Willow stood on the 10M diving platform next to Gracie. They were just off today. Every dive was just slightly out of sync and it was just getting worse. Gracie sat down at the edge of the platform and stared at the water. Their mom had seemed distant, tired when they got home yesterday. Camille had gone to bed early after making dinner, which she didn’t eat. They had both woke to their mother crying out in her sleep, and listened as she made a cup of tea in the early dawn hours.
“Do you think the therapist will be able to get Mom back?” Willow asked as she sat down next to her.
“I don’t want her back...” Gracie started to say as Willow stared at her shocked.
“Are you crazy?” Willow blurted out.
“AS. I. WAS. Saaaaying.” Gracie snapped. “I don’t want her back, I want her better. Mrs. Pence says, better isn’t a miracle or magic cure, better is a choice.”
“Oh,” Willow sagged, “Sorry.”
“Forgiven,” Gracie bumped her sister’s shoulder, “How did your session with Mrs. Pence go?”
“Not good, she says I am temperamental and need to learn to deal with my frustration in a less harsh and non-linguistic manner,” Willow answered.
“In other words, learn to keep your cool and don’t use words as weapons?” Gracie teased.
“Whatev... What did she tell you?” Willow demanded.
“That I am delightfully optimistic and trusting, with a positive outlook and well grounded decision making skills who always sees the good in any situation, and have empathy for others,” Gracie grinned as she said it, “Unlike you.”
Willow scowled at her. “I hate you.”
“I love you.” Gracie stood up and dropped off the platform, effortlessly tumbling through the air until she punched a splashless hole in the water.
When she surfaced, Willow shouted down at her. “Seriously, I hate you.”
Gracie laughed and shouted back, “She also said I need to help you develop a more positive outlook and I still love you.”
“I am going to drown you, mermaid girl!”
“Bring it, sea monster!”
Willow flashed her a rude gesture then did the exact same dive. Gracie was laughing as she swam fast to the far end of the pool, Willow surfaced in hot pursuit. In the shallows, they wrestled until their substitute coach whistled.
“Out of the pool, sea monsters.”
“Yes Gramma!” They chorused innocently.
Doreen just raised an eyebrow at the giggling pair with a slow shake of her head, they were just like their mothers.
“You don’t have to do this Tank,” Katy’s voice was uncertain.
“I want to, Kit-Kat.” He held her in his hands. “Just one step for me, baby.”
Katy couldn’t bear weight on the arm on the side where her collar bone was still healing, and she was already sweating from pushing weights with only her legs. At her back, Tank held her firmly against his broad chest. Carefully she shifted her weight onto her damaged leg. Giovanni Valtini had twisted her thigh till her femur broke. The doctors called it a spiral break. Tank knew it was the kind of injury an abused child got from having their arm twisted, that is was done to an adult woman’s leg showed just how strong the criminal was, and how lucky Katy was that worse wasn’t done to her. The doctors had broken the bone the rest of the way and pinned it but the dozens of tiny fractures meant it was healing slowly.
Katy gritted her teeth. The pain was burning in the healing fractures as she swung her good leg forward. Tank murmured encouragement in her ear and she struggled to lift and move the broken one. One step, then another, then a third. He had her before she even began to fall. Panting in pain, she started to laugh.
“And they said it would be another month before you walked again,” Tank murmured encouragingly in her ear.
Turning her head Katy grinned up at him, she mouths something silently.
“What did you say, darlin’?” He leaned closer and she kissed him. He was so surprised he almost dropped her.
“I said, thank you Tank.” Katy grinned.
Gently he carried her back to her chair, “I’ll take that kind of thank you any time.”
Katy grinned and bowed her head for a moment blushing, then she looked up at him with bright eyes, “Sheriff Tanner would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow? A real date, not as friends. Not as coworkers. Not as cops. Just a jock and a nerdy girl, a couple steaks and some good beer.”
