Thursday, May 24, 2018

Chapter Two (Dark Woods) *reworked*

Chapter Two

She sat back with an audible sigh.  Followed up immediately with a loud rumble from her stomach.  She looked at her clock, five hours later, she realized.  She had been in her head for five straight hours without so much as to get up for a drink or a bathroom break.  That wasn’t exactly her normal, but she wasn’t surprised either.  In her experience, sometimes when you were so stuck in your characters, it’s hard to pull yourself out, even for your own needs.
Her bladder was screaming, her stomach was growling, and she’d been gnawing on nothing but hard candies she kept in her desk.  She was starving and needed to pee worse than a toddler who drink five juice-boxes.   She got up, stretched, and walked to the bathroom.  After she washed her hands and made her way to the kitchen.
She hadn’t even taken out the braid she had put in her red hair the night before to sleep.  She had thrown on a pair of form fitted leisure wear pants that were so comfortable and soft along with a long comfy white lacey shirt.  She reached back, pulling out the hair band, and combed through her long hair with her hands until the braid broke up.  She gathered her long red locks with her hands, pulling it up, and twisting it into a messy bun, using the same hair tie. 
She grabbed her phone from where she had put it that morning, to charge, on the kitchen counter.  As she opened her refrigerator to make herself something to eat, she was simultaneously checking her Facebook.  She saw that both Gullia and Catrina had responded in the message, and with Gabby, the three of them had continued chatting over the day as she found 75 new messages in the group discussion.  As she skimmed it, it seemed that the majorities of the younger girls and all the male children, except the baby, was going to be invading various grandparent’s houses.  It wasn’t going to be a girl’s night, but rather an adult night, with the four girls having their own night watching a movie, gossiping and wine, while the men all discussed and decided there would be a BBQ and they’d be using her grill.  Then there was talk of dragging along another guy so they could play poker. 
She sighed.  Then there was a debate on if they were going to grill out or order pizza.
Didn’t matter, she thought, about the food.  She’d be happy either way.  The general consensus was that they would all be congregating at her house in about two hours, Emma would be home in a little over an hour.  
She put her phone back down on the counter and walked back to the fridge.  She started pulling stuff out for a good salad; roman hearts greens, cheese, her favorite dressing, some onion and peppers she kept diced up in small round plastic containers that she kept in her fridge.
She was in a good place to stop writing for a few days.  Her main character, Detective Penelope Hennessy, had just come across a very good clue in her homicide investigation, one that would set her on the path to the end of the book.  The love interest was trying to help her, which was only hindering her.  Typical love-hate relationship with a high kick in the pants of sexual frustration.  A few more clues and more leg work that would have otherwise been necessary without the man on the short leash because he wouldn’t stop trying to solve things himself, the book would be done.  Though, they had a brief drunken night of sex about six books ago, they were both fighting the clear lust they felt for one another.  It was about time to just let them take a step into a coming together in a relationship.  The sexual frustration between the two of them had her ready to scream.  Though, like any good series, either written or watched, there was a fine line between the sexual frustration keeping things interesting and once that line was crossed would it lose some audience.  If it did cause some audience to toss up their hands, was it damaging enough that the series would have to be shelved.  Right now that was an inner debate.
There was a knock on the door. 
She looked down at her salad, already half eaten.   How’d that happen?  She thought.   She really was stuck in her head still.   She walked over to her front door and saw her sister on the other side of the glass with a diaper bag slung over her shoulder and an infant car seat hooked on her arm. 
“I didn’t think you were coming until later,” she said opening the door.  She hadn’t even noticed that it was pouring rain out. 
Gabby walked in, soaked just from the walk from her car.  “I didn’t know if you had the alarm on or not.” She said coming in.
“Nope, although the way I just wrote, I probably should have.”
Gabby put the baby, still in his car seat, on the floor and slid out of her jacket.  “I really wish you weren’t so apprehensive after all these years.” 
“Better safe….” She said trailing off.  She kneeled down, throwing off the wet blanket, and quickly made work of the complicated baby buckle and slid her tiny new nephew out of the car seat.  “Hello my sweet Xavier,” she fussed at the baby.  She looked at her sister and stood back up.  “I already pulled out the play pen and swing and stuff.  I put it in the family room by the fire place in case it gets chilly tonight.”
“Wonderful,” Gabby smiled.  “Am I bugging you being early?”
Bella laughed.  “Not at all.  I just didn’t come out of my head until a little bit ago.  I was catching up on the message and all the plans while trying to scarf down some salad.”
“Give me my son so you can eat.”  She said reaching out her hands.
Bella made and evasive move.  “Not on your life!”  She laughed.  The baby was tucked into her arm and sucking on his fist already, giving clear indications he was probably going to start hollering for his dinner soon.  She sighed at her nephew looking at her with those wide blue eyes. 
“What’s going on with the book?”
Bella kissed the baby all over his face as they walked to the family room, he’d turn towards her when she kissed him.  He was most definitely hungry.  “I am going to give him to you, because I know what is about to happen, however I reserve the right to use my Auntie-Never-Put-Him-Down card for the rest of the night.  Plus, you are going to have to pump and dump tonight.”
“Oh I know it,” Gabby snickered.  She took the baby as Bella handed him to her.  She immediately sat down and unbuttoned her top to nurse the baby.  “Now the book.”
