A/N: This story takes place just a few weeks after Love and Loyalty. It is part of my AU series but stands alone okay if you haven't read the previous stories.
FYI, I've just started a new job (a second job! :o), so my free time is quickly becoming extinct. This story IS completely written and I will update at least twice a week – I'm just not sure which two days it will be or if it will be the same two days every week. And if anyone has the winning lottery numbers, I'd be eternally grateful if you'd give me a hint! :p
Disclaimer: I still don't own them and given that I'm now working two jobs just to make ends meet, that should tell you I don't own anything worth suing over!
Full Summary: Frank, Joe, Callie and Vanessa are off for a real vacation at Montage Ski Resort – no mysteries allowed! However, as usual for the Hardys, things don't quite go as planned. A mysterious woman, a group of terrorists, a misunderstanding between the brothers and a case of mistaken identity are just a few of the things that get in the way of their peaceful vacation. And in the midst of it all, Vanessa gets the results of her final HIV test…
Sleight of Hand
Twenty-four year old Vanessa Bender snuggled closer to her blonde, blue-eyed fiancé, Joe Hardy. Responding to his gentle nudge, she tilted her head up and readily gave in to his request for a kiss, sighing contentedly. Listening to the steady hum of the car over the past two hours had lulled her into a blissful state of relaxation. As Joe's lips moved down her neck, she giggled softly and completely lost herself in his undivided attention.
Frank Hardy kept one hand on the steering wheel and loosely clutched his wife's hand in the other. "Can you turn the music up a little?" he asked Callie, trying to ignore the sounds and movements coming from the backseat. It was growing increasingly difficult, and he hoped the music would help mute the distracting noises.
"Ah, to be young and in love." Callie leaned towards Frank, her blonde hair falling over her shoulders. She reached forward and turned a dial, accommodating Frank's request. At twenty-five years old, she and Frank were only one year older than his younger brother, though at times they seemed worlds apart.
"More like young and in heat," Frank muttered teasingly, his deep brown eyes darting to the rear view mirror involuntarily.
Callie rested her arm across the seat back and running her fingers through Frank's dark brown hair. "How much longer until we get there?"
Frank glanced at the clock on the dashboard. "At least another hour or so." An abrupt movement from the backseat caught his eye. A muffled squeal of delight from Vanessa followed by Joe's husky whisper proved to be too much. Frank rolled his eyes. "And it won't be soon enough. I cannot listen to that all the way to Montage," he said, grinning at his wife.
The two couples were on their way to Montage Ski Resort, three hours northwest of their hometown of Bayport. The week long vacation had been a Christmas gift from Frank and Joe's parents, Laura and Fenton Hardy. Raising his voice, Frank hoped to gain the attention of the oblivious young couple in the backseat.
"Hello, you're not alone! Think you could at least wait until we get to the resort and you're in the privacy of your own room?"
"I'm bored," Joe replied as he lifted his head, eyes twinkling. "What else am I supposed to do to keep myself occupied?" He nuzzled Vanessa's neck one more time for emphasis.
"There are a whole bunch of games on the new laptop I gave Frank for Christmas. He hasn't even looked at them yet. Why don't you test them out?" Callie suggested.
Joe's eyes lit up as he released his hold on Vanessa. "Games?"
Frank shook his head at Callie. "You had to tell him."
Reaching across Vanessa, Joe picked up the black computer case lying on the floor behind the passenger seat. Like a child on Christmas morning, Joe enthusiastically opened it up and pulled out the laptop.
"Hey, take it easy, would ya?!" Frank fretted, watching his brother in the rearview mirror. "It's brand new!"
Joe made a face at him. "Jeez, Frank, it's not like I'm gonna break it!"
"Yeah, that's what you always used to say when we were kids – right before you broke my favorite toy!" Frank joked.
"Don't worry, I'll supervise him," Vanessa winked at Frank as she took the computer from Joe and carefully balanced it on her knees.
"You'd think I was five years old," Joe snorted.
With a pout, Joe crossed his arms over his chest, nevertheless watching as Vanessa booted up the computer and accessed the selection of games. As the screen came to life, Joe's eyes lit up and Frank was reminded of a little blonde five-year-old boy on Christmas morning.