“CSI Housan, I would be honor to accompany you anywhere. But we don’t call ourselves jocks anymore, we call ourselves athletically inclined sports enthusiast. And I’m retired.”
“Ehhhh....Potato, potahtoh.” She finished her water bottle and he tossed it into the bin in the corner. Smirking she pointed out, “Maybe not a jock anymore, but you still got it. You should pose from one of those hot guy law enforcement calendars so I can hang it over my desk and tell all my co-workers, that’s my boyfriend.”
Tank could feel the embarrassment crawling up his neck as the other patient and the two physical therapist in the room laughed quietly at his expense and Katy’s boldness.
“So, when did I become your boyfriend again? I don’t remember that.”
“Claiming ignorance before the fact does not preclude guilt by association.” Katy grinned over at him as he knelt next to her wheelchair. “You need to remember this about me, Sher-iff Tanner. No matter how difficult the case, no matter how long it takes, I always get my man.”
Tank chuckled at her, “So I’m your boyfriend, I’m taking you out for all-you-can-eat tomorrow night, and I’m doing a calendar. Anything else I should know.”
She reached up and pinched his bicep, “Make sure it’s July, for my birthday.”
“Your birthday is in July?”
“July fourth when all the good fireworks go off.” She answered cheekily with a wink.
“Good to know.” He leaned toward her, saying in a low voice before he kissed her, “I like fireworks.”
Tonia slipped away from Sophia for a few hours. For days the pathetically obsessed woman had sat watching the old gardener and housekeeper come and go from the place she was sure was Kyle’s house. Tonia was getting tired of keeping up the concerned, desperate mother ruse. She had managed to get to the bank branch where she had transferred Donnie’s stolen funds and moved half of them to another account, the other half she had converted to Euros and had given to her as cash. She decided to contrive a lie to get Sophia to fly her elsewhere. She would perhaps snatch Tiana back from her father. Or maybe she would just ditch the Greek drama queen and head to the Riviera. She didn’t have to worry about Donnie or Gio coming after her, they were both dead. Tonia had made a clean get away with millions.
Tonia wondered about visiting all of Mr Hightower’s resorts. They certainly were to her taste. She googled the Blue Waters Resorts on the hotel room’s computer, and scrolled through the list of locations. She googled pictures of the resorts and found one of Kyle standing on the beach with several fit women in beach chairs in the background. Downloading the picture and altering it slightly, she sent the picture to a burner phone she purchased and named, uncreatively enough, Tiana’s phone. Then she sent the picture to her cell phone with a message.
′I love you, mum.
This is the beach near our bungalow, and our host.
I miss you but Coach Camille won’t let us come home yet.
Hugs and kisses, Tiana.′
Message from Tiana’s phone, today at 11:30AM
Now all she had to so was wait.
Sophia came in an hour later looking angry.
“What’s the matter? You look upset.” Tonia pretended concern.
“That wretched gardener told me, he would call the policia if he saw me again. ” Sophia lamented. “I have to watch it, I am sure that is Kyle’s house. He will come there sometime.”
“I don’t think he will, I got this from Tiana today. But I have no idea where it is,” Tonia lied smoothly, “Here’s Kyle and that’s Camille and her daughters in the background.”
Sophia read the message and carefully looked at the picture.
“I know this resort! It’s in the South Pacific” Sophia squeaked excitedly. “Pack your things, my friend. We will both be with the people we love by tomorrow evening.”
Sophia called the airport, and rushed around. Tonia pretended the same frantic pace but in truth, she had been ready to leave as soon as she got back from the bank.
A taxi carried them to the airport, Sophia’s plane was ready. They were waiting to takeoff when the plane turned and taxied to the side of the runways.
“What’s going on?” Sophia demanded of the flight crew but they only said they didn’t know.
Police cars surrounded the plane and there was a loud announcement in Spanish, then in English to leave the plane with their hands in the air.
