For disclaimers, see chapter 1.

Adventures in the Dust Trade, Part 10


By WolfDragon.

Nicole took a deep breath to calm her shaking body then let it out slowly. She didn't know if her reaction was due to pure fear or just plain excitement at the prospect of racing. Probably both, she smiled and eyed her silent partner. But as long as I'm with Kris, I know it'll be one event I'll remember for a long time! Like her, Kris was wearing the red suit from the racing school. Her eyes closed and deep in thought, the tall woman's helmeted head was resting against the headrest, her gloved hands resting on her thighs.

Knowing that the stuntwoman was using the time to review the upcoming challenge, Nicole looked down at the geographical map that was fixed on her clipboard to study her notes. The stunt team had spent some time together earlier to review the route they'd be taking during the rally and note, well in advance, the obstacles they would encounter. There wasn't that much to look out for except a few sharp turns, hills, and narrow passages. She sighed at the last note on her map. And a few bridges to look out for, she shuddered as she remembered the poorly constructed overpass. "I'm sure the crossings won't be different than the last."

"Hmm?" Kris lazily opened her eyes and glanced at her friend. "What won't be different?"

Damn, I forgot the microphone's voice activated. She chuckled as she reached for the offending item and moved it down towards her chin. "I was just thinking about the last bridge we crossed. I just hope the next ones will be wider."

"Where's the fun in that?" blue eyes twinkled. "Well, it looks like Tony and Roberto are about to leave," Kris said as she saw the car in front of them move to the starting line. "Are you ready?"

"Yep," Nicole answered as she pulled her chinstrap to fix her helmet tighter on her head. "Just think that in less than two hours, this rally will be over."

Turning the key to start the engine, Kris smiled at her friend. "You seem to be in a hurry to end this. Do you have something planned after?"

"Oh, yeah," the blonde nodded vigorously, the white helmet bobbing up and down. "I have a date with a gorgeous woman. We're planning to rest for a few days in this resort by the ocean. It'll be great."

"Really?" Kris chuckled. "That's funny because I have a date too. She's got the most striking green eyes I've never seen. She's beautiful, intelligent, funny, sensual…why are you blushing?" she teased her partner and laughed when Nicole playfully swatted her arm. "Ouch! Hey, it's true, you are all those things...and more."

"Flirt," Nicole smiled and winked at her lover when she gently tapped her nose with a gloved finger. The sound of a motor revving made Nicole look at the silver and black Lancia Integrale in front of them. "Guess they'll soon be…" she started and gasped in surprise when a wave of dirt and small rocks suddenly hit their windshield. "That son of a…" the young woman grumbled when she saw Tony wave back at them as he spun his wheels a moment longer before he left the women and surrounding crowd in a cloud of dust. "I can't believe he did that!" she exclaimed and looked at Kris, half expecting her friend to have an enraged expression on her face.

Kris calmly shrugged. "Show off," she mumbled as she took her sunglasses from the dashboard and put them on. "The idiot probably wasted a few liters of gas for his useless demonstration." Once she made sure her five-point harness and Nicole's were tight and secured, Kris drove the car to the starting line and waited for their turn to start the rally.

Two minutes to go, Nicole nervously realized as she let her eyes wander over the spectators. A few photographers stood near the car taking pictures and she wondered if it was because they liked the Mitsubishi's look or if it was because they knew Kris was driving it. One more story for the magazines, she thought and looked down the road they would soon take, shaking her head at the sight. People were lined up along the way as far as she could see. "Aren't they a little too close to the action?" she pointed at the crowd.

"From what I've seen of rallies, this seems to be the norm," Kris replied.

"What if a car loses control?"

"I know. Even though people know the danger when they attend races, they still stand there wanting to be as close as possible to the cars. I guess it makes it more exciting this way," the stuntwoman explained. "Dean was saying earlier that they're talking about pushing the boundaries further away from the road because of all the accidents that happened so far. Personally, I think it's a good idea." Seeing people so close makes me nervous, she silently added.

Seeing a race official approach the car, Nicole held the time card ready for him to punch. "This is it," she smiled.

"Yep. Ready?" Kris asked her team partner. She waited until Nicole retrieved the card and said 'go' before she gunned the engine, leaving Shannon and Kyle behind them in another cloud of dust. 

Nicole looked down at the clipped map she was holding. "The road is fairly straight for a while before it turns left," she warned Kris well in advance, taking her navigator job seriously. "The further we'll go the deeper in the forest we'll be." A grunt from her friend was all she received as Kris handled both the steering wheel and gearshift, trying to keep the powerful car from sliding out of control on the loose dirt road. "Hopefully there won't be as many spectators as right now," the young blonde spoke softly to herself.

"As long as they stay as far back from the road as possible, I don't mind," Kris replied as she simultaneously worked the clutch and the gears, bringing their speed up to 130km/h on the straight way. "But right now, they're so close they could sit on my lap," the stuntwoman grumbled.

"Medium left turn approaching," Nicole warned and held on as the car shifted into a controlled side slide then straightened to continue driving down the small hill. " Coming is a long lazy right turn then a medium left again."

"Got it," Kris smiled at Nicole's description of the turns. Following a crash course Nicole and Kyle had received before the race in how to read a topographic map, they had taken the time to establish a system that would warn her in advance of the type of road ahead and so far, it seemed to be working fine.

They continued on for a while without any problems, dealing only with the slippery gravel road and the light dust cloud that Tony's car was causing. Nicole was relieved to see that the number of spectators dwindled considerably the further they drove from the starting point but the relief quickly disappeared when she spotted more people standing close to the side of the road. ""Medium left, now," Nicole warned again and grabbed the roof handle for support. The crowd was getting bigger the closer they approached the turns. "Sharp right soon."

Even though the rally they were watching wasn't part of an official championship event, the spectators lining the road waved at the drivers as they raced past them. Two young boys, wanting to get a better view of the powerful vehicles, tried to approach the cordoned off track but were successfully pulled back by their parents, and received for their failed attempt a good scolding.

At a reasonable distance away from the vehicles, a woman stood on a large cooler, her video camera aimed in the direction that the rally cars took. She smiled as she thought how lucky she was to have found this spot. Located at the top of the hill, she had a perfect view of the cars as they came sliding out of a turn, execute another sharper one then continued on their way. She stopped filming when a silver and black Lancia Integrale sped past, leaving her and the surrounding people in a cloud of dust.

Cursing under his breath at the poor location he had chosen, a photographer grabbed the bag that was resting at his feet and bent under the yellow warning strip to get to the other side of the track. He had noticed the woman with the video camera across from him and if he judged by the smile on her face, he knew her spot was one of the best in the area. Taking the strap off from around his neck, the man briefly stopped to put his Nikon in his small gray bag and pulled another camera out.

Turning the steering wheel left, Kris gave the engine more power as they started to climb a hill, wrestling at the same time with the control when the rear end of the car came dangerously close to the men and women watching the race. Cursing in German at the people's stupidity, the driver shifted gears and slowed the Mitsubishi to prepare for the hard right turn that was coming fast. Unfortunately, the car's speed was still high when they crested the hill.

