wilson’s blue eyes sparkled when she caught the glance that was sent her way. It always was such a pleasure to see the expression on Yarra’s face when they drove up the hill to Murrook Farm.

"Happy to be home?" she asked with a smile, already knowing the answer.

"Extremely," Yarra answered. "It’s kind of strange, though. I grew up at the foot of this hill and this forest, well, I’ve always considered it ‘mine’," she chuckled. "And now all the land is owned by a couple I’ve come to love as my own family. I think...," Yarra hesitated for a moment and then realized it was Alice she was talking to. There was nothing she and Alice couldn’t talk about.

"I think the mountain had been waiting for them. After Jody and Sam moved in here, it seems like the leaves on the tree are greener, the birds seem to sing clearer, it’s like nature has been doing it’s best to make a good impression on them." Yarra paused for a moment and glanced aside. "Does that sound weird?"

"No, honey, it doesn’t," Alice smiled warmly. "Coming from you, that’s a huge compliment."

"They look after the land," Yarra happily sighed. "They respect it and that’s so important. I’m glad Sam bought Booyong Mountain as well."

"Booyong mountain?" Alice echoed. "I thought it was called differently. Kaiala, or something like that."

"That’s the previous name," Yarra explained. "I don’t know what Sam will start calling the resort, but my family always called it Booyong mountain, because of all the Booyong trees. They are beautiful. I’ll have to take you up there and show you my favorite tree."

Alice smiled. It didn’t surprise her Yarra had a favorite tree. She had never met a person with a stronger love for the land than Yarra Kirby, The recently graduated veterinarian had lived for the moment she would graduate. Yarra’s dream was to look after the local wildlife and contribute to conserving the rainforest, with all its intriguing and colorful inhabitants.

"I’d love to see it," Alice answered, reaching out and lovingly patting Yarra’s thigh. ‘It must be a special tree."

"Oh, it is," Yarra nodded. "It’s not easy to reach it, but I promise it will be worth the hike."

"Somehow I knew that would be the case," Alice laughed. "You hardly do anything the easy way, do you, love?"

Yarra smiled and enjoyed the warmth she felt flooding through her body, after Alice’s term of endearment. The past few years had been very busy. They had both been absorbed by their respective studies and sometimes days went by without a chance to see each other, even though they lived in the same house. But Yarra and Alice had always made sure they spent at least the weekend together. And they came home at least once a month. Staying away from their friends and family for longer than a month was hard on both on them. Especially for Alice, who had practically been adopted by Jody and Sam and who adored Taryn and Timothy, a feeling that was mutual.

"I wonder what Fiona is up to," Alice mused, looking forward to seeing her and Yarra’s best friend again. The last time they had come home for a visit, Fiona had not been there and Alice had missed her company. Somehow e-mails and the occasional phone call were not the same.

"Who knows, with Fiona," Yarra answered, steering her car around the last corner. In the distance they could see the form of the white house, surrounded by huge trees. "Looks like she’s around this time," Yarra remarked, pointing at the car that was parked on the side of the apartment that was located halfway up the hill. It was close enough to the main house to be considered part of the property, but far enough away to have its own privacy.

When Fiona had asked Sam and Jody if she could use one of the apartment’s rooms as a studio, Sam had suggested her sister-in-law move in. According to Sam, it was so she could watch Fiona and keep her out of trouble, but Jody knew better. Ever since her parents had divorced, Fiona had lived with their mother. Two years ago Michael McDonnell had taken a stand against his father, who had willingly kept his son from having any contact with his two eldest sisters. He had left David McDonnell and had moved in with his mother and sister, taking up the only spare room. Joan McDonnell’s house was not very big and she had refused Sam’s offer to buy a bigger house for the three of them. In Joan’s eyes, Sam had done enough already, by paying for Michael’s education. It was her son’s dream to become a pediatrician and Sam’s generosity had given him the chance, which he had taken with both hands. He was in his second year of Medical School and was doing exceedingly well, much to his mother’s pride and joy.

Jody had been grateful to have her youngest sister close by. She knew Fiona craved privacy and freedom and living in the apartment would give her both, while Jody could keep an eye on her sister and make sure she was alright.

"Do you want to stop and say ‘hi’?" Alice asked.

"I’d love to," Yarra grinned. "And I do hope we wake her up. I haven’t forgotten that last time she deliberately woke us up. What was it she said? ‘I didn’t drive all the way up to Brisbane for you to sleep the day away’?"

