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Deadly Reunion

Guest Red Ranger 1

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This one actually started out as a one-shot but it somehow ended up growing into this medium-sized monolith.Thanks to everyone who said nice things about it on the advertisement thread, hope you won't be disappointed.

Story Title: Deadly Reunion

Type of story: Long

Main Characters: Aden and Nicole with Miles, Charlie, Angelo, Ruby, Rachel and others

BTTB rating: T/A

Genre: Drama

Does story include spoilers: No

Any warnings: Sexual content:Strong.Violence:Moderate to strong(including death).Language:None.

Summary: A year after he left Summer Bay, circumstances cause Aden to return...and then a series of dramatic events mean several people might never leave.


Miles was pacing impatiently in the front room.“Hurry up, kids!”he called up the stairs,“It’s going to be your first day of college if you take any longer!”

There was a pause before Nicole and Romeo came downstairs, both of them dressed in their best, smart clothes.And both of them wearing sullen expressions.“Yeah, funny, Miles,”Romeo sighed.

Miles gave a gasp of mock awe.“Wow.You look just like…proper little grown-ups.I’ve got to get a picture of this.”He produced a small camera, as if from out of nowhere, and quickly snapped off a shot of them, their expressions thoroughly bemused.“Group photo!”he announced.He looked around for a moment before grabbing a box and putting it on the dining table, balancing the camera on top of it at more or less head height.He pressed a button and dashed between Nicole and Romeo.A few seconds later, there was the obliging flash of a photo being taken.

“Come on, let’s get this over with,”Nicole sighed.

Miles looked at the unenthusiastic pair, seeming crestfallen.“Come on, guys, this is your high school gift day presentation graduation…thing!It’s a rite of passage!The end of school!Provided you don’t end up having to go back again, of course…”

“But we don’t even need to be there!”Nicole protested,“We’ll get sent all the certificates and stuff if we don’t turn up.”

“It’s about…being proud of what you’ve accomplished.”

“But that’s just it,”Romeo explained,“There’s no-one there to be proud.I mean, you imagine these things when you’re younger and you imagine all sorts of parents and relatives being there to cheer you on and… show you up.”

“Without that,”Nicole continued,“it’s just us walking across a stage and accepting a piece of paper.I mean, who’s going to notice if we don’t show up?”

“Okay,”Miles sighed,“I didn’t think I needed to do this.”He struck a dramatic pose and gestured to himself.

“Yeah, we know, Miles,”Romeo conceeded,“And we appreciate that.But…”

“But nothing!I’m going to be cheering and applauding and whistling and taking photos at inappropriate moments and embarrassing the hell out of you.Trust me, it will be just like having a mother, father, drunken uncle and senile grandfather all rolled into one.”

The two teenagers couldn’t help smiling.“All right, Miles,”Nicole admitted,“We surrender.”

“Good!”Miles put his arms round their shoulders and led them towards the door.“Trust me, this will be a memorable day even if no-one else shows up.”

Aden drummed his fingers impatiently on the car steering wheel, keeping his gaze locked on the gate.He felt uncomfortable being there, not sure what to expect, but when he received the phone call, refusing hadn’t really seemed like an option.

Finally, the large gates swung open and a familiar figure stepped into view.Aden had half expected him to be wearing some sort of prison uniform but instead he was wearing a light blue pullover and trousers.

Aden got out of the car and waved to the older man, attracting his attention.“Roman!”

Roman came over to the vehicle and gave him a brief hug of greeting.“Good to see you again, mate.”

Aden didn’t answer him directly.Instead he nodded towards the gate, where two prison guards seemed to be watching them closely.“Do you need to wait for an escort or something?”

Roman shook his head.“No escort on day release.Just need to make sure I’m back before midnight.”


Roman paused uncomfortably.“Six,”he admitted.

Aden nodded, gesturing for him to get in the passenger side as he slid back behind the driver’s seat.“How exactly does a life prisoner get day release to go to his daughter’s graduation anyway?”he asked at last.

“He asks Morag for help.”


Roman seemed to sense Aden’s unease.“So are you going to drive this thing?”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s just…How much has Nicole told you about the last time we met?”


Aden processed this.“Are you going to kill me?”he asked.Roman laughed, a genuine, happy laugh of the kind he hadn’t heard from him in a long time, and Aden felt some of the tension leave his body.“’Cos I mean, you’re not blind this time, so you could.”

Roman stopped laughing, his manner becoming more serious.“Aden…where I am, I can hardly give you a lecture on what’s right and what’s wrong, can I?”

“I’d like you to,”Aden replied.

Roman sighed.“She said you made her happy.”

Aden looked away.He tried to remember Nicole happy and smiling but all he could remember was that last moment in the Diner and her tear-streaked face.“Maybe.”

Roman patted him on the shoulder and, despite himself, Aden smiled.“Come on, mate,”Roman said at last,“Let’s go see her.”

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Thank you for all your comments, feel free to let me know what you think of this.


Aden and Roman slipped quietly into the hall, scanning the rows of family members who were there to see their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters have their moment in the sun.Miles, sitting in the front row, caught sight of them and began gesticulating wildly, indicating the two empty places next to him.Grateful, Roman led Aden over there.

“I saved you some seats,”Miles told them quietly as they took their places.

Roman smiled at him.“Thanks, mate.”

Aden was feeling uncomfortable, not sure if it was his place to be with them.“How’s Nicole?”he asked.

Miles grinned.“Don’t worry, she doesn’t suspect a thing.Thinks it’s just going to be me here.”

“Yeah but is she…”

Miles noticed Gina coming onto the stage to give the opening speech and put a finger to his lips.“Shhh. They’re starting.”

The audience lapsed into silence as the speeches started and then it was the turn of the students, who’d been waiting backstage throughout.There was a seemingly endless list of names, of smiles and handshakes. And then “Nicole Franklin.”

Nicole appeared through the curtain, headed up to the centre of the stage, shook hands with the guest and accepted her certificate.She looked round at the front row and froze, catching sight of Miles and Roman smiling proudly and Aden, looking no less proud but infinitely more embarrassed.For a moment, she looked as though she was going to say something…then the guest coughed discreetly and she hastily hurried off the other side of the stage.

The relatives had been shown into a reception area after the presentation and left to wait for the students. Aden, Miles and Roman stood together, drinking a glass of fruit juice each, and ignoring the curious and occasionally disapproving looks that other parents were casting in Roman’s direction.

“So, what have you been getting up to, Aden?”Miles asked.

“This and that,”Aden replied vaguely,“Mostly that.”

“Me too.Well, no, not really, I’ve just been standing in front of classes and watching them go to sleep.Or sometimes I go to sleep, just to throw them a bit.”

“What about Nicole?”asked Roman.

“Yeah, I probably send her to sleep sometimes…”Miles paused, his manner becoming more serious. “She’s okay.I mean, I think living with us is a poor substitute for living with you two but…”

“Miles,”Roman interrupted.



