Hostage of the Heart

By: Ambrosia


 


Disclaimers: Iím going to do a new one. After thinking it through, I have come to the conclusion that Piper, Desiree and all other characters in this story belong to me. I made them up and I own them.

Violence: Yes there is some in this part. Also there is an attempted rape, but I do not consider it to be graphic at all.

Feedback: I love receiving feedback, so if you have anything to tell me at all, just send it to: SumrBrezze@aol.com Thank you.

Part 8- Never can say goodbye- Jackson 5 Song Title

Larisa stared at her sister as if she had lost her mine. She then glanced to Andrea to see that she was wearing a slight smile that appeared to be tinged with despondency. The dark-haired woman took a deep breath.

"What do you mean by maybe the body in the cabin wasnít Piperís?" Larisa addressed this to her sister who was smiling brightly. She was overjoyed to see Desiree smiling, but conceived she was wasting her happiness on something that was not true.

"I mean," Desiree turned to her sister, "Piper could be alive. That body may have been Emilyís."

"How do you figure? You and Taj saw the body, right?"

"Yes, but I never saw her face. I just assumed it was Piper. The woman had long dark hair and she was tall. As for Taj I donít think he saw her face either." Desiree could scarcely keep herself from bouncing up and down in her chair.

Larisa thought about this information. Well if Emily did what she said she would do in her letter to Victor, then that means she was up at the cabin that night. Whether the body was that of Piperís or Emilyís then someone was missing in action. Larisa asked both Andrea and Desiree if Piper was alive then where was she.

"I donít know," Desiree replied brightly, refusing to give up her newly found hope. She knew she should be thinking more rationally, but now she felt like Piper could not possibly be dead. She was out there somewhere, and Desiree was going to make it her personal goal to find out just where she was. She would not rest until she found her soul mate.

"Maybe sheís hiding," Andrea offered. "Could be that sheís afraid of what will happen if she reveals that she is still alive."

Desiree excused herself from the table, saying that she would be right back. She made her way into the kitchen and picked up the phone mounted onto the wall. She called Tajís number having put him on speed dial. The phone rang a couple of times before Leroy picked up the phone. He began flirting with her, until another voice came on the phone. It was Taj.

"Sorry about that," the Jamaican apologized. "Leroy doesnít know any better. How are feeling this morning?" he inquired with concern.

"Iím better than ever!" Desiree exclaimed. "I have some wonderful news!"

Taj held the phone to his ear, amazed at the excited tone coming from this young woman, who only yesterday was crying her eyes out. He briefly wondered if she had resorted to using illegal drugs. He shook his head. Desiree would never do that. She was too intelligent to get caught up in that kind of thing.

"What wonderful news is that?"

Desiree replied, "Iíll tell you when you come over. Please come to my place as soon as you can."

"Iím on my way."

The young woman went back to the dining room/living room, and explained to Andrea and her sister that Taj was on his way over. She hoped that he would be able to tell her that he had not seen the womanís face in the cabin. Desiree began to get nervous. Whatever that happened next depended on what Taj saw. She prayed that he did not get a look at her face.

"If Taj didnít see her face, then maybe itís true," Desiree announced.

"Now who is Taj?" Andrea asked.

Desiree explained that Taj Potter was Piperís best friend all the way from them being freshmanís in high school. She also explained how he had saved her life at the risk of losing his own, and now they were becoming fast friends.

"Sounds like a nice man," Andrea commented.

The strawberry-blonde smiled. "Yes he is. And if anyone will be able to find Piper it will be him."

"If Piper is indeed alive, then where is she?" Larisa asked. "Why hasnít she gotten in touch with you or Taj. Doesnít seem to me like she would worry you two that way, even if she does want to stay hidden."

"Why are you being so negative?" Desiree inquired of her sister.

"Iím just being realistic," Larisa retorted. "Desi, you have to face the fact that Piper might be gone," she continued in a soft voice.

The younger woman shook her head. "You donít know what you are talking about. The woman who died was Emily Redding and Iíll prove it to you."

"How are you gonna pull that off?"

"By finding Piper," Desiree stated confidently.

"So you and Piper became close?" Andrea inquired.

Desiree smiled warmly. "Yes we did. I have never met anyone like her." In case Andrea would not approve of the true nature of their relationship, the younger woman decided it was best not to continue.

"So Andrea where do you live?" Larisa decided to attempt to change the subject until Taj arrived. Maybe she could find an ally in him.

"I traveled from San Bernardino."

Larisaís blue-green eyes widened. "You mean you came all the way from San Bernardino to deliver those letters?"

Andrea nodded. "I felt it was important that they be received by Desiree. Also I wanted to see if she would agree with my theory."

"Which is?" Desiree inquired.

"Which is that the woman who died in the cabin was my ex-sister-in-law, Emily."

"Exactly." Desiree smiled and reached over to squeeze the womanís shoulder affectionately. She offered her sister an irritated look, to which Larisa ignored.

"Where are your children?" the strawberry-blonde asked. "Victor told me that he had children."

"Oh," Andrea put on a big smile. "My little loves, Stacey and Samantha. They are at a hotel Iím staying at nearby, with my brother, Keith."

"How old are they?" Larisa inquired. The last few years her maternal urges had been kicking in, but Larisa knew that the chances were slim that she would ever have children. She had been thinking about adoption, and had wanted to talk to Desiree about it, but around that time was when all of this started.

Andrea replied, "Nine and six," she paused. "Itís a shame that theyíll never get to have a relationship with their father. Although I suppose itís for the best, since I wouldnít have wanted him around them anyway. The man was crazy."

"Thatís an understatement," Desiree muttered.

"Is that why you two divorced? Because you knew he needed help?" Larisa asked.

"Actually we divorced because we had started to fight all the time. We fought about everything and anything. That was two years ago. I didnít know there was something psychologically wrong with him until Piper got out of jail. It was then that I wouldnít let him take Stacey and Samantha anywhere without my supervision. I didnít want them out of my sight."

Larisa stated, "I donít blame you. Was he a good father though? I mean basically?"

Andrea thought for a moment. "At the end of our marriage he started to snap at the children, but for the most part, yes he did seem to be a good father. I just didnít trust him."

"Did you trust Emily?" the dark-haired woman inquired.

"Yes, I did," Andrea started. "She was a great auntie to my children. Stacey and Samantha adored her." She wiped her left eye, which was where a tear had formed. "I had no idea that she was embroiled in all this, until I read those letters. I thought Victor was working alone on whatever he was trying to do. I just wanted to stay out of it myself." She wiped her eyes again. "Now I wish I had done something. Tried to find out what Victor was really up to. I never dreamed he would actually try to kill her, and that Emily would try to help him."

Desiree reached over and squeezed Andreaís hand. "Itís not your fault, Andrea. You canít blame yourself for what your ex-husband did. He was sick and he needed help, but unfortunately he never got it."

Andrea nodded. "Emily seemed like such a sweet girl. She was the type of person that you would say would never hurt a fly. Obviously I was wrong."

All three of them started thinking about the brutal murder of the juror Michael Lowell, and how he had been beaten with a hammer. Desiree winced, remembering how she had accused Piper of that. She had so many things to apologize for.

"Iím sorry, Andrea," Larisa said. "Even though she did take a life and was gullible enough to be sucked into her brotherís schemes, itís obvious that you cared for her." Larisa then noticed that she was speaking in the past tense. She sighed, wondering if Desiree and Andrea were right all along. Maybe it was Emily in that fire, and Piper was still alive. That would be wonderful. True that someone would still be dead, but at least that person wouldnít be her.

"I did care for her," Andrea said while looking at Larisa. "But I would rather it be her than Piper in that cabin. I didnít know Piper, but I would like to get to know her. Now that I know she wasnít doing all of those things. I knew Victor was involved with her somehow, but I never knew that he was the one actually killing those people. I just figured that the both of them were insane." She shook her head. "Sometimes itís hard to figure someone out."

"You canít always judge a book by its cover," Larisa added.

The three women talked some more. Larisa and Desiree mainly asked Andrea about her daughters and they found themselves chuckling at the stories that the blonde-haired woman told about Stacey and Samantha. Andrea promised that she would bring the children by before they all headed back to San Bernardino. Desiree found herself excited at the prospect of meeting Piperís nieces. If they found Piper in time, maybe she would get to meet them too.

The doorbell rang, and Desiree hurriedly arose to jog over and get it. She opened the door to see Taj standing there. She started smiling as she greeted the man and told him to come in. He gave her a questioningly look, choosing to remain silent for the moment. Studying her, Taj still did not know what the strawberry-blonde was up to. She seemed so excited that he half expected her to explode. Evidently whatever she had to tell him, was huge news.

He glanced over to the dining room table to see Larisa and another woman he did not recognize sitting there. He waved at Larisa and smiled at the blonde politely at the blonde woman. The Jamaican man turned his attention back to Desiree who asked him to sit at the dining room table. He took a seat noticing that the petite woman was choosing to stand. She was acting like a child on Christmas morning.

"Taj I have some excellent news to bestow on you," Desiree started. Taj remained silent, waiting for her to continue. He crossed his arms over his muscular chest. "First, I want you to read these." Desiree walked over to the dining room table and snatched the letters up, handing them to Taj. He took them and chose the one that said "Dear Victor." Desiree took that one away and asked him to read the other one first. Taj cocked an eyebrow, wondering why it mattered but he acquiesced. He read that letter without comment, and then reached for the other one that Desiree was grasping in her hand. Tajís face started to show some expressionís as he read this letter. After he finished reading it, Taj put the letter on the table on top of the other one. He glanced around noticing that all three women were studying him closely. He felt like a lab animal that they were about to do testing on. Taj cleared his throat looking up at Desiree, who was still standing.

"So what do you think?" she asked as calmly as she could.

"Well I remember you telling me that Victor said he had a sister. Is Emily that sister?"

Desiree nodded. "Sheís the person that actually killed Michael Lowell. Whereas I thought it was Piper, until Victor started rambling off what all that he did. I didnít know who actually killed that last juror until I read those letters. I had thought about the sister, but I wasnít sure."

Taj nodded. "So where is she?" he asked.

"Emily?" Desiree asked.

Taj nodded again. "Did she actually go up to the cabin?"

"We donít know," Larisa cut in. "We donít know if she went there and we donít know where she is."

"Larisa," Desiree said sharper than she had meant to. "Of course Emily went up there. She had to have been, otherwiseÖ" She could not and would not finish that sentence. She could not afford to. Thinking positive was the key here.

Taj frowned. "Otherwise what?" he inquired, looking at Desiree.

"Otherwise we have no proof that Piper is alive," Larisa answered.

The Jamaican man turned to her. He considered all that had been said after he read the letters. He considered how excited and happy Desiree was acting. Then it all clicked together. He turned his attention back to the strawberry-blonde. "You think that that wasnít Piperís body in the cabin, donít you?"

Desiree nodded profusely.

"That it was Emilyís?" he went on.

She confirmed this as well. "What do you think?"

Taj was silent for a few moments, as he tried to gather his thoughts. "It could have been Emily Redding," he said. He turned to Larisa, after hearing her call his name. The dark-haired woman asked him if he had seen the face of the body in the cabin. Thinking back, Taj remembered that he had not been able to look at the face of his friend. He did not know if he would be able to see her lifeless blue eyes, so he avoided looking at her much as he kissed her on the back of the head. He shook his head to answer Larisaís question. The next thing he knew it, there was a loud holler coming from Desiree as she launched herself into this arms. She burst into joyful tears as she kissed him full on the mouth. Taj as well as Andrea and Larisa became wide eyed. Her sister knew that Desiree was usually an affectionate person, but her little sister never took it that far as to plop a kiss on somebodyís lips.

