The Black Pussy Cat by Kim Pritekel

The Black Pussy Cat
by Kim Pritekel

Ashton King stood at the threshold of the club, The Black Pussy Cat club, to be exact. She found the humor in the irony, considering it was Halloween night, a childish holiday she hadn’t observed in far too many years. Bart had good taste, she had to admit. The Black Pussy Cat was an upscale club in the heart of downtown Denver. It was a swanky place, lots of wood and leather, and cigar smoke.

Ashton’s leather trench was taken for her at the door, and she was given a leather mask to wear, which looked more like something Zorro would wear than one of the top investment brokers in the city. She slid the mask in place, willing to go along with the charade. Anything for a client. Bart Kaplan had been one of Ashton’s best clients, earning her more than eight hundred thousand the year before, all on his own.

Men in various types of suits sat around the plush establishment- tuxedos, business attire, or slacks, a button up shirt and suit jacket over it. Ashton wore her customary black slacks, tailored to fit her long legs perfectly, as well as a dark gray silk blouse, again, cut to fit her body like a lover’s caress. Intense blue eyes looked around the busy club, looking for her friend. She heard the soft music filtering through the air, along with murmurings of male voices, peppered by the women who wandered from table to table, most dressed in evening gowns.

Bart spotted the statuesque brunette, raising his hand to wave her over to his table. He saw her making her way through the crowd, most heads turning to take in her confident stride, her amazing body, and striking blue eyes. Even wearing the mask, Ashton was breathtaking.

“Good evening!” he exclaimed, standing to hold out Ashton’s seat for her, which she quickly took with a polite smile. Resuming his own seat, Bart smiled at the woman he’d been doing business with for more than five years. She’d made him even more wealthy, and he’d added to her personal wealth, not that she needed it, her family’s money behind her big house and big cars in the richest neighborhoods in Littleton, complete with live-in staff. “And, what do you think of my little playground?” he asked, indicating the club around them.

“It’s very nice, though Bart, I must admit,” Ashton said, leaning forward and speaking softly, “I never took you for a man to buy his fun.”

Bart chuckled. “Ashton, I can buy a two-bit whore on the Wadsworth, or I can buy a gem.” To prove his point, he snagged a passing woman with an arm around her waist, tugging her onto his lap. The woman giggled, running a painted fingernail over his cheek. “How are you tonight, my sweet?” he asked the woman.

“I’m doing well, Bartholomew,” she said, voice low and seductive. She lifted his mask playfully, placing a quick peck on his cheek, then sliding the mask back into place.

Ashton watched this, feeling somewhat disgusted. But, as she watched, her gave began to take in the woman. Her long, blonde hair was piled on top of her head, alluring wisps framing her face and dipping down to tickle the back of her neck. Her black halter top dress left her back bare, showing tanned, smooth skin. How does one have such a tan at the end of October? Ashton rolled her eyes, but continued her perusal. The dress was very fitted, showing off a beautiful body with curves in all the right places.

“Ashton, I’d like you to meet my friend, Pearl.” He patted the blonde’s bottom. “Pearl, my very good friend, and a good friend to know.”

“Oh?” Pearl said, turning to look at Ashton.

Ashton’s breath caught as the emerald gaze met her own. Pearl was definitely beautiful. She had a sweet face, though her makeup was smoky and dangerous- a good girl gone bad. Her eyes were clear and very intelligent.

“It’s a pleasure, Ashton,” Pearl said, reaching a well-manicured hand across the small, round table. A delicate bracelet around a delicate wrist caught Ashton’s attention. She took the hand politely, noting the firm grip, yet very soft skin.

“Indeed,” Ashton said, quickly releasing the hand. She saw the twinkle in Pearl’s eyes, quickly looking away, the green eyes far too intense for her liking. She made the mistake of looking down, noticing the abundant cleavage revealed by the beautiful dress. Ashton gave up, flagging down a waiter, dressed in tie and tails. She didn’t miss Pearl’s soft chuckle.

Ashton ordered herself a brandy, then sat back and watched the interaction between her friend and the beautiful blonde. Their manner was teasing and very flirtatious. For some reason, she felt herself becoming irritated. “Bart, why don’t you and the pretty lady get yourselves a room?” she quipped, grateful when her drink arrived.

Bart smirked, amused at his friend’s attitude, not that it was unusual. He leaned in to Pearl, whispering something to her. Ashton’s gaze never left the blonde as she stood from Bart’s lap, giving him another quick kiss to the cheek. Ashton thought for sure the little vixen would leave them in peace, but to her shock, Pearl walked over to her, gently pushing Ashton’s chair back from the table, and climbing onto her lap sideways, one gorgeous leg crossing over the other as she made herself comfortable.

Ashton was shocked, and nearly pushed the woman from her, but the blonde wrapped a hand around the back of her neck, underneath thick, dark hair. Her other hand was brought up to Ashton’s face, a soft fingertip running along a strong jaw.

“I think you’re entirely too uptight,” Pearl whispered softly.

Ashton could smell the blonde’s subtle perfume, and very much felt herself reacting to it. “And I think you should get off my lap,” she said, just as sweetly, though her eyes were hard.

Pearl smiled, leaning toward Ashton’s ear. “Why don’t you go in the back with me?” she murmured, lips nearly touching Ashton’s ear.

Ashton tried to not allow her body to react to this very capable, and beautiful seductress. “I don’t think so,” she said, though her voice had lost some of its edge. She felt angry at herself when she felt her fingertips brush against Pearl’s naked back.

“Why not?” Pearl asked, running the tip of her fingernail down into the small amount of cleavage that was visible in the unbuttoned neckline of Ashton’s blouse. “I can help you relax, Ashton.” Green eyes met her gaze. “if you’ll let me.”

The soft words reached inside Ashton, caressing her, stoking a long-dormant fire. She took a drink of her brandy, allowing the expensive liquid to burn a trail down her throat. “What did you have in mind?” she asked, finally meeting the demanding green eyes.

Pearl smiled, her nail now running along Ashton’s cheek. “I’m sure we can figure something out, don’t you?”

Ashton hardened herself, all business now. “How much?”

Pearl pouted, making her absolutely adorable. “Such a nasty little dose of reality, isn’t it?” she purred, leaning in close again. Their lips were no more than a couple inches apart. “Two hundred for thirty minutes, baby,” she whispered.

Ashton was on fire, and against her better judgment, she nodded. With a sexy little smile, Pearl got to her feet, taking Ashton by the hand and leading her away from the table. The brunette couldn’t make herself meet Bart’s amused eyes as she followed Pearl through the club and finally back into a small, dimly lit room. There was a large, plush rug in the middle of the wood floor, and a couch along one wall.

Ashton stood in the middle of the small space, Pearl softly closing the door, blocking out all the sound from the other room. “Sit down, baby,” Pearl said.

Ashton did as requested, though pulled out a money clip from her pocket first. She quickly counted out two hundred dollars, reserving the tip for how satisfied she was.

“Thank you, baby,” Pearl said, taking the money and tucking it into the tiny clutch she had with her. Once Ashton had herself seated, she watched as the blonde stepped out of her very high heels, then reached behind herself, unzipping the dress, which swiftly fell to her feet.

Ashton’s eyes were hungry as they feasted on the petit, yet very muscular body. There was not an ounce of fat on Pearl’s body, her breasts firm and well-proportioned for her frame. She made her way to Ashton, climbing up on her lap, straddling her hips. Ashton met her gaze, seeing a well-practiced fire in the depths of her green eyes. She couldn’t help but wish it were real, and this gorgeous woman actually did desire her.

“You really are quite beautiful,” Pearl said softly, taking Ashton’s hands, which lay limply on the couch at her sides, and rested them on her naked breasts. Ashton did her best to reserve any reactions.

“Thank you,” she said politely. She could already feel the wetness gathering, and was growing quite uncomfortable. Her gaze fell to the breasts, and suddenly she very much wanted her mouth on them. She began to lean forward, but felt soft, yet firm hands on her shoulders, keeping her in place. Once against meeting Pearl’s gaze, she saw the concentration in them as nimble fingers began to slowly unbutton the gray silk blouse.

Pearl grinned when she realized the black, lacy bra clasped in front. “How fortunate for us,” she said, fingers expertly opening the garment.

Ashton’s lap felt cold as Pearl climbed off, but within a few moments her eyes were closed, head resting back against the couch. Pearl’s tongue flicked across one nipple then the other, then back to the first, suckling it inside a hot mouth. Ashton’s hand cupped a warm neck, holding Pearl to her. Her eyes remained closed as wave after wave of pleasure seeped through her, the blonde’s mouth the source.

She was just about to totally get lost in a lustful haze when Ashton felt deft fingers on the buttons of her slacks. “Lift for me, baby,” Pearl murmured, tugging the slacks over Ashton’s hips as they were lifted, followed by her panties. Ashton’s head fell back against the couch again as soft lips kissed their way up the inside of her thigh until finally she was nearly scorched by the hot tongue running through her saturated sex. There was no preamble, no teasing, just straight for the goal.

“Oh, fuck,” she groaned, her hips rising from the couch as Pearl took her clit between her lips and suckled hard, her tongue batting across the nub, filling the brunette with a pleasure/pain that was almost too intense to handle. Finally her body gave, her orgasm crashing down over her, stealing her breath in the process.

As Ashton came back to the land of the living, she realized she felt cold, her body completely devoid of Pearl’s touch. She blinked her eyes open several times, watching as the blonde began to get dressed, expert fingers finding the zipper of her dress and sliding it back up into place.

Pearl held her arms out slightly as she stepped into first one high heel, then the other, teetering slightly as she began to lose her balance. Ashton shot off the couch, placing her hands on the blonde’s waist to help steady her. She was surprised to see wide, green eyes look at her, Pearl seeming to shrink back from her touch.

“I was just trying to prevent you from falling,” she explained softly.

“I’m fine. Thank you.”

Ashton dropped her hands, quickly tugging her pants and underwear up, feeling foolish with them puddle around her ankles. She reached into her pocket for her money clip, peeling off a hundred dollar bill. “Here.”

Pearl took the bill, muttering a quiet thank you, then reached for the door. Without a second look, she was gone, leaving Ashton alone. The brunette was amazed at how the actual temperature in the room seemed to have cool significantly in the last couple minutes. With a shrug and a long sigh, she began to re-button her shirt, snapping her bra closed, first. Faint hints of Pearl’s perfume lingered on her clothing.

“What the hell did I just do?” she muttered, looking back at the couch she’d just been sitting on. She had to wonder how many other people Pearl had pleasured on that very piece of furniture. She shivered, not really wanting to think about it. “Happy Halloween to me,” she muttered, then left the room, in search of Bart.

***

The huge house was dark, save for the few lights Arnold had so thoughtfully left on for his employer. The limousine pulled up in the circular drive, right in front of the double doors. Ashton didn’t wait for Cliff to open her door, wanting desperately to get inside and into a hot bath. Distantly she heard the long car drive off as she let herself in.

Her booted heels clicked loudly on the highly polished marble floor of the entryway. Ashton immediately headed up the long, winding staircase, shuffling through the pieces of mail that had been collected and set on the large swirl of a banister at the bottom step.

Once she’d entered her bedroom, Ashton flipped on the light, hopping on one foot as she removed first one boot then the other, groaning at the relief. She’d been in heels all day for work, then the heeled boots for the club. Sometimes she was amazed her feet didn’t simply rebel and stop working altogether.

She tossed the mail on her desk, closing the heavy drapes on the huge, floor to ceiling windows. The large house was hard to heat during the winters, and the large windows didn’t help. Ashton stripped out of her clothes, tossing them into the laundry bin, then padded into the bathroom, which was the size of a small bedroom, immediately running herself a hot shower. She felt dirty, and strangely hollow. Though quite pleasurable, Ashton had found her experience with Pearl to be quite empty and… cold.

The hot water felt wonderful on Ashton’s skin, her hands gliding over the smooth surface, quickly washing, trying to wash away the encounter.

Ashton lay in bed, finding a new sleeping position. Again. Her eyes opened, haunted by green eyes, filled with desire. “Jesus,” she muttered, burying her face in her pillow, praying for sleep to come.

***

The offices that Ashton King used were expensive, somewhat opulent, and totally not her style. Her father had them decorated before his retirement, and she hadn’t bothered to change them. Why? She was rarely ever there, anyway, preferring to either work from home or from her private plane, which she used to fly all over the world, just for the weekend.

“Good morning, Miss King,” Rachelle, Ashton’s ever-devoted secretary chirped, handing the brunette a stack of messages. Ashton grumbled something that sounded like gratitude, and unlocked her office door. “Mr. Kaplan stepped in early this morning, but said he’d come back when you weren’t here,” Rachelle continued, quickly getting Ashton’s coffee ready- two creams, three sugars- and followed her into the huge, corner office.

“What did he want?” Ashton asked absently, getting settled behind the large desk. Her laptop whirred to life as she accepted the coffee from the redhead, sipping it with a sigh.

“He didn’t say. He said he’ll be back early afternoon.”

“Goody,” Ashton muttered, setting the cup aside as she logged onto her company account. “Anything else?” she asked, quickly eyeing her secretary, who was about to leave the office.

“Nope. That’s it.” With that, Rachelle turned and left, closing the double door behind her.

Ashton read through the messages, tossing them all in Kevin’s box. Kevin Reynolds was her assistant, and basically took care of everything. She met face to face with the clients, but as far as any follow up or report writing, he was her man.

She began to read her email when there was a loud, pronounced knock on her office door. A moment later, Bart stepped through, fixing himself a drink at the wet bar tucked into the corner of the office, then flopped down in front of Ashton’s desk.

“And how are we this morning?” he asked, chipper as ever.

Ashton turned in her chair, facing him. “We are fine.”

Bart chuckled. “You were awful quiet walking to the car last night,” he observed, sipping from his drink, never taking his eyes off her. “Was Pearl not to your liking?”

Ashton sighed, sitting back in the rich, leather chair. Under the desk she shoved her heels off. “Pearl is beautiful, Bart. What more do you want me to say?”

“Tell me if you enjoyed yourself?” He leaned forward in his chair, eyes twinkling. “I’ve not seen your eyes sparkle like that in some time, my friend.” He sat back, hand running down the front of his pristine suit, glass of bourbon resting on the knee that cross his other one.

“You tell me? Do you enjoy yourself when you’re with Pearl?” Ashton was irritated by the boisterous laughter that bubbled up from that comment.

“Ashton, I’ve never been with Pearl. She’s a lovely girl, but she’s a bit too young for me. I believe she’s closer to your generation. But, I do enjoy her company. She’s lovely and incredibly intelligent.”

Ashton absorbed what he had said. Yes, the blonde was drop dead gorgeous, and Ashton had noted the intelligent eyes, herself. But, something about that night continued to niggle at her. “Bart,” she began, sipping from her coffee. “When you do that, have one of those women for… company, don’t you feel cold afterward?”

“Cold?” Bart stood, refilling his drink before settling in front of Ashton’s desk again. “I don’t quite understand what you mean by ‘cold’.”

“Nothing, never mind.” Ashton sighed, turning back to her computer, scrolling and deleting as she went.

“No, no, I truly wish to understand,” Bart said, leaning forward and resting his drink on the edge of Ashton’s desk. “Were you left unsatisfied? I’m sure if I said something-“

“No, no, that’s not it.” Ashton laughed off his offer, waving a graceful hand. “She was wonderful and very good at what she does. It’s just,” she rocked her chair slightly, staring off into space as once again those green eyes crept into her mind.

Bart felt he was beginning to get the picture. “You felt it was impersonal?” he ventured. By the slight blush on Ashton’s cheeks, he knew he’d hit the bull’s-eye. “It’s a business, Ashton. She gave you a product, which you paid for.”

“Yes, Bart, thank you for clarifying that for me.” Ashton glared.

Bart cleared his throat, able to read in the beautiful blue eyes that Ashton was mildly bothered. “Listen, it’s a job for her, Ashton. I imagine she can’t make it too personal, or suddenly you become a person whom she can’t afford to respond to.”

Ashton felt completely stupid as Bart had read her mind. She laughed it off. “Bart, I don’t care about this woman, nor her business. It’s her own, as is how she handles it. She’s good at what she does. Enough said.”

“Alright,” Bart slapped his knees. “Enough said.” He stood, grabbing his empty glass and taking it to the bar, rinsing it out in the small sink before leaving it there. “I’m heading back there tonight, if you’re interested.”

“Ah,” Ashton hid her slight excitement well. “I don’t know, Bart. I’ll think about it.”

Left alone again, Ashton sat back in her chair, turning it until she was looking out over the Mile High City, rocking gently, fingers steepled under her chin. She thought back more about the previous night and the beautiful blonde who had made her body feel so many wonderful things, yet had made her soul incredibly sad and feel very alone. She thought about the cold demeanor Pearl had taken on after their encounter, as well as her seemingly skittish nature when Ashton had tried to stop her from falling. She wondered what had brought the younger woman to the career path she’d chosen.

Deciding it didn’t really matter, as she had no desire or intention of ever seeing Pearl again, or her like, she got to work.

***

Ashton sat behind the wheel of her Ferrari F430, midnight black, the car still sitting in her five-car garage. She chewed on her lower lip nervously, trying to decide what to do. The clock on the dash told her it was after nine at night. She wasn’t tired at all, and in fact, was restless as hell.

The car purred patiently beneath her until finally she backed out of the space and buzzed off into the night, headed toward The Black Pussy Cat. There was a part of herself that tried to be convinced she was merely going to surprise Bart and have a drink with him. After all, he was basically her only friend, and friends did things like that, like hanging out. Then the other part of herself, the part that didn’t believe in bullshit, knew exactly why she was headed there, and her name was Pearl.

The club was as it had been the night before, minus the sparse Halloween festivities. Ashton made quite an impression in black leather, leaving nothing to the imagination of her sleek form.

She scanned the room, finding her friend who was sitting with a beautiful woman- not Pearl- and drinking from a large snifter of brandy. She moved into the room with her usual fluid grace and confident stride, knowing full well how good she looked in leather pants and boots. Her black, cotton button down shirt was unbuttoned to an almost inappropriate level.

“Ashton!” Bart exclaimed, waving his friend over. He was shocked to see her there, figuring she’d had enough of The Black Pussy Cat. “I saw your friend awhile ago,” he commented, pulling out a chair for Ashton to sit.

“She’s hardly my friend, Bart,” Ashton waved off the waiter, turning her attention back to her friend.

“Perhaps not, but I still saw her.” Bart accepted the small kiss from the woman he’d been speaking with, smacking her playful on the behind as she wandered across the room, both Bart and Ashton’s eyes following the attractive woman. Ashton’s eyes returned to her friend at his next words. “Pearl disappeared with an older gentlemen in that room,” he said, nodding toward a room at the back, two doors down from the room Pearl had taken Ashton to.

Ashton waved off the information, but she admitted, only to the deepest part of her heart, that she was jealous. And, as she watched, that very door opened, and sure enough, Pearl exited, followed quickly by a short, fat man who had an ear-to-ear grin on his face. Ashton didn’t want to think about him, so she returned her gaze to Pearl. Tonight’s dress was just as fitted, but it was emerald green. Pearl’s golden hair was fixed in an elaborate braid down her back. What caught the wealthy woman’s gaze, however, was the slight look of pain on Pearl’s face.

“Off to save the day,” Bart murmured to himself, amused, as his friend made her way over to the beautiful young women with long purposeful strides.

Ashton had Pearl in her sights, and the young woman was beginning to work her way around the room once more, to mingle, and stir up company. “Pearl,” Ashton said, stopping the young woman with a soft touch to a bare shoulder. The blonde started, turning to see who had spoken to her. It wasn’t often that it would be the voice of a woman.

Recognition immediately twinkled in the green eyes. “Hello, Ashton.”

“Good evening.” Ashton really wasn’t sure what to say or do. She wasn’t even entirely positive why she had come to the club. Her confusion must have shown as Pearl grinned.

“Would you like a drink?” the younger woman asked, already turning toward the bar.

“No,” Ashton finally managed to say, getting her bearings back. On impulse, she asked, “Do you make personal appearances?”

Pearl kept her eyes and expression carefully guarded. “Personal appearances? I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“Outside of here. At someone’s home.”

The shock of the request managed to seep through the impassive mask. “I don’t know what you’re game is, lady, but I’m sor-“

“Listen,” Ashton said, holding up a hand to forestall Pearl’s protests. “I enjoyed your company last night, however, I don’t feel comfortable spending time with you in this establishment.”