Yarra laughed and stopped the car in front of the cozy, little building that had its own wrap around veranda.

"Let’s return the favor, shall we?" she suggested with sparkling brown eyes.

"You’ re evil," Alice responded, but her eyes were twinkling.

"But you love me anyway. Right?" Yarra whispered before kissing Alice’s cheek.

"You know I do," Alice sighed, reaching out a hand and stroking Yarra’s face. "I do love you."

For a moment they looked at each other quietly, while their eyes silently conveyed their feelings for each other.

"I’m sure that if I’ d kiss you now, Fiona would step out of that door and we’d never hear the end of it," Alice whispered.

"Do we care?" Yarra softly asked, feeling herself being pulled in by the clear blue of Alice’s eyes that seemed to envelope her entire being.

"No," was the whispered answer, before Alice’s lips found Yarra’s and they lost themselves in a kiss that was long and intense. When they finally broke the embrace, they were both gasping for breath.

"You’ re the world’s best kisser," Yarra sighed, cupping Alice’s cheek and gently tracing the moist lips with her thumb.

"You’re biased," Alice smiled, covering Yarra’s hand with her own. "But I’m glad you think so. Besides, you’re not so bad yourself."

Yarra grinned and leaned in for another, quick kiss.

"Are you coming with me to wake up the brat?"

"Gladly," Alice chuckled. "I hope she’s having a nice dream."

"Oh, were you having one, that time she woke us up?" Yarra asked with a laugh, while she opened the door.

"You’ve no idea," Alice mumbled, stepping out on her side of the car.

"Care to share?" Yarra teased lightly, grasping Alice’s hand when they strolled towards the front door.

"Was I in it?" she purred, close to Alice’s ear.

"As a matter of fact, yes, you were," Alice answered, feeling her cheeks grow warm at the memory. Of course, her light blush didn’t escape Yarra’s attention.

"I’d love to hear more about it," the dark-skinned woman said in a low voice, knowing the effect that had on Alice.

Alice cleared her throat and playfully swatted Yarra’s behind.

"You might. If you behave."

"I always behave," Yarra pouted, using her long legs to skip the few steps that lead up to the door. She pulled Alice a little closer and made an inviting gesture towards the door. "Do you want to do the honors?" she winked. "Just make sure it’s nice and loud."

Alice chuckled and opened the screen door, before making a fist and pounding on the door. The sudden noise shattered the silence and Yarra and Alice chuckled when they heard a muttered curse, followed by a muffled thump.

"Ooops, I hope she didn’t hurt herself," Alice spoke, wondering if their idea had been such a good one. "What if she...?

Alice never finished her sentence, because the door was opened and all of a sudden she and Yarra stared into the face of a total stranger. Alice’s brain worked overtime to try and remember if she had ever met the woman, who was standing in the doorway, clad in a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. Her shoulder-length brown hair had obviously not been brushed yet and the hazel eyes squinted against the bright sunlight that liberally painted the veranda in a golden glow.

"Umm, I’m sorry," Yarra spoke softly. "We saw Fiona’s car and thought that...well, I’m sorry, we didn’t know that..."

"C.J._ Alice," a sleepy, but happy voice suddenly sounded from behind the strange woman, who was gently pushed aside by Fiona, who practically jumped into the arms of her best friends.

"This is a great surprise_ I didn’t know you two were coming home this weekend."

"You didn’t get my message?" Alice asked with a laugh. One of Fiona’s bad habits was to ignore the blinking light of her answering machine.

"I wasn’t home yesterday," Fiona explained with her arm wrapped around Yarra’s shoulders. "I came home...pff," Fiona blew a strand of hair out of her eyes and shrugged her shoulders. "I don’t know, it was late. We had a busy night."

"You did, huh? It looks like you got into a fight. What the heck happened, Fi?" Yarra responded with a worried frown, sending Fiona a quizzical look.

The dark-green eyes went wide and both Yarra and Alice detected something in their friend’s eyes that bordered on shyness.

"Nothing much. Oh, um...I’m sorry, this is Robin," Fiona uncharacteristically stammered, having seen the look Yarra and Alice exchanged. "Robin Adams. Robin, this pretty lady here is Yarra Kirby and the gorgeous blonde is Alice Wilson. They’re my best friends."