Desiree arose from Tajís lap and regarded her sister triumphantly. "See? There is our proof that Piper is alive. Sheís out there somewhere." Desiree did a little happy dance. She and Andrea exchanged high fiveís, since the both of them were true believers in thinking that Piper was still on this earth.

Larisa sighed, getting the feeling that she was losing this battle. She shrugged. Well maybe they had something after all. Larisa just did not want to see her sister get hurt if it turned out that Piper was actually dead. Desiree might sink into a severe deep depression if she found out that Emily was still alive. Therefore Larisa decided to go with the motto that if you couldnít beat Ďem then join Ďem.

"Okay. So where do we start looking for her?" Larisa asked, glancing around at everyone.

Desiree smiled, glad that her older sister was going to listen to them. "I donít know," Desiree announced. She looked down at Taj. "What do you think?" she asked him.

Taj scrunched up his face in thought. If Piper were indeed alive then where could she be? The question that was bothering him was why was she hiding? Why didnít Piper just come to his or Desireeís place?

"Maybe we should start searching the area around the cabin," the Jamaican man stated. He proceeded to tell them that if Piper were alive then it was possible that she was in that area, because there was no other way other than hitch hiking that she could have gotten back to where there were a lot of people.

"She could have hitch hiked," Larisa said.

Taj turned to her, "Yes, she could have, but if she would have done that, then we would have heard from her by now. Sheís not the type to let someone worry. Therefore she has to be somewhere, where she canít reach a phone."

Desiree asked, "So you think that sheís stranded in the woods?"

Taj considered this, and then nodded. "Maybe."

"Then we have to go out there," the strawberry-blonde announced. "We have to go out there right away. Letís go."

Desiree grabbed the keys to her Honda off the key ring hanging by the front door and made to open the door, when Taj suddenly placed his body in front of the door, successfully blocking her. She gave him a slightly irritated look as she tried to push him out of her way, but he would not give. Finally, she asked him to move.

"No, Desi. What are we supposed to do, huh? Just go out there with no plan? Just the four of us walking around calling out her name?"

Desiree shrugged. "That about sums it up. Letís go now Taj." She pleaded him with her eyes.

Desiree suddenly saw out of the corner of her eye, Larisa jump out of her seat, as if she had just been bitten. She turned around to study her sister, as everyone else did the same. The woman, who had everyoneís attention, had a bright look in her blue-green eyes. She told them that she had an idea. Her sister asked her what it was.

"Letís form a search party!"
 


*****


 


After all three of them working together got Desiree to settle down, Larisa announced that she had to go to the airport to pick up her father and brother, who were arriving from San Francisco today. Desiree got up from the couch and started pacing, telling Taj and Andrea that they should have been on their way out to the cabin searching for Piper and not just sitting there. Taj explained to her that they needed to get people together so that their chances of finding her would be more successful.

Taj took his cell phone out of his jacket pocket, thinking of whom he knew that would be willing to help. He decided to call his brother Dion first in San Francisco. Since Dion had an automobile that could carry six to seven passengers, Taj figured that they could use that. He was sure that Dion would be more than willing to help out with the search, since he had met Piper when Taj introduced her to him.

The Jamaican was not disappointed after he got off the phone with Dion. After explaining the situation to him, Tajís older brother was more than happy to help. He was overjoyed to hear that there was a chance that Piper was still alive. Dion informed Taj that he would be leaving as soon as he could pack a bag and arrange a few days off from work. When Taj asked him if there would be a problem with his job, his brother told him that it would all right, and that he needed a vacation away from it anyway. Just before they were about to hang up, Taj inquired if Dion would be bringing his wife and daughters. Dion said that he had not planned on it but changed his mind, when his younger brother asked him. Taj had just come up with a plan if all of this worked out in their favor.

The next people that Taj got in contact with, were his parents in Bakersfield. After giving them the same explanation that he had given Dion, his father Nathaniel Potter said they would be arriving as soon as he could make reservations for the next flight out. Taj said he would call him back in about fifteen minutes to see what time he should pick them up, but Nathaniel insisted that they could take a taxi to Tajís house.

Next, Taj called his friend Tommy Jung, who had helped out with carrying out Piperís plan to take Desiree hostage. Tommy informed him that he would be glad to help, since he felt responsible for what had happened at the cabin, because he was the one to leak where Piper was to Victor Redding. Taj told him that he would be in touch after he found out what the definite plan was for this search party.

Taj decided that he would tell Leroy the news about the search and see if he would help, when he got back to his house. He was sure that his younger brother would help, but if he didnít then the Jamaican man mused that he could always threaten him with the prospect of not having a place to live. Also when he got home, he would call his almost girlfriend Valerie (he hadnít really asked her to be his girlfriend yet) and see if she would be willing to help, even though she did not even know Piper.

It was then that Andrea announced that she had to be getting back to the hotel. She gave Desiree and Taj the number of the nearby hotel she was staying at. She informed them that she intended to help, so they were expected to call the number. They promised that they would and Desiree hugged and thanked Andrea for brightening up her day. The blonde woman blushed from the gratitude and said that Desiree did not have to thank her.

After Andrea left, Taj informed Desiree of all the people he had called and she thanked him. He noticed that the young woman was so fidgety that he went to her kitchen to fix her a cup of tea. He didnít know if it would have the desired affect, but it couldnít hurt to try. When he gave the steaming mug to the strawberry-blonde she smiled her gratitude and took a sip, informing him that it was delicious.

Desiree sat on the couch and grasped the mug of tea between her hands. She glanced over at Taj who was sitting at the dining room table, apparently in thought. Desiree had to call his names a couple of times in order to get the manís attention.

"Answer me honestly," she began. "Do you think we will be able to locate Piper?"

Taj replied quickly, "If sheís still with us, then we will indeed find her. I know we will," he assured her.

"What do you think sheís doing right at this moment?"

"I donít know," Taj replied. "Probably trying to figure out a way to get back to civilization."

"But if she is out there in the woods, donít you think she would have found her way back by now? I mean I know I donít know her as well and as long as you have, but she just seems like the type who would be able to achieve what she wanted to achieve quickly. Today is the sixth day sheís been missing. Itís not like she doesnít know where you or I live."

The Jamaican man thought for a moment. "Maybe sheís been injured."

Desiree looked at him worriedly. "Please, Taj donít say that."

Taj apologized just as they both heard a key in the lock at the front door. It opened and in came Desireeís mother. The strawberry-blonde sighed, wondering how her mother was going to take this latest news. Sandra smiled at her daughter, but when she caught sight of Taj she glared at him before turning her eyes away from him. She closed the door with her foot, since she was carrying three big shopping bags. Taj arose from his chair to help her with the bags, but she told him curtly that she could handle them on her own. Trying to maintain his own patience, Taj once again took his seat. He was trying to make peace with this woman, but she was making that difficult to achieve.

Sandra walked to the guestroom that she was using while staying at her daughterís apartment, and deposited her bags in there. Coming out and closing the door behind her, she made her way over to her daughter and took a seat by the young woman on the couch. She took one of Desireeís hands and sandwiched it between her own, and asked the young woman how she was feeling. She decided she would ignore Taj all together. Evidently, Desiree insisted that this man was welcome in her home, but as far as Sandra was concerned he did not exist to her.

"Iím fine mom." Desiree looked at her mother as if she wanted to tell her something, which she did. Sandra looked back at her expectantly. "I have some news mom."

"Which is?" Sandra inquired.

Desiree took a deep breath. "Mom, Piper Redding may be alive."
 


*****


 


Larisa got up to go to the gate, after hearing that the plane from San Francisco was preparing to land. While she had been waiting for the plane to land, Larisa wondered if she should tell her father that the woman, who had taken his daughter hostage, may not have died. Half of her wanted to wait to return to the apartment, but the man was sure to ask how Desiree was doing, so Larisa would feel inclined to tell him that his youngest daughter was in high spirits do to this revelation. The only thing that he did not need to know was that Piper and Desiree were lovers. He would have a fit and so would Desiree. Her sister may not ever speak to again if she were to let the cat out of the bag. Larisa shook her head. No, what Desiree chose to do with that information was her own business. Besides, Larisa thought grimly. She had her secrets as well.

Ten minutes or so later, Larisa stood at the window watching the passengers descend down the stairs of the plane. It wasnít long before she spotted her father and brother getting off the plane. She hurried over to intercept them when they came through the door to enter the airport. When Richie saw her, his face broke into a wide grin and he ran to her. He managed to pick her up even though the activity caused a twinge of pain. Larisa rapped him on the shoulder lightly, to get the young man to put her down.

"Richie, you shouldnít be doing that," Larisa warned, yet she was smiling. She ruffled his hair only to receive a mock glare from him that made her laugh.

"Yeah, well I just wanted to show you how strong I still am." Richie puffed out his chest. "No bullet can stop me." He grinned. He then felt a sharp pain of guilt at what that reminded him of. Richie partially put the blame on himself for what had happened to Piper Redding. He admitted that he had lied to the police about who had shot him. It had felt like an extensive weight had been lifted from his shoulders after revealing the truth. When Richie had apologized to Desiree over the phone she had told him that there was no apology needed, but the young man knew that the guilt he was going through would always be there, no matter what the circumstances had been. Although the man had threatened he and his family, Richie still felt the guilt.

Richard clapped his son on the back. "Thatís my boy," he said proudly. The older man looked at his daughter and squeezed her shoulder. Richard had never been the type of father who showed a lot of affection.

"How are you, Larisa?" Richard asked his daughter.

The dark-haired woman nodded. "Iím fine. How was the flight?"

"Smooth," Richie said reaching into a pocket of his pants. He took out two bags of honey roasted peanuts and handed them to his sister. She laughed thanking him for the little treats.

The trio chatted, mostly Larisa and her brother as they walked to the baggage claim to get the two menís suitcases. Richard found the bags and carried them both back to Larisaís blue Nissan. She opened the trunk so he could deposit them in there. Richard insisted on driving so his daughter handed over the keys to him. Larisa got in back of the car despite her brotherís protest that he could sit back there. She wanted him to sit in the front in the hopes that he would be more comfortable. Richard got in the car and they sped off into traffic.

"How is Desi doing?" Richie asked, stretching his legs out in front of him in the front seat. He could not wait to get his younger sisterís apartment to see her. He wanted nothing more than to envelop the petite woman in his arms and assure her that everything would be all right. Richie also wanted to tell Desiree how much he really loved her, since he had taken after his father in not showing much affection. It was times like these that made one realize how precious family really was. Richie winced, thinking that a tragedy had to occur in order for him to want to be close with his little sister. Right now Desiree probably needed all the love and affection she could handle, and he silently vowed that he would be the best brother he could be. Richie mused that it was all apart of the big brotherís imaginary handbook to look out for the little oneís.

Larisa sighed softly as she wondered just how she should answer that particular question. Should she just tell them now or wait until they got to the apartment? Larisa came to a decision. She might as well get it over with. Besides maybe telling them now, especially her father it would take some of the heat off of Desiree. The dark-haired woman had the impression that her little sister was hanging on by a very thin rope. A piece of thread maybe. Desiree would not be able to take more stress before something drastic happened. Larisa did not have a clue what that would be, but Desiree was very fragile right now and she would not let their father push her any farther.

"Well," Larisa began, "actually, sheís doing better."

She saw her father nod in approval, for like her mother he did not understand why his youngest child was in such deep despair over someone who robbed her of her freedom for nearly a week. Larisa had also tried to explain to her father that somehow Desiree and Piper had become friends, but the stubborn man would not listen to her plea. It was times like these that Larisa figured that he and her mother were perfect for one another.

Richie looked over his shoulder at his sister, who was sitting behind him in the car. He had yet to see his sister, but just from hearing her voice on the phone he could tell that she was taking this hard. The young man had a surprised look on his face when he replied, "She is? Well thatís good. Has she started writing again?"

