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Look to the Future


Red Ranger 1

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Aaaand Red Ranger's therapy sessions number three.(It's the last one, I promise!) So, having declared that Home and Away died with Episode 6462, I decided to write my own version of what happens next.It won't pick up with Spike standing over Nate or anything but it'll take that as the launching point.I kind of wish I wasn't still watching because I know I'm going to end up being influenced by what actually happens in the show.But basically, the idea is for this story to feature everyone to a greater or lesser extent.It could be a masterpiece or it could be a mess, and I'm worried it's going to be very disjointed as it jumps between loads of sets of characters who'll probably all disappear for lengthy periods.But hey, hopefully it'll be entertaining.Here goes...

Story Title: Look to the Future
Type of story: Long fic
Main Characters: Billie, VJ, Roo, Evelyn, Matt, Olivia, Irene, Kat, Ash, Leah, Zac and a whole host of others
BTTB rating: T/A
Genre: Drama/Family/Romance/General
Does story include spoilers: No
Any warnings: Violence: Mild if any. Sexual content: Mild to moderate
Summary: How the second half of 2016 could have gone.

CHAPTER ONE

Billie sat on the beach, wishing she could join in the surfing but aware that she was reaching the point where she wasn’t exactly aerodynamic.Instead, her gaze rested on VJ, a seventeen-year-old school boy, her boyfriend and as far as pretty much the whole world that showed an interest in the fact was concerned, the father of her unborn child.Except, of course, he wasn’t.And there were so many ways she could extricate herself from the situation:Tell the truth, tell a portion of the truth, simply break up with him.All very simple.Except for one fact.

  She loved him.

  It had taken her a very long time to realise it, simply because it resembled nothing she’d ever felt before. It wasn’t some mad, passionate, all-consuming love of the kind she’d felt in the past.She didn’t spend all her time trying to get his attention, she didn’t find herself drooling over how good looking he was…even if he was easy on the eye.But with a relationship history littered with people who treated her badly, who beat her or used her, or people who simply weren’t as interested in her as she was in them, it had dawned on her that he was quite possibly the best person she’d ever known, certainly the best she’d ever dated. There weren’t many people who’d stood by her.When he wasn’t around, she found herself looking forward to seeing him again, and when she did she felt safe and loved in a way she’d never known.And it was all built on a house of cards that could very easily come crashing down.

  VJ came over to her, drying himself with a towel.“Milkshake?”he asked in his usual casually innocent manner that couldn’t help but make her smile.

  Billie shook her head.“Need to be at the gym.Even if I am mostly in a supervisory role these days.”

  VJ nodded in a mock serious way.“You mean ’cos you’re starting to look like the Before picture in the adverts?”

  Billie gave him a long-suffering smile.He held out his hand, insisting on helping her to her feet.He rubbed her stomach before bending to address it.“Don’t worry, Daddy’s only joking.Mummy’s beautiful really.”

  Billie shook her head, trying hard to hide the fact she was blushing.“You’re a geek.”

  “I am a cool geek,”VJ insisted.

  Billie kissed him on the cheek and headed up the sand alone, trying hard to push thoughts of the future from her head.

***

Ash watched as the “For Sale” sign outside the garage was taken down and replaced by a “Sold” one.The garage had been their dream, his and Andy’s.And between them, both of them doing what they believed was right, they’d managed to destroy it.

  Kat came up next to him and gently took his hand.“I’m sorry,”she said quietly,“And thank you.”He looked at her in confusion.“For handing the money in,”she explained.

  Ash nodded.“Well, I was pretty tempted to use it but…I guess I decided I’ve let you down enough.And this was the only way to pay the bail money and get you your investment back.”

  “This place was important to you, though.”

  Ash looked at her curiously.“Is this the point where I’m supposed to say it’s not as important as you?”

  Kat blushed slightly.“It’d be nice,”she conceded.

  “Okay.It’s not.”Ash shrugged.“Hey, I managed to hang in there for a bit, proved that I could be a mechanic as well as a criminal, and it wasn’t really my fault that it went bust.You know, apart from using it to bail out a mate who did a runner.Could probably get some decent references out of it.”

  “I’d write you one myself but it might come under conflict of interests.”Before Kat could say any more, her phone rang and she answered it.“Senior Constable Chapman.”Her expression became more serious as she heard the words on the other end.

***

The extended MacGuire family knew it was serious too when Kat gathered them together in the caravan park house.Zac, Leah, Evelyn, VJ and Hunter, scattered around the living area, looked at her expectantly. “We’ve found Josh and Andy,”she told them.She looked over their expressions, a mixture of shock, relief, disappointment…and in Hunter’s case, the sense that he didn’t actually care at all.

  “What happened?”Zac asked.

  “They were in a bar in Yetman, just this side of the state border.They were hustling a bunch of bikers at pool for cash.The bikers didn’t like it, a fight broke out, the landlord called for assistance and local police arrested them all.At the police station, Josh and Andy were identified and state police were notified.”

  “So what’ll happen to them now?”Evelyn asked.All her attempts of the last few weeks to forget about Josh and put him in the past seemed to have disappeared with this new information.

  “Josh has already been sentenced for Charlotte’s death.He’s been transferred to a correctional facility to serve out his 25 years, or 20 if he’s lucky.There’s talk of adding time on for the escape but it won’t make much difference.Andy’s being held in maximum security until he can be sentenced.With Jake and the fundraiser explosion and a host of more minor charges, he’s looking at between 30 and 40 years.”

  Leah sighed.“By the time they get out, they’ll have spent more time in jail than out.”

  Evelyn looked hard at Kat.“There’s something else, isn’t there?”

  Kat paused before continuing,“Given that they colluded in the escape, it’s been decided that imprisoning them together would run the risk of it happening again.Josh has been placed in maximum security in Wellington, Andy’s being held in Goulburn.There’s been talk of having him classified as a super-maximum security prisoner.In the end, it was left up to the judge.”

  “So they don’t even have each other?”Evelyn asked quietly.

  Hunter stared at her intensely.“You feel sorry for them?”

  “Don’t you?”

  “I might not want to waste my time hating Josh, but him ending up in jail after he shot my mother and left her in the sea like she was nothing?After he let Dad go to jail for it?Seems fair to me.And Andy killed your brother but maybe you don’t care about that so long as Josh is okay.”

  Evelyn looked at him with fury.“Oscar was a good person…and so was Denny, so if you want to talk about treating people like they’re nothing then don’t expect me to feel sorry for Charlotte.”

  “Maybe we should just cool down?”VJ suggested nervously.

  “That’s a good idea,”Zac agreed,“Kat, thank you for letting us know.”

  Kat took this as a dismissal and made to leave.Leah followed her to the door.“Kat…is there something else?”she asked quietly.

  Kat looked at her for a moment.“Nothing relevant,”she replied simply before leaving.

***

Ash answered the door to Kat.She wasn’t crying and didn’t even seem particularly upset…but she folded her arms around him in a hug anyway.His own arms encircled her as well, comforting her.“I heard about Josh and Andy,”he said quietly.Word still travelled fast in Summer Bay.

  Kat pulled back from his embrace to look him in the eye.“There’s more.”

  Gently, he led her over to the couch and sat her down.“They didn’t…do anything, did they?”

  “Not directly, no.They both made statements and they checked out.They’ve been sleeping out of their car since they left…it was provided for them by one of Andy’s contacts, part of the stolen car ring.They didn’t stay in any town for longer than a night.They earned money by offering to do odd jobs or by bets like the one they made in Yetman.Apparently Andy knew about a homestead in the Simpson Desert, about 50 miles west of Bedourie.They were trying to slowly make their way there.”

  “So what’s the problem?I mean, they’ve been caught, no harm done.”

  Tears appeared in Kat’s eyes for the first time since she started telling the story.“The bikers they got into a fight with…one of them had a gun.”

  Ash suddenly felt a tightening in his stomach.Surely not.“He didn’t..?”

  Kat shook her head.“Not Josh and Andy, no.He didn’t draw it until the police turned up.He shot one of the officers in the leg.It shattered his kneecap.He’s going to be walking with a limp for the rest of his life.”

  Ash could understand her guilt but he didn’t agree with it.“Well, that’s not your fault.This guy would probably have blown his stack sooner or later whatever happened.”

  Kat shook her head.“It happened because Josh and Andy were there.And they wouldn’t have been there if I hadn’t kept quiet about Josh for so long.It is all my fault.”

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Thank you for the comments, everyone! So I'm making a rod for my own back again by updating quickly: Probably won't be able to keep it up for long but while I can, here's another one.

CHAPTER TWO

Sergeant McCarthy had acted surprised at his senior constable asking for a private meeting…but then he had no idea what Kat was about to tell him.She took a deep breath, feeling a strong sense of shame as she uttered the simple words:“I resign.”

  McCarthy did his best to hide his surprise.“Is there something wrong?”

  “Yes, Sergeant.Very wrong.”The next part was going to hurt even harder, she knew that.She was risking a perverting the course of justice charge.But she couldn’t leave it like that.“About two months before Josh Barrett confessed to you that he was responsible for the death of Charlotte King…he confessed to me.I chose to say nothing.”

  If McCarthy had been surprised before, now he was completely shocked, so shocked that he seemed to have forgotten to be angry.“Why would you do that?”

  “It was the day after the caravan park explosion.His girlfriend’s brother and aunt had just been killed.He argued that she needed his support…and I accepted his argument.”

  Now the steel started to appear in McCarthy’s eyes, the steel and disappointment.“That was it?You let a murder case remain unsolved because of the culprit’s personal circumstances?You didn’t think he could support his girlfriend after being charged and bailed?”

  Kat lowered her eyes, trying to explain all the things that had seemed so reasonable at the time.“Being a police officer in a small town…it’s not like working in a city.You know everyone you arrest.And you know, you think you know, I thought I know, when you can be flexible.You think you know which ones are dangers to society and which are good people who’ve done the wrong thing.I thought Josh Barrett was a good kid who’d caused a death by accident and run away from the consequences because he was scared.I thought that he’d do the right thing in the end, not keep quiet, not let others take the blame for him, not try and escape his sentence.Not turn out to already be covering up another murder.But even if he hadn’t done all those things, even if he’d turned himself in when we agreed and accepted the prison term…it still wasn’t something I could be flexible over.It was too serious.I got it wrong.”