Pearl studied her, head cocked slightly to the side. “I’m no Vivian Ward, Miss…?”

“King. And I’m not Edward Lewis,” Ashton retorted, recognizing the characters from the hit film Pretty Woman. “I’m not asking you to spend a week with me in a posh suite at a Beverly Hills hotel. I’m simply asking for your company for a few hours at my home.”

Pearl looked down, slightly amused that Ashton had known what she meant. Finally green eyes met sparkling blue. “It’s going to be very expensive, Miss King.”

“I’d prefer you call me Ashton, and I have no doubt. Name your price. You charge two hundred for thirty minutes here,” she continued, “so am I to assume that three hours at four hundred dollars, which of course is twelve hundred dollars, is incorrect?”

Pearl smirked, then quickly sobered. “Yes. That would be incorrect.”

“Alright. How about two thousand, then?” Ashton grinned, a rare expression for her. “Plus tip, if I feel you’re deserving.”

Pearl managed to hide her shock. That was more than double what she’d earn on a really good night working at The Black Pussy Cat. She mentally warred with herself: was the money worth the risk of going to a private home? Could she risk it?

“Good evening, Pearl,” Bart said, placing an appreciative hand on her backside.

The blonde glanced at the friendly man. “Hello, Bart. I saw you come in, but I was busy, so couldn’t come over and say a proper hello.”

“Quite alright, my dear. I decided to come over and give you one, instead.” Bart smiled winningly, then glanced over at Ashton, noting the irritation in her eyes, and it was aimed at him. “Oh!” Realization dawned on him. “Am I interrupting?” He looked back and forth between the two, eyes settling on Ashton, though his attention was drawn to the younger woman.

“Ashton and I were just in talks about a possible visit from me,” Pearl explained, draping an arm through his.

“Oh?” Bart sent raised brows to Ashton. “If you take her up on it, you’ll have a wonderful time,” Bart said, smiling at the young woman at his side. “Her house is beautiful and a wonderful place to pass time.”

Ashton smirked. “Is that why you seem to spend more time at my house than your own?” she asked, brow quirked.

“Absolutely!”

The three laughed at Bart’s answer. Finally green eyes locked onto Ashton again. “Alright, Ashton. It’s a deal.”

***

Pearl sat in the back of the limousine that had been sent to the club to pick her up. She wasn’t about to give this strange woman her home address. Also, she would add mentally, she really didn’t want Ashton King to know just exactly she was living in.

The long, sleek car made its way through the night, finally entering a gated community that Pearl had never even heard of, let alone been to. She was plastered to the window, taking in the gorgeous old homes. Most looked like something that should be in Boston or Philadelphia, or one of the other older cities in America.

“My god,” she murmured, suddenly wondering if the limousine actually belonged to Ashton, and wasn’t just a nice gesture, as she’d originally thought. Thought. Pearl smirked silently at that word. She wasn’t entirely sure what to think where Ashton King was concerned. She’d never done this before, never left the safety of the club to service a client. She’d had offers, sure, but always turned them down. Somehow keeping her ‘services’ within the walls of the club made it less real to her. Now, heading off into the night to the home of a complete stranger, she felt concern niggle at her.

She wanted to tell herself that her agreeing to the situation was simply because Ashton was a woman, and no doubt safer than some man, but Pearl knew she’d be lying to herself. She had accepted because it was Ashton who offered. Bart tossing in his own unwitting stamp of approval to Ashton hadn’t hurt, either. She liked Bart. He’d never tried to hire her, seeming to simply enjoy the feel of her body on his lap, and her conversation.

Pearl’s thoughts were abruptly ended when the lavish car pulled through a wrought iron gate, which slowly opened. She noticed the letter K was mixed into the bars in an ornate design. Her attention was brought back around to the house, which was at the end of a long drive, the car pulling up in front. Pearl looked up at the brick monstrosity. She figured about fifty of her apartment buildings could fit within the King house.

The door Pearl sat near was suddenly opened, the kind man waiting patiently for her to exit, his gloved hand held out to assist her. She took it, not wanting to slide on the snow in her heels. She gave him a weak smile, which he returned.

“When you’re ready to leave, Miss, I’ll be waiting here for you,” he said, voice soft.

“Oh. Okay.” She began to walk toward the house, but stopped, glancing at him. “Um, thanks for the ride.”

Cliff smiled with a nod, then walked around to the driver’s door and tucked himself back into the car. He set the alarm on his phone, as Ashton had told him their visitor would be leaving in three hours of her arrival.

Pearl took a deep breath, hugging her jacket closer to her, the early November chill biting at her bare legs, and up her dress. She mounted the stairs, heading toward the intimidating house, one side of the double doors opening.

“Good evening, Miss,” a kindly older man said, holding out his arm for her coat.

Pearl shook off the heavy garment, whispering a word of gratitude as he took it from her.

“Miss Ashton awaits you in the library, third door to the left down the hall. My name is Arnold, and if you need anything, please do not hesitate to ask.” He smiled with a slight bow, and walked away.

Pearl watched him go, then turned to study the entryway, lit by a small, but beautiful chandelier that hung high overhead. She ran her hands down the front of her deep red dress, another halter design. She had left her hair down, at Ashton’s request, and headed in the direction Arnold had pointed her. Her heels clicked loudly on the marble floors.

Just ahead she saw a wide arch of a doorway, double doors open, and the sound of a crackling fire within. Stopping just outside the door, Pearl took one last deep breath, and slid easily into her persona. Her ‘Pearl’ persona.

Pearl’s breath was nearly stolen as she stepped inside the room. Books lined shelves from floors to twenty foot high ceilings. The massive fireplace at the center of one wall could easily accommodate three grown men standing side by side, the flames leaping high and brilliant. Beautifully carved furniture was scattered along the plush, Oriental rugs that covered the hard, marble floor. The flames reflected beautiful against the stone.

Near the fireplace was a comfortable-looking leather chair, a small wooden table sitting next to it, with a crystal tumbler on it, filled with amber liquid. The chair was turned so it’s occupant was unseen behind the wide expanse of its back, but just then a graceful hand reached out from behind the massive chair, fingers gingerly grasping the glass until it too disappeared behind the chair.

Pearl wasn’t sure what to do, so she stood there, feeling quite inadequate and extremely out of place.

“Welcome to my home, Pearl,” Ashton said, rising from her curled up spot on the chair. She turned to face her guest, blue eyes roaming down over the blonde’s incredible body. Her dress tonight was sleek and showed off her curves to perfection, making Ashton’s stomach clench in nervous anticipation. She, herself had chosen to wear a silk robe, the oversized sleeves nearly hiding her hands when her arms were at rest. The belt was synched around her trim waist, just a hint of cleavage at the ‘v’ of the garment.

“Thank you. From what I’ve seen, it’s beautiful,” Pearl said, her gaze trailing over what was offered. She felt some of her normal confidence coming back, as after all, Ashton had called her there for pleasure, and that was one thing Pearl knew how to provide well. She was anxious to unwrap the dark beauty from the silk trappings of the beautiful robe.

“I’m glad you think so.” Ashton looked around the room, almost as though taking it all in for the first time. “I grew up in these rooms, so I guess to me it’s just one, big shell.” Finally her gaze met Pearl’s again, a somewhat sad smile gracing her lips. “Sadly
I fail to see the beauty others talk about.” She absently sipped from her drink, her eyes never leaving Pearl’s. “Care for some brandy?” she asked. “Or anything you like, if you’d prefer something else.”

“Grape juice?” Pearl asked, a honey-colored brow raised.

“Grape juice?” Ashton said, slightly bemused.

Pearl grinned. “I don’t drink alcohol.”

“Ah. I see. Well then,” she set her drink down and headed toward the double doors. “Wait here and I’ll see what I can do.”

Pearl did as she was asked, walking around the room now that she was unobserved. She ran her fingertips over some of the leather-bound volumes, tracing their golden titles before making her way back toward the fire, allowing her still-chilled skin to be warmed. She heard the soft closing of the double doors, and then someone padding up behind her. A crystal goblet of grape juice appeared over her shoulder.

Amused, and very impressed, she took the glass and sipped, turning to face her hostess. The juice was cool and sweet. “Very good,” she said, voice soft. She watched the sun come out from behind the clouds with Ashton’s beautiful smile.

“I’m glad.”

Pearl lowered the glass, cupping both hands around it, though mainly to keep them from shaking. “So, you have me for three hours. What would you like to do?”

“Well, I think the more appropriate question is what will you do?”

Pearl studied the gorgeous woman before her for a moment, contemplating her answer. There were a hundred things she was willing to do, and only a handful she wasn’t. She considered breaking a few of her rules for Ashton, but decided against it.
“I don’t kiss. On the mouth, anyway.”

Ashton wasn’t terribly surprised, as she remembered that only during their teasing flirtation had Pearl come anywhere near her mouth. Once they’d slipped into the back room, there hadn’t been even a hint of that closeness. “Alright,” she said, though did slip a regretful gaze to Pearl’s full lips. “I wish to touch you. Will you allow it?”

Pearl felt a small shiver run through her. “Alright. To what degree?”

The smile that graced Ashton’s lips could only be described as devilish. “To the nth degree.” She decided negotiations were over, and took the goblet from Pearl’s hands, setting it gently on the table next to her own glass. Pearl’s eyes never left her own. Ashton studied the blonde’s body, taking in the muscular, though very feminine legs, her flat stomach, and the breasts that were cupped lovingly in the material and cut of the dress. “The only thing I ask,” Ashton murmured, meeting green eyes, “is that you don’t fake your time with me. I understand you’re here for a service, and a business, but I have no wish for you to try and make me believe I’m a modern day Casanova. If it feels good, let it. If it doesn’t, do not pretend with me.” She looked hard into Pearl’s eyes. “I won’t tolerate it.”

Pearl was shocked by Ashton’s words, most of her clients loving the fact that she made them feel like they were the greatest lovers since the invention of sex. She merely nodded at the softly spoken request.

Ashton stepped closer, their bodies six inches a part. She reached out, running her fingertips over the exposed shoulders, beautifully defined and soft. “You know, from the moment I saw you pulled into Bart’s lap, I truly thought you were the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” she said absently, fingers running down strong arms, the muscle visible through the skin.

Pearl tried to hold in the slight shivers the brunette’s words and touch caused. “Thank you,” she murmured, her own hands reaching out toward the knot that held Ashton’s robe together. Her hands were caught in one warm one.

“Not yet,” Ashton said, turning the blond around so she was again facing the fire, her back to the almost warmer body behind her. Ashton pulled the zipper on the dress, a slight spasm quaking her sex when she saw Pearl wasn’t wearing any underwear. She had never wanted anyone so much in her life. She gently lifted the halter from over the blonde head, allowing the dress to drop.

Pearl’s body was definitely made for sin- the skin smooth and soft, pure and unblemished. Her hips flared out achingly from a narrow waist. Her back was as defined as her shoulders, spine straight and backside firm.

Ashton brushed long, blonde hair aside, placing delicate kisses along Pearl’s neck, nipping gently where the shoulder and neck met. Pearl’s head fell to the side, allowing her more access to her. Ashton’s hands ran down the planes of her back until she reached Pearl’s hips, then her fingers spread out, moving across her flat stomach, the skin heated from the fire.

Pearl’s eyes fell closed. She was surprised that Ashton was touching her this way, figuring it would very much be the other way around. She couldn’t help but enjoy the touch; so rarely was she touched because she wanted to be touched. Her hands came up and covered those of the woman behind her, slowly sliding them up along her stomach, over her ribs, and finally resting Ashton’s hands on her breasts. Both sighed at the contact, Pearl’s hands leaving the brunette’s to reach back with one hand, burying it in the thick, dark hair.

Ashton continued to work on Pearl’s neck, licking a hot trail up to her earlobe, which she suckled before whispering, “I’m going to have you screaming my name before our time is through.”

Pearl shivered, unable to hold it in. She felt, more than heard, the soft, satisfied chuckle at that reaction. Pearl felt the need to retaliate, so she reached back with her free hand, wiggling between their bodies as she felt her way through the opening of the silk robe, and easily found the wetness between Ashton’s legs. Jesus, she’s soaked!

Ashton gasped at the touch, her hips instinctually bucking toward the fingers. She heard Pearl’s soft gasp of surprise when she bit down on the muscle of her shoulder, leaving a small mark that would fade within moments. Ashton didn’t dare turn Pearl around, as she knew she’d devour her mouth if she did. Instead, she brought her down to the large, thick rug in front of the roaring fire, dropping her own robe as she did.

Pearl lay on her back, staring up at the goddess that was Ashton King in all her naked glory. The flames liked golden trails over her perfect body, kissing pockets and curves with shadow. She sat up partially, just enough to grab one of Ashton’s hands and pull her down.

Ashton groaned as their skin touched, her hands automatically running down the smooth sides of the blonde until finally she rested on one forearm, her mouth finding Pearl’s neck, kissing and sucking her way down until she had a rigid nipple in her mouth.

Pearl’s legs fell open, feeling searching fingers as Ashton slipped into her wetness. The blonde honestly couldn’t remember being so wet, and certainly not while on the job. She typically had to use a product with her male clients, as their erect penises did nothing for her other than pay the bills. But this woman, this woman had her on fire, had her body begging for more, and had Pearl almost forgetting she was being paid. Almost.

Ashton was delighted to feel the saturation that covered her fingers, her touch easily finding a distended clit and adding pressure there. Pearl’s hips rocked against her, a hand in dark hair, urging Ashton’s mouth on her breast. She greedily suckled what was offered, her fingers moving swiftly through Pearl’s wetness, wanting so badly to hear the blonde’s cries of pleasure.

Pearl whimpered in disappointment when the hot mouth left her breast, but then groaned long and deep when that same mouth was between her thighs. She rested one leg over Ashton’s shoulder, opening herself up more to the brunette. Her hands reached down, tangling in long hair, pushing Ashton deeper into her.

Ashton slid her fingers inside Pearl’s body, her tongue taking it’s place on the rock-hard clit.

“Oh, fuck,” Pearl moaned, hips rising to meet her touch.

Ashton grinned into her activity, sliding easily in and out of the excited woman, loving the taste and feel of her. She could tell Pearl was getting close, her cries and breathing heavy and coming closer together. The hands in her hair tightened as Pearl came with a loud groan, her back arching off the rug beneath her.

Ashton wasn’t ready to stop, nor relinquish her treasure. She removed her fingers from Pearl’s depths, instead using them to open the blonde up to her fully. Her tongue continued to work, licking mercilessly at Pearl’s clit before sucking it between her lips.

Pearl gasped, her hands once again clutching Ashton’s hair, breath stolen as another orgasm crashed over her, her sex pulsing with her racing heartbeat. “Oh, baby,” she panted, a soft chuckle escaping, moaning softly as Ashton kissed and licked her way back up the blonde’s body. “I’m here to work you over, not the other way around.”

Ashton grinned, nipping playfully at one of Pearl’s nipples before she hovered over the blonde. “And I told you that I wanted to touch you.” She nuzzled Pearl’s neck, wishing for more than anything that she could kiss her. “You taste soooo good.” She smiled into soft flesh when she felt Pearl shiver at her words.

“Mmm,” Pearl hummed, eyes closed as she enjoyed the feel of Ashton’s body against her own. “I’m glad you approve. However,” with a feat of strength that left Ashton gasping in surprise, she traded their positions. She pinned the brunette down with hands on her wrists, Pearl’s body resting between long thighs. She looked down into Ashton’s eyes, studying her face. “It’s truly a crime, just how gorgeous you are.” Pearl was pleased to see the shy blush those sincere words earned her. “Now,’ she said, voice low and extremely sensuous. “It’s my turn.”

Ashton’s eyes slid closed as her body was worshipped by a knowing tongue, teeth nipping at her skin, soft hands touching every inch of her. She allowed herself to go, just reveling in the contact and pleasure. She gasped softly when she was entered by two fingers, a hot tongue tracing down the center line of her stomach. Ashton’s legs fell fully open, offering all that Pearl wanted to her, which the blonde happily took.

Ashton groaned long and languid when a thumb reached up, stroking her clit in lazy circles as Pearl continued to thrust, adding a third finger on the next entry, stretching Ashton beyond a point that she’d been stretched in recent times. Her hips bucked at the intrusion, her body quickly adjusting to the fullness.

“Yes, baby,” she moaned, head flopping uselessly back and forth as she lost herself in a lustful haze.

Pearl hummed against Ashton’s breast, suckling her harder as she used more pressure with her thumb against the brunette’s clit. The resulting cry made her smile into the flesh. “Come for me, baby,” she encouraged, moving so she was sucking on Ashton’s neck, coming dangerously close to breaking her own rules.

Ashton’s heart was racing, her body throbbing with impending release. “Oh, fuck,” she said through gritted teeth, heart nearly stopping as her orgasm torn through her, making her cry out as her thighs slapped closed on Pearl’s hand.

After long moments of making her way back to the land of the living, Ashton grabbed Pearl, resting the smaller body atop her own and wrapping her arms around the blonde.

Pearl wasn’t sure what to make of the extremely intimate position, and truly part of her just wanted to go home. This seemed far too much beyond a client situation. She loved the feel of Ashton against her, loved the warmth and safety she felt. She closed her eyes as she listened to the heartbeat beneath her ear that was starting to slow to a normal cadence.

They stayed put, both staring into the flames, Pearl’s cheek resting against Ashton’s upper chest, the brunette’s hands gliding aimlessly over the smooth expanse of Pearl’s back. The sexual tension in the air had been quieted, but they both knew it was only for a short respite.

“How is it that you ended up in your childhood home as an adult?” Pearl asked at length, not giving up her most comfortable pillow.

“Well, this house has been in the King family for about a hundred and fifty years. My grandfather grew up, as did my father, and then I did. When my father retired, he decided he no longer wished to live here. I inherited it shortly after.”

“Do you like living here?” Pearl’s gaze looked around the room as much as she could by just moving her eyes. “It’s so big. Seems like it would get lonely.”

Ashton was quiet for a long time, her guest wondering if maybe she’d asked the wrong question. Ashton’s fingers trailed down Pearl’s spine. “It does get lonely,” she finally said, voice no more than a whisper.

Pearl raised her head, resting against her upturned palm as she studied the woman lying beneath her. Calm blue eyes returned her gaze, and Pearl slowly traced Ashton’s features. “You seem lonely. I remember thinking that the first night you came in.”

Ashton wasn’t comfortable with the direction the conversation was taking. She decided to change it. “What did Bart whisper to you that made you leave his lap and climb into mine?”

Pearl thought for a moment, then grinned. “He told me to go give you some company.”

Ashton rolled her eyes. “I’m not about to slit my wrists or anything,” she protested, making Pearl laugh.

“Well, I certainly hope not!” the blonde exclaimed. “I mean, what will I do if my favorite client were to do something that stupid?”

“Favorite client?” Ashton said, incredulous.

“Yeah,” Pearl grinned. “I mean, your library beats the couches at the club any day.”

Pearl yelped as she found herself flat on her back, a grinning Ashton over her. “Oh, so glad to see you have some use for me.”

“Yeah. A little,” Pearl teased, bringing up her hand, a half an inch of space between her thumb and forefinger.

“I’ll show you use,” Ashton growled, her fingers beginning to dig into the tender skin of Pearl’s sides. The blonde cried out, trying to pry Ashton’s fingers loose, but the brunette was determined, and very strong. So, she decided to turn the tables.

“Shit!” Ashton said, finding an evilly grinning blond suddenly on top of her, Pearl’s own fingers beginning to find all of her sensitive places.

“You think you can get me, do ya?” Pearl growled playfully, having to use all of her body weight to keep Ashton down. She was straddling her, trying to hold off Ashton’s hands with one of her own as she used the other to attack.

Ashton loved the playful nature of Pearl, but suddenly she was very aware of hot wetness on her stomach. One glance down told her that her little blonde was enjoying their play on a few different levels.

Pearl was nearly knocked off of Ashton’s body by a sudden move from the brunette, and braced herself with a palm on either side of Ashton’s head, their nipples grazing slightly. She was looking into Ashton’s eyes, scant inches from her lips. Her gaze fell to Ashton’s mouth, full and panting from the exertion, then found intense blue eyes, filled with desire. Pearl moaned as Ashton lifted her hips, her stomach pressing into the blonde’s heated core.

