DISCLAIMER: Women's Murder Club and its characters are the property of James Patterson, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written in celebration of Grumpy's birthday and Passion Perfection's Halloween Challenge. A very special thank you to Debbie for the beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Blackness enveloped her; it was all she could see as the night threatened to swallow her whole. She frantically turned the key in the ignition once more, only to hear the soft clicking noise of the battery refusing to turn over. With each subsequent attempt, her hand movement became more frenzied and the noise from underneath the car's hood lessened until, finally, even the clacking sound had disappeared. She blew out a shaky breath and tried not to panic.
"Okay, no problem. Just call someone to come get you."
The sound of her wavering voice did little to reassure her that she was safe nor did the knowledge that she'd managed to engage the door locks before the car's battery had lost all its power. She'd seen all the horror movies and knew the victim was never safe, no matter how many locks he or she had hidden behind. The killer always found a way.
Reaching across the console to the passenger seat, Cindy grabbed up her purse and eased it over into her lap, careful not to spill any of its contents as she'd surely not be able to find anything in the pitch black of the car. She fumbled around inside her handbag until her fingers brushed up against a cylindrical metal object, and she breathed a sigh of relief as she gripped the item tightly and lifted it free from the soft leather. With a slight twist at the end of the object, light shone from the miniature flashlight and reflected off the roof of her car, its illumination casting eerie shadows both inside and outside the vehicle and causing her to wonder if the darkness had been less frightening. She swallowed her fear and angled the light down into her purse.
A ghost of a smile eased onto her face at the sight of her cell phone lying just underneath her wallet, and she quickly retrieved it, placed her small flashlight on the seat next to her, and flipped the phone open with a single motion. To say she was relieved to see a signal, however weak, was putting it mildly.
"Let's see . . . Lindsay's out on a date, and Claire's busy with Nate's school carnival. So, I guess it's Jill." She punched '7' on her speed-dial and tried to remain calm as she waited for the other woman to answer. It had helped her somewhat to know that she'd rationalized her choices before choosing the one person's voice she'd most wanted to hear. Her other reason was sound, too. Seven had always been lucky for her.
Safe in her well-lit apartment, Jill gently placed a wicker basket on her carpeted floor, and reached for the door locks, cursing under her breath when her cell phone chimed from her pocket. She paused momentarily and considered letting it go to voice mail, but figured whoever was calling would more than likely try again later. Not bothering to hide her annoyance, she allowed her frustration to spill over into her voice.
"Um, Jill?" Cindy hesitated blurting out her dire situation at hearing the DDA's harsh tone, despite her overwhelming fear that Freddie Kruger was lying in wait just behind the trees that lined the two-lane road, biding his time before he made his way over to kill her in some form of horrific manner.
"Cindy, I was just on my out," said Jill, reining in her irritation when she'd recognized the young woman's voice. "Can I call you back later?"
Cindy winced. She hated keeping her friend from her date, but not as much as she hated the idea that Jill actually had a date. She tried not to imagine the hot sex that would more than likely ensue as she formulated her reply.
"Well, normally I'd say yes, but this is kind of an emergency."
Jill closed her eyes and sighed audibly. She'd been looking forward to this particular outing and had no desire to alter her plans even for someone as cute as Cindy.
"What about Lindsay?"
"Pete's in town."
"Nate's school carnival."
"Can it wait an hour?" Jill checked her watch, figuring an hour would be ample time to do what she needed to do. She'd just have to be less choosy than usual.
Cindy contemplated the question. What kind of date only took an hour? A multitude of scenarios played out in her mind and her face reddened at the graphic details and various encounters she'd imagined the DDA participating in. She found herself temporarily grateful for the pitch black that kept her from seeing her image in the darkened mirror. Cindy really hated it when her face matched the color of her hair.
A loud hoot of an owl had her jumping in her seat and drew her attention back to her current predicament. The owl hooted again for good measure.
"I don't think I can wait that long."
"Thirty minutes?" asked Jill hopefully, deciding she'd just have to make the most of what little time she had.
