For disclaimers, see chapter 1.
Adventures in the Dust Trade, Part 4
Upon hearing her lover's scream, only Kris' incredible reflexes avoided them from crashing head on into a kangaroo that was jumping across the road. All of her driving skills kicked in as she swerved around the animal, barely missing its rump, and brought the racing car under control after a brief session of fishtailing.
A quick look at Nicole showed the younger woman holding on tightly to the roof handle with her left hand and gripping her own seat with the right. Her eyes were still firmly closed and Kris could see that she was holding her breath. "We didn't hit it," she reassured her partner. "You okay?" she asked as she shifted gears and pulled off the road.
Nicole nodded a few times and slowly opened her eyes. She saw that Kris had her forehead leaning against her hands still holding the steering wheel in a vise like grip. She was about to speak when the older woman sat back in her seat and hit the wheel with the palm of her hands, making Nicole jump.
"I could've killed you," Kris exclaimed as she brushed two shaking hands through her hair. "That was a stupid thing to do!" she added, cursing her lack of attention. Either she was going to take this rally more seriously and concentrate on the road or she'd have to slow down. That sudden event had been too close for comfort. She looked at her rearview mirror and waited for the approaching car to pass them before driving back onto the road.
Stunned by her partner's reaction, Nicole kept silent, not knowing what to say. She hadn't meant to startle Kris this way, but seeing the animal in the middle of the road at the last moment had scared her senseless. She couldn't understand why she looked so angry, it's not as if she had yelled on purpose. Nicole looked at her friend. "It's okay, nothing happened," she said softly as she touched Kris' arm and was surprised when the older woman pulled it out of her reach.
"Don't patronize me!" she shot back. "I should've had my full attention on the road. If I had, I could've slowed down instead of swerving around the kangaroo." Keeping her eyes straight ahead, Kris chewed her lip and gripped the steering wheel tighter. "The car could've flipped and you could have been injured."
"We could've been injured, Kris, not just me," she rephrased. "But we didn't hit anything."
"I don't care what happens to me. What's important is what happens to you," Kris replied stubbornly. "If "
"Excuse me?!" Nicole exclaimed as she stared at her companion, "What do you mean you don't care what happens to you?"
"You know what I mean," the stuntwoman said as she spared a quick glance at the blonde. "I'm used to getting hurt. It's the story of my life." Injuries came with the job, and with a lifetime spent doing stunts, she had her share of problems. But the thought of seeing Nicole harmed in any way caused Kris' heart to tighten painfully. It's not something she wanted to think about. That nightmare would have come true with her lack of attention earlier and she would have been responsible for the accident.
There were some lights ahead and Kris sighed in relief when she realized that they were approaching Laverton. All she wanted to do was to get some sleep, she'd be much calmer after. It was useless to try and explain how she felt now. It was a hard process for her in normal times, but nearly impossible when she was so tired. 'She'll understand, she always does.'
'I'm used to getting hurt. It's the story of my life,' she repeated, trying to make sense of the comment. Nicole waited for an explanation but Kris kept silent and stared at the road. She shook her head and frowned. "I can't believe you're saying this!" she said and still, no reply from the dark haired woman. 'Did she mean physically or emotionally hurt?' Memories of past arguments came back to her and she closed her eyes. 'Why is this coming out again and now?'
Knowing that her headstrong partner wouldn't say anything until she had calmed down, Nicole leaned her left elbow on the edge of the window, rested her head against her fist and stared outside. She tried to stay calm herself but the situation was bothering her more than she thought and she found herself getting angrier by the moment.
Shannon stepped out of the car and stretched her aching back. She was glad that they had finally arrived. Driving in the desert in the middle of the night wasn't something she was thrilled to do. It always set her nerves on edge and gave her headaches, not mentioning the burning eyes she always got when staring at the gravel road.
"You sure you want a room with two beds?" Kyle asked with a grin as he took their bags out of the trunk, "We could share a double if you want."
"Two beds will do just fine, curly," she chuckled and watched him as he headed towards the motel to get their room. She turned when she heard cars approaching and saw Kris drive into the lot and park beside them with Claire and Dean following close. With a smile on her face, she started walking towards her friends and suddenly stopped as Nicole stepped out of the car and slammed the door shut.
"I'll get us registered for our room," Kris was saying.
"Whatever," Nicole grumbled and walked away from the car, heading in a different direction from the motel.
"Where are you going?" the tall woman called after her friend.
"Going for a walk," she shot back, not bothering to slow down.
Kris jogged after the upset blonde. "Walk? But it's passed midnight, Nicole. What's wrong?"
Nicole spun around and faced her clueless partner who had to skid to a stop so they wouldn't hit. "What's wrong?!" she repeated, her eyes blazing in anger. "You blame me for the near collision and then you tell me you don't care what happens to you if you get hurt. How the hell do you think that makes me feel?"
"I never accused you of anything," Kris defended herself. "What I said was "
"What you said was," she cut her partner off, "'that was a stupid thing to do.' Well, let me tell you something. I didn't mean to wake up screaming and scaring you half to death and it wasn't my fault the damn kangaroo decided to jump across the road at the last moment."
"But Nicole " Kris hesitated and reached for the blonde's arm.
"Don't!" she warned. "Just let me go for a walk, okay?" she turned around and left a stunned Kris behind her.
Shannon watched the whole scene with a surprised expression and quickly started after Nicole. "What the hell's going on?" she mumbled to herself and quickly caught up to the blonde. "Nicole wait!"
"What?!" she barked and was quickly sorry when she saw that it was the Australian stuntwoman.
"Hey mate, take it easy," Shannon soothed her. "What's going on?"
Nicole shrugged as she rubbed her tired eyes. A look back showed that Kris had turned around and was heading towards their rally car. "I don't know," she sighed. "We had a close encounter with a kangaroo and she blew up in the car." They continued walking in silence for a while, neither woman sure of their destination. They passed in front of a general store and Nicole leaned her back against the wall then began to tell her friend what had happened earlier.
Standing in front of the blonde, Shannon listened, trying to make sense of what she was hearing. "Are you sure that's what Kris meant? Maybe she was blaming herself, did you think of that?" she asked softly. "If it was me, I know I would've, especially if I was driving at top speeds in the darkness with my attention on something else but the road."
"But she was looking at me when "
"Nicole," Shannon said with a small smile, "Listen to me. "When you're driving around, how many times do you look at your passenger when you're talking?" she asked. "What happened was an accident. I'm certain Kris doesn't blame you. In fact, I could bet you a large amount of money on it."
'That makes sense,' Nicole thought as she looked down at her feet. 'She'd never get so upset over a stupid thing like this. Maybe she was just too tired or something.' She looked back up at the brunette. "But why was she so upset then? Anybody could've made that mistake. You told me there are dozens of kangaroos who get killed by cars every day."
Shannon reached for Nicole's arms and gave them a gentle squeeze. "You may know Kris on a personal level, but I know her on a professional one. What happened earlier was a mistake that ordinary drivers do, not expert ones like Kris and most of the stuntpeople are. We tend to be excessively critical of our driving abilities, so when something like this happens " she grinned, "Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
Nicole nodded. "I think so. But I wish she had explained that instead of staying silent."
"Did you give her the chance to do that?" she asked, "She needed time to calm down and "
"And I wanted an answer right away," she sighed. "No wonder she's upset at me now."
"Confused is more the word, I think." Shannon smiled and brought the blonde closer to her and gave her a big hug. "Come on, mate. Let's go back to the motel and get ourselves a good night's sleep, okay?"
"You got it," Nicole agreed and started walking back to the assembled group of rally participants. "And I think I owe Kris a big apology."
Standing alone with nothing better to do than stare at the Mitsubishi's motor, Kris leaned her hands against the edge and looked at the mechanics without really seeing. She couldn't figure out why Nicole was so upset. It was true that she had been curt with her partner, but that was only because she was totally disgusted with herself. Surely Nicole understood her reaction? That type of inattention was unforgettable and could have ended in tragedy. To have an accident with a full concentration on the road was one thing, but to have one while being distracted by the slightest of things was quite another.
Heavy footsteps sounded behind her and Kris' back stiffened as she prepared to get rid of her visitor. 'Why can't people just leave me alone?' she thought as a large hand patted her back and she turned her head to glare at the man. 'Who else but my brother would bother me in a time like this?'
"Hey, Kris. That was an interesting ride, wasn't it?" Ludwig asked with a smile but quickly lost it when he noticed the mood his sister was in. "What's wrong?"
"I don't want to talk, okay?" she said, the tone of her voice low as she pronounced the words very clearly. "I just want to be alone right now."
"Did something happen?" the tall Austrian asked, "Is it those guys again?"
"Please Lou, I'm not in the mood to argue with you." She deliberately turned her back on her brother and squatted near the toolbox, looking for nothing in particular.