  McCarthy looked at her long and hard.“If you hadn’t resigned, you’d be up on a corruption charge now. As it is, there’ll be a permanent note on your file making it clear that your career ended in disgrace and you are never to be allowed to serve again.I have to ask you to immediately turn in your gun and your badge.”

***

Olivia cautiously approached the spot on the beach where Hunter was sitting.She loved him a great deal but she had to admit that his default mood tended to be sulky with a hint of aggressive.She sat down beside him.“I heard about Josh and Andy.”

  Hunter glanced at her for a moment before continuing to look out to sea.“Guess it’ll be all around town soon.”

  “It’s good news for you, huh?I mean, closure and all that.”

  Hunter continued to glower.“I thought they were good guys, you know?I thought they were my friends. And they did all that.”He sighed.“And most of this town think Josh didn’t do anything wrong.And the worst thing is…a part of me agrees with them.But she was still my mum, she still tried to look out for me in her own nutty way.She deserved better than what Josh did her.”

  Olivia was torn between wanting to support him and the fact that she hadn’t really liked Charlotte either. “I know it won’t bring her back but…”She trailed off, not really sure what it did achieve.

  Hunter touched her hand.“Guess we can move on now, right?All that stuff’s in the past.”

***

Whether it was genetic or not, at that moment Hunter’s cousin was sat elsewhere on the beach, her head full of thoughts on the same subject.Evelyn looked round briefly as Matt sat down next to her.“I suppose you’ve heard,”she commented.

  Matt nodded.“I think everyone’s heard.”

  “It’s hard getting your head around it, you know?I’d pretty much resigned myself to never seeing Josh again.To the fact that he’d chosen leaving me behind rather than serving his time and us maybe having a chance when he got out, of appealing the sentence so it wouldn’t be that long.And now…now I could see him for a visiting order and the price of a ticket to Wellington.But I’m not even sure if I want to.I’m angry at him.I’m angry at Andy, I’m angry at me.I’m angry that we all made so many stupid decisions and it’s led us to this.Them locked up for twenty years or more and me…stuck here without them.”

  “It sucks,”Matt agreed,“It’s a mess.It’s a…pickle.”

  “I thought you thought they did the right thing.”

  “Yeah, I re-evaluated that somewhat when I ended up losing my apprenticeship because of them.”

  Evelyn winced.“Yeah, sorry about that.How’s it feel being back at Angelo’s?”

  “You mean Salt.”

  “That’s going to take some getting used to.Maybe I should join you, it seems to be where all the uni drop-outs hang out.”

  “What about Josh?”

  “I think he pretty much lost his job there.”Evelyn sighed.“Maybe I should write to him?Test the waters?”

  “Sounds like a plan.”

***

Nate looked around Salt as he entered and saw his companion waiting for him at the bar.He quickly picked his way through the tables and gave him a nod.“How are you doing, Tim?”

  It took all Spike’s self-control not to smirk.All the weeks he’d been in Summer Bay, even after he’d drugged Nate in that little test run, and Nate still had no idea who he was.“Should be asking you that, shouldn’t I?How are you after that business?”

  “Yeah, I’m fighting fit.No ill effects, thank goodness.”

  “But the police are still no closer to finding out who did it?”It was a question that did, after all, affect Spike quite a bit.

  “If they are, they haven’t told me.Seems like it was just random.”

  Spike nodded slowly.He feigned a casual attitude as he looked around the bar.“I hear this place is under new management.”

  “Yeah, my boss’ brother bought it a while back.Made a few changes.”

  “It’s good.”Spike took a long sip of his drink.“I must see if I can have a word with him.”

***

Ash looked at Kat, sat on his sofa, not quite sure if he’d heard what she’d told him.“You’ve done what?”

  “Resigned,”Kat repeated.

  Ash pondered this for a long time before asking,“Why?”

  Kat seemed close to tears as she looked ahead of her sadly.“Because I got it wrong.I joined the police because I wanted to help people like the police helped my brother.When he went off the rails, they put him back on.I thought I could do that for people.I thought I could do that for Josh.I thought I could get him to do the right thing, take his punishment, come out the other side a better person ready for a fresh start…But he kept making things worse for himself and I kept making things worse for him as well.If I’d arrested him when he first confessed, if I’d put a stop to things then, things might not have gone as bad for him.Instead, he’s going to spend the best years of his life in jail and me…I can’t be the police officer I wanted to be.”Ash sat down beside her and put his arm round her.She sighed.“And I don’t know what I’m going to do instead.”

  “Move in with me,”Ash suggested simply.

  Kat lifted her head and gave him a bewildered look.“What?”

  “Move in with me,”Ash repeated,“Okay, this might not be the best time to ask…But with Josh and Andy gone, this place is pretty empty.I mean, I see Nate outside the door sometimes and we…nod to each other. But apart from that, I’m here on my own.Plus I’m kind of unemployed now as well, so…maybe we could work out what we do next together?”

  Despite herself, Kat smiled.“I think that sounds like a good idea.”

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Thank you for the comments, everyone: The next chapter, as promised!

CHAPTER THREE

Ash raised an eyebrow slightly as Kat brought another box into the house.“It’s a good job we have got those two spare rooms, we’re gonna need them for storage.”

  “This was your idea,”Kat reminded him.

  “So suck it up, buster,”added Phoebe, as she followed Kat in with yet another box.

  “What’s that one?”Ash asked.

  “DVD collection,”Kat explained.

  Billie followed them in with a carrier bag.“Where do you want this, Kat?”

  Ash quickly took it off her.“What are you doing?You’re not supposed to do any heavy lifting.”

  “That’s not heavy,”Billie pointed out.

  Ash thought about this for a moment.“You’re not supposed to do any lifting.”

  Billie shot Kat a warning glance.“You sure you want to live with this guy?Because I can tell you some stories…”

  “I am starting to wonder,”Kat remarked, amused.

  “We’ve lived together before,”Ash reminded her.

  “You were with Phoebe then,”Kat pointed out.

  “And as I recall, it only took a few weeks for us all to get sick of you,”Phoebe added.

  “Plus I’ve got no idea where next month’s rent’s coming from,”Kat mused,“Money from the sale of the garage will dry up soon, then we’ll be left in a cardboard box…”

  “Hey, we will get jobs, okay?”Ash assured her.He put his arms round her waist.“And if we do end up in a cardboard box, there’s no-one I’d rather share a cardboard box with.”

  “Romantic but also kind of creepy,”Billie commented as the pair kissed.

  Ash glared at her.“Where’s that young bloke of yours anyway?We could have done with his muscles.”

  “I’m meeting him later.He had a shift at the juice bar.”Billie checked her watch.“And that gives me a good excuse to go.”

***

Matt and Evelyn were walking along the beach.Evelyn could tell that her friend was making an effort not to say the wrong thing, something that didn’t come easy to him.“Have you managed to write a letter to Josh yet?”he asked.

  “Not yet,”Evelyn admitted,“I’m scared of writing the wrong thing.”

  “What, you mean in case someone else reads it first and cuts out a bit?”

  Evelyn looked at him, shocked.“Do they actually do that?”

  Matt shrugged.“Might be best to only write on one side of the sheet just in case.”

  Evelyn looked out to sea, gathering her thoughts.“What do you say to someone that you once thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with and now…what?Am I supposed to wait for him?I mean, he cut off contact, and then he went on the run, that seems like a pretty clear message that he considers it over.”

  “Yeah, Sasha and I couldn’t even make a few years in uni work, so twenty years in jail might be a bit of a relationship killer.”

  “Twenty years.”Evelyn shook her head.“Twenty years ago we weren’t even born.”

  “Um, not quite,”Matt pointed out.

  “Okay, you were a baby and I wasn’t even born.What am I supposed to say to Josh when he’s looking at that?Maybe…maybe I need to not remind him of life out here, maybe he needs to cut himself off to cope with it.”

  “You could write to him, see how he responds.I dunno, remembering what his life used to be like might give him something to hold on to.”

  Evelyn heard Matt’s words and saw the sense in them, but her attention was drawn by someone further up the beach.Hunter was standing on his own, looking out to sea.“Can I meet you at the surf club?”she asked.

  Matt nodded, understanding.“I’ll see you later.”

  They headed in opposite directions, Matt heading up towards the headland and Evelyn heading towards her cousin.“Can we call a truce?”she asked.

  Hunter glanced sideways at her.“Is there any reason why we should?”

  “Because we’ve both lost people and we haven’t got many others left.Maybe we can’t afford to lose each other as well.”Evelyn hoped her words were getting through so she went on.“Look, what Charlotte did wasn’t your fault and what Josh did wasn’t my fault so what’s the use of blaming each other?”

  Evelyn thought she saw something in Hunter’s expression then, something that gave her the oddest feeling that what she’d just said wasn’t entirely true.But all Hunter said was “Yeah.Not our fault.”

***

Billie quickly found VJ’s table at the Diner;there weren’t that many to choose from after all, and he was fairly distinctive.He pushed a still warm cup across the table to her.“I got you a herbal tea.”He noticed her grimace but wasn’t backing down.“Hey, no caffeine, okay?I’m showing solidarity here.Actually considering sampling the produce at the juice bar.”

  “Well, I guess I can accept the sacrifice.”Billie took a sip of the tea, wondering if she’d need to put a mountain of sugar in it before it became passable.“How did the shift go?And your studies?I mean, HSC is only a couple of months away…”

  “Yes and I agreed to do it, I know.I am not doing uni though.I’d wash out faster than Matt did.”

  “Okay, I know when not to push it.Don’t want you threatening to move in with me again.”Billie saw a slight look of hurt cross his face, even though he tried to disguise it, and regretted the comment.“We will do it one day, before the baby comes.We just need to make sure the time’s right and we’re ready.”

  VJ gave a mischievous smile.“Talking of getting ready…”

  Billie rolled her eyes.“What have you got now?”

  VJ took out a bag and produced a baby grow from it…and it looked like there was several more still in the bag.“They come in four different colours,”he explained.

  “Obviously,”Billie replied drily.

  “I did consider getting a bib that said ‘My dad’s a spunk’ but I thought that might be sending out the wrong message.Unless I got one saying ‘My mum’s a spunk’ as well because, you know, you are.”

  Billie looked at him with a mixture of fondness and sadness, the sadness she always felt when she realised she was getting too happy.“We are so lucky to have you,”she told him.