Getting off the plane, Tonia began rapidly thinking of a way to distance herself from the stalker, Sophia.
Both women were seized by police officers and put into handcuffs.
“You can’t do this to me, I am Sophia Varda, my father is a diplomat and judiciate of the Greek high courts,” Sophia screeched.
“Look, I didn’t do anything,” Tonia protested, “I am just trying to find my daughter and she offered me a ride.”
A tall man in a dark suit walked up with the gardener, who pointed at both of them and nodded before getting back in a large black SUV.
The tall man scowled, “Sophia Varda, you are under arrest for trespassing, violating a restraining order, and harboring and aiding a known felony fugitive. Antonia Mosconi Ballard, aka Antoinette Martinique, you are under arrest for suspicion of human trafficking, kidnapping, murder, compliancy to rape a minor, attempted murder of a law enforcement investigator, and electronic embezzlement in connection with the Valtini crime family. You have the right to remain silent. You will be held in jail here until you can be extradited back to the United States for trial.”
Tonia gaped at him. “There must be some mistake.”
“No, there is no mistake, Mrs. Ballard. We have been looking for you for weeks. You nearly got my friend killed by Donatello and Giovanni Valtini at your house, and I personally vowed to find you, especially after I learned what you did to your own daughter.” His eyes held such contempt for her that Tonia realized there was no way she could talk her way out of this. She was going to jail.
He leaned forward and smirked, saying so low only she could hear, “I’ve already made special arrangements with the local warden, you won’t be able to bribe or talk you out of this. Sadly for you, it is going to take a month or more to get the extradition taken care of, if I don’t forget you’re here. I hope you...” He paused, enjoying the terrified look in her eyes, “Enjoy his hospitality.”
Walking through the house, Camille went to the guest rooms. Mack had placed several boxes of paperwork and clothes on the bed of the room Sheridan had stayed in. Camille suddenly felt very sad. The man had died protecting her daughters and Tiana from a fate Camille considered worse than death. Had it really only been two weeks ago? Benton had removed all of Sheridan’s personal items when he left. Camille smiled about the old security adviser, he had quite a crush on Gramma Doreen, who plainly stated she did not date younger men. Camille almost laughed out loud remembering Gramma telling her and the girls about Cookie refusing to move under the old man, then running off the moment Benton dismounted in the middle of the herd. The mama cows had surrounded him as a threat to their calves. Only Cajun pushing into the herd and walking him out had saved him from being stomped to death or gored.
Shaking her head, she decided to make the room over. The country quilts and shams were brown with the coral and rose tones Gramma Doreen loved, but Camille knew Kyle would dislike. Camille hated the decor, she hated anything brown. Soon clean blue linens were on the bed with deep green accents, and dark gray towels in the three-quarter bath. Mack had brought everything of Kyle’s from Hidden Springs. They had gutted the hundred old lodge house and discovered it could not be salvaged. Kyle had wanted to preserve the heritage of the place, so the lodge was being replaced with a nearly identical building. Kyle’s care for the history of Hidden Springs had not been lost on Tank, and they had become good friends as Tank shared the stories his grandfather had told him and his own experiences there.
Camille ironed and hung all Kyle’s shirts in the closet and placed his jeans in the drawers. She arranged the furniture so Kyle could easily get around on his crutches. Finally she began unloading the box of paperwork, putting stacks of files on the desk. She realized she needed some pushpins so Kyle could tack his maps and diagrams on the walls. Grabbing a handful of the colorful tacks from her grandpa’s office she lingered over the photos. Grandpa Ben was a quiet man but his eyes spoke volumes, even through old photographs. Ignoring the ache of missing the man who had help raise her, she took a picture of Gracie and Willow’s first winning dive competition down and hurried back. Camille wanted to finish before Mack got in from the hospital with Kyle.
“Oh good grief,” Camille groaned as she came into the room.