“Hang on,” Bella left the room, walked to the kitchen, grabbed her bowl of salad, and walked back.  She sat down on the sectional beside Gabby.  “Okay, so…” she started as she got comfortable.  “Penelope got her first big break on solving the double murder she’s investigating.  Everette is being … well… Everette.”
Gabby couldn’t help but to giggle, which startled the baby making him cry.  She soothed him, humming as she tried to get him to latch onto her breast.  “What is the murder this time?”  She asked when Xavier latched on and started to suckle again. 
Bella looked up.  She forgot she really hadn’t gotten to give Gabby a run down because she’d had Xavier only six weeks prior.  Gabby was always her literary sounding board.   “So it’s a young teenage couple who are doing sacrificial killings to please the god they are trying to gain favor with.”
“Oh that’s a new one,” Gabby said. 
“Yeah, I needed something shocking, and but true.   The two girls they already killed, were virgins, of course.”
“Makes sense,” Gabby said.  “What about Everette.”
“His editor is putting a lot of pressure on him to get the scoop of the story, so of course he’s trying to pick Penelope’s brain while trying to get the scoop and doing his own digging which keeps him bumping into Penelope in places he shouldn’t be. Sometimes being that celebrity news personality gets more greased palms then being a murder cop.”
“Well of course, but what happens if he somehow stumbles on them doing one and doesn’t ever see their faces, but manages to save the girl, because I assume they are only killing femals….” She trailed off. “Wait, what if he got some photos of it with his phone or something, before the two got spooked and ran off – which is what initially ends up saving the girl.”
“I like that,” she said.  She pulled her cell phone out making some notes and sending it to her main computer.  “So who is this dude that’s coming tonight for poker?”
“Oh Jensen,” she said.  “You know Jensen.”  
Bella started blankly at Gabby.  She couldn’t place him.  Then it clicked.   “The Sheriff?”
“Yeah,” Gabby whispered.  “Come on Bella, we’ve been here, what… five years now?  I think we’re good and I know that underlying fear of cops they instilled in you is still active but, I think it’s time to try to work through some of this stuff.”
“I have worked through it,” Bella uttered in that half honest truth tone they both knew well.  “About as worked through as one can work through living a nightmare and not being able to leave it because, well, it’s real.”  She countered.  “And it’s not that I don’t trust cops, Gab, it’s more like I don’t trust anyone.”
“You trust me, right?”  Gabby objected. 
“Gabs, I have always trusted you.  There was a time when you were the only person I trusted, and you know that.  Then it grew with your family,” she muttered.
“Our family….”
“Our family,” Bella corrected.  She reached over and pulled her sister’s reddish-brown hair.  It was funny, at least to her at times, how people didn’t question if they were related or not.  Gabby’s reddish-brown hair and her atomic red hair were really only a few shades away from each other.  Gabby had blue eyes and she had these bluish green eyes that could look either vibrant blue or emerald green depending on the light.  They both had round faces, but Bella’s chiseled nose was a contrast to Gabby’s cute but wider nose.  Gabby’s eyes were a bit smaller, but they had the same general shape, which is something they had both commented on a lot.  How much they did kind of look like sisters. 
“You trust me, I know you trust Callum.”  Gabby started talking as she repositioned the baby.  “You know they like to play poker and it’s better the more people are involved.  Don moved and so they had to find themselves a forth for their regular games.”
“But Sheriff Jensen Gatewood?”  Gabby nodded and snickered at Bella’s questioning.  “His family is so prominent in the town.  His one Granddad is Major, people in his family own half the town, I mean the guys will have to leave town if they don’t let him win.”
“Why Bella as I live and breathe,” Gabby said throwing out her best southern accent.  “If I didn’t know better I’d swear you felt more for our local hunk of a sheriff then butterflies and fireflies.”
Bella rolled her eyes as she stuffed her face with the last of her salad.  “I’m not interested.”
Gabby gave her a sideways glance that said she don’t believe a word out of her face, because she didn’t. “Bella…” she trailed off cocking her head to the side. 
Bella looked at her sister, her best friend, and all she saw was the most beautiful girl.  In school Bella couldn’t imagine what she wanted to do with some rail thin frizzy red head who had on thrift clothes and was perfectly happy melding into whatever chair her ass was parked in.  It wasn’t until Gabby started talking to her that Bella started coming out of her shell and really started working on not being afraid, started finding out who she was, and started finding her own voice. It was Gabby who taught her how to brush her hair, use a tampon, and put on makeup.  If she were a hundred percent honest, if it weren’t for Gabby, she’d be dead.  She might not have run away that night, she would have had no one to trust, and she wouldn’t have had the courage to tell the police. 
“What?”  She got up, quickly taking her empty bowl into the kitchen.  She left it in the sink and walked back into the room where she found Gabby a little more comfortable with a sleeping baby on her chest.  “I don’t know why you seem to be under the impression I have any feelings for him.”
Gabby rolled her eyes.  “Remember when I first moved here?  We were at the diner and he came in.  You watched him, slowly, move from the door as he tipped his hat to people all the way to the far end of the bar, even turning in the booth as he moved past us, and he sat down.  His mom came out, leaned over and kissed his cheek, threw down a slice of pie in front of him.  He scanned the room, you two made eye contact, and I swear on my children, you blushed and you spun around back towards me acting like you hadn’t just exchanged a smoldering glance with a really hot guy in uniform.”  Gabby watched her sister’s eyebrows furrow together and her eyes get squinty.  “And then you tried to make me believe that you hadn’t just got caught like a kid with their hand stuck in the cookie jar, or in that case, the hunky man jar.  Then you spent the last couple of years avoiding the hell out of him.”
