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Episode 1 – After The Storm

November 18, 2011

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* Author Note *

After The Storm was written as a stand-alone story, which explains the pace of the relationship between the lead characters (FAST!).

Never would I have anticipated the demand for a sequel…but that demand was there and this series was born.

I want to thank my readers for their continued support of After Montana.

It’s one of the things that inspires me to keep writing!

AfterTheStorm wolfheader1

Basic edit – Sept 9 2017

DISCLAIMERS:

This romantic thriller is an original story and all characters are created by me.
All characters depicted, names used, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

The registered trademarks mentioned in this story are © of their respective owners. No infringement of their rights is intended, and no profit is gained.

This story contains scenes of violence (psychological as well as physical), some of which are directed at women. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.

This story depicts a sexual relationship between consenting adult women. If such a story frightens you, you better click on the X in the top right corner of your screen right away.

* * * * * *

Many, many thanks to my beta-reader, Norsebard. Your help is very much appreciated.

The characters in this story will be back, but each ‘episode’ will conclude in each story.

Comments and/or opinions can be left here or sent to stagefreakmusic@hotmail.com

* * * * * *

.

Chapter 1

It was the end of another difficult hostage situation for FBI negotiator, Ciara Jane Carson. Standing outside the National Provincial Bank in the middle of the night surrounded by flashing lights and various squad cars, Assistant Director Mark Mulroney was trying to convince her that she did good. A tall thin man with narrow features, he had a kindness in his dark eyes, and they seemed to twinkle as he studied her. Even though he wasn’t her current boss, she had worked with him many times before, and he’d made it clear in one rare, drunken declaration that he found her attractive. She had been completely sober – never having found alcohol very appealing – and had deflected his rather weak advances nicely, but it seemed now that he was being a little too familiar with her, and it made her uncomfortable.

“CJ, you really are being too hard on yourself. You lost two hostages out of eighteen. That’s an acceptable percentage, considering this guy was a complete and utter nut.”

“There’s no such thing as acceptable losses in my negotiations, Mark, so just back off, okay?” CJ spat back, leaning heavily on the use of his first name to emphasize the familiarity point. She decided from the sharp look directed back at her that she had pushed this conversation a little too far. Forcing her anger back, she jammed her fists into her pockets. He was an assistant director after all. “Listen, I’m sorry. I’m a little on edge. I haven’t had a day off for five weeks. Maybe I should take a vacation.” She flipped her long, black ponytail over her shoulder and stretched out the kinks in her neck.

“It was a crappy, tough day. Some time off might be just what you need,” Mark said in a more conciliatory tone.

“Maybe I’ll put in for it as soon as we get back to the field office.”

“You know as well as I do that you work too hard. They’ll throw the leave at you. You’re a damn good operative, and I know you’ll come to realize…”

CJ began to let her mind drift off through disinterest and sheer exhaustion. She knew she was doing it because he was going to tell her how great she was. Why can’t I just take genuine praise from people the way it’s intended? Man, I’m such a bitch sometimes. 

And just as fast as the thought was there, it was gone again, leaving CJ to relive what had just happened. She had found this situation particularly difficult. The perpetrator in this case had taken eighteen hostages, which included bank staff and customers. Of the two he had killed, one had been shot in the back of the head. It violently threw CJ back to the day she had been the victim of a very similar incident.

Two years ago, Special Agent CJ Carson had received a commendation for her bravery in a hostage situation where she traded herself for three children. Even though agents are never supposed to offer themselves as bait or replacements, she had come to the conclusion that the demented, drug-induced state of the man who had invaded an elementary school, would surely lead to the death of the children if she hadn’t talked him into the exchange. Using the you have control here, but having me as a hostage would get you a whole lot more money and a means of escape routine, she had somehow talked him into it. A federal agent could be good leverage in a dire situation, so he had eventually agreed to the switch. But CJ’s heroic act had ended with a bullet in her head and the gunman getting away. She had never forgiven herself for letting a psychopath like that get back on the streets. She had been lucky, though. After eight hours in surgery and a long stay in the ICU, there were no serious repercussions, although the deep scar just under her hairline on the back of her neck served as a blatant reminder.

Today had brought all the memories rushing back, and CJ felt emotionally drained. Finishing up her paperwork at the local field office, she began her long trip back to the Crisis Negotiation Unit at Quantico to conclude the rest of her more-than-likely tedious week and talk to her boss about any loose ends.

* * * * * *

One month later, CJ found herself whistling a tune as she drove north on Route 95. Her section chief had told her to take six weeks of the accumulated leave she had acquired from working too hard. She’d haggled with him and settled on five. When she stopped off at her sparsely decorated rental apartment in Springfield, she packed a few essentials and plenty of warm clothes into a suitcase before throwing her laptop bag over her shoulder.

“Maybe I’ll be able to write something once my brain unwinds…or maybe I’ll just watch a few movies and chill the hell out”, she muttered, patting the bag and trailing her suitcase behind her.

CJ locked up the apartment and stopped by Mrs. Litford’s door, letting the elderly woman know she would be out of town for a while. It was a polite gesture since she knew that her neighbor would keep an eye on her apartment for her while she was gone. Mrs. Litford worried about CJ in a maternal sort of way, always telling her that she should get a job with “a lot less chance of dyin’”. She would also leave food in CJ’s freezer that usually ended up in the trash by the time she got back from her long stints working away. Being a top class negotiator, CJ was in high demand and seemed to travel more than she was home. But then again, this place had never felt like home. Still, Mrs. Litford was a kind woman, and CJ was fond of her so she gave her the assurance that this was truly a vacation, and it would be highly unlikely that she would run into any serial killers or hostage takers up in the Rocky Mountains.

After a wave goodbye, she placed her bags into the trunk of her unmarked sedan – whose dark exterior hid a plethora of FBI enhancements – and pulled out of the parking lot to head for Dulles International Airport. They had secured parking there, where she could safely leave the car under lock and key.

* * * * * *

CJ’s journey was uneventful, and she arrived in Montana feeling quite refreshed, having managed a mid-flight nap. She whipped her scarf around her neck and headed for the rental desk. Her special request for a Jeep Wrangler was easily dealt with. She supposed it should be since she had pre-booked it before leaving Quantico, but she was still glad things were running so smoothly.

“There you go, Ms. Carson. Enjoy your trip. Your booking is verified and open-ended. We’ll see you whenever you get back,” the pretty desk clerk gushed.

CJ had never seen that particular employee before, but then again, it had been a while since she had come to Montana. The woman was fluttering her eyelashes and smiling pleasantly at her, which made CJ almost roll her eyes.

I don’t know what they see in me, she thought as she collected the keys and paperwork from the countertop. She had never really thought of herself as the dark beauty she was. When she looked in the mirror, she just saw a tired but committed federal agent. It didn’t stop her from thinking about having a girlfriend, though, so she could quietly appreciate this woman’s dark eyes and tight, little body from afar.

“Thanks. I’ll bring it back in one piece,” CJ said with a grin. “Have a great day, Shirley,” she concluded after glancing at the name tag on the woman’s breast.

“You too, Ms. Carson.”

Outside, the valet brought the Jeep around, and CJ admired the shiny, black vehicle, appreciating its compact nature that somehow managed to accommodate her six-foot frame in comfort. She took the keys and put her bags in the back. Slipping into the black, leather driver’s seat, she immediately started the engine and turned up the heat before taking off her scarf and throwing it over her shoulder. With a quick rummage into her smaller bag, she found a bundle of CD’s she had grabbed from her apartment and dropped them into her lap. Deciding on some easy-listening slash driving music, she popped a Melissa Etheridge disc into the player, tossed aside the other albums, and revved the Jeep’s engine as she pulled out of the lot to head for home.

The cabin she had in the Rocky Mountains was the only place CJ had bought with her inheritance a few years back. Her estranged father had surprisingly left his estate to her, which wasn’t much, but it was enough to get her the dream wilderness retreat she had always wanted. From the hectic, constant stress of her life with the Bureau, this place was her peace and relaxation. She loved the solitude. CJ wasn’t a people person, not in her private life, so the fact that nobody lived within forty miles of her cabin – except for the animals and birds of the mountains with their abandoned mines and caves, and a forest that was breathtaking – was total bliss.

Driving north on Route 90, she decided to stop in Missoula for supplies before heading onward to Alberton. More variety, better groceries.

Once she had filled the Jeep to her satisfaction with all sorts of drinks, food, canned goods, extra matches, toilet paper and everything else she could think of, she slumped into the driver’s seat once more knowing that it wouldn’t be long before she would be slumping into the giant, comfy couch in front of the roaring fire in her cabin. As the engine growled to life, she perused the CD bundle for something to keep her awake.

“Meatloaf?” she muttered to herself. “Belinda musta left that. Yikes. What did I ever see in her?”

Belinda had been a recent, brief affair and the only person CJ had been with in a long time. She had difficulty letting anyone close to her since Sandy, her girlfriend of five years, had died during a hostage situation three years ago. Every day since then, the cool, aloof agent had relived it in every incident, trying to save any and all hostages, and somehow hoping that it could bring back the one she lost. She had blamed herself for Sandy’s death, and she would never get into a relationship again where her lover could be used as leverage in a personal vendetta against her or the FBI. Never again.

Throwing the offensive disc to the side, she found some Foo Fighters and smirked as it began to belt out its rowdy riffs from the speakers. Sighing gustily, CJ brushed her unruly, raven bangs from her face and tucked the longer ones behind her ear. Once back on the road, she found herself singing at the top of her lungs and looking forward to seeing Charlie again.

Before long, she was smiling as the signs for Alberton came into view, meaning she would be stopping soon. She missed being out here, especially throughout the crazy life that the FBI had provided her recently. That crazy life, combined with a long day of travelling meant her ocean-blue eyes were getting sleepy, so she rubbed them roughly and slapped her cheek to keep herself alert. “Almost there.”

* * * * * *

Strolling through the door of the Alberton sheriff’s office, CJ immediately spotted the short, broad form of Charlie Baxter. The first time she had come up here looking for her new cabin, Charlie had taken to her instantly, saying she reminded him of his daughter, although how this stocky man could have a six foot daughter was beyond her.

“Sheriff, I need to report a crime…” she said to his back.

Recognizing the husky female voice, Charlie whirled around and stared at her wide-eyed for a brief moment before barreling toward her, arms outstretched. He enveloped her in a bear hug, bringing a wide smile to both their faces. “It’s been too long, FBI. That’s the darn crime,” he said with a chuckle as he released her.

“I know, Charlie. The Bureau’s been keeping me so busy. I missed you, man. And what’s with the goatee?” she said, reaching out to grab the hair in question.

“Hey! Just thought I’d try it. What d’ya think? Will the ladies like it?”

“Hmm. I might not be the best one to ask about that,” CJ replied casually.

He grinned and narrowed his eyes playfully. “Yeah. Can’t imagine you like your women with beards.”

“Exactly. So, I know why it smells like cigars in here, but the cinnamon?” she asked, eyeing the basket on the counter behind his desk.

Laughing, Charlie lifted the basket, brought it to the front counter, and opened the lid. “Miss Somerville from the store across the street has a crush on my new deputy. And she bakes too,” he quipped while wiggling his eyebrow.

“Thank Miss Somerville from me, will ya?” CJ reached into the basket and snagged a couple of bagels. “I see your population has increased by two. New neighbors?”

“Nope. We had two births this year. One boy, one girl,” Charlie replied.

“Well, congratulations!”

CJ spent the next two hours drinking coffee and catching up with Charlie before heading up the mountain trail to her refuge, but not before the safety-conscious sheriff had forced a CB radio and receiver unit into her arms. He had never let her go up there without communications equipment, and today would be no different. There was no cell phone coverage or Internet connection up there, so Charlie always insisted on the radio, which was fine with CJ…when it worked.

.

Chapter 2

In a moderately cold Los Angeles, Kate Marshall sat in her dressing room staring at the piece of paper. It was another threatening letter. That made five in the last five months, but this one truly made her skin crawl. She immediately placed it on the envelope it had come in, knowing that Lieutenant Johnson would want it left as untouched as possible for forensics to analyze. This letter had not been sent through the mail like the others. It had been left by someone unseen at the office near the back lot where Kate was shooting her current television series. The fact that her stalker had approached her workplace made her more nervous than she liked to admit. She swallowed back the sick feeling in her gut and picked up the phone.

“LAPD investigations. Simpson speaking,” said a gruff voice on the other end of the line.

“Hello, this is Kate Marshall over at the Olympian studios. Could I please speak to Lieutenant Johnson? It’s urgent.” The confidence in Kate’s voice betrayed how she truly felt.

“Hold for a moment, Ms. Marshall”, he replied, recognizing the name and the case.

When the line clicked to signify she was on hold, she turned to see her executive producer, Samantha Morris, enter the trailer. Sam had become a good friend, and even when they didn’t work together, they always stayed in touch. Kate put her finger to her lips in a silencing gesture as she waited for the lieutenant.

“This is Lieutenant Johnson. How can I help you?”

“Hello, Lieutenant. It’s Kate Marshall. I thought I should inform you of another threatening letter. This one was delivered by hand,” Kate said, trying to hide the quiver in her voice.

“By hand? Was it left in your trailer?”

“No. There’s a small office just outside the gate to the lot. He left it there, and he might be on camera.”

“Okay. I’m leaving now, Miss Marshall. Don’t let anyone touch the letter, just as before. Be there soon.”

“Thank you.” Letting out a deep breath, she hung up the phone and turned to Sam. “He sent another one,” she said, pointing to the paper on her desk.

“Christ, Kate. This guy is getting kinda scary.”

“He is. It seems to get more personal every time he sends one. I’m starting to think he really is watching me.”

Sam flinched, tucking her auburn hair behind her ears as she moved closer to the desk. “I’m not sure how he could. You’re surrounded by security at work and have a trusted chauffeur between here and home.”

“I know, but I’m not always at work. I do have a life on my days off. I’m thinking now I should get a bodyguard until this guy is caught,” Kate said, resting her elbow on the back of her chair and lowering her forehead into her hand.

Sam sighed and looked closer at the letter but never touched it. She was more than familiar with the routine by now. As usual, the letter was typed.

Marshall bitch

I tried to be nice

I tried to be charming

You never even saw me

You’d never do what I wanted. Selfish slut.

You think I’m a piece of shit?

Your beauty is only skin deep. You are ugly inside.

I’ll make you ugly everywhere.

You’ll be mine. I’ll make you pay

Oh and I like your UCLA sweater

J.

“That’s just creepy,” Sam said, crinkling her nose in distaste.

Sighing deeply, Kate ran her hand through her long, blond hair. “I know. Is there any way we can wrap for today? I think I need to go home once the police finish up here.”

“There are a few more scenes to get this week, but if you’re prepared to come in Saturday, we can do the last ones then.”

“Fine,” Kate replied with a weak nod. When Sam left after assuring her that she would send the lieutenant over as soon as he arrived, Kate lifted a glass from the minibar and poured herself a stiff drink. Reclining on the couch, she leaned her head back over the cushion behind her and closed her eyes, feeling the beginnings of a headache creep across her temples.

Kate awoke abruptly to a loud knock on her door. She was unsure how long she had been dozing or how many times she had missed the knocking, so she jumped to her feet and smoothed out her clothes on her way to open the door.

* * * * * *

After Lieutenant Johnson and his officers had left, she quickly told Sam she was leaving and walked briskly to her car. Her driver wasn’t anywhere around, so she fished her cell phone from her bag and dialed his number.

Tony Wilkinson joined her a short time later and opened the car door for her. “Where to, Miss Kate?” he asked politely.

“I’m going home early, Tony. It’s been a hard day.”

“No problem. I’ll have you there in a flash,” he said, sliding into the driver’s seat and smiling into the rearview mirror.

Kate gave him a wide – albeit fake – smile back and tried to relax into the sumptuous upholstery. When she arrived home, the public façade disappeared as she locked the door behind her, secured the deadbolts and set the alarm. She was too tired to notice that she had forgotten to set it that morning. Walking through her spacious, single-level Beverly Hills house, she shed her coat and shoes in her bedroom and headed for the adjoining bathroom. She didn’t check through the rest of the house, leaving her oblivious to the smashed glass of the guest bedroom window.

“A long, hot bubble bath. That’s what I need,” Kate mumbled to herself.

After a meager dinner, she submerged herself in the steaming bathtub before leaning forward with her arms wrapped around her bent knees, trying to forget the words of the letter that were still swirling around in her head. Suddenly, she had a strong sensation that someone was watching her. The hairs on the nape of her neck stood on end and a chill swept over her body. She turned her head quickly toward the closet door which was ajar, and tried to focus to somehow penetrate the darkness beyond. The feeling left her a few seconds later, but still, she shivered.

“I need to get a grip,” she murmured, shaking her head. Lying back in the bathtub, she stretched out her five-foot-four, athletic frame and tried to stop freaking out.

Kate was a tough, independent woman, brought up in Brooklyn by her parents who had lived in one of the poorer neighborhoods. At seventeen, she had run away to California, leaving her father distraught and her mother disgusted. She desperately wanted to be an actress and figured she could work there while putting herself through school.

She had worked in bars and clubs until the day she met Jason Lee Burns. They started dating, and Kate thought he was quite charming. He knew the manager of an upscale bar in downtown Los Angeles where the clientele was interspersed with Hollywood giants. Jason had put in a good word with his friend, and she had gotten a job behind the bar. Doing her studies during the day and working at nights, she was so determined to achieve her goals that she almost worked herself into the ground. At twenty-two years old and just about to finish her university degree, it happened.

One of those movie giants recognized her from a low-budget, independent movie she had done, and offered her an audition spot for the lead role in his next major picture. She aced the audition and was soon the next big thing in Hollywood. She had finished with Jason before that when had he started telling her that university was a waste of time and that she didn’t need to learn anything else because she was with him now, and he could get her jobs in the business. Even though he was handsome and had helped her get the bar job, she had never truly understood why he wanted to control the direction her life would take. She had been quite naïve in letting him influence her to a certain degree, but she’d still had the balls to leave him and do what was best for her when it came down to it.

Now, with two major movies under her belt and the lead in her own television series, Rise of the Phoenix, Kate was a formidable and well-respected actress. She’d also managed to complete her Master’s degree in film production along the way. She had worked hard, and now at only twenty-seven years old, she reaped the rewards.

* * * * * *

Sometime later, a clean and somewhat relaxed Kate went to bed. Lying in the dark, she listened to the branches on the tree outside swaying in the wind, their shadows casting a dancing image across her ceiling. A creak from the direction of the bathroom made her bolt upright, and she scanned the dark bedroom for any movement. Her pulse raced as she sat frozen still, waiting for another noise to draw her heart from her chest. Gripping her quilt-covered knees with both hands and sensing nothing else, she laid her head back on the pillow.

“I’m calling that security firm tomorrow. This is ridiculous,” she whispered in the dark.

Kate closed her eyes and tried to drift off to sleep, quite surprised when her breathing evened out and her body felt as if it was sinking deep into the mattress from utter exhaustion.

That exhaustion was far from assuaged when her mind rose once more from a sleepy fog. She didn’t know what had awakened her. It could have been the heavy weight bearing down on her stomach, or the firm, cruel grip of a large hand roughly covering her mouth, or the deep voice in a hoarse whisper that sounded like evil itself. She stiffened and struggled and tried to scream.

“Don’t you dare,” the voice hissed. “This here knife will shut you up if you make a sound.” The man pressed the sharp tip of the knife against her throat for emphasis, and she tried not to gulp for fear of being sliced open.

Kate’s eyes were open now, but they could only make out the silhouette of the figure – definitely male – that was crouched over her straddling her stomach and pinning her arms with his knees. She felt bile and the remains of her recent, albeit small meal rising from her stomach and really hoped she would not vomit on his hand. He would probably just kill her immediately for that.

“You’re gonna get up when I tell you. You’re not gonna make a sound, and you’ll do exactly as I say or you’ll die. Understand?”

Kate nodded mutely. The terror spread through her, but her mind was constantly looking for an opportunity to escape. Everything seemed to come into sharp focus as he lifted his weight off her body. She could smell something stale, the metallic tinge of blood, and the unmistakable odor of a filthy human body. She realized that it came from the sweaty, fucked-up man who was now dragging her onto the floor on her knees. Her temper was rising, and she tensed every muscle in her body in rage.

“Why didn’t you just drug me? I’d be easier to drag around if I wasn’t resisting,” she spat angrily.

“I want to see the fear in your fucking eyes when I slice you. I’ll make you ugly, bitch.”

Kate barely had time to recognize the words reminiscent of the last letter when the butt of the large knife came down directly on her temple, plunging her into darkness.

.

Chapter 3

CJ arrived at the cabin with a smile on her face. The modest, wooden structure looked so shabby and old from the outside that she chuckled at the irony. Inside it was small but very well fitted out. It even had a large storage bunker under the floor that CJ had made into a tiny cinema with two plush, comfortable chairs and a large, wall-mounted TV screen that she could hook up to her laptop. The main floor was three basic rooms. The living area contained one large, L-shaped couch, and a coffee table which sat on a thick, bright-blue, Navajo-patterned rug in front of the open fireplace and hearth. The fireplace was flanked by two huge windows that took in the spectacular view. All around her were the small, personal items and ornaments that made this feel so much like home, including a photo of a small girl with shiny, black hair sitting on a log next to her loving mother. In this room there was also a simple kitchen fixture in the corner with basic equipment: a stove, microwave, tea kettle, small refrigerator, and a sink. Off the living area was a bathroom housing a toilet, a vanity, and a very large bathtub with shower. A bedroom with a king-size bed, a closet, and a nightstand completed the small abode. It was compact but somehow managed to feel spacious, and CJ loved it.

On entering her home, she noted the musty smell in the air and went outside to unlock the storm shutters. Once that was done, she opened the large windows looking out over the treetops cascading down the mountainside. Deeply inhaling the crisp, fresh air, she looked at the sky. Charlie had said something about a big storm coming, but from here, CJ couldn’t see any evidence of that. She headed for the bedroom, threw off her jacket, and unstrapped her Colt .45, placing it in her nightstand which was actually a metal gun cabinet in disguise. She added her ammo, locked it up, and went to unpack her bags and food from the car. The Jeep fit neatly beside her woodshed, and she appreciated the fact that she could turn the smaller four-wheel-drive vehicle around on her compact front yard. It saved her from driving back down the miles of single-track road in reverse when she needed to leave. That thought made her snort to herself as she went into the shed to retrieve her ax.