"Nice to meet you both," Robin smiled, which gave her face a totally different expression. It even painted a sparkle in her eyes and Alice reflexively smiled back.

"Nice to meet you, Robin," she spoke with genuine warmth. "Again, we’ re sorry. We didn’t know Fiona had a guest."

"Guests," Fiona immediately corrected, grinning when she saw the confusion on her friends’ faces. "Robin’s brother, Joshua, is here as well."

"Alright, Red," Yarra sighed, using Fiona’s family nickname. "You’ re waiting for us to ask you for an explanation, aren’t you?"

"Sort of," Fiona answered with a crooked smile. "But you know how much I hate to repeat myself, so, why don’t you take your woman up to the house and wait there for me, because I’m sure Sam and Jody want to know a thing or two as well. In the meantime, I’ll have a shower and try to make myself presentable. My...guestsss...and I will join you for breakfast."

"Whatever happened to your face sure didn’t affect your brain. Or your appetite," Yarra mumbled, making both Alice and Robin laugh.

"Come on, honey, we’ re not wanted here," Yarra winked at Alice. "Let’s leave poor Robin and her brother in the care of Fiona. If there’s anything you need," she added, looking at Robin. "Just open the door and yell. We’d understand. We’ ve all been trying to teach Fiona some manners, but unfortunately our wise and well-meant lessons have had no impact yet. But we’ re still hopeful."

"Scoot," Fiona grinned, giving Yarra a playful shove. "Or I’ll tell Alice about that time Jeremy Saunders tried to kiss you."

"Tried to?" Yarra answered with wide eyes. "He did_ And it was gross. And I did tell Alice about that, thank you very much, Miss Snitch."

"Was that the time you wiped your mouth with the back of your hand, saying ‘Yuck’?" Alice laughed.

"Exactly," Yarra nodded. She cast a look at the laughing Fiona and softly snorted.

"Alice and I don’t have secrets from each other," she spoke, before turning on her heels and jumping off the veranda.

"Come on, baby, I can smell Jody’s coffee. Let’s go have a cup and gossip about Fiona."

With a chuckle, Fiona watched her friends stroll back to the car and head up the mountain, to the top of the hill, where Kurt came bouncing down the road, intent on greeting two of his favorite humans.

Closing the door with a small sigh, Fiona turned around and almost bumped into Robin, who was staring at her with a thoughtful expression on her face. Raising one eyebrow, Fiona folded her arms across her chest and leaned against the doorsill. The look Robin gave her told her the other woman had something on her mind and Fiona decided to wait patiently until Robin spoke, secretly preparing herself for another confrontation.

Whatever she had expected, it wasn’t the next words, spoken softly, with a world of emotion behind the low timbre.

"You have nice friends."

Somewhat stunned, Fiona opened her mouth, but she didn’t really know how to respond, so she just nodded, feeling more than a little foolish by her lack of words.

"You wouldn’t be able to find two other people with such pure souls," she finally responded. "Well, except for my Mom and big sister, of course," she added with a chuckle.

"Not Lucy?" Robin asked curiously, intrigued by the way Fiona had interacted with her friends. It had been so totally different from the aloof, cynical photographer she had met the previous day.

"No, not Lucy," Fiona grinned. "She’s too much like me. We were denied a membership to the ‘sweet girls club’, but that’s fine with us. Well, at least with me. Of course I can’t speak for Lucy. I’d like to think the world needs cynics like us, to keep the balance."

Robin slowly nodded, while her eyes took in Fiona’s relaxed form, with the disheveled, shoulder-length hair, bright-green tank-top and black shorts. Even after just a few hours of sleep, Fiona seemed wide awake and full of self-confidence. Robin couldn’t help wonder how much of that was just a facade.

"It must be pretty safe," she finally spoke, observing Fiona closely and seeing the dark-green eyes take on a hooded expression.

"Excuse me?"

"It must give you a nice sense of security, to believe the world needs cynics."

Fiona moistened her suddenly dry lips and was aware of the slightly nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach. But no matter how uncomfortable Robin Adams made her feel, this was no time to back down.

Unconsciously lifting her chin in a defiant position, she raised both eyebrows and shot Robin a cool, almost cold glance.

"Would you care to elaborate on those words?" she calmly asked, making a mental note to not wipe her sweaty palms on her shorts.

