Glancing up at the huge clock on the wall, Maria saw that she still had forty-five minutes before she needed to board the bus so she quietly stepped off to the side to take the call.  As she moved away, Frank and Kota looked at each other, both wondering who was on the other end of the phone that had caused Maria to go pale.

Suddenly both of them thought of who it could be at the same time, both muttering at the same time, “Derrick,”

As Kota turned on his heel and started toward Maria, he felt a hand grip his upper forearm.  Turning his head, Kota saw Frank shaking his head no.  “I know it is hard not to rush over and confirm who we both think it is but she is vulnerable Kota.  Let her come to us,”

“Did Derrick do that to her?” Kota whispered

“I think so but she refuses to say one way or the other,” Frank said. “How is the search for Lacy going?  Got any leads?”

“I am sorry but I cannot tell you anything.  You know, client confidentiality and all that stuff,” Kota told him going over to have a seat in one of the chairs to wait for Maria to finish.

Frank decided to stand there with his eye on Maria, watching her body language, ready to swoop in and give her emotional support when she needed it.

After walking away enough to give her a bit of privacy, Maria asked, “This is a surprise, Regan.  It has been a long time.  I figured you had forgotten all about our friendship and what I gave up to travel East with you once you because a secretary to the man in charge,”

She knew it was not right to take her anger out on Regan but she just had to release it on someone.  Frank had not been anything but helpful and comforting to her so she didn’t want to use him as a scapegoat.

The silence on the other side of the phone continued for several long seconds until Maria began to wonder if Regan had hung up on her.

“I am getting ready to board a bus south to Florida in a bit so if you have anything to say you had better be getting to it,” Maria told her, ready to click on the off button.

“I need to talk to you Maria,” she stated.  “I am at a crossroads in my life and not sure which path to take.  Can we get together in a few hours and talk?  We can meet wherever you want.”

“Did you not hear what I said?  I am leaving and heading south, back to the orchards.  I am hoping Roberto can use my help or know someone that can.”

“Please Maria,” she begged.  “I can meet you wherever and whenever you want,”

Maria sighed, unsure what to do.  We were good friends and roommates while working for Roberto but I have already changed my ticket once.  They won’t let me change my ticket again and I have no money to buy another one.  And the longer I stay around the more chance there is that Derrick will find me.  Taking a deep breath, Maria said, “I cannot afford to stay.  I already have my ticket,”

“I will give you money for another ticket and pay for a motel.  Please,” she begged.

Sighing deeply, Maria said, “Okay.  I will call you once I am in a motel room,”

“Thank you,” Regan told her before she clicked off.

Unable to wait any longer, Kota jumped out of his chair as she got nearer, “Was that Derrick?  Are you ready to talk to me now?”

Shocked by Kota’s outburst, Maria stumbled as she stopped in her tracks.  All she could do was stand there and stare at him, then at Frank, unsure what to say or do.

Frank stormed up between them, facing Kota, pointing his finger at him, saying angrily, “Stop right there mister.  You have no right to try and bully Maria into talking to you.  She knows nothing that can help you find Lacy…unless that is all a farce and you are really investigating Derrick for some unknown reason,”

Kota threw his hands up in mock surrender and backed away.  If there was one thing that he did not want to do was to start any type of fight.  People were already looking their way.  Turning he headed up to the counter to inquire if anyone recognized Lacy from the picture he had.

“Are you okay?” Frank asked.

“Yes,” Maria said, her body still trembling. “Would you take me to a cheaper yet decent motel?  Someone needs me and I am going to wait a couple of days before leaving,”

Frank looked at her in astonishment, surprised that after all the pleading he had done she was ready to leave but one phone call got her to stay around for a couple of more days.

“Sure but I am not sure we can change your ticket again,”

“That is okay, they are going to pay for my next ticket and my motel room,” Maria said.

Frank grabbed the handle of her suitcase, heading back out to his car, neither of them giving another thought to Kota.



As he walked up to the counter, the ticket agent smiled and asked, “Destination please, and how

“I don’t need a ticket.  I just need some information,” he told her.

“The information counter is over there,” she told him pointing in the direction he needed to go.

Ignoring what she said, Kota put the picture of Lac on the counter in front of her, asking, “Did this woman get on a bus about a week or so ago?”

