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Episode 12 – In Your Arms

March 21, 2014

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AM In Your Arms - sweet Idaho

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DISCLAIMERS:

This romantic drama 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. It also contains the wrongful death of an animal. Any 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.

** Warning-Warning-Warning **

Menstruating women ahead…and they’re making love. Please don’t read on if this offends you. No…seriously.

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So many thanks go to my beta-reader. Your help is very much appreciated and continues to be most welcome. And thank you to all my readers. Your feedback has been most helpful and encouraging. Keep it coming!

This is the next installment my series, After Montana, which can be found at http://marshallcarson.wordpress.com .

This is episode 2 in Season 2, and is part of a 3-story arc. To understand and enjoy the characters and situations fully, you should probably read them in sequence.

Comments and/or opinions can be sent to stagefreakmusic@hotmail.com or left at http://marshallcarson.wordpress.com

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Chapter 1

At nine thirty-five PM, Kate Carson awoke from her unplanned snooze in Shannon’s bed. She had teased CJ before about falling asleep mid-bedtime-story, but she realized now how easy it was to drift off with the children snuggled up against her. Kate slowly put the book on the nightstand and unwound Lucy’s arm from under her sweater. Once on her feet, she scooped Lucy up to put her in her own bed.

Once Lucy was placed on the cool sheets in her room – which had Nemo’s orange and white body printed repeatedly over a blue background – she woke up. “Mama. Is it bedtime?”

“Yes, so you need to go back to sleep. Here’s Barney to cuddle,” Kate said gently as she tucked the soft, brown bear into Lucy’s grasp.

“Mmph.”

“I think that was a thank you,” Kate whispered to herself as she left the room. Kamali gave her a single lazy tail-wag as she passed him outside the door, and she grinned at him before heading downstairs to find out what the two federal agents had gotten up to in her absence. What she found made her smile. Only one agent was present in the form of her slovenly wife. CJ was very much entitled to be slovenly after what she had just gone through. A two-week trek in the wilderness after surviving a plane crash would definitely make anyone a little tired, to say the least.

Kate sighed as a welcome sense of peace washed over her at seeing CJ smile at a cute story on the news channel she was watching. Cute story on the news? That’s unusual.

When Kate entered the living room, she lay down gently on CJ’s thigh since she knew CJ could reach her head if it was resting there. She was now facing the television so she could only feel CJ’s uninjured hand as it scratched lightly through her short, blond hair. She curled her own hand around CJ’s knee and proceeded to yawn widely.

“You fell asleep, didn’t you?” CJ whispered.

“Kinda…”

A husky chuckle came from CJ as she continued the patterns over Kate’s scalp. “What did you read to them?”

“That Barney the bear story where he gets found by his friends after being lost. I figured it would be a good prelude to a restful night,” Kate slurred under the tender touches.

“Good call, honey.”

“Mmm, thanks. Where’s Jamie?”

“She’s taking her walk around outside, checking the perimeter for anything unusual.”

“What were you smiling at a minute ago?”

“There was a story on the local news about a litter of puppies that were stolen. A homeless man reported that he saw something, and the cops caught the thief who had an illegal puppy farm running out of his house. All the stolen dogs were saved. I was smiling when the puppies got returned home, and the owner gave the homeless man a puppy…and a job.”

“Aww. You big softie.”

“Yeah, well, it’s a nice Christmas story.”

“It certainly is, but no more talking. How come you get all chatty when you’re not supposed to be speaking?”

“Just a rebel, I guess,” CJ retorted and stuck out her tongue even though Kate couldn’t see it.

“That’s quite true. Hmm. Well, that was a lot of chatter right there, and I can hear your throat straining so just be quiet and rub my head. Oh, and I know you stuck your tongue out.”

“I did not.”

“Did too. And don’t you deny it. Rub.”

CJ chuckled and wet her finger with saliva before sticking it in Kate’s ear, earning herself a warning growl before the scratching resumed making Kate purr instead.

Meanwhile outside, Jamie Green did her second lap around the large farmhouse. It was the same as the last time. All quiet, no sign of intruders. She looked over at the barn again. It’s blackened, burnt-out remains were all that was left of the old building which had been constructed at the same time as the house, at least sixty years ago.

“What a shame,” she mumbled as she continued on her way. As she came around to the backyard, she glanced over at the horse field and saw the silhouette of one of the horses standing peacefully against the almost-black sky. She assumed the dark shape beside it was the other horse sleeping on the ground.

Why would she think anything different? The standing animal wasn’t freaking out and seemed to be completely at ease.

What Jamie didn’t know was that Idaho stood there bleeding out. Her peaceful demeanor was due to the lightheaded, tired feeling of slipping into unconsciousness. Sometime during the night, the dark mare would fall to the ground, and in the morning, Jamie would learn that the lump beside her was only an overgrown piece of scrub that had always been there. She was unfamiliar with the lay of the land in the horse fields, and what she had observed could be easily misconstrued by anyone who didn’t know any better.

Yes, she was a federal agent and should have perhaps checked, but she was also a human being who made mistakes just like everyone else.

* * * * * *

When Jamie came in the front door, she locked it behind her and strolled into the living room to find CJ and Kate still on the couch. “All quiet out there,” she said, perching on the arm of the chair.

“Great. Wanna watch a movie with us?” Kate offered drowsily.

“No, thanks. I’m gonna take a shower and maybe grab forty winks while you guys are still up. Is that OK?”

“Of course. Kamali is on duty with me while you rest, so go on…”

Jamie smiled at Kate and returned the nod CJ gave her as she got up to leave. Once she was gone, Kate’s head massage resumed, and she quietly moaned out her pleasure.

CJ bit her lip. “Katie?”

“Mmm-yeah?”

“No blissful moaning like that. I, uh, it makes me think of things I can’t do yet.”

Kate turned around so that she could look up at CJ’s face. “Sorry. I didn’t even realize I made a sound.”

“You don’t need to be sorry. It’s just that…when we’ve been apart for a while, you know how we get when we’re reunited, and this time it’s even more intense, so…”

Kate sighed. “I know, CJ, but there’s no way we can…well, because of your injuries, I don’t want to-”

“Don’t want to?”

“I don’t want to hurt you or make them any worse. You need to regain your strength, and that includes not aggravating anything until you heal enough to start physio.”

“I honestly don’t think I can wait that long.”

“We might have to. This time.”

CJ tried to read the expression on Kate’s beautiful face, and as she stared into her eyes she saw her fear. “Hey,” she whispered, placing her hand on Kate’s cheek. “What are you worried about?”

“I just want you to get well.”

“But you’re worried about something else. What is it?”

Kate sighed and twisted a tiny piece of thread on her shirt between her fingers. “CJ…if your arms don’t heal, well, you won’t be able to be…”

When the words faded to a whisper and no more were forthcoming, CJ prompted her. “I won’t be able to be what?”

“A federal agent, and I know how important your job is to you…but if you can’t fire a weapon again, you’ll lose-”

“Whoa. This arm here…” CJ flexed her right hand. “This one is already feeling better. It was only a dislocation, and even though I did the wrong thing by slamming it against that tree…boy, was that painful…it’s going to be fine real soon. The wrist will be almost back to normal. I know it might not be a hundred percent again, but I can wear one of those supports. A lot of agents do that on their knees, elbows, wrists…and Katie, I shoot with my right hand, so I’ll be fine.” During CJ’s little speech, her voice wavered between a croaking whisper and her usual husky tones.

Kate smiled at her determination and strength. “I know you’ll be fine. I guess I was just afraid I’d break you. I mean, we can be pretty passionate when we get going.”

“I’ll say,” CJ said with a grin. “It’s gotta be soon, though, honey. I can’t stop watching you, wanting you. I promise not to use my arms at all.”

Kate looked at her dubiously. “I can only imagine.”

“I have many skills,” CJ said before wiggling her tongue suggestively.

“Uh-huh…”

“And just so you know, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I had to quit being an agent. Yes, I love the job, but I love you more and you know it. The end of my world would be not having you and our children. So right now, I’m just peachy, thank you very much.”

“I love you.”

“Ditto, baby.”

“No more talking now.”

“There’s only one way to shut me up,” CJ said, puckering her lips and closing her eyes.

Kate smiled as she rose up eagerly to grant the silent request.

* * * * * *

As twelve o’clock drew nearer on CJ’s third night home, she lay with her foot elevated on Kate’s lap. Kate sat cross-legged on their bed and delicately massaged the ankle that had been swollen beyond recognition not so long ago. Thankfully now, it was just tender. CJ was still unable to put her full weight on it, but she couldn’t deny it felt a million times better already.

“That feels incredible, Katie,” she muttered with her eyes closed.

“Good. It’s looking a lot more like a foot again.”

“I know.” CJ peeked at her. “And my shoulder will start to ease off soon too.”

“I know you hate feeling unable, honey. Just give it time.”

CJ nodded and watched Kate’s hands as they moved across her skin. She was mesmerized at the thought of those hands touching other parts of her body, and she felt the welcome heat stirring in her belly. “I, uh…”

Kate looked up to see an all-too-familiar, hooded expression on CJ’s face. “Oh, no. Don’t look at me like that. We can’t do that.”

CJ’s puppy-dog eyes were now bigger than ever. “Pwease?”

“We…we can’t. Not yet. But I promise if the doctor’s happy with your progress on Monday, I’ll think about it, OK?”

“What doctor?”

Kate hated that she had just killed the playful mood, but she was terrified of something going wrong. She wasn’t sure why she was being so hesitant to make love to CJ. It just seemed to be way too soon, even for them. “You have a check-up on Monday. It says so on the letter from the hospital in Minnesota. They organized it before you even left. Didn’t you read it?”

“No, I didn’t. I’d just as soon never hear of Minnesota again.”

“Well, you don’t have a choice about this. I need to know, for my peace of mind, that you’re going to get well. I…I want to be there with you this time.”

CJ was on the verge of tears watching her struggle to get the words out. Kate was being tortured by the fact that she wasn’t there when CJ was found. It made her realize just how much Kate had been through, and was still putting herself through.

“Are you feeling, I dunno, guilty about not being there with me in that hospital?”

Kate dropped her gaze to the covers and nodded. “I should’ve been there.”

“Hey. Look at me.” When Kate did so, CJ leaned forward to cup her cheek in one hand, no matter what pain it caused her. “You were there with me every second…every single second since I left your side. Don’t you get it, Katie? Me and you, we’re one.”

Kate’s tear trickled down her face to land on CJ’s hand. “One?”

“Yes. I’m within you, and you’re within me…always. I’m always here.”

When CJ’s hand fell to her heart, Kate let out a whimper before crawling into her place by her wife’s side. “That’s what the vision of you said…and did.”

“Like I said, we’re one. And I think that’s why we can see each other when we’re forced apart physically. I can’t think of any other way to explain it.”

“Unless we’re just crazy…” Kate said between sniffles.

With moisture gathering in her own eyes, CJ chuckled. “Then I’m very happy to be crazy.”

“Me too.”

“You know, when I first found you on the mountain in Montana?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“The feeling I got that day…I mean, I was just out clearing the snow as usual, and something I couldn’t comprehend encompassed my entire being. I felt panic, like something was terribly wrong with my world all of a sudden. Then, I don’t know. I was just led out into the forest by some mystical force. I felt like a freak, but I knew what I was doing was right.”

“I don’t think you ever told me this before. What happened next?”

“I walked for maybe, a half mile with my gun drawn, and then I saw you lying there. The panic left me, but it was replaced by a totally different feeling, one that I never let myself truly think about until I was out there in that wilderness by myself and I kept seeing you over and over.”

“What was the feeling?”

“Something huge clicked into place, like I was meant to find you again. I was relieved the search was over even though I had no idea at the time I was supposed to be looking…and I had no idea what it meant. I guess now I do. Sort of.”

“Uh, wow. What do you think it means?”

“I told you. Me and you forever. Eternity. It’s like all of this has happened before.”

Kate finally lifted her head, and her gaze met CJ’s. She knew deep within her that she felt it too. Maybe they’d both figured it was too crazy to mention to each other until now. The intense contact between them lasted for a few profound, expansive moments before a grin appeared on CJ’s face, followed by a smile and a knowing nod from Kate.

“Eternity,” Kate whispered before laying her head down again. A few more quiet moments passed while she rolled things around in her head. She knew there was something still nagging at the back of her mind, and she felt a little morose for wanting to experience more of what CJ had gone through. Just as she was about to speak again, CJ’s lips caressed her hair. It made her smile, and she believed that CJ would understand why she would ask her next question.

“CJ…”

“Yeah?”

“Would you find it really weird if I asked you to let me see the photos of the crash site? I mean, I assume they took some.”

CJ paused until she felt the reactive frown on her face dissipate almost as fast as it had arrived. She knew how curious Kate was, but this wasn’t just curiosity. Her partner needed to feel she had been there somehow, and CJ could understand that. “Are you sure you want to see those?”

A nod preceded Kate’s quiet response. “I can handle it, especially because you’ll be right there with me. I know you got out of it alive. But I just…need to see them.”

“I understand, Katie, I really do. I’ll ask Mark to bring them. OK?”

Kate looked up at her wife’s face. “Thank you for humoring me.”

“I’m not humoring you. And I absolutely know you can handle it. Maybe it will bring us both some sort of closure, huh?” CJ kissed Kate’s forehead while she nodded her answer, but CJ wondered how she would feel seeing the wreckage again. Kate was definitely strong enough to handle it, but was she?

We’re together now. Yeah, I can handle it.

* * * * * *

It was very early in the morning when Tony arrived for work with a happy smile on his face. His bosses were reunited, and he was about to see his two best buddies in the form of Shannon and Lucy. When he knocked the front door, he could see the dark shape of Kamali bouncing around excitedly. He would never understand how the dog could identify friend or foe so quickly, but he wouldn’t question it either, knowing the clever canine had been ready to protect the family when the intruder was burning down the barn.

The door opened, and Jamie smiled at him on her way out. “Hey, Tony. You’re just in time.”

“Hi, Jamie. For what?”

“I’m just about to do my rounds, and those two…” she said, flicking her head towards the staircase, “Aren’t up yet. Lucy and Shannon are in the kitchen having cereal.”

“No worries. I’ll stay with them and have some coffee. See you in a minute.”

“Yep. Be right back.”

Jamie scanned the long driveway and the lake before she headed around the side of the house to examine the pile of charred wood that used to be the barn. She continued along the fence that enclosed the back yard and strolled across the dusty ground to the perimeter of the horse field. She stopped frozen in her tracks when she saw Idaho lying flat out on the ground. Her hand came to her mouth in horror as she glanced at the bush she had assumed was the other horse last night. Something was terribly wrong, and she vaulted over the post and rail fence to run toward the prone horse’s side.

“Oh, God, no,” Jamie choked out as she knelt beside Idaho’s weak body. She saw the sticky, dark patch on the equine’s chest that oozed and dripped onto the grass, adding to the pool of blood that was already there. “I’m so sorry, girl.”

Idaho blinked slowly, and Jamie sprang to her feet and broke out in a sprint back to the house.

She saw Kamali in the backyard and knew it meant the door would be open. Kamali watched her as she leapt impressively over the fence and slowed her pace as she approached the porch. Breathing heavily, she signaled for Tony to come over to her.

“What’s up? You look like-“

“It’s Idaho. She’s been hurt,” Jamie whispered to ensure the girls didn’t hear.

“Hurt? How hurt?”

“It looks like she’s been stabbed. Call the vet, Tony. I need to get Kate up.”

“She’s already up, in the living room on the phone to her dad.”

“Right.” Jamie turned to grab a dishcloth. “I’m going to see if I can…I don’t know. Just tell Kate what’s happened. I’ll be outside.”

Less than five minutes later, Kate ran across the field to find Jamie holding the folded dishcloth against the wound to try to slow the bleeding. “Oh, Idaho. You poor girl.”

“I’m so sorry, Kate. I should’ve-“

“You should’ve what? How could you know?”

“But I looked out here last night, and she seemed fine.”

“Nobody came up the driveway last night, Jamie, otherwise the dog would’ve alerted us.” Kate suddenly stood up. “Where’s Nevada?”

“I haven’t seen her.”

“Damn it.” Kate’s sharp eyes zoomed in on a specific part of the faraway fence. “She’s gone.”

“How do you know?” Jamie asked while trying to press the dishcloth harder against the seeping wound and comfort the horse with her other hand.

“The fence is broken. I’d say she jumped out. Shit.” Kate put her hand across her forehead to try to keep her tears in check. Someone was really trying to hurt her, and she wanted to know who it was. “The vet’s on his way. Shouldn’t be too long now.” But just as she said it, Idaho took her last breath.

* * * * * *

Once the veterinarian had left and the horse’s body had been covered with a tarp weighed down at the corners with rocks, Kate sat on the couch with her head in her hands. Shannon and Lucy had gone to school with Tony and were still oblivious to the sad event, but Kate knew she’d have to tell them soon so that they could bury Idaho tomorrow morning. Kate hadn’t been entirely sure of the rules regarding the burial of large animals, but the sympathetic veterinarian had assured her he would send someone over to take care of it professionally. She just had to pick a spot for the grave to be excavated.

Jamie was out across the field somewhere, trying to find clues as to what direction the intruder had come from and how he’d gotten close enough to the animals to do what he had done. Kate knew Jamie was feeling incredibly guilty, and no amount of placating from her would make Jamie feel any better. Kate was just worried that she was going to burn out soon. Jamie was in desperate need of rest, but she was just as stubborn as CJ and wouldn’t listen to reason.

The thought of her wife made Kate sit upright. CJ was still asleep, which was highly unusual, and in Kate’s current state of mind she panicked a little.

She’s fine…just tired, she assured herself. Nevertheless, she got to her feet and went up to the master bedroom. Finding her beautiful CJ relaxed in slumber, Kate shuffled onto the mattress beside her. After she kissed her sore shoulder, she tickled her finger along CJ’s graceful jawline.

“Wake up, honey.”

“Hmm?”

“Wake up. It’s ten AM,” Kate whispered near CJ’s ear.

“Oh. Hi…”

“Morning, CJ.”

CJ knew something was wrong from the barely-disguised sadness in Kate’s tone. “What happened?”

“Um, you don’t mess around, do you?”

“No, I don’t. What’s up, Katie?” CJ didn’t move due to her injuries, but her eyes were alert and focused on the green ones above her.

Kate sighed and sucked her cheek in between her teeth as she tried to stop the imminent tears stinging the back of her eyes. She looked everywhere but at CJ while she thought up some delaying tactics. “Wouldn’t you like some coffee first?”

“OK, now I know something’s really wrong. Tell me,” CJ coaxed.

“Oh, honey. Idaho…she’s dead.”

CJ’s eyes immediately glistened. “How?”

“Whoever he is, he did it last night. She was stabbed.” Kate joined CJ when she was invited into her arms. “There’s more, CJ. Nevada’s gone. I think she fled in fright.”

After a few seconds, CJ sniffed away her sadness. “Don’t worry about Nevada. She’ll come back.”

Kate wasn’t so sure, but remained quiet, rubbing CJ’s belly to try to comfort her somehow. Long, silent moments later, Kate got her stream of silent tears under control. She felt like they had both been crying since CJ had returned, but she decided it was better than not being able to cry at all. “What are we gonna do?”

“I’m not sure yet, Katie, but I have a feeling we’ll have help.”

“I know. Jamie’s unrelenting right now, but she needs to sleep or she’ll end up collapsing.”

“We’ll figure something out today, OK?” CJ kissed the nodding head at her breast. “I’m so sorry about Idaho, honey.” She bestowed another kiss upon Kate’s short hair. “Let’s get me up and dressed, huh? Then I’ll have that coffee before we have to deal with everything.”

“OK. Wait right there, and I’ll get you some clothes.” Kate rose from the bed and went to the closet.

CJ watched her. She could see the obvious upset in her wife’s intelligent eyes, but she could also tell Kate’s brilliant mind was going over and over all the events of the past few weeks.  “What’re you thinking right now?” she asked while shuffling her legs off the side of the bed.

“That this could be some crazy fanatic again. We both know the lengths a mentally unstable person can go to.”

“True. It’s definitely a possibility.”

Kate accompanied CJ into the bathroom and continued their conversation while assisting CJ in her morning ablutions. “I don’t like the fact that he’s found out where we live,” she said while flushing the toilet. Once the room had quieted again, she went on. “But there’s something that’s bugging me…”

“What?” CJ said before Kate rubbed a warm, soft sponge over her face.

“If he’s just some crazy fan, why would he be following you? If it’s all been the same person, that is.”

CJ nodded while she thought about that, but she couldn’t rule out a stalker since she knew a raving lunatic like that would do practically anything to be the only one wanted and loved by the subject of his infatuation. Still, that scenario didn’t quite feel right this time. “I’m not sure, Katie. I’m not sure.”

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Chapter 2

By lunch time, CJ and Kate had decided on a spot behind the second horse field for the burial. It was far enough away from the house, but could still be seen from the back windows. Kate had cleared up the breakfast dishes with CJ insisting that she had to watch and provide moral support. Kate knew she just wanted to be close to her at every opportunity, and if she was honest, it was what she wanted too. Jamie sat with them now at the island counter as they sipped on warm beverages.

“So,” CJ said distractedly as Kate helped lower her mug from her mouth, “This guy could have come back here after I saw him at the airfield. I know it was dark, but did you notice anything at all about the man who burned down the barn, Katie?”

“I couldn’t really see him clearly. He wore black clothes and dirty, white sneakers…and either a dark hat or dark hair, but that’s all I could see.”

CJ nodded and rested her hand on Kate’s arm. “I can’t really give a good description of the guy I saw either, except his face. I guess I could work with a sketch artist.”

Jamie perked up at that. “I’ll organize it when I get into the office. I’d better head off now, actually.”

“Thanks, Jamie. And take it easy today, huh?” CJ forced a withering smile. Jamie didn’t respond, but kissed them both on the cheek and left the house looking like she was on a mission.

Kate’s hand covered CJ’s larger one, and she pressed her lips against her right shoulder again in a subconscious effort to somehow help it mend. “I feel a little vulnerable for the first time.”

“You mean here at home?” CJ asked. When Kate nodded, she kissed her on the forehead. “Me too, actually. Nobody ever invaded our haven before, so I have something I want to suggest. I know it’s more Hollywood than you’d like, but I think we should get security fencing now.”

“What do you mean?”

“Agent White at my office…his father owns and runs a landscaping business, and I’ve been thinking I’d like him to come out and quote us for solid, six-foot fencing and electric gates. And before you say no, just take some time to think about it, OK?”

Kate curled her fingers around CJ’s. “I don’t want time to think about it. I agree with you on this one. I didn’t think we needed it before, but now…”

“I’ll call him later today then.”

Kate ran her fingers over CJ’s arm. They both seemed to be craving the constant contact right now. “How are we going to tell the girls about Idaho?”

“We’ll do it tonight. They’ll cope better if we just tell them the truth.”

“I know. It’s just hard to give them more bad news. They sensed there was something wrong when you were away.”

CJ slowly stretched her arm up to Kate’s shoulders, surprised when she managed it without yelping. “But I’m here now, Katie.”

“I know. I love you.”

“And I can’t live without it.”

Both women turned into the kiss, their lips simply resting on each other and savoring the connection before they parted and locked eyes. They felt a strength flow through them, reinforcing their hearts and minds. They knew it was going to be another tough week, but together they’d meet the challenges head on.

* * * * * *

“So what happened?”

“I got one of ‘em good. If it doesn’t die, it’ll be enough to scare that chick.”

“That chick needs to be more than scared. We need to make her feel like she’s going insane. Jesus, why did we take this job?” An irritated sigh sounded over the phone line before the dollar signs appeared in his greedy eyes again. “I want the damn money, man. Go back to that house and…I dunno…terrorize her. But don’t hurt them kids.”

“Christ, you think I don’t know that?”

“Just do your job!”

“OK, OK. I’ll go back tomorrow night. Gimme time to think of somethin’ good.”

“Don’t fuck it up. We’ll start to look like a bunch of amateurs if we don’t pick up our game.”

He hung up the call muttering obscenities to his ‘business’ partner. It seemed he was doing all the damn legwork and putting himself in the line of fire…literally.

I want a bigger cut. I think he’s ripping me off. With a snarl, he paced back and forth trying to think of what to do next. A short time later, his dark eyes narrowed when something he deemed nasty enough sprung to mind.

* * * * * *

Kate put one hand on her hip, and the other pulled at her lips while she thought. “Right. I’ve called Sam and Aunt Cece to apologize for yelling at them.”

“What did they say?” CJ asked, wiggling her fingers to invite Kate to hold her hand.

“Just what you’d expect. No need for sorry…we’re just happy you’re OK now.”

“And they mean it, Katie. Don’t worry about it anymore.”

“I’m not, but it made me feel better to say sorry anyway,” Kate said with a semi-smile. She held onto CJ’s warm hand but didn’t sit down. “Hey, you want tea?”

“Sounds good. I’ll call Mark then I’ll be right through.”

“Just stay here. I’ll bring it.”

“I think I need to get up for a bit. My butt’s numb. I’ll be careful. Promise,” CJ assured before managing to pick up her cell phone from the coffee table without so much as a flinch.

Kate watched the stiff movements like a hawk. “Hmm. OK, but shout if you need me. I mean it.”

“I will.” When her over-protective wife headed through the double doors into the kitchen, CJ hit the speed dial for Mark’s office. After a few rings, he answered. “Hey, Mark, it’s-“

“CJ. How are you?”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“I’m so glad. And Kate?”

“Yeah she’s good too. Very bossy but, you know…”

“I bet. It’s just as well really, since you’re such a bad patient an’ all.”

CJ rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, listen. I was calling to ask you a favor.”

“Shoot…”

“I’m assuming you have photos of the crash site?”

“Uh, yes. What about them?”

“Kate…she wants to see them. I think it’ll help her to come to terms with things.”

Mark sighed. “She’s an inquisitive woman, CJ. Perhaps it will give her the full picture without you having to-”

“Yeah. I’m having trouble describing things to her. Could you bring them over?”