"Belonging to the ‘sweet girls club’ probably requires being open and vulnerable. The impression I have about you is that you’ re neither open nor vulnerable. Being a cynic is good defense mechanism, don’t you think?" Robin said softly, almost friendly, with obvious understanding.

Fiona was bombarded in a tidal-wave of emotions. In spite of her sleep-wear, she almost felt naked in front of Robin and that feeling of helplessness caused her anger to bubble up inside. Robin knew, by just looking at the dark-haired woman in front of her that she had put her finger on a very sensitive spot.

Robin suppressed a smile when she noticed how Fiona was struggling to push away the anger that was flashing in her eyes and silently she commended the young photographer for her self-control.

"Don’t tell me you’ re also a psychologist," Fiona finally managed to speak and only people who knew her very well, could have heard the barely audible quiver in her voice.

"No, I’m not," Robin smiled. "Call it ‘experience’."

"Oh, really?" Fiona remarked coolly. "What happened? You saw the light and now you’re going for the membership?"

Robin nibbled on her bottom lip and slowly shook her head.

"No, I’m still far from being accepted into that club. However, my experience taught me that being cynical might have been a good defense, but it kept the good things in life out as well."

Robin took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. She had no idea why she was telling Fiona this, but somehow it seemed important. By the expression on Fiona’s face, she could tell the tall dark-haired woman knew exactly to what she was referring.

"The love from family and friends is wonderful," she quietly added. "But sometimes it takes the love from that one, special person to make a difference in one’s life."

The sincerity in Robin’s voice had melted Fiona’s initial anger away and had left her feeling tired and defeated.

"The icing on the cake, huh?" she answered dryly, making Robin smile.

"Something like that, yes."

"Well, you gave me something to think about, that’s for sure," Fiona sighed, pushing away from the sill. "I don’t know if I should thank you for it though. Who knows, this might end up being a life-altering experience."

Here she goes again...

"Who knows?" Robin slowly repeated, watching Fiona trot to the small kitchen.

"Do you want some juice? I’d offer you coffee, but most people politely decline when I offer to make them coffee. They usually mumble something about their stomachs."

Robin laughed and followed Fiona into the kitchen.

"Juice would be nice, thank you. There’s nothing wrong with my stomach...yet. I’d like to keep it that way."

"Then you’d better drink your juice and hop in the shower. Jody usually has the coffee ready by now and I don’t know about you, but I’m dying for a cup. I feel like I hardly got any sleep last night."

"I don’t think we did," Robin answered, sipping from her cold, sweet mango-juice. "We arrived here at...what was it? Two-thirty?"

"Something like that," Fiona nodded. "It was quite the adventure."

"Yes, and your face is testimony to that. How does it feel?"

Fiona experimentally scrunched up her face a few times and grinned when Robin started chuckling.

"It’s alright. It feels a little sore around those bigger cuts, but other than that, I can’t complain. It could have been a lot worse. My brain could have had ‘bullet tunnel syndrome’. So, I’m not complaining." Fiona pulled a face and emptied her glass. "Of course Jody will freak out when she hears about it," she added somberly.

"Lucy promised not to call her, but let you tell the story."

"Of course she did," Fiona grinned. "She’ ll fill in all the holes later and make it sound a lot worse than it really was. Don’t forget, she’s like me."

"Hummm...self-knowledge is the start of wisdom," Robin smiled.

"Great, there’s hope for me," Fiona quipped, taking Robin’s empty glass out of her hands and putting it in the sink. "Go, have a shower. There are towels on the shelf behind the door. Just use whatever strikes your fancy."

"Thanks," Robin smiled. "When I’m done, I’ll drag Josh out of bed."

"In the meantime, I’ll prepare my ‘How I survived the stalker of Booyong Mountain’ speech," Fiona sighed, knowing that Jody and Sam would want to hear every little detail. Sam wouldn’t be happy, knowing there was a lunatic roaming around the grounds of her ‘resort-to-be’.

Suddenly she remembered the pictures she had taken the previous day and with a deep frown she walked to her camera bags, pulling out one of her digital camera’s. It only took her a few minutes to boot up her computer and while the rest of the world seemed to fade out, Fiona started to work.


With a surprised look, Sam glanced up and cast Jody a quizzical look. Outside they could hear Kurt’s happy bark and she wondered who was driving up to the house. Judging Kurt’s enthusiasm, it was a loved one.