  VJ shrugged, embarrased.“I’m nothing special.”

  “No, you really are.There aren’t a lot of guys who’d do for us what you’ve done.”The mood was becoming serious so Billie did her best to lighten it.“Come on then.Show me the rest.”

***

Spike made his way through the hospital.Even though he’d established that the security in the place was distinctly lacking, it didn’t pay to be over-confident.He slowly made his way to Tori’s office.She looked up in surprise as he entered.“Is there something I can do for you?”

  “You could say that.”

  Tori stared hard at him, as though trying to place where she’d seen him before.“You’re…Nate’s friend, aren’t you?”

  “I’m a lot of people’s friend.”

  He enjoyed seeing the rush of fear in her eyes as she suddenly realised who he was.“What do you want?”

  “You.And your brothers.”

  “They’re not here.”

  Spike smirked.“Yeah, I know.Summer Bay.One of them owns a restaurant there.Seems a perfect place to send a message.”

  “About what?”

  “About where we are.You’re going to come with me.”He saw her trying to work out if there were any other options, so let her see the hyperdermic he was holding.“Or I could use this on you.Make things a bit easier.Or maybe I could use it on your friend Doctor Cooper?You’ve already seen how easy I can get to him.”

  That seemed to settle it.Despite her fear, Tori came round from behind her desk.“Okay.Let’s go.”

  “Brave girl.I think you’d have done your parents proud.”He took her by the arm and led her from the hospital.

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Thank you for the comments, everyone! A bit later than I'd hoped, but not later than I promised, here's the next chapter, hope you enjoy.

CHAPTER FOUR

“So are you ready to quit yet?”Mason asked Justin, as the two of them and Brody headed into Salt.

  “What makes you think I’m going to quit?”Justin asked defensively.

  “I dunno, maybe the fact that your job involves you sticking your hands in fish gut and maggots?”

  “Are you calling me squeamish?”

  “Oh, no-one could accuse you of that, Justin,”Brody assured him as he headed round behind the counter and began checking orders.It was at that moment that the phone rang and he answered it.“Hello, Salt.”

  “Is that Justin?”asked the man’s voice on the other end, his tone oddly cold.

  “No, it’s Brody, Justin doesn’t work here.Who is this?”

  “Are your brothers there with you?”

  Brody found himself getting worried about the direction the conversation was taking.“Yes, they’re both here.”

  The comment caught Justin and Mason’s attention enough for them to stop their bickering.“Who is it?” Justin asked but Brody shushed him.

  “I’ve got someone here who wants to talk with you.”

  Some distance away, on a grassy cliff edge just off from a remote road, Spike handed his mobile to Tori. She took a deep breath before speaking,“Justin?”

  “Brody.What’s going on, Tor?”

  “Brody…he’s got me.He’s the one that attacked Nate, I think he’s mixed up with everything…”

  Spike snatched the phone off her.“Take the road out of town heading towards Mangrove River, then take a left hand turn up the mountain track.You’ll find me there, with your sister.Don’t keep me waiting long.”

  Brody slowly lowered the phone.“What was that?”Justin demanded.

  “Someone’s got Tori,”Brody answered slowly.

  Justin wasn’t happy with this answer.“When you say someone, you mean..?”

  “I mean someone,”Brody confirmed,“I think.He says they’re on the mountain track and we’ve got to come.”

  “If we go there, chances are he’ll kill us,”Justin pointed out.

  “If we don’t go, chances are he’ll kill Tori,”Brody snapped back.

  “So what?”Mason asked,“We just go there and let him kill us?”

  “We’re all in this together,”Justin snapped,“If there’s just one of him, maybe we can stop him.”He glared at Mason in anger.“How did he find us, anyway?”

  “Hey, if you’re blaming this on Lara…”

  “She could have said the wrong thing to the wrong person.”

  “How was she going to meet the wrong person?It’s not like any of us have been keeping a low profile. Tori’s running an emergency department, Brody’s buying a restaurant, you’re saving the town’s founding father…”

  “Okay,”Justin admitted,“There’s a lot of ways they could have found us.But now they have, and Tori’s in danger, and we’ve got to get out there.”

  “Can’t we call the police?”

  “It’d take too long for our people to arrive and we can’t rely on the local cops believing us.What are you doing?”The last comment was directed at Brody, who had been scribbling something while they’d been talking.

  Brody glanced up.“Just writing a note for Phoebe.Let her know I’ve had to leave.”He folded up the piece of paper and left it on the counter.“Shall we go?”

***

Olivia found VJ still sat at the table in the Diner.“Baby Momma not with you today?”she asked.

  VJ gave her an annoyed look.“She had to work.Same as I do in a little bit.”

  Olivia sighed sympathetically as she sat down opposite him.“Guess you’re going to have to do a lot of that.”

  “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

  “No, I just…I’ve been where you are, remember?Suddenly looking at a future where you have to give up everything you’ve dreamed of and work to look after a baby instead.And I couldn’t do it.”

  “Didn’t really have much choice.”VJ thought for a moment.“That’s not it, though.I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was scared stiff when I first heard Billie was pregnant.She’s, like, my first proper girlfriend and I didn’t really feel…smart enough to be a dad.But I’m actually kinda looking forward to it.”

  Olivia looked at him closely.“You actually are, aren’t you?”

  VJ shrugged.“I just think I could do something good with my life.Anyway, how are things with you and Hunter?”

  Olivia sighed.“Well, we’ve made it past the stage when he’s biting my head off all the time.He says he’s okay but it feels like he’s carrying an awful lot around, about his mum.And it’s not like he can talk about her when the whole town pretty much hated her by the end.”

  “Didn’t Hunter hate her too?”

  “Yes.Which probably makes it even harder.”

  “And just when we thought things were going to quieten down too.”

***

“So you’ve gone from being a cop to living in the crime centre of Summer Bay,”Phoebe mused as she and Kat arrived at Salt,“How’d that happen?”

  “I wouldn’t exactly call it crime centre,”Kat protested.

  “Hey, I lived in that house.And the things I saw there would make your hair stand on end.”

  Kat was starting to look somewhat concerned.“Still, that was back when Brax was running things, right? Things aren’t like that with Ash.”

  Phoebe mused the matter over.“Hmm, well, yeah, I agree, Ash is slightly less dodgy than the Braxtons.” She began looking through the papers behind the counter.

  “What are you after?”Kat asked.

  “Just wondering if Brody’s left behind anything useful, given that I seem to have got here before him again.Ah-ha!”Phoebe found the piece of paper Brody had left behind earlier, opened it, scanned the contents…and her face became a picture of shock.

  “What is it?”Kat asked, concerned.

  Phoebe swallowed hard.“You need to come with me now.And call everyone in your phone book. Especially old work colleagues.”

***

The Morgans’ car drew up near the headland.Justin, Brody and Mason looked out through the windscreen to see Spike facing them, keeping a firm grip on Tori while holding a gun to her head.“If anyone’s got a plan, now would be a good time to share,”Brody suggested.

  “I’m working on it,”Justin admitted.

  “But there is going to be a plan?”Mason asked nervously,“This isn’t actually going to be…it?”

  Justin glanced at Brody and saw the haunted look in his eyes.Both of them knew it very probably was “it”.But no point sharing that with Mason.“Nah, course not.Come on.”

  The three of them climbed out of the car and approached the pair.“Tori?”Mason asked nervously.

  “I’m okay,”Tori assured him, the effect spoiled by the arm around her throat.

  “What do y’want?”Justin demanded.

  Spike glared at him.“I’d have thought that was obvious.I’ve been paid to do a job.You all saw things you shouldn’t have seen the night your parents were killed.And certain people are very keen to make sure you aren’t able to identify them.They’ve spent seven years worrying that one day you might find out who they are.Well…now that day’s never going to come.”

  All of them tensed up, realising the inevitable was about to happen.Instead, what happened was a pointed cough.

  Five pairs of eyes turned towards the source of the cough and couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing.Walking up the road towards them were Alf, John, Zac, Chris, Nate, Evelyn, Phoebe, Kat, Ash and Matt.“Not that I’m telling you how to do your job,”Alf mused,“but just how many bullets have you got?”

  John whistled through his teeth.“Be awfully awkward if you ran out before you’d got rid of all the witnesses, wouldn’t it?”

  “And you might want to consider that cliff behind you,”Matt added,“Because if you do start firing off, and we decided to rush you, I think weight of numbers would probably send you over.”

  Chris stared at him.“Really, man?”

  Matt shrugged.“Just thought I’d give him something to consider.”

  Spike stared in shock at seeing his carefully crafted scenario come toppling down.“What’s this got to do with you?”

  Alf gestured to Justin.“Well, for a start, that one saved my life.And I need him to open up the shop in the morning.”

  Nate pointed to Tori.“And that one you’re holding is a friend and colleague, and I don’t intend to get a promotion that way.”

  “Plus she was really good when she chopped my girlfriend’s arm off,”Matt interjected.“Ex-girlfriend,”he corrected after a moment’s thought.

  “Mason was good to me after my boyfriend disappeared,”Evelyn noted,“He and his brother are in jail for murder, by the way, so this is nothing new.”

  Phoebe nodded towards Brody.“And that one saved me from having to serve charcoaled pizzas.Plus he owes me two weeks’ wages.”

  “I got put in jail a few months back,”Zac recalled,“And it left me with a heavy dislike for bullies.”

  “And I’m just here for the fun of it,”Ash added.

  “Don’t make me regret moving in with you,”Kat warned him.

  “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

  Alf glared hard at Spike.“So I think you need to consider long and hard what your next move is.”

  Before Spike could respond, there was the blare of a siren.The crowd of Summer Bay residents parted and allowed the police car to pull into view.Two officers burst out of the rear door, guns levelled. McCarthy opened the front door and crouched behind it.“Put down the weapon and get down on your knees.”

  Outnumbered and now outgunned, Spike released Tori, who ran to her brothers, then dropped the gun and sank to his knees.Officers moved forward to handcuff him.

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Thank you for all the comments and somehow I've ended up getting this ready instead of doing the sensible thing and going to bed, so hope you enjoy!

CHAPTER FIVE

It was something that the Morgans felt would never happen.The four of them were sat in the reception area of the police station waiting for news.Maybe even good news.Even more surprisingly, Phoebe, Nate, Evelyn and Matt were there with them.“So you’ve really been in hiding all this time?”Phoebe asked.