Ludwig nodded, "Okay. Talk to you tomorrow." He left the fuming woman behind and shrugged at Greg when the man made a motion with his chin. "Unless you want something broken, I suggest you don't approach her right now."
Kris heard two sets of footsteps walking away from her and she closed her eyes, enjoying the peace and quiet. She would give Nicole a little more time to calm down then she would go in search of her friend and apologize for her conduct. The last thing she wanted was to have Nicole upset at her.
She closed the toolbox and lifted it as she stood up. Kris barely had time to put it back in the trunk when another hand grabbed her arm and turned her around. With a sneer, she chopped at the wrist with her hand and broke the grip holding her. "Don't you dare touch me again." she growled at the surprised Italian standing in front of her.
Tony shook his aching hand and glared at the woman. "No wonder your girlfriend ran off with another woman. Kinda bitchy tonight, aren't you?"
"What do you want?" Kris asked slowly, keeping her icy blue eyes on him.
"Nothing," he chuckled. "Just wanted to let you know that I saw your little playmate in the arms of Shannon. She kinda moves around, doesn't she?" he said with a half smile. "There's only one woman left in the group. I wonder if Blondie will do her too."
Pure rage shook Kris' body and she lunged herself at the snickering man. Just in time to avoid bloodshed, the Finns put themselves between Tony and the furious woman. As strong arms wrapped themselves around Kris' waist, she hit back with her elbow, wanting to get herself loose and connected with somebody's head. Two hands let her go immediately and she looked behind her to see Scott holding his nose and heard him moaning in pain.
"Who knows," Tony continued as the Finnish drivers pushed him back, "Once Nicole's done with them, she might want to try a few of us men," he grinned. "Maybe I should go and have a little chat with her since you're not exactly free right now."
"You son of a bitch!" Kris yelled and tried again to reach the laughing Italian only to be held back by her brother and Greg. "If you ever touch Nicole, I'll make sure you'll regret the day you met me."
"Was that a threat?" Tony asked and pointed at the people surrounding them. "I have witnesses. If something happens to me. I'll " he never had a chance to continue as Kyle came out of nowhere and hit the man squarely on the jaw, stunning him to near unconsciousness.
Rubbing his aching hand, the bald technician turned around and looked at the stunned drivers. "Any witnesses here?" he asked and received negative headshakes and smiles. "That's what I thought." He watched as the grinning Finns dragged Tony away and stretched his bruised fingers. "Been a long time since I last done that."
Kris shook out of the men's hold and glared at Kyle. "I could've handle him. Why can't people mind their own damn business?" she spat and turned, finding herself face to face with Scott. "And you, grab me again like you did and you'll find yourself with more than a sore nose," she growled and pushed her way through the men. Reaching her car, she slammed the hood shut then sat in the driver's seat, gunned the engine and left in a cloud of dust that covered the assembled group.
They watched her leave in silence, not sure what to do next then turned to look at Ludwig who simply sighed and shook his head. "Give her an hour or two to cool off," he announced, used to his sister's nasty temper. It had been years since he'd seen her this way, but lately, Nicole had always been there to calm her down, which reminded him. He glanced around him, trying to see where his sister-in-law was, but she was nowhere to be seen.
"Damn, that woman sure packs a punch," Scott said as he tenderly rubbed his nose. "Glad she wasn't really upset at me."
"You're lucky she didn't break anything," Ludwig explained, keeping his eyes on the rear lights of the racing Lancer. "You can get away with grabbing her arm but never, and I do mean never grab her from behind like you did."
"Wish I had known that earlier," Scott shook his head to clear it. "Well, that's enough excitement for tonight. I'm off to bed. Good night everybody." He waved at the men and just before walking inside the motel, decided to change direction and head straight for the parked rally cars.
Movement down the near deserted street caught Ludwig's attention and he started walking toward the two strolling women. He took a deep breath and let it go slowly, not sure exactly how he would announce the latest event to Nicole. "No matter what I say, she won't be able to calm Kris until she comes back. Might as well prepare her though."
A silent figure watched as a few remaining rally participants continued discussing the tall woman's angry outburst. He smiled, unable to believe his luck. 'That will cover my tracks very nicely,' he chuckled softly.
The basic plan he had made had taken an unsuspecting turn for the better. If luck could stay with him just a little longer, he would be very thankful. His chosen victim had proven near to impossible to get near to in Kalgoorlie, and so he had decided to postpone his plan and continue to drive to Laverton, following the rally cars.
He checked the time and nodded. It was one o'clock in the morning and while a few participants went to their rooms to sleep, most of them headed for the motel's restaurant opened for the ralliers and the few citizens still awake. He waited until everybody was inside before heading towards the parked cars and started to look for his target.
In a matter of minutes, the man was spotted as he searched through the bags in the trunk. The dark clad figure stepped back into the shadows as he pulled his gloves out of his jacket and put them on. 'You're not going to get away from me this time,' he silently vowed, keeping his eyes on the rally driver. Another item was taken out of his pocket and he slipped the black mask over his head, camouflaging his face. 'Let's see how your lover will react to this.'
Sitting on a bench outside the motel, Nicole watched as a pickup truck drove by. It was getting late and she was beginning to worry about Kris. If only she had a way to contact her and make sure she was okay. She wasn't upset anymore, having had plenty of time to think about what had happened earlier. She hoped that Kris had managed to calm down herself and would come back to her to get some much deserved rest.
A sudden idea crossed her mind and she stood up to find Shannon who was sitting in the motel's restaurant. "I could try reaching her on the CB!" Turning around, Nicole took one step and walked right into a wall of warm and solid flesh. "Oh!" she blinked in surprise and lifted her head to see sad blue eyes looking back at her. "Hey," she smiled shyly. "You okay?"
A corner of Kris' lips lifted slightly and the dark haired woman nodded. "Yeah," she sighed as she looked down at her feet. "I'm sorry, Nick. I'm such an ass sometimes." She shoved both hands into her jean pockets and looked at everything but the woman in front of her. "You didn't deserve the way I spoke to you."
Nicole reached her hand up and gently stroked her partner's cheek. "Look at me," she asked softly and waited until Kris did so. "We're both very tired and that roo jumping in front of the car surely didn't help matters." She dug a key out of her pocket and dangled it in front of her partner. "I got us a room. What do you say to a warm bath and a comfortable bed right after?"
Relieved that Nicole wasn't upset anymore, Kris let a small smile tug at her lips. "Can we go directly to the comfortable bed part?" she asked softly and received a happy grin from her lover.
"I was hoping you'd say that," she laughed and wrapped her hand around Kris' arm. "Let's go get our bags out of the car."
Pulling one hand out of her pocket, Kris motioned to the items on the ground next to the door. "Got them already. Brought the lunch you prepared too. I bet you're hungry."
"What gave you that idea?" she asked as she picked up the grocery bag and watched Kris grab the two travel bags. "Could it be my grumbling stomach?"
"If mine's noisy " Kris smiled and followed the smaller woman.
Having closed the door behind them and switched the light on, Nicole looked around the small room and walked to the desk to put her bag on it. The place wasn't luxurious but it was clean and looked comfortable. Aside from the double bed in the middle of the room, there was one nightstand on the left with a lamp and a tan colored sofa on the right. In front of the bed was a desk with six small drawers and a medium sized TV on top.
The blonde peeked inside the bathroom located next to the door and sighed. "What I'd give for a Jacuzzi right about now."
Kris put the travel bags on a metallic luggage stand and took her jacket off to put it on the sofa. "I know what you mean. My shoulders are killing me," she mumbled and watched as Nicole took her sleeping shirt out of her bag and stepped into the bathroom.
"What time are we leaving tomorrow? I just hope it's not at an ungodly hour."
"I'd guess we'll leave around eight in the morning so we should wake up at six." She smiled as she heard her partner groan and set the alarm on her watch. "At least the driving will be done during the day." Taking a long T-shirt out of her leather bag, Kris pulled her boots off and slipped out of her jeans.
"To tell you the truth, I really don't care for driving at night," Nicole said as she walked back into the bedroom and put her clothes on her bag. "But I fear this is not the last night we'll be doing that, right?" she asked the dark haired woman sitting on the bed.
Kris' head popped out of the shirt and she pulled her hair out from under the collar. "We'll have a few more nights like this," she answered, "But trust me, I won't be driving like a maniac. No friendly rally is worth the risk."
Biting her lip slightly, Nicole approached the bed and knelt on the mattress in front of Kris. "That's something I wanted to talk to you about," she said softly. "Earlier, you said that you didn't care what happened to you and "
"Oh Nick, you know what I meant by that," Kris replied and gently brushed a strand of blonde hair away from Nicole's face and put it behind one ear. "What I wanted to say is that between you and me, I'd rather see myself injured than you. You mean everything to me."
