So, this is the final chapter of this story. I had hoped to poast this before Christmas, but obviously, I didn't. I hope you enjoyed this a little. Thanks to everybody who read, reviewed and alterted this story. I appreciate your patience with my posting habits and my mistakes. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and wish you all a happy new year!
The ghosts of Christmas past – Chapter 5
2 minutes later
Erin threw her cell phone on the floor of the car and cursed loudly. Damn Rossi. The useless asshole couldn't even answer his cell phone. The other, even more disturbing thought was that he had maybe seen her number and decided there was no need to take her call.
But it was her own fault, wasn't it? The man knew how to push her buttons and in the end she was the one who was suffering.
Thanks to him she had gotten herself into another priceless disaster. Her car was stuck in the snow. Aside from her jacket she had no blanket in her car and she highly doubted someone would drive up at this hour to pull her car back on the road. She could call the police and they would find out she was with the FBI… A federal agent who was stuck in the snow because she had been running away from a man and her past with him … Calling the police was no option. She would rather die, before she proclaimed herself a fool to the local authorities.
Disillusioned, Erin turned her head and stared outside. The storm grew heavier and the snow fall was so intense that her car was already completely covered by snow.
It was official, she would die in here.
Then she decided to get her cell phone back to make a final call. Maybe David Rossi, the Great, wouldn't listening to her, but his mailbox would for sure. Once she was frozen to death he could listen to her voice over and over again. Maybe in death she could give him the nightmares, he had given her since the very first day she had laid her eyes on him.
"Rossi? It's me… Erin Strauss, the woman who is sitting in a snow bank and prepares to die in here. So you want to know if Bridget is your child? After all those years you suddenly care if your ruthless behavior maybe have had consequences? If it weren't so sad, it could be laughable! I should hang up on you now and leave you alone with your questions, your fears and your stupid little novel… but you know what? I won't… I'll tell you the truth and then we'll see if you're really that invulnerable… Bridget is your child. Of course she is! And unfortunately I did a miserable job in raising her, because she's so much like you that it sometimes hurts looking at her when I come home from work, after I had another fight with you! She has your eyes and your way of pissing people off. She has the ego of the Etna and she can be wonderful and caring if she wants to. I have no idea how Max can be blind enough to think she's his daughter, but then he's never been the smartest cookie in the jar and that could be reason I fell for you, because you're just as stupid as he is!"
Rossi paced the cabin with growing uneasiness. He had a bad feeling in his stomach. Gideon had tried to reach for more then 10 minutes now. The line was either busy or she just didn't answer the phone.
"Get your clothes on!" Rossi ordered. "We're going after her."
Gideon smiled, ironically. "I see our father wanna-be gains a conscience. I'm impressed."
"Oh shut up! You know how she drives when she's angry… she almost killed all of us in Las Vegas when we chased this casino killer! Don't you remember your broken wrist?"
"Didn't she hit a traffic light?" Gideon asked, trying to remember the incident.
Rossi grabbed his jacket and slipped into it. "Let's go!"
"Wait, wait, wait!" Jason ordered. "Do you really think Erin wants to see you now? Or ever again? I'll bet my car that she's already thinking about a way to get you transferred to Seattle or Kansas City!"
Dave shrugged, unimpressed. "Maybe she does, but that she won't be successful. She's tried that several times in the past and it never worked."
Gideon remained unconvinced. "You know what they say about women being in a fury… Tonight she's pissed off enough to commit a murder. Stay here, Dave… Give her some time."
"She's had time enough. 17 years to be exact," Dave insisted. "Just imagine Max is successful and gets custody for Bridget…" The only idea made him shudder.
"Well, he's her father in every sense that matters." Jason said calmly. "That's Erin's problem not yours. I agree Max shouldn't be responsible for a teenager just because he wants to hurt Erin, but even if Bridget is your child, you have no right to interfere. You were the one who decided you didn't want to know anything about this baby. Now stick to it."
David stared at Jason. His eyes were glittering. Jason could see the brain cells working in Rossi's head and hoped against hope, his friend would be sensitive enough to understand.
"You really think you're holier than the rest of us, don't you?"
Jason sighed. The man was a pain in a place that never saw the sun.
25 minutes later
"Shit!" Jason hit the brakes, knowing it wouldn't do any good. The street was covered with snow and underneath the snow was ice. Driving in this storm was a mission from hell. He could hardly see the road. It had taken him 5 more minutes to convince Dave to stay where he was. Just in case Erin returned to cabin on her own, what he actually doubted. He was quite sure that she hadn't made it back to town and he sincerely hoped, she had been reasonable enough to stop the car and wait until the worst was over.