  “Pretty much,”Brody admitted,“We got moved from place to place quite a lot.”

  “Basically, it sucked,”Mason concluded.

  Evelyn looked at him sympathetically.“I can imagine.”

  “Do you think you’ll be all right now?”Nate asked.

  Tori shrugged.“Hard to say.This Tim or Spike or whatever his name is, he’s just one man.And we don’t even know who he is.If someone sent him, that means they know where we are and…”

  “You’d have to move on?”Nate felt oddly unhappy about that.

  “If that’s what our handlers say,”Justin agreed.

  “But…what about the restaurant?”Phoebe asked,“What about your friends?”

  Justin looked like he was going to make a comment but bit it back.“You lot’d be safer without us.”

  “Hello, have you actually looked at this town?”Matt asked,“I mean, did your handlers actually find out what the place was like before they sent you here?Your sister nearly got blown up the day she arrived!”

  “We do have our fair share of disasters,”Nate mused.

  “Yet where else would you get the rescue team I drummed up today?”Phoebe asked.

  Mason looked at Brody.“I can’t believe you left her a note.”

  Brody shrugged.“I thought we should let someone know.Wasn’t expecting that much cavalry.”

  The discussion was cut short when McCarthy emerged from the back.He glanced at the Morgans and then at their companions.“Do you want to talk in private?”

  “I think the cat’s pretty much out of the bag,”Tori answered.

  “Well, your friends from witness protection and serious crime have been interviewing Spike for over an hour and…he’s talking.They had evidence linking him to a number of hits, so he was looking at multiple life sentences unless he co-operated.He’s giving them full details of the drug syndicate.They’re sending state police out to arrest everyone involved.”

  “Everyone?”Justin asked, not quite willing to believe the implication.

  McCarthy nodded.“Everyone.”

  Mason grinned in delight.“We’re in the clear?”

  “It looks that way.”

  “What’ll happen to Spike?”Brody asked.

  “Protective custody until he’s finished giving evidence.Once all the trials are concluded, new identity and a passage to anywhere else in the world, with a note on his new passport to flag up if he ever tries to come back to Australia.”

  “So basically he gets away with it all?”Evelyn asked,“Guess it’s one rule for some.”

  McCarthy looked slightly embarrassed but shrugged.“Sometimes there’s a bigger fish.”

  “And it means we’re safe,”Mason pointed out.

  Evelyn relaxed slightly and smiled at him.“Yeah.And I’m pleased for you.”

***

Kat was looking at the contents of the Braxton refrigerator and wondering what exactly she’d got herself into.Living with other girls had never seemed more appealing.“You do know the fridge isn’t just for beer?”

  “I think there’s some cold pizza in there somewhere,”Ash offered from the sofa.

  Kat shut the fridge door without looking.There were some things even police training didn’t prepare you for.“What exactly do you do when you want to eat?”she asked as she headed back into the living area.

  “Order takeout.”

  “Well, I think that’s out with our budget at the moment.I can’t even afford the ingredients for my favourite dishes.I think we’re going to be living on ready meals for two.”

  Ash let out a sigh.“Not exactly a palace, is it?”

  Kat smiled at him warmly.“We’ll cope.We haven’t exactly tapped out the job market yet.”

  “Yeah, and I’ve got a few irons in the fire.Well, ready to go in the fire anyway.I was thinking…”

  They were interrupted by Kat’s phone ringing.With an apologetic look, she checked the caller ID and answered it.“Dave, hi.Yeah, that’s right.Change of career, I guess.Why were you after me?”Her expression became one of shock.“What?”

***

VJ and Billie were sat on the sofa in the farm house, Billie’s legs lying over VJ’s as he fed her from a bowl of strawberries.“These are full of things that are really good for you,”he remarked mischievously.

  “They really are,”Billie agreed with a smile, leaning forward to kiss him softly.

  “Do you mind?”Phoebe asked from the table, where she was in the middle of sorting out the household budget,“Some of us have eaten today!”

  The pair paused in their ministrations.“How are the Morgans?”Billie asked.

  “Pretty good.I think it’s starting to dawn on them that they’ve got their lives back.”She glared accusingly at them.“Where were you two when we sent out the call to arms, anyway?”

  “Pregnant,”Billie pointed out.

  “Had my phone switched off,”VJ explained.

  Before Phoebe could think of a response, Ash and Kat came in.The appearance of her brother was enough to make Billie twist round so her feet were innocently resting on the ground.“What’s up, Marty?”

  “Kat will explain,”Ash replied.

  “I got a call from an old friend who’s in the Melbourne police,”Kat explained,“He wanted to give me an update on some information I requested a few months back.”She paused.“Isla Schultz is dead.”

  Phoebe looked shocked.VJ just looked confused.“Who’s she?”he asked.

  “That girl Kyle was involved with, right?”Billie checked,“Just before he went to jail?”

  Kat nodded.“She was suspected as being the second person involved in the golf club robbery, the one that the witnesses said had the gun and gave all the orders, but Kyle refused to confirm it and she was never found.”

  “So how did she wind up dead?”Phoebe asked.

  “It seems she ended up working as a debt collector again, like when she first came here.Except the person she tried to extort money from wasn’t as nice about it as Kyle.She got a bullet in the back of the head.”

  Phoebe thought quickly.“So…Kyle can get out now then?He can tell the truth.There’s no point protecting Isla…”She trailed off as both Ash and Kat shook their heads.

  “Think about it,”Ash told her,“All this time, Kyle’s been refusing to tell them what really happened and suddenly he decides to blame it on someone who’s already dead and can’t contradict it?”

  “They’d never believe it,”Billie agreed.

  Phoebe looked frustrated.“But…there must be something we can do!”

  “I got in touch with Ricky and she’s talking to a lawyer,”Kat explained,“But at the moment I’m drawing a blank.”

***

Phoebe paused just outside the police station.She was aware that what she was about to do was beyond crazy, bordering on suicidal.Worse, it was exactly the sort of thing that she’d spent the last two and a half years getting frustrated at the Braxtons for doing.And the Barretts.And Ash.But she kept bringing to mind that image of Kyle standing in the dock, knowing he’d be spending a decade of his life or more in jail. She’d always hoped deep down that some day something would happen to get him out.Now that hope seemed to be fading.So it was time for her to give things a nudge.

  She pushed open the door and walked up to the counter.“My name is Phoebe Nicholson,”she announced loudly to the officers on duty,“And I want to confess to the armed robbery at the Reefton Lakes Golf Club earlier this year.”

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Or I could just stay up to a silly time to post another chapter again.Thanks for the comments, people, hope you like!

CHAPTER SIX

Phoebe sat in the interview room, a situation that had become all too familiar for her since she’d come to Summer Bay.McCarthy and another officer sat in front of her, ready to take the statement.“You’re saying you were the one who did the robbery?”McCarthy asked, sounding as though he didn’t quite believe it, “Not Kyle Braxton or Isla Schultz?”

  Phoebe had thought through her story carefully.She’d been in court for Kyle’s trial so knew all the details the police did.She knew exactly what she was going to say.“Kyle only went there to try and talk me out of it.He kept quiet to cover for me.”

  “Why would you want to rob the golf club?You’ve got no history of this sort of behaviour.”

  “Guess there’s a first time for everything.Things just got on top of me.My finances took a big hit during all that business with Neive, my dad’s pretty much cut me off, wages from the restaurant weren’t paying well, I needed to cover my rent and Hannah had all sorts of problems, I didn’t want to add to the stress. Kyle found out what I was doing and tried to put a stop to it.He took the gun and the money off me, that must be how his fingerprints got on them.”

  “And how did you get hold of a gun?”

  “I got it from an unlicensed seller.I know the right bars to ask around in.I didn’t ask his name and he didn’t volunteer it.”

  McCarthy checked the file in front of him.“Witnesses recalled that Mr Braxton told the robber to think of her daughters.You don’t have any daughters, right, Miss Nicholson?”

  Phoebe bit her lip slightly.She’d known the question was coming and prepared her answer.It didn’t mean she liked it though.“I was pregnant last year, with twins.Mine and Kyle’s.I miscarried both of them.We never found out what they were but…I like to think they were girls.And they wouldn’t want me to leave their father in jail for something he didn’t do.”

  McCarthy considered her answers slowly.“I think you’d better call a lawyer, Miss Nicholson.Because with what you’ve just told me, I don’t think I’ve got any choice but to charge you.”

***

“What exactly do you think you’re doing?”Ricky demanded as she led the troupe of visitors, comprising Kat, Ash and Billie, into Phoebe’s interview room,“This is the sort of stunt I’d expect from Kyle or Brax or…him.”She nodded towards Ash.

  “Thanks,”Ash muttered sullenly.

  Phoebe looked at Kat.“Is it okay for us to talk?”

  Kat looked around the room.“No surveillance, no recording equipment.”She gave a rueful half-smile. “And no police officers present.”

  Phoebe nodded.“Rick…Kyle’s looking at spending the next decade in jail, and the one person that could have got him out has just got herself killed.He’d do the same thing for me.”

  “Yes and it would be dumb,”Ricky retorted.

  “They’re not just going to let Kyle out,”Kat pointed out,“Even if they accept that you were the one holding the gun…”

  “I told them he was just there to talk me out of it,”Phoebe explained,“Which is true if you substitute Isla for me.”

  “…then they’re still going to charge him for withholding information or as an accessory…maybe even perverting the course of justice.”

  “He’ll still get out sooner than ten or thirteen years though, won’t he?”

  Kat sighed.“Probably,”she admitted.

  “But what about you?”Ash asked,“Are you going to do ten years instead?”

  Phoebe looked slightly worried.“It’ll be less than that, right?”

  “There’s no guarantees,”Kat told her,“But you’ve got a clean record so…”

  “Phoebe, you’re still going to jail,”Billie pointed out,“Do you really want to do that?”

  “Not especially,”Phoebe admitted,“But it’ll be a new experience.Maybe get a song or two out of it.”She sighed.“Ricky…Kyle’s got a baby nephew out there that he deserves to spend time with before he starts high school, plus Darcy and Harley.Maybe he’ll even have time to have a family of his own, it’s what he’s always wanted.Me…I was never going to be that person.I’ve got no boyfriend, a father that I never see and pretty much hate, a failed singing career and a job waiting tables.Being out of commission for a few years won’t make much difference.And after all the years I’ve known Kyle and all the times he’s stood by me…I reckon I owe it to him to take a few of those years off him.Let me do this, okay?”

