Summer in Paradise?
“Keep yer hands off, mate,” Nick snapped, wrapping his arm protectively around Katie as he glared at his identical twin brother, Nate. “She’s not for you. She wouldn’t even pee on you if you were on fire. She’s very intuitive when it comes to reading people.”
“Nicky!” His mom smacked his arm. “Such language!”
“Oh, no. You’ve gone an’ upset Mum. Now who’s the bad son?” Nate chuckled. “You’ve been here all of five minutes an’ you’ve already buggared up? That must be a record for you.”
“Shove off!” Nick shot, taking a step toward his brother.
“Boys, boys, don’t get yer brumbies in a bunch. Have a seat. Let’s talk it out. Paige, wanna get us somethin’ t’ drink? Take Katie with ya,” his dad, Zack, said. “She doesn’t need t’ hear this. Come t’ think of it, we’ll go t’ the backyard so she doesn’t have to. Way t’ make a first impression, Nate.”
“Nothin’ I did,” he objected while Zack shoved them out the door.
When they were out of earshot, Paige mentioned, “There’s a set of twins in each generation. In his father’s case, the boys are fraternal, but they’re a lot alike. In the case of Nicky and Nate, they’re identical, but couldn’t be more opposite if they tried.”
“I can’t believe how much they look alike. I’m really struggling to find something different about them.”
“It’s in the eyes, love. The anger got a hold of Nate early. We sent Nicky away so it wouldn’t get him too. That’s my only regret in life,” she said as they went to the kitchen. “Would ya mind gettin’ the glasses from that cupboard t’ yer left?” Paige asked, pulling the lemonade and beer from the fridge. “I assume yer gonna want the lemonade?”
“Oh, yes please. I don’t drink.”
“I knew ya looked like a good girl.” Paige smiled. “Just two glasses. The boys are gonna want these.” She lifted the beer to the counter.
“Um, Nick doesn’t drink anymore either.”
“Oh! Didn’t know that. Okay.” She shrugged. “Then pull out a glass for him too. He’s gonna need it,” she said, nodding toward the window where they could see Nate and Nick yelling at each other, while Zack leaned against a tree with his arms crossed, keeping a close eye on them. “He doesn’t know what t’ do with ‘em. This is not how we wanted Nicky’s homecoming t’ be. Maybe at the barbie he’ll relax.”
“Bar-b-que?” Katie asked.
“Yes. We’re gonna have t’ teach you some new terms, or yer gonna miss half the conversations...especially when we get t’ the station. Nana doesn’t take mercy on anyone. She’s a tough ol’ bird. Tough as they come.”
Katie watched her pouring the drinks before she asked, “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but you look tired. Would you like me to take these outside?”
“Oh, sweetie, I couldn’t take it wrong. I am tired. But, no worries, I’ll take them out.” She patted Katie’s hand.
Katie cocked her head to the side, watching her. “With all due respect, is there something Nick doesn’t know about you?”
Paige froze at her words. Gently setting the pitcher of lemonade on the counter, she slowly looked up at Katie. “How do you know?”
“My mother died of leukemia when I was seven. I know what someone looks like who has gone through chemo. Is that the reason Nana had to tell you Nick was coming? Was it because you were too tired from chemo to go to the station?”
“Amazing.” Paige shook her head. “Yes, that’s why. And, no, Nicky doesn’t know.”
“No one in the family knows except Zack. We’ve been keeping it from them in hopes of remission.”
“What is it?”
“Not too bad for the moment. Please don’t tell Nicky.”
“I won’t, but please don’t wait until the last minute. That wouldn’t be fair to him.”
“I’ll tell him if it gets really bad,” she promised. “He really likes ya, ya know? He’s never brought a girl here.”
“Thank you.” Katie smiled. “I like him too. He’s such a sweetheart.”
“Very protective, though. However, using my powers of observation, I’m thinkin’ you don’t need protectin’.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ya look strong. What do ya do for a livin’?”
“I’m a police officer.”