Richard snorted as stopped at a red light. That was another matter. Richard was the only one in the family who did not care for Desireeís chosen line of work. When she had announced that she wanted to be a free-lance writer, her father had told her that she would never be successful in the business since there was so much competition. Desiree would not listen to him and ended up building her major in college around her writing. Now, since she had lost her job Richard figured that she still considered herself to be employed as a free-lance writer. He called it unemployed. He had hoped that by now she would have grown out of it, but Desiree was still obsessed about her hobby, which was what he called it.

"No, she hasnít Richie, but I believe she probably will soon enough."

"She needs to get a real job," Richard stated as he looked straight ahead.

Larisa took a deep calming breath. Arguing with her father was not an event that she wanted to get into at the moment. There were more important matters that needed to be discussed now. However, if the man brought up the subject of Desireeís chosen employment in the future, than Larisa would defend her sister against him. She knew Desiree would not do it, and the odds that Richie would were slim. Larisa informed her brother and father that she had some important news to tell them. They both asked her what it was.

Larisa began to talk but then something came to her attention. What if when she told them, Richard had an accident? Maybe she should ask them to pull over at the next café they passed. Larisa asked her father to do this, but the man replied that he was not making any stops so she should start talking where she was. The woman figured that it was a chance that she would just take.

"Desiree, Taj and I found out something today. Not long before I left to pick you guys up from the airport."

"Taj?" Richard said with a frown. "You mean Taj Potter that no good friend of Piper Redding is at my daughterís home?" he asked in an angry tone of voice.

Larisa rolled her eyes. If she did not know any better she would think that her parents were prejudice, but she knew that their animosity towards Taj was solely focused on him and not his race.

"Yes, father Taj is at Desireeís. And he will remain there because he is her friend, and there is nothing that you can do about that. Why donít you and mother try to forgive instead of hating him and Piper?" Larisa could not help herself. She had to further. "You claim to be strong Christians but right now you donít resemble them. You and mother are filled with hate and bitterness and it truly disgusts me! You are such a damn hypocrite. Whoís the one who put Piper in the slammer for eight years for some filthy money, huh? How does it feel to learn that you took money from a Redding? You know, youíre lucky that it was Desiree to learn all this about you, because if it was me instead of her at that cabin that night with the police, I would have turned your antagonistic ass in!"

All of the sudden Richard made an abrupt right and the tires screeched as he came to a halt that sent all three of them forward a little. The man driving left the ignition running as he turned to regard his daughter with fury in his eyes. He was flushed with the amount of anger that he felt at that moment towards Larisa. Not backing down, the woman gave him a look of utter defiance. In all her twenty-nine years, Larisa had never spoken to either of her parents like that. She admitted to herself that it felt good to get that off her chest. She did not feel the slightest bit guilty about it.

Richard told his daughter in a low tone to get out of the car. He told her that she could walk to Desireeís home for all he cared. Richie watched this with dread. He had never seen someone stand up to his father like his older sister had just done. During her tirade he had desperately wanted to slap a hand over her mouth but he got the feeling that it would not have done any good. Larisa would have been able to get out what she wanted to say despite his efforts.

"Excuse me?" Larisa said coolly towards her father.

Richie started to say something, but his father gave him a warning look before turning his attention back to his daughter. "I said get out this car now!"

Larisa laughed which made her brother wince. He half figured that his sister had lost her mine, and now was in need of a straight jacket. "I think you forget father that this is my vehicle."

"Oh, I remember," Richard replied. "Now get out of the car," he said between clenched teeth.

The dark-haired woman looked at her brother and smiled at him warmly, although part of her wanted to call him a coward. Leaning forward Larisa gave Richie a quick kiss on his cheek before getting out of the car without another look at her father. A second later, the blue Nissan eased back into traffic and continued on its way. Larisa watched as it took off just now remembering that she had left her purse in the back seat. Well no taxi or bus since she did not have a penny on her. It would be about a nine-mile walk. The woman began walking to Desireeís, whistling as she did so. No matter if people looked at her strangely. Piper may be alive, Desiree was feeling better and she had got the opportunity to tell her father off. Larisa was in a good mood.
 


*****


 


Richard Love and his son walked into the apartment after letting themselves in with a key Richard had made. The man found his wife pacing back and forth giving their daughter worried looks. Desiree glanced towards them and smiled when she caught sight of her brother. He smiled back as he began to walk towards her. Desiree met him half way and the man wrapped her in a big bear hug as he lifted her off the floor. She laughed slightly as he put her down and took a step back to look at her.

"You look good sis," Richie said. "Iíve missed you." He leaned for and gave her a peck on the cheek as Desiree gave him an odd look. She had never known Richie to be this affectionate. Especially with an audience. What he said next surprised her even more. He told Desiree that he loved her and that he would be there for her whenever she needed him. Tears welled in her eyes as Desiree gave her big brother another hug. When she pulled away she noticed him wiping his eye. He claimed that something had flown in it, but his sister knew better. She considered that that bullet in his chest must have done something good to his heart.

Richard cleared his throat to get everyoneís attention. He asked his wife what was wrong and she turned towards him standing still finally. Desiree and Richie took their seats at the dining room table, which was where Taj was. Reaching the other man Richie stuck out his hand and they shook hands. The younger man thanked Taj for saving his sisterís life but the Jamaican man waved it off. He also had been embarrassed when people thanked him for something.

Sandra put her hands on her hips. "I think our daughter has something to tell you." She looked at Desiree as Richard did the same.

Desiree glanced around the room. Someone was missing. She addressed her father when she asked, "Where is Larisa? She did pick you guys up, didnít she?"

"She had to take a walk," Richard replied. "Now what is it you have to tell me?"

"Piper may be alive." Her fatherís eyes widened as she heard her brother gasp loudly.

"What do you mean she may be alive?" Richard asked. "She burned to a crisp, remember?"

Desiree winced at the tone of his voice and at what he said. The man sounded as if he were merely discussing the weather, instead of someoneís death.

"Must you be so callous about it?" the strawberry-blonde questioned softly.

Her father glared at her briefly. "Iím just stating a fact."

Desiree shook her head. "Itís not necessarily a fact any longer." She reached on the table and picked up the two letters. She arose from her chair and walked over to her father. "Read these."

He took the letters and sat down on the couch. Reaching into his shirt pocket, Richard took out his reading glasses and put them on before starting. The four other people in the room watched Richard intently as he read first one letter and then the second. After finishing both, the man deposited the letters on the coffee table. He turned to his daughter and stared at her for a moment without speaking. "Let me guess. You think that the woman in the cabin was actually this Emily Redding?"

Desiree nodded. "Yes, I do. What do you think?"

"Who is Emily Redding?" Richie asked his sister. Desiree got up and grabbed the letters and then handed them to her brother. As Richie read them, Desiree turned back to her father to hear his reply.

"I think you should move on with your life, Desiree," Richard replied. "That woman is dead. Whether she is dead because she was killed or dead because she is missing, either way she is out of your life. She should be dead to you because of what she did to you. Piper Redding was or is a liar, kidnapper and cold-blooded killer."

"She did what she had to do, daddy," Desiree said. "You know how her father was. He was abusive and he tried to kill her mother. Piper was only defending her. He probably would have tried to kill her, if she hadnít done something about him."

Richard sighed. "She beat her father to death with a hammer. According to that letter her sister beat another man to death with a hammer and her brother killed a few people. If you ask me, that whole family is crazy. Where did you get those letters anyway?"

Desiree explained how Andrea Redding, Victorís ex-wife had brought them all the way from San Bernardino to give them to Desiree, because she thought that the body that burned in the cabin was Emilyís and not Piperís. Desiree also told her father that they planned to form a search party to go look for Piper in the woods by the cabin. She told him how Taj had been able to get a few people already to help them and that they were on their way.

Before Richard and Richie had arrived, Desiree had told the whole story to her mother about how Piper might be alive. The woman had not wanted to listen to a word she said, but Desiree managed to tell her all of it. When she finished she asked her mother if she would participate in the search and Sandra had adamantly declined, announcing that she was not about to go looking for a woman who almost caused her daughterís death. Desiree had sighed trying to get the woman to realize that it was not Piperís fault, but Victorís, but Sandra remained stubborn. The strawberry-blonde had not given up hope, considering that maybe once he got there that her father would be able to change his wifeís mine, but now Desiree was not so sure.

"Daddy would you help in the search party?" Desiree asked. She had debated using her puppy dog eyes but figured that it would not work. She hadnít used them since she was fourteen years old.

"No I wonít. And neither will you. There will be no search party because Iím calling it off."

The door suddenly slammed and everyone in the room jumped at the unexpected noise. All of their eyes widened as they noticed Larisa standing there breathing hard with a look of pure vexation on her face. There was no easy way to put it. She was a mess. Her shirt was dirty and ripped. One of the sleeves from her jacket was missing and in the back her pants were ripped so badly, that if she were to turn around, everyone would see that she was wearing silk black and silver designed boxers. Her hair was in a disorder, and if Richie wasnít mistaken he thought he saw bits of tomato and some sort of green sauce in it. Everybody scrunched up their noses as they began to perceive a rancid odor emanating from Larisa. She warned them that the first person that said anything about how bad she smelled that they would get to smell her really well, because she would jump then.

Taj decided to have a bit of fun with that statement. "You donít smell so well. Now jump me." He gave her a suggestive look trying not to laugh. Richie chuckled nudging Taj on the shoulder as Desiree grinned widely. Richard and Sandra just glared at Taj, but he missed it.

Larisa looked at him and smirked. "Funny, Taj. Very very funny indeed." She took off her jacket, opened the front door and tossed it outside into the hall. Closing the door and locking it behind her she turned back to regard her shocked audience.

"Rule number one people. Lock the door when you enter your home, Ďcause there are people in Los Angeles that are insane!" Larisa shouted while pointing at the door behind her which had been unlocked when she had turned the knob. "Rule number two is Iím running the show from now on." She glanced at her father. "I heard what you said about there being no search party because youíre calling it off." Larisa shook her filthy head. "I donít think so. The search party will proceed as planned." There was a note of command in Larisaís voice as she continued. "Rule number three. Everyone," she looked at everyone in the room when she said the last word, "will do as I say." The dark-haired woman put her hands on her hips. "Any questions?" she asked lightly.

Everyone in the room looked at everyone else, wondering who was going to take the initiative to speak. They were all a little wary of Larisa at the moment except for her father. Richard was glaring at her.

"Have you lost your mind?" he asked her angrily, causing his wife to wince at the tone of his voice. "Who do you think we are? Your personal army to boss around? You better keep a hold of your temper, because youíve already ticked me off enough today, Larisa."

Larisa smiled at him much too sweetly. "Iíve ticked you off, father?" she asked calmly. "Who is the one who kicked me out of my own car?" She heard her mother gasp at this information, which made the younger woman come to the conclusion that her father had not told them what happened.

"You were being disrespectful to me. Iím your father and I demand to be treated with more respect."

"You gotta give it to get it," Larisa replied. "Maybe if you werenít so narrow-minded youíd be a lot happier."

It was then that Sandra asked her husband why he put their daughter out of her car. He told her the story of how Larisa had spoken so rudely to him, that it got to the point where he could not take it anymore, so he put her out on the street and told her to walk home. Sandra was upset with him for it, but Richard adamantly defended himself claiming that he was in the right. Desiree cleared her throat to get her quietly feuding parents attention, as well as everyone elseís. She then turned her gaze on Larisa, finding that she had to bite her lower lip in order to keep from laughing because her sister looked so ridiculous. Obviously something had gone wrong on her walk here, but it couldnít have been that bad. Desiree asked her sister what happened to make her look so disheveled. Larisa glanced down at herself, as if she had forgotten what state she was in. She looked up to find that everyone had his or her eyes on her waiting for an explanation.

