Silent images flitted by on the muted television in the corner of the room. Patrick sat slumped in an overstuffed armchair that had been moved clear of the window. A precaution, Julia had said. The dimmer switch on the lights was turned down low to minimize the shadows they would cast on the curtains. Anyone stalking them would have a hard time finding a clear target. Julia sat on the edge of the bed with Maggie by her side. Drew had closed his eyes and stretched out on the floor, his back against the far wall.
Julia had listened attentively while Maggie filled her in about the drug dealer and the warehouse that Patrick had been working at. Tom's description jogged her memory and she agreed that he might have been the man who attacked her in her office. In turn, Julia told them about what she had found at the beach house. The envelope she'd retrieved from the bathroom had contained traces of heroin. If Danny and Allison were dealing drugs, then one of them was sampling the merchandise. Julia's money was on Allison. They were still trying to figure out where Patrick had fit into their plans.
Maggie watched her brother helplessly as he tried to stop the violent trembling that wracked his thin frame. He looked completely miserable. She wanted to put her arms around him and tell him that everything would be all right, like she did when they were children. As soon as she tried to get up, Julia put a hand on her knee and gave her an almost imperceptible shake of her head. Maggie hesitated uncertainly.
"He's going through withdrawal, Maggie," Julia said quietly. "You can't help him right now."
"There has to be something we can do for him."
Julia couldn't resist the imploring look in those clear green eyes. With a resigned sigh, she yanked a blanket off the bed and threw it at him. He jerked in surprise, but caught it with one hand.
"Try to keep warm," she advised.
Patrick did not respond, but he wrapped the blanket around himself. Julia rolled her eyes in exasperation. She did not have time to deal with Patrick's disapproval of her relationship with his sister. A gentle pressure on her shoulder caught her attention, and she rested her cheek against the top of a blonde head.
"Tired?" She asked the reporter leaning against her.
Maggie nodded. "A little. I haven't been sleeping very well."
Julia gave her a rueful grin. "Me neither," she admitted. "Why don't you lie down and get some rest?"
"Later," Maggie said. "We need to figure this stuff out first."
"Get some sleep, Maggie. I just need to think this through. I know the answers are here somewhere."
"Then we'll both find them," Maggie said, squeezing Julia's hand. "We're in this together, right?"
Julia smiled at her. The gaping hole in her heart had closed as soon as she had held Maggie in her arms. The love and trust shining from the reporter's eyes sealed her fate. Everything was going to be just fine. She would make damn sure of that.
"Together, huh? I think I like the sound of that."
"Me too," Maggie agreed, snuggling closer.
Julia stole a quick glance toward the huddled figure in the armchair. A wicked gleam entered her eyes, and she chuckled deep in her throat. Maggie lifted her head and examined her suspiciously.
"What was that evil little laugh for?"
Julia gave her a playfully ferocious grin. "What do you suppose he'd do if I kissed you right now?"
Maggie blinked and glanced at her brother. Though he was trying to hide it, she could tell Patrick was watching them out of the corner of his eye. She felt a grin tugging at her lips. Slowly, her hand slid up and rested at the base of Julia's neck. She leaned closer, their faces mere inches apart.
"I think he would probably swallow his tongue." Maggie informed the grinning woman.
"Good thing I know CPR, then," Julia murmured.
Unable to restrain herself any longer, she reclaimed Maggie's lips. Soft, gentle pressure gave way to a deeper urgency as Maggie drew her closer, just as hungry for the contact as she was. Julia hands moved down the reporter's body, stopping at the small of her back. A fire had ignited inside, and it took all the self-control she had not to throw Maggie down on the bed and rip her clothes off. Although she could feel the need and desire pouring from the smaller woman, she doubted that either of them really wanted to make love with an audience.
"I should have rented a second room," Julia said wryly, breaking the kiss.
Maggie laughed softly, stroking Julia's cheek. "Yeah, maybe you should have."
She stood and stretched her arms up towards the ceiling. It had been a long day and she felt decidedly grungy. Maggie shot a longing glance at the bathroom door. Before leaving Julia's house, she had packed a change of clothes, but in her haste to find Julia's room, she had left the bag in her car. She debated going outside to retrieve it.
"What are you thinking about?" Julia asked her, brushing her lips across the palm of Maggie's hand.
Maggie shivered at the welcome sensation. "I was thinking about grabbing a shower, actually. Care to join me?" She teased. She continued without waiting for a response.
"I left my bag in the car. Do you think it's safe enough to go out and get it?"
