Fandom:Murder Call (Tessa Vance novels)
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters. They belong to Jennifer Rowe and Hal McElroy.
Genre: Angst, romance, hurt/comfort
Rating: K+ – occasional swearing and mention of adult situations.
Summary: Sometimes you need something to push you into action, even if it is what you least expect.

By neela

The ticking was unbearable. Couldn't it just stop? It didn't need to go the whole round, just stop in the middle of the count, halting time, halting what was happening. Tick tick, tick tick. The clock went on without a care to her restless, nearly synchronised pacing. She tried sitting down, managing a few seconds on the tip of the seat before jumping to her feet again and setting off along the now familiar route back and forth between the kitchenette and the couch.

She hadn't even bothered shrugging out of her jacket or slipping her shoes off after she got home. Just went straight to the bathroom, did her deed, and now had to wait the agonising five minutes it would take before she had an answer. Ironic how it had taken almost the exact same amount of time to land her in this situation; give or take a few minutes. A drunken quickie on the living room floor—the start of the end. That's what this was, wasn't it? Should the results be...?

No, she couldn't think about this right now. It wasn't true yet. Maybe it was just a fancy? No, not a fancy. She couldn't fancy something like this. Could she? She had once, when she was younger, but that was so many lifetimes ago, before her life took a turn for sleepless nights and endless obsessions with puzzles and bizarre mysteries.

Tick tick. The timer was down to two minutes. Had it really been only three minutes? It felt longer. It had to be longer. But then again, it couldn't be, because she was supposed to be back at the office already. A quick trip home to fetch something; that had been her excuse. Too impatient to wait until the end of the day to check her suspicions. It would have been unbearable to stay cooped up at the office for hours on end, mind off-track because of a silly moment that never should have happened.

Should she tell him about this?

No, absolutely not! She couldn't put that kind of burden on him. They both had enough as it was. And if it should be was her weight to carry. Literary. He needn't know anything about it. But what should she do if it was positive? She couldn't stay at the office or work with him any longer. It would be obvious after a while and then he would find out. She would have to go on leave or transfer. Yet the thought of leaving Homicide, of leaving him, behind with no explanation had little appeal.

Could she hide it? Was it possible to hide it up until a certain point and then take some leave off and be gone for the rest of the confinement? No, impossible. Sure she could hide it, but someone would be bound to discover it sooner and later, and then he'd learn the truth.

Silly woman. She couldn't worry about this now! It was still fifty-fifty. She had no idea what the result would be. All she had was a gut feeling and even those had more often than not been wrong. And she remembered them because of the pained reality it brought about her fallibility.

The clock suddenly gave off one long wail, startling her.

She strode quickly over to the six-seater kitchen table but lost courage as soon as it was within sight, turning away. She couldn't do this. She couldn't look. She should just pick it up and throw it away without ever looking at it. Forget it and the traitorous wantons following it. Her hand had already picked it up and was making a wide sweep towards the garbage bin before her eyes burst open in unlimited curiosity and fear.

Oh God.

So her gut feeling had once more been correct.

No, no, this couldn't be. It had to be a mistake. A fluke. She couldn't be, could she? Was five minutes really all it took?

She had to confirm this somehow. She threw away the item and picked up another box, running through the same routines, restlessly pacing the floor while the clock ticked away her sanity.

Four boxes later, it was still the same. Shit.

She sank down on a kitchen chair, suddenly out of fight and strength to stay upright. Her neck was tense as a wire and she couldn't force herself to relax. Her eyes burned in humility and beratement. Tense fingers ran through her hair and ground the nails painfully into her scalp. A small price to pay for her stupidity.

What was she supposed to do now? He was expecting her back at work. Could she call in sick? No, he would worry and probably come check up on her. Most of all, he would be suspicious. She wasn't sick earlier. But could she face him knowing what she knew now?

A shrill ringing threw her out of the loop and she jumped to her feet, prepared to turn the clock off hastily until she realised it was the phone. She should let the machine answer it. She really should, but she couldn't help the hand reaching out automatically and pushing the button.

"Hello? Um, yeah, I'm still at home. No, I'm all good now. I'll...I'll be there in twenty. Okay. Good. See you. Bye."

