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One of Those Days

Chapter Text

Palma Police Station.
9:30 AM

 

Max whisked in through the door, his distinctive fragrance of cologne floating on the air behind him. 2 cups of coffee, 1 in each hand, as he navigated officers drifting to and fro, trying to get to his desk. He finally reached his destination, setting his coffee down while setting Miranda’s in front of her mouse.

“For you, my favorite lady.”

Miranda glanced up, and ignored any pleasantries.

“You’re late” she glanced at her watch “by 20 minutes, Ines wants us in her office in 5 for a debriefing, and you owe me big time for covering for you again.”

Max fake pouted, resting his hands on the edge of his desk and leaning over, “I got you coffee. Shouldn’t that count for something?”

This time, her eyes never met his, and she kept on staring at her computer. “Thank you. It’s a start.” She reached for the cup as Ines stepped out of her office, her face in a tight scowl.

“She sure is looking chippy today. Wonder what’s got her so happy.” Miranda muttered.

As Ines reached her door, pulled it open and yelled out, “Winter, Blake!” Max knew that their debriefing would be a fun one.

*************************************************************************************************************

Max leaned against the filing cabinet, and Miranda against the side of a chair. Ines had sat at her desk, and was currently rubbing her face, looking uncharacteristically weary until Mranda broke the silence.

“So will you debrief us, or do we have to start guessing?”

Max smiled briefly at Miranda’s straightforwardness. It was just one of the many things he admired… no, more than that… loved about her. Along with a myriad of other things, but he needed to focus,

Ines looked up, and glared at both of them, and his smile fled.

“I have a big problem, and you two are my solutions.”
Both Max and Miranda glanced at each other in surprise. Of all the things he was expecting her to say, that was not one of them.

“Wha-”

Ines held up a finger for silence.

“The Police Commissioner just called. He has a friend who went to a couples retreat 4 days ago with his wife, and nobody has heard from them since. He wants detectives on the case.”

Miranda looked at her, “First of all, I have a lot of questions, but I want to know why you’re assigning Max and me on a high-profile case.”

Ines looked at the both of them wearily. “As you may know, this retreat is attended by some of the biggest couples in the industry. It’s a place of relaxation and healing, and they make a promise to these couples to make them feel safe and welcome.”

“Ma’am, I’m still wondering how we fit in here,” Max cut in.

“Well if you’d let me get to the end, it might clear some things up,” she ended with a glare to the both of them.

“Anyways, the Commissioner wants this investigation to be discreet, which is why an undercover operation makes the most sense. Besides, we don’t want a legal battle to try to get in, with the chance any suspects wouldn’t want to talk to police anyways.”

“...So you want me and Max to go in and pose as a couple and find them,” Miranda finished.

“Exactly. Now, just to let you know, you were absolutely my last pick for an assignment like this, but it makes the most sense. You are my only male/female partners, you’ve both done undercover assignments before, and to be frank, you already look like a couple anyways, so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.”

“We aren’t a couple” Miranda quickly interjected.

Ines just gave her another look of disdain. Clearly her thin thread of patience was on the verge of snapping.

“Yes, but you look it, so it’s good enough. Now, I’ve set everything up. You’ll go in as a married couple, Mark and Alexandra Becker. The main thing to remember here, is that you won’t be able to contact us for backup, so if you need any help, you’re basically on your own. All the other details are in the files, here are your new phones, and you’re expected to check in at 3.”

Max and Miranda spared a look at each other. Unanswerable questions flew between the two of them.

“Well, get on with it then. This case won’t solve itself.”

Apparently, it was going to be one of those days again.

*************************************************************************************************************

The two made it out of the station, heading towards Max’s car, Miranda’s head down the entire time, totally engrossed in the file. They had to be at the resort at 3, which gave them about 4 ½ hours to pack and nail down their personas. Max had shortly glanced at his folder before tossing it in the backseat. Mark Becker was an up and coming German software creator, with his wife Alexandra, a model assigned to a few London-based brands. He almost laughed when he read that part. A model, how fitting. He thought that she was more beautiful than any model he’d seen but the look of disgust Miranda’s face clearly said otherwise.

They drove in relative silence down the streets of Mallorca towards Miranda’s apartment where she could pack, and then they would go to his place so he could do the same. The flipping of the pages mixed with the usual sounds of the streets: stands setting up for the day, friends having a conversation, and… couples walking hand-in-hand, touring the island.

A pang of pain hit Max in the chest at the sight. He imagined him and Miranda doing the same, but quickly stuffed that dream back into the recesses of his mind. It would never happen, and it would be better for him to love her from afar as partners, then to lose her forever. Once he had broken things off with Carmen, he thought his private life would get so much easier. They clearly hadn’t, as he loved someone who would never love him back, no one to come home to, and no one who really loved him.

“Max. Earth to Max.”

He focused once more, as Miranda’s voice broke through his reverie. “Yeah?”

“I wanted to debrief you on the case. We do not want to be going in this blind, and we want to be as prepared as possible.”

“Yeah, sure go ahead,”

“Okay, so our targets are Miguel and Elena Ruez, both big-name Spanish actors and philanthropists. They checked in on June 12 and haven’t been seen or heard from since June 14, 4 days ago.”

“So, who reported them as missing?”
“Miguel’s adult daughter, Maya, from his first marriage. Her father would check in with her in the mornings and evenings, but when days passed without any contact, she alerted the commissioner that something was wrong.”

“How do we know that they didn’t decide to just play hooky with their classes and aren’t halfway across the country by now?”

“When you check in, they take your passport and car keys. They don’t want any contact with the outside world. They also monitor any calls made out, as well as any internet searches.”

“Slightly creepy…” he muttered.

“I know. It’s supposed to limit any temptations to walk out on an argument, and rather create opportunities for reconciliation through communication. At least that’s what the brochure said anyways.”

“Also leaving us no chance of escape... “

Miranda glanced at him as they pulled up to her apartment. The statement rested heavy between the two of them, but they both knew that it was the truth, scary as it was.

Chapter Text

Without a further glance, Miranda turned to get out of the car. And at that exact moment, Max realized how he didn’t want her to go. Not yet.

“Wait,” he grabbed her shoulder.

Miranda turned to stare at him incredulously, blonde hair shifting with the movement of her head.

“Max, what is it?”

Scheisse. “...I’ll come up with you. Help you bring down your bags.” He almost cursed himself for his lame attempts. What was he, some schoolboy?

“Yeah, okay. We can go over our personas once more. Just stay out of the way and don’t snoop.” She finished her sentence with a hardened gaze and a nod.

“Pfft. When have you ever known me to ‘snoop?”

“You know, I’m not going to answer that. Just, come on. We’re wasting time.”

With that, Miranda reached for the handle and got out, walking at a clipped pace towards the front door.

How in the world were they going to pass it off as a married couple?

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“So to get this straight, we’ve been married for 2 years, but are having problems in our marriage. Both of us have been so consumed with our jobs, that we aren’t making much time for each other. This is our chance to reconnect and work out our issues, through couples therapy” Max spoke loudly, to Miranda on the other side of the bathroom door.

“You got it,” Miranda said as she stepped out, toiletry bag in hand. “I’m impressed.”

“You’re not the first person to say that,” he said with a smirk.

An eye roll is all he got in return.

He set the file down beside him on the bed. “You almost done?” while motioning to the open suitcase by his feet on the ground.

“Yeah. I have enough clothes to last a while… shorts, tops, shoes…”

“Swimsuit?”

Miranda sharply looked up. “What?”

This time it was Max’s turn to smirk. “You know, that thing that you wear when you are going to go swimming.”

He could have been imagining it, but a flaming of pink burst onto her cheeks before annoyance replaced it.”I know what it is, but why do I need it? Might I remind you that we are there for work, not leisure?”

He sighed. “Oh Miranda, Miranda. You do not fully grasp Mallorca’s culture yet, no?”

She looked like she was going to interject so he continued. “Because if you did, you would realize that it is June. We are going to a retreat that hosts some of the most famous people in the country and you my dear, are a model. It would be suspicious not to show up to the poolside at least once..”

He ended his statement with another smirk. She stared back, but he could see the understanding in her eyes. Finally, she nodded. “Fine.” With that, she marched toward her dresser, opened it, and pulled out a red bikini. A tiny red bikini. A tiny red bikini that was so uncharacteristically Miranda that he wondered if he had stepped into an alternate reality.

But before he could comment or even form a coherent thought, Miranda had pushed it into her suitcase, zipped it up, and was about to sit back up. A pair of sunglasses now rested on the top of her head.

“Let’s get to your place now. I have to go leave out some food for the dog, but you can bring my bag down.”

Max stared at Miranda’s fleeting frame, and once he knew she was gone he plopped down on the bed.
Come on Winter, get a hold of yourself. Concentrate.
____________________________________________________________________________

 

“Wait, I almost forgot…” Miranda dug around in the manila folder and fished out a gold band.

“Hopefully it’s bigger than last time,” she said, her voice light with humor.

“Yeah, yeah you’re a funny one,” Max muttered and frowned.

He took the ring and tried to wiggle it on. Thankfully, it fit snugly, and not too much force was needed.

Miranda was doing the same with her band, except that it didn’t seem to be budging. Her brows knit together in annoyance, and the irritation was clear in her eyes.

“Your band is too small?” Max raised an eyebrow and chuckled.

“Clearly.”

“Here, let me help,” he offered.

“No thank you. I got it.” Miranda grumbled.

“Here, you’re gonna hurt yourself. Give me your hand.” Surprisingly, she cooperated after a second. She held her left hand out in his left, lightly straightening out her finger, slipping the band over her knuckle at an angle and twisting it on.

Once he looked back up, her eyes met his, and something passed between them. Heat shot between them, and the room felt exponentially warmer. Suddenly, Miranda’s eyes widened, and she snatched her hand back. She pushed a hand through her hair and then turned away.

“Come on, let’s go.”

They left his lobby and made their way back down to the car both secretly missing the feeling of the others’ touch.
____________________________________________________________________________

 

The whole resort was stunning, backed up against Port de Pollenca. The whole area was known for its white sands, crystal-clear water, and relative privacy and calm weather due to the protection of the bay. The Tramuntana mountains sat in the background, completing the gorgeous landscape and giving the area an air of serenity and peace. The grounds spread out over several acres, complete with tennis courts, stables, multiple restaurants, private bungalows, miles of pathways, and too many pools to count. The main building was equally as impressive with its classical stone arches and columns, combined with its many modern amenities to bring it into the 21st century. But the reality of 2 missing high-society members from this very resort tarnished its outward appeal. As much as Miranda tried to take in the impressiveness of the place, the lingering doubts of being able to pull off such a high-profile undercover operation without much preparation remained.

Miranda felt a moment of trepidation as Max handed over the fake driver’s licenses that Ines had provided with their assumed names on them. The woman behind the desk didn’t even give them a second glance though. Her megawatt smile never wavered, and she handled everything quickly and efficiently. Miranda slipped her sunglasses off and set them on the top of her head, taking a second to glance over everything, getting a lay of the land. It was hard not to stare at the intricately carved fountain sitting in the middle of the lobby or the classical paintings that were sure to have been worth more than her entire life savings. She was careful to look impressed, but not shocked. She was an up-and-coming model married to a millionaire, after all, she was supposed to be accustomed to fancy.

“Welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Becker. We are so pleased to have you here. Mateo has taken your bags up already to your room, and he will usher you to your room.” She informed Max and Miranda of all of this while handing Max 2 cards along with some paperwork. “Everything you need to know is in there, including your schedule and a map,” she instructed them. “You will have the afternoon to yourselves, followed by dinner with your instructors and fellow attendees. We expect to see you there.”

The two followed the bellhop, Mateo out to the elevator, and stepped in. Thankfully the ride was short, and no conversation needed to be made. The elevator stopped, and they all stepped out.

“We can take it from here. Thank you,” Max said to the young man. Mateo nodded and stood there, awkwardly. A few awkward seconds passed.

“Oh, right. Alexandra?”

Miranda shot a look at Max, who looked expectantly back at her.

“...Of course,” Miranda muttered as she took out her wallet and gave him a bill. He smiled, nodded at the both of them once again, and turned on his heel to leave.

She turned on a clipped heel and looked around for their door. There were only 8 suites on this floor, so it wasn’t too difficult to locate. Miranda fished the card from around her neck and bent down to use the sensor to unlock their door.

“You know, I don’t think I’ve seen a single person on this floor yet,” Max said softly, his voice low.

“I think most people are out at the pool or a group session,” she replied. At least that’s what the schedule said.”

The lock buzzed and it clicked open, and the two were met with a room that unsurprisingly matched the grandeur of the rest of the place. The room was classically decorated, the beautiful Spanish architecture still astonishing Miranda, even though she had come to see Mallorca as her home a long time ago.

And on the other side of the room was the 4 poster bed. The single 4 poster bed.

I swear the universe is conspiring against me today. That or Ines is trying to send a signal.

Before Miranda could say anything, Max cleared his throat. “Right then, you take the bed, and I’ll take that settee.”

Anger and a quickly burning annoyance filled her, and she bit back, “Max, that’s ridiculous. That thing is half your size, and there’s no way you’ll be able to sleep on that. You can get over your attempts at trying to be all humble. Just cause I’m a woman doesn’t mean that I can’t rough it for a few days.”

As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted them after seeing a hurt expression gather on Max’s face.

“Miranda, that’s not what I meant at all, and you know it. I was just trying to be a gentleman- you know, the kind of man my mother raised me to be.”

“I understand that. I’m sorry, I guess the stress of this operation is getting to me.” She forced out a breath between pursed lips and rolled her shoulders back. “Truce?”

“Of course,” he said with a soft smile that left Miranda’s heart doing flip-flops. Weird.

“And uh- we’ll deal with the bed situation when we get back.”

“Okay. Let’s freshen up a bit and get a feel for the place. We have a few hours before dinner anyway.”
____________________________________________________________________________

Miranda shoved her sunglasses up the bridge of her nose and flipped her hair from her neck. Why Mallorca had to be so bloody hot, she would never figure out. She had had the idea to go talk to some of the instructors and pose as friends of the Ruez’s, and Max had agreed.

As soon as they walked into the air conditioning she breathed a sigh of relief. She was a Welsh-girl, born and raised. She had never had so much sun in her entire life as she had in these 10 months in Mallorca. She had never had as many sunburns in her life as well, but nobody needed to know that either.

“Mr. and Mrs. Becker! It is so great to finally meet you! I hope you’re enjoying your stay so far!”

It took her a second, but she recognized the shorter man in a brand name suit. His dark hair was styled in such a way as to mask the receding hairline, and his megawatt smile never wavered.

“Absolutely. You have a beautiful place here. Mr. Bancroft, I presume?” Max asked before she could introduce herself. He reached forward and gave the manager a handshake.
“It’s just Carl, please. I don’t care too much about the formalities. If it’s alright with you, we encourage guests to drop the titles and call each other by their first names... It creates a better space for communication.”

“It’s a beautiful property you have here, Carl.”

This time, he turned towards her. “Thank you, Mrs. Becker. Of course, it is nothing compared to your lovely face. Your reputation precedes you.” He leaned forward to grab her hand and place a chaste kiss there.

If you punch him, it’s all over Blake. Stay calm, and get some info.

“Of course. I’ve heard incredible things about Casa de Mayo. Our close friends actually recommended it to us.”

“Oh, and who might that be?”

“Miguel and Elena Ruez. We were supposed to meet up with them."

A look of tension passed over the manager’s face, his left eye twitched, and the corner of his lip quivered. But before she could be sure she wasn’t imagining the reaction, his face tightened back up, and the smile was plastered back on.

“Ah yes, the Ruez’s. Wonderful people, aren’t they?”

“Yes, they are. They were supposed to meet us by now. We were wondering if you knew where they were,” Max cut in. Miranda nearly smiled. There might be some weird funk between them personally, but they always seemed to be in sync when it came to tag-team interviews.

“I haven’t seen them for a while. But we have over 200 guests in our couples therapy program. I could’ve just missed them,” Carl chuckled, but neither of them missed the tension and awkwardness there. Silence followed for a beat, and Carl continued.

“I could always check with our secretary Rosa. Maybe they decided to cut their trip short.”

“That would be great. It’s quite strange, they would’ve told us about any change of plans…”

“Of course. I hope you find your friends, and I will talk with the front desk. They probably checked out. Actually, I’m sure I saw them leave, so if that’s all I really have to go. I have a meeting with an investor right now, but I hope you both enjoy your stay here.” Carl gave them both a pat on the arm, and walked away, leaving them with more questions than answers.
____________________________________________________________________________
They met with the other instructors and gave them the same story. Most of them were friendly and promised to be on the lookout. A few others mentioned that they hadn’t seen Miguel or Elena in a little while, and were a little worried when they hadn’t shown up to their classes, but they were sure the couple would show up eventually.

Marianna, the yoga and fitness instructor was the most receptive to their questions but hadn’t stopped with her task of rolling up mats to talk to them.

“I’m sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Becker, but I can’t help you. They were originally enrolled in my class, but they dropped out the day before they were supposed to start.”

“And when was this?” Max asked.

Marianna ran a hand through her long brown curls and thought for a second. “I’m pretty sure it was last Thursday, but I could always check my schedule… You two replaced their spots for this week.”

“And you never saw them at all?” Miranda asked. Marianna was the 8th person they had talked to this afternoon, and they still hadn’t gotten a solid lead yet.

“No, I’m sorry.” Marianna paused and looked back at them. “But all our guests and staff will be at dinner tonight. Maybe you could ask around there. I’m sure there’s someone there who’s seen them.”

“Thank you for your time. Miss…?” Max trailed off.

“Santiago,” Marianna answered, and Miranda didn’t miss the flush of her face before she answered. Max seemed to have a certain… effect on the young woman.

“Thank you for your time, Miss Santiago. You don’t mind me calling you that, no? Your manager seemed to be a stickler for that sort of thing.”

Marianna just rolled her eyes. “Carl is kind of weird in that way. He’s a great boss and I respect him for making such a successful business, but I’ll never get his weird attitude about names. But I won’t ask any questions, as he’s been through a lot already”

“How so?”

Marianna looked nervous for a second but then leaned forward. “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but you seem like good people. Anyways, Carl tells every employee his life story when they first come to work for him. His wife and he went through a really bad divorce, and it wasn’t pretty. After their last argument, his wife left with their 7-year-old daughter. She was really upset and lost control of the wheel and they drove off the road. The 2 of them died that night”

“That’s so terrible.”

“Yeah, and after that, Carl set up this resort, both as a place to get away, but especially as a place for couples to work out their problems. In a way, I think he blames himself for it, and this is his way of making up.”

Miranda took a second to think about Marianna’s words. That could explain Carl’s weird behavior, but she was sure he was hiding something else. If they could find out what he was hiding, maybe they would be closer to finding Miguel and Elena.

“Well, thank you for your time, Marianna. I hope to see you at dinner tonight?” Max asked.

The woman’s tan skin flushed a lighter pink, and she turned back to her work.
___________________________________________________________________________

“I just can’t accept that nobody has seen or heard from them in the last 4 days. No one! And what’s even weirder to me, is that nobody is overly concerned about their safety or wellbeing. How has nobody even alerted security?” Miranda asked, loud enough to be heard through the bathroom door.

“I don’t believe it either, but people do pay a lot of money to keep their privacy protected. Especially for their names to be kept out of the headlines”

“Yes, but most of the staff seem to be completely unaware. At least that’s what I got from them, anyways.”

“I’ll agree with you there. Most didn’t even seem to know that some of their guests were missing. Strange, but not illegal. I think we should talk with their neighbors at dinner tonight. See if they’ve heard from Miguel and Elena.”

“I agree. We should also see if we can case the place. See if we can find anything that connects to them. They’re obviously not in their room anymore, but they came here with belongings, and if they haven’t checked out, then their belongings are located somewhere on the premises.”

The door clicked open and Max stepped out. He was frowning as he was trying to fix his sleeve, but he looked just as dashing in a tux as she remembered him. Miranda stared and couldn’t seem to look away.

Max looked up at her, his jaw visibly tightened and he rubbed the back of his neck.

“Hey, uh, you alright there companero?” Miranda forced a smile.

“No, it’s just uh… you look good. Really good.” Miranda felt a flush steal up over her face and she had to fight to keep eye contact. She unconsciously rubbed a hand against the lacy hem that rested a few inches above the knee and swallowed hard. Where was this stupid attraction coming from? “We better get going. Don’t want to be late.”

Max turned to adjust his tie again and held out his hand. “After you, Mrs. Becker.”

They closed the door behind them, and Miranda tucked the keycard into her matching black clutch. They stepped towards the elevator, but muted voices down the hall carried through the air. Muted voices that were getting louder with every second. She just had a feeling this was important. A gut feeling sure, but still.

“Max, wait.” She whispered. She pulled his sleeve and he followed her with soft footsteps around the corner and down the hallway. A large floor to ceiling window overlooked the East part of the resort over one of the pools. The hallway itself was dim, but it was the perfect cover. She pressed herself against the wall and Max followed her lead until they were nearly backed into the corner. The voices were louder now. Both voices were male, but one was clearly the aggressor.

“... The friends arrived today. What if they start asking questions?”

“They won’t. And if they do, there’s nothing for them to find. I made sure of it.”

“But what if they do? You don’t know that.”

“Just shut up. I’ve got this under control. Once we get the money, we can split, but we just need to keep this under wraps for a few more days.”

“But what if they call the cops? I can’t go to jail either.”

“They won’t find anything. I’ve made sure of it. I’ve gotten rid of their things and there won’t be any trace of us. Just leave it to me.”

The voices continued to argue but they were getting more faint as the men were probably moving inside. Miranda had the urge to move away from the corner to see where they were going but couldn’t risk being detected.

Once she heard a door click and the voices were gone, Miranda released a choppy breath.

“I wonder who they’re working for. And we have to find out what papers they were getting rid of. What are they trying to hide?”
Max nodded in agreement but grabbed hold of her upper arm. “We should get out of here. With all the weird security in this place, I wouldn’t be surprised if they know we’re not at dinner.”

Just as they were about to come around the corner. Max came to an abrupt stop. She plowed into him and flailed out her arms to try to stay upright. She nearly lost the battle when he grabbed hold of her waist and in one movement pressed her back against the wall with a strong arm.

“Wha-?” She was cut off as Max shot a look at her. A split second later, footsteps sounded down the hall, right towards them. In the complete silence, she could only hear their breathing and her heartbeat thundering in her chest.