Julia held out her hand. "Give me the keys. I'll get it."
Maggie swatted her hand away and scooted back out of reach. She gave Julia a reproachful look.
"I am perfectly capable of getting my own bag out of my own car."
"Yes, you are," Julia agreed, stalking her prey around the room. "But you should give me the keys anyway and let me do it for you."
Drew chose that moment to unfold his long legs, nearly tripping his taller sister. She glared at him as he rose, yawning. He searched his pockets and dug out a set of keys attached to a cartoon dog keychain.
"Oh, shut up, both of you. I'll get the damn bag. I'm the guy with the keys, remember?" He dangled the keychain in front of Julia's nose, jerking it out of reach when she lunged for it.
"I thought you were asleep," Julia said, making another grab for the keys that Drew had concealed behind his back.
He smirked at her, his eyes twinkling. "Who can sleep after the floorshow that you two put on a minute ago?"
Julia and Maggie turned complimentary shades of red. Mumbling something about heating the water, Maggie excused herself to the bathroom. The door slammed shut behind her, cutting off Drew's laughter.
"Aw, come on, Jules. Relax. I was only joking." Drew backed away, recognizing the threat in Julia's expression.
She relaxed and gave him a wry grin. "I guess we did get a little carried away. Fine. Go out to the car, if you insist. Just be careful."
"I'm always careful," Drew replied, heading out the door.
The faucet was running in the bathroom, and judging by the splashing sounds, Julia guessed that Maggie was washing her face. She stretched out on the bed, crossing her legs at the ankles. The television remote was on the nightstand, and she reached for it, raising the volume so she could hear the late night news. She could feel Patrick's eyes on her. Turning her head a fraction of an inch, she glanced at him expectantly. Might as well get this over with, she thought. She gathered up all the self-righteous indignation she could manage. Who the hell does he think he is? He has no right to judge us, considering the mess he's made of his own life. Letting her anger grow, Julia prepared for battle.
"Well?" The low drawl dripped with implied menace.
Patrick leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Julia was close enough to him to smell the stale, fearful sweat that emanated from his body. She didn't flinch and her gaze never wavered. Instead of the earlier anger, she now saw mostly curiosity mingled with suspicion in his bloodshot eyes.
"Do you love my sister?"
It wasn't the question that she had been expecting. Julia blinked, tilting her head towards the young man, sizing him up. She had been prepared to detest him. Truthfully, part of her did. If not for Patrick, none of them would be in this ridiculous situation. For Maggie's sake, though, she had promised herself that she would give him a chance. Sitting there, huddled underneath a blanket, he looked more like a frightened teenager than a violent drug addict. With a sigh, Julia was forced to admit that he might not be as dangerous as she had originally thought.
"Yes. I love her very much." Julia answered his question.
She braced herself for the outburst. Families were forever accusing her of seducing their loved ones. Most of the time, they had been right. This time, though, it was the other way around. Maggie had stolen her heart. It took Julia a few moments to realize that Patrick was merely watching her thoughtfully. Julia said nothing. Patrick's shoulders slumped and he buried his face in his hands. When he raised his head again, tears streaked his face. She almost felt sorry for him.
"I didn't mean for any of this to happen," he whispered, more to himself than to Julia.
Julia shrugged. She had nothing to say. She suspected he wanted her to tell him that it wasn't his fault, to absolve him of any responsibility. Julia was not about to do that. Whether he had meant to or not, Patrick's actions had brought them all here. His regrets, if sincere, meant very little.
"Why did you come here, Patrick?" Julia asked him, keeping one ear tuned to the running water in the bathroom. "Why can't you just let her live her own life?"
Patrick scratched at the back of his hand, leaving long red streaks on the skin. Julia had to reach out and stop him before he drew his own blood. He looked at her, and the misery in his eyes melted her resolve, just a little. Tears welled in his eyes again.
"I don't know," he said, his voice hoarse. "Mags always took care of me. When she left, I didn't know what to do."
"You're a grown man. Take responsibility for yourself for a change."
The door flew open, interrupting them, and Drew dashed in, wild-eyed and out of breath. He dropped Maggie's shoulder bag on the floor, and quickly crossed to the window. Julia jumped off the bed and joined him, peering through the curtains. A noise to her left alerted her and she glanced at Patrick. He had slid from the chair and pressed himself into the corner. She returned her attention to her breathless brother.
"What are we looking at?" She asked, keeping her voice barely above a whisper.