Miles nodded, patting him on the shoulder, but any conversation was forestalled by the hurricane dashing across the hall towards them, trailing Romeo in her wake.Nicole threw her arms around Roman, chattering away breathlessly.“Roman, what are you doing here, are you out, why didn’t you tell me you were coming, god, it’s so good to see you…”

“Hey, hey.”Roman extricated himself from the hug slightly.“I’m not out,”he admitted,“I mean, I am, but…just for today.I let Miles know I was coming, asked him not to tell you, then I rang Aden and asked him to give me a lift.”

Nicole looked at Aden for the first time and smiled awkwardly.“Thanks for coming.”

“Yeah, yeah, no worries,”he confirmed, seeming equally uncomfortable.

Romeo had been hanging back slightly from the reunion, feeling like he was an intruder, when someone tapped him on the shoulder.“How are you doing there, big fella?”

He turned round in shock.“Mink?What are you doing here?”

His sister nodded towards Miles.“Your mate here rang me and said my little brother had something big going on, so I decided to blow off the latest comp and come see how you were doing.”

Romeo looked at Miles.“You did?”

Miles put his hands together and gave a slight bow.“Just call me your fairy godmother.Or something equally cool but a bit more manly.”He suddenly caught sight of the buffet.“Ooh, dips.”He hurried over there.

“Ah, Mink, this is my dad, Roman,”Nicole explained.

Mink shook hands with him.“Aren’t you in jail?”

Romeo coughed slightly and took her by the arm.“Okay, let’s get you away from the people before you decide to talk again.”

“Interesting girl,”Roman noted once the three of them were more or less alone again.

Nicole glanced at Aden.“So, how have you been?”

“Good, yeah.Justin and me got a flat together in the city and I got myself a job nearby…”

“Great.I mean, I’d have already known that if you’d stayed in touch but…”

“Guys, guys.”Roman placed a hand on both their shoulders.“Let’s not do this, okay?When was the last time we were all together?”

“I guess it would be back before,”Nicole began.

“It’s been a while,”Roman interrupted,“So let’s not waste these few hours arguing, okay?”

Aden looked down at his feet awkwardly.“Sorry.”

“Sorry, Dad,”Nicole echoed.

“No problem.”Roman guided them both towards the exit.“Come on, let’s go somewhere less crowded.”

“Guess this is your stop,”Aden commented as he pulled to a halt outside the prison.Roman nodded but made no attempt to leave the car.Aden checked his watch.“Better get a move on if you’re going to make your curfew.”

“Aden, are you happy?”Roman asked.

“Yeah, sure, I am.”

“It’s just the two of us now, mate.Honest answer.”

Aden paused.“I’m with Justin,”he said at last,“And getting back in touch with him, being brothers again, yeah, that’s good.”

“Nothing else?No great job, great girl?”

“I’ve never known a great job and…”He stopped, considering his answer.“I’ve never met a great girl since I’ve been in the city.”He sighed.“Can you leave the pep-talk until you’re no longer in danger of having a warrant issued on you?”

“It’s just, I worry about you, mate.I think you need to think about whether or not this new life of yours makes you happy.”

“I will do,”Aden assured him,“Now…go on, beat it.”

Roman nodded his acceptance and climbed out of the car, heading across the road towards the prison gate. Aden got out of the car as well, watching him.Roman turned as he reached the gate and Aden gave him a friendly salute.Roman smiled and waved back at him.

Then Aden heard the gunshot.

Roman’s smile stayed in place, his hand remained raised, as if frozen mid wave.He just fell.

Aden ran across the road towards him, crouching down by his body, half expecting to hear a second gunshot and then find himself lying next to him.“Roman, come on, talk to me!”He shook him gently but there was no response.

One of the prison gate guards came running over as well, glancing over his shoulder at a colleague.“Call the hospital wing!We need a stretcher out here fast!”

Nicole had been escorted through the corridors towards the hospital wing by one of the prison guards.She caught sight of Aden in the corridor ahead of her and ran towards him.“Aden, what’s going on, have they told you?How is he?”

Aden turned to face her and the look in his eyes almost knocked the breath from her body.He looked so empty.The only time she’d seen him like that before was just after…

She pushed the thought from her mind, turning towards the door to the treatment room, but he caught her around the waist, stopping her.“Let me go,”she screamed,“I have to see him.”He didn’t look at her, he just kept staring straight ahead, but he didn’t release his grip either.“Don’t say it…”

“They…they said there was nothing they could do.”Aden’s voice was almost a monotone, only the slight crack as he stumbled over the words betraying any emotion.“They said that…that it must have been… immediate.”

“No, no, Dad…”Nicole buried her face in Aden’s shoulder and felt his arms around her.They stood there, holding each other, any awkwardness between them banished in their shared grief.

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Yes, I know, I'm evil.Thank you for all your comments, hope you like this.


Aden and Nicole had been shown into a room at the prison where they’d been met by an officer from the city police, Sergeant Willis.Charlie was there as well:As far as they could tell, she’d just turned up when she heard what happened and no-one had asked her to leave.

Aden had recounted what little he’d seen while Willis took notes.He looked up at them both.“Do you know of anyone who might want to do this to your father?”

Nicole’s voice was deceptively casual, as if she was only just holding it together.“There’s Gardy, I suppose.Or Elliot, he might have hired someone.Or the other members of his unit, they might have been angry at him for talking and getting them into trouble…”

Charlie could see that Willis was confused by the answer and about to ask Nicole more questions that she probably wasn’t in the right frame of mind for.“I know Mr.Harris’ history, I can fill you in later,”she told him.

Willis accepted the offer with a curt nod before looking back at Aden.“And you’re sure you didn’t see anything else?”

“I’ve told you,”Aden snapped,“I didn’t see anyone, I didn’t see anything, I just saw Roman…hit and… lying there.Those two screws saw as much as I did, why don’t you ask them?”

“I did,”Willis confirmed,“And they told much the same story.Our working theory, going from the angle of the wound, is that someone shot Mr.Harris from one of the buildings opposite the prison, using some sort of rifle.We’ll have the exact calibre used after forensics have finished.”

Aden snorted dismissively.“So in other words, you’ve got nothing.”

Willis didn’t let the professional mask slip.“You’ve given us a number of leads to follow up on, we’ll let you know if there’s anything else.”He snapped his notebook shut and left the room.

Charlie looked at the pair.“I can give you a lift if you like.”

Aden shook his head.“I’d better get back home.”

Nicole looked at him with a mixture of disgust and disbelief.“What, you’re just going to stay here?”

“It’s where I live, isn’t it?”

“Don’t you think we might need you?”

Aden looked at her sceptically.“Who’s ‘we’?”

Nicole faltered.“I need you,”she admitted at last,“Aden, Roman’s dead, he’s…I need you to care, not to just go back to your new life and forget about us again.”