"Well, the same goes for me too, Kris." She looked down at the bedspread and picked at the nonexistent lint. "But when you said that you were used to getting hurt that it was the story of your life, I couldn't help but think about what happened to us so many years ago." Nicole could feel the tears as they threatened to fall and took a deep breath to calm herself. If there was one thing that she and her partner had decided to do was never keep anything secret from the other. If she didn't voice her fear now, it would simply linger and grow with every passing day.
Shocked that Nicole would still worry about that, Kris gently lifted her lover's chin with a long finger and made her look into her eyes. "That was the furthest thing from my mind," she said softly and wiped a tear off Nicole's cheek with a thumb. "I thought we had settled this a long time ago."
"I'm sorry," she sniffled and wipe her tears with impatient fingers. "We did settled it. I guess I'm just too tired that's all."
Silently, Kris stood up and held a hand out to help Nicole off the bed. She pushed the blankets away and invited the now smiling blonde to slip under the covers with a grand gesture. "Your bed awaits, my lady," she smiled.
Laughing, Nicole shook her head and did as she was told. Once the lights were off, she waited until Kris sat on the bed before tapping her gently on the shoulder. "You mentioned something about them aching, right? Lie down on your stomach."
"Ooh, I won't say no to that," she smiled and closed her eyes as Nicole started massaging the sore muscles. "So are we okay?"
"Just another misunderstanding," she replied softly and kissed the strong back under her roving hands. "We're okay."
"Good. I hate when we fight."
Working her way up, Nicole gently pushed the raven hair away and started nibbling her lover's neck. "But just think of the fun we have making up," she whispered in the woman's ear. 'Who said anything about sleeping?'
Making sure to stay in the shadows so he wouldn't be spotted, the man slowly made his way to a public phone. With one last look around him, he grabbed the receiver and inserted a few coins in the slot. A number was dialed and he waited for the call to be picked up.
"Yeah?" a gruff voice sounded at the other end.
"Hey, what can I do for ya?"
The solitary figure smiled. "I want you to up my bet to five thousand dollars."
There was a slight pause on the line then, "Okay, it's done."
"Thanks. I'll give you another call if things keep going the way I want them to." With a chuckle, he hung up the phone. 'One down, a few more to go.'
Shannon stretched her neck, trying to look outside the restaurant and see if Nicole was still sitting there. The blonde woman was nowhere in sight. She looked at her watch as she tried to stifle a yawn. "Gotta get some sleep soon," she mumbled as she pushed her empty plate away from her and finished her cup of coffee. Most of the rally participants had gone to sleep and all that was left of the group were Teppo, Heikki, and Ludwig sitting in front of her while her teammate sat quietly beside.
She glanced at Kyle who was absentmindedly rubbing his bruised knuckles. 'I wish I had seen that,' the Australian stuntwoman chuckled, thinking about what the bald technician had done to Tony. 'Any person who's willing to do that for a friend is worth knowing better.' She gently lifted his injured hand. "You'd better put some ice on that. Want me to get some?"
"Huh? Oh! Yeah, I know," he replied as he pulled his hand away from her, feeling suddenly shy. "I was gonna do that later."
"Is that a blush I'm seeing?" Ludwig smiled and elbowed one of the Finns sitting at their table. "Never thought I'd see that someday."
Teppo chuckled at the American, "You have a beautiful woman ready to care for you, man. Enjoy it!"
"I am not blushing!" Kyle glared at the Austrian then looked at the two Finns, "And she merely offered to get me some ice." A grin slowly formed on his lips and he turned to look at his teammate. "Unless you want to take care of me. I'd like that better."
"Keep dreaming, curly," she deadpanned, causing everybody to laugh. "You seemed far away a few minutes ago. Something wrong?"
"Not really," he said and looked at Ludwig. "I was wondering if Kris is okay."
The Austrian took a deep breath and let it go slowly. He eventually nodded. "She'll be fine. She just needs time to calm down and vent her excess of energy."
"Boy, we're lucky we were handling Tony and not her," Teppo said, "Another who's lucky is Scott. She could've easily broke his nose with that elbow shot."
"People who know Kris know better than to stand behind her," the stunt instructor replied. "He learned a valuable lesson tonight."
Heikki scratched his head in wonder. "You know, I really thought that Kristina would pummel the guy senseless at one point. Did you see the look in her eyes?"
"She wouldn't have done it," Shannon argued, "The jab at his face was a defensive action. Tony on the other hand, now that guy I know she wants to play with. He made a very big mistake in attacking Nicole, even if it was verbally." A new patron walked into the restaurant and Shannon watched as Dean searched the small business with his eyes. She waved him over when he looked their way. "Looking for something?"
The blond man brushed his hand through his short hair and walked towards them. "Someone," he corrected and sat down next to her. "Anybody seen Scott lately?" All he received were negative shakes of the heads.
"Last time I saw him was when he wished us goodnight," Shannon offered, "But that was some time ago."
"And he's not in his room?" Kyle asked. "Maybe he went for a beer or something."
"No," Dean mumbled as his eyes scanned the room and watched as people walked by the restaurant, hoping to find his friend. "He would've told me if he wanted to go somewhere."
Teppo cleared his throat softly and looked at the blonde rally driver. "I know you guys are close friends and all, but does he always tell you where he goes or what he does at every single moment of the day?" he asked reasonably.
Dean considered the question and tried to figure out a way to answer without blowing their cover. "Not at every single moment, no," he said outloud, 'But when you live as a couple like we do, we usually tell the other if we're going to be absent for a long period of time,' was what he wanted to tell them.
If the drivers knew that he and Scott were lovers and had been living together for over twenty years, Dean couldn't even start to imagine the type of hassles they would get from them. He had seen two other drivers who had dared announce their relationship. The news had caused so much trouble for those men that it simply wasn't worth saying something and so they had decided to keep the fact a secret. Besides, it was nobody's business but their own.
The rally driver looked at Ludwig. "I heard there was a problem earlier with Kris and Tony and that Scott got injured. Was it bad?"
"No," he smiled. "Scott grabbed her from behind and she hit him," Ludwig explained. "She was angry and just reacted. I know she'll apologize to him tomorrow."
The lone waitress continued clearing the tables and looked up as the door opened once more. There was an incredible sound as glasses and plates went crashing to the floor. The woman let out a high pitched scream before she covered her mouth with a hand and pointed at the entrance with a shaking finger.
People turned around to see what was going on and looked in horror as a battered man came stumbling into the restaurant. Half of his face had blood seeping from cuts over his eye and lip, the nose looked broken and bruises were visible all over the rest of his face. His left hand looked as if it was broken too.
"Oh God!" In a mad dash, Dean bolted from his seat at the long table to catch Scott as he slowly slumped to the ground. "We need help!" he yelled and gently lowered his lover to the floor. "Who did this? What happened?"
"Don't know," he breathed and winced when he tried to move. "Couldn't see dark."
Blue eyes glared at the Austrian. "Is Kris responsible for this?!" Dean yelled but didn't wait for an answer as he turned his attention back to the beaten man.
"No!" Ludwig protested, "She'd never "
"My brother's calling the Doc," a man said as he knelt by the injured man.
"We have a first aid kit in the car. I'll go get it," Heikki informed the group and left.
Shannon squatted next to Dean and gently patted his back. "He's gonna be okay, mate," then looked up at Kyle. "Maybe it would be a good idea to inform the rally organizers and get the helicopter ready, just in case we need it."
The American nodded. "Got it!" He ran out of the restaurant and headed towards the rally cars.
She gave Ludwig a sad smile and said softly, "Why don't you go with Kyle, okay?" she watched as the stunt instructor silently nodded and followed Kyle.
Once near their car, Kyle pulled the keys out of his pocket to unlock the doors and switched the HF radio on. "Can't believe this!" he cursed, "Who in hell would do such a thing?" Having reached Steven, one of the rally organizers, Kyle promptly informed them of the situation and was quickly put in contact with the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Ludwig stood by the car and waited until Kyle finished with his call. Footsteps behind made him turn around and he spotted one of the two French drivers as he walked out of the restaurant and approached them. "Is the first aid kit Heikki brought enough?"
"Yeah," the Frenchman nodded. "They're trying to get everybody out to give them room." He looked at the tall Austrian. "Where's your sister?" he asked suddenly.
The stunt instructor cast a quick look around and spotted the red and white Mitsubishi Lancer parked not too far away. "I guess she's in her room sleeping. Why do you ask?"
Stephane shrugged as he crossed his arms over his chest. "Don't you find it a strange coincidence that Kris threatened Scott earlier and he ends up beaten?"
"Now wait a minute!" Ludwig exclaimed and pointed a finger at the restaurant. "You can't possibly think that she's the one who did that?"
"After what I heard?" he snorted, "I'd say it's a possibility. Why don't we ask her where she was all night."
Ludwig watched as the Frenchman headed for the motel. "That guy's nuts!" he blurted and looked at a stunned Kyle. "Is he for real?"
The American shook his head and scratched his beard. "I don't know but we'd better stop him before she shreds him to pieces."
