"Come on, honey. Wake up. We have to go."
"Daddy?" The small voice mumbled from deep under the covers.
"Come on. The river is rising fast, and we need to get to high ground." He scooped up his daughter, keeping the blanket wrapped around her sleepy form, ran down the stairs and out of the house. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket as he made it to the car. Lightning flashed, bringing life to the darkness as Bobby Miller took one last look around his home. He put the car into gear and made his call.
"Sheriff? You out there?" The radio in the Blazer crackled in time with the lightning flash and the dispatchers voice barely heard over the static.
"Yes, Jenny. What's up?"
"Bobby Miller called. He's evacuating family." Jenny paused. "The river's risin' pretty fast and the weather service heavy rain all night."
"Ok, Jenny." Sheriff Shay McCallister watched more lightning streak across the night sky. It was going to happen again, no matter how hard she wished for it to stop. History always has a way of repeating itself. With a deep sigh, she settled into her sheriff mode. "Call everyone in. I'm going to head that way to make sure everyone gets out."
"Be careful, Sheriff."
"I will." Shay McCallister replaced the microphone and focused her sea-green eyes ahead as she avoided the limbs and debris littering the road. She needed to make her way to the river and start evacuating the folks she knew would be waiting until the last possible second. River folks usually did.
Shay began a mental count of the folks she would need to check on. Most of the residents along the river were older than dirt and had lived through some of the most devastating floods Ohio residents had ever seen. She also knew that most of those same folks would be next to impossible to evacuate.
She spotted the lights from the news van a few blocks away. A cameraman was standing behind the van talking to someone that Shay couldnt see. Most likely some new reporter trying to make a name herself. Just like Shay shook her head, hoping the reporter would stay away from the river tonight. She had enough on her mind without having to worry about the news media.
As she moved slowly past the van, Shay thought she caught a glimpse of someone very familiar to her. Cant be. Her plane left early this morning. Shay tried to look as she rounded the curve, but lost sight of the news van. Taking another deep breath, she put aside her personal problems and focused on her duty.
"Teri Allen, reporting live from the mouth of hell."
"Cute." The cameraman for Newscenter 11 stopped making his adjustments and peered at the tall brunette. "I'm going to keep that one."
"It'll be a nice addition to your collection, Dave." She smirked, brushing back rain soaked bangs from her face. "Now, can we hurry this along? I'm getting wet."
Dave hefted the camera on to his shoulder. "I'm going to miss working with you, Teri."
"You could always come with me." She smiled when he shook his head. "No chance of getting you out of the backwoods, huh?"
He chuckled. "Not a chance. I happen to like living in the middle of nowhere. Besides, the fishin' is good." Dave got word that the network feed was up and signaled Teri to begin her report.
"This is Teri Allen, live from Neville, Ohio. As you can see, the storm is raging through here--" she paused when she saw the sheriff's tan blazer rush by. A moment later she was listening to the police scanner, ignoring Dave. "Uh, it seems that a car has been washed off the roadway near Bear Creek. We're going to respond to that scene and report back soon."
Dave switched the camera off. "We are?"
"Hell yes. Might as well go out with a bang."
"I'm almost there, Jenny. Any idea how long before the fire department gets there?"
Jenny's voice shook slightly, but remained clear. "There's a tree down on 133. They're going to have to remove it first. I have no idea how long that will take, Sheriff."
"Thanks, Jenny." Shay tossed the microphone in the general direction of the dashboard, bringing her Blazer to a stop a few yards from the rushing creek water. The floodlights just barely caught the side of the maroon sedan. It was wedged between two trees, the creek slowly rising above the wheels of the car.
Shay grabbed her microphone and told Jenny what was going on. "I'm going to see if I can keep them in the car until I can get some rope to them. I cant wait for the fire department."
Jenny's voice responded, but Shay was no longer listening. Sandy Miller was halfway out of the car, despite Bobby's best efforts to stop her. Her hysterical cries reached Shay above the roar of the rushing water.
"Sandy! Get back in the car!" Shays voice was drowned out by a thunderclap so loud that it vibrated through her. "Damn!"
Using her flashlight, Shay was able to see that the sedan was firmly wedged between two trees. The water was still rising, but the car was no longer in danger of being washed away. She tried to relay that to the Millers, but could no longer be heard over the roar of the water.