If truth be told, Aden didn’t want to go back to the flat.Justin was having to spend a few days at the barracks so he wouldn’t be around and, although he could probably get leave if Aden asked him, he hadn’t known Roman, he couldn’t do anything except make sympathetic noises.He needed to be around people who cared.

He looked at Charlie.“You take Nicole, I’ll follow you back.”

Miles had pulled Nicole into a gentle hug as soon as she got home.She didn’t mind.He’d never really tried to be a father to her but somehow he gave her that feeling that she’d only ever really got from Roman before:of being home and being safe.“I’m sorry, Nic,”he said quietly.

Nicole disentagled herself and gave him a sad smile.“Thank you.”

Aden had hung back near the door, as if not certain he was welcome.Miles stepped past Nicole and shook his hand.“I’m glad you’re here, Aden.Roman would have wanted you around.”

“Yeah” was all Aden could manage in response.

Miles stood between the two of them, leaning on the back of one of the table chairs.“Do you know what happens now?”he asked.

“Police say they’re looking into it,”Aden replied, his tone suggesting he wasn’t expecting much in the way of results.

“They’re carrying out a post-mortem,”Nicole explained,“They say they’ll probably release the body in a few days.”The thought suddenly seemed to hit her like a blow.“Oh god, we’re going to have to hold a funeral.I…I don’t know anything about how to do that, I don’t know what he’d want, what has to be done…”

Miles placed a hand over hers gently, calming her.“Don’t worry about it, okay?You’ve got a lot of people here to help you.”He glanced back at Aden, seeking his support.“Hasn’t she?”

Aden nodded.“I’m going to stay here until the funeral.If that’s all right.”

“Course it is,”Miles confirmed,“Romeo’s gone up the coast with Mink for a few days, you can have his room.”He saw Aden waver uncertainly.“Or a van, if you prefer that?”

“Your old place is still there,”Nicola revealed suddenly,“I mean, Dad’s old place, yours and Belle’s…you know what I mean.”

Aden looked at her in surprise.“It’s still empty?”

“I had some tenants but they moved out a few weeks ago.It’s yours if you want it.”

There was a slight bitter edge to her tone that made Aden uncertain about accepting.“If you’re sure…”

Nicole went over to the mantelpiece and retrieved a set of keys, throwing them to him.“Here.It’s always been more your place than mine anyway.”Then she smiled.Not a happy smile but a genuine one all the same.“It’s what he’d want.”

Aden stood just inside the doorway.It hadn’t occurred to him until he was nearly there that he didn’t have any baggage with him.He’d have to make a run to the city some time to pick up some clothes.Leave it until tomorrow.Enough had happened that day already.

Part of him had been expecting it to look exactly the same, the other part for it to look completely different.In truth it did neither of those things.He could see where furniture had been moved slightly, chairs swapped round by the tenants, the empty spaces where family photos had once stood.But he still recognised it instantly as the place where he’d lived, with Roman and Morag, with Nicole…with Belle.

But oddly, what he remembered most was that day he’d first moved in.Roman and Morag, not quite sure what they were letting themselves in for but welcoming all the same.His father, when he thought he might still have a relationship with him, promising that he’d find a home for them, somewhere where they could start again, free from unpleasant memories.

And he remembered how the voice of someone who wasn’t used to being ignored had cut through the conversation.“What is going on down here?” she’d demanded to know and when he looked where the voice was coming from he’d seen a blonde girl he’d never seen before coming downstairs.Then she’d stopped and looked at him, her smile making it clear she liked what she saw.“Well, hello,”she’d greeted him and he’d found himself mirroring her smile as Roman introduced him and Nicole to each other.

He wasn’t sure if he’d had any thoughts in that instant beyond the fact that she was hot.Probably that living with her was going to be interesting.He’d been right, if perhaps not in the way she expected.Before living in that house, he didn’t think he’d really understood what home was.He didn’t think he’d really encountered it since he left either.

He sat on the sofa, lost in memories.They were all that was left.

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Thanks for the comments, hope you like this.


Nicole found Miles standing in the lounge when she came downstairs, doing his best to look smart, which given the way he normally looked wasn’t all that easy.Nicole had found a knee-length black dress, held in place with a white belt, among her old clothes and ran a hand down it awkwardly, removing creases.“I’m not sure if I can do this,”she said quietly.

He placed a hand on her arm.“I should probably be saying something really brilliant and insightful that takes away all your doubts at this point, shouldn’t I?”

She couldn’t help smiling.“Probably.”

“What do you think Roman would say?”

Nicole thought back to all their conversations the last two or three years, his goodbye to her at the police station, all the times he tried to cheer her up when she was feeling low.“He’d probably say that I’m strong, that I can get through this, that he’s proud of me.”

“There you are then.”

“Except he’d be wrong.”

Miles sighed.“Nic…I know it’s hard.You feel like your world’s falling apart and like the one person who could make it better isn’t there anymore.Just…remember that there’s other people here who care and if you get to the point where you don’t think you can carry on, you can always lean on us.”

She smiled at him again.“You know, you’re actually pretty good at these pep-talks.”

“I had a good teacher.Especially when it comes to wayward Harris girls.”

She hit him playfully on the arm.“Less of the wayward.I’m a model citizen now, right?”

“Er, hey there,”a voice interrupted them.They looked round to see Aden standing in the doorway.He was wearing a dark-coloured suit with a black tie.Nicole wondered where he’d got them from, then she realised they were probably the same clothes he wore to Belle’s funeral.

“Hey, mate,”Miles greeted him.

Aden looked around the room briefly.“Are we waiting for..?”

Miles shook his head.“Alf and Marilyn are meeting us down there.”He looked from Aden to Nicole, sensing that they probably wanted to talk alone.“I’m just going to go and see if the car’s here yet.”

Aden waited until he’d gone before walking over to Nicole.“How are you doing?”

Nicole considered lying for a moment.But she knew he’d be able to see through her.“Not too good,”she admitted,“You?”

He shrugged.“About the same.”

“I guess we need to get through today and then…”

“And then what?”he demanded,“Roman’s going to come back to life?”

The hostile response caused Nicole to lose the fragile sense of calm she’d been feeling.“I don’t know, all right?”she asked,“I’ve never had a father die before!”Her hand flew to her mouth.“Oh god, Aden, I’m sorry, that was so insensitive.”

He placed a consoling hand on her shoulder.“It’s okay,”he said quietly,“It’s okay.”

She noticed the tie hanging loosely around his neck and took hold of it, adjusting it slightly and tightening it.“You still haven’t quite got the hang of these then?”

He shrugged.“They’re only for interviews and funerals.And court appearances.”She suddenly realised just how close they were standing to each other.Oddly it didn’t make her feel at all uncomfortable.“Listen, Nicole, I,”he began.

Miles suddenly appeared in the doorway.“Car’s here.”He looked at them, getting the strangest feeling that he’d interrupted something.“I can go out and then come back in again, if you like.In about five minutes?Or ten?”