Something stirred Kris out of a deep slumber and she frowned in displeasure as she tried to figure out what it was. She grumbled under her breath but eventually relaxed when the noise disappeared. Sleeping on her side with her left arm around the warm body that was pressed against her, Kris tightened her hold and cuddled even closer to her lover and sleepily smiled when Nicole uttered a small satisfied mewing sound.
There was banging on the door again, this time louder. Kris' eyes popped open as she rose in bed and leaned on an elbow to glare at the door. "What the "
"What's going on?" Nicole asked sleepily as she sat up, causing the blankets to slip off her shoulders and pool around her waist. Another impatient knock made the blonde woman look at her lover who was getting angry.
"I don't know," Kris growled as she got out of bed and marched to the door. "But that idiot better have a damn good reason to wake us up."
"Kris!" she urgently called after her furious partner and quickly grabbed the first nightshirt she found on the floor. "You can't answer the door this way," she said as she threw it at her.
Catching the flying shirt, she quickly put it on. "Why not?" the tall woman replied and snarled as more banging was heard. Grabbing the knob, Kris opened the door with such violence that she almost took it off of its hinges. "Are you suicidal?" she demanded as she firmly planted both fists on her hips. "What do you want?"
There was a strangled squeak as the man's eyes bugged out of his head and his jaw slowly sagged as the sight before him registered in his brain. Standing in the doorway was an incredibly tall woman, her loose raven hair cascading over her shoulders, wearing nothing but a very short shirt and a sneer. Stephane couldn't help himself as his eyes began roaming over the long and muscular legs of the stuntwoman.
Glaring at the staring man, Kris heard running footsteps down the corridor and spotted her brother with Kyle right beside him in her side view. She reached for the Frenchman's chin and jerked his head up to make him look into her eyes. She asked again, "What do you want?" her voice rumbled making the smaller man swallow nervously.
"Ah, damn! I hope she won't bend over!" Ludwig mumbled as he looked at his nearly naked sister. He elbowed Kyle in the ribs when he noticed that the American stunt technician was gawking at Kris.
"Huh?" he blinked in surprised and tore his eyes off the woman to look at his frowning friend. "Oh, sorry." Kyle blushed and lowered his eyes but not before he took one last look at the impatient beauty leaning against the frame with both arms crossed over her chest.
"What's the meaning of this?" she demanded and looked sideways to see Nicole standing next to her, handing a bathrobe. To the men's disappointment and Nicole's relief, Kris took the offered item and slipped into it. A small hand slowly rubbed her back, helping her to calm down so she wouldn't throttle the clueless man.
"There was some trouble earlier, Kris," Ludwig answered the question meant for the Frenchman. "Somebody beat the crap out of Scott."
"Oh no!" Nicole breathed and grabbed the taller woman's robe in her hand as she stepped closer to the small group, blinking at the brightness in the corridor. "How bad is it?"
"Why don't you ask her?" the Frenchman finally said, his voice working once again. Stephane held the woman's stare, hoping to see any hint that she was responsible for the attack. All he saw was an elegant eyebrow lift in question.
"Excuse me?" Kris replied and brushed her fingers through her disheveled hair. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Kyle stepped forward and slowly pushed the French driver away from the stuntwoman's reach. "This imbecile thinks you did it." He took one look at his friends, noticing for the first time the pillow creases on Kris' cheek and the sleep in Nicole's eyes.
"Where were you a few hours ago?" Stephane continued with his questions, safely hidden by the American. "You disappeared after you hit Scott."
A door opened next to them and a sleepy New Zealander rally driver poked his head out to see what was going on. "Hey, what's up?"
"This is ridiculous!" Kris exclaimed, "I don't have to answer this stupid question but I will anyway. I went for a short drive then came back here. We've been in our room ever since."
Mario nodded vigorously. "I know both of them were in there," the kiwi replied with a grin. "We kind of heard them huh, well, let's just say they were "
"Otherwise busy," the other New Zealander finished as he stepped out of their room and into the corridor. Phil looked at the stuntwoman and smiled shyly at the small blonde. "We couldn't help but listen, sorry."
Blushing furiously, Nicole buried her face in Kris' bathrobe and moaned. "I didn't know we made so much noise," she shook her head. "This is so embarrassing."
"We?" the tall woman repeated as she looked at her hiding lover. "You're the one who's vocal about it, not me."
"Kris!" Nicole squeaked and slapped her friend's arm. "This is not funny."
Rubbing her partner's back to soothe her, Kris turned her attention back to the silent men before them. "I don't know who's responsible for the attack on Scott, but I'm telling you, it's not us."
"Is this a private party or can anybody play?" Shannon piped in from behind Ludwig. She looked up at the blue eyed man and smiled. "Dean says he's sorry for what he said earlier."
"I'm not the one he should be apologizing to, Boomer," the Austrian replied tersely and looked at his sister, "It's her."
"Does everybody think I'm the one who did it?" Kris exclaimed as she threw her hands in the air and let the drop beside her. "I don't believe this!"
"You have a nasty temper, Kris and you did hit Scott earlier," the brunette said softly. "People easily jump to conclusions, we all know that," she gave Nicole the barest of winks then looked at the assembled group. "Scott says that his wallet was stolen."
"Was the thug a man," the Frenchman asked then looked pointedly at Kris, "or a woman?"
Shannon looked at the rally driver then at her friend and saw both of them locked in a staring match. "He didn't really say," she admitted. "It was dark and his attacker was wearing dark clothes." She frowned at the small man. "No woman could've done the damage I saw on Scott unless she was very strong and "
"And she isn't?" Stephane cut her off and pointed his finger at the Austrian stuntwoman. "It took a few men to keep her from beating the crap out of Tony!"
"Just because she wanted to strangle the asshole doesn't mean she attacked Scott!" Shannon shot back, feeling her temper rise.
"I've had enough," Ludwig stepped in and glared at the Frenchman. "Unless you have positive proof that my sister's guilty, I want you to leave her alone, do you hear me?"
"Do you hear me?" he repeated with a menacing voice. He watched as Stephane slowly nodded and quickly left the group. Taking a deep breath to calm down, the Austrian looked at Shannon. "Is there anything we can do for Scott?"
"Not really," she replied. "The doctor's taking care of him. It doesn't look like he's got anything broken but he won't be able to use his left hand for a while."
"What about the race? How will he be able to shift gears then?" Nicole asked, "He's the main driver, right?"
Kris nodded. "Either Dean will drive the rest of the way or they'll drop out of the rally," she reasoned. "You sure they don't need any help?"
Shannon shook her head again. "Everything's under control. But I know what I'll do; get some sleep. We only have a few hours left before morning."
"Well, if everybody's done accusing me, we'd like to go back to bed." Kris reached for the knob and started to close the door then stopped. "Oh, one more thing and this better go around. The next one who dares to bang on our door like that is a dead man!" she warned and slammed the door shut. She stood motionless for a few minutes, just staring at the wall. With a sigh, she brushed her hands through her long raven hair and closed her eyes as hands slid around her waist and locked themselves on her stomach.
"Hey," Nicole said softly and kissed her lover's back. "Come on, let's get some sleep." She walked back to their bed with her partner in tow and undressed, then waited until Kris did the same so she could slip under the covers and pull the blankets up to cover them. "You realize that you'll be the talk of the day tomorrow, right?" she said as she tucked her head under her lover's chin, halfway sprawled on top of Kris' soft and warm body.
"I know," she replied softly. "They'll probably make bets about who I'll attack next."
A blonde head rose from its comfortable spot and green eyes blinked at her in confusion. "I was talking about the little show you made in the doorway. You know, the incredibly short nightshirt?"
"Sorry about that. I should've picked yours instead of mine." Nicole searched the woman's face and saw a hint of a sad expression, which was quickly hidden by a yawn. She chewed her lip for a while before speaking softly. "It bothers you to have people think you're a big bad wolf, huh?"
Kris shrugged, "I don't care."
Blue eyes held green in a battle of will until Kris' softened slightly. "All that matters is what you think of me."
Climbing on top of Kris' chest, Nicole pulled herself up to kiss her lover's lips. "Well, I care," she smiled. "If I have to go and talk to each and every person around and tell them what an incredible woman you are, I'll do it. Even if I have to beat the fact into their thick skulls." She grinned as her partner chuckled lightly.
"My hero," Kris said softly as she let her hands travel over the blonde's naked back and watched as Nicole rolled her eyes. "I'm serious, Nick. I can't express how you make me feel. Your love is what's keeping me from doing stupid things sometimes. I couldn't bare seeing you disappointed in me." She closed her eyes as she thought back to what she'd wanted to do to Tony earlier. 'I came so close to doing just that,' she silently thought and sighed.
"No matter what you do, I'll never be disappointed in you, my love," Nicole replied and lowered her head to kiss the woman again and stop her from arguing.