Headlights appeared behind her and Shay turned, hoping to find a fire truck approaching. A string of curse words left her lips when she recognized the news van as it pulled in behind her vehicle. The cameraman and his reporter bailed out of their van and were heading for the waters edge before Shay could stop them.
"Holy shit!" Dave turned his camera to the water, capturing the image of Sandy Miller landing in the water beside the family car. "Shes gonna drown!"
Shay turned and ran back to the water, hesitating only a second before removing her gun belt and boots.
"Here!" A rope was thrust into her hands from behind and when Shay turned around she found herself looking into a pair of very familiar pale blue eyes. "Ill anchor it to your truck."
"Thanks." The Sheriff smiled briefly, then dove into the water.
The current was a lot stronger than she had anticipated and for a few seconds, Shay found herself being pulled under. But years of swimming in this same river had taught her how to out-swim a strong current. Rather than fight it, she used the current to help work her way to the top, managing to surface just a few feet past her target.
She grabbed a tree branch and pulled herself into the tree, waving toward the shore to let them know she was okay. She nimbly climbed her way along the tree, until she reached Sandy. The womans arms were clinging tightly to the tree trunk, her eyes squeezed shut.
"Sandy!" Shay reached down, but the second she touched her, Sandy began to scream. "Its okay! Im going to get you out of here!"
"No!! Dont touch me!!"
"Cant do that, Sandy." Shay slid into the freezing water again, releasing the rope from her waist and sliding it around Sandy. "Youre going to have to let go now, Sandy."
"NO!" Sandy tightened her grip.
Shay grabbed the womans wrists and used pressure points to force her to let go. With a scream aimed right at Shays ear, Sandy Miller released the tree, and pulled them both under the water.
It wasnt a second later that Teri was in the water. A tight grip on the taut [taut] rope kept her from being pulled under as well. She was nearly halfway across when she saw the blonde head bob up only to be sucked back under by the strong current.
The rope was slowly being pulled by the trucks winch, but it would not be fast enough to keep the women from drowning if they continued to be pulled below the waters surface.
Teri reached them as the women surfaced again. She grabbed hold of Sandy Miller, keeping her just above the water so that Shay could come up for air.
Sputtering water, Shay took a deep breath, getting a better grip on the rope. She opened her eyes to find Teri pulling Sandy to shore.
"Bobby!" Once on solid ground, Sandy was on her feet and heading back to the water. Strong arms circled her waist and lifted her up. "No! Bobby Tammy! I have to get them!"
"Take her, Dave!" Teri passed the hysterical woman to her cameraman, then returned to the waters edge. Shay was already tying the rope around her slim waist when Teri reached her. "Youre not going back in?"
Lightning flashed behind her, giving Shay a glimpse of the fear on Teris face. "I have to. The fire department cant get down here. It wont be long before the water is up over the roof of the car."
"Shay" Teri stopped herself. It was an old argument and one not worth revisiting. Especially not along the banks of a flooded creek in the middle of one of the worst storms in years. "Go. Ill reset the winch on your truck."
"Thanks." Shay made sure she had enough slack and went in, this time going in up stream from the car so the current would carry her to it.
The ambulance and engine arrived just moments after Shay and Teri pulled Bobby Miller from the creek. His wife and daughter were safely warming up inside the news van. Bobby fell to the ground beside Shay, both of them exhausted.
"Thanks, Shay." He reached over to pat his friend on the back. "I owe ya."
"No you dont." Shay rolled over onto her back, turning her head to look at Bobby. "Just get your family taken care of."
"II will." Bobby placed a soft kiss on Shays forehead, then got to his feet. "Cmon, hero." He reached down to help her up as the ambulance crew approached them.
"Thats heroine." She grinned when Bobby rolled his eyes at her. "Make sure he goes to the hospital. He was in the water for at least an hour."
"What about you?" One of the EMTs asked the Sheriff.
"Im fine." Shay moved past them to her Blazer, picked up the microphone and pressed the talk button. "Jenny, the Millers are fine and on their way to the hospital to be checked out. Would you mind calling Bobbys mother and letting her know?"
"Will do, Sheriff. You okay?"
"F-fine. Just a little cold." A cold chill shook her as the wind began to pick up. "At least the rain has stopped for now."
