Ah, well… I hope you’ve enjoyed the series and seeing Renee and Frei take on those needing pickle juice. I’m still waiting for my edits to be sent from my publisher at the moment but I’ll keep you updated when I know.
But… back to Renee and Frei… The girls have rescued another estate and Abby has lots of evidence on Lavelle but Renee’s mind is on our little Missourian…
As, always, please excuse the typos.
Act 3.2: Liberty and Cookies
Renee sat on the sofa in the small living room in their makeshift base—or small house to anyone walking by on the sidewalk—and tried to smile at Alanna who was being brave but now Frei had filled her in on how Rachel and the person who’d posed as her acted; how her family had been hurt, and how Pucker had ensured she could walk away free, Alanna’s chin wobbled and her fingers trembled as she stared out of the window.
Renee could almost feel her pain like when she had some of Aeron’s burdens—or blessings—in Caprock. It hurt to see Alanna try to process and, not for first time as a protection officer, she reminded herself that the hardest part was usually when the POI was safe and needed to digest what they had been through. Usually, it involved Renee being accused of deceit or anger or generally needing to leave quickly and her training always made her detach herself. Aeron had felt that when she’d left Nan’s Cabin but somehow showed no anger toward her for it only support and a need for reassurance.
Renee packed her clothes into the trunk and shut the lid. Her heart wanted her to stay with Aeron or escort Aeron personally to Boot Camp but, she’d done her duty as the protection officer, it was now down to Frei to decide what role Aeron would take. She’d done her duty. It was now her duty to detach and leave. She had to detach. Aeron was in CIG now. She was a junior officer. Renee stared at her boot. So, if Aeron was just a junior officer why did her whole body ache without even looking at the sad expression on Aeron’s face?
“You got plenty of food and water… and you know where you are going?” Aeron asked in a quiet voice, a wobbly voice.
Renee glanced her way but didn’t meet her eyes. “Yes, I have.”
Aeron nodded then stared at her feet. Mrs. Squirrel peeked up from her box as if to say “you making the lady sad and she feeds me nuts, quit it.”
Renee stared at Mrs. Squirrel. She had changed her opinion on a lot but now she was putting thoughts in a Squirrel’s head?
“So, you gonna be at the camp I gotta go through?” Aeron asked and flicked her large graceful hand through her floppy brown hair.
“No,” Renee managed hearing the bluntness, the distance in her voice.
Aeron folded her arms. “Why you bein’ so mad?”
“Because I don’t want to leave you,” came out of her mouth before she could think or stop it.
Aeron smiled, that beautiful big smile, her brown eyes glowing with affection. “I don’t want you goin’ off an’ leavin’ me neither. Who is gonna feed me?”
“Oh, that’s all I’m good for?” Renee put her hands on her hips ready to yell then she felt ready to burst into tears but all she could manage was a feeble laugh. She’d never loved anyone so painfully… She left Abby to go on assignment regularly, it was easy to go. But this feeling was like her gut was going to chew itself up.
“Doc, you’re good at cookin’ stuff.” Aeron poked her tongue out, eyes full of amusement and a need for… for… comfort.
“I like making you food,” she mumbled then sighed then headed over. Some superior officer she was. “I have to be professional because I’m supposed to be an inspiration… and show you how you should act.”
Aeron raised her eyebrows. “You gonna be like Llys again ‘cause that lipstick was crazy.”
Renee’s laugh blurted out and she covered her mouth not sure why she was being so emotional. She’d loved Abby but she had never been so… uncontrolled about it.
“Doc, you not allowed to laugh as a professional… whatever you are?” Aeron asked and cocked her head.
“No, I’m supposed to order you around and ignore you.” She shrugged and cocked her head back. “You’re not helping me be professional, Lorelei.”
Aeron shrugged right back. “I kinda like it when you ain’t.”
Renee let out a whoosh of breath. She threw herself into a hug and Aeron cwtched her. She held on, soaking up the softness of Aeron’s hair, her scent, her strong hands squeezing her. “Don’t tell Urs I’m hugging you.”