  “You’ve got friends,”Billie persisted,“People that need you.”

  “No they don’t.”Phoebe looked hard at Billie and the others present had an odd feeling that something unspoken was passing between them, something the rest of them didn’t know about.“You’ve got other people that’ll give you help, Bill, if you ask for it.It doesn’t pay to keep things bottled up.”

***

Hunter stood staring at his mother’s grave.He sometimes wonder how exactly she’d ended up with a grave.It seemed people weren’t bothered about who they buried these days.“You had to do it, didn’t you, Mum?”he asked bitterly,“You had to get yourself killed and leave me to deal with everything.Did you really pull a gun on Josh?You really had lost it, hadn’t you?You know, there are times when I really hate Josh and Andy, for treating you like you were nothing…and there are times when I think they did me a favour.If you were still here, you’d still be messing things up for me.”He sighed.“Too late, though, isn’t it?We still did what we did.Andy managed to keep what he’d done quiet for years but it still caught up with him in the end.Maybe they’ll forgive me.Olivia did…but then I guess she never knew Denny.Maybe they’ll give me community service again.Maybe they’ll throw the book at me.”He shook his head. “They’re going to all end up hating me, aren’t they?Sooner or later.”

  He heard footsteps behind him and looked round to find Zac there.His father looked uncomfortable.“I wondered where you’d got to,”he explained,“Do you want me to leave you alone?”

  Hunter glanced back at the gravestone, then shook his head.“Nah, I’m done here.”

***

Nate would admit to being somewhat surprised when the hospital lift disgorged both Tori and Mason, looking as though they were ready for work.“I was expecting you to both take the day off,”he commented.

  “Well, we thought about it,”Tori agreed,“but we’ve decided that we’ve waited a long time to have normal lives so we’d better make the most of them.”

  “I’m certainly never going to complain about this place being out in the sticks again,”Mason agreed,“I don’t think people would have helped us like that anywhere else.”

  Nate nodded.“Well, between you, your family’s made a lot of friends in the time you’ve been here.Who are now very curious about what exactly all that was about.”

  “And for the first time we’ll actually be able to answer those questions,”Tori realised,“It’s going to take some getting used to.”

  Nate leaned forward across the admin counter.“Well, how about we start those questions over a drink tonight?”

  “Sounds good to me,”Mason piped up.Both Nate and Tori looked at him.“Oh, right, you weren’t inviting me.Oh well, Brody’s got me working anyway.I’ll just eavesdrop.”

***

Billie let out a loud sigh as she arrived at the Diner counter.“Normally I’d ask for the strongest coffee you’ve got but…”

  “I’m under strict instructions from VJ not to let you anyway near the caffeine,”Leah confirmed.

  “Decaf all right?”

  “That I can stretch to.”

  While Leah filled the order, Irene came over.“You all right, love?”

  “Tired mainly,”Billie admitted,“Work and pregnancy and running a household’s starting to get a bit much.”

  “Yeah, I heard some odd rumours about Phoebe.Did she really do that robbery?”

  Billie looked at her awkwardly.“Do you really want me to answer that?”

  “Hmm, probably not,”Irene admitted,“I think we’re all getting a bit too ready not to ask the difficult questions.So what’s happening to her?”

  Billie accepted her decaf from Leah before answering.“The judge set bail at ten thousand dollars. Phoebe doesn’t have that kind of money and neither do I, or Kat and Marty with the garage gone.Ricky offered to try and find it but Phoebe says she’s got to get used to it, and she wouldn’t call her dad, so she’s on remand until the sentencing.Three weeks’ time.”

  “What about you then?You’re kind of in the farm house on your own now, with Kat moving out and now this.”

  “Yeah, I’m almost considering asking VJ to move back in.”Billie noticed Leah’s head swing round at the comment.“I’m not though.Even sounded out Kat and Marty about moving back in.Way things are going, if I don’t find a housemate soon, I’m going to end up back in a caravan.”

  “Well, I can’t offer you a housemate,”Irene mused,“but Nate’s old room’s empty if you’re looking for somewhere to stay.”

  Billie looked at her in shock.“Move in with you?”

  “And Chris and Olivia, if you think you can handle that.”

  Billie felt she could more than handle that.She felt moved.No-one had ever made her an offer like that before.“You really want a pregnant woman living with you?”

  Irene smiled kindly.“Honestly, darl?It’d be just what I need at the moment.”

  Billie felt a wave of guilt, wondering how Irene would feel if she knew the baby was her grandchild, what mixed emotions it would dredge up.That was a secret too deep to be unearthed, of course.But Irene’s offer…somehow it felt right.“Thank you,”she said quietly.

  Irene nodded, understanding.“I’ll get Chris to give you a hand moving your stuff.”

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Thank you for all the comments! Hope you like this one.

CHAPTER SEVEN

There seemed to be quite a convoy heading into the beach house carrying boxes, as Chris, VJ and Ash all entrered through the back door.“Well, thank goodness you travel light,”Chris commented sarcastically.

  “Hey, I used to fit everything I owned into a car boot,”Billie pointed out,“I’m enjoying having the extra space.”She looked at Olivia.“Are you sure you don’t mind me moving in?”

  Olivia made a dismissive noise.“Hey, I’ve got used to doing the girlfriend thing by now.”She turned to VJ.“I guess this means I’m going to be seeing more of you around here though.”

  “It’ll be like I’ve moved in as well,”VJ teased.He noticed Irene giving him a suspicious glare.“Not that I actually will be moving in, of course.”

  “Mmm,”Irene noted, not sounding entirely modified,“Well, I guess in the circumstances you’ve got yourself a bit of leeway.But no more than three nights a week, okay?I don’t want you eating me out of house and home.”

  Ash hefted his box slightly.“Where are these going, anyway?”

  “Oh, sorry, darl.Up the stairs, second door on the right.”

  “Just leave them on the bed, I’ll unpack them later,”Billie added.

  “Do you want a hand?”Kat asked jokingly.

  Ash paused halfway up the stairs and gave her a quick kiss.“I’ve got it covered.”He disappeared up the stairs, Chris and VJ following.

  “Any idea what’s happening to our old place?”Kat asked Billie.

  “Well, I got in touch with the owner,”Billie began.

  “Sid Walker?”Irene checked.

  Billie nodded.“And he said it was okay because he’s got some other tenants lined up.They’ll be moving in in a few weeks.”

  Olivia raised an eyebrow.“Remind me to have a nosey around some time.”

***

Evelyn was halfway through her first shift at Salt and it seemed to be going well:She’d managed to get the right food to the right tables which was always a good start.She turned round from serving and noticed Matt watching her from behind the bar, a broad grin on his face.“What?”she demanded.

  “Just thinking what a shame it is we got rid of the old uniform.A little black dress would suit you just about now.”He looked up and down at her in a cropped shirt and shorts.“Not that you aren’t totally rocking the new look.”

  “Definitely making the work area a better place,”Mason agreed as he wandered past.

  “Well, I’m glad my time here’s not wasted,”Evelyn fired back.

  “Can we have a bit less talk?”Brody asked irritably,“We’re a bit short-staffed since the assistant manager ended up in jail.”He looked at Tori, who had come to the counter to collect her drink.“Don’t suppose I could interest you in a shift?”

  Tori smiled.“Sorry but I’m here strictly in a recreational capacity.”She took her drink and headed back to the table where Nate was waiting.

  “Sibling banter?”he asked.

  “You recognise it?”

  “Only from the outside.No, Mum and Dad didn’t really spend enough time together to have anyone but me.Then Mum died and Dad dumped me on my grandparents…I hadn’t seen him in years until he turned up here last year.Now we’re on occasional Facebook chat terms.”He smiled nervously.“Sorry, that was a bit overshare, wasn’t it?”

  “No, it’s fine.I guess if I’m going to share my tortured family history with you I should know yours.” She hesitated.“I told you our parents died?Well, that was because they got shot.My dad had been working as an accountant for a drug syndicate.Guess it must have paid well because we were never short but we ended up paying for it in a different way.It got to the point where someone worked out that Dad was too big a risk for too little gain, so they came to the house and killed him and Mum.They hid us in a closet and…we saw everything.Exactly who did it.Except we didn’t know who they were.Gave the police descriptions, photofits, looked through all the photos they had, but we couldn’t identify them.So we ended up in witness protection in case anyone found out who we were before we found out who they were.”

  “They’ve got them now though?”

  Tori nodded.“They weren’t anyone that the police had records of, but Spike identified them.We all confirmed it once the police had pictures of them.They’ve got the people that employed them as well.” She let out a deep sigh.“I can’t believe it’s finally over.”

  “So what does it mean now?”Nate asked.

  “No looking over our shoulder, no living in fear.”Tori gently rested a hand on Nate’s.“And it means we can get close to other people again.”

  Nate smiled, noting the flirtatious look in her eyes.“Is this the point where I should suggest we go somewhere else?”

  Tori smiled back.“I don’t know.Should you?”

***

They were kissing as they arrived back at the flat, slamming the door shut behind them.Tori undid a few buttons on Nate’s shirt then pulled it off over his head.Nate unfastened the buttons of her dress and undid her belt, letting the garment fall to the floor.They fell back onto the sofa, then rolled off it onto the floor, Tori on top as she undid Nate’s belt.

  “Bed!Bed!”Nate gestured towards the bed with a laugh.

  Tori grinned.“If you insist.”She helped him to his feet and they headed towards the bed, collapsing onto it as they continued to explore each other’s bodies.

***

Roo had left town early the next morning, aiming to reach the city around breakfast time.She didn’t want to disturb the routine too much but the meeting was an important one, for so many reasons.She arrived just as doors were opening and signed in, then heard a voice behind her.“Hi, Roo.”

  Roo turned round and saw Maddy standing there, looking as nervous as her.Although they’d spoken on the phone a few times, they hadn’t seen each other since Maddy’s abrupt exit from Summer Bay, months ago now.Had things changed between them?“Hi,”she echoed awkwardly before stepping forward to embrace the girl.She tried not to stare hard at her new “arm” but the uncomfortable feel of the plastic was hard to ignore.“How are you doing with the prosthetic?”