Aden removed his hand from Nicole’s shoulder and stepped away from her, turning to face Miles.“It’s okay,”he replied,“We’re ready.”

The funeral went as well as could be expected.Elijah led the service, speaking of how Roman had been a good man who had cared for his family, a group that he had not restricted to his blood relatives, and how he had had the courage to admit his mistakes.Miles and Aden had both said a few words on their personal recollections.Most of the Bay seemed to have come to see him laid to rest.

Irene, Leah and Colleen had offered to prepare some food and Aden and Nicole had agreed to everyone coming back to Roman’s old house.People were wandering around sharing stories of Roman:Miles and Alf, Tony and Rachel, Charlie and Angelo, some of the workers from the Diner.Aden and Nicole had ended up at opposite ends of the room, drink in hand, while occasionally someone would stop by them to offer their condolences.

“It’s such an injustice,”Colleen was telling Nicole,“A place like that, full of murderers and ratbags and all other sorts, and someone kills a good, decent man like your father, whose only crime was…”She broke off awkwardly.“Yes, well, never mind that.The point is he was well-liked in this town.”

Nicole nodded, accepting that Colleen was trying to be sincere.“Thanks, Mrs.Smart.”

She tried to move away but Colleen took her arm gently, stopping her.“Just hang onto those memories, pet.Remember how much he loved you.My father…Yes, well.It doesn’t always work out like that.”She gave her a sympathetic smile before heading over to where Alf was standing.

Leah stepped up next to her.“Listen, Nicole, I know your father and I weren’t together very long but… VJ’s always been very fond of him and he was a good friend before that and…”She sighed.“I just…I wish things could have been different.”

Nicole sighed.“Don’t we all?”

Aden had found himself in conversation with Irene.“You must come over and have dinner with us before you leave,”she was telling him,“Have you any idea how long you’re going to be sticking around for?”

“Couple of days probably.”

“Well…just let me know when’s best for you.Not that it’s the same with Geoff and Annie gone but I’m sure Ruby and April will make you feel welcome.Oh, of course, you never met her, did you?”

“No, um…”Aden glanced across at Nicole, who had emerged from her corner and headed towards the buffet table.“I’ll let you know, okay?”

“Course, love, no problem.”

Aden stepped over to Nicole.“How are you feeling?”

She sighed.“Like I want to scream.I mean, it’s great that all these people cared for Dad and were his friends but…I can only take so much sympathy.”

He puts a consoling arm around her shoulders.“Look, give it another hour and then we’ll start asking people if they mind leaving.Then we can clear up this stuff together.Okay?”

She smiled gratefully.“Thanks, Aden.”

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Thank you, as ever, for all the comments.


It was just the two of them, left to carry out the laborious job of transporting empty dishes to the kitchen and wiping them down.Strangely, Nicole found it relaxing, although whether it was the work or having Aden there with her she didn’t know.“How long are you staying for?”she asked him.

He hesitated for a moment.“I’ve got to get back,”he said at last,“I mean there’s Justin and there’s my job…”

“Don’t you…don’t you want to stay and find out what the police have to say about Dad?”She saw Aden falter and look away from her, sighing.“What?”

“Whoever did this was a professional,”Aden said at last,“We might never…”

“We might never know who did this?”Nicole finished for him,“Aden, I don’t know if I can live like that…”

He turned her towards him and put his arms around her shoulders, pulling her back from the brink of hysteria.“Just…just focus on what you’ve got to do now,”he told her,“I mean, you were planning to go to college, right?”

“I’ve put my application in, I’m waiting to hear back…”

“Then…do that and make him proud, okay?Do what you want.”

He ran a hand gently through her hair, looking at her with undisguised affection.A part of her wanted to tell him to stop but the other part felt comforted by the attention.He lent in closer, pressing his lips against hers, and she surrendered to the kiss, sweet and tender.The kiss broke and he rested his forehead against hers.“We shouldn’t be doing this,”she said quietly.

“I don’t want to be alone tonight,”he whispered back,“Do you?”

She shook her head.They kissed again, softly and gently, caressing each other’s bodies, the kiss continuing as he led her upstairs.

Nicole came downstairs quietly, the early morning sunshine already lighting the room.She could hear the noises in the kitchen that told her where Aden was and couldn’t resist shooting a look back in his direction. She was surprised to see that, unlike her, he’d changed out of his funeral clothes into a casual t-shirt and jeans, until she remembered that he would have had a change of clothes in the house, unlike her, to replace the ones they’d removed last night.

She tried to make a quiet dash for the door but Aden saw her, running from the kitchen and catching her arm.“Hey, Nic, Nic, where are you going?”

She sighed and turned to him.“Look, Aden, let’s not make a big thing about this, we were feeling pretty low yesterday and we had…comfort sex and you’re going to be gone in a few days so…”

“So we can’t have breakfast?”She was surprised at how innocent, almost vulnerable he sounded as he gestured back into the kitchen.“I was just making us some.”

She had to admit she was surprised by his attitude, she’d expected him to be full of bitter regrets.All the same…“They’ll be wondering where I am.”

“You can say you stayed over in the spare room, if you like.”He gave her a nervous grin.“Come on, my cooking’s not that bad, is it?”

She smiled.“I think I can risk it.”

She led the way through, not seeing the look of disappointment on his face.

In the end, neither of them felt much like eating, Nicole only managing a few pieces of fruit and Aden a bowl of cereal.But the atmosphere was relaxed and soothing, just two old friends having breakfast together, everything else forgotten for the moment.

Nicole insisted on helping with the clearing up afterwards, even though her once pristine dress was in danger of taking a bit of a battering.She put the last of the plates away before turning to Aden.“I’d really better go now.”

“Yeah, of course.”

“You’ll come and see me before you go back to the city?”

He nodded.He was standing between her and the door, deliberately or otherwise preventing her from leaving.He leaned towards her and she felt her heart rate involuntarily quicken.Surely he wasn’t going to kiss her?

Then there was a knock at the door.

Aden snapped upright again at the noise, giving Nicole an apologetic look before going to answer it.He found Angelo standing there in police uniform.“Aden,”he greeted him,“Do you mind if I come in?”

“Yeah, sure,”Aden replied, bemused, stepping aside to let him pass.

Angelo stopped short as he realised they weren’t alone.“Nicole.I wasn’t expecting to see you round here this early.”

“I helped clear up after the wake and by the time we finished it was late so I stayed over in the spare room.”Nicole reeled off the lie in a casual manner.“Is this about Dad?”

“Ah, no.”Angelo turned back to Aden.“It’s about your brother.Justin.”

“Justin?”Aden repeated, confused,“What about him?”

“Justin’s unit was involved in a training exercise in the early hours of the morning.In the middle of the exercise…your brother was shot.”Angelo looked at him with sympathy.“He’s dead, Aden.”

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Thank you, all of you, for the comments.Hope you like this one.