Catching his breath, he pointed. "There's someone in that car. I think he's watching us."
Julia's eyes narrowed. She couldn't see through the car's tinted windows, but she thought she could make out a trail of smoke emerging from the driver's side window. While they watched, a shower of sparks scattered across the ground as someone flicked a cigarette butt out the window. Julia's mind raced as she formulated a plan.
"Can you follow directions?" She asked Drew.
He nodded. "Of course. Just tell me what to do."
Julia grunted in satisfaction. She crossed to the other side of the room and tapped on the closed bathroom door. After a moment, the water stopped and Maggie cracked open the door. Julia gave the reporter the most reassuring smile she could muster. She handed Maggie's shoulder bag through the crack.
"Sorry to interrupt. I need you to get dressed and come back out here."
Maggie caught the edge to Julia's voice and immediately realized that something was wrong. She nodded and ducked back inside the bathroom. She dressed hurriedly and reemerged, her hair still dripping water down her back. Drew and Julia were standing near the window, and she joined them.
"What's going on?" Maggie rested her hand on Julia's upper arm, feeling the tension there.
Placing both hands on Maggie's shoulders, Julia moved her back, away from the window. She glanced back to the other side of the room and beckoned to Patrick. Keeping his head below the level of the windowsill, he crawled around the edge of the bed and joined them.
"There might be someone out there," Julia said, trying to keep her tone as light as possible. "Drew and I are going to check it out. I need the two of you to stay here. Keep your heads down and don't leave this room unless you absolutely have to."
She took Maggie's hand, pressing the reporter's car keys into it. Maggie started to protest, but Julia placed a silencing finger against her lips.
"Ssshh. It'll be okay." She paused, searching for the right words. "Look, if something happens, just take Patrick and get the hell out of here. Don't wait for me."
Maggie shook her head and refused to let go of Julia's hand. "No. Not a chance. I won't leave you behind."
There was no sense in arguing with her. Instead, Julia leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. She stood, giving Maggie a quirky half-grin.
"Then I'll make sure you don't have to."
Julia resumed her position at the window and pointed to the building at the far end of the parking lot.
"See that building? That's the office." She glanced at Drew, making sure he was listening carefully.
"I'm going to head in that direction. Count to ten, slowly, then follow me out the door. Circle around behind this building. Stay low and come up on the car from this side. By that time I should be on the other side of it. We'll trap whoever it is between us. Once you get into position, don't do anything unless I give you a signal. Got it?"
Drew nodded and blew out a few hard breaths, psyching himself up for the task.
"What if they have guns?" He asked.
Julia gave him a grim smile. "Then I hope you can dodge bullets."
Together, they moved toward the door. Julia opened it and stood silhouetted in the doorway. She gave her brother a jaunty thumbs-up.
"Count slow." She reminded him.
As the door began to close behind her, Maggie called out.
"Be careful, Julia. I love you."
Julia cast a quick glance over her shoulder, catching a glimpse of the reporter's face just before the door closed. She tried not to think about the fear she had seen in Maggie's eyes.
"I love you too, Maggie," she whispered.
Taking a deep breath, she tried not to look suspicious as she headed toward the mysterious car. She kept her gaze focused on the office at the other end of the lot, taking care to keep her movements easy and natural. The last thing she wanted to do was call closer attention to herself. She counted silently. Passing behind the car, she resisted the urge to look. Instead, she played with the button on her sleeve and kept walking, as if she had no idea that there was someone inside.
On the count of eight, the door to her room opened. Her lips twitched into a faint grin. She had been expecting Drew to be impatient. It didn't matter; she was already on the other side of the vehicle. Her truck was parked across from the mysterious car, and she turned towards it, pretending to dig in her pockets for the keys. A flicker of motion caught the corner of her eye, and she saw Drew creeping through the shadows toward the passenger side. Snapping her fingers, she turned back towards her room.
"Damn. Forgot the keys," she said aloud, keeping up the charade.
Her eyes met her brother's, and an unspoken agreement passed between them. Moving with an easy speed and grace, Julia closed the distance between herself and the car, as Drew did the same from his angle. Before anyone had time to react, she yanked the door open and hauled the startled driver out of the vehicle. Holding him by his shirt collar, she slammed him against the side of the car.
"Hello, Julia." He choked the words out.
Gasping in surprise, Julia released him and took a step back.
"Dad?" She and Drew said in unison.
