Each day that followed they recovered a little more of their energy and spirit. Spring was in the air and Tara spent time puttering around the garden that her aunt clearly loved. She remembered the tiny pots of mint and cacti she kept on the windowsill at Aunt Marie's, but since then she'd never had an opportunity to keep plants. She was pleasantly surprised that she enjoyed it, and seemed to have inherited green fingers from an unknown ancestor.
Despite her prelation for objects of a certain antiquity, Aunt Hallie was fully on board with technological conveniences that the early 21st century offered. The house was covered by a wireless network hubbed at a powerful computer in the office. Willow tapped into the network and maintained their connection to the outside world.
Mrs George's daily visits were welcome and memorable. She brought local gossip as well as something "typically Swiss" for them to try. Cheese from the farmer's market, heavenly chocolates like they've never tasted before, milk from the diaries nearby. Willow developed a taste for Toni yoghurt and was determined to sample all 27 flavors that came in cute glass pots.
They hiked around the lake, and drove to the Alps to experience the country's beautiful scenery at first hand. Much had been written about the exquisiteness of the mountains, valleys, lakes and glaciers, being there in person was a feeling that no amount of reading could never match.
Tara lost track of the names of places they visited though she knew Willow kept a meticulous record. Photos, entrance tickets and souvenirs were collected and sorted neatly into a large document portfolio Willow found for that purpose. The food they ate, the sights they saw, the people they met and Willow's own thoughts were comprehensively written up.
News from home was scarce. A warrant for Richard Wilkins' arrest was issued on the grounds of suspicion for fraud and handling stolen goods. But there was not enough grounds for kidnapping or assault.
Artina docked at Cork in Ireland but it got in at dusk, quickly refueled, took on supplies, and left the port before the garda could be mobilized. Only the captain left the boat temporarily to complete paperwork at the harbormaster's office.
It proceeded to make its way down the western coast of Europe. The harbormaster at Cork reported that Artina was cleared for Sines in Portugal.
"There's no way Agent Burkle or Detective Lockley can get here on time and convince the local police to let them play on their turf. By the time they're done with the chest thumping, the yacht's gone," Tara said after another not so informative report from Agent Burkle.
Willow was reading the newspaper. One of several on a pile next to her. She had gotten into the habit of scanning the New York Times, Financial Times and business papers in her job; and now they were in Europe she still hungered for news from home. At Tara's obvious frustration, she put the Trib down and placed a hand on Tara's arm. "I know. Not much we can do but wait," she tried to console.
Tara was focused at a point just beyond the window. "Well actually, we're only three hours away," she remarked.
"Yes, but what can we do once we get there? We can't march to the nearest police station and make demands. And besides, we don't even know if they're stopping at Portugal. It could end up being a wild goose chase." Willow felt like she was pouring cold water on Tara's idea, but her girlfriend was sick with worry and she didn't want them to act rashly. "I'm sorry, baby. I know how hard this is on you."
Tara slumped in defeat. "I feel so helpless," she said in a small voice. "There's a big part inside me that blames ... me. If I hadn't asked Lily to help out, if I hadn't involved Aunt Hallie ..."
Willow placed one finger on Tara's mouth. "Shhh. Don't do that. They don't blame you. In fact, when this comes to an end and we're laughing about it at Aunt Hallie's house, they'll agree it was the right thing to do."
Tara tried to ignore the pain she had been carrying since - she had to think about it - since she was beaten up. Before that, she still retained a belief that there was good in her ex-boss. Between that, Lily's disappearance, the ruckus at the auction, Aunt Hallie's abduction and her whole world turning upside down, she hadn't had time to completely work through the pain. Only in the last few days did she begin feel a modicum of peace and control. But once Artina reached Europe, the uncertainties and fears started bubbling up again.
Willow was right, naturally. They couldn't blindly follow the yacht all over Europe, they had to trust the law enforcement agencies to do their jobs.
Two days later, Artina passed by Sines without stopping. They were relieved, in a way, that they hadn't rushed to Portugal. However that threw a spanner into the works, and Agent Burkle freely admitted that they were scrambling to figure out where the yacht would stop next. "We don't know where they're heading ultimately. May be they plan to stay in the open sea, but it seems unlikely. We're picking up signals that their pursuers may have posted people in various ports around Europe. They may try to head down to west Africa, or cross the Mediterranean to the Suez Canal. We don't have much intel."