Warm hands rested on her hips, gently encouraging her to move. Pearl pushed herself up to a sitting position, and out of temptation’s grasp. She was so wet, gliding easily over Ashton’s stomach.

“I want you to grab something for me, baby,” Ashton said, her voice husky with desire.

“What?” Pearl moaned, her hips still working.

“On that table,” she pointed over by the couch near the wall. A long, wooden box sat atop it. “Bring it here.”

Pearl pushed off Ashton, her body still pulsing, hurrying over to the box and bringing it back to their rug in front of the fire. Ashton sat up, opening it and revealing one of the most realistic-looking dildos Pearl had ever seen, including a leather harness.

Ashton quickly buckled herself in, putting the cyberskin dildo in place, then lay back down on the rug. She reached for the blonde who quickly tossed a knee over Ashton’s torso once more. “I want you to ride me, baby,” Ashton said, her hands once again finding Pearl’s hips.

The blonde was nearly trembling with excitement, her slickness beginning to lick her inner thighs. She looked at the dildo, ready when she was, noting that it wasn’t too big, wasn’t too small. It looked most inviting. A glance at the still-opened box revealed a few packets of condoms. Reaching for one, she held it up. “Do you mind?”

“No. I’m sorry, I forgot. Please.”

Pearl made a show of biting off the corner of the square packet, spitting the bit of plastic into the flames, then removing the latex, slowly unrolling it over Ashton’s dildo. The brunette groaned slightly at the sight. Pearl gave her a dark grin before tossing the rest of the packaging aside, and moving up toward the dildo, which she held in her hand. She lifted herself to her knees, moving forward, allowing the latex-covered phallus to run along her seam, collecting thick lubrication.

Ashton lay on her back, hands tucked behind her head, watching. As Pearl’s gaze held her own, she truly thought it was the most erotic thing she’d ever seen. With torturously slow movements, Pearl raised herself a bit, she brought the tip of the dildo to her entrance, the latex obviously slick with her need.

Pearl’s eyes almost slid closed as she lowered herself until she was flush with Ashton’s body, but she wanted to look into hooded blue eyes and see the brunette’s reaction. She felt warm hands rest on her hips again, wrapping slightly around until they cupped her ass.

“How does that feel, baby?” Ashton murmured, her hips beginning to move slightly, pushing into Pearl.

“Feels wonderful,” Pearl gasped, planting her hands on Ashton’s stomach as she began to move with her.

Ashton let out a long sigh of pleasure, her hands leaving Pearl’s hips, as the blonde was doing fine all on her own, and instead concentrated on the gorgeous breasts that swayed gently with the rocking of Pearl’s body. Pearl let out a long moan as her breasts were cupped, the nipples pressed against seeking palms.

“Yesssss,” she hissed, her hips moving a bit faster with the added stimulation. She had never enjoyed penetration sex with one of her male clients like she was with Ashton. “You’re so deep, baby,” she moaned, feeling a low burn inside, Ashton wrapped tightly within her body.

“Mm,” Ashton answered, lost in bliss. She sat up, wanting to taste Pearl’s skin. Suddenly they were breast to breast, Pearl surprised by the sudden move, but she continued to move with Ashton, head arching back as a wet tongue found her throat. “You taste so good,” she murmured into an ear before licking the lobe. She wrapped a steadying arm around Pearl’s back, urging her to lean back just enough so she could wrap her lips around a hard nipple.

Pearl rested back on her hands, her hips still moving, groaning as her body was on sensation overload.

“Lie back for me, baby,” Ashton whispered, moving up from tantalizing breasts. She helped the blonde lower herself, never leaving Pearl’s body, until she rested between spread thighs, hands planted on the rug on either side of the blonde’s head. She continued to thrust her hips, groaning as Pearl reached down, grabbing her ass in greedy hands.

“Oh, fuck, yeah,” Pearl whimpered, her eyes closed as she raised her knees, wanting Ashton as deep as possible.

Ashton braced herself as she thrust her hips harder, her skin slapping against Pearl’s as she quickened her pace. She felt nails digging into the skin of her ass, urging her on. She forced her eyes to stay open, even as her orgasm was building, wanting to see Pearl’s face as she came. The blonde threw her head back, throat gracefully arched, eyes closed. Her whimpers were nearly nonstop now. Finally her brows drew together in deep concentration, then a loud cry erupted from her lips, her hands turning into a vice, holding Ashton to her. The brunette complied grinding the end of the dildo against her own clit as she buried it inside Pearl’s body, which made the blonde cry out again, followed quickly by Ashton.

****

Pearl woke up, blinking a few times before she realized they’d fallen asleep. She was curled up against Ashton, head resting on her breast. A glance at the clock in the corner told her that it was after one. Exhausted and in need of a soft bed, she slowly removed herself from Ashton’s embrace, getting to shaky legs. She was slightly sore from their time together, but deeply satisfied.

The blonde began to look for her clothes, not much to find, really- just her dress and her shoes. Running a hand through her hair, she tried to get it into some semblance of order, then slipped her dress on, grabbing her shoes by the heels, choosing to go barefoot until she hit the front stoop. She walked over to the table where she’d left her grape juice, intending to sooth her dry throat when she saw an envelope resting against the glass, her name written across the front in beautiful letters. She glanced at the still-very asleep Ashton, and then peeked inside the white envelope. Her heart hitched when she counted twenty-five hundred dollars in crisp one hundred dollar bills.

“My god,” she whispered. She downed the rest of the juice then turned back to her hostess. Ashton looked so beautiful, so peaceful, head resting on a pillow pulled from one of the couches, her body gorgeous and at rest.

Pearl knelt down, using a gentle touch to brush dark bangs away from the closed eyes. She leaned down, stopping herself once before leaning down again, and placing a soft kiss on Ashton’s lips.

“Goodbye,” she whispered, then quickly, and as quietly as she could, left the room. Pearl was surprised to find her jacket and purse waiting for her, laid over the back of a chair near the front door, and the entryway light left on. Outside, just as promised, the limousine waited. She felt bad, as her three hour engagement had ended nearly two hours ago.

Almost like clockwork, the driver’s side door opened, and the man hurried around the car to the back door. “I hope you enjoyed your evening, Miss,” he said, a cheerful smile on his lips. The chauffeur’s slightly-askew tie was the only indication that he’d been napping while he waited.

“I did, thank you.” She allowed herself to be helped into the car, the door closed soundly behind her. She couldn’t help but stare up at the huge old house, thinking of the beautiful brunette inside, and wish she were still there with her.

***

Ashton sat listlessly in her office, not really wanting to be there, and considering leaving for the day and working from her home office. It had been nine days since her encounter with Pearl. It had been four days since the most amazing night of her life. It had been four days since the blonde had walked out of her life. Yes, she’d been temped to go to the club and see Pearl, speak to her and touch her. Something stopped her, however, and she knew that something was that she did not want to have to pay for Pearl’s company.

The brunette sipped from her coffee, turning her chair so she looked out over the downtown area that her building held court over. Actually, she owned many of the buildings surrounding her, each company or corporation paying a nice, tidy little fee to rent space in her building.

Ashton’s thoughts returned to Pearl. Though she was likely kidding herself, it had seemed that there was something… special, perhaps, between them that night. A certain spark or attraction that went beyond the two thousand dollars Ashton had lined Pearl’s bank account with. Truth be told, she would’ve paid ten to spend that time in the blonde’s arms, touching her, being touched by her.

It had taken some bit of restraint to stay away, especially with Bart’s almost nightly invitations to join him. Her will was waning. Ashton wasn’t one to be controlled, and certainly never let anyone have such power over her, but Pearl… “Damn,” she muttered with a heavy sigh.

***

Pearl laughed politely, her fingers playing with the silk tie covered by the starched flaps of his collar. The man whose lap she sat in was making his intentions more than clear as his thick fingers roamed over her back, wrapping around her side under her arm. She felt the barest, but firm, touch against the outside of her breast. It took all she had not to shiver in reaction.

‘Duke’ as he was called, was a semi-regular, and always insisted on seeing her when he came into the club. In fact, the man with graying hair and tickling beard, insisted on dominating her entire night with his caresses, keeping her on his lap like some sort of hood ornament while he shared a cigar and business talk with colleagues. Usually about one out of every three nights with Duke, she was taken to the back room for fifteen minutes of his grunting, sweating body, which quite simply repulsed her.

Her musings were broken when suddenly Bart arrived at their table. She smiled up at him with genuine affection.

“Good evening, lovely lady,” Bart said, placing a kiss on her cheek. “I hope you won’t be too angry with me, but I need to steal your paramour,” Bart smiled and nodded at Duke.

“Oh, I think I can manage,” she replied coyly, inside wanting to kiss Bart with tongue in gratitude. She was surprised to see the twinkle in his eyes, and the wink he sent her way.

“Don’t go too far, lover,” Duke said into her ear, making her want to grimace. Instead she gracefully stood from his lap, and kissing him on the forehead.

Pearl began to wander the club, trying her best to keep to Duke’s request of staying near, but suddenly Pearl was standing face-to-face with a most unexpected distraction.

Ashton had been searching the dark club with her eyes, heading further in to look for Pearl, when the woman was suddenly headed straight for her, seeming to be lost in her own thoughts. She was ready to grab the blonde so she didn’t bowl her over when suddenly green eyes flashed up, meeting her own gaze. For just a moment she saw warm recognition, but it was just as quickly gone.

“Ashton,” she said, voice strong and calm, ‘Pearl’ firmly in place. Pearl wasn’t sure how she’d react if Ashton were to wander into the club, but after more than a week’s absence, she was beginning to think that it might not be an issue. Standing there, looking the beautiful women over, dressed in tailored pants and white button-down shirt, casually unbuttoned to the third button, Pearl was left breathless, though she hid it well. She had been well taught. “How are you this evening?”

“I’m well. And yourself?” Ashton asked, trying to reconcile the cool tones and professional mask that the blonde wore with the warm, passionate woman who had made love to her for hours on end.

“I’m well, thank you. Seems my date has business,” she said regretfully, glancing over at Duke, who was in deep conversation with Bart and another man.

“Good. I’d like to buy you a drink,” Ashton said, resting her hand on an empty chair next to her. “Maybe talk for a bit.”

Pearl grinned, though it was more like a smirk. “I don’t drink, Miss King, and I’m otherwise involved.” Again, she hitched her head toward Duke.

“I’m sure we could get you some grape juice, and it looks like Duke is busy,” Ashton said, her voice lowering to an intimate level that turned Pearl’s stomach into knots. Ashton withdrew two hundred dollars from her pocket, waving it in front of the blonde.
“I want some time with you.”

Pearl looked at her, and for a moment felt a twinge of anger. She didn’t want Ashton to see her that way, that with the flick of a couple greenbacks, she was hers for the taking. A crazy thought for what amounted to nothing but a high-priced whore.

“And you think you can just buy me, is that it?” Pearl asked, a brow raised.

Ashton was slightly taken aback by the hard tone and stinging words. “Well, isn’t that how it works?” she asked, her own anger beginning to bubble. She wanted to see Pearl, to talk to her, to spend an evening eating dinner with her, talking and laughing. She wanted to get to know Pearl’s mind, to understand her.

“I’m not your private whore, Ashton,” she murmured quietly, eyes burning into the blue, which for a moment registered shock, then quickly clouded to unreadable.

“No? Well, I don’t know,’ Ashton crossed her arms over her chest, rising to her full height and looking down at the blonde with hooded eyes. “It seems like for the right price, you’re anyone’s whore.”

The slap came so swiftly, they both could just stare at each other in mute shock. Pearl recovered first, standing taller, and about to turn and walk back to Duke, as unappealing as that option was. Even so, it was far more appealing than seeing the hurt in Ashton’s blue eyes. She was caught by the arm as she tried to make her escape, a warm body moving up behind her own.

“I want to see you again,” Ashton whispered in her ear. The sting of the slap was still felt, but she knew she had deserved it.

Pearl’s eyes slipped closed for a moment, a quiet sigh escaping. She was torn between what she knew was simply business, and what she really wanted. “Why?” She turned and faced the brunette. “What do you want from me, Ashton?”

“I want to spend time with you. I want to get to know you,” Ashton gestured at the club around them. “Outside of here. I want to get to know the real you.”

Pearl was stunned, never expecting that answer. She figured it would be more along the lines of, I want to fuck your brains out again. She was shaken out of her stupor when she heard her name called. She held up a hand in Duke’s general direction, acknowledging his request, even as she was unable to look away from Ashton’s beseeching gaze. “Alright,” she said softly. “You want to know the real me, do you?” At Ashton’s nod, she made a decision. “I’ll pick you up at your house Thursday morning, early.”

“How early?” Ashton asked, completely bewildered by the very sudden change in conversation.

“Four-thirty.”

“In the morning?!”

Pearl couldn’t keep the amusement from her voice. “Yes. In the morning. Clear your schedule for the entire morning.” She turned to go, but stopped, glancing at the brunette over her shoulder. “Oh, and Ashton? Dress casual.” With those cryptic words, she was gone.
Part 2
Ashton stood at one of her four closets, chewing on a lower lip. Casual, casual, casual… She wasn’t entirely familiar with that turn of phrase in any aspect of her life, and certainly not in her wardrobe. She was about to give up when she spotted something in the corner of the closet, something blue, tucked away on a shelf. Crawling under the hanging suits and skirts, she found a pair of blue jeans.

Tugging them out, Ashton stared in wonder. “Where the hell did these come from?” she wondered aloud. Walking back into the bedroom, she wiggled out of her silk lounge pants and slid the jeans on. Turning this way and that, she decided it would have to do, even though she felt like a complete slacker in them. Blue jeans had never, ever been allowed in her childhood, nor that of her young adult life. Even in college, she’d never worn them.

Her next thought was who the hell gets up and starts their day at four-thirty in the morning? Unless she’s coming after work. No, Ashton didn’t feel that was right. She wondered what Pearl was up to.

Freshly showered and dressed in the jeans and a black button-down shirt, Ashton grabbed one of her many leather jackets, and trotted down the winding staircase. The Grandfather clock in the entryway announced the hour of four. Ashton was surprised that she was not only up, but very much awake. But then, the sleeping pill she’d taken last night had knocked her out by eight p.m., and she’d slept solidly until her alarm woke her at three.

It was strange being awake in the morning hours before the staff rose and began their daily duties. Arnold would be on the floor within two hours, and Ashton’s long-time cook, Hilda, would be along by six-thirty.

After what seemed forever, Ashton heard a car pull up outside the house, and a glance at the clock told her Pearl was exactly on time. She tugged her jacket on and headed out into the harsh November morning.

Pearl’s car was a mid-sized Nissan, and, to Ashton’s eternal intrigue, the entire back seat was filled with bound bundles of newspapers.

“Good morning,” she said, slipping into the passenger seat. A steaming cup of Starbucks coffee was thrust into her hands.

“Hi.”

Ashton was shocked at what sat before her. Pearl’s hair was pulled back into a casual ponytail. She didn’t wear a bit of makeup. She wore well-worn jeans and a sweatshirt, which was a bit big, the sleeves rolled to expose her hands, which rested on the steering wheel. She looked like a college co-ed rather than the beautiful, sleek woman Ashton was used to.

“Okay, here’s the deal,” the blonde said. “You are to call me Scarlet today.”

Ashton’s brows rose. “A new name? Is Scarlet your name on casual days, or something?”

The blonde chuckled. “Nope. Scarlet is the name I was given at birth.”

“So why-“

“Because I’m not working today, Ashton,” Scarlet said softly. “Today I just want to be me.”

Ashton met her gaze, and gave the beautiful blonde a soft smile. “I’d like that… Scarlet. I’d like that very much.”

Scarlet grinned, her eyes twinkling as she put the car in gear and they headed out of the circular drive. “Okay, now, I imagine you’re wondering what all this is back there,” she said, gesturing toward the backseat with her thumb as she easily maneuvered the car out of Ashton’s neighborhood. “This is what I do on the mornings of my days off.”

“Drive around with newspaper bundles in your car?” Ashton asked, confused. The light laugh that comment got warmed her far more than the latte she was sipping.

“No. I throw a paper route. Normally I’d take all the bundles back to my place and roll them, then get on my way, but today,” she reached over and slapped Ashton’s thigh. “I have help.”

They drove in silence for a bit, Scarlet getting them to the appropriate neighborhood. The low-slung house were still dark, a few windows bursting to life as those inside began to get ready for their day. Scarlet pulled the car to a curb, releasing her seatbelt. She turned on the dome light then reached between their seats, snagging a heavy bundle from the back and plopping it in a startled Ashton’s lap. She made quick work of the long, yellow strips of plastic that held the bundle together.

“Okay, here’s what you do.” She gook the top copy of the Rocky Mountain News. Ashton watched intently as Scarlet folded the paper once, top to bottom, then again, creating a thick bundle of newsprint. She held it together with one hand while snagging a rubber band from an open bag in the console, quickly double banding until she had a long log-like package. She held it up for inspection, seeing understanding in blue eyes. “Think you can handle that?”

“I’m sure I can try,” Ashton said, still bewildered at how she’d gotten herself in a car before sunrise, rolling newspapers.

“Good. Then let’s go.”

At first, Ashton was just trying desperately to keep up, the soft thump as each paper hit the porch or path up to the porch, by an expertly tossed throw from Scarlet. She was amazed at the accuracy.

“Did you used to pitch baseball or something?” she asked, ripping into a new bundle.

Scarlet chuckled. “No. I’ve just been doing this for a couple years.”

”Why? Do you have some sort of unsated desire to see the sun rise every morning?” Ashton asked, grimacing as a rubber band broke, snapping against her finger.

Scarlet laughed. “No, again. It helps to have the extra income.”

Ashton was confused. Undoubtedly a woman as beautiful as Scarlet was, and obviously popular at the club, made a nice living. Scarlet seemed to sense her thoughts and unasked question.

“Some of us have real bills to pay, Miss King,” she said, a playful note in her voice to remove the sting of her words. “Besides, when I was a kid, we used to do these as a family,” she continued, driving to their next route, a few blocks over from their original street. “My parents both worked during the day, and then in the wee hours of the morning, the four of us would do paper routs as a family. Then, at night, we’d clean office buildings around Denver, even Stapleton Airport, before DIA came along.”

“The four of you?” Ashton asked, continuing to roll papers. She saw the smile leave Scarlet’s face, and it made the brunette sad, wondering what had leapt into the blonde’s mind.

“Yeah,” Scarlet said softly. She glanced over at Ashton. “My younger sister, Laurel. She was there, too.”

“Are you two close now?” Ashton asked, but in answer, she was suddenly blinded by the dome light as Scarlet opened her door.

“I need four,” she said, holding up four fingers as she nodded at the papers in Ashton’s lap. The brunette quickly gave the awaiting blonde four banded papers, then watched as the blonde hurried in front of the car, tossing in quick succession to three house on one side of the street, and the fourth on the other. She jogged back to the car, Ashton grateful as the door was closed and the chill was melted away by the car’s running heater. “Damn, it’s cold out there,” Scarlet growled, rubbing her hands together to warm them.

Ashton decided to drop the subject, as the pained flash through Scarlet’s eyes at her question regarding Laurel, hadn’t escaped her notice. Soon all was forgotten as they giggled, watching as a newspaper bounced off the tin roof of a trailer, causing a dog to start barking enthusiastically. Then Ashton, herself was chased down by an un-tethered mutt who wasn’t fond of the ‘paper girl’ entering his yard as Ashton jumped up to grab the newspaper she’d thrown in a tree down, and onto the customer’s front porch.

“Go, go!” she called barely getting the car door closed before the dog had reached her. Scarlet got the car moving, both panting from the exertion and scare. Their wide gazes met, then both burst into laughter. “You’re going to get me killed,” Ashton cackled.

Scarlet grinned at her, finding the brunette’s giddiness contagious and completely endearing. “You didn’t know what you signed on for, didja?” she asked, getting them to the next part of their route.

“Isn’t that the truth?” Ashton quipped, getting herself settled from underneath the avalanche of papers that had fallen into her lap with her sudden leap into the car.

The sun was up, and the seven o’clock hour was quickly approaching as Scarlet drove them to a hole-in-the wall restaurant called The Pantry. Ashton stared at the simple, squat building, unsure. She met amused green eyes. “I could take you to-“ Ashton began, but was stopped by two fingers to her lips.