“Of course. I wanted to come and talk to you both anyway.”

“Maybe tonight, say eight o’clock?”

“Sounds fine, CJ. I’ll see you then.”

A few moments later, she hobbled into the kitchen and made it to the island counter before she let out the aches and pains verbally. “Shit! Oww. Can you hand me some more painkillers, Katie?”

“You hurt yourself stretching for the phone, didn’t you?”

A scowl accompanied CJ’s answer. “Maybe.”

“I wish you’d let me help you more.”

“You’re doing practically everything for me as it is. I can’t even wipe my own ass,” CJ husked with a little frustration.

“Hey,” Kate soothed as she approached with a glass of water and some pills, “I know you’re not used to having a weakness, but remember this is me here.”

CJ’s face held barely-contained anger. “Damn it. Can you scratch my forehead please?” she growled a little harsher than intended.

Kate put down the glass and reached up to help her poor wife out. “Here?”

“Left a bit…”

“My left?”

“No, mine.” CJ’s eyes closed as the itch was scratched. They remained shut when Kate’s hand continued to roam over her scalp and massage her tense skull. Literally thirty seconds later, the anxiety and frustration was reduced to a little pile of remorse. “I’m sorry, Katie.”

Kate inhaled deeply and picked up the glass again. “I know this is gonna be hard for you, but I’m always going to be more than willing to take care of you. You just need to learn to let me.”

“I know. I really am sorry. It’s just getting to me a little already.”

“And it’ll get to you a lot over the coming weeks, but don’t worry. I can handle you.” Kate kissed her cheek after she’d gulped down her meds, but it soon turned into a much deeper embrace when CJ turned her head and sucked on Kate’s bottom lip. Their tongues began a slow dance, and Kate’s arms slid around CJ’s neck while CJ’s right hand gently grabbed Kate’s buttock. Their breaths became short and needy as the warm, wet muscles fought for dominance surrounded by smooth, searching lips, and when Kate felt the pulsing begin between her legs, she broke the arousing contact between them.

A moan of disappointment left CJ’s raspy throat. “I…need more.”

“Nuh-uh. Not yet.”

“How about we open the package that’s been sitting in the study for weeks?”

Kate’s green eyes widened. “I totally forgot about that.” Her mind raced for a few seconds. “No. Definitely not opening that right now.”

“Aww, go on. At least let me see what you bought.”

“No, honey. Please just go with me on this, OK? I don’t want to open it because I want us to be in a…a better place where we can have some fun. I’m not feeling much like having fun right now.”

CJ hadn’t let go of her beautiful partner’s body, and only moving from the elbow down, she ran her hand up Kate’s back. She applied a little pressure to bring their lips together again. A soft, loving kiss was bestowed upon Kate, and when they parted, CJ nodded.

“I agree.”

Kate looked seriously at her. “Thank you for understanding.”

“I really do understand, Katie. I just love you so much, and I want to be able to make you feel…the power in our…I dunno. I just want you to feel incredible.”

“I always feel incredible in your presence.” Kate ran her hand through CJ’s long, dark hair, very aware of what her wife craved. “And I want intimacy too. Maybe I’ll be able to do…something without you having to move. Let me think about it, all right?”

An excruciatingly beautiful smile graced CJ’s face. “All right. And I’ll think about it too. Believe me.” She stole another quick kiss. “Thank you for making me feel better.”

“I’m getting good at distraction techniques.”

“You always were.”

“I guess I have many skills too, huh?” Kate tried to quip lightly, although it didn’t quite come off that way. “OK, what was I doing?”

“Tea.”

* * * * * *

Kate leaned against the fireplace and watched CJ sleeping on the couch. CJ had followed her around like a lost puppy until Kate had forced her to get off her bad ankle and rest. It hadn’t been too difficult – a kiss and a promise of more to come being the only encouragement required. Their kisses had been amazing, though. A combination of the aching love they had for one another and the burning passion yet to be spent.

Kate had knelt beside the couch after that, with her head on CJ’s thigh until a light snore could be heard. She got up once CJ was fully asleep since her mind wouldn’t shut up, and her body seemed to want to pace the house constantly. After tidying up the crèche and loading the dishwasher, she’d gone to the study and written down everything they had talked about that morning.

Someone was trying to hurt them. Assuming for a moment that the events were linked, this someone had attempted to kill CJ and was now trying to torment Kate during what should have been a time of mourning. She wondered if this person even knew CJ had survived. The curious part of Kate’s brain had overridden the emotional part, and she had mustered the courage to look up the reports on the Internet, finding surprisingly little on the crash and subsequent recovery of the wreckage. She wondered if that was Mark’s doing, and she wanted to remember to ask him about it later.

Burning down the barn could have been deemed an accident – had she not witnessed the man on her property – but attacking Idaho was a blatant attempt to scare and upset her. Were they trying to push her over the edge? Were they trying to drive her out of her home? Kate looked at CJ now and knew that wasn’t going to happen. They were strong together and wouldn’t be beaten, and they had the FBI on their side too. She wondered if the criminal even knew who he was dealing with.

She looked over to the hallway to see Kamali lying flat out on the cool, varnished floor, peacefully waiting for his best friends to come home from school. He pricked one ear at Kate and wagged his tail a few times. She smiled and tried to relax a little, remembering how their devoted and gentle family pet had also been a fierce guard dog when he had to be.

Kate strolled over to the space between the couch and the coffee table, lowering herself to sit on the wooden surface and observe the love of her life as she napped. CJ’s right arm lay clamped to her side and her left rested on top of her body in its sling. The broken wrist was very painful, and CJ had found that every time she even flexed the muscles in that arm to move it, the agony shot through her injury sharply to remind her that she shouldn’t. The blue sling wrapped over her left shoulder to disappear underneath a mass of silky, dark hair which had thankfully regained its luster after not being washed for two and a half weeks. CJ’s carved features were relaxed in sleep, and her facial bruise was healing slowly. Every now and then, her mouth would curl slightly into a smile, and Kate hoped it was due to a pleasant dream. She knew there had been nightmares since her love had come home, but it seemed the tough agent didn’t remember them in the morning…or so she’d said.

Kate sighed as a wave of nausea washed over her at the thought that someone had almost taken her CJ away from her. She bit her lips before leaning forward, unable to resist kissing her soulmate. As her mouth gently pressed against the one below her, she felt CJ respond immediately. After a few seconds of the tender contact, a very quiet, whispered conversation began as they shared the same air, their faces mere millimeters apart.

“Again…” CJ gasped, her eyes still closed.

“I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t. I was already awake before you sat down.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah. I love it when you watch me. Kiss me again.”

Kate did so before speaking in the same low whisper. “I love you, CJ Carson.”

CJ’s blue eyes opened and almost crossed as she tried to focus on Kate’s beautiful face. “I love you more.”

Kate grinned while grazing her lips over CJ’s. “Not possible…”

“I beg to differ.”

“Shall we agree to disagree?”

“I think that’s wise,” CJ concluded before grabbing at Kate’s bottom lip with her teeth. When she let go, Kate pulled back a little more to look at her. A stunning smile spread across CJ’s face, and she glanced down at her own body. “I do believe that if you lie between my legs and rest on my belly, you won’t hurt me. In fact, you’d be making me feel so much better.”

“What about your sling?”

CJ pursed her lips in thought. She had the sling on her left side today and wasn’t fond of the discomfort when the wrist was moved. “Grab hold of the material…over there,” she signaled with her eyes. When Kate did so, she nodded. “Now just drag it very slowly to the left.”

“I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You won’t.”

Once the arm was sufficiently out of the way, Kate bit her top lip. “Was that OK?”

“Yeah. Now please, come here.”

Kate took in the pleading eyes and the cutest grin she’d seen in quite some time. As she moved slowly on top of CJ, she gave a mild warning. “Don’t get all excited. I’m only doing this because I seem to need constant contact with you.”

“I know. I need it too. Aren’t we pathetic?” CJ jested.

“Maybe, but I don’t care.”

“Me neither.” When Kate finished adjusting her position to make sure she was not causing pain to CJ’s bruised abdomen, CJ inhaled deeply, taking in the heart-warming, natural scent of her partner. “That feels amazing.”

Kate’s head came to rest under CJ’s chin, and they could both feel the lengths of their bodies melting into one another. Kate could also feel her libido jumping to attention, even after she had warned CJ against it.

“Mmm. It really does.”

Many long, quiet, blissful moments passed before CJ started shifting her hips. “Uh, honey? Things are getting uncomfortable in my pants.”

Kate let out a chuckle. “Are you trying to cheer me up?”

“If that works for ya, yeah. But I think you should move because I’m-“

“Uh-huh. I get it. Not very dry?”

It was CJ’s turn to croak out a laugh. “Yes. How did you guess?” She feigned surprise when Kate blushed and didn’t answer. “You’re feeling it too. I knew it!”

Once Kate had pushed herself carefully off CJ and stood up, she placed her hands on her hips. “Of course I feel it too, CJ. I’m just worried about making your injuries worse.”

“Well just so you know, that position did not hurt one bit. I mean, just so you know…”

“Noted.”

Kate smiled at the nonchalant look on CJ’s face, but was distracted by Kamali as he began to prance inside the front door at the sound of a familiar engine approaching the house.

CJ leaned forward and kissed Kate’s hand as it hung by her side. “I think our time is up. School’s out.”

A click in the lock and an excited doggy yelp heralded the arrival of Tony, Shannon, and Lucy, and their quiet Friday afternoon was shattered…in the best possible way.

* * * * * *

Shannon and Lucy sat cross-legged on the bed while CJ read them a story from her chair. Her injured foot rested on the nightstand, and the book was balanced on her raised thigh. That’s how Kate had positioned her before going back downstairs.

“And Thomas the tiger saw the river raging fast. He didn’t know how to get across it, and he was a little scared when the-“

“Mommy?” Shannon interrupted.

“Yes, Squirt?”

“Were you scared when you were lost?”

Ah. I wondered when these questions were going to start, CJ said to herself as she moved her fingers slightly to close the book. “Yes. I was quite scared.”

“Why?”

“Because I didn’t know where I was. I wanted to get home to my family, and I couldn’t tell you I was OK.”

Lucy was suddenly engrossed in this new story and leaned her little chin on her hands. Shannon shuffled forward to touch the top of her mommy’s knee.

“So how could you not tell us? Didn’t you have a phone?”

“You remember Mama telling you I was in a crash, right?” After two wide-eyed nods, CJ continued. “The crash happened in a huge, huge forest. There were lots of trees and lots of mountains and lots of snow. It was very, very cold.” CJ made sure to put on her best story-telling voice, but to keep it light so as to not scare her daughters. She wasn’t aware that Kate was listening from the hallway with her hand over her heart. “Nobody lived in the forest except the animals, and my phone was broken, so you know what I did?”

A “What?” from Shannon, a shake of Lucy’s head, and an invisible nod from Kate was her collective response.

“I had to walk for miles and miles and miles to try to find my way home. It took a very long time.”

“Did it take the whole time you were lost?”

“Yep. The whole time, sweetie. But I knew I had to get home to you girls and your mama, because you would be worried and maybe a little scared too…”

Shannon nodded. “Yes, but you broke your bone and had a sore foot, so you couldn’t walk properly…so how could you go that far?”

“You know, I wondered that too. But I know how I managed to make it now. I made it because I love you all so much, and all I could think about…” CJ’s eyes glistened with unshed tears. “All I could think about was seeing your faces again and hugging you tight. That made me stronger. You two and Mama made me strong enough to keep walking. Even when I was so tired and fell down, and I thought I would never get back up, all I could think about were my three best girls.”

“Did you see animals?” Lucy chimed in, her big, brown eyes struggling to stay alert.

“I did. I saw a bear.”

“A bear?” both girls asked together.

“Yep, and I think he was hungry, so I had to use my gun to fire a shot in the air and scare him off.”

“You didn’t kill him?”

“No, Shan. I didn’t want to have to kill him. Thank goodness he ran away after the loud bang, though, huh?”

“Yes, ‘cause he might have hurt you.”

“I know. He was very big.”

Lucy’s little mouth formed an ‘O’. “Must have been a grown-up bear!”

“I’d say so, Luce. I’m glad to be home now where there are no bears except Barney,” CJ said with a smile, making Lucy nod profusely in agreement.

Shannon’s expression had changed to pensive, and after a second or two, her bottom lip trembled slightly. “I’m glad you’re home. Mama was really sad without you.”

“Oh, I know, Shan. But it’s over now.”

“Yes, but we’re still sad because Idaho died.”

Lucy was being overwhelmed by her tiredness, but her frown told CJ she was sad too. They had told both girls earlier about the horse, explaining that she had died – but not that she had been killed by an intruder – and would be buried tomorrow. Shannon had asked if they could put some flowers on the grave afterwards, and Kate had told her she could. The children were also told that Nevada had run away, but they were going to try to find her soon.

Within the space of three weeks, CJ’s plane had been the target of a saboteur, their haven had been invaded, their horses were gone, and their barn had been completely destroyed. CJ had no idea what would come next, and her inability to do anything about it was frustrating the hell out of her. She clamped her mouth shut for a moment to stifle her conflicting emotions.

“You beautiful girls listen to me, OK? Everything’s gonna be fine. We’re all here, and we’ve got each other…always. We’ll find Nevada, and we’ll get a new friend for her someday, all right?”

“A new horse?”

“Maybe, yes. Let’s see what Mama thinks too, OK? We all need to decide together when the time is right…”

“Mama thinks it’s a good idea,” Kate said as she walked in the door with signs of her tears evident in her red-rimmed eyes. “We’ll give ourselves some time, and when we’re all feeling a bit better we can get a new horse.”

CJ looked lovingly at her. “How long have you been there?”

“Long enough, honey.”

“Mama, can you tell us a story too?” Lucy chanced drowsily.

“I think you’ve had enough stories tonight, don’t you? Quite a lot of Thomas the tiger, and Mommy’s adventure story too,” Kate said, giving CJ a sly wink as she moved to kiss Lucy’s forehead. “Time for sleep now…”

With a halfhearted grumble, Shannon slid out of her sister’s bed and shuffled to her own room. Both women kissed Lucy goodnight, and Kate helped CJ along the hallway to do the same to Shannon. Soon after, they were headed down the staircase – with CJ refusing help to see if she could manage it on her own, which she did – and met up with Jamie in the kitchen, where she sat at the island counter with her laptop. Since CJ had been upstairs for a while, she had yet to greet her colleague.

“Hey, Penfold.”

“DM. How you feelin’?”

“Meh, you know,” CJ answered cryptically.

“She’s pretending it doesn’t hurt,” Kate interpreted.

“Ah…”

“So what’s new? Anything on our situation?” CJ asked while shuffling her butt cheeks onto the stool that Kate held in place for her.

“Yeah, some stuff. But I promised Mark I’d wait until he arrives.”

CJ begrudgingly nodded. “Kate and I have been running it over in our minds, and can’t seem to figure it out yet.”

“How do you know what goes on in my mind?” Kate asked. When she saw CJ giving her a look, she grinned. “Hmm, yeah. Psychic CJ.”

“Nah, we just have this spooky link, but you already know that. You’ve been busting a gut to try to figure out who would want to hurt you and drive you insane, and why they would want to do all that instead of just coming after you directly. You know it’s probably not a lunatic fan, because they would most likely have you kidnapped by now, and they wouldn’t really have the means to track my movements in order to hurt me. And why bother with that when I was away from home and wouldn’t be here to stop them coming after you? Your cop mind has been working overtime, Katie…same as mine.”

Kate’s mouth hung open for a few seconds. “Spooky link confirmed.”

Jamie donned a dramatically astonished expression before nodding her agreement. “You two are weird.”

CJ smirked. “I know. I wouldn’t have it any other way, though.”

“I can see that.”

“So, if we rule out Kate Marshall psycho-fanatics, who else do we have?”

Jamie sighed. “Can you wait for ten minutes ‘til Mark gets here?”

“Oh, yeah. Forgot you said that,” CJ harrumphed. She would have drummed her fingers on the counter, but lifting her arm would just cause more pain so she sat and sulked instead.

Kate caught sight of the grumpy face and shook her head. “Caffeine. I’ll start the machine.”

The right side of CJ’s mouth twitched into what might have been a smile had it gone any further, and Kate grinned as she turned her back to grab four large mugs.

* * * * * *

In a cold, dark, and busy street in Manhattan, Eddie Marshall Senior stood with his arm around his partner. Jeffrey was beside himself with grief as they watched the building that housed their restaurant, Prescilla’s, burning to the ground. The horde of firefighters were working diligently inside the cordoned area which practically covered the entire street due to flying pieces of debris and signage, and some falling rubble.

Eddie had gotten a call about two hours after they had closed up for the night, and now they stood and watched their livelihood crumble in a matter of minutes. It was a blessed relief for the two men to find out that all the occupants of the apartments above their business had been safely evacuated, but Jeffrey was incredibly upset simply at the sight of the angry flames that still challenged the experienced firefighters of the FDNY.

Eddie was feeling somewhat emotional but wasn’t showing it in his usual flamboyant way. He knew they were well insured and was most thankful that there was no loss of life. There was anger and upset bubbling up inside his heart, but his mind was frantically throwing scenarios back and forth making him far too distracted to cry. So he just held onto his beloved partner and watched while the huge jets of water fired at the shell of the building. Blue and red lights flashed all around from the police cars and fire trucks, and Kate’s father couldn’t shake an unwelcome and uncomfortable feeling in his gut.

His dark-green eyes narrowed as he saw another few windows exploding outwards due to the intense heat of a blaze that didn’t seem to be going out.

A fire. Another fire?

.

Chapter 3

Back in California, Mark had arrived and was in the living room with Jamie, CJ, and Kate. While a few logs crackled in the large fireplace, they sat centered around the coffee table which held four mugs of steaming brew. As Mark organized his paperwork and his thoughts, CJ watched him surreptitiously from her position in the corner of the couch. She knew he had things to say, but she was growing impatient waiting for him to say them. She also knew her irate mood was partly due to the fact that she really wanted to drink the coffee that teasingly tempted her nostrils with its delicious aroma, but she didn’t want to have Kate help her in front of her boss. As Kate started to do just that, a sharp glance from CJ stopped her in her tracks. Kate frowned at her but quickly realized why she had acted in such a fashion. She let out a sigh to let CJ know she had gotten the message and wasn’t too happy with it.

CJ was getting jittery. Nobody was speaking, and she had just offended her wife to boot. She took a breath, preparing to blurt something, anything out, when Mark decided to speak. Finally.

“Right. Sorry that took so long.” Mark missed his top agent rolling her eyes beside him, and continued on. “We’ve made some progress in our investigation. Agent Dalton has found an image of the man you saw on the flight from LA. I have the still right here.”

“Dalton?”

“Yes. He wasn’t assigned to the case, but he’s been working this on his own time and making sure I get any info as soon as it’s discovered. Seems you really made an impression on him…” Mark said with a nod.

Jamie snorted. “She always does.” She immediately winked at CJ to show it was said with affection.

“Well, here’s the picture. He got it from one of only two cameras at the airfield.”

CJ reached out to take it, again forgetting her shoulder was stiff and sore. A sharp hiss through her teeth made Kate rise from her seat. “I’m OK, Katie,” CJ placated once she’d taken hold of the photo. When Kate slowly sat back down, CJ smiled apologetically at her before looking at the fuzzy image of the man wearing overalls and carrying a metal toolbox. “Yeah, that’s him. Can’t see his face too clearly in this picture, though.”

Mark nodded. “We’ll still need you to work with the sketch artist. I should be able to arrange that for tomorrow, and before you say it, no, you’re not coming into the office. He’ll come here, if that’s OK with you both.”

“I can walk, you know,” CJ muttered.

“Maybe so, but I’m on Kate’s side here. You need to recuperate.”

“Me too,” Jamie chimed in.

“Oh, so everyone’s ganging up on me?”

Kate moved to sit beside CJ. “Call it what you will. We just care about you, that’s all.”

Mark shifted to swap seats with Kate to give the two women more room on the couch. “We do, CJ. And I want you to enjoy your coffee, so why don’t you just let Kate help you? I know how badly injured you were, and I don’t care if…well, you know.”

CJ sighed heavily. She knew they didn’t care that she needed help with everything right now, but she hated to appear incapable in front of any of her professional peers. Thinking about it for a minute more, she realized that the colleagues in this room were much more than just people from work, and she reluctantly gave in. “Um, Katie? Could you help me with the mug?”

Kate smiled widely at her. It was loving, compassionate, forgiving, and ultimately Kate. “Yes. Here.”

Once CJ had taken a few satisfying gulps, Mark continued on like nothing had happened. He knew CJ would prefer it that way, and he wasn’t going to mention her current weakness again since she seemed to get the message already. “So, Tim has been feeding information through to me regularly. The cause of the crash has been confirmed, as you both know, but the acid was found to be of a type that is quite hard to come by. Ordering it should require identification and a verified delivery address. The suppliers in Minnesota were few, and I cross-checked the customer names with the passenger list on your flight from LA.” He looked at CJ and Kate. “One name matched. This guy, whoever he is, has added identity theft to his crimes. He used a dead man’s name and address, which was a PO Box in Duluth. Dalton is looking into that now. Our arsonist must have a fake ID…a passport…and he seems to be very well prepared for his job. Jamie and I were thinking he could either be a seriously deranged stalker coming after you, Kate…or he’s someone from your past with the Bureau, CJ. I already checked to make sure Alison Timmons is still locked up, and she is. You know…just in case she acquired an accomplice from somewhere. I wouldn’t put anything past that woman.”

“Neither would I, Sir-“ CJ faltered when Mark held up a wagging finger. “I mean Mark, but we had ruled out the stalker thing. A stalker would just come directly for Kate. Surely he wouldn’t go to all this trouble to eradicate me first, and then screw around trying to scare his target?”

“Depends on the type of nutcase he is.”

Kate spoke up. “That’s true, CJ. We never considered he might get off on playing with people’s minds…on playing with me. Maybe he wants me so terrified that I won’t know which way is up, and then he can snatch me without any problems. I mean, I’ve already shot at him, so he won’t think I’m going to be, uh, easy?”

CJ’s eyes widened a little, but even she couldn’t find a joke in there right now. This was too serious. “OK, so the nutcase theory is back in. But Mark’s right, it could be someone I’ve locked up in the past. Or maybe I locked up their family member, and it’s time for revenge.” She gripped her lips between her teeth and noticed Jamie had some files on her lap. “What did you find, Penfold?”

Jamie swallowed her gulp of coffee before she spoke. “We’ve got a few pieces of evidence from here at the house. He left some pretty good tracks on the ground when he ran away. We took impressions, and if we can find him and find his boots, we’ll match those quite easily. He managed to lure the horses with an apple. I found small pieces of it on the ground in the field. I think he approached from the north, so he must have walked for a while over the plains before he reached your property. This tells me he’s very organized, and everything he does is premeditated…almost like he has a deliberate agenda, a final goal in his mind that he’s supposed to achieve. So again, this doesn’t rule out the crazy stalker. They can be quite cunning when they have to be.”

“I’d have to agree,” CJ said absently, while Kate and Mark nodded.

“Oh, and by the way, I’ve cleared the back yard of any toys. There’s nothing left lying out there, so I can see anything suspicious as soon as it appears. I’ll do that every night after the girls go to bed. I don’t know what this guy’s next move will be, but I’d say he’ll make it under the cover of darkness, and I’ll be ready for him.”

“Not tonight you won’t, Agent Green,” Mark said firmly. “I’ll be remaining here tonight, in the car. I’m going to park up in the trees just beyond the house and keep watch. It gives me a good view of the whole place, including the driveway. You need to rest.”

This was news to all three women, but the way Mark said it booked no room for argument. CJ was actually kind of relieved. She knew Jamie desperately needed sleep, and a few seconds later, Kate voiced her thoughts for her.

“You are exhausted, Jamie. And we’d be happy for you to stay, Mark, but feel free to stay in the house.”

“No, no. I’m all set up in the sedan. Don’t worry about me. And it’s only for one night. I’m sure I won’t be able to keep Jamie away any longer than that.”

“You’re sending me home?” Jamie asked in a high-pitched voice.

“Of course.”

“But…but I can sleep here. Then at least if you need me, I’m close by.”

Mark analyzed Jamie’s face and saw that her chin was jutted forward, and her eyes were almost maniacal. He tapped his finger on his chin while he decided what to do. She’s pretty determined too. He surrendered and gave a single head bob. “OK, but you must sleep.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Mark smiled briefly at her, but wanted to maintain his role as her boss. “Might as well go now, agent.” Jamie didn’t need to be told twice. She was close to being unconscious on her feet, so once she’d bid them goodnight, she headed upstairs.

Since there had been no resistance to his ‘order’, Mark took a deep breath of relief. “Right. I suppose I should head out there then. Before I go, I just wanted to say I’m sorry about what happened to your horses.”

“Thanks, Mark,” Kate replied. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure…”

“I couldn’t find much about the crash on the Internet. Why is that?”

“While the investigation is ongoing, only the basic information will be put out there. All we released was that a small plane went down with two passengers on board, one of them a federal agent. No names were given, and to be honest, I think we’ll keep it that way for now. I’m not even going to comment on whether anyone survived or not.”

CJ nodded in understanding, but when Kate asked why, Mark perched himself on the arm of the couch.

“I want this guy to think he succeeded in what he set out to do. I believe he tried to kill CJ, and now he’s set on harming you in some way. Your wife’s plane goes down, and suddenly someone starts trying to intimidate you? The timing of it all and the jet fuel used in the fire…it wasn’t a coincidence. He seems to be intent on coming back here to hurt your family, and I want to catch him before it escalates even further.”

“And we appreciate that. Believe me. Having the LAPD on the case is fine, but I feel better knowing I can trust the people protecting us,” Kate finished quietly.

CJ felt a pang of nonsensical guilt about her inability to protect her family. She pushed it aside harshly and refocused her mind. “Mark…how did you manage to take over this investigation anyway? Our unit’s supposed to deal with serial killers.”