Aeron chuckled. “Why, she gonna want a cwtch too?”
Renee sighed into it. “If she knew how good it feels, yes.” She leaned back as Aeron beamed down at her. “I’m not sure I will be able to yell at you anyway.”
“You yell plenty.” Aeron nodded then smiled a cheeky smile. “And you heckle… but then you cwtch and make food so I’m happy.”
Renee narrowed her eyes then laughed. “That’s not how I’m meant to act.”
“I’m from Serenity, folks don’t act how they should a lot.” She winked and nodded to the car then headed to it and opened the door for her. “I like those folks.”
“They tend to love you too,” she whispered, hoping Aeron couldn’t hear then hurried to the car, pecked her on the cheek, and got in.
Aeron stood there with shock in her eyes as Renee turned the car around and she tensed not sure how she’d lowered her guard enough to kiss her on the cheek.
Mrs. Squirrel paused, midway into her house as though raising her eyebrows and saying, “you went and kissed her?”
Aeron met her eyes, her brown ones filling with a big twinkle matching a blushing smile. She managed a small wave and shoved her hands in her pockets.
Renee rolled the window down and smiled at her. “See you at CIG camp, Lorelei.” She winked and put on her sunglasses. “I can make you more food there.”
Aeron chuckled and leaned onto the windowsill. “I can play violin for you.” She pecked Renee on the cheek. “That’s if professionals are allowed to play violins.”
Renee steadied her breath knowing she must look shocked. “Urs might not like it but we’ll distract her with whiskey.”
Aeron nodded, held her gaze then stood up. “Yes, Ma’am.”
Renee glanced at Mrs. Squirrel as she rolled up her window and drove away. Yes, she looked like she was rolling her eyes and shaking her head: music and food…? Renee groaned to herself. Professional. Yes. She was really professional.
“I remember… most of it… now you’ve said so,” Alanna said in a small voice. “Agent Owens… she was always so kind.” She hugged her knees to her chest and blinked away tears. “I didn’t expect so much help from her… or Pucker.”
Frei stood near the window, gaze flicking from Alanna to Renee. “Are you intending to try and claim your estate back?”
Alanna sighed. “I never wanted an estate. I would have given it to Rachel.” She fiddled with her short hair. “But I’m not sure if I can cope with Pucker being with… whoever he is… and a slave still.”
Frei’s icy blues glinted. “That is true but she has done so to help you.”
“I know but how do I help her.” Alanna sighed. “I tried to help her which is why my family were hurt… I think…”
Renee cleared her throat. “No, Owens had files that…” Abby’s assistant, Gould, had dug out with Jessie’s help. “She placed somewhere on what you had told her.” She chewed on her lip as Frei eyed her. “Rachel found out you were trying to help the slaves. She went to your parents and you were sent to Caprock… where you stayed… your parents got into their own troubles with whoever Pucker is working for. They had already disowned you which is why no one knew who you were to target you.”
Alanna rubbed a trembling hand across her forehead. “That makes sense with a lot of what I’m remembering about Rachel. I don’t understand why I can’t remember it though.”
“Because a certain Doctor Bison was a visiting expert who gave you medication not to remember,” Frei said with a blunt tone. “Pucker has risked a lot to give you freedom.”
“But she has none of her own,” Alanna said with a frown. “I want to help her.”
“You can if you want to train and learn how to help through my mother,” Frei said and drew her jacket back like wings. “But Owens gave a lot to keep you safe and now Pucker has… so… let them have given so much for a good reason.”
Renee studied Frei. It must have hurt her to tell Alanna to accept her freedom and not help.
“But where do I go?” Alanna sobbed. “I don’t know anyone.”
“You are welcome at Jessie’s estate,” Frei said with a gentler tone. “I believe that you enjoyed assisting Susan.”
Renee raised her eyebrows. Really?
Alanna wiped at her eyes. “Okay… I like Susan.”
Renee rolled her eyes. Must be the medication.
“Good,” Frei said and nodded to the door. “You have an escort waiting for you.”