“No,” Scarlet shook her head. “You said you wanted to get to know me, the real me, well, guess what,” she indicated the restaurant. “This is me. I don’t do country clubs or places that don’t even have prices on the menus.” She met clear blue eyes. “This is real life, Ashton.” Her words were spoken softly.

Ashton studied the young woman sitting beside her, and realized that in her jeans and sweatshirt, and very messy ponytail, Scarlet was the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen. She brought up a hand, wanting badly to touch the clear, clean skin, but stopped herself. No doubt Scarlet preferred her space on her own time. What she didn’t see what the disappointment expertly hidden behind green eyes.

The Pantry was a typical greasy spoon, which was a usual for Scarlet, as she couldn’t allow her figure such a treat very often. She worked tirelessly at her body, as she knew ultimately that would keep her bills paid. But, this morning, it was a treat she wanted to share with Ashton, even if the older woman did look like she was looking at a room filled with bugs.

Scarlet chuckled, leaning across their table and speaking quietly. “Ashton, you have the most adorable scowl on your face.”

Ashton’s eyes were pulled away from the man sitting at the next table, his fourteen-months-pregnant belly causing his pants to hang low on his butt, the crack shockingly visible. She cleared her throat, settling her attention back to her hostess, and trying her best to wipe her face expressionless. She met amused, yet hopeful green eyes.

“Give it a chance, okay?” Scarlet begged quietly.

Ashton nodded, feeling like an asshole. Her grandfather would turn in his grave if he saw where his beloved granddaughter was at that moment. Ashton looked deeply into Scarlet’s eyes, and she couldn’t resist the soft words, the soft pleading within their endless depths. A smile crossed her lips. “Okay.” They shared a long look, neither willing or able to look away. The nasally voice of their waitress finally broke the spell. “Why don’t you order for us, Scarlet?” the brunette said, handing over her faith and trust to the blonde. Scarlet smiled, big and bright, understanding the gesture behind the request.

Scarlet watched in pure fascination as the woman sitting across from her sopped up the very last bit of sausage gravy with the final crumbs of her biscuit. Ashton’s head was low, mouth devouring all that came near it. Finally blue eyes settled on her.

“What?” Ashton asked, unaware of the bit of biscuit that clung to her lip. She drew back, slightly embarrassed as gentle fingers brushed it away.

“Did you enjoy your breakfast?” Scarlet asked, her eyes dancing with amusement, which turned into a chuckle at the blush that crept up Ashton’s face.

The brunette sat back in her creaky chair, wiping her mouth with her napkin before tossing it onto her spotless plate. “It was good, yes.”

“Hmm,” Scarlet hummed with a nod. “Glad to hear it.”

Ashton couldn’t take the smirk that quirked the blonde’s lips. “What? I had a meeting last night and missed dinner…” her voice trailed off at the raised brow. “Oh, alright! So this was the best damn biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had.”

Scarlet snorted, cupping her coffee cup in a hand. “I’d wager it’s the only biscuits and gravy you’ve ever had.” The sheepish grin she received at that warmed her heart. “So,” Scarlet said, pushing both their plates to the edge of the table. “Tell me about your family.”

“Not much to tell, really. My father retired several years ago, and he and my mother decided to go globe trotting. They’re currently in France, staying for the winter, then come spring, they’ll head out to some other remote destination.”

“Do you miss them?”

“Not really.” Ashton drained her coffee cup, sending it to the end of the table next to their plates. “I’m not close to either of them.”

“Were you ever?” Scarlet saw a shield slide carefully into place in front of Ashton’s eyes.

“No. My father wanted a business associate, not a daughter. And my mother,” she blew out a breath, leaning back so her very full stomach could stretch. “Well, she’s a princess who only cares for herself. I’ve never met someone so self-absorbed before,” she added quietly, glancing out the large window that sat next to their table. “She only wanted his money, what he could buy her. I remember as a kid, all I could do was stand back and watch as she brought more and more crap pinto that house, filling it up. You’d think a house of that size could never be too full.” Ashton shook her head. “Not so. When they left I got rid of a lot of it, keeping the antiques and getting rid of the rest.”

“Do you use much of the house?”

Ashton shook her head. “No. The majority of it is closed off, only opened and aired out for the King Christmas party.”

Scarlet searched Ashton’s face, surprised to see a loneliness in her eyes, bared for only a moment, but it was a feeing she could so easily understand and reach out to.

“My parents were killed when I was 17,” she said softly, surprised to hear the words leave her own lips. This wasn’t something she ever talked about. Scarlet studied her hands as they shredded her napkin, unable to bear the pity she’d no doubt see in compassionate blue eyes. “They were driving with Laurel, who was 14 at the time, heading to a Bronco game at what was then Mile High Stadium.” She looked up and out the window, noting that a soft snow had started again. “My parents were killed instantly.”

“Laurel, too?” Ashton asked, voice nearly a whisper.

Scarlet shook her head. “No. But sometimes I think it would’ve been better if she had.” Finally she met Ashton’s steady gaze.
“I don’t do what I do for fun or pleasure, Ashton,” she explained softly. “I’ve learned not to hate it, but to tolerate it, and know that it’s a means to an end.”

“What end could that possibly be?” Ashton asked gently.

“The one that allows me to pay for Laurel’s care.” She knew Ashton didn’t understand, and for some reason she wanted her to. Scarlet grabbed the check and took some money out of her wallet, slapping at the brunette’s hands when she tried to contribute.

***

“Good morning, Scarlet,” a friendly-looking and plump nurse said from behind the main desk at Halpron’s Care Center.

“Hi, May. How are you?” the blonde called back with a warm smile and a wave.

“Not bad. It is Thursday, after all.”

Both women chuckled as Scarlet expertly navigated the long, clean halls of the nursing home, Ashton following behind, taking everything in with wide sweeps of her eyes. Their dull footfalls stopped when Scarlet turned at a door toward the end of the hall, near public restrooms and a drinking fountain.

The room was small, a single bed taking up most the space. A large window dominated one wall, and a lone figure sat in a chair in front of it. Her long, dark blonde hair hung straight, her hands resting on the arms of a wheelchair, head held in place by thick padding.

“Hey, Laurel,” Scarlet said brightly as they entered. She headed toward the figure, placing a quick kiss on the young woman’s cheek.

Unsure what to do, Ashton hung back near the small bathroom in the corner of the room. Green eyes sought her out, beckoning her over.

“I want you to meet someone, sis,” Scarlet said, reaching for Ashton’s hand to tug her closer. “Laurel, this is Ashton King, a friend of mine. Ashton,” she said, turning to the brunette, “this is my sister, Laurel.”

Ashton looked into the dull, hazel depths of Laurel’s eyes, obvious no one was inside. She swallowed the sorrow that bunched in her throat. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Laurel,” she said at last. There was absolutely no change in the girl’s demeanor. “Does she know we’re here?” she asked quietly, glancing over at Scarlet, who had eased onto the end of Laurel’s neatly made bed.

The blonde sighed heavily. “I like to think so.” She met Ashton’s gaze. “But I just don’t know.”

“She’s been here since she was 14?”

“Well, in homes like this. This particular one for about five years.”

“I’m not sure what to say,” Ashton said softly, looking around the room. Suddenly she had a feeling of utter and total inadequacy, as well as an urge to walk over to Scarlet and take her in her arms, holding her. She fought that urge, but just barely.

“You don’t have to say anything, Ashton. I didn’t bring you here for any other reason than for you to understand. This, Laurel, is very much part of who I am. Why I do what I do.”

Ashton found her voice after a long moment. “I am very humbled today, Scarlet, I must admit. I’m in awe of what you accomplish.”

Scarlet damn near matched her name as she looked anywhere but at Ashton, finally able to meet her gaze after a few heartbeats. “Thank you,” she finally managed, running a nervous hand through her hair and dislodging her ponytail even more. She gave up and tugged the hair band free, running her fingers through the long lengths. “I guess it’s just how things are.”

Ashton could see that the blonde’s hands were shaking as she tried to regroup her hair. She pushed off the wall she leaned against and walked over to the bed, stopping Scarlet’s hands with a touch of her own. “Here, let me.”

Scarlet reluctantly allowed Ashton to gather her hair, green eyes sliding closed at the gentle touch. The ponytail was quickly finished, but the hands remained on her head, gently petting. The blonde’s head fell, a soft sigh escaping as she absorbed the touch, the gentleness. She had no idea where the tears came from, but suddenly they sprang to her eyes.

“Hey,” Ashton murmured, hearing a quiet sob. She walked around until she was facing Scarlet, just in time to see her angrily swipe at a tear. “Come here,” she gently requested. At first the blonde tried to fight her urging her to stand, but ultimately Scarlet did as asked, finding herself wrapped up in strong arms, her head urged to rest against a sturdy shoulder. She inhaled silently, remembering the smell of Ashton’s skins very well. She was surprised to find that the gentle woman holding her now was not very different than the woman she’d been hired to make love to more than a week ago. Both instances had left Scarlet confused, and deeply touched.

Ashton felt the smaller woman sigh, and she just barely managed to withhold an answering one. One of her hands rested on the blonde’s back, the other cupped the back of her neck, feeling the heated skin against her palm. She closed her eyes, allowing herself to just absorb the feel of Scarlet against her. After a long moment, Ashton pulled back, looking down at the blonde as Scarlet looked up at her. Their gazes met, Ashton’s heart stopping. Her eyes trailed down to the blonde’s lips, which were so soft looking and full. As she watched, they parted.

Scarlet couldn’t think, completely caught in the heat of Ashton’s eyes. The strength of the brunette who held her made her body want to melt into her. And the sight of Ashton’s lips so close to her own, Scarlet fought the intense urge to touch them, taste them. Nearly overwhelmed, and knowing they were not in the place to explore this, she stepped back, smiling shyly for a moment.

“Um, we should probably go. It’s close to Laurel’s lunch time.”

Ashton nodded. “Okay.”

***

They were both silent as Scarlet drove through the streets of Aurora, where her small apartment was located. Ashton’s mind was on the blonde sitting next to her, wondering at her strength and drive. Though she wished there was something she could do, something to get Scarlet out of the life and job she was living, but she understood that Scarlet was doing what she had to do to survive. Her admiration soared.

Glancing over at Scarlet, Ashton studied her profile, noticing the slight tension she saw in the blonde’s jaw, her fingers wrapped tightly around the steering wheel. “Are you okay?” she asked at length.

Scarlet nodded. “Yeah. I always feel so helpless when I leave her, completely impotent to do anything more.”

“You don’t feel you’re doing enough? Selling your body so Laurel can be taken care of by professionals?”

Scarlet was quiet for a long moment. Her initial reaction was to be angry at Ashton’s words, but she knew the brunette hadn’t meant it that way, as an insult. She knew her anger was more at herself, not Ashton King. She took a deep breath so she wouldn’t say something she’d regret or didn’t mean. “I don’t have much choice. Ashton. It’s the only job I could take and make the money that I do. Laurel’s care is three times what my own personal bills are.” She spared a glance at the brunette before turning back to the road. “I’m not college educated, so I’m doing what I can.”

“I know you are, Scarlet. I know.” Ashton studied the passing landscape, then asked, “If you could go to school, what would you study?”

Scarlet blew out a breath as she pondered the question. “Wow. I don’t know. Guess I always knew that wasn’t an option, so I’ve never thought about it.” She hit her turn signal, turning off into a parking lot.

Ashton looked up at the three-story brick building, dotted by windows and balconies. Cars filled the lot, a bit of trash blowing in the cold wind. “Is this where you live?”

“Yep.” Scarlet got the car shut down then unbuckled herself. She opened the back door of the car, gathering the trash from the bundles of papers. Ashton quickly followed suit. Arms full of unused bundles and the plastic bindings, they headed to the dumpster in front of the building and unloaded it, then Scarlet led the way up the outside stairs to the second floor. She produced a silver key, sliding it into the locks, and then pushing the door open.

Ashton followed happily, glad to get out of the cold, but also curious as to see where Scarlet lived, as well as how she lived. She always felt that the appearance of someone’s home would tell a great deal about the person- their habits, attitudes towards themselves as well as life.

“Home sweet home,” scarlet said, tossing her keys to a small table that was set underneath a hanging coat rack. She reached for Ashton’s leather coat, hanging it next to a couple other winter coats and a baseball cap, then headed further into the place. The living room was straight ahead, and though very neat and clean, it was still obviously lived in: a magazine was tossed onto the dustless coffee table. A throw had been half-hazardly folded over the arm of the couch. Two large bookcases lined the wall on either side of a sliding glass door that led to the small balcony, though vertical blinds were closed over the doors to help keep the cold out.

“You like to read,” she pointed out, walking over to the first of the bookcases, scanning the spines. She saw everything from Stephen King to V.C. Andrews to Julies Verne and Katherine V. Forest. The other case held similar authors and variety.

The couch and love seat were part of a matching set, though both had seen better days. They sat at an adjacent angle, the end table between them was scarred and scratched.

Scarlet stood near the doorway to her tiny kitchen, curious of what Ashton’s reaction would be to her place. Yes, it was small, yes the carpet was worn and smelled like cat pee on really hot days, but it was hers and it was home.

“How long have you lived here?” Ashton asked, walking over to a set of framed photographs mounted on the wall above the couch.

“Three years,” Scarlet said, pushing off the wall and walking over to the sliding glass doors. She pulled the lever which opened the blinds, shining some light onto the subject. She then opened the blinds over the window that was on the couch wall.

“Is it safe?” Ashton asked absently, studying pictures that were obviously of the blonde’s family. In every single one the whole bunch were smiling, looking very happy. It made her so sad tat a family, happy and in love with each other, should be destroyed by a tragic accident, while her own family, all members very much alive, and not one of them could stand each other.

“Yeah. I’ve not had any problems.” Scarlet plopped down on the couch, still watching the brunette. “When you’re ready I’ll continue with the nickel tour.”

“Oh, sorry,” Ashton said quietly, giving the blonde a sheepish grin. “Lead on.”

Ashton saw the kitchen, a hallway with all the basic appliances, and little counter space. A hallway led from the kitchen, three doors breaking the line of the wall- to the left, the bathroom; the right was Scarlet’s bedroom, and finally straight ahead was the metal folding doors that would reveal a linen closet. The bedroom was basic, as well- bed, dresser and a night stand.

“There ya go,” Scarlet said, leading them back to the living room. “Nothing fancy, but home. Want some coffee?” she tossed over her shoulder.

“Yes, please.” Ashton went back into the living room, and noticed that the thermostat on the wall there was set to sixty-eight degrees. It certainly explained why it was chilly in the apartment. “Do you always keep your heat so low?” she called out so the blonde could hear her in the other room.

“Yeah. Gas is expensive.” Scarlet called back. “You get used to it,” she finished, suddenly standing just behind Ashton.

The brunette truly wasn’t sure what to think, what to make of Scarlet’s living situation. She had lived in the lap of luxury her entire life, as had those she’d known both school and now in business. She wasn’t sure how well she was hiding her thoughts as she turned to face the blonde. Scarlet studied her for a long moment, head slightly cocked to the side.

“It’s not what you were expecting, was it?”

“Uh,” Ashton said, unsure what to say. “We have very different lives, Scarlet. It’s not my place to judge-“

“I didn’t say you were judging me,” the blonde said, cutting her off. “I said, it’s not what you were expecting.”

Ashton gave her a shy smile, shaking her head. “No. It wasn’t.” She had to look away from the piercing green eyes. “So what now? You’ve taken me on a journey of your supplemental job, I’ve met your sister, and grown to understand why it is you do what you do, and now I’ve seen your apartment.”

“Well, that’s all up to you, Miss King. Have you seen enough, or do you want to see how the little people have fun, too?”

Ashton could see the amusement in Scarlet’s eyes, but she did not share the joke. “I don’t see you that way, Scarlet,” she said softly. “After everything you’ve shown me today, I have more admiration for you than anyone I’ve known. I know I wouldn’t be strong enough to survive all that you have, all that you do on a nightly basis.”

Scarlet could only stare, Ashton’s words touching a place deep within her. “I, uh… Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Ashton’s blue eyes shone with warm affection. “So, tell me. How do the ‘little people’ have fun?”

Scarlet’s grin made the brunette very nervous. “How do you feel about beer and bad country music?”

***

Mercifully, Ashton had been sent home to nap, shower and change, and was to be picked up by Scarlet at eight o’clock that night. Exhausted, the brunette had fallen into her bed, her jeans given to Arnold to have them washed, as she’d been told casual dress again. She was deciding that perhaps more pairs of the denim would have to be purchased if she planned to spend anymore time with Scarlet- which she most certainly did.

She thought about the time they’d spent together, and Ashton was in awe all over gain at just what the little blonde was undertaking, and the means of which she managed to do it. A plan was already forming in her mind, but she was trying not to dwell on that. She needed to get some sleep.

***

“This is what you’d call a honky tonk,” Scarlet explained, indicating the room around them.

Ashton took in the dimly lit space, the clatter of bottles and glasses clinking together. She saw the jukebox in the back, lit up with yellow and red neon, a song about a boy and his dog playing.

“No, this is what you call scary,” the brunette muttered.

Scarlet laughed, taking Ashton’s hand and weaving her through the throng of people and up to the bar. “Hey, can we get two beers, please?” she asked, leaning against the scarred mahogany surface of the bar.

“Sure thing, sweetie,” the bartender called, grabbing two brown bottles and quickly removing the caps with a dramatic flourish. “Five bucks.”

Scarlet slapped her money on the bar and took the beers, handing one to Ashton. “Chug-a-lug,” she said, raising the bottle with a grin.

“I thought you don’t drink?” Ashton asked, peering at the bottle and smelling its contents.

“I rarely do, and definitely not with a client.”

Ashton raised a brow at that.

“I told you,” Scarlet said, “I’m not working right now.” With that, she clinked her bottle against Ashton’s, and pulled on the beer. “Come on. I see a free table.”

The place went much further back than Ashton realized. She noted most of the clientele wore jeans of various types, cowboy boots and many had on cowboy hats, or had them hung on the back of their chairs. Voices were loud and jubilant. She could hear the crack of cue balls hitting each other from the few pool tables tucked into the very back. Cheering to her right showed a group standing near a dartboard.

In her mind she tried to reconcile this with The Black Pussy Cat, or any number of clubs with the same patrons that she knew of and had been to. If her father saw where she was right now, he’d have a heart attack. The thought made her smile, as she’d never shocked her parents with anything in her life. She’d always just done what was expected, and what was correct for her breeding. She had always felt like some award winning purebred or something.

“Hey, are you going to join me, or did you want to play?”

Ashton was ripped from her thoughts by Scarlet’s voice, and a playful tug on her shirt. She realized she’d been staring at the game of darts. Shaking herself free of thought, she put on a bright smile. “Sorry. Got a little lost in thought, there.”

“No worries,” Scarlet grinned, playful. “Just don’t let it happen again. Got me?”

Ashton returned the grin. “Oh, I gotcha.” With that she tucked the bottle of beer back and took a swallow. Interesting.

Scarlet burst out laughing, setting her bottle down on the table as she sat down. She laughed even harder at the raised brow she got in question. “You look like you just swallowed an insect,” Scarlet laughed. “It’s just beer, Ashton. Really.”

“Sorry,” the brunette grinned, sheepish as she sat down across from the blonde, setting her bottle on the table. “Guess I’m just not sued to drinks that are so yeasty.”

“Yeasty?” Scarlet asked, glancing at her bottle.

“Yes. Yeasty. It tastes like I could pour this into a pan with some other unknown ingredients and bake a loaf of bread.”

This sent Scarlet on yet another round of laughter. She reached across the table, covering Ashton’s hand for a moment. “Oh, honey, we have got to get you out of your castle and experiencing real life.”

Word, that from any other mouth would have angered and offended Ashton, but coming from Scarlet, she absorbed them, suddenly willing to do anything with the blonde, a thought she would regret later as she got dragged into a pool game partnered up with what Scarlet called Hustler Joe, while Scarlet and a man named Calvin.

As Calvin took his shot, Ashton walked over and stood next to Scarlet, bending down to not be overheard by her partner, Hustler Joe. “So, how is it that I got paired up with Hustler Jack over here, and not with you?”

Scarlet chuckled. “It’s Hustler Joe and you know it, annnd, you’re partnered up with Joe because you suck at pool, and he’s very good at it.” She smiled sweetly. “We had to even the odds a little bit.”