"And diamonds are just stones," he mumbled defeated and then he saw the car. It was stuck in a snow bank.
He stopped the car, jumped out and almost lost his balance when he hastened to Erin's car.
"Erin!" He yelled and tore the driver's door open which resulted in her almost falling out, because she had been leaning against the door. She screamed as he caught her before her head could hit the car door.
"You all right?" Jason asked, worried. A pain filled moan was the answer.
"You guys are really out to kill me, aren't you?"
"I'm sorry!" Jason apologized as he helped her out. "I thought you were injured or something like that."
"Don't worry, Jason. My wounds are invisible to you and your best friend."
"Let's go to my car. I'll bring you away from here." Phrasing it like this seemed the best way to get her with him. Erin hesitated, but her relief about being saved from a cold night in a stranded car, was stronger than her anger. At least for now.
Once she sat inside his car he gave her a blanket. "You must be freezing."
"Look, I'm sorry…"
"Forget it! Just bring me home."
Now things started to get interesting.
"You know I can't do this."
"Excuse me?" She hissed.
"You know I have to bring you back to him."
"No, I don't know that."
She fought with the blanket around her shoulder and tried to open the door, but Jason hit a button and locked the car doors.
"Do you think you're on a mission here?" Erin asked, leaning back into her seat.
"Not necessarily, but the two of you are giving me no other choice." He sighed wearily. "I know what Dave did was stupid… but it seems he was right with his assumption, wasn't he?"
Erin didn't answer. She just stared out of the windshield window, contemplating to count the snow flakes.
"You should have told him, Erin."
"He could have asked."
Jason laughed and started the car. "Heaven help us all."
"Jason, I swear, if you…"
"Yeah, I know… Fasten your seat belt. The road is a bit slippery."
10 minutes later
"I won't go in there!" Erin had her arms crossed over her chest. "Bring me home now or I'll never talk to you again." As promised Jason had taken Erin to Rossi's cabin. Rudolph was still bravely mocking the storm. His red nose glowed, showing Erin the location of the front door. A hint she dared to ignore with stubborn refusal.
"You'll go in there and you'll talk to me again." Gideon really hated to switch into his interrogation mode, but she left him no choice. The woman was a tough cookie, but he was tougher.
"Isn't it time to talk this out? Isn't it time to stop this insanity? He loves you, you love him, you have a child together."
"This isn't Love Boat, Jason and you aren't Clarence who needs a couple of wings." Erin reminded him bitterly.
"Right and that's what makes it interesting. And now get out of this car. Face your worse enemy and be honest with him and yourself just for once in your life!"
Erin didn't move.
"Don't force me to carry you inside."
"You wouldn't dare!" she glared at him.
"Want to place a bet?"
Losing a battle of wills was always bitter. It left a bitter taste in her mouth, but she had to face that Jason's threat wasn't an empty one. He would carry her to the cabin and since she had no gun with her, she wouldn't be able to defend herself properly. She knew he thought he was doing what was best for her, but deep down inside she was still convinced that David Rossi wasn't good for her. With him she always lost control and he ruthlessly abused that. How could that be good?
"I can't go to him. You know how he is… even if he has feelings for me…"
"Erin… I know you had no time to prepare for this, but I'm sure this ghost is haunting you for a reason. Dave and Bridget have both the right to know about one another and you should acknowledge that he's more to you than a seasonal flavour."
"One of you has to make the first step and you're a reasonable person."
Erin gave him a long, ironic look.
"And now you're trying to make a fool of me. I can't say I appreciate your lies."
"It's not a lie if you believe it."
She risked a look at the watch in the cockpit. It was almost midnight.
"So?" Gideon asked.
"You'll live to regret this."
"I'm sure I will." Erin ignored the sarcasm in his voice and with a lazy push the passenger's door opened.
"In case you want to send me an engraved invitation for your wedding…" Erin kicked the door shut, without bothering to listen to the rest. She felt his shameless grin on her back as she went up the porch and passed Rudolph.
"Want to switch?" she asked the deer with the glowing red nose. "But he already has you wrapped around his little finger as well, hasn't he? Otherwise you would be at the north pole right now."
"You're talking to a faked reindeer with a red glowing nose." Dave already stood in the door, as if he had waited for her behind the door.