The woman looked at the picture intently, finally saying, “I am sorry but I cannot be sure.  We have so many passengers who travel through this bus station it is hard to remember each one.  Is she wanted for a crime like murder or robbery?”

Kota chuckled and said, “No nothing like that,” as he picked up the paper, planning to take it next to the information counter and any other employee that he might encounter.  “Is there somewhere you could put it so other employees could see if they recognize her?”

“I can take it and ask my supervisor if I can put it up in our break room,” she offered.

“Thanks,” Kota said as he pulled another photo out of the folder he had.  On it, he put his name, and phone number before handing it to her.

After talking to other employees at the bus station, he was still at square one.  Kota knew she took a bus but no one recognized the picture.  Although he did not want to resort to it, he knew there was only one way he might find out more information.  Time to ask Levi for another favor.  As he turned around, he glanced around and realized that Maria and Frank were gone.  Shit, my chance to talk to her is gone.  He gave a huge sigh and headed back out to his motorcycle.



Pulling into the hotel they had stayed at the night before, Maria looked over at Frank saying, “Frank, and thank you for indulging me in my flighty ways.” This hotel is too expensive but I am not going to ask him to take me someplace else.  I will just wait until he drives off and then I will call a cab to take me somewhere else less expensive.  Maria got out of the car and opened the back door to get her bag.

“Let me,” Frank said coming around to the passenger side, gently moving her aside to get it out for her.

“Thanks,” she told him reaching to replace her hand with his on the handle.

“That is okay,” he told her.  “I will walk you in and make sure you get to your room,”

“That is not necessary.  And besides, you cannot leave your car parked where it is in front of the entrance,” Maria said.  “I can take care of myself so go.  I will call you later, okay?”

Looking at her, Frank wanted to say something to the effect that she sure looked like she could take care of herself but refrained from it.  “If you are sure,”

“I am sure,” as she stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek.

Having no choice but to go inside, she turned and did just that, waiting until he pulled away so she could go outside and walk next door to the restaurant to call a cab.  Frank was curious as to who she had called so he decided to wait in the parking lot to see if Derrick would show up.  He knew that Derrick liked to throw his importance around and have someone drive him everywhere but occasionally he would drive, especially if he didn’t want someone to know anything about it.

He found a spot where he could see the front of the hotel but his car was not visible unless you were looking for it.  To his surprise, he saw Maria walk out ten minutes later and walk over to the restaurant next door pulling her suitcase.  Five minutes later, a cab pulled up and she got in.

What in the hell is going on?  Why did she not stay there?  Where is she going?  Does Derrick have another condo or apartment she is meeting him at?  To get the answers to these questions, Frank knew he would have to follow the cab.  Making sure there were cars between his and the cab, he followed it to what appeared to be a decent, clean small motel on the outskirts of town.  With it being such a small motel, there was nowhere to park to see if Derrick showed up so Frank had no choice but to go back to his place.

Frank figured that once back on Derrick’s estate, he could go and check the garage to see if any of the cars were missing and if so, he would have his answer.  Once she walked into the room, Maria locked the door behind her, and then went over to sit on the bed to call Regan.

They had not talked in quite a while so she had no idea why Regan would call her out of the blue, sounding like she was in a panic, demanding to meet and talk to her.  Well, the only way to find out is to call her and invite her over.  I just hope she has not changed her mind and cost me my way out of town.  Taking the phone out of her purse, Maria pulled up Regan’s number and hit auto-dial, waiting for Regan to pick up.


“Regan, this is Maria.  I am in the Lowerton Motel, room ten.  Are you still coming over or did I just screw myself out of a way out of town?”

“I will be there in about an hour.  I thought you were still in town.  Why are you in the next town over?”

“Why is not important Regan?  This is about you,” Maria told her.  “I am only staying the night so if you need to talk, you need to get over here now…and whatever you do, do not let Derrick know,”


Maria let out an exasperated sigh, saying, “Because I said so,” knowing that Regan would figure it out when she arrived.

They hung up and Maria began to pace the floor, every nerve ending on high alert.  She knew that she would not be safe until she left town.  Damn you, Derrick.  Damn you for ruining my life.  I hope you rot in hell for what you did to Lacy and me.  You are a vile man.

After ninety minutes, Maria was becoming angrier by the minute, sure that Regan had stood her up and now she did not have enough money to buy a bus ticket to Florida.  I wish I could access my checking account but I cannot take a chance that he might be monitoring it or have someone in the bank doing it in order to find me.  Shit, what am I going to do now?  I guess I could ask Frank for a loan but that will be the last resort.

