DERRICK

Maria just stood there, staring at Derrick although she knew that she should clean up the scotch from the carpet before it stained.  She also knew that she should advert her eyes from Derrick’s naked body, but her eyes did not want to do what her mind was telling them to do.  She had seen her brother’s penis when he was a baby but never an adult male’s penis.

Did all of them look like that?  Were they all that long and thick?  Oh my gosh, if yes, how would that fit inside of her without splitting her apart?

“Like what you see Maria?” Derrick asked, bringing her out of her thoughts.

Maria gasped and quickly averted her eyes, mumbling, “Sorry I spilled the scotch sir.  Let me go get something to clean it up before it stains,” as she dropped to her knees to pick up the glass and few ice cubes that had spilled out first.

“Don’t worry about it.  I will call a carpet cleaner tomorrow to take care of it.” Derrick said.  “Right now you and I have some unfinished business Maria,” as he reached down, grabbing her arm, and pulling her to her feet.  He took the glass from her shaking hands and set it on the bar.  “You have too many clothes on so let me do something about that,”

**********

EMILY

As the warm Arizona sun peeked between the opening of the curtains, warming Emily’s body, she slowly began to stir. She rolled over on her back, stretching, her foggy mind slowly waking up.  Looking up at the ceiling, she thought Today is the day.  I am going to tell my children the truth about their father.  I just hope they don’t hate me too much for leaving him, but it was for their safety and mine.  And if I had not left, I would not have met Jason, who showed more love to the children as their stepfather than their biological father did.

The smell of coffee drifting into her room under the door made Emily sit up in bed.  She slowly climbed out of bed, trudging to the attached bathroom to grab a shower before she headed down to breakfast.  When she finally made it to the dining room, she saw Julie helping to serve their new guests.  Emily started to tell Julie that she did not have to do that, that she was also a guest but then Emily remembered how independent she was right after leaving Phil, so she kept her thoughts to herself.

“Good morning everyone, sorry I am a tad bit late,” she apologized, going over to the sideboard to pour herself a cup of coffee.  “What activities are planned for your enjoyment today?”

Mr. Jarbo, who was there with his wife and two young sons said, “Parker has arranged for a trail ride today to the creek where we can swim and have a picnic.”

“You all will love that,” Emily told him, nodding at Julie who put a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast in front of her.  “And in a couple of nights, we will have a big bonfire so we can roast hot dogs and marshmallows,”

Mr. Jarbo’s two young sons gave out a whoop as did the two daughters and one son of the other family, the Emerson family.  After an enjoyable breakfast, Emily excused herself to go into the office to make a phone call while the families got ready for their trail ride and picnic.

Sitting down on the leather loveseat, Emily took a deep breath before she hit auto-dial for her daughter’s number.

“Good morning mom,” a cheerful voice said on the other end. “Is everything okay?  We just talked last night.”

“Yes, everything is okay,” Emily lied, wondering if it would ever be okay again. “Is there a written rule where a mother cannot call her daughter more than once or twice a week?”

“Not that I know of,” Gretta told her.  “You just missed me and Abby.  That is why you called.”

“Yes, so you need to come for a visit.  Talk Tom into taking a vacation and then we will try to talk him into staying.  You know there is plenty of work here,” Emily answered.

“You know Tom.  He has to be on the water, not on land,”

“I knew I should not have let you go with your friend when she wanted to visit her grandmother in Maine,” Emily teased her daughter.

Gretta laughed and asked, “Seriously, is everything okay mom?”

Emily had forgotten just how easily Gretta picked up on moods and voice tones, so she said, “Not really.  I was wondering if Tom would be home to watch Abby for about an hour or so tonight so you, your brothers, and I could have a Skype call.  There is something I want to tell all of you about and I only want to say it once,”

“Mom, do you have cancer or some other condition in which you are going to die soon?”

Emily could not help but laugh before telling her daughter, “No, I am not going to die.  I promise.  It is something to do with your biological father, and that is all I am saying until we do the Skype,”

Ignoring the fact that her mom said it had something to do with her biological father, Gretta asked, “Does it also have to do with that Julie person you dragged back to the ranch?  You know mom, you don’t really know her.  She could steal you blind,”

“I see your brothers have already gotten to you with their theories,” she replied with a hint of anger in her voice.   “And it sort of has something to do with her, but all will be explained tonight.  Now, what time is good for you?”

Gretta thought a moment and said, “How about seven o’clock my time, which would be four your time?”  She knew it would do no good to ask any more questions because her mom was stubborn and when she didn’t want to say anything, she wouldn’t.