The steps sounded closer and Max shot her a desperate look that she could only read as trust me. In a split second, Max stared down at her with an indiscernible look, and then pressed her body into his as his mouth met hers.

She should push him back. Do something to stop this as the danger of being caught loomed in the back of her mind. Instead, she broke down her remaining defense and wrapped her arms around his neck, erasing any remaining distance between them. She returned his kiss with an intensity that was foreign to her and felt his hand migrate from her back to the side of her face, his fingers lacing through her hair as his kiss turned more desperate. Her heart hammered and she lost all track of time and place.

The lights flipped on, and a light flashed in their direction. She jerked back and was met with a very large, very cross looking security guard. The man was nearly 7 feet tall and wide as a door.

“What are you doing here? You should be at dinner.” The man’s voice was gruff and harsh, and Miranda fought hard to recoil back.

Max’s arm linked around her waist and he pulled her closer. And moved his hand a bit lower.

“I am very sorry, Senor. My wife here was looking ravishing in her dress, and I could hardly keep my hands off her. You are familiar, no?”

Miranda had to fight to keep a flush off her face, resisting the temptation to squirm out of Max’s grip and instead meet the eyes of the security guard. “We were just headed to dinner… Gregory,” she said, glancing at his nametag. “No harm done, right? Let us go here, and we’ll promise to be good.” She finished off the ploy with the best flirty smile and batting eyelash combo she could pull off without physically feeling ill.

Gregory’s stony expression was not changed. “Fine, I’ll let you go. But know that Mr.Bancroft does not take kindly to those who wander off. If you’ll follow me, I’ll escort you to the dining hall.”

Miranda followed Gregory down the winding halls and to the elevator that took them down the dining hall on the ground floor. The entire time, she wondered who the two men could be working for, what their connection was to Miguel and Elena, and that Gregory here could have easily gotten 2 bodies to disappear.
____________________________________________________________________________

 

Miranda couldn’t taste a single bite of dinner, as the day’s events came rushing back. Their arrival, the unfortunate bed situation, their less than successful interviews with the staff, and then that kiss. That kiss that stole her breath at the memory of her pressed against Max’s strong, broad chest. She lifted a hand to her face and brushed fingertips over where Max had pressed his lips to hers only minutes before. Stop it, Blake. It was just a distraction, and he has no feelings for you whatsoever. Stop trying to imagine an attraction when there is none. Besides, the man probably hasn’t gotten over his breakup with Carmen yet.

 

The laughing and clinking of glasses brought Miranda out of her reverie, and she focused back on Max talking up their dinner companions. For once, she was thankful for his antics, as the couple was engrossed in one of Max’s story from his childhood-polished up a bit of course to match their cover. Peter and Ivy Steele were one of the many American couples here looking for a time away from their normal lives. The elderly couple reminded Miranda of her grandparents in some ways, but she knew that they owned and founded a large company that created technology to help in water conservation and environmental preservation. Miranda greatly respected their work and had read about their company a few months ago. She just would have never expected to sit beside them at dinner like it was just another night.

“How is your dinner, Alexandra?” Ivy asked with a kind smile. Thankfully, this brought Miranda back into the conversation.

“It’s quite good, Mrs. Steele. I apologize for my behavior. I just have a lot on my mind.”

“Oh that’s no problem dear, and it’s Ivy. We don’t like formalities.”

“Of course. This may seem quite random but I was going to ask if you’ve run into Miguel and Elena Ruez. They’re friends of ours, and we were supposed to meet up today, except that nobody’s seen them for a few days. We’re worried about them, you see.”

Ivy’s eyes widened and she glanced at her husband before she turned back and nodded her head emphatically. “Yes, we ran into them a couple of times earlier in the week. Elena told me they were scheduled for the afternoon yoga class- the same one I was in and I told her I looked forward to seeing her there. I heard she dropped out, and we didn’t see them around anymore. We had assumed they had checked out.”

Max cut in, “When was the last time you saw them?”

Ivy looked thoughtful for a moment and then looked back to him. “I believe it was last Thursday morning. Yes, Miguel came for breakfast and we said hello, but Elena was missing, He said that she wasn’t feeling well. That’s why we had assumed they had checked out.”

Ivy looked thoughtful for a second and then continued. “We also talked to them at dinner. Didn’t we, Peter? You and Miguel were talking about work.”

Peter looked up from cutting his steak, a clueless expression on his weathered face.

“Your conversation with Miguel about work,” Ivy pressed.

“Oh right! It was just a quick conversation. I asked what he did, and he told me about his conservation work. Of course, one thing led to another and we ended up talking about the politics of the job. Small world we live in,” Peter chuckled.

“What did he say?” Max pressed.

“Mostly talked about his organizations and charity work. I could tell he was very passionate about saving threatened and endangered species just like we are. His focus was on the Iberian lynx, but you probably already knew that.”

“Did they seem happy?” Miranda asked. The couple seemed taken aback by the question and Miranda quickly tried to cover up. “I mean, they said this place was doing wonders for their marriage and I was wondering if all the rumors were true.”

“Yes actually, they seemed quite happy. Happy as a lark as my old man would’ve said,” Peter chuckled.

“Really?”

“Yes, they were almost giddy. We wondered what marital problems they could’ve possibly been going through.”

Interesting. If they had been going through marital problems, they certainly hadn’t been showing it here. They weren’t newlyweds, so what could’ve made them so happy?

The rest of the night passed by quickly, as Peter and Ivy were sparkling conversationalists and Miranda felt completely engrossed in the couple’s stories.

“Your work sounds fascinating,” Miranda said truthfully. “What brings you here to Mallorca? Besides the resort of course.”

“Peter’s here on business. One of the national parks in Spain has adopted some of our technology and he’s going to attend the ceremony.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Max said.

“Oh don’t fill his head now.” Ivy shook her head good-naturedly. “I told him we should have sent one of the company representatives but he insisted on it himself. I need to remind him that we’re getting too old to attend every ceremony personally.”

“But of course, I then remind her that I won’t stop working till I’m six feet under. Retirement will never take me,” Peter finished with a laugh that got the whole table laughing with him.

“We’re just glad that another area of this beautiful land is protected.” Peter shook his head. “It’s such a shame that so much land is being destroyed for development. Such a shame.”

“Really? That is a shame. We haven’t lived in Mallorca long, but I can’t imagine some of the areas being bulldozed for just another building.” Max said and brought an arm around Miranda and gave her one of his charming smiles that she had come to associate with him. The kind of smile that was genuine, and reached ear to ear but also had that boyish appeal. She wanted to twist away, to distance herself from him as it would be better for both of them, but the fact was that they were still posing as a married couple. But somehow, his charm and easygoing personality had rooted deep inside her heart and she had no idea how to deal with that.

They hadn’t had time to bring up the kiss yet, but she knew it was at the forefront of both their minds. But they still had a job to do, and they couldn’t let this new... development change the fact that 2 people were still missing and time was running out to find them as any leads left were growing colder by the hour.

Chapter Text

Max glanced around the room at the couple's dining before coming back to the table. Miranda was laughing at something Ivy had said and her wide smile nearly made his knees buckle. What would it be like to be on the receiving end of one of those genuine, unadulterated smiles? He took the liberty to take a second and appreciate her in her element. She brushed a strand of hair behind her ear and he had the temptation to walk over and do it himself-just to be able to feel the silkiness himself. Memories of their day flickered through his brain. The attraction that he couldn’t possibly have been making up, and their ...kiss. He could have kicked himself for his stupidity. In the rush of events tonight they hadn’t had time to bring it up yet, but he was sure that Miranda hadn’t appreciated it. She was such a stickler for the rules and protocol, and he hadn’t been thinking of that at that moment. He had only been thinking of how beautiful, how attractive she had been in that moment and the only thing he had wanted was her body pressed flush against his and her lips on his.

 

Max was about to step forward to their table but then turned back to get a drink when someone ran into him.

“Hey you better look where you’re going,” the man said under his breath before scurrying away, not before setting down an empty glass on one of the empty tables.

Warning bells flashed in Max’s head. That man had sounded so familiar, but where had he heard him before? Under the window! It was one of the men they had heard arguing and he was getting away!

Max grabbed a shot glass off the nearby table and took large strides towards the man. “Man, I am so sorry! I didn’t see you at all!” The man turned around and Max had his first good look at him. He was dressed in a catering outfit, and was a few inches shorter than Max’s 6’2 frame.

Please don’t let me get punched out for this…

In one smooth movement Max dragged his foot behind the other and fell forward, as the mystery liquor- whiskey maybe? met its target.

“Damn it! That was a new shirt!” The man grabbed the closest napkin and started dabbing.

“My apologies. I am so sorry. I was just a bit clumsy,” Max set his now empty glass down on the table, and leaned forward with a napkin to help.

“Get your hands off me! I don’t need your help.”

The man looked absolutely infuriated and Max didn’t miss the stares that they were starting to get. The tension in the room seemed to ratchet up, and that was Max’s cue to end this little charade.

“Of course, man. What was I thinking? Here, just go clean yourself up. Send me the dry cleaning bill and we’ll sort it all out, Si?” At this, Max leaned against the table, to block the view and slid the glasses around, until the man’s empty glass was resting in the napkin behind Max’s back.

The man grumbled and took off towards the back door, probably used by the staff. Miranda had excused herself and was now striding across the room to meet him, her eyes wide and a myriad of questions on her face.

Max leaned down and whispered in her ear. “It was one of our mystery men. I got his prints, but I need you to see where he goes while I get this back to our room.”

Her eyes widened even more as she stared back at him. “Good work Max. I’m on it.”

She was about to leave when he grabbed onto her elbow. “Just be careful. You’re not armed, and he might be dangerous.”

Miranda nodded and glanced around before reaching into her bag to grab the key card and handing it to him. She then walked surely and confidently towards the door, going after the mystery man. People had gone back to their dinners and the music was starting up again.

Max carefully pocketed the glass in his jacket before looking around. He wanted nothing more than to hurry back up to their room and lift those prints, but he should probably pass on his apologies to Peter and Ivy for hijacking dinner.

He passed by several catering staff back to their table and leaned over his chair. “Thank you for being such good company tonight Mr. and Mrs. Steele. I am very sorry to leave you like this, but I’m feeling a bit tired and might head to bed.”

Ivy patted Max’s hand, “No apologies needed young man. I hope to see you around this week.”

“Same to you.”

“And pass our best wishes on to Alexandra. She’s such a lovely lady. Very beautiful too.”

Don’t I know it...

He nodded once more at the couple and headed towards the door. If he hurried, he could circle back and meet up with Miranda. He just hoped that she hadn’t run into security or into any danger that she couldn’t handle.
____________________________________________________________________________

 

Miranda squeezed through the door their mystery man had gone through, but she had another problem on her hands. It wouldn’t be long before someone recognized she wasn’t part of the staff and would send her packing. She needed cover, and fast. She breezed down the dimly lit hallway, she passed by utility and storage rooms, but always made sure to hear her suspect’s footsteps. She glanced around corners and looked out for cameras but didn’t see many. Finally, she saw a wire rack holding clothes and staff outfits probably being sent to laundry. Perfect! Without stalling too long she snatched up a white dress shirt and apron and ran to keep up with her tail. She struggled with buttoning up the dress shirt and the apron, and realized she hadn’t picked up any pants, but this would have to do for now. The suspect’s footsteps picked up and she followed suit. Her strappy heels made way too much noise for her liking but she just hoped they would keep her upright.