With the woodpile stacked high and a satisfied look on her face, CJ went inside to light the fire. Frowning at the wispy flames as they struggled to lick the logs, she prodded at it until it had grown to a satisfactory blaze. The boiler for her hot water was powered by an ingenious system linked to those open flames. She never could understand exactly how it worked but was happy that she could indulge in a warm bath while she was here. She turned on the water heater, intent on having that bath filled with bubbles to wash the wood-chopping-induced sweat from her lithe body, but she frowned when she noticed that the red light didn’t go on. With an exaggerated sigh, she went outside to look over the solar panels on the roof. The water was heated by the fire, but she still needed the little electric switch to turn the damn boiler on. Once she had climbed the ladder and traced the problem – a loose wire near the junction box – she went back inside and tried again.

A smug smile creased CJ’s cheeks as the light sparked to life, and her little home had power once more. A quick check to the two large storage batteries settled her mind, and she completely relaxed, knowing that everything was functioning as it should.

Cracking open a bottle of lite beer, she switched on the stereo and opened the CD tray. Once the right tunes were selected, she began to hum along with the music as she slowly went around the room wiping away almost eighteen months of dust. She switched on the two lamps, and their low wattage bulbs combined with the flickering flames of the fire gave the room a warm, homey feeling with their diffused light bouncing off the cream-colored walls and wooden structural pillars. Dragging the large rug outside, she beat it good with a long pole and swept the cabin floors. On returning the rug to its resting place, she realized that she had become entirely too domesticated, but she decided it didn’t matter because this was the only place she took care of in this way, and nobody would ever know that the cool, tough FBI negotiator liked to indulge in housework every once in a while.

This place was the only thing in the world that was all hers. That thought used to comfort her. The simplicity of life outside the Bureau, she didn’t want or need for anything. But now her eyebrows curled in confusion as an entirely different feeling came over her. Something was missing…or someone.

* * * * * *

Rising through the cottony fog in her mind, Kate tried to open her eyes. The pain that shot across her temple forced her to cease her attempt for now and try to focus on where she was and what had happened. The memory of the man in her house, in her bed…

“Oh, no,” she tried to gasp. It came out muffled, and she felt the breath rebound back into her mouth from the strong tape covering her lips.

She was in motion. The grinding sound, the smell of exhaust fumes and fuel, and the confines of the space around her brought her to the conclusion that she was in the trunk of the bastard’s car. As she struggled against the bindings on her wrists, she wriggled her legs up toward her chin in an attempt to get her hands round in front of her. Twisting her torso and reaching down almost painfully, she managed to bring her tied hands under her feet and up to her face where she pulled the wide pieces of tape from her mouth. She was about to start yelling and kicking at the lid of the trunk when she remembered the last time she answered this guy back. Not wanting to revisit that unconsciousness anytime soon, she shut her mouth and began to think furiously of an escape plan that she could put into action if she was lucky enough to get the opportunity.

Kate shivered and realized that it was not only from fear, but also from the cold seeping through her pajamas. Jesus, I’ll freeze to death before he gets the chance to…to do whatever he’s going to do.

What was he going to do to her? She didn’t want to think about that for too long and forced herself to open her eyes again. She knew she needed to get away somehow.

The blurriness in Kate’s eyes finally cleared, and she brought a small red dot into focus. Upon looking at the red light in more detail, she realized it was the inside of the tail-light. She was definitely in the trunk. But where the hell was he going? How long had they been travelling? She knew asking herself these questions was futile, but from the stiffness in her limbs and the pain in her back, she guessed she had been lying in this position for quite some time. Maybe she would never know. Fear swept through her again, and a tear fell unbidden from her eye.

He wants to see your fear, Kate Marshall. Don’t be afraid. Don’t give him the satisfaction, she told herself sternly over and over until the vehicle came to an abrupt halt.

Kate listened intently and heard the rustle of paper inside the front of the car followed by a muttered curse before she deduced that the idiot was lost. She would have smiled if the situation hadn’t been so dire. Then the car was moving again, and a sharp left turn resulted in her head slamming against the side of the trunk. She rolled onto her front while simultaneously bringing her bound hands up to try to support herself. She knew they were heading uphill, and due to the noise created by the tires, she knew it was a dirt track. Her stomach heaved at the thought of how remote this was and how far from Los Angeles she must be.

After what seemed like an eternity, the car stopped and the engine died. Kate desperately tried to slow her breathing before she hyperventilated. The driver slammed the car door, and his boots made a crunching sound on the gravely ground as he walked around the vehicle. Kate now wished she had not removed the tape covering her mouth. That way she could feign unconsciousness when he opened the trunk. Too late.

The dying light of the evening sky blinded Kate’s nipping eyes as she saw the blurry figure looming over her, his own eyes shadowed by the rim of a baseball cap, and his face partially wrapped in a scarf.

“So, you little bitch. You took off the gag. Did I say you could move, you fucking slut? Hmm?”

A firm, backhanded slap across her cheek made sure Kate knew it was a rhetorical question. Then suddenly, his face was approximately one inch from hers. Her eyes squeezed shut as her whole body tensed, waiting for the next disgusting act that was guaranteed to make her skin crawl. His stinking, rough tongue left a hideous, slimy trail across her swollen cheek.

“Yeah. I knew you would still taste good.”

Still? What did he do to me while I was unconscious?

Kate couldn’t stop the tear that ran down her face, and she hoped her attacker couldn’t see it as it left her skin and fell onto the carpeted floor of the trunk. She had never been so afraid, but she didn’t want him to know that. She wasn’t sure what happened next, but she was again in darkness. It took a few seconds to figure out that while she closed her eyes under his lecherous assault, he had produced a small, black sack of some sort and quickly wrapped it over her head. Without warning, she was hauled from the car and onto her feet, but not before a piece of cold, sharp metal from the lip of the trunk had ripped a gash in her calf making her anger rise once more.

Where the hell did he get this heap of junk?

Kate was dragged along for quite some time over rough terrain, and she tried to not trip up and fall flat on her face. That would just make him mad. They went uphill for a short while first, then down. She guessed they had just come over the top of a ridge. Finally, he led her into a cold, dank room, as was evident by the change in the sounds around her. As her captor barked out curse-ridden instructions to her, his gravelly voice repeated in an eerie echo. She began to wonder if this truly was the end for her.

The cover was ripped from her head after he had thrown her to the ground, and Kate looked up to see a dusty oil lamp behind him that was fixed to the rock wall of what could only be described as a cave. The panic that had been coming in waves threatened to overwhelm her as she turned to the darkened silhouette of her assailant.

“Not so beautiful now, are you, bitch? You’ll be so hideously ugly when I’m finished with you, you’ll never act again. That is, if I don’t decide to kill you,” he sneered. With that, he reached down to his pants and slid his hand inside. “No. First, I’m going to have as much fun as I want with you.”

Kate’s whole body froze, and she lowered her eyes to the floor.

“Look at me, you fucking slut!”

She slowly brought her eyes back up and tried not to fall apart. He began frantically rubbing his hand back and forth over what was clearly a flaccid penis, getting increasingly frustrated with every passing second. Suddenly he withdrew before lunging at Kate, punching her face soundly with the offensive hand. He immediately stormed out through the large, wooden door that was fixed firmly to the cave walls and clanked the lock shut from the outside.

Kate burst into tears and curled up against the cold wall, scuffling her feet on the dirt ground in an effort to bring her knees up tight to her chest in some kind of protective embrace. Her last energy reserves left her, and she fell into unconsciousness once more.

.

Chapter 4

Six days later, CJ walked out her front door to gather more wood from the shed and found herself face to face with a moose. She stood stock still as a small grin curled her lips. The gullible-looking creature snorted a puff of air from its huge nostrils, and she bit back a chuckle. She did notice that the snort had produced a visible cloud of breath, indicating the temperature had dropped considerably in the last few days.

Maybe Charlie was right. Maybe the storm’s on its way, she thought as she watched the moose turn and begin to graze the grass at the edge of the forest.

Gathering the wood she needed, CJ returned to the cozy living room in her cabin and topped up the fire before settling down on the big couch with the last cinnamon bagel that she had defrosted, toasted, and smothered in butter.

* * * * * *

Kate opened her eyes and clamped down her excruciatingly painful jaw to try to stop her teeth from chattering. The sick bastard holding her captive had given his victim a thin blanket, so at least it wasn’t all torture, but she was still freezing. Living on barely enough scraps of food to feed a small dog, Kate couldn’t muster the energy to fight the assaults anymore. She wasn’t sure why he was keeping her alive this long, and he had tied her hands behind her back again which served to lessen her chance of escaping. He had told her that if she moved them back around, he would slit her throat.

Apart from that, every day was the same. He would come in the door, try to jack off in front of her – he was always unsuccessful – then beat the hell out of her like it was her fault. Later on, he would maybe come by and throw the scraps of old food on the dirt floor for her to scrounge up like an animal. He always wore the cap and scarf, never allowing her to see his face. Every moment that ticked by, Kate’s hatred grew, and it was a fight not to let it take over. She was aware that her anger was the only thing keeping her going right now, but she had to keep her mind sharp in case he slipped up. It was a difficult task to accomplish. The lack of nourishment combined with exhaustion and a badly beaten body left her no energy reserves for silly things like thinking, but there must be something she could do to help herself. Surely he would kill her soon…either that or she would perhaps die of starvation or freeze to death.

She crawled around on her bloody and swollen knees in search of something to eat. The light from the lantern on the wall was low, but she spotted a white peeling of some sort and immediately lowered her nose to the ground. Sniffing it didn’t help, of course. Her nostrils were most likely full of blood, so she picked it up with her mouth and chewed gingerly.

Kate winced at the pain as her dry, split lips moved while she ate. After a few seconds, her knees gave way, and she fell onto her side, her breath gusting out of her with the agony of falling on bruised or fractured ribs. She wasn’t sure which. As she lay there trying to stop her tears from falling, a glimpse of something reflecting in the low illumination flashed in her line of vision. She wiggled her pain-ridden body over to it, and her dull-green eyes widened when she saw what it was.

That piece of rusty metal from the car. Seeing her own blood dried onto the surface, Kate deciphered that it must have been stuck in her wound and fallen out again when her attacker threw her to the ground. He wouldn’t be back today, judging by his routine every other day, so she had to chance it. The metal could cut the ropes.

Kate moved the disturbed dirt that covered her new tool with her nose and carefully bit down on the metal. She forced herself back onto her knees and shuffled over to the wall, dropping the metal on the ground. She turned her back on it and sat down. Using her bound hands, she tried to wedge the metal between the rope and the wall, but the first attempt was unsuccessful and sliced painfully into her wrist. With a muffled squeal, she sat for a few moments to see if she would faint due to loss of blood. When that didn’t happen, she concluded that she hadn’t hit a vein and continued her work. The second attempt was better. She had managed to get a good rhythm going, and it seemed to be working, the tension loosening slightly around her wrists. Then the noise outside the door made her heart stop.

When he approached her, she thought she might die of fright never mind anything else. Praying that he didn’t drag her to her feet and see the metal, she swallowed convulsively as she watched him pace the floor. This visit was different. He never came to the cave in the evening, and he was incredibly agitated, scratching and clawing at his arms like his skin was infested.

Oh my God, he’s high…or in withdrawal…or something, she thought in horror.

In the next second his hand was roughly gripping her ankle and moving her legs apart. He hovered on his knees in front of her, and Kate thought this was it. He was going to rape her and kill her. She closed her eyes tightly when she realized he had the knife in his hand and was running the cold blade up the inside of her thigh. Silently praying for help to whomever might be listening, she waited for the hell and the agony she was about to endure.

Kate felt a searing, hot pain on her inner thigh, and just as quickly as he had arrived, he was gone. The door slammed shut with a resounding thud. Feeling the blood running down her leg, she frantically started cutting the rope again, desperation providing the energy she needed to complete her task. It was time to get out of here.

* * * * * *

CJ sat on the couch with her laptop on the coffee table, rapping her fingers on her chin. She had started writing a new love story a few days ago to try to express her mushy desires in stories if she couldn’t do it in life, but her creativity had stagnated already. Her muse eluded her, and she stared out the window to the gray sky beyond. At that very moment, the first snowflakes began to fall, and she was thankful she had chopped a plentiful supply of wood yesterday. She rose to her feet and stood before the glass to watch the approaching storm. A beep from the CB radio transmitter broke her gaze.

Taking a few long strides over to the device, she pressed the button on the side of the handset. “Charlie? This is CJ, go ahead.”

“Hey, FBI. How’s it goin’ up there?” Charlie’s cheery voice said through the bristling of a bad connection.

“I’m good. Just about to baton down the hatches for that storm. I can see it moving in.”

“Ain’t you comin’ down the mountain while you got the chance?”

“You know me, Sheriff. I’m tough enough to ride it out. Besides, I don’t have to be anywhere for another four weeks, and I have plenty of supplies too,” CJ shouted over the increasing interference.

“Okay, FBI. Take care. I don’t know how reliable this radio’s gonna be, but I’ll keep in touch when I can. Baxter, out.”

“Roger, Sheriff. Speak soon.” And with that, CJ cut the transmission. Taking a deep breath, she donned her polar fleece and her padded jacket and headed outside to close the storm shutters. Leaving one of the living room windows uncovered to watch the progression of the weather, she climbed onto the roof to alter the angle of her solar panels. Preventing snow from landing on them so quickly would save her a few trips outside over the coming days. With that done, she checked her small, backup generator and, grabbing her fuel canister from the back of the Jeep, she filled it to half full. That gave her a comfort zone if the panels failed. Back indoors, she settled for the rest of the day, and as she nestled deep into the soft couch cushions, she vaguely wondered how deep the snow would be by tomorrow.

* * * * * *

Several cuts and approximately two hours later, Kate felt the tension on the ropes give way a little more. “That’s got to be good enough,” she murmured under her breath.

Getting to her knees, she strained her weakened arms as she tried to pull them apart. She heard a small, squeaky tearing sound. Encouraged by that, she did it again, and the rope snapped. Tears fell from her green eyes, darkened from pain and tiredness and relief. She immediately got to her feet, ignoring the stinging hurts all over her body, and headed for the door. Running her fingers around the outside edge and not finding any weakness, she thought furiously for a few seconds. There was a tiny gap where the door met the frame, and Kate could feel a slight breeze wafting in from outside. It served to fill her with determination, and she brought her hand up to rub her dirty, bloody forehead to help her focus. A few minutes later, she strained her eyes to look through the gap which was only a few millimeters wide. She could see the bolt and quickly recovered the piece of metal since it was much thinner than her fingers.

Wrapping the threadbare blanket around her shoulders to stave off the freezing temperatures, she went back to the door and started wiggling the metal through the gap under the bolt. Scraping it from side to side and back and forth against the locking mechanism, her focus sharpened when she heard the bolt move slightly.

I can do this. And when I get out, that bastard will pay. His DNA must be all over me.

There were a few times when Kate had to stop dead and withdraw the metal when she thought she heard a noise outside. Her blood froze every time, but he didn’t appear. A couple of painstakingly long hours later, the piece of metal suddenly shot upwards as the rusty bolt gave way. Kate almost screamed in excitement, feeling her freedom inch closer. She tried to push the door as the adrenaline pumped around her weary body, but her heart sank when it didn’t budge. She discovered that the bolt she had been working on, which was at her eye-level, wasn’t the only lock on the door. Settling down on her knees, she set to work on the bottom bolt, praying again that she would get out before he came back and finally killed her for trying to escape. He hadn’t been aware of the makeshift tool on the floor, so she hoped this was the only barrier he had deemed necessary between her and the outside world.

It wasn’t long before Kate stared in disbelief as the second bolt moved far enough to allow her to gently push the heavy, wooden door. This time it moved and, grasping at her blanket, she walked further out of the cave, noticing it was now rapidly becoming dark outside. The snow and freezing temperature forced her to stop and think for a moment. She wondered how far she would get with bare feet in this weather. There was nothing out there but trees and rough, very cold terrain.

Finding her next actions quite unbelievable, she returned to the cave to retrieve her tool and split the blanket in two. She wrapped the pieces around each foot, binding the corners to form improvised shoes of sorts. She decided that this was a sensible plan since she needed her feet in order to escape. Her bare arms would just have to suffer. She chastised herself for wearing a tank top and pajama pants to bed that night.

Of course, I didn’t plan on being kidnapped, bundled into a car, driven into the hills, and almost beaten to death, she thought sardonically. As she looked down at her skin, she realized that her arms freezing might actually dull the pain from all the gashes and bruising. But focusing on the pain would do her no good, so she shook off those thoughts and left her temporary prison, taking the sharp piece of metal with her. If he came after her, she would stab the sick pervert.

Deciding that going uphill would take her closer to where her captor parked his car, she started walking downhill through the forest. She cursed under her breath every time she stood on something painful, which to her included everything, really. With her teeth clamped together in her determination, she increased her pace while vaguely wondering where she was finding the energy.

Many hours later, just before daybreak, an over-exhausted Kate who was running on sheer will alone, took a break and sat on a fallen tree to fix her blanket-shoes. They were soaked through now, but they were better than nothing, especially since the only thing stopping the pounding snow from swallowing her up whole was the canopy of evergreens above her head.

As she sat trying to tie the material without vomiting due to her hunched-over position, she suddenly paused and instinctually looked up to scan the area. Her eyes centered on a black figure staring at her with ice-blue eyes. The wolf stood not twenty feet away, but never made any attempt to approach her. Kate remained still but felt around behind her for a branch with which to defend herself should the animal attack. Then the wolf turned and walked through the nearby trees and disappeared.

Kate wasn’t really sure what to feel. The way the wolf looked at her hadn’t made her afraid as such, just unsure and curious. She shook her head and wondered if she had imagined it. Not wanting to stay still for too long, she hauled herself back to her feet and continued on, following the path of the wolf without realizing it. She didn’t know where she was going, exactly, just that she had to keep moving away from that cave and hope that her kidnapper hadn’t discovered she was gone yet.

A few more hours later, the snow was falling fast and steady, and after trekking over open terrain and what must have been quite a few more miles, Kate felt herself weaken beyond her control. Perhaps it was the distance she had traveled, or knowing that she had truly escaped, but every single part of her body cried out in protest and blasted the true level of her pain into her conscious mind. She was sure she must have broken bones as well as the bruising, the cuts, and the slices he had carved into the base of her spine in one of his more brutal assaults. The thought of that particular day made her dizzy, and with nausea seeping through her, she tried to find a way to avoid the impending darkness.

Kate fell to the ground, face down in the deep snow. A fleeting image of a black wolf crossed her field of vision, and her last thought was that she would die here…but at least he wouldn’t have the satisfaction of killing her his way.

.

Chapter 5

CJ climbed the ladder that was propped up against her cabin. Wrapped in her warmest winter clothes, she performed the daily morning ritual of clearing the driving snow from her solar panels. Storing the ladders safely away in the wood shed, she’d just turned around to go back indoors when the strangest sensation flowed through her like a tidal wave. Something wasn’t right. She scanned the edge of the forest that surrounded her haven and quickly went inside to retrieve her gun. She stopped momentarily, thinking she had imagined it, and then shook her head when the feeling lingered. Grabbing her keys, she locked the door and walked into the forest. Her feet seemed to be taking her in a certain direction, so she went with it and continued onward. She estimated that she walked a half-mile or so and was just about to enter a clearing when she automatically brought her gun up to aim it directly ahead of her.

“This is freaky,” she hissed quietly. “What the hell is wrong with me?”

Flicking the safety off with her thumb, she steadily walked forward, her heightened senses razor sharp, her boots sinking softly and silently into the snow which was now about two feet deep. Her breath caught in her throat when she saw the lifeless lump partially covered by the pounding blizzard. “Fuck.”

Putting the safety back on and slipping the gun quickly into its harness with well-practiced precision, CJ closed the distance in a run. Somehow she now knew that the situation was not dangerous, that there was nobody else out there, but the fear in her gut wouldn’t go away: fear for this person lying on the ground.

Seeing the battered and torn body, CJ gently turned it over and realized for the first time that this was a young woman…in her pajamas. Pressing two fingertips against the woman’s delicate neck, she thought she felt a faint pulse, and a tiny amount of her fear seemed to dissipate.

Heaving her jacket off her shoulders, she removed the polar fleece underneath. She replaced her jacket and wrapped the fleece around the frozen woman before scooping the slight body up into her arms. In a brisk walk the whole way home, her federal agent mind was trying to picture a scenario where the young woman would come to be there in such a battered state of undress. She did not like the conclusion she came to.

Bringing her knee up against the door frame, CJ rested the woman’s thighs on her raised leg as she dug into her pocket for the keys. After kicking the door open, she rushed inside and gently placed the body on the floor. She slammed the door shut hurriedly and locked the deadbolt before heading immediately to her kitchen cupboard which housed her small but efficiently stocked first aid kit. She went back to the woman’s side and knelt down beside her, checking for a pulse again. She was certain there was something there, so she leaned over her face to listen for breath. It was faint, but she was definitely breathing on her own.

With a deep inhalation to center herself, CJ got to her feet again. Her investigative mind kicked in and she retrieved a bundle of brand-new, plastic garbage bags, glad that she had bought the kind with no air holes. Perfect. Snagging a pair of latex gloves, she praised herself for always being prepared for…well, anything really.

“Paper and sharpie,” she growled to herself, reaching to the coffee table. Opening one of the bags, she lifted the woman’s foot and removed the first piece of blanket. She placed it in the bag carefully and sealed it, marking a piece of paper with the details of the contents for evidence. When she heard a faint groan, she turned to the woman lying beside her.

CJ leaned down into the line of vision of a pair of glazed, exhausted, green eyes. “I’m CJ. You’re safe now…”

That’s all she got out before the eyes fluttered closed again, and unconsciousness took over once more. She continued with her removal of the clothing, each item placed in a separate bag and sealed. She also bagged the fleece she had wrapped around the woman, just in case. Taking a small, sterile, plastic swab from her first aid kit, she trailed it steadily but forcefully under the woman’s nails, repeating the process a few more times on each finger before she was satisfied. A few more swabs, including two from what looked like scratch marks on the woman’s torso, and CJ was done. She quickly retrieved some warm water from the sink and cleaned the worst of the gashes to stymie any infection, noting the description and location of each major hurt on a piece of paper. A sudden thought struck her, and she went to fetch her cell phone. It may be useless up here, but it had a camera.

She carefully and professionally took photographs of the injuries, including the carved ‘J’ on the woman’s back and the deep slash marks on her inner thigh and calf. CJ hesitated for a few seconds as another horrid thought struck her. With a nod, she decided she had to take a vaginal swab. She wanted any and every chance of catching the bastard who did this, and she wanted to cover every eventuality. Seconds later, she efficiently placed the collected evidential swab in a brand new, plastic cup, wrapped and sealed carefully in another garbage bag. Finally, she was sure she had done her best, given the situation, and wound a sterile pad around the woman’s groin.

CJ collected some of her own clean, warm clothes which were far too large for the woman’s petite frame, but fashion was not important right now, so she dressed her gently and respectfully before straightening up, removing her jacket, and kneading out the knots in her sore neck.