“Yeah. He doesn’t like wimpy girls. Well, he used to, but now he’s lookin’ for substance over looks...not that ya don’t have both by the look a’ ya,” she said with a wink and a smile. “C’mon, looks like Zack may need that beer already. Nicky may even reconsider an’ want one when he’s finished with that conversation.”
* * *
That afternoon, while the guys argued and got things settled between them, Katie went down to the beach. She spent the time in prayer, surrounded by the serenity of the ocean. Tuning out the yelling, she watched the wondrous nature that surrounded her.
“Be careful of the sun, love. This is the perfect time of year t’ come this way. Being the dry season, the humidity is low, and the breezes are frequent,” Paige said, sitting on the beach next to her. She passed her a glass of lemonade. “You’ll burn in a tic if yer not aware, though.”
“Speaking of which, you shouldn’t be in the sun either,” Katie said before she took a sip of the refreshing lemonade. “Wow! This is great!”
“Thank you. I’ll tell ya what. If ya come back with me, I’ll get out of the sun.”
“Deal.” Katie got up, brushing off the sand. “This place is gorgeous. I know why y’all live here.”
“Lived here all our married life. If we were t’ attempt t’ buy this place now, we wouldn’t be able t’ afford it.”
“But that Nicky? He’d much rather be sweatin’ in the sun, working with his hands. I shoulda let ‘im stay on the station, but I didn’t think that was far enough,” she said as they slowly walked back to the house.
Katie pocketed a couple pretty shells, as they continued on their way back. “Far enough from what?”
“From the anger.”
“Not sure what you mean.”
“I’ll tell ya about it later. Right now, we gotta separate those boys.”
“Oh, no reason for such formalities, love. Just call me Paige.”
“Not sure if it’s in me to call you that.”
“Ya got two choices, love. You can call me Paige or Mum. Choice is yours.”
Katie smiled, shaking her head. “Sorry, it’s a sign of respect.”
“I get that, but ya got two choices, Buckley’s and none,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
“What does that mean?”
“It’s Paige or Mum.”
“All right,” Katie agreed, knowing she would more than likely do her best not to call her by name until she was sure of where she stood. Paige seemed open and real. While she appreciated it, it seemed a little out of place to her.
“Fine! But you bloody well better not lay another finger on her or I’ll have your guts for garters!” Nick growled as he stood less than six inches from Nate’s face. They were still in the backyard with Zack in the middle of them.
“Well, he’s madder than a cut snake!” Paige looked at him, wide-eyed. “Wonder what ‘e said?”
“Don’t think I wanna know,” Katie mumbled. “I’m not used to seeing him this angry.”
“That’s why we sent ‘im away. When Nate’s not around, Nicky’s in a much better mood.”
Walking over to Katie and his mom, Nick took Katie’s hand, as he said, “Katie, let’s go for a walk. I need t’ get out of here.”
“Tell ya what. In the interest of family relations, I’ll go so you can get t’ know yer parents again. I’ll be back for the barbie. Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Nate said, and spun on his heal before leaving out through the backyard fence.
“Okayyy, what did I miss?” Katie asked, nervously tucking her hair behind her ear.
“Well, that was quite a welcome home,” Zack said, as the group headed back into the house. “That bloke’s gonna get ‘imself nicked if ‘e’s not careful.”
“He’s been in the cooler more than once,” Paige mentioned over her shoulder while heading into the kitchen.
“And, he’ll be in there again. That boy’s gonna be the death a’ me.” Zack sighed, shaking his head.
Paige poked her head around the kitchen doorway for a moment. “At least ya got one good son,” she said, and disappeared back into the kitchen.
“Well, have a seat, Katie. Seems with as angry at Nicky got, that we need t’ get t’ know ya.”
“What do you mean by that?” Katie asked, taking her seat at the table.