"I wondered how long it would take someone to ask. Well the walk started out nice enough. On the way here I came up with a plan as to how to perform this search party. I will inform you of that plan later. Anyway, after oh say about three miles all of the sudden Iím grabbed from behind and lifted off my feetÖ"

Larisa saw a big hairy hand clamp down over her mouth to prevent her from screaming. She was dragged into an empty alley and deposited roughly on the ground. The dark-haired woman looked up to see two men grinning evilly as they stood over her. One was tall and too thin, with long stringy blond hair and a nose that was so disfigured that Larisa got the impression that it had been broken at least once before. By the man sat a big black dog that looked more like a wolf. The other man was not as tall as the skinny man was, but he still towered over Larisa. This man must have weighed at least two hundred and eighty pounds. He had short black hair that had bald spots in it, yet neither of them were men that were up in age. Larisa remembered smelling the sweat from the bigger one. He had crooked yellow teeth that just begged for a toothbrush, yet the other man surprisingly had straight white teeth.

The bigger man leaned over Larisa and informed her that they were about to have a little fun with her and that there was nothing she would be able to do about it. The woman turned her head away after smelling the stench of his breath. The man started to unbuckle his belt when Larisa suddenly kicked him in the crotch, saying that he was not her type. The man doubled over in pain, as the woman hurried from her vulnerable position on the ground. It was then that the skinnier man charged her, and managed to knock Larisa to the ground. He managed to send a hard blow to her right eye dazing Larisa for a moment as he began to kiss her neck. She could feel the stubble on his cheek rubbing against her own. The dark-haired woman reached up and snatched a handful of the manís hair out. He let her go howling in pain as he grabbed his head. Larisa scooted back and kicked him in the face, sending the skinny man to his back. She got up again to see the big charging her again. Larisa sighed, wondering if this was happening because of the way she had treated her father in the car. By the time the big man got to her the woman was ready for him. Larisa balled up her fist and hit him squarely in the nose. It began to bleed as he cursed her while holding both hands to his nose. She came up and kneed him in the crotch again, sending the man to his knees. Larisa thought she noticed tears in his eyes before she turned her attention to the other man. He was getting up again and was on all fours. The woman took advantage of the situation by kicking him the stomach. The skinny man landed flat on his stomach from the severe blow. Larisa was abruptly pulled back from the man by a rough tug on her jacket sleeve, which ended with the sleeve ripping off. She turned around to see the big man sending his fist towards her. She managed to duck the hit and butted the man in the stomach with her head. She doubted it did much good, since he was so heavily padded there. Larisa straightened up only to be pulled the other way by her shirt. It ripped too as she came face to face with the skinny man. She was not so much afraid as she was angry by this point. Larisa gritted her teeth as she maneuvered herself in a position where she could put her hands on the back of both of the menís heads. She then proceeded to bring their heads forward making the two attackerís foreheads bang together with a loud thud. The skinny man fell to the ground, but the big man managed to stay on his feet. Larisa brought her leg up and kicked him in the face. She then delivered another kick to his groin, causing the man to groan in pain. She was then picked up by the skinny man, unaware that he was now up. He took her over to a nearby Dumpster and threw her inside. Larisa found herself smothered in garbage. When she got to her feet, she noticed that they sunk into the trash up to the middle of her legs. By then the skinny man was standing on a crate by the trash can and they were about eye level. It was then that Larisa noticed that he had a pocketknife in his hand, which was aimed at her. She hurriedly looked in the Dumpster for something to defend herself with, since there was no way that she could quickly get out of all the trash. Larisaís eyes soon focused on an empty glass beer bottle. She picked it up by the neck and turned around to the skinny man who was wearing a triumphant smirk, because he thought he had her now. Before the man knew it, he was being hit over the head with a glass object. He fell off the crate and onto the ground into unconsciousness. The big man then came towards her with a menacing glare. She threw the bottle down and pretended to look around for something else. When he came near enough, Larisa grabbed the broken bottle that now had jagged edges and ran it across the manís face. Thins lines with blood leaking from them formed on his face, as the man howled in pain. He took a few steps back as Larisa managed to hop out of the Dumpster and come towards him. She kicked him in the stomach making him double over, while he held one hand to his face. Larisa then hit him in the face with all her might. Hit hurt her hand and she knew she would probably have bruises on her knuckles, but the big man finally fell to the ground into oblivion.

Larisa breathed a sigh of relief, but it was short-lived. The next sound the woman heard was the dog growling. She had forgot about him. Reluctantly turning to face him, Larisa saw that the canine was baring his sharp fangs at her. She did not make a move, barely breathing until he suddenly came after her. Larisa cursed loudly as she began running down the alley with an incensed dog not far behind her. She ran around a corner waving her hands in the air and yelling for someone to help her. She saw people in their cars looking at her but they kept going. Larisa chanced a look behind her to unfortunately notice that the dog was catching up on her. The dark-haired woman kept on running with her breath starting to quicken more than it already had been from the attack. The unusual run was starting to pull in her legs, and Larisa made a silent vow that she would start going to the gym regularly once again if she could only get out of this predicament unscathed. The next thing the woman knew the dog was right on her heels, trying to get a nip at her. She ran as fast as she could, but soon felt the teeth tugging at her clothing. Screaming, Larisa desperately tried to get away, but the beast would not let go. He moved his head from side to side, and Larisa noticed that he had yet to get her meat, which was good because the dog looked like he could have had rabies or anything. The dog managed to rip a big piece off the seat of the womanís pants, and it was then that Larisa was able to take off again. She once again began running as she heard the dog barking behind her. She heard his paws as they slapped on the pavement as he once again began his pursuit of her. Larisa figured she had to give the dog some credit for being tenacious in his goal. Rounding another corner Larisa saw a liquor store up head. She glanced behind her to see that the dog was still coming after her rather quickly. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead and upper lip as the woman ran with all her might towards the store. At that moment it looked like the most beautiful thing she had ever laid eyes on. Finally reaching the store, Larisa ran inside and managed to shut the glass door before the dog could enter. He stood on the outside looking at her as he barked loudly. He stood on his hind feet as he banged against the glass, as if he intended to break it. Larisa would have wagered that given enough time he probably would have been able to do just that.

The tired woman bent over, placing the palms of her hands on her knees as she quickly gulped air into her burning lungs. Two men approached her. One was an older man and the other looked like he was in his early twenties. Larisa considered that they might be father and son, for the younger man looked just like a younger version of the other man. The older man introduced himself as Cliff and the other man as being his son, Gary. Cliff patted Larisa on the back, asking her if she was all right. She nodded as she gave a quick explanation of what had just happened. Gary asked her if she wanted him to call the police, but the woman declined saying that she just wanted to get where she was going. Cliff asked her where that was, claiming that they would give her a lift. Larisa started to decline this too, but then changed her mind, deciding that she did not want to walk home after all. She was tired, sweaty, messy and her emotions were all out of whack. The woman could feel the beginning of a headache in her temples.

Gary looked at the dog outside and then went to the counter to where the cashier was watching the trio intently. The young man bought a stick of beef jerky, and then headed towards the door. He motioned for his father and Larisa to stand back as he opened it. Blocking the dogís entry to the store, Gary threw the beef jerky far down the street. As he had hoped, the dog went chasing after it. When it did he told his father to hurry and get Larisa in the truck while he attained their purchases from the store. Cliff led Larisa to the huge red truck parked next to the sidewalk. He had a look of apology on his face as he asked her to get in the back. The woman informed him that it was okay. She said she would ask the same thing if she were in his position. Larisa got in the back of the truck and rested the back of her head against the window with her legs stretched out in front of her. She watched the dog warily, wondering if she should scoot down in the truck just in case he was to glance over and see her in it. Before she did it, Gary came out of the store carrying to cases of root beer, which he put in the back of the truck with Larisa. He offered her a smile before he got in the passenger side of the vehicle, and they took off.

"And so Cliff and Gary dropped me off here," Larisa said winding down her story. She had described everything and everyone else in the room looked as exhausted as she felt. "Therefore I am not in a good mood, and I would appreciate it if you guys would work with me here on this search party." She turned to her parents. Before she could say anything more, her mother interrupted her.

"Where are the men now?" Sandra asked. "Donít you think you should file a report?"

Larisa shook her head impatiently. "I guess theyíre either still in the alley out cold or looking for their dog. I donít care where they are and I donít care about filing a report. Forget it. The important thing is is that Iím okay."

"Larisa, you just canít let this go," her father told her. His tone did not hold any anger in it now.

"Watch me," the dark-haired woman replied, as Taj thrust a plastic bag of ice in her hand. She smiled at him gratefully and held the cold bag to her bruising eye. She winced at the pain the contact caused, but held the bag to the eye as best she could. "I main concern now is getting Piper back. Now, mother, father you will be in the search party. We need all the people we can get."

"And if Tajís parentís can come all the way from Bakersfield to help, than you two should be able to do it. You and mom are right here," Desiree added, receiving a quick approving smile from her sister.

Richard turned his gaze on his younger daughter. "I donít care what Mr. Potterís parents are doing. If you all insist on wasting your time on that woman, then do it. Your mother and I want no part of it. Besides, Redding doesnít act like she wants to be found if she is alive. She probably just wants you all to leave her alone."

"You donít know what she wants," Larisa stated with a slight tinge of anger in her voice. "You donít even know her. Besides we think that sheís lost in the woods and thatís why she hasnít contacted us."

Her father replied, "You donít know her either. This is a very dangerous woman."

"She didnít kill those people, daddy," Desiree supplied. "You know that now. It turns out that she was innocent after all."

"I know that, but the woman is still a convicted killer and I donít want her anywhere near this family or you. Why do you care so much about her anyway? What do you hope to achieve?"

Before Desiree could reply anything Larisa interrupted. "For the umpteenth time, Piper is Desireeís friend. She just wants to help the woman. And Piper must not be that dangerous, because otherwise she could have killed Desiree. All she wanted was for you to get the police off her back. She didnít do anything wrong and she was scared." Larisa paused. "Try putting yourself in her shoes. Wouldnít you have been frightened of being locked up again for something that you didnít even do? She already lost eight years of her life due to your greediness." Her father started to say something, but the woman held up a sticky hand. "No, itís true and you know it. I think the only reason you donít want to help is because youíre scared that Piper will tell what you did if Desiree or one of us was to tell her the whole story of what Victor Redding said that night. As of now we are the only oneís who know what you did and you want to keep it that way," she stated quite calmly. "Youíre scared and youíre a coward."

"Now wait a minute young lady," Sandra said standing up. "I will not allow you to talk that way to your father. Either you show him some respect or you get out of this apartment."

"This is my home mom and Larisa doesnít have to leave if I donít want her to. So please donít presume to think that you have rule over a place that doesnít even belong to you," Desiree interjected politely. She glanced away when her mother regarded her with a shocked expression. Larisa did the same but she smiled approvingly again. If her little sister kept this up she would have to take her out somewhere special to celebrate sometime. It felt good to not be the only one standing up to their parents.

Richard glared at Larisa. "Look what youíve done. Now youíve got your sister talking disrespectfully."

The dark-haired woman shook her head. "Blame it on me all you want. I donít care. All I know is youíre helping out in the search," she stated confidently.

"No Iím not," her father argued.

Larisa smiled sweetly, which proved to raise everyoneís suspicions. Although Taj had not known her long, he had the feeling that she was about to do or say something out of the ordinary.

"You wanna know why youíll help, father?" Larisa asked. "Because if you and mother donít help in locating Piperís whereabouts, Iím afraid," She didnít look like she was afraid at all, "that I may not be able to keep my mouth shut."