"Compared to you this faked reindeer is a source of solace and innocence."
"And what about Jason?" He stepped out and watched Gideon's car leaving the cabin.
"He's thinks he's Clarence," Erin explained coldly. "Waiting for his wings."
At first Dave didn't get the remark, but then he smiled. "And who are you? Scrooge?"
"You're the one who hates Christmas. Remember? I'm just someone who isn't sure that Christmas is as great as people claim it is."
She was freezing like hell and passed him. If she had to be in this fucking place, she could at least suffer inside of the cabin.
"So where did he find you?" Dave asked, after he had closed the door.
"In a snow bank. My car…" her voice trailed off. There was no need to mention the details. "I… Let's say I had a little accident. I almost killed Rudolph's little brother." She gave him her jacket and Jason's blanket.
"You had an accident? Why didn't you call?"
She looked at him, dumbfounded. He hadn't heard the call… he had no idea… sensing God had given her one last chance to get away, she lied, "No service. Must be the storm."
"And Gideon found you and brought you here?"
"Yes. As I said he thinks he's on a mission… so why don't you give me a lift back to the city and we forget this whole evening?"
Dave laughed grimly. "No chance, Strauss… you and I'll stay here until the storm is over. I don't have the intention to risk my neck to get you back to town."
"But I don't want to stay here."
"And I want a reason that keeps me from strangling you! And if you don't come up with something intelligent right now, you're in trouble, woman."
She couldn't believe it. "You want to strangle me? If someone in this cabin has a reason for murder it's me! What were you thinking when you made up this… novel?"
"I wanted to see your reaction."
Erin scoffed. "And they call you a profiler? Maybe I should have hired Doctor Phil instead of you!"
"You wouldn't enjoy him as you enjoy my presence in your life."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that."
"That's all you have to say to me?"
"Yep." Erin turned around, her eyes searching for his cell phone. If she could find it, before he checked it, she could delete her message. The idea sent shivers down her spine. She wasn't lost yet… if he would only leave her alone for a while. Then her eyes came to rest on the fire.
"It's a little cold in here," she rubbed her arms, as if she were freezing. "And your fire is dying."
"I'm talking about the fireplace!" she spat annoyed, when she saw his shameless grin.
Dave saw she was right. "The wood is outside. If Madame prefers it hot, she'll get her will."
"Thank you so much!"
The second the front door had closed behind him, Erin started to search the cabin. Since she hadn't seen the cell the whole evening, she assumed, he had it in his bedroom. She sneaked inside, but the room was dark and she couldn't risk to switch the lights on. She bit her lips when she her foot made painful contact with a chair. Then she opened drawers, doors, and checked the bed. All she found was a sleeping mask.
"Freak." Angry with herself she threw the mask back under the pillow and sighed.
"Are you searching for this one?"
Erin froze. Dave switched the lights on, reveling in the fact that he had caught her red handed. In his hand he held his cell phone.
"Funny… those things can tape hours of useless talk. Do you want to hear the latest message I've received?"
"I don't think so." She cleared her throat and prayed her face wasn't as red as it felt.
"You should. You could learn a lot about the woman on this tape, if you listened to her."
He approached her slowly, the finger on the keys of the cell. "I, at least, learned more than I could have hoped for."
"You really enjoy this, do you?" Erin asked, as she wrapped her arms around her body. She turned away, hoping she could protect herself from him if she didn't have to face him.
"No, I don't. Actually, I think it's rather sad."
"Well, that's at least something we agree on."
Suddenly feeling too tired for words, Erin sank on the edge of his bed. She was facing her Waterloo here and her last chance to escape had gone with the snow. She waited for one of his famous tirades, a mean remark or an insult, but he said nothing. David Rossi being silent was worse than David Rossi being mean and when she finally looked up, because she couldn't stand the tension any longer, she saw he was gone.
"David?" She couldn't say why, but her heartbeat increased. The fear, he could have gone was overwhelming.
"David?" she asked, louder this time.
"I'm in the kitchen."
Puzzled, she followed his voice and found him at the oven, busy with cups and tea bags.
"What are you doing?"
"Obviously, I'm making tea."
"Drinking alcohol wouldn't be very appropriate right now, don't you agree?"
20 minutes later
Erin warmed her hands at the tea cup. She sat on the couch , her legs tugged under her ass.
She had no idea what time it was by now, probably after 1 a m, but she wasn't tired. She had prepared for a big fight with David. Had prepared for the worst, and he had made her a tea and had given her a blanket. Couldn't the man be predictable just for once?