Listening to Joe's exclamations of delight as he took on the computer's challenge in what would be the first of many games, Frank couldn't help but smile. Checking the mirror once more, he saw Vanessa looking back at him with the same smile. She glanced at Joe and then back at Frank. They exchanged a look that needed no interpretation… 'He'll always be a kid – and we wouldn't want him any other way!'
A little over an hour later, Frank pulled into a spot in front of Montage Ski Resort's main lodge. Frank, Callie, Joe and Vanessa got out of the car and took a moment to stretch their cramped muscles and take in the dazzling scenery. Mountain peaks and breathtaking valleys surrounded them, with the bright January sunshine sparkling off a fresh layer of snow.
Frank checked his watch. "If we hurry up and get checked in, we'll still have a few hours of daylight to play in the snow."
"What are we waiting for?!" Joe reached out to shut the car door.
"Hold on there, Game Boy," Frank stopped him. "Don't leave my laptop in the car. Put it back in the case and bring it in with you."
"Why me? It's your computer!"
"And you were the one who was playing with it."
Joe was about to protest further, when a light smack on the arm from Vanessa stopped him. "Fine," Joe grumbled. "I'll carry it. Just like I always get stuck carrying everything," he continued hoping for some sympathy at least from his fiancée. He was met with a sarcastic chorus of 'Oh, you poor baby,' by his traveling companions, who then turned and started for the lodge, talking excitedly with each other. "That's what happens when you're the youngest; everybody takes advantage of you. They make you do all the grunt work…" Joe rambled on with no one listening but himself.
As soon as they entered the lobby, Callie and Vanessa took off to explore their new home for the week, talking and gesturing animatedly. Frank and Joe got in line and waited to check in. A large tour group had arrived just ahead of them, making for a rather large crowd of noisy people and quite a bit of jostling. Finally, the two brothers squeezed their way through to an empty spot at the registration desk.
Placing the laptop on the floor between them, Joe glanced around the lobby as Frank handled the details of checking in. Taking in all the signs and posters advertising the various activities the resort offered, Joe was caught off guard when someone stumbled and fell heavily against him.
Instinctively reaching out, he caught a tall, slim brunette in his arms. She dropped the small black case she was carrying at Joe's feet and grabbed him around the neck in an effort to stop her forward momentum. Joe held her tightly around the waist, until she was able to regain her balance and get back on solid footing.
Hearing the commotion, Frank turned to see Joe with his arms wrapped around the waist of a stunning young woman with dark, silky hair. She was clutching Joe around the neck and both of them seemed to be enjoying their predicament.
'Better not let Vanessa see you like that, bro!' Frank thought as the two smiled at each other. He shook his head, chuckling, and turned his attention back to the clerk.
"Oh! Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry!" the young woman blurted out, making no move to remove her arms from around Joe's neck. Although she was blushing with embarrassment, she seemed reluctant to let him go.
"No harm done," Joe smiled. "Are you all right?" He waited until she was steady on her feet before releasing her.
"I'm fine." Staring at Joe coyly, she very slowly removed her arms from around him. "Thanks to you…"
"My pleasure," Joe winked.
"Just checking in?" she asked, as she smoothed her jacket.
"Mm-hmm. We just got here," Joe replied, enjoying the distraction of a pretty woman. 'Man, those eyes are incredible!'
"How long are you staying?" She glanced at Frank who seemed to be wrapping things up at the counter.
"We'll be here all week."
"Good, maybe I'll see you again." Reaching down, she grabbed the case at Joe's feet and slung it over her shoulder. "Then I can thank you properly for saving me from making a fool of myself." She winked at him and then disappeared into the crowd.
"Making a new friend?" Frank asked sarcastically, coming up behind Joe.
"Hey, she fell into me!" Joe protested the implication in Frank's words. "I was just standing here minding my own business waiting for you!"
"Yeah, well, I wouldn't tell Vanessa about your new friend if I were you," Frank said over his shoulder, already moving through the crowd of people. "Don't forget my laptop!" he called out as he disappeared from Joe's view.
"Don't forget my laptop," Joe mimicked, as he hefted the computer case over his shoulder. "Good thing you brought me along to be the pack mule," Joe called out following his brother's path, "otherwise you'd have to carry your own stuff!"
As he made his way through the throngs of people, trying to catch up to Frank, the dark haired woman with the smoldering eyes who had fallen into Joe watched him intently…and smiled.