Emily thought a moment, then said, “That would work out fine.  Chat then.  Give Abby a hug and kiss from me,”

“I will,” Gretta said hanging up, her mind in turmoil as to what her mom wanted to talk to them about and why it involved that woman she had dragged back to the ranch and her biological father.  Then a thought hit her, OMG, that woman is my half-sister.

**********

DAKOTA

Sitting there with the police report in his hands, he decided that the first order of business later today was to go to the hospitals and see if they would tell him something.  He also wanted to talk to Dr. Gilbert, hoping that maybe she had heard something through her network that would give him a clue to her whereabouts.  He knew that in her line of work she could not give him too much information but hopefully from what she could say, he could figure out if Lacy was alive or dead.

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“Kota, it is four in the morning,” Regan whined as she came into his living room/office.  “What are you doing up working at this time?  Come back to bed.  Let’s have some fun,”

Dakota shoved the police report back into his briefcase, finally looking over at Regan, who was standing there in all her naked glory.  Just seeing her like that, Kota could feel his cock jump to life.  He got up, grabbed her, and slung her over his shoulder, smacking her on the ass.  Regan let out a squeal as he carried her off to the bedroom.

**********

EMILY

Emily paced back and forth in the office, waiting for her sons to arrive.  She had sent one of the workers out to find them and ask them to return to the house by four, that it was important.  She did not say what was going on because it was a private family business.  Finally, at 4:15, Brett and Parker came stomping into the house.

“Mom, where are you?” Brett yelled.

Stepping out into the foyer, Emily said, “I am in here and there is no need to yell,”

As they stepped into the office, Emily closed the door behind them and locked it. Although she had told Jenna that she and the boys were having a SKYPE meeting with Gretta, Emily did not want someone to accidentally barge in.

“What is so important that you had us come in a couple of hours early?” Parker asked.

“You will find out in due time as soon as I get Gretta on SKYPE,” Emily told them as she booted up the laptop on the desk and called Gretta.  “Grab you a chair and sit by the desk,”

As soon as Gretta answered, she did not give her mom a chance to say anything before she blurted out, “That girl you drug back to the ranch with you is our long-lost half-sister, isn’t she mom?”

“What!” Parker and Brett yelled at the same time, looking at each other.

“No, she is not Gretta.  How did you come up with that far-fetched conclusion anyway?” Emily asked.

“Well, you said it had something to do with our biological father and her, so I just put one and one together and came up with two,”

Emily laughed and said, “You and your imagination.  Now, this is painful what I have to tell you and I only want to tell you once, so listen closely and no interruptions.  You can ask questions when I am finished.  Understand?”

All three agreed and sat back, fearing the worse.  Taking a deep breath, Emily decided to get the hardest part out first.  “I was a battered girlfriend,” As soon as she said that she heard all three of her children gasp in shock.  “You all know I was an orphan and was in foster care for a couple of years.  I was desperate for love and when your biological father showed me love I attached myself to him.  Taking another deep breath, she continued her story.

**********

DERRICK

Freeing her arm, Derrick reached out to unbutton her blouse.  As the first three buttons slipped out of their buttonholes, Maria suddenly came out of her trance, stepping back from Derrick.

“Sir, that is not appropriate,” as she tried to rebutton her shirt with shaky fingers.

“Yes, it is appropriate,” Derrick told her softly, trying hard to hold onto her temper, mentally cursing Lacy for putting him in this predicament.  “I will make it worth your while Maria,”

“I do not want your money,” she said, “I quit,” knowing that she may be deported with no job, but her dignity was more important to her now.

As she turned and started to walk around Derrick to go to her room, he reached out, grabbing her arm.  From the pressure on her upper arm, Maria knew there would be bruises there in the morning.

“I have not had sex in over two months,” he growled as he yanked her against his naked body, one hand grabbing her braid before his lips crashed down hard on hers.

Shocked, Maria just stood there.

Pulling his lips from hers, he said, “Lacy is not here so you will have to do so relax and it will enjoyable.”

Maria immediately began to push on Derrick’s shoulders, trying to break free but to no avail as he had her braid tightly in his fist.  Maria then brought the heel of her sandal down on his bare right foot.  He let go of her braid before drawing his hand back, slapping her across the face, splitting her lip.  Maria could taste the blood on her tongue as he drew his hand back again.   She reached out, raking her nails down both sides of his face.

“You bitch,” he yelled as his fist, instead of an open hand, connected with her jaw.