The phone was returned to its spot on the kitchen bench, a sudden strange calm descending over her as if the call had been exactly what she needed. Okay. What was done was done. There was no rectifying the past. Now she just had to cope with it. She was an adult and adults handled the consequences of their actions. At present, she had fulfilled her immediate need for an answer to her growing suspicions. That meant work was next step. There wasn't any other alternative. Not today, at least. But she would keep this quiet until she had a doctor to confirm it. No one could know. Not even Tootsie. It was her secret.

Tessa threw all the empty boxes and incriminating evidence into the garbage bin, tying the plastic bag close and pulling it roughly out of the bin and replacing it with another. Then she grabbed her keys, turned off the lights, and left the apartment with the garbage bag in hand. It was thrown in the bins outside and she pushed it away from her mind as she got into her car and a familiar state of mind.

It was hard to hide a growing belly underneath the slowly constricting suit jackets. If it hadn't been for the unusually cold winter, she wouldn't have known what to do. Thick sweaters and heavy coats were perfect to hide her secret, and she always made sure to wear clothes that hid the slight bulge. However, she knew any sudden change in wardrobe would draw attention, and so she tried to do it subtly and slowly. So far no one had suspected anything and Tootsie had even thought her slightly different style chic and modern. Tessa was pleased.

But it was getting harder to keep it secret when things made her queasy whereas before she hadn't been, or the odd cravings she had to force down during work hours or at least in company. She got more and more isolated. She went to the pub with the others occasionally, but it became less and less as she felt herself alienated by the secret she carried within.

What hurt more than keeping the father out of the knowing, was the dejected looks Tootsie sent her when she turned down her proposals to social events. She couldn't tell, however. Not a soul. This was her burden to bear. She couldn't push it on anyone else. Just one more month and she would be on her way. The arrangements were already in the making. She just needed Thorne's signature on some papers and she would be out of their hair.

All hurt and isolation aside, however, she was pleased she managed to somewhat keep up the act. Soon she made up decent and believable excuses for her absence and subtle changes, which none of them seemed to draw into questioning. Besides, she doubted he even noticed she was changing before his very eyes. Since that night, things had been both better and worse, but a mutual understanding seemed to have been met to never speak of it again. Neither could afford digging up old bones, least of all her, and so she often tried to avoid situations that could bring up the topic or memory. She was certain he noticed to some degree, but felt confident he brushed it off as something else as he never called her up on it, not even with a wayward glance.

Though she had come to the resolution of keeping the secret, she had thought of taking it away by medical methods. But after so many years of rejection and doubt she simply couldn't do it. Maybe it was his religious views that had rubbed off on her, or maybe it was that she respected his views on the matter without him knowing. Or maybe she was just a sad case of extreme loneliness, someone who just wanted a piece of love and warmth in her life. She didn't know, and it often kept her awake at nights, but while at work, it was gone from her mind.

It was as if the secret never managed to sneak into her second life. Restricted to the hours where she was simply a woman and not an officer with responsibility and authority. This event had certainly made her aware there was still a piece of a woman long thought lost to career choice and reasonable decisions. Someone she hadn't realised she missed. But now that she had her back, she doubted she could ever let that piece go.

This all drove her further into isolation until she was sitting alone on a Friday night after work, celebrating a successful case with a mug of hot chocolate and an incriminating magazine. They had all wanted her to come with them, even him, but she had turned them down politely, saying she had a date with Bridget. Although none of them knew Tessa's long-time friend had transferred to Canberra two months prior, she still kept up the pretense of having Bridget around for the sake of having a viable excuse.

It was only afterwards it struck her it was the first time she wasn't on a post-case celebratory drink, with the exception of the few times she had been in the ER or Casualty down at the station, and now it was currently buggering her greatly. It certainly made her appear suspicious and without a doubt, they were discussing it in some way down at the pub. And with its discussion, who knew what thoughts and ideas could be born from it?

On the other hand, Tessa tried to forget it while she curled up on the couch underneath a soft woollen blanket, magazine propped across her lap displaying ads for furniture and items she would need in the future, hot chocolate in hand, and soft classical pieces by Mozart on the stereo which she had heard was good. The constricting suit pants and long-sleeved tunic with empiric waist were gone and replaced with a comfy fleece outfit she bought earlier in the week in the special section at the clothes store.

Suddenly there was a quick rap on the door.