Her father frowned at her. What was she up to? "About what?" he asked hesitantly, while considering that his oldest child might be on drugs or something. Larisa had always been rather outspoken, but today she had reached a new level of speaking her mind.

"Iím so glad that you asked. About your little problem with incarcerating people for a certain amount of time for financial reasons. Are we on the same page here, father?"

"You wouldnít dare," he argued thinking that the way she was acting, she most likely would. Then his career would probably be over and he would be shamed in front of all that knew him.

Larisa clasped her hands together in front of her, while wearing an innocent expression. "Try me."
 


*****


 


About three hours later, Desiree and Larisa arrived back at Desireeís apartment with a motorhome they had rented for the drive up to the cabin. Larisa had come up with the idea, that if they did find Piper somewhere wandering in the woods, that she would be most likely be tired and hungry. If they had a motorhome, then she could use that to relax in on the trip back to Los Angeles, and possibly a hospital if she ended up needing one. After being assured by her sister that she could manage driving the big vehicle, Desiree agreed to the idea.

They had rented a thirty-five foot class "A" motorhome for the next three days. The one that they had rented had roof air conditioning, a fresh water sink, hot water shower, a toilet that flushed, a waste water tank, a refrigerator, stove, oven and a furnace. It also was equipped with a queen-sized bed in the back, a table with chairs to sit at near the front and a padded bench. The people they had dealt with, assured Larisa and Desiree that the motorhome was built to hold six to eight adults sized passengers comfortably.

Taj had been informed earlier, before Desiree and Larisa had left to go motorhome shopping what to tell the people he had arranged to go on the search party. The plan was for all the people involved to meet at Desireeís house at seven oíclock Sunday morning, which was tomorrow. It would be then that Larisa would inform them of what else would be going on and what they were supposed to do. After that they would head for the road. Some would ride in the motorhome and others would ride in Dionís automobile. Both Larisa and Desiree had told Taj that they could not wait to meet his family. Larisa had already called Andrea to let her know to be at Desireeís apartment in the morning at the specified time. The blonde-haired woman stated that she would be there.

Larisa and Desiree exited the motorhome after finding a place to park it. Larisa declined Desireeís offer to come inside, saying that she had some other things to take care of for the trip. She told Desiree that she would make a trip to the supermarket to get the items and food that they needed for the motorhome. Forgetting about stocking up the motorhome for the trip, Desiree offered to come along but Larisa insisted that she stay home, pack and rest up for the trip. Just before getting in her car, Larisa hugged her little sister, promising that they would do everything they could to find Piper. Desiree hugged her back fiercely, fear creeping its way into her heart that they would never find her beloved.

Entering her apartment, Desiree went to kitchen to get a snack. She found Richie there so she sat down and began talking with him. She had not seen him in a while so the two had a lot to talk about. When they started talking about the search party, Richie once again brought up how sorry he was for his part in what happened. His sister assured him that nothing that happened was his fault, and that he did not have a choice. She also told him that if she were put in his position that she would most likely have done the same thing. He was only protecting those that he loved so there was no reason to apologize for that.

Richie smiled at Desiree as he got up from his chair to hug her. He planted a kiss in her hair and left the kitchen saying that there were some friends he would like to visit since he was in Los Angeles. Desiree gave him the keys to her Honda when he started looking in the Yellow Pages for a taxicab service. Richie took the keys, hugging his sister once again before leaving the apartment. Desiree watched him walk down the hall to the elevator wearing an expression of complete bewilderment. That was the third time today that her brother had given her a hug. She couldnít even recall receiving three hugs from him in the past within a six month span, yet alone a day. Desiree closed the door and locked it remembering Larisaís warning earlier. Thinking about her sister, the young woman began to laugh so much tears rolled down her cheeks. Her parents were not there at the moment so she was free to laugh all she wanted to without interruption. Larisa had looked so funny standing there covered in garbage stains.

After outlining the plan of the trip, Larisa had used Desireeís bathroom to take a shower, while her sister put her clothes in the washer. The dark-haired woman had told her to put the pants in the trash, but Desiree had argued saying that she might be able to salvage them. After taking her shower, Larisa put on the clothes that her sister had laid out for her. The clothes were a little short but at least they were presentable.

Desiree entered her bedroom and sat down on her bed. She removed her shoes and placed them next to the nightstand. With any luck by this time tomorrow Piper would be with her. She smiled dreamily, knowing how good it would feel to hold the blue-eyed woman in her arms and profess her love to her. Desiree got up from the bed and went to her closet to take out her overnight bag. She put the necessary items and clothes into it, before setting the bag by her door. Going back into the kitchen, Desiree pre-heated the stove, and took out from the refrigerator the package of ground beef she had put in it this morning from the freezer. She quickly prepared the ground beef into a meatloaf, adding spices and all else that was needed to it. After putting the meatloaf in the oven, Desiree went to the cabinet underneath the sink and reached into the back for what she wanted. Closing her fingers around the bottle, Desiree pulled out a bottle of vodka. Closing the cabinet, she went back to her room and sat at the desk in front of her computer. She put the vodka on the table and powered up her computer. Desiree reached into a case sitting on the desk and took out a red floppy disk and inserted it. She had chosen to start her journal all over again since the other disks had been destroyed in the fire at the cabin. This would be her first entry. The young woman started up her Microsoft Program and then twisted the cap off the bottle of alcohol. She took a few sips, wondering how to start. Setting the bottle down Desiree flexed her fingers and then started typing.

April 17, 1999

Dear Journal,

Man! After the last time I wrote you things just started to get out of hand! Things have been going haywire, but it seems like my life is about to get back on track. I almost died last week at the cabin. This man Victor Redding (I will never forget him) is the reason that Piper kidnapped me. He had been committing murders and blaming them on her. I have a confession to make. I came to the conclusion that she was committing the murders, but evidently I was wrong. Tomorrow we are going to go on a search party and look for her, since Piper is now missing. I thought she had died in the fire, but I was wrong. She is out there somewhere and Iím going to find her, J. I wonít rest until I do. Iím in love with this woman and I didnít know that a person could feel such a depth of love for someone. Now it hurts that I canít hold and kiss her whenever I want to, because I donít know where she is. She means the world to me and I plan to tell her so. I just hope sheíll listen to me after the way I treated her on our last meeting. I was brutal. Letís put it this way. I was all in the Cool-Aid and didnít no the flavor. Well Iím going to go now. Iíll let you know what happens.

4ever,

Desi

Desiree saved her entry and shut down the program. Picking up the bottle once again she took another sip feeling the alcohol slide down her throat. She thought she needed this to calm her nerves. Desiree went to her bed and laid down trying to put together what she would say to Piper when she saw her. She had so many things to tell the woman but did not know exactly where to start.
 


*****


 


The next morning, Desiree woke up to the smell of something good. It smelled like someone was cooking. She squinted at the alarm clock on her nightstand to notice that it was a few minutes before six thirty. Her eyes widened as Desiree considered that she should have been up by now. Hurrying out of the bed the young woman went to her closet and rummaged around until she found a light robe to put on. Desiree put on the robe and opened her bedroom door to go to the kitchen. Her stomach grumbled letting her know that it was aware of the food too. Entering the kitchen Desiree was shocked with what she saw. Taj was over by the stove mixing something in a bowl with a whisk while whistling softly. He had on a forest green apron. The Jamaican man caught something out of the corner of his eye and glanced up to see Desiree standing in the entryway with her hair mussed with still heavy lidded eyes from sleep. He grinned thinking that she looked adorable.

"Morning, little one," Taj greeted her cheerily.

Desiree smiled starting to come forward to hug him, but then changed her mind when she figured she must look a fright. She had not brushed her teeth, washed her face or anything. She excused herself and went to do just those things. The young woman also brushed her hair while she was in the bathroom. Coming out on her way back to the kitchen, Desiree smiled when she saw her brother sprawled out on the couch sleep with his mouth wide open. She tapped him on the shoulder. When he opened his eyes and he focused them on her, she told him to start getting ready. He nodded getting right up. Desiree continued on her way to the kitchen and this time she saw Taj flipping pancakes in the air to have them land back safely in a pan. Desireeís mouth gaped open. She had only seen that done on television. The Jamaican man made it look so simple to do, but the young woman knew she would be wasting them all over the floor.

"How did you do that?" Desiree asked with admiration in her voice.

Taj grinned at her. "Just takes practice, little one."

"It smells wonderful in here. How did you get in?"

Taj replied, "Easy. I jimmied the lock." At Desireeís startled expression he laughed, covering his mouth with a hand to prevent himself from being too loud. "Iím just kidding. I knocked and your brother let me in. He offered to help, but I told him to go back to sleep. I went to the store last night to get what I needed to fix everyone breakfast. Iíve been here since about six oíclock."

Desiree spied a basket of biscuits and swiped one like a child taking a cookie out of jar, knowing good and well that dinner was almost ready. The young woman bit into the warm honey soaked biscuit and let out a soft moan. She told Taj that it was delicious.

The Jamaican man chuckled. "Be careful, Desi. Anymore sounds like that and theyíll think Iím doing much more than cooking in here." Desiree smirked as she playfully slapped him on the arm.

The young woman took another big bite out of the biscuit before saying, "You have enough food to feed an army."

"Well we have about thirteen or fourteen people among us. I hope everybodyís hungry."

Desiree replied, "If theyíre not, after they see this they will be."

Just then her father came into the kitchen. Taj told him good morning politely and asked him if he had slept well. The judge only narrowed his eyes at him as he greeted his daughter. Desiree started to say something about his behavior, but a pleading look from Taj changed her mind. Her father asked her if she would start the coffeepot since he did not know how to work "the stupid thing" as he called it. Before his daughter could say anything a steaming mug of delicious smelling coffee was thrust into his hand by Taj. He started not to take it but changed his mind. He needed a cup of coffee first thing every morning. Richard took a sip of the coffee and had to admit that it was delicious. It was by far the best cup of coffee that he had ever had the pleasure of tasting. He looked at Taj and gave him an approving nod. The older man than glanced around the kitchen. He paid extra special attention to the stove. He then turned back to Taj noticing the manís apron.

"You cooked all this?" Richard inquired of the other man.

The Jamaican man nodded. "Yes I did, sir."

The judge nodded again. "Are you a chef?" He took another sip of the coffee already knowing that he would have a second cup. Maybe a third too.

Taj shook his head. "Iím working on it though. Iíd like to own my own restaurant, so Iím going to take the necessary classes first."

Richard nodded. "Youíd probably prosper at your business." Desiree beamed at the grudging compliment her father gave. The judge held up the coffee to Taj telling him that it was good.

"I didnít use Desireeís coffeepot. I made it myself." Desiree stuck her tongue out at him jokingly. Taj chuckled. "Itís called vanilla hazelnut. Added a little extra something thatís been in the family for a long time."

"Like I said. Youíd prosper." Richard headed out of the kitchen after refilling his cup, saying that he was going to get dressed. He turned around at the entrance, grumbling something about letting him know when breakfast was ready, because he intended to taste everything.

Desiree watched her father leave and then started laughing. She turned her sparkling blue-green eyes on Taj who was wearing a grin of his own. "Well they say the way to a manís heart is through his stomach." She looked back at the empty entrance to the kitchen. "Guess itís true."
 


*****


 


Fifteen minutes later the doorbell rang as Desiree ran to answer it, with her hair still wet from the shower. She was fully dressed except for her shoes. The young woman had chosen to wear something that she could move easily in since she would be strolling through the woods. She had on a pair of gray leggings and a white T-shirt. Desiree had decided to put her hair in a ponytail.