Maria slumped to the floor, dazed and unable to form a coherent thought.  Derrick reached down and grabbed her by her braid again, dragging her limp form over to the couch.  He pulled her none too gently to her feet, his hand reaching out to rip her blouse open.

“Let me go,” Maria yelled before Derrick slapped her again.  Knowing she was no match for him physically, she started to scream, hoping that Frank was taking his nightly walk and would hear her.

Suddenly, Derrick released his hold on her.  Stunned by his sudden actions, Maria was slow to react but before she could collect her thoughts and scramble away, his hands were around her throat squeezing tightly as he shoved her down to the couch.

I am going to die, was her final thought before darkness overtook her.

**********

DAKOTA

After Regan left his home the next morning, Dakota took the time to sit out on the porch, enjoying a cup of coffee as he formulated his plans for the day.  The top thing he wanted to do was talk to Dr, Gilbert so he grabbed his phone off the small table beside him.  Finding her number, he hit the re-dial button.

“Dr. Gilbert,” a soft voice said on the other end.

“Hey Delana, this Kota,” he said.  “Would you have time for me today to answer a few questions?”

“Whose disappearance are you investigating?” Delana asked although she had a feeling as to who it was.  In fact, she was surprised he had not contacted her before now.

“Will you still see me if I tell you?”

“You know I would,” she assured him.  “But you know I cannot legally tell you if they are at the  shelter or have been helped to leave,”

“I know babe.  It is just that last night when I was going over her files, a cold breeze engulfed me.  You know from our talks what that can mean, and I just need to know if she is dead or alive,”

“You are investigating Lacy Hartfield’s disappearance, aren’t you?” she asked calmly.

“Yes,” Kota told her.  “I was just hired by her husband to investigate her disappearance.”

Delana grew silent for a long moment, gathering her thoughts.  Kota also remained silent, letting her work it out in her head.  Finally, she said, “Okay.  Come in around noon and bring me lunch from Elliot’s Delicatessen.  You know what I like,” and with that, she hung up.

Kota chuckled as he got up to go shower and get ready to meet her for lunch.

**********

EMILY

When she finally finished her story, all of them were crying.  Her two sons moved closer and hugged her.

Parker was the first to speak, “I had no idea you had been through so much.  I do remember you telling me and Brett to get one of our favorite toys and how we cried when we had to leave the rest behind.”

“I remember trying to help you pull the suitcase down the steps and Gretta strapped to your body.  It was also dark when we left,” Brett said, wiping his eyes.

“I know now why you seemed so jumpy when our biological father would come around,” Gretta chimed in.  “But what does all of this have to do with that woman you dragged back to the ranch and why tell us now, after all this time?”

“I cannot tell you the entire story because that is Julie’s to tell but I will just say she is a battered woman and I was repaying the favor,” Emily explained.  “I had no one to help me so I wanted to reach out a hand to someone in the same situation.  My story had to be told so you all would understand somewhat why she is here,”

“So, she is not our father’s daughter and our long-lost half-sister?” Brett asked.

“No, she is not,” Emily reassured them.  “I love all three of you and though it was a hard journey to escape from, I would do it a thousand times over again to keep you all safe. And in case you are wondering, yes, Jason knew my story.  I just hope that you do not hate me for keeping this from you three,”

“We love you mom,” they all said in unison.

“And we could never hate you because you did what you had to in order to protect us and you,” Parker reassured her.  “And I am sure I speak for all three of us,” as the other two nodded their heads.

“Can I tell Tom?” Gretta asked.  “We don’t like to keep stuff from each other, but he will understand if I don’t share it,”

“It is okay to share with Tom,” she said.  “Now, I am going to lie down for a bit before supper.  This took a lot out of me.  I love all three of you,”

Parker and Brett said goodnight to their sister and shut SKYPE down, both looking at each other, neither of them knowing what to say.  Finally, they got up and went to their rooms to go back over what their mom had told them and to reevaluate their opinion of Julie.

**********

DAKOTA

Walking up to her office door, Kota balanced their lunch in one hand while he knocked with the other.  When he heard her say to come in, he opened the door and pushed it shut with his foot.

“Lunch is served madame,” he teased as he took the lunch over and set it on a small table she had in front of the window.

Delana stood up and stretched.  She stood about 5’9”, with the body of someone who ran every day.  Her light grey hair was cut short, almost as short as a man's.  Dr, Delana Gilbert had worked as an ER physician for the same hospital for twenty years and had been the advocate and doctor for the women’s abuse shelter Lacy had been staying at.  The woman who ran it, Beth, was her sister and the first one she had helped out of an abusive relationship.  Walking over to Kota, who was seated at the table, she leaned down and kissed his cheek.