“He’s only that protective of those ‘e holds close t’ him. I have a feelin’ he brought ya here t’ meet us,” Zack said, glancing at Nick before turning back to Katie. “His inner circle is extremely small, an’ I promise ya he hasn’t brought a single lady home with ‘im before you. So, tell me about yourself, love. I have a feelin’ we’re goin’ t’ be family sometime in the near future,” Zack said with a satisfied grin.
“You’ve turned into a cheeky lil’ buggar in your old age, haven’t ya, ol’ man?” Nick teased.
“And, your language has completely changed,” Katie said. “I’m having some trouble following the conversations.”
“No worries. We’ll teach ya. As far as you, boy, you’ve gotten more brazen in yer old age,” Zack added, lightheartedly chastising him.
“Just lettin’ ya know I missed ya.”
“Wouldn’t have ya any other way. Now,” he turned back to Katie, “tell me about yourself, love.”
“Well,” she cleared her throat, “I’m a police officer with the Cleveland Police Department.”
“Only for another year or so,” Nick pointed out. “After that, she’s headed to Quantico.”
“Yer gonna be a fed?” Zack asked, amazed.
Katie nodded. “Yes, sir. Nick’s been training me for more than three years.”
“Well, then, you shouldn’t have any trouble. Keep those skills handy if Nate’s around.”
“Kind of surprised to hear you speak about your son like that.”
“He’s always been a bit of an ocker.”
“Not a good guy,” Nick explained. “I’ll do my best to keep up with the translations for you.”
“I appreciate it,” Katie said. Then she turned back to Zack and asked, “Now, considering that I had no idea Nick even had a brother,” she glanced at Nick, whose face flushed in embarrassment before she looked back to his dad, “What can you tell me about Nate?”
“Not surprisin’ ya didn’t know about Nate. There are days I’d like t’ forget him myself.” His dad chuckled, easing Nick’s anxiety. “Ya see, they may be twins, but they’re nothin’ alike. Basically, everything ya know about Nicky, apply the mirror opposite to ‘is brother. Now, I know ‘e’s my son, but the anger got ‘im early, takin’ ‘im from me too soon.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means there’s a curse put on this family from generations back. Ya see, while the last three generations were born Aussies, the generation prior was Irish through an’ through. As the story goes, a witch cast a spell on our clan when my mum’s father killed her son. Now, those were dark days in our clan’s history, but it has unfortunately stuck with our family, an’ in each generation the anger attacks an’ stays with a male member.”
“Except for your generation,” Nick said.
“Oh no. Even you don’t know of our brother, Jasper.”
“What? Who?” Nick looked at him in shock. “I’m sorry, Katie, I had no idea of any of this.”
“It’s true. He doesn’t,” his dad defended him, seeing the shock on both of their faces. “We hid it from ‘im in order to do our best to save ‘im. Ya see, Jasper didn’t make it outta his teen years. He died shortly before his nineteenth birthday. We’re not even able to utter his name around Mum, or she’ll skin us alive. She’s done ‘er best t’ bury it, but it’s still there, an’ yer old enough now to understand.”
Nick couldn’t believe what he was hearing. How could he have an uncle he didn’t know about? Where did this curse come from, and why wasn’t he told about it before now? “I don’t – I don’t have a clue what you’re talkin’ about.”
“Of course not, Nicky,” Paige said, coming into the dining room with a tray of cold cuts, bread, and a bowl of chips. “We didn’t want ya t’ know. Last time you were here, you were just a boy at seventeen, but now yer a man. We also needed t’ tell ya face-to-face. This is not something you explain over the phone. Sorry you have t’ hear it as well,” Paige apologized to Katie.
“It’s okay, really. It’s just something I’ve never heard,” Katie explained, wondering what else she didn’t know about Nick and his family.
“By the look a’ ya, yer Irish as well?” Paige asked, taking her seat.
“Yes, ma’am,” Katie said.
“Then you are familiar with the dark side of life in Ireland in the ol’ days?”
“Then you should understand that what we are sayin’ is entirely true.”
“It could be, but it’s something I’ve never heard of first- hand. I always thought that stuff was a myth.”
