“Could it be the same guy?” Camille wavered on her feet, she looked like she was going to be ill. The realization made her feel faint. The bookie who had threatened to kill Kris, who had provided the strippers that looked like her and her sister so Kris could blackmail his brothers. He was the same person who they suspected of raping Tiana. How could one person be the source of destruction in so many lives?
“Same last name. Valtini was the name of Kris’ bookie, I never learned his first name.” Kyle pulled her into his arms, promising, “He won’t hurt Tiana again. He won’t get the chance to hurt her or our girls.” He looked up at the sheriff who was scowling. “Don’t worry about the team, Tanner. My crew protected us when the resort in Costa Rica got attacked by anti-government anarchist, they can handle this. You get that bas*tard, I’ll keep them safe.”
“I’ll let the FBI know that Tonia is missing and several accounts she had access to have been skimmed. We have to assume they are going to want Tiana in protective custody,” Tank said through gritted teeth. “But I think I can stall them till after the Nationals, if you have your people with them. Hightower, I am counting on you to protect them until I can catch Valtini.”
“Thomas, so you really think Tonia would go to him for blackmail and risk getting murdered?” Camille demanded coldly, she may hate the other mother, hate her for what she put her daughter through, but she didn’t wish her murdered. She wanted justice for Tiana, she wanted Tonia to spend the rest of her life in a concrete box.
“I don’t know, Cam, but I think it is best that we don’t say anything to Tiana until we know for sure. Let her think her mother took off because of the guilt over what happened, it would be easier than what we suspect.”
“Her own mother, I can’t even…” Camille breathed out, tears leaked from her eyes, it was too horrible to even imagine. Kyle tightened his arms around her as Tank squeezed her shoulder.
“Come on, your girls are waiting with Lloyd. I need a stiff drink but a black coffee will have to do before I head to the station.” Tank glanced at the printouts Kyle made, then turned on his heel and walked out, leaving Kyle and Camille alone.
“You can let go now,” Camille looked up at Kyle when he didn’t move to follow.
He smirked, slightly before his serious expression returned. “I will never let go of any of you again. I promise I will keep you safe.”
“He’s a criminal, Kyle.”
“And I’m a man who lost everything I love because of him. He won’t hurt our family again. I need you to trust me, Cami.” His deep blue eyes held an intensity she had never seen and a promise she wanted to believe, so she said what she knew he wanted to hear and wished her heart meant it.
As they walked over to the café just down from the school, it was snowing with giant fluffy flakes that turned the world pristine looking. Kyle called someone named Mack and ordered the arrangements to be made. His plane and private security force would be there tomorrow. The three of them agreed; the story would be that because his daughters were on the team, he was offering the extra protection with mention of Tiana’s situation or Tonia’s involvement.
As Tank left he squeezed Camille’s hand. “Don’t worry about her squirreling out of this. I am going to call in a favor and get us a real CSI to go over Tonia’s house with a fine toothcomb. You just keep her mind on other things so she doesn’t stress out and hurt the baby.”
“You do your job and I’ll do mine.” Camille’s eyes had an intensity that they usually only got before a competition.
Willow and Gracie waited with their teammates, while Camille, Kyle, and Tank talked to the parents about the extra security. Gracie scowled at the door the adults had gone through.
“What do you think is going on?” Willow murmured.
Gracie sighed. “Do you promise not to get pissed?”
“Pissed because they know who raped Tiana and haven’t caught him? Or pissed because they haven’t told us?” Willow grumbled quietly.
“Pissed because they think we can’t handle the truth, and hired a bunch of professional baby sitters, and pissed because you think they think we can’t protect ourselves and T,” Gracie answered angrily.
The cousins raised as sisters both frowned, they were smart girls who had self-defense training and knew what dangers lurked in the world. “If Dad bought private security then he’s worried and we need to figure out who and why?”
“You think there is more to the guy who got at Tiana than him just being some dude Ms Ballard met off the internet?” Willow wondered quietly as she glanced over at the two large armed men by the door.
“That’s exactly what I think. I also think Mom made Dad and Uncle Tank let the team go to Nationals,” Gracie’s mind was good at puzzles and mysteries. “I wonder if it has something to do with why we haven’t seen or heard from T’s mom and what happened to our fundraising money.”
“One of us needs to be with Tiana every moment we aren’t on the boards,” Willow glanced around the room suspiciously. Tiana was looking at something on Riley’s phone and they were giggling.
Gracie sighed and shifted in the plastic chair. “I’m just glad Dad has a plane and a hotel we can use.”
Willow glanced sideways at Gracie, “How does it feel?”
“Calling him Dad. Is... is it nice?”
“Yah.” Gracie smiled wanly and squeezed Willow’s hand, “Maybe you should try it.”
“But he isn’t my dad, and calling him Uncle Kyle feels weird,” Willow fidgeted with the drawstrings on her team hoodie as she looked out at the falling snow. “You wouldn’t mind, sis?”