Opening the door she saw her sister standing there in a pair of khaki shorts and a black short-sleeved Guess? tee. Her dark hair was done in a french braid and was covered by a black cap that Larisa wore backwards. She came in and kissed her little sister on the cheek, before asking what was for breakfast after smelling the aroma coming from the kitchen. Desiree told her that Taj was cooking breakfast for all of them. As if on cue, Taj then came out of the kitchen greeting Larisa with a cup of coffee. She thanked him as she took a sip. She quickly took another because it was so good.

"So is everybody ready?" Larisa inquired of her sister. Taj was already on his way back to the kitchen.

Desiree glanced at her watch. "Well youíre early, but weíre almost done." She motioned for her older sister to follow her. A few moments later they ended up in Desireeís bathroom. She plugged in the blowdryer and proceeded to use it on her hair as she and Larisa tried to hold a conversation over the noise. Finally they just gave up; opting to wait until the strawberry-blonde was done. A few minutes later, Desiree wrapped up the blowdryer and placed it back under the sink, before grabbing her brush out of a drawer and running it through her hair. She then took out a rubberband from a plastic bag full of them and put her hair in a ponytail. Desiree then grabbed her comb and straightened out her bangs. She then heard the doorbell ring again.

Desiree went back to the living room, with her sister not far behind her. Before she could get to the door, her father answered it. Looking out through the peek-hole first, both Desiree and Larisa could see the older man grimacing at what he saw. He opened the door and waved for the person to come in.

"Alec?" Desiree said as the man turned to her with a smile.

"Hey, Desi. How are you?" He started to come towards her but she held up her hand and he stopped.

"What are you doing here?"

Alec frowned. "What do you mean, what am I doing here? I came to help with the search party."

"How did you know about that?"

Alec pointed at Larisa. "Your sister told me. You didnít know I was coming?"

"Evidently I didnít," Desiree snapped before she turned to regard her sister. She gestured for Larisa to follow her into the bedroom. Closing the door behind them, the younger woman put her back against the door, preventing Larisa from making an escape. Desiree crossed her arms, glaring at her sister.

"Do you have something to tell me, Larisa?" the younger woman asked as calmly as she could manage.

Larisa replied defensively, "I did it for you."

Her sister scoffed. "You did it for me? You invited my old boyfriend who cheated on me by the way and seemed to have no shame whatsoever, to help us search for my girlfriend. Let me tell you something. The next time you want to do something for me, donít."

The dark-haired woman scowled. "We need as many people as we can get. Iím not a fan of Alec Drake either, but he was willing to help when I called him last night. Excuse me for trying to help. Heís a jerk, but he has a pair of eyes. And those are what we need right now. Eyes that can see. Alec is willing to look for Piper, so shut up." Both women stared at each other for a minute or so before Larisa asked, "Are you going to get out of my way?"

Desiree cast her eyes down to the floor. When she looked back up at her sister, she had tears in them. "Iím sorry Larisa. My emotions are just a mess right now. You only did that to help. I know. I should be thanking you, not getting angry." She shrugged. "Iím sorry."

Larisa smiled warmly. "Itís okay, Desi," she paused. "But Iím not gonna ask him to leave. We need him for the search. Plus he makes it an even number."

The strawberry-blonde gave a short laugh. "Yeah." She wiped her eyes. "You know we canít have an odd number of people. How many are there anyway?"

"Fourteen."

Desiree nodded. "That oughta do it."
 


*****


 


Ten minutes later, everyone had arrived. Everyone greeted one another and learned who everyone was, before they were hustled into the kitchen by Taj and Larisa to eat. The dark-haired woman exclaimed that she wanted to be on the road in no more than thirty minutes. Everyone hurriedly made their plates as if they were at a smorgasbord and sat where they could find a seat. The elders of the group, Richard, Sandra, Nathaniel and Vivian sat at the dining room table. Surprisingly, Richard Love and Nathaniel Potter had a pleasant conversation mostly concerning politics. Sandra and Vivian seemed to be getting along rather well too. Watching them, Taj and Desiree smiled at one another, relieved that their parents were not being hostile.

After finishing their meals, everyone congratulated Taj on his excellent cooking skills, and true to his word, the judge made sure to sample every food that the young man had cooked. Feeling embarrassed from their words, Taj just smiled and quietly thanked them. Although Taj had made breakfast there was hardly anything to wash, since he had brought paper plates, paper cups and plastic utensils for everyone to use. After they ate they were instructed to put their plates and everything into a big trash bag.

Just as they were about to leave out the door, Larisa stopped them all. She gave the group a pep talk that made some of them feel as though they were about to go play in the Super Bowl. After the talk they all clapped because they were glad it was over, making Larisa smirk at them before she opened the door and went out with the rest behind her. Desiree was the last to leave the apartment, silently vowing that when she returned, Piper would be with her.

A few minutes later next to the motorhome, the group stood in a line that Larisa had put them in. The dark-haired woman now had a clipboard in her hand and a black leather fanny pack around her waist. She had put on a pair of black oval framed, smoke-tinted sunglasses. Larisa also had a silver whistle on a thin black rope hanging from around her neck. Now everyone felt as if they were in the army. Richie even found himself checking to make sure his tucked in shirt was evenly lined with his pants. Taj informed the dark-haired woman to remember to take role call. She only smirked at him, wagging a finger in his direction.

"Okay guys," Larisa started. "This is how we are gonna do this. In my hand I have a clipboard with all of your names listed on it in order. It goes from Alec Drake all the way to Andrea Redding. After thinking it over, I know how we will choose who gets to ride in the motorhome and those that will ride in Dionís vehicle. Here I have a coin." Larisa took a quarter out of her pocket. "Iím going to flip the coin. If heads shows up, then starting with Alec and choosing every other name those are the people that will ride in the motorhome. The other seven will ride in the Isuzu. If the coin toss results in tails then we will start with," Larisa glanced at her clipboard, "Valerie Hall and then every other person. Do I make myself clear? Do you guys find that fair?" Everyone nodded and some murmured yes. The leader nodded, pleased with her group. "Okay then. Iíll flip the coin." Larisa threw the coin up in the air and caught it in her right hand, flipping it over to the back of her left hand. She announced, "Itís heads. That means the following people will be riding in the motorhome." She read off her clipboard, Alec Drake, Tommy Jung, Larisa Love, Richie Love Jr., Dion Potter, Nathaniel Potter and Vivian Potter.

"Why am I not surprised that you get to ride in the motorhome?" said Desiree. She was irritated because she had to ride in a car with her parents on a four-hour trip. It was bad enough having them in her home, but she could not make an escape in a vehicle. She sighed. Well at least she had Taj with her, but he had his now girlfriend, (she had found out this morning) Valerie with him so he was paired off. Well there was still Andrea and Leroy. "How do we know that isnít a two-headed coin?" Desiree squinted her eyes due to the sun.

Larisa sighed, coming towards her sister. She handed the young woman the quarter, claming that she could keep it. Next, Larisa informed everyone to get their bags and to get into the vehicle they were supposed to be riding in. Larisa was going to drive the motorhome and Taj said that he would drive his brotherís dark blue 1999 Isuzu Oasis. Dion handed his little brother the keys, saying that he would be checking for even the tiniest scratch on it later.

Finally, the whole group was ready to head out for the road. Both the motorhome and the Isuzu had a full tank of gas so they were ready to go. Larisa said that they would stop at every rest stop on the way to the cabin to stretch and use the restroom if needed. She wanted to be at the rest stops for no more than fifteen minutes each unless there were some kind of an emergency. Larisa figured that they should make the cabin by noon if they kept a steady pace.

The group was able to make the cabin a few minutes before twelve oíclock struck. They got out of their respective vehicles and stretched, while looking at the ruin that used to be Tajís cabin. He looked at it too, shaking his head at what had happened inside of it. It was all so senseless. The Jamaican glanced over to Desiree to see that she was hugging herself, as she stared at the cabin. He was also able to notice that she was slightly trembling. He swiftly walked over to her and wrapped the young woman in his arms. She wound her arms around his neck, crying softly. Taj tried to comfort her by saying that it would be all right. She nodded, listening to his words.

"I was so scared," Desiree mumbled into his warm neck.

"I know," Taj replied. "I know, little one." He saw over the crying young womanís head, his mother coming towards them. She placed a hand on Desireeís back rubbing it gently in a circular motion. Taj smiled tenderly at his mother. Crying for a couple of more minutes, Desiree finally let go of Taj and wiped her eyes with the back of a hand.

"Thatís it," Taj started. "Wipe your eyes. You donít want Piper to see that youíve been crying, do you?" He lifted Desireeís chin up gently, so that she was looking at him. She gave him a small smile as she nodded. Everyone then heard Larisa asking them to form a straight line. They did as their leader asked, and waited for the dark-haired woman to give her next directions. Larisa placed herself in front of the group, still wearing her shades and backward cap, with her clipboard still in hand.

"Okay, guys. Iíve made a list of pairs. I have divided you all off, so that there will be a total of seven couples out searching in these woods. Now when I call off your name and that of your partner, I donít want anyone to gripe about whom they are with. I put you in the pairs I am about to tell you about for a reason." She shrugged. "I donít know if itíll work, but weíll see. Anyway," Larisa looked at her clipboard as she cleared her throat. "group one is Desiree Love and Andrea Redding." Both Desiree and Andrea seemed pleased with the match, and beamed at one another. Larisa had not expected any trouble from them. "Group two is Richard Love and Nathaniel Potter." Larisa glanced up at her father and Tajís father to see that both of their expressions were nonchalant. She shrugged again. At least they didnít seem to be upset. She hadnít expected for them to hug each other and jump up and down in sheer excitement. "Group three is Sandra Love and Vivian Potter." The dark-haired woman glanced up to see that the two women smiled politely at one another. Maybe the Potterís and Loveís were starting to get along. Larisa hoped so. Although, she mused it was really the Reddingís that her parents had to get along with, unless Desiree chose not to tell them of her relationship with Piper. Larisa shook her head. She did not want to be there if her sister ever did tell them. They would have to find out eventually it seemed. "Group four is Richie Love Jr. and Leroy Potter." No reaction from either of the young menís faces. "Group five is Taj Potter and Alec Drake." Larisa heard Taj sigh loudly at this. She didnít blame him. "Group six is Tommy Jung and Dion Potter." Tommy had known Dion because of being close friends with his younger brother, so they both accepted the match. "And group seven is Valerie Hall and I." Larisa noticed Valerie smiling at her and she smiled back. Everyone seemed to take their partners better than she thought they would. So far so good.

Larisa then opened the fanny pack situated around her waist and took out a plastic bag. Everyone in the group looked closely at it, to notice that it was a bag of orange colored whistles. The dark-haired woman opened the bag, explaining that she was going to give each of them a whistle and then she would explain what they were for. She went down the line handing everyone a whistle. When she got to her brother Richie, he asked her jokingly why she got a silver whistle and they got plastic orange oneís. He only got a glare in return that succeeded in wiping the smile off of his face. He thought that if Larisa every got tired of being a caterer, she would make one heck of a drill sergeant. The woman continued down the line until she had distributed all of the whistles. She put the empty bag back in her leather fanny pack, and picked up her clipboard that she had laid on the ground.

"Now I will tell you what the whistles are for. Here are the calls." She looked at her clipboard. "Please remember the following. Number one. Blow the whistle once if you and your partner have found Piper. Only the blow the whistle once. Now when the rest of you hear that one blow from the whistle I want you to come directly back to here and wait for the duo that found Piper to come back with her. Got it?" She saw everyone nod at this. "Good. Number two. Blow the whistle two times if you have found Piper, but you need help with her." Larisa looked up from her clipboard at the group. "Like if sheís injured or something. I have an emergency kit in the camper in case we need it." The woman turned her attention back to the clipboard. She was silent for a moment before continuing with the next one. "Number three. Blow the whistle three times if you find Piper and she isÖumÖif she is no longer with us," she finished quietly, unable to make eye contact with anyone. She heard Nathaniel, Tajís father say in a strong voice that that would not happen. Larisa saw her sister smile at the older man gratefully. He gave her an encouraging one of his own.

