Milli still didn’t know how she had gotten home to the Anemone. Milli scowled at the amount of dust that had acquire in her absence. It was horrendous, it was like she hadn’t cleaned her kitchen in years. Grabbing a cloth, Milli was surprised at how thin and threadbare it was. As she scrubbed the counter, the cloth disintegrated in her hand. Cursing silently, she opened the sliding door when she kept more dishtowels only to find they all appeared to have been chewed by mice. The rodents had been into her pantry too. She was disgusted to find the coolers full of spoiled foods and she wondered why Molly hadn’t just thrown everything away before she moved out.
In a huff, she went upstairs to get some towels from the linen cupboards. On the second floor the light kept dimming and flickering as the storm lashed the town. Shaking her head, she was seriously considering moving back to Vegas. Milli almost ignored the sound of footsteps, figuring Mitch or Jackson had come to find her.
“I’m upstairs,” Milli called out while digging through the linens for hand towels to clean the kitchen with. There were cobwebs and cobwebs meant spiders. Marni had hated spiders.
“So you are,” Came a deep voice and Milli’s blood ran cold. She turned to look into the black eyes of Giovanni Valtini. His hand closed around her throat before she could scream.
“I told you not to tell anyone, but you went to your little girlfriend, that cop who wants to send me and my cousin to prison. I will find her, just like I found you.”
She was helpless like a rag doll as he pressed a kiss into her forehead, “You always smelled so sweet, I’m going to miss your cakes.”
Milli clawed at his hand, trying to get him to loosen his grip enough for a single breath of air. She was starting to see spots as her lungs burned for air.
“Don’t kill her yet, cousin, I want to see if she is as much fun as her sisters were.”
Giovanni threw her at Donnie’s feet. Gasping for breath, she couldn’t even cry out as Donnie picked her up by her hair. Milli saw Molly was dead on a bed in one room, Lloyd was on the floor beside her. Milli whimpered in her terror and Donnie laughed evilly.
“Don’t worry, Milli Vanilli Velvet, I am going to take my time with you. I owe it to your mother to be thorough. But first, I think you need a bath.”
Milli jerked awake, bright sunshine was pouring onto her bed from slatted shutters, she had no idea where she was. Her head was pounding with a hangover and she wondered if the nightmare was real or not as she clutched at her throat.
“Easy, Milli, it was just a dream.”
Milli shrieked as she scrambled out of bed. Mack was standing by the window in the same clothes he had worn last night. Looking at herself, Milli didn’t know whether to be freaked out or relieved that she was in the same clothes.
“Close the curtains, please.” Milli begged then stammered, “Why... are y-you... h-here?” He did.
“Do you remember what happened last night?” Mack asked cautiously, sitting on the end of the bed. When she didn’t answer, he revealed, “You had a panic attack in the Aqurium Tunnel at the Arboretum where we were having dinner. Then you drank a whole bottle of wine by yourself while we were having dessert and talking about how you met Mitch and Jackson. Remember? Then you fell asleep, nothing happened, I just stayed because I was worried.”
Milli thought she remembered talking about what happened to Ramona and Roxie, but more than that, she remembered the way he talked about his sailboat, Oahu, and some other island called Alofi. “You said you have a house in Hawaii and a boat called the Windflower.” She wanted to look out the window at the sky but the Gulf of Mexico was out there and she had nearly had a panic attack trying to close the curtains the first afternoon, so she looked at the clock, she only had an hour to get to the studio kitchen.
“Do you need to get ready for the show?” He asked.
“I’ll go.” He stood up.
“Mack, why? Why did you stay?”
“It was my fault you ended up in the tunnel under the aquarium. I knew you would probably have a nightmare, and you did. Are you hung over?” His emerald eyes were so worried for her.
“I’m fine... Thank you... for everything. I really like you, but... but if we date, I’ll never be able to go out on your boat with you or visit your home or your favorite place. I... I just can’t. And I can’t ask you to give up your love of the sea. The way you talked about your dad and him teaching you to sail, the look in your eye when you mentioned your boat... It wouldn’t be fair to you to date me, I could never share any of the things you love.” She chewed her lip. “I’m sorry.”
“Milli, I don’t just love the sea, I love the mountains too.” He started.
“I don’t know, Mack. I can’t even open my curtains to look at the ocean and you own a boat and a beach house. I... I can’t do this right now. I have to get ready to go...”