The hallway continued but she heard the suspect turn and head down the flight of stairs, probably down to a basement or a cellar of some sort. She backed against the cold wall, and waited until a safe distance had passed between them, before she could continue following him. He had reached the bottom of the stairs before she pressed herself off the wall and made her way down the stairs. She watched him as the door lock buzzed and clicked open before he walked through. Not wanting to let him go, Miranda waited a second before running to squeeze through the door. Pushing past the double swinging doors, she came to a room full of resort staff bustling around, completing their different tasks. Where was her tail? Standing on her tiptoes she craned her neck to see around the crowd. No trace of him at all. Her heart began to sink along with her decreasing adrenaline levels.

Great. Now what, Blake? Did you actually think he was going to take you to Miguel and Elena?

She paused for a second and then took a deep breath. She didn’t stick out too much, and as long as she avoided any security cameras, what could stop her from snooping around a bit? She watched as members of the catering staff rolled trollies of dishes towards another room. Probably to be washed or something. Others were rolling trolleys of laundry.

A woman passed her and Miranda reached out. “Sorry, I’m new here. I was told to uh… pick up some more bottles of wine. I’ve just forgotten where the cellar is.”

The woman frowned. “You were told, huh? Strange that I never heard about this order.”

“Yeah, he just said they were in a hurry.”

The grey haired woman with a hard face nodded. “Fine, come with me and I’ll show you to the cellar.”
Perfect.

The grey haired woman took off at a fast clip and Miranda had to nearly run to keep up. They left the common area and headed down a cold, tight hallway. Down here, the walls were entirely made up of stone and although many parts of the resort looked relatively new, it was probably built on an existing foundation.

Finally they made it down to a wooden door and Miranda’s older companion pushed her way through. “Just grab what they need and come back up.”

Miranda nodded and the other lady turned to leave. Miranda waited until she could hear receding footsteps before she closed the wine cellar door. Don’t want to get trapped in there, Blake. They’ll never hear you scream.

She walked down the hallways passing more utility rooms with closed doors, checking some of the door handles. All locked. Damn.

“Okay, think this through Blake,” she muttered. I doubt that they could hold 2 people down here for the last 4 days. Even if they were bound and gagged, there’s too much traffic on the premises. Someone has had to run into them so far. So if they aren’t in the main building, where could they be? Unless they’re dead, which makes it so much easier to dispose of.

The thought sent shivers down her back, and Miranda continued her task of checking door handles. Finally, she came to another utility room labelled Utility Room 3C . Glancing in both directions before checking the door, she was surprised that it opened. Switching on the light, the room was lit by a single, dim bulb. The room was full of stacks of chairs and tables and it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a while, so Miranda wondered how long it had been since anyone had been in this room.

She glanced around and saw nothing suspicious so she was just about to turn and leave when something in the corner caught her eye. A suitcase? Could it be Miguel and Elena? Excitement and trepidation filled her as she ran over and pulled out one of the bags.
She could almost imagine Ines yelling at her for disturbing evidence, but right now the protocol could go to hell. This was a matter of life and death.

She opened a pocket and looked around. Bingo. Her fingers clasped around a phone and she pulled it out. Thankfully it still had some charge left, and she powered it on and gasped.

An intimate picture of a couple embracing was the picture on the lockscreen, but it was undoubtedly a picture of Miguel and Elena Ruez on their wedding. Question is, why was their luggage hidden all the way down here, and where could they be? They couldn’t possibly have left on their own terms, so a certain resort manager had definitely lied to them.

She had to show this to Max, fast.
____________________________________________________________________________

Max paced back and forth across their room. Where was Miranda? He had half a mind to go after her, but he had to remind himself that she was a capable detective. She could handle this. But what if she was in danger? He was tempted to go off half-cocked after her, but he reminded himself that Miranda had worked more undercover investigations than him. She was more than qualified for this.

He turned back to the desk where he had been working at. Using a concoction of broken pencil lead, clear tape and one of Miranda’s makeup brushes (he made a mental note to pay her back later), he had lifted a decently clear set of prints off the glass. And then he ran into his next problem. How in the world was he going to get a hit on them? It wasn’t like they had the usual police resources at their fingertips. Besides, with the weird security in this place, it wasn’t like he could send off a text or phone like he usually did.

An idea struck him. He went to the computer in the corner, logged on and opened the internet to send off an encrypted email. He attached a picture of the prints and added a request to Rico to do a deep dive into Carl Bancroft and Gregory, their security guard friend. He felt a moment of guilt for waking up his friend, but he figured that since lives were at stake here, Rico wouldn’t be too upset. Before sending off the message, he added a request to look into the Ruez’s reasons as to why they were here. Could Miguel have been here for more than leisure?

Max opened up his email again and added a note to Rico.

Can you also do a deep-dive into Carl Bancroft’s finances for me?

Just as he closed the computer, a knock came from the door. “Max, let me in. It’s me.”
He breathed a sigh of relief and all the tension escaped his body before opening the door and ushering Miranda in. Before she said a word, he gathered her up into his arms and held her tight.

“...Max, this is really nice and all, but I need to show you something.”

Begrudgingly, he let her go but didn’t miss the whiff of her floral shampoo that was way too appealing. And distracting.

“Me too. I think it would be a good time to recap what we know.”
____________________________________________________________________________

After some quick thinking on Miranda’s part by holding up a picture of Miguel to the camera to unlock the phone, Max was scrolling through his texts and emails.

“Miguel sent his last text days before they left, so that’s a dead end. I’m reading through some of them, but they just seem to be about work, a few conversations with his lawyer and…” his voice trailed off.

Miranda looked up from the computer screen. “What is it?”

“It’s an email from their doctor that says test results.” Max took a second to read through and his eyes widened in surprise. “Okay. This explains a few things.”

“What is it? Tell me!”

“It looks like Elena was pregnant and it says they were having a boy. This text was sent a few days after they arrived.”

“Wow. I didn’t expect that. I guess it explains why they were so giddy, and why Elena missed out on breakfast.”

“Yeah, definitely.” Max continued scrolling but didn’t find anything too interesting.

“My question is, what is the connection here? What are the motives? What reason could Carl have for abducting and possibly killing Miguel and Elena?” Miranda asked.

Max nodded thoughtfully. “I suppose Gregory or even those 2 men we heard arguing could be on his payroll and he used them, but I can’t figure out a motive either. Hopefully Rico can tell us something.”

Miranda glanced at the computer. It was just past 2, and she grimaced. “We better get some sleep. We have a pretty packed schedule tomorrow and they’ll expect us to attend everything.”

Max groaned. “I almost forgot we’re Mark and Alexandra, and not Max and Miranda.”

Miranda nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I know from experience that it’s hard to keep a hold on your identities when you’re under. The lines tend to cross.”

Suddenly the tension was back and it was thick enough to slice through. The reality of their one bed, and the memory of their kiss flashed in their minds. Max cleared his throat and offered, “How about we just take a side of the bed. We’re adults, right?”

Miranda gulped and nodded. “Right. We’re just friends. It’s a very platonic situation.”

“Yeah, and I just got out of a breakup. It’s crazy to think otherwise...”

“Right. And I’m not a relationship person...”

“Right.”

Their bedtime routine was more than awkward as they tried not to make eye contact, or to touch each other. Anything but talk about their current situation, or whatever the hell was developing between them. Finally, they got into bed as far away as humanly possible.

“Goodnight Max,” Miranda whispered.

“Goodnight.”

She closed her eyes and tried to calm herself down so she could fall asleep.

“Schatz,” he said softly after a minute.

She didn’t answer because she didn’t know what he had said.
____________________________________________________________________________

Light filtered through the curtains directly onto Miranda’s face and she scrunched up her face in protest. She shifted and then twisted her head into a better position. Right onto a solid chest.
Miranda quickly sat up and saw the disaster unfold. The sheets were twisted around her and Max’s legs and she had been nestled right up to his side, her arm resting on his chest and her head on his strong shoulder. Somehow during the night, the distance that had separated them had become a lot smaller. Whatever the reason, it was not a very platonic position to be in.

“Cachu hwch…” she muttered.

She took a second to wake up and glanced at the clock. Half an hour until breakfast, just her luck. She glanced up at Max, still sleeping. His beard was a bit scruffier, but he looked peaceful, and well… handsome. Miranda couldn’t deny that the man was good looking, but she could never have the liberty of saying it out loud. They were only destined to be friends, and that was okay, right? She was fine with that, but why didn’t it feel like it?

Max groaned and she twisted to the side to get out of bed. She would let him sleep for a little while. It was going to be another long day.

She changed into a more suitable day outfit, put on a bit of makeup and headed down to breakfast. She would be a bit early but that was ok. Before she left, she left Max a note telling her where she was, closed the door behind her and left him alone.
____________________________________________________________________________

Breakfast was delicious, and Miranda was halfway through her conversation with Ivy when Max met her. He placed a warm hand on her shoulder and she wanted so badly for him to keep it there. Nothing notable occurred, but when breakfast was done and they headed towards group therapy, the tension between them was back.

Max leaned down to whisper, “This is a big waste of time..”

Miranda didn’t respond. She agreed, but didn’t want to be overheard.

They all filed into a room, and the psychologist introduced himself as Dr. Carpenter. The man certainly didn’t follow traditional methods, and soon they were involved in their first activity which involved the couples facing each other in silence and then saying the first thing that came to mind.

Max stared into Miranda’s eyes. She was obviously tense and he could tell she badly wanted to look away. Color began to creep into her cheeks slowly and it made her look a bit more agitated. He could relate. Miranda was biting her bottom lip now. He wondered what she was thinking about. After what seemed like an eternity Carpenter spoke up. “Okay your minute is over. Say what you think.”

“Ocean.” “Brave”

They both said it at the same time, and both looked confused. Miranda offered to explain first. “Your eyes. They’re the same color as the oceans back home in Wales. Every summer my Ma and Da would take me to the seaside and I would swim in the ocean. It’s one of my favorite memories as a child.” As she continued Miranda’s face grew hot with color.

Max cleared his throat and spoke low as to not be overheard,” Whenever I see you Miranda, I see bravery. You overcome any challenge that comes your way and since I’ve met you, I’m proud of the steps you’ve taken to meet your fears head on.”

They continued with exercises like this that promoted intimacy and communication and Miranda was honestly surprised with some of the other couples. Some stormed out halfway through, others started arguing. She supposed for some of them, this was their last hope of saving their marriages. They ended the session with an exercise that had them back to back, arms linked and trying to balance, which ended up in some good laughs.

Finally, after what seemed like event after event flew by, they could have 5 minutes to themselves. Max stretched his back and flopped onto the bed dramatically after they let themselves into the room.

“We’ve got to solve this quickly. I can’t bullshit anymore about Mark’s life. I don’t even know anything about computers.”

Miranda nodded in agreement. “Yeah, some of the others kept asking to see pictures from my photoshoots. I don’t even know what I made up, but it wasn’t very convincing. Since we have a few minutes alone I’m going to check to see if Rico responded.”

Max groaned and rubbed his face with a hand. “Read it out to me, will you? I don’t want to move.”

He didn’t miss the eye roll that Miranda tried to hide from him, and he smirked.

Miranda logged on and brought up the page. “Bingo. Rico’s gotten back to us. Good ol’ Rico.”

Max felt a flash of jealousy at Miranda’s words but he comforted himself in the fact that she had no feelings towards the pathologist. Max stood up from the bed and walked over to the computer to read the message himself.