CJ let out a heartfelt moan as she lifted her patient onto the couch, supported her head on a well-placed pillow, and brushed the dirty hair from her slightly cleaner forehead. As CJ covered her with a light quilt, she noticed the newly-revealed face for the first time. It was familiar. She knelt next to the couch and studied the gentle cheekbones, the pert little nose, and the full lips. Remembering those green eyes that hid behind the lids, she was overcome with the sheer beauty of this woman. Suddenly, it came to CJ. This was Kate Marshall. She had seen one of her movies a few years back but never caught the new series she was in. Life was just too busy to watch television.

Something happened to CJ’s heart at that moment, a strange and profound feeling that she thought must surely be linked to the sensation she’d felt earlier that allowed her to find and save this person. She felt something break. Was it her resolve, her promise to never let herself care for anyone again? Was it the barriers she had carefully constructed over the last few years to keep her feelings locked away? She wasn’t sure.

Taking Kate’s delicate hand in hers, CJ cradled it, as if providing this contact would somehow help the healing process. Staring into the roaring fire, she forgot that she had not eaten breakfast, had not washed since yesterday morning. She forgot everything except the woman lying on her couch, and she hoped that Kate would wake up soon.

CJ was lost in thoughts of what Kate must have endured. She seemed so beaten up, as if she had been captured and held for days. Surely something like that would be on the news. CJ shook her head when she realized that she had been out of contact with the world for a while. She had no idea what had gone on. With thoughts of Kate running around in her head, she drifted off to sleep, her head lolling onto a crookedly positioned shoulder.

“Seej…see… ”

In her dream CJ saw Kate calling to her, but no matter how fast she ran towards her, she could not save the actress from an unseen danger. And Katie was calling her. Katie? It just seemed right. Katie called again.

Wait, I’m awake. She’s awake! CJ’s eyes flew open and she turned to the murmuring, weak voice coming from the couch. “Hey. It’s okay. I’m right here,” she soothed, tenderly brushing a strand of blond hair away from the face looking back at her.

“I…I…water,” Kate croaked.

CJ reluctantly let go of the bruised hand in her own and rose from the floor. “Just relax. I’ll get you some water,” she whispered, bending down to check the temperature of Kate’s forehead. “Do you want some painkillers?” Seeing Kate give a tiny nod, she asked her next necessary question. “You’re not allergic to any medications, are you?”

At Kate’s negative response, CJ went to the kitchen and retrieved a small glass of water and a couple of paracetamol. Returning to the side of the couch, she knelt on one knee and leaned over Kate to help raise her up slightly.

“You spoke to me,” Kate husked.

CJ smiled. “I did, but you didn’t seem to register it. You remember that?”

“Yes. Your eyes, your voice…you told me your name. I knew I was safe.”

“I’m glad you felt that way. I won’t let anyone hurt you again.”

What the hell was she saying? She was being so protective of this woman, felt so instantly connected to her. It was ridiculous. And it would only lead to Kate being hurt again. That’s the last thing CJ wanted. Quit it, Carson, she told herself sternly before breaking out of her reverie to find emerald-green eyes watching her intently.

With a small smile, she lifted the glass to Kate’s mouth, slowly letting go when her patient grasped it on her own. CJ held her palm out flat in front of Kate, and once Kate had taken the pills, CJ got to her feet.

“Do you need anything else?” she said warmly.

Kate placed the glass on the little side table that had been put next to her and returned her gaze to CJ’s wide, blue eyes. “Would you…would you help me to the bathroom?”

“Of course, but before I do I need to ask you a difficult question.” CJ paused to organize her thoughts. “I know something terrible has happened to you, but I’ve been up here in the sticks for a while and haven’t seen any news. I’m assuming someone abducted you and…did all this to you?” she said, gesturing to the multiple surface injuries.

“Y-yes,” was Kate’s almost-silent reply.

“Hey,” CJ said gently, “you can talk to me. I only want to help. I just…I need to know if you were sexually abused.”

Kate started and abruptly looked up to CJ’s face.

CJ instantly held up her hands and softened her expression. “I’m a federal agent. I’ve bagged your clothing and taken many evidential samples,” she explained, pointing to the neat row of sealed plastic bags against the wall.

Kate looked at the bags and gazed again at CJ. “I wasn’t worried about why you were asking me. I-I think he wanted to…but he couldn’t. He seemed to be impotent,” Kate stammered and promptly blurted out a stifled cry at the memory of her attacker.

CJ was at her side in an instant, balancing on the edge of the couch and wrapping her up in her arms. Kate tensed for a few seconds and then, finding it the most natural thing in the world, she returned the embrace. She didn’t let go for quite some time after the sobs died away, leaning her head just above CJ’s chest and listening to her soothing heartbeat.

Kate couldn’t help but feel somewhat guilty about what had happened to her. Why was I so dismissive of the letters until it was too late? I just didn’t take it seriously enough. She squeezed the body she was wrapped around, and CJ pulled back slowly to look at her.

“Hey,” she husked, taking Kate’s chin in a gentle grip. “None of this was your fault. Don’t you ever think different, okay?”

Kate nodded, astounded that CJ seemed to read her mind. She rubbed her tear-stained cheeks and sniffed loudly.

CJ smiled wanly before letting out a deep sigh. “Wait here a sec,” she said as she got to her feet. She quickly retrieved another garbage bag and came to stand in front of Kate once more. “I don’t want you to worry about any of what I’m about to say, okay? I wrapped you in a sterile pad after I took the vaginal swab, in case of any bleeding. I want you to put the pad in here when you’re in the bathroom,” she explained gently as though talking to a scared child.

Kate gave her a solemn nod. “I understand. I don’t know how, but right now…I really am okay.”

CJ smiled warmly and drew back the quilt to carefully but firmly support Kate under her arms. “You’re a strong woman, Kate Marshall, but you have to tell me if you’re in too much pain. I’m not sure if your ribs are fractured or not.”

“I don’t think they are. All the pain seems to be on the outside now. Thank you for taking care of me.” Kate whispered the last few words at CJ’s shoulder.

“You’re very welcome, but I think I was meant to.” The words left CJ’s mouth before she could stop them.

“What do you mean?” Kate asked, as they slowly approached the bathroom.

“Never mind. I’ll tell you later when you feel a little better. Okay?”

“Sure.”

CJ leaned against the wall just outside the bathroom door as she waited for Kate to finish. With her arms folded across her chest, she tried to keep her anger towards the man who did this under control.

“How do you know my name? Did you recognize me?” Kate said loudly from behind the door.

“Not at first, actually. But once I had cleaned you up a little and took the time to look at your face, I realized who you were. I saw one of your movies, you know.”

Kate shuffled through the door and handed the tied garbage bag to CJ who promptly disposed of it before hurrying back to Kate’s side. Slipping her arm tentatively around Kate’s waist, she helped her back to the couch.

“Which one? The movie, I mean,” Kate asked, then grunted as she lowered herself onto the inviting cushions.

“Wait Until Tomorrow. I have it downstairs. Good movie,” CJ replied while plumping the pillows and helping Kate get comfortable.

“Downstairs? What’s downstairs?”

“I’ll show you when you’re stronger. I have a feeling we’ll be here for a while. The storm isn’t letting up.” CJ sat down on the floor again, leaning sideways to the couch next to Kate.

Kate gazed beyond CJ’s head to the window behind her. “It looks so cold,” she said quietly, finding CJ’s hand and entwining her fingers through the longer ones.

CJ watched her and realized that Kate had taken her hand unconsciously. She was surprisingly warmed by the gesture. “It is. But we’re safe in here, Katie. I’ll take care of you.”

Kate’s eyes focused and settled on the raven-haired beauty before her. She smiled, liking the way that name sounded coming from this woman and still not noticing the contact she had initiated with CJ. “For some reason, I knew that. I don’t know how, but I did.” She was silent for a few moments until a sudden thought crossed her mind. “Where exactly are we?”

“In the Rockies. About forty miles from a town called Alberton, Montana.” CJ fell silent due to the shocked look on Kate’s face.

“Montana?”

“Yes. Where did he take you from?”

“Los Angeles,” Kate said, gazing sightlessly at the quilt draped over her legs. She felt CJ’s thumb grazing gently across the back of her hand in an effort to comfort her. She didn’t react to it for fear of losing the simple contact. And she didn’t protest when CJ suggested she get some rest, but she did request that CJ stay with her.

“I’m not going anywhere,” CJ whispered.

What Kate didn’t know was that the statement meant more than even CJ cared to admit.

.

Chapter 6

CJ was in pain. Her neck was stiff, her leg was numb, and her left arm throbbed. Lifting her head, she realized that she had fallen asleep next to Kate, still sitting on the floor in a ridiculously uncomfortable position. A glance at the woman beside her suddenly brought her pain into perspective. She shook it off and slowly stood up, releasing her hand from Kate’s grip without waking her. After a quick visit to the bathroom, she headed over to the little kitchen and, in a well-practiced ritual, threw a bundle of ingredients into her small bread-maker. While checking the food supplies, she wondered if Kate would be able to eat something.

Something smooth and easy on the stomach, she mused, tapping her chin and pursing her lips.

She rinsed a couple of mugs and put the kettle on to boil before going to the fireplace to stoke the dying flames. Adding a couple more logs from the pile, she crouched in front of the grate and poked at them as they started to burn.

“Hey, you…”

CJ turned to see two green eyes sparkling with flashes of amber, a reflection of the fire dancing across Kate’s beautiful face. CJ was momentarily mesmerized and shook her head as if to erase the unusual feelings flowing through her. “Hey. How do you feel?”

“Better. How long did I sleep?”

Glancing at the small clock on the mantel, CJ rose to her feet and crossed the room. “We slept four hours.”

“We?”

“Yeah. I guess I was pretty tired too,” CJ said sheepishly.

She was totally unprepared for a slight chuckle from her battered house guest. Kate was amazing to her, nothing like what she would’ve imagined…not that she had formed any opinion about her from her limited knowledge. Hell, CJ never had time for her own life, never mind anyone else’s.

“Do you think you could eat something?” she asked.

“Definitely.”

“How about some soup? Maybe mushroom? And some soft bread?”

“If you’re talking about the bread I can smell baking, then you’re on,” Kate replied as she got to her feet. When CJ headed toward her, she put a hand up to stop her. “I think I can manage on my own.”

“Okay, but be careful,” CJ warned, arms outstretched but not actually touching Kate.

Giving CJ a half smile, Kate headed into the bathroom. As she finished the basic task, she thought about how she would never take things like a toilet seat for granted again. Pushing the memories of her time in the hideous cave from her mind, she washed her hands carefully and noticed that the swelling was going down. She touched the tops of both hands tenderly before returning to the comforting presence of her new friend.

* * * * * *

It was dark outside now. A gale force wind was howling around the little cabin, and the snow was beating in a quick rhythm against the only uncovered window. After consuming some much-appreciated nourishment and deciding on some quiet music, the two women settled onto the couch and sipped warm herbal tea. Kate was sitting where she had been lying, her more painful side resting against her soft pillows, supported by them and the back of the couch. CJ sat beside her in companionable silence. She’d never felt this peaceful with anyone and noticed that Kate seemed to feel the same. She couldn’t really believe, looking at Kate’s face, that she had just survived a week of torture.

CJ watched Kate’s delicate nostrils flex slightly during each breath. She watched the pulse point on Kate’s neck rap a steady beat under the soft skin. Kate’s head was tilted back, resting on the top of the couch cushion, her eyes closed while she held her mug in her lap between cupped hands.

“What?” Kate whispered.

Even the quietest of voices was enough to startle CJ out of her covert observations.

“Huh? Uh-uh, sorry.”

Kate didn’t open her eyes but smiled warmly at CJ’s stuttering. “It’s okay. I just get the feeling you want to ask me some stuff.”

“Oh. I…I just wanted to tell you that if you need to talk about what happened, I’m here for you.” CJ groaned internally. I am such a loser. Jeez! That sounded incredibly lame. This woman has been through a horrific ordeal, and I can’t even form a sentence. This is not like me. Get a grip, idiot. With her mental slapping complete, she focused again on her peaceful companion.

“I do want to talk about it…to talk to you about it. I’m just not sure I’m ready yet”, Kate said as she placed her mug on the little table.

“I’m sorry-”

“Don’t apologize, CJ. Please. It was just so…I thought he would kill me, you know? And the night he came into the cave, all high and deranged, I thought he’d rape me or torture me or cut me up…”

Before CJ could process what was happening, Kate had literally crawled onto her lap. Kate sobbed quietly as she buried herself deeper into the comforting softness of her new companion. Everything had finally caught up with her, and she let her fears and pain flood out of her in her tears.

CJ gathered Kate in her arms, feeling her tear-stained face press in under her chin. She whispered words of comfort to this woman who had come to mean so much to her in such an incredibly short space of time. She didn’t know how long she held Kate or how long the desperate hands clung to her waist, all she knew was that this felt so right it scared her. Not the situation that had brought them together, but the feeling of holding Kate so close to her. It was right. She silently vowed that she would find the man who had done so much damage to Kate, and do everything in her power to control the urge to kill him.

Sometime later, CJ broke her trance-like gaze at the fire and tried to look down at Kate, who had buried her face so far into CJ’s long hair that she wasn’t sure she would be able to breathe in there. Kate’s knees were drawn up to CJ’s side, and her strong fingers grasped handfuls of her FBI sweater to keep a good grip around CJ’s waist.

With little thought to this unforeseen situation she had found herself in, CJ decided she was absolutely content to cradle this precious human being for the rest of her life, and on hearing Kate’s sobs subside and her breaths become deeper and more regular, CJ closed her own tired eyes to rest for a few hours.

* * * * * *

Blinking away the sleepiness, CJ lifted her head from its resting place on the back of the couch. It was morning. She glanced at the clock and noted it was nine forty-five AM. Daylight struggled to break through the snow which seemed to be even heavier than yesterday, if that was possible. CJ considered that this severe storm was a blessing in disguise now. Kate’s assailant would not be able to find her – no tracks to follow – and CJ breathed a little easier with that thought settling into her consciousness.

Feeling the warmth of Kate’s body still sprawled across her, CJ looked down to see delicate eyelashes casting shadows over Kate’s bruised cheek, various little cuts spread sparsely over her beautiful skin, and chapped lips, partially open, showing a flash of white beneath. Even in her battered state, Kate was the most beautiful person CJ had ever seen.

As she brought her fingertips up to graze the line of Kate’s jaw, those inquisitive eyes fluttered open. CJ stilled her motion and swallowed hard, not knowing how Kate would react to the tender caress.

Kate stared into the eyes above her, the feeling of being protected stronger than ever. She could hear her blood rushing in her ears, her heart thumping pleasantly in her chest, and her mind playing its tricks on her. I think I love this woman. Nah. That’s impossible. I’m reacting to this intense situation and the fact that she’s my savior, right?

She didn’t know the answer, but lying here in CJ’s arms with her eyes locked on those blue orbs that were so wide right now, Kate wondered if the agent might die of shock, was the best feeling in the world. Kate hadn’t been in a relationship since Jason. Oh, there had been one-night stands since then, but her public persona seemed to be the draw for those suitors. They weren’t interested in the real her. She had found certain women attractive in the past, but had never really acted on it – had never wanted to.

Now though, she just knew that CJ would always be in her life, and she knew she wanted more than friendship from her. She just hoped that once this horrid situation was brought to a conclusion, the stunningly beautiful CJ would want her in the same way.

“Breathe, CJ,” Kate whispered.

CJ swallowed hard again and forced a smile. “I’m sorry,” she said, removing her hand. “I was just looking at what he did to you, and it makes me so angry.” She began to turn her head away, only to feel two fingers on her chin guiding her back.

Kate studied her for a second. “Do you think I would still be lying here if I was uncomfortable?”

“I guess not.”

“Then don’t worry about caring for me. I…I can’t explain how this feels to me. It’s like I’ve known you for so long, and I’ve missed you. I know that’s not possible, but it’s how I feel.”

“Maybe it is possible. I know I don’t understand why I feel this way, but I do I feel it. I also know it’s a little overwhelming right now. I don’t get close to anyone, Katie, but I feel like I’ve been holding you my whole life.”

The smile that spread over Kate’s face just then made CJ’s heart melt. Kate slid her arms around CJ’s neck and buried her face under her long, dark hair. CJ closed her eyes which forced a couple of overflowing tears to run down her cheeks and, at the same time, made her frown at some sort of destiny that seemed to be completely out of her control. She and Kate were walking on the same path, and during this storm she couldn’t escape it. Could she fight it to regain her normally unflappable control? She didn’t have a clue. Did she even want to fight it?

CJ breathed in a lungful of Kate’s scent, and the butterflies in her belly flapped their wings repeatedly. No, she didn’t want to fight it at all. It was scary, but there was something here that felt right. She decided she could handle it and settled down to snuggle for as long as Kate would allow.

Many long, blissful moments later, a loud grumble from the vicinity of Kate’s stomach brought a small smile to CJ’s lips. “Hungry?”

Kate’s answer came in the form of a silent chuckle that was only detectable by the slight vibration of her body.

When nothing else was forthcoming, CJ rubbed her free hand through Kate’s straggly hair. “We’ll eat little and often today, to see how your tummy copes. Okay?”

Kate lazily raised her head, her face only inches from CJ’s. “Okay.” She slid herself back onto the couch to let her friend move.

Once CJ was freed, she stretched her lanky, six-foot frame and stood up, circling her stiff shoulders repeatedly. “Bed tonight, I think. And I really should change out of my damp clothes this time too,” she muttered, throwing a groan in for good measure.

“Sounds like a good idea to me.”

CJ looked at Kate in surprise. “Huh?”

“I doubt I’ll be able to sleep unless you hold me again,” Kate added by way of an explanation.

CJ hesitantly nodded before heading to the bathroom. When she emerged a few moments later, she saw Kate standing at the kitchen sink, filling the tea kettle. “Hey. Let me…”

“No, CJ. I really think my injuries are all superficial. Maybe some bruised ribs. I want to contribute. Let me make the coffee while you do the toast.”

“All right, but listen,” CJ said, placing her hand on Kate’s shoulder. “If you feel any sudden differences, you let me know immediately. Promise?”

“I promise,” Kate assured as she covered CJ’s hand with her own.

They set about making breakfast mostly in silence. Once they had consumed it in much the same way, CJ grabbed her coat and boots to go outside and clear the snow, while Kate headed to the bathroom.

After opening the front door, CJ paused when she saw how deep the snowdrift was. Backtracking into the nearby closet, she retrieved a shovel and began to dig her way out. She cleared a path to the shed and dragged the ladder out to climb carefully onto the roof. “Crap. I’m gonna have to clear this about ten times today,” she grumbled to herself, her face hidden from the pelting snowflakes by her hood.

It was falling faster and faster, and CJ wondered briefly if the cabin would be completely buried by tomorrow. The Jeep was halfway there already. With her task complete, she grabbed an armful of logs and headed back indoors. Dropping the wood in the corner, she shook off any excess snow on the doormat before removing her coat and boots. It was only then that she realized Kate was still in the bathroom. “Katie! Are you all right?” she shouted.

“I’m okay. The gash on my thigh has burst open again. I’m trying to clean it.”

“Do you need help?”

“Yes, please. It’s okay to come in.” Kate paused as the door opened. “Do you have a needle and thread in that kit of yours?” she asked as she looked up at CJ.

CJ took in the sight before her, and a wave of tenderness washed through her soul. Kate was sitting on the closed toilet seat with CJ’s pajama pants pooled around her ankles and the extremely large top strategically covering all the right places. Her blond hair slightly mussed and her face covered in little nicks and scratches and one multi-colored bruise, she held a cloth against her inner thigh and somehow managed to look completely adorable.

CJ blinked and remembered she had to speak in order to answer. “Yeah. Want me to stitch that?”

“I’m not sure. Take a look,” Kate said, removing the cloth covering the gash.

With only a minor hesitation, CJ knelt down in front of her and examined the tender, wounded flesh. She drew a sharp breath through her teeth in empathy. “I have butterfly stitches that should hold that. They’ll be more pleasant to apply too,” she husked as she tried for a reassuring smile.

Kate nodded as she picked up the pants and held the cloth to her leg. She exited the bathroom behind CJ and followed her to the couch. Once she was safely seated, she rearranged the pants to cover her cold skin.

CJ watched her for a moment but realized quickly that she was staring again. She spun around on the spot. “Just wait there and I’ll get them.”

Kate tilted her head to the side. “CJ?”

“Yes?”

“What does CJ stand for?”

Once she had blurted out a rather unladylike chuckle, CJ returned to kneel once more in front of her patient. “I guess I should’ve introduced myself better, huh? It stands for Ciara Jane. Ciara Jane Carson at your service, Ma’am,” she said as she held out her hand.

Kate shook it and smiled. “I’m more than pleased to meet you, Ciara. Mind if I continue to call you CJ, though? I kinda like that.”

“I prefer it anyway. Guess I’m more used to it. Everyone calls me that.”

“CJ it is then,” Kate replied as she watched the stitches being applied.

“Do you go by Katherine or Kate?” the agent asked curiously as she worked.

“Usually Kate to my colleagues. My mother calls me Katherine. Only Dad calls me Katie, but I like when you call me Katie, too.”

CJ smiled and continued her task quietly. Kate noted that CJ had large, graceful hands, long slender fingers, and an incredibly gentle touch. She imagined that those hands could also be tough and not so gentle when they needed to be. CJ’s job was something Kate wanted to know more about, but she hoped there would be time to talk about all that later. Instead, she regarded CJ fondly as she tried to position the skin on Kate’s thigh so that the scar would be as small as possible once it healed, before applying the little butterfly stitches.

“There. That should hold it. We might need to re-apply them after you have a bath.”

“Oh, that’s a great idea. Maybe this afternoon?”

CJ looked up at Kate’s eager face. “Whenever you want. The batteries are holding plenty of power and the fire’s burning bright. You’re good to go anytime.”

Kate held her gaze and smiled. “Thank you.”

There was a wealth of meaning behind those two words, and CJ did well to hide the emotion that swelled within her. She returned the smile and rose to her feet, putting away the first aid kit and stoking the fire.

Kate put on her pajama pants and quietly watched CJ, feeling for the first time in so long that she wasn’t acting, wasn’t putting up the front that people expected to see. CJ had seen her in a raw, unguarded state. No pretense, just Kate. And CJ seemed to like her. If Kate was reading things right, she seemed to more than like her. That possibility drifted through Kate’s entire being, and she wept silently in relief.