“I know. Technically, we didn’t take over the investigation, but we are running our own alongside the LAPD one. The plane crash is a federal case and is now linked to what’s going on here. But you’re right about our unit, and Mitchell is pretty pissed at me right now. Ethan and Mikey have been working on our killer, but the case is progressing very slowly. And thank you for reminding me…” Mark pulled a file from his bag. “I wonder if you might take a quick look at these.”

“What are they?”

“Crime scene photos.” Mark looked to Kate and asked, “Are you OK with this?” even though he already knew the answer.

“Yes.”

Once the images were spread on the table surface, CJ narrowed her eyes and looked at them from various angles. “The drawings are very crude,” she husked as she pointed at the stupid-looking little diagrams the killer had taunted them with on each body.

Mark nodded since he’d thought so too. In fact, he thought they were a load of nonsense and the killer was just playing with them, but he remained quiet and waited patiently for his top agent to speak again.

CJ carefully pushed back from her hunched up position over the coffee table. “They look like a really crappy attempt at hieroglyphics,” she announced.

Mark stood perplexed for a few seconds before his eyes closed. “Jesus.” He rubbed his forehead. “I never even…you’re a fricking genius. How did you do that so fast?”

CJ just shrugged – noting a miniscule improvement in her shoulder before she smiled at her boss. “I like ancient Egypt.”

Mark coughed out a laugh. “Kate, can I take her brain to work with me?”

“Um, no. I need the brain too. It’s kind of a package deal,” Kate jibed back, which made CJ smirk at her.

“Well,” Mark said with finality. “I’ll let you two get some rest.”

“Wait,” CJ croaked, moving stiffly and tapping her finger on one particular photo. “They look like hieroglyphics…except this one here. Was there something different about this victim?”

Mark twisted himself around to see what she was looking at. He shook his head at how things were starting to fall into place. “She was the only one found indoors, under the floorboards of an old, vacant theater building.”

Literally five seconds later, CJ nodded. “I’d look at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater downtown. They have hieroglyphic plaques displayed on the walls. Maybe your killer’s been there. Hell, maybe he even works there.”

“That’ll be our next move. I don’t know why you’re not the director of the FBI already,” Mark said, finishing it with a small, nasal laugh.

“Never wanted that, Sir. I love the field. Don’t wanna sit in an office.”

“I know. And I can understand that. OK, I have to go.” He put a large envelope on the table marked Jensen Cessna – Crash site MVNP015 and looked admiringly at CJ. “I’ll just leave these for you.”

“Thanks. Keep me posted on the killer, will you, Mark?” CJ asked in a gruff but vocal tone.

“I will. Good to hear that voice coming back through. See you guys later. You know where I’ll be if you need me.”

As Kate showed him out, CJ leaned back against the couch cushions and sighed. “Well, at least I’m not completely useless.”

“Please tell me you did not just say that,” Kate said incredulously as she walked back into the room.

“I meant at work, honey.”

“Thank goodness, because you are not useless. Every second of your life is of huge value to me.”

“I know that. I meant because I can’t go help catch…” CJ realized that Kate’s tight grin meant she was pulling her leg a little. “If only I could be of more use to you right now,” she said, wiggling her eyebrow.

Kate sighed at that. “There’s no hurry to make love, CJ. I want you to recover properly…and anyway, there’s too much going on. I can’t relax.”

“That’s precisely my point, though. I think it would relax us both.”

“Not tonight, OK? But soon, I promise.”

CJ felt her heart get heavier. “I guess. I know it’s not really an appropriate time for-“

“CJ, it’s not that. I’d love to be with you. It seems to bond us very deeply and makes us feel invincible, but your injuries were pretty bad this time and…”

“I’ve had injuries before, Katie. When I was shot, we still managed to…connect.”

“When you were shot you had the use of your arms. Please try to give yourself some healing time.” Kate had settled beside CJ and was rubbing her hand through her dark hair. “I love you so much.”

“I know,” CJ murmured, closing her eyes as Kate’s miraculous touch lowered her stress levels yet again. “I love you too, and I love your magic hands.”

Kate smiled and remained as close as possible to her injured partner. She just wanted to meld with CJ, to be by her side and take away as much of her pain as she could. The thought of CJ’s pain made her wince inside, and she glanced at the coffee table. The envelope seemed quite thick, and she knew there would be many images of the crash site. Turning her head back to CJ and kissing her softly on her head, Kate decided she’d look at the crash site photos tomorrow. She’d had enough for tonight.

* * * * * *

They had watched some cheesy movie with the TV turned down low. No words were exchanged. They weren’t needed when their bodies were in constant contact. CJ yawned when the titles began to scroll on the screen, and Kate moved slowly from her warm spot on her spouse’s chest.

“Mmm. Bedtime?”

CJ glanced at the clock. “Wow, it’s after midnight already. Yeah, let’s get the invalid up to bed. It could take a while.”

“Wait here, and I’ll get you some painkillers to help you sleep.”

“Thanks, Katie,” CJ croaked out, warbling somewhere between a tight whisper and normal volume.

“It sounds like your throat’s getting better,” Kate said on her way into the kitchen.

“I sound like a teenage boy whose voice is about to break. Ugh.”

Kate came back to see CJ standing up straight, looking very cute, but she had to smile at CJ’s messed-up bed-head. “You sound far more like a gorgeous federal agent who just went through a terrible ordeal, and now she’s back home where she should be, healing under the care of her lovely wife.”

CJ chuckled silently. “That was quite a story.”

“You think I’d make something like that up?” Kate said with a wink.

“Nah. Especially not the lovely wife part. She’s so much more than lovely, though. She’s perfect.”

“Sweet talker.”

“Truth.”

Kate gazed into CJ’s eyes and felt her heart speed up. “You are perfect.”

“Yeah, with my broken parts and messy hair.”

“Your broken parts will heal, and your messy hair is adorable. You’re still perfect to me, so no more backchat.”

“Yes, ma’am.” CJ followed behind Kate who carried the things she needed for a restful night. Well, as restful as CJ’s night could be when she was in pain and couldn’t move much.

* * * * * *

After a hazardous trip up the staircase, CJ and Kate arrived in the master bedroom. CJ didn’t want to admit it, but it hurt, and as she dropped to sit on the edge of the large bed, she surrendered to the fact she wasn’t capable of much right now.

“OK, I give. That was hard work.”

Kate deposited the glass and pills on the nightstand and came to kneel between CJ’s legs. “Glad you finally came to your senses. Maybe we need to keep you on one level for a while.”

“No. I just need to stop denying that it hurts…at least, to you, anyway.”

Kate nodded. “Like I said, I’m glad you came to your senses. I’m the one you can be completely honest with, no matter what.”

“I know. You’re the only one.”

With a sympathetic smile, Kate got up. “Let’s get you something to wear to bed.”

“I’d rather just wear nothing. Less hassle,” CJ said, glancing down at her arms.

Kate’s green eyes narrowed. “Hmm. You, naked? I’m not so sure that’s a good idea right now.”

“I happen to think it’s a great idea.”

“You would.”

“And you really don’t?”

“You know what I mean, CJ. Of course it’s a great idea, but-”

“Uh-huh. So, get me naked.” CJ watched as Kate’s shoulders slouched and a look of resignation washed across her beautiful features. “Come on, Katie…” Those words managed to come out in a husky murmur, and they sure did the trick.

“OK.”

Kate unconsciously licked her lips as she approached, and CJ thought her heart might just burst. But then Kate’s cell phone rang. CJ closed her eyes in disbelief when her spouse changed direction and picked it up off the nightstand.

Kate looked confused for a second when she saw her father’s number on the display. “It’s Dad…”

CJ watched worriedly and spoke just as the confusion on Kate’s face turned to concern. “It’s the middle of the night in New York. Answer it…”

Kate nodded and pressed the appropriate button. “Dad? Are you OK?”

“Katie? Is everything all right there at the house?”

Kate could tell her father was more than freaked out. He sounded calm and manly, which meant there was a crisis ongoing. “Dad, we’re OK. What has happened? Is Jeffrey hurt?”

“Oh, no. No, Jeffrey’s fine. He’s stopped crying now.”

“Dad, please tell me…” Kate begged.

“Honey, I don’t want you to worry too much, but Prescilla’s burned down tonight. The whole building is wrecked…” Eddie heard a gasp on the line and stopped talking.

“Burned down?”

CJ’s pulse quickened at that, and she truly hoped that whatever had burned was not related to the problems they were having. “Katie?”

“Hold on, Dad…” Kate said before addressing CJ. “The restaurant was destroyed by fire tonight.” She saw CJ’s eyes narrow at the information, and Kate swore she could read her mind. “I’m about to ask him, honey.”

CJ blinked repeatedly in confusion, and when she heard Kate ask the exact question she wanted answered, her mouth dropped open.

“Dad…what started the fire? Do you know that yet?”

“Not yet, sweetheart. There’s still smoke everywhere, and I’m about to head home for a while. The police have our details, and they’ll call us when the FDNY find something. The most important thing is that nobody was hurt or killed, and that you precious things are still safe too.”

“You think it’s connected to us?”

“Oh, Katie, I don’t know. I can’t help but think it’s a little too coincidental.”

Kate hated when her father used his serious, gruff voice, so she rolled her shoulders to alleviate how uncomfortable it made her feel. “Let’s see what the professionals say first, OK? No jumping to conclusions.”

“I know. I’ll call you in the morning when we know more. I have to get Jeffrey home. It’s freezing here, you know?”

“I know, Dad. Tell Jeffrey we love him, and we love you too.”

“Right back to you all, my lovelies. Sorry to call with bad news at this hour.”

“Don’t worry about it. Call any time, and for any reason, Dad.”

“Oh, sweetie, you really are wonderful. Try to get some rest. And the same to that gorgeous wife of yours!”

Kate heard a little of Eddie’s flamboyance in that sentence, and it lifted her frowning eyebrows a little. “You too, Dad. Night-night.”

“Goodnight, sweetheart.”

When the call was disconnected, Kate looked at CJ and saw that she was still gawking at her, waiting for information. “Prescilla’s and the apartments above it are completely burnt out and still smoldering.”

“Was anyone hurt?”

“No, thankfully.”

“He thinks it’s connected to our situation, doesn’t he.”

It wasn’t really a question, and Kate sighed as she answered. “Yeah, he does.”

“Katie, that’s quite a stretch considering we’re on opposite sides of the country.”

“I know. It would mean this guy has an accomplice, wouldn’t it?”

CJ eyebrows shot up her forehead. “Uh, yeah. Shit, that’s possible. I never even considered there could be two of ‘em. Man, I’m really not thinking.”

“Of course you’re thinking, but there’s a helluva lot to think about right now, and you’re in a lot of pain too. I guess Dad’s paranoia’s just rubbing off on me. I hate it when he sounds so serious and…un-dad-like.” Kate dropped onto the mattress next to CJ who kissed her on the temple before resting her forehead on the same spot.

“I hate to add to the pile of problems right now, but I think I just got my period.”

Kate shook her head. “You are never a problem. Come on.”

Once they were in the bathroom, CJ watched Kate bustle around for a moment then come to stand in front of her. Before Kate could start anything, CJ pursed her lips. “I might manage to do this by myself,” she whispered sheepishly.

“I doubt it…and I don’t really want to see you hurt yourself in your quest to get the right angle. And anyway, you’ve been trying to get me inside you for days. Looks like you got your wish,” Kate said with a glimpse of a twinkle in her eye.

CJ pondered that for all of two seconds, but she pretended to take much longer and put on her best thinking face. Finally, she answered. “Not exactly what I had in mind, but you have a point there, Mrs. Carson.”

“Uh-huh. And you wanted to be naked for bed, so let’s do that first. How about a quick shower before I do the deed?”

CJ chuckled quietly. “You’re the boss.”

“Glad you agree.” Once CJ was standing in front of her wearing nothing but her plaster cast and a bashful grin, Kate smiled. “Do you know how beautiful you are?”

CJ’s cheeks burned crimson at the unexpected compliment. “Not as beautiful as you.”

“Hmm, I wish you would just take the compliment and know it as the whole truth. You’re a goddess, honey.”

“To you, maybe. And, um, thank you, Katie. I love you.”

“I love you too, you big goof. Shower,” Kate ordered while pointing at the enclosure.

“You have to come in too, otherwise I won’t be able to rest my cast on anything.” CJ tried to keep her expression neutral.

Kate’s suspicious eyes narrowed for a second. “All right…” She removed her clothing which set CJ’s pulse racing, rapping a fast beat all through her body.

Kate leaned in to start the water and let it warm to the preset temperature, and as CJ hobbled into the shower – with the throbbing area between her legs causing more of a limp – Kate gently grasped her right arm and guided her so that her cast would be in a dry zone. Kate stood facing her and lifted the injured left arm carefully onto her shoulder. CJ flinched, but it was less painful than moving it herself.

“Now I know it might be hard for you, but don’t move your arms. I’ll do the washing for both of us,” Kate said in a no-nonsense manner.

CJ’s nostrils flared, but she remained silent. She watched with great interest as Kate removed the shower gel from the small, in-built shelf and lathered some into her palms. The bulk of CJ’s body was under the soothing spray, and when Kate’s hands met her overheated skin, she moaned at the sizzling contact. Kate sensed the change and looked up into CJ’s eyes. She realized how much denying CJ was actually torturing her.

She doesn’t have to move an inch, and I could… Kate blinked from her thought and continued to delicately cleanse CJ’s injured body.

CJ’s breasts were heaving with her labored breaths, and every area Kate touched seemed to press back against her. Decision made, Kate moved her hand lower, cupping CJ’s dark mound, her middle finger pressing gently into the sodden flesh beneath.

“Oh, Katie…” CJ whimpered.

“Just relax and stay still.”

CJ almost did as she was told, but she had to open her legs a little more. Finding a comfortable enough position for her weakened ankle, she readied herself for the onslaught of some wonderful sensations for a change. “It won’t take…long…” she gasped out as Kate circled her clit with her fingertip.

“I know.” Kate’s left hand came to up to cover CJ’s breast, chaffing the erect nipple with her palm. She knew from the swelling between CJ’s legs that she was so ready, and since CJ was very wet, she slipped two fingers slowly inside.

“Yes.” CJ’s eyes were shut tight and her mouth hung open to gather necessary oxygen. Her legs trembled, and she fleetingly thought this might not have been such a good idea after all. Kate’s thumb pressed against her clit as the soft thrusting continued, and she felt every nerve ending telling her it was too late to change her mind. She didn’t want to, anyway. “My…Katie…” The heartfelt words escaped in a hitching of breath as her orgasm swept through her.

Kate’s hand left the hard nipple to allow her to grab CJ around the waist in case she collapsed. “Hey,” she said loudly enough to be heard over the water. “Focus for me. Don’t fall.”

CJ managed to smile and open her eyes. “I’m OK.”

“Good.” Kate kissed her on the chin. “And yes, I am your Katie.”

Once CJ had recovered, the washing was completed as fast as possible since she’d been on her ankle way longer than Kate would’ve liked. Standing in the middle of the bathroom, Kate pulled the ponytail from CJ’s hair and brushed it through. With that done, she moved in front of her and looked up into a somewhat peaceful and sated face.

“OK. Spread ‘em.”

CJ grinned. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Very sure. Just don’t get aroused again.”

“I’ll try.” When Kate’s finger circled her sex, CJ’s body couldn’t help but react. “What’re you doing?”

“Well, I gotta find the hole first. It’s not like doing it on my own body.”

“Oh…uh…ah! Sure. That feels nice.”

“Quit it,” Kate said, hearing CJ’s husky tones get deeper. “OK, let me know if it’s uncomfortable?”

OK.” A few seconds later, CJ had to admit Kate had done ‘the deed’ incredibly well. “That feels fine, Katie. And, uh, thank you.”

“Anytime, beautiful.” Kate reached up to place a delicate kiss on CJ’s cheek. “Just always remember, I would do anything for you. Actually, the tampon task was quite pleasurable, so you just let me know when you need me again.”

CJ rolled her eyes and dragged herself towards the bed while Kate threw the wet towels into the laundry hamper, cleared up a few things, ran her fingers through her own short locks, and shut off the light in their bathroom before climbing in beside her wife.

CJ desperately wanted to make love to Kate – to reciprocate for her pleasure in the shower among other reasons – but she was pretty sure Kate would refuse such an offer. With a sigh, she asked anyway. “Katie?”

“Mmm, yeah?” Kate murmured as she snuggled down in her pillow.

“I…I want to make love to you too.”

“Oh, CJ, that’s not why I did it.”

“I know that, but I want-“

Kate placed her fingertips over CJ’s lips to silence her. “Just relax. Please? All I need are your arms around me…” The words were out before Kate could stop them, and she watched CJ’s eyes fill with tears.

“And I can’t even do that properly.”

CJ looked pretty desolate as Kate moved into her left side. The cast safely clamped between them, she held her unusually emotional partner and cooed into her ear in apology.

“All I need is you, CJ. That came out all wrong. I’m sorry, honey…so sorry. It’ll get better soon. I promise.” Kate kissed the tear-stained cheek so close to her mouth, and CJ turned to her, engaging her in a deeper kiss that conveyed what she wanted. Their tongues met and danced around one another as if their hunger could never be satisfied. Kate could feel the blood rushing in her ears and her heart pounding double-time. It felt incredible, but she knew they couldn’t touch one another the way they usually did, and that thought made her pull back once more.

She wanted CJ to understand what she felt, but putting it into words could be difficult. “I love you more than you’ll ever be able to imagine. Always believe that. Nothing can change-“

“Katie, do something for me?”

“Anything…” Kate realized what she’d just said and almost laughed at what she knew was coming.

CJ’s wide grin – even through her tears – showed that she’d heard it loud and clear. “I’m glad you said that. Now, I’m going to slide down the bed, and you’re going to…” As she spoke, she felt the heat shoot through her body. “Let me taste you.”

Once Kate had the image in her mind, it was hard to shift it. She really wanted that powerful connection with her one and only love, and she also wanted to grant the pleading wish that CJ’s eyes now conveyed. She nodded and silently got to her knees. CJ slithered down the mattress without too many grimaces and waited in anticipation of what she was about to see. Her mouth already filling with saliva, she watched Kate lean down to kiss her passionately, smoldering eyes closing as they met. She let Kate sink into her while engulfing Kate’s tongue with her mouth, suckling on the muscle as it explored around her teeth. Kate moaned at the pulling motion and felt it in other places. Her nipples tingled, and her clit throbbed.

CJ let go of Kate’s intoxicating mouth and whispered, “More…”

Kate moved very cautiously over CJ’s torso, and when those blue eyes latched onto her breast with a hunger so fierce she could barely breathe, she lowered herself down to CJ’s waiting lips. CJ groaned her pleasure as she pulled Kate’s nipple into her mouth. She really wanted to touch Kate with her hands, but knew she couldn’t so she concentrated on feeling everything she could with her mouth.

Kate’s pebbled areola tickled against her lips, and she felt the nipple inside her mouth harden and elongate. It made her stomach clench, and she was eternally grateful her abdominal bruising didn’t cause her any pain. She squeezed her thighs together to try to alleviate the little spasms of empathy that ran through her sex, and moved her head to grab the other nipple with her teeth. Kate barely cried out, her breaths becoming ragged and her thoughts swimming in a sea of gratitude that her wife was here with her now. When CJ finally let the sensitive point go, Kate climbed higher and heard a whimper from underneath her.

“Oh, yes,” CJ murmured, seeing the glistening flesh peeking out from behind Kate’s dark-blond curls. “Please, Katie.”

In a slightly awkward position but still able to get comfortable without leaning on CJ’s shoulder, Kate was poised over her and holding onto the head of the bed for dear life. She was a little shocked at how wet she was, and she vaguely wondered why she had been denying them this life-affirming connection. She looked down to see an intense pair of eyes pleading still, and she realized she hadn’t lowered herself enough. She slowly did so, and an audible exhale exploded from her lungs at the feel of CJ’s hungry mouth covering her most intimate area. CJ’s thick tongue slid up through her folds and played forcefully with her clit, making her cry out again.

“Ciara…”

CJ was in that heavenly place she would never tire of. Kate surrounded her face, and she could smell, taste, and touch Kate the way she had been craving. Without the use of her hands, she decided her tongue was going to work extra hard, and that suited her just fine. CJ swirled and circled around Kate’s swollen clit quickly to bring her closer to the edge. Judging by the sounds coming from Kate’s throat between every short, panting breath, her technique was working like a charm. She stopped the frantic flicking for a moment and took the tip of her tongue to Kate’s sex, sliding in to tease it mercilessly before retreating to bring her flattened tongue slowly up through Kate’s inner labia, finishing at the top of her sensitive clit.

“Please…” Kate breathed.

CJ thrust her partially-erect tongue inside a few times, the tip feeling around inside to gather the delicious nectar that surrounded it while her nose teased Kate’s clit and drove her to a higher level of arousal. Kate held back her scream, but when CJ withdrew to suck her clit into her scorching mouth, Kate felt herself crashing over a tidal wave of pleasure. CJ continued to suck as she flicked her tongue fast, bringing Kate’s orgasm to an almighty climax.

Kate thrust one final time onto CJ’s face, and CJ was blissfully lapping up everything she offered. It was only after a few seconds, she realized Kate was offering a lot, but she didn’t care at all, and she waited until her wife came back to her senses before she made their predicament known.

Hearing a slight chuckle below her, Kate inhaled deeply a few times to get her breath back before whispering, “What?”

“I think you got your period too.” CJ snickered before she kissed the tender flesh above her.

Kate rolled off to the side, and once on her feet she looked at CJ before quickly heading to the bathroom. “That’s almost gross.”

“It most certainly is not! I love it. I love you, remember?”

“I know, but I meant if the world could hear us now, some would find it gross.” Kate leaned over CJ and wiped her chin. “I realize you don’t, but some would.”

“Hmm, well, it’s just a natural occurrence, and it’s all quite delicious to me, but only because it’s yours, Katie.”

Kate kissed her before moving away again. “Ditto, CJ.” She came back out of the bathroom after attending to herself. “Looks like we’re totally in sync with that now too, huh? How weird.”

“Yep. We always have that awesome time of the month together, but this is the first time we’ve got it on the same day…same hour, actually.” After a sarcastic hmm from Kate at the word ‘awesome’, CJ shifted slightly so they could lie close together once more. “And while we’re on the subject of weird, how did you manage to read my mind earlier?”

“When?”

“You were on the phone to Dad, and you said…and I quote…I’m about to ask him, honey, but I hadn’t spoken my thoughts aloud.”

Kate looked up to check CJ’s eyes for any signs of a joke. “I did?”

“Yes. And then you went on and asked Dad the question with the exact words I had used in my head.”

“Uh, wow. Maybe I just know you too well now.”

“Perhaps,” CJ murmured as she kissed Kate’s cheek. “Sleep now. And thank you so much.”

“For what?”

“For letting me love you.”

Kate almost cried. “I’m the one who should say thank you, CJ. It was wonderful, as always.”

“I’m just glad you let me, and it caused me no pain whatsoever, just in case you were wondering.”

“Good.” Kate kissed the soft skin next to her face. “Night.”

“Goodnight, my love.”

Both women felt impossibly closer somehow, and as Kate drifted into slumber she had to admit that making love had eased a lot of her tension. She would concede – only to herself – that CJ had been right all along.

.

Chapter 4

Kate awoke early and got up to relieve her bladder. When she came back into the bedroom, she looked at her stunning partner. CJ continued to sleep, and Kate stared at her to make sure she was actually there. She got up each morning expecting it all to be a dream. But it wasn’t. CJ was here.

Tears stung the back of Kate’s eyes again at the feeling she’d had of never seeing her wife again. It had been way too close this time, and she wondered if there would ever be an end to the drama that was their life. Oh, she could cope with drama – she was an actress, after all – but she just preferred it when her family were not put in mortal jeopardy…or any kind of jeopardy, for that matter.

The thought of her job made Kate’s eyes pop open. OK. Need to get my head in gear and call Lorena. She stood looking at CJ for a few seconds longer while she worked through her morning routine in her head. CJ seemed to really need her rest, but she would need help in the bathroom when she woke, and Kate knew she didn’t have much time since CJ usually stirred without her in the bed.

Kate grabbed her robe and decided that a text to Lorena would suffice for now. She didn’t want to spend time on the phone, and it was early Saturday morning: her agent-slash-manager wouldn’t be at the office anyway. If there was anything urgent, she was sure Lorena would call her back at a convenient time.

Kate was also waiting for her father to call back with news about the fire at Prescilla’s. Then there was Idaho. It was going to be a sad day, but she was feeling surprisingly strong. She knew it was partly due to what she had shared with CJ last night, and partly due to the miraculous inner-strength she exuded when CJ was with her. She glanced back at her now. CJ had turned her head and now had her face smashed against Kate’s pillow.

She knows what I need better than I do sometimes. With a shake of her head and a smile, she left the room to go check on the children and the other federal agents. Finding the children still deep in the land of nod, she headed downstairs.

Since it was daylight, Mark had come indoors and now sat with Jamie in the kitchen, sipping on coffee and reading through a couple of newspapers he’d brought last night in case he needed something to read. Kate had wondered where Kamali was as she descended the stairs, but she saw him now, sitting patiently but keenly alert by Mark’s side.

“Did someone give you a tasty treat, Kamali?” Kate inquired, pursing her lips to stop a smile.

Jamie looked at Kate, then at her boss. “Busted.”

Mark was too busy trying to peel his eyes away from Kate. He hadn’t really seen her in such casual attire before, but he covered his surprise well. He was heartened by the fact that she felt comfortable enough to be there in her robe. “Sorry, Kate. He’s been a very good boy. Didn’t even bark at me when I was lurking around outside your house all night.”

“He’s such an intelligent dog, and he knows you’re a friend. And I’m just kidding, Mark. He’s allowed the occasional treat.”

“Did you two sleep OK?” Jamie asked her.

Kate turned to see if there was any hidden meaning behind the words, but it looked to be a genuine question with no knowing smirks or winks, indicating to her that Jamie hadn’t heard them in bed last night. “Very well, thank you. What about you?”