“Mi padre es su padre,” Gracie giggled and Willow rolled her eyes. Gracie grinned at her, “Hey, we’re already sharing a mom, a bathroom and a wardrobe, what’s the big deal about adding a dad to it? As long as you don’t expect me to share your boyfriends, we’re good. I mean Willy’s cute but ewww....”
Willow screeched and jumped Gracie, clapping her hand over her mouth, Gracie retaliated by tickling her. Tiana came over as they wrestled, and Gracie demanded, “Help me, T. I’ll hold her while you tickle her.”
“D... do... Don’t... You… Daare!” Willow got out between screeches of laughter.
Tiana suddenly began tickling Gracie and it was two against one, most of the team just glanced at them and went back to their phones, except Mara who was recording them.
“Sorry, mom,” the three chorused then started giggling again.
“What is going on?” Camille demanded.
“She started it,” Willow and Gracie pointed at each other.
Tiana raised her arms in an exaggerated shrug, “They made me.”
Camille threw her hands up in the air, “Monsters...”
Grinning, Kyle pointed out to the tarmac, “The jet is here.”
The teenagers rushed to the windows to watch the deep blue CONVAIR 580 taxiing toward the terminal, they chattered excitedly.
“It’s the same color as our uniforms,” Riley gushed happily.
“Get your bags,” Camille ordered.
“Yes, Coach Wally.” They chorused excitedly as she flashed Kyle a grateful smile.
“We have about 20 minutes while they refuel the plane. These guys will put your bags on then we can...” Kyle stops, staring at the plane, under his breath, he mutters, “Oh no...”
“Who is that?” One of the kids blurted out.
A beautiful woman in fur cuffed boots and a matching fur coat, stepped out of the plane, walking purposefully toward the terminal. She walked in, looked around and strode haughtily up to Kyle, who looked furious.
“Hello, darling,” Her voice was velvet smooth, and as perfect as her features. Camille could only swallow the sudden dryness in her throat. Sophia Varda was even more beautiful than her pictures. Camille just walked away to deal with her team, she had been taught to never show a rival your insecurity.
“Mack, get Coach Wallace and the team loaded,” Kyle growled. “What the hell were you doing on my plane, Sophia?”
“Oh Kyle, don’t be mad. I knew you missed your fiancée, so Carl was nice enough to let me come so I can fly with you back from wherever this is.” Sophia cooed.
“I did not miss you. You are not my fiancée, and you are violating a restraining order,” Kyle clenched his fist.
“Oh mi Amor, I know you didn’t mean that dreadful piece of paper,” She waved her hand around, “What are you doing with all these children?”
“All these children are the Blue Wings swim and dive team, they are getting on my plane to fly to Florida, and since we will be at capacity, you will have to find your own way back to whomever you’re living off,” Kyle announced firmly.
“You can’t be serious, Kyle. I mean does this place even have charter service?” she looked around as if offended at the thought of remaining in Pagosa Cliffs.
“I am serious, Sophia. Find your own way,” Kyle turned coldly away from her.
Sophia grabbed his arm, “You can’t leave me in this... this place?”
“Hey, bimbo. Get your hands off my dad,” Gracie gives Sophia the ‘up and down’ then rolled her eyes as she folded her arms and cocked her head.
“Excuse me?” Sophia’s look of shock is priceless. “Your dad?”
“I’m sorry, did my sister stutter?” Willow takes Kyle’s opposite side with a hand planted on her hip after she picks up Sophia’s hand and pushes it away. A vicious half-smirk plays on her lips. “What ’cha think, T? Reals or floats?”
Tiana walks around Sophia like a circling shark. “Floats, definitely floats.”
Sophia looks confused as they snicker, “Floats?”
“Personal flotation devices,” Gracie said sweetly.
Then Willow poked Sophia in the side of her left breast. “Oh they’re so squishy.”
Sophia backed away quickly, looking offended. Kyle swallowed several times to keep from laughing. He had never realized how sadistic teenage girls could be.
Tiana gives Sophia a look that says she’s trash, then announces, “Fake boobs, boring monotone nails, and last year’s Prada, I am so glad your dad didn’t pick this one.”
“Us, too,” Gracie and Willow chorus.
“Do you know who I am?” Sophia hissed, getting angrier by the second.
“Yah, we saw your hemorrhoid ad.” Willow looked unimpressed.
“And your laxative ad.” Gracie continued, “I suppose models need product sponsors too. But you know if you worked out and ate properly you wouldn’t need either of those.”
“Coach Wallace says proper diet is important to total health.” Tiana added, tapping one of Gracie’s beautifully done art nails on her lips, “She needs vitamins for her hair, skin, and nails.”
“And regular exercise. Honestly, what is your BMI? Negative to the ‘you need a snickers bar’?” Willow asked.
“Who do you think you are?” Sophia was shaking with rage.
Kyle felt like he was watching lionesses circling a wounded gazelle on the nature channel. If he didn’t love his daughter and niece before, he did now. He could barely keep from laughing.
