Lorrie had become anxious. What the hell did ڈریک find that was so horrible that he couldn’t tell her on the phone?

    The apartment that she and ڈریک were staying in was only a few minutes’ drive from Central Park. Lorrie awaited on a park bench holding Kowalski in her lap. She didn’t bother with wasting time putting him in his cage.

    A cab pulled up at the side of the park a couple of منٹ after Lorrie had arrived and ڈریک stepped out. After tipping the cabbie, he scanned the park, and when he spotted her, he paced آگے with meticulous speed, clutching his notebook tightly. Lorrie got to her feet and closed the distance between them.

    “Drake, what’s wro—”

    “Look, Lorrie,” ڈریک interrupted leaning in close and keeping his voice low, “if آپ continue looking into this, I don’t think you’ll like what you’re getting yourself into.”

    Lorrie became even مزید worried and confused. “Drake, what did آپ find out?”

    Drake hesitated. “It's about the blood-work on Kowalski's father. I found a large amount of an illegal stimulant in his system. Tuaminoheptane. It’s a sympathomimetic drug that is meant to make the mind alert and enhance athletic abilities.”

    Lorrie's face fell. “You mean…Someone is testing illegal drugs on penguins?”

    Drake nodded slightly. “I know it seems impossible, but it actually makes a little sense if آپ think about it. Who would think to look for illegal druggies in Antarctica?”

    Lorrie looked down at Kowalski in her arms. “I’ve got to find them.”

    “Lorrie, I know آپ want to stop these sickos, but this is suicide! We should just go to the police,” ڈریک told her.

    Lorrie rolled her eyes. “Yes, Drake. That sounds like a perfect plan. ‘Mr. Officer, I’d like to file a رپورٹ stating that there’s somebody in Antarctica testing drugs on penguins.’ Doesn’t sound very believable, does it?”

    Drake huffed impatiently. “Well, what other choice do آپ have? What, do آپ think you’re just gonna march right down to Antarctica and deliver justice yourself?”

    “No, I happen to know someone down there who would be willing to help,” Lorrie replied.

    “Well, Lorrie, I’m sorry, but I just don’t want to be a part of this,” ڈریک told her sadly.

    Lorrie nodded understandingly. “It’s alright, I understand. I need to go so I can start on saving those penguins.”

    Drake sighed quietly. “Good luck, Lorrie. And be careful.”

    Lorrie smiled and nodded, then brushed سے طرف کی him and made her way to the apartment.

♦ ♦ ♦

    After Lorrie got her things together, she called the harbor that she’d arrived at and scheduled an appointment to head back to Antarctica promptly at 1630 hours that afternoon. She then plopped down on the بستر اگلے to Kowalski and sighed.

    “I’m sorry some heartless person did this to your father,” she کہا stroking his chest feathers. Kowalski chirped in response and Lorrie smiled. “Don’t worry, we’re going to find them and avenge him, no matter what it takes.”

    1630 crept up on them pretty quickly. سے طرف کی around 1610 hours, Lorrie signed in at the harbor and boarded the boat. She carried Kowalski in his cage with one hand and her two bags in the other. She felt the sun برداشت, ریچھ down on her from the sky and smelled the salty sea air. She approached the railing and set her bags and Kowalski’s cage down and gripped the cold metal, staring out at the sparkling blue water. Cool air counteracted the sun’s calefaction, slipping through her hair and making her clothes billow against her skin. She closed her eyes and cleared her mind to feel and hear the earth around her. She’d almost forgotten about everything until she heard a voice behind her.

    “May I take your bags for you?” a familiar deep voice asked. Lorrie turned to see Preston standing behind her with his thumbs tucked in his front pockets. A small smile crept across his face when her eyes met his.

    “Preston,” Lorrie کہا softly.

    “The one and only,” Preston replied, slightly laughing. “I didn’t expect to see آپ again this soon.”

    “Is that a bad thing?” Lorrie asked turning fully around to face him and gently clasping her hands in front of herself.

    Preston laughed slightly. “The exact opposite,” he answered. “So, what brings آپ back to Antarctica so soon?”

    Lorrie’s smile faded and she looked away. “Drake found out that an illegally-made drug is what killed Kowalski’s father. I have to find out where they are and stop them before too many مزید penguins get hurt,” she answered crossing her arms uneasily.

    Preston’s smile faded and his eyes went serious. He remained silent for a moment before he took a couple of steps آگے and wrapped his arms around her waist. Lorrie rested her head on his chest and he stroked her hair.

    “Lorrie,” he کہا softly, “I know آپ care about Kowalski and want to save those penguins, but don’t آپ think going through with this yourself is a little dangerous?”

    “I don’t care. I want to be sure that whoever is responsible for this is brought to justice,” Lorrie answered.

    Preston didn’t answer back for a few minutes. He simply kept a firm, yet gentle, grip on Lorrie’s waist with his left hand, and stroked her hair with his right. Finally, he pulled away and lifted Lorrie’s chin so she would look him in the eye.

    “You have a kind heart, Lorrie. Be careful where it leads you,” he told her.

    Lorrie became confused. “What do آپ mean?”

    “I mean…I just don’t want آپ to get hurt. I really do care about you, Lorrie,” Preston told her, gently running his index finger across her hairline and tucking a strand behind her ear.

    The two spent a moment staring deep into the others’ eyes, then Preston slowly leaned آگے and pressed his lips to hers.

    A warm sensation rushed down through Lorrie’s body as her and Preston’s lips made contact with one another. She almost wished this moment would last forever. The sound of the boat’s foghorn pulled them apart.

    Preston sighed. “We should go get آپ settled down in your room.”

    Lorrie nodded with a bashful smile. “Okay.”