Joseph Cassinelli straightened his shirt collar and took a few wheezing breaths. With the palms of his hands, he smoothed the sides of his precisely trimmed silver hair. Turning his head, he nodded at his son, who had joined Julia on that side of the car.
"Andrew. It's been a while."
Drew stared at him, speechless. Agitated by this latest turn of events, Julia began to pace. Gravel crunched beneath her boots. At last, she whirled to face her father, her eyes blazing with an accusation. For all she knew, Councilman Davis had sent his attorney to spy on them.
"Why are you here, Dad? Doing your friend's dirty work?"
Her father sighed and held his hands out to placate her. "Calm down, Julia. Don't be so melodramatic." He ignored his daughter's sputtered protestations. "Let's get inside before someone really does see you."
He reached inside the car and retrieved his briefcase from the front seat. Locking the door by remote, he hurried past his bewildered children and headed for Julia's room. After a stunned moment, Julia and Drew trailed after him, catching up as he reached the door. Julia slid around him and folded her arms across her chest. He was not going inside the room until she was satisfied that he could be trusted. She gestured toward the briefcase.
"Drew, grab that."
Her father rolled his eyes in irritation, but he acquiesced without a struggle. Calmly, he handed his briefcase to his son and watched while Drew searched its contents. He gave his children a hard, mocking smile.
"Well, if you two are done playing cops and robbers, I would like to go inside," he said, his tone condescending.
He held his arms out to his sides. "Are you sure you don't want to frisk me?"
"What? You expected me to trust you?" Julia shot back, opening the door for her father.
"Oh, of course not. I know better than that," he returned glibly, striding past her into the darkened room.
Julia stormed in after him, a dangerous glint in her eyes. Protectively, she positioned herself between her father and Maggie. Glaring at him defiantly, both eyebrows raised, she waited for him to explain his sudden appearance. She pretended not to see the charming smile that he directed towards Maggie.
"Why are you here, Dad?" Julia asked again.
He unbuttoned his shirt collar, taking his time before answering. Julia knew he did it simply to infuriate her. She exhaled slowly, determined not to let him see her growing irritation and impatience. Patrick was running for his life, and she and Maggie were caught in the crossfire. She didn't have time to play her father's games.
"Aren't you going to introduce me to your friends?" He asked.
Julia ground her teeth in frustration. "I'm pretty sure you already know who they are," she countered.
Maggie could sense the tension rolling off Julia in waves. With the knuckles of one hand, she kneaded the taller woman's lower back, trying to relax the muscles. Ducking beneath Julia's arm, she smiled politely at her lover's father.
"Hello, Mr. Cassinelli. I'm Maggie McKinnon." She kept her voice neutral, attempting to defuse the impending explosion.
"My daughter was right. I know who you are Ms. McKinnon," he said, his demeanor suddenly grave. He glanced at Patrick behind her. "I know who your brother is, as well. And I know why he's running from the authorities. I would like to help you, if I can."
Her father's false concern was more than Julia could stand. Her lips twisted into a disbelieving sneer, and she applauded slowly, mocking him with every clap of her hands.
"Bravo, Dad. That was quite a little performance. Don't buy it for a second, Maggie. One thing about my father, he always has his own agenda."
"Jules, maybe we should at least hear what he has to say." Drew flinched under the sudden intense gaze from his sister.
"Please tell me you aren't defending him. What has he ever done anything for either of us?" Julia snarled through clenched teeth.
"Never," Drew said. "We both know he's a son of a bitch, but I think we should at least hear him out. He might actually be able to help us."
Mentally, Maggie reminded herself to give Drew a big thank you hug later. His words of reason seemed to penetrate the angry haze clouding Julia's judgment. Her hand was still resting on Julia's lower back, and she felt the tension ease slightly. She let her hand drift a bit lower and gave the taller woman an encouraging pat, and the muscles beneath her palm twitched as Julia suppressed a chuckle.
Julia sighed and nodded at her father. "Fine. Spill it, then."
"I believe your lives are in danger," he said bluntly.
Julia began to laugh, emitting a sound somewhere between hilarity and hysteria. With one hand, she wiped the moisture from her eyes and sniffed, catching her breath. She knew the others were looking at her as if she had lost her mind. She shrugged, letting her hands fall to her sides.
"You tracked us here to tell us that?" She asked incredulously. "News flash, Dad. Our lives have been in danger for a while now."
Joseph Cassinelli waved a dismissive hand at his scoffing daughter. "I'm aware of your recent problems. But I have reason to believe that another attempt on your lives is imminent."