“Where there’s light, there’s dark. Do not be mistaken. You have no clue of the things going on around you,” a man said, leaning on the wall next to their sliding screen door that led out to the beach.
“Ethan! C’mon in,” Zack said, getting up from the table and opening the door, giving Ethan a hug. “Nicky, Katie, this is one of my mates, Ethan Carson. He’s, uh....” He looked to Ethan for help.
As he shook hands with Katie and Nick, Ethan explained, “I am with a group known as A.N.G.E.L. –”
Katie studied him only for a moment before she cut him off, “Why are you here?”
“What do you mean?” he asked, confused.
“You’re strong...in a good way. I don’t know exactly what you do, but the room lightened up when you came in,” Katie said, her body on edge at everything she had run into since landing.
Ethan shook his head as he crossed his arms. “Hawk warned me of the possibility, but I didn’t think it was true.”
“What was true?” Katie asked. She felt on edge, yet he had a strange familiarity to him. “Who are you?”
“Katie!” Nick looked at her, surprised by her sudden assertiveness.
“What are you involved in?” Katie demanded from Ethan.
“Wow! She’s good!” Ethan said, as he sat down at the table with the others. “I’ll address that in a moment,” he said to Katie. Then he turned to Nick and explained, “While you are well grounded, young Katie here is in tune with the inner person.”
“She is a good judge of character,” Nick agreed.
“It’s more than that. Whether she knows it or not, she can tell if a person is one of His, seeking, or have committed to the other side.”
“You’re a bit cryptic there, mate. Can you be more specific?”
Ethan sighed, shaking his head with a chuckle. “Ohhh, Hawk’s gonna owe me big for this one. The little buggar knew what he was sending me into.”
“Meaning?” Nick demanded, on edge himself. “Look, we’ve not had a good start here, and frankly you’re not helpin’.”
“Certain gifts are handed out by the Spirit. Katie’s is discernment and wisdom.”
“I’m still in the room,” Katie reminded him, her voice cold.
“I know. I’m settling his spirit first,” he apologized to Katie. When he turned back to Nick, he explained, “Certain individuals in this world are part of a bigger group, with a much bigger job than even yours as an agent.”
Nick sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. While his father was familiar with this man, he was not. And what he was telling him, was bordering on disturbing.
“A.N.G.E.L. stands for Available to Nurture God’s Eternal Love. If someone claims to be an A.N.G.E.L., they have to tell you what it stands for. That’s our code,” Ethan explained. “Now, while the Spirit was given to each of us who are His, a smaller contingent operates in the shadows, going where we are sent in order to help those of the Lord’s who need us the most. Sometimes it’s a matter of providing food, delivering a message, or even something as big as saving their lives. The reason I’m here is because I was sent to warn you that you are both in danger.”
“Explain,” Nick snapped. “My patience is running thin at best, Carson.”
Ethan took a deep breath before he disclosed his true intention for being there. “Your father and I have crossed paths many times over the past several years regarding his family.”
“Careful, that’s my family you’re talking about,” Nick warned.
“Exactly. We’re the reason you were sent away.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Sins of the father can be passed down, even unto the fourth generation. This goes two ways, though. Good virtues and faith can be passed down as well. Your family has done its best to fight a darkness that has attached itself to you. Now for you,” he said to Katie, shutting Nick down before he could object. “You cannot tell me that you didn’t feel the darkness from Nate.”
“I did,” Katie admitted.
“And you cannot tell me that you didn’t feel the light from me. You said as much.”
“I did,” Katie agreed, still weary.
“You’re in danger here, just as much as you’re in danger back home. You have more than one target on you that you need to be aware of. Hawk sent me to you to remind you to be on guard. There are other A.N.G.E.L.s around who are looking out for you as best as possible, but you,” he turned back to Nick, “need to stay vigilant as well.”
“He’s tellin’ ya the truth,” Zack jumped into the conversation. “While I love my son, Nate’s not a good man. He’s out to destroy you,” he warned Nick.