“I do not suck,” Ashton grumbled. All she got in reply was a raised brow, which made the brunette look away, as she knew she very well did suck.

“Well, then come on, stud. You’re up,” Scarlet said, a little pinch to a shocked Ashton’s behind. Ashton whirled on the smaller woman, noting a smile on Scarlet’s face, without a single ounce of remorse. She growled playfully before taking her cue stick in hand and heading toward the felt-covered table.

As she bent over to take her shot, she felt eyes on her ass. Glancing over her shoulder, she was surprised to not find the eyes she wanted on her, but their two teammate’s eyes instead. Groaning, she turned back to the task at hand and made her shot. Badly. She got nothing, basically giving the cue ball a tour of the table. Grumpily, she walked over to resume her place standing next to Scarlet. She heard a soft chuckle and a received a pat on the arm for her troubles.

“Let me show you how it’s done,” Scarlet murmured, taking her place at the table. Ashton watched as the blonde set up her shot, the guys bantering easily back and forth with each other, and with Scarlet. Something occurred to Ashton suddenly, that hit her squarely in the gut.

Was Scarlet even a lesbian?

She thought of their time together, both at the club and in Ashton’s library- both times the blonde had been paid to be there, had to enjoy it, well, act as though she did, anyway. Was it all just part of the service? Was Ashton barking up the entirely wrong tree?

“Hey, you alright there?” Scarlet asked, walking back over to her friend. “You look troubled.”

“No.” Ashton smiled, hiding her thoughts and concerns. After all, it really was none of her concern. “Nice shot, by the way.”

“Thank you.”

Three games later, Scarlet and Ashton sat at their table again, a lively group pushing tables to the sides and making their own dance floor. Ashton watched, bemused, as the couples’ boot heels clacked on the floorboards of the establishment, whooping and hollering as the women were whipped around. Next to her, Scarlet laughed at the antics, her own boots stomping along with the beat. Their eyes met, and Scarlet studied her for a long moment before she stood, holding out her hand.

“Dance with me.”

Ashton wasn’t given time to think before she was whisked off her feet and dragged out to the impromptu dance floor, her hand held securely in a tight grasp, no doubt Scarlet afraid she’d run.

They found themselves a somewhat clear spot, and Scarlet turned to face Ashton, her arms snaking their way up around the brunette’s neck as Ashton’s hands immediately found the blonde’s waist.

“Are you absolutely hating your time here?” Scarlet asked, yelling to be heard over the music.

Ashton stared into beautiful green eyes for a moment, then simply shook her head with an easy smile. “No.” She saw the doubt in Scarlet’s eyes and laughed. “This may not be where I want to hang out every weekend, but I’m having fun.”

Scarlet’s fingers played with the hairs at the nape of Ashton’s neck. “No, you’d rather hang out and drink brandy and smoke cigars with a beautiful woman on your lap, right?”

Ashton blushed slightly, trying to hide her face, but two fingers under her chin brought her back, a question in green eyes. “That’s not what I call fun, either,” she said softly, not sure if Scarlet could even hear her. “I don’t agree with it, Scarlet.”

The blonde looked hard into Ashton’s eyes, both understanding the meaning behind the brunette’s words. Scarlet had a lot of questions, but didn’t feel right now was the time for it. Instead, she wanted to study the beautiful woman’s face. Her finger joined her eyes, tracing the chiseled features, feeling soft skin. Her gaze landed on Ashton’s lips, studying their fullness. She had experienced their softness all too briefly the morning before she left the brunette’s house, but wanted more. She wanted to feel them move against her own. She wanted to taste them.

Ashton felt her breath catch at the look in Scarlet’s eyes. Her earlier question about the blonde’s sexuality was seeming less and less valid when she felt herself being pulled down, a firm hand at the back of her neck. Ashton’s eyes closed a second before she felt softness against her lips. Her hands tightened on Scarlet’s waist, pulling her in closer while their mouths continued with a soft, exploratory touch.

Scarlet sighed softly into the kiss, enjoying the feel and taste as much as she dreamed she would. She buried one hand deeper into the thick, dark hair, the other cupping Ashton’s cheek, needing to feel the softness of her skin, as well as her lips.

Any thoughts of dancing are forgotten as Ashton buries her own hands into soft, blonde hair, allowing it to run through her fingers. She was glad Scarlet had left it down. She deepened the kiss, her tongue licking lightly just inside the blonde’s bottom lip. She heard Scarlet’s soft sigh, her fingers tightening their hold in Ashton’s hair.

“Hey, you fucking queers! Take it somewhere else!”

Ashton was thrown back into reality with a harsh slap. She looked down at an amused Scarlet. “Busted,” she grinned. The blonde returned the smile.

“Come on, Ashton, let’s go.” The brunette followed Scarlet out of the bar and into the cold night. Scarlet glanced at her watch, noting that it was after one in the morning. With a sigh, she turned and looked back at Ashton. “It’s really late. Why don’t you just stay at my place tonight?” At the raised brow, the blonde clarified. “To sleep.”

***

Ashton was trying her best to get her body back under control, but Scarlet’s kiss had left her heart pounding and her sex wet and pulsing. Obediently, she followed Scarlet back into her apartment, unsure what to do as she stood in the middle of the living room. Scarlet disappeared down the hall. The sexual tension had been nearly palpable between them during the short drive to the apartment, and Ashton could feel that Scarlet wanted her, and she certainly wanted the blonde.

Making up her mind, she headed toward the hallway, down which Scarlet had disappeared a few moments before. She stopped short, nearly running the object of her lust over. Scarlet looked up at her, an armful of blankets topped by a pillow standing between them. “I’m not working tonight, Ashton,” she reminded softly, offering her load to the brunette, who without a word, took them.

Ashton swallowed her disappointment and mild confusion, turning and heading back to the living room. She heard Scarlet’s bedroom door softly close behind the blonde.

****

Ashton lay in her nest on the couch, starting awake at every night sound from the noisy neighbors above. She couldn’t figure out how Scarlet got a good night’s sleep in the place. Also, she was fighting with the realization that her body refused to calm, knowing that the blonde was just in the other room.

With a groan, Ashton turned to her side, bringing her knees up to her chest.

****

Meanwhile, in the other room, Scarlet lay in her own bed, unable to sleep. She tried every sleeping position, tried counting sheep and flat out forcing her eyes shut. Nothing was working.

Sighing heavily, she tossed her legs off the side of the bed and stood, walking to her closed bedroom door. She leaned against it, listening. The apartment beyond was quiet, no light shining underneath the small crack of her door. Sighing again, she pushed off, turning to head back to her bed, but her feet refused to take her there. Instead, she turned back to the door, quietly pulling it open.

The living room was dark, all blinds pulled shut. Scarlet stood in the entryway for a moment, allowing her eyes to adjust. It was so quiet, she wondered if maybe Ashton had left. But, then she heard a soft rustling as the brunette changed positions. She had felt bad, forcing Ashton to the couch, especially after that kiss they had shared, but she needed Ashton to understand that Scarlet wasn’t just there for the taking. If she wanted to be with Ashton, it was because she wanted to make love, and wasn’t being paid to.

“You okay?” asked a soft voice, which spurred the blonde into action. She padded over to the couch, looking down at the older woman, who lay on her back, staring up at her.

“Yeah.” Without further explanation, Scarlet lowered herself to sit on the edge of the couch, as Ashton had moved over slightly to make room. “Did I wake you?”

“No.” Ashton peered up through the darkness at Scarlet. She didn’t want to admit to her that she’d been lying there, desperately trying to get the blonde out of her mind, but was struggling horribly. “Can’t sleep.”

“Couch too lumpy?” Scarlet smirked.

“No, it’s actually not all that uncomfortable, surprisingly.” Ashton patted the back cushion to emphasize her point.

“Amazing, considering this couch is older than I am.”

“And how old would that be?” Ashton asked, the darkness beginning to dissipate somewhat. She could now at least see Scarlet’s pale face in the limited light.

Scarlet grinned. “Are you asking how old I am, Ashton King?”

“Yes I am, Scarlet…?”

“Reed. And I’m 25.”

“Oh, young pup,” Ashton waved her off, only to have her wrists caught playfully.

“Hey!” Scarlet demanded, pinning Ashton’s hands to the pillow beneath the brunette’s head. “Be nice. How old are you?”

“Older than you.”

“Uh huh, and by how much? You’re too hot to be old.”

“Oh?” Ashton asked with great interest.

“Stick to the question, King,” Scarlet said, putting a little pressure on Ashton’s wrists.

“Alright, alright.” She stared up at the beautiful young woman and grinned. “More than half a decade older.” She laughed at Scarlet’s growl. “I’ll be 31 at the turn of the year.”

“Oh, a little Capricorn, huh?” Scarlet lowered herself slightly, their upper bodies almost brushing together.

“Very good.” Ashton had to fight her body from arching into the blonde, breaching that final scant distance between them. She could feel her heart beginning to pound, the air around them heating up. “Is that alright with you?” she asked, trying to keep her voice under control.

“It’s very alright with me,” Scarlet grinned. “I hear Capricorn and Cancer get along quite nicely.”

“Really? I wouldn’t know.”

“No?” the blonde felt herself being pulled toward Ashton. She yelped when strong hands grabbed her around the waist, and she found herself suddenly lying on top of the brunette. ‘Well, hello.”

“Hi.” Ashton grinned, unsure of what Scarlet’s reaction would be to the move, but she didn’t seem to mind. “I figured if were going to have an astrological chat, we might as well get comfortable. So, comfy?”

“Hmm,” Scarlet hedged, moving around a bit, ‘accidentally’ dropping a let between Ashton’s thighs. “Yep. Pretty comfy.”

“You know,” Ashton said, voice having dropped an entire octave, “I had a thought tonight. I had to wonder if you’re even gay.”

Scarlet started, brows drawn. “Why did you wonder that?”

“Well,” Ashton hedged, her hands slowly working their way out from under Scarlet’s, resting on the blonde’s waist. She picked lightly at the t-shirt she wore. “You were with me because you were paid to be. You’re good at your job, Scarlet. Seeing you tonight with those guys, having fun, flirting… Are you?”

“Having fun and flirting with those guys?” Scarlet teased, her own hands on the move as she ran the tip of her finger along a strong jaw. She loved the shape of Ashton’s face, the strength in the features.

“No,” Ashton drawled, slapping Scarlet’s boxer-clad butt quickly. “Are you gay? Do you like women? I know Pearl doesn’t mind. But what about Scarlet?”

Scarlet studied the beautiful face her fingers now cupped. She leaned down, taking Ashton in a deep, passionate kiss. The brunette responded immediately, a soft moan escaping her throat. Scarlet pulled away, both panting at the rising need. “Does that answer your question?” she murmured.

Ashton nodded, bringing her hand back to Scarlet’s head, pulling her down once more. Scarlet gave in to her desires, lowering herself fully, her breasts pressing against Ashton’s. She couldn’t get enough of the brunette’s mouth. “God,” she breathed against her lips. “I’ve wanted to kiss you since the moment I saw you walk into the club.”

“That makes two of us. It was hard to behave when you were at my house.”

“You did good. Too good. I hated that you behaved so well.”

Ashton grinned, bringing Scarlet back to her again, her hands moving down until they rested on Scarlet’s ass, pressing the blonde further against her. “My nanny taught me to listen when spoken to,” Ashton said between long, deep kisses.

Scarlet lifted her head, brows raised. “Nanny?”

“Yes, ma’am. Nanny Linda was with my until I turned 22.”

Scarlet shook her head. “Weird.” She brought her lips to Ashton’s again. “I’d really like to hear about Nanny Linda, but not right now.”

The quiet sound of murmured conversation was quickly silenced, instead soft sighs and quiet moans replaced it. Scarlet broke the kiss, pushing to her feet. All of Ashton’s protests died on her lips when a hand was reached down to her. “Come to bed with me,” the blonde said softly.

Standing in the moonlit room that was Scarlet’s bedroom, Ashton allowed herself to be disrobed, watching as the blonde’s own clothes quickly fell to the carpet at their feet. Her gaze was hungry as it took in the almost painful beauty before her. She was pushed to the soft mattress of Scarlet’s bed, the blonde following, pressing their naked skin together.

Ashton groaned, her hands running down the length of Scarlet’s strong back, resting once again on her firm backside, pressing the blonde closer between her spread legs. “You feel so amazing,” she murmured, finding soft lips again. In response to the softly spoken words, Scarlet began an oral exploration of the beautiful body beneath her, wallowing in the soft moans and whimpers from Ashton. She couldn’t get enough, her tongue finding a rigid nipple, her fingers finding soft, supple skin, hot to the touch, as she inched her way down Ashton’s body, finally settling herself between long thighs, gently nudging them far apart.

Ashton sucked in a breath at the first touch of Scarlet’s tongue against the volcanic heat of her sex. Her hands tangled themselves in blonde hair, pressing Scarlet into her.

Scarlet hummed into her task, working her tongue quickly over Ashton’s excitement. She loved the feel and taste of the brunette, and could spend all day between her legs. She kept her hands on the insides of Ashton’s thighs, holding them open, determined to make Ashton come with just her tongue.

Ashton was lost in a haze of pleasure, her body completely overcome by Scarlet’s touch. She felt the steady build of her forthcoming orgasm, her hips pressing desperately into the blonde’s face, seeking her impending release. “Oh god, Scarlet,” she cried, body convulsing rhythmically.

Scarlet, about ready to explode herself, crawled back up Ashton’s body, her kisses veracious and hungry. Ashton met her passion for passion, sensing Scarlet’s desperate need for release. Using near superhuman strength, she flipped them over, nudging Scarlet’s legs open, and fitting herself between them.

The blonde moaned loudly, thrusting her hips up into Ashton’s sex. “God, you’re so wet,” Ashton groaned, taking the blonde’s mouth in a demanding kiss. She pushed her hips up slightly, adjusting herself so her clit pressed against Scarlet’s, which was rock-hard with her need. Scarlet cried out, her legs spreading wider at the contact, thrusting up into Ashton, who began to move in short, quick thrusts, each one pounding the headboard into the wall behind it.

Scarlet was taken quickly, her eyes slamming shut, head thrown back as she came loudly, soft lips grazing across her throat. Her body continued to pulse, her breath stolen as Ashton ground against her, pulling a second orgasm from her with a surprised cry, which left her panting and clinging to Ashton. The dark woman held her tightly, dropping kisses all over her face and neck.

They were both surprised by sudden pounding on the wall next to Scarlet’s bed. The blonde buried hr face in Ashton’s neck, embarrassed. “My neighbors,” she murmured.

Ashton chuckled, amused, gently rolling off the blonde, pulling the petit woman on top of her. Scarlet tucked her head underneath Ashton’s chin, sighing in utter contentment. “So much better when I can use my mouth,” she murmured, raising her head once more and taking Ashton’s lips in a heated kiss, but both women were too exhausted after such a long day, even with the nap each had taken separately.

Ashton agreed with a satisfied growl, holding Scarlet closer. The blonde ran her hands the brunette’s skin, feeling the soft curves.

“You have such a wonderful body, Ashton,” she murmured, placing a soft kiss on the older woman neck.

“Thank you. I must say, between the two of us, you certainly take the cake,” Ashton murmured, more content than she could ever remember being.

“Part of the job.”

Ashton winced at those words, her hand running gently through the long, blonde hair. “I really hate that you work there, Scarlet.” She said softly. She didn’t miss the slight stiffening of the blonde’s body in her arms. “You’re so much better than that.”

“Please don’t, Ashton.” Scarlet raised her head again, meeting blue eyes with pleading green. “Can we please just enjoy this?”

“I want to enjoy this, Scarlet. I want to help you. I want you to see there’s so much else you could be-“ Ashton’s words were cut off by a deep kiss, Scarlet cupping her face in gentle hands. The brunette was left breathless.

“Let’s enjoy this,” Scarlet whispered, her hands beginning to wander.

“Alright,” Ashton moaned, arching her breast into a firm hand. “Alright.” I’ll let it go. For now.

***

Ashton sat at her computer, brows drawn as she concentrated on the report before her. She kept glancing at her phone, willing for it to ring, but it had not all morning. Her office door cracked open, Rachelle peeking her head in.

“Miss King? Do you have a moment? I have a Mr. Dirk Brinks out here.”

“Yes!” Ashton smiled. “Send him in, please.” The brunette sipped her coffee, waiting patiently for her most welcome guest.

Dirk Brinks was a man in his fifties, well-dressed and a smile on his lined face. His graying hair was still thick and healthy. “Hello, Miss King. It’s nice to meet you after our numerous phone calls.” He set a file onto Ashton’s desk, flipping open the red cover. Inside were several forms. “I must say, we at the care center were quite surprised to receive your call.”

Ashton looked a the forms that were set on her desk, quickly looking them over, and signing where her signature was required. “I’m just glad everything went through with such speed. It’s very much appreciated, Mr. Brinks.”

“Oh, of course.” The older man smiled winningly. “Oh, I need your signature here, as well.” He pointed to a place Ashton had missed. Her gold pen flickered in the sunlight coming through the large windows behind her, quickly scribbling her name.

“Perfect. I think we’re finished here, Miss King. I make sure these get filed properly, and Miss Reed will be notified.”

“Wonderful.” Ashton gave the man her most winning smile. She stood, as did Dirk Brinks. “Thank you, sir.” They shook hands, and the administrator left the office, the file tucked neatly back under his arm again.

***

It had been a week since they had spent their day- and night- together. Scarlet was puttering around her apartment, feeling restless, even as she did her weekly cleaning. The image of Ashton’s gorgeous face, and even more gorgeous body, kept coming to her mind. As well as the brunette’s smile, the way her blue eyes lit up with whatever emotion she was feeling- joy, irritation. Passion.

Scarlet groaned quietly at the thought, still able to feel, smell and taste Ashton. She changed the sheets on her bed, her eyes scanning the breadth of the mattress, remembering their night together. It had been wonderful, unlike anything the blonde had ever experienced. The way Ashton held her… Scarlet sighed, closing her eyes for a long moment. She hadn’t realized just how detached and isolated her life had become, until Ashton came along.

“Damn,” she whispered to the empty room.

The next day, after more making love in the early hours of the new day, Ashton had left, calling for her driver, rather than making Scarlet drive her home. The blonde missed those final moments with the brunette, but she was grateful for the sleep. She had to work at the club that night, and knew she’d be exhausted.

That night, and the following nights, servicing her customers- both old and new- Scarlet had found it harder and harder to drop into ‘Pearl mode’. She resented the hands on her body, and what she was forced to do, her mind always floating back to Ashton’s touch, and touching Ashton’s body. The majority of her clients were men, and in some ways that made things easier, but in others, it made it harder. It was a hell of a lot harder to think of it as sex when she had some guys cock inside her, and very easy to allow Pearl to take over. But, at the same time, moments like that was when Ashton haunted her the most. She craved the soft touch, beautiful breasts and warm mouth. She missed the personal touch of their encounters, clashing horribly with the coldness at which she performed her work duties.

Scarlet sighed, running her hands through her hair. “Stop this,” she growled. “Nothing you can do.”

Her musings were mercifully interrupted by the sound of knocking on her front door. Scarlet dropped the pillow she was stuffing into its new case and headed into the entryway, pulling the door open. She was shocked to see a huge bouquet of roses with legs standing at her door. The delivery guy peeked around the side.

“Sign here, please,” he muttered, grunting under the weight of his bundle. She quickly did as asked, then took the flowers.

Closing the door after tipping the florist, Scarlet headed into her kitchen, setting the massive crystal vase on the counter. The arrangement was filled with roses of every color, and the smell was wonderful. She closed her eyes, inhaling the fresh scent. She found the card held in plastic prongs, quickly slipping it out of its tiny envelope.

I miss you.
Ashton

Scarlet was deeply touched. “I can’t believe she did this,” she murmured, feeling giddy as her stomach fluttered. “I miss you, too, Ashton.”

The blonde logged onto the internet, easily finding the phone and address for the King Building in downtown Denver. She also spotted the information for Ashton’s personal offices. Grinning, she grabbed her cell phone, about to dial when there was another knock at her door.

“From Pretty Woman to Bed of Roses,” she mused, opening the door. She was surprised to see Kathy, her apartment building manager standing on the other side. “Hey, Kathy. What’s up?”

“Hi, Scarlet. Sorry to bother you, but I brought you the receipt I figured you’d want,” the older woman said, holding out a computer-generated report.