There was a barely suppressed anger in Aden’s voice.“Are you saying that one of those uniformed idiots pointed his gun in the wrong direction and killed my brother?”

Angelo hesitated for a moment before answering.“No.”

If anything, there was even more anger in Aden’s response.“Don’t play games with me, Angelo, you just said…”

“It wasn’t a live ammunition exercise.”

Aden stopped in midflow, his demeanour changing completely as he tried to comprehend this latest revelation.“You’re saying…you’re saying this was deliberate?”

Again, Angelo seemed uncertain how much he should reveal.“We don’t know yet.All we know is that there shouldn’t have been any bullets flying around, their weapons were loaded with blanks.Military Police are carrying out checks on the unit’s weapons, just to confirm none of them have been fired.We’re carrying out our own forensic checks to investigate other possibilities.”

“Is there some link with what happened to Dad?”Nicole asked.It was the first time she’d spoken since Angelo had broken the news.

“That’s one of the possibilities we’re investigating,”he admitted.

Nicole stepped over to Aden, placing a consoling hand on his arm.“Aden, I’m so sorry…”

Aden pulled his arm away without even looking at her, addressing Angelo instead.“Is there anything I need to do?”

“We could use someone to formally identify the body.Justin had you down as his next of kin so there’s forms than need to be signed but you don’t need to worry about that now…”

“Let’s get it over with.”Aden headed out the door.Angelo shot Nicole an apologetic look before leaving her alone.

Nicole had managed to get upstairs and get changed without seeing anyone but when she came downstairs she found Miles and Romeo in the kitchen.“You made it home, then?”Miles asked her,“I’m beginning to think I need to fix you two with GPS trackers.”

Nicole gave him a reluctant smile.“Yeah, I stayed over at Aden’s after we’d finished clearing up.Sorry if you were worried.”She looked at Romeo.She hadn’t seen him since graduation.It felt like a lifetime ago. “You got back too then?”

“Yeah, last night.”He looked at her uncomfortably.“I’m sorry about your dad…”

“It’s okay,”she said quickly.She didn’t feel like getting into that subject.

Miles walked over to her and examined her face closely.“Is something wrong?”

“Angelo came round while I was at Aden’s,”Nicole admitted,“He said that…Justin’s dead.”

“Aden’s brother?”Miles looked shocked.“How?”

“Some sort of army training exercise.Maybe an accident, maybe…something else.”She sighed.“Aden just stormed out of there like he didn’t want to think or talk or feel about anything, it’s so frustrating, I just wish he’d let me be there for…”

“Aden!”Romeo interrupted pointedly.

Miles and Nicole looked round and saw Aden in the doorway.“I, er, need to talk to Nic about something,” he explained.

Miles beckoned to Romeo.“Come on.Let’s go outside and wash the giraffe.”

Nicole waited until they were gone before looking at Aden.“Well?”

“I was wondering if I could stay on at the house a bit longer.I’ve spoken to work and…”

“Aden, what happened?”

He hesitated, as if it wasn’t something he wanted to go into.“Angelo got the forensics report through while I was there,”he admitted at last,“It wasn’t one of his unit.It was a different calibre of rifle.The bullet matched the one that killed Roman.”

Even though she’d half-expected it, Nicole gave a gasp.“It’s the same person?”

“It’s the same gun so, yeah, probably.They think he must have sneaked onto the camp, used the exercise as cover.”The shutters went down on his feeling again.“So can I stay or not?”

“Yeah, of course…”He’d turned to go before she even finished the sentence.“Aden, don’t do this!”

He looked back at her, irritated.“Do what?”

“Shut me out!”

He shook his head.“I can’t deal with this right now.”

“Why not?”she demanded,“Because you can’t deal with the fact you were in bed with me when your brother was being shot?We didn’t cause this, Aden!”

The comment seemed to irritate him even more.“Newsflash, Nicole, not everything’s about you.”

“Then what is it about?”

“It’s about me!”He was shouting now.“What’s the link between Roman and Justin?I am!This is all happening because of me!”

Nicole stared at him, dumbfounded.“Why would someone want to kill Dad and Justin because of anything you’ve done?”

She could see the effort it took for him to answer her.She knew there was a lot of things he never discussed with her, with anyone, so many things in his past he wanted to forget.“My family…we weren’t nice people, Nic.We hurt people.I hurt people.The way I used to be...”

Nicole looked up at him sceptically.“What, you think someone woke up one day and decided to start shooting holes in people because you used to bully them at school?Geoff only became a missionary as cover and actually he’s joined the Khmer Rouge?”

Aden couldn’t help smiling at that.“All right, then what?”

“I don’t know.Maybe…maybe there is some connection.But whoever killed Dad and killed Justin, it’s not your fault.”

He considered this a moment, then he stepped over to her and kissed her on the forehead.She felt her body tingle at the touch and for a moment she thought he was going to kiss her again.But instead he just smiled and nodded and took a step back.“I’ll see you around.”

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Thank you for all your comments, glad I'm keeping people guessing and hoping they won't wind up disappointed...Hope you like this one.


Aden stood in the doorway, a look of utter bemusement on his face, as Nicole rattled about in the kitchen. “Seriously, why are you doing this?”

“I’m your landlady, remember?”she pointed out,“I’m just carrying out a quick inspection.”

“Well, I’m not sure about the quick part…”

Nicole stopped her rummaging through the cupboards, abandoning the pretence.“I’m worried about you.I mean, have you even left the house in the last three days?There’s not a lot of food in.”

“I’ve been having meals at the Diner, ask Irene.You might even find the receipts if you look through the rubbish bin.”

Nicole let her gaze drift onto the bin a few feet away from her.She gave an experimental sniff of the air and had to fight the urge to choke.“No, I think I’ll trust you.”

“I’m sorry I haven’t been to the house but I’ve needed time to get my head together.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Aden, but how long are you planning on staying here?”

Aden gave her an unconvincing laugh.“What, trying to get rid of me?”

“Aden, not so long ago, you were all set to go back to your new life and now…”

“And now…I’m realising that without Justin, my new life isn’t much cop.”

Nicole looked at him in surprise.“What, don’t you have friends or anything?”

“Sure I’ve got friends.”Aden sighed.“I’ve got the sort of friends you go for a drink with at the end of work or go to the footie with.I haven’t got the sort that look out for you when your brother’s just died.Can’t see any of them coming round to see if I’ve eaten.”

Nicole smiled.“All right, I suppose having a pushy ex-girlfriend/ex-sister/ex-friend keeping tabs on you has some appeal.In the spirit of which, how are you feeling?”

“I just…I can’t help thinking that there’s got to be some sort of link between what’s happened.”

“And you think the link’s you?”Nicole shrugged.“I mean, I know you’ve had your run-ins with people over the years but can you seriously think of anyone that hates you enough to kill Roman and Justin just to get back at you?”

“I dunno, maybe those drugs dealers that got Belle hooked or that loan shark?”