  Maddy sighed.“Well, we’re just about getting used to each other.It takes a lot of effort to lift it and I can’t pick anything up with it or grip anything or…feel anything.It’s just useful for…holding things down, I guess.And it doesn’t attract as many stares.”

  Roo gave her a sympathetic look.“I really wish there was something I could do.”

  Maddy smiled and nodded.“So…tell me all the goss.How’s Mr.Stewart doing…and Matt, he seeing anyone else yet?”

  “Okay and…no.You heard about the garage closing down?”

  Maddy’s smile faded a moment and she sighed.“Yeah, and what happened to Josh.I keep thinking about when we first met, all the progress he’d made since then…I can’t believe he went back there.”She grinned broadly.“Plus side, I’ve been speaking to some of the nurses and they think I can carry on with my course.I’m going to look into it after I’ve gone travelling.”

  “Aww, that’s great, Mads,”Roo answered,“I’m glad everything’s working out for you.”

  “Well, I couldn’t let this beat me, could I?Come on, I’ll show you around.”

***

Back in Summer Bay, Nate and Tori were slowly waking up.Tori moved away from him slightly, pulling the covers around herself self-consciously.“So…this is the morning after, huh?”

  “Any regrets?”Nate asked, suddenly worried that she was going to say yes.

  “No but…let’s just say this isn’t something I do very often.”

  “Which bit?”Nate paused to let her answer and instead saw her redden.“What, all of it?”

  “It’s been a while.”

  “Well, look…I wasn’t planning for this to be a one-off but…”

  Tori smiled.“Neither was I.”

  “Okay then.So…shout you breakfast?”

  “That seems like a good idea.”They dressed hurriedly and went out of the flat…running straight into Ash and Kat as they came out of the house.The two couples stood, looking at each other.

  “Result?”Ash suggested.

  Nate cringed.“Yeah, thanks, mate.”

  “We were just heading down the Diner,”Tori explained.

  “Yeah, I was heading that way myself,”Kat confirmed.She saw them both look worried.“Just for a coffee, I wasn’t going to join you or anything.”She looked at Ash.“And didn’t you say you had an idea you wanted to pursue?”

  “Yep.Catch you later.”Ash gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before heading off.

***

Marilyn found herself feeling oddly uncomfortable as she prepared Hunter’s milkshake.It wasn’t as though she felt threatened:Even that early, the Diner wasn’t exactly empty and Hunter didn’t strike her as dangerous.Not really.But there was an odd intensity around him, as there had been for a few days now.“Is there anything wrong?”she asked cautiously as she took his money.

  Hunter was silent for a moment as if wondering whether he should answer or not.“It’s my mum’s birthday,”he explained at last.

  “Oh!Oh well, yes, I can see how that might be hard.”

  “Yeah, well, not like I’ve got anyone to celebrate it with.Whole town hated her, me included.”He looked at her as though daring her to contradict the statement.

  “Well, yes, it was her fault that I ended up in hospital with amnesia,”Marilyn pointed out.

  Hunter seemed caught of guard by the observation.“Yeah, yeah, right.”

  “I mean, I still don’t know what all that was about, I suppose we’ll never know, Kat told me she thought she needed the money, which makes sense I guess, although she didn’t get much, or maybe she just wanted to make things difficult for people, what do you think?”

  Hunter glared at her.“How would I know?”he asked coldly.

  Marilyn swallowed hard.“No, I, er, don’t suppose you would.”

  Hunter continued to glare at her with a cold intensity for a moment.“Good,”he said at last before walking away.

  Marilyn suddenly felt a lot more uncomfortable.In fact, she thought, she’d go as far as to say scared.

***

John was in the middle of loading up the lifesavers’ dinghy round the back of the surf club when he became aware that someone was looking at him.He turned round to see Ash standing there.He let out a deep sigh.“Something I can help you with?”

  Ash looked over the lifesaver vehicles with an affected casualness that fooled no-one.“Just wondering what you do when one of these breaks down.”

  “We hire a mechanic.”

  Ash nodded slowly, as though thinking it over.“It’d help if you had regular maintenance though, right? Someone to make sure they’re always in good condition?”

  John sighed.He could sense where the conversation was going.“And let me guess:You happen to know an out of work mechanic who might be interested?”

  Ash looked embarrassed at being caught out.“Could do,”he attempted.

  “Not exactly a full-time job though, is it?I mean, we’d need what, a quick check-over once a week?”

  “Well…I could do other things.I could be a kind of resident handyman, I mean…you must need odd jobs doing all the time, fixing seats and that.I could wash the vehicles?”Ash sounded a bit desperate.

  “We have volunteers for that,”John pointed out.

  Ash sighed.“Just an idea.”He turned to go.

  John rolled his eyes wearily.Why did he have to be such a sucker for hard luck stories?It was the only reason Chris had stayed there for so long.“Hold up!”he called,“Let me put it to the committee, see if they’re willing to find some money for a resident mechanic.”

  Ash grinned.“Cheers, John.”

***

“So when do you think you’re going to leave?”Roo asked as she walked with Maddy back towards where she’d left her car.

  “Well, the rehab’s going well,”Maddy commented,“So I should be out in a few weeks.”

  “And then off to sunnier climes?”

  “I don’t know about sunnier, but yeah.I’m heading over to Asia first, then going to trek across North America and then Europe…”

  “Oh, you’ll have to let me know if you’re heading through New York.I’ve still got a bit of local knowledge.”Roo sighed.“I’ll soon be seeing even less of you then.”

  Maddy winced, looking uncomfortable.“Sorry.”

  “No, don’t be, it’s okay.I’m glad you’re getting out there and seeing things.Just don’t be a stranger, okay?You’re family.”

  Maddy smiled.“I won’t.”She hugged the older woman.“Thank you.”

  Roo smiled back, before getting into the car.Maddy stood, watching in silence, as the car pulled out, waiting until it was out of sight.Then she raised her voice to address the nurse she’d seen loitering nearby. “You can come out now, she’s gone.”

  Dexter emerged from hiding, looking awkward.“Thanks.”

  “You’re going to have to tell people you’re back some time, you know?”

  “I know.Just leaving it as long as possible.Come on, it’s time for your session.”

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Thanks as ever for all the comments, hope you like this one!

CHAPTER EIGHT

Ash was trying his best to keep a dopey grin off his face.When John had summoned him next door, he’d been braced for bad news but it was going well.“The committee really okayed it?”

  John grimaced slightly.“Surprisingly, yes.For reasons best known to them, they have decided that you are the person they want servicing their fleet.”

  Ash shook his hand enthusiastically.“Thanks, Mr.Palmer.”

  John held up a hand to silence his excitement.“Three afternoons a week, and on call in case of emergencies.”

  “I’ll take that.”

  “And I’ve been chatting to other surf clubs around here-Yabbie Creek, Mangrove River…They might be interested in using you on the other days if you give them a call.”

  “You’re my new best friend, Palmer.”

  John rolled his eyes.“You’re worse than Harrington.”

  “That’s a rather unfair remark, Dad,”noted a female voice from the direction of the doorway.

  John and Ash both turned round to face the dark-haired woman who had just entered the house.John looked at her in delight.“Shandi?”

  “You remember your only daughter then,”Shandi remarked with a grin.

  “Course I do!”John hugged her warmly before remembering he had company.“This is Martin Ashford. He lives next door.He was just going back there.”

  It took Ash a moment to take the hint.“Oh yeah, right.Good to meet you, Shandi.”

  “Remember you’ve got a girlfriend!”John called after him before turning his attention back to his daughter,“So how long are you here?”

  “Well, days or weeks.I had time off from work so I thought I might check in on my family here.Where’s Marilyn by the way?”

  “Good question.She went out early looking mysterious.Said she had something important to do.”

***

Marilyn was standing by the counter in the police station, looking and feeling somewhat out of place.She waved nervously at the officer seated at the desk in the admin area, who waved back at her somewhat bemused.A moment later, McCarthy came out of the office.“I heard you wanted to speak to me?”

  “Yes, um, I don’t suppose you know me.Marilyn Chambers?I was injured as a result of a robbery at the Pier Diner last year?”

  McCarthy glanced at a subordinate.“Bring me the relevant file, will you?”He looked back at Marilyn. “Did you have some new information?”

  “Oh, no, no, nothing like that.I just wanted to make sure I was clear on all the details.”

  McCarthy was handed the file and flipped through it.“It says here the case was closed with the late Charlotte King identified as the perpetrator.The safe was found buried with the body of Denise Miller, DNA analysis identified Miss King as the killer.”

  Marilyn considered this.“So, that means she was the one that stole the safe?”

  McCarthy checked again.“Her DNA was found on the safe, yes.Why?”

  “Oh, no reason, I just thought…Silly really.I had this crazy idea in my head that maybe it wasn’t her that did it after all…”Marilyn tilted her head from side to side, rolling her eyes.“Don’t know why, just something I suddenly thought.Thank you!”She scampered out of the station.

  McCarthy looked after her, then studied the file more closely.“Golden, get me the forensics lab, will you?”

***

Kat and Ash were sat on the sofa in the old Braxton house, kissing softly.“I am really proud of you,”Kat said quietly.

  Ash smiled at the compliment.“Now we just need to find you a job.”

  Kat hesitated slightly.“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that.”

  “Go on,”Ash prompted.

  “Well…I’ve got my investment back from the garage, right?The money from Leo?So I was thinking maybe I could invest it in something else?”

  “Another business?”

  “Yeah, that’s the idea.”Kat sighed.“It’s just all those ideals I had when I joined the police, wanting to make a difference, help out those that had got themselves in trouble, I still want to do that.And I kind of need an income as well, I can’t just donate it to charity.So…any ideas?”

  Ash thought for a moment.“Nope,”he admitted at last,“But I’ll let you know if I do.”

***

Hunter was staring morosely at his meal in the Diner when Olivia came in, smiling at the sight of him.She sat down opposite.“Where have you been?I was looking for you yesterday.”

  Hunter tried to appear brighter.Even though there probably wasn’t anyone that he trusted as much as Olivia, there were things he didn’t like to discuss even with her.“Yeah, sorry, it was a bit of a crazy one.”

  “So how are you feeling?Still having dark thoughts about your mother?”

  Hunter shrugged but sensed that Olivia wasn’t going to leave it at that.“I just keep thinking about how things ended for her, you know?She ended up like that and I’m still here.”

