Disclaimer: Characters do not belong to me, but to the Stratemeyer Syndicate and Simon & Schuster. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Notes: To follow the story.

****

Nancy hit the water and felt nothing but the cold bite of the fifty degree salt water. The shock might have knocked her out for a second, she wasn't sure. All she knew was that with her hands tied together, she submerged for a moment before she managed to kick her way to the surface. It proved to be warmer under the freezing waves; the wind chill on the surface had her shivering within seconds. She gulped huge breaths of air as she treaded water. Her face felt sticky with the blood meant to attract predators. How long would it be before one came to the boat, searching for the source of the scent, searching for the bait, but finding her instead?

She tried not to think about it too much. Everything she knew about sharks led her to believe that most attacks were usually a case of mistaken identity, the fish taking a human for a seal or a turtle. But then, she was in the midst of a blood slick, kicking her legs to keep her head above the water. She was a fairly big piece of sitting bait.

Whipping her head from side to side, Nancy scanned the water around her. If she got out of the slick, perhaps her chances would be better. She didn't know how far it extended around the boat, but she began to kick forward, pushing herself through the frigid water as best she could with her bound arms. Through the water that lapped up around her ears and the roar of the wind, she tried to hear if Frank was calling her name, but she heard nothing. She wanted to yell, to let him know she was still there, but her lips were stiff from the cold. In fact, the more she moved, the more effort it took to do so. Hypothermia, Nancy thought with a silent groan.

Well, it was better than a shark bite.

****

"Patrick?" Joe approached the ICU bed cautiously. His friend was hooked up to too many machines to count, but he managed to open his eyes upon hearing his named called. "Hey. You know you look like crap, right?"

The corners of Patrick's mouth turned up. "Yeah." His voice was faint and strained. "But I'm alive."

"That's what counts." Clearing his throat, Joe continued, "What happened, Patrick? Who did this?"

It took a moment for him to reply. "I wish…I wish I could take it all back, Joe. God, I wish I…could." His throat stuck. "I was…desperate. For money. I'd never had it…in my whole life." He closed his eyes for a long moment, gathering his strength. "I'm so…sorry. I didn't know…"

"Didn't know what?"

"That Frank…was in the…the restaurant. Or that he…knew the red-head."

"Nancy?" Joe frowned as all the pieces came together. "Oh, Patrick…man."

"Yeah." Patrick looked away. "I fucked up. I wanted out. They…well, you can see their answer…to that."

Joe grabbed onto the metal frame of the hospital bed and hung his head. "You snatched Nancy's purse? You set the fire at Curacao?"

"And the other stuff…at the restaurant." Patrick nodded as much as he could, wincing from the pain it caused. "I'd take it…all back if I could."

"I know, man." He ran his hands down his face. "I know."

His wounded friend glanced around the room. "Where's Frank?"

"He and Nancy are off somewhere, I don't know where."

Patrick's eyes grew wider. "No…no, you have to…keep an eye on them!" He struggled, like he was trying to sit up.

"Hey, Patrick, chill out! You just had massive surgery!"

"They…they know…who Nancy…is." His breath heaved. "They're…gonna…"

He didn't need to spell it out for his friend. Joe cursed sharply. "Where would they be taken?"

****

As soon as Nancy went overboard, Frank went wild on his ropes. Kicking and twisting, he fought them with righteous fury. "Nancy!!" He lashed out at the man in charge with his bound feet. "If anything happens to her, you bastard, I swear…"

"You swear what?" he laughed, as he held down Frank's ankles and untied his feet. "What are you going to do to me?"

Frank gritted his teeth, but he had no reply.

"That's what I thought." The man reached for Frank's roped hands and hauled him to his feet so hard that it felt like his shoulder was almost dislocated. He made no noise of pain, however, refusing to give his captor the satisfaction. "Your turn. You can say hello to your little girlfriend. If there's anything left of her."

The words conjured up so many horrible images of things that could be happening to Nancy, that it set something off in Frank. With a superhuman burst of strength, he wrestled his hands out of his bindings. The ropes scraped his skin raw and drew blood, but he didn't notice or care. Balling up one hand, he struck, landing a hard punch across the man's face.

Before he could recover, Frank sent his other fist straight into their captor's stomach. The man groaned and doubled over. Without waiting, Frank ran over to the side of the boat. "Nancy!! Nancy…answer m…"

He was abruptly cut off by the man who had started the chum slick grabbing him around the throat in a choke-hold. With wild motions, Frank clawed at the arm around his neck that was already starting to cut off his oxygen supply. He kicked back at the man's knees, but it didn't do much good. The lack of air had his head spinning.

Suddenly, he felt himself pulled away from the choke-hold. A fist slammed into his stomach, knocking what little air he'd managed to get into his lungs right back out again. When he opened his eyes, he saw the man in charge standing over him with the pistol pointed straight at his face.

"You're determined. I'll give you that." He licked blood off the corner of his lip. "But your amateur antics will only get you so far…and this is it."

Frank slowly straightened. Just over the man's shoulder, he could see a light coming towards them across the black bay. He recognized the source.