“They’ve probably got bigger fish to fry than you.”

“Okay, can you think of any other link between them?”

Nicole thought for a moment.“They were both in the army?”She saw his sceptical look and shrugged. “Okay, it’s a stretch.”

“It’s just…if it is that, then they could end up going after someone else that I care about.”His gaze lingered on her for a moment.

She took a deep breath.“Well, I guess we’ll all just have to be careful, won’t we?”

“How’s Aden?”Miles asked from where he was sat at the kitchen table, tucking into a sandwich containing something unidentifiable.

“He says he’s okay,”Nicole replied uncertainly.

“Not convinced?”

She shrugged.“Hard to tell with him sometimes.”

Miles took this in.“Some post came for you.On the table.”He gestured towards the dining table.

Nicole picked the envelope up curiously.The address was handwritten.“I don’t recognise the handwriting.”

“If it’s Steven Spielberg, tell him you won’t leave the house for less than a million.”

Nicole slitted open the envelope.The contents seemed to consist of several small pieces of paper.She flicked through them…and then threw them back onto the table with a gasp.

Miles could hardly have failed to notice the action.He came through into the living area.“Nicole?What’s up?”

Nicole’s instinct was to pick up the contents of the envelope and clutch them to her chest.But something in the way Miles placidly held his hand out for them caused her to hand them over.

It contained numerous photos of her and Aden in his bedroom.The ones where they still had their clothes on showed they were from the night after the funeral.The only other thing in the envelope was a scrawled note on a piece of paper, the same size as the photographs, capital letters in black felt tip spelling out four words:“Would Daddy be pleased?

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No clues(well...maybe...)but hope you enjoy all the same.


If Nicole had been reluctant to let Miles see the photos, she had been doubly reluctant to show them to Charlie and Angelo.But in the end she’d relented and so they were standing in the front room at the caravan park, examining the contents of the envelope and taking down her account of what happened.Miles had also called Aden, who was sitting on the table opposite Nicole, holding her hands supportively.Miles himself stood off to one side.

To his credit, Angelo wasn’t making any judgement as he scanned the photos.“They look like stills taken from a closed circuit surveillance camera.”

“But it must have been in the room when we were…when that happened,”Nicole pointed out.

“We’ve had a forensics team look over the house,”Charlie noted,“But they couldn’t find anything.”

“So how do you explain those?”Aden asked.

“Presumably someone removed the camera after the stills were taken,”Angelo theorised.

“Oh, thanks for that, Constable,”Aden snorted, more harshly than he intended,“So basically, you’ve got nothing?”

“Well, we can dust the photos and the envelope for fingerprints but…”

“Do you think it’s got something to do with what happened to Dad and Justin?”asked Nicole.

“There’s nothing concrete to tie this to the two murders,”Charlie admitted,“But I’d say it’s highly likely.”

“So does that mean Nicole could be in danger?”asked Aden.

Charlie hesitated for a moment.“Off the record…yes, I’d say it’s possible.”


“So…that’s exactly it, it’s off the record.Just circumstantial.If we had a suspect or a motive, something definite to suggest she was in danger, I could organise police protection but I’m not going to get authorisation from head office because of what could just be some crank playing a sick joke.”

“That’s all well and good, Charlie,”Miles interceded,“But what if something happens to Nicole in the meantime?”

Charlie looked at them helplessly.“All I can suggest is that you keep an eye on her and you all stay on your guard.And if anything else happens you call us straightaway.”She took a step closer to Nicole, looking at her directly.“I promise we’re going to do everything that we can to find out who’s behind all this, Nicole.”She nodded to Angelo and the two of them left.

Aden got to his feet.“I’ll just take a quick look around outside.In case anyone was waiting for the police to go.”

Miles waited until Aden was out of earshot before looking at Nicole.“Okay, I know there’s more important matters at the moment but do we need to talk about what was happening in those photos?”

Nicole sighed.“I told you, it was after the funeral, we were both feeling low and vulnerable and…we needed someone.”

“Nic, I know there’s a lot of history between you and Aden.Are you sure it’s as simple as that?”

Before Nicole could answer, Aden reappeared.“I didn’t see anyone,”he noted.

“So I’m safe?”Nicole asked, ironically.

Aden paused.“I think you need to get out of here for a bit.”

Nicole stared at him incredulously.“What?”

Aden stepped back towards her, taking her hands again.“You need to be somewhere safe.”

“Is anywhere safe at the moment?”

“I don’t know but…the further you get away from here the better.”He saw her starting to argue and gently stroked her hair, silencing her.“I just…I’m worried about you.”

“He’s got a point, Nic,”Miles observed,“Getting you out of harm’s way might not be the worst idea.”

“All right but where?”Nicole asked,“Mum?I mean, Roman and Justin were killed in the city, that’s probably even more dangerous than here.Even if Mum could be relied on to look out for me…”

“Yeah, okay, not there,”Aden conceeded.

“Well, where else is there?The only other family I’ve got left’s in this room!”

“Um…”Miles looked uncertain.“This is a bit of a crazy idea but it might just work…”

Nicole had disembarked from the plane with the other passengers and collected her luggage and was looking for the exit to the main airport meeting area.Finally she managed to decipher the unfamiliar signs and head in the direction indicated.

She came out into a large open space, filled with people who were shouting and waving to catch the attention of friends and relatives, together with holiday reps looking for members of their tourist party. Nicole looked over them for a likely candidate.

She picked out a young woman with Western features, about ten years older than her, with long dark hair, standing on her own, with no rep’s uniform or clipboard.Closer inspection confirmed the face she’d only seen in photographs.Nicole couldn’t help noticing a slight similarity to Miles.The eyes mainly.They were kind, like his.

The woman noticed her as well.She came over, smiling, and took her case.“You must be Nicole.”

Nicole smiled back.“You must be Sally.”

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Thanks for all your comments, hope you like this one.


Sally had helped Nicole carry her bags into the flat.Nicole was surprised to see a Thai girl sitting on the sofa.Sally handed her a bank note.“Khorb koon, Phara.”The girl smiled and left.

“Khorb koon?”Nicole asked, confused.

“Thank you,”Sally translated,“Been here three years and that’s about as far as I’ve got.Phara’s family live the next floor down.”

“So what, you pay her to keep an eye on the flat for you?”

“No, actually, I was using her as a babysitter.”

Before Nicole could ask any more questions, a blonde-haired girl of about seven years old came running into the room, followed by a younger dark-haired girl with a slightly brown complexion.“Mummy, we’ve been waiting ages!”the older girl complained.

“I know, sweetie, but I had to pick up our guest, remember?This is Nicole.”

The girl threw her arms around Nicole in a welcoming hug.“Hello, Nicole.”

“Um, hi,”Nicole responded, returning the girl’s embrace.

“That’s little Pippa,”Sally explained.

“I’m not little anymore!”the girl complained.

