Antonia Ballard sat by the Blue Water Oasis Indoor Pool in Vegas like royalty. One of her old friends had set her up with a new identity, Antoinette Antonia Martinique, after her favorite French queen and the place she always wanted to live, the place she would live soon. Once she had Donnie’s money, she would find a small place on the island and let the wealthy tourists support her. Another ‘old friend’ had brokered selling Donnie’s Audi. She couldn’t take the beautiful car with her when she left the country so why not turn it into a little pocket money. It made her smugly happy to think about Donnie and Gio’s reaction to finding her, the car, and everything of value from the house gone. Donnie’s watch collection alone would buy her anything she needed to start her new life including some cosmetic adjustments. She would be comfortable for many years.
Tonia had checked the local media and FB feeds back home. There was some buzz about Doreen Wallace being in a car accident and curiosity about why the Wallace family hadn’t returned after spring break.
Rumors were abundant about the fire that burned Tonia’s house, but nothing in the gossip vines about the Valtinis. The only clue she had about what was really going on in Pagosa Cliffs was a single post by Tiana, saying she was living with her dad for the rest of the school year in the South Pacific and she was forever grateful to the Wallace family for taking her in. The gossip about Tonia herself was less than flattering, many were calling her a con artist, and suggesting she was everything from an arsonist to a whore. It made her laugh at the clueless biddies who had once believed themselves to be her friends.
As she wandered back to her suite, an argument at the front desk drew her attention. Sophia Varda was yelling at the desk staff. Tonia listened for a few minutes and quickly got the idea that Kyle Hightower had his ex-fiancé banned from his properties. Tonia saw an opportunity in the other woman’s humiliation.
“Excuse me but aren’t you Sophia Varda?” Tonia purred. “I’m Tonia, Tonia Martinique. I’m your friend from Colorado, where Kyle is building his new resort.”
Sophia seemed flustered, “Oh yes. We’ve been emailing. It is nice to meet you but I have a bit of a problem to deal with right now.” Her eyes narrowed as they slanted back toward the concierge. This was the fourth of Kyle’s American resorts he wasn’t at and he wasn’t in Colorado at the new development. No one had seen him there in a week.
Tonia stepped in to play the heroine. “Young man, you said Ms. Varda was not allowed to take a room but could she stay in my suite with me?”
“I am not sure. Mr. Hightower is unavailable and can’t be reached. I don’t...” The concierge started but Tonia held up her hand to stop him.
“My suite is already paid up for the next two days and as a friend of both Ms. Varda and Mr. Hightower, I insist she stay with me until this can be cleared up. Have her bags brought up immediately and send up a masseuse in an hour.”
“I couldn’t impose,” Sophia insisted.
“Nonsense.” Tonia turned and gave Sophia a sad smile, “My daughter won’t be joining me, so I have the extra bedroom. We have a lot to talk about, you and I.” Then she lead the waifish model toward the elevators. After the door closed, Tonia explained, “We have to discuss how to get your fiancé and my daughter back from that bi*tch Camille Wallace.”
The room was lavish, exactly what Sophia was used to. As she lay, getting the massage Tonia had arranged for her, Sophia thought about what Tonia had told her. Kyle had left Florida and disappeared. Now she knew where he went. He had taken her rival, her daughters, and Tonia’s daughter to his resort in Cancun. Tonia suspected he had a house nearby and wasn’t at the resort itself. All they had to do was find it. She would show Kyle that the manipulative Coach Camille was just using him the way she was using poor Tonia’s daughter to further her Olympic coaching career. She suspected it was Camille who had convinced Kyle to slander her in the press. Sophia forced herself not to grimace and give herself wrinkles, she would make Camille pay and Tonia would help her. She waved the masseuse away and wrapped a fluffy sapphire blue robe around her nakedness.
Tonia was sitting on a chair looking out the balcony, glass of wine in hand. A picture of a lovely girl on a diving board was displayed on Tonia’s phone lying on the table behind her. Tonia looked ready to cry as she sipped white wine. Sophia was glad she never had children, she would hate being that vulnerable because of another.
“Tonia, I was thinking about what you said. I want to help you get your daughter back and prove what a terrible person Camille Wallace really is. Kyle will come back to me, he always does, but what she has done to you, the way she manipulated your daughter into choosing her over you. I can’t imagine what it must feel like. If you can find them, we can use my father’s private plane to get her back,” Sophia offered benevolently.
Tonia smiled at her gratefully, “Really Sophia? You’d do that for me?”
Sophia nodded, “Of course. Women like us need to unite against people like this Coach Wallace. I am going to make some calls and tomorrow we will be in Mexico.”
As Sophia closed the door to her bedroom, Tonia smiled into her wineglass, it was almost too easy.
Camille sat vigil again, only this time instead of holding Willamina’s hand, she was holding Kyle’s. Listening to the machines breathing for him and the quiet ping of his heart monitor, she had run out of tears. She was so tired, and tired of losing those she loved. Looking across his bed, Willow and Gracie were asleep on a loveseat they had dragged in from the waiting room. None of the three of them had been back to school this week and the only time they had left the hospital was to see Tiana and Lloyd off at the airport. Tiana was going to live with her father for a while. Lloyd was taking a well earned vacation.
Gramma Doreen was back at the ranch, Kyle’s foreman Mack and Mr. Benton helping her with the chores and calves. Her Gramma had regaled the nurses with stories of the ‘city yankees’ almost getting killed by the mama cows before she hosted a charity Bingo night for the hospital. Tank had visited everyday when he came to visit Katy. The feisty CSI had barely been awake a week and went back to work today. Something in the case evidence had turned Katy’s focus to Tonia, and she wanted Tonia arrested as badly as Camille did.