    Preston took her two bags and Lorrie helped herself to carrying Kowalski’s cage. Preston lead the way down into the sleeping area and entered the room Lorrie would be staying in. After setting her things down, he turned to her slowly and gently took her hands in his.

    “Lorrie, are آپ sure آپ don’t want to leave this to the authorities?” he asked her.

    Lorrie shook her head. “No. I want to look the men who killed Kowalski’s father in the eye as they’re dragged off to prison,” she told him through clenched teeth.

    Preston looked into her loathsome eyes that sparkled with determination.

    “Preston, why do I get this feeling that you’re against me on this?” Lorrie asked.

    Preston shook his head. “No, it’s not that. I just…I just want آپ to be careful,” he smiled, “I haven't even had the chance to take آپ to dinner, yet.”

    Lorrie smiled a little. “Oh, really?”

    Preston wrapped his arms around her waist with a flirtatious smile. “Really.”

    Lorrie laughed and felt the heat rush into her cheeks.

    Interrupting the moment, Kowalski's abrupt chirping grabbed their attention. Lorrie smiled.

    “He must be hungry. I should feed him.”

    Preston nodded in understanding. “Alright. I have something I need to do, anyway.”

    He let Lorrie go and left the room.

♦ ♦ ♦

    After Lorrie finished feeding Kowalski, she decided to go out for some air as the little chick took a nap. Once she put on some warm clothing, she went topside.

    Just as she did when she boarded, she leaned against the railing and breathed in the salty sea air. They were about four-hundred feet from the shoreline now, and the sun started to disappear behind the horizon.

    It was beautiful—the sunset on the ocean. The sky directly above was a beautiful navy blue, but the sun illuminated the horizon with a bewitching مالٹا, نارنگی that glinted of the water and the clouds in the sky. Seagulls squawked overhead and water splashed up the side of the کشتی below. Wind gently blew and pushed Lorrie’s hair back and forth, into and out of her face.

    The اگلے thing she knew, a pair of arms wrapped around her waist and a warm body pressed against her back.

    “Enjoying the scene?” کہا Preston’s voice in Lorrie’s ear. She felt his minty breath on her cheek.

    Lorrie smiled. “It’s just beautiful, isn’t it?”

    “Hm? Oh, yeah, the sunset’s nice. But I was talking about you,” Preston کہا holding her a little tighter.

    Lorrie laughed. “You're not always such a flirt, are you?”

    Preston smiled. “I’ve never met a مزید magnificent woman before.”

    “How do I know you’re not just hitting on me?” Lorrie asked wrapping her arms around his.

    “I’m not. آپ can ask anyone. You’re amazing, Lorrie,” Preston assured her.

    Lorrie looked down. “I’m sorry. I guess I’ve just been let down too many times.”

    Preston smiled and pulled her around to face him. “Then why don’t آپ give me a chance to prove that I'm legit? Would آپ like to have رات کے کھانے, شام کا کھانا with me, tonight?”

    “A date? With me?” Lorrie asked with a smile.

    “Sure. What do ya say?” Preston answered nudging her a bit.

    Lorrie nodded, unable to stop smiling. “Okay. I’ll meet آپ here in a couple of hours?”

    “Sounds great. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to make a call before we get too far from the shore,” Preston کہا before he softly kissed her forehead and left her.

    Lorrie leaned back against the railing and watched him leave. About a منٹ later, she noticed his ٹوپی on the deck. She remembered how he usually kept it in his back pocket when he wasn’t wearing it and assumed that it had fallen out. She picked it up and started in the direction she saw Preston leave. When she heard his voice around the corner, she could help but notice that he sounded irritated. She slowed her pace and stopped سے طرف کی the اگلے wall. She knew it was wrong to eavesdrop, but she’d never heard him sound so upset.

    “No, I can’t do that, Harold!” Preston was saying.

    After a brief pause, he continued. “I've been in this for long enough. I won’t tell anybody anything.”

    Another pause. This time he lowered his voice some. “Look, I’ve found someone, okay? I really like her. If she knew about this, she’d never forgive me.”

    There was a longer pause, and Lorrie could hear Preston shuffling around. Lorrie’s mind flooded with questions. What was Preston hiding? Why would she never forgive him? Was Preston not the man she thought he was?

    “Please…Haven’t آپ ever loved someone? I ca—Hello? Hello? Damn it…” Preston کہا under his breath.

    Lorrie took a deep breath, then walked around the corner as if she hadn’t heard anything.

    “Oh, there آپ are. I was looking for you. آپ dropped this,” Lorrie کہا holding the ٹوپی out to him. “Is everything okay?” she asked taking notice of his startled and worried expression.

    “Yes! Uh, I mean, everything’s fine. Thank آپ for bringing me my cap,” Preston answered taking it from her.

    Lorrie eyed him curiously. “Are آپ sure there’s nothing wrong?” she asked again, hoping he would tell her the truth.

    Preston nodded. “Yes, I’m fine. Just a little frustrated because I just lost the signal. I guess I should’ve went with my gut and took the call before we set sail. I’ll just have to deal with it later,” he told her, his tone a little calmer. Though, Lorrie could tell it was an act.

    She dismissed it for the moment. She wanted to know more, but didn’t want to admit that she’d eavesdropped on him. “Okay. I’ll just go get ready for dinner, then,” Lorrie کہا with a smile.

    Preston returned the smile. “Alright. I’ll see آپ after a while.”

    Lorrie nodded and returned to her room. When she sat down on the side of the bed, she accidentally woke up Kowalski, who had been in his cage on the end of the bed. He looked up at her sluggishly and chirped.

    “Oh, sorry, little guy. I didn’t mean to wake you.” Lorrie sighed. “I have a feeling something bad is about to happen. But don’t آپ worry. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep آپ safe.”