“Like a log. I was more exhausted than I thought. And that guest bed is really comfy.”

Mark grunted at her. “My seat wasn’t so great, but I wasn’t here to sleep anyway. Still, maybe a visit to the chiropractor wouldn’t go amiss. I’m getting too old for all-night stakeouts.”

“Aww, Mark, you’re not that old,” Jamie blurted before she could stop herself.

“Watch it, Green.”

Jamie tensed a little, but then she saw the glint in Mark’s eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. She cleared her throat and with a smile, replied. “Sorry, Sir.”

Kate chuckled as she poured some of the coffee from the pot into her So Say We All mug. It seemed the sci-fi geek in CJ was rubbing off on her. “So I assume all was quiet last night, Mark?”

“Yes. I hate to say it, but I hope he comes back soon. I want to catch the sonofabitch.”

“I agree.” Kate sighed. “I need to get today over with before I can think any more about it. We have to bury Idaho this morning. The guys should be here in about two hours to do that,” she said, looking at the wall clock and seeing it display eight fifteen.

“Do they take care of everything?” Jamie asked after finishing her coffee.

“Yes. Apparently they dig the hole, prepare the…animal…and fill it in. The owners can be present, or not.”

“Are you going to be there?”

“I might, but the girls will have to stay indoors. Seeing our horse being hauled around is not for young eyes, so I’ve asked Tony to come in today.”

“Ah, I was going to say. I mean, CJ can’t really…oh, never mind.”

Kate sighed. “I know she can’t, Jamie. And it’s OK, you can say it. CJ can’t cope right now.”

“Don’t let her hear you say that,” Mark harrumphed.

“I think she’s coming round to the idea that she’ll just have to deal with it.”

“Yeah, but not in front of us…and on that note, I’m heading out.” Mark slid off the stool, bid them both goodbye, and was about to leave when Kate called his name.

“Mark?”

“Yes?”

“My father called last night. He’ll be calling me back later with an update. I’m not sure it’s any of your concern, but…his restaurant burned down last night. Completely destroyed.”

“Where…?” Mark asked with a frown.

“In New York City. Like I said, I don’t think it’s any of your concern, but I thought I’d mention it.”

“No, no, I’m glad you did. I’d like to look into it, if that’s OK with you?”

Kate nodded. “Yes, thank you. He seems to be worried about the possibility of it being linked, but I’m not so sure.”

“I don’t know, Kate. I wouldn’t put anything past this un-sub. If I find out anything important, I’ll let you know, all right?”

“Thanks. Why did you say un-sub?”

“Because that’s what we’re supposed to call the killers, perps, suspects…if they’re unknown. The BAU always use unknown subject.”

“CJ doesn’t.”

“I know. She sticks to what she’s used to, doesn’t like too much change.” Mark paused to think. “At work, anyway.”

“I don’t think I’ve heard any of you use it,” Kate said, looking between Jamie and Mark.

“You’re right, but we do write it in reports and case files from time to time. Thing is, by the time we’re done, they’re usually known, so they go from the suspect to the perp. It’s all the same thing really,” Mark explained with a shrug.

Jamie agreed with a nod and added, “They’re always thinking up new words and acronyms. Sometimes I can’t keep track. Why not call it like it is?”

Kate realized she was fiddling with her robe and slapped her hands down to her sides. “I’d have to agree. Anyway, I’d better let you go, Mark.”

“No worries. Bye, guys.” Just as Mark was leaving the house, Tony had his hand raised and halted mid-air, ready to ring the doorbell making Mark grin. “Morning, Tony. Go on in.”

“Thanks, Mark.” Tony curled his eyebrow in a CJ sort of way. “What’re you-? Never mind. See you later,” he added to the man’s back. After he received a wave over Mark’s shoulder, he closed the door and headed towards the voices.

“Ah, Tony. And that’s my cue to leave too,” Jamie said with a single nod. “See you later, Kate. Tell CJ I’ll be back after dinner.”

“I will. Try to have a good day,” Kate responded as she accepted a kiss on the cheek.

Tony entered the kitchen just as Jamie was leaving, and he rubbed his forehead before looking at Kate. “Uh, busy house, huh?”

“Very. There’s coffee in the pot if you want some, Tony. I better go get the family up,” Kate replied, patting his shoulder as she passed him.

Tony perched himself on one of the stools at the island counter. “I don’t know how she does it,” he muttered as he watched Kate bounding up the stairs. “Maybe she’s a cylon.” He chuckled quietly as wandered over to the coffee machine. He needed the caffeine just to keep up with her.

* * * * * *

After taking the stairs two at a time – easily paced by her galloping dog – Kate checked in on the girls. They were still sound asleep, so she decided she’d get CJ ready first. Arriving at the master suite, she popped her head in the door and saw CJ yawning widely.

Perfect timing. With a simple, loving smile, she went toward the bed and gently sat on the edge of the mattress. “Good morning, beautiful.”

“Hey. What day is it?” CJ slurred drowsily.

“Saturday.”

CJ had to think for a minute to figure out what that meant. “Oh. What time…?”

“Around nine. You have three hours before the sketch artist arrives. Want some help?” Kate said as she leaned forward to kiss her.

“Mmm.” CJ felt herself respond to Kate’s soft lips, but she knew her bladder was about to burst so she couldn’t try to persuade Kate to come back to bed. When the kiss was over, CJ pouted. “I need to pee.”

Kate smiled at the look on her face before she stood and waited until CJ moved gingerly into a sitting position. With her feet placed firmly on the carpet, CJ sat there gloriously nude, and Kate tilted her head to appreciate her beautiful, long body. CJ saw where Kate’s eyes were roaming and couldn’t resist mischievously tugging on the tie on Kate’s robe to make the thick, fluffy cotton fall away from her torso. “Hey. None of that,” Kate chastised mildly.

“Just a kiss,” CJ whispered as her lips met Kate’s firm abdomen.

CJ nipped at the skin, and when she heard a gasp above her, she stuck her tongue into Kate’s navel before licking everywhere she could reach to make the little bites all better. She took a long, intoxicating inhale and closed her eyes to savor it. “OK. I’m done.”

“Jesus, honey.” Kate was panting slightly but recovered enough to assist CJ to the bathroom where she dealt with the usual morning ablutions.

Once CJ was done, she cradled her broken wrist as she limped back to the bedroom. Her shoulder was throbbing this morning, but she wasn’t going to confess that little detail to Kate or she wouldn’t get to make love to her again for weeks. She stood completely nude while she watched Kate grabbing some underwear, a pair of navy-blue sweatpants, and Kate’s own oversized UCLA hoodie from the closet.

When Kate was satisfied that her choices were adequately comfortable and warm for the day, she dropped the pile on the bed and turned to CJ. “Ready?”

“I love you,” CJ said with dreamy eyes.

“And I love you, mushy kitten. Ready?” Kate repeated with a tiny grin.

“Yeah. Go for it.” Only six minutes later, CJ was fully clothed.

Kate gently hooked up the sling fastener behind CJ’s back. She adjusted the material as she moved around to the front again and – checking CJ’s expression for signs of discomfort – she stood back with her arms crossed, once again looking quite satisfied with herself.

CJ snickered at her cocky spouse. “You’re getting good at that.”

“I was just thinking the same thing. How was the pain?”

“Hardly any this time, and my ankle’s almost back to normal. I think I’ll start walking around a little more. The shoulder’s annoyingly tight, the wrist is still useless and painful, but everything you did was great, Katie. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, my love. Now…” Kate took a breath and spoke quickly. “Let’s get you downstairs before our daughters get up. I’ll get them organized with breakfast, and Tony’s here. He’ll watch them with you while I go out and bury our dear, sweet horse, and then I-”

“Hey. Look at me.” When Kate did, CJ kissed her lightly. “Breathe, Katie. I want to come with you to bury Idaho. Ah, ah. No arguments. I could use the walk, and I’ll be very careful.”

Kate saw the look in CJ’s deep, dark eyes and could tangibly feel the love and honesty exuding from her. They were going to do this together, just like every other difficult event that had crossed their path. “OK.”

* * * * * *

When the men had left, Kate and CJ stood in the December sun and looked at the large, slightly raised mound of dirt. Idaho had been laid to rest, and both women were glassy-eyed. Kate wrapped one arm around CJ’s waist and leaned her head on her chest.

CJ propped her chin on Kate’s hair and sighed deeply. “I can’t believe she’s gone. Just like that. I hate this guy, whoever he is.”

“She didn’t have a nasty bone in her body. Why did this horrid person have to harm an innocent animal?” Kate sniffed and rubbed her hand across her eyes.

“I don’t know,”CJ replied as she kissed Kate’s short hair. “It seems he’s trying to find ways to hurt you.”

“To hurt us…” Kate corrected.

CJ ducked her head to catch Kate’s eye before she spoke. “Katie, whoever he is, he’s trying to hurt you. I’m supposed to be out of the picture, and now he’s tormenting you. I hate to say it, but it’s looking more and more like another psycho-stalker.”

Kate cupped her hands over her mouth and nose, dragging them downwards as a huge sigh escaped. “Maybe.”

“We better head back in case Dad calls.” CJ could see the stress still lingering within Kate. It had been such an ordeal for her, and it wasn’t over yet.

“I have my cell right here in my pocket. But yeah, let’s go.” Kate took one last look at the grave. “We should get something to mark her name on.”

“We will.” CJ began to hobble across the field with Kate’s hand on the small of her back.

“Take your time, CJ.”

“No worries there. I can’t go any faster than this.”

It took a good fifteen minutes to get to the backyard, and both CJ and Kate were looking forward to a few quiet hours talking with their daughters and mourning their loss. Surely that wouldn’t be too much to ask after such an emotional morning? As the day would come to pass, it seemed it was indeed too much to ask.

CJ tried to walk as normally as she could through the child-proof gate and into the house via the back door. She was very aware of Kate behind her, no doubt assessing her condition and watching in case she faltered going up the two steps into the rear hall that led past the gym and into the kitchen. Once she was on the flat floorboards, she heard a sigh of relief from Kate, and she had to stifle the urge to turn around and tell her beloved that she really could manage. She pushed back her mild irritation, knowing that it was simply the frustration of being partially disabled that wanted to voice itself to whoever was available to listen. CJ knew she was horrible to deal with when she was sick or injured, and she shook her head in recognition of the flaws in her character. Blowing out her own sigh, she continued to move forward until she saw Tony and the children drawing at the low art table in the crèche.

Shannon was up on her feet as soon as she saw her parents. “Mommy. Is…is Idaho gone now?” She leaned her head on CJ’s hip as Kate continued past them into the kitchen.

CJ moved her right arm to touch Shannon’s hair, feeling the pinch of pain and trying to ignore it. “Yes, Squirt. She’s gone.”

“When can we go out to put flowers there?”

“Maybe later today. All right? I’m quite tired now, and I need to sit down for a while. Want to sit with me?”

“Yes, I will…but I want to finish my drawing first.” Shannon walked slowly back to sit beside her sister. It seemed they were working on a drawing together, and CJ smiled sadly before she headed to the couch.

Kate was on the phone when she joined CJ, and as they sat there, CJ listened to the one-sided conversation.

“Yes. I’m sorry I’ve been MIA this past while. No, no. Yes, things are fine, but I am dealing with some difficult family situations. Oh, absolutely, Lorena…”

CJ’s body relaxed a little when she realized Kate wasn’t talking to her father. She almost didn’t want to know if the fire at Prescilla’s was arson, but she suspected it was going to be confirmed sometime today, either by Eddie or Mark. CJ inhaled slowly and focused again on Kate’s hypnotic voice.

“Who at Olympian? Oh, OK. Right…right. The twentieth? Gosh, it’s getting close to Christmas, but yes, that’s fine. Oh? Which shows? Mm-hmm. Right. Oh, Ellen? Oh goodness, yes, but when would that be? Right. OK, that’s possible.” Kate listened intently, her green eyes staring at the pad on the coffee table as she wrote a few notes on it. She nibbled on her lips and scratched her temple with the end of the pen. “The Tonight Show? Yes, I did that one before, a few years back. Different host now, but I could do it again. OK. OK, can you let me know the date as soon as you find out? OK, Lorena, and thanks for understanding. If you can put all the details in an email for me, I’d appreciate it. Great. Yes, bye for now.” She hung up the call and fell backwards onto the plump cushions.

“Interviews…?” CJ said with her signature raised eyebrow.

“And the rest. Meeting-slash-audition of sorts for Infinity One, two major talk show requests, a possible guest appearance on the crime drama, After The Fall, and a few magazines wanting interviews too. I’ve been holding off as much as possible since I left Deadline, but I guess they’re desperate to find out what happened now.”

“How much can you tell them?”

Kate sat upright again and looked at CJ. “Not much about Mischa’s departure since it hasn’t aired yet, but I knew the fact that I’d left would get out eventually. It was probably someone at the studios who leaked the information. I guess I can talk about my possible new show, and no doubt they’ll want to talk all about my new haircut,” she finished with a grin.

“I bet they love it as much as I do,” CJ drawled.

“I don’t think anybody can love it as much as you do, honey.”

“I just wish I could touch it more. But with these stupid arms…”

Kate fell slowly to the side and rested her head on CJ’s lap. “Does that help?”

“Yeah.” CJ managed to move her hand onto Kate’s head and trail her fingers through her cropped hair. “So when do they want you on Ellen?”

“Maybe next month? Lorena never had an actual schedule. She just wanted to know if I would do it.”

“It’s a great show to get invited onto.”

“Totally…but it doesn’t really fit into my wanting to keep a lower profile.” Kate’s voice drifted into nothing, and she closed her eyes as CJ’s fingers worked their magic. But the moment was short-lived. Lucy came bounding into the room with Kamali, and the doorbell rang just as the house phone let out its shrill repetitive tone.

Kate hopped to her feet, threw the phone handset onto the couch for CJ to answer, and followed Lucy out into the hallway. Lucy headed into the downstairs bathroom, and Kate went to the door to look through the small, glass panels that ran down the side. Her eyebrows crept upward when she saw her brother on the porch.

“Eddie?”

“Hey, Sis. It’s great to see you.”

“It’s great to see you too. I didn’t know you were even in LA.”

Eddie hugged her and gave a sullen half-smile. “Dad caught me up with all the recent events. He called me last night, apparently right after he called you. Since I was due to arrive here tomorrow for a job on Monday anyway, I thought I’d change my flight and come see you guys. Is that OK?”

“Of course, Eddie.” Kate returned her brother’s hug and led him into the living room.

When they saw CJ, Kate almost cried. She hadn’t even considered that her injured wife would have trouble with the normally simple task of holding the phone. But CJ had managed to answer the call, and now had the handset perched on her sore shoulder, her head uncomfortably lolled to the side to pin the contraption in place.

“Shit,” Kate whispered as she tried to hold back the emotion she was suddenly experiencing. She mouthed a sorry to CJ and got a smile in response.

Eddie gave a little wave to his sister-in-law, and her answer was a raised eyebrow and another mouthed word – Dad. Message received, Eddie Junior took Kate’s hand and pulled her into the kitchen. When he turned around at the island counter, Kate saw him holding back the tears.

“What’s wrong?”

Eddie choked through a cough and collected his thoughts. “I…sorry. I just wasn’t prepared to see her so…so beat up? I know that’s silly, but…”

“Aw, hey.” Kate took him into her arms. “It’s not silly. I wasn’t even thinking you hadn’t seen her since the crash. Believe it or not, she’s looking much better.”

He stood up straight and met her eyes. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. When she got home, she was gaunt, skinnier, and in agony. Her hair was dirty and a little matted, her bruise was an angry red…” Kate swallowed back her own sadness at the memory. “And…and we were both completely in shock over the entire thing.”

“I can’t even imagine.” Eddie rubbed Kate’s back soothingly. “How’s she coping with not being able to do anything?”

“I’m coping OK,” CJ said, limping slowly into the room. “But I have the best, most patient, most supportive nurse in the world,” she finished, leaning slightly to kiss Kate’s cheek.

Kate turned to her and gave her an apologetic smile. “Honey, I’m so sorry about throwing the phone at you like that. I didn’t even think.”

“It’s OK. Really. Hey, Eddie. You’ll forgive me if I don’t hug you,” CJ said, signaling to her arms with her eyes.

“Can I hug you without causing any damage?” he asked.

“Sure. Just be gentle.”

As Eddie encircled her in the most delicate hug ever, he whispered in her ear. “It’s so great to see you, Sis. Love you.”

CJ gulped back the lump that formed in her throat. “Love you too,” she husked.

Eddie backed up. “I’m just so relieved? Is that the right word? I mean, when Dad first told me about the crash…I…well, you know.”

“We know,” Kate said quietly. “So go say hello to your nieces then we can have coffee and chat.”

“Where are they?”

“Engrossed in an art project with Tony…”

“Cool. I’ll be right back.”

Kate went immediately to CJ and slipped her arms around her slimmer-than-usual waist. “I really am sorry about being so heartless with the phone, CJ.”

“Katie, quit it. You didn’t do it intentionally, and anyway, I managed OK once I got it up to my ear.”

“I know, but-“

CJ’s lips silenced Kate mid-sentence, and once the contact broke, CJ smiled.

“I know I’ve been a grumpy old wife. You’ve been incredible to put up with me, and when you think about the kind of things you’re having to do for me…well, I can never thank you enough.”

“You don’t ever need to thank me. The fact that you’re here is a true gift to me.”

“Still, it might be a little nicer if I wasn’t such an impatient patient.” CJ gave her a shy smirk.

“Very funny. But think about it, CJ. If it were the other way around, would you put up with me?”

“It would be a pleasure. I wouldn’t call it putting up with you.”

“Exactly. I love taking care of you. I just have to work around the self-sufficient, independent, mega-tough special agent part of you and-“

“OK. Yeah, yeah,” CJ interrupted when she saw Eddie come back into the kitchen. “Coffee time?” she suggested.

Kate gave her an all-knowing look and moved over to the machine. “Coffee time.”

* * * * * *

“A camera system?” Kate exclaimed.

Eddie Junior nodded. “And it won’t cost you a dime.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I helped develop the software, and our company is producing the system. It’s selling pretty well already, and we get, you know…fringe benefits. I could install it while I’m here actually.”

“You have it with you?” CJ asked her brother-in-law.

“Yep. I brought four cameras, motion sensors, and the digital recording equipment. It’s easy to install. You can have a camera on each side of the house which will give you a full exterior view of the grounds surrounding the building.”

“Wow. I…well, it sounds great. We have a guy coming on Monday to quote us for fencing and gates.” Kate blew out a breath. “But this will make me feel even more secure.”

“Are you going to fence the entire fourteen acres?” Eddie asked in a high-pitched squeak.

CJ shook her head. “Actually, I was thinking about that. The fourteen acres has a fence of sorts around it already, and we only really use the three fields that are irrigated and maintained for grazing, so we could take the new fence around the back of those, right down to the road, along the front of the lake, and back up behind where the new barn will go. We can put a full-height door on the back fence to let us onto the rest of our land, and the electric gates on the driveway will finish the circuit off quite nicely.”

Kate was wide-eyed. “You’ve certainly thought this through, CJ.” She paused to think for a second. “That sounds perfect, actually.”

CJ released the sudden panicked look on her face before she smiled sheepishly. She hadn’t mentioned her thoughts to Kate yet and that had sounded a little like there was no room for discussion. “I was gonna talk with you about it,” she said with a nose scrunch.

Kate laid her hand over CJ’s. “I figured.” She grinned and turned to Eddie. “We didn’t feel the need for all this fuss before, but now we feel a little exposed.”

“I’m not surprised. Listen, I can get you a video entry system for the gates too, but I’ll need to come back to install that. Maybe next month?”

“Eddie, that’s really too much-“

“Nonsense,” he broke in. “It’s my gift to you all. I feel better knowing your home is safer too, you know.”

“Thank you,” both women said in unison.

A nod from Eddie was followed by a few moments of silence, but when Kate was swallowing a large gulp of her cooling coffee, she remembered that CJ had been on the phone earlier.

“Dad,” Kate suddenly blurted. “What did he say?”

“Oh, I forgot about that,” CJ said with a shake of her head. “He still hasn’t had the final report from the investigators, but there was a witness who said she saw a guy throwing a few bottles through the glass of the restaurant’s front door…then striking a match.”

“Shit,” Kate muttered. “But there’s a security shutter…”

“Yeah, the bottles fitted through the gaps. Seems the guy planned it. I hate to say it, Katie, but-”

“I know. It sounds like it’s linked to us.”

Eddie cupped his mug with his hands and frowned. “Who would go to all this trouble just to hurt you, Kate?”

“I don’t know, Eddie. I just don’t…” Kate stopped talking, and as an unwelcome thought ran though her mind, she shivered involuntarily. But she dismissed the thought as ridiculous and went on to finish her sentence. “Just don’t know.”

CJ saw the shadow swiftly cross Kate’s face and wondered what had disturbed her so much. She would not forget to ask Kate once they were alone. It didn’t seem like that was going to be anytime soon as the doorbell sounded again, breaking CJ out of her thoughts. Ten minutes later, she was sitting on the couch describing – to a very skilled Bureau sketch artist – what the suspicious man at Jensen’s Aviation looked like.

.

Chapter 5

Eddie Junior and Tony had taken Shannon, Lucy, and Kamali out for a long walk, hoping to give CJ and Kate some time to relax. Not long after they all left, a phone call from Mark had ensured the relaxation didn’t happen. Kate was now washing dishes at the kitchen sink to give her something to do. CJ was still talking to her boss – or so Kate thought – and she’d already surmised from the beginning of CJ’s one-sided conversation that the fire in New York was indeed started deliberately. The dreaded words ‘jet’ and ‘fuel’ had been used. Kate sighed heavily as she dried her hands on the dish cloth, but when she heard a sound that was a combination of a scream and a growl, she headed quickly out of the kitchen.

“Goddamn it!”

Kate heard the curse and winced when she saw the couch was empty. She crossed the living room, following the sound of CJ’s voice.

“Katie?” was yelled from somewhere ahead.

Kate entered the hallway and called out, “Where are you?”

“Toilet,” was the barely restrained shout.

Kate glided across the smooth, wooden boards and walked into the downstairs shower room. The sight that greeted her made her pause. CJ stood with her pants and underwear around her ankles, her face reddened with what Kate suspected was anger…and perhaps a little embarrassment. A few tears were evident, as was the frustration in CJ’s blue eyes that averted their gaze away from Kate. A scrunched up piece of toilet paper had drifted to the floor, and Kate sighed silently as she continued toward her all-too-independent spouse.

“Why didn’t you just ask me to come help you?”

“Because you’re helping me with everything!” CJ blurted. “You help me dress, you help me wipe my ass, you help me brush my teeth…you even help me feed myself. I can’t take a damn drink without your help!” CJ stood rigidly and tried to calm her nerves.

“CJ, if I was the one who was injured…” Kate stopped talking when she realized she was about to repeat herself.

“But you’re not the one. I don’t have your patience. I don’t have your strength when it comes to things like this.” CJ breathed deeply in an attempt to slow her heartrate. “I can’t deal with being vulnerable, being weakened and having physical restrictions. It’s pissing me the hell off.”

“Honey, this has to stop. Look at you. You’re trembling with rage.”

“It’s not rage,” CJ croaked, feeling sweat pouring off her scalp and between her shoulder blades. She once again looked anywhere but at Kate. “It’s pain.”

“Jesus, CJ. What happened?” Kate scooped down to pick up the piece of toilet paper and dropped it into the bowl before ripping a few more sheets from the roll.

“I couldn’t…wipe properly, and when I bent over to try again, I lost my balance. I automatically threw my hand out to catch myself and pulled it back when the agony shot through my shoulder. Then I fell against the wall and…” Nothing but a low grunt followed as CJ gave up trying to explain.

“Your right shoulder?”

CJ nodded somberly.

“Can you let me help now before everyone comes back from the walk?” When she got another nod, Kate completed the intimate task, finishing with pulling the sweatpants over CJ’s hips, flushing the toilet, and gently washing the three available hands. “You’re due some painkillers. Come with me.”

CJ was normally a tough woman to break, but she still trembled as they traversed the lower level of their home and ended up in the kitchen. “I’m sorry, Katie.”

“You keep saying that to me, but it’s not necessary. I understand you getting angry…as long as it’s not directed at me.”

CJ looked up sharply. “Never. No, it’s not. You know I’m just-”

“I know.”

As CJ watched her amazing partner filling a glass of cold water and snagging the appropriate amount of painkillers from the cupboard high on the wall, she tried to figure out how Kate was handling everything so well. “How can you stand this?”

Kate came to stand in front of her as she tried to figure out what she meant. “What?”

“This! I can’t touch you. I can’t help you around the house. I can’t protect you. I’m useless,” CJ said, lowering her eyes once more.

“Look at me, CJ.” Kate waited for CJ’s eyes to meet hers, and when they did, she frowned. “That better not be shame I can see in there. This is me you’re talking to here. I know you, and I know this is temporary. But even if it wasn’t, CJ, it would never change how much I love and admire you.”

“I…know that.”

“Then you’d better remember it. Now, listen to me. You protect me every minute of every day.”

CJ winced. “What? How can I?”

“Honey, you taught me how to use a gun. You taught me about the law…far more than I knew before. You taught me how to listen and see things the way you do. You taught me about profiling criminals…how they think and why they act like they do. Hell, you’ve almost taught me how to do your job. You give me a reason to be stronger, more determined, more courageous, and I’ll never let anyone hurt you because I feel just as protective towards my family as you do. Let me protect you right now. That’s what you do for me every day. You’re my savior, my heart, my soulmate, and always my protector. Don’t ever forget that.”

CJ’s mouth was agape until she realized how sill she must look and slammed it shut. She stared at her warrior wife in wonder. “You are simply incredible.”

We are incredible. You just have to remember how you feel and know that I feel it just as intensely for you too. We’ll get through this, CJ.”

“You seem-”

“So sure? I am.”