He looked at Julia, grudging regret on his face. "You told me you thought Allison was involved in something criminal, and I dismissed your suspicions. Lately, I've come to believe that you were right."
Julia bit back the sarcastic retort that popped into her mind. Instead, she willed herself to stay calm and reasonable.
"That's all very nice, but it doesn't really help us. I need something solid."
She watched curiously as he took his briefcase from Drew's hand and extracted a thick manila folder. He selected a black and white photograph and tossed it on the bed. Behind her, Maggie and Patrick both gasped in surprise.
"Do you recognize this man?" He pointed at Eddie Machado's mug shot.
Julia remained silent, her face betraying nothing. She glanced down at the photo, then back up at her father, waiting for him to get to the point.
"That is a low-level drug dealer named Eddie Machado. Or, perhaps I should say was. He's dead now. Murdered." He paused. "Do you want to know how I know that?"
"It was all over the news," Julia said dryly, not giving him an inch.
He sighed. "Yes. Of course. But I know things that the reporters couldn't tell you. I know that Eddie made several large cash deposits into a special account located at one of Martin Davis's banks. At the same time, Allison was making withdrawals for similar amounts. The amounts were never exactly equal. That would have been too obvious. And I know that Allison's account was much larger than her Netsports salary would allow."
He tossed a copy of a bank statement on the bed next to the picture. Julia picked it up and examined it, letting out a low whistle at the seven-figure balance. Things were beginning to fall into place. Allison and Danny were running drugs through at least one of the Davis warehouses and using the Internet company as a front. Julia figured it was a safe bet that they had also been working out of the one that burned down, though she wasn't sure why the fire had been necessary. Now, Julia mused wryly, all she had to do was prove it. She regarded her father skeptically.
"Why bring this to me? Why not go to the police?"
Her father dropped the rest of the file on the bed. "Nothing in that file can conclusively prove anything. But it can certainly tell someone where to look. I'm giving this to you in exchange for a favor. When this all goes to hell, and it will, I want my name kept out of it."
"I can't promise you that," Julia said quietly.
He gave her a small, cynical smile. "I know. But you'll do your best. You have your mother's sense of honor." He faltered as the mention of her mother turned Julia's face to stone again.
"Look, take what you can from that file. And watch out for Martin. He's on the edge. He'll do whatever it takes to keep Allison out of trouble."
She nodded once, the only indication that she'd heard his warning. Julia let her finger brush against the exterior of the thick file folder. Part of her wanted to believe in her father's sincerity, even though she knew he was really just covering his own backside. Still, the little girl in her wanted to think that he cared the way a father should. Okay, Julia. No time for sentimental nonsense. Thank him for the information and send him on his self-serving way, she told herself firmly.
"Go back to the city, Dad. Keep a low profile. Well, low for you anyway." Julia amended hastily, giving him the faintest glimmer of a smile. "If any of this stuff you brought pans out, I'll do what I can to keep you clear of it."
Julia hesitated, biting her lower lip thoughtfully. "Wait, I have one more request. Take Drew back with you."
Sputtering in surprise, Drew started to argue with her. She silenced him with a look. Reaching out, she pulled him into a stiff, awkward hug. Despite their recent strides, Julia was still unaccustomed to this level of closeness with a half-brother who had been little more than a stranger for most of their lives. Feeling him relaxing in defeat, she patted his back and whispered into his ear.
"I want you to stay out of this from now on. Stay safe."
Startling both of them, she planted a quick kiss on his cheek. "Thank you for keeping an eye on Maggie. I owe you one, little brother."
The tips of his ears were glowing when he managed to extricate himself from her embrace. Embarrassed, he scrubbed at his cheek with the heel of his hand. His blush deepened as Maggie stepped forward and kissed the other side of his face with a resounding smack. She gave him a warm, grateful smile.
"Thanks, Drew. You're a good friend."
"Yeah, well, you guys take care of each other. Give me a call when this is all over." He pointed at Patrick. "And you behave yourself, or I really will beat the crap out of you."
Drew glanced at his father and tilted his head towards the door. Both men left without looking back. A few minutes later, a car engine sprang to life and gravel crunched beneath tires as the two Cassinelli men pulled out of the parking lot.
"So what next?" Maggie asked from her perch at the end of the bed.
Julia took a deep breath, steeling herself for the dispute that was sure to follow. Reaching into the small closet, she removed a tight roll of bills from her jacket. In her peripheral vision, she saw the startled, vaguely hungry look in Patrick's eyes when she handed the money to Maggie. To an addict, cash meant only one thing --- the next fix. Julia gave him a hard, warning look before turning her attention to the dumbfounded reporter.