“Why?” Nick asked, shocked.
“Because he knows what your future holds,” Ethan explained. “He knows just how important you are going to be for His service.”
“The Lord’s. While it took you a while to trust Him, He has always had a plan for you and your future generations.”
“Okay. So if we take your message to heart, what are we supposed to do about it?”
“Be on your toes. If another A.N.G.E.L. comes to you, listen without question to what they tell you to do. There are many of us, and we grow stronger in numbers every year. For a while we were dwindling, but as His message spreads, our numbers grow. Some are strategically placed, knowing what’s coming.”
“This is just too much!” Nick threw his napkin. “I bring her here t’ rest an’ meet the family, an’ this is what I get? I have half a mind to take ‘er home immediately.”
“No!” Katie, Ethan, and his parents objected at the same time. “Why not?”
“Because we’re supposed to be here,” Katie said, resting her hand on Nick’s. “Whether we’re comfortable or not, we’re supposed to be here. Whatever Nate’s plan is, we now have a head’s up and can stay on our toes. This is a known factor. If we were to go back home, we have no idea who is leaving those messages for me, or where Joey Rossi is at the moment. That’s an unknown factor.”
“Well, you seem so smart and knowledgeable,” Nick said sarcastically to Ethan. “Who’s after her in the States?”
“I only know what I need to know, and that’s not what I need to know,” Ethan said calmly, noting Nick’s size and the anger he exuded.
Nick stood from the table. “Stuff this for a game of soldiers!”
Katie jumped up and grabbed Nick’s arm as he went to leave out the screen door. When he turned toward her, she said, “You’ve only been here for a few hours, and anger’s already pouring from every muscle in your body. I feel this man can be trusted. If you trust my judgment at all, then please sit back down and let’s figure out how to get you protected.”
“You’re the one who needs protecting.”
“And you can’t do that if you’re already lost,” Katie pointed out.
Knowing she was right, he sat back down at the table. Still unsure, but trusting Katie, he asked Ethan, “What do we need to do?”
* * *
“I just get tired of being on edge every minute. I wanted us to relax, not be in the middle of things here,” Nick admitted to Katie as they worked in the kitchen to get ready for the cookout that night. “I don’t mind doing this type of thing, but I know Nate’s going to be here as well.”
“So will Ethan and his friends,” Katie said. “We need to trust them. I have a feeling we’ll need them in the future.”
“Unfortunately, I have a feeling you’re right.” He sighed. “I can’t wait until we’re in a plane, in the air with nothing around us that’s trying to hurt you.”
“If I remember correctly, he said that Nate was trying to destroy you,” she corrected him.
“It’s you I’m more concerned about.”
“Nick, you are not super-human. You’re not exempt from getting hurt or killed. I remember you being in the ICU, and I don’t want a repeat of that. How would you feel if I was unconscious for over a week?”
“I would be a mess.”
“Then please be concerned with yourself as much as you’re concerned with me. We’re together. We’re a pair. If anything happened to you, you have no idea what it would do to me. Please take care of yourself?”
“If ya don’t take care a’ yerself, you can’t take care a’ her,” Paige explained as she popped into the kitchen to grab the completed salads, and disappeared out to the backyard once again.
Nick looked after her. “She’s been running around like a chook being chased by a weasel. I feel bad.”
“Chook?” Katie questioned.
“A chook is a chicken.”
“Yeah, she’s been running around. She loves you and wants your party to be fun.”
“Oh, this isn’t just for me. It’s for them as well.” He smirked. “Don’t let them fool you. They have a barbie as often as possible.”
“They don’t seem the partying type.”
“They’re not the partying type, but they enjoy their friends and family.”
Nate stumbled into the kitchen. “G’day, brother!”
“Yer half off yer face already!” Nick shook his head, disgusted. “Get outta here before Mum sees you!”
“Oh no. If I miss my brother’s party, I’ll never hear the end of it. And, I wouldn’t miss a moment with this beauty,” he said, draping his arm over Katie’s shoulder.