Just when she had about given up hope that Regan would show up, Maria heard a knock on the door.  She rushed over and threw it open without checking first to make sure it was Regan.  They stood there for several minutes just staring at each other.  Finally, Maria moved out of the way and Regan walked in.

“What the hell happened to you?” Regan asked taking in Maria’s bruised throat, a swollen bruised jaw, and other bruises on her face and arms.  “Did Derrick do that to you?”

Maria threw her arms up in the air, sighing heavily before asking, “Why the hell does everyone ask me that?”

“Because it looks like his handiwork,” Regan simply stated.



When he finally arrived home it was about supper time so he made himself a sandwich, grabbed a soft drink, and went back out on the porch.  This time there was no mother deer or her fawns to take his mind off his troubles.  After eating half his sandwich, Kota decided that he had put it off long enough.  It was time to call Levi and ask for another favor, but should he.  I should take her advice and take myself off the case.  It would be wrong of me to lead Derrick to Lacy, or Julie as she is now calling herself when he is a woman beater.

Suddenly it seemed as if a light bulb had gone off in his brain.  I bet that is why Regan was so wishy-washy when I asked questions about Derrick.  He is abusing her too and they are probably having an affair.  How the hell did I get so stupid?  Thinking with my dick instead of my mind.  Shit, now there are possibly three abused women.  I should switch gears and work to prosecute him for abuse but the big question is, would any of them testify against him.  In his mind, he knew the answer was no because Lacy had changed her name and disappeared, and Maria was on a bus to Florida, and if Regan and Derrick were having an affair, she was probably a kept woman who would not want to mess up the lucrative deal she had.

Taking a deep breath, he decided to call his sister and get her opinion…and to ask another favor.  If he wanted any chance of maybe having Derrick arrested for abuse, then he had to find Lacy and talk to her.

“What do you need this time Kota?” his sister asked when she answered the phone

“Can’t I just call to talk>”

“You could but you never do.  If you did, I would probably die of a heart attack,”

Kota laughed and then said, “I think my client is an abuser and I am thinking about dropping the case for finding his wayward wife.  If I can get her to cooperate, I am going to turn the evidence over to the police to have them arrest him for abuse.”

For several seconds there was just silence on the other end and Kota was just about to ask if she was still there when Levi spoke.  “That sounds good and all but remember that your client is kind of a big shot in town and it may be hard to get him arrested on one woman’s hearsay.  I honestly think you should withdraw from the case.  Let Lacy stay where she is and live in peace.”

“I will think about it sis,” Kota promised.  “In the meantime, could you check the records of the Thompson Estate and see what you can find out about Lacy’s stay there?  It is a women’s shelter that is run by Beth Thompson but it is not advertised as that.  Dr. Gilbert is the advocate and is the one that helps women get into the shelter and start new lives,”

“Why do you need me to do that when it seems you have a doctor that you could just ask?”

“Already talked to her and all I could get out of her was that Lacy was alive.  You know, patient confidentiality and all that stuff.”

“I will see what I can do but seriously Dakota, think about dropping this case to find Lacy and not worry about stirring the hornet’s nest with allegations of abuse…especially when Lacy is not around to collaborate the allegations.”

“I promise to think about it but Lacy is not the only one who Derrick has abused.  Two other women were on the receiving end of Derrick’s fists.  One probably still is,” he told her hanging up before Levi could ask any more questions.



At first, Maria just stared at Regan, unsure just what to say.  Maria knew that at times, Lacy would have bruises that she tried to cover up plus she remembered the way Lacy had looked the last time she had seen her.  What shocked her was that Regan would know what Derrick’s handiwork looked like.  Granted, the Hartfield’s had parties at their home for the employees for special occasions but Lacy never appeared showing any bruises or marks from Derrick.  They had both become experts at covering it up with makeup.

Finally finding her voice, Maria asked innocently, “What in the world are you talking about Regan?”

Swallowing hard, Regan admitted, “I am Derrick’s mistress and have been for a few years.  I have also had bruises I have had to cover up,”

Maria was not sure which she was more shocked about.  The confession that Regan was Derrick’s mistress or that he was also abusing her.  Suddenly everything was clear to Maria.  She knew what she had to do, or at least try to do.

