Sky was standing in the hallway looking up at him.
“I glad too Daddy!”
Noah made his way over to the couch, and Sharlee helped him get settled. She kissed him. Sharlee and Skylar helped him take off his shoes, and then Sharlee helped Sky take off hers. Sky scrambled up onto the couch beside him, and Noah hugged her to him with his good hand. It was hard for him to adjust to being incapacitated.
Sharlee didn’t care that he was battered. Skylar didn’t care either. She was just happy her Daddy was back home. Sharlee was relieved that he was home where she could look after him. They heard Noah’s stomach growl loudly.
She went over to the refrigerator and was shocked to find it fully stocked with prepared meals. The freezer was as well. There was a note on the counter from her Aunt Leslie. It read: “Sweetie, your Gran Kaye and I wanted you to be able to relax as much as possible and just enjoy your family. We didn’t want you to have to spend time cooking or have to worry about planning meals. Please call if you need us for anything! We love you, and we know your Mom would do this for you if she could.”
Sharlee smiled and quickly put lunch out on the table for the three of them. She called her aunt and grandmother later that day to thank them. She was happy to be able to spend more of her time spoiling Noah and Skylar until she had to return to her regular schedule later in the week.
“At 5:00 a.m. this morning, a suspect by the name of Abel Cooney was arrested. He is believed to be responsible for a series of child abductions and murder cases in Northfield, Minnesota over the past two years. I’m sorry but we won’t be taking any questions today.”
She left the podium and Alex and the other members of the team went with her.
Alissa never knew where they were going. She was glad though that it was always at night, and the children slept through the flights. Alissa fell asleep as well until agent Hendrix awakened her and told her that their plane had landed. Aidan and Joy were still sleeping, and he was carrying Aidan. He suggested that Agent Stinson carry Joy out to the car, but Alissa thanked him and said that she would carry Joy.
After they disembarked from the plane, Alissa looked around the airport shocked to realize that they were back in Santa Fe. Agent Stinson told her that Agent Stallworth would call her in the morning to explain.
Dale had been asleep until the alarm panel on his bedside let him know that the alarm had been unarmed. He always set it to inform him after he went to bed for the night. He quickly got up and went into the great room.
He took a still sleeping Aidan from the agent, and he and Alissa put Joy and Aidan into their beds. Dale met Alissa back at the stairway, and she rushed to him for a tight hug.
They went downstairs to thank the agents for taking such good care of them and to say goodbye to them.
Aidan opened his eyes and there was sunlight pouring into the room. He looked around and then shut his eyes quickly again. He reopened them and saw that it was really true. He was home in his own bed in his own room! He jumped out of bed and went rushing out into the hall!
“Daddy! Shawn, Cara! Where is everyone!”
He went racing down the stairs and out into the great room. Shawn and Cara were there eating breakfast and were shocked to see their little brother coming toward them. They both got up and rushed to hug him! They heard Joy come running down the stairs too and hugged her happily as well!
“When did you two get home! Is Mom here too? Where is she?”
Alissa had still been sleeping and Dale was just getting dressed when they heard the commotion. They went out into the great room to join their children.
Joy gave Dale a happy kiss!
Shawn walked into the house ahead of Cara. He’d stopped at Starbucks on his way home from school and bought a cappuccino. He sat it on the counter and then went upstairs to put his backpack away. He came back downstairs to get his drink. It wasn’t on the counter! He looked in the fridge to see if anyone had put it in there.
Shawn kept drinking and then when there was just a few swallows left, he gave it back to her.
He went upstairs to the home gym to work out.
As Nikki and Cara studied, Noah came into the kitchen and walked over to the refrigerator. He grabbed a drink. He was getting around better on his crutches, and he’d learned to balance very well on his good leg.
“Yeah, I’ve been here most of the day. Your Mom wanted to spend some time with Sky, and Sharlee has classes today. So she dropped us off over here so that your Mom could “babysit” both of us. Sharlee should be here soon to take us home. Next week I’ll be back in class too.”
“Hi, I don’t think we’ve met.”
Cara laughed at Nikki’s expression.
“You haven’t met my brother-in-law yet. Nikki, this is my brother-in-law, Noah Hall. Noah, this is my friend, Nikki.”
“Hi. Whatcha doin, Cara?’
“I’m studying with Nikki.”
Skylar looked at Nikki.
“Hi, I Skylar.”
“Daddy, I studying too!”
She gave Noah a kiss hello, and Sky held out her arms for Sharlee to take her. Sharlee hugged Skylar and gave her a kiss too.
Cara introduced Sharlee to Nikki also. Sharlee, Noah and Skylar left soon after.
Alex sent tickets to the circus for the kids as a gift. Cara suggested that she, and Shawn take all of the kids including Skylar. Kaylee and Devon wanted to go too. So Alissa bought more tickets to the show. They thought it would be fun for Darion and Rene’s children to go as well. Cara told Niki about it, and she decided to go and bring her younger sister too. Her boyfriend from their old town surprised her by coming to Santa Fe that weekend. Niki’s parents bought a ticket for him too.