“Have dinner with me tonight.” He reached out and took her hand, holding it firmly. “And we’ll talk about other things, other places....”
“Just give me a chance?” He asked sincerely. “You don’t have to answer now. Call me when you finish filming, your return ticket isn’t until Friday. Let me show you all the things you can do without going in the water.” He kissed her knuckles. “I’ll see you soon.”
After filming wrapped up for her, Milli caught a cab to the airport. She tried to call Molly, but to her surprise Mack’s voicemail picked up.
“You’ve reached Mack Beal, Blue Water Resort Environmental Project Manager, please leave your name, number, and purpose of your call.”
“Uh hi, I just wanted to say thank you again for staying with me last night. Sorry about the drama. You’re really nice. I hope you find someone who loves oceans and adventure as much as you do. I’m heading home, Bye.”
She hung up and looked at the number, Molly’s name and picture were on the screen but it wasn’t Molly’s number. Her friend and employee had set her up to call Mack by putting Mack’s number under her name. Milli manually dialed Molly’s number.
Giggling as she answered, Molly sang, “HelloooOOOooo.”
“You are no longer my friend, I owe you one, missy! I will get you and your little bump too.” Milli threatened playfully.
Molly laughed. “I knew you liked him and he liked you. Soooo, what did he say when you called him, I mean me.”
“He was in Florida staying only a few miles away. He took me to dinner at an arboretum next to an aquarium. He was asking me about Heith, I got mad and walked away ending up underneath the water in a plex tunnel and I had a panic attack,” Milli summarized. “Then he brought me back to my hotel, I got drunk and passed out, and woke up with him still here. He wants to have dinner again tonight.”
“Ohgosh, that went fast. So when’s the wedding?” Molly had always been a hopeless romantic and Milli had once been the same but the last year and a half had ruined it for her, and as charming as Mack seemed, Milli decided to keep her guard up. They were just too different.
“No wedding plans, Molly. Nothing happened. And no third dinner disaster. I am done filming and I am coming home early rather than go out with him again. I got fourth place, I’m out and I don’t want to see the water everytime I turn a corner. I hate it here.”
“But your flight isn’t for a few days,” Molly pointed out. “Mack will...”
“Molly... I can’t. We’re too different. I hate that he loves the water, he owns a freaking sailboat and a house overlooking the ocean in Oahu....”
“And part of a winery in Canada and a cabin in the Appalachians,” Molly interrupted. “He likes being inland too.”
“Then you marry him!” Milli snapped and hung up on her best friend.
Her phone rang and she snapped as she answered, “What?”
“Milli?” Mitch sounded strange.
“Sorry, Mitch. I had a bad morning. I got kicked before the final round, I’m on my way home,” She grouched. “I’m on standby and Molly is...”
“Milli... listen, you need to come to Hawaii.” Mitch told her calmly. “Aunt Elizabeth had a heart attack.”
“Ohmigawd, I, um, I can’t, Mitch...” Tears ran down her face as she sank against the wall. She had always know Elizabeth would pass away, but Milli realized she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the old woman.
“Milli?” Emerald eyes held her jade ones as Mack took the phone from her, “Hello, it’s Mack Beal... Mitch?” Kneeling in front of her, Mack held her hand. “I’ll see... I’ll try and call you back.” Mack pulled her to her feet, “Come on, honey, we’re going.”
She looked at him with devastated, “I... I... I can’t... the water.” She began sobbing. He held her, guiding her out, as people gave them odd glances. “Then I’ll take you home, and I’ll go get them.”
“But they haven’t called my flight...” Milli murmured.
“You don’t need to worry about that.” He gently wiped her tears. “You’re not going to alone.”
“I don’t understand.” She looked at him, confused.
“Milli, I have a few perks working for Kyle. Perks I have never asked to use until now. I have to be back in Colorado by 8AM Friday, there is plenty of time to take you to Hawaii. We’re taking one of the company jets,” Mack insisted.
“I couldn’t... we’d have to fly over the ocean,” Milli started to panic but Mack interrupted, “Milli, I can bring you back straight back. I’ll be with you the whole time. You’ll be safe. You wouldn’t have to...”
“No...NO!” She pulled away. “I... I can’t...” Her fear washed over her like a tsunami, the thought of being over billions of gallons of water, thousands of miles from land. Her name was paged overhead and she ran away from Mack into the crowd.