“How did you know what I was going to say?”

Kate raised her eyebrow. “The spooky link?”

“Ah, yes.”

The eyebrow relaxed when Kate began to chuckle at her own thoughts. “You know, that sounds like the title for some kind of covert dossier on Fox Mulder.”

Now CJ’s eyebrows shot up in surprise as a hearty laugh erupted from her belly. “How do you do that?”

Kate snickered and planted a kiss on CJ’s lips. “I just know how to tickle your geeky funny bone, I guess.”

“I guess,” CJ said, ending the conversation with a snort.

* * * * * *

With everyone back at the house, dinner was a bustling affair, and CJ once again became frustrated at her complete inability to assist with anything. The pain from her little mishap in the bathroom had required heavier medication to ease the sting, and it was a slightly fuzzy special agent who sat at the head of the table with Kate.

Eddie Junior had made a start on installing the camera system, and with Jamie’s help he would complete his work after the meal. He was currently reloading Lucy’s plate with a second helping of risotto while she licked her lips in anticipation of more delicious food. Shannon sat with her hand around a glass of milk, but she didn’t have time to drink any because, as usual, she regaled all present with tales of her week at school.

CJ watched all this for a while before finally looking to Kate whose profile was lit up by her seemingly-permanent glow of love. Kate smiled and nodded along with the various conversations while eating the remainder of her meal, and CJ was entranced for a few moments – no doubt compounded by her drugged, lightheaded feeling – before Kate turned to see her hazy, blue eyes lost in another world.

“You all right?” Kate asked as she glanced down at CJ’s barely-touched meal.

CJ nodded but couldn’t seem to refocus her eyes. “I’m just not very hungry.”

“Once I’m done here, I’ll help you to bed. I think you should sleep it off.”

“OK.”

Now Kate knew CJ was in pain. No argument, no grumbling, and no resistance. CJ was doped and ready to rest. As soon as her last mouthful was consumed, Kate stood up and discreetly hauled CJ to her feet.

“I’ll be back in a few…” she said to the rest of the table.

CJ stopped mid-shuffle, blew a strand of black hair off her face, and turned to Eddie. “You staying tonight, Eddie?”

“I have a hotel booked, CJ, but thanks. I think you have a full house anyway.”

CJ rolled her eyes. I really need to get that fifth bedroom fixed up and put a damn bed in it. Fat chance with these stupid arms, she groaned to herself. With a sigh, she nodded at him. “Yes, you’re right.”

Eddie nodded and smiled. “Thanks for thinking of me, Sis. Have a good sleep.”

Kate gently nudged CJ to get her on the move again. Tightening her arm around CJ’s waist, she helped her up the staircase with some effort. “Honey, please stay with me here. I can’t hold your full weight.”

“What are you trying to say, Katie? That I’m piling on the pounds?”

“Ugh, of course not. If anything, you’ve lost far too much weight. I’m not…you know you’re just taller-“

“I was…joking. I won’t fall.” CJ interrupted. She attempted a wink when Kate glared at her. “Almost there.”

Kate let out a puff of breath when CJ finally sat on their bed. “OK, let me at least get your bra off to make you more comfortable.”

“I don’t think I’m in any condition for you to start that kind of thing.”

“Quit it, smart ass.”

Once the underwear was expertly removed, CJ lay back on the bed in her soft sweats and T-shirt. After a mild complaint at the movement in her left wrist, she sunk into the pillows. “Thanks, love,” she slurred as her eyes dropped heavily.

“Sweet dreams.” Kate placed a delicate kiss on her forehead, and before she even stood upright, CJ was emitting a light snore.

* * * * * *

Jamie was in the study assisting Eddie with the monitor for the new cameras which were now secured in place outside the house. The system was wireless and therefore pretty quick to install, especially for tech-whiz Eddie.

Kate slowly descended the stairs after reading a quick story to Shannon and Lucy. The house had become very quiet, and since CJ was still out cold, Kate decided to relax on the couch and look over her emails, including the rather long and detailed one from Lorena Xu. There was a video file attached to the message so she opened it to find the pilot episode of Infinity One playing in front of her. Since the file lasted for well over an hour, she decided to watch it once Eddie had gone for the night so she could view it without any interruptions.

After absorbing everything in Lorena’s email, Kate sighed. She had wanted to melt away into the background for a while, but it seemed it just wasn’t possible right now. She was still very much in demand, and the public seemed to have a voracious appetite for information on the future of Kate’s career. She decided that her career was important to her family, and that her fame wasn’t going to disappear or lessen in intensity, but she would be pretty strict about her working hours and her requirements before her final acceptance of the role of Le’Ana Bezwick. Her thoughts were interrupted by a voice in the next room.

“Kate?”

She got up and walked the few steps over to the study. “Yeah?”

“Want to come pick your camera angles?” Eddie said with a smile.

“It’s up and running already?”

“Yeah. Come see.”

When Kate went to stand behind Eddie, she could see the quartered, split screen. “Wow. The picture is so clear.”

“Yes, it’s a good system. And look. You can bring up any one camera by simply pressing the number. Then, when you want to go back to all four you just press the home button.”

“That’s great. Thank you so much.” Kate grinned as she ruffled Eddie’s brown hair just like when they were kids.

“Hey. Quit that,” he grumbled while trying not to sound like a whining child in front of Jamie. “So, any angles you want to change?”

Kate leaned down to check the images. Once she had asked Eddie to move two of the cameras, she was satisfied so she turned to Jamie who was sitting on the couch with her laptop. “Jamie?”

“Hmm. I got an email from Mark about the fire in Manhattan. It’s very likely it’s linked to what’s been happening here. They’ve sent the fuel sample to the lab for type comparison.” Jamie looked up at her friend. “It looks like there are two of them.”

“Damn it. Who the hell are they?”

“I wish I knew.”

Jamie would be on high alert tonight and would keep her gun strapped to her chest at all times. She still held a lot of guilt about Idaho, and she was determined this guy was not getting away with anything else. Deciding she would increase her patrols to every thirty minutes throughout the hours of darkness, she closed her laptop and got up off the couch. “We’ll get them, Kate.”

Kate wasn’t so sure, but took comfort in the look of determination on Jamie’s face. “I hope so.”

At that point, neither of them could have realized just how accurate Jamie’s last statement would be.

* * * * * *

It was almost midnight. Kate had checked on Shannon, Lucy, and CJ. She had assisted CJ to the toilet before putting her back in bed where she went out like a light in seconds. Kate had snagged the Colt .45 from the safe before she headed back downstairs. Now the house was silent once more, except for the occasional grunt and heavy breath as Jamie did a little sparring in the gym between her patrols to keep her alert.

Kate sat in the study with her laptop on the desk. With the lights out, only the glow from the screen was visible. The whole house would be in darkness were it not for a wall light in the gym, but Kate preferred it that way for now, and she clicked the Infinity One file to begin watching the pilot episode of the show she was about to join.

Twenty five minutes in, she was quite impressed with the writing, the dramatic direction, the CGI special effects, and the way the story and characters were grabbing her attention. She also noted with interest that the fighter pilots wore smart, formal, authoritarian outfits. She really liked those and hoped they hadn’t made too many changes in the wardrobe department for the continuation of the series.

Kamali appeared outside the study door with his ears pricked and his doggy nostrils sniffing the air. Kate watched him intently, but he simply sat down in view of her and stayed alert. She swung the swivel chair around slowly to free herself from the desk, knowing that something had made him move from his bed. Just as she did it, a loud crash came from the kitchen. Kamali bounded into action, and Kate jumped up to look at the camera monitor. A dark figure ran clockwise around the back of the house.

The dog began to bark loudly, and another smash made Kate jump out of her skin. She turned to see what had clunked to the ground beside her. A large rock lay splintered on the floor, and the study’s small window had a jagged hole in the middle of the glass pane. After another smash, Kate heard Jamie shout “FBI!” just before the backdoor slammed closed behind the agent.

Kate reacted quickly. Kamali was going nuts, but if she let him out he might get hurt. She grabbed the Colt .45 and ran out the front door, making sure it closed to keep the dog in. Remembering what direction she had seen the man going, she went to face him head on. What she didn’t count on was running into him at the corner of the building. She had no space or time to aim her gun, so she decided her fist would have to do.

Before his surprised eyes could even register her presence, she had punched him square in the face, making him unsteady on his feet for a few seconds before he recovered and came at her. Her right foot flew out and kicked him dead-center in the gut, forcing him to double over, but again he recovered and Kate realized she needed to inflict a little more damage on this particular asshole. Aiming for under his chin, she thrust the heel of her hand upward as he tried to grab at her shoulder. The resounding impact sent his lower jaw crashing into the upper one with a clatter of teeth. As he fell backwards, he let out a yelp before landing on his backside.

This had all happened in a matter of seconds, and Jamie came running from the rear of the house just in time to see the man trying to get up to attack Kate. A ferocious-looking Kate was having none of it and commanded him to stay down, but he ignored her and got a solid sneaker-covered foot in the face as his reward. The entire time, Kate had held her gun-wielding hand out behind her so that she wouldn’t be tempted to shoot the bastard, but also to avoid having him grab her weapon. Jamie fleetingly thought how amazing Kate would be as a law enforcer.

While the attacker was reeling on the ground from Kate’s last assault, Jamie swung into action and pushed him onto his front.

“FBI. You are under arrest.” While she cuffed him behind his back, she read him his rights between ragged breaths.

Kamali was still barking inside the house, and Kate knew she was needed elsewhere. Shannon and Lucy would be awake due to the ruckus, and possibly CJ too. Once the cuffs were secured on the man’s wrists, Kate glanced at Jamie.

“I’ll go call it in.”

Jamie actually smirked at her temporary partner. “Thanks. I’ll manage this.”

Kate ran indoors and found a snarling Kamali at the foot of the stairs. He stopped as soon as he realized who had entered the house, but Kate saw the reason for his aggressive stance. Two sleepy children stood on the upper landing looking down at her.

“It’s OK, girls. Everything’s OK.” Kate was about to pick up the phone when she saw CJ hobbling along to meet their daughters.

“Katie, are you all right?” CJ asked in confusion.

“I’m fine. Really.” Kate was still filled with adrenaline, but she took a deep, controlled breath and dialed Mark’s number. “Mark, it’s Kate. We need you here now. Yes, we caught him. OK, thanks.”

CJ’s eyes were wide and slightly more focused by the time Kate looked up at her. “Him? You caught-“

“CJ, can you take the girls back to bed? I’ll be up soon,” Kate pleaded.

With a mild frown, CJ nodded and herded Shannon and Lucy away with her voice. “Come on, you two. Let’s get you tucked in.”

Just as they disappeared from view, Kate heard Shannon say, “Was it a bad man?” She couldn’t believe how alert and attentive her older daughter was, even in the middle of the night.

Kate ran her hands through her hair before she settled the dog somewhat by giving him a scratch behind the ears and a few calming words. A couple of minutes later, she was half way up the stairs when CJ came back into the hallway. Kamali had followed Kate, and she rested her hand on his head before speaking to her wife.

“Honey, can you keep him up here for a bit? I need to go check on Jamie.”

“First, tell me what happened?”

“We caught the perp. He smashed windows this time. I’m not sure what else yet, but he’s outside with his face in the dirt.”

“Why do you have dirt on your face?” CJ asked with concern.

“Uh, I kinda beat him up a little bit.”

CJ’s dark eyebrow rose, and she blinked as her mind went back to a time in her office when Kate had done something similar to a homicidal Agent Powell. “I see. Be careful, please?”

“Of course I will. Take the dog and go into our room. I’ll be back as soon as Mark gets here.” At CJ’s skeptical look, she added, “I will.”

Feeling completely useless once again, CJ went to the master suite and called Kamali who reluctantly trotted over to her side. She closed the bedroom door softly, and Kate sighed heavily before running back downstairs.

* * * * * *

Mark, Jamie, and two other agents had left about fifteen minutes ago, but before they had gone they had searched the grounds and found a suspect piece of raw meat out in the back yard. Jamie knew it hadn’t been there an hour earlier when she’d done her last patrol of the perimeter, and she guessed their arsonist had intended it for Kamali.

Jamie wondered what the lab techs would find in the meat. The thought of the Carsons losing their dog after everything that had happened, only made her furious at the idiot who sat cuffed in the Bureau sedan.

The chunky slab of beef had been carefully bagged and removed, and the piece of dirt under it dug out in case of any lingering poisons seeping into the soil. Mark and Jamie weren’t taking any chances about what kind of harmful chemicals could be in the meat.

Jamie had hurriedly told Kate to remove her outer garments, just in case the attacker had actually touched her, but Kate assured her that he had not gotten close enough. She carefully undressed anyway, discarding the clothes into the evidence bags that Jamie took with her.

Now in her pajamas and a pair of flip-flops, Kate stood and looked at the mess in the kitchen. Glass was strewn all over the sink, the countertops, and the floor. At least the rocks used to break the windows were already gone: more evidence collected by the FBI. Jamie had called out a couple of CSU agents who had already catalogued and photographed the various scenes, and now Kate had to wait for the company who would come to board up the windows until they could get replacements ordered.

“Guess I’d better clear up,” she whispered to herself before vigorously rubbing her face with her hands. With a sigh, she tried to decipher where to start. It was 2am, and she was getting tired. The thought of having to make the house safe again before she could sleep filled her with dread. Her mind ground to a halt while she stood staring at the mess.

CJ had stayed hidden while the Bureau personnel were there, but she now appeared in the doorway with a much calmer Kamali in tow. She watched Kate standing motionless in the kitchen. She saw the glass, and the fingerprint dust, and the dirty footprints trailed in by the agents who had just left. CJ wanted to cry since she felt wholly inadequate and a little dazed by the entire night’s events. Kate had noticed her in the doorway and turned around to face her.

“I’m sorry I didn’t come up like I promised, CJ. I just needed to clear-“

“I know.” CJ looked so lost, her eyes drifting to the floor after she spoke.

Kate went to her and slipped her arms around her waist. “I’ll always need you, CJ.”

“How do you always know what I’m feeling?” CJ’s lips rested on Kate’s shaggy mop of hair, but when she noticed the dog walking away from her, she called him back. “Kamali, here.”

Kate released her grip. “Can you keep him in the living room until I clear up the glass? The kitchen, the study, and the playroom are all off limits.” At the mention of the playroom – Shannon had decided the crèche was due a name-change – both women felt a wave of anger wash over them, and they locked eyes before CJ whispered her reaction.

“They definitely took the guy into custody, right?”

Kate nodded slowly. “Yes. Jamie said she’ll keep us updated.”

“And you’re definitely OK? He didn’t hurt you?”

“No, CJ. He didn’t get the chance to lay a finger on me.”

“OK.” CJ called the dog and went to sit on the couch. She really needed to top up her painkillers, but she would wait until Kate had a minute to get them. Guilt, shame, despair, and frustration ran through her mind in waves. She hated that she couldn’t defend their home, couldn’t help Kate clean up, and she couldn’t even get her own damn medication. “Fuck,” she growled in a low voice.

“CJ, please don’t,” came through the open double doors.

“Don’t what?”

Kate’s sigh was loud enough to be heard. “I know what’s going on in that head of yours. Please stop being so hard on yourself.”

“Breaking news. Marshall the mind-reader strikes again,” CJ said dramatically.

Kate chuckled briefly as she deposited the larger pieces of glass in the sink. “And Carson the self-critic curses her for being so accurate.”

That made CJ grin. Her grin turned into a quiet laugh, and she shook her head in amazement before getting up to lean on the kitchen doorframe. “Maybe you’re Marshall the magician. I was feeling worse than shit about two minutes ago, and here I am laughing with you.”

Kate smiled as she got down on her hands and knees to sweep up the smaller shards. “You and I are magic, and I’m not going to hold onto everything this case has done to us. Jamie caught the guy, and I’m sure the people involved in this whole mess will be brought to justice now. I have complete confidence in you federal agents, you know. And before you say again that you feel useless, you are not. Having you here with me is every bit as important as having you out there catching the bad guys…more so, actually.” She glanced up to see CJ’s curious expression. “OK, look at it this way. Your colleagues can replace you to catch the bad guys, but nobody…and I mean nobody…can replace you here with us. Don’t you ever forget how much you mean to me, CJ. You’re my everything.”

When Kate stopped talking and stared at the floorboards, she thought about just how true that was, and how if CJ hadn’t come home, she would’ve simply died inside. When she didn’t hear any response, she looked up to see awe in CJ’s stoic face.

“Now it’s my turn to say, I fucking love you, Katie. How can you be such an incredible human being?”

Kate stood and approached her. “That’s a matter of opinion, but perhaps you’ll finally believe this incredible human being when she tells you that you are the opposite of useless. And hear me this time, CJ. Your arms will heal. Let’s speed up the process by letting me help you. No more Miss Independent until we see what the doctor says on Monday, and until then, no more trying to do things on your own. I can do it all. I even managed to kick the arsonist’s butt without you. You don’t have to take on the world by yourself, honey. We can do that together. Have I convinced you yet?” she said with a playful flutter of her eyelashes to lighten the heavy subject matter.

CJ bit her bottom lip. She could feel laughter simmering in her belly. “Yes, Katie.”

“No more trying to wipe your own ass. Agreed?”

“Yes, Katie.”

“Good. About time you saw sense, woman.”

CJ’s smile crawled over her face until she was laughing out loud, which alerted Kamali who popped his head around the door before realizing everything was OK and retreating away from his silly humans. He decided that the energy around their home was pretty much back to normal now, so he trotted upstairs to settle into his comfy spot between the children’s bedroom doors.

Once she disengaged from a loving kiss with Kate, CJ stayed with her while she meticulously collected up the glass in the playroom. By the time they had made sure to get every piece, and then do the same in the study, the emergency carpenters Mark had called arrived at the house and made light work of placing temporary boards on the windows. Once CJ and Kate had settled Kamali again, they checked on their daughters and finally fell into bed at four thirty AM.

Exhaustion claimed them quickly, but before it did, Kate set her alarm to make sure she was up to greet Shannon and Lucy at a reasonable hour after what had become the busiest Saturday she’d ever had.

.

Chapter 6

At zero-six-hundred hours in the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, Jamie Green sipped on a paper cup full of bitter coffee as she stood in the dark viewing room. On the other side of the two-way mirror and sitting at the table in interrogation, was a tired, slightly bruised, and grubby man who looked a great deal more than his thirty-four years.

The agents had already secured a warrant and had the rental apartment of Vernon Betts searched. They had fingerprinted him, and lo and behold, he had a record…albeit a short one of misdemeanors. And in a small stroke of luck, the partial print they had pulled off the knife used in the first attempt to harm one of the Carson’s horses was a three-point match to Vernon’s middle finger. They’d use that as a starting point to convince him to spill his guts about who he was working with. The smelly, fuel-stained, leather gloves found in his apartment would also help to nail the bastard against the proverbial wall.

Jamie’s face was set in a snarl when Mark walked in the door. “Tell me,” she said while staring through the mirror.

Mark glanced at her before copying her stance. “He has a few known associates. If we can persuade him to talk and name his partner, we’ve been authorized to offer him a deal for his cooperation.”

“What kind of deal?” Jamie asked with a frown.

“Don’t worry. He’s not getting away with anything serious, but if he owns up to his part in it all and gives us what we need, he’ll only be charged with arson, attempted murder, and murder. We might tell him there’s a child endangerment charge too, just to see what his reaction is.” Mark paused to scratch his forehead. “Oh, and the fuel used in the fire at Mr. Marshall’s restaurant was a match to the fuel in our case, so I want the name of his accomplice.”

Jamie took the file handed to her and skimmed over the details. “Well, it looks like he definitely has one since he was in LA at the time of that fire,” she said, looking at an image of Vernon, captured while he withdrew cash at an ATM in Studio City on the night in question.

“You ready to begin?”

“Yeah. I figure four hours is enough time to let him sweat,” Jamie muttered with a curl of her lip.

It wasn’t long before the two of them came to the conclusion that Vernon had a pretty low IQ. They had first questioned his intelligence when he told them he was waiving his right to have a lawyer present since he was “just a bit player.”

After the usual spiel at the beginning of the interrogation – for the audio and video recording, and to keep their asses covered legally – Jamie got straight into it, questioning Vernon about why he was on the Carson’s property last night. He couldn’t deny he had smashed the windows since he’d been caught in the act, and Jamie pretty much told him she knew he had left the meat in the yard, which had been found to have traces of cyanide laced through it. She also told him she hoped he was careful when handling the meat since not wearing proper protective gloves could have allowed the poison to absorb into his skin, and ultimately, into his bloodstream. Vernon had stared worriedly at his hands for quite some time after that.

It was a startling sign of guilt, and also of someone who didn’t really have a clue what he was doing.

Jamie wanted to know why someone like him had gotten in way over his head. Jumping from a couple of old, petty theft charges and a DUI to malicious arson and murder was a puzzle that Jamie wanted to get to the bottom of. “Why did you do it?”

Vernon just shrugged. “Money.”

“How much?” Jamie asked abruptly.

“A lot.”

“Don’t play around with me, Betts. How much?”

He stared at her for a few seconds, knowing he was never going to see his payout now. “Two hundred grand.”

“Two hundred grand to set fire to a barn and break some windows? Seems like an awful lot, don’t you think?”

Vernon began to sweat. He knew he was fucking up constantly, but this woman intimidated him, and where the hell was his business partner now, huh? Free as a damn bird, that’s where.

Jamie decided to push. “You’re already going away for a long, long time, so you may as well tell us the whole story, and tell us who you’re working with.”

“A long time? What the hell for?”

“Malicious arson, for starters. That’s a felony charge.”

“Felony arson?”

“Yes.”

“That’s crap.”

“You set fire to, and completely burned down a structure, and you did it willfully and maliciously,” Jamie said, taking her words from California Penal Code 451PC itself. “So it’s a felony charge. Up to nine years for that one alone, never mind the murder.”

“Murder?” Vernon yelped. “I didn’t kill anyone!”

“No? It’s funny you say that since you were caught on the property of Special Agent Carson of the FBI. You burned down her barn and terrorized her family. It’s also funny because we have you on camera at the very airfield where Agent Carson’s plane took off from in Minnesota…the very airfield where that plane was sabotaged. And I have a sneaking suspicion that you’re no mechanic.” Jamie casually threw the still image of Vernon in his overalls onto the table.

Vernon leaned forward briefly. “Can’t even see who that is,” he stated defiantly, however some of the blood seemed to have drained from his scruffy face.

“Well, that’s true. It’s good we have Agent Carson’s identification of you to fall back on then, isn’t it?”

“How can she…? She’s dead.”

Jamie’s eyes clouded over. “I didn’t mention anything about Agent Carson being dead, Vernon. Care to tell me why you said that?”

“Well…uh…because her plane crashed, right?”

“I didn’t say that either.”

“I saw it on the news,” Vernon said frantically.

“No names were released.”

Betts knew he was well and truly screwed, and well and truly stupid. “I’m not saying anything else.”

“Vernon, if you cooperate with us and give us names, we can see about cutting you a deal.”

“A deal?”

Jamie nodded, as did Mark.

Vernon had to think for a minute. He wasn’t going to be a free man, and he wasn’t going to be able to spend the money he had only dreamed of. And would Mr. Electronic Tabs get all of it? He might if he finished the job. Vernon resigned himself to the fact that they had blown the whole deal, and there was no way he was going to take the fall for them all. No way. “OK. What do you want to know?”

“Why such a big payout?”

“We were supposed to get rid of…” Vernon gagged on what he almost said, but he knew he had to tell them, or else. “To get rid of Agent Carson…”

“Why?”

Vernon shrugged again. “We just wanted the money. Didn’t ask why.”

Jamie noted the ‘we’ and moved on with her questions. “Why did you burn down the barn?”

“To send a message, and to drive that blond thing insane.”

“How would that send a message?” Jamie asked, seething at his description of Kate, and narrowing her eyes with hatred.

“I…well. That we weren’t to be messed with, and that she was all alone and vulnerable.”

“So you sabotaged the plane in order to kill a federal agent, and then your job was to drive her wife insane? Seems like a strange job for someone like you to take on, Vernon.”

Vernon’s breathing became shallower as he tried to think of a way to get out of all this. “I didn’t kill anyone. You said she was alive…b-but earlier you said murder.”

“I might have said that, but remember, planes tend to have a pilot, and he is very dead.” Jamie’s anger was evident as she briefly looked down at the sheet of paper in front of her before pinning the man with a glare once again. “How did you get the address of your target?”

Vernon had had enough and was getting really pissed off about the loss of the big bucks payout, and his freedom. Murder. I’m completely fucked. The realization hit him, and as a wave of heat traveled through his body, he sighed heavily. “She gave it to us…told us to fuck up the blonde’s mind, but not to hurt the kids.”

“She?” Jamie said, quickly noting the comment about the children. She was fuming inside but remained completely professional, even though she wanted to rip this guy’s intestines out with her bare hands for messing with her friends.

Vernon sat there in silence.

“What exactly did she order you to do?”

More silence.

“Vernon, I told you that if you cooperate with us, we can push for a lesser sentence. We need to know who was behind this whole thing. Who were you working for?”

“You’d really gimme a deal? No bullshit?”

Jamie nodded.

“We were…ah, fuck. You know what, that rat bastard ain’t getting his stinking hands on all that cash. I had a partner in all this.”

“And his name would be?”

“Darrell. He’s hacked into all kinds of places, tryin’ to dig up dirt on your agent before we…” Vernon slammed his mouth shut again.

“Trying to dig up dirt before what…?”

When Vernon didn’t respond, Mark became a little agitated. “If you don’t tell us everything, you alone will go down for it all. Malicious arson, destruction of property, sabotage, murder-”

“No fucking way!”

At the outburst, Mark stood abruptly, his voice booming. “Enough! The evidence is overwhelming. We know this is all linked to the plane crash. You were caught on camera. You followed Agent Carson of the FBI. You followed her to Minnesota. You tampered with the plane, and you came back here to Los Angeles to harass her family afterwards and destroy their home. You’ll never get out of prison.”