“Receipt? I don’t understand. For what?” She took the page and looked at, noting the line by line detailed account of what had been paid. At first she thought maybe it was a report of her history at the apartment, but she noticed that the final date ended this date the following year. She met the other woman’s eyes. “I don’t get it.”

Kathy looked confused. “Well, uh, the call from your accountant this morning… You’re paid up for the full year, Scarlet. I gotta say, I was surprised to find out you even had an accountant.”

“Oh. Uh, okay. Thanks,” Scarlet said absently. No need to freak her landlady out. She’d take care of this pronto.

***

Ashton was having a great day. She had pep in her step and a smile for all the men who were now seated at the small conference table set up in her office. The meeting had been going beautifully, the numbers to her liking. Even so, it was all old hat for her, which left her mind free to wander. She wondered if Scarlet’s roses had been delivered, yet. She smiled inwardly, imaging the look of surprise on the beautiful blonde’s lips.

“Miss King?”

“Hmm?” Ashton said, popping back into reality from wonderful visions of those very lips. Her accounting department head was looking pointedly at the door of Ashton’s large office.

“We seem to have some company.”

Ashton was shocked to see the very object of her thoughts standing in the doorway of her office, Rachelle trying in vain to pull her away.

“I’m sorry, Miss King, but she just barged in here…”

“It’s okay, Rachelle.” Ashton’s gaze turned to an irate Scarlet.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Ashton?”

“Uh, Scarlet-“

“You don’t own me, Ashton! You can’t buy me-“ Scarlet stopped, suddenly very aware that they weren’t alone. She took in the suited men sitting around the table. A couple seemed annoyed, the rest amused as their eyes flickered back and forth between the two women. “Oh, god. I’m sorry,” she murmured, face turning beat red as she hurried from the office.

“Uh, let’s get back together tomorrow morning, gentlemen,” Ashton said with a quick smile before hurrying from the office, after the blonde. She grimaced when she heard one of the suits say-

“Wasn’t that Pearl?”

Scarlet wanted to die from embarrassment as she headed blindly down the hall. She yelped in surprise as her arm was grabbed, and she was pulled into a room. One look around and she realized she was in a small, square room filled with filing cabinets and a copy machine. She heard the brunette step in behind her, the door closed softly behind her.

As Scarlet whirled on her, embarrassment easily gave way to her anger. “What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded. “How dare you try and buy me. I’m not your whore!”

“Whoa!” Ashton fumed, holding her hands out to cut off the blonde’s scathing words. “I do not think of you that way, nor was that my intention. I only wanted-“

“What? You only wanted what, Ashton?” Scarlet demanded, eyes blazing.

“I wanted to help you,” Ashton said, stunned by the fury she saw in the smaller woman.

“Did I ask for your help? Do I look like I need your help? I’ve been on my own for a very long time, now. I think I’ve got it under control.” She paced away from the brunette, as much as the small space would allow. Turning back, she fired another glare at the older woman. “If I need your help, trust me, you’ll know. Until then, don’t you ever interfere in my life again. Do you understand? Don’t you ever speak to anyone involving business again, including my damn land lady!” She buried her face. “God, I felt so stupid,” she muttered.

“Scarlet,” Ashton began, moving closer, but a fiery glance stopped her in her tracks. “I didn’t mean to upset you. It just started with a call to Mr. Brinks-“

Scarlet’s head popped up, a look of death crossing her face. “What?” she growled, deep in her throat.

Oh shit. I thought she knew. Ashton took a step back from her, believing it not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Scarlet may smack her.

“What did you do with my sister?” The blonde’s voice was a deadly calm.

“Nothing. Your sister is fine. I just wanted to help, Scarlet. Take some of the financial burden off, then maybe you can leave the club…” Ashton’s voice trailed off as she began to literally see the blonde’s pulse in her throat.

Scarlet took a deep breath, trying to bring her temper down, just so she wouldn’t say something she would regret later. Her voice was calm, but hard, almost dangerous. “You don’t own me, Ashton. Do not presume to tell me what to do, or even hint at what
I should do. You are not my keeper.” With those words, she pushed past the brunette and out of the room, leaving the door standing open behind her.

Ashton fell back against the wall, her emotions warring with themselves. She wasn’t sure whether she should feel like an asshole, or be angry with the blonde.

***

“Thank you, Mr. Brinks. I appreciate your time. Bye bye, now.” Scarlet slapped her phone shut and set it in the drink holder of her car’s console. She wasn’t sure what to think or how to feel. Her rent had been paid in full for the next year, and Laurel’s care had been paid for indefinitely. There was a part of her that was hugely relieved, but the bigger part, the part that had survived the destruction of her entire family, and who had made it on her own since she was 17 years old, was filled with pride and anger. How dare Ashton strip away her independence, and right to fend for herself. Yes, likely the brunette felt she was helping, but at what cost to the blonde?

Over the years that Scarlet had been working at The Black Pussy Cat, she had customers who had tried to buy her things, bringing in jewelry or even the keys to a brand new caddy once. All things Scarlet had turned down, wanting to be beholden to no one, and certainly not a customer. Even so, was Ashton exactly a customer? Yes, in the beginning, but the blonde had taken the older woman to her bed. Free will.

“Damn,” she sighed.

***

Ashton sat on the thick, stone rail of the balcony off her bedroom, the French doors still open behind her, allowing soft bits of Beethoven to flow out into the cold night. She sat, legs curled up against her chest, arms wrapped around her shins. The sky was clear, the sliver that was the moon visible and bright. Ashton stared up at the magic that was the night sky, chin falling to rest on her knees.

She had been surprised by Scarlet’s furious reaction to what the brunette had done for her. At least tried to do for her. She didn’t understand why it couldn’t be taken for the gesture it was intended as. Ashton found herself in a very strange position: she’d known the blonde for a very short time, and other than their magical day together, the majority of their acquaintance had been spent in bed- either paid, or unpaid. That didn’t seem to matter, as Ashton realized she cared for the younger woman in some strange way, and through admiring her courage and tenacity, wished to experience the Scarlet and help her find, what Ashton thought, was her better self.

Ashton realized, as she sat there, that what had drawn her to Scarlet in the first place had been the fire in those emerald eyes. She didn’t understand why her actions had been seen as a betrayal to Scarlet. All she’d wanted to do was help.

“She doesn’t want my help,” she sighed, turning her head so her cheek rested on her upraised knees instead. She looked out over the grounds of the great, old house, the far-off security lights showing the blanket of snow that covered the acres. She truly couldn’t remember a time when she’d felt more alone. Or cold.

Hopping down from the railing, Ashton made her way inside, relishing the immediate warmth as she stepped across the threshold of her bedroom, closing the doors behind her. She walked over to the bed, shedding her clothing before climbing in and pulling up the covers. She’d apologize, and promise not to bother the young woman again.

With that sad resolve, Ashton closed her eyes and attempted to sleep.

***

It had been three days, and still Scarlet’s anger hadn’t subsided. She hadn’t the heart to destroy the roses, as much as she’d wanted to, so instead was taunted daily by their fragrant memories.

Tonight she stalked around the club, dressed to kill in a blood-red, low-cut dress, feeling feisty and in no mood to humor rich old men with hard-ons and wads of cash. Though Scarlet smirked, as it obviously wasn’t as if she needed it. She had debated what to do about her newly non-existent debt, wanting to go to both her land lady and Dirk Brinks, explain the situation- to a point- and demand Ashton King be refunded fully for her offering. She had even gone so far as to stand outside Kathy’s office before she left for work, but had decided to give it one more day of thought before making any decisions.

Scarlet knew the money that Ashton had spent on her was a mere drop in the bucket to her family’s billion-dollar empire, so it certainly wasn’t out of a sense of guilt that she wanted to return the money. At the same time, the blonde didn’t consider herself to be a stupid woman, either. She’d be foolish to not take the money, she knew, but she also knew it would make her some kind of bitch and hypocrite, considering how angry she’d gotten at Ashton.

Sighing, the blonde threw herself out of her thoughts, looking surreptitiously around the club to see if any of her regulars had shown up. She wasn’t having much luck, and that was truly alright with her. It would be quitting time in a couple hours, and she looked forward to heading home, grabbing a good book, and soaking in a nice, hot bath.

She walked over to the bar and asked Bobby to fix her a water with lime. Her throat was sore from the confused tears that had bombarded her over the past couple days, which had made her more upset because she wasn’t entirely sure why she was crying in the first place!

“You okay tonight, Scarlet?” the bartender asked quietly, so no one would hear her real name.

The blonde nodded with a sigh. She gave him a brave smile. “Just some nights your hearts not in it, Bobby.”

“Amen to that.” He gave her a winning smile, and she feared he was about to ask her out, again, but he didn’t. Instead, he returned to wiping the bar down with a clean, white towel.

Scarlet was about to head back into the fold when her arm was grabbed. She turned, looking up into red-rimmed blue eyes. She yanked her arm away, the anger flooding back in as she took a small step away from Ashton.

“I want to talk to you,” the brunette said, her voice low and quiet.

“Well I don’t want to talk to you. I’m working, Miss King,” Scarlet said, her voice like ice.

“Stop with the Miss King bullshit, Pearl. I really need to speak with you.”

“Oh, yes, I suppose we do know each other enough to forgo formalities, don’t we? I think you’ve bought enough time with me for us to go by any names we like.”

“Don’t do this,” Ashton warned, her heart hurting inside her chest.

“Don’t do what? I am your bought property, aren’t I?” Scarlet slammed the water glass down on the bar, Bobby raising a brow at the move. “So come on, let’s do it. Let me do my duty for you, Ashton.”

Scarlet grabbed the brunette’s hand, her fingers like cold talons. Ashton pulled her hand away, looking around to make sure they weren’t being watched. “Stop it,” she hissed. “This is not necessary.”

“Oh, I think it is.” Scarlet grabbed Ashton’s hand again, this time holding on with an iron grip as she tugged the reluctant brunette through the club and into one of the back rooms, the door slamming behind them. Ashton found herself thrown backward onto the couch, the blonde immediately on top of her.

“Scarlet, stop,” she said, trying to push the blonde’s hands away from their determined fervor of undoing her slacks. “Stop this!”

“What?” Scarlet asked, her breath coming out in heavy pants of anger and excitement. “Don’t be the whore that you bought? Hmm?”

“Stop!” Ashton managed to get herself out from underneath the blonde, who nearly fell onto the floor. “This isn’t what I want,” she said, running her hands through her hair.

“Well, what about what I want?” Scarlet said. “Or does that not matter? Does a whore not have a say in your world, Ashton?”

Ashton was furious, and had been pushed as far as she could be. She grabbed Scarlet and slammed her against the wall, nearly knocking the wind out of the blonde. Their faces were mere inches a part, their heavy breathing burning the other’s face. “Stop it,” she said, her voice softening, her body reacting to the close proximity of Scarlet. “Just stop it.”

“No,” Scarlet said. She grabbed one of Ashton’s hands, shoving it up under her own dress. “Take what you paid for,” she breathed.

Ashton was shocked to find out wet the blonde was, her hand lost in a sea of molten heat. She wanted to pull her hand away, her brain screamed at her to, but she couldn’t. She could see the furious desire in Scarlet’s eyes, which she knew mirrored her own.

Scarlet let out a surprised moan as three fingers slipped inside her, one of her thighs roughly pulled up. She hooked her heeled foot behind Ashton’s calf, her fingers winding themselves in thick hair, pulling Ashton’s face to her own. The kiss was brutal and bruising, both women whimpering desperately into it.

Ashton’s thrusts were hard and deep, rocking Scarlet’s whole body with the power. IT was an issue of control and power, and they both knew it. She heard the blonde’s whimpers become high pitched as her orgasm started, the hot, tight muscle clenching at the brunette’s fingers, nearly pinning her inside as Scarlet came with a cry ripped from her throat.

She wanted to hold Scarlet, she wanted to rain kisses on her face and whisper comforting words as the blonde came down, but she couldn’t do it. She felt sick at what she’d allowed herself to be forced to do, as well as she was truly hurt with the panting woman before her. She removed her fingers, mindful of the beating Scarlet’s sex had just taken, then turned and headed toward the door, tossing some bills on the couch as she slammed out of the room.

Scarlet felt the tears come to her eyes, and slowly slid to the floor as they came.
Part 3
Ashton threw off her clothing, not caring where they landed, or that buttons burst from her blouse, bouncing off the highly-polished wood floor of her bedroom. She left a trail of anger and damaged clothing behind as she made her way into the bathroom. She turned the water as hot as she could stand it, letting it run over her head and shoulders, moaning quietly under its spray. She’d never felt so dirty in all her life, as she did in that moment. She knew it was just in her mind, but she swore the fingers of her right hand burned from their activities, not thirty minutes before. Childishly, she washed it by itself, twice.

Ashton was trying to get her emotions under control, but the tears that she’d tried to push down so hard earlier, came anyway. The encounter had scared her, but mainly because she was shocked at herself, losing control like she had. Granted, Scarlet had taunted her unmercifully, but that was no excuse. She prided herself on her ability to remain calm and cool, a must in the world of high-priced business.

Scarlet had hurt her tonight with her forked tongue and accusing eyes. She hadn’t even given Ashton a chance to speak to her, to apologize. Obviously she had hurt the blonde with her innocent actions, and she had wanted nothing more than for them to sit and talk about it like the adults she had thought they were.

Ashton sighed heavily, a shroud of melancholy falling over her.

***

It was cold, but that was okay, because the flame was hot. A little too hot. The dark figure moved easily between the buildings, masked by the cover of a cold night. He muffled the sound of the breaking window by using his elbow, covered in the thick padding of a heavy, winter jacket. Task finished, he lobbed his fiery little gift inside, then ran like hell.

***

Scarlet pulled on her jacket, feeling her car keys in the right pocket, her keys in the left. “You ready?” she asked Bobby, who would walk her out to her car.

“Yeah.”

Together they headed toward one of the side doors, which would lead to a winding staircase, taking them down the final two stories to the ground level. The club was still opened, though was beginning to thin. Scarlet had had enough for one night, and desperately wanted to go home. She hadn’t had a single customer tonight, which was incredibly unusual, but she was more than okay with that. Oh, well, she had the one. She could still feel the burn of Ashton’s money wadded up in her pocket. She fully intended to return it to the brunette. She wanted nothing more from her.

“Tough night?” Bobby asked as they rounded the first set of stairs, taking the couple steps on the landing that would lead to the second set. The normally vibrant blonde had been quiet and drawn, and after the brunette had left, she’d been downright prickly.

“Yeah,” she said, tossing a smile at the bartender. “Sorry, Bobby. Just got some shit going on, you know?”

Bobby was about to ask about the gorgeous brunette, but stopped, holding desperately onto the railing, just behind Scarlet. The world seemed to shimmy underneath them, bringing them both down- hard- onto the cement stairs.

“Jesus!” Bobby yelled. “We don’t get earthquakes in fucking Colorado!”

The words were no sooner out of his mouth before a distant BOOM! arose, the stairs groaning loudly as they shook again.

Scarlet looked around, eyes huge as she tried to figure out what was happening. The lights blinked once, twice, then were gone, both yelling out in surprise and fear.

“What was-“

Scarlet was thrown, crying out as her back hit something sharp. The world seemed to have fallen out from under her all of the sudden, and she was thrown wildly, landing hard on something rather soft. After a moment, when nothing else moved, she tried to look around, but could see nothing.

“Bobby?” she whispered frantically, trying to push herself up. Her body ached, especially her back. She got no response. “Bobby?” she tried again. She felt around her, feeling sharp-edged cement and debris, then realized the softness she’d landed on was Bobby. “Bobby!” she screamed, feeling desperately over his body, realizing that his head was set at an extremely unnatural angle.

She felt a sob overtake her throat, but tried to think. She peered through the darkness, but stopped all movement, listening. She heard something, a groaning. Like wood buckling.

Heart pounding, Scarlet had a really bad feeling. She pushed to her feet, ignoring her body’s objections, and began to search frantically for a way out. She felt along what used to be the wall, feeling some smooth cement bricks, then the rough jagged edges of wreckage. She could feel that her pupils were as large as they cold possibly get, trying to see something, anything.

Scarlet’s head turned left, feeling a cold draft. She headed in that direction, crying out as something sliced at her leg in passing. Wearing a short dress was not the best clothing for this, she mused silently. She could hear the muffled sounds of sirens, and began to head toward them, since they were in the same direction as the cold draft.

***

Ashton sighed in her sleep, rolling to her stomach when she heard it again.

Buzzzz

“Godamit,” she muttered, opening one eye. She glanced over at her desk, the monitor coming to life as another buzz entered her ears. The monitor was split into two views of the gate of her palatial home. One was an overhead view, showing the vehicle as a whole, the second an up close and personal view of the driver. She saw a small four door on the first screen, then the second revealed a very upset Scarlet.

“Shit,” she grumbled, rolling over onto her back. “Tell me she hadn’t come here for fucking round two,” she groaned. Her second glance had her up off the bed and hurrying over to the screen. Scarlet was crying, and it looked like she had what looked to be a substantial bruise on her head. “What the…?” She pushed the red button which sent the electronic gates whirring to life, quickly tugging on a pair of silk pajama pants and a t-shirt.

Scarlet was surprised when the gate opened, but very grateful. She tried to get her emotions under control, but she kept seeing the images before her eyes again and again. Her body was incredibly sore, and she hurt, deeper inside. Her visit to the hospital had been brief, luckily. Somehow she’d managed to escape with only cuts and bruises, and two broken fingers, which were taped up.

She pulled her car to the circular drive, shutting off the engine and sitting, looking up at the big house. “What am I doing here?” she asked herself. She had no right to be there, to expect comfort from Ashton after the events of the night. She mused that perhaps the only reason she’d been let in was for Ashton to call the cops on her for trespassing. She smirked at the ridiculous thought. Her next thought was to turn the car back on and head back toward the gate, but the opening of one side of the double front doors stopped that one.

Ashton bounced over the cold snow in her bare feet until she reached the car. She met extremely haunted eyes when she reached the driver’s side. The door opened, Ashton stepping back out of the way.

Scarlet got out of the car, nearly falling into Ashton’s arms as the tears came all over again.

“Hey,” Ashton cooed, shocked, but easily holding the petit woman, who’s body began to sag against her. She held her for a long moments, doing her best to ignore the icy knives biting into the soles of her feet. Finally when it looked like Scarlet was going to come up for air, Ashton pulled away, just enough to look into her face. “Come inside, okay?”

Scarlet nodded, slamming her car door closed as she allowed herself to be helped up the stairs and into the warmth of the house. Ashton closed the heavy door, then helped Scarlet off with her jacket, tossing it over the chair in the entryway.

“Come on.” She led the blonde up the winding staircase, and finally into her bedroom, quickly closing the doors. In the light of the room, Ashton was shocked to see the shape of the blonde’s clothing and face. She sucked in a breath, hurrying over to her. “Oh my god,” she whispered. “What happened?”

Scarlet did her best to hold back the newest batch of tears, knowing she was scaring the older woman. “I’m really sorry to show up here,” she whispered, her eyes looking anywhere but at Ashton. “Especially after what happened tonight. At the club.” With those three words, she lost it again, grateful to be cradled in a strong embrace.

“Shh. It’s okay, baby, I’ve got you. Talk to me. What happened? Are you hurt? Want a bath? How about some brandy?”

Scarlet chuckled lightly, pulling away. “One question at a time.” She saw the sheepish smile cover Ashton’s face. “I don’t want any brandy. I would love a hot bath, I’m just really, really sore, and…,” Her eyes fell again, her emotions rising. “Someone bombed the club,” she managed. “It collapsed under us.”

Under other circumstances, Ashton standing there, her mouth hanging open, would have been amusing. As it was, she was too stunned to move. At the sound of new sobs, she shook herself out of it, and grabbed Scarlet, once again holding her to her. “Oh, baby,” she cooed unsure what else to say. She stroked her hair, allowing Scarlet to cry it out. Finally the blonde began to calm. With a kiss to the top of her head, Ashton pulled gently away. “Let’s get you in that bath now, okay?”

With a shaky nod and even shakier smile, Scarlet allowed herself to be led into a massive bathroom. Her eyes widened in awe at the luxurious splendor- marble flooring and vanity tops, and a tub that could fit ate least six. The toilet and shower had their own, separate rooms.

“Get undressed, baby,” Ashton said gently as she began to run the bath, dumping in a generous amount of lavender-scented bubble bath.