“I had a thought this morning that I wanted to talk to you about,” CJ said, her back to Kate as she prodded at the fire. “I’m telling you about it because I want you to feel as safe as possible here. This storm, it’s a good thing. Any tracks you left would have been more than covered by this morning. He won’t find you here.” She turned to see Kate crying. Leaping to her feet, she moved to the couch and reclined beside Kate who immediately moved into her embrace. Thinking she had caused the tears, CJ sighed. “Hey, I’m sorry, Katie. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Kate raised herself up a little so that she could see CJ’s face. “You didn’t upset me. Thank you for telling me that…about the snow, I mean. I was just…I can’t really explain why I feel so at peace and, well, happy even after everything that’s happened recently. You’ve made it feel like it was all just a nightmare but it’s gone now. Oh, I don’t know. My tears were just a release. It wasn’t your fault, CJ. I promise.”

CJ nodded mutely, afraid that if she opened her mouth, she would tell this strong, beautiful woman that she somehow loved her already. It just wasn’t possible, and it would be such a silly thing to do, wouldn’t it?

An especially loud crackle from the fire drew both women’s attention to the bright flames. Both got lost in their thoughts and, wrapped around one another, they sat silently, wondering how this moment came to be.

* * * * * *

He paced back and forth in angry frustration, kicking the dirt under his feet, wishing she was still lying there for him to take out his anger on. How the hell had that bitch managed to get out? She was almost dead when he left last night. His dark eyes took in the interior of the cave before he stomped outside. Looking over the nearby ground, her scanned for tracks but didn’t find a damn thing.

“I walked all the way up from that damn road and you’re not even fucking here? Nobody makes a fool outta me! I’ll make you pay, you fucking slut!” he shouted out to the forest. “Fuck!” And with that, he stormed off to his car, determined to find her. He had a friend in the LAPD. If he coughed up enough cash, he could get information out of him. Then he would hunt Kate Marshall down…and kill her.

.

Chapter 7

After her mid-afternoon snow clearing session, CJ dropped her six-foot frame onto the couch just as Kate handed her a mug of coffee. The fire was burning bright, the lamps casting a golden glow across the room as the storm raged outside. The two women sipped gratefully on the dark-brown brew until a beep from the radio got CJ’s attention.

“…BI…can…ear me?…er”

She set her mug on the coffee table and leapt to her feet to scoot over to the receiver. “Charlie? Can you hear me?”

“…torm is…head…east…won’t…ear…rty-eight…ours”

“What? Charlie! I can’t get a clear signal. Charlie?”

“No…ies. Try again…orrow…”

When the signal cut out, CJ slammed the handset onto the surface. “Damn it! Sorry, Kate. I had hoped to get a message through to tell them you’re safe. You know, to let your loved ones know.”

“I doubt there are too many people truly worried, CJ. Just Dad, and my producer, Samantha…and maybe my mother. Don’t worry about it. We’ll get through soon,” Kate said, patting her friend’s thigh as she sat down again. “Who’s Charlie?”

“He’s the sheriff in Alberton. He’s a great guy. You’ll like him a lot. You know, I find it hard to believe that you don’t have a ton of folk close to you, Katie,” CJ said before she sipped her coffee again.

“Actually, I really don’t. It’s hard to be close to people when all they want is the made-up façade of a Hollywood actress who’s always smiling. It’s a fantasy. It’s not me.”

“Why would they want that when the woman I see is a million times better?” CJ asked, honestly confused. As tears burst from Kate’s eyes again, CJ put down her coffee to take Kate’s mug from her shaking hands and place it on the table. Pulling Kate gently into her arms, she hugged her close and brushed her thumb over Kate’s forehead. “I think we need to talk about everything you’ve went through in the last week. It needs to come out, Katie. Then maybe every time I say something nice to you, you won’t burst into tears.”

Kate sniffed vigorously and snagged a tissue from a box that had been considerately put there by CJ. Staying in the wonderfully warm embrace, she began to speak. “I’m not normally like this at all. I just…I don’t know. Where should I start?”

“At the beginning, I guess. Start with how this guy came to target you, and we’ll take it from there. Just take your time,” CJ suggested, keeping her voice soothing and soft.

And with a small nod, Kate began to relive her ordeal, knowing that sharing it with CJ Carson would indeed help her.

* * * * * *

“And when he pressed the blade against my thigh and sliced it, it became too much to cope with. He was so erratic that night, and when he disappeared, I knew I had to get out. That feeling…that fear was the only thing that kept me going. So…so I started working on the locks, pushing the bolts by scraping that piece of metal on them. I could taste the bile in my throat. I was so scared. And what if he…if he came back…he would’ve killed me for sure.”

“You’re safe now,” CJ said as she squeezed Kate’s hand reassuringly.

“I know. I just…I may look small and frail, but I don’t scare easily, CJ. But this…this guy and what he did. He made me feel so helpless and vulnerable, I couldn’t stand it. It terrified me.”

“And yet, here you are. You escaped. You’re not helpless, Katie. You’re tough as hell, and I never once thought of you as frail. You’re amazing to me.”

Kate looked up into soulful eyes watching her and got lost in the honesty and safety she saw there.

Before CJ could stop it, Kate’s full lips were pressing gently against her own. The contact shot through her body like a bolt of liquid fire, and she pulled back sharply.

“I’m sorry, CJ. I didn’t mean-”

“Hey, it’s okay. You just surprised me, that’s all.”

“It just felt…right,” Kate said, frowning at her own words.

CJ nodded, both at the statement and the frown. She was just as confused as Kate was. “I know. It did. But I can’t…we can’t, not right now. You’ve just been through such a traumatic experience, and you’re feeling so much right now. It would be wrong to-”

“I understand,” Kate interrupted. “It’s enough that you just hold me…for now.”

“I can deal with that. Wait. For now?” CJ asked with her eyebrow raised high.

Kate didn’t answer. Instead, she lowered her head to rest it on CJ’s shoulder. “You know, I don’t know how far I walked, but time-wise, it felt like forever. I left just after darkness fell, and when I collapsed it was daylight, I think”, she whispered.

“Well, from how you described the cave, I’d say you covered a good twenty miles. The nearest caves and abandoned mines are at least that far from here. I don’t know how you did it considering the state you were in. Pretty incredible…” CJ’s voice trailed off. After a muffled “thank you” from somewhere near her shoulder, she added, “You’re welcome.” CJ heard a small chuckle coming from Kate, and a broad smile crossed her face as she shook her head in surprise.

“What?” Kate mumbled, feeling CJ’s cheek move against her hair.

“You’re just unbelievably strong and resilient. I love…that about you.” CJ faltered at her close call and a strange sense of deja-vu.

Kate drew back slightly from the embrace with a frown on her face. “Did you say that to me before? When I was unconscious?”

“No. Why?” CJ asked tentatively while she wondered exactly how she was connected to this woman.

“It seemed familiar somehow. Never mind. You know what I love about you?” she asked. At CJ’s quirked eyebrow, she continued. “That I only just met you, but I trust you completely. I’ve never felt that before.”

“Strange. But I have to say, I trust you too. So that’s a good start, huh?” CJ replied, her voice lightening to try to counteract the intensity of the moment.

“Yeah, it’s a great start. But you know I’m falling, right? I have no idea how, but I am.”

The silent pause that followed became almost uncomfortable, with Kate’s unwavering green eyes pinned on CJ, waiting for a response.

CJ finally relented. “I think I knew that,” she whispered. “And I think maybe I am too. It’s crazy.”

They each held the eye contact a little longer, complete understanding passing between them before Kate relaxed and slipped her hands as far around CJ’s waist as she could. They weren’t ready for any more definitive declarations, but at least now she knew they were feeling something similar, and some of her apprehension dissipated.

CJ’s eyes slipped shut as she pulled Kate’s body impossibly closer, feeling a unique contentment combined with a strange excitement about her future: a future where Kate was with her for the rest of her days, laughing with her, crying with her, living with her, making love with her. A little startled by her train of thought, she decided that it was time for food. She was becoming delirious, wasn’t she?

“Want some dinner? Must be about that time,” she suggested.

“Does that mean I have to move?”

“Yes, but you need food, and if we eat now you can have your bath afterwards,” CJ said to try to coax Kate from her lap.

With a yawn and a satisfied smack of her lips, Kate uncoiled and ungracefully got to her feet, wincing at the many aches and pains that suddenly reminded her of their existence. “Ow.”

CJ grimaced and reached out toward Kate’s arm. “You okay?”

“I’m good. But maybe I did crack a rib.”

“I think you just have some serious bruising, but take it easy.”

“I will. I’m just gonna grab another blanket from the bedroom. Is that okay?”

When CJ got up and swiftly got the blanket, wrapped it around Kate and ordered her to sit and relax, Kate figured must have been okay after all. As she sat there watching CJ move around the cabin, she realized everything was going to be okay.

* * * * * *

CJ had made dinner after winning the debate about whether Kate should help or not. Kate, who now lay sprawled across the couch – stomach fully satisfied – had given up her argument quite quickly and now relaxed close to CJ, eyeing her thoughtfully.

“Tell me about you, CJ. How about your job?”

CJ sighed contentedly and shifted Kate’s feet to put them on her lap. “Well, I’m Special Agent CJ Carson. I’m a crisis negotiator with the FBI. Right now my job is mainly traveling to various hostage situations and negotiating a resolution…sometimes without success. I work out of the Crisis Negotiation Unit at Quantico at the moment, but my job takes me all over, and about half my time seems to be spent at the LA field office,” CJ said, smiling at Kate before going on. “I’m often pulled into serial killer cases because of my expertise in psychological profiling, and I pretty much worked myself to death recently. That’s why I came up here. I desperately needed the break and the solitude.” At the sudden expression change on Kate’s face, CJ shot her a warning look. “Don’t you dare apologize for being here. That would be completely ridiculous and unacceptable. I don’t think I could have imagined spending this time with anyone better.”

“Wow. You can be quite scary when you’re being all forceful like that,” Kate said.

But before CJ could worry that she had indeed scared her feisty companion, she saw a smirk on those delicate lips. “Quit teasin’ me,” she growled playfully.

“I can’t help myself. You’re an easy target,” Kate retorted. “So, which university?” she added, getting back to what was fast becoming her favorite subject.

“I got my Masters and PhD in Criminal Psychology and Forensic Psychology at Princeton after getting my BA at Cornell. When I started with the Bureau I did the usual stuff, but they eventually spotted where my talents lay, and I ended up getting my National Negotiation Certification. I had started out working from the LA field office for a few years, and then they transferred me to Quantico.”

Kate expelled her breath in a gust. “You have had a busy life. How old are you anyway?”

“How old do you think I am?” CJ responded, watching Kate with narrowed eyes.

“Well, to fit all that in you must be a least ninety.”

“You know, if you weren’t injured that comment may have initiated a severe tickling incident.”

Kate snorted. “Just as well I’m injured then,” she said, withdrawing her feet and gradually swinging herself around. With her head now on CJ’s lap, she looked up into the hypnotic blue eyes above her. “I’ll settle for a head rub.”

“Uh huh,” CJ whispered as her hand began a slow trail back and forth through Kate’s long hair. “I’m thirty-five, by the way.”

“May I be so bold as to ask about your personal life and your family?” Kate requested, closing her eyes under CJ’s caress.

“Could you narrow it down?”

“Start with your family, if that’s okay. I want to learn all about you.” Kate paused to recall the picture she had noticed earlier. “That photo…that’s you and your Mom, right?”

“Yes.”

Sensing CJ’s sadness, Kate opened her eyes. “You don’t have to talk about it.”

“I know, but I’ll tell you. That was one of the last pictures taken with her. When I was little, my father physically abused me. He hid it well for two years, but when my mom found out, I was surprised she didn’t kill him. After they divorced, we never heard from him again and found ourselves short of money. Mom got into nursing school and worked at a seven-eleven the rest of the time, trying to keep a roof over our heads. I was pretty self-sufficient when I was a kid. Mom was hardly around, but when she was, she was the most loving, caring parent anyone could ask for. She would teach me about her grandfather. He was a full-blooded Navajo and an incredible spirit. She would tell me stories of when she was little, when he would take her to his reservation and tell her about his vision quests and spirit guide. I always wondered if those stories were true, but I found them fascinating anyway. Those were some of her happiest times, and she made sure to share them with me.”

“She sounds wonderful,” Kate said quietly from her lap.

“She was. Anyway, Mom was working one night when this armed guy came in to rob the place. She gave him the money from the register, but a cop appeared, just coming in to buy some cigarettes. The guy panicked, shot my mom, and ran out the back exit.”

“Oh, CJ, I’m so sorry.” Kate took CJ’s hand from her head, kissed the palm then held it against her chest.

“It’s okay. It was a long time ago. I was nine when my mom died. After that I went to live with Grandma in Nevada. She did her best to care for me. I headed for Cornell when I was eighteen. The day Mom was killed, I swore I would do everything I could to protect people from guys like that. And the rest, as they say, is history.” CJ looked down to find tear-stained green eyes looking back at her. She smiled and squeezed the hand holding hers so close to Kate’s heart. “So that kinda explains why I have nobody close to me. Grandma died a few years back. I spoke to my father a couple of times throughout my life, but the last time he saw me I told him I was gay, and he said he didn’t want to be associated with a dirty, disgusting dyke. That’s why it shocked the hell out of me when I found out he left me everything when he died. It wasn’t much, but I used the money to buy this place.” CJ stopped when she realized she was rambling on. She never did that. She was never so open with anyone. It was just another unusual effect Kate was having on her.

“You don’t have anyone…else in your life?” Kate prodded.

A smirk appeared briefly on CJ’s face. “You mean do I have a girlfriend?” At Kate’s sheepish nod, she answered. “No. Not since…”

When the rosy color drained from CJ’s face, Kate sat up in concern. “CJ? Are you okay?”

“I…I don’t know if I can talk about that.”

“You don’t have to, but you’ve already taught me that sharing something bad can help to heal it.”

“You don’t fight fair, you know that?” CJ said.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to push you. I just have this incredibly strong desire to know all about you.”

“Then I’ll tell you all I can. Let’s see. I never really had any relationships at first. I was kind of a loner…still am to a certain extent. Then about eight or nine years ago, I met Sandy. We were together for five years. We had a pretty good relationship and we loved each other. Although it was nothing like…”

Suddenly silent, CJ pinned her lips together at another close call. Holy shit. I am totally losing it. Now I’m comparing her to Sandy?

CJ played with Kate’s hair to cover up her discomfort, and she was thankful that Kate didn’t ask her to continue with her last sentence. In fact, it seemed she had gotten away with it, so she went on as if nothing had spooked her. “Anyway, three years ago some psycho the Bureau was chasing…real smart guy…he knew we were on the case and getting way too close for his liking. He found out too much about me. He took Sandy…and used her as leverage.” Her gaze grew distant as she continued to speak. “We didn’t know he had her, and we had cornered him in a house. I tried to negotiate with him until he told me it wasn’t just any old hostage he had inside the house. Sandy was there with a gun to her head. That’s when I fell apart and somebody else took over the negotiation. I never forgave myself for that. I should’ve held it together. But I didn’t. And he killed her before he shot himself. It was my fault…”

Tears streamed down CJ’s cheeks, and Kate climbed onto her lap to wrap her arms around her neck. She held CJ for all she was worth and let her quiet sobs fill her heart. CJ enclosed her in a powerful embrace, always mindful of the injuries covering Kate’s body.

“It wasn’t your fault, CJ,” Kate whispered into her ear. When CJ’s body stiffened, Kate’s voice became more forceful. “No! Listen to me. It was not your fault. How can you blame yourself for loving someone? And if an agent is personally connected to the victim in that situation, you can’t continue to be involved with the negotiation anyway. It’s way too risky. You know this.”

CJ gently pushed Kate back a little to look at her. “I do. But how do you know it?”

“Just because I’m in show business, doesn’t mean I don’t know a thing or two,” Kate teased gently.

“How do you do it?” CJ said in wonder. “How do you make me feel so…good?”

“Because it seems that we are meant to be. It’s just a shame I didn’t meet you sooner.” Kate’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Did I just say that?”

“I believe you did,” CJ said, gradually leaning toward her intent on kissing her. She pulled back at the last moment, but Kate was having none of that.

“Go with it, CJ.”

After pausing for another few seconds, CJ did what she was told, but only because it was what she desperately wanted too.

“Oh, my,” Kate whispered when they parted.

CJ just stared at her for long moments. Finally raising her dark eyebrow, she smirked. “You do realize I’m never letting you go now.”

Kate could play this game. “Could be kinda difficult when I need to pee though, huh?”

“Smart ass. So, how about you?”

“What about me?”

“You know a ton of stuff about me now, more than I’ve ever shared before. So it’s your turn, Miss Marshall.”

“Okay. But I really want my bath before bed. How about while you help me in the tub, I tell you all about my life?” Kate suggested.

“I’m…sure I could manage that. Are you okay with me helping you in there?” CJ asked uncertainly.

“Yes, I am. And anyway, you’ve already seen my body, and I sure don’t want to slip and fall. I think I have enough pain.”

CJ winced as she was reminded harshly of what this wonderful bundle of energy had gone through. Kate quietly gripped her hand and slowly got up, guiding CJ with her. Once standing, Kate kissed her on the chin, then on the lips. “You could run my bath while I get us some of that cream soda I saw in the fridge,” she suggested hopefully.

“Sounds like a plan. I’m not putting any bubbles in your water, though. I don’t want them stinging your cuts.”

“Agreed,” Kate said as she headed for the kitchen.

While the water was running, CJ retrieved some large, fluffy towels from the bathroom closet and hung them on the small, heated towel rail to warm up. Kate appeared in the doorway with drinks, dip, and some chips on a tray, and CJ grinned at the abundance of food. “Does someone have the munchies?”

Kate scrunched up her nose in a most adorable fashion. “I think my appetite is coming back now.”

CJ brought a stool over and put it next to the tub. “There ya go.”

Kate put down the snack and began to undress while CJ left to gather some clean, warm, fleecy pajamas from the bedroom. Casually speaking as she returned to the room, CJ didn’t look up until it was too late. “These will be masses too big for you but-” She gulped audibly when she saw a very nude Kate standing in the water, but it was not through any sexual attraction in this instance. Kate’s bruises had started to heal, and good heavens, they looked horrific.

“What?” Kate asked with her eyes wide.

“Sorry for staring. Your bruises just look so much worse. Even though I know they’re healing, it still caught me off guard,” CJ said, resuming her walk into the bathroom. “I brought you my favorite fleecy PJs.”

“Thanks…sssss. Oh!” Kate hissed, lowering herself into the water.

“Is it too hot?”

“No, CJ, it’s actually a really nice temperature. My cuts are just protesting a little. I guess my bruises do look ugly, huh?”

“Not ugly, Katie. Never ugly.” CJ kissed Kate on the forehead and sat on the floor leaning her side on the bathtub near to Kate’s head. She passed her the occasional chip half covered in dip while they chatted. “So tell me about your family.”

Kate sighed, finally relaxing in the soothing water. “Well, I grew up in Brooklyn.” At CJ’s surprised expression, Kate let out a bark of laughter. “Yes, Brooklyn. You heard me. Anyway, my parents were pretty poor back then, and I had dreams of becoming famous since I was little. Mother is quite the domineering type, very judgmental. We’re not close. Actually, I guess I am the opposite of you in that respect. I’m close to my dad. They divorced when I was ten, and Dad went off and tried to have a family again. He always seemed to be going through the motions, like he thought it was expected that he’d settle down and have kids. Five years after my half-brother was born, Dad finally plucked up the courage to be himself, and I wasn’t really surprised when he told me he was gay.” Kate sneaked a glance at CJ whom she found smiling and nodding quietly.

“I think I like him already,” CJ said, grinning.

“You’ll love him. He’s a great dad. Even when my parents divorced and he had his son, I was still equally important to him, and I get on really well with my brother. His name’s Eddie Marshall, same as Dad. You’ll like him too. He’s a cool guy. So Dad and I have always been close, but mother, not so much. I think she just tolerates me, and well…now when I tell her about you, I’m sure I’ll get another lecture.” Kate covered her mouth with her hand as if she had said something wrong, but CJ just chuckled.

“Go on. Any relationships or skeletons in your closet you want to tell me about?” CJ asked, nibbling on a chip.

“Not really. I’ve just had one that I’d call a relationship. I had been in LA for a while, working in bars and going to every audition or open casting call I could find while trying to get my degree. I met this guy Jason in one of those bars, and he put in a good word for me with a friend of his who owned a really upscale place in downtown LA. He got me a job behind the bar, which was really exciting. I knew a lot of casting directors went to that place, and that’s where I ended up being discovered. Anyway, I went out with Jason for two years, but during that time he started trying to tell me what to do. I may have been naïve, but I knew what was best for me…and for my career. I left him and finished school with a Masters in Film Production. After that there were a few one night stands, but they seemed to want to be with Kate, the actress who woke up on-screen caked in make-up with every hair perfectly in place. They didn’t want the real Kate with her hair in disarray and her sleepy eyes, who needs a bomb to wake her in the morning.”

“I like the sound of the real Kate myself,” CJ quipped, getting a chip thrown at her for her trouble. “I’m serious. I’m already attracted to you. The real Kate sounds absolutely perfect to me.”

“You’re attracted to me?” Kate asked, raising both eyebrows in mock surprise.

“D’uh! Yeah,” CJ goaded. Another chip flew in her direction and landed on her lap. She picked it up and popped it in her mouth. “Thanks,” she said with a smug grin. “You know, I never realized that there were still so many narrow-minded people out there…people who would only want that fake on-screen persona instead of an incredible human being like you. That’s crazy.”

“Only in LA,” Kate said, sipping her soda.

“Hah, yes. Only in LA.”

They both chatted a little longer until Kate started to prune. After CJ helped her wash, she held up a warm towel and wrapped Kate’s fragile body in it. She took the other towel and covered her head, massaging gently to remove any excess moisture. Standing in front of the small bathroom mirror, CJ stood behind Kate and brushed through her hair, their eyes meeting frequently in the reflection.

The task complete, they sat for a while on the couch in front of the fire and listened to music while Kate’s hair dried. Kate watched the randomly swirling, fluffy flakes of snow as she sat beside CJ, curled under her arm that was draped casually around her shoulders.

Is this what happiness feels like? Kate mused. Yes. Think about it. I was almost dead not long ago, and yet I feel like I can conquer the world, and it’s all because of her.

“Looks like a lull in the storm,” CJ said, breaking the train of thought.

“Yeah. Do you think it’s easing off?”

“Not sure. I think Charlie was trying to tell us it’s expected to head east in forty-eight hours. At least, that’s what I think he said.”

“That’s what I got too. So will we be heading out then?” Kate asked quietly.

“No. Have you looked out the door? We need to wait for it to melt a little. It’s at least four feet deep out there. Are you in a hurry to leave?”

“No. No way. I just wondered. If we can get a message through to the sheriff and tell him to let my parents know I’m okay, then I’ll be happy to stay here forever,” Kate said, sighing.

“Forever, huh?”