A stack of files had fallen on the floor. Kneeling, she began to gather them until one caught her attention. Shaking hands opened the brown numbered file, a number she knew as well as her own social security number. Page by page, she choked back her pain. Betrayal burning her heart alive, as she bit the side of her thumb to keep from crying out.
‘Why? Why did he have this?’
She read Kyle’s blocky script on pale blue sticky notes bearing the Blue Water logo. It was his observations and a plan on how to exploit the second worst experience of her life. The posties contained notes on what to say, what not to say, ideas of how to get her to talk about things she didn’t even want to think about. Rereading her own words in blue highlighter and his notes on them was like having her soul carved up into little pieces. He didn’t understand, he would never be able to understand, and his notes made that clear to her.
She didn’t know how long she had sat on the floor reading when Kyle’s voice interrupted her.
“Camille, I can explain.” She was sitting on her knees on the floor like her legs had given out.
The look of betrayed devastation in her hazel eyes was like a knife in his soul. It was the same look she had the day that was supposed to be Kent and Mina’s wedding.
“You have no right to read this. It doesn’t concern you.” Camille said harshly as she rose slowly to her feet. She swayed and he feared she might collapse again.
“Camille,” he begged as he hobbled toward her, “Please, I just wanted to...”
“To what, Kyle?!?! To find my weak points, to outline how to talk to me, how to manipulate me? I’m not some community committee you need to convince to let you build one of your overpriced playgrounds. I’m a person and this!” She shook the folder at him, “This is my private life.”
“Dammit Camille. I just wanted to understand...”
“You will never understand!”
“Hey boss, where do you want this box?” Mack interrupted them and then realized he had stumbled into something unpleasant.
Camille tried to get past Kyle but he dropped his crutch to grab her arm, “Camille, wait.”
Her eyes flashed, hard and cold, their hazel swirling with rage as she hissed. “Take your hands off me.”
Kyle dropped his hand slowly, he had seen this woman only once before and she had dropped a bomb in his world. Swallowing, he knew he had to be very careful with his next words or he might lose any chance he would ever have of getting to know his daughter and niece. “I’m sorry I looked into your past. I was just trying to get to know you better so I be close to you and the girls. I’ll leave if you want me to but I’m not giving up on getting to know the girls. I am not giving up on us.”
For a moment the hardness softened, rage was replaced with confusion and pain, then distrust and betrayal rose up like a icy shield. Her eyes always told him the truth. “You can stay. I promised the girls that they could get to know you. But keep away from me, you had no right to read this file. It happened before I met you, you can’t possibly understand it, and it doesn’t concern you.” She marched down the hall, and slammed the door to her room.
Mack groaned and rubbed his face, “I am so sorry, Kyle. I didn’t realize she would unpack your boxes when she changed this room for you.”
“She changed this room?” Kyle looked around, everything was in his favorite colors, the layout was wide open allowing for him to easily getting around on his crutches. His clothes were hanging in the closet. She was even setting him up a work space. He realized she had probably worked on the room all day. A picture of the girls was sitting on the desk. They looked about 10 or 12, identical grins and a trophy held between them.
“It’s my fault, Mack. I was warned about keeping that file, that Camille would be upset if she found out I was looking at it without her knowledge. I F*ed up, not you.”
“I guess, boss, but I’m still sorry. I can say one thing for you.” Mack paused for dramatic effect, smirking as he said, “You sure know how to dig a hole for yourself.”
Bending, Kyle retrieved his crutch, before straightening to his full height. He glared down at his old friend, “Mack.”
“Fire yourself, it would be easier,” Mack retorted smugly.
Kyle snorted derisively. “Since when have I ever done anything easy.”
“Honestly Boss, the only easy thing you ever did was Sophia, who, by the way, was arrested in Mexico yesterday.” Mack grinned at Kyle’s expression. “See, good things happen for those who wait.”
Kyle nodded, looking around the room, “I hope you’re right, Mack.”