Numbly Scarlet did as she was told, her ruined dress falling to the floor in a bloody heap. She stepped out of it, looking down at herself. Her hip had a bruise the size of a softball on it, and it hurt to walk. Her collarbone and shoulder had a smattering of angry-looking bruises littering them, as well. She groaned as she walked over to the tub. Ashton helped her to step in, then walked over and gathered Scarlet’s dress.

“Sadly, I think this is a goner.” With a sad sigh, Ashton tossed the remnants into the garbage can.

Scarlet heard the softly-spoken words, but rather than responding, she settled herself into the water, wincing slightly as a few of the more minor cuts stung as they were submerged in the hot water. She rested her aching head back against the built-in head rest, sighing as she allowed her body and soul to be engulfed by warmth.

Ashton perched on the side of the tub. “Is there anything I can get for you, Scarlet?” she asked quietly, her heart going out to the battered young woman. Green eyes opened and took in the brunette concerned features.

“About earlier, Ashton, I’m sor-“

“Shh,” Ashton whispered, gently cupping the more uninjured side of Scarlet’s face. “We’ll talk later. For now, just relax. Okay?”

Scarlet kept her gaze for a long moment, then finally nodded. “Okay. Thank you.”

“Are you hungry? Thirsty? Is there anything special I need to know, concerning your injuries?”

The blonde shook her head, eyes slipping closed again. She covered the hand that rest against her cheek and entwined her fingers with it, resting the pair against her upper chest. “Just don’t leave.”

“Alright.” Ashton studied the younger woman for a long moment, wishing she could understand all the different facets. She had seen a fun side of her, playing pool with the two men, Scarlet taking pot-shots at all of them. She could still hear the blonde’s melodious laughter, and the twinkle in her eyes. She remembered their dancing, as well, in some seedy, no-name cowboy bar. She’d never encountered anyone filled with the passion that Scarlet was. Her name seemed to do her justice, as the blonde seemed born to give pleasure, and bring out passions in her lovers, that even they didn’t know existed. She knew the petit woman was kind, and filled with just as much compassion as she was passion, as seen the day they’d visited Laurel. The tormented look of frustration in green eyes had haunted Ashton. A look of helplessness, coming from a woman determined to make it on her own steam, no matter the cost.

“You’re staring at me,” Scarlet said, her eyes still closed.

Ashton smiled. “Yes. I’m just trying to figure you out.”

The blonde chuckled ruefully. “Good luck with that.” Green eyes blinked open. “I’ve been trying to do that for years. After a moment, “I’m sorry I came here tonight, Ashton, barging in on you in the middle of the night.” She met Ashton’s gaze briefly before looking away. “I saw you were in bed, the covers all over the place. I just…,” she stopped herself.

“You just, what?” Ashton gently pulled her hand free from Scarlet’s grasp, and gently pushed blonde hair away from Scarlet’s face, the golden strands glued to her skin from the steam of the bath.

“I didn’t want to be alone. Not after what happened tonight.”

“I understand. And it’s okay. Can’t say as I’d want to be alone, either.” She felt such tenderness with Scarlet, especially at that moment. She leaned down and placed a soft kiss on her forehead. “Will you be okay for a few minutes? I need to try and find something for you to wear.”

The blonde nodded. “I’ll be fine.”

“Okay.”

Left alone, Scarlet allowed her thoughts to crowd in. She remembered once she’d made her way out of the building, shocked as she’d stood on the snow-covered street, staring back at the old three-story brick building, which were engulfed in flames. As she’d watched, more of the building tumbled upon itself. She hadn’t been alone standing out in the cold. A crowd had joined her, a mixture of emergency personnel, and folks who had run from the surrounding buildings to watch in fascinated horror as their neighborhood was rocked to the core.

She remembered a man standing off by himself, dressed in black jeans. His hands were stuffed into the pockets of his coat. A few strands of dark hair blew into his eyes as he met her gaze. He nodded in acknowledgement, then turned to continue watching the burning building.

By time Scarlet had been allowed to leave the hospital- grateful that she’d parked across the street, and her car had suffered only minimal damage- she had been told that at that time the death toll was around six, but many others were missing. Including Ashton’s friend, Bart, who like Scarlet, had been on his way out.

Then Scarlet thought of Bobby. She would never get the sensation out of her mind, his neck broken, head lopping over to the side like a bag of trash. The tears came again, unbidden, tearing a loud sob from her throat.

“Hey…”

Soft hands pulled the blonde to a sitting position, then softer arms encircled her. Scarlet’s head rested against Ashton’s chest, the strong heartbeat just beneath the cotton. Scarlet was rocked gently, her fingers claw-like as they clung to Ashton. After a long moment, the brunette pulled away.

“Come on, sweetheart. Let’s get you rinsed off then into bed, okay?”

Ashton’s gentle words managed to push through Scarlet’s grief, and she nodded, feeling like a child as her bottom lip still quivered from more tears that threatened to fall.

An hour later, Ashton held the sleeping figure in her arms, watching over her as the snow fell outside. Scarlet moaned in her sleep, jumping often as she was haunted in her sleep. Ashton kept watch until the wee hours of the morning, and she finally lost her battle, eyes sliding closed. She pulled Scarlet closer to her, wrapping her body around the petit one, and fell asleep.

***

Ashton woke, wincing at the sunlight that blasted in through the huge windows in the bedroom. Usually she was awake before sunrise. Looking around, she saw that she was alone in the large bed. A glance at the bedside clock told her it was after ten. Sitting up, she rubbed at her eyes, then looked around the room, looking for her bedmate.

Scarlet sat curled up on one of the cream-colored loungers that rested against the windowed walls. She was watching the falling snow, still dressed in the t-shirt and silk pajama pants Ashton had given her to wear earlier that morning.

“Hey,” Ashton said, pushing herself from the mattress and walking over to the blonde.

“Hi.” Scarlet gave her a small smile over her shoulder then turned back to the snow. “One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen was the snow falling, melting and sizzling as soon as it hit the flames. Truly incredible,” she said softly, almost wistful.

Ashton stood beside the lounger, staring at the beauty beyond the windows. “I can imagine. Surreal, I bet.”

“Very.”

Ashton studied the younger woman for a moment. “How are you today, Scarlet? I know you had a lot of bad dreams last night.”

Scarlet sighed, uncurling herself and she stood. “I’m okay. I should probably go.” She met concerned blue eyes, which was almost her undoing. “I’ve intruded enough.”

“You’re not intruding, Scarlet. I assure you.” She took the soft hands of the blonde. “If you wish to leave, by all means.” She made sure she had the full attention and held the green gaze. “But you don’t need to go. You’re not intruding, and you’re welcome here. It’s entirely up to you.”

Scarlet didn’t want to make a decision in that moment. She knew what she should do, but warred with what she wanted to do. Instead, she decided to put voice to what had been ravaging her mind all morning, as she’d watched the snow. “I’m not sure what to do, Ashton. And I don’t mean about leaving or staying. The club is gone.”

“Can I make a suggestion?” Ashton asked softly. The curious gaze of the blonde met her. “I know it’s a bit of a point of contention between us, but things being as they are, would you please just entertain the idea of just using this time, and what I did, and decide what you want to do with your life?” Scarlet was about to open her mouth, but Ashton placed two fingers over her lips. “I believe that Fate comes to us in the guise of a choice. You have a fork in the road right now, Scarlet, and you can choose which road to take. Take the gift I tried to give you, and use this tragedy as a jumping point for you. Or, reject the money, and pound the pavement, trying to find something to pay you what you were making at the club. The choice is yours to make. Either way,” she continued softly, “I’ll support you and help in any way you may need.” She graced the younger woman with an ironic smile. “All you need do is ask.”

Recognizing her own request thrown back at her, Scarlet smiled, a little sheepish. “Thank you. She turned away, knowing right now she was going to have to swallow her pride. “If it’s alright with you, uh, and I can make payments…”

Ashton just smiled. There was no way in hell she was going to let the blonde pay her back for what she perceived as a gift, but she didn’t want to fight. “Do what you need to do, Scarlet. Just know that I’m here.”

Scarlet wrapped her arms around Ashton’s neck, resting her head on her shoulder. “Thank you,” she whispered, squeezing tightly and then pulling away.

***

Scarlet caressed the limp, yet warm, hand gently. She leaned back against the headboard of the bed, leaning over once to place a soft kiss on a cool forehead.

“You’d be surprised at all that’s happened over the past week,” she said softly. “It’s been hard. Really hard. Remember that woman I brought with me last time? Well, she’s helped me out, though I was really hard on her.” Scarlet chuckled ruefully. “Really hard on her. Even so, she’s offered to help me.”

Laurel lay on the bed, eyes staring straight ahead as her body was stretched out along the length of the mattress. Today she was dressed in jeans and a tank top. Scarlet had been bringing her clothing for the last few years, as she knew that her baby sister would never want to live her life in cheap, paper gowns. The blonde had come in early that morning, offering to take care of Laurel. She bathed her, dressed her, and then spent nearly an hour just brushing her hair, which was maintained at a length just below her shoulders.

“I don’t know what to make of Ashton,” Scarlet continued her one-sided conversation. “I know she truly thought she was helping when she paid my rent for a year, and for your care. But, man, that was hard to take, you know? Remember when Mom used to say I was too proud for my own good? Yeah, well it’s still true.”

She stared off into space, seeing an image of the brunette float before her mind’s eye. She’d spoken to her on the phone off and on over the past couple days, Ashton wanting to know if she were okay, but Scarlet had yet to return to the big house.

“I never told you I was gay, did I? No, shoot, back then, even I didn’t know when I was 17. Well, let me tell you now, baby sis-
I am a lesbian.” Scarlet smirked at her own words. “I always wondered what mom and dad would’ve said to that. I know you would’ve been fine with it. But them…” she shrugged. She whispered her next words. “Wish I’d been able to find out.”

She sighed, curling up with her sister until her head rested on an all too-thin shoulder, her arm resting across Laurel’s abdomen. When she allowed herself to think about all that she’d lost, she felt so cheated. She had been robbed of a mother and a father, and most importantly, of her sister. Laurel, though only three years younger, had always been her best friend. The younger girl was now 22. She’d never known what it was like to drive a car. She missed her high school graduation. Never had a boyfriend- or girlfriend, Scarlet smirked- had never had a chance at life.

“I really miss you, Laurel.” She sighed. “Sometimes I feel so lost.”

***

Ashton stared out the window of her office, knowing she should go home, but she just couldn’t make herself move. She felt cold, the tears wanting to come, but she couldn’t seem to make them, so she let it be. Undoubtedly they’d come in time.

A soft knock on the office door brought the brunette from the morose place her thoughts had visited all day, since she got the phone call. “Come,” she said, voice hard as she fought with her emotions.

Rachelle stepped inside, her eyes red-rimmed and swollen from her own emotions. “Will you be okay, Miss King?” she asked, voice thick from her earlier tears.

“Yes, Rachelle, I’m fine. Go on home.” Ashton’s smile was weak, but genuine. Her secretary nodded and gently closed the door behind her. Almost as soon as she was left alone, the phone on her desk rang. Blindly she reached for the receiver, bringing it up to her ear. “Ashton King,”

“Hey,” Scarlet’s soft voice said on the other end. She also sounded like she’d been crying.

“I’m still here, so I suppose that’s something,” Ashton said, her voice just as quiet. She brought a hand up, rubbing at her eyes, which stung from the held-in tears. “How are you doing?”

There was a moment of silence, the sound of soft sniffling on the other end. “I’m okay,” Scarlet said, taking a deep breath. “Did you hear?”

“Yeah. I heard.” Ashton stared blankly out the window, overlooking downtown Denver. She saw the busy streets below, the people like ants, the cars like those little toys, Micro Machines.

“Come over tonight, Ashton. Let me make you dinner,” Scarlet said gently. “We can talk.”

“Okay,” Ashton said automatically. She felt nothing as she agreed to the invitation. “I’m leaving now. Can I come straight over?”

“Of course.” Scarlet had no doubt that her friend was hurting over the news of Bart’s death, one of the bomb’s casualties.

“See you soon.”

Scarlet heard the click of the dead line on the other end, and flipped her cell phone shut. She scrubbed her face with her hands, then decided to jump into the shower, then getting dinner ready. She wasn’t sure the condition Ashton would be in once she arrived, but she wanted to be there for her, just as the brunette had been there for her.

****

The blonde had just turned the oven off, the lasagna finished, and smelling wonderful. It was one of the things that Scarlet could make that she was truly good at. The knock on the door was soft, almost timid.

Scarlet wiped her hands on the thighs of her jeans, slightly nervous for some reason, as she walked over to the door and unlocked it, pulling it open. Ashton stood on the other side, looking tired.

“Come in,” Scarlet said, quickly closing the cold night out behind the brunette. She took Ashton’s coat, quickly hanging it up in the coat closet, then took the taller woman in her arms, holding her.

Ashton rested her head on Scarlet’s shoulder, sighing deeply as she absorbed the blonde’s warmth, eyes closing as gentle fingers combed through her hair. “Thanks for inviting me,” she murmured.

Scarlet smiled. “You’re always welcome here, Ashton.” She pulled away, placing a soft kiss on the brunette’s lips then heading for the kitchen. “Come in and make yourself comfortable. I hope you like Italian.”

Ashton walked into the living room, noticing the small table set for two, tucked away in the dining niche. She plopped down on the couch. “I love Italian,” she called out, the blonde busy in the kitchen.

“Good. Here.” Scarlet walked over to her, handing her a juice glass filled with brandy. “I’m sorry I don’t have any snifters. I didn’t have any brandy, either.” She grinned. “But, I thought it might help relax you.”

“Thank you,” Ashton said, touched. She took the glass, taking a small sip of the liquid, closing her eyes as it burned down her throat.

“I must say, though,” Scarlet said, heading back into the kitchen. “I don’t know how you can stand that stuff.”

Ashton smiled, pushing up from the couch and walking until she was standing in the doorway, watching the blonde peel the foil off a long, glass pan. The bubbling lasagna beneath looked wonderful. “My father always used to have a brandy every night after work. One night he offered me a glass. I remember thinking the stuff tasted awful.” She swirled the liquid in the glass thoughtfully. “Come to think of it, I still do.” She chuckled, Scarlet tossing a grin at her. “Guess it’s just habit. And, it is incredibly relaxing after a long day, so I thank you.” She raised the glass in a toast, then sipped.

“My dad always had crackers and cheese or crackers and peanut butter to relax,” Scarlet said, tossing a quick salad.

“That’s a bit odd.”

“I thought so, too.” The blonde smiled, pulling various types of dressing out from the fridge. “Definitely one of those ‘whatever floats your boat’ kinda moments. Come on. Let’s eat.”

***

Later, they lay in Scarlet’s bed, lying on their sides facing each other. Scarlet had put on pajamas, loaning Ashton an oversized
t-shirt. She wasn’t sure what to do, as people grieve in their own way. Ashton had been somewhat physically distant over the course of the evening, so she had honored that.

“How does it feel?” Ashton asked lightly, “not having to go back to work there?”

“It’s strange. Not only because of the obvious reason why I can’t go back, because that goes without saying. But, I don’t know.” Scarlet studied the brunette lying not a foot away from her. She decided to be honest. “The strangeness comes from knowing that I don’t have to share myself with anyone anymore. That I can shed Pearl, and just be me. No more pretending, no more sharing.” She smiled softly. “It’s nice.”

Ashton was respectful, smiling in return. “I’m glad.” She was quiet for a moment then sighed. “I miss him. I can’t believe Bart’s gone.”

“How long have you known him?”

“Well, professionally for a few years. Personally, a long time. He did business with my father for years. I remember him when I was in college. It always seemed strange, somehow, that Bart and I got along so well, considering he was friends with my father, as well. I think Bart must be the only thing my father and I ever agreed on.”

“I liked him, too. He saved me a lot, you know. If some guy would start getting rough, or had too much to drink, Bart would swoop in and pretend he had already paid me for the night.” She smiled. “I remember one time we had to go so far as to hide out in the back room for a half an hour.”

“You said he never touched you?”

Scarlet shook her head. “Never. Even while we were in the back, I tried. I mean, I figured if we had to pretend, why not just give him the favor out of gratitude.” Scarlet drew her brows as she prepared to go into a fairly decent impersonation of the older man. “’Put your dress back on, young lady! I just want to feel your pert little ass in my hands.’”

They both laughed, Ashton easily able to hear her own friend saying that. “He liked your ass, I think. Every time I saw him there with you, I think he had his hand there.”

“I know.” Scarlet chuckled. “It used to creep me out at first, but then it just kind of became part of Bart. If he didn’t do it, I had to wonder what was wrong.”

Ashton studied Scarlet for a long time, trying to find the words she’d been wanting to say. “I’m truly sorry, Scarlet. For what I did. This may seem like old hat to you, but I really want you to understand that I was just wanting to help you out of a bad situation. And, I must confess, I had my own selfish reasons for what I did.”

“What were they?” Scarlet asked softly.

Ashton grinned, sheepish. For a moment she looked like a little girl, hand caught in the cookie jar, and trying to talk her way out of it. “I hated that other people were touching you, making love to you. Or you touching them.”

“It was never making love, Ashton,” Scarlet clarified gently.

“I know. But still I hated it.”

Scarlet smiled at the sheepish woman, touched. “Why did you go with me that first night? You seem to find services such as mine too distasteful to contribute to them.”

“I do. I don’t know.” Ashton shrugged one shoulder, then grinned, nice and lascivious. “Cause you’re beautiful, sexy, and completely irresistible.”

“Am I?” Scarlet said, her brow raised and body temperature heating up. Why couldn’t she resist this woman?

“That, you are.”

Scarlet scooted closer, pushing Ashton to her back and climbing on top of her. “Well, I have a little confession of my own.” She began to nibble a trail of kisses along the brunette’s jaw and neck. She spoke against the warm skin. “I thought you were the most beautiful, sexy and irresistible woman I’d ever seen. Cause, you see,” she continued, pressing a leg between Ashton’s spreading thighs. “I saw you come in from a distance. When you sat down,” her hand slithered up underneath Ashton’s shirt, “I walked over by the table on purpose.” She lifted her head, looking down into hooded blue eyes as she massaged a firm breast. “I wanted an introduction.”

Ashton moaned, allowing herself to enjoy it as Scarlet slowly and methodically made love to her. Her body was alive and burning, reacting to the blonde’s touch like no one else she’d ever been with. She craved Scarlet’s touch, craved the sound of her voice, and craved her mere presence. She knew she could easily fall for the beautiful, proud woman who touched her with patient gentleness, yet with a firm and knowing hand that drove her wild. As she climaxed, Scarlet holding on for dear life, she knew she was in trouble. Big trouble.

***

He sat in his truck across the street from the brick apartment complex, the cherry of his cigarette the only light in the cab. A puff of smoke was blown out into the cold night. He reached out a hand, comforted by the cold steel of the 9mm.

***

Scarlet stood on the sidewalk, looking up at the large building. She felt nervous, heart pounding in her chest. She never thought she’d have the chance to do this, and wasn’t sure how she felt now that she did. She had miraculously won the King-Peddler Scholarship, amazing since she’d never applied, she thought with a mental smirk. She accepted only after extracting a promise from Ashton that the brunette let Scarlet pay back every penny she’d given her, even if it took the rest of the blonde’s life, which was likely.

Blowing out a breath, Scarlet made her way into Denver University, situated in downtown Denver. She couldn’t help but feel out of place as she strolled the halls, looking for Dr. Ally Richards’ office, a friend of Ashton’s, who promised to help her get her schedule in order to start in the new semester, beginning in January. She glanced down at the small map Ashton had drawn for her the night before, finally finding what she was looking for.

The office door was open, the woman inside sitting behind her desk, feet casually resting on the edge. She was chatting on the phone. Unsure what to do, and feel uncharacteristically shy and uncertain, Scarlet knocked softly on the doorframe. The woman, whom she presumed was Dr. Richards, glanced her way, enthusiastically waving the blonde inside, and pointing at one of the chairs in front of her desk.

Scarlet did as asked, looking around the small, somewhat cramped office. Books were piled everywhere, the bookshelves long-overflowing. A few pictures were set out atop the bookcases, most with the attractive blonde in them, most with her standing with a good-looking man. At the clatter of the handset hitting the cradle, Scarlet’s gaze whipped back to the woman sitting across from her.