“I love it here, CJ. Even knowing how I came to be here, I still love this place.”

“I’m glad, Katie. I love it too. But we have to go back to the real world eventually. When we catch this guy, you won’t need to worry about that anymore. I promise.” With a kiss to Kate’s temple, CJ got up to bank the fire. After Kate had finished in the bathroom and got into bed, she took a quick shower before checking the door locks and shutting off all but one of the lights. When she walked into the bedroom, she saw Kate curled up on her side under the quilt. CJ went to the nightstand and set down a glass of water and some extra painkillers in case Kate needed them.

Kate opened her eyes at the sound and smiled at the woman looking back at her. CJ slipped under the quilt and switched off the lamp, leaving only the gentle glow of the light in the living area.

“I like your dream-catcher,” Kate whispered as she wriggled towards CJ, referring to the adornment hanging from the ceiling above the bed.

“It was my great grandfather’s,” CJ replied as she accepted Kate into her embrace.

“Why does it have a wolf on it?”

“My great grandfather’s tribal name was Walks with Wolves. He loved to study them as a young man, and the elders in his tribe thought he got so close to them that he had joined the pack,” CJ said, remembering the stories her mom told her.

Kate was lost in thought for a few moments. “CJ…when I was walking across the mountain, when I escaped, I saw a black wolf with cool-blue eyes. He watched me as I rested at the edge of a clearing, and I wasn’t afraid of him. Then later when I collapsed, I swear I saw him again. I thought I’d imagined it, but…”

“Maybe you did, or maybe you were guided here. I guess we’ll never know.” She kissed Kate’s forehead and immediately decided it was a mistake when Kate raised her head and sought out her lips. She didn’t resist this time as Kate’s tongue gently requested access to her mouth. She accepted it readily and deepened the contact, keeping it gentle so as not to hurt Kate’s wounded skin. After a few seemingly endless moments, CJ was really struggling to contain the fire that ignited in her belly and shot out to spark every nerve ending in her body. Her heart was trying to beat its way out of her chest, and a liquid heat was being created between her legs, so she pulled her mouth away.

“Katie,” she said through slightly ragged breaths. “You have no idea what you’re doing to me, but we can’t take this further right now. Once you’re healed and we’re back home, we’ll take it from there and-”

“I am home,” Kate interrupted.

“Oh, god,” CJ groaned.

“It’s okay. I understand. But we can kiss without hurting me.”

“We can, but I’m struggling to control my feelings. How do you do it? How do you get closer in one day, than anyone else has in the past twenty-five years?”

“Because you love me…?” Kate asked hopefully.

CJ froze momentarily. “Perhaps,” she whispered.

“Because I love you?” Kate continued uncertainly.

“Could be,” CJ offered weakly, swallowing hard.

Kate’s hand trailed up over CJ’s shoulder and came to rest on the back of her neck, coming to a halt when it found roughened skin. CJ froze once more and tried not to pull away.

“Tell me,” Kate requested gently.

“Tell you what?”

“Tell me about this,” she repeated, brushing her index finger over the skin for emphasis.

I can’t seem to say no to this woman. She’s got me good. But wow, she’s so incredible. And this gets me out of the love conversation. That thought made her eyebrow quirk. “Okay. I got shot a couple of years ago. On the job,” she said plainly, her face still only a few inches from Kate’s.

Kate’s deep sigh preceded her response. “Can you tell me about it? Do you want to?”

“I seem to want to tell you everything, so why not this?”

“You may as well. You’ve been trying to keep me occupied all day. This will just finish it off nicely,” Kate teased.

“You can see right through me, can’t you?” CJ said, nipping that cute little nose with her fingers.

“Yes. And thank you for looking after me so well. I can’t believe how much better you made me feel today.”

“You are most welcome. And it was my pleasure,” CJ purred. She could see the wide, darkened eyes struggling to see her in the low light, and she trailed her fingertip slowly down from Kate’s forehead, round her cheek, over her delicate ear, and down to her chin. “Okay. The shooting,” she began belatedly. “Well, I was called to a hostage situation in Los Angeles. This crazy guy was apparently a heavy drug addict, and he had become seriously strung-out in his withdrawal. He had a pistol and just went into the building that happened to be nearest to him which unfortunately was an elementary school…” At Kate’s sharp intake of breath, CJ paused and squeezed the shoulder her hand had rested upon. “Want me to stop?”

Kate’s heart was breaking at the thought of what CJ had gone through. She couldn’t comprehend anyone wanting to hurt kids, but then again, thinking how irritable and unpredictable her attacker seemed to be when under the influence, she supposed anything was possible. She shuddered. “No, CJ. Tell me,” she said, taking the hand from her shoulder and clasping it in her own against her chest.

“He had basically run in there, gone into the first room he’d found, and pointed the gun. I suppose it was a blessing that it was three in the afternoon and almost everyone had left already. But the teacher was still there with three of the kids, handing out projects for them to take home. He shot the teacher immediately…not fatally…and huddled the three kids into a corner. When we arrived he was screaming that if anyone came into the room, he would shoot the kids. He wanted money and lots of it. I was the negotiator that day. It took me eighty-five minutes to talk him into trading me for the kids. I had figured out that even though he thought he had control of the situation, he was in a highly suggestible state, and I told him exactly what he wanted to hear. I said that we would only give him his money and his ridiculous request for a chopper to…and I quote…get me the fuck outta here, if he traded the kids for me. And he did. He had the gun to my head when another Bureau negotiator tried to stall him. He flipped out and shot me as I tried to dive for cover. He apparently made his escape through a fire exit.”

“How did he get away if you had been in there for over an hour?” Kate asked, totally absorbed in CJ’s every word.

“It seemed that the classroom’s fire exit led out onto an enclosed yard surrounded by high walls. From the outside, the cops couldn’t get in, and they must have left a gap in the perimeter, thinking he couldn’t get out. But there was a climbing frame in the yard. He must have used it to get over the wall. I was so damned angry when I found that out.”

“You weren’t at fault, CJ. You did everything you could with a hostile and unpredictable nutcase. Do you know how incredible you are, and how much I admire you?”

And at those words it was CJ’s turn to shed a tear. Kate gathered the tough special agent into her arms, this time bringing CJ’s head under her chin, and whispering a few comforting words as she silently wept. An undetermined amount of time later they were both asleep, clinging to one another in a subconscious attempt to protect each other from the world.

.

Chapter 8

Four days later, the snow had finally stopped. Kate stood just outside the door in the late morning sunshine – though the temperature must have been struggling to get up to zero – watching CJ digging the Jeep out of its igloo. She was clothed in a thick pair of CJ’s sweatpants turned up three times at the bottom. Her feet were warmed by two pairs of large thermal socks and a huge pair of hiking boots. The jacket she was wearing made her look like she had been inflated by an over-enthusiastic air pump, but CJ thought she looked unbelievably adorable.

“Why don’t you get back inside? Stay warm,” she shouted.

Pulling the door closed to keep the heat in, Kate tentatively trudged through the deep snow. “I wanted to get some fresh air…and to watch you work.”

“Ah,” CJ said, leaning on the handle of her shovel and reaching over to kiss Kate’s forehead.

“Need any help?”

“Not this time, but if we’re back up here in winter again, you’re doing all the snow work,” CJ retorted with a grin.

“Deal.” Kate turned around to get a good look at the place that had sheltered her for the past week or so. The tiny yard was flanked on two sides by the cabin and shed, and opposite the front of the house, the wilderness merged with the little property flawlessly, with evergreen trees and surprisingly flat but rough terrain split by the dirt track road. The other edge of the yard that lined up perfectly with the large windowed side of the cabin dropped away steeply revealing, from this vantage point, a partial, stunning view. It felt to Kate like she had been here for much longer. It was beautiful, and the snow sparkled around her like someone had waved a glitter wand that reached out magically to touch everything. She knew she was being fanciful, but CJ’s cabin felt magical to her. “I’ll go make you some hot coffee,” she said as she walked toward the door.

“Sounds divine,” CJ replied over-dramatically.

Kate laughed over her shoulder and went indoors only to be greeted by the sound of Charlie’s voice shouting over the radio. She grabbed the handset and pressed the button on the side. “Charlie?”

“Hey…” Charlie’s voice paused momentarily. “Who is this?”

“I’m Kate. Hold on, Charlie. I’ll get CJ, and she can explain.” She didn’t wait to hear his reply, throwing the door open and summoning CJ into the cabin. “It’s Charlie,” she said, holding out the handset.

“Hey, Sheriff.”

“Hey, FBI. Care to tell me what’s goin’ on up there?” he shouted over the interference.

CJ could only imagine his curious expression. “Charlie, I have some important information for you. On Tuesday, I found Kate Marshall nearby on the mountain. She was badly beaten and had escaped her attacker. I need you to contact the LAPD and my office, Charlie. The abduction will be a federal case…” she paused to wait for his response.

“I know exactly who you’re talkin’ about. It’s been all over the news. My god, CJ, that’s awful and great all at the same time…you know, that she’s okay an’ all. I’ll contact the proper authorities. Don’t you worry about that. I doubt you’ll get down the mountain in the next couple of days. If I can get hold of a snowplow, I’ll try and head up the track.”

CJ knew she had rattled him with this piece of news. He never called her by her given name. “Don’t worry about us, Sheriff. We’re fine. If you try to get a snowplow up here, you wouldn’t get it back down. There’s nowhere to turn it at my place. Just let the LAPD know that I have her, and tell my office that I’ve bagged as much evidence as I could. And tell them to inform Kate’s parents. Let them know she’s okay and in the care of a federal agent.”

“I will, CJ. She couldn’t be in better hands. I’ll get back to you when I have more information. Baxter, out.”

“Roger, Charlie. Thanks.” CJ turned to Kate and was immediately wrapped in a clumsy hug, both their padded outfits making it difficult to get a grip.

“Thank you, CJ.”

“You’re welcome. At least we know that your abduction case is already being investigated. We’ll get him, Katie,” she promised, brushing a strand of blond hair away from Kate’s blinking eyes.

Kate kissed her soundly on the lips. “Yikes, you’re cold. Go finish up quickly, and I’ll make the coffee.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” CJ saluted on her way out the door.

Kate chuckled and set about completing her task. When CJ came back, she shed the wet waterproofs and jacket before settling on the floor in front of the crackling fire.

“We’ll have you home before New Year’s Eve,” CJ said as Kate placed a mug on the coffee table.

“You mean you’ll have me back in LA by New Year’s Eve. I’m glad I got to spend Christmas with you. Shame we didn’t have a tree.”

“I…I don’t usually celebrate it. My mom was killed December twenty-second, and I guess…” CJ’s husky voice trailed off.

“Come here.” Kate grasped her elbow and led her to the couch, slipping her hand down to entwine her fingers with CJ’s. “We don’t need a tree. And I already have an amazing Holiday gift,” she said sincerely, giving CJ the most astoundingly loving smile.

CJ thought her heart might just burst if Kate kept that up. “You do?”

“I do,” Kate said, knowing that CJ knew exactly what she meant. “And you found me on December twenty-second, didn’t you?”

“You’re right.” CJ frowned. “I did. There are so many weird things going on with us…coincidences, maybe. It’s hard to keep track. Maybe it’s time for things to change a little around here.”

“Maybe it is.”

CJ leaned over and met Kate halfway, their lips joining and trying to convey all their emotions in that one kiss. Their hands tangled in soft hair and their bodies delicately pressed together. Kate’s hand slid down CJ’s back, and she dragged it round to cup CJ’s full breast through the soft material of her sweater.

CJ lost her breath and pulled her mouth away a few millimeters to get some oxygen. “Katie,” she gasped against the warm, full lips.

“Yes?”

“You…uh…you…oh! You need to stop.” CJ opened her eyes and saw spots dancing across her field of vision.

“I don’t want to,” Kate panted into CJ’s gasping mouth.

“Oh…” CJ gently grabbed Kate’s questing hand and stilled it, but didn’t remove it from her breast. Trying desperately to hold onto her self-control, she took a few cleansing breaths and finally grasped the hand in hers. She momentarily worried that the feelings she was having were in conflict with her professional code, but this wasn’t her case…and she didn’t want it to be. She decided to follow her heart. This was a once in a lifetime chance, and she had to take it. “Katie, I swear to you…when you’re healed and I can touch you without worrying about hurting you, I will make love to you all night long if that’s what you want. You won’t need to ask me twice. Hell, you won’t even need to ask me once,” she said, gradually recovering her breath.

Kate lowered her head, her eyes still focused on CJ. “How about all week long?”

“Whatever you want, Katie. Whatever you want,” CJ promised, kissing each individual hurt on her companion’s face.

“I’ll hold you to that,” Kate said, moving her head to make sure CJ got every single injury covered.

A soft sound of amusement in Kate’s ear made her shiver, and CJ’s forehead fell onto her shoulder.

“I know you will.” CJ laughed and looked into Kate’s eyes as the smile faded from her face. “So…are you my girlfriend now?”

Kate trapped her tongue between her teeth and gave CJ a mischievous flutter of her eyelashes. “I’d say that was pretty much accurate.”

“Pretty much?”

“Yes. Pretty much. Who knows where it will lead,” Kate quipped before picking up her coffee and leaning back on the couch.

They sat once again in a comfortable silence. It was like each moment spent together bound them closer in some unfathomable way, and for some reason, CJ was happy to let it continue. The thought of being with Kate constantly didn’t bother her, and when it ran through her mind with no serious repercussions or neurons firing out of her ears, she raised her eyebrow and continued to sip her beverage until it was finished.

“Come on,” CJ said, once Kate had put down her mug for the final time.

But before Kate could even respond, CJ had heard an unusual noise outside the cabin and was on her feet in a split second. It seemed like only another second later that she had been to the bedroom, fetched the gun, and returned to stand inside the front door. Kate was astounded at the change in CJ, but it only increased her attraction even more. She watched as CJ froze in place to listen, and then worried a little when CJ slid her feet inside her boots and opened the door slowly. As she disappeared outside, Kate was poised on the edge of the couch, ready to move at a moment’s notice. A few tense heartbeats later, CJ came back inside with a much more relaxed expression on her face.

“Deer,” she said before sending Kate a half smile.

“Phew. You had me a little worried there.”

“Sorry.” CJ slipped into the bedroom again to lock up the weapon. When she came back, Kate was on her feet.

“You amaze me.”

CJ looked a little puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“Here I was, thinking you were all relaxed and off duty, but at the slightest sign of possible danger, you were totally alert and ready to do your job in seconds,” Kate said as she moved her hand slowly up to CJ’s face.

CJ closed her eyes at the feel of Kate’s fingers on her skin. “I’m never off duty,” she whispered.

“I see that now.”

When the momentary contact was over, CJ opened her eyes and decided to get back to their enjoyable evening. When she remembered what she was going to do before the interruption, she put her finger in the air. “Ah. Yes…”

As she walked away, Kate followed her to the area behind the couch, just next to the bedroom door. CJ pulled a colorful rug aside that was similar to, but smaller than, the one in front of the fire, to reveal a trapdoor in the floor beneath.

“Downstairs?” Kate asked, excitement threading through her voice.

“Yep. Watch your step. The staircase is steep, so put your feet side-on,” CJ instructed as she descended into the darkness. “In fact, wait a sec until you see me come back, Katie.”

“OK.”

A low-energy light bulb went on, and CJ appeared back at the stairs. Kate climbed down slowly and found herself in the waiting arms of her new girlfriend. Looking around the tiny room, she noticed the two dark-red armchairs, a few framed movie posters on the darkly painted walls, and a huge television screen that was almost as big as the wall it hung on.

“This place is great…and warm too,” Kate said in surprise, now standing with her back to CJ.

CJ’s arms slipped around Kate’s waist as she leaned her chin on Kate’s shoulder. “Yeah, it’s thermally lined and the pipes for the hot water run through here,” she said, pointing just above their heads.

“I love it.”

“Good. Wanna watch a movie?”

“I sure do,” Kate responded eagerly while turning in those strong arms and kissing CJ on her neck.

“We need supplies,” CJ half-whispered under the gentle assault. “Let’s go back up.”

Standing in the kitchen a moment later, Kate watched with amusement as CJ’s butt danced around in the air while she looked for something under the kitchen sink. Kate tilted her head to get a better view and hummed in appreciation of the alluring vision.

“Here it is,” CJ’s muffled voice called from inside the cupboard. She stood up and set the elusive item on the counter to plug it in.

“We’re having popcorn?” Kate asked in amazement.

“Yeah. You don’t like popcorn?”

“No, I love it. You just keep surprising me. You sure are well-equipped up here.”

CJ laughed and opened a nearby canister. “Salty or sweet?” she asked as she poured the popping corn into the machine.

“Sweet for me, please,” Kate said, lowering her tone and leering at her new girlfriend. “Although, salty can be good too. But for today, sweet will do.”

CJ cleared her throat in an exaggerated manner before digging out a couple of sodas from the fridge. “Can you grab the laptop?”

“Sure…sweetie.”

As she let Kate’s sensuous tone slide into her senses, CJ considered how she was ever going to survive this woman as she slowly descended the stairs once more, arms laden with a tray bearing glasses and bowls filled with sustenance.

“What are we watching?”

“You can choose. They’re stacked behind the chair there,” CJ said as she linked the laptop to the TV.

“Wow, you do have my movie. Glad you’re a fan, Miss Carson.”

“Not a fan. That implies fanatic. I’m an avid admirer, although that just transpired recently,” CJ said with a grin while taking her seat.

“Smooth,” Kate complimented. “Ooh, you have Wedding Crashers. I love that movie. True love is the soul’s recognition of its counterpoint in another,” Kate quoted as she recalled the scene from the movie. “I always loved that line.”

CJ gawked at her with her mouth agape. “I love that part too. I used to think it was a fantasy, though.”

“And now…?”

“Now, I wonder.”

Kate smiled at the shy look on CJ’s face before she made her choice and crouched over the laptop to enter the DVD into the drive. Switching off the lamp, she took her seat and immediately grabbed a handful of popcorn from the bowl that was balanced on the two middle arms of the chairs.

When the introduction started on-screen, CJ turned to Kate and smirked. “Miss Congeniality? Really?” she asked in disbelief.

“Yeah,” Kate replied as she settled down in her chair. “She’s not as cute as you, though.”

* * * * * *

The battered and rusty brown vehicle pulled up against a curb, hiding in the shadows of night and badly illuminated street lamps. The dark figure inside leaned across the passenger seat to wind down the window.

“You lookin’ for business?” a female said from the sidewalk as she leaned down to reveal a barely contained cleavage.

He nodded mutely, eyeing her blond hair with satisfaction. She’ll do.

“It’s fifty bucks. More if you want extras,” she said before opening the car door and getting in.

He sat silently looking at her. His eyes darted back and forth, pupils dilated, head twitching.

Sensing she was under scrutiny, she turned from her forward-facing position and assessed his demeanor immediately. “Hey listen, man. If you’re junked up, I’m outta here. I don’t do that kinda-”

She soon shut up when the butt of his newly-acquired gun came down square across her temple, and her body slumped into the seat as the car squealed off under his erratic acceleration.

* * * * * *

That night, after a highly successful dinner made from frozen and canned goods, CJ and Kate were chilling out on the couch. CJ was propped up against the cushions at the corner of the L, and Kate had scooted up against her to lean on her chest. CJ had lovingly draped both arms around Kate’s body as they listened to the soft music playing over the crackling of a new log thrown in the fire. They had ended up this way without thought, without questions, and without any doubt from either of them.

Kate had been quiet and seemed deep in thought since dinner, and only now did she break her silence by whispering, “Do you think I’ll have any permanent scars?”

“I don’t know, honey. I’m not a doctor,” CJ replied, trailing her fingers tenderly down Kate’s bruised cheek.

Kate let the endearment flow over her before she spoke again. “I’d like your opinion. You’ve seen all my injuries, and I’d think you’d have some idea…in your line of work.”

“Well, I think maybe the one on your thigh, the one on your calf, and the J-shaped one on your back might leave scars behind.” CJ kissed Kate’s hair to counteract the sting in the words. “And perhaps a little one here on your temple, but I’d say it will be easily hidden with make-up. Are you worried about it affecting your career?”

Kate took in all the information she had just heard, separating it out in her mind. “No, I wasn’t worried about work, but it’s good to know you don’t think my face will be covered in scars. Tell me about the J.”

“The, uh, carving he did to your lower back,” CJ said, gently squeezing Kate’s arm comfortingly as she spoke. “It looks like an uppercase J. I don’t know if it means anything significant, but that’s just how I described it in my notes.”

“Oh,” Kate replied absently, lost in thought. “He was particularly brutal that day. I got most of my injuries during those twenty-four hours…”

When Kate’s voice trailed off, CJ looked at her with concern. “Hey, are you all right?”

“Uh-huh. Just trying not to think about it, but at the same time I don’t want to forget any of it either. You know, for my statement. They’ll take a statement from me, won’t they?”

“Yes. It will most likely be the FBI who does it now. They’ll have taken over the case when you were abducted. You might not be able to go back to your house until we catch this guy. You know that, right?”

“I know. And I don’t want to anyway. Will I be able to pick up some personal items?”

CJ sighed. “I don’t know yet. Depends how much they’ve done by the time we get there. Let’s take it one step at a time, okay?”

Kate nodded and turned onto her side, burying her face in CJ’s sweater. CJ just held her tight and occasionally kissed the top of her head to comfort herself as well as Kate. They sat there for quite some time, breathing each other in and contemplating their return to Los Angeles.

* * * * * *

CJ’s body was like jelly. She had never felt so slovenly in her life, but she had to exert herself slightly in order to purse her lips and hold back a giggle when a small snort came from Kate’s nose. Kate had started dozing off and was trying unsuccessfully to fight it. CJ reached around and moved her into a better position, but the shift in her human pillow brought Kate back to life.

“Hmm? I fell asleep, didn’t I?

“Kind of,” CJ said with a hidden grin. “Bedtime, I think.” She watched with quiet pleasure as Kate got up and headed to the bathroom, yawning widely and scratching through her ruffled hair as she went. CJ’s heart was so full she began to think that perhaps aliens had taken over her body. Nope. I’m just falling in love and it hit me like a frickin’ freight train. This is totally crazy. I’m not falling in love! No. Nope. Never. Am I?

With a shake of her head and a sigh of surrender, CJ shuffled through to the bedroom and stripped off her clothes. She lifted her pajama top from the bed before she realized that Kate had already come back from the bathroom and was standing wide-eyed in the doorway. CJ made an abrupt move to cover her body.

“Don’t,” Kate demanded with the gentlest of commands.