"Well letís all think positive then," Larisa stated. She put her clipboard on the ground again and placed her hands on her hips. "Well letís get going. Get with your partner and pick any direction you please. We will meet back here in," Larisa glanced at her watch, "two hours. Weíll take a break then and have some lunch. Although, hopefully we wonít have to meet back here for a break, because weíve already found her." She clapped her hands together twice. "I wish you luck and remember to look for signs of where she may be. The search party is on!"
 


*****


 


Desiree and Andrea walked through the woods, making sure to look at the ground for signs of footsteps or anything that might lead them to Piper. They had been searching for the past fifteen minutes, but had yet to locate any clues of the womanís whereabouts. Desireeís heart was beating so hard in her chest that she was sure that her partner must hear it. She was nervous, anxious and excited all at the same time. She needed a distraction. The strawberry-blonde turned to Andrea.

"So tell me about your daughters." That was one good thing that had developed from all of this. Piper did have living family after all. She had two young nieces that she could dote over. Desiree had a feeling that Andrea and her girls would remain in Piperís life. She hoped that they would. The young woman briefly wondered how Andrea would react if she were to tell her that her ex-sister in law and she were more than friends. Desiree prayed that this information would not push the woman away.

Andrea smiled proudly. "Those two are like night and day. Samantha, my youngest is very outgoing. Never meets a stranger and seems to make friends with everyone that she meets. Stacey is very quiet. I donít think sheís really all that shy. She just doesnít talk that much, unless she really gets the chance to become close with you. They are both very sweet and they mean the world to me."

Andrea took out a picture from a wallet she had in her pants and handed it to Desiree. The young woman studied the picture of the two girls and smiled. Samantha was fair-haired like her mother and had gray eyes like Andrea too. Stacey on the other hand had dark hair and the same blue eyes as Piper. Examining Stacey further, Desiree noticed that this might have been the way Piper looked when she was a child. The oldest girl reminded the strawberry-blonde of the blue-eyed woman.

Desiree sighed inwardly, handing the picture back to Andrea. ĎOh, Piper where are you?í she thought. ĎI have so much to tell you my love.í
 


*****


 


Alec snapped a stick off a tree and started breaking it small pieces. He glanced at the man walking beside him, and wondered not for the first time if there was something going on between he and Desiree. On studying them together, he noticed that the two seemed to be close to one another. He shook his head, silently asking himself why he cared. He had someone new now, although, Alec was contemplating about ending that relationship. He had found out after only three days that the woman he left Desiree for was not worth losing the blue-green eyed woman. She was great in the sack, but not too bright in the brain. He simply had not known how good he really had it. He glanced at Taj again, who was intently watching his surroundings. It was time for Alec to get some answers.

"So, Taj you and Desi are pretty close, huh?" Alec threw the rest of the stick on the ground and shoved his hands in his pockets.

Taj glanced his way, wearing a slightly irritated expression. Of all the people, why did Larisa have to stick him with this man? What was the point? Going over it again and again, Taj could not for the life of him figure out what it was.

"I guess we are," Taj replied slowly, wondering where the man was taking this particular conversation.

"Do you like her?" Alec inquired.

The Jamaican looked over at him. Taj smiled inwardly. That was what it was. This man was jealous of him. Not that there was anything to be jealous about, but Taj could still have some fun with him. Alec did not know that. Taj licked his lips, wondering how far he should and could take this. The other man was still looking at him intently, waiting for an answer.

Taj finally said, "Define Ďlikeí."

Alec sighed. "I mean do you like her as more than a friend."

The Jamaican clasped his hands behind his back, dodging a branch in his way. "And why is that any of your business?"

The other man shrugged. "I guess itís not. I was just wondering is all."

"Why?"

"I just want to make sure that you treat her right."

Taj countered, "Oh, like you didnít."

Alec scowled over at him. "Look, I may have made mistakes, but Iím sorry for them. I will never forgive myself for what I did to Desiree. Iím a jerk and I admit that. But Iím trying to change. I want to change." He moved in front of Taj, blocking the other manís path. The Jamaican man thought about pushing him out of his way, but changed his mind. He may not have been able to stop at that. "I want Desiree back. Sheís mine."

Taj glared at him. So far this man did not impress him. "No, I donít think she belongs to you Alec. Sheís a person not a cockerspaniel. And Desiree belongs to no one but herself." Taj used his height to his advantage by towering over Alec. "Do I make myself clear?"

Alec gulped. He told himself this other guy did not intimidate him. "Sorry, if I sounded possessive. I just want her back so bad. Try to understand that Desi and I belong together."

Taj motioned for the other man to get out of his way, and Alec did. They resumed walking. "You canít have her," Taj said simply.

"Why? Because you do? I know about that girl Valerie. You already have a girlfriend, so I donít think itís right for you to judge me, when youíre doing the same thing I did. So donít presume that you deserve her."

Taj peered at him. "True, Valerie is my girlfriend, but I never said that Desiree was." Well that was a short game.

Alec frowned. "Desiree is not your girlfriend?"

The Jamaican man shook his head.

"The why canít I have her?"

Taj did not know for sure what was going on between Piper and Desiree, but he had drawn his own conclusions. However, he was not about to tell this man of them.

"Did it ever occur to you that maybe Desiree does not want you back?" Taj asked, making a right, with Alec keeping pace next to him.

"Did she tell you that?"

"Not in so many words. Although, Iíd bet my life on it, that she doesnít want you. Frankly, I think sheíd rather have a relationship with a cactus then to welcome you back into her life. You had someone very special, but you ruined it. You clearly decided to think with what was in your pants then with what was in your head," Taj finished.

Alec was growing angry. Where did this man get off giving him a lecture? He didnít know him. Alec clenched his fist at his sides.

"Who do you think you are?" Alec sneered. "A relationship counselor? Tell you what. Why donít you just stay out of my business and mind your own. No matter what you or anyone else may think, I still love Desiree. I have always loved her. Yes, I treated her badly, but Iím not the first man to cheat on his girlfriend and then dump her for another one." Taj decided not to tell Alec about the log a few feet in front of him. Let the man figure it out for himself. "All I know is that I want Desiree back and I intend to have her. We belong together. I canít really explain it but thatís the way itís going to be. And neither you nor anyone else is going to ruin what we can have again. So why donít use just take aÖwhoa!"

The next thing Alec knew it, he was lying face down on the ground. He raised his head up to look back and notice that he had tripped over a log. He had been so intent on giving his speech that he had forgotten to watch where he was going. He glared up at Taj after hearing a light chuckle coming from the man. Alec growled low in his throat. He should have never agreed to go on this search party. There were other ways to get close to Desiree than to do this. Who cared about this Piper Redding anyway?
 


*****


 


For the past few minutes, Dion and Tommy had been walking in companionable silence. The both of them were desperately searching around for clues as to Piperís whereabouts. Dion was a little worried because about thirty feet back he had located a few spots of blood on the ground, no bigger than the size of a quarter. However, he and Tommy had both agreed that that was not much a clue, and may have had nothing to do with Piper. They hoped so, unless it proved not to be serious.

Tommy suddenly stopped, grabbing Dion by the upper arm. He pointed down to where almost completely hidden in a bush was a duffel bag. He pulled it out and the two men knelt down next to it. They looked at each other and then down back at the bag.

"Do you think itís hers?" Tommy asked, his heart hammering in his chest. What if she had been killed and her body was somewhere around here? The Asian man shook his head. He shouldnít have been thinking that way.

"It could be," Dion replied. Then he thought about it. What were the odds that someone else was in these woods? His brother had chosen a secluded place to build his cabin at. Therefore, the duffel bag had to be Piperís. "It must be hers. Now we have to figure out why it was stashed in the bushes as if someone were trying to hide it from view."

"Maybe Piper did it," Tommy offered.

Dion shrugged. "What would be the point? Why would she want to hide it? Maybe Emily Redding had something to do with it."

Tommy stared at him. "You think she might have done something to Piper?" he asked in a quiet tone.

"I have no idea. She must not have done anything. She came up here to stop it. Letís open the bag."

Dion unzipped the duffel bag, and the two men noticed an extra set of clothes and a gun. Dion took out the gun and examined it, noticing that the weapon was fully loaded. He handed the gun to Tommy who studied it briefly before he put it back in the bag and zipped it up again.

Dion took a deep breath and let it out in a rush. "Well do those give you any clues?"

Tommy nodded. "I gave that gun to Piper. She was supposed to use it in order to kidnap Desiree."

Dion decided not to say anything about how Tommy had been involved in the kidnapping. He had yet to say much to Taj about it. "So if the gun is Piperís, then that means the clothes probably are too."

Tommy nodded. "Probably." He looked over at Dion. "We should start searching again. She must be around here somewhere."

Dion agreed, so the two men rose from the ground with Tommy holding the bag as they continued on their way. A few minutes later, about fifteen feet away Dion saw someone sitting in front of a tree with his or her back against it. Neither he or Tommy could make out the face but the person had dark hair. The personís head was down with their chin touching their chest as if they were sleeping. Both Dion and Tommy raced over to the person. Reaching it they saw that the person was tied to the tree mostly by their arms being pulled backwards around the trunk of the tree with the wrists tied with rope and wrapped in black electrical tape. The figures ankles were also tied with rope and then with the tape. They also had a rope tied around their waist to the tree. The men noticed that the person did not move as they approached, as if they were either in deep sleep or dead.

Dion hesitantly reached out and moved the long hair out of the way, because it was obstructing them from seeing the face. He already had a feeling that it was Piper, but now it was time to confirm. With the hair out of the personís face, he and Tommy both noticed that it was indeed Piper. Her eyes were closed and there was caked dried blood on her left temple. She was as still as a statue. Dion tapped her on the shoulder, receiving no response. He then put two fingers to her neck to locate her pulse, and was relieved to find one. Albeit one that was extremely fast, but at lease she had a pulse.

"Is she alive?" Tommy inquired. He hoped they were not too late.

Dion nodded. "Yes she is, but we need help." He took the orange whistle out of his pants pocket and blew on it twice, like Larisa had instructed. All of the sudden Piperís eyes snapped open as she gazed at the Jamaican man kneeling in front of her. His eyes widened when he noticed her looking at him. Her eyes then traveled to Tommyís face after seeing something out of the corner of her eye. Piper then turned her attention back to Dion. None of the three had yet to speak.

"Dion is that you?" Piper asked in a slightly weak voice. She glanced at Tommy who had moved better into her line of vision. "And Tommy?" She offered them a crooked smile. "Am I in hell then?"

Dion and Tommy laughed relieved that she seemed to be all right considering. Tommy took out his whistle and blew on it once. Dion shot up from the ground and grabbed the other manís whistle from him. He glared at Tommy who was busy wondering what he had done to deserve the expression.

"Are you nuts?!" Dion exploded, throwing the whistle onto the ground.

"What are you talking about man?" Tommy asked with a confused expression.

"Why did you blow the whistle again?"

Tommy replied. "Because sheís okay. We donít need the otherís now. I think she can walk on her own." The Asian man looked down at Piper who looked quite confused herself. What was with the whistle business? "Canít you?" Tommy asked.

Piper shrugged. "Iíve been tied here for days and I donít feel like I have much energy, but maybe I can walk. I can try."

Tommy turned back to Dion. "Well see. I just saved everybody a needless trip to find us."

"No you didnít. Do you know arithmetic?"

"Yeah, I do."

"Well two plus one makes three. Which whistle call does that remind you of?"

Then it dawned on Tommy what the others might be thinking. "Oops."
 