Dean roughly zipped his overnight bag shut and rubbed his tired eyes. 'What a night that was!' the blond man thought as he walked to the sofa and let himself fall on it. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes, wondering what to do about Scott's request. Neither had gotten much sleep, having spent a few hours with the doctor and now his partner wanted to continue with the rally as if nothing had happened.
Much to his relief, his friend's hand wasn't broken, but he wouldn't be able to use it for the rest of the week, let alone drive the car and shift gears. If he agreed to what Scott had suggested, that job would be his until the race was over. In all the years they had professionally participated in rallies, Dean had always been the navigator, not once had he thought about being the driver.
But this rally was different; it was supposed to be a fun one. With the previous night's event, the blond man wasn't too sure anymore. Too many things had happened so far. The Italian team had made sure to live up to their troublemaker's reputation by choosing Kris and Nicole as targets. He feared that the tall stuntwoman might lose control one day and throttle the idiots. 'Which isn't a bad thought by itself,' he snorted.
He scrubbed his face with his hands and opened his eyes to watch Scott as put the last of his items in his bag. There was another thing that bothered Dean, and it was the attack on his lover. He cleared his throat and leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Dean asked as he kept his eyes following the taller man. "I'm getting nervous, Scott. What if what happened was because one of the guys found out about us? We all know how Tony reacted to Kris and Nicole's relationship. Nobody even knows where they were last evening."
Scott sighed and shook his head. "It was a simple robbery. It could've happened anywhere."
"Why did he beat you up, then?" the blond asked reasonably, "He took your wallet but not your ring and watch, why?"
The taller man walked to his friend and squatted in front of him. "He didn't take them because I fought him. I wouldn't give it to him willingly."
"It doesn't make sense, Scott," the navigator said and gently lifted his friend's bandaged hand. "If I wanted to rob somebody and they'd resist me, I'd hit them in the face or stomach, not try and break their hand." He took a deep breath and let it go slowly. "You know what I think?"
"I don't believe that it was a simple robbery," Dean stated. "I think that whoever attacked you last night wanted to cause you enough damage so we'd pull out of the rally."
Scott laughed and stood up. "Now that makes no sense," he smiled. "We're not talking World Cup rallying, Dean. This is an unofficial race between friends with no points to gain or prizes to get. The only thing we'll have is a check to be given by the winning team to their chosen charity."
"I don't mean this race in particular and you know it," Dean shot back as he stood up to face his friend. "What if they're trying to scare us enough to stop doing rallies? This way, they'd be rid of a pair of queers and able to go back to a 'real men' sport."
"If that's the case, they'd have to go after the female drivers too." he replied as he grabbed his bag and put it under his arm. "That's why I'm saying it doesn't make sense, so don't go paranoid on me, okay? It was an ordinary robbery, which could've happened to anybody. End of discussion." He opened the door and spoke over his shoulder. "I'm heading for breakfast and get ready for the race. Meet you there."
Dean watched his partner leave their motel room and closed his eyes. "I really hope you're right," he said softly before he took his own bag and followed the taller man. "But I know somebody's up to no good, I can feel it!"
"Will you stop fidgeting?" Nicole asked her lover for the third time as she tried to finish the French Braid she was working on. "Sometimes you're worst than a kid," she smiled. "Okay, all done." She gave the dark haired woman a pat on the butt before checking her own braided hair in the mirror.
Kris chuckled and gently kissed Nicole's neck. "Thanks. Ready to go?"
"As I'll ever be." She took her bag from her partner's hand and followed her out of their room. "I'm really looking forward to breakfast, I'm starving."
"I'm hungry too," Kris admitted with a grin. "With all the exercise we did last night "
"What exercise?" the blonde woman asked, frowning slightly. "All we did was sleep."
Nicole thought for a moment then blushed slightly. "Oh! That."
"Hmm mm," blue eyes twinkled. "It beats working out in a gym, doesn't it?" she asked as they walked into the motel's restaurant.
"Shh," she warned when people turned around to look at them.
"They could make a new fitness video out of it," Kris continued with a smile. "Or give nighttime classes."
"Can you imagine the number of people they'd have if they did?"
Nicole couldn't stay serious anymore and burst out laughing. "What a thought!" she complained, "And right before breakfast."
Kris chuckled and guided the smaller woman towards Shannon's table. "It does make an interesting image, huh?"
"What does?" Shannon asked as she watched the two women sit before her.
"We're discussing " Kris started and jumped in surprise when Nicole slapped her arm. "Ow," she laughed, "Discussing exercise videos," she finished and looked at the people sitting at the table. "Good morning."
"Morning," Kyle, Ludwig and Greg replied.
Nodding her thanks to the waitress who filled her cup with coffee, Kris looked around the room and frowned. Sitting by themselves and into the furthest corner was the French team and the Italians. The men seemed to be deep in serious conversation and kept sending evil glares their way. With a shrug, she turned her attention back to the people around her.
"You noticed it too?" Kyle asked Kris. "Looks like they're planning something. I think the week's gonna be interesting."
The dark haired stuntwoman silently nodded and grabbed the menu.
"Why do you say that?" Nicole wanted to know.
The bald technician pointed his thumb at the small group across the restaurant. "It seems like we really have two teams now; them and us." He sighed. "I heard Tony this morning trying to convince Teppo and Heikki to side with them, I don't think it worked. He tried the New Zealanders too."
"You think they'll be causing more trouble?" the blonde asked and looked at her lover who was calmly choosing her breakfast.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they did," the American replied and continued talking with his friends.
Having listened for a while, Ludwig stood up and walked around the table to sit next to his sister. "So, how are you this morning? Did you get much sleep?"
Kris put the menu down on the table and looked at her sibling. "Fine and enough," she answered both questions and waited for her older brother to continue. Small talk was never his strong suite and it showed. The muscular man grabbed a fork and unconsciously played with it. By the look on his face, she knew that he had something to ask of her and was working on the best way to say it.
Seeing that the people around the table were occupied with their own conversations, Ludwig finally cleared his throat, put the fork back on the table and looked at Kris. "Listen, I know Tony and Roberto are driving you nuts, but all I'm asking is that you keep your cool and not fall into their trap. Tony wants you to lose control and he knows how to do it now." He waited for his sister to say something and sighed when she didn't. Her only reaction was to stare at him, with no emotions on her face to let him know what she was thinking.
He continued speaking. "Kyle's damn lucky Tony didn't press charges last night. I don't want this to happen to you, Kris." Still, the woman kept silent.
The dark haired woman could see that her brother was getting nervous and she mentally grinned. He was trying so hard to protect her and act like the eldest Von Deering always did with her, but Franz was the only one she ever listened to. Deciding that Ludwig had suffered enough under her glare, she warned him. "You keep them out of our way and I'll behave. If either one touches Nic "
"They won't!" he quickly said, "We'll keep an eye on them." He let go of the breath he was holding. "Just keep cool and don't hit them, okay?" he smiled when the woman nodded. "Thanks."
Somebody stood behind Kris and she calmly looked over her shoulder to see Dean there, both hands in his pant pockets. "Morning," she greeted the navigator.
"Hi," he replied shyly and quickly glanced at the men and women sitting at the table. "Huh, can I have a word with you?" he asked Kris, "Please?"
She pointed to an item on the menu. "Can you order this for me?" she whispered in Nicole's ear and gently squeezed her shoulder. Her partner smiled and nodded. "Thanks." She stood and followed the blond man out of the restaurant.
He chose a relatively quiet place and turned to face the stuntwoman. "I hmm It's about what happened last night. I heard what happened between you and Tony and that you hit Scott. When I saw him stumble into the restaurant, I "
"You thought I did it," she stated, remembering the conversation in front of her motel room.
He slowly nodded then waited until a few people walked by before he continued. "I was angry and " he cleared his throat and looked everywhere but at the silent woman before him. "I'm sorry I accused you of beating my friend. I should've known better."
"Who says I didn't?" She asked, the question catching the man by surprise. He looked at her with wide eyes. "What makes you think I didn't do it when everybody else say I did?"
"Not everybody thinks that!" Dean replied. "I talked to Shannon and Kyle earlier and they swear you wouldn't do such a thing."
The tall, muscular woman took a few steps towards the blonde man, "They're wrong," she growled. "Just ask my brother, he'll tell you."
Dean blinked a few times as he stared at Kris. He swallowed nervously but kept his ground, refusing to step back on the advancing woman. "No, they're not wrong. You'd never hit an innocent man." He looked into icy blue eyes and tried his best to relax. "But I'd be willing to bet a lot that you could cream an idiot like Tony if he did anything to somebody you cared for or loved."
The Australian waited for Kris to say something, or at least deny what he had just said, but she kept silent. Feeling braver, Dean continued. "And I did talk to your brother." He smiled when the woman raised an eyebrow in surprise. "He did tell me a few stories of brawls you've been involved with, but there was one thing that always came up. You were never the first to start the fight."