“Keep your hands to yourself,” Katie snapped, shoving him away.
He grabbed her chin, pulling her to him and growled, “I’ll take whatever I want, when I want.”
Nick snatched his hand and flipped it behind Nate’s back as he slammed him against the wall. “Touch her again, and I’ll make you regret ever being born.”
“Already regret that, mate.”
“I am not your mate! It’s bad enough I have to be your brother.”
“Nicky! Let ‘im go!” Paige shouted.
“Yeah, Nicky, let me go. Yer wrinklin’ my clothes.”
“Mum, make him leave,” Nick growled, “or this won’t end well.”
“Nate, I think you should go,” Zack said, stepping into the house when he heard the commotion.
“Ethan an’ his friends are here, mate,” another friend of Zack’s said, poking his head into the kitchen. “Oh, bloody hell! Do I need t’ call the coppers?”
“Nope. Nate’s goin’,” Zack said firmly.
When Nick released him, Nate stumbled out of the house, mumbling to himself.
“Bloody ocker!” Zack growled in anger. “Why does ‘e have t’ come here half off his face?”
“Now, boys, let’s just enjoy the party now that he’s gone,” Paige said, doing her best to keep her own emotions under control.
Zack shook his head as he crossed his arms. “He brings the anger with him an’ it spreads like a plague. Best keep yerself in check, Nicky. If yer not careful, he’ll push ya, and then he wins.”
“If he touches Katie again, he won’t win. He’ll be dead.”
“Come talk with me, mate,” Ethan said, appearing at the doorway. “My friends an’ I need t’ have a chat with you.”
“You keep an eye on her. Understand?” Nick warned his dad.
“I will,” he agreed.
When Nick left the room, Katie let out the breath of air she had been holding since Nate grabbed her. Dropping onto a stool in the kitchen, she held her head with her hands as she braced her elbows on the counter. “I don’t...I don’t even know what to say.”
“It’s not yer fault, love.” Zack rested his hand on her shoulder. “They’ve been fightin’ since birth.”
“They were even fightin’ in the womb,” Paige pointed out.
“About as bad as Jacob an’ Esau, eh?” Zack chuckled, hoping to lighten the mood.
Katie looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “I don’t find anything about this funny. I’m sorry if you’re used to it, but this has been intense at best. I wish we could just relax.”
“We will, love. He’s gone for the night, an’ we head t’ the station the day after tomorrow. Once we’re in the middle of the Outback, I promise ya that nothin’ will happen t’ ya there.”
Katie sighed. “Sure, famous last words.”
* * *
Katie was exhausted by nine that night, but the party was still going full swing. “I don’t mean to be rude,” Katie said to Nick, “but I’m exhausted.”
“That’s okay, love.” Nick hugged her. “Go ahead an’ go to bed. I’ll tell Mum an’ Dad. After the travelling, the events a’ t’day, an’ jet lag, pretty sure they’ll understand.”
“Thank you. I love you,” she said, and gave him a kiss.
“Love you too. Now, go get some sleep,” he said, gently patting her on the behind before she went into the house.
When she went to her room, she downloaded pictures she had taken over the last few days of travelling onto her computer. She knew her friends were waiting to see pictures of their trip. As she uploaded them to her social media page, she couldn’t help but think of the events of the last few days...several months for that matter. How did Ethan know about the person leaving her notes? Would he and his friends really be able to help them?
She knew she could trust them, and after she finished with her page, she did her devotions, and thanked the Lord for His continued protection and love.
* * *
He had been friends with Riccardo, Ethan, and Seb on social media, and was thrilled to see when Katie finally connected with them as well. While he wouldn’t comment, he could keep a close eye on her from the safety of his own home.
He flipped through the photos she uploaded from their trip, and excitedly printed some of the pictures of just her. He cringed when he saw the ones with Nick in them. It made him sick to see that she was with him.
He would bide his time until just the right moment. Then he would reveal himself to her once again.