Alanna got up but then paused in the doorway. “She talked about you,” she said to Renee. “Said that you were awesome.” She smiled. “Both of you are.”
“Owens said that?” Renee asked trying not frown.
“Yes.” Alanna turned back to the door. “Can you help Pucker?”
Frei shook her head. “She does not want it.”
“Thank you anyway.” Alanna trudged out, her sobs sounding as she headed down the hallway.
Renee let out a long sigh and leaned her head to the back of the sofa.
“You don’t seem happy that we have helped.” Frei strode over to her and perched on the chair adjacent.
“We didn’t help.” Renee closed her eyes her mind full of Aeron waving as she drove away. “We did rescue slaves, yes, but not Pucker and Alanna might be free but she lost Owens who seemed like she took care of her… and I don’t get why we can’t help Pucker.”
“Because she made her decision and we respect that,” Frei said in a sad tone. “Even if we disagree.”
Renee groaned. “I got that, Urs. I still don’t like it.” She stopped and opened her eyes. “Wait, you said Bison was in Caprock?”
“Visited,” Frei said and raised a white blonde eyebrow. “He visited several academies and seems to have run.”
Renee scowled. “Then we need to find him.”
“I have, Fleming has picked him up and he’s currently in an interview room sweating while she pulls his excuses apart.” Frei smiled and rubbed over her knees. “He’s not talking about his connections to the slavery network. He’s not that stupid but he is going to face trial.”
“What about the experiments?” Renee asked then got up. “What about all he did to Aeron and the others?”
“He’s facing trial,” Frei said and held up her hands. “He didn’t create the medication, we know that from Susan. He picked it up from the man who posed as Susan’s father, Doctor Gossett.”
“Pickle juice, Urs.” Renee folded her arms then put them on her hips then threw them in the air. “Freaking pickle juice.”
“Agreed.” Frei leaned onto her knees. “But the divorce set up by Pucker makes Lavelle vulnerable; Bison has been caught so he can’t give out the medication anymore; we’ve freed a whole estate of slaves; Alanna is safe and well… and, although we don’t know why Owens was on the mountain protecting you, we know that she took down Williams, we know that she helped Alanna, we know that she was trying to help Rachel—who she thought Miranda was—and so wasn’t trying to hurt anyone… and we know that she had dirt on Lavelle.” She held up her cell phone. “A lot of dirt and that he is one of Fleming’s father-in-law’s favorites.”
“Hewitt?” Renee closed her eyes. He was the one who ordered Abby to investigate, who had caused problems for CIG before, and he was the one who ordered Aeron’s capture warrant. “You think it will help us stop him making Aeron go through another trial?”
Frei sighed. “I do not know.” She lowered her phone. “But any help in calling him off is a lot of help.”
Renee nodded. “But we still have to locate where Aeron is first.” She leaned onto her knees, bent at the waist and tried to calm herself. She felt sick and woozy. “And it doesn’t feel like we are getting anywhere.”
“We are.” Frei moved to her and rubbed her back. “Bison is connected to Lavelle… both in slavery networks… Aeron could be there.” She knelt to look into Renee’s eyes. “I’m going to visit Theo and Hartmann, they may be able to help. Hartmann is more knowledgeable than my father about some families. She might spot the link.”
Renee knelt next to her. “I keep thinking about Aeron and her violin. I keep thinking about her at Nan’s cabin.”
“Then follow your heart,” Frei said with confidence in her eyes. “We will find her.”
Renee clasped Frei’s hands. “You believe we can?”
“All things are possible to one who believes,” Frei said with a certain smile, faith pouring from her. “Besides, her stomach is not going to put up with being away from you for long.”
Renee frowned then laughed and dragged Frei into a cwtch. “I guess I’m useful for something then.” She held onto Frei who cwtched her back. Yes, she’d feed her cookies and pie and then shoot her in the butt, twice.
A breeze swept around them like Nan was cwtching too and her St. Christopher’s warmed. It wasn’t professional but it was who she was. She smiled as confidence flickered inside her. Aeron loved her for who she was… and she was one POI that Renee didn’t have to distance herself from anymore.