The man walked slowly across the way, his attention focused solely on the camera he was holding in his hand. He could hear people screaming but shrugged it off, thinking that maybe the crowd was simply excited at the sight of another car heading their way. He could hear the loud sound of a motor coming fast and turned his head to see how far it was. His eyes widen in fear when he saw a red and white Lancer top the hill and head straight for him.

"Shit!" Kris exclaimed as she violently spun the steering wheel.

"Watch out!" Nicole yelled her warning at the same time. Her eyes closed in pure reflex when she spotted the photographer but not before she saw him dive out of the way, the car missing him by mere inches.

"Goddamn idiot!" the stuntwoman growled as she fought to control the car. She spun the wheel left to avoid the man then right to try and stabilize the vehicle that had started to slide both ways. The Lancer spun and came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the road facing the coming traffic. "Damn!" Thankful for her years of experience with stunts involving cars, Kris performed a perfect 180-degree turn in what little space she had, the spin causing pebbles and dirt to spray the cheering spectators, then slammed her foot on the accelerator. "Are you okay?" she asked her teammate once they were under way.

"He scared the shit out of me!" Nicole exclaimed as she slowly opened her eyes. "Left turn."

"What?" Kris frowned, sparing a second to look at her friend.

"There's a left turn coming next," she repeated as she pointed forward. "Even though we almost played tag with the guy and managed to scare the hell out of me, I still have a job to do and that's being your navigator." She winked at her friend and grinned. "Yours is to drive. So I suggest you step on it and make up for the time we lost."

Smiling, Kris shook her head and shifted gears to gain speed. "Yes, ma'am!"



Kris found herself wishing that they were back dealing with a large dusty track and a wooded area instead of a narrow gravel road lined up once again with spectators. At least the forest had been deserted most of the time, giving them a fairly relaxed ride. The stuntwoman pushed the washer fluid button one more time and sighed when a tiny squirt splattered against the glass. She tried again but it was of no use, they were out of liquid. She hit the wiper lever anyway, hoping that whatever amount they had was enough to clear the grimy windshield. The once red and white Mitsubishi Lancer now covered in mud continued on its way with the driver doing her best not to spray the crowd as they drove through the potholes filled with water.

"Damn! Now would be a great time to get more rain," Kris mumbled to herself then cast a glance at her silent companion. "You okay?"

Nicole looked up from her map and rubbed her burning eyes. "I'm okay, I'm just tired," she answered when she saw the concern written all over Kris' face. "And if I am, I can imagine how you must feel right now too." She pointed to a section on her map and smiled. "So I guess you'll be happy to know that after the next right turn, it'll be a long stretch of road that'll lead us to the finish line."

Kris looked at her partner and winked. "What do you think about giving this baby one last hard ride?"

"Are you sure?" Nicole smiled. "I'd love to but the road is kinda muddy and there's a lot of people…"

"If they want to stay that close to the road, they must be willing to pay the price." With a chuckle, Kris shifted gears to prepare for the sharp turn then once they were past, she slammed her foot on the accelerator allowing the engine to run at its maximum speed. As predicted, the potholes in the road were promptly emptied of its muddy water when the rally car raced over them, causing the spectators to be fully drenched. With a grin, Kris peered into the rearview mirror to check on her handiwork. "Heh."

Nicole shook her head and laughed. "You're so bad," she said and noticed at the same time the crowd ahead of them running for cover. "Looks like they don't want a repeat performance."

"Ya think?" Kris smiled.

"Yep," the blonde nodded then pointed forward. "Look, somebody's waving a checkered flag! That's it, we've made it!" They raced past the flag official and reduced speed when a man wearing a set of headphones waved at them. They stopped a little further and waited for the man to jog and join them.

"Hi," the official greeted the women. "You have your time sheet?" he asked and smiled when the blonde handed him the worn card. "Thanks. I'm gonna keep this and give it to Steven so he can put your time on the board. You've been clocked at 1:10: 37. That was a great race, congratulations."

"Thanks. Where do we go from here?" Kris asked.

"Just drive a little further down the road," the man instructed, "and you'll end up at the resort's parking lot. There's a big tent set up next to it with a big buffet waiting for all of you. So just enjoy the rest of the afternoon until the last rally participant arrives." The official stepped away from the car and waved them on their way.

"Just what I wanted to hear," Nicole smiled and patted her grumbling stomach. "I'm famished."

"When are you not?" the dark haired woman teased her smaller companion then held a warning finger at her. "Don't hit me, I'm driving."

Nicole snorted. "I'll catch you later for that comment."

"Promises, promises," she murmured with a smile. Kris drove slowly down the road, being careful of avoiding the pedestrians making their way to and from the rustic resort some distance away. As with the last stage, many publicity banners were hooked everywhere along the way, most of them sponsors for the rally, bringing with it numerous little booths selling food, drinks, and souvenirs. A few trucks with trailers waited in the parking lot not too far away, the names of the professional drivers inscribed on the sides in stylish letters.

"Wow," Nicole uttered softly as she looked at the vehicles. "Oh, look!" she pointed to a black trailer where a few men were pushing a black and silver Lancia Integral on it. "There's the truck for Tony and Roberto. I didn't know they were that well equipped. This reminds me of the Grand Prix when it came to Montreal. It was a real circus like this."

Following a young parking attendant's indications, Kris put the car in reverse then parked. "Most of those trucks are professionally equipped garages. They can take care of any mechanical problems they might encounter during a competition," she explained as she turned the motor off then pulled her racing gloves off. "They must've taken the more direct route from Perth to come here."

"Oh yeah, I remember now," Nicole said as she untied the strap under her chin and took her helmet off. "The guys competed in the World Rally Association event in Perth before the challenge. Guess they'll load the cars here then drive directly to the airport next." She gave her scalp a good scratch and moaned with relief. "Hmmm…That feels soooooo good."

Stepping outside the car, Kris took her own helmet off then dropped it on the driver's seat. "Now you know how I feel every time I have to wear one of those." She was about to reach for Nicole's helmet when a man's voice called their names and both women turned to see a photographer head straight for them. "Yeah?"

"Glad I caught you," he said, slightly out of breath from running. "Steven Marshall asked me to take a picture of every rally participants as they arrived. Would you mind standing beside the car for a moment?"

Looking at Nicole, Kris shrugged and leaned against the muddy car. "Sure, why not." She waited for the smaller woman to walk around the car and stand next to her before she leaned her arm across the blonde's shoulders and brought her close against her. "That should make a nice souvenir."

Cradling the helmet with her left hand, Nicole circled her right arm around Kris' waist and gave her a gentle hug. "Another picture for your impressive collection back home, huh?"

"Something like that," Kris agreed. "But that one's going to be special since you're in it."

The photographer smiled when he aimed his camera at the women, catching the tender look both shared, their spotless red racing suits a weird contrast against the grimy Mitsubishi. Satisfied with the shot taken, the man thanked them. "That was great. Once the filmed is developed, Steven will send you both a copy."