Unwilling to continue with her tough bitch act, Kris relaxed her stance and crossed her arms over her chest. "You saw how I reacted to Tony and Roberto, I attacked first."
"No," Dean spoke softly, "They did, when they went for Nicole. You were only protecting her." He reached for the stuntwoman's arm then remembered what had happened to his friend when he tried to grab her. He quickly withdrew his hand. "So, that's why I believe you had nothing to do with Scott's attack. He didn't do anything to you."
"I'm that easy to read, huh?" she asked with a slight smile curving her lips and laughed softly when the blond navigator nodded with a grin. "I'm sorry about hitting Scott. He would've had better luck if he had stood next to me or even in front. Anybody coming from behind "
"Oh, he knows now," Dean chuckled. "That's a lesson he won't soon forget. Nobody will for that matter."
"I'll talk to Scott before we leave," Kris said and indicated the restaurant behind them. "How about some breakfast?"
"I'd love some."
Both re-entered the now crowded room and headed directly for the group and saw that Scott had joined them. Sitting down, Kris smiled at Nicole's silent question, giving her a small wink, letting her know that everything was okay. She started eating while listening to everybody talk.
"So," Ludwig pointed to Scott's bandaged hand. "What are you going to do now?"
"About the rally? Nothing's changed," the rally driver answered. "I guess I'll just have to be careful shifting gears for the rest of the week."
"What?!" Greg exclaimed with a mouthful of food. "But You can't drive this way! Your hand's broken."
"No, it's not," Scott replied and slowly flexed it. "I was damn lucky."
"Oh," he frowned. "But, won't the jolts of the car be painful for you?" the red-haired American continued. "We've got rough roads ahead."
"I've had worst," he said as he finished his breakfast.
"Well, if I were you, I'd pull out of this rally to take it easy," Greg argued. "You might do yourself more damage by the end of the day. Don't come complaining if that happens."
"We've been looking forward to this race all year, I'm not gonna turn around and quit because some asshole robbed me."
Greg looked at the Australian driver and saw that everybody approved of his decision. The stuntman shrugged and continued eating without another word.
"He won't have to shift gears," Dean said from his seat next to Kris, "Because I'll be driving." He smiled at the surprised look on his partner's face. "So I guess we'd better finish eating. We've got a race to do."
The day was promising to be a very nice one. There were only a few clouds in the sky and the sun had already started warming up to a comfortable temperature. With the weekend over, life in the small mining town of Laverton went back to its daily activities as people headed for work. Aside from a few cars and pick-up trucks driving up and down the main street, traffic was nearly non-existent.
The rally participants worked feverishly on preparing their cars for the upcoming road. The Gunbarrel Highway was a wide, dusty dirt road that crossed the Great Victoria Desert with no place to stop in case of mechanical failure. It was a desolate place where the closest humans were found a few hundred kilometers away in all directions.
With the cars' tanks filled with gasoline, gallons of drinkable water in the backseat and plenty of canned food in the trunk in case of emergency, the racers headed for their vehicles and waited for their scheduled time of departure. The Finns, being the fastest team so far, left the startup line in a cloud of dust exactly eight hours after their arrival in Laverton. The rest of the participants would follow the same procedure until the last team to arrive, the French, left the town close to half an hour after the car in the number one position.
With a satisfied grunt, Tony Aghini slammed the hood of their Lancia Integrale shut and wiped his hands on a rag. Even though this rally was just a friendly affair, Tony wanted to win this thing with a passion. He simply hated to lose. They were presently third but he promised himself that by the time this rally was over, they'd be first, he was certain of it. The motor was tuned to near perfection and the full inspection of the car proved that the vehicle was in great shape. An elbow in the ribs made him look at his team partner and he turned around to see what Roberto was looking at.
Standing next to the second car in line, people waved goodbye to Shannon's brother and his teammate as they left. Tony watched as the young blonde talked, her hands moving as they described something. Loud laughter erupted when Nicole finished and she grinned at the result her story made on the assembled group.
Standing next to her were the Australian stuntwoman, Shannon and her partner. Tony clenched his jaw in anger as he thought back to the sneaky attack he had suffered at the hands of the American. 'You won't get away with that,' the Italian vowed and continued looking at the group. In front of the three members of the stunt team stood Dean and Scott. Tony had been surprised to hear that the battered man was going to continue with the race. 'Guess you're stronger than I thought.'
Finally, his eyes rested on the tall, dark haired stuntwoman, Kristina Von Deering. "Such a waste," Tony said out loud. "If that woman wasn't so pig headed, I know we could've turned her around."
Leaning against the car, Roberto grunted. "She's too much trouble to be worth it. Even the blonde's too much to handle." More laughter sounded and he saw Nicole poke Dean in the stomach, which caused Scott to laugh. A pained look quickly crossed over the tall man's face as he fingered his split lip and cradled his ribs with his arm.
"I don't understand this," Tony said as he kept watching the stuntwoman. "She attacked you, almost got me last night, hit Scott and nearly broke his nose and here they are, talking and having fun like nothing happened. All we do is tease them a little and Dean threaten to disqualify us."
"That woman is more dangerous than she looks, Tony," Roberto said and pushed himself off the side of the car. "One thing's for sure. I'm staying as far away from her as possible. I know she's the one who beat Scott last night. She was so furious, it scared the hell out of me."
Tony kept silent at his friend's comment and glared at the Austrian as she walked past them with her friends and little playmate in tow. She returned his glare and even dared to smirk at him. 'You think you're so smart. Let's see if that attitude of yours will help you on the road.'
"Come on, Roberto. We're next to leave."
Biting back a grin, Nicole waited until they were seated in the car before she looked at Kris. Her partner had a little smile on her face and she knew her friend's good humor had little to do with the map she was studying. Nicole chuckled. "You couldn't help yourself, could you?"
Turning her head to look at her companion, Kris slid her sunglasses down her nose with one finger and peered at the young blonde over the rim. "Don't know what you're talking about," she drawled. "Didn't do anything."
"Yeeah, right," Nicole said and leaned her head against the backrest. "Like I didn't notice that 'Kristina Special' you gave Tony."
The stuntwoman burst out laughing. "The what?!"
"The Look," she explained with a smile. "I thought you were going to behave."
"I did!" Kris replied with a wink and pushed her sunglasses up. "I merely glanced at them."
Nicole shook her head with a small laugh and closed her eyes. "Well, that glance could have given anybody a heart attack, love." She heard her partner chuckle. "But that's okay. They 'glanced' at you first."
"Damn right." Kris folded the map and stuck it between their seats. She turned to look at her friend who had a pensive expression on her face. "Something wrong?" she asked softly.
She sighed. "I'm not sure, but I think that one of the tires on the Italians' car is slowly going flat."
"It is," Kris replied nonchalantly. "The rear wheel on the passenger's side."
Nicole blinked at her friend. "But, shouldn't we tell them about it?"
"Do you honestly think they'll listen to me?" she asked, "Besides, they're supposed to do an inspection before each race. It's not my fault if they don't notice something like that."
The young woman silently chewed her lip for a while before she looked at her watch. "We've got ten minutes left before we're scheduled to leave."
"Yeah, we do. So?"
With a brisk face rub, Nicole blew a breath and looked at her friend. "It could be dangerous if the tire goes, Kris. This is supposed to be a fun race. I don't want anybody getting hurt, especially if we can do something about it."
'Why did I know that she'd say something like this?' Kris asked herself and stretched her neck to see the Italians still standing next to their car. Grumbling under her breath, she unbuckled her safety belt and started to open the door. "Alright, I'll go."
With a quick motion, her own seatbelt was off and Nicole was out of the car. "No, I'll do it," she smiled at her grumpy partner. "I'll be right back. Thanks." The young blonde trotted up past Shannon's car and headed for Roberto who was looking at their map. "Excuse me," she smiled, "But I noticed that "
"What do you want?" Tony demanded, his rough voice startling Nicole.
"Oh!" She quickly glanced at Roberto who was looking at her curiously then turned her attention to the hostile man standing in front of her. "Well, you might have a problem with one of your tires. It looks a little "
"Don't tell us how to do our jobs," he cut her off. "We already did a full inspection. Unlike some people," he pointedly looked at her, "We're professionals. So stop wasting our time and go back to that freak of nature you're friend's with."
Nicole could feel her temper rising and she clenched her hands trying to stay calm. "We just want to be helpful," she spoke slowly, unconsciously imitating Kris' voice timber.
"We don't want you help," he barked and pointed a finger at his silent teammate. "You, get in the car."
The Italian navigator watched as Tony sat in the vehicle and slammed his door shut. Roberto briefly looked at the blonde and shrugged slightly before he did as he was told.
With a frustrated growl, Nicole stomped back to their own car and let herself fall back in her seat. She could feel her cheeks burning in anger and kept silent as she tried to calm down. A strong hand gently squeezed hers and she turned her head to see warm blue eyes gazing back at her. "What a stupid, pig headed piece of "
"Didn't want to listen to you, huh?" Kris asked softly.