Tessa froze. At the second knock, however, she hastily turned off the stereo in the hopes the visitor had not heard it and believed she wasn't home.

She knew it was a futile hope, though. The lights were on and people could see that from the street when they came to the apartment building, even with the curtains drawn. And the visitor was certainly consistent and patient, the knocking only increasing slightly as her mind reeled for several long heartbeats.

Her gut was telling her over and over that it was him, while her head tried to tone down the frenzied despair and stay clear. As it stood, she had but two alternatives.

If she let the knocking go unanswered, the visitor might go away. Considering whom she suspected behind that door, it was a big 'if'.

On the other hand, if she answered the door the secret would be out in the open, exposed to him even underneath the baggy fleece outfit.

Tessa couldn't deny a part of her wanted to open that door. She was getting tired of hiding, of keeping up a charade, of winding up in isolation from her friends and colleagues. Sleep had eluded her for a long time and she knew it had been showing, and though she felt certain they might brush it off as her usual insomnia, with all the other pieces she had presented them it wouldn't be hard to complete the puzzle. And there was something in the pit of her being that wanted to relax again.

But still she wavered, unsettled, uncertain, until a very familiar and noticeable click was heard from the door unlocking.

Now there was neither doubt of the visitor's identity nor his intentions. Only one kept a spare key in reserve for her, and he had come prepared, knowing she was home. How long had he...?

She wasn't able to think further as the door opened and the man himself stepped inside, tall and dark, pausing with his arms hanging straight down at his sides, staring right at her with those penetrable, dark eyes that sent butterflies or stones to her stomach depending on the situation. Now there was a bit of both. He was still wearing his suit, but the tie hung loosely around his neck and the top button had been unfastened to reveal a patch of dark skin underneath.

Tessa slowly withdrew her eyes and closed the magazine in her lap, slipping it to the seat beside her face-down, effectively hiding the incriminating front cover. Perhaps she could save the situation, with a bit of luck and clear-headedness, should it be in her favour.

A few more long moments passed before he broke it.

"When're you gonna stop lying to us?" he accused quietly, seriously, darkly, reaching into the depth of her being. Breath halting momentarily in her throat, she pulled the blanket up to cover the secret with downcast eyes, trapping it in place with tense fingers.

"I don't know what you're talking about," she said nervously, trying to pull off an expressionless face like he had done so many times before her, but failed and instantly knew this could only go one way.

He scoffed. "Like hell you do! You know exactly what I'm talking about. When're you gonna come clean? I know Bridget Murphy transferred two months ago to a Rape squad in Canberra. I called to check," he added as her throat constricted. "What's with you?" he continued wonderingly. "You've never been such a liar before. I feel like I don't know you any longer."

The accusation stung and the realisation she only had herself to blame made her eyes burn. She shifted slightly so he couldn't see her face from his postion by the front door, fisting the blanket in her hands.

"Maybe you don't?" she suggested quietly, still clinging on to a bitter hope that maybe she could avoid this somehow, although she was already in too deep. He knew about Bridget. He had been suspicious enough to check her story. She felt so out of control. This wasn't Central Homicide. This was her home. The sudden and willing intrusion had rattled her cage.

"Maybe," he intoned flatly. "But I still want to know what the hell's going on." He paused for a long moment, leaving time for thoughts to rumble around in their minds. His voice was low and surprisingly soft when he next spoke. "It's been four months, Tessa. It's not gonna go away, you know."

Tessa wanted to laugh at the bizarre irony of it all. How true his statement was! There was actually a living proof right underneath her nose!

"Don't I know it," she said below her breath, but clammed up soon afterwards when she heard him shift on his feet suddenly. Had he heard? Was she building up around his suspicons, confirming them?

It seemed she had.

"So it's about what happened that night?" he asked slowly, his voice unnaturally quiet and yet so deafening loud in the tense silence. "I thought we were okay."

The words burst accusingly out of her before she could control herself. "Oh, you probably were!" She felt the muscles constrict in tension while a sudden rage filled her entire being for every breath that passed.

"Goddamnit!" he exclaimed hotly, once more back to the unreined frustration, his footsteps loud as he stepped closer. "Can't you just look at me and tell me what's wrong? There is obviously something on your mind!" When she didn't reply, he drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Just... If there's something wrong, maybe...maybe we can fix it."