Bella shook her head.  “You seriously need to start writing smut books.”
“It’s about time you stop avoiding him.  He’s not a fucking pit bull or something, which I totally think those dogs got a bad rap.  He doesn’t bite.” Gabby smiled in a slow sly way.  “But I bet it would feel so good if he did!” She cracked herself up laughing.  “Especially if it’s the lobe of your ear or your lip after a hot steamy curl your toes kind of kiss.” Gabby stopped snickering, amusing herself.  The baby was fussing with her body shaking from the laughing and she automatically started to pat his back.  “Shoo I need to stop or I’m gonna end up pregnant again.”
This time Bella did laugh.  “Sometimes I hate you.”
“Nah,” Gabby countered.  “You never do.  Oh, by the way, don’t forget to put on something sexy and wear your hair down.”
“So, sweats and a messier messy bun?  Got it!”

Two hours later she found herself in her bathroom.  She had showered, brushed her teeth, and now she was staring at herself in the mirror.  She’d be damned if she was going to go out of her way to pretty up for a night in with the girls, in her own home.  The fact that she was actually fighting the urge to primp was driving her more nuts then the if she just gave into it.  She didn’t have feelings for him.  Though, if she were going to be honest with herself, she had to admit that day in the diner she couldn’t take her eyes off of him, and she did get spooked when he caught her staring at him.  If she had her way, she would have gotten up and left the diner too, but her whole family was there and that would have been a little hard to explain. 
Fact is, she was still very spooked by cops, but less spooked than her sixteen or eighteen-year-old younger self.  She didn’t get that inbred fear and rabbit response to bolt.  Gabby was right, she really needed to get over her fears but at this point in her life, she didn’t see that happening.  It wasn’t like she’d ever see the monsters again.  They were both in prison, with no chance of coming out.  So why was she still on edge?  Why did she still panic and feel like she needed to look over her shoulder?  It had been 16 years since she had left that house that day, running for her life.  She had literally doubled her life, and she still felt like there were monsters lurking in every corner.
Every place she had ever lived, it seemed someone she knew would wind-up dead.  There would always seem to be a serial killer that would happen, and someone she knew – either well or someone she was acquainted with – would end up dead by that serial killer.   Every city!  Odds were not high enough that it would happen every place she ever lived.  So she would outright panic and pack up, leaving that city and bolting.  Normal people just didn’t experience that.  She was sure she was reading something into it.  She had to of, because her monsters were in prison and never getting out. 
She shook off the thoughts, the memories, and walked out of her on-suite and into the bedroom.  She had the best security system, she lived in a small town, had a whole new name, and she knew where the monsters were.  She was safe.  She was absolutely safe and for once, she had been in one place for five years without someone else’s monster knocking on her wall and effecting her life.
She was safe! She was safe. 
She kept repeating it in her head like a mantra.  One she kept saying in her head, no matter how old she’d get, she would always find herself saying it at times.  Luckily it was further and further apart, but it was still there, still needed.   She walked into her closet and stood there for a moment taking it all in.  After a brief moment, she reached out taking a black tank top off the shelf, picked out some blue jean looking form fitting soft leggings, and a light weight button down shirt that she’d just leave open.  She walked a little further in to her dresser, pulling out a clean bra and matching underwear.  She might not be sexually active, or even plan on being such, but it was always a boost to a girl’s self-esteem when pretty underthings made her feel sexy. 
She quickly got dressed and threw her hair up in a messy bun again. 
She refused to look any different then she would any other night for a girls’ night in.  She wasn’t trying to impress anyone.  What was the point?  She did not want or need any kind of relationship other than the ones she already had.  She had family, she had friends, and she had her daughter and her furry lovies.  She would never again seek out a romantic relationship.  She was a boss bitch and she didn’t need a man. 
In reality she just couldn’t trust people, she certainly couldn’t trust men, in general.  When someone climbed that mountain of distrust to get to the side of trust with her, it was a very long haul.    There were a few men she did trust, though, of course.  Her brother Reed.  Her Dad Phillip.  Her brother in law, Callum.  Her friend’s husbands, Aaron and Greggory.  She didn’t get a bad feeling off anyone in town, not one person, and that was a rare thing.  
That was a lie.  There was one person who she crossed the street to avoid.  The town crazy old man who always seemed to be drunk and talking to himself.   The town’s people she was somewhat close to told her he was harmless.  She hadn’t ever seen him do anything weird or strange besides being the town crazy old drunk who talked to himself, so she couldn’t say she had a bad vibe, just a cautious vibe. 
Well, and Sherriff Gatewood. 
There were a few men she dated while on her travels.   She didn’t date anyone in high school.  She had guy friends, but no one she dated.  They’d go out on group nights, but it wasn’t ever a date between her and anyone else.  She was still friends with some of them, from high school, on Facebook.  Which was a security risk.  Though, it was also easy enough to figure out who she was truly based on her being listed as Gabby’s sister on the family section. 
It never really dawned on her until that moment that it was actually a security risk.  That people could figure out who she was and who she was related to.  Though, apparently no one ever made that connection outside of the friends they had back then, and trusted. 
Then there was David, the guy who she dated in college and was Emerson’s Dad.  After David had died, she dated one guy named Hunter for about six months while she was in college. 