CJ stopped, mid-maneuver, while she was being scrutinized in the nicest possible way. Kate’s eyes were now the greenest she had ever seen as they scanned CJ’s body. Kate couldn’t move and couldn’t stop drinking in the sight of the glorious, naked form in front of her. CJ’s long, black, shiny hair sprawled over her broad shoulders, and her dark, ocean-blue eyes glistening in the low light were mesmerizing. CJ shifted slightly as Kate visually devoured her smooth, naturally-tanned skin covering her collarbone, and her pert breasts topped with full, brownish nipples.

Breathe, Kate reminded herself as she continued her appraisal of CJ’s flat, muscled abdomen, her rounded, womanly hips, and the dark triangle of hair at the juncture of those longer than long legs. She gulped audibly when she became aware that CJ was really beginning to squirm under her observations. “I just came to ask you about toilet paper, but, uh…”

CJ licked her dry lips and pulled on the shirt-like pajama top that only just covered those wonderful treasures underneath. “In the hamper at the foot of the tub…”

“CJ?” Kate said before she turned away. “Do me a favor and don’t move ‘til I get back, okay?”

“Um, okay.”

Kate did not leave for long and returned to the bedroom to find CJ had indeed not moved, although she did have a very apprehensive look on her face. Kate skirted the bed and stood in front of this very special agent who had captured her attention so completely. She slowly removed her own pajamas and dropped them to the floor, looking up into CJ’s eyes as her own body was revealed. “You won’t hurt me. Make love to me…please,” she whispered, placing her hands on the front of CJ’s top and pushing it back off her shoulders.

CJ’s heart rate increased dramatically at those words, and she found she couldn’t refuse a plea like that. She didn’t want to, either. Watching Kate slipping under the duvet, she paused for a split second before following her willingly. Lying on her side next to Kate, she slipped her arm under her shoulders, cradling her lovingly. She pressed her body against Kate’s and let out a moan of pleasure when she felt the warm skin of Kate’s breast touch her own. Their eyes were locked onto one another, their connection constant. CJ gently laid her hand on Kate’s firm, bruised stomach and bit her lips in empathy. “Are you sure you feel up to this?” she whispered uncertainly.

“Yes. I’m fine. I want you to touch me.” Kate took the hand from her stomach and pressed it against her breast.

CJ gasped as she lowered her head to kiss Kate gently but passionately. Kate returned the kiss, her tongue immediately requesting entry into her new lover’s mouth, and her hands finding their way into CJ’s hair. She had never felt anything as soft and wonderful as CJ’s lips. The kiss was tender yet full of passion, and Kate could feel that they were both holding back due to her injuries. At this point, she was happy to take it slow. She wanted to feel everything CJ would offer.

CJ’s hand carefully squeezed Kate’s breast, and her thumb trailed slowly back and forth over the hard, aching nipple standing proudly at its center. Having Kate’s permission to touch her this way was overwhelming for CJ. She knew what Kate had been through, and she knew they hadn’t known each other for long, but it felt like they had waited a lifetime to come together like this.

They broke the kiss to take in much-needed deep breaths, and Kate smiled, her eyes on fire with the passion she felt. CJ returned the smile and took her time on her journey over Kate’s skin. Her mouth began a trail downward to kiss Kate’s neck then nibbled along her pronounced collarbone. Knowing this couldn’t be an energetic encounter, CJ made her caresses as loving and healing as she could, taking her time to lick and kiss each hurt. She covered Kate’s sensitive nipple with her lips, using her tongue to gently flick it back and forth. Kate moaned and arched her back to push into the touch, wanting this woman with all her heart.

“Oh, Ciara. Yes…”

CJ didn’t even falter at the use of her full name. It just encouraged her to continue, but her passion was getting the better of her, and she lifted her head to look at Kate and reign in her desires, afraid of hurting this precious being. Kate made a small sound of protest and frowned when CJ’s mouth left her.

CJ had mistaken it for a sound of pain and looked at Kate with concern. “Are you okay?”

Kate nodded vigorously and pulled CJ back down for another kiss. CJ trailed her hand languidly over Kate’s abdomen, using the soft pads of her fingertips to leave a line of gooseflesh in their wake. CJ moaned when she felt Kate covering her breast with her hand, massaging it in a circular motion, the nipple hardening and jabbing into the palm immediately. Their mouths parted once again, and they looked at one another as they continued the sensual caresses. Kate’s expression was one of pure want and devotion, and CJ hoped she knew what she was feeling for her in return.

CJ’s long fingers tentatively tickled over the thatch of wispy, blond hair at the apex of Kate’s legs. CJ gasped at the touch, once again feeling amazed and privileged at being allowed this intimacy. Their eyes never breaking contact through the entire encounter, it felt like an almost tangible bond between them that only served to heighten the sensations elsewhere on their bodies.

Dipping her middle finger a little deeper, CJ found the top of Kate’s clit already lubricated with her arousal. She moaned at the abundant wetness between her own legs, generated simply by kissing and touching this woman. She pushed lower, parting the full outer labia and sliding into the wetness deeper still, bringing some of it out to trail deliciously along the length of the hardening flesh engorged with desire.

“I…please, Ciara.”

CJ smiled at the sound of Kate’s pleading voice and moved her hand back and forth, stimulating the entire length of her clit, building the pressure and rhythm steadily. She couldn’t believe how wet Kate was, and it increased her own desire so much that she thought she might come first. Her body was burning now, throbbing with every beat of her heart, and the feel of Kate under her fingertips was enough to make her ache with need. She gently entered Kate with two fingers, thrusting slowly and deeply inside, curling upwards to seek out and press that smooth spot that would build the fire within. She brought her thumb into play, rubbing it in circles over the sensitive center of Kate’s sex. The result was immediate as she felt the velvety walls begin to flutter around her fingers.

Kate let out a passionate scream and a slightly incoherent “Ciara.” Her full breasts heaved pleasantly as the sensations took over her body, spreading out from her core and igniting every molecule of her taut form.

CJ watched in awe as Kate held nothing back at the height of her pleasure. Kate’s inner muscles pulled her fingers deeper as they gripped and milked her fingers with each pulsation. CJ was somewhat shocked when her own orgasm washed over her in waves, triggered by watching Kate climax. As she caught her breath again, she gentled her caress, guiding Kate through it until she finally relaxed into the mattress, her mouth open and dry from panting so hard. CJ continued to stare at her as she recovered, thinking that Kate was indeed the most beautiful woman in the world. While she was still intimately connected to her lover, CJ leaned down and kissed Kate’s slightly parted lips.

“You…are unbelievable,” Kate said, slowly blinking her heavy eyes.

“Why, thank you, Miss Marshall,” CJ whispered, wiggling the buried fingers slightly. When Kate smiled broadly and clamped down with her inner muscles, CJ’s eyes widened. “You want more?” she asked, raising her eyebrow.

“As much as I want to keep you there forever, I need to move to do…what I want to do next.”

“Oh?” CJ said, genuinely intrigued. She carefully withdrew her fingers and watched Kate’s reaction to her next move.

Kate’s jaw dropped and her heart pounded a little harder as CJ brought her hand up to her mouth, inhaling deeply the intoxicating scent on her fingers before taking them into her mouth and sucking them clean.

Kate swallowed hard and licked her lips. Good God, she’s beautiful, Kate thought.

“So, what are you going to do?” CJ whispered.

Kate’s response came in the form of her getting to her knees, revealing her naked body to the appreciative gaze of her lover. She pushed the duvet and blankets to the bottom of the bed and, using her hands, she slowly spread CJ’s legs. CJ gasped yet again when Kate positioned herself between them and carefully lowered the length of her body down on top of her.

Kate looked upon this beautiful woman whom she couldn’t deny she was completely crazy about. The fact that this was her first time being intimate with a woman didn’t even cross her mind. It just didn’t matter. She was acting on pure instinct. “I’m going to love you.”

Kate’s kiss was deep and full of passion and desire, and it took CJ’s breath away. The feel of Kate’s tongue tasting her, teasing her, healing her soul, caused tears to sting the back of her eyes. Then the feel of Kate’s soft mouth was gone, only to kiss and nip at the skin on CJ’s neck, her warm tongue flicking out to lick her delicate earlobe and trail around the edge of the shell-like structure. CJ moaned in anticipation as Kate began a lazy journey down over her upper chest, stopping to kiss a small scar there before continuing on to take her very sensitive nipple deeply into her mouth.

CJ’s eyes shot open when she felt Kate’s teeth tenderly grip the hardened flesh and the wet warmth of her tongue rasp over the tip.

“Katie…” CJ whispered hoarsely, arching up and expelling a gust of breath.

Kate didn’t stop her assault on CJ’s senses, bringing her hand up to cover the other breast and rolling its nipple between her thumb and forefinger to intensify her lover’s pleasure. CJ lost all control and could do nothing but feel the rapture that Kate was putting her through. Incredibly, she felt a mild orgasm ripple through her again, but Kate didn’t relent. She seemed ravenous now, leaving CJ’s breasts behind and kissing over her stomach hungrily. She dipped her tongue briefly into CJ’s navel, causing her eyes to roll back as they closed. Then the cool, tough special agent felt Kate’s breasts press against her inner thighs, and it was all she could do not to scream. Kate nuzzled the dark thatch of hair with her lips and nose, taking a tentative breath to inhale the musky scent of a very ready female body. She wasn’t surprised to find that it intoxicated her in the most delightful way.

With another deep inhalation, Kate flicked out the tip of her tongue to taste the flooding moisture gathering at the top of the crease, the hair dampened with CJ’s strong arousal. Kate heard a heartfelt moan escape her lover’s lips, and two strong hands tangled in her hair, massaging with the lightest of touches and urging her on. Kate’s hunger took over completely, and she plunged her tongue deeply between the swollen folds, nudging CJ’s legs apart even more with her shoulders. She flattened her tongue and licked long and slow, from just above CJ’s intimate core, over the aching bundle of nerves, and stopping at the top before repeating the caress. By this point CJ was audibly moaning with every single breath, unable to hold off the onslaught of yet another orgasm. Kate sensed it. She hadn’t realized how hard female sex organs could get when ready to climax, and it aroused her even more. She flicked back and forth over the tightened clit with the tip of her tongue before stiffening the muscle and pushing it as far into CJ as she could.

“Katie! Oh, Katie! Oh…oh…”

CJ screamed out and let go of Kate’s head as she gripped at the sheet on the bed, her knuckles turning white. Kate looked up the long length of beautiful, golden body while she continued to lick and kiss CJ as she recovered from her climax. She watched as CJ moaned through parted lips, her tongue poking out to moisten the dry skin, the muscles on her abdomen rippling beautifully. Kate swirled her tongue gently in small circles feeling the pulsations gradually lessen and not wanting to leave this heavenly haven just yet. But when CJ crossed her arms over her eyes with her chest rising and falling rapidly, Kate was immediately concerned. She crawled up CJ’s body and slipped her arms under her broad shoulders.

“Hey,” Kate whispered. “Look at me, honey.”

CJ sniffed and moved her arms to quickly wrap them around the woman on top of her.

Kate saw the tears and released her right arm to reach up and brush them away. Running her fingers through CJ’s bangs, she gazed thoughtfully into her tearful eyes. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

CJ raised her head to kiss Kate, trying to convey all the emotion with that simple touch that she couldn’t seem to verbalize at this point. Sinking back onto the pillow when they parted, she touched Kate’s face, tracing her lips, following the line of her eyebrow before pushing a strand of her blond hair back from her cheek. “I…I’m scared, Katie.”

Kate’s eyes widened, but CJ brought her finger up to cover her full lips, forestalling any response. She gulped before continuing her confession.

“I think I love you already. I feel it so much…too much. It’s ridiculous. And I’ve never cried like that before. There’s just so much emotion, I can’t begin to tell you what I’m feeling…”

Removing the finger from her lips, Kate kissed CJ to show her that her openness was appreciated. “Don’t be afraid of it. I do understand, CJ, believe me. It seemingly came from nowhere and blindsided us both. But it’s so right. I can feel it in here,” she said, covering her chest with her hand. “What we just did…that was the most natural and beautiful thing in the world to me. Everything about us feels right, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” CJ murmured, mesmerized by the expressive eyes above her.

“I’ve never made love like that before. Actually, I’ve never made love before. It has never felt like this,” Kate said thoughtfully.

“Me neither. Not really…and certainly not like this.”

“Meant to be,” Kate murmured. Her gaze met CJ’s, and she was suddenly very aware of the soft, warm breasts pressed against hers. “Can we stay like this forever?” she asked, gently pressing herself onto CJ.

A small smirk curled CJ’s full, wine-shaded lips. “I believe that would be incredibly inconvenient, my sweet.” She paused. “Hey. You just did it again. With just a word or a look, you made me smile. Are you a magician, Miss Marshall?”

“Perhaps. What do you want me to be?”

“I want you to be you,” CJ replied huskily.

Kate kissed her and slid over to snuggle up to her side, dragging the duvet up to envelope them in a warm cocoon in the middle of the bed. “I think I love you, Agent Carson.”

“I think I love you too, beautiful. Now get some rest,” CJ said, turning to kiss Kate’s forehead.

“Yes, Ma’am,” came the sleepy reply.

.

Chapter 9

Two days later, the morning broke on their last day at the cabin. Charlie had called the previous evening to let them know he had organized an improvised rescue vehicle made up of a powerful quad bike with snow chains and a small plow attached to the front. CJ was quite impressed with his ingenuity. It would be small enough to turn and head back down the mountain, leaving the road clear for the Jeep to follow it.

CJ lay awake, lost in thoughts of what came next. Whatever happened, she would stay as close to Kate as she could for the rest of her leave, if that’s what Kate wanted too. Spooned around the smaller body of her lover, CJ inhaled near her blond hair, enjoying the smell of coconut shampoo combined with a scent that was uniquely Kate. She couldn’t get enough of that scent. She could feel Kate’s warm skin pressed so tightly against her, and she sighed happily.

They had not made love again. CJ suspected that Kate’s injuries were a little more uncomfortable than she had cared to admit. The last two days had been spent in complete bliss, though: lounging together on the couch, making dinner together, talking about life and work, holding one another, and much kissing. They’d even danced together last night as the music played quietly in the background. CJ couldn’t imagine being this happy with anyone else. Kate was a part of her now, and CJ hoped she would be with her for the rest of her days.

“Hmm. You awake?” Kate mumbled sleepily.

“I am. Good morning, beautiful.”

“Good morning, honey.” A wide, thankfully painless yawn broke through Kate’s words. “What time is it?”

“A little after nine. We should get up soon. Charlie’s making his attempt in an hour,” CJ said, resting her lips on the shoulder in front of her.

Kate turned in CJ’s embrace to slip her arm around her waist. “Hi,” she whispered against CJ’s lips.

“Hi, back. Did you sleep well?”

“Like a rock,” Kate replied around a yawn.

“You didn’t need a bomb to wake you this morning,” CJ teased. She received a playful bite on the nose for the comment.

“Needing to pee works equally well, I guess,” Kate quipped as she got up to take care of business.

CJ grinned and watched her go, her T-shirt only just covering Kate’s buttocks. She stretched and followed Kate out of the bedroom, heading in separate directions when Kate entered the bathroom. CJ went to the kitchen sink to fill the tea kettle and stifled a yawn as she sliced the bread they’d made yesterday and popped two pieces in the grill. Lighting the stove, she took two mugs from the cupboard and decided that she liked the little routine they had somehow fallen into in the mornings. Kate came out of the bathroom exactly on cue, and CJ felt two slender arms slip around her from behind.

“Your turn,” Kate mumbled against CJ’s nightshirt.

Grasping the hands on her waist gently, CJ raised one to her mouth and kissed it. “I’ll have peanut butter this morning.”

Kate let her go and continued making the toast while CJ went to the bathroom. All in all, they were quite an efficient team. When breakfast was done, they showered together taking time to wash one another lavishly, not so much to arouse as to show how much they cared. When Kate entered the bedroom to get dressed, CJ had picked out some well-chosen clothing for her.

“This fleece is a short, tight fit on me. It should be good for you while travelling. And these…” She held up a pair of navy-blue cargo pants, “should look okay once rolled up and tucked into socks.” She looked up to see Kate who was wrapped in a towel and looking back at her with a raised eyebrow.

“Thank you,” Kate said, walking towards her.

CJ panicked slightly. “You don’t need to wear these. They’re just a suggestion. I…mmpphh.” She was silenced by Kate’s warm mouth covering hers possessively and immediately decided that the garments were approved.

“Don’t doubt yourself. I love how you take care of me,” Kate assured in a soft voice.

With a nod, they both got dressed, and it wasn’t long before they were ready to leave the cabin. CJ went outside to shut the last storm shutter and lay the solar panels flat, noticing that their attempt at a snowman was still standing, if somewhat drunkenly, next to the shed. She chuckled to herself as she descended from the roof before cocking her head to listen to an unfamiliar sound. A groaning engine heralded the arrival of Charlie – and his deputy – perched on the back of something that resembled a quad bike. CJ smiled as the powerful little device pushed a large wall of snow toward her, and she moved to the side as Charlie continued to push most of it over the steep edge of the yard.

“Boy, am I glad to see you, FBI,” he said, removing his huge gloves and hugging her. “This is Jonathan, my new deputy.”

“Good to see you too, Sheriff. Hello, Jonathan. Nice to meet you,” CJ said, shaking his hand. Just then, a well-wrapped up Kate came scuttling out the door smiling widely at their new visitors. “Sheriff, Deputy…this is Kate Marshall.”

Jonathan immediately put his hand out, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Marshall,” he said enthusiastically, clearly a fan of her work.

“Good to meet you too, Jonathan,” Kate replied. She turned to the sheriff. “And you must be Charlie?” As he started to nod, a surprised expression crossed his jolly features when she grabbed him and hugged him tightly.

CJ smirked as she watched Kate chatting animatedly with Charlie like she had known him for years. “Let’s hit the road, Katie,” she suggested, opening the Jeep door gallantly.

With a kiss and a smile, Kate jumped inside the vehicle before CJ closed the door and locked up the cabin. After a wave to Charlie to signal to him that they were ready, they all made their way carefully down the mountainside, the two women in the Jeep following the little, mean snow-clearing machine.

When they arrived at the sheriff’s office, they discovered that the town was crawling with police and a few federal agents. CJ was immediately asked to pinpoint approximately where she found Kate and estimate which direction she had come from to narrow down the search area for the cave. Kate also helped by describing the terrain she covered before and after her incarceration. A few hours later, they had finished up everything they could for now and began their journey to LA…inconspicuously tailed by an unmarked Bureau sedan.

“You okay?” CJ asked as they drove to the airport.

“I’m fine as long as you’re with me,” Kate said quietly.

“I’ll be right by your side for the next two weeks if you’ll let me.”

Kate smiled widely and took CJ’s outstretched hand. “I’d love that.”

* * * * * *

Back in LA, CJ refused to go straight to the field office, telling Mark Mulroney that they would go to UCLA Medical Center first to get Kate X-rayed and checked out. He agreed since the only possible evidence they would get now was from the bags CJ had prepared at her cabin.

Much later the same day, Kate and CJ entered the LAPD headquarters building, and while Kate gave her statement, CJ caught up with Mark who had come to meet them there. Stopping at the door of the office he was borrowing, CJ looked at the man who she had to admit had become a friend of sorts. His eyes were scanning papers on the desk, his hands clasped in front of his face, and his forefingers pointed to touch his nose.

Mark seemed to sense her arrival and looked up, offering a smile. “Special Agent Carson, come on in. How are you?”

“I’m fine, Assistant Director. And you?” CJ said, dropping into a chair with a pleasant smile on her face.

Mark looked vaguely puzzled before continuing. “I’m also fine, thank you. So…how come when you go off duty and take a vacation, you end up in the middle of one of the most high profile abductions we’ve had in a long while?” he asked sardonically.

“With all due respect, Sir, a federal agent is never really off duty,” she responded evenly.

Mark studied her for a few seconds with narrowed eyes. “Something’s changed,” he said with mock suspicion.

“Sir?”

“You. You’ve changed. You’re acting weird…smiling, being civil and respectful,” he said, making sure to exaggerate his surprise.

Obviously CJ couldn’t hide her new-found happiness or the sparkle in her eyes. She paused to think of the appropriate smart-ass response but, not finding one, she went with honesty. “Yes, Sir. I have changed. Does that bother you?”

“Hell, no. I think I like it,” Mark said, grinning. “And I think you can call me Mark when we’re in private.”

Deciding that he was being genuine, CJ agreed with a nod. “Okay, Mark.”

“Good. So tell me all about what has happened so far.”

CJ gave him all the information she had relating to Kate Marshall and her abduction, from when she had been taken from her house to CJ finding her lying in the snow. Mark watched the play of emotions washing across the agent’s face as she spoke.

“I’m sure it will all be in her statement, Mark, but that’s the story as I know it. Apparently this all happened after the fifth threatening letter she had received, seemingly all of them from this one guy.”

“Good, CJ. Good,” he said, folding his hands on the desktop. “I need to ask you something personal, CJ…about Miss Marshall. And it’s important that you be honest with me.”

CJ knew what was coming. “You’re sharp as a razor, Mark, I’ll give you that. Yes. She’s the reason I’m different. Will that be a problem?”

“No, but it does mean you will never head up this investigation. It just won’t be possible,” he said seriously.

“I understand. I didn’t expect to, and if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to finish my leave and not rush back because of this. I’m sure the boys have it covered.”

“That’s fine. But I do need you on this, CJ. You’re one of the best and even though I can’t have you leading, I need your expertise and knowledge on this case. Keep your cell phone on at all times and let me know where you’ll be,” Mark said sternly.

“Yes, Sir. I was thinking it would be a good idea to take Kate to see her father in New York. I think it would be good for her to go and visit him. Stay away from LA for a while longer.”

“Good idea,” Mark said, smiling at her.

“I wanted to ask you about Kate’s…Miss Marshall’s house. Will she be able to go and get some belongings?” CJ asked hopefully.

“Yes. Her house was gone over with a fine-tooth comb. They couldn’t find anything of evidential value, but they did notice that a few small items seemed to be missing. Maybe while you’re over there, you could ask Kate to identify what those are. I’ll send a couple of agents with you.”

“Thanks, Mark.” CJ exhaled in a rush and rubbed her forehead fretfully.

“Hey. We’ll get him,” Mark said, sensing her disquiet.

“I know. Well if that’s all, Sir?” CJ asked as she rose to her feet.

Mark nodded. “I’ll keep in touch and see you when you get back. Oh, and CJ? I’m glad you’re happy.”

She rolled her eyes at him and smiled as she left the office.

* * * * * *

“Can we do this quickly? I don’t want to be here,” Kate said, as she and CJ followed the two agents into her house.

“We’ll go as soon as you grab what you need and take a quick scan around the living room. The team seemed to think some things might have been taken from in there,” CJ said, her arm wrapped snugly around Kate’s shoulder.

“OK. I’ll pack a case real quick then look around. Come with me?”