The next thing they heard, Artina was approaching Gibraltar. They also got their first piece of luck. The yacht had developed an engine problem and had to stay overnight for repairs. This time, the American agents were on their way.
Willow was reticent, but looking at Tara's forlorn expression of hope silenced her misgivings and they made arrangements to fly to Gibraltar that day. A flight via Madrid later and they checked into the Rock Hotel, half a mile from where Artina was berthed.
They had a nervous night, choosing to have dinner at a restaurant affording a view of the marina and spending most of the rest of the night observing the yacht. No movement was detected on deck although lights from the cabins were on.
"Hang in there," Tara said silently to Lily and Aunt Hallie.
Willow shot up from a fitful sleep at the urgent cry. "Whoa?"
"Something's happening," Tara beckoned to her from her perch at their hotel window.
Willow quickly threw on a robe and trotted to where Tara was standing, the blonde appeared to have been at her observation post since daybreak. She followed Tara's gaze and saw that Artina was a hive of activity. "What are they doing?"
Tara blew out a breath. "I think they're getting ready to leave."
"What about their engine problem?"
"Must have gotten it fixed. Will, I hate this. Agent Burkle won't get here till late afternoon, and then there's the usual liaison stuff. We're gonna lose them again," Tara's agony was apparent.
It was the first time Willow had seen the yacht in daylight. She took the binoculars from Tara and zoomed in, noting the activity. "A lot of people moving all over, but I don't see anyone we know. Have you?"
"No. They must be below deck."
She continued sweeping over the vessel, passing over then stopping and returning her focus to the bow. Her eyes unfocused for a second, and then she saw it. It was clear as day. "I should shout 'eureka' and sweep you off your feet in a big hug, but it may be too early for that," she said quietly.
Tara frowned. "What?"
"I know where they're heading. Artina is an anagram of Tirana, the capital of Albania. It didn't click till I saw the name painted on the side," Willow snorted with laughter. "He's running to probably the only people who will help him."
Tara looked at Willow with alarm. "That's the other side of the Mediterranean, once he leaves Gibraltar he can sail straight there. I don't think there'll be much diplomatic help for us in Albania, remember Faith's connections?"
"May be the FBI can stop them en route," Willow said, unconvincingly. They knew very little about law enforcement but enough to know the FBI didn't have much pull overseas.
Tara gave Willow a hard look. "Not going to work, and you know it. We have to stop them ourselves," she declared.
Willow inhaled sharply. "Will you listen to yourself? We're not the Wonder Lesbians, Tara. We don't have superpowers to storm the yacht."
Tara snapped. "I will not sit here waiting for the cavalry to arrive, because by then it will be too late. Two people are held prisoner on that boat because of me. I'm going down there and I'm going to stop that yacht leaving this harbor."
"And how do you propose to do that?" Willow's voice was calm and even as she grabbed Tara's arm.
"I don't know! Something," Tara's emotions were so frazzled, she was on the verge of collapse from frustration and anger. She shook Willow's hand off and stalked bedside to retrieve her clothes, trying to stop her entire body from shaking like a leaf.
Willow was still. A part of her brain registered how controlled she was, compared with the tornado of nerves that was Tara. "Baby, wait. Sit down for a minute and breathe," she implored.
Tara ignored her.
"Tara! For fuck's sake sit down and let me think this through!" Willow's voice was sharp and commanding, but she never lost her cool.
Tara froze and looked like she was about to bolt. Then with a shudder she dropped the clothes in her hand and fell to a sitting position on the floor. She didn't notice the jolt as her bottom hit the wooden floor hard. For the next few seconds, she could only stare at Willow blankly.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, too numb to cry.
Willow squatted down next to her with a serious expression. "If we're gonna do this, we need to do this right. Let's get dressed and go shopping," she said. At Tara's questioning look, she took her distressed lover's hand and kissed her palm soundly. "I have an idea. Trust me?"
"It may not work, but I'm pretty sur-"
"I trust you." Tara closed her eyes tight and took a deep breath to center herself. When she opened her eyes, the panic was gone.