"Could that be your Mom?" Sam asked, wiping her son’s face with a damp washcloth, which he accepted without a fight, unlike his sister, who tried to wiggle her way out of Jody’s grip.

"I don’t know, honey," Jody answered, concentrating on the task of cleaning her daughter’s face. "Maybe it’s Yarra and Alice?"

"You think the love-birds would be up that early on a Saturday morning?" Sam teased with a grin.

"We were," Jody answered, casting her partner an affectionate look.

"Yes, we were. We usually were awake," Sam admitted. "But, as I recall, a lot of times we didn’t leave the bed until starvation set in." She winked. "Or dehydration."

"Sam_ " Jody laughed. "That’s not..." Pausing in mid-sentence Jody sucked in a lower lip and for a moment she seemed to be deep in thought. When she looked at Sam a sunny smile appeared on her face and she nodded.

"You’re right," she laughed. "It seems to me we did spent a lot of lazy Saturday mornings in bed."

"And that seems a lifetime ago," Sam sighed, lifting Timothy from his high-chair and putting the toddler on the floor.

Jody put Taryn next to her brother on the floor and wrapped her arms around her partner’s tall frame. Immediately, she felt Sam’s arms around her waist, pulling her closer.

"Do you miss it?" she softly asked, pressing her cheek against Sam’s shoulder.

"Sometimes I do," Sam replied with honestly. "But I would never want to trade, ever. You and the twins are my life. I know our lives are busy and that’s why I treasure every moment I can spend with you."

"You know, Samantha Stevens, three years ago I thought I could never, ever love anyone more than I loved you," Jody mumbled, lifting her head to be able to look at her partner’s face.

"But you know what?" she smiled.

"What?" Sam softly answered.

"At the time it seemed impossible, but I love you more now, than I did then."

Sam’s blue eyes were captured by the green of Jody’s and for a moment they allowed themselves to be lost in each other’s gaze. Until the corners of Sam’s eyes wrinkled in a smile and she gently kissed the bridge of Jody’s nose.

"That’s a whole bunch of love," she smiled.

"It is," Jody nodded. "And I can’t wait to see how much it will be three years from now."

Sam let out a sigh of contentment and pulled Jody close to her body, pressing her cheek against the top of her lover’s head.

"Have you any idea how special you are, Jody McDonnell Stevens?"

"Umm, no, why don’t you tell me?" Jody chuckled.

"I will, later, when there are no distractions." Sam promised. "Right now, there’s a car pulling up on the driveway and by the sound of it, it’s Yarra’s."

Jody untangled herself from Sam’s loving grip and shot her partner a curious glance.

"You’ll have to teach me how you do that, recognize whose car is whose."

Sam smiled and bent down to nip Jody’s nose playfully .

"Oh, but, honey, I can’t give away all my secrets, can I?" she said with a mock pout.

"Of course you can," Jody answered dryly, patting Sam’s behind. "Besides, I know I can torture the truth out of you. All it takes is a long...relaxing massage and before you know it, I know everything."

"Promises, promises," Sam answered over her shoulder while she walked towards the door.

Jody just chuckled, enjoying their light banter. While she cleared the table from their offspring’s messy breakfast, her thoughts traveled back to that very first vacation she and Sam spent together, years ago. They had first met each other at Sam’s uncle’s house, and looking back, Jody knew it had been love at first sight. They had both been so very young. But the memories were wonderful and Jody smiled when she remembered how Sam had looked in those days; tall, tan and athletic. Always looking for ways to impress Jody. Of course that was before the accident had shattered her right leg, which had given her a slight limp.

Jody softly chuckled when she remembered the moment Sam had talked her into swinging the rope over the creek together. The feel of Sam’s cool, wet body pressed against her back, the long arms wrapped around her waist, still managed to give her goose-bumps. It had been the day after their first kiss, that special night they had been lying in the grass, watching the stars. For years that memory had been a bittersweet one, until Sam miraculously returned into her life. Now Jody could cherish her memories, grateful for the second chance they had been given.

"If I have that look on my face, say, fifteen years from the first day I met Yarra, I’ll be forever grateful," Alice’s voice suddenly sounded next to her, startling Jody who looked up into a pair of warm, blue eyes.

"How did you know it was Sam I was thinking about?" Jody asked.

"Oh, please," Alice laughed, rolling her eyes. "We all know that look, Jody. But don’t worry, it becomes you. You’re as beautiful as ever."