“I’m Milli Haywood,” she panted to the gate attendant, holding out her stand-by pass and ID.
“Oh good, we were about to page the next on the list. You have the last seat, Ms. Haywood.” The attendant pointed her down the tunnel as Mack shouted out to her,
She looked back at him with anguish in her eyes and mouthed, “I’m sorry,” then she got on the plane.
Katy met her flight in Grand Junction. They hugged then went out to Katy’s car. The sky in Colorado seemed so much bluer that in Florida, the air was crisp and cold. Snow was shoved into piles of frozen slush on the roadside. The shelf of the great mesa stood red and taupe over the city in the bright afternoon sunlight.
“It looks like it snowed last night.” Milli murmured.
“Mitch called, Aunt Elizabeth is fine, she is giving the doctors fits. Emily is teething and Jackson is so sunburned he looks like a boiled lobster.” Katy said quietly and Milli started crying. “Oh, Trollina, it’s okay. We all know and we understand. Mitch and Jackson are going to bring her back as soon as the doctor says she can fly. Although Elizabeth is insisting on taking a cruise ship back, she said she’s never been on a cruise and its on her bucket list. But Jackson says she just wants to ogle the cabana boys.” Katy laughed, “Mitch is fighting it, he hates boats as much as you hate water but Jacks claims its because he can’t drive them and is a control freak.”
Milli smiled weakly, “I think it might be because he puked all over the deck when they sailed on Lake Mead with Bill.”
Katy nodded, “Yeah, I remember Bill whining like a little girl about his beautiful boat.”
“Bill has tried for years to get me to go out with him,” Milli sighed. “How is the investigation going?”
“I got the scene processed, I am sure we will get him on the DNA once the baby is born. I’m leaving to go back to Castle tomorrow. I stashed a copy of my stuff at your house. Just in case. Chain of possession be damned. Can you get it to Bill if anything happens to me? I don’t know who I can trust except maybe Tank.”
Milli turned to look at her, “Tank? As in Sheriff Tanner?” Katy had always had a thing for older men.
Katy shrugged, “He’s... nice.” Then she wiggled her eyebrows, “Very nice.”
Barking a laugh, Milli shook her head. “Isn’t he like forty something?”
“Something like that,” Katy sounded snug. “But he is so gorgeous.”
“And he is in a long term relationship with my friend Camille.” Milli warned.
“Now, we both know they fake date. Besides, I might have daddy issues but I always get my man,” Katy giggled.
“Omigawd, just don’t. I like Sheriff Tank. He’s a very nice guy.”
“No, you like Deputy Humpy.” Katy grinned, “I don’t blame you. I mean, damn they have a lot of hotties in uniform in Pagosa County, they should do a calendar.”
Milli scowled at her. “You and your obsession with those things is disturbing.”
Katy smirked, “I like glossy beefcake... and I think I am developing a taste for free range cowboy beef. Say, where can I drop you where no one will notice? When we get back to Pagosa Cliffs, I have to go to my hotel and check out tonight then head to the crime lab in Castle... And honestly, I am sure I am being watched.”
“No problem.” Nodding, Milli pulled out her phone and called Molly after a brief conversation she looked back to Katy. “Can you drop me at Molly’s house? She lives outside of town. That way no one will see us together. She can take me back to the Anemone tomorrow.”
“Sure thing,” Katy pulled into a fast food drive through. “Dinner is on me, but you have to tell me everything you know the beautiful Thomas the Tank Tanner, ex-NFL Probowl offensive lineman and current Sheriff McHottie. And I mean all the good gossip stuff that I know you’ve heard.”
“Seriously?” Milli rolled her eyes.
“Come on, Milli, I know you don’t gossip but I also know, you’re just like Marni and hear everything. So spill on my future husband.” Katy turned her head to the order box, “Yeah I’ll have two double cheese steaks, large home fries, large onion rings, and a jumbo cranberry lemonade. Whatta ya eatin’, Trollina?”
“Crispy chicken, onion rings, and ice tea.” Milli shook her head as the huge bag was handed out to them. Then she talked as they drove almost five hours back to Pagosa Cliffs.
Molly and Milli hugged Katy goodbye and watched her drive away. Molly took Milli inside the small cottage that had replaced the Durham homestead. “So what happened with Mack?”
