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!”
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?”
“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.”
‘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.
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.
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."
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.
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?”
“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.