"Thanks," Nicole waved and watched the photographer as he walked away. Turning to face her partner, she put her helmet inside the car then slid her hands up Kris' chest to lock them behind the taller woman's neck. "So," she smiled as she looked into pale blue eyes. "What's next?"

"Hmm," Kris brought her companion closer against her and gently kissed her forehead. "Eat, wait for the results, then leave for Fraser Island."

"Got everything planned already, right?" Nicole smiled.

"More than you think," she replied softly. "Come on…let's grab something, I'm hungry."

"I'm right behind you," the blonde replied and gave her lover a quick kiss before letting her go.


There was a festive air under the tent as all the rally participants shared food and drinks, having joined once again with the competitors that had dropped out of the challenge earlier in the week. A few tables had been set for the occasion but most people had decided to stand and talk instead of sitting. Balancing her plate laden with food with one hand, Shannon took great pleasures in poking her brother with the other, teasing him about being the first participant to drop out of the race. The others watched in amusement as the siblings exchanged jibes.

Nursing a beer, Kris smiled as Nicole came back from the buffet table with her third plate, this time filled with vegetables. She pointed to the food with her bottle. "You're gonna grow long ears if you keep eating those carrots."

"You should try them," the blonde replied as she chewed. "If you ate them more often, you wouldn't need glasses." How she loved to tease her friend about this. She knew that there wasn't any relation between carrots and eyesight but it was always fun to pull Kris' chain once in a while.

"I don't need glasses," was the tall woman's usual answer. I don't want glasses, she silently added.

Nicole snorted. "Yeah, right. So why were you squinting just a few minutes ago?"

Damn! I think I just got caught. Leaning against the empty picnic table, Kris put the empty beer bottle on the surface then crossed her arms over her chest. "Because there's too much smoke in here."

"Huh uh." Another crunch from her carrot stick then she pointed what was left of the vegetable at Kris. "Nobody's smoking and the barbecues are outside the tent… Try again."

One eyebrow disappeared behind Kris' dark bangs. Only Nicole could challenge her this way. "Because it's dark here?" she grinned, knowing that her companion wouldn't buy this excuse either. She didn't. Nicole silently shook her head sideways. "Ugh…because I'm tired," she finally admitted.

"Honey," the small woman spoke softly as she gently rubbed Kris' arm. "I know you don't like it but you'll need to get your eyes examined. Maybe they're the reason for your headaches." She watched the silent woman and smiled. And I'm sure you'll find a way to get out of this conversation. I know you too well.

Kris looked away, giving her partner a non-committal grunt. She spotted Dean and Steven as they walked inside the tent carrying between them a large board with papers stuck on it. "Oh, look! They've got the rally's results. I'll go check them out." Hearing Nicole's gentle laugh behind her, Kris smiled as she headed for the board along with a few other participants. The tall stuntwoman grabbed another bottle of beer on the way and took a long drink from it. Now if her headache could leave her alone, things would be perfect. Almost perfect, she sighed when she saw Tony turn away from the board and face her. The smirk he wore on his face could only mean trouble.

"Did you see the rankings?" the Italian driver asked.

Without a word, Kris looked over his shoulder at the official results. Her brother Ludwig had come in last with a time difference of eight minutes and twenty-six seconds behind the number one position. Shannon and Kyle came in fourth with 3:20 and the team of Dean and Scott third with 1:31 behind the leaders. The names of Teppo and Heikki were added to the teams out of the race. She shrugged. "So?" 

"Guess the best man won," Tony replied with a satisfied chuckle. "I knew you were no match for me."

"I never said I was," Kris said with a calm voice. She casually looked around and saw her brother intently watching them with Nicole standing next to him. She winked at the small blonde and smiled with the worried expression Nicole wore slowly disappeared. She turned her blue eyes back to the Italian driver.

Tony was surprised by the stuntwoman's calmness. He had fully expected her to rant and rave about losing the race but what he saw was the complete opposite. She looked happy about the results. He shook his head. "I don't understand you. I heard you were a perfectionist. How can you be satisfied with the second position?"

"I don't think coming in seventy four seconds behind you is a big disappointment Tony, especially for somebody who isn't a professional rally driver like you." Kris held her hand out. "Congratulations on winning."

The Italian driver blinked at the unexpected gesture and swallowed nervously. He slowly reached for her hand and shook it. "Uh…thanks." They silently looked at each other then Tony shoved both hands in his racing suit pockets. "You know, when we started this rally, all I wanted was to finish first, I didn't care about anything else." He shrugged with a grin. "Then I got to know you and all I wanted was to show you who was the best. I'm glad that the closed circuit race gave me this opportunity but I have to say that you gave me a good challenge. I hope we can do this again soon." He looked at his navigator and jerked his head towards the exit. " Come on…time to go. And Roberto, close your mouth before you swallow a fly."

Roberto stared after the rally driver until he was out of the tent then turned his attention back to the dark haired woman. "Mama Mia! I never thought I'd see Tony shaking your hand," he scratched his head and smiled. "It was…interesting, meeting you. I don't think either one of us will forget this week."

"'Interesting' isn't the word I'd use but…" Kris shrugged. "We had our ups and downs."

"Si," Roberto agreed. "Well, I guess I'd better go. Have a good trip back to Austria," he said and waved at Nicole who was slowly approaching them.

"What was that all about?" Nicole asked her friend. "We were all expecting Tony to flaunt his victory in your face."

"He started this way but somehow, he changed his mind. Don't ask me why 'cause I don't know." She lifted her bottle and took a few swallows of beer. "I'm just glad that we'll be able to relax from now on."

Dean let a relieved sigh escape when he saw the Italians leave the tent without making any trouble. He had seen the conversation between Tony and Kris and feared that both would come to blows, but to their credit, neither did. Moving to stand in front of the buffet table, Dean helped one of the rally officials in setting up a large board while others lifted one of the unused picnic tables and brought it closer to the front of the tent. Numerous small trophies were put on display surrounding a single tall one in the middle.

"Ladies and gentlemen, may we have your attention, please?" Dean spoke loudly to be heard over the sound of the music playing. He nodded his thanks when he saw Steven motion for somebody to turn down the volume. "Thanks, that's much better. I'm sure you're all impatiently waiting for the overall results." He smiled when the group started to applaud and whistle. "I know some of you must leave soon so we'll get things underway."

With her arm draped over Nicole's shoulders, Kris slowly guided them to stand near the front so they'd get a better view. She felt a nudge in her side and turned her head to see Shannon and Kyle next to her. "This is it, huh?"

"Yep," the Australian stuntwoman grinned. "Now we'll finally know who the best team is."

Having given the group enough time to show their appreciation, Dean finally yelled. "Okay, quiet down people!" he waited another few seconds before he continued. "Alright. Behind me are the final results for the Rally/Stunt Outback Challenge. As you all know, the rally wasn't just a race, we also had a scavenger hunt going. So what Steven will announce shortly are the points from last rankings added to the amount of points the pictures gave you. Unfortunately, we have a total of five teams that weren't able to finish the rally so the only points they have are from the Polaroids they took. Steven?"