  “Well, yeah, because she went psycho and you didn’t.”Olivia faltered slightly when Hunter glared at her. “I mean, okay, you did a few crazy things but that was the old you, right?”

  “You’re sure of that?”

  “Yeah, because the new you is kind and sweet and…you’ve paid for everything you’ve done so…”

  “Not everything,”Hunter pointed out.

  “Everything that matters,”Olivia insisted,“It’s not going to help anyone if you own up to stuff that everyone else has forgotten.”She tried to brighten the mood.“Plus we’ve got exams soon, which means lots of studying.”

  “Like that’s the most important thing right now,”Hunter said sarcastically.

  “Yes, it is!”Olivia looked at him with renewed determination.“Just let me go and get my books and I’ll meet you at your place, okay?”

  Hunter rolled his eyes but managed a smile.“Okay.”

***

Leah came round from the kitchen when she heard the knock at the door and was surprised to see McCarthy standing there.“Phillip!Is there something I can do for you?”

  McCarthy hesitated.“Can I ask you a few questions?”

  “Um, yeah, I guess so.Ask away.”

  “You’re the co-owner of the Pier Diner, right?Where there was the robbery last year?”

  “That’s right.”Leah was surprised at the direction of the conversation.“I thought that was all sorted out? The police found the safe, it turned out Charlotte took it.”

  “That was what was assumed at the time, yes.Miss King’s DNA was found on both the safe and the body of Denise Miller, it was clear the two crimes were connected, so she was assumed to be responsible for both.But we’ve recently had cause to re-examine the evidence.”

  Leah was concerned by his serious tone.“And you found something?”

  “Miss King’s was the only forensic evidence connected to the murder but there was another DNA sample found on the safe.When it was first found, it couldn’t be identified but I had the lab re-check it and test for fingerprints and it turns out they match a record that’s been added to the database since then, from someone who’s now got a criminal record.Hunter King.”

  Leah froze.“Hunter?”

  “Now the only way that could have happened was if at some point he’d touched the safe.Did he help out at the Diner, go into the kitchen..?”

  “No, no, not then.We weren’t on good terms at the time.”Leah’s mind was racing as she thought back to that time, how things had been with the family and Hunter.Surely not…

  McCarthy nodded.“Well, there could be a simple explanation for it but we will need to speak to Mr. King.Can you let him know?”

  “Yeah, I’ll let him know as soon as he gets home,”Leah agreed.McCarthy headed out, leaving Leah alone, her mind racing.

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So thank you for the comments, everyone, I hope this meets your expectations!

CHAPTER NINE

Leah had barely moved when Hunter arrived home half an hour later.”Hey, Leah,”he greeted her, unloading books on the table from his school bag,“Liv’s coming round in a bit, we’re going to study together.Hope you don’t mind.”

  Leah took a deep breath and turned to face him.“Hunter, can we talk?”

  He looked up, slightly bemused at her serious tone.“Yeah, sure, what about?”

  “Sergeant McCarthy came round.He said they’d rechecked the forensics on the safe that was stolen from the Diner, the one that was found by Denny’s body.He said your DNA and fingerprints were found on it. Do you…know how that could have happened?”She paused, waiting for an answer, hoping for confusion, for him saying there was no way that could be the case, or maybe offering an innocent explanation.Instead he looked…worried.Which worried her.She went on.“Because I’m trying to think.I mean, it was before Olivia came to town so you wouldn’t have been visiting her, and you wouldn’t have been visiting me, because, well, it was before you came to live here.And I’m thinking back to how you were at the time, how angry you were about your dad leaving you and your mum and moving back in with us and…”She had to ask the question.She knew that.“Hunter, you didn’t…do anything, did you?”

  Hunter had looked away from her during her monologue, staring down at the table.Finally, he spoke quietly.“I didn’t know about Denny.I didn’t know she was dead until they found her, I didn’t know Mum was involved until…until I heard about the safe.”

  The specific nature of the denial was not lost on Leah, nor what hadn’t been said.“But you did know about the safe?”she asked softly.

  Hunter looked up, making eye contact.“I took it,”he admitted,“I was angry and I wanted to lash out but…I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.When I found out about Marilyn, I wanted to go to the police, tell them what happened, but Mum stopped me.She covered for me.”

  “Like she did about the fire?”Leah regretted the comment instantly.It was old ground.

  “Denny found out,”Hunter continued, ignored the remark,“She knew it was me, she was going to go to the police and that was why Mum killed her.But that was Mum, that wasn’t me.”

  “But stealing the safe was you,”Leah persisted,“What happened to Marilyn was you!”

  Reluctantly, Hunter nodded.“Yeah.”

  Leah sighed.“Hunter, I’m going to have to go to the police.”

  Hunter’s face was a mask of shock.“But…I’ve told you.I’ll tell Dad and VJ, I’ll even tell Marilyn, make it up to her.We don’t have to get them involved.”

  “Hunter, we have to,”Leah insisted.She looked at him sympathetically.“But don’t worry, we’ll all stand by you, we’ll make sure you get a good lawyer.It’ll be all right.”

  Hunter stared in panic as Leah turned away and went to the phone.He had to stop her:He had no doubt she meant what she said but he knew he’d be lucky to get a light sentence like the last time.With a record and a suspended sentence, he had no chance of avoiding juvenile detention.He saw one of VJ’s old basketball trophies nearby, lifted it and swung it at the back of Leah’s head.

  Leah hit the floor with a thump and lay still.

  Hunter stared at her for a moment, then dropped the trophy, snatched up a set of keys from the table and ran out.

***

Nate and Tori were sat at a table in the Diner, shooting each other occasional flirtatious looks as they enjoyed their coffee.“So I seem to remember you’re on shift later,”Nate noted.

  Tori nodded.“Same shift as you.”

  “Well, in the interests of preserving the environment, maybe I could drive you in.”

  Tori pretended to consider the issue.“That would of course mean we’d have to leave together.”

  Nate tried and failed to look innocent.“I guess it would.”

  Whatever Tori planned to stay in response was halted by the appearance of Chris beside their table.He looked from one of them to the other.“Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to interrupt your little tete-a-tete but I’m picking up a vibe here.There is definite vibe.Has something…happened between you two that I don’t know about?”

  “We…have been spending a bit more time together,”Tori attempted.

  Chris grinned and patted Nate on the shoulder.“Wow, mate, you’ve got yourself a cracker!”He looked back at Tori, even though he continued to pat Nate’s shoulder.“And you’ve definitely got a keeper in my pal Nate here.One of life’s true gentlemen.”

  Nate looked as if he wouldn’t mind the ground opening up and swallowing him.“Thanks, mate,”he managed.

  Irene and Billie watched with bemusement from either side of the counter.“Is he actually doing that?” Billie asked.

  “Chris is like a force of nature,”Irene replied,“Sometimes it’s best just to get out of the way and let it play out.”

  “Well, hey there, Chris!”announced a cheery female voice from the doorway.Billie didn’t recognise the dark-haired woman with John but Chris evidently did, enough to draw his attention away from a grateful-looking Nate and Tori.

  “Shandi?”He hugged the newcomer with a smile.“You remember me!”

  “Well, I wasn’t going to forget my wedding date.And you are pretty hard to forget.Still single and desperate?”

  Chris’ smile disappeared instantly.“That’s me,”he said quietly, before disappearing off in the direction of the kitchen.

  Shandi looked after him, confused.“Was it something I said?”

  “Chris’ girlfriend was killed in an accident a few months back,”John explained awkwardly,“A gas explosion.”

  And then it was Shandi’s turn to want the ground to swallow her.

***

“So how’s Billie living at the beach house going?”Zac asked VJ as the two of them approached the house.

  “Well, it’s nearer than the farm,”VJ noted,“but Irene’s keeping a closer eye on us than Kat or Phoebe did.”

  “Yeah, I didn’t actually mean in terms of how easy it makes your love life.I meant in herself.”

  “She’s getting on okay with everyone, so I guess…”

  VJ’s reply trailed off as they entered the house and saw Leah lying motionless on the floor.“Leah!”Zac shouted and ran to her side, VJ right behind him.He cradled her in his arms, feeling the blood drip onto his hand from the wound on the back of her head, and was relieved when she stirred slightly.

  “Hunter,”she murmured.

  “Hunter?”Zac repeated,“Where is he, is he all right?”

  “Hunter…did this.”

  Zac and VJ looked at each other in shock, and yet neither of them doubted the truth of the words.“I’m going to kill him,”VJ announced angrily, running out.

  “VJ, wait!”Zac called after him but there was no response.Careful not to drop Leah, he grabbed the phone receiver and dialled 000.“Ambulance.And police.”

***

VJ ran out of the house and looked around, catching sight of Hunter coming from the direction of the caravans, a bag slung over his shoulder.Hunter saw him and broke into a run, heading for Leah’s land rover.He unlocked the door but VJ grabbed him and spun him round, pushing him back against the vehicle.“What did you do to my mum?”he demanded.

  Hunter pushed him away, opening the door and sliding into the driver’s seat, slotting the key into the ignition.VJ grabbed his arm and tried to pull him out but Hunter shoved him away again, slamming the door, starting the engine and putting his foot down hard on the accelerator.The car shot down the driveway…just as Olivia was walking up it.The car smashed into her, hard.Hunter jammed his foot down on the brake but it was too late.Olivia was thrown up over the bonnet and then fell sideways, landing alongside the vehicle.She didn’t move.

  VJ got to his feet and Hunter got out of the car, united for a moment as they stared in shock at Olivia lying there.Then a police car pulled up the driveway.Constable Murray had been in the area when Zac’s emergency call had come through.He got out of the car and stared at the scene in front of him, not quite sure what had happened.

  VJ pointed at Hunter.“Arrest him, he did this!”

  Hunter ran and that was all the evidence Murray needed.He grabbed him as he tried to push past, twisting his arm up behind his back and shoving him against the side of the police car.“Hunter King, I’m arresting you on suspicion of causing bodily harm.”

  Zac came hurrying out of the house, having heard the commotion, and saw VJ crouching by Olivia.He knelt by her as well and was relieved to find a weak but steady pulse.He looked up at Murray.“We’re going to need two ambulances, Leah’s inside, she’s got a head injury.”He hesitated, not wanting to add the next bit but knowing that if he didn’t VJ would.“She said Hunter did it.”

  Murray nodded to his partner.“Call it in.”