On the other end of the line, a frown made its way onto Cindy's face as she began to race the different sexual scenarios around in her head once again. Allowing for travel time, Jill wouldn't be able to manage so much as a quickie with whoever she'd planned to meet. Realization slowly crept in when Cindy remembered what had happened on this exact date last year.
"Oh no . . . tell me you're not planning to lay in wait for trick-or-treaters and water balloon the ones you think are too old."
Cindy had been on the receiving end of one such water balloon when she'd donned a witches costume and had decided to pay Jill a surprise visit last Halloween. She'd finally gotten up the nerve to ask the other woman out and thought that if Jill had said no, she'd just laugh it off and pretend it was a Halloween gag, saying she was playing the role of a witchy woman.
Her nerves had gotten the better of her, however, and she'd stood outside the building for the longest, finally looking up at the windows above her. She'd caught movement on a second story balcony that jutted out slightly from the side of the building, and she'd watched wide-eyed as a red, round object plummeted toward her. It had splatted against her forehead before she could lift a hand to swat it away. The force, coupled with the sheer shock at being hit with a water-filled missile, had literally knocked her on her ass. She'd looked up, dazed, at the building, spotting a blonde head leaning over the railing and had immediately recognized Jill.
"Um . . . well," Jill began, recalling the rather unfortunate toss as feelings of guilt began to take hold. She had indeed promised the young woman that she'd refrain from pelting over-aged trick-or-treaters, but she'd been so busy during the past year that she hadn't had time to come up with an alternative brand of retaliation. After all, the older kids almost always engaged in various acts of misconduct before the night was over, so, in her mind, she was just doing her civic duty to stop petty crime before it was committed.
"You were on your way out with a basketful of balloons, weren't you?" said Cindy accusatorily, readying to blast her friend for going back on her word, but the glow of headlights, piercing through the fog that had slowly rolled in, edged over the top of the small rise that led to her stalled car and grabbed her attention. In a matter of seconds, scenes from Nightmare on Elm Street merged eerily together with Friday the 13th, and Freddie's face had quickly been replaced by Jason's mask in Cindy's mind.
"But that's not important now," Cindy blurted breathlessly as she watched the car lights reflect off the trees. "What's important is that you get in your car and head out to Twin Peaks Park."
"Why would I want to do that?" Jill looked down at the colorful water balloons nestled comfortably beside each other. Tossing them over the edge of the building sounded much more exciting than driving up to the park unless, she thought, there would be wet, open mouth kisses and plenty of groping that would culminate in smoking hot car sex. Of course, she'd need to come clean about her feelings toward the young woman before they rolled around naked in the backseat of one of their cars.
While Jill mentally debated which car would have more room, the car approaching Cindy rolled slowly closer and closer.
"Because my car's broken down on the side of the road and I need you to come get me," squeaked Cindy as she tried to keep the panic out of her voice, while her eyes stayed glued to her rearview mirror.
"What in the world are you doing driving up to the park at this time of night?" asked Jill, immediately picking up on the sense of urgency in her friend's tone. Thoughts of steamy car sex were replaced with worry as she pivoted away from her apartment door and quickly searched the room for her purse.
"Um, I was supposed to meet a source."
Snatching her purse and car keys from the bar, Jill returned to her door, ignoring the wicker basket that lay at her feet. "Are you nuts? Couldn't you have found a more public place?"
Cindy gulped audibly the car had stopped right beside her.
"Do you think maybe you could yell at me later? Um I'm not alone anymore; there's someone . . ."
The weak cell signal chose that particular moment to go dead and cut off the reporter in mid-sentence. The silence was deafening as Jill waited for Cindy to say something anything to reassure her that she was okay, but her phone remained deadly silent.
Throwing the locks open, Jill gripped the doorknob and called to her friend one last time.
"Damn it, Cindy! Answer me!"
Navigating her way through the dense fog, Jill had to squint in order to see the sides of the road, and she cursed her need to drive slowly or risk meeting a tree trunk head on.