"Thanks Dean," Steven nodded then peeled the tape off the number ten position, revealing the team. "Richard Brennan and Martin Wilson for the stunt team, one picture, 10 points," he announced then proceeded with the ninth position. "For the rally drivers' team, Mario Thurston and Phil Lauder, two pictures, twenty points. Stunt team with three pictures, Claire and Eddie Ryan, thirty points. In seventh place, Stephane Leduc and Gilbert Marcel, forty points."

Kris leaned against Nicole to whisper in her ear. "I'm kinda sorry about Teppo and Heikki."

"What do you mean?"

"They've been leading this rally since the beginning," she explained. "If it wasn't for Greg's stupid actions, maybe they'd be the winners right now."

Nicole nodded in understanding. The Finns had finished in the sixth position with a total of eighty points. "What I don't understand is that even though their car was sabotaged, they didn't say anything to stop the rally."

"I know," Shannon said. "But I'm sure that if this was a professional race, they would've."

"Shh," Kyle frowned as he elbowed his teammate in the ribs. "I wanna hear the results."

"Grouch," the stuntwoman growled as she elbowed him back.

"Gabber," he shot back.

Shaking his head at the bantering, Ludwig hissed. "Kids! That's enough!" Satisfied with only hearing soft grumbling, the tall Austrian winked at his sister before looking back at Dean and Steven for the rest of the results.

"Even though they won the closed circuit race which gave them one hundred points," Steven continued, "Tony Aghini and Roberto Panizzi are fifth with a total of 130 points."

"Heh," Shannon giggled. "We're going to have one upset Italian on our hands."

"Boomer!" Both Ludwig and Kyle warned.

"Alright! Alright! Jeez, can't even say a word without you complaining."

"At the fourth position," the rally official said, looking slightly embarrassed. "Is the team of Ludwig Von Deering and…um, Greg Lowndes. They have a total of eighty points for the pictures and with Ludwig's fifth place in the closed circuit race, it gives a total of 140 points."

Low grumbling could be heard throughout the tent at the mention of Greg's name but since most rally participants knew that Ludwig had nothing to do with what happened, the complaining was kept to a minimum.

"In third place," Steven smiled and looked at Dean. "Our own rally organizer, Dean Thompson and Scott Buchanan with a total of 150 points." He let the men and women assembled under the tent a moment to congratulate the two rally drivers. "Okay, we're down to the first and second position." The man smiled as he looked at the remaining teams. "Boomer and Kyle, Kristina and Nicole. With only a ten points difference, the winner of the Rally/Stunt Outback Challenge are… Kristina Von Deering and Nicole McGrail!"

"Really?" Nicole exclaimed with a huge grin on her face. "We won? Yeah!" she pumped her arm in victory before she threw her self at her tall friend, wrapping her arms around her neck. "Oh God, I can't believe it! I've never won anything in my life." She pulled back from a smiling Kris and looked around at their friends surrounding them. "Well, Kris did most of the work, but…what I mean is…oh wow! …This is so great…I…" The young woman closed her eyes and covered her face with her hands to try and calm herself but the laughter she heard only served to make her more excited. Green eyes blinked in wonder and she let a squeal escape her lips. "Yeah!"

Bending over in laughter, Kris grabbed her aching sides and shook her head. "This is too precious."

"You laughing at me?" Nicole asked with a half serious frown, both fists firmly planted against her hips.

"No," the tall woman replied as she straightened, wiping a tear off her cheek with a thumb. "Not at you, Nick but with you. You just made me remember what it feels like to win." She took the smaller woman in her arms and hugged her. "Were you serious when you said you've never won anything?" she asked and felt her companion nod against her chest.

"You want to know something Boomer?" Kyle grumbled. "If you hadn't flapped your mouth giving them hints for those two pictures, we would've won!"

Crossing her arms over her chest, Shannon glared at the American. "Come on, curly. This was a challenge between the rally drivers and the stunt…"

"But if they had missed those two pictures, they would've had 160 points instead of 180 and we…"

"Kyle…shut up!"

The bald man stuck his tongue out at her. "Gabber!" he replied then winked at Kris and Nicole. "She always need to get the last word in."

Laughing at the exchange between the friends, the group eventually looked back at the patiently waiting rally official. Steven took a paper from the table and waved it at the audience. "I hold here the final results from the challenge. The total points won by the rally drivers are…three hundred and ninety points." He waited until the noise from the clapping and whistles had died down before he continued. "And the stunt team…" he waited a bit, enjoying the anxious looks he was receiving from the men and women in front of him. "They're the winners of the Rally/Stunt Outback Challenge with a total of 530 points!"

Kyle let out a loud whoop and headed directly for Dean. "Told ya we'd beat you!" he grinned. "With Kris on our team, there's no way we would've lost!"

The blond Australian nodded. "She's a fine driver," he agreed. "I saw that with the closed circuit results." He smiled when he saw the tall woman look at him. "Hey Kris. If you ever decide to do something else besides stuntwork, you're more than welcome to join us."

Scott elbowed his partner in the ribs. "Are you nuts? She's be racing against us and she already beat us once!"

Laughing, Kris approached the men with Nicole in tow. "Nah. Thanks for the invite but I'm happy with what I do." She looked at her brother and smiled. "Besides, I already agreed to another offer."

"She'll be teaching at the stunt school we own back in Innsbruck," Ludwig grinned. "You're welcome to visit anytime."

"We might just do that one day," Dean said as he shook the tall man's hand then Kris'. "Even with all the stress we had this week, it was a great experience and a pleasure to meet you all." Looking at Nicole, the blond opened his arm and gave her a hug. "Now you take care of that partner of yours, okay? Underneath that tough as nails attitude of hers, Kris is a terrific lady," he whispered in her ears.

"I will. You do the same with Scott too," Nicole whispered back before they stepped away from each other. She looked at Shannon and gave the woman a high five. "Yes! We did it!"

"We sure did," the stuntwoman laughed. "I'm glad you had a good time, Nicole."

"I had a great time," she corrected.

"Alright," the rally official shouted once more. "I'm asking for silence one last time then you can party all you want, okay?" he received a big cheer for his comment. "As you can see, there are a total of twenty plaques on the table, each inscribed with your name and your team partner's to thank you for your participation. But before we start the distribution, I'd like to invite the overall winners of the challenge to come forward, please."

"Who?" A strong hand gently squeezed Nicole's shoulder and she turned to see Kris pointing to the front of the tent. "Us?" Shrugging at Shannon, she silently followed the taller woman until they stood next to Steven.

He lifted the big trophy from the table and faced the two women. "Even though this was a group effort, we always give the trophy to the team with the most points. This year it belongs to you. Congratulations Kris and Nicole."

Wanting for Nicole to live the full experience, Kris slightly stepped away as she put her arms behind her back. She winked at the smaller woman and watched as Nicole hesitated for a moment then, with more reassurance and a huge grin, took the offered trophy in her hands and lifted it over her head to the sound of hands clapping and cheers.  