“I... I just couldn’t.”
“I couldn’t take the ocean from him.” Milli let a tear glide down her face. “He loves building water resorts, he loves sailing and surfing and looking out at the ocean from his house in Oahu. He spent twenty minutes talking about his favorite place called Alofi Island. I don’t even know where that is.”
“But he really likes you,” Molly insisted.
“I know and I like him, but I won’t take the thing he loves most from him because I am a coward who can’t get over my fear. Besides, he is friends with Heith Rowling. Oh Molls, I just have no luck in love.” Milli sighed.
“There’s always Lloyd,” Molly said hopefully.
“Don’t, I can’t go through that yo-yo again. Lloyd and I are just friends and nothing more.” Milli yawned as she said it.
“Let’s go to bed and we’ll head to the bakery in the morning,” Molly offered, “I already made the guestroom.”
Milli called Jackson’s mom’s house on Molly’s landline at midnight.
“Good afternoon, Princess,” He said with a smile. Somewhere in the house, she could hear Emily’s happy babbling and Mitch’s rich voice.
“Hey Jackson, I’m be back at the bakery in the morning.”
“Why didn’t you fly out with that green-eyed celtic adonis?”
“Jacks, don’t start.”
Jackson huffed, “Mack took really good care of you, he’s a keeper. I so ship it. But what would a good ship name be? Millick? Milack? Maclli? Mackilli?”
Wondering just how much he had drank, Milli scowled. “Honestly Jackson, you’re such a teenage girl.”
“I know I am but what are you?” Jackson taunted back.
“We’re just friends, Jacks.” Milli groaned tiredly.
“Friends don’t offer to fly friends across a continent and an ocean. Details. Does he kiss like the Highland god he is? Is he packing? Did he wear his kilt for you? Because you know they don’t wear anything under those.” Jackson was babbling nonsense and Milli knew something was up.
“Jacks, what is going on?” Milli demanded.
Mitch must have come in holding Emily who screeched ‘Momma’ in a tone that vibrated Milli’s ear like a church bell.
Jackson’s voice quietly shared the bad news. “It’s Katy. Dad called and told us someone tried to kill her last night. They beat her almost to death, then they burned down the house of the girl that she thought Donnie Valtini had raped. Katy’s in a coma. Mack called to see if we had heard from you... The girl is in hiding because they think the Valtinis are in Pagosa Cliffs.”
Mitch added, “You need to leave and go to Bill’s in Vegas now. Katy told dad that you were still baking for them, trying to help her track them after another rape. How could you Milli? You know how dangerous they are,” Mitch scolded, Milli knew she was on speaker and kept her tone level for Emily’s sake.
“I also know she’s just Donnie’s type, Marni 2.0, just like Bill predicted. And now she’s pregnant.”
“When did you see them last?” Mitch demanded.
“On New Year’s Eve, I was at their house in Colorado. Giovanni was there and other members of other crime families. I made a cake then they locked me in a room until morning after some guy from the party tried to molest me and Giovanni flattened him. The next morning, he took me to the kitchen and watched while I made his favorite cake. He calmly told me I was the only one who could make it like his grandmother and that it was the only reason he let me live. Donnie came in and had a slice and told me all about my life in Pagosa, about your visits, Emily, even who the town gossips think I am dating. Katy was trying to find Giovanni and I was the only link to him she had after we found out about Tiana’s rape.” Milli explained. “And...”
“And what?” Mitch demanded.
“And Giovanni saw me in New York after the Steampunk cakes shoot. I... I can place him at the scene of a murder.”
“Are you trying to get killed?” Mitch demanded angrily.
“What was I supposed to do, Mitch? No one did anything when Diva sold Roxie to him. Only Katy and Bill chased down the leads when Ramona was murdered. I know in my heart it was Donnie Valtini who raped Tiana, even without the DNA, and if anyone could stop them, it’s Katy. She must have gotten close, or someone told them why she was here. If she was attacked here then Donnie and Giovanni did it or had it done.” Milli said with as much certainty as she could muster.
Mitch made a sound like he was trying not to start swearing. There was a long pause before Jackson said, “So what now?”
Milli listened to Emily’s sweet voice as it sounded like she was playing with a toy. “I wait for them to call and we pray to God that the police can catch them quickly and before anyone else gets hurt.”