Every time Camille closed her eyes, she relived that day. Donnie’s mocking statements and Giovanni’s strange confession echoed over and over like the song one could stop hearing. Her new nightmares had replaced her old ones, now it was Kyle she failed to keep alive instead of Mina. She laid her forehead on the back of Kyle’s hand and tried to imagine the underwater room and the pair of blue tangs dancing over their pebble nest. She failed.
Tears leaked from her eyes as she thought about what the doctors had said. Kyle had lost more than half his blood, he had double pneumonia from inhaling the river water, and one of his lungs had collapsed in flight as the AirRescue tried to get him to Durango. One of several broken ribs had punctured his left lung. If she had done chest compression on him while she was breathing for him, she would have killed him. She almost had killed him and he may still die.
If she had just killed Donnie instead of trying to distract him while Gracie and Tiana escaped, Donnie never would have had the chance to drag Kyle over the falls. It was her fault. Just like not going over to Mina’s that night and keeping her from going toward the airport was her fault. Just like asking her parents to fly them to their grandparent’s ranch in Colorado was her fault. If they had driven like Willamina wanted to, their dad wouldn’t have offered to fly Beau’s parents over to Vegas for the weekend. No plane would have meant their parents stayed with them and they wouldn’t have all perished in a plane crash caused by windshear. The eddy of her guilt sucked all her hope away and replaced it with condemnation, how long until she lost Gracie or Willow? How long until her selfish demands ruined their lives more than her poor choices already had?
Kyle’s hand twitched and she jerked her red eyes up to his face. He was looking at her, choking and panicked, then his eyes squeezed shut in pain.
“Kyle? Ohmigawd, NURSE!” Camille shouted.
Willow and Gracie both jumped to his bedside. “Dad?” they chorused.
As he started to thrash, Camille held his shoulders down and begged, “Don’t move, please don’t move. I love you Kyle, I’ll marry you, just don’t move. Don’t die.”
Hands dragged her away from him. Camille and the girls were rushed out of the room as alarms screamed. Nurses and doctors rushed into and out of the room for several terrifying minutes but to Camille it felt like days as both hands clutched over her mouth to keep the sobs in. It felt like it had each time Willamina had coded while she was pregnant with Willow, the eternal wait for grief or relief. She couldn’t do it anymore, she couldn’t wait for them to tell her it was time to let go again, so she fled. Willow and Gracie shouted after her but neither gave chase as the stairwell door closed behind their broken mom. They stayed firmly by Kyle’s door, both praying and holding on to each other like they had since they were small. He would make it, he would, they both tried so hard to believe it.
Suddenly there was silence, except for the murmuring of voices in Kyle’s room.
“OMIGAWD, He’s...he’s.. D-d,” Gracie stammered.
But Willow cut her off viciously. “Don’t! Don’t say it, don’t even think it! He’s not dead. He can’t be.”
Together they sank to the floor by the door, hugging each other tighter. The doctors and nurses began leaving to room, most of them ignored the two cowering teen but one knelt down and smiled gently at them.
“You can go in now, your dad’s fine. He just panicked a little when he woke up with the breathing tube in. It happens almost every time. His throat is going to be a little sore, but don’t give him any water yet. I’ll be back with some ice chips. Okay?”
They nodded in tandem as they bolted upright. Peeking around the corner, a doctor was leaning over Kyle listening to his chest. Kyle weakly raised a hand to them and they rushed forward, both seizing the hand like a lifeline.
“Are you okay, dad?” Gracie blurted out.
“Can you breathe, dad?” Willow added.
“Does your leg hurt?” Gracie continued.
“Do your ribs still hurt?” Willow demanded.
“How do your lungs feel?” Gracie put in.
“Can we go home now?” Willow finished.
The Doctor chuckled then explained. “He’s not quite ready for twenty questions girls, but he will be fine. His lungs sound good, the infection is clearing nicely and he’s healing very well. Just take it easy on him for a few weeks and no more cliff diving for three to six months.”
Gracie and Willow gave the doctor bright, grateful smiles which faltered when he asked his next question.
“Where’s your mother? I need to inform her of a few things.”
“Uh, she went outside,” Gracie said at the same time as Willow said, “She went to get some air.”
“Hmmm, I see. Well, have the nurses buzz me when she gets back from having her outside air.”
After the doctor left, Kyle choked out. “Where is she?”
Gracie chewed her lip as Willow answered, “We don’t know. She’s been having nightmares about you dying. I think she thought you were dying and she kinda ran away.”
“H-how do.. You?” Kyle started slowly, his throat felt like he had gargled broken glass.
“How did we know?” Gracie interrupted and he nodded, that hurt worse than trying to talk and he winced. Both girls shared a pained look in sympathy. “Don’t talk dad, the nurse is bringing you some ice chips”
He made a gesture with his hand at them then touched his temple.
“We know because when mom’s nightmares are really bad, she talks in her sleep.” Willow started. “Sometimes she has to take valium to sleep.”
“She blames herself for what happened to you. Just like she blames herself for what happened to Aunt Mina,” Gracie continued.
“She was sure you were going to die on her too,” Willow finished sadly.
Both girls suddenly went teary eyed and he raised his arms to embrace them.
“But your ribs?” Gracie pointed out, concerned.
“It’s.. okay. Just be gentle,” Kyle whispered, he kissed their dark hair as each carefully put a cheek on his shoulder. “I love you, girls.”
“We love you, dad.” They chorused back, sniffing away tears of joy.