“Thanks,” Delana said sitting down and unwrapping her sandwich.  “Ask your questions.”

“The main one I want to ask is if Lacy is alive,” Kota said.  “I need to know if I am looking for a body or a live person.  All he told the police was that Lacy left, but he did not know where she had gone or anything,”

To keep from saying exactly what she thought of Derrick, she took a bite of her sandwich, chewed, and swallowed before simply saying, “She is alive Kota,”

“Can you tell me anything more?  Like why there is no record of her in any of the hospitals, or should I say this hospital?  From the vibes I got from Derrick, he is a bully and would not have let Lacy just walk, or sneak out,”

Delana sat there, mulling over his question while she ate as to what she should or could say to Kota.  She knew she had to be very careful because it was vital that the abused women who came into her ER, or any of the other hospitals in the surrounding area, felt that they could trust her and Beth not to oust them to their abuser.  Kota patiently sat there, sipping on his glass of soda, giving her time to work her thoughts out.  He knew that she had to be careful and not give any information that would compromise Lacy’s safety.

Finally, Delana cleared her throat before saying, “Lacy did not leave on her own.  She was brought here to the ER unconscious and was here for a week before action was taken.  That is all I can say, Kota,”

“But why are there no records of her being here?” he asked again. “I know there was a record of her being here with a broken arm,”

“Let’s just say that those records are sealed unless the woman wants to go to court and then they are hers to do as she wishes,” she told Kota, noticing the confusion in his eyes.  “I know you are wondering how that is managed but I cannot say,” as she stood up, gathering her trash.  “And as far as the record of her broken arm, Lacy said she fell.  She did not say he pushed her or anything that would constitute abuse,”

Kota knew that she had told him as much as she could say without jeopardizing Lacy’s safety and whereabouts.  Standing up, he gave Delana a hug and a kiss on the cheek, saying. “Thanks, my dear friend for verifying she is alive.  That makes my job a bit easier.  Trying to find a dead body is worse than trying to track down a woman who does not want to be found.  Tell your wife I said hi and that she had better be treating you right,”

“I will,” Delana said, hugging Kota back.  “One last thing Kota, if you should track her down, don’t tell her husband.  The next time she might not be so lucky,” as she showed him out.  “And thanks for lunch,”

As he made his way back to his truck, everything that Delana had said to him and what she had not but hinted at, played over and over in his mind.

**********

JULIE

After supper that evening, Julie sat on the front porch in one of the rocking chairs, rocking gently and watching the sun slowly set.  She felt more relaxed than she had in what seemed like ages.  If she only had a way of knowing what was going back in Maine, she felt she would rest a lot easier.  Julie knew that Derrick would not give trying to find her and she just hoped that she had made herself almost unrecognizable when she boarded the bus several days ago.  Sensing someone else in her space, she looked up, seeing one of the twins looking at her.  She thought it was Parker but was not sure.  She was still having trouble knowing who was who.

The longer he stood there looking at her the more uncomfortable she began to feel.  Finally, she started to get to her feet, ready to head inside but then she thought No more Lacy Hartfield.  Cowing and slinking off to safety is something you would do but not Julie Pritchard so confront your enemy.  Taking a deep breath, she said, “I know you haven’t asked but let me reassure you that I am not here to hurt your mom or steal her blind if that is what you are thinking.  She has been nothing but a kind, supportive person to me and for that I am grateful.  I know you don’t trust me, but I will be out of your hair in a few days.  I have decided to move on to California.”

“Mom told all of us her story,” he said moving over to sit down in an empty rocker beside her.  “She also said you were an abused woman too but that is all.”

Hearing that, Julie’s body felt like it was imploding in on itself.  She started to stand when he put his hand on hers, indicating she should stay seated.  When his hand touched her, several memories came bursting through her, making it hard for her to breathe.  Julie quickly pulled her away, holding it close to her chest, her nostrils flaring from the way she was breathing.  She immediately went into fight or flight mode and unsure what to do.

“Parker Randall Carmichael, what the hell did you say or do to Julie?” his mother asked as she stepped out on the porch and saw the way Julie’s eyes were flitting all over the place, her chest rising and falling quickly.

“Mom I didn’t do anything,” he said.  “I just told her you said she was an abused woman, and then I sat down and put my hand on hers,”

“That’s it,” Emily said.  “You touched her.  I was the same way at first.  I associated being touched with being hit.  I should have told you this when I told my story.  I need to tell Brett,”

By this time, Julie was starting to calm down, her eyes not flicking all over the place, her breathing slowing down.  She looked first at Emily, then at Parker.