"I want you to take that money. Take your brother and get as far away from here as you can."
Maggie just stared at her, incredulous and unable to believe what she was hearing. She and Julia had already been apart for three of the longest days of her life. They were finally together again, and now Julia wanted to send her away. The indignation boiled up from the pit of her stomach, and exasperated fire flashed in her eyes.
"You've got to be kidding," she said flatly.
Julia tugged at her earlobe and shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She had known that Maggie would not be easily convinced. Quickly, she ran through her argument in her mind. Maggie and her brother would be safer if they got further away from San Francisco, at least for a while. She was certain of that. She opened her mouth to speak, but Maggie cut her off before a single word crossed her lips.
"Don't even say it." Maggie warned her. "Don't you dare tell me that I'll be safer somewhere else. I won't leave you here, in danger, just so I can run away and hide. Besides, haven't I told you that only feel safe when I'm with you?"
Julia clamped her jaw shut. How could she argue with that? Mutely, she looked past Maggie to Patrick, appealing to him for help. Surely he could see that they would be better off elsewhere. Plus, Julia figured he would jump at the chance to get his sister away from a bad influence like her. To her surprise, he merely gave her a tiny shrug and dropped his gaze to the floor. It would be up to her to talk some sense into the reporter.
"Maggie," she began awkwardly. "It's not that I want you to go. I just don't want you to get hurt. Don't you know that's my worst nightmare?"
Maggie nearly lost her resolve in the pleading look in Julia's eyes. She took Julia's hand and pulled her down to sit beside her. Gently, she kissed their interlocked fingers.
"I know. The thought of you getting hurt is my greatest fear too." She paused, gazing deeply into a pair of troubled blue eyes. "But I honestly believe that we're better together than apart. We can watch out for each other."
A kiss stopped Julia's protest. "Julia Cassinelli, you are my lover and my friend, but you do not have to be my bodyguard. We are in this together and we will finish this together." A smile lit up the reporter's eyes. "Now, do you really want to waste time arguing about this?"
"Can I say something?"
Patrick spoke from the corner. Both women turned toward him expectantly. After a brief glance at his sister, he addressed his comments to Julia.
"Part of me, well, most of me, wants to take that money and get the hell away from here." He paused, clearly uncomfortable under Julia's steady gaze. "I'm still not sure I like you, but when my sister looks at you, she's happy. So I think you should let her stay."
He fell silent again and resumed his position, slouched in the armchair. Julia sighed, realizing that she had just lost the argument. Closing her eyes, she gave Maggie a slight nod and felt the gentle squeeze of her hand in return.
"Well, let's see what else is in this file."
Julia turned towards the other side of the bed, breaking the charged silence that had fallen in the small room. She picked up the folder and began thumbing through the neatly ordered papers inside. There were bank records, short bios, newspaper clippings and criminal histories on Eddie Machado and Tom Becker. Julia examined the information on Tom with particular interest. She held up the attached photo, showing it to Patrick.
"Is this the guy who set you up?"
Patrick nodded, a shudder running down his spine at the sight of Tom's cold, hard eyes. Julia could see the fear in the young man's face.
"Yeah. That's him."
"Okay. I'm gonna call Henry and give him a little tip. See if I can put him on this guy's trail."
Maggie looked up from the newspaper stories she was sifting through. "Check on Catherine and Jessica when you talk to him, okay?"
Julia mumbled an affirmative reply as she searched for her phone. The activity gave her time to think of a plausible story for Henry. He would want to know exactly how she had received the information and who had given it to her. Although she trusted her oldest friend, Julia also knew that he would not be able to deny his training. If Henry honored her request and didn't haul her father in for questioning, the guilt would tear him apart. She couldn't put him through that, so she had to come up with something else to tell him.
When she finally spoke to him, he was predictably agitated. Julia ended up giving him a vague tale about a confidential informant, though she was sure that he didn't believe a word of it. Thankfully, he didn't press the issue like she had thought he would. His stakeout at the hospital had been quiet so far. No one had been to visit Catherine except Jessica and assorted medical personnel, and the officers stationed outside her room were carefully checking everyone's credentials. Henry was confident that all the proper security measures had been taken, but he promised to get an arrest warrant issued for Tom Becker.