The US Coast Guard.

He was going to be all right. But Nancy…he closed his eyes. He could only hope.

****

Her breath was coming in short, shallow pants and her kicking motions were sluggish, barely enough to keep her head above the water. Nancy never gave up hope, but she had to admit, she was almost on the edge of accepting defeat. Drowning, freezing, either was a better alternative to being nibbled by a…

Shark.

Nancy legs stopped moving the moment she saw the white streak just under the water's surface. Fear was a strong, bitter taste in the back of her throat. Without the kicking motions keeping her head above the water, she began to slip below the surface. She tried to hold her breath for as long as possible, but soon the burning need for oxygen became too much and every instinct propelled her to kick up.

The moon peaked out from behind a curtain of dark clouds, allowing just enough light for Nancy to see the tip of the shark's fin slicing through the choppy water.

"Oh god," she whispered out loud, her teeth chattering so hard she nearly bit her tongue. It was coming towards her.

Thinking quick, Nancy let her body float to the surface, as though she were a piece of flotsam. Her eyes were closed under the cold water, but she could sense the enormous power of the predator as it came closer to her. When she felt a hard nudge to her side, she opened her eyes, wincing at the salt sting.

The shark was probably no longer than she was, certainly not the enormous size of Jaws, but that didn't mean it was any less deadly. Nancy watched it swim underneath her body; had her life not been in serious jeopardy, she might have admired the beauty of the creature as it glided below her. The bump hadn't hurt, but she was very afraid it was just a prelude. Bump and bite, was that what it was called?

Her lungs cried for air, so she lifted her head and sucked in a huge lungful. Putting her face back in the water, she saw the shark turn in a fluid curve. Every instinct told her to swim away, to get the hell out of the water, but where was she going to go? Nancy kicked her legs hard, scissoring away as fast as she could. The shark was much faster though and swam straight towards her.

As it got closer and closer, Nancy's panic grew. Was this going to be the end? Would she never see her father or Hannah or her friends, Ned…or Frank ever again? She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the pain, hoping that whatever happened, she'd pass out soon.

When there was no jagged, crushing bite, her eyes popped open. A quick look around told her that the shark was going to make another pass. The combination of the freezing water and paralyzing fear was too much. For the first time in her memory, Nancy felt her body giving up.

Before she could slip below the surface, something landed in the water in front of her. Her vision was a little fuzzy from the salt water, but she could recognize that it was a life preserver. A life saver. She grabbed the circle of heavy foam and stuck her arm through it, keeping her eyes on the shark's fin, now only a dozen yards away from her.

"Nancy!" She heard Frank's voice just as someone pulled the preserver up, dragging her out of the water along with it. Holding on for dear life, Nancy waited for the feeling of solid wood beneath her feet. She had no idea what was going on, but she was out of the water and, most importantly, alive.

Several people reached for her and pulled her over the railing. Cold, wet and exhausted from the adrenaline rush of coming face to face with a great white shark, Nancy collapsed on the deck of the boat, not caring where she was, even if it was back in her captor's grasp.

"Nancy." Warm hands cupped her face. She opened her eyes and found herself staring into Frank's. "Oh, god, Nancy." Suddenly, his mouth was on hers; she whimpered from the heat of the kiss. It felt so good, so right. Desperate passion, pent-up longing…Nancy's head spun when he pulled back. "You're all right." Frank ran his hands across her shoulders and down her arms, examining her for any injuries or wounds. "You're all right," he repeated. "I was so scared…" He stopped when he noticed that her body was shaking from the cold. "Joe! Blankets!"

Her teeth chattered as she asked, "What…happened?"

Joe answered her as he ran over with a thick, wool blanket, emblazoned with the words, US Coast Guard. "Patrick came out of surgery and told me what they had planned for you. Fortunately they were the only boat out on the Bay in this weather and we didn't have any trouble finding you. The guys who did this are handcuffed downstairs."

Frank draped the blanket around Nancy, bundling her up against the wind. "We'll get you some coffee…we've got to get you warm. Joe?"

"I'm on it." Joe headed off, leaving them alone on the boat's deck.

Nancy closed her eyes, letting a single tear fall down her cheek. "I thought I was going to die," she whispered. "The shark bumped me…and then it started back towards me and I thought…I'm never going to see the people I love again." She slowly opened her eyes again. "I thought I might never see you again."

"I know what you mean." He pushed wet locks of hair off of her cheeks. "I know…I was terrified. Nancy, I'm so sorry…I snapped at you at the hospital because I was worried about Patrick and what he had done, and I didn't want to acknowledge that a friend of mine could…"

"Shh." Nancy pressed a cold finger against his lips. "It's all right. It's all right…I promise."

Frank shook his head. "I acted like a jerk; I…"

She cut him off by replacing her finger with her lips. This kiss was longer than any they'd ever shared before, and no one who witnessed it would have dared interrupt it. The blanket dropped away from Nancy's shoulders as she wrapped her arms around Frank's neck, kissing him like she'd wanted to for years. Frank's strong, but gentle hands twisted into her wet hair, and suddenly Nancy was anything but cold.