“I am sorry,” she mumbled.

“You have nothing to be sorry for Julie,” Emily assured her.

“Yeah,” Parker agreed.  “I did not know about the ‘no touch’ rule.  And I am Parker.  I am the good-looking twin,” trying to get Julie to smile.

“No, I am the good-looking twin,” Brett said coming from around the house.

Despite the situation, Julie and Emily could not help laughing.

“If you want to tell them apart, Brett is the chubbier one,” Emily said, earning a laugh from Parker and a glare from Brett.   “And Brett, I forgot to tell both of you to not touch Julie because, like me, she associates touch with pain.”

Julie automatically looked at the ground, her face turning red and warming up.  Although it was true, Julie hated to admit it.

“That is cool,” Brett said.  “Do you ride horses?”

“Ah…no.  Never had the opportunity from where I come from,” Julie said.

“Would you like to walk down to the stable and be introduced to Angel?  She is one of the calmest mares we have and would be a great one for you to learn to ride on.  We also have Aris, Star, Miro, and Jellybean that are calm, and we use as horses for children,”

“Sure,” Julie agreed, “unless Emily needs me to do something,”

Brett started to offer her his arm but then remembered what his mom had said.

“Go and enjoy yourself,” Emily said.  “And behave Brett.”

Brett laughed and waited for Julie to join him before they headed to the stable.  When they got into the stable, Brett led her over to Angel’s stall.  He took a piece of apple out of his pocket and offered it to her.  Julie watched the mare nuzzle Brett’s hand, finally taking the piece of apple into her mouth, chomping happily.

“Want to try it?” he asked holding a piece of apple out to her.

“No, not really,” she said backing toward the door.  Being in an enclosed space with Brett and no one around was making her uncomfortable.  “Thanks for showing me Angel.  I will see you in the morning,” and with that, she turned and hurried back to the house.

Brett watched her leave, then turned around and gave Angel the last piece of apple.

**********

MARIA

When Maria regained consciousness, the room was dark and quiet.  She laid there, listening carefully for any sounds that she was not alone in the room, but she heard nothing except her breathing.  Maria attempted to sit up groaning loudly.  Her head feeling like someone was shoving a railroad spike through it.  It was worse than the occasional migraine she had, and she thought that there could be no pain worse.

Her mouth felt dry as sand and it was almost impossible to swallow.  Maria slowly moved both arms and her legs, checking to make sure that everything worked, and nothing was broken.  Although she hurt when she tried to move, nothing seemed to be broken.  Maria decided that the best way to handle this was to just sit up, rest a moment, and then up and go back to her room before Derrick came back.  Maria took a deep breath and quickly sat up, which was a mistake as the room seemed to spin in vicious circles.

She put her feet on the floor, her stomach churning, as she leaned forward, head in her hands.  When she finally managed to stand up, Maria felt a sharp burning pain between her legs.  After letting her eyes adjust to the darkness of the room, she started to make her way to her room. As she moved, Maria felt a sticky wetness between her legs.  Although Maria knew that Derrick had raped her, but it would be her word against him if she made a report. No one will believe an illegal immigrant over a company mogul.

Shuffling to her room, tears streaming down her face, all she could think about was Frank and how he would react.  He had told her to lock herself in her room and pretend she was sick.  Maria knew now that he was right, that she should have listened to him.

Locking her bedroom door, she crossed the dark room to the bathroom.  Turning on the light, Maria gasped as she took in her bedraggled appearance in the mirror.  Her neck was starting to bruise with finger imprints on both sides, thumb imprints in the middle.  Her bottom lip was split and swollen, bruises on her face, her jaw sore.  Her blouse hung open; her bra pushed up on her chest.  Looking closely, she saw several hickeys on her breasts.

Reaching behind her, Maria unzipped and unbuttoned her skirt, letting it drop to the floor.  She also just had one sandal on.  When she was finally undressed, Maria realized she had no underwear on.  Gathering up her clothes, she dumped them all in the trash, wanting to get rid of the evidence as quickly as possible.  She figured that she could find her underwear and the other sandal tomorrow.  She did not have the energy to go searching for anything tonight.  All she wanted was a shower and bed.

Turning on the shower, Maria stepped inside and let the warm water flow over her body before she slid to the floor, tears rolling down her cheeks.  Maria felt her life was over.  No man would want damaged goods.