Well, looks like my trip to Florida is going to be put on hold for a while, especially if I want to help stop Derrick and help not only myself but also Lacy.  I just wonder where she is or even if she is alive.  I wonder if Frank even knows because he drove Derrick that night wherever they took Lacy.  Oh my goodness, I hope that Frank is not a witness to here Derrick dumped Lacy’s body.”

“Maria, are you okay?” Regan asked breaking into her thoughts.  “I know now I should have not gotten involved with Derrick but he put me up in this awesome condo, made sure I had spending money, and made sure my job was secure after Mr. Fulton passed away.”

“Then leave him,” Maria said angrily as she flopped down on the side of the bed.

“I can’t,” Regan said meekly.  “I would lose too much.  I cannot go back to a menial job or back to working in a cannery/packing plant,”

Maria shot her a disgusted look but let the comment about menial work slide.  “Then why are you here?  Why did you absolutely need to see me?”

Not answering her, Regan asked, “Why are you running away?  Did he fire you?’

“No, he did not fire me.  I quit,” Maria explained.  “Now, what was so important?”

“Looking at you my problems do not seem so bad or significant now,”

Maria mumbled in Spanish under her breath, forcing herself to calm down before she threw Regan out the door.  “Alright then.  Just give me the money for another ticket and you can go your way and I will go mind.  Enjoy your life as his mistress and in seven or eight years, after he can have Lacy declared legally dead, you can become the next Mrs. Derrick Hartfield,” holding out her hand for money.

Regan opened her purse and took out some money, handing it to Maria.  “There is some extra there to help you on your new life,”

Maria started to count out the amount of the ticket so she could hand the rest back to Regan but then decided against it.  The extra is payment for putting myself in possible danger from Derrick if he can somehow find me.  Maria stood up and headed for the door, figuring Regan would be right behind her but when she turned, she saw her still sitting on the edge of the bed.

Quietly Regan muttered, “I want out myself,”

“If that is the case, then we need to do this together.  We need to call that private investigator and tell him what we know,”

At the mention of Kota, Regan’s face paled causing Maria’s mouth to drop open as she stared at her.  Maria had so many thoughts running through her mind she did not know what to say so she kept quiet, waiting for Regan to say something.

Regan took several deep breaths before standing up and walking toward the door.  Hugging Maria, Regan whispered, “Stay safe,” before she walked out the door, got in her car, and left.

Maria closed the door behind Regan, confused as to what she should do.  She decided that with the extra cash that Regan gave her, she would stay at the motel for a few more days in hopes that Regan would return or at least call her with a change of heart.




After hanging up with his sister, Dakota decided to take a few days to relax and figure out his next plan of action.  On Wednesday as he was once again watching the mother deer and her fawns, his sister called.

“Hope you have come to your senses and told Derrick to go to hell,” his sister said as soon as he answered the phone.

Kota laughed and said, “I come to my senses?  Never have before so why should I start now?”

“Then I take it that you are still going to look for Lacy and following up with the abuse allegations,” Levi said.  “And you still owe me an explanation of what you meant by two other victims of Derrick’s abuse?”

“Not at liberty to say,”

Levi let out a huge sigh, knowing that it was useless to try to get him to say more.  “I have a half mind to not tell you what I found out,” she whined.

Kota laughed and said, “Whining does not become you, sis.  Now, what did you find out?”

“As you surmised, Lacy was thereafter leaving the hospital and according to what I found out, she was there for a couple of months healing from her injuries.  These included cracked ribs, bad concussions, and bruises.  As I stated, she was given a new identity, including changing her hair to red, and wearing glasses.”

“Damn, wish I had a picture of her transformation,” Kota murmured.

“Well, sorry I cannot be of more help,” Levi said quickly, anxious to get off the phone before he asked her any more questions or about getting him a picture.  “Talk later,”

“Hold it right there sis.  Don’t you hang up on me,”

“I have another call coming in,” Levi lied,

“You have a picture, don’t you?” Kota asked

“Later,” she said hanging up.

Kota sat there staring at his silent phone, knowing that Levi had more information, picture, or something that she was not sharing.  Sis, you can run but you cannot hide.  I will eventually get it out of you.  I bet if I tell you I am dropping the case and not tracking Lacy, Julie, or whatever he is calling herself now you would tell me everything.  Well, sis, I can’t do that yet.  You know how I feel about men who abuse women.  He thought about calling his sister back and trying to find out what she was not telling him but he knew it would do no good.  Levi was as tight mouth as he was and didn’t tell everything if she didn’t want to.