"Where the hell are you?" She leaned forward and extended her head slightly over the steering wheel as if a few more inches would make a difference in seeing through the heavy mist, but despite her efforts, visibility continued to be zero at best.
Jill concentrated on the painted white line that separated the road from the shoulder and became so mesmerized by the way the car lights seemed to reflect back toward her, before they bounced off the white stripe, she almost rear-ended an older model station wagon that was parked in the middle of her lane. She was just able to apply her brakes in time and only barely tapped her front bumper against the car's rear one.
"What the?" asked Jill to herself as she stared at the car in front of her. She'd just moved her hand to shift the car into reverse to back up and go around the vehicle when she froze. Her right headlight reflected off the stalled car's bumper and then her own, casting a beam of light that somehow pierced through the thickness of the fog. With her heart practically beating out of her chest, she lowered her passenger side window and tilted her head to the side. A red car was parked on the shoulder right beside the station wagon. She immediately recognized it as Cindy's.
Keeping her gaze steadily on Cindy's car, Jill reached into her console and removed a heavy duty flashlight, wishing for something a little more substantial in case she needed to defend herself. She waited several minutes to see if her friend would emerge from her car, but it soon became obvious that: one, Cindy had already exited the vehicle; two, she was too scared to open the door; or three, she was unable to open the door because some psycho killer had already gotten to her.
Jill hoped for option two as she gripped her flashlight tightly and opened her door. Slowly climbing free from the safety of her car, she kept one eye trained on the station wagon and the other on the driver's side door of Cindy's car. No movement was detected from either vehicle.
Easing Cindy's car door open, Jill flashed a light around its interior. Her friend's purse lay on the passenger-side seat, its contents slung all around as if there'd been a struggle. The DDA quickly shone the light throughout the small car, not finding any other evidence that Cindy had been forcefully pulled from her vehicle. But for one reason or another, the young reporter had chosen to leave her car.
Cindy's scream split the silence of the night, and Jill reflexively jerked her head up at the sound. A loud bang was soon followed by a louder curse as she hit the back of her head on the hard metal rim of the car.
"Shit!" Jill rubbed the sore spot with her hand as she scanned the area for any sign of Cindy. Except for the cars that surrounded her, she couldn't make out a single object as the fog directly in front of her appeared to curl into a smug grin, mocking her inability to find her friend.
"Screw you," said Jill to the foggy apparition as she easily moved through the heavy mist, heading in the direction she'd heard Cindy's scream. Armed with only a flashlight, she readied to battle the animal that had threatened the woman she'd grown so very fond of.
Her steps faltered at her realization of just how deep her feelings were for the younger woman, but she tucked her surprise away to deal with after she'd found Cindy and given her friend a proper tongue lashing she tripped over her last thought and fell to one knee just as Cindy screamed again.
Pinpointing the exact location of the shout, Jill jumped to her feet and sprinted to her right, mindless of whatever lay in her path. All she knew was that she had to get to Cindy before the other woman was torn limb to limb by the sharp canines of the wolf. She tightened her hold on the handle of the flashlight, prepared to go down swinging if she had to, but when she finally arrived at the site of the scream, she feared she was too late. There, in a small clearing, stood Cindy, directly in the path of a wolf that was quickly bearing down on her.
Jill didn't take the time to wonder why the fog seemed to dissipate at that very moment, giving her a perfect view of the attack; she just lowered her head and picked up her pace. Nothing was going to stand between her and Cindy. Not after tonight.
Arriving at the desired location just steps behind the wolf, she lifted the flashlight high above her head ready to crash it down on the animal's skull, but she was brought up short when Cindy went down on one knee and engulfed the wolf in a hug.
"Wolf, your Momma is going to be so happy to see you," said Cindy, scratching the canine behind the ears. Jill watched, fascinated, as the animal immediately sat down and lolled its tongue out the side of its mouth. She eased her makeshift weapon down to her side and tried to catch her breath. Cindy finally realized she wasn't alone.
"Jill! You came!"