 

I’m glad you remember my existence Max! You also owe me lunch for risking Ines’s anger...

Prints belong to Damon Sanchez, the guy has a rap sheet longer than your arm with a history of burglary, breaking and entering, and assault. AKA, your very own hired thug. I couldn’t find much about Miguel’s personal life except public information. Widower who married a beautiful, young actress, that they’re the hot, new power couple, etc and a lot about his charity work.

Gregory Aguero looks pretty clean as far as I can tell. He’s worked at the same security company for 12 years, and hasn’t received a single complaint.

I asked a friend in forensic finances to look into Carl Bancroft. On the surface, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Bancroft’s making his payments, and there’s no problems there. But we kept on digging and my friend found something particularly interesting. Over the last 6 months, Bancroft had been making large weekly withdrawals from an account totalling 300,000 €. There hasn’t been any activity since last month. The strange thing is that the account is owned by a company called East Coast properties, based in the Cayman Islands.
That’s all I have for you. Hope this helps.

Max leaned back and slowly let air out. Wow. Miranda turned towards him. “It looks like our manager friend has a shell company. Question is, why is he making such huge withdrawals, and why has he stopped?”

“Maybe he’s making a payment? For another resort possibly?”

“Yes, but why would he do it through a shell company and not through legitimate means? He’s definitely buying something he doesn’t want anyone to know about.”

“At least we’ve pretty much confirmed that Damon Sanchez and his partner are hired thugs. There’s no way they could be working here legitimately.”

Miranda nibbled on the corner of her lip. “I just wish we had more leads. We have a lot of information but nothing to connect it.”

Max looked down at his watch. “We should probably go. We wouldn’t want to miss the couple's exercise class. Sounds like torture.”

Miranda scrunched up her face and her nose crinkled in the most adorable way. “Yeah, that’s one word for it.”

Max didn’t have time to admire her when she stood up, turned on her heel and walked to the closet. “I’m going to get changed.” Once she was safely in the bathroom he leaned back onto the bed. Maybe being in tight quarters with the woman he loved wasn’t the best idea ever.
____________________________________________________________________________

Miranda rubbed a towel on the back of her neck and sighed. She had spent the entire hour thinking about the case and hadn’t made any progress. She looked back over her shoulder and sighed.

“Max, you okay? Need me to call an ambulance?”

“Ha ha. You’re a funny one. I just need a ...minute to catch my breath.” Poor Max was on the floor, head tilted back against the wall.

“Well, you did say you wanted to lose 5 pounds,” she said, hardly keeping a smirk off her face.

“Just because you have a higher metabolism than me.”

“Among other things... Let’s go, I was thinking we could go down to the tennis courts and see if we can track down some more guests to talk to.”

They made their way down to their room for showers when they passed Ivy and Peter heading back up to their room. Ivy’s usual good mood was dampened down, and Peter was scowling in such a menacing way that it made Miranda stop in her tracks. She so badly wanted to mind her own business, but the curiosity won out in the end.

“You both look upset? What’s wrong?” she asked.

“It’s those damn developers, that’s wrong. Think they can put a price on anything”

“Peter! It’s rude to curse in front of friends,” She shook her head and turned to them. “I apologize for him. He’s just a bit frustrated. We just got some bad news, you see.”

“What happened?”

“An area we were working with the government to protect was just sold under us for development. We tried to repeal it but our lawyer just got back to us and says there’s no way we can fight it. They must have paid out a government agent somehow.” She shook her head and looked disgusted. “It borders Donana National Park and it was in the process of being added in, so it’s home to many endangered plant and animal species. Such a shame.”

Max nodded solemnly and Miranda was just about to agree when she had a thought.

“Do you know when the transaction occurred?”

“Last Thursday. It all happened so quickly though.”

Miranda felt her eyes widen in surprise and her heart started to pound. She could feel Max tense up beside her.

Max spoke up. “This may sound crazy but do you happen to know who bought it out?”

Ivy shook her head but Peter butted in. “A company called E.C Properties. Bunch of dirty rats.”

There it was. Miranda would stake it on her life that E.C Properties was in fact East Coast Properties owned by one Carl Bancroft. Her mouth became dry and her excitement spiked.

Ivy tsked and shook her head. “I’m sorry for being so down in the mouth. I should be asking you how your day was? Have you made any progress in finding your friends?”

“Actually, I think you just helped us. A lot. Thank you.” Miranda grabbed Max’s arm. “We have to go meet someone but thank you again.”

She pulled him along until they rounded the corner where they broke into a sprint towards one of the elevators. Miranda pressed the button and thankfully it wasn’t in use. Once the doors closed she turned to Max.

“It was Carl! The withdrawals, the shell company, the connection to Miguel, it all makes sense now. He bought the land through the company-”

“Because although legal, it wouldn’t have been a popular move. His business would have tanked if the general public knew,” Max cut in.

“Right. But what’s the connection to Miguel?”

Come on Blake, think. The pieces are all here but what connects them all together? Politics? Land? Miguel’s work? The l-

Miguel’s work- that’s it! Miranda whipped her phone out of her pocket and opened the internet.

Come on, come on, come on. Where is it? She opened a Wikipedia page and scrolled through. Finally at the end of a paragraph, she found it.

“The lynx!”

Max looked confused. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Ivy said the land bordered Donana National Park. Peter said that during his conversation with Miguel, he mentioned that his conservation work mostly focussed on protecting the Iberian lynx. I just found here that Donana and the surrounding area is one of the only places left in the world where the lynx is found.”

Max’s eyes rounded and he rubbed his chin. “So Miguel would have known about this. He finds out about the sale going through, somehow tracks it back to Carl, and confronts him about it.”

“They could have argued and Carl doesn’t want this getting out, so he snaps and then tries to cover up his tracks…”

“We have to find Carl and confront him, or at least see what he has to say for himself.”
____________________________________________________________________________

The elevator doors shifted open at the first floor and they rushed out. Miranda ran towards the front counter where the secretary, Rosa, sat looking disinterested.

“I need to know where Carl is. Right now.”

Rosa slowly looked up at her. “If you want to speak to Mr. Bancroft, you need to make an appointment. Would you like me to make you one?”

“No! I don’t need an appointment. Just tell me where he is.”

“Mrs. Becker. This seems very out of the ordinary. Is there something wrong?” Rosa asked with a slow smile.

Blake, you’ll get nowhere if you resort to violence.

“This is a matter of great importance.” Irritation pumped through her veins and she could even feel the ever-easygoing Max tense up behind her. Before she could open her mouth and give this woman a piece of her mind, he spoke up.

“We need to speak to your boss right now. If we don’t see him in the next 3 minutes, we will be on the phone to our lawyers and attorneys bringing a lawsuit against this place, large enough to make your head spin. If you don’t get him here now, we will be sure to mention your name a few times in the complaint for good measure.”

That seemed to do the trick, as the irritating little smirk on the corner of Rosa’s face quickly fled and wide eyes replaced it.

“I..I’ll call him down. If you could take a seat please.”

They certainly didn’t sit down and instead paced the area. Finally, the elevator dinged and Carl Bancroft stepped off the elevator. For once, his perfectly pressed suit was wrinkled and his ever-present smile had wavered. Good, maybe this would make it easier.

“Mr, and Mrs. Becker! So good to see you! How-”

“Cut the crap Bancroft,” Max growled.

“Excuse me?”

“We know what you did. Or did Donana go over your head already?” Miranda asked, a small smirk settling on her lips.

“Follow me to my office. We can talk there.” He turned on his heel, and walked quickly, requiring the two detectives to run to catch up.

Finally, they reached the office and Carl led them in. The door had barely closed when Miranda spoke up, breaking the silence.

“Miguel came to you, didn’t he? He wanted to talk about your recent purchase of Donana, right?”

A beat of silence passed and Bancroft didn’t turn around. His palm rested against the cherry wood door, and he was leaning against it. Almost as if the guilt was making him physically weary.

Max cleared his throat and spoke up, “He came to you last Thursday, didn’t he? After the purchase had gone through, and you felt everything was going your way. Then Miguel Ruez showed up, and begged you to reconsider.”

“...It would have been fine. Everything would have been fine if that environmental nut-job hadn’t shown up.”

Carl stood up and walked around to his desk, pulled his chair out and plopped down.

“He had connections. He would have made sure that I would have been ridiculed. My name, my business would have been ruined. You have to understand. I’m sure you two didn’t make it to the top without a few sacrifices and this was mine”

Miranda and Max risked a glance at each other and a sort of understanding passed between them. Miranda then delivered the final blow. This was it. “That must have made you angry. Angry enough that you killed him.”

Carl sat up with a start, and Miranda could see any remnants of his cocky facade completely shatter. His eyes widened and the beads of sweat that had broken out on his forehead now ran down his face. “No! I didn’t kill him, I swear.”

At the incredulous stare he received from the pair, his hands shot up. “I swear to God, I didn’t kill him.”

“Fine, then you had one of your henchmen kill him and dump his body,” Max said.

“No, I-I I didn’t,” Bancroft’s hands had started shaking and his eyes flashed with fear.

Max had quickly tired of the man’s lies, and slammed his hands down on the desk. The noise reverberated around the office, and Bancroft flinched. Maybe now that the coward knew that they meant business, he would start talking.

“Then tell us what happened.” Max spoke the words low and slowly, trying to intimidate the man.

“He-he came to talk to me. Tried to tell me that if I developed, I would decimate some lynx species. I tried to reason with him. Told him that we could come to some sort of agreement. That it wasn’t too late to get in on the action, and he could possibly make a tidy profit from it all.”

“But Miguel wouldn’t budge, would he? His morals were too strong,” Miranda added, deciding to pull back on the intensity.

“The fool wouldn’t change his mind,” Carl muttered. At the stare of the 2 detectives, he quickly added, “but I promise you that I didn’t kill him. We argued sure, but all I told him was to get out of my resort or else I would call my security. He said that he would gladly, and then stormed out. That was the last I saw of him, I swear.” Bancroft’s hands wavered as he put them up in the surrendering motion.

Max turned to her, “Could I speak to you outside Blake?”

Bancroft’s eyes widened. “Blake? I thought you were-.” His head shook. “Come to think about it, who are you? What’s with all the questions... are you cops?”

“It doesn’t matter who we are Mr. Bancroft. Just know that if we find out you’re lying to us, we’ll make your life a living hell.” Miranda nodded to Max and they stepped outside the office, closing the door behind her.

“What’s your take on him?” Max leaned in to whisper.

She shook her head. “I never thought I’d say this but I think he’s telling the truth. His reactions were too genuine. Either that or our Mr. Bancroft is a very good actor.”

“Okay, so say he’s telling the truth. Where does that lead us? And more importantly, where are Miguel and Elena?”

“I don’t know.” Those 3 words chilled Miranda to her innermost being. Not knowing while lives were on the line was never a good thing. Never.

Chapter Text

Both detectives seemed to stew in the newfound information that had been learned as they strolled around outside.

Finally, Miranda broke the silence. “So now, we’re back at square one, with no main lead, no suspects, and no clear motives. Bloody terrific.”

“Come on, we have information. We just need to figure out how it all connects. Think about it, there are at least 2 people connected to the crime.”

Miranda nodded, “Yes, the men we heard arguing.”

“The one said they just had to wait a few more days and then they would get the money. Which infers…

“...That someone else is the boss.” Miranda’s eyes widened with the realization.