Then she didn’t date anyone for a few years.  She had moved to Santa Monica after college.  She had stayed there awhile.  She got itchy almost right away when her friend Leah disappeared after a party, later found murdered. Then her friend Gracie disappeared and was murdered.  Her therapist was telling her she shouldn’t run like she had the need to, that she couldn’t always run away all her life.  She couldn’t stay once her friend Daisy was murdered.  She just couldn’t stay there anymore, it was like someone was hunting girls in her group of friends, so she moved to San Diego. 
While she was in San Diego she dated a guy named Samuel for over a year, while she was there.  Then it seemed the murderer from Santa Monica had migrated south like she had.  The M.O. was exactly the same as the guy who seemed to be picking off her friends, one after another
After not being able to fight the need to bolt there, anymore, she moved all the way over to New York City, she didn’t date anyone there either.  There was crime there, sure, but it seemed to be more expected.  Then murders started happening in New York like it had on the west coast and it was like she was being followed. Later, the guy ended up being the copycat of the guy the media had dubbed the “Playful Strangler” that was killing on the west coast. 
How can someone be plagued with a serial killer being the same place as them?  What were the odds?  They had to be astronomical.  It was like her monsters were following her, but she couldn’t understand how that could happen.
She walked out of her closet, after getting dressed, and went in her room to sit on the edge of her bed.   She laid back and started thinking about her past. 
After Florida, and the trials, the whole family had moved to Oregon.  It wasn’t long before Gabby and Bella headed off to Berkeley College, though, in California where they had both been accepted.    Reed had gone there already, and moved on to Harvard Law School by the time they got there.
She had gotten pregnant, had Emerson.  It was a horrible experience, the birth.  Right at the same time she was having Emma, David died.  The c-section ended up being an emergency.  While she was laboring, Emma’s heartbeat had slowed down.  The stress of labor wasn’t agreeing with her.  She was in grave distress.  Everything happened so quickly, she was rushed to the operating room. They had cut her open and she remembered hearing the doctor gasp.  The scar tissue inside her was extensive.  After she was in recovery, the doctor had come in to talk to her.  She had asked everyone to leave and asked her a bunch of questions.  The doctor concluded that because of all the trauma that happened to her as a child and having had that extensive trauma, both physically and sexually, that it resulted in her body responding extremely.  She was shocked when the doctor told her that not only was her daughter a miracle. Then based on what she saw she was shocked she could even get pregnant and carry a pregnancy. She also determined that the odds were against her ever being able to have any more children.  It was like being abused and assaulted all over again.  The doctor had also said the reason the birth hadn’t progressed was because of the damage inside of her.
She had originally started to write as a suggestion from a therapist during the trial.  She started writing again because it had helped before.  She hadn’t decided on her major at that point and she had Emma. So she decided to take the summer off and just try to figure out what truly interested her and what direction she wanted to take in life.  Gabby and Bella had gotten an apartment a block from campus, and that summer Bella wrote, and wrote, and wrote.  She decided at that point that she wanted to write.  It seemed to come naturally to her.  So she knew at that point what direction she wanted to go and decided on a major accordingly.
After college, she moved to Santa Monica with Emma. She had already published her first two books under a pen name while she was in college and she had a good stream of income coming in as they were selling very well.  After a lot of argument with her publicist, she had been decided that she would hire someone to pretend to be her for publicity things.  That’s the way it had been since. 
She continued to write with the same characters.  Her main character, Penelope Hennessy, had started out as a beat cop in the first book.  She had an accident, shot in the line of duty right in the head, and woke up feeling like a different person.  She ended up, after a medical leave, on the scene of a murder.  It was then that she realized she could travel back in time, to a place where she hadn’t been before, to watch events, and find clues.  She would end up knowing who the murderer was and have to figure out how they tried to get away with it.  She would be able to see where key evidence was.  She would get promoted to a homicide detective.  She would have a weird hot and cold relationship with a reporter named Everette Mason, whom she eventually would start sleeping with and the plan, at some point, would be for them to get married.  The relationship was slow moving though, although they did kiss periodically now and they had slept together.  Penelope wasn’t sure she wanted a relationship with him.  He was the only person she had ever told her secret to, though.  Things did change as she wrote books.  She had fourteen books written so far, the one she was working on was number fifteen. 
When she had moved to Santa Monica after college was done, it was because she felt drawn there.   News reports started flooding in that women were disappearing mysteriously around town.  And it had all started with her friend Leah.  Then their bodies slowly started to be found.  She panicked, packed up so quick she didn’t even have much time to think.  She moved and never looked back.    She lived for a few months in Chicago.  The news had a lot of gang related and non-gang related murders.  She couldn’t deal. She went from Chicago to New Orleans, to San Antonio, then to Las Vegas, then the quieter life of Montana.  She wasn’t long in each place, and always leaving because it seemed that dead bodies were following her.  A friend, a neighbor, a boss … they haunted her.
After New York, she had come to meet her new niece, and stumbled across this town where she felt she wanted to plant her roots.  So she did. 
Every city she was in, women were disappearing, showing up dead.  It wasn’t that men weren’t dying, but it was the deaths of the women that triggered her response to flee.  It made her feel like she could never escape her past.  Like she had to keep looking over her shoulder.  She knew that wasn’t going to change in the Seattle area, but at least she would have Reed.  Gabby had been talking about moving closer to Reed too, and their parents had moved from Oregon to Washington already.  Dad wanted to be close to the military bases, since that’s what he was doing now.  Various government jobs with his military background.   They were already living on the Peninsula. 