It was late in the afternoon when some of the rally participants gathered their equipment after the party and headed for the airport for their return home. Others had simply reserved a room at the resort, wanting to relax before their due flight the next day. Some distance away from the main building, two women sat on a lounge chair located near a rocky cliff overlooking the lush forest. Dressed in cargo shorts, hiking boots and a polo shirt, Kris was fully stretched on the chair while Nicole, similarly dressed, sat comfortably between her legs, her back resting against her chest.

The dark haired woman tightened her hold around Nicole's waist as she nuzzled the blonde hair. "You okay?" she asked her quiet lover.

"Hmm," the smaller woman smiled as she closed her eyes and leaned her head against Kris. "Yeah. I'm just enjoying the peace and quiet." She slipped her fingers through her companion's and gave them a gentle squeeze as she tilted her head back to look at her. "It's so nice to be able to relax, especially after the week we just had."

With a smile, Kris kissed the inviting lips close to hers. "Well, just wait until we reach Fraser Island. We'll do more than just relax then." The sound of whistling made her chuckle and she murmured in Nicole's ear. "You think somebody's trying to announce their presence?" Looking back over her shoulder, Kris saw her brother strolling towards them. "Hey Ludwig."

"Hey," the tall, dark haired man grinned. "You two look comfortable." He grabbed a chair on the way and settled next to the women. "So, you'll be leaving soon? Where are your luggage?"

"Back at the resort," Kris said. "We're just waiting for Shannon and Kyle to show up so we can say goodbye. She had a meeting with the guy who's buying her second rally car."

"And Kyle went to have a talk with Greg," Nicole informed him. "They're still wondering what to do with him."

"I know," Ludwig sighed. "Dean, Scott and Kyle wanted me to go with them but I don't believe I have any reasons to be there," he shrugged. "Greg was only a teammate not a friend and he didn't sabotage the car or assaulted me so…" Glancing away from his sister and her partner, he spotted a nice looking redhead who waved at him with a wink. Surprised at the greeting he was getting, Ludwig automatically waved back.

Curious as to why her older brother was smiling, Kris craned her neck to look at what had caught his attention and spotted the beauty walking by. "Hmm uh, careful ladies, der Junggeselle is on the prowl again," she chuckled at her unmarried sibling. "Guess I know what he's gonna do once we're gone," she said to Nicole before gently nipping the pink lobe near her lips. "Probably the same thing as we will."

Laughing, Nicole playfully swatted the muscular thigh under her right hand. "Kris!"

Ludwig shrugged. "Might as well start looking again. The last nice woman I saw is no longer available," he winked at Nicole who promptly blushed at the comment.

"Hey guys!" a female voice called from some distance away. Shannon jogged towards the small group, a wide grin on her face. "Great news. We finally agreed on a price for the Mitsubishi. I got more than what I wanted and he's taking it as is!" she rubbed her hands together. "Now I'll be able to really fix the main car and get it ready for some serious racing."

"I'm happy for you, Boomer," Nicole smiled. "So you and Kyle are still planning on doing some rallies?"

"It looks like it," Shannon grinned. "Oh I almost forgot. You don't have to worry about the car Ludwig. My brother said he'd take care of it. There's a little race he wants to participate in near Brisbane."

"That's great," Ludwig nodded. "One less thing to worry about."

Shannon looked in the distance, searching for somebody. "Where's curly by the way?"

"Kyle's still talking with Greg," Kris informed the Australian stuntwoman. "He didn't want to but I kind of told him he should since they've been friends for some time."

"You mean ordered him, don't you?" Ludwig winked at Kris.

Nicole shook her head. "No. I'd say more like strongly suggested. She…ow!" she frowned when she was poked in the ribs. "Hey! What did I do?"

"I merely said," the tall woman explained as she scowled at her friend, "that instead of living with the anger of what Greg did, to go and talk with him. At least this way he'll be able to vent."

"When did we become so wise?" Ludwig asked his sister and laughed when she stuck her tongue out at him. "Well, talk about the devil. Here they come."

Walking down the path leading from the resort was Kyle, Dean, Scott and the two Finns. None of the men seemed particularly happy but Kyle looked more somber than the others. He headed straight for the group and heavily sat down on the ground.

"Are you okay, Kyle?" Shannon asked as she sat down next to her friend. She gently rubbed his back, trying to calm him.

"No, I'm not," he grumbled as he viciously pulled some blades of grass. "I still can't believe we're not going to do anything about…Greg," he spoke the name with the utmost of disdain. "He assaulted Scott, attacked Shannon and God knows what he would've done to Nicole if we hadn't interfered. He should rot in jail for all I care."

"Come on, mate," Dean spoke softly as he sat down next to the American. "We've already discussed it. Greg's terribly sorry for what he's done. You saw him crying? He's not a hardened criminal, just a guy with a streak of bad luck."

Kyle looked up and glared at the blond rally driver. "You play the ponies, you lose, you pay the price," he stated. "That's his problem. But when somebody premeditates and attack like he did to help win a bet, that's something entirely different."

"I know that and I fully agree with you." Dean looked at Scott for some help. Obviously there was no way the stunt technician would change his mind. "Like you, I have a very good reason to be angry with Greg. He did severely injure my…" he stopped himself just in time from saying lover. Nobody but Kris and Nicole were aware of his relationship with the rally driver. "My friend," he said instead.

Squatting next to the men, Scott gave his partner the tiniest of smiles before looking at the American. "It was my decision not to press charges, Kyle, Shannon made the same one remember? I honestly believe Greg's offer to volunteer to do some community work is a good thing. At least this way, he'll help some people in need." He looked at Dean then at the Finns who silently stood near them. "That and the fact that we'll hit him where it hurts the most, his pocket book."

"What's going to happen with the money Greg won from the bet?" Nicole wanted to know.

"Assuming word didn't get around and nobody knows that Greg cheated to win," Dean explained, "Scott, Kyle and myself will go with Greg to collect the winnings. Once we have the money, some of it will go to Teppo and Heikki to help pay for the damage he caused. As for the rest," he smiled at Nicole. "We remembered your suggestion and will make a donation to some charity. Any in particular?"

"Really?" the blonde woman exclaimed and smiled when she felt Kris' arms tighten slightly into a hug. "Wow! That's great, but…" she frowned slightly. "Shouldn't Scott get something for his injuries?"

"No," Scott smiled. "I'd rather see that money be used for people who really need it."

A throat was cleared and people turned to look at the two Finns. "If I might say something," Teppo smiled. "We had a talk with our sponsors. Without mentioning the bet and what happened, they agreed to pay for the repairs on the car. So since it won't cost us a thing, I think I speak for the both of us when I say use the whole amount and help two charities instead of just one."

"Fantastic!" Shannon smiled and looked at Kyle. "At least one good thing came out of this mess, right?"