Getting up, he headed into the house to grab a shower, thinking about calling Regan but wasn’t sure if he wanted to pursue that avenue of sexual play any longer….especially if she was also screwing around with Derrick.



For the next several days, Julie was kept busy working several hours a day cleaning the cabins and rooms the guests occupied.  Each time she came back to her room, she was so tired that she would collapse on the bed and sleep for a couple of hours.  She was still sick in the morning and had finally decided that she should go see the doctor.

After waking from her nap, she went in search of Emily to see about being taken to a clinic where hopefully no one would question her lack of insurance or ability to pay.  Walking into the kitchen she greeted Jenna, who was busy preparing supper.

“Jenna, could you please tell me where I can find Emily?”

“I believe she is in the office,” Jenna said.  “Would you like a glass of tea or something?”

“No thanks.  I appreciate you asking,” as she headed out in the direction that Jenna had pointed out.

When she came to the office, she saw Emily sitting behind the desk, doing something on the computer.  Although the door was opened, she still knocked on the open door.  Emily looked up and seeing Julie, motioned for her to come in.

“Sorry to interrupt you Emily but I was wondering if there was anyone that could take me to town to a free clinic this afternoon.  I seem to have a stomach bug or something.  I am just so tired and in the morning I wake up sick,”

Emily looked over at Julie, undecided whether to tell her what was wrong or not.  Finally, she decided that it was best if she heard it from the doctor just in case she was wrong, which she did not feel she was.

“I will be glad to take you,” Emily told her.  “Give me about thirty minutes to finish what I am doing, okay?”

“I don’t want to take you from your work Emily.  I can wait until another day,” Julie said as she started to leave.

“It is nothing that cannot wait.  I am just going over the supply list for the week so if you want to run back to your room and get your purse, I will meet you out front,”

“Thanks.  I really appreciate it.  I will also let McKenzie know I am leaving,” she said.  “And don’t worry, I am done for the day.  I am not shirking my duties,”

“Never thought you were and besides, being sick and wanting to see the doctor is not shirking your duties.  See you in a few,”

Thirty minutes later as they drove to town, Emily thought about how Julie’s life was about to change but being the type of person she was, she would be there to help Julie if she wanted her help.

When they pulled into the parking lot of the free clinic, Emily parked and said, “Do you want me to come in with you?”

“If you want to wait in the waiting room instead of the hot car, feel free to but I would prefer to go back by myself.  I hope that does not offend you,”

“No, that does not offend me at all,” Emily said getting out and following her to the clinic.  “You can use the ranch as your address,”

“Thanks,” Julie told her.

Part of her wanted to ask Emily to come back with her when she saw the doctor but she knew that it was important that she continue being independent.  She had had enough of being dependent on someone for all of her needs.  Julie liked the idea of earning her own money and deciding how to spend her time.

Walking up to the check-in desk, Julie told the receptionist, “Good afternoon. I need to see the doctor.  I have had a stomach bug and extreme tiredness for several days,”

“Feel out these papers,” she said handing Julie a clipboard with papers.

Taking them back over to a chair next to Emily, she sat down and began to fill them out.  Once she was done, Julie took them back to the receptionist.  A few agonizing seconds later, the receptionist called her name.

Once in the exam room, the nurse took her vitals and made notes of what her symptoms were.  She was then asked to give a urine sample and some blood was also drawn.  After this was done, Julie was left to sit in the exam room, waiting for the doctor.  Just when she was ready to give up and leave, the doctor walked into the room.

“Good afternoon Julie,” he greeted her.  “Sorry to make you wait but was waiting for the test results.  When was your last period?”

Stumped at first by his question, Julie just sat there in silence, trying to remember, not realizing what the doctor was getting at.  “I think it was about three months ago.”  And then it hit her what might be wrong.  No way.  I cannot be pregnant.  I was on the pill and he always used protection.  No…no…no…I do not need to be pregnant with that monster’s baby.  Julie looked up at him, tears filling her eyes.

Seeing the tears, he asked with concern in his voice, “Is something wrong Julie?”

“Am I…you know…pregnant?” she asked softly, not really wanting to know but knew she would hear the answer whether she wanted to or not.