She blew a breath in frustration, reached for her seatbelt again and secured it. "No, they didn't," she answered as she pulled her sunglasses out of her shirt pocket and put them on. "If anything happens to them now, I will NOT feel guilty." Nicole gave Kris' hand a final squeeze before letting it go.
The stuntwoman smiled and started the motor after seeing Shannon's car in front of them move up to the starting grid. She saw Kyle hand the organizers their time card to be punched and once they were registered, they quickly disappeared in a cloud of dust.
Nicole continued mumbling as she stared up front, looking at nothing in particular. Kris frowned worriedly and gently brushed her knuckles against a cheek that was still blushed in anger. "You can't be that upset because they didn't listen to you."
"I'm not upset. I'm angry and furious," was Nicole's surprising answer. "I really don't give a damn if they listened or not. But I won't have them say " she stopped and took a deep breath to steady her pounding heart. "Of all the stupid things they could've done "
"What happened?" Kris asked with more force than she intended. 'Damn! I knew I should've gone instead of her.' "What did they do?"
The hard tone of her partner's voice made Nicole realize what she had just said. She quickly rephrased her comment. "Nothing. It's more what they said."
Kris blinked in confusion, not understanding her friend's high state of aggressiveness, which was so uncommon for her. "You're upset because they called you names?"
"No," she shook her head. "Not me. You."
"What?!" Relieved that nothing had happened, Kris grinned and squeezed the smaller woman's shoulder. In a weird sort of way, it gave her a warm, fuzzy feeling to know that a simple case of name-calling had made her friend so upset. "Sticks and stones, Love."
Nicole sighed. "But they called you a freak of nature. I really didn't appreciate that."
"Well, that's a new one," the stuntwoman chuckled and brought the blonde woman closer to give her a kiss. "I've been called worst, so don't worry, okay?"
"I still don't like it," she replied stubbornly.
The dark haired woman gave her another kiss, taking her time, enjoying the moment, not caring one bit if anybody was watching. "You're beautiful when you're angry," she whispered in a sultry voice.
Surprised at the sudden compliment, Nicole looked at her lover who grinned rakishly at her, blue eyes twinkling. Unable to stay upset anymore, especially since it wasn't Kris' fault, she started laughing. "What I'd like to do right now is beat the crap out of them."
This time, it was Kris' turn to be surprised at her gentle lover's comment. "I thought that was my department. You're the talker, remember?" A dark eyebrow raised in question when a slow smile began to form on the younger woman's lips.
"Did you know that the road we'll be driving on is wide and well kept?" Nicole asked, succeeding in confusing Kris totally with her question.
'Okay, that was a strange and direct way to change the subject,' she silently thought. "That's what I heard."
"Hmm," the confirmation seemed to please Nicole. "The traffic is nearly non-existent too and with this beautiful weather, I guess we'll be able to see any kangaroos before they decide to cross the road. So you expect no real problems ahead, right?"
"Why are you asking me this?" Kris asked, "Why this little bit of information and right before we're about to leave?" An idea crossed her mind. "Would you like to drive?" she asked suddenly.
"Me?" Nicole exclaimed as she poked a finger in her chest, "No, no way, nuh uh, not me."
"A simple no would've been sufficient, Squirt," Kris smiled. "Okay, I know you're up to something. What is it?"
Nicole giggled softly. "Well, I did say that I wanted to beat the crap out of them. So, what if we do it by beating them at their own game?"
"You want to insult them until they give up?" she said with a grin.
"No silly!" she laughed and swatted Kris' muscular arm for her smart reply. "This rally has been fun so far but I think it's about time that we make it into a real challenging race."
"Isn't it what we've been doing since the beginning?"
"Yes, but this time, we're gonna show them who the real professional is," she chuckled. "Let's give them a taste of what Kristina Von Deering can really do."
"You're serious about this?" Kris asked, surprised but thrilled at the possibility of racing at full speed. Her partner nodded vigorously. "Okay, let's show them!" With an excited whoop, the stuntwoman put the car in gear and moved forward. She watched as Nicole gave their time card to the official and as soon as her arm was pulled back, Kris gunned the engine and left with an incredible surge of power.
The red and white Mitsubishi Lancer raced down the wide dirt road, bouncing lightly as it drove over a few bumps and potholes. As time went by, driving became slightly more difficult as a cloud of dust, caused by the car in front of them, slowly enveloped them and made visibility nearly impossible. Thankful for the lack of traffic coming against them, Kris spared a glance at her partner and couldn't help but smile herself as she saw the huge grin on Nicole's face.
With her left hand holding on to the roof handle and the other gripping her seat to keep her from bouncing all over, the young blonde looked at her friend and chuckled. "Oh yeah! I never thought this could be so much fun!" she said and turned her attention back to the road before them. "You think that's Shannon and Kyle up front?"
The windshield quickly became covered in red desert dust and Kris switched the wipers on to try and clear it as much as possible. "Only if they didn't drive past Tony and Roberto," she replied. "Wanna see if we can pass them?"
"Go for it!"
They quickly came upon the once green Mitsubishi and effortlessly sided beside them. With a grin, Nicole winked at a startled Kyle who gave the steering wheel a little tug to the left, surprised at seeing a car next to him. With a casual wave, Kristina easily moved in front of her two friends and sighed in relief as she left the thick cloud of dust the other car was causing.
Switching the CB on, Kris chuckled as she waited for Kyle to contact her. It took all but five seconds before the American stunt technician's voice growled at them.
"What are you trying to do? Give me a heart attack?" he complained. "Last time I looked back, you were a good distance away from us!"
Kristina took the mike to reply but Nicole gently took it away from her hands. The blonde smiled at her partner and thumbed the button. "If you can't handle the speed, Kyle, get off the road!"
The stuntwoman blinked in surprise at her friend then broke into laughter. "You're becoming quite the speed demon, aren't you?"
"Heh!" Nicole chuckled and waited for the man's reply. "It's not my fault he's driving like a little old lady." She frowned when Kyle didn't say anything. "Wonder why he's not answering."
With a shake of her head, Kris reached for Nicole's hand and released the fingers still pressing the button. "You press, you speak, you let go, you listen."
"Smartass!" the blonde said, seeing the smirk on Kris' face. She stared at her friend as she held the mike up and with precise movements, pressed the contact and spoke into it. "You guys taking a nap back there?" she asked then made a show out of releasing the button for Kris to see. As the car flew over another bump in the road, Nicole quickly grabbed the roof handle and hung on for dear life. "Whoa!"
"Who the heck do you guys think you are? Kangaroos?" Shannon's voice blasted out of the speakers. "Bouncing all over the damn place." The beginning of a curse was heard before the transmission was cut. "Thanks a lot for making us eat dirt!"
"Sorry," Kris murmured but the huge grin on her face said that she was anything but. She took the mike from Nicole's hand and spoke. "Don't worry. In a few seconds, we'll be well ahead of you and you'll have a clear sight of our rear end."
Shannon chuckled. "Your rear end is the last thing I want to see, Von Deering." There was a slight pause before the Australian stuntwoman came back online. "Kyle offers a little bet. We reach Warburton first, you make the lunch."
"And if we arrive first, you guys will prepare it?" she asked then looked at Nicole and winked. "I almost want to let them win. I don't think our stomach can stand Kyle or Shannon's cooking!"
"Be nice!" the young blonde smiled and took the mike back. "Add a bottle of wine and you've got yourself a deal."
"Great!" came Shannon's reply.
Almost instantaneously, the green Mitsubishi gained ground on them. The dark haired woman smiled as she looked in her rear view mirror. 'Talk about wine and Kyle's ready to do almost anything.' They drove on for some time before Kris spotted a car by the side of the road. Two men were standing by their vehicle, one of them furiously kicking the flat tire.
"Looks like the tire you spotted didn't make it after all."
Slowing down to make sure the Italians weren't injured, Kris stopped the car and called out. "Are you okay?" she asked but quickly realized her mistake when Tony turned to look at them and bent down to pick up a rock. "Shit!" she swore and gunned the engine to get away from the projectile heading their way. The rock bounced off the Lancer's body and sailed harmlessly back to the ground.
"What the hell?" Nicole exclaimed as she turned around and looked back at the angry rally driver. "Damn! All we wanted to do was make sure they're okay." She shrugged and turned her attention back to the road before them. "If only they had listened to me, none of this would've happened." She chuckled. "That ought to teach them."
"Well, looks like they're gonna fix that wheel by themselves," Kris replied and shifted gears to get the car underway again, "I'm not risking us getting hurt by those maniacs." Out of the blue, a car sped past, leaving them once more in a cloud of dust. The stuntwoman sighed and looked at her partner. "Guess we're in charge of lunch today."
Nicole smiled and squeezed Kris' arm. "We're not in Warburton yet."