It seemed that Vernon was now shaking in his boots and almost sweating onto the table. He gulped audibly and adjusted his butt in the hard, wooden seat. “Darrell Gates. He’s some kinda computer genius. He’s in for two hundred grand as well. And before you ask, I don’t know where he is, but he should be back from New York by now. I-I’m not sure. I usually meet up with him in public.”

Mark’s eyes hardened at the New York information. “You must have a number for him?”

Vernon nodded. He knew the game was up. “Yeah.”

Jamie saw the change in him and decided to push a little further. “So who was paying you both, Vernon? That’s a helluva lot of cash.”

“Dunno.”

“You must have a first name, at least? Surely you didn’t talk to her without getting a name?”

Vernon ground his jaws together. “M-Meredith. She said her name was Meredith. Snooty bitch. That’s all I know.”

Jamie tensed as she got up to leave the room, closely followed by Mark.

“Hey! What about my deal?” Vernon shouted as he stood and leaned his damp hands on the table.

“We’ll be back. And sit the hell down,” Jamie said just before the door slammed shut.

Jamie paced for a minute while Mark briefed the agent who would wait with Vernon. As soon as he was done, she put her hand on her stomach since it was tying itself in knots, and used her other hand to pull Mark aside. “Sir, I think I know who’s behind all this…and you’re not gonna like it.”

* * * * * *

Kate awoke ridiculously early. After three hours of half-decent slumber, she turned on her side to check the time, noting seven forty AM on the small alarm clock. “Mmm, another hour or so…” she mumbled to herself. Closing her tired eyes in the hopes of falling back to sleep for the duration, she snuggled down in the pillow and shuffled her butt back a little until she felt the outside of CJ’s warm hip.

A jarring, vibrating noise, and a far-too-loud and jolly ringtone made Kate jump, and before her green eyes could open again she blindly reached out for her cell phone to perhaps smash it against the nightstand. “What?” she snarled into the handset.

“Um, Katie?”

“Oh, God. Sorry, Dad. Wait…why are you calling?”

“Oh, sweetheart, I just needed to talk to you.”

“Has something else happened?”

“Well, yes and no. We know everything you know about the fire, but now, well, our landlord has given us a month to get out of our apartment. I’m just beside myself with worry.”

“Jesus. Did he say why?”

“Not really. Just that he’s had a better offer, and he can’t refuse it. Big, big bucks. We can’t even dream of matching it. Jeffrey and I need to find a new place to live. And what with the restaurant gone, I just don’t know what to do.”

“Can you let me wake up a little, and I’ll chat to CJ about it?”

“Oh! Of course, Katie. I’m so sorry to wake you.”

“Dad, you can wake me anytime. I’m just really tired because I’ve only had a couple hours sleep after a hectic day yesterday. Oh. We caught the guy, by the way.”

“When?”

“He was here at the house last night…smashed some windows and stuff, but he’s now in the custody of the FBI.” Kate felt CJ stirring behind her. “Dad, I promise I’ll call you back today. We’ll figure this out, OK?”

“Oh, it’s not your responsibility to fix it, sweetheart. I’m glad they caught that horrible man, though. At least that’s one positive thing.”

“I know. And we want to help you and Jeffrey somehow. Let me get back to you, Dad. We love you.”

“All right. Bye for now, Katie. Love you too.”

“Bye.”

Eddie had sounded so desolate, so once Kate had hung up the call, she turned to CJ whose eyes were still closed. But Kate knew she was awake, so she shuffled around and leaned over gently to bestow a kiss on CJ’s irresistible lips.

“Morning, my love.”

“Kiss me again.”

After doing just that, Kate smiled sadly. “I know we both want to sleep for a week, but we have to get up…or should I say, I have to get up. But before I do, that was Dad on the phone.”

“I know. I heard you say goodbye to him. Is everything OK over there?”

“Not really. They’re losing their apartment now.”

CJ’s hazy, blue eyes shot open. “What? Why?”

“Landlord got a better offer. Seems someone is offering to pay him obscene amounts of money for the rent, and he can’t refuse it. I don’t like the sound of it. There’s something…something…”

“Katie, tell me what’s going on in your head? And tell me what went through your mind yesterday when Eddie asked you who would hurt you.” CJ had a gut feeling she already knew, but she wasn’t going to say it until Kate did.

“I…I don’t know. Just a weird feeling. It’s probably nothing.”

CJ narrowed her eyes a little before giving a single nod. She knew Kate would talk to her when she’d come to terms with it. “OK, but please…you know you can tell me anything, no matter how horrid or unlikely you think it might be.”

Kate’s stomach flipped as she gazed into her partner’s eyes. It was like CJ knew exactly what she was thinking, and also knew that she just couldn’t voice the ugly thought. The moment was unceremoniously broken by Lucy merrily hopping through the hallway and slamming her little body clumsily into their bedroom door.

“Mama! Mommy! It’s daytime!”

Kate turned to see Lucy standing wiggling at her side. “It’s too early in the daytime for little people to be this awake,” she said as she helped Lucy climb onto the mattress. “What woke you, Luce?”

“I remembered the bad man last night,” Lucy said plainly while crawling over to kiss CJ’s arm.

Kate glanced at her wife, knowing CJ would have allayed their fears when Shannon had mentioned the bad man, but she wanted to assure Lucy that there was no need to worry anymore…at least, not about that particular baddie. “Come here, sweetie.” Once Lucy was squashed against her side, Kate ruffled her natural curls. “Auntie Jamie took the bad man away last night. He won’t come back again, OK?”

“She did? Oh.” Lucy turned to CJ. “Did she take him to your work?”

CJ smiled at her daughter’s logic. “Yes, Little One. He won’t be hurting anyone anymore.”

Lucy nodded and leapt off the bed. “Can we have breakfast then?”

Kate raised her eyebrow at the quick change in conversation. “I think we can do that. Where’s your big sister, though?”

“Sleepin’,” Lucy said with a roll of her big, brown eyes. “And snoring!”

Kate laughed briefly and got up to deal with two children and one dog. She would no doubt have to explain why the windows were boarded up, but she dismissed the notion of lying to them and telling them it was an earthquake or something. She had made a deal with herself – and CJ – to always tell them the truth when possible, so the truth it would be. But at least she could tell them that the person who smashed up the house would never bother them again.

With a quick assurance to CJ that she would be right back to help her, Kate went to wake Shannon and perform the family’s morning routine.

* * * * * *

Mark sat at his desk waiting for Jamie to do her initial investigation into someone he was extremely surprised to hear was a suspect. But after what his agent had told him, he had to agree that this woman couldn’t be ruled out. He had been shocked when Jamie had mentioned Kate’s mother and told him what she had done to Kate in the past. Kate was such an open, honest, and loving person, and he admired her even more now since she had come from such a horrendous and abusive parent. He didn’t know the whole story, of course, but Jamie had told him in confidence what she knew about Elizabeth Emerson and her vague threat about getting her grandchildren no matter what. Considering what Vernon had told them about his orders and not hurting the kids, Elizabeth was a person of interest. No question.

Mark took a deep, cleansing breath when there was a knock at the office door. “Come in.”

Jamie appeared and closed the door behind her before taking a seat opposite her boss. “Sir, I have some info, but nothing concrete, and nothing that can point to her guilt outright.”

“Tell me what you found.”

“First off, as you requested, I checked thoroughly into the Davenports. There’s absolutely nobody who would have an interest in the girls from their previous family.”

“Good. What else?”

“Well…” Jamie flipped a page on her lap. “Our new suspect, Elizabeth, lives in Greenwich, Connecticut with her current husband, Arthur Emerson. She married him nine years ago and went from barely being able to afford her old mortgage, to the lap of luxury in a matter of months. Arthur is a self-made millionaire. I did all the usual background checks. No criminal record, no IRS issues, nothing of note turned up. The only thing I was curious about was that she seems to share a bank account with her husband, and she withdraws cash…large amounts of cash…from that account on a regular basis, usually inside the bank, and usually five or ten thousand dollars at a time. She’s been doing that for years now.”

“She could be storing cash at their home for…well, I don’t know what purpose, but we’ll need to find out where that money has gone.”

“I agree. Her purchases on both the account and a few credit cards, including a Platinum American Express card…seem to cover all the usual things. Restaurants, gas, salon visits, many, many clothing and jewelry purchases, and lots of spa treatments. She also writes checks for a couple of charities and an insurance broker named Derek Gates. I still need to find out what company he works for. Probably insuring her expensive jewels or something. According to her bank statements from the last five years alone, she spends a fortune.”

“And considering her past, it’s all Mr. Emerson’s money, right?”

“Seems like it, Sir. So we need to find out why she has to pull all that cash out so often.”

Mark pursed his lips. “How much in total, Jamie?” He watched as Jamie flicked through the pages of Elizabeth’s bank statements.

“Uh…approximately three hundred and forty thousand dollars to date.”

Mark was impressed with her quick addition. “Wow. Could she have been planning to need that amount one day, or has she been spending that on top of her card purchases over the years? Hmm. It’s still pretty circumstantial. There was nothing else?”

“Nope, she’s just a rich bitch-”

“Agent. I know you’re angry, but don’t…”

“Sorry, Sir.” Jamie repented before her eyebrows shot up as a new thought came to mind. She looked back down at her lap to scrutinize her paperwork and cursed at herself for missing the obvious. “Aww, damn. It’s Gates. Derek Gates, Darrell Gates…is that a coincidence?”

“Go find out. We’ll go to CJ and Kate with this tonight, but until then, keep on it. Get Mikey to do some of his fancy work, and find out all you can about this woman before we dare to even suggest Kate’s mother is involved. And check into that insurance company…”

“Fancy work, Sir?”

“You, uh, you know what I mean, Jamie.”

“Yes, Sir.”

* * * * * *

“CJ?”

“Yes, hon?”

CJ was lying back on their comfortable couch while Kate rubbed her foot. The pain had all but gone from her injured ankle now, and it only ached a tiny bit when she walked on it.

“I’ve been thinking about Dad and Jeffrey’s news, and their latest predicament.”

“Uh-huh.” CJ hoped she’d been thinking the same thing and figured she would spook Kate before she could continue. “I have too. It would be a pretty gutsy move if they would consider starting anew here in LA.”

Kate’s hands stopped moving, and her eyes slowly rose to seek out CJ’s. “OK. I’m officially freaked out.”

CJ smirked smugly. “Great minds think alike, that’s all. I’d love to see them more often.”

“I would too. I wanted to run it by them. They might not go for it, but I just wanted to put it on the table.”

“I agree. They could do a roaring trade in West Hollywood.”

“Mommy, look,” Shannon shouted from the island counter where she was making pastry shapes for baking into fruit tarts later. “A heart-shaped one. And I wrote my initials on it.”

CJ craned her neck to see through the double doors. “Ooh, awesome. Help Lucy make one too.”

“I will.”

“So you think it’s a good idea, CJ?” Kate asked while thoroughly rubbing around a big toe.

“Yep. Let’s ask them about it when we call later, OK?”

“OK.”

“Does either of them drive?”

“Yeah, Dad does. Why?”

“Honey, they’re used to Manhattan. No need for a car there. But here…”

“Jeez, I never even thought about that angle. Glad you’re on the ball, Agent Carson,” Kate said with a chuckle. “But yeah, Dad drives. Tony will be here during the day, though, so I’m sure he could help too.”

“Here?” CJ asked, curling her usual dark eyebrow.

Kate’s hands stilled again. “Uh, oops. Yeah. I was thinking…you know, since we’re going to have all that empty land out behind our new security fence…”

“Go on.”

“Maybe, uh, we could build a little guest house. I mean, I have some really good publicity coming up, and the extra money will help with-”

CJ inadvertently interrupted as she let out a small laugh. “That brain of yours has certainly been working overtime, Katie. It sounds like a great idea.”

“You think?”

“Of course I do. There are so many positives to it, and not a lot of negatives that I can think of. Let’s see if they even want to come here first, and if they’d want to live that close to us.”

Kate crawled onto the couch to kiss CJ. “You are such an awesome wife.”

“I was thinking the same of you, my love. Now, shall we go see what our daughters are creating?”

“We shall.” Kate got up to put CJ’s socks back on before she helped her to the kitchen and onto a bar stool where they both assisted in the pastry workshop that was spread all over the smooth countertop.

CJ could only delegate and coordinate the decoration of her own pastry, but for once, she was contented with that.

* * * * * *

Not long after dinner was consumed, Tony appeared at the front door laden with grocery bags. Kate looked him up and down before a smile crawled across her face.

“How did you know we were low on tasty things?”

Tony guffawed. “You’ve all been home now for days without really leaving this house,” he said with mischievous glee. “I figured the fridge would be getting kinda lonely by now.”

Kate laughed and followed him through the living room where CJ welcomed him with a smart-assed comment about his rather bright-green pants. He feigned offense and continued on his way, making CJ chuckle to herself. Once in the kitchen, Kate shouted to tell the children that their buddy was here, and two screaming banshees appeared from the playroom to ‘help’ Tony put the food away.

Kate laughed and returned to join CJ on the couch.

By eight thirty that evening, Tony was gone. Kate had loaded the dishwasher, put Shannon and Lucy to bed, and found a glazier who would come to measure the smashed windows and estimate the cost of replacements. He would be at the house on Tuesday morning, and Kate sensed another busy week ahead. CJ sat at the dining table, and since her latest dose of meds had kicked in, she held a half-full mug of tea in her right hand, with her elbow supported on the tabletop. She looked awfully pale but proud of herself as Kate walked over to join her.

“Hey, you. Feeling OK?”

“Yep.”

“You were great at dinner tonight. I hardly did anything for you.”

CJ raised the lower portion of her right arm off the table. “The pain feels less sharp, but that’s probably the mega-drugs you gave me.”

“Could be. Lifting your mug is one thing, but I still need to help you with everything else. Once we’ve seen the doctor tomorrow, I’ll relax a little. Promise. Then we have the glazier on Tuesday, Mr. White on Thursday to give us a quote for the fence, and I have a meeting on Friday with Lorena. And in between all that, we have a family to take care of, and I need to give a statement to Mark.”

“And it’s almost Christmas. We’d better get the tree up.”

Kate looked puzzled for a second as she tried to decipher today’s date. “I can’t believe the kids haven’t mentioned that yet.”

“They’ve been a little preoccupied, and to be honest, they might not have realized it’s even December.”

“Let’s make some time to pull out the decorations this week then.”

CJ smiled. “Add in some time to breathe, Katie.”

“Yes. That too.”

.

Chapter 7

An hour later, CJ and Kate decided on an early night. They had barely switched off the lights in the living room when the phone rang. It was Mark, and he was on his way to see them. Once Kate hung up the call, she gently turned CJ around and positioned her back on the couch.

“Who…?” CJ asked quietly.

“Mark. And possibly Jamie.”

“At this hour? I don’t think we’re gonna like this visit, Katie.”

“I know.”

Kate shuffled around the room to switch a couple of lamps back on, and once their two friends had arrived and sat down around the coffee table, she politely offered some drinks. “Tea?”

“Not for me,” Mark said quietly. Jamie declined too.

Kate dropped down at CJ’s right side. “You’ve come with news, and it’s not good.”

Stated so plainly, Mark cleared his throat and realized there was no point in stalling. “The man we caught…Vernon. He gave us some information during interrogation.”

“He talked?” CJ asked incredulously.

“He did. Let’s just say he’s not the sharpest tool in the box, and after we told him about the evidence against him he gave us some good leads. Thing is, Jamie picked up more from his confessions than I did, and now I need to ask you some personal questions…Kate.”

When Mark said her name, Kate blinked. It felt like all the energy had suddenly been drained from her body, and it appeared to everyone present that she’d already guessed what was coming.

“Go ahead.”

“I’m so sorry, Kate, but I need to ask. Do you know anyone by the name of Meredith?” Mark posed with a grimace.

CJ inhaled sharply, and when Kate’s eyes filled with moisture, she moved her hand to rest on Kate’s thigh. “So sorry to ask,” Mark repeated.

“No, it’s OK. I…yes, I do.”

CJ held a breath as she pushed through some pain to give Kate’s thigh a gentle, comforting squeeze. Since Kate was still gathering her wits, CJ decided to speak for her. “Meredith was Elizabeth’s…Kate’s mother’s middle name. She hasn’t used it since Kate was a child.”

Kate held back her anguish and looked at the two agents opposite her. “What did this Vernon say to you, exactly?”

“He told us he had an accomplice. He told us how much they were being paid, and that the woman who was paying them called herself Meredith. He also said they were ordered not to hurt the children.”

CJ’s eyes narrowed. “How did you know that was significant?”

“Well, you see, Jamie had to tell me-“

“Sir…” Jamie interrupted. “I got this. CJ, I had to tell Mark what Elizabeth has said and done in the past. I had a strong hunch when Vernon spoke about the woman who hired him and what she had ordered him to do. It…I’m sorry to betray your-”

CJ sighed audibly, hushing Jamie mid-sentence. “You didn’t betray my confidence. Not really. It’s relevant to the case, and if you hadn’t told Mark, I’m sure I would have done it myself.” She glanced at Kate as she spoke. “I just don’t want Kate hurt by Elizabeth anymore, so can we bring her in?” she asked, returning her gaze to Mark.

“Not yet. The evidence is all circumstantial right now. I hate to say it, but what we need is some kind of confession.”

“She won’t just tell all, so how do you propose to get it?” CJ said, scratching her fingers over Kate’s thigh. She knew Kate’s silence spoke volumes, and she could almost feel her pain.

“We need a lure. We need her to admit something, anything that can link her to the crimes.”

Kate looked at him sadly. “You need to set a trap.”

Mark saw the torment in her eyes, and he hated that he was the one to bring her this news. “Yes. Bringing her in for interview would only tip her off and allow her to prepare, or to hide potential evidence.”

“I’ll do it.” Kate guessed CJ was about to object, so she turned to her. “If it really is her doing this to us, the only way to get her to slip up is to let her think she’s won, right?” When all three nodded, it confirmed her decision. “Then I need to call her and tell her I can’t cope anymore, and that I need her to come here to help me. If it is her, she thinks you’re dead, CJ. And she thinks I’m a pathetic idiot.”

Mark was pretty astounded. He hadn’t wanted to involve Kate in this directly, but he had to admit her plan was the only one that might work considering they hadn’t tracked down Darrell Gates yet, and the sooner all of this was stopped, the better. “Are you both sure you’re OK with this?”

CJ was still mulling it over as she searched deep into Kate’s eyes. They held her attention, and without breaking the contact, she spoke to her colleagues. “She needs to be wearing a wire, the children need to be out of the house, and we all need to be here listening and ready to pounce.”

“You can’t be pouncing-“ Mark began.

“I’ll let you guys pounce, but I will be here, and that’s final,” CJ said forcefully. “Katie…this is what was running through your mind before, wasn’t it? About your mother, I mean?”

Kate nodded and turned to Mark to explain. “When Dad’s restaurant burned down, I was suspicious. Now he’s being evicted from his apartment because some unknown person has offered a fortune in rent, and the landlord can’t refuse it. When my brother was here yesterday, he asked me who would want to hurt me this much.” She looked at her lap then covered CJ’s hand with her own. When she met Mark’s eyes again, she was holding back angry tears. “The only person who would want to hurt me this much is my mother. She hates me. Always has. She’s always despised the fact that she could never fully control me, and she’s envious of…I don’t know what…but anything bad that happened in her life was always my fault. When I ran away in my teens, her contact with me became more than vicious and degrading. I think now, she’s trying to take everything I love away from me. She threatened me before, saying she would have her grandchildren, no matter what. We didn’t think she was serious, but…” Kate shrugged. “She’s trying to scare me to death and leave me nowhere to go, except back to her. She can’t stand to see me happy. It all fits, doesn’t it?”

Mark agreed solemnly. “I’m afraid it sounds entirely plausible, and it also sounds like she’s losing her mind. I can’t fathom how anyone could do these things to another person, never mind their own flesh and blood.”

CJ’s jaws ground together. “I can’t either, Mark, but believe me, Elizabeth is capable of that and more.”

Mark gave her a nod. “Jamie found more circumstantial evidence that seems to point to Elizabeth too. As I told you, our arsonist and murderer has a co-conspirator in all this. His name is Darrell Gates. When we did the background checks on…” Mark paused and glanced at Kate.

“I know how it works, Mark. Please, go on,” Kate said with a strained smile that held no happiness.

“We did checks on Elizabeth, and she has an insurance broker by the name of Derek Gates. It could just have been coincidence, but Jamie looked into it, and they’re cousins.”

Kate was incredibly sad at the fact that her suspicions had been accurate. Her mother was evil. She couldn’t imagine what had gone through Elizabeth’s mind. “How do we set up this meeting with my…with Elizabeth then?”

“I’d say the best thing to do is exactly what you thought we should do. If you could call her and tell her everything here is falling apart, tell her you can’t cope and that you need help with the girls. Don’t mention CJ. Let’s see if she mentions her. And don’t mention specifics about what has been going on here with the fire and the horses, et cetera.”

“Right,” Kate said with a head bob. “And don’t tell her about Dad’s circumstances either. Basically, we want her to hang herself, for her to tell me something she shouldn’t know.”

Mark was worried about how calmly Kate was taking this, but when he thought about her strength of character and what she had been through the past few weeks, he guessed this was a normal response for the plucky actress. “Exactly. Do you think you’re up to it?”

All through this conversation, CJ had been holding Kate’s hand, and she squeezed that hand as she replied, “I am. Will you want to give me a script of sorts to stick to or…?”

“No, but you can write a few notes of your own, if you’d like.”

“If she confesses anything, will it be accepted as evidence?”

CJ almost smiled then. “Good question.”

Mark gave his agent a glance before he looked at Kate. “Yes. Don’t worry. I’ll cover all the bases and make sure it’s admissible in court.”

Kate rubbed her exhausted eyes. “When do you want to do this?”

“As soon as possible.”

“As in, tonight?” Kate queried, eyebrow high.

Mark nodded again. “I’d like to know exactly when she’s going to get here, and it needs to be pretty fast because I have cops out looking for Darrell Gates and investigators checking into his cousin too. I don’t want to bring Darrell in immediately because Elizabeth might call him.”

“Ah, good point.” Kate was pulling at her lips in thought. She turned to CJ. “You’re very quiet. Are you OK with all this?”

“I am if you are, Katie. I’m right with you all the way.”

Jamie stood. “I’ll go start the coffee machine then. I know it’s late, but I think I need one.”

* * * * * *

It was after midnight when Mark and Jamie left. Kate had performed admirably, and the call to Elizabeth – which had been recorded – went like clockwork. The fact that it was the early hours of the morning in Connecticut, and the strained and wavering voice of Kate who basically told her mother that her life was falling apart and she wasn’t coping with her children, made the frantic call more convincing to their suspect. But Elizabeth hadn’t seemed at all surprised by it, which only served to add credence to the likelihood that she had orchestrated the entire thing for this exact outcome. The only difference was, Elizabeth would be expecting the call to be real.

CJ and Kate had eventually climbed the stairs and rolled into bed. Kate was exhausted, but CJ could feel the lingering anxiety, and she carefully turned on her left side to face Kate. “Tell me…”

No other words were required, and Kate mirrored her beloved’s pose, almost bringing their foreheads together. “I hate being deceitful to anyone, CJ. Even her.”

“I know, but it’s the only way to know for sure.”

“I understand that. I guess I wasn’t ready to believe she could go this far. I mean, she tried to have you killed. That’s unforgivable.”

“It is. I didn’t want to believe it either, honey. I think we’d both considered it and dismissed it as not possible.”

“Maybe we should’ve known better then. There was no surprise or concern in her voice when I told her I was having a breakdown. We know she’s bitter and vindictive to the extreme, and she just confirmed it to me again tonight,” Kate said with a shudder.

“Thinking of what she’s done more recently…her behavior’s getting worse. I just didn’t think she’d resort to this. Do you…do you think she’s lost it? Mentally, I mean?”

“I don’t know,” Kate whispered.

CJ could see the hurt in Kate’s eyes so she wriggled closer to her, bringing their bodies into contact. She grunted as she moved her right arm over Kate’s shoulder. “Try to get some sleep, Katie.”

“I will.” Kate maneuvered herself to ease the stress on CJ’s arm. “Please don’t hurt yourself, CJ. I can hold you, if you want.”

“I always want, but I need to do this. Let me hold you while you rest.”

“OK.”

* * * * * *

Monday dawned with the sun shining bright as usual over downtown Los Angeles and its surrounding cities. Kate had gotten everyone up, dressed, and fed by eight o’clock. CJ was starting to think she truly had married Superwoman. Tony had taken Shannon and Lucy to school, and would run a few errands before he returned to the house to take the dog out.

Once Kate had helped CJ into her truck, she hoisted herself into the driver’s seat and pressed the little memory button so that the Dodge Ram would maneuver her into position. Now they were ready to head off to CJ’s appointment at Cedars Sinai.

Two hours later, it felt like they had been at the hospital forever. When CJ had first arrived, the doctor whipped her away to take off the plaster-cast and X-ray the left wrist again. A new cast was put on since the reduction in swelling had rendered the old one inefficient, and now CJ sat on the examination bed with her feet swinging gently above the floor.

Doctor McNeil came back into the room and greeted both women before he sat down in the chair next to Kate. “Well, you’ve been through the mill, haven’t you?”

CJ nodded. “Seems like it.”

“Let’s see. Your wrist is an extra-articular fracture, and they’ve done a neat job with the small plate-”

“Plate?” CJ squeaked while looking back and forth from the doctor to her wife. Kate was nodding, and CJ realized she really hadn’t paid much attention to what happened in the hospital in Cook.

“Yes. It’s all here in your file. You have a narrow plate and a few screws which will come out once the bone heals. Sometimes the displacement is such that a little help is required.”

“Oh…”

“Have you been able to wiggle your fingers?”

“Yeah, since I got home. But it’s painful.”

“I understand that, but keep wiggling them every now and then. If they get numb, come back in to see me. The new cast will feel a little tighter, but if it’s uncomfortable in any way, we’ll need to readjust.”