She looked up and met his eyes. He sat in an armchair and watched her attentively. She was relieved that his eyes spared her the usual disgust.
"How do you feel?" he asked into the silence.
"A bit shaken… David, I…"
"Don't… no excuses, Erin. I won't apologize either. For nothing."
She nodded slowly. "Fair enough."
"No thank you. This one is bad enough."
Dave bent his head back and laughed. "Maybe I have a better idea." He rose and circled the coffee table. He picked up one of the three remote controls and pushed a button. Dean Martin started singing.
"Baby, it's cold outside?" Erin asked with an arched eyebrow.
"It certainly is cold outside… Come here and dance with me," Dave said, offering his hand.
"Dance?" she couldn't believe it. David Rossi hadn't asked her to dance in decades. The last time they had danced had been in this lonely cabin. She remembered the glitter in his eyes when he had discovered the vinyl with some old Rat Pack songs.
"Yes. We've danced before."
"You know what you're asking for?" she asked, as she left her comfortable position on the couch and let him pull her into his arms.
"Actually, I don't, but does that matter right now?"
She returned his smile and leaned her head against his shoulder. In the background Dino kept singing, while Dave smoothly led Erin across the room.
17 years ago when they had been stuck in this cabin in Colorado, they had danced like this. Frank Sinatra had accompanied them with his dark voice and had manipulated them into forgetting about the world outside and the people who were out there, waiting for them.
"Where's Bridget tonight?" Dave asked after some minutes of silence.
"With her grandparents," Erin answered.
She felt his lips on her forehead. A gender gesture she wasn't used to, but one she could imagine to receive more often from now on.
"You know I want to meet her sooner or later."
"I'm sure we can arrange that… sooner or later." They stopped dancing and Erin raised her head. Their eyes met.
"Give me some time."
Then with one movement, he picked her up. A little scream escaped her throat, as he swirled her around and carried her to couch.
"What are you doing?" she asked, laughing.
"Seems I have to kill some time with you instead," Dave answered as he laid her down and kissed her.
2 and half hours later
"You've no tree," Erin complained lazily and yawned. They lay on the couch in front of the fireplace, spooning. Her index finger caressed his lower arm while her eyes were fixed on the flickering flames. It was after 4 a m in the morning and the storm had subsided.
"I haven't put up a tree in decades," Dave explained. "The reindeer is a big progress compared to my general Christmas attitude."
Erin chuckled. "And the reindeer sucks."
"Yes, it does."
He placed his hand on hers and intertwined their fingers. The last time they had been together like this, he had had to force himself to ignore the wedding band around her finger. This time there was nothing he had to ignore or fear for and he knew it would take him some time before he would get used to this new feeling.
"Promise me to get a tree… there's no Christmas without a tree… your daughter will want one as well."
"I'll think about it," he promised and kissed her temple.
"I better buy you one… first thing in the morning."
"I don't think so."
"Excuse me?" She shifted her position so that she could face him.
"First thing in the morning will be another round of making love right here on this couch and the second thing…" he kissed her. "Will be a long, extended breakfast."
"You're quite sure of yourself, aren't you?" she asked, cheekily.
A smile formed on his face as their eyes locked. "Are you sure you can stomach this grumpy old Scrooge over the holidays?"
"I'm unsure if I can stomach you for the rest of the year."
"You just wound me." He crooked his eyebrow, but she saw the amusement in his eyes and arched against him to steal another kiss. "Get used to it," she mumbled against his lips.
"I am used to it by now."
His hands slipped under the woolen blanket to caress her sides. "Stop tickling me!" she ordered, laughingly. "I'll kick you from the couch!"
He got hold of her wrists and pushed them over her head. Immobilized like this, she stopped fighting him and allowed him to kiss her. A sweet heat flooded her as his mouth found the way from her mouth down her chin and to her throat.
"No hickeys," she pleaded as he sucked the soft skin under her ear, but didn't mean it, because the feeling of his tongue on her skin drove her crazy.
"I can leave my marks somewhere else on you," he offered generously and let his mouth travel down her body.
The space on the couch was ridiculously small, but it didn't matter to them.
The right time, place or the circumstances had never really mattered to them. Not even the future mattered, because there was no way in hell this was going to be easy. But who could want something to be easy if there was so much more to explore?
I know I said this story is the final installment of my Rossi/Strauss/Gideon saga. If you like to read more, let me know...