“Exactly. Now, if we can figure out who the boss is, then we’ll figure out where Miguel and Elena are.”

Miranda’s green-blue eyes widened and filled with excitement. Max’s heartbeat increased and his breath hitched at the sight of her happiness. With a start, he realized he had been staring. Too long.

Thankfully she hadn’t seemed to notice as she was back in her world, trying to tie together information in her unique way that had paved the way for her reputation as an incredible investigator.
Finally, the stone pathway dropped down towards the sprawling tennis courts of the property. Many of the resort guests had taken advantage of the beautiful day and warm temps to play an easy rally with a friend or to watch one of the more competitive matches. The far-right court was taken up to do just that as a pretty competitive rally was going on.

Miranda lifted a hand to block the sun out of her eyes. The one time she forgot to bring along her sunglasses… Was that the yoga instructor playing? What was her name again, Marianna?

Marianna grabbed the ball and bounced it a few times before tossing it up. Her arm swung back and with an audible whoosh, her racket sliced through the air and hit the ball with deadly force. The ball barely cleared the net and her opponent ran to receive but missed it by the proverbial mile.

A spattering of applause emanated from the spectators and she watched as Marianna went to go shake hands with her opponent who looked far from pleased.

Marianna turned while reaching for her water bottle and smiled at the 2 of them. With a warm smile, she shifted her long braid across her shoulder and turned to greet them.

“Alexandra and Mark, right?”

“Yes, that’s right.” Miranda shifted towards the court. You’re quite good. Congratulations on the win.”

Marianna flushed. “Thank you. It’s been a while but Eddy was willing to play me on our hour off. Guess he isn’t so happy now,” she said with a smile.

“Looks that way,” Max chuckled.

“Are you two enjoying your stay? Have you been able to track down your friends yet?” Marianna asked, forehead creasing with her question.

“No, I’m afraid not. They haven’t shown up yet. Hopefully, nothing’s wrong.” Miranda said with a tight smile. If only she believed her own words.

“I hope so. They seemed so sweet.”

A yell from the distance caught her attention and Marianna turned away from the 2 of them. “It was nice talking with you, and I sincerely hope you’ll find your friends. Let me know if you need anything.”
____________________________________________________________________________

Miranda stared up at the ceiling in the dark, resting at the very edge of the bed, while the sounds of Max’s breaths gave her a strange sense of comfort. Tonight she had waited in the bathroom, her ear pressed against the door until she couldn’t hear Max move around anymore. And thankfully, he had gotten ready for bed and was sleeping on his side when she opened the door. Yes, it had been more than childish but she couldn’t be in close contact with him any more than she had to. Not until she figured out why she had felt so jealous of Marianna today- and that was what it had undeniably been- jealousy. Or why when he wrapped his arms around her, it had felt so right. A year ago, she would’ve balked at the idea of a man in her life, especially one like Max, but now? Now the idea warmed her from her head, right down to the tips of her toes. She nearly groaned.

Okay Blake, time to switch gears.
She forced her mind to think about the events of the evening that had conspired. After the tennis games, they had made their way down to the pool deck, mingled around with the guests, and had once again asked around. Unsurprisingly, no one had seen the Ruez’s, or if they had run into them last week, had promptly forgotten about the interaction. Afterward, they had washed up and made their way down to midweek couples counseling. Miranda had feigned a headache and had acted disinterested, and to her relief, the counselor hadn’t pressed. She had jotted down a few things in her file but the hour was uneventful. At dinner, Max had asked around and tried to use his charm but to no avail. He had, however, come back to the table with more than 1 woman’s number but with a mutter, he had mentioned all the women had been married anyway. That should have been a reassurance but it did nothing to quell Miranda’s mood. So now, they were back in their room. Regardless of Max's comforting words, Miranda still felt like they were back at square one. But she knew she couldn't get down. The Ruez's were counting on her and Max, and if they were still alive, time was running out for them. Miranda hated to be resting in a four-poster bed while the Ruez's whereabouts were still unknown, but it would do no good to anyone if she didn't have the energy for tomorrow. But what would be the harm in looking over their leads once more?

As silently as she could, she flipped her legs over the side of the bed and padded over towards the desk. She thought about clicking on the desk lamp but thought it would disturb Max. At least 1 of them should have a good night's sleep. Instead, she reached over for her phone and switched on the flashlight. Opening the file folder Ines had originally given them, Miranda took a pen and wrote down all that they had learned so far. The 2 mystery men and their boss, Bancroft, and the dead-end, even about finding the luggage down in the basement. She had a big question mark in the center of the page by the end. She could hardly keep in a sigh of frustration half an hour later. Her mind was thinking through all the possibilities, but she was just hitting dead end after dead end. Finally, she decided to call it a night. This had been a waste of time for the most part, but at least it had centered her heart. She was there with Max for one purpose and one purpose only, and she couldn't allow herself to get distracted.

She shut the file closed, but a small piece of paper slipped out and floated to the ground. Frowning, she picked it up and saw it was a picture. To be more precise, one of those old polaroid snapshots. It was another picture of Miguel and Elena, but in this one, they were posing on top of some mountain peak. Miguel had an arm wrapped around the younger actress's waist and they looked carefree. Miranda stared down at the photo, trying to take in every detail. The view was beautiful, and from the color of the foliage in the background, the picture looked like it had been taken in the winter. Elena's shirt and her- necklace? Miranda stared harder and she could see Elena's golden necklace. Where had she seen it before, and why did it look so familiar? Miranda took her phone and with the flashlight still on, opened the camera app to zoom in on the photo. Slowly, the necklace came into view. A golden sphere at the end of a long, delicate golden chain.

With a sigh, Miranda stood up from the chair and stretched, her neck and shoulder muscles protesting from being strained so long. There was no way she could sleep now, and while she wanted nothing more than to talk it over with Max, she felt bad about waking him up for this.
She got up and paced the room, the cold red tile beneath her feet sending shivers throughout her body with every step. Wrapping her arms around her waist to fend off some of the chills, she let her mind wander and think about what it would be like to have Max’s arms around her. Hugging her, giving her comfort. Stop it, Blake, what conclusion did you come to an hour ago?

With another groan, while rubbing her neck, she decided maybe walking in the balmy air would settle her nerves. It looked nice outside and being alone with her thoughts would calm her down. Miranda hurried to the door, slipping on her sandals. She glanced at Max, still dead asleep, and considered leaving him a note, but she would be back in half an hour at the most. She would fill him in in the morning.

She headed down the hallway to the elevator and with a groan, realized she had forgotten her phone in the room. She would have to go back, but she was going to be gone half an hour at the most. Making her way down to the lobby and out the door, she breathed in the cold fresh air, and scents of tropical fruit. In another lifetime, another dimension, she would have considered being here a lavish holiday, but now? Now the evil that had occurred here seemed to cast shadows on this paradise.

She made her way down to the pools, intending to head to the courts, following the same path she and Max had taken this afternoon. A genuine smile landed on her face after remembering his goofy smile and the way he had tried to get her to dance with him on the spot. No music, just an impromptu dance. After reminding him how badly their last dance had gone, he relented but she couldn’t help but think would have happened if she had said yes,

“Couldn’t sleep either?” Miranda whipped around and her eyes fell on a familiar face emerging from the shadows.

“No. I suppose I could ask you the same thing though.”

“Touche,” Marianna said with a soft laugh.

“So what are you doing out here?” Miranda asked.

“I was looking for one of my yoga mats. It disappeared this afternoon and I figured it had wandered out with one of the guests.”

“Good thinking,” Miranda said. As much as she wanted to talk with the woman, she better get back to her room before Max noticed her absence and freaked. But with the way he slept, she doubted it.

“I better get going,” Marianna said, turning towards 1 of the nearby lamps. Light glinted off her necklace.

“That’s a beautiful necklace you have there,” Miranda mentioned. “Very unique.”

“Thank you,” Marianna picked up the golden chain and rubbed the golden sphere at the end that hid a tiny golden rose inside.

“It’s very beautiful. Is it some sort of symbol?”

Surprise passed over Marianna’s face. “It’s the pendant of the goddess Demeter.”

“My Greek mythology is a little bit rusty, but wasn’t Demeter the mother of Persephone?” Miranda asked.

“Right. She was the goddess of feelings, harvests, and most of all, motherly love.” A faint smile passed the young instructor’s face. “I received it from my mother and I consider it to be one of my most prized possessions.”

In a second, realization dawned upon Miranda and she had to snap her mouth shut before gasping. No, it couldn’t be. Could it? How? Why?

“Alexandra, are you okay?” Marianna turned, her smile falling off her face slowly. “It looks like you’ve seen a ghost,” she said with a forced chuckle.
Miranda’s eyes flashed up from the necklace around the woman’s neck to her eyes. Toffee brown had nearly hardened into black, and the easy smile was completely gone. The woman’s lips pursed into a thin line.

“Hello, Marianna. Or should I say, Maya Ruez?”
____________________________________________________________________________

“Glad to know we’re on a first-name basis. Detective Blake.”

Miranda took in a sharp breath, determined not to let the woman know she had stunned her to her very core.

“How do you know what my name is?”

“It isn’t very hard to find out when you have the right people working for you. Miranda. Now tell me, detective Blake. How did you figure out who I was?”

“Your necklace. I saw a picture where Elena was wearing the same one. Someone gave it to her, and I’m pretty sure that someone was Miguel. He gave her the necklace your mother had.”

Maya’s eyes hardened and her jaw set. “Mama would be rolling in her grave right now if she knew that bitch was wearing it.”

“Maya, did you have anything to do with their disappearance? Because if you did, it would be better for you if you told me now. If you make a formal confession, it will be a lot better for you.”

A cold sneer started on the young woman’s face. Her sweet, innocent facade was just that, a facade.

“They deserved what was coming to them.”

“Fine then. I’m going to have to bring you in for questioning…”

Miranda stepped forward but in a split second, Maya had whirled around and had a pistol aimed right at Miranda’s head.

“If you get any closer, I will put a bullet in your brain. Understood?”

Miranda's arms slowly went up as the reality of the situation started to kick in. Why didn’t she tell Max? Now she was alone with no weapon at the mercy of a madwoman.

“Maya you don’t want to do this. I know you were involved in your father and his wife’s disappearance, and there will be real repercussions for that, but if you shoot me, that will be a federal crime. You’ll do a life sentence in federal prison. Do you really want that?”

“I’m not gonna shoot you, Detective Blake. At least not now. We’re gonna go for a little walk first.”

Maya stepped closer and waved the gun around. “Turn around.”

“I’m not gonna-”

The sharp barrel of a gun dug into Miranda’s back and she bit her lip before she could make any sounds of protest. She could easily knock the woman out but didn’t want to risk losing a kidney- or worse, in the process.

“Okay, okay, I’m walking,” Miranda muttered as she started walking.

“At least tell me where we’re going.”

Marianna made a sound of disapproval. “Detective Blake, I’ve heard that you’re smarter than that. You haven’t figured it out yet?”

“Okay then, I’m guessing you’re taking me somewhere remote, but still on the premises, because even you couldn’t get me out with all the security crawling around.”

“A child could come to that conclusion Miranda, come on.”

Miranda swallowed down acid burning her throat, considering all means of escape. If she tried to fight back, she might get shot in the process, but maybe she could get away and get help. They were now traveling down the pathways out by the tennis courts, getting farther and farther away from the main resort-and Max with every step.