After thanking Henry, Julia ended the call. She stood and arched backward until her spine gave a satisfying pop. Maggie was scrutinizing her intensely, but she pretended not to notice as she moved toward the open bathroom door.
"I could use a shower." She glanced toward Patrick. "Will you two be okay alone for a few minutes?"
Patrick shrugged but said nothing, and Julia took that as an affirmative response. She grabbed a change of clothes from her scuffed leather backpack on the floor. Two steps from the doorway, Maggie slid around her and blocked her path. Julia stared down at her, eyebrow raised in question.
"You never really answered my question before." Maggie reminded her, folding her arms and refusing to budge. "So, what do we do now? Hide out here?"
The shower was tantalizingly close and Julia gazed at it longingly. A few more seconds and everything would have been fine. If nothing else, it would have given her time to think of something to tell Maggie. She cocked her head to one side and grinned at Maggie, hoping to disarm the young woman.
"What do you think we should do next?" She countered.
Always answer a question with a question. It was one of her private investigator rules. The technique kept people from learning what she was thinking, and more often than not, they went away believing that she had given them a response. Unfortunately, Maggie knew her a bit better than most people. Julia flinched under the reporter's steady gaze.
Maggie gave her an exasperated sigh. "You know what." She laid her hand on Julia's forearm. "Come on, Julia. There's something you aren't telling me and I want to know what it is. Or was my speech about togetherness all for nothing?"
"No." Julia mumbled.
She knew Maggie well enough to realize that she would not be deterred. Julia relented and decided to tell her everything.
"Before you got here, Danny called me." She shook her head at Maggie's startled exclamation. "It's okay. He doesn't know where we are, exactly."
"What do you mean not exactly?" Maggie asked, her eyes wide.
Julia shrugged. "He knows I'm in the area. Apparently he saw me break into the house earlier. He wants to meet with me tomorrow morning."
"You're not going to do it, are you?" Patrick interjected from the other side of the room.
"Yes. I am." Julia replied simply.
"Then you're either crazy or stupid. Or both."
Julia ignored him and glanced apologetically at Maggie. Hurt, anger and confusion shone from the reporter's eyes.
"Let me explain."
Maggie cut her off. "You weren't even going to tell me." It was more of a statement than a question.
"I was planning to sneak out before you woke up." Julia admitted. "But I was going to tell you everything afterwards."
"Yeah, if Danny didn't kill you first!"
"Maggie, I don't think he intends to hurt me." Julia paused, searching for the words to explain. "If he had wanted to, he could have sold me out or worse when he saw me break in. He didn't. Instead, he called me and set up a meeting. I think maybe he wants to help."
Maggie snorted in disbelief, but Julia pressed on. "I think Danny got in way over his head, and now he wants out. That's the only plausible explanation that I can come up with."
"I have another one for you," Maggie said bitterly. "He and Allison are setting a trap for you and you're walking right into it."
"I don't think so."
"Then when you go to meet him tomorrow, I'm going with you." Maggie decided, leaving little room for discussion. She continued before Julia could disagree with her. "If it's as safe as you think it is, then there shouldn't be a problem. Right?"
No matter how hard she tried, Julia couldn't come up with a logical excuse to say no. Maggie's argument made sense. If meeting Danny wasn't going to be dangerous, then there was no reason that the reporter could not accompany her. Then why do I have such a bad feeling about this, she wondered. Because you're not as sure of Danny as you keep pretending to be, her inner voice told her. Julia ignored it, pushing the voice to the back of her mind.
"Okay." Julia looked at Maggie, her face resolute. "You two can come, but you do exactly as I say. No questions. Got it?"
Maggie nodded. "Understood. We'll follow your lead."
Julia glanced at Patrick, who was trying to find a comfortable position in the armchair.
"Are you okay with that too?"
"Whatever," Patrick returned sullenly. "Not like I have much of a choice, is it?"
"No. You really don't." Julia agreed. She turned back to Maggie and gave her a tentative smile. "I think I'm going to take that shower now. Why don't you lie down and get some rest?"
Maggie grabbed her arm as she started to turn away. "Promise me something. Promise me you won't leave here without us tomorrow."
"Okay. Thank you." Maggie stood on her toes and gave her a brief, almost chaste kiss. "Go take your shower."
Fifteen minutes later, when Julia emerged from the bathroom, Maggie was already asleep. Patrick was watching her through half-closed eyes, and Julia glared at him. Without lifting his head, he spoke, warning her.
"If you let her down, I'll kill you myself."