“We’re going to be Olympians.” Gracie grinned smugly at her.
“Yah. We’re gonna grow up to be real women, Floats,” Willow added, and the three of them gave her the’ up and down’ disappointed look again.
“With real body parts.” Tiana finished, “Vertical skills and confidence.”
“Not like you.” Gracie waved her finger to indicate what Sophia was wearing.
“Girls, get on the plane,” Camille’s voice calls out to them as she walks back in. The three teens headed out to the plane, giggling about roasting and how easy it was. Camille turned to Kyle and his obviously angry ‘friend’ and smiled, introducing herself. “Hello, I’m Coach Wallace.”
They just stared at Camille, who let her hand drop. “Kyle, is there a problem?”
Smirking, Kyle answered before Sophia could, “Nope, no problem, the girls are just being girls. Coach Camille Wallace, this is Sophia...”
“Sophia Varda, Kyle’s fiancée,” Sophia interrupted quickly. She was surprised when Camille didn’t even blink at her proclamation, she had this calm confidence of self-assurance Sophia wasn’t used to.
Camille just smiled pleasantly at Sophia, nodding, “Nice to meet you, Ms Varda.”
“You are not my fiancée, Sophia, and if you want a ride back to what you would call civilization, you will quit introducing yourself that way,” Kyle retorted angrily.
“Now Kyle, we have Ms Ballard’s seat open and in this weather, it is a two hour trip to Durango or four to Grand Junction. She is welcome to join us,” Camille offered kindly, “If you don’t mind the noise, that is, Ms Varda. The kids are very excited, last year we flew commercial. But Kyle was kind enough to loan the team his jet.”
Sophia didn’t know how to react to the shorter woman, who seemed completely nonplussed by her. Usually women treated her with something like hatred or envy but Coach Wallace simply looked at her calmly, as if waiting for an answer. “I... thank you?”
“Fine! If you are okay with it, Camille, then she can hitchhike along,” Kyle acquiesced.
Camille tipped her head, “Why wouldn’t I be? She needs a ride and we have a seat. It would be terribly rude to leave her stranded. Come on, I’ll find you a seat next to one of our chaperons.”
Mack was standing there with his jaw hanging, Sophia glared at him as she brushed past behind Camille. He turned back to Kyle who was staring after them.
“Uhhh, is this going to be a problem boss?”
“Gawd, I hope not. Let’s go, and Mack?”
“Fire Carl when we get back.”
Mack chuckled. “Not his fault boss the concierge at Oceanpoint put her on the plane.” He pulled the door shut and secured it.
“My jets are for my highest end clients, not my stalker.” Kyle realized that even after 10 years Sophia was still getting past his attempts to avoid her by using his employees. He was afraid he was going to have to start firing people for real.
Camille sat quietly as the co-pilot gave the safety instructions, when he got to the part about using seat cushions as a flotation device, all the girls on the team burst out laughing, snickering and whispering. Next to her, Sophia huffed angrily. Sighing Camille stood up, looking back at the team, she face was completely expressionless. She blinked once and the kids became silent. Mack and Kyle looked at each other. Camille sat back down as the co-pilot announced they would be taking off momentarily.
“Sorry, they’re teenagers.” Camille said calmly.
“They are good at it,” Sophia grumbled. After about half an hour of silence, she asked, “Coach Wallace, do you have any children?”
“Yes, my daughters and foster daughter are on the team. Do you have any children, Ms Varda?”
“Oh no, children would ruin my body and my career. Modeling was my life till I met Kyle, then we had a little misunderstanding and he left, but he came back after his fling with you.”
Camille said nothing.
“Yes, I know who you are. I can’t believe you gave up your career for kids he didn’t even want,” Sophia hissed.
Camille smiled sadly at her, almost like she pitied Sophia. “Ms Varda, I dived in the Olympics 15 months after I gave birth, earned two bronze medals. My Sports Illustrated cover sold out only six months later. Having children changed nothing about my life except for making it more worthwhile. It’s all about how bad you want it and how hard you are willing to work for it. I didn’t need someone to prop me up or pay my way. I have almost everything I could ever want. My family, my career, my...”
“He’ll come back to me. You may have his twins but it won’t last, I know it is just a matter of time before Kyle gets bored playing daddy,” Sophia interrupted, her voice whiny. Her face had twisted into ugliness, and she reminded Camille of a banshee painting she’d seen in the UK.
Camille sighed, unconcerned, “If that’s what he wants. Excuse me, I am going to check my team.” Camille stood up, glancing down at her. “Look, Sophia. I really don’t know anything about you except that you hurt Kyle very badly. He never really mentioned you when I knew him before the girls were born or recently, I’m sorry. If he wants to go back to you, that’s fine with me. I only compete in the water.”
Sophia gaped after her as Camille walked back to where the team was sitting. The Convair jet held 30-40 passengers. There were a few empty seats. She didn’t even acknowledge Kyle as she walked past.