“You’re taking me to wherever you’ve stashed Miguel and Elena.” The words caused waves of panic to crawl up her back.

Shut up,” she growled.

The 2 walked farther along in silence, trailing off the stone path and onto a well-worn dirt trail. The moon shone brightly, illuminating where they were walking. Rows of cabins that had been hidden by the treeline came into view. Miranda quickly deduced that they must be occupied by the summer staff. An in-ground pool also lay ahead on the left. It was set up similarly to that at the resort, and it even had the stone archway and makeshift courtyard. A village within a village. Miguel and Elena had to be stashed somewhere around here. If she wanted to act, she had to do it quickly.

“If you have your hired thugs here, then why did you need to take a job here? You could have just stepped back and nobody would have looked twice at the grieving daughter.”

A stormy look of anger sat on the woman’s face.

“But you had a personal vendetta, didn’t you? You needed to be here to watch them suffer. So you decided to take matters into your own hands.”

“He never gave a damn about us! He was a drunk that beat up Mama whenever he felt like it. When he came out of his stupor, he didn’t remember a single thing that happened. That he had slapped Mama around like a piece of trash.”

Miranda’s mind was racing, trying to remember everything about the case to keep the woman talking.

“Your mother was killed, wasn’t she? I remember reading about the case from a few years back. She slipped and fell down the stairs, but that wasn’t it, was it Maya?” Miranda’s voice softened.

“She was just trying to stand up for herself. He was enraged and he pushed her. She broke her neck falling. But of course, the policía would look the other way when he slipped them some money.”

“I’m sorry that happened Maya. Your mother deserves justice, and I promise that if you turn yourself in, I’ll see if I can get the case reopened. I’ll talk to my boss.”

A strained laugh emerged from the other woman’s lips. “You police are all the same. Full of empty promises. Just like him…”

“He was making a whole new life for himself, and you didn’t like that. Did you, Maya? He found a pretty new wife and was gaining worldwide acclaim as an environmentalist and philanthropist. He was presenting himself as a humanitarian when really, you knew the truth. You must’ve been pretty angry when he told you that Elena was expecting and he was kicking you out of the will.”

“He never gave a damn about anyone else but himself!” she shrieked. At that moment, Miranda stumbled forward just far enough that the gun was out of her back, whirled around, and landed a well-aimed kick at the other woman’s knees. Maya yelped, and her hand holding the gun wavered. Miranda gripped the other woman’s arm, trying to get control of the gun before falling back from a punch to the abdomen that left her reeling. Somewhere in the tousle, they ended up on the ground. Punching and kicking in a fight for her life. She registered the gun skidding away, and spotted it, just too far from her grasp. She started crawling towards it, but Maya must have recovered from the last kick, grabbed Miranda’s hair back, and landed a solid punch to her jaw. Miranda’s head snapped back onto the concrete of the pool deck and her field of vision closed in. She aimed a kick at the woman’s ankles in an attempt to sweep the woman off her feet, but Maya shifted away.

“Detective Blake, you amuse me. You didn’t think that I knew about your self-defense knowledge? Well, guess what? I’ve been in lessons since I was a child. Daddy insisted.” A look of disgust passed on the woman’s face, and she knelt. Miranda’s head swum and she struggled to focus on keeping the other woman’s face in focus.

“This wasn’t my plan Miranda, but I guess it’s going to have to do. I was going to let you live. Honestly, but by the time they’ll find you, I’ll be long gone.”

Everything was becoming blurry, but things happened so quickly that she couldn’t register it. Something pressed against her side, and shockwaves of pain ricocheted. She tried to scream, but it felt like her mouth was full of cotton. Blackness started to descend in as her body rolled over and water overwhelmed her every sense and dread set in. Please don’t let me die.
____________________________________________________________________________

 

Max shot up in bed, the remnants of a nightmare ebbing away. He tried to take a few calming breaths while slipping a sweat-dampened strand of hair back. The case. Miranda. Screaming for help. It was just a dream though. He glanced over at the other side of the bed, prepared to see Miranda’s sleeping form nestled up in the blankets, but she wasn’t there. He frowned, taking in the entire room. She wasn’t hunched over the desk, working, and a quick listen informed him that she wasn’t in the bathroom either. He sat up straighter and looked at the table for some sort of note that she left, alerting him to her whereabouts but there was nothing. Panic started to set in. Where was she? At 3 in the morning?

He got up and looked at the door, seeing that her sandals were missing as well. The lamp sitting at the desk was still on though, and papers and files were spread around. She wouldn’t do something so dangerous, would she? He forced his feet to move and pulled on some clothes sitting nearby before running out the door. Fear gripped his throat as he ran. Miranda, his partner- no the woman he loved was in danger.

He took the steps 3 at a time, down to the ground floor, fearing that the elevators wouldn’t get there in time. Finally, his feet touched the bottom and he took off in a sprint. This might be the dumbest decision he ever made if he turned out to be wrong, but he didn’t have much of a choice. He stopped in front of a glass case and flipped the alarm. Blaring noise and lights switched on, but he was already gone.
____________________________________________________________________________

 

Miranda was falling. Falling into blackness. Into darkness. She was falling, and as hard as she fought, she couldn’t get a grip. A handhold. Anything. The inky blackness surrounded her, and it was cold. So very cold. She could hear a muffled yell, but it was as if a huge object was blocking the sound, or those yelling were standing far away, and a million miles separated them. But at the very same time, she felt comfortable. Someone holding her hand? Or someone brushing back her hair maybe? Max. And with that knowledge, the blackness shifted away, and she could just, be.

____________________________________________________________________________

 

Where was she? Why didn’t she tell him where she was going?

Max turned around another column. There was no sign of Miranda anywhere. The sirens were still going on inside, and guests would soon start flooding outside. He hoped the fire brigade was on its way, along with the police in tow.

“Put your hands up!”

Fotze.

He cleared his throat. Why was this man everywhere? How would he get out of this one?

“I’m looking for my wife. She appears to have wandered off. If you don’t let me go, I’ll have my lawyers at your throat.”

Gregory stepped forward and with a vice grip on his arm, whirled him around. “Do you actually think I believe that, you idiot?”

“Who…”

“I know who you are Detective Winter. I was briefed about you and your partner’s appearance here.”

The man grabbed a badge from his back pocket. “Alvaro Fuentez. Customs Surveillance Service.”

Thank God.

‘I have plenty of questions for you sir, but my partner is still missing. It’s not like her. She would have told me.”

Alvaro nodded. “Let’s split up then.” Before leaving, he slapped a pistol into Max’s hand. “Be sure I don’t regret giving you this.”

____________________________________________________________________________

Max inched closer and closer in the pitch darkness, placing one soft footstep in front of the other. He reached into his back pocket for the gun and the metal felt cool on his sweaty palms. A cool breeze from the water lightly shook the nearby branches, and a shudder raced down his spine. He swore he heard something, like a gate opening just a few seconds ago and hurried to the place. The treeline hid his movements pretty well so he could inch forward without giving his placement away.

There it was. A figure was hunched over the gate code, occasionally looking furtively around. If he could just get closer and see…

A twig broke nearby and the figure looked up.

No.

She bolted, pushing the wrought iron gate open.

“Marianna, stop! Police!”

He ran after her, the wind whipping past his face with every step. His chest shuddered and he just prayed that he wouldn’t trip over something. At this speed, he would go sprawling. An idea popped into his head. It was something Miranda had actually done before and he had had the full privilege of witnessing. He just needed a burst of speed. Pulling from adrenaline he didn’t know he had, he closed the distance between them. 30 metres, then 25 then 15 then 10 until-.
He leapt forward and managed to make contact. At the speed she was going, she easily stumbled and fell. His own fall managed to knock the wind right out of him, but he couldn’t stop. Miranda needed him. And he needed her to be with him, right now.

He scrambled to his feet, just as Marianna tried to crawl away. “Stop, or I will shoot you.” He cocked his gun. He didn’t know what her involvement was yet, but he knew she had something to do with Miranda’s disappearance. That was good enough for him.

The woman visibly tensed, and she raised her hands above her head on the ground. “Good to see you Detective Winter. Good run we had there, wasn’t it?”

“Where is she?” The words came out rough, gutturally. The woman remained quiet. “WHERE IS SHE!?”

“Why should I tell you anything? What’s in it for me?”

He wasn’t playing games with her. She knew something about Miranda, and he needed to know. “You actually believe that I’ll make a deal with you? How about I arrest you, and you can spend a few weeks in solitary while we find out the truth.”

“Miguel and Elena don’t have that sort of time, detective. Most importantly, your little blonde partner doesn’t have nearly that time. If you let me go, I’ll tell her where she is, and you might just be able to save her life. But if you don’t, she will die with the belief that you failed her.”

Rage, panic and desperation burned deep in his stomach and crept into his chest. He was considering arresting her, until footsteps sounded behind him. He glanced back to see Alvaro running up beside them.

Max got up and motioned to the woman. “Deal with her.”

“Maya Ruez, I’m placing you under arrest for kidnapping and extortion,” Max stated her rights as Alvaro tried to cuff her arms that were still struggling to try to fight him off. In response, he dug his knee further into her back. There was no compassion for the woman. They would keep her locked up in her room until Palma Police arrived to take her into custody. Alvaro led Marianna away, back to the resort building, Marianna yelling and screaming obscenities the entire time.

Max sat back on his heels and wiped a hand through his hair while looking around. Where was Miranda? Marianna said that she didn’t have much time left.

As he headed under the archway, glimmers of light bounced off the pool and onto the stone walls and deck, nearly blinding him. He ran a hand across his face, trying to get his eyes to adjust from the dim lighting of the forest he had traipsed through, only minutes before.

He blinked and saw someone floating in the pool near the far edge. A person floating upside down. A person with distinctive blonde hair.

“Miranda!” A stab of fear and pain sliced through Max as he started running towards her. The very thought of her death nearly choking the very life out of him. He jumped, and the cold water that surrounded him was a shock to the system, but he was only focused on getting to her. “No, no, no. Miranda!” Finally, after what seemed like an eternity he reached her and flipped her soaked body over. Open eyes and blue-tinged lips met him.

“Help! Someone help! Call an ambulance!” The command flew from his lips automatically, but he didn’t know if anyone heard. He doubted it.

He dragged her to the poolside, and he jumped out, pulling her still body onto the deck. Dropping down onto his knees, he started pumping her chest. Hard, and fast. “Come on, Miranda! Come on!” With every compression, she remained unresponsive and his pain increased tenfold.

“Miranda come on! Stay with me!”

He switched, and bent down, wiping wet strands of hair out of her face and giving her 2 breaths of life. He switched back to chest compressions.

“Miranda, you’ve got to stay with me. Don’t leave me, Schatz.” He felt wetness on his face, but couldn’t tell if it was droplets of water or his tears.

Pain like he had never felt before resounded in him. And at that moment he realized how much he truly loved her. At that moment Max wished that he was in her position. Because that would mean that she would be safe and out of harm’s way. He loved her so much that he couldn’t bear the thought of living in a world without Miranda Blake. The thought of life without her was bleak suffering he feared he’d never be able to endure.

“Breathe. Miranda. Breathe.” Each word was punctuated with another compression. “Beat, damn it, beat!” ‘If you die, I will nev-’

All of a sudden, Miranda’s eyes flew open and water tumbled out of her mouth as she started to breathe. Her lithe body shook with violent hacking.