"Were going to get another two inches around morning. But I have some good news."
Shay leaned against the door. "I could sure use some."
"I have five units in Neville since just after you got to the creek. Theyre almost finished with the evacuation."
"Great work, Jenny. Remind me to give you a raise."
Jenny chuckled. "Sure. Now get on home and get some dry clothes on. Ill call ya if we need ya."
"Yes maam." Shay placed the microphone on the dashboard and climbed into her Blazer. Her eyes tracked to the news van, where Teri and her cameraman, Dave, were gathering their equipment. Shay leaned against the steering wheel, trying to decide what she should do.
The argument was still fresh in her mind. Had it really only been two days ago? Two days since the love of her life had turned her back and walked out on her two days since her world had fallen apart. She felt a twinge in her chest at the thought of what had been said between them. Her stomach was already tying itself in a knot.
She closed her eyes and she let the tears fall.
"Damn, Teri! I had no idea!"
Teri turned her gaze away from the Sheriffs truck to her cameraman. "About what, Dave?"
"That you could swim like that." He tapped his camera. "Got every bit of it right here, too."
"Dave, do you take that thing into the bathroom with you?"
He chuckled, gently placing his precious camera into the van. "No. But I have been known to sleep with it."
"Figures." Teri let her gaze wander to Shay again. She could just see the blonde head resting on the steering wheel. Why did she insist on constantly risking her life? Why wasnt a life with me and a safe, happy home enough for her? Why couldnt she love me enough?
That wasnt fair, Teri realized. She knew Shay loved her. Teri had seen it in those beautiful green eyes as she had walked away from the best thing that ever happened to her. Is my career really worth this? Is it worth losing her?
"Ill be back, Dave."
Dave watched his friend walk toward the Sheriffs Blazer. "Bout damn time."
Shay looked up when the passenger door was opened. She watched quietly as Teri slid into the seat. The rain had started again and Shay thought how appropriate it was. A dark and dismal night. A perfect match for her mood. "I thought you left."
"I was going to, but they asked me to stay and cover the flood."
"They being the network." Shay leaned back in the seat. "I should congratulate them."
"For being able to do the one thing I never could. Keep you here."
"No." The Sheriff held up her hand. "I dont want to talk about it, Teri. You made your choice. You proved to me what was more important."
"What if Ive changed my mind?"
"Id ask where the real Teri Allen was." Shay smirked at her own joke.
"Im right here." Teris voice lowered to nearly a whisper. "I never really left, Shay. There hasnt been a moment that you werent on my mind."
"That why you left me?"
Teri felt her chest tighten at the hurt in Shays voice. Was it too late to fix it? "Shay, do we really want to have this fight again?"
"No. I want you to talk to me. I want you to tell me why you felt that you couldnt live with me anymore." Shay turned in her seat so she could face the woman beside her. "I want to understand how it is you can say you love someone so much and then walk right out of her life."
Teri reached across the seat for Shays hand, but the blonde woman pulled away from her. Pale blue eyes misted over with tears. "I cant take that every time you go to work could be the last time I ever see you again."
"What? You never"
"I know. Thats why Im telling you now." Teri paused to collect her thoughts. "Remember when those two Cincinnati officers were killed?"
"I remember the one mans wife saying that she never once thought he wouldnt be home when he left that day for work. She never said goodbye to him, because he was dead before he ever got to the hospital." The brunette closed her eyes. "I think of that every time you leave for work. I want to just run out the door, grab you and hold onto you so I can protect you."
"You cant protect me, Teri. Not from the one thing that Ive always wanted to do with my life."
"I know that." Teri opened her eyes, pinning them on the woman who would always have her heart. "I cant anymore change you than you can change me. You are the other half of my soul, Shay. I dont think I can live without you."
"Teri!!" Both women turned to find Dave running toward the Blazer. "We need to get moving! Theres a house fire up on Fruit Ridge Rd!"
"Sheriff!" Jennys voice came over the radio. "Sheriff! The Klinker farmhouse just got hit by lightning!"
Shay picked up her microphone. "I know Jenny. Im on the way." Teri was already out of the Blazer and running toward the news van. Her shoulders slumped in defeat as Shay maneuvered her truck back onto the roadway, spinning tires as she headed to the fire.