They headed into the bedroom to pack clothes and some cherished personal items. Kate found her laptop in her study and put it with the suitcase in the car. Returning to the living room with CJ, she walked around but didn’t notice anything different at first.

“I can’t see anything missing, CJ.”

“What about these circles, here on this table?”

“No. Those were two plants that I, uh, didn’t look after properly. I had to throw them away.”

“Ah,” CJ said with a knowing nod. She could never keep house plants alive either.

“Oh. There is one thing missing,” Kate said, pointing to the fireplace.

CJ summoned one of the agents who had accompanied them armed with his notebook, and went to Kate’s side. “Can you tell me about it? Describe it?”

“Of course. It was a photo in a black, wooden frame. The picture was of me standing with two friends who worked at The Double Take with me. We were standing outside just after the new sign was put up,” she said as a frown creased her forehead. “Why would anyone take that?”

“I don’t know, Katie. The Double Take?”

“That was the name of that upscale bar I told you about. Remember?”

“Yeah. The one where the movie mogul noticed you,” CJ said thoughtfully. “Did you know the two people in the picture well?”

“They weren’t close friends, but I worked with them for a while. Tom was a nice enough guy, and Felicity and I both wanted to be famous. Why? You don’t think Tom…”

“I don’t know. I’m just trying to figure out why your attacker would take the picture.”

CJ’s mind flashed back to the J on Kate’s back. Could it be a capital T? She stored the information away for later, and after a last look around, they left and locked up the house.

The trip to a nearby hotel was held in silence, but once they had checked in and closed the door on the world, they made short work of getting ready for bed and were soon curled up together, arms and legs entangled in a warm nest under the covers.

“When does our flight leave tomorrow?” Kate asked as she inhaled CJ’s soothing scent.

“I think, nine forty in the morning.”

“It will be good to see Dad again. Thank you for coming with me.”

CJ squeezed her beloved girlfriend gently. “I can’t wait to meet the wonderful Edward Marshall.” Her comment made Kate chuckle, and CJ smiled at the sound. “What happened when you called the studio?” she asked sleepily.

“They had to replace me. Sam was outraged that they did it so quickly, but they got this actress who was my height and build and put a damn wig on her. I mean, how silly is that? It’s like something out of Dallas.”

“Well, it sure sounds stupid. You were the star. What are you going to do now?”

“I think I need a little time out. Maybe I’ll produce something. I don’t know. But I do know I’m not worried about it for some reason,” Kate said, nibbling CJ’s collarbone that just happened to be conveniently located near her lips.

“Can I help you with something, Miss Marshall?”

“Hmm. Maybe a few things, Agent Carson. Maybe I need to feel loved tonight.”

“Well,” CJ said, turning to face Kate. “Let me see just how much I can make you feel…for the rest of the evening.”

* * * * * *

The hooker didn’t put up a fight. Why the fuck not? Beating the crap out of her just didn’t do it for him.

“I’m gonna kill that Marshall bitch. It’s her fucking fault,” he sputtered, kicking the body lying at his feet.

He paced the floor for a few minutes before using the sole of his boot to push the lifeless corpse onto her front. Flicking open his knife, he marked her just like that slut who’d escaped. He’d send her a message all right. They would all die because of her.

Kate Marshall had made a fool of him one time too many.

* * * * * *

Walking down the sidewalk in New York City, hand in hand with the most beautiful woman in her world, CJ felt a bounce in her step and a buzz in her heart. Her mind was still subconsciously in investigative mode, but she could shut it down for the most part. She was determined to simply enjoy being in Kate’s company for the duration of their trip. She took in the sights and smells like a normal visitor to the city, instead of the federal agent who was always called there to work.

“Here we are,” Kate said, stopping in front of a smart-looking restaurant.

Prescilla’s?”

“Yep.”

“Your dad works here? Is he a chef?” CJ asked, honestly curious.

“My dad owns here. And he’s quite a good chef but doesn’t need to do that anymore.”

“He owns it? Why Prescilla’s then?”

Kate giggled. “Um, do you know that movie, Prescilla, Queen…”

“Of the Desert?” CJ finished for her.

“It’s his favorite movie,” Kate said with a lop-sided grin.

CJ shook her head and laughed. Once inside the door, her eyes widened and her jaw dropped slightly. From the small frontage outside, she would never have expected the restaurant to be so huge. There was a raised platform off to the left holding a baby grand piano and what looked like an area for a band to set up. The pianist played a soothing melody and was garbed in a bright, royal-blue suit. He was a smiling, balding man with a sprinkling of silver hair who would offer a cheesy grin every now and then to his audience. The tables were all elegantly set and some diners were already eating heartily amid murmured conversation. The décor was quite colorful but somehow managed to be sophisticated, and the waiters were dressed in sharp navy-blue and white outfits. CJ loved the feel of the place and was very impressed with the atmosphere created under soft mood lighting.

“Are you gonna stand there all day?” Kate asked, tugging CJ towards the back of the restaurant. “Carlos?” she said to an approaching waiter. “Is Dad around?”

“Oh yes, yes. He is excited to see you. He’s in his office. Welcome back to us, Miss Marshall,” Carlos said, ushering her toward the office door.

“Thank you, Carlos.”

CJ followed and watched as Kate stopped to observe a tall, distinguished man who leaned casually on the front of his desk. He wore a navy-blue three-piece suit and had short, blond spiky hair with matching mustache and goatee. They covered a well-tanned face containing amazingly familiar green eyes and a strong nose and cheekbones.

This guy is fifty? Wow, CJ thought as her mouth formed a small circle in a silent whistle.

At that very moment, the cool, reserved image of the man was smashed into oblivion when he saw his daughter. He stood up as his eyes immediately filled with tears, and his hands started flailing around in front of him. He held Kate in a heartfelt hug and cried like a baby. Kate joined him, and CJ had to blink back a couple of her own tears. A few sniffs later, the emotional turbulence cleared somewhat, and Eddie gently pushed Kate back by her shoulders.

“You just have no idea how happy I am to see you, sweetheart. I thought I’d lost you.” He blurted out a cry again and held his hand over his mouth in a dramatic attempt to stop his bawling.

“It’s good to see you too, Dad. I missed you.”

“Oh Katie, I love you so much. And Jeffrey! My God, Jeffrey was just beside himself. You should’ve seen the…” Noticing CJ for the first time, Eddie slammed his mouth shut before flashing a giant smile in her direction. “And who is this tall, dark, and deadly beauty?”

Kate bit back a smile and turned to see CJ quirking her usual eyebrow and holding back a half grin. “This…is Special Agent CJ Carson,” Kate said rather proudly while slipping her arm around CJ’s waist.

“I knew it. I just knew it! Your knight in shining armor! You didn’t tell me she was a stunner, Katie. Well hello, Miss Carson,” Eddie babbled, approaching CJ so fast and hugging her that she didn’t realize it until her arms were around the man.

“Hello, Mr. Marshall. It’s great to finally meet you. Katie’s told me so much about you…all of it good.”

“Oh, I like her already, Katie. Wait! Mr. Marshall? Oh no, honey. Call me Eddie.” He paused, taking in the look on his daughter’s face and her arm fitted snugly around CJ. “Or maybe just call me Dad.”

Kate was a little mortified. “Dad!”

“What?” Eddie said, flapping his hand to brush her off. “Clearly there’s more to this than meets the untrained eye. You two make a super couple. Oh sweetheart, I’m so proud of you!”

“Dad, please!” Kate pleaded.

“It’s okay, Katie. I love this guy,” CJ said, sensing that Kate’s discomfort stemmed from her worrying about things moving too fast.

Eddie put his hands on his hips. “See? She loves me. You and me are going to get along just fine, CJ. Ooh, what does that stand for?”

“Ciara Jane,” the amused agent said as she followed Eddie to the desk and sat on the edge beside him.

Kate stood and observed the scene unfolding in front of her. She cocked her head to appreciate her beautiful girlfriend and her father getting along like a house on fire.

“Ciara. That’s lovely. Well, CJ, you have absolutely no idea how glad I am that you came along and took care of my Katie. Oh, you called her Katie too, didn’t you? Well, she doesn’t let just anyone call her that, so you and I must be special indeed!”

Kate dropped her face into her hands and groaned at her father’s exuberant repertoire.

Eddie didn’t seem to need oxygen and barely stopped when he saw her reaction to his excitement. “Oh, she gets all embarrassed when I go on like this. I can’t help it. I was emotionally distraught, and now my precious daughter is back…and with a wonderful partner too! I’m so relieved,” Eddie said, sniffing back another tear.

“Don’t you worry about her, Eddie. I’m sure we’ll find a whole ton of things to talk about that won’t embarrass her too much,” CJ said, grinning at Kate and curling her finger to invite her into their conversation. “Come here, you.”

Kate walked over, and to CJ’s surprise and delight, she leaned between CJ’s knees and kissed her. Resting her hands on CJ’s thighs, she sighed and looked at her father with a dazed and pleased expression on her face. “I’m glad you two get on. I love you both.”

“Oh! Oh, that’s just beautiful. Oh, here I go again!” Eddie blurted as he burst into tears once more.

CJ put her long, graceful arm around his shoulders and held Kate with the other one. She felt like she had a family all of a sudden, and it filled her with something she hadn’t felt for such a long time: real love and happiness. Moisture filled her eyes, and it didn’t go unnoticed by Kate.

“You okay, CJ?”

CJ nodded and smiled to confirm her answer. She stood and talked with Kate and her dad for a while longer, during which time a few more emotional outbursts interrupted the flow. And then the pianist came through the door.

“Jeffrey!” Eddie shouted, a trifle over-dramatically. “Come and hug our sweetheart and meet her new…sweetheart!”

“Well, Babycakes, it’s good to have you back. We’ve been on a knife-edge since you disappeared. It was agony waiting for news. I’m so happy to see you. Oh!”

CJ watched the display of affection from Jeffrey who seemed to speak even faster than Eddie did. The shorter man was just as well-groomed as Kate’s father and was a little stockier built.

“Jeffrey, this is CJ. My girlfriend?” Kate questioned, looking uncertainly at CJ. At an affirmative nod, Kate relaxed her shoulders and smiled.

Jeffrey whipped his hands up to cover his mouth and looked like he might cry any second. “Girlfriend? Oh, honey, that’s just great!” he said, hugging CJ vigorously. “We’ll be a couple of couples,” he added as he laughed at his own joke.

CJ now realized that this was Eddie’s partner. She decided they made a nice couple and realized what wonderfully accepting parents Kate had in the two of them. She was happy to let them chatter for a while longer until Eddie talked them into a free meal out in the restaurant. When CJ heard that it was Open Mic night, an idea formed in her mind, and as Eddie dragged them out front and got them a good table, she decided to sing a song that described her feelings toward Kate.

* * * * * *

After their main course, Kate leaned back in her chair patting her full, slightly-rounded belly. She eyed CJ from under her sandy lashes, wondering what her girlfriend thought of…well, everything. “Penny?”

“For my thoughts? I’m just really enjoying myself,” CJ said, swallowing her last forkful of food. “I love your dad and Jeffrey, if that’s what you mean.”

“They love you too, which makes me incredibly happy. Were you really okay with me calling you my girlfriend in front of them?”

“Totally. I’m absolutely honored.” CJ absorbed Kate’s shy smile as she grasped her hand gently. “I’ll be right back,” she whispered. She stood and kissed Kate soundly on the lips, then left the table.

Kate leaned her chin on her hands and dreamily watched CJ walk away. Her mind kept spinning around the thought that not so long ago, she was terrified and almost dead, and now she was blissfully happy and more alive than she’d ever been. CJ had done more than save her life. She had taught her that people don’t always need to be kept at arm’s length. Kate hadn’t even thought about not trusting CJ. There had been no questioning who CJ was. There was no hidden agenda and no ulterior motive. CJ’s blue eyes were definitely the window to her soul, and Kate was thankful she could see into it so clearly. CJ had also taught her – without even trying – to believe in real love and to follow her heart. She supposed she had also taught CJ that too. It’s just so natural with us. And we balance one another so easily. Wow, she mused.

Kate didn’t know how long she had been sitting there, too lost in thought to realize that CJ hadn’t returned, until the spotlight came on over at the stage. She turned to see CJ standing tall at the microphone preparing to…sing? Kate stared, dumbstruck, quite sure she looked like a beached fish with her mouth opening and closing in disbelief. She took in the sight of her partner clad in faded, blue jeans, her white shirt buttoned up to mid-breast and her black boots providing one extra inch of height. Kate felt her temperature soar at how stunning CJ looked. But what the hell was she doing? Kate was about to find out.

“Good evening, everyone,” CJ’s velvet, husky tones said over the mic. “I would like to sing a song that I thought I’d never be able to sing to anyone. Nobody was special enough for the words to be true in my heart. But now, that’s all changed.”

Jeffrey came out of the office when he heard the microphone being used, and he headed toward Kate to try to get more information. “What’s she singing, Babycakes?” he whispered into Kate’s ear.

Kate just shrugged and shook her head. When CJ started to sing with no accompaniment, Jeffrey recognized the song and rushed to the piano, immediately placing his fingers on the keys.

Everyone in the restaurant was silenced by CJ’s raspy singing voice.

“You walked in the room

And time was standin’ still

Knew you were my destiny by the way you made me feel

Only you in my life

Forever and today

You’re everything I ever imagined my love could be

You for me…”

Kate bit her lip as she continued to listen. It was too incredible, and her heart was battering against her ribs as she realized she had fallen in love.

“Like the stars need the sky

And the river needs its rain

Like an eagle needs its wings

And the fire needs its flames

Like the sun needs the day

And the night needs the moon

Like the air that I breathe

That’s how I dreamed of you

I dreamed you…”

Kate’s eyes were filled with tears of joy as she watched the most incredible woman in her life serenade her in the most incredible way. She knew the song and couldn’t imagine better words for the way she felt too. It seemed they were indeed completely in tune with one another. Taking the tissue from her dad who was now standing behind her watching CJ, Kate focused on the most beautiful voice she’d ever heard.

“It’s hard to explain

But when you know, you know

I was so amazed by you, you had me at hello

I need you in my heart

My body, mind, and soul

It only took a moment to take my breath away

Will you stay?

Like the stars need the sky

And the river needs its rain

Like an eagle needs its wings

And the fire needs its flames

Like the sun needs the day

And the night needs the moon

Like the air that I breathe

That’s how I, I dreamed of you and I

Our love can’t be denied, no, no

There’s nothing I can do, nothing I can say

My heart, it always knew

That’s how I dreamed of you

That’s how I…dreamed you.”

CJ felt her voice breaking as she held back a flood of strange emotions. She knew she was falling so totally in love with Kate, and as much as it scared her, it also excited her. She tried to shake it off and turned to Jeffrey to let him know she was done. She saw copious tears falling from his eyes too. It seemed she had brought the house down, tears and applause all round. The only person she wanted to see was rising from her chair, and CJ replaced the mic before heading straight for her.

Every onlooker eventually grew concerned that CJ and Kate wouldn’t be able to breathe during their crushing embrace, but CJ and Kate didn’t care. It was necessary to both of them, and they smiled at each other when the patrons cheered as they kissed. Eddie was sobbing in a flamboyant manner – CJ expected nothing less – and Jeffrey had joined him at their table.

“That was so beautiful! Just beautiful! Oh, you two…it’s just perfect. And what a voice! Oh!” Jeffrey gushed.

Eddie wrapped his arm around him and pulled him away to leave the women in peace. CJ and Kate sat down after moving their chairs a little closer together.

Their hands entwined automatically as Kate cleared her throat, so full of emotion, “I…I can’t breathe. That was so beautiful. Oh…I can’t seem to find any words.”

“You’re doing just fine. And we don’t seem to need words, Katie. I’m usually the one who can’t find them. That’s why I wanted to sing that to you. It really is how I feel.”

“Oh, CJ.” Kate gasped and leaned over the table to kiss her passionately on the lips, wanting the moment to last forever.

Eddie and Jeffrey loitered at the door to the back office watching the scene unfold. Eddie had never really talked with Kate about her sexuality. He didn’t think he had to. Whatever made Kate happy made him happy, and he could see as clear as crystal, that CJ made his daughter happy. “This is going to be good for both of them. I can tell,” he said to his partner, nodding in approval of his own statement.

“I’d have to agree there, darling. Look at those smiles!”

The smiles he pointed toward were permanently etched on CJ and Kate’s faces as they talked quietly with each other over their joined hands. The rest of the evening was spent that way, and after the meal was over, they said their goodbyes to Eddie and Jeffrey, telling them they would stop by before heading back to Los Angeles. It wouldn’t be a long visit, but CJ knew she would see them again many times. This new aspect of her life began to settle in while she was walking back to the hotel, hand in hand with Kate.

So many changes. Good changes.

* * * * * *

Kate stood naked at the foot of the king-sized bed, her eyes hooded, lips parted. She watched CJ approaching her slowly like a big cat stalking her prey. CJ pressed her warm, smooth skin against Kate and held her, bringing her lips down to cover her alluring mouth. Without breaking the contact, she reached down and scooped Kate up into her arms to place her on the bed where she carefully covered her with her own nude form.

“I love you,” she whispered when their lips parted.

Kate’s eyes glistened. “I love you too.”

Their next kiss was filled with passion as their hands roamed freely over much-loved and very needy body parts. CJ was gasping for breath when Kate’s lips finally released her, and their eyes locked as her breasts pressed repeatedly against Kate’s, fueling their desire.

CJ positioned her hips over Kate’s and felt the thatch of soft, curly hair catch on her own, drawing another gasp from her throat. Kate’s hands began caressing her breasts, teasing her nipples until they stiffened and ached.

“Oh, Katie.”

In a bold and instinctual move, Kate moved her hand lower, two of her fingers forming a V shape and sliding between their merged bodies. She tilted her hips to increase the contact between them, and CJ, realizing what she wanted, pressed herself closer. Kate’s fingers spread CJ’s labia and then her own. CJ’s eyes widened, and she let out a strangled gasp as her very sensitive flesh brushed deliciously against Kate’s. She looked down at Kate’s face and saw her eyes were closed in rapture and her mouth open as she panted for air.

CJ’s nostrils flared when Kate brought her hand up to trail it from her own lips, down her neck, over her breasts, and onto her abdomen where she scratched her nails around in small circles. CJ had never seen anything so erotic and felt her passion burn with the intensity of it. Concentrating on the incredible feeling of her hardening clit sliding back and forth over Kate’s, CJ leaned her hands gently on her lover’s breasts to massage the nipples. It brought a deep moan of pleasure from Kate’s mouth. Their movements became more frantic as the tension built, CJ’s hips thrusting faster as she was urged on by Kate’s words.

“Come with me, Ciara.”

“Oh, yeah. Katie…yes,” CJ purred as she felt the clenching in her stomach and the pulsations spreading through her. “Now. I’m…now.”

“Yes!” Kate was hovering on the brink as she felt the abrupt, uncontrolled thrusts of CJ’s thighs as she climaxed, and she was sure she could feel her lover’s wet release trickle inside her. It sparked her own powerful orgasm, and she arched up forcefully against CJ’s body. She felt the intense pleasure surge through her entire being. “Oh, Ciara…”

CJ carefully lowered her body and buried her face under Kate’s chin, kissing her neck avidly. She laid her head on Kate’s chest and blew her damp bangs from her forehead in a sudden burst of breath. When they finally came back to themselves, they lay in the afterglow, huddled together in the luxurious bedding. Kate was tucked happily under CJ’s chin, and their legs and arms were tangled together in a clinging embrace that neither wanted to relinquish.

“It’s so intense, isn’t it?” Kate murmured.

“It sure is. And it seems to get better each time. I’ve never experienced anything like it before,” CJ said, kissing Kate’s forehead where the bruising had still to fade.

“I think it’s because I love you so much. What I mean is, I’ve never felt this for anyone before. It’s so new to me. But I love how you feel, how you taste, how you smell…I can’t get enough of you.”

CJ pulled back to look into Kate’s irresistible eyes. She smiled – something she seemed to do a lot of these days – and kissed the tip of Kate’s nose. “I love you more than I can express. I never say that to anyone, but it’s true. Since I’m not so great with words, it might be easier if I should show you instead?”

“I think your words are just fine.” Kate grinned and trailed her fingertip over CJ’s lips. “I also think you were right. We don’t need words. So please, show me.”

No more words were necessary as they fell into one another once again, and CJ spent the rest of the night showing instead of telling.

.

Chapter 10

Five days later at the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, Agent Ethan Matthews flicked through the case file for a particularly gruesome murder. The Jane Doe had been sliced, beaten, sexually assaulted, and hacked at before being dumped in a roadside ditch about fifteen miles south of the city. As he flicked through the pages, he typed the details into the computer and was surprised when a beep drew his attention.

He checked the screen and frowned in puzzlement at what had popped up. Then his eyes widened when he discovered that it was not a mistake.

* * * * * *

Mark Mulroney rubbed his temples as he sat down for the first time in six hours. He hated days like this: all tedious paperwork and constant meetings, so he sighed heavily when he heard a knock on his door. “Come in,” he said as he picked up his coffee mug.

“Sir. May I speak with you?” Ethan asked urgently.

Noticing the files in the young man’s hands, Mark waved him in. “Yes. You have something?”

“Uh, I think so, Sir. I was putting the data into the system for that murder. The Jane Doe?”

“The one from the highway?”

“Yes, Sir. It flagged up something unexpected…” Ethan said while handing over his findings.

Mark sighed and looked over the first file, then the second. Ethan watched his boss’s expression change gradually as he read the words.

“Did you double check this?”

“Yes, Sir. I even called the morgue to check the marking was correct.”

“Good work, Matthews. Leave this with me,” Mark said shortly, making sure the young agent knew he was dismissed.

Mark lifted the phone from its cradle. “Special Agent White, please.” He drummed his fingers impatiently on the desk while he waited. “Agent White? I need a profiler for what could be a potential serial killer. No, it can’t be Agent Carson. You need to find me someone else. No, send them to me first. Thanks, White.”

* * * * * *

Kate and CJ returned to Los Angeles when Kate got a phone call about a producing job. Leaving Kate at the studios under the constant supervision of a security guard – who had been extensively briefed by a rather bossy Special Agent Carson – CJ went to the office to check in with Mark. Her leave wasn’t over yet of course, but she wanted to see if they had made any progress in finding Kate’s abductor.

Catching up with some of the guys in the office seemed easier now. CJ couldn’t figure out what Kate had done to her, but it seemed she was more sociable and actually wanted to chat with her colleagues. Is it because I’m happy? Is it that simple? Her step seemed lighter as she walked down the corridor towards Mark’s office.

“Hey, Carson, how goes it?” Agent Powell shouted from a nearby room.