Fuming, Julia choked on a sharp retort. She didn't want to wake Maggie by strangling her brother. Instead, she pinned Patrick with her coldest stare and gave him a hard, feral grin. She almost laughed as he shrank back further into his chair.
"Don't worry about me," she said. "But if you let her down again, I will make you wish you had never even heard of California."
Though Patrick didn't move, Julia knew he had heard her. Chuckling silently, she pulled back the covers and slid into bed. On cue, Maggie rolled over in her sleep and curled up against her. Julia wrapped one arm around the reporter's shoulders as she turned off the bedside lamp. She stared up at the darkened ceiling. With any luck, tomorrow it would all be over.
Patrick broke through her reverie as he threw his blanket and the chair cushion to the floor. Through the darkness, Julia heard him stretch out beside the bed. Careful not to wake Maggie, she leaned over and checked the alarm clock on the nightstand. They could not afford to oversleep. Satisfied, Julia closed her eyes and allowed herself to drift into a light, restless sleep.
They had risen before dawn. Maggie could sense the nervous energy flowing from Julia as they exited the small motel room. The parking lot was silent and dark. Broken glass littered the ground beneath the streetlamps, and they ground it to dust beneath their feet as they hurried towards the car. Maggie was in the middle, with Julia's arm snaked protectively around her waist. Patrick walked beside her, and Maggie could hear his ragged, anxious breathing. She wanted to tell him to calm down, but Julia had warned them both about the need for silence. Without a word, they walked on.
Something fluttered at the edge of Maggie's vision and she stopped abruptly. Patrick halted a few steps ahead and turned back towards her. Julia stared down at her, frowning in confusion. Ignoring them, Maggie turned in a slow circle. She knew she had seen something. The back of her neck tingled. She started to speak. Then the first shots shattered the stillness.
Maggie watched, horrified, as Patrick's head snapped back. He stumbled backwards, hands clawing at his throat, trying to stop the bright red arterial blood that squirted between his fingers. He fell against the hood of a car and slid slowly to the ground. Maggie tried to go to him, but her feet disobeyed her. She turned to Julia and the shots rang out again.
"Maggie! Get down!" The frantic words resounded through her mind.
There was no time to think. Oxygen exploded painfully out of Maggie's lungs as Julia hurled her to the ground. Gravel dug into her palms. She tried to get up, but a tall, strong body fell on top of her. Sheltering her. Bullets screamed around them, ripping through the parked cars. Maggie felt Julia's upper body jerk. As quickly as it had begun, the gunfire ended.
"Julia? It's over. You can get off me now." Maggie whispered as she struggled to her knees. "I have to check on Patrick. I think he needs a doctor."
Julia did not answer. Maggie's hands were wet, and she looked down at them. They were covered in blood. Slowly, she turned her head and saw Julia lying on her back, her eyes closed. A dark stain spread rapidly across the front of her T-shirt.
"Oh god. No." Maggie fell to her knees beside her motionless lover.
Footsteps pounded behind her and a hand clamped down on her shoulder. She screamed.
Julia pulled the struggling, thrashing reporter into her arms and held her tight. She stroked Maggie's hair and whispered meaningless words of reassurance until the shaking blonde began to calm down.
"Julia?" Maggie sobbed, reaching out to touch Julia's cheek.
Julia kissed her palm. "Shhh. It's okay. I'm right here."
The terror of the nightmare receded and Maggie realized that she was not in the cold, dark parking lot. She was warm in bed, in Julia's motel room, with strong, comforting arms wrapped around her. Awakened by her screams, Patrick stood beside the bed. He blinked at her dazedly and she gave him a weak smile.
"Sorry." She mumbled. "It seemed so real."
"I know, sweetheart. But it was just a bad dream. I won't let anyone hurt either of you."
Julia's soothing whisper tickled Maggie's ear. Fear eased its death grip on her heart and she started to relax. Her eyelids grew heavy as she drifted back to sleep, secure in Julia's embrace. She smiled, feeling the vibrations as Julia hummed an old Irish lullaby.
"Where did you learn that?" She asked sleepily.
Julia chuckled deep in her throat. "I have my sources."
Maggie sighed and burrowed closer, letting sleep claim her once more. Julia waited until the reporter's breathing became deep and regular. She nodded at Patrick and he stretched out on the floor and went back to sleep, as well.
"Sleep now, Maggie." Julia murmured into the smaller woman's fair hair.
"I have the feeling you're gonna need it.
To be continued in Chapter 12
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