Flames shot out the front window of the two-story home, nearly reaching the second floor window. Shay slid the Blazer to a stop and hit the ground running.
Teri fumbled with her seat belt, cursing when her long legs got tangled up as she tried to get out of the car. By the time she and Dave had gotten their equipment set up, Teri could not find Shay.
Dave had his camera on his shoulder, already filming when he joined Teri. "Whered she go?"
Teri pointed at the house, half of which was engulfed in flames. "In there, Im sure."
"Is there anyone inside?"
"Roni is!" A little girl was by Teris side, her tear-stained face looking toward the house. "The Sheriff went in to save her."
"Oh god." Teri took a step toward the house, but Dave pulled her back. "I"
"You have to let her go, Teri. Shes a big girl and more than capable of handling this."
Teri swallowed the sudden lump in her throat, reaching down to hold the little girls hand as they both anxiously watched the front door of the house.
The beam of her flashlight barely cut through the thick black smoke. Shay coughed as she made her way up the stairs, hoping to find Roni still alive. She stumbled at the top of the steps. The little girl had told her Roni was in the crib when the family had fled the house. How could someone leave their child in a crib? The Sheriff would deal with that as soon as she found the child.
Shay found the second door on the left and stood up to go inside. The smoke wasnt as thick in the part of the house. Using her flashlight, she found the crib and ran to it, shocked by what she found.
Curled up in a ball around a stuffed mouse, she found Roni. Shaking her head, Shay gently picked Roni up, surprised when she stirred with the movement. Thank god shes alive.
Running back down the stairs, Shay met the fire fighters at the door. "No one else in here!"
The fire fighter gave her a thumbs up as he and his partner started putting out the flames.
"Roni!" the little girl yelled as Shay came out of the house.
Shay knelt on the front lawn as the girl and her parents rushed to her. "I think shes had too much smoke, but shes alive."
The little girl fell to her knees beside Shay, gently touching the small bundle before them. "You saved her."
"I hope so." Shay motioned to one of the fire fighters. "Could I get some oxygen over here?"
Teri slowly approached, Dave right behind her. "Shay?"
The Sheriff glanced up at the reporter. "Were okay." She took the mask from the fire fighter and gave Roni some oxygen. Within minutes, Roni opened her eyes, immediately finding the little girl. A big yawn and a very happy "meow" came next.
The little girl wrapped her arms around her cat, pulling the calico close to her, all the while thanking the Sheriff for saving her.
"My pleasure. Why dont you and your mom and dad go sit in my truck? Okay?"
The childs parents nodded, the dad scooping up his little girl and her kitty and heading to the Sheriffs truck.
Shay stood up, stretching her over-tired muscles as she stepped back to watch the fire fighters do their job. A hand lightly touched her shoulder and she turned around. "Are you okay?" Teri asked.
"Well, my clothes are dry now."
"Shay, you just risked your life for a cat."
Sea green eyes flashed angrily at the tall reporter. "I risked my life because I thought a child was in that house. I rescued the cat because I could."
Teri sighed. "Thats what I meant. You risk your life"
"For the greater good. You know that. You knew that when you first went out with me. You knew that the first time you said you loved me and you knew that when you moved into my house."
"What happens if you die, Shay?"
"Teri, I could die in a car wreck on my way to the mall. Or I could die in my sleepwhen Im ninety-something." She smiled, reaching over to take hold of her lovers hand. "I dont want to live without you, Teri. But I cant compete with your career."
"Theres no competition." Teri brought their linked hands up, brushing her lips across Shays knuckles. Then she looked down into sea green eyes that could see into her soul. How could I ever leave her?
"What about the network job? What about your career? Teri, I cant ask you to give up your career any more than you can ask me to give up mine."
"I would be giving up more if I left." Teri felt a tear slip down her left cheek, but ignored it. "Newscenter 11 offered me a raise and an anchor position if Id stay."
"What did you tell them?"
Teri smiled. "I told them Id consider my options." She gently wiped a smudge of soot from Shays cheek, her heart breaking at the sadness she saw on her lovers face.
"Does that mean youll stay?" Shays voice cracked with the desperation she suddenly felt.
"Will you take me back?"
"Without hesitation." Shay pulled Teri forward, their lips meeting in a kiss that took her breath away.