Still struggling to breathe, Jill bit down on her tongue, but she couldn't stop her sharp mind from forming a witty reply: the next time she was breathless from coming, she'd damn well better be naked in Cindy's arms. Jill bent over at the waist and laughed heartily between her uneven breaths.
"Hey, you okay?" asked Cindy, pushing to her feet and patting the wolf-dog on the head before closing the distance to her friend. She placed a gentle hand on Jill's back and rubbed soothing circles. "You've been running?"
Jill snorted she hated to run. "Yeah, I thought you were being attacked by wolves."
Cindy frowned slightly but then caught sight of Wolf, sitting calmly and watching the two humans. She grinned. "Oh, Wolf's not an actual wolf."
"I can see that now," said Jill sarcastically, but her curiosity kept her in check. "Who does Wolf belong to?"
Before Cindy could reply, a woman's voice sounded from the edge of the clearing.
"Cindy, you found him!"
Jill turned toward the sound to see a tall figure walking toward them a very tall figure. Reflexively, she stood to her full height and placed her arm loosely around Cindy's waist. It was, after all, the proper thing to do since Cindy had kept her hand on the older woman's back. However, pulling the reporter tightly to her side and easing her hand protectively over a shapely hip would leave no doubt in the approaching stranger's mind that Cindy belonged to Jill.
"What if she'd been lying just to get you into the woods?" asked Jill as she watched the tail lights of the station wagon disappear into the fog. Placing her car in gear, she slowly accelerated.
"She seemed very upset about someone letting her dog out of her yard."
Cindy had been hesitant at first when the station wagon had pulled beside her and especially when she'd seen the size of the person who'd climbed out of the car to approach her. But when she'd seen how distraught the woman was and that the stranger hadn't been carrying a gun, a knife, or a chain-saw, she'd quickly opened her car door and offered to help.
"She could've made it all up. Did you even ask any questions?"
"I'm a reporter of course, I asked questions."
Jill grinned, despite the seriousness of the conversations. Cindy always asked questions.
"Like what exactly?"
Cindy paused in reflection. "I asked how the dog got out, why she thought he'd come to the park road, what he looked like, how long she'd had him, and what her favorite memory of him was. I knew when she'd answered that last question that she wasn't lying. No one can fake that kind of emotion."
"Well, you're lucky she wasn't some crazed serial killer."
"Yeah, I guess I am," said Cindy, gazing at the hand that rested on the gear shift. She'd always admired Jill's hands so fine boned, yet so strong-looking and had often wondered if they were as soft as they appeared.
"Okay, no more taking chances you hear me?" Jill watched from the corner of her eye as Cindy moved her focus away from the console and, specifically, the hand that rested there. The younger woman's expression had turned suddenly sad.
"No more chances."
The sigh in Cindy's voice, the soft tone of her reply, and the look in her eyes when she'd forcefully eased her gaze from the older woman's hand came together in a single moment of realization. Jill could only hope she was right in her assessment, but there was only one way to be certain. She carefully steered her car to the shoulder of the road and shifted into PARK as she turned in her seat.
"Well, there could be one exception." Jill tilted her head to the side and smiled teasingly, pleased when she noted the hitch in Cindy's breath. "That is, if you're willing to take a chance on another woman this Halloween."
The edges of Cindy's mouth slowly lifted in a grin, before her entire face lit up in a full-fledged smile. She was positively beaming.
"Is this a trick or a treat?" asked Cindy teasingly.
Jill played along and made a show of leaning between their seats, carefully surveying the floorboard and backseat. Shaking her head, she said, "Well, I don't see any water balloons this time." Practically shoulder to shoulder with Cindy, she made no attempt to move.
This close, Cindy could smell the sweetness of Jill's perfume and look deeply into eyes filled with passion. She didn't hesitate to lean in closer.
"Treat it is."
Lips met softly as each woman took her time exploring the newness of the touch until Jill impatiently pulled Cindy to her and deepened the kiss. She'd finally found a much more enjoyable way to celebrate Halloween, and if she had her way, things would definitely go bump in the night.
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