That did it. She snapped her head up at him crossly, eyes burning with unshed tears and anger. "Why's it that all men think there's a quick fix to everything? Not everything's as simple that you just need your trusty screwdriver to put it together! You can't just snap your finger and expect everything to be back to normal!"

"Then tell me!" he pressed, dark eyes bearing down on her desperately as he took a step forward. She clutched the blanket tighter, feeling his looming presence deeper than she expected, tears slipping down from the corner of her eyes. "Tell me why you're skipping out on your friends? Is it me? Are you avoiding them because of me? I can get lost, you know—"

"Yeah, you can," Tessa cut across him quickly, voice thick. "But this isn't actually about you, so sorry for wrecking your self-centred egoistic self-pity!" She sniffled, pulling the blanket up to her chin, wrapping it around her protectively. She had to force her fists to stay were they were instead of giving in to the urge of covering her face.

The silence was palpable.

"Is that what you think?" he asked quietly, softer. "That I'm just here for my own selfish needs? I would have thought you knew me better than that." The pain was easy to hear, but she forced down the heartache she felt over it, telling herself over and over how important it was for her to keep the secret hidden. This was her burden, not his!

"Yeah, well," she began off-handedly, feeling nothing of the shield she tried to wrap herself with. "Things change and people change. I don't see you in the same light after what happened." The blood was throbbing in her ears as the tension replaced sound for a few moments.

"So itis about that night," he stated. She heard him shift on his feet, and pulled her feet closer underneath the blanket, biting her lip to keep from sobbing. "You know...I don't regret it. Not as much as I regret what happened afterwards. I handled it badly."

With that painful statement, silent tears fell down her cheeks in earnest and her chest constricted in a barely reined-in sob. She wouldn't survive this if it dragged on for any longer. But she couldn't get up and push him outside physically. The secret would be revealed then. She couldn't do that to him, not now. He should get out of here with no strings attached, as it had ever been.

Then again, neither could she battle him with words. He was too strong for her. So when he next kneeled beside the couch, there was nothing to keep her façade from failing and she broke down into a breathless sob, turning her head desperately away from him, clutching the blanket close to her chin as a last act of protecting herself as she covered her face with one hand.

"Please..." he whispered softly, reaching out to tentatively touch her hair. It rattled her control. "I hate upsetting you, Tess. I don't want you to cry. Please just...just tell me what to do."

Tessa squeezed her eyes tightly, trying futilely to regain her composure. His honest regret made it hard, so very hard. There was very little struggle left, meaning there was just breaths away from complete surrender.

" should go," she told him thickly, opting for a last shot of protectiveness. "There's nothing but misery for you here."

"What do you mean?" he mumbled, confused. She sank further into her seat, huddled into a ball by his strong presence right next to her, dark wonderous eyes burning a hole in her flushed neck. "Please..."

"I can't tell you," she sniffled, wiping away her tears with one slender finger, regaining control for a moment as she got a couple of deep breaths. "But trust me; you're better off without us."

She realised what she had said just semi-seconds before he repeated, "Us?"

Shit. Shit. Shit!

"Me. I mean me," Tessa tried quickly, but she could already hear the wheels churning in his head, the pieces falling in their rightful place in the puzzle. Her eyes squeezed shut as a fresh bout of tears threatened to burst out, and she wanted a hole to open below her and suck her in, away from this horrible moment where she felt her life and heart were hanging precariously by a thread above the edge of a cliff.

When his hand reached up to the blanket underneath her chin, brushing insistingly across her knuckles, she couldn't find any strength to resist him.

A moment later her heart began to thud wildly against her chest as the blanket fell into her lap and finally exposed the secret she had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to conceal. But no more. Now it was out in the open, and the silence was deafening. Her tears fell with new motivation, and she covered her face in her hand as she felt his warmth upon her thigh, unmoving but tense.

Lifetimes later, his voice broke through the chaotic garble of her mind with a whispered softness she hadn't heard from him before, "Oh Tessa..." Then his strong arms were around her and she was sobbing heavily, unleashing the weight that had weighed upon her since the discovery two months ago. "You should have told me."

"I didn't—didn't want to burden you," Tessa sobbed, breath hitching as she fisted her hands in his blue shirt, attracted to the warmth he offered. "It was obvious you wanted no strings attached, and after all that had happened, I...I couldn't give you another thing to feel guilty about."