Once she stumbled across this town, it was like she stepped back in time.  It was a small town.  Everyone seemed to know everyone.  People didn’t always lock their houses, or their cars.  Occasional domestic disputes broke out, the bar fights were the worst thing that seemed to really happen.  There was a lot of theft of large rare trees in the area.  People would go and chop them down in the middle of the woods, and then sell it.  People would occasionally go missing but were either found or got lost in the woods and perished, it wasn’t a matter of murder.  Oh and there was that one time that Old Man Wayler had shot the dog of his neighbor for barking all night.  The dog didn’t make it, and the neighbor moved.   
It felt safe, though. 
It felt protected. 
It felt right. 
She got up.  Made her way out of her room and into her house.  She passed the stairs that went upstairs to the guest rooms, and additional family room.  She passed Emma’s bedroom door which was open and she heard Emma giggling with her best friends.   There was the first-floor bathroom door, open and unoccupied.  She of course had her own bathroom in her room with a huge deep soaking tub.  The house opened up at that point, after the bedrooms and bathroom.  Her large office was across from the kitchen, but on the other side of the office, to the right, was an opened patio with two sliding glass patio doors, one side lead to the back yard, and the other opened up to the large screened in patio.  Now that they were heading into the summer season, she had pulled all that glass off and the whole thing was open to the cool evening air.  She had a great view of the Olympic mountains on the left side of the house, and a great view of the water from the right, complete with her own private beach, the path going out her back yard, and she even had a dock.  Out the back she had her own nice view of the woods along the edge of her property.  The open kitchen and dining room were to the left.  She saw the guys already putting up the poker table in the large screened in patio area.  They had moved her patio furniture around to make room for the poker table that seated eight people.
It’s funny, she thought, how a simple girls’ night in was turning into a big party with almost all the people she was closest to.  The door opened, startling her and making her jump, when her brother Reed and his wife Natalie yelled “surprise” before shutting the door.  Immediately she saw Gabby get up with the baby.  She hugged Natalie then handed her the baby, while she tossed her arms around Reed for a big hug.  “We heard there was a party going on here tonight and thought we’d come join in the fun!  Dropped the kids off at Mom and Dad’s and drove up here.”
She walked across the room and when Gabby started happily chatting at Natalie talking about labor and babies, Reed spotted her and walked across the room, eating up the distance with his big strides and long legs.  “Hey Sweetie,” he said kissing her forehead, wrapped his arms around her as she wrapped hers around his neck and scooped her up in the air in a twirl-hug. 
“Hey Bro,” she smiled looking up at him after her feet were back on the ground.  “Just happened to go see Mom and Dad?”
“Yeah, I got two weeks of vacation time I had to take, so I took it.  Asked the kids where they wanted to go and of course they wanted to see their Nana and Pop-pop, and Aunties and cousins.  We’re thinking about doing some touristy stuff, but haven’t really decided.  We’re kind of playing it by ear, which we both know is really hard for me.”
“Mister plan down to the minute, yeah, I know,” she laughed. 
“Mom suggested we crash here for the night in one of your guest rooms, is that okay?” He asked her. 
“Of course, you know you are always welcome.  This morning I woke up to silence and tonight I’m having an impromptu party.”
“I know we’re always welcome,” he ruffled her hair a little.  “But it’s always nice to ask.”  He looked at Natalie and Gabby, “She’s been dying to get her hands on that baby.”
“She has baby fever, doesn’t she?” She asked looking at her sister and sister-in-law practically looking like conjoined twins over the baby. 
“Oh yeah, you have no idea how badly.  After they got pregnant with the girls around the same time, and how they had really bonded to the point that they had the girls the same day, I think it spoiled them a bit.”
Gabby and Reed both had four kids.  Reed and Natalie started their family first, they had their son Jacob before she had even gotten pregnant with Emma.  Jacob was 14 now, Sawyer was 10, Katie was 5 and their youngest, Mollie is 3.  Gabby started her family after Emma was born.  Gabby and Callum’s oldest, Caleb, was 10, Zoey was 6, Hollie was 3 and then finally little 6-week Xavier. 
Gabby and Natalie were pregnant at the same time, due a month apart, but Hollie and Mollie were born two hours apart on the same day.   Gabby was 1 weeks late with Hollie, and Natalie was 3 weeks early with Mollie.  Both spontaneously went into labor on their own.  Natalie was laboring longer, at the hospital, Gabby went there to be supportive and ended up going into labor after her water broke while in the room with Natalie. Surprise!  The girls were born the same day to the shock and awe of the whole family who was there for the event. 
“I think it’ll happen real soon, Reed,” she smiled.  “Maybe even on this vacation if you can relax for two seconds,” she laughed nudging him.
“You always had that knack of knowing things before they happened,” he kissed her forehead again and put his arm on her shoulders. 
They watched as her friends and family mingled.   Then there was a knock on the door.   Reed’s arm dropped as she excused herself to answer the door that no one else beside her and Reed seemed to hear. 
She made it across the room and opened the door to find Sheriff Gatewood standing on the other side.  All six foot of his strong muscular stature, his dark hair and green eyes starring a hole right into her.  “Hello Sheriff,” she said opening the door.   “The guys are setting up the poker table.”
He held up a bottle of wine, “Gift for the ladies,” he said.  Then he held up a six pack of beer, “and something for the guys.”  She moved aside to let him in, and took the bottle of chilled wine as he handed it to her. 
“You certainly come prepared,” she smiled at him.  She didn’t understand why she got butterflies around him and every damn time she saw him.  She didn’t like it, didn’t welcome it, and certainly didn’t want to acknowledge it.