Sally took the younger girl, who had been hanging back shyly, by the hand and led her over to Nicole. “And this is Summer, she’s…well, I guess she’s kind of my granddaughter although I try not to think about that.How old are you, Summer?”

“I’m two and a half, Auntie Sally,”Summer replied quietly.

Nicole bent down in front of the girl.“Well, I’m very pleased to meet you, Summer.”

“Summer’s mother Cassie has had to go into hospital for a bit,”Sally explained,“She’s not ill, the doctors just want to have a look at her for a bit to see how she is.Right, Summer?”

Aden had mentioned Cassie to Nicole in the past, how they used to go out and how he’d had to have an HIV test after they were both bleeding in a car accident.She decided not to press the matter.

“Can Nicole come and play with us?”Pippa asked.

“Maybe in a bit, sweetie,”Sally assured her,“Can you keep an eye on Summer for a while longer?Nicole and I need to have a talk.”

“All right,”Pippa sighed, taking her playmate’s hand and leading her back into the other room.

“Am I related to them?”Nicole asked.

Sally thought for a moment.“Well, I guess you’re kind of my foster niece so that would make you…”She floundered.

“Something really complicated,”Nicole suggested.

“Yeah.”Sally’s face became serious again.“I was sorry to hear about your dad.I didn’t know him for that long but I remember when there was someone after me, he did his best to protect me.Probably saved my life.”

“That sounds like Roman,”Nicole sighed as she sat down in the seat Sally had gestured to.

“So, if there’s anything I can do to make sure you’re safe, don’t hesitate to ask.”

“To be honest, I didn’t really want to leave,”Nicole admitted,“But Aden was getting all protective as usual and…”She noticed Sally give a bemused smile.“What?”

“No, it’s just…When Aden was at school, or at least when he was at school when I was there, he was always a bit of a troublemaker.It feels strange hearing the way people talk about him now.”

Nicole couldn’t help but smile at the mention of Aden’s bad boy past.“What, last time you saw him he was bullying Year 7s for their dinner money?”

“Actually, last time I saw him he was lying under a pile of rubble in the Diner…”

The comment sparked off a memory in Nicole’s mind.“That was just before I met up.He’d come out of hospital and he came to stay with me and Dad.I guess we were both troublemakers back then but Dad… well, he helped us become better people.”

There was sympathy in Sally’s eyes.“Nicole, I know you don’t really know me but I told Miles I’d look after you so if there’s anything you want to talk about while you’re here…”

“Like what?”

“Like your dad or…like what’s happening between you and Aden?”

Nicole faltered.“What’s Miles told you?”

“Pretty much everything.”

“Stuff happened, we both needed someone to be there…”

“Is it really as simple as that?”

Nicole glared at Sally.Despite their only just meeting, it felt like she could see right through her.And somehow Nicole found herself caring what she thought.“What do you want me to say?That I’ve been in love with Aden since I first met him?”It wasn’t true, of course.Not quite.She’d been attracted to him, seen him as someone she wanted to have fun with.Instead, somehow, they’d become friends, perhaps the first real friend either of them had ever had, the first one that had got to know the real them.And somewhere along the way she’d realised she wanted more than a bit of fun with him, she wanted something more serious.Except that wasn’t what happened.“He chose Belle.I accepted that, I moved on, I dated other guys, I was even happy with some of them, loved them in a way.I thought last year that maybe we had a chance but…he didn’t choose me then either.”

Sally looked at her, seeming to regret the line of questioning.“Look, Nicole, I didn’t…”

“It’s okay,”Nicole assured her,“You’re not here to sort out my love life, you’re…you’re just here to make sure I stay alive.”

Sally gave her a sympathetic smile.“I’ll try and manage that.”

“Graham, watch your tackle!Terry, that was the worst kick I’ve ever seen, who the heck was that to?”

Tony was standing by Aden at the touch line, looking bemused at his tirade.“Look, the lads and I appreciate you coming to training to pass on your experience, Aden, but if you carry on like that half of them aren’t gonna want to come back.”

Aden looked momentarily embarrassed.“Yeah, er, good play, boys!”he called hastily.

Tony blew his whistle to stop the practise, then threw it to the team captain.“Kevin, keep an eye on things for a bit, will you?I won’t be long.”He gestured to Aden.“Let’s go for a walk.”

Aden fell into step with the older man as they headed away from the playing field.“Look, okay, I know I lost my cool a bit there…”

“Aden, why are you here?”Tony asked bluntly.

“I told you, I just felt…”

“No, I don’t mean the playing field, I mean in the Bay.Surely you’ve got something better to do with your time than hang around here bellowing at the town footie team?”

“Not really.”Aden took a deep breath.“I gave up my flat in the city.I mean, it was for me and Justin…”

“What about your job?”

“I kinda gave that up too.They rang me up, wanted to know when I was coming back and I ended up telling them to stick it.”He stopped, suddenly uncomfortable.“Don’t look at me like that.”

“Like what?”Tony asked innocently.

“Like Roman would have done.”

Tony sighed.“Look, Aden, maybe this isn’t my place but you can’t just throw your life away…”

“Do you know what I was doing?I was working on one of the tourist ships in the harbour.They called me a deckhand but mainly it meant serving glasses of bubbly to rich idiots.Can you really see me doing that?”

Tony gave him a searching look.“Nah, I can’t,”he said at last.

“The only reason I was there was because of Justin and now…”

“What’s happening with him now?”Tony asked,“I mean, the arrangements…”

“His regiment wanted to give him a military funeral.”

“You don’t want that?”

Aden shook his head.“I don’t mind his mates paying their respects but…I’m not having them making out that getting blown away on some training exercise is something to be proud of.”He sighed.“Not that I’ve had much of a chance to arrange anything myself.”

“Well, you know there’s plenty of people round here who’ll be willing to help you.And you know that, sooner or later, before or after they catch this guy, you’re gonna have to start putting your life back together?”

“I know,”Aden admitted,“It’s just…I don’t really know what my life is anymore.I remember when Roman first got me that job at the Diner, he thought it would be good for me and, I dunno, being part of something did make me feel good about myself.But do I really want to spend the rest of my life being the guy who carries the plates to the tables?”He paused.“Working there was what got me and Belle together.Loving her was the only thing I was good at but now…”

“I know, mate,”Tony said quietly.

“She was the one, Tony, okay?The only one I’m ever going to feel like that about.”

Tony smiled sympathetically.“Yeah, I remember feeling like that.When Kate, my first wife, died, I didn’t think I’d ever find someone else.I mean, I had the boys, I had my work, I enjoyed it, I thought it would be enough.Then I met Beth and I realised I could feel like that about someone else.Took me fifteen years but still…”

Aden couldn’t help but look at him amused.“Fifteen years, eh?”

“On the other hand,”Tony continued hastily,“after Beth died it was only about nine months before Rachel and I got together.”

“But you knew her before, right?”Aden asked, suddenly interested.