"Shh. Shh," he hushed her softly, like calming down a drowsy child, rubbing her back comfortingly and stroking her hair. "It'll be all right. We'll work it out." He paused and she could feel the quick heartbeat underneath her head, telling tales of fluttering nerves and emotions. "It'll be all right."

And despite all the words and emotions she wanted to get off her chest, she let them pass in favour of the offer of security and safe haven she could find in her partner's arms. After four months of cold winter, Tessa sought the spring.

Tessa still couldn't believe it. Yet as she stood in the doorway separating her bedroom and living room, she had no other option than to believe the sight before her. Steve was camped out on her no doubt uncomfortable gray couch, sleeping quite soundly and seemingly calm. This wasn't the first night, either. For the past three months he had come and gone pretty much as he pleased, and had practically half of his wardrobe stuffed in a bag here.

Apparently, 'working it out' meant keeping to his word and more. He hadn't abandoned her, nor had he made it seem like he wanted nothing more than to be rid of her and the baby. In fact, in the past few weeks she had felt a growing attachment from him. It was so much more than what she had expected. Frankly, she hadn't expected it at all. For years it had been a lost chase, something she would never get, and yet now he was throwing caution to the wind and staying by her side through this situation brought on by a few moments of drunken passion. Despite what consequences he might have at work.

Tessa had come clean about the pregnancy to Thorne shortly after that night Steve had come to her apartment, and surprisingly he hadn't yelled at her. He had almost seemed happy on her behalf. Perhaps he didn't see many of his detectives choosing family over work, or it was because it was her—the incorrigble obsessed insomniac—but in any way, his goodwill and consideration had been more than she'd hoped for. The following two months had been played out with many considerations on his part in regards to working hours and assignments. Not that she could really pull herself away from the puzzles, but at least she had another watch dog to make sure she took care of herself. As well as a bunch of concerned worrywarts.

Her friends... Well, they had certainly been happy once she got out of her self-imposed cage. So worried for months, but respecting her privacy. She had fooled them, they admitted, but then they got suspicious. Only one of them had had the courage to confront her, however, and as a result, her life didn't seem so dull and dark anymore.

Friends and work issues aside, though, Tessa was still uncertain how things stood between her and Steve. No love proclamations, no understandings of any kind had been uttered. Still, she didn't have the feeling anymore that he was just here for his own guilty conscience's sake. There was something more he wanted. It seemed that way, at least. She had to admit, however, that she thought she wanted more as well.

"Can't sleep?" his voice broke through her thoughts and she looked startled at his open eyes on the couch. Steve was lying on his side, hair ruffled and morning stubble adorning his face. Wonderfully rugged, like the bushman he originated from.

Tessa shook her head. "No. The baby's keeping me awake." She stroked her oversized belly with a smirk, leaning on the doorway as it got tiring to stand for a long while. Although she was only seven months along, this baby seemed huge and certainly tired her more easily these days.

"Want me to rub your back?" Steve offered gently, smiling too, just short of using his dimples on her. He had already swung his feet out on the floor, the covers lying across his lap.

"That'd be nice," she smiled, already turning towards the bedroom where she laid down on top of the covers. It was building up to the hottest part of summer and even the open window could do nothing to the heat inside the room. She had resolved to sleep without blankets, and only in a comfortable nightgown.

Tessa had her back turned to the doorway as she heard Steve step through and climb onto the bed behind her. The mattress sank with his weight, and a shiver ran down her spine when his hands started rubbing her lower back almost immediately. This was something they had started only recently, and she wasn't quite comfortable with it yet, but she was getting there. His back rubs always worked wonders, and it made the baby calmer somehow.

She was half asleep when he whispered into her ear: "Has he stopped kicking?"

Tessa hummed "yes", eyes closed as she enjoyed the warm hands on her suddenly cold body. He always kept it going for a little while after the kicking stopped, just to make sure. Tonight, though, he didn't stop rubbing for a longer while.

She was almost asleep when he took his hands away and scooted away from her, the cold washing over her as the warmth disappeared.

"You don't have to go, you know," she mumbled nervously, but reckless. She dared turn so that she could see his face. It was bathed in shadows, but she could feel the weight of his stare.