“Boy Scout for life,” he smiled.  Damn if she couldn’t smell him.  He smelled like a mixture of citrus and musk.
She shut the door cursing the butterflies even more.   She had no idea how she was going to get through this night with the bastard butterflies and the lack of room to escape.  At least when she saw him around town, she could avoid him at all costs, she could cross the street, duck into a business, turn the other way and flee like the scaredy-cat she was.  She’s avoided him for years since their first meeting, but she couldn’t avoid him in her own house. 
This was the only guy who ever gave her butterflies and she had no clue why.  There was just something about him.  “You’ve been in the town for how long now and I’ve barely seen you,” he said to her.  “Mostly I just see your back.”  She looked up at him.  “It’s hard to miss that red hair of yours.”
She automatically reached up and ran her hand over her messy bun.  Always thankful they were tight spirals but that there was some waviness and curls to her hair depending on the day and the humidity.   “Well, good to know that I’m noticed,” I guess, she thought.  Inside she was cussing like a sailor that just stubbed his toe, realizing that he had taken notice of her every time she had avoided him, probably. 
She took the bottle of wine from him and crossed the open front area of her house into the kitchen and dipped her hand in the trough of ice with other bottles of wine and wine coolers of various size, colors and flavors, making room for the new bottle that she ended up shoving in the ice to keep it chilled. 
After she arranged the ice and bottles, she turned around and walked right into his chest.  It was like hitting a brick wall, there was no give.  He was a very solid man.  Her hands landed on his chest, fingers fanned out, bracing herself.  She couldn’t help but notice, and feel, the defined muscles in his chest, under his shirt.  She looked up, slowly, and met his eyes.  She was absolutely captivated with his amazing sage green eyes.  They were practically bewitching.  “Sorry for …” she backed up a few steps removing her hands from his chest before she started to trace the hard lines of his muscles.  She cleared her throat.  “Sorry for bumping into you Sheriff Gatewood.”  She looked around but wasn’t seeing a way to flee or anything to make an excuse of needing her attention.  She looked back at him. 
This wide smile spread slowly across his face.  “Call me Jensen, I’m not on duty.”  He pointed to his left breast area on his shirt, “see, no gold star here.” 
She rolled her eyes, she couldn’t help it.  Nor could she hold back the little hint of a smile.  
She felt more at ease, at least a little bit.  She took the beer from him and walked across the dining room and through the open patio door into her screened off back patio area.  “Jensen brought more beer.” She said as she walked into the room.  The word beer made all of their heads snap up and each one gave a holler.   She slid each bottle into the ice that filled up the long metal tub out there.  There were already a couple dozen bottled beers in the ice and a bunch of different cans.   As she slid the beer in the ice to chill she looked blankly at all the guys, “no one is driving home tonight, there are a bunch of guest rooms upstairs, everyone can crash here tonight if you want. If there isn’t enough, I have plenty of long surfaces that people normally sit on that can also double as a bed.  Including my kitchen island if need be,” She smiled looking at her brothers and all her friends’ husbands, as she considered all of them friends too.  
Her brother-in-law Callum she had grown very close to, Gullia’s husband Aaron he come early while Gillia had been waiting for her parents to come spend the night and watch their kids at her house.  Greggory and Aaron had been best friends since high school.  He had walked over with Aaron and he was setting up the poker chips.  Catrina was hanging out with Gillia until the grandparents showed and then they’d walk over. Reed walked into the room with a beer already open.  “Hey, are we ordering pizza tonight?”
Bella rolled her eyes so hard that she was surprised that they didn’t roll right on out of her head.  “Only if you are paying there Mr. Big Shot Lawyer man.” 
“Hey, I’ll pay Miss New York Best Seller Author woman,” a sly crooked smile crossed his lips.
                She looked at her brother and couldn’t stop the large smile that spread.  “Oh, you saw that, huh?”
                “Damn right I did,” he took a swig of his beer.  “I keep track of my sisters. Proud of you too, what is this, the seventh book now that’s made it on the list?”
                “First one that’s made it that far up.”  It was currently sitting at number four.
                There was a pat on her back as the Sheriff walked into the room.  “Congrats,” he said walking in.  “I didn’t realize you write.”
                “Yeah, I write under a pen name.  I also have a girl that I’ve hired to pretend to be me so I don’t need to do any of the press release stuff.”  She told him as he walked closer to the poker table.
                He turned and looked back at her.  “Why would you do that after working so hard on a book?”
                “Well,” she felt a little panicked, and looked at Reed with probably a caught in the headlights deer kind of look.  “I don’t like attention,” she continued as she looked back at Jensen.  “I want my daughter to have a normal life.”
                “She REALLY doesn’t like attention,” Reed proclaimed.  “Every chance she can get to fade into the background she takes,” he all but snorted a laugh.
                “Meanwhile,” she gave her brother a slanted sisterly look.  “Reed wants all the attention and I gladly let him take it.  That’s why you are a lawyer and I am not.  That and you like hearing yourself talk and you like arguing with anyone and everyone.”  She laughed.
                “And that’s why you hide in your office and sometimes don’t come out until it’s dark out.”
                She nodded, “truth.  The moon is much more calming than the sun.”  She smiled looking at each of them, thinking, she got pretty lucky with her group of guy friends.  Based on what happened to her when she was a child and teenager she wasn’t sure she would have ever trusted another guy in her whole life had it not been for the family that embraced her and showed her what love truly was. 