"Yeah, I guess," the stunt technician mumbled. The only good thing, he silently amended. Looking up, he saw Kris and Nicole watching him intently. He made an effort to smile and sound more cheerful. "At least our team won the rally. I think you'll think twice before challenging us again," he told Dean.

"Are you kidding?" the blond rally driver chuckled. "I want a rematch now more than ever!"

"Leave me out of it next time," Kris murmured then as an after thought, spoke softly into Nicole's ear. "Unless you want to participate?"

Nicole smiled. "Only if Tony's not there." She turned slightly in Kris' arms to get a better look at the taller woman. "If it weren't for his stupidities, it would've been a great experience. But I really had fun this week. Any chance of having the next rally in Africa?"

"Africa, hmm?" Kris nodded. "That could be interesting. Tigers, Lions, other kinds of snakes…"

"Oh," she blinked. "Well…"

With a chuckle, Kris tightened her hold around the smaller woman and softly kissed her nose. "I'm just teasing you, love."

"Well," Heikki rubbed his hands together as he smiled at the group. "I'd love to stay and party some more, but we need to be in Brisbane tonight. It was great to meet you all and I hope we'll see each other again." They all shook hands as they said goodbye. Keeping Kris for last, the rally driver held her hand in his once she stood up and spoke so only she would hear him. "One day, I'd love to race you. You really impressed me for a beginner."

Kris sighed. "First Tony, now you. Why does everybody want to take me on?"

"It's a normal human reaction, Kristina," Heikki smiled. "We see somebody who could be a good challenge…" he shrugged.

"But I'm not really a beginner, driving wise," the stuntwoman replied, teasing the Finn. "So it wasn't such a big deal after all."

"Alright," the man laughed. "I'll make sure you get an invitation for the next rally we do. You and your navigator, of course."

"Of course," Kris smiled. "Have a safe trip back home." She watched the two men walk away then glanced down at her watch. "I guess we should leave too. We have a good distance to travel and we'd like to arrive before nightfall." She shook Scott then Dean's hand. "You did a great job at organizing this rally. I'm just sorry we didn't get a chance at spending more time sightseeing your wonderful country."

"Thanks," Dean beamed. "If you and Nicole want to come back and visit, we'll make sure to show you around, okay?"

"That would be great," Kris said. A small hand at her back made her look down at Nicole who was now standing next to her.

"If we do come back," Nicole smiled, "we must visit Melbourne and Sydney."

"Then we'll get Boomer to join us," Scott piped in as he looked at the Australian stuntwoman. "That should be interesting."

Hearing her nickname mentioned, Shannon sidled up next to Kris. "Join you for what?"

Shoving both hands into her shorts' pockets, the dark haired woman looked at the Australian and with a poker face to hide the humor, said, "Join us for a wet tee-shirt contest. Want to participate?"

"What?" Shannon's eyes bugged out of her head. "You're not…you can't…" she looked at Nicole who had a blank expression on her face then back at the tall woman. "Are you nuts?" she finally blurted.

Chewing the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing, Nicole looked at Ludwig who was silently shaking his head.

Unable to stay serious any longer, Kris burst out laughing. "It's so much fun to tease you, Boomer!"

"Oh yeah?" Shannon approached the tall woman and looked her in the eye. She quickly cupped Kris' face with her hands and gave her a solid kiss on the lips. "Not as much fun as seeing you blush though," she grinned at the flustered woman.

"Buh…" Kris blinked in surprise. With a raised eyebrow, she scratched her jaw. "You know, I'm starting to wonder about you, Boomer. This the second time you kiss me."

"Why should Nicole have all the fun?" the stuntwoman laughed.

"Hey!" Kyle pouted and looked at the blonde. "Why can't I do that?"

"Because you'd have me to deal with," Nicole replied with a half serious scowl then broke into laughter. "But you can do this." Wrapping her arms around the bald man, she gave her friend a big hug. "I'll miss you," she whispered in his ear. "Make sure to come and visit us in Innsbruck, okay? And bring your girlfriend too."

Blushing slightly, Kyle cleared his throat and glanced at Shannon. "I will." He gave Nicole one last squeeze before he stepped away from her then faced Kris. "And you," he pointed a finger at the tall woman. "You be careful with the stunts. I won't be there to keep an eye on you."

"But I will," Nicole winked at her lover.

"I bet you will," Shannon chuckled. She stepped forward and gave the blonde a hug. "You make sure she doesn't get into trouble. If she does, I'll just have to fly all the way from Perth to kick her butt."

"That I'd love to see," she smiled. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Boomer."


"Guess that's it," Nicole said as she wrapped an arm around Kris' waist and hummed softly when the woman leaned her arm across her shoulders. "Ready to go?"

"Lead the way," Kris smiled then looked at her brother. "We'll see you in Innsbruck. Enjoy your time at the resort."

Ludwig winked at his sister. "And you enjoy yours."

Waving at the small group of friends, Kris and Nicole slowly made their way back to the hotel to pick up their bags so they could finish their time in Australia relaxing on a beach, looking out at the Pacific Ocean.


124Km long and covering an area of 163,000 hectares, Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, attained its World Heritage Listing in December 1992 due to its exceptional sand dune systems, its rainforests on sand and its pristine freshwater lakes. The island was a nature lover's paradise with the amazing variety of landscapes.

The scenery that was offered to the visitors included long surf beaches, cliffs and gorges in shades of orange, red, yellow and pure white sand, dense rainforests, vast desert-like sandblows, freshwater lakes perched high up in its dunes, winding streams, great basalt headlands and salt pans with eerie mangrove forests. Along the ocean coastline, the dunes took on at times sculptured shapes, giving rise to the names 'The Cathedrals' and 'The Pinnacles'.

Across the broad stretches of the ocean beach and running through the cool shady havens of the rainforest, came the flow of the island's many streams where an estimated 250 creeks cut across the eastern beach. The largest, Eli creek was said to empty 4 Meg Litres per hour of pure fresh water into the ocean as the island acted like a huge sand filter.

Having left the resort at Eurong with his two passengers, the driver of the Land Rover drove on the 75 miles beach as he made his way towards their destination in the Poyungan Valley. He looked into the rearview mirror and smiled at the look of pure fascination on the blonde woman's face as she excitedly pointed to one thing or another as they drove by. Tourists always reacted the same when taking in the beauty the island offered. Her less demonstrative companion nodded with a gentle smile as the smaller woman read from a pamphlet and relayed the information.

Turning to look at Kris, Nicole shook her head in wonder. "You know, I still can't believe where the plane landed. I was expecting a small airport or something but never a beach landing."

Kris chuckled. "The pilot did say the sand was hard enough two hours after low tide." The dark haired woman smiled as she took her companion's hand in hers. "But what I can't believe is the fact that you insisted on flying aboard a small plane again, especially after the crash we survived in Greece."

Nicole shrugged. "Well, they do say that after falling off a horse, you have to climb right back on." She lifted their joint hands and lightly kissed Kris' knuckles. "Thanks for your patience. I don't think I could've made it nervous as I was."