"Stop those praises and give me a hug," Jody laughed, opening her arms. Immediately they were filled with an enthusiastic, warm, sun-kissed blonde.

"Oh, it’s so good to see you again," Jody sighed, giving Alice a loving squeeze. "How are you, sweetheart?"

"I’m doing great, in everything," Alice laughed.

"So, love is still a rose-garden, filled with thornless flowers and sunshine?" Jody teased.

"More or less," Alice chuckled, kissing Jody’s cheek before releasing her. "I’m happy, Jody. I’m really, really happy."

Jody looked into Alice’s face with the warm smile and radiating clear blue eyes, that always reminded her of Sam. Brushing away a strand of hair from Alice’s forehead she slowly nodded and swallowed away the lump in her throat.

From day one, she and Alice had shared a special relationship that was happily accepted by all of their family and friends. Both being empathic souls, Jody had reached out to Alice when she had needed it most and without questions, or hesitation, Alice had grabbed the helpful hand, determined never to let go.

Once, Alice had told Yarra that she believed her mother had guided her to the McDonnell family, and to Jody in particular. Yarra had not answered. She had just smiled, while pulling Alice in the warm circle of her arms. It was what she had believed all along.

"Honey, you’re positively beaming," Jody finally sighed with a happy smile. "Will you and Yarra stay here for the weekend?"

"If that’s alright with you and Sam," Alice teased, knowing how much Jody appreciated having them around.

"I’m not responding to that remark," Jody said, grabbing Alice’s hand and pulling her further into the kitchen. "The twins will be exhilarated to see their Awice and Yayya."

"Still having trouble with the ‘l’ and ‘r’, huh?" Alice grinned, sinking down on her knees and opening her arms as soon as she spotted the twins, who squealed in pleasure when they recognized one of their favorite playmates.

A little while later, Yarra and Alice were sitting on the veranda, each with a happy toddler on their lap, while Sam and Jody were sipping their coffee, enjoying the antics of their twins.

"I can’t wait to hear what Fiona has to tell," Yarra remarked, looking at Jody over Timothy’s head. "Judging from her face, it will probably be good"

"What do you mean?" Jody asked with a puzzled frown. "When did you see Fiona?"

Yarra suddenly realized that Jody and Sam probably knew as much as she and Alice did, nothing. Her dark eyes traveled from Jody to Alice and back again, while she searched for the right words. The last thing she wanted to do was to worry or upset her friend.

"On our way up here, we stopped at the apartment, to give Fiona a wake up call."

"She’s home?" Sam interrupted, glancing at the small building halfway up from the bottom of the long driveway.

"Yes, apparently they got home real late. We woke them up," Yarra explained.

"Them?" Jody echoed with surprise.

"We met Robin Adams down there and, apparently, her brother is there as well," Alice softly spoke, wondering what Fiona had gotten herself into this time.

"Robin and Joshua?" Sam asked, jumping up and staring at the apartment as if the cute, little house could give her any answers. "What happened? As far as we knew, they were all up at the new resort. Fiona went there yesterday. Where the heck is her car?"

"It’s on the other side of the house, Sam," Alice answered. "That’s why you didn’t know she was there."

"Knowing Fiona, she had a reason to park there," Jody mumbled.

"What the heck is going on?" Sam sighed. "I guess I’ll go down there and see what’s up."

"They’ll be here soon, Sam,"Alice replied in a soothing voice, noticing the tall blonde had become a little agitated. "Fiona said they’d take a shower and then they’d come over here for coffee."

"And breakfast, no doubt," Jody smiled.

"It’s those fluffy scrambled eggs, Jody," Alice teased. "We all love those."

"Oh, I see," Jody chuckled. "The eggs are the secret. I was wondering why so many family members keep showing up on Saturday mornings. Now I know." Jody raked her fingers through her reddish-blond hair and cast a look at Sam, who was still standing, with both hands leaning on the railing, staring at the little house. "Sam, honey, sit down. I’m sure Fiona will be here soon, just give her a few minutes, alright?"

With a deep sigh, Sam turned around and sank her tall frame into the chair next to Jody. Immediately, her hand was gripped by her partner, who gave it an encouraging squeeze.

"Whatever happened, they are all here, sweetie," Jody softly spoke. "That’s the main thing. Right?"