"Hmm," blue eyes twinkled. "Let's give them a run for their money."
Tony angrily watched as the red and white Mitsubishi Lancer left them in a cloud of dust. "You goddamned bitch!" he yelled, "Did you have to stop and gloat too?" He picked up another rock and threw it. "You wanna be this way? Fine! I'll show you. I'll get to you even if I have to push every single car off the road. You're not the only one who can play dirty."
"What do you mean?" Roberto asked as he pulled the necessary tools out of the trunk so he could fix the tire. "What did she do?"
"What did ? Were you paying any attention to what she's done so far?" he asked, "That bitch caused nothing but trouble since this race started. I know she wanted to laugh at us when she stopped."
"I fail to see what she did wrong." Roberto shook his head. "All she did was ask us if we were okay and "
"The fucking dyke tampered with our tire!" he screamed. "We could've gotten killed!"
"What?!" the younger man blurted, unable to believe what his team mate was saying. "You're out of your mind, Tony! They even warned us the wheel seemed "
"Shut up!" Tony spat and kicked the car once more. "I did a full check before we left. Everything was fine."
"You did it two hours before we left." Roberto replied, "Anything could've happened between then and now."
"Exactly! She had plenty of time to sabotage the car."
Turning his back on his friend, the young man blew an exasperated breath and proceeded to fix the wheel. "Kris was at her car when Nicole told us. Why would they warn us if they did it?" he asked reasonably. "It doesn't make sense. So just drop it, okay?"
"No! I'm not gonna drop it. I'm going to teach that bitch a lesson if it's the last thing I'll do!"
"Whatever," Roberto mumbled and concentrated on his task. It was useless to try and discuss something with Tony when he acted this way. 'Damn! I hope he won't do anything too stupid. Wonder if I should warn them?'
The Warburton Range acted as a natural border between the Gibson and the Great Victoria Deserts. Hilly with peaks rising seven hundred meters above sea level, the range was filled with dunes that ran parallel and were separated by corridors of low, open shrubland three to five hundred metres wide. Dry salt lakes up to seventy kilometres long and fifteen wide lay between the long, red-brown dunes, some of which crested up to twenty metres high. Here and there, Spinifex and sandhill cane grass could be seen growing on the slopes through the sand.
Nicole spent a few minutes studying the horizon before she lifted her camera again and took a couple more pictures. With a satisfied nod, she turned around and walked back to join her friends at the car. Parked some distance away from the rally participants, Kris had found a secluded area to stop for the regulation eight hours and soon started helping her partner in gathering enough food for a lunch.
They had lost the bet made with Kyle and Shannon, but Kris didn't mind. It was fun to see the bald technician hop around the desert with a little jig, happy to know that a good bottle of wine was among the winning prize. That bottle had been meant for a quiet evening between herself and her lover, but Kris knew that they'd have plenty of chances to do it later. For now, a bet was a bet and it was paying time.
Having emptied the trunk of the extra wheels and equipment, the lunch was spread on a blanket where it was easily reachable and away from the numerous snakes populating the area. Putting her camera next to the food, Nicole reached for four plastic cups and handed them around while Kris opened the bottle.
"You know, I'm very happy that wine was well wrapped," Kyle smiled as he rubbed his hands together and took the offered cup from the blonde woman. "That bubble wrap idea was great, Nick."
"Didn't want it to break," she smiled back. "I can't say there are many places around here where we can buy another."
Shannon laughed. "I'd probably be licking the bottom of the cooler if it did!" she said and held her glass as Kris filled it. "Where did you get all that food, by the way? It looks like you could feed an army."
Kris glanced at Nicole who was slightly blushing and decided to let her partner off the hook. This time. "I get hungry sometimes and well, we can't exactly stop and eat when we're racing, so "
"Huh uh," Shannon winked at Nicole, knowing the smaller woman's appetite. The Australian inspected the feast and chuckled. "This doesn't look like eat-on-the-run foods. It looks more like a romantic meal. Oooh " she smiled as she took a large strawberry and hungrily bit into the fruit. "Very tasty."
"What do you mean, romantic meal?" Kris scowled. "It's just food."
"Huh uh," Shannon grunted again and pointed to the different items on the blanket. "Rolls, sliced ham, cheese, pate, all kinds of jams, and what is this?" she grinned evilly and grabbed a can. "Whipped cream?"
Kris' eyes bugged out of her head and she quickly tried to grab the item. "Gimme that!" she growled but missed when the brunette pulled it out of the taller woman's reach and danced away.
Nicole could feel her cheeks burning as she blushed. She shook her head with a smile and leaned against the car, watching Kris as she chased Shannon around. 'There's nothing wrong with having whipped cream in the cooler,' she told herself. 'Strawberries are good with cream. Everybody knows that.'
She grinned as she thought of another more enjoyable use of the product and her eyes twinkled when she saw her lover walk back towards her, holding the precious can in her hand. Behind Kris some distance away, Shannon was slowly getting back on her feet and proceeded to brush the dust away from her pants.
Kyle bent to whisper in Nicole's ear. "So you play with that stuff too, huh?"
Kris glared at her friend and pointed to the lunch. "Food. Eat!"
Biting back a chuckle, Kyle nodded and started making himself a sandwich.
Grumbling under her breath, Shannon joined the small group and looked at Nicole. "Is she always so protective of her toys?" she asked and gave her pants one last swipe. "Can't imagine what she'd do for a dildo," Shannon wondered out loud, causing Kyle to nearly choke on his food.
"Boomer, you're so sick, you know that?" Kris replied as she put the can of whipped cream back into the cooler. A look at her partner showed Nicole beet-red but not out of embarrassment but from trying hard not to laugh. The dark haired woman shook her head and started eating.
"Yeap, I know. That's why you like me so much!" the Australian stuntwoman grinned. She took her cup of wine and lifted it in a toast. "To friendship. May we all keep in touch once this journey is over."
They continued eating as they talked and laughed, sparing a look now and then at the other rally drivers whom amused themselves in racing each other. Others were engaged in arm wrestling or just lounged in the sun, enjoying the fresh air and rays.
Kris looked at the assembled group and frowned when one man in particular was nowhere to be found. She scanned the rally participants again with the same results. 'Damn! I wonder where he is.'
"Looking for Tony?" Nicole asked softly and wrapped her hands around her partner's arm. The dark woman nodded. "He sure was upset when he finally arrived."
"What's his problem, anyway?" Kyle asked Kris.
"He blames me for his flat tire."
"That's ridiculous!" Shannon exclaimed. "Nicole told me she even warned them about that. They didn't listen. Why would he blame you?"
"Because he's an asshole," the American answered bluntly. "He better not act on his threats. If I catch him around the cars "
Green eyes looked up at Kris in concern. "You think he's gonna try? Maybe tamper with the car or something?"
"I don't think so." The tall woman replied calmly. "I spoke to Dean and Scott. They tell me that if he tries anything, I'll see it coming. He's very competitive but they don't think he'd go as far as sabotage the car."
"At least he'll be some distance behind us when we start again. They lost a lot of time fixing that wheel."
Kris smiled at Nicole. "You're right. We'll just have to make sure they don't catch up to us then."
The blonde head slowly nodded. "Yeah, but I wish it was still daylight when we leave." She gave her partner a nervous smile. "More kangaroos to watch out for, huh?"
"Everything's gonna be alright." Kris gently kissed Nicole's temple and whispered, "I'm not risking us getting into an accident. We'll be extra careful."
"But we can kick his butt once the sun is up, right?" green eyes twinkled in mischief.
"We sure can do that." Kris agreed with a grin.
"Hey, Nicole," Shannon called and motioned for the woman to come next to her. "There's some food left. Wanna help me with it? I'm still hungry!"
"Sure," Nicole smiled and left her chuckling partner behind.
Kyle slowly walked towards Kris to finally stand next to her. He gently tugged on her shirtsleeve and whispered in her ear once she bent down to listen. "About the whipped cream. You think I can borrow it sometime at the next motel?" he asked and jerked his head in Shannon's direction, giving his friend a pleading look.
Kris closed her eyes with a sigh and slowly shook her head.
The silent man moved among the rally drivers as he watched and listened to them then slowly approached the board that announced the new times of departure for the cars. He glowered at the results. The Finnish team had dropped to second place, Kyle and Shannon were now third, the Austrian stuntwoman was leaving fourth and Claire and Eddie were in fifth place. The team who would leave first was Shannon's brother, Richard and his teammate Martin.
The man shook his head, unhappy with the results. 'This simply won't do!' he silently growled. All that he cared about was the number one position and so far, it wasn't what he had wished for. 'I'd better take care of this before it gets out of hand.'
Closing his eyes so he could concentrate better, he slowly smiled as a plan started to form in his mind. 'Yes! That'll work nicely.' With a determined nod, he left the rally participants to prepare for his next plan of attack.
Continues in chapter 5.
Posted on December 13th, 2000
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