“Yeah, I mean, we’d been friends since before Beth died…”

“So what changed?”

Tony smiled.“I dunno, mate.I guess one day I just found myself looking at her and realising I’d found someone else I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.Why?”

Aden shook his head.“Doesn’t matter.”He saw Tony start to respond but cut him off.“All that matters is making sure that this is over and the guy that’s caused all this is put away.Anything else, jobs, girlfriends, even funerals, that can wait till after.”

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Thanks for the comment, Carina.Hope everyone like this.


“All right, Phara, if it can’t be helped.I’ll let Mai know.Get well soon.”Sally put down the phone with a sigh.

“Is something wrong?”Nicole asked.

“Oh, Phara’s been helping out at the orphanage while Cassie is away, looking after the younger ones like Summer.Only she can’t come today because she’s not feeling well.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Honestly?Yes.It means I’ll probably have to have them in with me, when I’m looking after Pippa and the other older children.Which means I’m not going to have much of a chance to teach them anything.”

“I could help out,”Nicole offered.She saw Sally hesitate.“Come on, I’ve been here over two weeks now. Nice as it is, I can only handle so much sipping juice by swimming pools and lounging around on the beach.”

Sally looked at her uncertainly.“Have you had any experience looking after children?”

“I’ve…spoken to VJ a couple of times, does that count?”

Before Sally could respond, Summer came into the room, a light cardigan draped around her shoulders. “Auntie Sally, I can’t do the buttons up,”she complained, seeming on the verge of tears.

Nicole crouched down by her, carefully slotting the buttons into place.“There you go.Silly buttons wouldn’t play properly.”She ruffled Summer’s hair gently.

Sally watched the exchange carefully.“Summer, how would you like it if Nicole looked after you and your friends today?”

Summer thought for a moment…and then took hold of Nicole’s hand decisively.

Sally smiled.“Looks like you’ve got yourself a job.”

Coming across a group of unruly two to five year olds chasing each other about had left Nicole worried about what she’d let herself in for.She’d been grateful when Mai, the lady in charge of the orphanage, had managed to call them to attention.Then she’d introduced Nicole to them.And left her to it.

Nicole had managed to get the children to sit in a circle.Then she’d asked them if they knew any songs. Several hands shot up straight away and she’d allowed each of them to make their choice in turn.But they were fast running out of ideas.

“Can we play a game?”one of the girls asked.

Nicole hesitated.“It’s not a rough one, is it?”

The girl thought.“Can be…”

“Maybe we’d be better off just sitting here.”

“Can you tell us a story?”a boy asked.

Nicole thought for a moment.Stories, stories…She had to admit she’d never been much of one for stories. Then an idea occurred to her.After all, they always said write about what you know…“Okay, I’ll tell you a story.”

A dozen faces looked at her with rapt attention.

“Once there was a princess,”Nicole told them,“And she lived in a big palace and she had lots of toys to play with and lots of clothes to wear.But she was lonely because she didn’t have any friends.Her mother would arrange for the other children to come and play with her and they’d have fun for a while.But she had never had one close friend, one she could share all her secrets with and talk to when she was feeling sad. And her mother had married a man who didn’t like the princess and treated her badly.”

“This is a sad story,”one of the girls moaned mournfully.

“No, no, wait, it gets happier,”Nicole assured them,“Because one day the princess decided to search for her father.”

“The king?”a boy asked.

“Yeah, I guess he was.So she journeyed for miles and miles until she found the king’s house.It wasn’t a big palace, it didn’t have lots of toys and clothes.But the king loved her and she felt safe with him.And there was a boy living in the house, a handsome prince who had come from a bad home as well, and so the king had brought him there and treated him like a son.And he and the princess became good friends.”

“Are they going to get married?”asked the girl who’d been worried it was going to be a sad story.

Nicole hesitated.“Well…let’s wait and see.”

The last two weeks had passed in a bit of a blur for Aden.Irene had offered him a few shifts at the Diner, to help tide him over until he got a new job.He’d expected Colleen and Leah to be less than happy about the idea after the way he’d walked out before but instead they’d been all sympathetic smiles and welcome backs.He wasn’t sure which he preferred.

After a lot of talks with Irene, Tony and Miles, he’d finally got around to arranging Justin’s funeral.It had been a simple affair at the local church.For some reason, having Justin buried locally had seemed right and proper, the town had been their family’s home no matter how much Justin had tried to get away from it. There had been several members of Justin’s unit there, along with most of the Bay residents.He had a feeling they were there more for him than Justin but he appreciated the thought.

Things had been quiet since Nicole had received the photographs, almost making him believe everything was over.Of course, things had been quiet since Nicole had been in Phuket as well.He’d taken Irene up on her offer of dinner at the beach house and he’d received invitations from Tony and Rachel and from Miles as well.But most of the time he’d just spent the evenings at home.

The trilling of the phone suddenly interrupted his thoughts, surprising him.He hadn’t received many phone calls, there weren’t that many people who knew where he was.He picked it up tentatively.“Hello?”

“Have you seen the news?”asked a husky male voice.

“What?”he asked, bewildered.But the line went dead.

Aden quickly got up and turned the television on, flicked through the channels until he got to a news programme.“Fire services have been working for the last hour to get the blaze until control,”the news reader intoned seriously, as graphics flashed up around him talking about a fire at a property in the city, “As yet no statement has been released from the police as to the cause of the fire or as to the whereabouts of the two middle-aged occupants…”

It took a few seconds for it to click in Aden’s mind, then he was up and out of the house.

Aden found his way blocked by the crowd of onlookers.He forced his way through to the front, until he reached the police cordon.The blaze was almost under control, fire fighters turning their hoses on the dying flames, but there was no telling what damage had already been done.He looked desperately around him until he spotted a familiar face.“Charlie!”he called.

Charlie turned at the call and gestured to the officer on guard.“Let him through.”

Aden ducked under the tape and hurried over to her.“Charlie, what’s going on?I got this call…”

“I don’t know.”Charlie seemed to be trying desperately to stay calm.“The city police are in charge, I just…The fire services have been searching inside and…”

A police officer came over and gave Charlie a quick nod of respect before whispering in her ear.

Charlie took Aden’s hand.“Come on.”

She led him over to one of the ambulances.He saw Morag sitting on the steps, an ambulance technician treating her.Her left hand was encased in a gel pack, a burn bandage being applied to most of one side of her face.Aden was shocked at the state of her, in all the years he’d known her he didn’t think he’d ever seen Morag be anything other than cool, calm and collected.

“Morag..?”Charlie asked uncertainly.

Morag looked up at her, her speech barely coherent.“Charlie, I’m sorry, I tried to reach him, the flames, I couldn’t get through…”She gave a moan of despair as she spotted something behind them.

Aden and Charlie turned round and saw two of the fire fighters carrying a body bag out of the building. Aden grabbed hold of Charlie to stop her running forward as she gave out an agonised cry.“Oh god, Dad…”

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