There was a large group that ended up going. To keep it organized so that they could keep track of the younger ones, Shawn suggested that each teen take responsibility for certain children in the group. Cara took responsibility for Skylar, Shawn for Aidan and Kenan, Kaylee for Joy and Angela, Niki for her sister and Devon. Nikki’s boyfriend would just help out as needed.
“Why don’t you come to Anne Arbor and be my date for my prom like we planned before you moved here, and I can come to Santa Fe for your prom? I want to make our relationship work, Niki. I still love you, and I don’t care how far away you are.”
Agent Pickler answered him. “Yes, sir.”
“And my nephew?”
“Yes, sir. He’s seated at another table.”
Usually, Alex was able to switch off his emotions and just concentrate on doing what needed to be done. However, this time, it wasn’t working out that way. The lives of his own daughter and nephew were on the line. Even when he’d gone to Africa after Alissa, he hadn’t felt this unsettled. He’d just done what he had to do without any hesitation.
This case was different for him. It involved defenseless children whom he loved. He hadn’t known Aidan and Joy for long, but they had already worked their way into his heart. He hoped that he wasn’t making any decision that would cause them to be harmed. He’d never forgive himself, and his family would never forgive him either.
Agent Pickler was working undercover as a vender selling circus souvenirs. Right after Agent Pickler spoke with Alex, she heard a mother yelling, calling to a child. Her instinct made her go check it out. The mother was upset. Her son was missing. Agent Pickler knew that the “perp” was responsible, and he was there at the site.
Meanwhile, a worker approached the Stallworth group and offered to give them a tour of the area where the animals were kept. Shawn had promised the boys that they could play video games before they left the venue, and so they decided to split up their group. Cara knew that Shawn wanted to see the animals too; and so she, Niki and Todd took the boys to the video games. Shawn and Kaylee took the girls on the tour of the animal pens.
Shawn and the girls went into the cage area.
This seemed like an area that the owners wouldn’t want the public to see. Paint was peeling form the walls and the flooring was old and worn. Although these were temporary holding pens, the pens did not seem up to code. He wondered if the ASPCA knew the conditions in which the animals were kept here. There was barely enough room for the animals to turn around, and there were no windows or other method of ventilation.
“I want to get some pictures.” He wanted to send them to the ASPCA.
Deborah asked Kaylee to take a picture of her in front of the cages, and Angela wanted one too. Joy said that she didn’t like the way the animals were behaving. They seemed sad to her. Skylar wasn’t interested in looking at the animals. So Kaylee put Sky down, and told Joy to keep her at the entrance.
“What the! Let us out of here!”
The worker ignored Shawn and spoke with Joy. His voice changed to one familiar to her. It was the man from the park, but he had changed his appearance.
Shawn called out! “Don’t do it Joy!”
“I guess that’s a yes.”
He warned Shawn and the others not to call anyone. Then he scooped Joy up into his arms and strode away carrying her. Skylar saw how scared Joy was and started after them! She was planning to hit the man to help Joy!
“You bad man! Let go my Joy!”
Joy told her to stay back! Shawn and Kaylee called to Skylar!
Noah and Sharlee spent their afternoon together too. A couple of days after he’d returned home from the hospital, he’d reminded Sharlee that some parts of his body were still completely operational. They had experimented and found positions that were comfortable for him and pleasurable for them both. Sharlee started to get up and head to the shower, but Noah held onto her.
Sharlee smiled. “Yeah, it is.”
“Laying out there on that cliff, I did a lot of thinking.”
“When you were so busy and wouldn’t tell me what was going on, I admit that I briefly had a passing thought that you might be cheating. It was only for a moment though because I trusted you. I do trust you completely Noah, and I knew that whatever you were doing it wasn’t that. I knew that you would never leave me or Skylar that way.”
Noah hugged her more tightly. “No, I will never cheat on you, Sharlee, and I know you won’t cheat on me either. This is gonna sound corny, but I’m saying it anyway. There is no one anywhere with whom I have or could experience the special things that I’ve experienced with you. I’m not going anywhere!”
Noah’s words made Sharlee so emotional that she couldn’t speak.
“I know you feel the same way, Babe.” He paused.
“So did Christian come by while I was missing?”
Sharlee was irritated. She moved to face him.
“He called, but I didn’t talk with him. You know what? I’m sick of people, including Christian, assuming that if we break up or something happens to you, I would be with him! People act as though I wouldn’t have any other choices. I know that if somehow we aren’t together, getting another man will not be my main priority. Our children will be my first concern and then my career. I don’t need anyone else.”
Sharlee mumbled angrily under her breath. Noah laughed at her reaction.
“I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“It’s just that-,” Sharlee paused. “I think that after you’ve found your soulmate, anyone else just won’t measure up. No other relationship can be as special and fulfilling. My Mom found that out when she married, Alex. I think it would be the same for me. No one can ever take your place in my heart, Noah.”
As they were talking, the phone rang, and Noah quickly answered it. It was Cara. Sharlee saw Noah’s expression tighten, and he told Cara that they were on their way.
I know I did it to you all again. I left you hanging, and I’m sorry. The good news is that the remaining part of this chapter will be posted tomorrow night!