CJ poked her head around the door. “It goes very good, Powell. Very good,” she said with a smirk and a brief wink. But the smirk disappeared from her face when she saw Mark. She hadn’t expected the pained expression on his face when she opened the office door.

“Please sit down, CJ.” His exhausted, weary tone told her that something was definitely wrong.

“Is everything okay, Sir?”

“No. It’s not.” He took a deep breath and leaned forward on his desk. “I want to preempt this conversation by saying that I have sent four agents to Olympian Studios to take Kate Marshall into protective custody…” Mark paused when all the color drained from CJ’s face. He held up his hand to forestall any response. “Please let me get all this out, and then we can discuss it further.”

CJ shifted uncomfortably in her seat and ground her teeth together, trying to stymie the tension and fear building within her. There was a new threat to Kate, and it didn’t sit well in her gut. It didn’t sit well at all.

Mark kept his eyes on her as he proceeded with his briefing. “A few days ago, a Jane Doe came in. Blond female, mid-twenties, slim build. She was a mess, CJ. Cut up, beaten, and sexually assaulted…not raped…and then murdered. We think he strangled her.”

CJ swallowed hard and tried not to bolt out the door to find Kate.

“Yesterday, Agent Matthews turned up a correlation between this murder and Kate’s abduction. They seem to be linked. Same perp. He carved a mark into the victim’s back. It resembles a letter J, just like Kate’s. The only difference is we think this one was done post-mortem.” Mark paused to evaluate CJ and noted her barely contained rage and the fear radiating from her eyes. “I need you to focus, CJ. I need your help with this, and you can’t do that if you let your anger get the better of you. Another body turned up this morning. It’s with forensics right now. He shot this one after the same kind of beating, cutting, et cetera. We’ll get him, CJ. He’s getting sloppy. More desperate, but sloppy. Someone saw him dump the body this time. It’s not a great description, but the fact that he let someone see him tells us a lot.”

Mark paused again to gather his thoughts when a knock at the door made CJ jump. He looked at her with concern as she quickly resumed her rigid posture.

“Come in.”

The new arrival barely noticed CJ as he entered the room. “Hey, boss. They turned up some evidence on that body from this morning. Looks like we have a suspect,” he said cheerfully. CJ shot him an evil glare, but she didn’t say a word.

Mark shook his head and took the information from the oblivious agent. “Thanks, John, but I’m in the middle of something, so if you’ll excuse us…”

“Oh, sure, boss. Sorry.” And with that, John left.

Mark glanced at CJ apologetically then returned his attention to the new file. “Looks like we have our guy. Jason Lee Burns. He left trace evidence, and he was definitely on file although his rap sheet is mainly misdemeanors. Hmm. Until recently, that is, when his drug habit seems to have got him into some bigger trouble. Grand theft auto, assault and battery, and now, breaking and entering, abduction, sexual assault, and murder. We get him and he’ll never get out.” Mark glanced across the desk. “CJ, are you okay?”

“Yes, Sir,” she replied flatly.

Mark looked at the photo before flicking it onto the desk for CJ to take a look at. The face revealed in the picture made CJ’s blood run cold. Her eyes widened in horror and her lips parted as panicked breaths tried to escape her tensing body. “Oh, god no.”

“CJ? What’s wrong?”

“That’s him. That’s the guy…the guy who shot me.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’ll never forget that face.”

Mark got up and walked around the desk to grip CJ’s shoulders and haul her to her feet. “Take a deep breath and get a hold of yourself. It could be a coincidence. Don’t read anything into it without facts. Now, I want you to go somewhere and calm down. Go to the gym, take a walk. I don’t care. Just pull yourself together. Do you understand me, CJ? CJ? Special Agent Carson!”

CJ gulped. “Yes, Sir,” she said, trying to inject some calm into her voice.

“Leave this to me for now. Kate is safe. Listen to me, CJ. She’s safe. We have six agents rotating a twenty-four-hour supervision.” Mark grabbed a piece of paper from the file. “Here’s the address of the safe house. Now go and calm down before you leave this office.”

CJ nodded, but she felt numb as she walked the corridors. Her mind was filled with everything she had just learned. That psycho should have been behind bars. Kate had been almost beaten to death by the same man who shot CJ in a drug-induced hostage situation years ago. If CJ had done her job right that day, he would never have gotten away. Kate would never have endured her living hell if he hadn’t been free to do it.

CJ could feel the bile rising in her throat and the despair falling from her eyes in the form of unstoppable tears. Ducking into the nearest restroom, she splashed her face with cold water. It didn’t do any good. She felt ill and was consumed with guilt and anger. Anger towards this sick bastard who had not only hurt both of them, he had now killed two innocent women. CJ felt utterly helpless. How could Katie ever love me? How can I tell her that everything was all my fault? I can’t do this to her, she thought in horror. I won’t do this to her. She’s better off without me.

Barely an hour later in the gym, CJ kicked the punch bag until she was in pain. She could see his hideous face, and she wanted to hurt someone, hurt him. With sweat dripping from her whole body and all kinds of agony filling her entire being, CJ decided that she would work twenty-four seven until this guy was caught. She also decided that Kate was indeed much better off without her.

* * * * * *

A very long and agonizing week later, CJ sat behind a desk covered with files and paperwork. They had made some headway on the case and had found a quaint little house that Jason had been left by his mother when she died. But he was never there and hadn’t seemed to use it in his crimes. At least they knew now who they were hunting for. One more body had been found. A female in her twenties again, with blond hair and roughly the same description as before and a similar MO, but this one was dumped in a river. Her cause of death, drowning. This latest victim had been brutally sexually assaulted with a weapon or instrument of some kind.

The thought of this killer disgusted CJ, and she was determined to help capture him for the sake of the next innocent victim yet to be carved, for her own sanity, and for Kate. She had only spoken to Kate once on the secured phone line to the safe house, telling her that she had to work this case and couldn’t come to see her. They had argued briefly. Kate knew CJ was backing away from her, and she was very upset about it…and very angry. But CJ knew it would be better this way. Kate didn’t deserve to have a screw up like CJ in her life. She deserved better: the best. Still, Kate’s harsh but pleading words haunted her thoughts. It was better that CJ was working constantly because she couldn’t sleep anyway.

Shaking her head and thumping her fist down onto her desk, CJ wondered why if she believed all that, she felt like complete shit. It wasn’t the over-working. It wasn’t the case. It wasn’t the fact that she would curl up in a hole and never come out again rather than face this guy and not be allowed to kill him. She was completely and utterly miserable without Kate. Her soul ached for the woman who meant so much to her, and being so cold and distant towards her on the phone that day just added to a very heavy burden of guilt.

* * * * * *

Sitting on a badly-stuffed couch in a dull apartment with only three small windows along the front, Kate Marshall sobbed in frustration and sadness. It had been a pretty regular occurrence in the last week or so. The agents assigned to her were okay, but Kate was so incredibly heartbroken, she didn’t even try to make conversation with them. And they never left her alone in the apartment, so she was starting to crawl out of her skin. Irritation warred with agitation as she paced the room for the fiftieth time that day. Agent Hopkins offered her a coffee, but she just shook her head and crossed her arms over her chest.

“Could you guys please give me five minutes…just five minutes to myself?”

“We can’t, Miss Marshall,” Hopkins said sullenly.

“I’ve been here for a week and absolutely nothing has happened. Surely if you were out front in the car for five minutes, I could have some much needed privacy to cry my eyes out, instead of having a fucking audience!” Kate was appalled at herself. She never cursed or spoke to anyone like that, let alone two federal agents who were trying to protect her. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I just can’t stand this anymore.”

“Five minutes, Miss Marshall. No more.”

She looked up at Hopkins though teary eyes. “Thank you.”

Hopkins and Dale descended the staircase outside the safe house without seeing the figure lurking in the shadowy undergrowth across the street. They didn’t know that he had paid off his LAPD buddy. They didn’t know he had been staking out the safe house waiting for his chance. They didn’t know he would risk everything now just to kill her. And they didn’t see the gun in his hand or the crazed look in his eyes.

Sitting in the unmarked sedan, they drank their bitter coffee as a silent bullet punctured the windshield and embed itself in Dale’s forehead. Hopkins barely had time to get his gun from the holster before another tiny, inaudible killer ruptured his Adam’s Apple, impacting solidly into his brain stem.

Nobody saw the cold, unemotional smile on the face of a killer who only had one final goal to achieve.

* * * * * *

CJ clocked out for the first time in three days and headed for her car. There was nothing for it. She would have to talk to Kate. She at least owed the woman she loved an explanation about why she couldn’t be with her. Goddamnit! I’m supposed to be smarter than this. How could I do the exact thing I’m trying to prevent? I’m hurting her so much while beating myself up for not preventing her from getting hurt. It doesn’t make sense. What the fuck?

CJ was getting really pissed off with the little voice inside her head, and she stepped forcefully on the gas to pull into the fast lane. When she arrived outside the safe house she saw an elderly woman in the street sobbing and crying out for help. Jumping out of the car, CJ ran to the woman who pointed at the sedan.

“Oh, no! No, no, no.” CJ reached in front of the bodies and grabbed the radio mic in the sedan. “This is Special Agent Carson. I’m at the safe house on Oakland. I need backup! Now!” She didn’t wait another second. Heading up the stairs two at a time, she burst open the front door knowing full well that she may be too late.

CJ stopped dead with her gun aimed directly ahead of her and her eyes full of barely-contained fury. She scanned the scene in front of her and settled her gaze directly on the face of Jason Lee Burns. In a split second, she recounted in her head what her scan had revealed. They were standing about fourteen feet ahead of her, the couch directly behind them facing away. Beyond that, a coffee table and television unit were the only items in the sparsely decorated room. Jason had his weapon pointed at Kate’s temple, pressed so hard against it that a small trickle of blood ran down her cheek. CJ didn’t dare look at her eyes for fear of losing her mind completely. Instead, she noted that Kate was gagged and her hands appeared to be tied behind her back.

“It’s over, man. Give it up.” CJ knew it was a lame attempt, but she needed time to think.

“Go fuck yourself, pig. I give the orders around here. Put the fucking gun down and close the goddamn door. Nice an’ easy…” Jason pushed the barrel of the gun harder into Kate’s temple to emphasize his point.

CJ hesitated only briefly before complying with the demands. Unwanted memories flashed through her mind of Sandy, and she pushed them back with a fierce determination. It wasn’t going to happen again. She couldn’t stand to lose Kate, but she needed to stop feeling so desperate. “What do you want? I can get you money. As many drugs as you need…” Jesus, what am I saying?

“You wanna know what I want? You wanna know what I’m gonna do? Well, I’ll tell you, bitch. I’m gonna fuck this little whore right here,” he spat, flicking his head toward Kate. “I’m gonna make you watch. Then I’ll kill her first so you can see all the blood. Then I’ll take my time with you. How’s that you fucking fed, huh?”

Okay, so he had figured out she was a federal agent. Good for him. Surprised he can think of anything with so much junk floating around in his system. CJ thought furiously and came up with a risky plan. Use it against him. Force him into a mistake. He wants to fuck her…though he probably can’t. Let him try. Totally disgusted with her thought processes but thinking it might just work, CJ decided to set the plan in motion.

“What you want, bitch? A fucking invitation?”

“Tell me what you’re gonna do again?” CJ said, trying to stall for a few more seconds.

“What are you? Fucking deaf? I told you to watch while I fuck this little slut. You know, before I carve her up so much she’ll never live to see tomorrow. Sound good to you?” He was getting increasingly agitated, grabbing the back of Kate’s neck in a painful grip while forcing her to move her head from the sheer pressure of the silencer that was virtually melded to her temple.

“Well, I’m not much for carving, but the fucking? Sure.” She had shocked him, she saw. And she didn’t dare break her stare at him as she waited for one tiny mistake. He looked at Kate to check his gun was still poised to kill, and CJ took the opportunity to glance at her too.

Kate’s eyes were wide with fear and shock, but looking at CJ for a brief second more, she realized she had a plan. The look in those blue eyes told Kate everything she needed to know. CJ was going to save her. Kate gave her an exaggerated blink to let her know she understood, and swallowed convulsively as CJ tore her eyes away again.

“You know,” Jason said, his voice suddenly an eerie calm. “I fucked her before. She wasn’t that good. Couldn’t keep me interested. Useless slut. Then she fucking dumps me after I made her famous. Ungrateful bitch.”

CJ hadn’t realized that this wasn’t just any old psychopathic killer called Jason. It was the Jason, Kate’s old boyfriend. Oh, dear god! She almost lost it then. Her flaring nostrils and grinding teeth were the only things betraying her cool exterior, but Jason didn’t seem to notice, so she pushed him again. “Go for it. Fuck her,” she goaded. Go for it. Fuck up…and I’ll blow your damn brains out, she added silently.

Jason looked back and forth between them, then CJ watched as he moved the hand away from Kate’s neck and brought it to her ass. CJ wanted to kill him. Kate was filled with anger and fear. Jason pressed his denim-clad crotch against her hip and started rubbing. CJ’s lips tightened in a grimace, her eyes full of fire and focus…waiting.

Jason got increasingly frustrated and fumbled with his fly.

CJ knew she had to push him again. “Come on, man. Fuck her!”

“Shut up. Just shut the fuck up!”

Unable to open his fly with one hand and seemingly partially aroused – which CJ suspected was not the norm, considering his crimes – Jason removed the gun from Kate’s temple and brought his other hand down to tug at the zipper.

It was all CJ needed. In the space of about two seconds, she had flipped her foot up behind her, reached under her pant leg to grab a concealed weapon, cocked the pistol and fired three rounds, two of them ripping into the body of Jason Lee Burns. The third one lodged in his head and caused a reflexive movement that raised his gun-wielding hand so fast that it thumped Kate harshly on the face and sent her careening backward over the couch. Her head impacted solidly on the coffee table while Jason crumpled to the floor.

“Fuck!” CJ leapt over to him, seeing his eyes open and his pupils fixed and dilated. Blood poured from a hole just above his ear. She kicked the gun away from his hand and immediately went to Kate. Kneeling down, she reached around the crumpled body and raised Kate’s head and shoulders onto her lap. She gently slapped her cheek and spoke softly near her ear. “Katie. Wake up. Please wake up.”

Kate’s eyes fluttered open, blinking several times and focusing quite impressively on CJ.

“I’ll never leave you again. I promise. Never again,” CJ said as she attempted unsuccessfully to hold back a few tears.

“I…I was so scared when I saw it was him,” Kate croaked through her dry throat.

“I know, honey. I’m so sorry.” CJ wiped her face when she heard the sirens and cars screeching to a halt outside, not really wanting to show an emotional weakness in front of the guys. Multiple feet rattled against the staircase outside.

“Special Agent Carson inside! He’s down! It’s clear!” CJ shouted.

The other agents filed in against the walls with their guns drawn as CJ helped Kate to her feet. Their eyes met and conveyed a multitude of hurt, anger, love, and pure devotion before CJ wrapped Kate up in her arms. A few tears had dried on Kate’s cheeks, but she seemed to be coping too well with the entire situation. CJ wondered if the full impact of it would hit Kate later, and if it did,  CJ wanted to be there for her. Right now, she needed to untie Kate, so she frantically grappled with the binding on Kate’s wrists.

“Help me get this fucking thing off!” she spat to the nearest agent as Matthews came into her line of vision. When he released Kate’s arms, they came flying around CJ’s waist more tightly than she ever thought possible.

“I need a paramedic over here,” someone shouted from where Jason lay on the floor.

Still holding Kate around her head and shoulders to shield her from viewing Jason’s body, CJ led her outside and into the back of a waiting ambulance. The paramedics checked Kate over and draped a heavy blanket over her shoulders. She sat on a gurney at the back door of the vehicle and hung her head low, feeling completely and utterly drained. CJ came back after updating her colleagues and knelt before Kate. When she took Kate’s hand, the brave actress looked up at her but didn’t say anything.

“Katie. Please forgive me for not calling. I…when I found out it was him, I felt so guilty. I’m no good for you…” CJ stuttered.

“Guilty? Why would you feel guilty about Jason?”

“Because he’s the one who shot me. I didn’t know anything more than that when I saw his picture. I didn’t know he was your ex. But if I had nailed him back then during that hostage crisis, he would never have done all this to you.”

Understanding dawned on Kate’s face. “He shot you? That shot in your head? That was Jason?”

“Yes. He’s been on a long downward slide since you left him, but I could’ve stopped him before-”

“No! Don’t! I’m the one he was after. Obviously I did something terrible to him, although I don’t know what.”

“It’s not your fault. He was a psychotic obsessive who got way out of hand, helped along by his growing drug addiction. You just lived your life. You can’t blame yourself for that. You did what you thought was best. The blame doesn’t lie with you,” CJ said, trying to heal at least something with words.

“Then you can’t blame yourself either”, Kate said in a more gentle tone. “You were only doing what you thought was best, CJ. You can’t blame yourself for saving the lives of three children and getting a bullet in the head. That’s just stupid…and you are anything but stupid, Agent Carson. Now can you please take me home?”

“Home?”

“Yes. Take me with you to the office. Do what you have to do. Then take me home with you…to Montana,” Kate said as she wrapped her legs around CJ’s hips and slid her arms round her neck.

CJ didn’t care who was watching this time. She lifted Kate up, supporting her compact body with her arms, and walked over to a waiting sedan to begin what she hoped would be the rest of their lives.

* * * * * *

Strolling through the door of the Alberton Sheriff’s office, Kate and CJ immediately spotted the short, broad form of Charlie Baxter.

“Sheriff, we need to report a crime…”

He whirled around when he recognized the husky female voice and stared at the couple wide-eyed for a brief moment before barreling toward them, arms outstretched…

.

Epilogue

One year later

About forty-five miles north of Los Angeles, California, a pretty whitewashed ranch house stood proudly in the midst of fourteen acres of farmland. A small, serene lake stretched from the bottom of the front yard to the perimeter fence. In a nearby paddock, horses grazed quietly. A black German Shepherd ran forlornly across the yard to fetch his stick. Prancing back toward the big, wraparound porch with his tongue lolling and his bushy tail wagging, he dropped the stick at Kate’s feet. He was the closest to her black wolf that she could find.

Suddenly the dog’s ears perked up, and Kate could hear a faint engine sound somewhere far away. A black sedan appeared and drove through the distant gates, gliding toward the house at speed. Kate stood up and approached the tall figure that emerged dressed in a black suit. CJ had been granted her request of a permanent transfer to the Los Angeles field office, which had made them both incredibly happy.

“Honey, I’m home,” CJ shouted with a smirk.

“How was your day at the office, dear?” Kate replied in what had become a welcome routine.

CJ was pulled into a loving kiss, and once released she savored the moment by licking her lips before answering. “Hmm. Not as good as this.” A longer kiss ensued until an impatient wet nose nudged CJ’s leg. “Hey, Kamali,” she greeted, patting the dog on the head and scratching behind his big, fluffy ears. “Good boy.” She turned her attention back to Kate who had remained neatly in her embrace. “So, did you get the part?” she asked, rubbing noses with her.

Kate paused for effect. “Yes, I got the part!”

“When do you start shooting?”

“Three months. They said they’d let me try directing a couple of episodes too,” Kate said as she buzzed with excitement.

“I think this is cause for a celebration, don’t you think?”

“What did you have in mind?”

“How about a romantic dinner at home and making love all night long?”

“Oh, yes. Perfect idea. So how was your day?”

“It was good. No dead bodies, one crisis negotiation in Baltimore that I was obviously not called to, and I helped settle a new guy into the unit. It shaped up to be a fine day.”

“Sounds fine indeed.”

Once indoors, CJ stripped off her work clothes in their master bedroom suite and quickly jumped in the shower. When she was done, she pulled on a dark-blue, silk robe and headed down to the living room to find a half-naked blonde waiting for her on the expansive couch. Kate had lit a bunch of candles and was lying invitingly across the cushions, teasing CJ with a partial view of what was to come.

“Good job I didn’t get dressed after my shower, huh?”

“Good job you’re not too hungry for dinner,” Kate countered.

“Oh, I’m hungry all right.” CJ’s voice had dropped a couple of octaves lower. She opened the front of her robe and lowered her body on top of Kate’s, kissing the tip of her nose as she molded their bodies together. “I talked to Dad this morning,” she said while she watched for Kate’s reaction.

“I’m not sure talking about my father is considered a good strategy right now.”

“Aren’t you going to ask why?”

“Okay. I’ll play along. Why, my love?”

“Well, I asked him if we could come over next month. I thought we could go visit him and Jeffrey then get married in Manhattan and go to Montana for our honeymoon,” CJ said casually.

Hearing those words, Kate’s eyes almost popped out of their sockets, and when she saw CJ bring a small, velvet box out of her robe pocket, she thought her heart would simply burst out of her chest.

Sliding off the couch and onto bended knee, CJ looked more apprehensive than ever. Then blue eyes met green, and the words tumbled out of her. “Kate Marshall, I love you more than words can ever express. I want you to be my best friend, my partner, my wife, for the rest of my days. Will you marry me?”

Kate’s mouth opened, then closed, then opened again. She looked at the ring then looked at CJ’s uncertain face. “Oh, CJ. Yes! Yes, I’ll marry you. I love you so much,” she blurted, throwing her arms around her partner.

CJ placed the ring on Kate’s finger and kissed her passionately, feeling it returned with equal intensity. They sunk down deeper into the cushions, and at that moment, CJ Carson knew that she would never want or need another living soul as long as she lived.

.

The End…

©2011 StageFreak Productions

Lyrics – I Dreamed You by Anastacia ©2001 Sony Music Entertainment Inc.

 

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11 comments

  1. LOVE THIS SERIES!!! Keep up the great work, can’t wait for more!


  2. beautiful, intense and exciting… excelent job :DD


  3. Love the way you write…cannot wait for more…Happy 2013!


    • Thank you, Kim… more on the way… eventually 😉


  4. I’ve read your series a few times and I just started it again. What a well written story and series! The two main characters are full of life, energy and emotion. What a treat to read. Somehow I missed the wonderful picture at the end. Thanks for sharing!


    • Hey Stacia,
      Thank you for your comments 🙂
      I do hope you are following the newly edited episodes. There are a few little extras, and the writing has been tidied up a little.
      I’m working to get After The Last Time out by tomorrow…and continue on with the rest after that. Maybe by the time I’m done editing, my muse will be refreshed and I’ll finish In The Past!
      Thanks again for following the series.


  5. I’m so glad I found this series. I’m re-reading while I wait for your next episode. Please tell me you will release it soon?!


    • Hi Jess, I only just started the next episode. Could be a while. Doing my best… 🙂


      • I’m willing to wait. 😛


  6. Thanks for writing such a great story! I just recently found you & will definitely be following your characters!


    • Hi Kim, thank you! I’m so glad you are enjoying the ride so far. I’m working on a brand new episode but don’t worry. You have plenty of time to catch up 🙂



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