                “Bella here is the famous writer also known as Alison Gaynes.”
                “Oh wow!” Jensen looked from Reed to Bella a few times.  “My sisters all love those books. They all come in, practically have book club meetings with each other, Amber is always coming in, taking over my desk chair, gushing about these books and the characters.  Dragging Natasha, who works at the police station, and Nicole, who owns the Spa, in for impromptu book club meetings. The cop books, right?  They quiz me on if certain things are possible.”
                “Do I pass?”
                “One hundred percent, at least of what I’ve been asked.” he smiled.  “I have had a few moments of being impressed on how accurate you are.”  He smiled at her.  His hand resting on her shoulder.  Don’t worry, I will keep your secret, but I may have to have you sign some books so I can be the best brother in the world.”
                “I can do that,” she smiled.  “I’ll leave you guys to it.”
                As she turned to leave the room she heard Reed pipe up again.  “Best poker player I’ve ever seen is walking away boys, we should count our lucky stars.”
                Gabby popped out from somewhere, “You know Reed,” she sent him a challenging look.  “We could play a few games before Gullia and Catrina get here, I bet she can still kick your ass.”
                “Nah,” he said waving off both of his sisters.  “She cheats.”
                “I don’t cheat,” Bella laughed.  “I never have, at …. ANYTHING.”  Her hands hit her hips before she could stop them.
                Reed looked pleading at the other three guys.  “Please,” he whispered.  “Don’t fall into her trap …”
                “I’m game, and curious,” Jensen said.
                Reed’s hand hit his face so hard it caused Bella to giggle.  “He’s just scared,” she whispered.  “Last time we had a friendly family game, he lost five hundred dollars to me, but I’d gladly take all of your money if it weren’t for the fact that Reed is paying for the pizza I still need to order and if I play you guys he’ll be broke.  Then my sister-in-law would be horribly mad at me.”
                “Right!” he pointed at Bella.  “Right!  So let’s just go with a guys only game.” He turned toward the guys who were sitting down. 
                “Actually, I’m curious too,” Callum said.  “I had no clue that she even played.”
                Gabby blew out a howling breath of laughter.  “Well that’s because I like us having money.”
                Bella found herself sitting down at the poker table.  “Challenge accepted.  Go ahead, sit down and deal.”  She told Reed. 
                “Well boys,” Reed said, “I am going to order the pizza and not lose my money.  You have fun with this death trap.”  As he passed Gabby he poked her in the chest.  “Remember when Callum loses all the college funds for the kids, you only have yourself to blame.”
                Gabby couldn’t help the giggle as she rubbed the spot he had been poking her.  “Nursing mom here bro,” she griped following him out of the room.   
                Bella laughed.   After agreeing on the game and rules, the cards were dealt.  Bella had put ten dollars out and ended up walking away with 100 dollars twenty minutes later when Gillua and Catrina walked in the door.  She had laughed, joked, laughed some more.  She forgets, sometimes, how fun it is to be around other people.  She’s one that normally would rather lock herself in a room, with her computer, and the voices in her head. 
                She got up from the table, thanked the boys and proceeded with the girls’ movie and wine night in the basement where she had a theater room set up with recliners and a huge screen. 
                At one point, Gabby leaned over and whispered to her.  “You know, it was really nice to see you laughing and smiling.  Plus, you really like him and you know it.”
                Bella leaned over closer to her sister.  “I will deny, deny, and deny some more.”
                “Yes, but, you forget.  I saw you around David and you weren’t this…  scared avoid at all cost girl with him.  What’s different? I’ve never seen you anything but confident with guys…. pretending or whatever, doesn’t matter, you project confidence and you don’t do that with him.”
                “Is it that obvious?” Bella asked looking at her sister. 
                “Blatantly…” Gabby murmured.  “I get the phony confidence, it’s a coping mechanism.  I’m just not sure why you’ve never been able to pull it off around him.”
                “Well shit,” Bella hissed and sunk into the chair even more. 
                “What are we whispering about?”  Gullia asked. 
                Bella just shook her head, reached into her popcorn and threw it at her friend.  This started a mini popcorn fight which had Bella laughing again.  “Okay stop now, I don’t have hired help to come clean this up for me. Nor do I have ushers.”
                “Well you have a housekeeper,” Catrina said. 
                “Yes, but I don’t leave messes hanging around for her to get around to them.”  Then she threw a few more popped kernels at Catrina before turning her attention back to the movie. 

                Several hours later, the Poker game had wound down, the big winner of the night was almost a tie between Reed and Jensen, but Jensen had pulled ahead by about twenty-five dollars.  There were amused threats of kicking him out of the bi-monthly poker games already.  Gabby had gone up to bed, with the baby, so she could feed him and try to settle down for the night.  Gullia and Catrina were sitting at the dining room table with cups of coffee in their hands, waiting for their husbands who were bullshitting with the other guys.  The four of them were going to walk home together, even though it was after one in the morning.  Bella offered for them to crash there but they said they would be fine, they only lived a few blocks away and walked over so they knew they could walk home. Plus, Catrina’s kids were being watched by a babysitter who was expecting them home that night.  
                It didn’t take long for the poker table to be put away along with everything else.  The screened room was cleaned up and she was hugging her girlfriends, and saying goodnight to all four of them. 