“OK. What about my other arm? Shouldn’t I be feeling more able to move my right shoulder now? I mean, it was only a dislocation, right?”

“Dislocation, yes, but yours is not simply a dislocation,” the doctor said, waving his pen in the air. “Impact dislocation can be quite severe, and when your plane crashed, the socket was fractured. Then you tried to self-remedy the situation which damaged the cartilage too. You’ve ripped the connective tissue, and the supporting muscles are still a little inflamed. The painkillers you’ve been given are powerful and contain an anti-inflammatory, and to be honest you need to stay on them a while longer because of the amount of trauma your body underwent, but I’d say you can start very gentle pendular exercises with that right arm. I’m stressing it needs to be very light use. You’re gonna have to build up your physio level gradually. Patience is the key here.”

“I’m not so good with patience, Doc,” CJ mumbled.

“But I am,” Kate piped in. “Doctor, the fracture you spoke of, is there anything that should be done for it or…?”

“The fracture was a small piece of bone that has completely separated from the shoulder socket. It did complicate things a bit, but it shouldn’t cause any further problems after the injury heals.”

“Will I get full use back in the right arm?” CJ asked worriedly.

“Probably, but you might feel aches every now and then if you overdo it. I doubt your daily life would be too affected by it.”

“I’m a federal agent. I need to be able to fire a gun.”

“Ah. I think, with your attitude and determination, you’ll be back with weapon in hand in a month or two.”

CJ was relieved to hear that, although the month-or-two part was going to be a test for her. But she would do it, and she clamped her lips together after convincing herself that with Kate supporting her, she could do anything.

Doctor McNeil saw the resolute expression on his patient’s face, and he covered a little grin with a cough. “Do you have any more questions?”

CJ sighed. “I don’t think so. Katie?”

“Can’t think of any right now, no.”

“All right then. I’ll see you in another three weeks for a progress check and possible removal of that cast.”

“Yeah?” CJ said with a little too much enthusiasm.

“Yes, but if, and I mean if I take it off, it’ll be to replace it with a sturdy, medical wrist support. Remember, that injury will take longer to heal than the shoulder.”

CJ almost pouted then, but she waited until after the doctor left the cubicle before she stuck her lip out fully.

“Really? Are you gonna pout all the way home?” Kate asked, reaching up to flick her fingertip over the pouted lip while holding back a chuckle.

“Actually, no. I’m just pretending to be a poor soul. I have nothing to complain about in the grand scheme of things.”

“That’s very true. You’re alive, CJ.”

“I know, Katie. Thankfully. Let’s go home.”

* * * * * *

After a late lunch, CJ sat at the island counter watching Kate pour some fresh pineapple juice into two stubby glasses, and when Kate sat down next to her, a sleepy smile spread over her features. “How you holdin’ up, beautiful?”

Kate ran her hand through her hair. “Surprisingly OK, considering.”

“You’re pretty amazing, I have to say. Having to cope with me is a feat in itself, never mind everything else. I’m so glad I married you.”

Kate grinned at the unexpected comment. “And I’m never letting you go.”

“Sounds perfect to me.” CJ slurped on her juice, managing again to lift her own drink. These painkillers are pretty good, she thought before her eyebrow quirked at Kate tapping away on her cell phone. “Who you calling?”

“Dad. When I tried yesterday, I got a busy tone then I forgot to call him back.”

Clearly, Eddie Senior had seen his daughter’s name on his display because the call was answered in less than two rings. “Katie!”

“Hey, Dad. Sorry I didn’t get back to you yesterday.”

“Oh, that’s fine, sweetheart. I was on the phone all the time anyway. I’ve already found jobs for a few of our staff.”

“Wow, that was fast. I guess you know a lot of people in the industry over there, huh?”

“Well, yes. I just felt bad that we can’t do anything for our people now. It’s awfully sad.” A couple of gasps came over the line before Eddie spoke again. “But time for a new start, I feel. We were so very well insured. I always made sure to overdo it where that was concerned. I suppose now at least one positive thing can come out of all this. Oh, but listen to me babbling on. Are you all coping over there?”

“Yes. We’re doing OK. There’s so much happening, and I can’t tell you some of it right now, but I promise when it’s all over, I’ll update you, OK?”

“Of course, of course. How’s CJ?”

“She’s right here beside me and getting better by the minute.” Kate waited until CJ shouted a “Hi, Dad” before she continued. “We were at the hospital today for a check-up. Her injuries are healing. Just not fast enough for her liking.” Kate stuck her tongue out at CJ’s mock glare.

“As long as she gets better, and lets you take care of her.  I saw how completely exhausted you both were when she came home. Oh!” Eddie grumbled to himself until he regained his faculties. “You are all so precious to me. I miss you so much already!”

“We miss you too, and that leads nicely onto an idea both CJ and I had. I wanted to leave it with you to talk through with Jeffrey.”

“What idea, sweetheart?”

“Since everything is changing over there, and you need a new start, why don’t you come live in LA and-”

Eddie’s loud, heartfelt cry came across the line when he lost control of his emotions again. “Oh…oh, Katie.” He had to pause again to sniff away his ridiculous tears. “Oh, my goodness! Why didn’t I think of that? Oh, but I just don’t know!”

“There’ve been way too many other things to think about in recent weeks, Dad. Anyway, it’s only one option, but we wanted to let you know we’d be so happy to see you more often, and you have a great support network over here too, you know?”

“And you could stay with us until you get settled,” CJ said loud enough to be heard – without a croak in her voice for the first time.

“This is unbelievable. It’s a great idea!”

“I’m glad you think so,” Kate said, letting out a long breath.

“I’ll talk it over with Jeffreydoodle, and we’ll let you know. We were just saying last night how things here don’t feel good anymore. Oh! I must go and find him.”

“OK, Dad. Talk real soon. We love you.”

“Oh, darling. Love you too…all of you. Bye for now.”

“Bye.” Kate hung up the call and rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. “Hmm. He seems pretty excited by that idea.”

“Awesome,” CJ slurred.

“Oops. Somebody’s getting drowsy again, huh?”

“Mm-hmm…‘cause you gave me a dig bose of pills.”

“Do you mean a big dose?”

“Yeah, that.”

“Nap on the couch?” Kate suggested.

“If you’ll hold me.”

As soon as Kate had assisted CJ into the living room, she snuggled down beside her on the couch and joined her in her nap until Shannon and Lucy would come home from school. Neither of them heard Tony quietly going about his duties. He just smiled fondly at them as he passed by on his way into the kitchen heavily laden with groceries. After taking Kamali out for a romp around the ranch, he left CJ and Kate a note before taking the car to collect the children. As he drove along the freeway, he thought about his job. He loved it. He loved CJ and Kate. And he loved Shannon and Lucy. Nothing would tempt him away from this job. What he had with the Carsons was priceless.

* * * * * *

Everything had gone without a hitch today, and Tony was grateful of that. They were well overdue a normal day, and after sharing a take-out pizza with his second family, he was about to leave for the evening when Kate stopped him just inside the front door.

“Hey. You seem a little off today.”

Tony shrugged his shoulders, more to loosen up than a gesture of indifference. “I’ve just been thinking a lot, and I’ve maybe been a little on edge. I kept checking and re-checking all around us when I was driving the girls home from school. When we stopped at the toy store, I was…I dunno, agitated?”

“But everything went OK, right?”

“Yeah, sure. I think I’ve just been really worried about you guys, and I feel very protective toward Shannon and Lucy when we’re out and about.”

“Which is why, even during this horrible time, I can leave you to pick them up at school and know that you’ll take care of them. I trust you, Tony.”

“I know, Kate, and I’m honored to receive that trust. Believe me.” He let out a sigh. “This will all be over soon, right?”

“Yes. I think so. I’m going to need you on Saturday. I need to you take the children somewhere, possibly for the whole day. Any ideas?”

“We can’t stay here, you mean?”

“Right. I need them to be away from the house.”

“Does this have to do with what’s been going on?” Tony asked with concern.

“Yeah, but don’t worry. I’ll tell you all about it after it’s done.”

Tony nodded. “Shannon keeps talking about going to some animal farm her friend told her about. I think it’s the one in Pomona. How about I take them there? We’ll head to the beach before we come back. I can keep them amused for the whole day, I think, but you can just text me when you’re ready for us to come home.”

“Sure. You’re a true gift, Tony. Thank you.”

“You’re always welcome, Kate. I love spending time with my two best buddies. Is it OK if Cyn comes along on our day out?”

“Are you kidding? Of course it’s OK,” Kate said adamantly.

“Great. See you later.”

When Tony left, Kate returned to CJ’s side, and later, after their daughters were tucked up in bed, they descended the staircase hand-in-hand for the first time since CJ’s return. While Kate sat in the corner of the large couch typing away on her laptop, CJ watched her with a rather pensive look on her face.

“What you thinking?” Kate asked without looking up.

“Hmm. Just that every time I look at you right now, I hear the Wonder Woman theme tune in my head.”

Kate barked out a laugh. “Wonder Woman?”

“Yes. While I was lost, and since I came home, you’ve just had the most powerful and resilient spirit I’ve ever seen.” CJ’s partner looked at her then, and with a small smile, she counted her lucky stars once more. “I am in awe of you, Katie.”

The laptop discarded, Kate crawled to CJ’s side and snuggled in. “Like I said before, you’re a part of me. When you were lost, I knew somehow that you were alive. I could feel the life flowing through you. When you came back…well, since then I’ve counted every second as a gift. And I’m not wasting a single moment of that gift on what others will try to do to us, to kill our happiness. So maybe my profound willingness to always move forward, to live every moment in the present, is what you see as that powerful spirit?”

“It is, and you just shared it with me by saying what you said. You fill me with strength.”

“And love,” Kate grinned as she squeezed CJ’s waist.

“Always love.”

Their declaration was sealed with a deep kiss that was only broken by the sound of the front door being knocked quietly. Kamali wasn’t worried, and it was a code knock, so CJ knew it was Jamie.

“I hope this isn’t more bad news.” As Kate went to answer the door, CJ propped herself up a little and gave her fingers an experimental wiggle. Hmm. Not bad at all.

Kate pulled on the handle after a quick glimpse outside told her it was indeed Jamie on the porch, but she hadn’t expected a familiar redhead to be with her. “Sam!” Kate grabbed her dear friend in a bear hug that lasted for a good sixty seconds. “I’m so glad to see you.”

“I missed you, Kate.”

“Ditto, hon, but it’s been such a horrible time. I’m sorry we-“

“No, no. I know you guys are going through a lot, and I’ve been away on location too. I hope you don’t mind me dropping by with my better half?”

“Do I mind? Hah! Come on in.”

When CJ saw Sam, she smiled. “Hey, stranger. It’s good to see you.”

“Oh, CJ, you look great.”

Once Sam had kissed her on the cheek, CJ smiled. “Thanks. I’m definitely improving, that’s for sure.”

“Yeah, Jamie told me what condition you were in before. Oh, boy.” Sam scratched through her fiery hair and blew out an audible breath.

“So,” Jamie said in a mock huff. “How come she gets the nice greeting, and I don’t?”

“Aww, Penfold. If we greeted you like that every time we saw you, we’d never get anything else done. You’re here every damn day right now.”

Jamie sent her colleague a wink. “Getting sick of me, huh, DM?”

“Nevah!”

Jamie grinned, but she knew she had to get to the reason why they were here. At least it was nice to have a few minutes of teasing first. “OK, back to business. I have a little update, and I hope it’s OK that Sam’s here. She was desperate to see you both.”

“Fine by me,” Kate said as she sat shoulder to shoulder with Sam. She had missed her a lot.

After a firm nod from CJ, Jamie went on. “Right. It seems they tracked Darrell Gates down quite easily through his cell phone, and when he received a call from an anonymous female who basically told him the job was almost complete, we figured we hit the jackpot. Then the woman said something about an upcoming trip, and how when she was on that trip, he should be in the area to carry out the final part of her plan while she was there with the target…giving her the perfect alibi.”

“Shit. How did you guys get to hear the call?” CJ asked with wide eyes.

“Mikey.”

“Ah. Say no more. So, what else?”

“Gates has been arrested. He’s in custody now. He was already in LA, and they’re going to interrogate him. They want to know what the final job is.”

“I do too,” Kate said worriedly.

“Well, we have him now, Kate. He’s not going to carry it out, whatever it was.”

“So everything’s still on for Saturday?”

“Yes.”

Sam sat listening to all this. She knew the basics of what they were talking about, and she was still worried for her friends, but it seemed the Bureau had things in hand and it was just a matter of one more arrest. She hoped that whatever was happening on Saturday, it was going to put an end to all the troubles her friends had gone through recently. “What’s happening on Saturday?” she asked quietly.

A fleeting nod between CJ and Jamie could have been missed if not for the sharp eyes of their partners. CJ was the one who spoke up.

“Elizabeth’s coming to the house. Kate’s going to try to get her to confess.”

“Oh, my god! Your mother’s behind this?”

Kate put her hand on Sam’s thigh to calm her. “Hey. I’m OK, if that’s what you’re worried about. And yes, Elizabeth seems to be the one masterminding the whole thing.”

“Oh, Kate.” Sam felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. “I just can’t believe it.”

“Neither can we,” CJ said morosely. “Actually, we can believe it. We just didn’t think she would go this far.”

Sam looked at Jamie. “But didn’t you say this was all one big case? Like, from the plane crash to now?” When Jamie nodded, Sam gasped. “Shit. She…she orchestrated that too?” she said, gesturing to CJ’s arms.

“She seems to have done it all, including the fire and other problems in New York.”

Sam looked completely shocked, and Kate could see the anger in her expression too. The conversation continued quietly for a short while until Sam finally calmed down. Kate explained to her that she really was handling the whole situation, and with CJ sitting glued to Kate’s side, Sam realized it would be all right, regardless of what would happen on Saturday.

When Jamie told them that the recording of the phone call Gates received could now be used in a voice comparison with whatever they got on Saturday, Kate knew they would have hard evidence. She also acknowledged that the content of the call – the anonymous woman coming to Los Angeles to be with the target – fitted rather conveniently with Elizabeth coming to visit Kate. She realized with a heavy heart that her mother was indeed the woman behind it all, but she still wanted to hear some sort of confession, if only for her own sense of closure and to confirm the hatred in Elizabeth’s eyes before she said goodbye to her for the final time.

.

Chapter 8

The next few days seemed to fly by. The smashed windows were now replaced, and Mr. White had come to estimate the cost of their new fence and gates. He could do the entire job right after the holiday season, and CJ had accepted his expensive quote after learning that he had given them a special, FBI twenty-five percent discount because she was friends with his son. Once she’d explained to Kate about the quality of product and the lower rate they were going to get, she seemed to accept it too. Upon seeing the charred remains of the barn, the chirpy landscaper had told them of his trusted colleague who could build a new one, like for like, at a reasonable price. After he was given a photograph of the previous structure, he said he’d call them back later with a rough idea of what would be involved.

The hustle and bustle of two young daughters had also kept them busy, including Tony who was only too happy to have plenty to do while Kate was on hiatus from the studios. His four days off next week would balance his hours nicely. All in all, they seemed to work as a well-oiled machine, with CJ up on her feet more and delegating efficiently in special-agent mode.

But as the week neared its end, Kate became a little more anxious about her unorthodox acting job scheduled for Saturday. CJ was doing her best to nurture her heart and reassure her at every opportunity. She knew Kate was strong, but it never hurt to be attentive and aware of your partner’s moods and feelings, even if you aren’t able to wrap your arms around her.

So it was Friday afternoon, and Tony had just left to pick up Lucy and Shannon from their respective schools. Mark had also just left after he and Mikey came to install hidden cameras – one built into a custom picture frame on the mantel, and one neatly concealed between the stereo and its speaker – making sure to cover most parts of the living room. The monitoring equipment was set up in the study, a convenient place for the agents to pounce from. Mark had decided this setup would be better than Kate wearing a wire, as they would get face and voice information recorded for better and irrefutable evidence.

Now all Kate had to do was make sure to guide her mother to the couch when she arrived tomorrow.

Mark had bombarded her with all this information as soon as she’d come home half an hour ago, after her meeting with Lorena and the Infinity One people. Everything was in place for her new job next fall, and it seemed everything was in place for Elizabeth’s confession too. Kate just hoped she could pull it off.

CJ’s chin gently landed on Kate’s shoulder from behind. “Hey. You all right?”

“I’m trying to be. Getting a little nervous now…”

“I’m not surprised,” CJ murmured into her ear. “You’re coping a helluva lot better than I would.”

“I’m sure you’d be just as resilient, honey.”

As Kate turned around, CJ planted a soft kiss on her nose. “Hmm, I’m not so sure.”

“Are we all set for tomorrow? In the study, I mean?”

“Yeah, and Mark confirmed Elizabeth’s booked on the flight arriving at LAX around eleven, so I guess it’s on.”

“Shit. OK, I can do this,” Kate said, confirming it to herself as well as CJ.

“You can, Katie. I know you can. And we’ll be right there with you. The guys are coming back at six in the morning. When’s Tony taking the girls?”

“I think he said he’d be here before eight, and I told him to take my car tomorrow. Should we hide yours around back?” Kate asked with uncertainty.

CJ studied her and saw her own fears reflected right back at her. “You’re feeling violated by her coming to our home, aren’t you?”

Kate nibbled on her lips while she thought about it. “I think…yes. I don’t want her knowing anything more about our life together. I feel like she’s been spying on us for too long, and I want it to end. I don’t even want her knowing what your license plate says. I mean, what if she can still get to us after this? What if-“

“Shh. It’s gonna be OK, Katie. There’s so much pointing to her guilt, and once we have her voice on our video recording, I know it’ll be a match to the one on Gates’s phone.” CJ leaned her forehead down on Kate’s. “We’ll get her. This will all be over soon. Just breathe with me, Katie.”

Kate took a long, slow inhale and held it. Gently wrapping herself around CJ’s body, arms and all, she let the breath out and groaned. “I know you’ll get her,” she whispered.

* * * * * *

Tony Wilkinson stood with his two charges at the side of Idaho’s grave. Not far away from them, CJ and Kate had made their way to the rear of the other horse field to fix the broken rail. Well, Kate would fix it. CJ was just there for moral support and the exercise.

Shannon turned to Tony after arranging her little bunch of wild flowers on the dirt. “Tony?”

“Yes, Shan?”

“Do you think we could make a sign with Idaho’s name?”

“I think we could do that. What could we make it out of?” Tony asked, curious to see what the intelligent girl would come up with.

“Maybe find a piece of the old wood,” Shannon said, pointing to the remnants of the barn. “If we write on it with a big pen, it might look nice.”

“Sounds good. Or maybe we could try to engrave it into the wood then color in the spaces.”

“Yes. What do you think, Luce?”

“Can I help with it?” the smallest person asked while throwing the ball for Kamali.

“Of course, Lucy,” Tony smiled. “Let’s ask your mommies if it would be OK to use some of that old wood, huh?”

“Race you!” Shannon shouted before setting off toward her parents. Tony, Lucy, and Kamali followed, and it wasn’t long before everyone was headed back to the house together.

Less than an hour later, Kate stood at the kitchen counter preparing a salad for dinner. Tony was in the playroom with the children, deciding on what their homemade headstone was going to look like, and CJ was lying on the couch resting her foot after the walk.

Kate thought about the past few weeks while she chopped some tomatoes. She had loved having Tony there to help them, and she really did appreciate him more than he would ever know, but she was so looking forward to her family having the house to themselves for a while. It seemed like it had been full of people non-stop since CJ went missing, and Kate craved some peace and quiet. She accepted the fact that the hectic household was necessary right now, and she was grateful to all their close and trusted friends for watching their backs.

Kate broke out of her thoughts when she heard an excited-doggy-yelp in the back yard. She crossed the kitchen floorboards and looked outside. With her jaw hanging loose, she saw the reason for Kamali’s incessant prancing. Nevada was pacing the far side of the distant fence they had just mended. Moving in a fast trot, back and forth, back and forth, the horse didn’t realize that if she ran to the east for a few hundred yards she could get down to the house with no obstacles in her way. Kate was overwhelmed that CJ had been right. Their beautiful palomino had come home, and since Kate knew the children were safe inside with Tony, she ran into the gym and grabbed a jump-rope. With a pat to Kamali’s head, she left the back yard in a hurry. On her approach to Nevada, she reduced her pace and called the horse’s name soothingly. A loud snort was her reply, and she held her palm out flat even though she had no treat for the equine. Nevada gave the hand a thorough sniff and a light nip, and followed the greeting with a whinny. Kate slowly put the jump-rope around her muscular neck, and Nevada stood calmly, instinctually knowing this human would not hurt her. Kate gave her a light scratch on the nose and trailed her hand up to do the same to her forelock and ears. Another little whinny, and they were on their way along the fence line.

Once they were at the gate to the backyard, Kate let Nevada loose. For some reason, she was certain the horse wouldn’t leave…and Nevada didn’t. Instead, she sauntered over to a nearby patch of grass and ducked her head to munch happily on the green tufts. Kate took in the condition of their four-legged family member. Nevada’s coat was dull and dusty, and her mane and tail ruffled and knotted, but she was alive, reasonably healthy, and her eyes seemed alert. Kate was elated to see her, and she went indoors to find CJ, knowing it would be an emotional reunion for her wife.

Deciding not to risk spooking the horse with excited, young children just yet, she went silently into the living room and carefully helped CJ to her feet without a word.

“What’s going on, Katie?”

When they were in the back hallway, Kate answered. “I want you to see something, but try to stay reasonably quiet. Don’t alert the girls just yet. Watch your step, honey.”

As Kate lead her out the backdoor, CJ looked around and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary for a few seconds. At the corner of the addition that housed the gym, she gasped when she saw her horse standing at the gate swishing her tail. “Oh, wow. She came home.”

“She sure did. You were right, CJ.”

“Oh, Katie, I just hoped she was OK and would somehow find her way back. I didn’t know for sure.” As CJ approached her horse, Kate hovered just behind her in case she needed help. CJ managed to raise her right arm, and Nevada dropped her head immediately to allow her human to pet her. “Hey, girl. Welcome back. Where’d you go, huh? Where’d you go? We missed you.”

Kate smirked at the baby-talk whisper and walked forward to place her hand on CJ’s back. “I bet she missed us too. We better get her a new friend soon. I’d imagine she knows Idaho’s gone.”

“She might do. They’re very spiritual, very instinctual animals. I’m just so happy she’s here.”

“Me too, honey. Now let me find my jump rope, and I’ll hold onto her when Shannon and Lucy come out here, just in case she gets spooked again.”

It wasn’t long before two excited children came skipping out of the house to witness Nevada’s very welcome return. It was a small light in the shadow of recent events, and it could only continue to grow brighter once tomorrow was over.

* * * * * *

Another restless night had passed, and Saturday arrived with a cloud-covered sky over the Carson farmhouse. It may have been symbolic of things to come, but Kate had opened the drapes with a defiant swipe of her hand and a smile on her face to show the world – and herself – that she was going to get this done, and do it right.

Everyone who had to be there had arrived, and everyone who had to leave had gone for the day, including Kamali who had gone with Tony and the children. The house was now filled with an unsettling silence as Kate paced from the living room to the kitchen, looked out the window, and returned to her perch on the end of the couch. It was twelve thirty PM. Had Elizabeth changed her mind? Was she going to leave Kate to wait for her all day?

Jeez. It’s more likely that the airport’s busy, or her flight’s delayed. Kate wasn’t desperate to see her mother : far from it. She just wanted this whole business over and done with. It was hurting her, it was hurting her family, and she would quite happily never see Elizabeth Emerson again.

A few clicks came from the study, and Kate looked at the picture frame on the mantel. She knew the agents were watching the room. She knew CJ was watching her. That thought made her relax marginally as she stood to walk around the couch again. She had barely made it through her second lap when she heard a vehicle outside, its tires crunching over the gravel at the top of the driveway. Kate looked at both cameras and headed to the front door, all the while concentrating on her shallow breaths. She would need to watch she didn’t hyperventilate. As much as she wanted to convince Elizabeth that this was real, she figured that actually fainting would be taking it a little too far. The temperature in the house seemed to drop a few degrees as she nervously rubbed her hands down her jeans before reaching for the doorknob. Simply seeing Elizabeth made her skin crawl.

“Come in,” Kate said tentatively with her head hung low. It seemed the act was coming naturally to her since she felt like an eight-year-old, emotionally abused Katherine Marshall all over again in this woman’s presence. Don’t let that happen. She’s not worth it, she told herself, before straightening her back and lifting her head.

“Katherine. I hope you appreciate that I flew all this way to help you. I knew you would need me eventually. Are you coping, dear?” Every word was spoken as if Kate was too idiotic to truly understand what was being said.

Feeling the insult to her very core, Kate tightened her lips a little and replied as softly as she could. “I’m not, no. I…I didn’t know who else to turn to.”

“Was I your last choice?”

Kate hadn’t expected this hostile greeting, but she adapted her performance to seem as meek and inferior as possible. “No, I didn’t think anyone but you could help. You’re organized and in control. I feel like I’m losing it.”

Elizabeth seemed unperturbed as she strolled through the hallway, pulling her ever-present white gloves from her fingers. She looked around the living room, not even attempting to hide her disdain at the native feel to the place. “It’s a bit small and plain for an A-list Hollywood star, don’t you think?”

Kate hid her reaction well and continued toward the couch. “I doubt I’m on the A-list.”

“Oh, yes, that’s true. Perhaps this fits you then. It’s…meager.”

Kate cowered a little more, as if agreeing with her, but on the inside, she did anything but cower. First direct stab at my confidence. No effect. Kate, one…Elizabeth, nil.

The silence lingered until Elizabeth sat down gingerly on the couch as if something might jump up and bite her on the ass. Kate wished something would.

Finally, the vile woman spoke again. “So tell me, what has you so upset? Did something bad happen?”

“A lot of bad things happened, and I need help with the girls. I can’t deal with them anymore.” Kate gulped in what might have looked to Elizabeth like defeat, but it was really the untruth of what she was saying that was sticking in her throat.