"I'm just glad everything went well," she replied softly and looked out the window when the 4WD truck slowed down to drive off the beach.

The driver followed a narrow track and soon stopped at what looked like a private residence. Located on the surf beach of the Pacific Ocean, the duplex was hidden behind the first sand dune creating ultimate privacy and nestled in a valley on its own, surrounded by trees of the National Park.

"Huh Kris?" Nicole spoke softly as she tugged on her friend's polo shirt. "I thought we were going to a resort."

"Surprise," Kris smiled as she opened the door and stepped out of the truck. "Before leaving Innsbruck, I talked to Boomer about a nice place to relax in peace and quiet. She mentioned this place so I quickly reserved it for us."

"Boomer?" the driver chuckled as he took the luggage out of the Land Rover and smiled at his two guests. "Now that's a new nickname for Shannon. She told me you're good friends of hers and ordered me to take good care of you."

"Ordered?" Kris shook her head with a small smile. "I'll need to have a talk with her."

"Oh wow!" Nicole breathed in amazement as she took a few steps away from the truck and looked at the well cared for lawn and beautiful gardens. "What an incredible place you have here, Mr. Bauer."

"Please, call me Martin," the older man smiled. "And thank you for the compliment. My partner and I have worked real hard to build this little retreat." Walking towards the house with some of the bags, he spoke over his shoulder at the two women behind him. "Friedrich and I live on the second floor, so if you need anything, don't hesitate to ask either one of us."

Kris nodded. "Danke," she thanked him in her native tongue. Grabbing the remaining luggage, the tall woman followed their host and spoke softly so Nicole wouldn't hear her. "You had no problem finding what I asked you on the phone?"

"No problem at all." Martin grinned. "It's nicely chilled and ready whenever you need it."

"Perfect." Having arrived at the door, Kris looked back at her companion who was still studying the unusual flowers and ferns that were scattered across the garden. "Are you coming in, Nick?"

"Oh! Yeah, right." Nicole jogged to join Kris and took one of the two travel bags from her. "I don't think we'll have enough time to see everything," she chuckled. "I never saw anything so exotic before."

"Tell you what. How about we take the rest of the day easy and we'll get an early start tomorrow to visit the island?"

"That would be great," Nicole agreed. "I am kinda tired after the day we've had."

"So an early start it is," blue eyes twinkled mischievously, following the small woman as she stepped inside their rented apartment.

Both Kris and Nicole were pleased to see that the self-contained downstairs duplex was house sized with a dining room and a large fully equipped kitchen, the pantry having been stocked for their arrival with food and drinks. A spacious lounge and three bedrooms occupied the rest of the house, the master quarters offering an incredible view of the Ocean due to its wide sliding door and veranda.

Martin put the bags on the floor then took a set of keys out of his pocket and handed them to Kris. "As requested, you have an All Terrain Vehicle waiting for you whenever you're ready. So," he smiled. "I'll leave you to relax and again, don't hesitate to call if you need assistance."

"Thank you, Martin. You've been more than helpful," Kris said as she shook his hand.

"Yes, thank you," Nicole agreed. "I know we'll love it here."

"Great. Have a good time then." With a nod, the man stepped out of the house, closing the door behind him.

"Oh wow!" Nicole exclaimed as she dropped the bag that she was carrying onto the comfortable looking sofa. "This place is awesome!"

Putting her own piece of luggage on the floor, Kris chuckled softly as she stepped behind her lover and wrapped both arms around the blonde's waist. "Glad you like," she murmured softly, kissing her neck. "I don't know about you but I'm really looking forward to a long shower and a nap on a comfortable bed. How about it?"

Turning around in Kris' arms, Nicole smiled as she slowly let her hands crawl up the tall woman's chest to lock them behind her neck. "That's the best offer I've had today." She gently kissed the inviting lips close to hers and winked. "Maybe a little more than just a nap on that comfortable bed?"

"You got it," Kris grinned. "Lead the way!"


"Nick, time to get up."

Cradling Kris' pillow in her arms, Nicole grunted softly as she slowly awoke. One green eye cracked open at the insistent voice and quickly closed it when all it saw was darkness. "Too early," she mumbled and pulled the blanket closer under her chin before falling back to sleep.

"C'mon," Kris chuckled as she sat down on the bed. "You did say you wanted to get an early start." She waited for an answer but all she heard was Nicole's deep and regular breathing. With a sigh, Kris lightly shook her friend to wake her up. "You're going to miss it, Nicole, and I know you'll be disappointed if you do."

"Wha…?" she opened her eyes again and flopped onto her back, giving her companion a scowl. Kris was dressed in T-shirt and sweat pants, her hair done in one thick braid. "What are you doing already dressed?" she asked and glanced past her friend to look at the clock. "Kris! Do you know what time it is?"

"Yep, I do," the dark haired woman grinned. She tugged on the covers until one naked shoulder was visible and bent down to kiss it. "I don't know if you can smell it, but I made us a batch of muffins for breakfast."

"It does smell nice," Nicole sleepily said as she grabbed the blanket and pulled them up again, closing her eyes. "Hmm…muffins…" With a start, green eyes blinked open as the information fully registered in her mind. "You…baked?"

"Sure," Kris nodded. "I mean, how hard can it be to add water to a mix?" She stood up and rested both fists on her hips. "Come on, Nick. We're losing time here. I've got breakfast done, the ATV is ready to go and we've got a lot to do today."

"Gimme ten more minutes," the blonde asked as she burrowed deeper under the covers.

With an evil grin, Kris leaned closer to her lover and whispered in her ear. "Nicole, if you don't get out of this bed right now, I'll grab you and carry you out of the house as you are."

"Just five minutes then," was her sleepy reply.

"You asked for it." Grabbing the blanket along with her dozing lover, Kris slid her arms under Nicole's legs and back then lifted her off the bed.

"Kris!" she squeaked, now fully awake. "Put me down!"

"Nope," the stuntwoman chuckled. "We're already late and we're going to miss it if we don't hurry." Carrying her unwilling cargo, Kris walked towards the bedroom's sliding door and opened it further with her foot.

"You're nuts!" Nicole chuckled as she tightened the blanket around her body. "Kris, I've got no clothes on! What's so important about waking up so early?"

"You'll see," she winked as she gave her friend a quick kiss on the nose. Carefully making her way past the sand dune, Kris stopped as soon as the ocean was in full view. She knelt on the sand and gently put Nicole on a blanket that had been previously spread, sitting her next to a picnic basket. "It'll be worth it, trust me." Standing up again, Kris pulled her T-shirt off then her sweat pants. With a grin, she offered the clothes to her speechless friend. "Guess you'll be more comfortable dressed in these."

Nicole shook her head in disbelief. Standing before her was the tall beauty simply dressed in her black sports bra and biking shorts. She let her eyes roam over the well-defined and muscular body, totally enjoying the sight. With a smile, she slipped an arm out of the blanket and grabbed Kris' shirt. "What's gotten into you?" she laughed. "You're in a mood this morning."