"You don't think that would be..." Steve drifted off hesitantly

"...crossing the line?" Tessa finished, frowning. "Probably. But we crossed a line seven months ago and have a living reminder of it." She patted her round belly lightly, afraid to disturb the sleeping child inside. "I don't think it would make much of a difference if I asked you to stay now."

Steve hovered on the edge of the bed for a few long moments, silent and unmoving, before climbing further in and popping down next to her. He was only clad in boxers and T-shirt, though the shirt had probably been taken on before he came in here as she remembered he preferrably slept bare-chested.

They lay silent and trembling before Tessa finally dared take his rough hand in hers. The grip was returned instantly and sent a new shiver up her spine, and then she was pulling the hand up to place a soft kiss across his knuckles before putting it on top of her belly. He had only touched her stomach less than six times in the past three months. She wanted him to do it freely and more often.

Both startled when a kick was delivered, and he let out a nervous chuckle as she grinned.

"He's sure got some kick. How do you sleep?"

"I don't, remember?" she reminded him, smirking in the half-darkness. Her eyes were getting used to the shadows now and she could see the outline of his strong face turned towards her unabashedly, if not a bit conservatively.

"Want me to rub your back again?" Steve asked in a whisper.

"No. Not yet," she admitted. "Let's just lie here and feel him moving. I kept it secret for four months. Sometimes I feel like it's still a secret."

He only made a non-committal sound and she wasn't sure herself what she was saying, but there was probably a reason for her statement. Perhaps she just needed to remind herself sometimes that she didn't need to keep it a secret for him anymore. And maybe he needed to get comfortable with the idea that he was going to be a father. Yeah, that made some sense.

They lay in a few more minutes of slowly abating tense silence, relishing the feel of the life they had both unwittingly created, and then Steve propped himself up on one elbow beside her. The hand was still on her belly, but her breath caught in her throat for some reason. Perhaps it was the weight of his stare bearing down on her. It made her chest tingle.

Recklessly, Tessa reached up with her other hand to stroke his stubble hesitantly. Her heart leaped when he leaned into the touch instead of shying away. The next thing she knew, he had kissed her fingertips and waited with bated breath for her next move. She could hardly think, but it didn't stop her body from reacting. She wound her hand around his neck and slowly guided him down.

The kiss was firm but tentative at first, not at all like the sloppy smooches of that night so long ago, but then they softened against hers as if remembering its feel and she lost herself in his advances.

When he pulled back, still bathed in shadows, they were breathing heavily, their hands entwined on her swollen belly. Neither said a word. She couldn't form a coherent thought. He brushed his thumb softly against her hand.

"I've wanted to do that for so long," Steve finally whispered and a grin broke out on her face. "But I never dared to. You were so beautiful, but you were also my partner. I couldn't do it."

"I understand what you mean," Tessa whispered back and reached up to touch his chin again. "It's different now, though."

"Yeah," he smirked. "We somehow ended up making a baby. Though I'd prefer it happened in a different order, I can't say I regret it happened."

"Me neither. I think maybe...maybe it's what enabled us to stop holding back."

He looked at her in the semi-darkness. "You know what? I think you're right." He paused, still stroking her hand gently. "I just want you to know, I'm not doing this out of duty. I want him," Steve said, brushing her belly through the silk nightgown. "And I want you."

Tessa felt her eyes tear up and let a few of them escape captivity without wiping them off. "I believe you," she replied with a smile. "I want you too. I don't want you to leave me...leave us."

"I wouldn't dream of it," he said, and leaned down to steal another kiss, resting his forehead upon hers and keeping his weight on his one elbow. "I want to make an honest woman out of you sometime, if you want that is."

Her heart gave a sudden wild thud. "I do," she grinned through the misty film of tears. "But perhaps it's a talk for another day. Right now I just want you to hold me." He nuzzled her neck, placing a kiss near her throbbing artery.

"Anything for the mother of my kid," he said. "Hey," Steve halted suddenly, cocking his head sideways. "'My kid'... It has a nice ring to it."

Tessa couldn't keep the tears away, or the laugh. "It does."

She kissed him once more before turning on her side, drawing his strong arm around her to rest on her now sleeping belly. She wriggled her butt into his pelvis, spooned against his chest and feeling the lull of security and warmth surround her as he nuzzled her thick mass of hair at the nape of her neck.

Soon, she was sound asleep.