“Well, I told you nothing good could come of being with that…woman. Now that she’s gone, you can come back to Connecticut with me, and I’ll help you. I know a nice, safe place for you to recuperate.”

Kate glanced briefly at the mantel, but the comment about CJ being gone wasn’t enough. Kate knew it, but she thought she was on the right track with her I’m-so-helpless approach. “A safe place?”

Elizabeth sidled up to her and put her arm around her shoulder. “Yes, very safe. And the children will be better off too. I’ll take care of everything. Don’t you worry any longer.”

But Kate was worried. It sounded like her mother wanted to put her in a padded cell and take her children for good. She wouldn’t rule anything out where this monster was concerned. “I…I really appreciate that.”

“I’m glad.”

“There’s nothing here for me now, anyway.”

Elizabeth nodded. “I know. Losing someone is such a hard thing to overcome, but with my support, you’ll be just fine.”

“What do you mean, losing someone?”

“Katherine, I’m sure you would be coping fine if you weren’t alone, so something must have gone wrong. She’s left you, hasn’t she? I knew it would happen.”

“I don’t want to talk about her.”

“Good. Neither do I. Tell me, sweetheart, what happened to your barn?”

Kate felt the bile rising. Now the bitch had the audacity to make her talk about all the other tragedies? “It…it burned down.”

“Who would do something like that?”

There is was again: the implication that she knew far more than she should. But it still wasn’t an admission of guilt. “I’m not sure. It was probably just an accident.”

“Oh, I suppose it could have been.”

“You think someone did it on purpose?”

“I don’t know, dear.”

“You seem to think someone was responsible.” Kate tried not to sound accusatory.

“Oh, no. I wouldn’t have the first clue about that. Now tell me what else you’ve been going through.”

“Like I said, a lot of bad things have happened…so much loss. I think I’m going insane with the worry of it all, and the girls are suffering. It feels like someone’s out to get me.”

“That’s such a shame.”

“Yes. And it’s so hard to cope on my own, but then again CJ might come back, and I-“

“Oh, Katherine, she’s not coming back.”

“What? She might-“

“No, Katherine.”

Kate realized the way to make Elizabeth slip up was to get her angry. How do you make Elizabeth angry? You talk about CJ. “CJ will come back. I love her, and she loves me-“

“No! You have to face it. She’s dead and gone,” Elizabeth said, patting Kate’s hand condescendingly. “Now I think you’re losing your mind, and I know a place where you can feel better. You need to pack a bag and come with me. There’s no one else to help you now.”

Kate glared at the woman who had given birth to her. “How dare you say she’s dead! Just because she was dead to you all along, doesn’t mean she’s dead to me!”

Elizabeth stood and balled her fists at her side. “I will say she’s dead, because she is dead! You can’t come back from a wreck like that.”

Kate’s eyes bulged. This was it.  “Wreck?”

“Yes! A stinking, mangled, smoking, blood-filled wreck. She must have felt real pain, true agony, before she died. And she deserved it. All of it! She brainwashed you, Katherine. It was time for retribution. I knew it was coming to her. Now you have to turn to me because there’s nowhere else for you to go! I made sure of that. I’ll deal with everything now, and you’ll let me because you have no other choice. If you tell anyone about this, they’ll truly think you’ve lost your mind.” When Kate suddenly calmed, Elizabeth looked at her as if she’d grown two heads. “Well? Pack your bag. And get me my grandchildren!”

“No.”

“No? No?”

“That’s what I said. No.”

“Elizabeth Emerson…”

Elizabeth looked toward the new voice in the hallway where Mark stood with Jamie and two other agents. “Who are you?”

“Mark Mulroney, FBI. You are under arrest.”

“Don’t be ridiculous! I haven’t done anything wrong. Katherine invited me into her home.”

Agents Paulson and Carey walked over to flank the woman while Mark moved to stand beside Kate.

“Ma’am, if you’ll just come with us.”

“I most certainly will not!”

Nobody would have thought Elizabeth’s pasty face could get any whiter, but when CJ walked into the living room, all the blood drained from her cheeks, and her head almost fell off from the amount of vigorous shaking in the negative.

Aaah!” she shrieked. “No! No, no, no. You’re…you can’t be alive.”

“Keep going, Elizabeth. All this evidence is great,” CJ sneered as she stopped to stand side-by-side with Kate.

“You…you wretched-“

“Oh, and by the way, that entire conversation was recorded. You are most definitely under arrest.”

Elizabeth’s gray-green eyes burned fiercely at CJ, and when Kate put her arm around CJ’s waist, Elizabeth growled. “Katherine! You tricked me! You are a horrendous child! Unnatural, hideous, hellish creatures. You are filth! Do you hear me? You are an abomination, Katherine! An abomination!”

Mark had heard enough and ordered the now-handcuffed Elizabeth out the front door. “Elizabeth Meredith Emerson, you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…”

As Mark disappeared, Kate turned to CJ and buried her face in her warm sweater. “Oh, CJ…”

“I know. It’s over, Katie. I’m so sorry.”

“No.” Kate looked up at her. “I’m so sorry she did this to you.”

“She did this to us, and it truly isn’t your fault.”

“I feel responsible, somehow.”

“You should never feel responsible for her hateful, and now criminal actions. You are a beautiful soul, and the complete opposite of her. But she’s gone now, and we’re here. She won’t hurt us anymore.”

“Yes, but, it seems to happen over and over. I mean, look at Jason, then Jack, and now Elizabeth. They all went a little crazy in some way…because of me. Am I some kind of lunatic magnet?”

“Are you trying to tell me I’m crazy?” CJ asked.

“I’m serious, honey.”

Mark came to the doorway and interrupted the conversation momentarily. The other agents had gathered the minimal amount of equipment it had taken to record Elizabeth’s screamed confession, and now Mark was ready to leave. He made a silent gesture, telling his injured agent he would call her as soon as he knew more, and, closing the door quietly, the FBI and Kate’s mother were gone. Just like that.

CJ took a deep breath and met Kate’s gaze again. “OK, being serious. You are not some lunatic magnet, Katie. Those people had problems in varying degrees, and if it wasn’t directed at you, it would have been directed at someone else. You are so unbelievably loving and compassionate and caring. You’ve harmed no one. It’s those people who do harm, and choosing to direct that attention on you was just coincidence.”

Kate had gotten lost in her partner’s voice and eyes. When the voice stopped, she blinked and sighed. “I guess you’re right. Maybe I’m just overwhelmed. Today seemed so surreal.”

“I know. Hopefully, it’ll feel better in the morning.”

When CJ kissed her forehead, Kate closed her eyes. “Yeah.”

“Actually, it’ll feel better when we get Shannon and Lucy home. They wanted to pamper Nevada today, give her a little brush and some treats.”

“That sounds like something normal, guaranteed to ease my tension headache,” Kate said. “Let’s send Tony a text message.”

Before they separated, CJ had a thought. “Hey. Do you want to talk about what happened here today?”

“Maybe in bed tonight? I just need to process it for a while.”

“Sure.” CJ followed Kate into the kitchen where they contacted Tony before heading out for a slow walk in the sun. Passing Nevada in her field, CJ nodded to herself. Yeah. Time to relax with our family. Good idea.

.

Chapter 9

After yet another restless night, Kate rose early on Sunday morning and dressed in a comfy pair of old sweatpants and CJ’s Foo Fighter’s T-shirt. They had talked briefly last night, but due to emotional and physical exhaustion, sleep had taken over, and they eventually realized they weren’t really making much sense. They’d fallen deeply into slumber with Kate wrapped around CJ’s back, their legs in a tangled bundle under the cozy covers.

Now, Kate yawned as she stood at the island counter. The coffee maker gurgled while she prepared breakfast for her family. Once she’d topped the dining table with bowls, cereals, and jugs of fresh fruit juice and milk, she went back to the counter and readied the bread next to the toaster, and the mugs next to the shiny, caffeine machine.

Before she headed upstairs to wake CJ, she went outside to check on Nevada. Seeing her lying down in the pasture with her mouth lazily nibbling on the grass around her, Kate smiled and checked her water supply. When she was satisfied all was in order, she strolled back indoors and pulled the Christmas tree and bauble boxes out of the large closet in the hallway. She knew Shannon and Lucy would be excited to decorate it since they were so late in doing so this year. Later, when everyone’s tummies were filled, the pleasant task would be done at a leisurely pace by the whole family.

“Good morning.”

Kate jumped when CJ appeared at the top of the stairs. “Hey. Everything OK?”

“Yes. I managed to pee by myself. Aren’t I clever?”

“You really are.”

CJ grinned as she descended carefully in her favorite pajama pants and tank top. “Time for the tree, huh?”

“Yeah. I think we need to try to have a normal family day today.”

“Agreed,” CJ said as she approached to kiss her beloved partner on the lips. “Mmm. Nice.”

“Very.”

“How’re you feeling this morning, Katie?”

“I’m fine, I think. Yesterday feels like a blur. It just doesn’t feel real, so I’m not sure how to cope with it, you know?”

“I know. I want to call Jamie later to see what’s happening.”

Kate placed a hand on CJ’s collarbone. “Can you try to leave that until tomorrow? I need to forget it…even if it’s just for a short while.”

“Tomorrow,” CJ answered with a nod. “You didn’t sleep much, did you?”

“I did for the first four hours, then I kept jerking awake. Sorry if I disturbed you.”

“You didn’t. My night was pretty similar.” CJ raised her right hand slowly to slip it onto Kate’s waist. “Let’s be real lazy today.”

“Sounds good to me.”

* * * * * *

Jamie could not believe their luck. While searching Elizabeth Emerson’s purse, they had found the untraceable burn-phone she had used to contact Darrell Gates. The fact that Elizabeth had kept this crucial piece of evidence showed Jamie that she was absolutely positive she’d gotten away with everything, and that CJ was indeed dead…and that Kate was well within her clutches. It might also show that Elizabeth was not quite living in the real world. She had truly underestimated Kate and appeared to have a warped sense of reality. But that didn’t really matter right now. Hard evidence was what the FBI needed, and it seemed they now had quite a lot of it.

The interrogation was underway. Jamie and Ethan were tasked with questioning their capture while Mark and Mikey worked on the other murderer the SSHU had been dealing with previously – who incidentally had been caught after CJ came up with the information about Grauman’s Egyptian Theater. CJ was indeed a huge asset to the Bureau, and Mark knew how lucky he was to have her working with him.

So now, in two different rooms in the same corridor, the team members of the SSHU had two very different killers from two very different cases. In interrogation room three, Jamie sat facing a woman she detested, but her feelings were well hidden behind her professional, expressionless face. She was thankful that Ethan was the one talking at the moment, since she felt like getting up and strangling the bitch.

“How did you know about the wreck, Mrs. Emerson?”

“I’m not answering that. Do you think I’m an idiot?”

“No, ma’am, and I never inferred anything of the sort.” They had only been in here for about ten minutes, but Ethan already wanted to punch Elizabeth. She’s related to Kate? No fucking way.

“I have a top attorney. He’s the best money can buy,” Elizabeth said smugly.

Jamie looked at her blankly. “And he’ll be here soon, I’m sure.”

“Don’t speak to me like that, child. You have no idea who you’re dealing with.”

Oh, yes I do, Jamie thought to herself. “What was your part in all this?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“We have evidence. Your call to Darrell Gates, the phone you used to contact him, and the fact that you have an insurance broker who just happens to be his cousin. Darrell spilled his guts to us, you know? Told us everything. And he knows what you look like. Once we compare the voice on that phone call to the recording we took at your daughter’s house… there’ll be so much evidence against you, no lawyer will be able to get you out.”

It looked like Elizabeth didn’t believe a word of it, but Jamie saw the ever-so-slight change in the woman’s cold eyes.

“Why do you hate your daughter so much as to-”

“How dare you!” Elizabeth shot up out of her chair.

“Sit down, Mrs. Emerson!”

“I will not! How dare you say that I hate my own daughter!”

“Sit. Down!” Jamie stood and began to move around the table.

Elizabeth sat quickly. She had no desire to be man-handled. But had she truly been caught? Had Kate outsmarted her? That thought made her snarl. “My Katherine will not see sense, and she’s losing her mind. I need to show her how to live a good, respectable life. That’s all. That deviant she calls a wife…oh, it’s so disgusting. It should never be allowed to happen.”

“So you tried to have CJ killed? That seems a tad over-dramatic.” Jamie was not succeeding in keeping the anger from her voice, so she paced the room for a moment to recover her senses.

“Over-dramatic? No…”

“Oh, so you don’t deny it?” Ethan asked.

“Well, of course I do. Only terrible murderers do that sort of thing.”

“Right. So you just pay them to do your dirty work. Tell me, Mrs. Emerson, the large sums of money you withdraw from your bank account on a regular basis…do you have proof of what you used them for?”

“I…what does that have to do with anything?”

“This Darrell fellow says you owe him a lot of money. How were you planning to pay him? Cash or check?”

Elizabeth was about to spit venom. “No comment. Not another word until I see my attorney. I want him here now!”

Jamie sighed silently. Those were the words she hadn’t wanted to hear. She supposed she should have expected it. She and Ethan were surprised they’d gotten anything out of Elizabeth at all. Vernon Betts had said just enough to point the finger at her, but Darrell Gates had hung her out to dry. Apparently, he was the only one who had met her face-to-face when she had hired them, and he had easily picked her out of an identification book full of similar-looking suspects after telling them his cousin had asked him to do a job for a very wealthy client of his. Everything was slowly fitting into place, and Jamie was pretty sure they could build a solid case against all three. The warrant for the insurance broker’s arrest had also been granted. She hoped they could pin something on him too, since he’d put Elizabeth in touch with his criminal cousin.

Jamie was just glad CJ was on enforced leave. She knew her friend would want to be in the thick of this investigation. She also knew that it wouldn’t be allowed, which would make CJ incredibly difficult to handle. Jamie hoped Kate and CJ were somehow finding a way to relax after this latest nightmare, and as she sat at her desk to begin writing up her reports, she looked over at CJ’s chair.

“Life is never dull with you around, DM.” She smiled and thanked her lucky stars that Elizabeth had not been entirely successful in her plans. Jamie had found true friends that she loved here in Los Angeles…and CJ Carson was at the top of that list.

* * * * * *

A couple of days passed in what seemed like a couple of minutes. With their house now looking much more festive, Kate was trying – and succeeding to a degree – to look forward instead of back. Her mother had made her unhappy too many times throughout her childhood and beyond. She was determined that it wasn’t going to happen anymore and had told CJ in no uncertain terms that they were going to get on with their lives and smile as much as possible. CJ had been kept up to date with Elizabeth’s capture, and she knew the woman was in a cell awaiting her arraignment which was scheduled for tomorrow. She hoped Elizabeth would be held in custody until trial. And she hoped they could relax without the worry of a possible visit from Kate’s deranged mother if she was let out on bail.

It was late at night when CJ and Kate had been heartened by the news that Eddie Senior and Jeffrey were putting plans in motion to move to the Los Angeles area and restart their restaurant business somewhere in the gay district of West Hollywood. The two men hadn’t been told about the idea of a guest house being built, but CJ had browsed the Internet with Kate, looking at the possibilities. They’d also had a final quote for the new barn. Construction would begin in four weeks, and once it was done, Nevada would have a beautiful home to share with a new equine friend.

CJ sunk deeper into her thoughts and didn’t notice when Kate leaned on the doorjamb of the bathroom with a razor in her hand. When Kate had helped her in the shower, she had commented dryly about needing a shave.

“Want me to trim anything?”

CJ lay on the bed naked, only the rough plaster-cast marring the most beautiful of pictures. “You’ll just have to cope with my slightly hairy legs for a while. You’re not coming near me with that thing.”

“I can cope fine. It was you who complained about not being able to do your usual preening,” Kate projected from inside the bathroom.

When she didn’t get a response, she switched off the light and returned to the bedroom sans razor. She stood and watched her love for a few seconds until CJ snapped out of her haze. When their eyes met, CJ still seemed miles away, and Kate moved in to kneel on the mattress beside her hip.

“What’re you thinking, CJ?”

“Just about the crash…about how it didn’t have to happen…and about Doug.”

“Are you having nightmares about it?”

“Not that I remember.”

“Do you remember the…impact?” Kate said sadly. They had looked at the photographs Mark brought, but they hadn’t really talked about everything yet: bits and pieces, yes, but there was still some other stuff to discuss.

“No. I remember falling. I was scared. I remember feeling really sick, so sick in my stomach. I was thinking about you and the children, about how I wouldn’t see you again. And then, I started thinking about how you would go on without me, and I was worried because you would suffer. The agony in my heart was too much to bear, and I began to hyperventilate. I dunno. I think I passed out before we hit.”

Kate had covered her mouth with her hand to quell the whimper she couldn’t stop. “That might have saved you.”

“I don’t know,” CJ murmured.

“Your body would’ve been limp if you were unconscious. It might have saved you from more serious injuries…or even-”

“Let’s not go there, Katie. It’s over now, and I don’t want to keep reliving it. I need to stop thinking about it somehow. Will you help me?”

“Yes, but I think it’ll take some time before we both stop thinking about it.”

“Maybe…”

Kate produced the bottle of massage oil she’d brought from the bathroom. “Time for some pampering.”

“That sounds good, but what about the sheets?”

“It’ll be fine. I’ll wash them tomorrow. Just close your eyes and let me take care of you.”

CJ figured Kate needed to concentrate on something other than the thought of her mother trying to destroy her, so she agreed. “All right.”

Kate switched off the bedside lamps and worked by candlelight. The low flicker of the flames combined with the scent of the oils – and CJ – would help her relax too. She began by lifting CJ’s long, dark hair up and over the pillow. Warming some oil in her hands, she delicately started massaging her strong shoulders. “Is that OK?”

“Mmm, yes. It doesn’t hurt. You’re so gentle.”

Kate smiled as she continued with the rhythmic movements, working down over both arms as far as CJ’s injuries would allow. She managed to cover CJ’s long torso without her stunning partner being too much of a distraction, but CJ’s short breaths were hard to miss, so Kate moved past the area between the womanly hips and traversed her longer-than-long legs. Kneading with her thumbs, she dug into the tight muscles above CJ’s knees. A soft grunt escaped CJ’s mouth, making Kate grin.

“You’re enjoying this, huh?”

“Yeah, but you’ve neglected one particular area that needs your attention.”

“I’ll get to it soon,” Kate husked.

And she did get to it. Somehow, her hands were replaced by her mouth, and she ended up kissing her way up CJ’s inner thigh. She nipped at the soft skin and reveled in its warmth. She could smell the welcoming scent of her beloved and felt helpless to resist it. She was drawn into the sweet flesh like a bee to honey, and she extended her tongue to touch CJ’s dark pubic hair. CJ moaned out her acceptance as Kate delved a little deeper.  She couldn’t help but raise her hips off the mattress.

“Oh, Katie. It’s been so long.”

“I know. Just relax.” Kate knew only too well how long it had been since she’d loved CJ this way, and when she began to tenderly suck on her, CJ gasped loudly.

A passionate assault on CJ’s sex followed. Kate was slow and patient, loving and arousing, and CJ was brought to the edge of reason before being allowed to fall into her climax. Kate had an overwhelming need to make her feel something other than pain or stress, and built up the intoxicating pressure once more. When CJ was recovering from her second orgasm, Kate smiled contentedly into the soft, burning flesh at her lips. She backed up a little while CJ basked in her afterglow and visually admired her beautiful body.

A few heartbeats later, CJ moaned with sated pleasure as she opened her eyes and sought out Kate’s face. “What are you doing?” she whispered, still catching her breath a little.

“Just looking, memorizing…analyzing.”

“Any results I should be aware of?”

Kate let out a small chuckle before touching CJ intimately. “Right here…” Her fingertip tickled across CJ’s clit. “We’re really similar, you and me. But your inner labia, they’re more…”

A curious eyebrow lazily crawled up CJ’s forehead. “More what?”

“More…succulent than mine.”

“You make me sound like a piece of steak.”

Kate laughed at the mock indignation on CJ’s face. “You’re much more delicious than a piece of steak. In fact, you make me drool constantly.”

“Feel free to add your juices to…” CJ couldn’t continue and began to laugh lightly.

A toothy smile covered Kate’s face, and she crawled up beside CJ, taking the thin duvet with her. “Are you laughing at me?”

“I’m laughing with you, and maybe laughing a little at your genital comparison class.”

Kate grinned and kissed CJ’s cheek. It felt good to smile after everything they’d gone through. “By all means, laugh away. It’s the best sound in the world.”

“It sure is. Hey, do something for me?”

“Something more…?” Kate feigned exhaustion.

“Not that, smart ass. Can you just move right here, into my left side?”

Kate wriggled her way into position. “Here?”

“Yeah.” CJ had her left arm under Kate’s neck and was now tentatively moving her right over Kate’s body. With a few flinches, she lifted the plaster-cast off the pillow and completed the embrace. A small smile of satisfaction graced her tired features as she closed her eyes.

“Now I’m in your arms,” Kate murmured.

“Right where you belong.”

Sleep came quickly for both of them, and after making it through a most agonizing period of their lives, they both dreamed of a peaceful, love-filled – and hopefully, quiet – Christmas with their children.

In the Carson household, love would conquer hate every time.

.

Epilogue

Vernon Betts and Darrell Gates had left the courtroom and were back in their cells. Defense and prosecution had presented their cases, and it seemed the prosecution had done a grand job of convincing the judge. Both men were remanded in custody, pending trial.

Next on the list was the woman who masterminded the entire thing, and she stood defiantly next to her high-priced and well-publicized attorney during her arraignment. But even he couldn’t get her out on bail. The judge’s voice boomed after the prosecution had once again given their reasons for requesting remand. “Given the severity of these charges, the accused’s financial status, and her likelihood to flee, I see no alternative but to remand her in custody until trial. Next case!”

“Remand? Remand? Do you have any idea who I am?” Elizabeth fumed. “How dare you! This is preposterous! I am innocent. Innocent, do you hear me?”

The sound of the judge’s gavel repeatedly thundered around the cavernous room. “Order! Order in the court!”

“I didn’t do anything wrong! My Katherine needs to be reborn. She needs my help to guide her from the clutches of Hell! That woman has defiled and poisoned her! She must be punished! I just want to heal Katherine! That’s all I ever wanted! You must let me out!”

“Control your client, Mr. Williams. Order!”

Elizabeth’s lawyer tried to placate her as she blindly raved on. “I won’t stand for this sort of behavior! Do you hear me? I’ve tried to make her see! And if that Jason had just done what he was supposed to do in the first place, all of this would never have happened!”

“Officers of the court, get her out of here!” The judge was furious and battered the gavel down again. The murmurs in the viewing area gradually became louder, and two federal agents in the back row stood up in unison.

Jamie’s stomach turned over violently at hearing Elizabeth’s words, and she wrote down the last sentence in her notebook. “Oh, God. What did she do? What did she mean by that?”

Ethan had to think for a moment before he could close his mouth. “I…I don’t know. But Jamie, it sounded like she…I mean, for a long time now she’s been…”

He couldn’t finish the thought, and as his sentence hung in the air, they watched Elizabeth being dragged away by two court officers. As she disappeared through the heavy wooden doors, her shouts faded away.

“I’ll do anything, anything to make her see she’s worth nothing! Nothiiiiing!”

.

The End…

© 2016 StageFreak Productions

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15 comments

  1. I was so excited that the link was teal! I though the story was done. Can’t wait for you to upload! I have truly fallen in love with this story, thank you for writing and sharing it!


    • Hey Erin… episode 12 will be up soon. If you want more updates on the progress etc, feel free to add the Carsons as your Facebook friends 😉 http://www.facebook.com/after.montana
      And thank you for your comments… glad you love the series!


  2. Once again the nutcase has made an appearance! And that little mention of Jason has me wanting to go back and reread from the beginning to see if I missed any clues! I can’t wait to see “mommy dearest” get her comeuppance! Love the struggle with vulnerability that CJ is having, and the corresponding show of strength by Kate. I look forward to more of Sam/Jaime and the Dads! Great work Wendy! Thank you for sharing!


    • Boy, you read that fast! Thanks! 😀
      ‘Mommy dearest’ just GOT her comeuppance… I’m sure the FBI will make sure she doesn’t get away with it.
      Glad you enjoyed yet another crazy episode in the life of the Carsons 😉


  3. Why do I fee the Elizabeth snakes out of this some how?!?! Nice twist with the Jason thing, didn’t see that coming. I love the play on CJ being the strong one when in actuality Katie is just as strong, if no stronger at times. Can’t wait to see where you take the Carson family next. I’m hooked and don’t know what to do with myself until the next episode. Thank you for sharing your wonderful work with us!


    • Thanks for your support, Christine.
      Who knows what’ll happen next? Sometimes the Carsons don’t even tell me until the last minute 😉


  4. Is this truly the last episode or is there more to come? I love this story.


    • Oh no, never the last episode… there’s a half episode in the works for now as I’m going to take a little break soon to write a novel. The Carsons will go on for a long time yet! 😉


      • Oh and thank you for your comment. Glad you are enjoying the series 🙂


      • Oh thank you. I’m excited that it won’t be the last. I’m happy your writing it. Good luck with the novel.


      • 😀


  5. I can’t believe the story arc is finished. It was amazing and very well-written can’t wait for their next adventure.


    • Thanks, Erin 🙂
      Little short story coming next…


  6. I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and continue to look forward to more. I often come back and re-read many of the stories. I just randomly pick one – I’ve probably read them all about 5x now. Thank you for sharing them with your loyal fans. Please don’t give another thought to the negativity of people saying it’s taking you too long to finish the next story – your loyal and grateful fans will always be here. We all lead very busy lives and I, for one, will always be thankful for freely sharing your talents. ~~~ Kit


    • Many, many thanks for your message, Kit! I am so glad you are enjoying the series, and continue to visit on occasion. I do hope to continue with it when my life calms down enough for me to sit by my laptop and invite CJ and Kate back into my mind 😉 Thanks again!



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