****

"I'd like to propose a toast." On the roof of her apartment where she'd gathered Nancy and her friends for a very special Fourth of July celebration, Victoria raised her glass of champagne and waited for her younger guests to do the same. "To the new and improved Curacao. To friends who have gone on to a better existence." Her voice shook slightly as she paid tribute to her murdered business partner.

"To friends that stayed with us," Joe added, thinking about Patrick who was still in recovery. But after his friends' wounds healed, his legal battles would start as he testified against the crime family that had held him under their thumbs for so long.

"And, last but not least, to freedom from tyranny," Victoria finished up.

"Here, here!" George proclaimed.

Nancy smiled as she took a sip of the bubbly drink. Freedom. Yes, it was certainly something to be celebrated. But she knew that Victoria wasn't only talking about the historical importance of the idea, but the freedom she was currently enjoying, freedom from the threats that had plagued her and her restaurant. In some small way, Nancy was glad to have been a part of securing that freedom for her friend.

The San Francisco night was cool, but not cold, and so clear that even with the city lights, the stars were visible in all their splendor. Victoria's building offered a wonderful view of the Golden Gate Bridge, which was lit up almost as much as the night sky. It was a picture perfect summer holiday evening.

"Hey." Frank's voice roused Nancy out of her thoughts. He gave her a warm look as he set down his glass. "In case I haven't already told you this…you look so beautiful tonight."

Her cheeks flushed and she instinctively looked down at her outfit, a dark sea-foam green gauzy number that just skimmed her knees. She had accented it with a old fashioned lace shawl that draped gracefully around her slender arms. "Thank you. You don't look so bad yourself, Hardy." And he didn't in khaki pants and a dark blue shirt.

"This old thing? You're too kind."

She laughed, and once again Frank found himself amazed at the power her smile had over him. If he hadn't known for sure that he wanted a future with this woman, he was certain right then. Clearing his throat, he shot a look at his brother, who stood on the other side of the roof's little garden patio, chatting with George and Victoria, and pigging out on the delicious appetizers. Joe caught his eye and nodded; they'd had a long discussion the night before, and knowing that his brother was behind him one-hundred percent made him at least a little less nervous.

He looked back at Nancy. She was staring at the stars, her chin tipped upwards exposing the pure line of her throat. Frank took a deep breath. "Nancy. Can we talk?"

Nancy visibly swallowed and turned her head to look at him. "All right."

After leading her to the stone and brick wall around the roof, Frank reached for her hand. "Seeing you go overboard…well, it was horrible, but it was also a kick in the head…one I think I needed." He paused for a moment. "I know it's only been a week, but really hasn't it been more like years? You always had Ned; I always had Callie, but…"

She finished the thought for him. "There's always been something with us. I know. I've felt it, too."

"I just think…we make sense, Nancy. And I'm trying not to be too analytical about this because Joe seems to think that's unromantic, but you and I *are* analytical. It's just one of a hundred things we have in common. If I were a third party looking at us together, I'd assume we were, you know, together. So…" Taking another breath, Frank laid it all out. "Why aren't we?"

"Why aren't we together?" Nancy looked down at her hand as it rested in his warm one. "Honestly, I have no idea."

"I know you're still technically with Ned, so I'm not sure if this is the best way to go about this, but I want to give us a try, Nancy. I believe that we'd work out; I believe in us." The look Frank gave her was one of boyish inquiry, with just a trace of worry that rejection might be right around the corner. Her heart melted.

"I believe in us, too," she whispered.

Frank visibly relaxed. "I don't want to rush you if you need time to adjust, and don't want to go straight from one relationship into another. I'll wait however long you need before…"

Nancy shook her head. "Frank Hardy, I don't want to wait too long to call you my boyfriend. Yes, I have things to settle, but…" She entwined her fingers with his. "I want to be with you."

"God, Nancy. You have no idea how long I've wanted to have this exact conversation with you."

She smiled at him, coyly. "How did we wrap things up in your mind?"

"Like this." He pulled her up against his chest and lowered his lips to hers. She was so sweet, like cinnamon and sugar; how lucky was he to be the man she wanted?

The sounds of fireworks exploding in the air broke their kiss. The sky lit up with greens and reds, blinding whites and dazzling blues over the city's famous bridge. Nancy sighed as Frank slipped his arm around her waist; she leaned into him and rested her cheek on his shoulder.

George and Joe joined them to watch the Fourth of July display. Over the top of Nancy's head, Frank caught Joe winking at him. He rolled his eyes good-naturedly.

"So," George started, grinning at her best friend. "Another Hardy/Drew adventure ends, eh?"

Because Frank and Nancy were too wrapped up in the fireworks, as well as each other, to answer, Joe replied for them. "Nah. I'd say it's just starting."

****

The End

A/N: Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys will return in "Dance of Death." Look for it...um...sometime soon. It will be a continuation of sorts of this story, so I hope you keep reading! Thank you once again for all the reviews! You've been a great audience.

Kristen Elizabeth