"Yes, you’ re right," Sam sighed. "But I can’t help it, I’ve this...gut feeling, that something is not right. It started yesterday, when that guy called in sick."

Sam managed to send her partner a loving smile and raised Jody’s hand to kiss her palm.

"I’ll be a good girl and wait for Fiona to show up," she promised. "I just hope we’re not plunged into another adventure."

"Amen to that," Alice sighed.


Fiona stared at the monitor intently. She had enlarged the picture several times and thanks to her nifty software, she had been able to enhance it until it was as clear as she could get it.

It was still very dark and blurry, but the form of a human figure between the dense green of the bush, could easily be detected. Fiona knew she had been lucky. She had been able to capture the intruder on camera the moment the stranger had been visible between two trees. Only the upper body and head were somewhat visible, the rest was behind a bush. But it was the upper part Fiona was most interested in anyway, especially the head. She had secretly hoped she would have been able to see a face, but to her astonishment, the person had been wearing a ski-mask that almost covered the entire face, except for the eyes.

Fiona swallowed hard when she stared at the monitor in front of her, while her fingers nervously tapped her desk. She couldn’t help it, the picture gave her a very uneasy feeling and she wondered if the dark form she was staring at, had been responsible for the shattering of the window. For shooting. At her.

"What’s that?" Robin’s voice suddenly sounded behind her, making Fiona almost jump up from her chair.

Pressing her hand against her chest, Fiona sank back in her chair and let out a shaky breath. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest and, breathing in deeply, she tried to calm down.

"You scared the...heck out of me," she finally sighed, casting Robin an accusing look.

"I’m sorry, " Robin mumbled. "I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know you hadn’t heard me come in."

"I was in a trance," Fiona joked, pushing her hair away from her forehead. She cast a look at Robin, who was clad in khaki colored shorts and a matching t-shirt. Fiona smiled when she noticed the damp hair.

"Your hair curls."

Feeling a little self-conscious, Robin pushed her hair back and nodded. Leave it up to Fiona McDonnell suddenly to change the subject.

"Um, yes, it does, especially when it’s wet," Robin explained absent-mindedly. The picture on the monitor still had her interest. "I usually brush them out when my hair dries."

"Pity," Fiona answered cheerfully, turning around in her chair and pointing at the screen. "This is a picture I took yesterday, when I saw somebody down the hill. Remember?"

"Uh...well, yes...yes, I remember," Robin stammered, feeling like a fool. What was it about Fiona that caused her to make an idiot out of herself all the time?

"I blew the picture up a bit and this is the result," Fiona explained.

"It gives me the creeps," Robin mumbled, staring at the screen with a concerned expression. "Wait. You took this picture yesterday? Why didn’t you tell me?"

"Because I didn’t know if I could trust you," Fiona answered with blunt honesty.

"Oh," was all Robin could utter. Rubbing her tired eyes, she tried to process Fiona’s words, trying not to be annoyed with the photographer.

"And you do now?" she asked after a brief silence. "Trust me, I mean?"

Fiona turned around in her chair and looked up at Robin, who was standing behind her. The dark-green eyes were open and honest when she slowly nodded.

"Yes, I do trust you," was the simple answer. "I have no reason not to."

Even though Robin rapidly started to feel uneasy under Fiona’s gaze, she made a conscious effort not to cast down her eyes and shuffle her feet like a little girl. It was good to know Fiona McDonnell trusted her. Robin felt she didn’t deserve that trust, not after the way she had treated the photographer the previous day. Fiona knew nothing about her or her past and she had no intention at all to bring up those subjects. She didn’t want to return to what she had left behind. The memories and occasional nightmare were more than enough to bear.

Sam knew. She had told her when they had met for the interview. It had been hard, very hard, but Samantha Stevens was not the average person, Robin had noticed. The tall blonde had approached Robin with a mixture of business-like attitude and compassion. It had been refreshing. Especially after Sam had decided that Robin would be an excellent candidate for the job.

They had quickly worked out some logistical problems and only one week later Robin and Joshua had picked up their belongings to move to the mountain. To Robin, it still felt like a dream. The opportunity Sam had given her was a golden one and she wanted to do her utmost to make sure Sam would never regret hiring her as a manager.

Robin moistened her dry lips and wondered how much of an impact the events of the previous day and night would have on her future as an employee of Stevens, Inc. Whatever problem she had anticipated, she never could have imagined that some intruder would shoot at Fiona.