                She went out and sat on the front porch swing.  The girls were sleeping, Callum was still chatting with Jensen, then he was heading up to go to bed with Gabby.  Reed and Natalie had gone up to bed together.  It wasn’t often that Natalie got a bit tipsy but she sure did tonight.  She was giggling all the way up the stairs with Reed slapping her ass and making sure she didn’t fall backwards. 
                Eventually Jensen walked out of her house, shutting the door behind him.  He noticed her there, on the swing, swaying slightly but enjoying the cool breeze.  “Thanks for having me over tonight,” he said to her.  He leaned on one of the patio beams. 
                “My pleasure, seemed like you had a good time.”  She was swinging ever so slightly. 
                “It was great.  It’s been a long while since I’ve played poker, or had a good lad’s night with friends.”   He smiled at her.  “Cop’s work is never done.”
                “I supposed it’s not,” she whispered.  “Luckily not a whole heck of a lot goes on because of it being a small town, though, right?” 
                “You’d think,” he said leaning a bit more onto his elbow.  “But I’m sheriff for most of the county.  Since most of the townships around us don’t have cops of their own, I’m a bit on call all the time.  My deputy’s wife just had a baby about six months ago, neither of them have gotten much sleep at night since the baby came, so I’ve been making sure that I’ve covered most overnight calls around here.”
                “I see,” she said. 
                “You’ve been here, what, about five years now?”  He asked her. 
                “Yeah about that, we moved here when Emma was seven, it was when my brother’s daughter, Katie, was born. This place, kinda fell into my lap and I snatched it.  I had a contractor come in, build an addition, make some changed, update stuff, and we moved in about six months after we first saw it.  It’s hard to believe we’ve been here that long,” she said looking up at her house.  “Seems like yesterday we were unpacking.”
                “What brought you to these parts?”
                “Well, I happened to find the town on accident.  We were driving around and just …” she shrugged.  “Got a little lost.  We came across the town and it felt so charming.  I liked the close-knit feel.  Seemed like a great place to raise Emma.”  And to hide from my past, she added in her head.
                “Well,” He smiled.  “It is a nice little town.”  He straightened up and stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans.  “On that note, I’m going to head home.”
                “Are you sure?” she asked.  “I don’t want you getting into an accident.”
                “I only had two beers, been drinking water and coffee since. It’s been what,” he looked down at his watch, “four hours ago.”
                “Oh, okay.  There is another guest room,” she offered. After the words came out of her mouth, she almost wanted to kick herself.  Why was she offering him to spend the night in her house?
                “I don’t live that far away.  I’ll be fine.  Reed is great, I’m glad I got to formally meet him and get to know him.””  He took a few steps towards her and she got up from the swing. 
“Yeah he’s pretty great.  If you ever need any legal advice,” she kinda snickered a bit. 
“Sure thing,” he laughed.  “So I’ll just say goodnight.”
                She thought he was going to hug her, but instead his lips settled on hers, and his arms wrapped around her.  He deepened the kiss and she let him.  She was kissing him back, she realized.  Her brain went to mush but she was enjoying it.  Her stomach started to burn with lust and want she didn’t really crave, or didn’t realize that she wanted.  The kiss was filled with heat that had her smoldering. 
                She pulled away, “Um,” she whispered looking down and at the same time reaching up and touching her lips lightly with her hand.
                “Goodnight,” he smiled, slowly.  “Sweet dreams.”
                She stood there, slightly confused.  “Goodnight,” she muttered look up at him.
                She looked and he wasn’t there anymore.  She looked up, she could see the stars.  Sinking back down onto the swing she sat there, starring up at the stars, wondering what just happened.  Everywhere her head went. trying to make logic out of it, she ended up back at a big gaping hole of confusion. 

Standing on the edge of the property he patiently watched as some people slowly trickled out and leave her residence. He was watching her sit on her porch on her swing.   Her hair was so pretty, he just wanted to touch it, run his fingers through her hair and down her shoulders and arms, reaching up and ever so lightly tracing her breast. The though was almost too much, so he started thinking about something else.  He watched her for a few more moments, imagining that swing falling to the porch with her on it sent a curl across his lips.  He could hear her scream echo through his imagination.  He was longing to hear her scream in terror.  
He could make it happen, he would make it happen.  Maybe he’d even tamper with her swing so that it would crash to the porch. 
She needed to die.  Dying was the ultimate goal, with her.  The last thing that he would do was to kill her and possibly himself, after all, there was really nothing left after the death of Maribel.  There was no purpose, unless he could think of something to keep him happy.  Something he could build to.  They’d never catch him, he knew that.  They never would.  Not for the murders.  All the murders.
He watched the bastard cop come out on her porch.  He ducked into the tree line a little further, but not far enough to no longer see her.  He watched them talk, and her whole demeaner change.  She sat a little straighter, smiled a little more, he could practically hear her heart trying to beat its way out of her chest. 
He snarled at the thought. 
Now that she was located again, the fun would once again start.  The little game of how long she would wait before bolting from an area like a scared little jack rabbit.  How many women would he have to kill before she did?  How many friends would he have to make disappear?  There was stuff to do, like case out her house, figure out her security, decide how to kill that brat kid of hers.  He’d have fun with other women while he waited for the right time.
He had waited for years to finally kill her.  For over a decade and a half he had bid his time.  That was coming to an end though.  He knew he needed to end this.  As much as he wanted to do watch her run again and have fun locating her, he was really getting tired of the cat and mouse chase.  It’s time to finally get the mouse and have his way with it.   The only goal he’s had for so many years was finally going to happen.  After that, maybe death or maybe a whole new goal.