Relief and elation flooded through Max. “Miranda! Breathe Schatz, breathe. I’m here.” His arms wrapped around her shoulders and he flipped her on her side so she could breathe easier. She continued to hack and cough violently, sucking huge gulps of air in.

Suddenly, shouts reached his ears, and in a second, paramedics pushed by him, trying to get to Miranda. In a second, they loaded her onto a backboard and then onto a stretcher. Max tried to push by.

“Please! Let me see her! Let me go with her!”

The head paramedic must have seen just a fraction of the desperation in his eyes and voice, as he motioned Max over. Max rushed to her side, and took a cold hand between his, gripping it. Miranda was unconscious once again, but she was breathing. She was alive.

Max ran alongside the stretcher, as they raced the distance through the back property, through the courtyard and out to the front of the building where the ambulance was parked. They loaded her into the back, and once she was safely inside, he shoved his way in to see her. Wild horses couldn’t stop him from being by the side of the woman he loved.
____________________________________________________________________________

 

The stark smell of disinfectant that permeated the air was borderline nauseating, and Miranda could only scrunch up her nose in disgust. The light still managed to slip through her closed eyelids, and her body nearly wanted to crouch back, but every part of her body ached. Max. The case. Fighting with Maya. The pool.

In an instant, her heart rate spiked and Miranda’s eyes shot open.

“Schatz, it’s okay. I’m here.” In a flash, Max was there, and he was holding her, gripping her shoulders, which warmed her and gave her comfort.

She tried to speak, but her voice cracked. Max pulled back with a start, and looked at her for a second, just taking her in. Finally, he shifted and brought a glass of water to her lips. She drank greedily, suddenly parched, but he pulled it back before she could choke.

Finally, she had a chance to look at him. For the first time since she had met him, Max Winter looked so uncharacteristically like Max Winter. This Max looked… weary. Bags now sat under the folds of his eyes, new stress lines had appeared on his forehead, his shoulders were drawn forward and his usually bright blue eyes had lost some of their luster.

“You look like crap,” she croaked.

He stared back at her in surprise, but to her delight, the corner of his mouth pulled up into a smirk and then the other side followed until he was full out smiling. And then laughing.

“What?”

Max chuckled and then turned back to her. “Glad to know you’re still the same Miranda."

“You gave me a real scare, there Companero,” he said with a look in his eyes that she couldn’t discern, a look that was soft and tender at the same time.

“What happened? Did you get her?”

“Yeah. Maya is in police custody, and she’s expected to go away for quite a while.”

He reached out his hand and covered hers with his. His warm palms were a comfort to the coldness that wouldn’t seem to flee. He started to speak again.

“I woke up, and saw that you weren’t there, and I knew that something had happened. We found Maya trying to make her mistake and arrested her, but when I passed the pool…” Max took a shuddering breath in, and Miranda could’ve sworn that unshed tears were glistening in his eyes. She gripped his hand as best she could in hers.

“...I found you in the pool, facedown. Christus. It was a sight I never want to see again.” He stopped, and took another unsteady breath in, turning his head away from hers. She continued squeezing his hand, giving him as much comfort as she could.

“I pulled you out of the water and began administering CPR. You started coughing, and then the paramedics rushed you to the hospital.”

She nodded. “I remember. Vaguely.”

This time, he looked at her in shock. “You do?”

“Just bits and pieces. I remember me and Maya fighting for control of the gun, and then it flew into the water. Then she must have gotten the upper hand somehow and then I was falling. I must have hit the back of my head on the poolside because the next thing I knew, water was surrounding me.”

Max nodded, thinking. “We found a collapsible stun gun in her clutch, so maybe she used that on you.”

“Hmm, possibly. It would explain a bit.” She thought for a second and then looked up at him. “So how long have I been out for?”

Another shroud of sadness surrounded them, and Max turned away once again to stare somewhere at the floor, at the edge of the bed. Anywhere but at her.

“... Forty eight hours. The longest hours of my life. I was just waiting for you to wake up because the doctor said that you were supposed to, but you just lay there.” By the end of the statement, Max was whispering, barely audible over the sounds of the heart rate monitor she was still hooked up to.

“Max… you were here the whole time?” Surprise shifted through her, and she looked past his head. An armchair rested in the corner, a rumpled blanket pushed to the side. Clearly, a kind nurse had put it in there for him, but Max’s large frame would have still dwarfed it.

She looked back at him, and he was staring at her. The light in his eyes slowly came back.
“Of course. I would never leave your side, Miranda. Never.”

She gave him a tentative smile. “I know. You’ll always have my back, Max. That’s what I like about you.” That’s what you love about him, you mean. That and a million other things.

 

He gave her a sad smile in return. “Of course.” Finally, with a groan, he sat up from the edge of the bed. Her hand still latched onto his. He extracted his hand from hers, and she immediately missed his touch, but he took that hand and tentatively reached toward her face. She leaned forward slightly, and his fingers lightly brushed her bruised cheek. Her eyes fluttered closed, as his fingertips moved away from her cheek to her hair, lightly wrapping the strands around his fingers, before moving it behind her ear.

“Schatz,” he whispered.

She forced her eyes open although she had the urge to keep them closed and savor the touch.

“What does that mean?”

His beautiful blue eyes met hers, and her breath once again caught in her throat.

The edge of his mouth quirked up once again, but this time Miranda hinted an air of sadness. “... Friend.”

His fingers left her cheek, and her skin immediately missed the touch. The closeness. The intimacy. Max.

"You should probably get some sleep. You're probably exhausted. Everyone wants to see you, and sometime later, an officer will come to get your statement."

"Okay."

He braced his hands on the sides of the bed and he sat up. His back cracked in protest, and she was reminded that he had slept in that pathetic little armchair for hours. Waiting for her. He had pulled her out of the water and had revived her. And suddenly she knew...

These last few days, being around Max, relying on him and handing over their entire trust to the other to survive, had shown her that the walls she had spent so many years creating around her, were so easily broken by him. Any walls or hard façade she made were shattered by one look of his eyes or one of his boyish smiles. He had had her back since day 1, and had since given her friends, a new outlook to life and had opened up his life to include her. Yes, she had indeed fallen hard for the goofy, laid back, fun-loving side of him, but he was so much more. He was so dedicated and loyal to his friends, his family, his job and the people he served. And she needed to tell him. It would be better to live the rest of her life knowing that she had told him the truth, then continue living a lie. Even if he rejected her.

“Max.”

He turned to look at her, reaching for the door.

Miranda mustered all the courage she had, her heart thundering with fear.

“Max, I’m in love with you.” The statement was clear, although soft, and for a second she wished she could take it back. It was the truth, but she was scared to acknowledge it. To face the repercussions.

His whole body froze, his muscles visibly tightening up. His expression was unreadable. Miranda’s heart dropped. Of course… why was she so stupid? He clearly saw her as nothing more than a friend, if his Schatz comment held any reality. Embarrassment started to flood her cheeks, and she closed her eyes. At that moment she wished the ground would open up and swallow her alive.

But in an instant, Max covered the distance between them in 3 strides, coming back to her side.

“What did you say?” he breathed out, confusion setting in his eyes.

“... I...I uh, said that I loved you, but it’s okay if you don’t feel the same,” she ended her statement in a rush, closing her eyes again and turning her head to the side. She didn’t want to be here when he told her that he was just her friend, or that he still had feelings for Carmen, or... something…

A soft palm met her cheek once more, and he slowly pulled her head back until she was meeting his eyes. His thumb strayed and was slightly rubbing her cheek and then the corner of her lip.

"I love you too, Miranda, my Schatz, my love.”

Her eyes widened, her heart rate sped up, and her mouth opened in shock. But she couldn’t form a reasonable thought or statement before Max leaned in and closed the distance, his lips descending on hers.

The kiss was gentle at first, Max’s lips barely pressing against hers, but then with a groan, he let all reservations go, and deepened the kiss. His other hand reached up to cup her face with surprising tenderness, and Miranda poured all of her emotions of these past few days and months into that kiss. Unlike their kiss in the shadows several evenings ago, this one was free of reservation and hesitancy.

Finally, Max leaned back, breaking the kiss, his breath whispering against her bottom lip, but their eyes were locked on the other, not daring to let go. A soft smile spread across their faces, and Max continued to look at her with tender eyes.

“You scared me, you know that?”

“To be honest, I scared myself a little bit.”

Max chuckled in response and pulled her into his warm embrace. Miranda gladly leaned forward, and let herself fall into his arms. He rubbed his hand up and down her arms, and they just sat there, happy to be alive, and even happier to have found each other.

A sharp rapping at the door, followed by Ines letting herself into the room surprised both of them, and both Max and Miranda stiffened and moved back in surprise. Ines leaned against the doorframe, eyeing the two of them.

“Well, I was going to see how Detective Blake was doing, and give Detective Winter an update, but I guess since we’re all here, I guess I can do both, si?

Both Max and Miranda nodded their agreement, their cheeks tinted a peculiar shade of red, and either one of them dared not to make eye contact with their boss.

“First of all, I just wanted to let you know that we found Mr. Ruez and Mrs. Ruez safe, in one of the spare buildings not far from where Winter found you, Blake. They were taken to hospital, and apart from dehydration and a few cuts and bruises, they’re expected to make a full recovery. Mrs. Ruez has been checked over and all is well with her and her baby.”

“I’m so relieved,” Miranda said. Max took her hand and squeezed it comfortingly.

“And after a few hours in solitary and threats, Maya Ruez gave a full statement. She told us the name of everyone on her paylist, so we were able to bring in some low-level criminals and drug dealers.”

“Drug dealers? Is that why Alvaro Fuentez was there undercover?” Max asked.

“Yes. SVA had planned a stint there to uncover a drug trafficking ring. We just didn’t expect for our cases to overlap. Thankfully, Fuentez informed me that they had enough evidence to bring their perps in.”

“And what about Carl Bancroft? There’s got to be some charge for him, right?”

Ines shook her hand. “As much as I want to charge him Blake, there’s nothing solid that will stick. But I did overhear that his dealings are going to be made public. I doubt he’ll be able to recover financially from that.”

“I suppose that’s justice in it’s own way.” Miranda thought for a second. “What will happen to Miguel Ruez? Maya told me that he killed his wife 10 years ago by pushing her down the stairs when he was drunk.”

“We’ll charge him for manslaughter, but there’s no guarantee that the charges will stick. Any good lawyer will be able to reduce the charges, but we’ll still try.”

Miranda nodded, looking plaintive. “I can’t help but feel bad for Maya in some way. Watching her father kill her mother, get remarried, and leave her nothing.”

Max laid a warm palm on her hand. “We’ll try our best to get justice for everyone, Companero. We’ll just do our jobs.”

Ines cleared her throat, “ I also wanted to give you my congratulations on solving the case. This will never happen again, so savor the feeling, si?”

“Yes, Ma’am”.

“I also took the liberty of booking the two of you off for the week. Both of you can return on Monday.” Miranda especially looked at Ines with a mixture of surprise and shock.

“You can continue with your uh...celebration.”

If it was physically possible, both Miranda and Max’s faces flamed a brighter shade of red, reminiscent of 2 teenagers being caught in the act by their parents.

As Ines turned on her heel and walked out the door, clicking it shut behind her, the 2 detectives picked up where they left things off, celebrating life and each other. Besides, it was just another one of those days where a German and Welsh detective finally declared their love for each other.

Finis.