Robin took a deep breath and forced down the nauseous feeling that was beginning to settle in the pit of her stomach.

What if the bullet that had missed Fiona had been meant for her? Or worse, for Joshua?

Robin suddenly felt the blood drain out of her face, leaving her dizzy, and she blindly reached out her hand for support to keep herself from toppling over.

"Hey_ What’s the matter?" Fiona exclaimed worriedly.

The photographer’s reflexes were excellent and as soon as Fiona noticed that Robin was starting to sway, she jumped up, grabbed Robin’s arm with one hand, while the other hand turned around her chair and pressed the other woman gently, but determinedly down in the seat.

"Are you alright?" Fiona’s voice seemed to float to her through a thick fog and Robin tried to answer, but it seemed like her throat was constricted by an invisible, tight band.

"Put your head down," Fiona advised, starting to become a little more worried by the lack of response. "Come on, Robin," she urged and Robin felt a warm hand on the back of her head gently pushing her forward, until she was leaning over enough to feel the blood rush back to her head.

"It’s...I’m better," she finally managed to utter in a hoarse voice. "I’m sorry about that, I..."

"Ssh, don’t speak," Fiona interrupted. "Come back up slowly and take a deep breath, alright?"

Robin nodded and she inhaled deeply when she slowly raised up again. The horrible faint feeling had disappeared and with slightly trembling fingers she raked through her damp, curly hair.

"Are you alright?" Fiona asked, kneeling down next to the chair. "Are you sure?" she added when she saw Robin nod.

"I’m fine. Thank you, Fiona. I’m not sure what happened."

"You just went real pale all of a sudden and I thought you’d fall over,"Fiona explained. "And I didn’t even tell a bad joke."

Robin smiled and sent Fiona a grateful look. According to the photographer’s own words, Fiona was a cynic, but again Robin wondered how much of that was an act. Fiona’s gentle humor was soothing.

"I guess it was the part about you trusting me," Robin quipped, relieved to feel her strength return again.

"I’m sure that had nothing to do with it," Fiona chuckled. "But to be clear on the subject, I did mean it."

"Thank you," Robin simply answered, grateful for the fact that Fiona didn’t push for the reason of her fainting spell.

"You’ re welcome," Fiona answered. "Are you sure you’ re alright? Do you want me to get you something to drink? I know in the movies they always come running back with a glass of water."

"No thanks," Robin sighed. "I’m fine now. I really am, but I appreciate the offer."

Robin’s eyes drifted back to the monitor, but the disturbing photo had disappeared and the screen was filled with a picture of two toddlers, who were snuggled up together underneath a baby blanket. Two pairs of sleepy eyes looked straight into the lens. The gaze in the boy’s blue eyes was one of complete trust and affection, while the green eyes of the girl showed a spark of what Robin only could describe as humor.

I’ve seen that look before.

The only thing that seemed to be missing was one raised eyebrow.

"They’re so cute," Robin smiled. "The boy reminds me of Sam."

"It’s my favorite screen saver," Fiona answered and Robin could hear the warmth and pride in her voice. "The boy is Timothy, Sam’s son, the girl is his twin sister, Taryn. You’ ll be meeting them as soon as we get up to the house."

"Can I see that picture again? The one you took yesterday ?"

"Sure," Fiona answered. She reached passed Robin and tapped the keyboard. Immediately the screen was filled with the stranger in the ski-mask.

"Are you going to show this to Sam?" Robin asked softly.

"Yes, I think I’ll have to. Don’t you?"

"Yes, she should know," Robin sighed. "I just hope she won’t be upset about it."

"Oh, but she will be," Fiona answered with confidence. "I know Sam and she’ll be very upset about all this. Just not with us. In fact, I’ll be surprised if she let’s us go back up there any time soon."

Robin nodded, it’s what she was expecting as well. Sam would not let them return and she wondered if this would be the end of her, very short career as a manager. The events of last night could easily make her lose her job and that thought hurt. Badly. Robin had only spent three days on the mountain, but she loved it and she knew Joshua did too.

Maybe Sam would give her a few days to look for another place to live and hopefully another job. There weren’t exactly a lot of jobs within her field of expertise, but she could always wait tables. It wasn’t like she hadn’t done anything like that before.

The last thing she wanted was to return back home. Defeated.

Unconsciously, Robin lifted her chin.

Going back home was not an option.


To be continued in part 4

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