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Advanced warning: I'm going to be away the next two weekends so probably won't get any work done.I will try and keep updates coming fairly regularly but there might be some long gaps.Hope you enjoy this one!

CHAPTER TEN

Zac and VJ were sitting in the hospital corridor, waiting for news.Neither of them had quite processed the events of the afternoon.Their reveries were interrupted by the sound of running footsteps:Irene and Billie. The two men stood up as they approached and Billie went over to VJ, hugging him and giving him a soft kiss.“How’s your mum?”she asked.

  “The doctors took her away,”VJ explained.He glanced at Irene.“Liv too.”

  “We haven’t heard anything since,”Zac added.

  “But how was she?”Irene persisted.

  “She still hadn’t come round.”

  “You say she got hit by a car?”

  Zac nodded.“Hunter was driving,”he admitted,“But he was only on the drive, he can’t have been going too fast.”

  “He hit that accelerator pretty hard,”VJ argued, regretting the comment somewhat when he saw how worried Irene looked.

  “Where’s Hunter now?”Billie asked.

  “The police took him away.”

  “He hasn’t even got a license!”Irene protested.

  “Technically he was on private land,”Zac pointed out, although it didn’t sound particularly convincing even to him.Hunter had clearly been heading for the road, after all.

  “Yes but why?”

  “We don’t really know yet.”

  “Mum’s the only one that knows what it’s about,”VJ interjected,“And she hasn’t told anyone.”

  Further discussions was forestalled by the approach of Nate and Tori.“We’ve got good news about Leah,”Nate told them,“She’s come round, the CT was clear and it looks like it’s just a concussion.She’ll need a few stitches though.”

  VJ and Zac looked relieved.“Can we see her?”VJ asked.

  “As soon as the nurse has finished with her.”

  “What about Olivia?”Irene asked.

  At that, Nate and Tori became more serious.“She’s in surgery,”Tori explained,“It looks like she’s got internal bleeding and some other injuries.”

  “But she is going to be all right?”Irene persisted.

  The two doctors exchanged a look.“We’re not sure,”Nate admitted.

***

Leah was another one trying to understand what had happened.She’d come round fully in hospital, surrounded by anxious faces who had been relieved to give her the all clear.After that, she’d been stitched and bandaged and left to await her visitors…who soon arrived in the shape of a thankful-looking Zac and VJ.

  Zac gave her a quick hug.“We were worried about you.”

  “I’m fine,”Leah insisted with a smile.

  “Do you remember what happened?”VJ asked.Leah’s smile disappeared as she worried about the conversation that was going to come.

  “You said it was Hunter?”Zac prompted.

  Leah nodded slowly.“Sergeant McCarthy came round.They…they looked at the safe from the Diner again, the one that was stolen?And they found Hunter’s fingerprints on it.I asked him about it and…he admitted he was the one that stole it.”

  Zac and VJ looked at each other, shocked.“Then, what about Denny?”Zac asked.

  “That was Charlotte,”Leah assured them,“But she was covering for Hunter.Denny found out that he took the safe.Hunter says he didn’t know anything about it until Denny was found.I told him we’d go to the police together but…he must have hit me.”

  “The police found your blood on one of my trophies,”VJ confirmed.

  Leah looked anxious at the mention of the police.“We don’t have to press charges, do we?I mean, if we sit down and talk to Hunter…”

  Zac sighed.“It’s not as simple as that.When Hunter was trying to get away, he ran over Olivia.She’s still in surgery.”

  Leah looked as though her world had fallen apart.

***

Billie sat next to Irene in the corridor outside.If she was honest, she didn’t know the woman who was both her landlady and the secret grandmother of her child that well.But somehow, she wanted to make things better for her.She placed a hand on Irene’s arm and the older woman smiled gratefully.“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do right now,”Irene admitted,“I keep thinking that I should call her uncle.He is her family, after all.”

  “Doesn’t she think you’re family?”Billie asked.

  Irene smiled despite everything.“Yeah, I guess she does.I think the same about her.She’s kind of like my granddaughter, what with her mum living with me all those years ago.”

  Billie faltered slightly.“Well, I know you wouldn’t turn your back on your grandchild.Maybe wait and see what happens?”

  “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”Irene suddenly looked at Billie, a thought occurring to her.“Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”

  “I can stay with you,”Billie suggested.

  Irene shook her head.“I don’t want you getting into trouble.I’ll call Marilyn and get her to come and wait with me.”

  Billie nodded.“I hope Olivia’s all right.”

  “Me too, love.Me too.”

  From further down the corridor, Nate and Tori watched them for a moment before disappearing round a corner.Tori leaned against the wall with a deep sigh.“You okay?”Nate asked.

  Tori shook her head.“I thought being part of a community again, getting to know people, would be a good thing.But being here means I get to see the people I know at the worst times of their life.”

  “We can make things better for them?”Nate suggested.

  “Yeah.I guess that’s what we’re here for, right?”

  Nate kissed her on the cheek.“Just take a moment.”

***

Billie arrived at the gym and headed into the office, passing Kat, who was standing behind the counter. “How’s Olivia?”Kat asked.

  “Still in surgery.”It took Billie a moment to realise how incongruous what she was seeing was.“You’re not allowed back here, it’s staff only.”

  Kat gave a knowing smile.“What about owners?”

  “Well, yeah, I guess so…”Billie paused, catching on to what Kat was telling her.“No way.”

  “Afraid so.The guy that bought the place off Ricky and Kyle wasn’t showing much interest in it so he was happy for me to take it off his hands.I had the money from the garage so…here we are.”

  “You want to run the gym?”

  “Yeah, it’s a bit left field but I don’t know…If I couldn’t help messed up kids as a cop, then maybe I can give them somewhere to work out their frustrations, some direction in their life.”

  Billie nodded slowly.“Do I still have a job?”

  Kat smiled reassuringly.“Yes.With maternity leave included.”

  “Well…this is going to be interesting.”

***

Chris was sweeping the floor in the now empty Diner.Word of the events of the day had started to filter around town.Work was keeping his mind off it.The prospect of losing someone else he cared about wasn’t one he wanted to consider.

  He glanced up as Shandi entered.“We’re closed,”he said bluntly.

  “I know,”Shandi replied,“I wanted to apologise.”

  Chris shrugged.“You didn’t say anything that’s not true.I am single.”

  “That doesn’t make you desperate though,”Shandi pointed out,“And I’m not in a position to talk.There hasn’t been anyone for a while.”

  “I could give you Spencer’s number.He fancied you.”

  “And…Dad told me about your girlfriend.I’m sorry.”

  “Yeah, everyone’s sorry.Like that somehow makes it all right.”

  Shandi leaned against the counter.“Tell me about her.”

  Chris stopped his brushing and went to stand with her.“Hannah?She was warm and caring and…and she was probably the first woman I could actually see myself settling down with, you know?She actually loved me for me and, yeah, we had a rough patch there, quite a few rough patches but we came out of it and now…And now Olivia could die as well.”

  “She means a lot to you?I heard Marilyn talking about her.”

  “She’s like my kid sister.Annoying but I wouldn’t be without her.”Chris shook his head.“Sorry, you don’t want to hear this.”

  “No, no, I do.How about a drink?I haven’t been in that new place that’s replaced Angelo’s yet.”

  Chris gestured around.“I need to keep an eye on things here.”

  “Dinner then, tomorrow.You can convince me that being single and desperate isn’t so bad.”

  “But what if Olivia isn’t okay?”

  “Well, then we can reconsider.But maybe we should assume she’s going to be?”

  Chris smiled.“Yeah, okay.”

***

One of the police officers showed Zac through into the interview room where Hunter was waiting.He looked at his son with mixed emotions.He couldn’t condone anything he’d done that day, or other things he’d done in the past, but it didn’t stop him loving him, or wishing he could help him more than he had. “The police said you made a full confession,”he noted.

  Hunter nodded.“Didn’t see much point in putting it off.”

  “You should have waited for me.”

  “I figured you had your hands full.They got a social worker to sit in with me.How’s Olivia?”

  Zac glared at him.“Still fighting for her life in theatre,”he replied sharply.

  “Dad, I swear I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

  Zac believed him.But there were a lot of things it didn’t change.“But you did mean to hurt Leah?”

  Hunter paused, considering his words.“In that moment, yeah, I guess I did.”

  “Why did you do it, Hunter?Why did you run?Did you not get that we’d stand by you?What happened to Denny, that wasn’t down to you.What happened to Marilyn, that was an accident.But you just kept on dealing with things the wrong way.Do you not get how serious this is?”

  “I get it, okay?Why do you think I ran?”Hunter let the question hang in the air.“Look, I need to get out of here.I need to tell Olivia I didn’t mean to hurt her, I need to apologise to Leah…”

  Zac shook his head.“Hunter, with what happened today, they’ve labelled you a flight risk.They’re going to refuse bail.”

  Hunter looked shocked.“But that means…”

  “It means you have to stay in custody until the trial.”

***

“Come on, Maddy, you can do it,”Dexter urged.

  Maddy was lying face down on a mat.Her prosthetic had been removed for the rehab session and she was having to adjust for the balance.All she had to do was stand up.It was proving harder than it looked.

  Maddy pressed downwards with her one hand, trying to lift her body, but her muscles ached at the effort.She sank down onto the mat with a groan.“Isn’t there a better way of doing this?”

  “Well, I don’t know,”Dexter replied enigmatically,“What comes to mind?”

  Maddy thought for a moment, then rolled over on her side, keeping her arm on the ground, and bent her knees.Then she used her hand to bring herself upright so she was kneeling on the mat.Supporting herself one-handed, she managed to put her feet flat on the ground and stand upright.

  Dexter nodded approvingly.“ Very good.”

  Maddy let out a deep sigh and sat down in a nearby chair, looking at her nurse.She and Dexter had never really had much to do with each other when he’d lived in Summer Bay but she’d known of him of course.Running into him at the centre had been a surprise on several levels.“Dex, why don’t you want anyone from the Bay to know you’re here?”

  “Pride,”Dexter admitted,“And a fear of it being an anti-climax.I did the big sunset, happy-ever-after ending.Coming back now, it’s a bit like making two more seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer after she’s died saving the world, a lot.”

  Maddy nodded slowly.“You realise I’m too young to have watched that show?”

  “Me too, what do you think DVDs are for?”Dexter sighed.“I will let them know what’s going on.Just give me time.”

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