"I feel great!" Kris agreed. "This place is doing me a lot of good." She turned to look at the ocean and lifted her eyes to study the sky that was slowly starting to lighten with the rising sun. The sound of the breaking waves on the shore was soothing and relaxing. "I wish we could stay a few more weeks. I love it here."

"Well, you do look happy, love. It's been a while since I've seen you this way," Nicole gently said. Looking down the beach and seeing no one, she quickly slipped into the oversized shirt and pants. Once properly dressed, Nicole lightly scratched one of Kris' legs to get her attention. "Sit with me?"

"Sure." She promptly settled herself behind her lover, stretching her long legs on each sides then wrapped one arm around Nicole's waist. With her other hand, she reached for the small picnic basket and carefully slid it closer to them. "Hungry?" she asked as she opened the lid and took a plate out filled with blueberry muffins.

"This is great," Nicole smiled as she took a pastry and hungrily bit into it. "Hey, that's good!" she exclaimed with a mouth full, surprised. Kris had many skills but cooking wasn't one of them.

"Glad you approve," the tall woman chuckled. She put the plate on the spread out blanket and pointed to the rising sun above the Pacific Ocean. "Still upset that I woke you up so early?" she asked as she grabbed the discarded blanket and wrapped the both of them to keep warm.

Looking out at the spectacular sight, Nicole slowly shook her head no and leaned against her lover. "I'm happy you did." The colors were simply amazing as the dark tints of blue and purple slowly gave way to lighter shades of orange and pink with the slowly rising sun. "What a way to start a day," she smiled when she felt soft lips kiss her temple. They sat in a comfortable silence and watched as nature fully awoke before them.

Peeking inside the basket, Kris let the right side of the blanket slip off of her shoulder and reached inside for one of the glasses that had been already filled. She took one flute out and carefully handed it to her lover. "Champagne?"

"Oh!" Nicole blinked in surprise as she took the offered drink. "Champagne and orange juice? Breakfast of the rich and famous," she grinned and waited until Kris had her own glass in her hand. "It's not that I don't appreciate this romantic setting, but what's the occasion?" They lightly touched glasses before each took a sip.

The stuntwoman smiled. "Just wanted to let you know how precious you are to me," she said softly as she nuzzled Nicole's blonde hair. "Meeting you is the most important thing that happened in my life."

Nicole's heart nearly skipped a beat at hearing the softly spoken words. She closed her eyes, wanting to burn this moment into her memory. Feeling Kris move behind her, she sat up straight and curiously watched her friend as she knelt and sat back on her heels beside her.

Nervously clearing her throat, Kris bit her lower lip before taking one of her lover's hands in hers, keeping her eyes on their linked fingers. "You know I'm no poet and that words don't come easily for me." She shrugged. "So I…hmm. I thought that spending some time like this, I mean, just the two of us, was the best way to…ah, well…" Blue eyes slowly lifted and locked with green ones. "I…hmm." She cleared her throat again, cursing at the blush she felt slowly crawling up her cheeks.

Slightly confused by her partner's sudden shyness, Nicole gently rubbed her thumb on Kris' knuckles. "Are you trying to let me down easy?" she teased, wanting to ease her friend's nervousness.

"No!" Kris blurted out in panic. "That's not what…" she scowled when she saw Nicole grin. "You're teasing me."

"A little," she smiled. "You're just so stressed, honey. Take a deep breath and relax before you fall down." She watched as Kris did as she was told and waited until she took a deep breath to calm her self. "This morning has been one surprise after another. You've made it so special that the memory will last for a lifetime. Thank you."

"I just wanted to please you," Kris spoke softly. She lifted her mixture of champagne and orange juice to her lips, drained the glass then put it back into the basket. With a smile, she motioned Nicole to do the same.

Tilting the glass to drink from it, the small blonde blinked in surprise when something solid slid along the side to end up against her lips. She frowned at her glass and carefully took the item out of the flute, holding it between her thumb and index finger. With a stunned expression, she watched as Kris took the small ring and rinsed it with a bottle of water she now held in her hand.

Taking another deep breath to calm her racing heart, Kris rose from the blanket and knelt on one knee. She smiled shyly at Nicole, taking the smaller hand in hers. "I know we've done this before but…hmm…" she looked down at the ring she was nervously fingering. "I wanted to do it right this time."

Getting over the shock of finding the jewelry in her glass, Nicole relaxed when she realized what Kris was about to do. "I guess practice makes it perfect," she said, the teasing words making the tall woman smile.

"Yeah," she chuckled, finally able to relax…just a tiny bit. "The past year we've spent together was…hmm…" she hesitated, trying to find the perfect word.

"Interesting?" Nicole supplied with a grin. "Or how about challenging, eventful, wonderful?"

"All of the above," she teased back then became more serious. "Ever since you came into my life…well, I've never been happier, Nicole. You're my whole reason for living and…"

"And I can't imagine my life without you," Nicole continued with teary eyes.

"Did you read my notes?" Kris asked jokingly, trying to fight her own tears. With another clearing of her throat, she continued. "A year ago, I asked you to share the rest of my life with you. But where I did it, well… it wasn't the most romantic place I could find."

"The place isn't important, love. You could've done it while stuck in traffic and I still would have been thrilled."

Making a show of looking at the deserted beach, Kris grinned at her lover. "No traffic here. I hope this beautiful sunrise and location will do instead?"

Nicole playfully sighed. "Guess it'll have to…oh!" she gasped in surprise when a pair of soft lips quickly captured hers, "…do." She looked down when the small ring was slowly put on her finger, the golden piece of jewelry perfectly matching her wedding band.

"Ich liebe dich, Nicole McGrail, and if you'll have me, I want to spend the rest of eternity with you."

Raising a shaking hand to her lips, Nicole closed her eyes as a single tear fell down her cheek. "And beyond," she uttered softly. Opening her eyes as a gentle hand softly caressed her face, she leaned into the touch with a smile. "I love you too, Kristina Von Deering. Now and forever."

After having sealed their pledge with a kiss, the tall, dark haired woman took her previous spot behind Nicole and tenderly embraced her soulmate. In a comfortable silence, both watched as the sun slowly rose in the distance, neither in a hurry to move, knowing that they had the rest of their lives to experience other adventures.

 The end.

Pictures of Fraser Island


Note from the author. There is a new adventure involving Kris, Nicole and a very special couple. The story is called "Tales of Two" and was co-written by K. Darblyne and WolfDragon. Here's the resume.

This is the third story in That Healing Touch Series by K.Darblyne and co-authored by WolfDragon. Tales of Two is exactly what it says, the story of things in pairs. From twins to Uber couples that have some striking similarities and stories of tails in duplicate, this novel story line spans the time when friendship turns to thoughts of love. With the help of Kristina Von Deering, a tall, dark stuntwoman, Dr. Garrett Trivoli finds some interesting things out about herself and her past that help to lessen her emotional load and allow her walled off heart to finally seek the love that is there for the taking. With Nurse Danni Bossard at her side, the adventures just keep coming to make this an entertaining and delightful trip in seeing double.



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