*****


 


Desiree suddenly halted her frantic running towards where she and Andrea presumed the whistle sound had come from. Andrea ran right into her from the back. The older woman asked her why she stopped. Desiree turned to her with blue-green eyes filled with evident fear.

"She canít be dead!" the younger woman shouted. At Andreaís confused expression she continued. "We heard two whistle blowís right?" The blonde woman nodded. "I just heard another one, and thatís three whistle blows. Three means dead." Andreaís mouth opened wide.

"Maybe they just made a mistake."

Desiree replied in a shaky voice, "Only one way to find out." She turned back around and started running again, with Andrea right behind her.

Minutes later, both Desiree and Andrea arrived at the place where they saw Dion, Tommy and Piper standing. She was leaning against a tree, wearing a pair of short navy blue cotton shorts and a dirty white tank top. On seeing Desiree, Piperís tired face broke into a smile. The strawberry-blonde started crying when she noticed that the blue-eyed woman was truly alive. Desiree let out a whoop as she ran towards the other woman. Piper watched her coming, suddenly thinking about the cartoon The Flinstones, when Fred would come home only to be bulldozed to the ground by his lovable pet Dino who was happy to have him home. Desiree was reminding her of Dino. Reaching Piper, Desiree wrapped her arms around the womanís neck hugging her tight. The dark-haired woman managed to stay standing on her feet, though she did take a few steps back as if she were going to fall. Piper soon felt hot tears dropping on her neck as Desiree broke down crying. She hugged the smaller woman tightly to her with one hand, as she rubbed her head gently with the other, making comforting noises and saying that she was all right. Desiree soon let go of her tight hold, though she still had her arms loosely wound around Piperís neck. She gazed into the other womanís eyes, barely able to believe that she was seeing them again. Desiree then shocked the heck out of Piper. She leaned forward on her tiptoes and kissed the woman passionately, pushing her tongue through the other womanís lips. At first Piper was too shocked to react, and saw with her eyes still open Tommy, Dion and another woman she didnít know staring at them wide-eyed. She then shrugged and closed her eyes, melting into the delicious kiss. If Desiree did not mind other people staring at them then neither did she. Both of them were breathless, by the time Desiree pulled away. The younger woman glanced around with her face beginning to redden. So ecstatic over seeing Piper she had forgotten they had an audience. Well now four people knew of their involvement. Maybe five if Taj had figured it out without Desiree telling him. Desiree gazed at Piper with her eyes still wet.

"Itís so good to see you again," Desiree stated.

Piper smiled warmly at her, caressing the smaller womanís cheek with the back of her right hand. "Good to see you too. I never thought I would again."

"I could say the same. I thought you were dead."

Piper leaned forward and kissed Desiree sweetly on the lips. "I donít think dead people kiss." She grinned.

Desiree had missed that smile. Those eyesÖheck she had missed everything about this woman. "Iíve missed you, Piper."

The taller woman hugged her again. "Iíve missed you too, Desi."
 


*****


 


Dion, Tommy, Andrea, Desiree and Piper made their way back to the place where the motorhome and Dionís car was. Desiree had one of Piperís arms around her shoulders while Dion had the other. On the way back they had given Piper a rough explanation of who Andrea, about how she was Victor Reddingís ex-wife, the man who had tried to kill both Piper and Desiree. Piper had yet to find out that Victor was her brother and that he had been her lawyer as well. The blue-eyed woman was impatient to find out the whole story, but none of them would volunteer to tell it to her yet. She did know that Victor and she had the same last name, which had her wondering.

On seeing the condition of the burned down cabin, Piper asked the otherís what had happened. Desiree explained to her that Victor had burned it down intentionally. Piper also learned that Taj had saved Desireeís life the night that all of this happened. The small group suddenly laid eyes on Richard, Nathaniel, Sandra and Vivian. Desiree felt Piper tense when the woman saw her father. She also saw the womanís jaw clench and her blue-eyes grow cold as ice. Richard and the others came over to them. Reaching them, Richard stood in front of Piper. Desiree wished that the man would step back, because she wasnít sure if Piper would be able to keep her hands to herself. The blue-eyed woman stared at the man, but neither had yet to speak.

Richard cleared his throat and said, "I only did this for my daughter." Which was completely untrue. "So donít think Iíve forgiven you for what youíve done." He walked away without waiting for a reply.

Piper looked at his wife Sandra and smiled politely, thanking the woman for helping out with her search. Sandra opened her mouth as if she were going to say something but quickly closed it, opting to just nod before walking away to catch up to her husband. Piper turned her attention to Nathaniel and Vivian, smiling widely at them. She greeted them and found herself in a three-way hug. She warned them that she did not look and smell her best but they replied that they did not care. When they let go, Vivian put her hands on Piperís cheeks inspecting her eyes and face. Before she retired three years ago, Vivian had been a nurse.

"Are you okay, child?" Vivian inquired of Piper. Piper smiled again, remembering that this endearing woman had always called her child no matter how old she got. She didnít mind it a bit.

"Iím fine, Aunt Viv," Piper replied. At Vivianís skeptical look she continued. "Other than feeling a little dizzy, hungry, tired and thirsty Iím all right."

"Nothing some food and rest wonít fix," Nathaniel stated.

"I am quite hungry," Piper commented, then she remembered something. "Oh, shoot!" She turned her attention to Desiree. "I forgot something."

"What?" Desiree inquired.

"The cat."

Desiree frowned in puzzlement. "The cat?" Was Piper referring toÖ "Tobias!" Desiree screamed, peering around Piper and the others. The other people turned around and all saw Alec and Taj coming towards them. Taj held in his hands a squirming furry bundle. The cat kept clawing at him so he let it go, having an idea where it was going. He found he was right, as the cat headed straight for Desiree. Before seeing the woman, Tobias had been completely still, but after noticing his master, the cat all but went wild in Tajís arms to be set free.

Tobias ran to Desiree and she picked him up, cradling the feline in her arms, as she rubbed her cheek against his head. He started purring in delight. He then saw Piper standing next to his master and turned away quickly as if he had nothing to say to the woman.

"Oh, now youíre gonna shun me, huh furball? I thought we might have bonded over these past few days. I should have known you were only using me." Piper said. The cat paid her no attention.

"Tobias it feels so good to hold you again," Desiree stated while looking down at her cat adoringly. She figured he must have run out the cabin before it exploded. Life was good. She not only had Piper back but Tobias as well.

"I think you missed that cat more than me," Piper muttered, but she was smiling at the same time. Desiree gave her a winning smile back.

Just then the rest of the group came in together. After spotting her, Leroy ran over to Piper and gave her a big hug. He tried to lift the woman off her feet, causing the blue-eyed woman to laugh, but he could not do it. Leroy shrugged, trying to maintain an air of coolness.

"Piper youíre alive," Leroy stated.

"Yep." The dark-haired woman put an arm around his shoulders. "That I am." Piper than saw Richie smile at her somewhat shyly and she smiled back at him. He came over closer to her.

"Iím sorry about what happened," Richie stated. "I was only trying to protect-

Piper would not let him finish. "No need to apologize. We all did what we thought had to be done. I donít blame you at and you donít owe me any apology." Richie stared at her for a moment and then nodded, walking away. The next thing Piper knew it she was being entrapped in a bear hug. This time she was lifted off the ground, only it was by Taj. She heard Leroy a few feet away calling his brother a show-off. Taj grinned at her.

"Whatís the matter with you? You had us all worried sick. I-

Piper cut him off. "Let me guess. You thought I was dead." She smiled and then hugged and kissed the Jamaican man on the cheek. "As you can see Iím alive as the rest of you."

Taj nodded. "Good." He stared at Piper so long that she noticed his eyes were red as if he had been crying. "Donít ever scare me like that again."

"I wonít," Piper replied in a quiet voice.

Taj nodded again. "Do you want a sandwich?" he asked her.

Piperís blue eyes brightened considerably. At this point anything sounded good. As long as it was edible. She told Taj that she would enjoy having a sandwich. He went to go get it, wearing a wide smile. He then turned back around and took Valerie by the hand. He brought her over to his best friend.

"Piper," Taj started. "Remember at the cabin I told you I had that hot date?"

The dark-haired woman nodded.

"Well this was her. Piper Iíd like you to meet Valerie Hall. My girlfriend," he stated proudly. It had only been a few days that he had been in this relationship, but so far it was progressing rather well. He considered that he might be falling in love with Valerie already. Piper and Valerie shook hands and said a few words. Instantly, Piper felt that she could get along with this woman, and that she would be right for Taj. She was very happy for them and thought they made a fine couple as she watched them walk to motorhome.

Piper turned back around and informed Desiree that she needed to sit down. The younger woman wrapped an arm around Piperís waist while still holding Tobias in the other one, and guided the taller woman to the motorhome. On entering the motorhome, Desiree helped Piper to sit at one of the chairs around the table. Desiree informed Piper that she would be back shortly after hearing her name being called from someone outside. Taj then came up to Piper and handed her the sandwich and a glass of lemonade. She thanked him as he too went outside with Valerie behind him.

Piper picked up the sandwich and bit into it. At that moment it was the most delicious piece of food that she had ever tasted. She picked up the cold glass of lemonade and took a big gulp of it. The woman then heard someone coming up the steps of the motorhome and looked over to see Larisa. The older woman smiled at her as she came forward and asked Piper if she could take a seat. The blue-eyed woman gestured for her to do so. Larisa sat down across from Piper, watching the woman take another bite of her sandwich before putting it down on her plate. Piper then picked up a napkin and wiped her mouth of any crumbs that may have been there. She looked over at Larisa expectantly.

Larisaís heart was beating faster. "Iím glad that you are okay."

Piper nodded mutely, having not spoken a word to the other woman yet. She noticed Larisaís swollen eye and wondered what had happened to her.

Larisa cleared her throat. "Thereís something I have to tell you."

"So tell me," Piper replied tersely.

"I know about your relationship with my sister."

Piper stared at her waiting for the woman to continue.

"I just have this to say. If you hurt her then I will spend the rest of my life making sure that you are miserable. She doesnít deserve to be treated like crap, so donít treat her that way. Desiree got enough of that from her old boyfriend Alec. Okay?" Larisa finished.

The blue-eyed woman did not say anything for a moment. All the sudden she laughed hollowly. Piper glared at the other woman briefly, before regarding her coolly. "Well isnít that the pot calling the kettle black. Shouldnít someone be telling you that, Larisa?" The blue-green eyed woman did not get a chance to reply as Desiree came into the motorhome. She could feel the tension in the air. The young woman looked at her sister and then her lover quizzically.

"Whatís going on guys?" she asked them.

"Nothing," Larisa replied getting up from her seat. She had to get out of here. She all but felt Piperís eyes throwing daggers at her. "We were just getting to know each other." Larisa glanced down at Piper, not really making eye contact. "Nice to meet you Piper," she said.

Piper managed to smile politely at her. Larisa then left the two of them alone. Desiree turned her attention to Piper, getting the feeling that there was more to it, but she decided not to pursue it. Desiree took a hold of the seat her sister had been sitting in and put it next to Piperís. She sat down and took one of the dark-haired womanís hands in her own, squeezing it. She then glanced towards the door to the motorhome before turning back to Piper and kissing her deeply. The blue-eyed woman moaned as Desiree pulled away.

"Did I tell you that I missed you?"

Piper pretended to think it over. "You told me, but I donít think you showed me enough."

Desiree chuckled as she leaned forward and captured Piperís lips with her own again. She wound her arms around Piperís neck as the other woman wound her own arms around the smaller womanís waist. They both knew they were playing with fire, because someone could enter the motorhome at any moment, but they could not help it. They were together again and it felt oh so good.

TO BE CONTINUEDÖ


Taiko's Scrolls Of The Xenaverse