“Okay,” the woman said, looking around her cluttered desk- more books and forests of papers- her hands searching alongside her eyes. “As soon as I find my pencil, we’re in business.”

Scarlet glanced up to the woman’s messy bun, the yellow No. 2 sticking out. She cleared her throat politely, and pointed to her own head. The Professor reached up, feeling the sharp tip, then grinned.

“Do that all the time.” Pulling the pencil free, Ally Richards fished a legal pad out from the avalanche of mess, and then finally studied the young woman sitting across from her. “Hi,” she said, a huge smile splitting her face. “I’m Ally Richards, and I’m a member of the faculty here. I’m also chair of the History department here. Your name is Scarlet, correct?”

The blonde nodded. “Yes. Scarlet Reed.”

“Scarlet Reed,” Ally said slowly, as she scribbled the name at the top of the page. She met nervous green eyes again. “First of all,” she reached over and covered one of Scarlet’s hands with her own. “Don’t look like you’ve come for your execution.
You’re here today to start the first day of the rest of your life. Education is such an important thing for a woman to possess. Okay, pep talk over, do you have any idea what you’d like to study?”

***

Ashton was nearly flying on a cloud as she walked through the long halls of her home. She had decided to work from her home office, and now was headed toward the large kitchen where her lunch awaited her.

“Here’s your newspaper, Miss King,” Arnold said, handing the folded periodical to the brunette.

“Thank you, Arnold.” With a bright smile, Ashton took the paper and continued on her way. “Thank you,” she said to her long-time cook, accepting the large salad with chunks of tender chicken breast. She unfolded the paper, and was surprised to see the headline:

TWO EMPLOYEES OF BOMBED CLUB FOUND DEAD: POLICE INVESTIGATE POSSIBLE CONNECTION

Ashton was stunned, fear gripping her immediately as she scanned the article, looking for the names of the two employees. Her relief was audible when she saw neither of them were Scarlet. However, they were both women, and the brunette had a bad feeling that both were part of the entertainment, just like the blonde had been. Both women had been murdered in their homes, both shot, execution-style.

Ashton felt sick to her stomach as she grabbed her cell phone, quickly dialing the familiar numbers. It went straight to Scarlet’s voicemail. “Damn,” Ashton muttered, but left a message for Scarlet to come over after she was finished at the college, that she needed to speak with her.

Over the past couple weeks, Ashton or Scarlet had accompanied the other to the funerals of lost friends in the bombing of The Black Pussy Cat. It had been horrible, the damage in the millions to not only the building the club was in, but also surrounding buildings that had been rocked in the powerful blast. Scarlet had been the only survivor, which was a miracle in itself. She knew the blonde felt terrible guilt over that fact, but it was something Ashton knew she’d have to work out within herself. For once, Ashton’s money could not help. So, she’d helped where she could, helping Scarlet to start a new life for herself and Laurel.

She smiled to herself, remembering the morning Ashton had approached the blonde with the acceptance letter for the annual King-Peddler Scholarship, which her great-grandparents had set up more than eighty years ago. She had been hesitant, but knew of no one who deserved it more than Scarlet Reed did. Scarlet had bristled at first, but had heard Ashton out, finally agreeing. Ashton knew the blonde felt better, thinking she’d be paying her back for her generosity, but Ashton was just happy to do it.

Later that afternoon, Scarlet arrived at the house, excitedly carrying in the backpack she’d picked up from a store, filled with everything she’d need for her upcoming classes.

“I know I don’t start for another couple months, but I just couldn’t help it,” she gushed, showing an enthralled Ashton the pack itself, plus the calculator she’d bought, the box of pens and mechanical pencils, whiteout and notebooks full of empty spiral notebook paper, waiting to be filled. She stood back, hands on hips at everything spread out over the kitchen table. She chewed on her lower lip. “I just hope I can read my writing for my notes.’

Ashton drew her brow in thought, then hurried out of the room. In her home office, she dug through the closet, finally pulling out a case that was half the size of a laptop case. Unzipping it, she found the little machine still inside, along with the charger and instruction manual. Hurrying back to the kitchen, she scooted aside the notebooks and placed it down.

“This little gizmo is one of the greatest creations,” she explained, unzipping the case again and pulling out the small, light-weight machine, that wasn’t even the size of a magazine. “It’s called a Dana, but AlphaSmart. You see,” she plugged the charge into the small machine and then an electric plug in the wall, and turned it on. “It’s a lot like a laptop, just a lot smaller and easier to use. It’s basically a word processor that you can hold up to ten files on, a hundred pages each. You use this,” she grabbed the USB cable from the case, “plug one end into the Dana, the other into your computer, which you will have to download the program onto, and voila! You download what you wrote on the Dana onto a blank Word doc.” She smiled in victory at the stunned blond. “See, I have absolutely horrific handwriting, and this little baby made it so much easier for me during meetings. Also, I can type a hell of a lot faster than I can write, so…”

Scarlet took in the machine, and Ashton’s excited instruction, feeling her heart swell and become suffused with gratitude. “Thank you, Ashton.” She wrapped her arms around the brunette, holding her close for a long moment.

“Anytime, sweetheart.” As she hugged Scarlet, she realized that by the blonde’s happy, easy-go-lucky attitude, she likely didn’t know of the murders, yet. She sighed, not looking forward to telling her. “Honey,” she began, pulling back just a bit. “Do you know of anyone that might have had something against you girls at the club? Or against maybe a couple of the girls?”

“No, why? You mean because of the bombing?”

“Well, not exactly.” Ashton took Scarlet’s hand and led her out to the library, a very special place for her, where the blonde’s concerned. She sat in the chair in front of the fireplace, where Arnold had started a large blaze once the sun had gone down, and pulled Scarlet down into her lap.

Blonde brows drew. “Then what?”

“Scarlet, do you know Rebecca Massey and Carol Gleason?”

“Yeah. Rebecca was new. I think she’d only been there maybe a month. Carol’s been there since God was a boy, I think. Why?” she plucked absently at Ashton’s sweater.

“They were both murdered last night.”

Scarlet’s fingers stopped, her gaze meeting the brunette’s, stunned. “What?”

“The police, according to the newspaper, think that maybe the person who bombed the club is after the girls. Were Rebecca and Carol part of the … entertainment?”

“Yeah. They were like me.” Scarlet wasn’t sure what to think. She hadn’t necessarily been friends with Rebecca or Carol. In fact, none of the girls were close, as each was the other’s competition. Carol hadn’t liked her much because Scarlet was younger, more beautiful and never had any problems getting clients. Back in her day, Carol had been quite the catch, but age and a hard life of drink had caught up to her. She blew out a breath, trying to figure out how to process this new bit of information.

“What are you thinking?” Ashton asked carefully, watching the blonde’s face closely.

“I don’t know.” She shook her head, feeling somewhat numb. “I don’t think they’re connected.”

“Why not?”

Scarlet met Ashton’s gaze. “Because it just doesn’t make sense. Some crazed bastard bombed the club. I mean, was it ever even proven that the bomber was targeting The Black Pussy Cat?”

Ashton shook her head. “I don’t know. But I don’t think you should go home, Scarlet.”

The blonde felt irritation fill her. She pushed off Ashton’s lap. “No. I’m not losing my apartment, too, Ashton. I’ve already lost my job, and my financial independence.”

The brunette stood, trying to stay out of the way of the pacing blonde. “Scarlet, please don’t be stubborn about this. You know I’m not trying to take anything away from you. What if you’re next?”

“And what if I’m not? What, am I supposed to just hide out forever? That’s crazy!”

“Dammit, Scarlet! I’m worried, okay? I have a really bad feeling about this.”

“No.” Scarlet waved her off. “I can handle myself.”

“I’m sure Carol and Rebecca thought they could, too,” Ashton said, voice calm, arms crossed over her chest. She met the glare sent her way. “You know, pride is good, but sometimes, Scarlet, pride can be a bad thing, too.”

“I don’t want to fight with you, Ashton. I’m going home.”

Ashton sighed heavily, shoving her hands into the pockets of her pants as she stared into the flames. Distantly she heard the sound of the front door.

***

Scarlet knew she was being childish and that Ashton just wanted to help, as she drove home, but she felt so out of control of her life at the moment. She felt like very little belonged to her anymore, as the brunette was behind everything she had now- her apartment, her schooling, and even her sister’s care. They’d had the discussion, they’d had the argument, and Scarlet understood, but she still hated feeling helpless.

Even so, she did glance in the rearview mirror far more often than was necessary, and the thought crossed her mind for about five seconds of going to stay with Laurel for the night. She didn’t want to give Ashton the satisfaction of thinking she was right. Again.

Scarlet pulled into the parking lot of her building, parking in her usual spot in front. Gathering all her belongings, she trotted up the stairs, digging her key from the ring and was about to slip it into the lock when she stopped. For a reason she couldn’t define, the hairs on the back of her neck began to stand on end. She looked around, seeing that she was alone, the night quiet and calm, the blonde decided she was being ridiculous. She was allowing her imagination to get away from her.

Just then, a strong, autumn breeze swept by her, her coat fluttering around her body. What caught her eye, however, was when her front door squeaked open just a tad, the breeze exposing its unlocked and unlatched position.

Scarlet’s breath caught. As quickly, and quietly as she could, she hurried back down the stairs to her car. With trembling hands, she pulled out of the parking lot, grabbing her cell phone as she did. She quickly made a call to the police, explaining that if they needed to talk to her, she’d be at Ashton’s house.

She was badly shaken as she drove, mindless to her surroundings, just needing to get to Ashton. Who was after her? Why? Was it some freakish religious zealot who was against what Scarlet and the girls at the club represented? Was it a scorned boyfriend of one of the girls? Ex-employee? She felt the sting of fear behind her eyes, and quickly reached up to brush away a lone tear. She kept glancing in her rearview, but saw nothing.

***

Ashton was upset, once again wondering why Scarlet refused to allow herself to be helped. She respected the blonde’s independence and desire to help herself and her sister on her own. But when pride and independence edged to carelessness, it concerned her greatly. She had a really bad feeling as she grabbed her keys, set to head out to Scarlet’s apartment when the blonde burst through the front door, scaring her half to death.

“Whoa!” she exclaimed, catching a very upset Scarlet in her arms. The blonde cried against her. “What’s the matter, baby?”

Scarlet had begun to sob as soon as she saw Ashton, burying her face in the brunette’s neck. She felt the strong, comforting embrace, which made her tears come faster. “I’m sorry I didn’t listen,” she sniffled, finally relaxing.

“What happened, baby?” Ashton whispered, rubbing the blonde’s back.

Scarlet cried out in surprise when her cell phone began to ring. With trembling hands, she removed the phone from her pocket, putting it up to her ear. “Hello?”

“Miss Reed? This is Detective John Klein with the Aurora Police Department. I’d like to ask you some questions about what you saw tonight at your apartment.”

“Okay,” Scarlet said.

“Are you willing to come down to the station and talk to us?”

“Honestly, Detective, I’m pretty shaken up. Could we do this over the phone? Or I could come in tomorrow morning.” Scarlet leaned against the brunette, needing her warmth. Ashton stood behind her, arms wrapped around a slim waist. Scarlet leaned back against her.

“I’ll ask you a few questions now, ma’am, and then if you wouldn’t mind coming in the morning?”

“Okay. Deal.”

Ashton led Scarlet quietly to the library as the blonde continued speaking with the detective. She sat in the leather chair, pulling the blonde into her lap. Scarlet curled into the older woman, answering the detective’s questions. When she slapped the phone shut, she cradled it against her as she once again buried her face into Ashton’s neck.

From the one-sided conversation, Ashton was able to deduce what had happened. She was nearly as shaken as Scarlet, realizing what could have happened. As she held her, she began to realize just how much Scarlet had come to mean to her in the short time they’d known each other. She didn’t know what it was that drew her so completely to the blonde. Yes, she was beautiful, intelligent, and Ashton couldn’t keep her hands off her. But, somehow it went deeper than that. She felt a fierce streak of protectiveness over her, and wanted nothing more than to make her happy.

“Are you okay?” she asked softly, placing a kiss on top of Scarlet’s head.

Scarlet raised her head, looking into the beautiful, and deeply concerned eyes of Ashton. She brought a hand up, gently caressing the side of her face. “I feel so safe with you,” she whispered, surprised at just how much she meant that. She looked down at the beautiful woman with adoring eyes, a soft smile spreading across her lips. Seeing the emotion in Ashton’s eyes, aimed at her, she felt her own emotions spreading like a warm blanket around her heart. She leaned in, placing a soft kiss on Ashton’s lips. “How did I get so lucky to have you in my life?” she whispered, leaning in again.

Ashton responded to the soft kisses. They weren’t meant to incite passion, only to explore and claim. She felt that in that moment Scarlet was completely claiming her mouth, as the brunette suspected the petit woman had already begun to claim her heart.

“I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you,” Scarlet said against Ashton’s lips. “I get myself in trouble more often than not.”

Ashton smiled, caressing the blonde’s back. “I don’t want to see you hurt, Scarlet. I feel such a need to protect you. I love your fierce need to take care of yourself, have more respect for you than anyone I’ve ever known.” She ran her fingers through the hair at the blonde’s temples, looking up into the beautiful green eyes. “I would never want to take that from you, or see that die in you. But, I don’t want to see anything happen to you.” She placed a soft kiss to the blonde’s neck. “I just found you. I can’t lose you, now.”

Scarlet felt her chest expand with an emotion that she was afraid to put a name to. She needed Ashton close to her. Needed her touch, her warmth and comfort. She needed her. “Ashton,” she whispered, wrapping her hands around the brunette’s neck. “Make love to me. Please?”

“You don’t have to ask,” Ashton said, bringing the blonde head down and kissing her deeply, pulling her body close.

Scarlet moaned into the kiss, her fingers immediately beginning to work on Ashton’s shirt. “I want you on top of me,” she murmured into the kiss. “I want you inside of me, Ashton.”

****

Upstairs in Ashton’s bed, Scarlet lie on the large mattress, naked and waiting. Ashton joined her, the leather harness in place. She climbed between Scarlet’s spread legs, brought down for a long, passionate kiss. The blonde buried her hands into Ashton’s hair, holding her in place as she explored the brunette’s mouth with slow patience, trying to convey so much of what she wasn’t ready to say, didn’t know how to feel.

Ashton continued the kiss, running one of her hands down Scarlet’s side, feeling the soft, smooth skin. Her thumb brushed across a rigid nipple on her journey, the blonde moaning into the kiss at the touch. Her moan grew louder, breaking the kiss as she was entered, Ashton slowly thrusting inside until her hips were cradled snugly between Scarlet’s thighs. She held the blonde tight, resuming their kiss.

Scarlet had never felt so full before, so whole as Ashton lay inside her, their bodies flush, breasts pressed together. She wove her fingers through Ashton’s hair, looking up at her as the brunette lifted her head, looking down at her. Their gazes met, and something passed between them, their connection deepening.

“Make love to me, Ashton,” Scarlet said again, her fingertips running lightly along Ashton’s spine, finally settling on the smooth skin of her ass. She spread both her hands on either cheek, urging Ashton to move her hips. “I really need to feel you.”

Nodding, Ashton rose to her elbows, slowly working her hips, heat shooting through her when she saw the look of pleasure glaze Scarlet’s eyes, the blonde’s hips moving slowly with her own. “Look at me, baby,” she whispered, Scarlet’s heavily hooded eyes opening a bit more, focusing on her. She needed to see her, needed Scarlet to know how she felt as she slowly thrust inside her. She felt the connection that they’d had since the night they met solidifying into something… more.

Scarlet ran her nails up Ashton’s back, smiling at the shiver she felt flow through her body in their wake. Her hands wrapped around strong shoulders, and eventually made their way around to cup the brunette’s breasts, squeezing gently. Ashton groaned, her head falling forward as she continued to move her hips, easily slicing through the abundant wetness between Scarlet’s thighs. She raised herself to her hands to offer more of herself to the blonde, groaning again as her nipples were lightly squeeze and pulled.

“God, yes, baby,” she moaned, finding the blonde’s mouth again. “You feel so amazing.”

Scarlet’s only response was a whimper, her hips beginning to move a big more, thrusting up into Ashton’s strokes. The pleasure radiating inside her was intense, like a fire burning hot and fast. She’d never felt anything like it. She raised her knees and spread her legs wider, moaning at the deeper penetration. Her hands found Ashton’s ass once more, rhythmically squeezing the flesh as Ashton moved her hips faster, increasing her thrusts. She could see the flushed pleasure spreading across Ashton’s face, the brilliant blue eyes closed in concentration. “Yes, baby,” she whispered, her words almost nothing more than quick pants. “I want you to come inside of me.” Scarlet’s head fell back, eyes squeezing shut as she was suffused with pleasure. “Oh, god, fill me…”

Scarlet’s words penetrated Ashton’s lustful haze, making her groan as new warmth surged to her sex, making her clit pulse in time with her quickening thrusts. She could feel her skin covered with both their slickness. Soon her skin was slapping against
Scarlet’s, both panting heavily as the pressure built. She felt Scarlet grab onto her flesh, painfully digging her nails in as her body convulsed around Ashton, a raw cry ripped from her throat. Ashton fell quickly behind her, the bed vibrating with her body’s shudders.

Weak, Ashton collapsed atop Scarlet, feeling strong arms immediately wrap around her as she caught her breath. Scarlet held her close, welcoming the weight of her as she wrapped her legs around the brunette’s waist, pulling her even tighter against her. Ashton held on, burying her face in the warmth of Scarlet’s neck.

“That was incredible,” she murmured, leaving a soft kiss before raising her head and looking down at the very satisfied-looking Scarlet.

“You’re incredible,” the blonde said, placing an almost chaste peck on soft lips.

As they lay there- eventually Ashton carefully pulling out and removing the harness- Scarlet rested peacefully in Ashton’s arms, neither speaking. There was nothing to say. The phone on the bedside table rang, a strange two-ring burst, indicative that it was an internal call.

Ashton grabbed the handset, bringing it to her ear. “Yes, Arnold?” She listened. “Okay. We’ll be down in a few minutes.” Hanging up the phone, she placed a kiss on Scarlet’s forehead. “There’s an officer here to speak to you, baby,” she said, hugging the blonde close before letting her go and both climbing off the bed.

Scarlet followed the trail that was her clothing, glancing toward the bank of monitors in the corner of the huge room as she dressed. She saw a squad car at the gate, waiting for the wrought iron to fully open. He glanced at the camera for a split second, making Scarlet’s breath catch. Something inside her froze at the familiarity she saw. Something, someone… She couldn’t remember who he was, or why she knew she’d seen him.

“Everything okay?” Ashton asked, stepping up behind her and wrapping her in a tight embrace.

Scarlet nodded, unable to take her eyes off the car as it drove onto the King property.

***

Arnold was just opening the front door when Ashton and Scarlet arrived at the bottom of the stairs. He was dressed in uniform, dark hair neatly combed. His dark eyes- black as coal- found the two women.

“Ladies, I’m Officer Derrick Wayne. I’ve come to speak with Miss Reed about the incident at her apartment tonight.”

“Of course,” Ashton said, “Follow me.” She led them into the living room

Scarlet couldn’t help feeling extremely fidgety, sweat beginning to make her palms sticky. She watched as the officer took a seat, pulling out a notepad and pen. He uncapped it, gracing them both with a smile.

“I don’t mean to be rude, Officer Wayne,” Ashton said, “but wasn’t it decided that Miss Reed would be heading into the station in the morning?” she glanced at her watch. “It’s awfully late.” She felt Scarlet almost pressed against her side, and could tell the smaller woman was trembling.

“Oh, well, I figured we could just take care of a few things now,” the man said, a wide smile spreading across a handsome face, though Ashton noticed it didn’t reach his eyes. For some reason, she began to feel a bit nervous.

“We’ll make some coffee to help warm you up on this cold night,” Scarlet offered, grabbing Ashton’s hand.

“Arnold-“

“Has gone to bed for the night,” the blonde said, giving Ashton a look that begged no argument. Ashton read something in the green eyes that made her blood freeze. She nodded, then turned back to their guest.

“Be right back.”

In the kitchen, Scarlet turned to face Ashton, her face pale. “That guy scares me, Ashton. Something about him. I’ve seen him somewhere…” she trailed off, lost in thought and memory. She paled even more. “Oh my god.”

“What?”

“He was at the club. The night it was bombed. I remember seeing him on the sidewalk.”

“Scarlet, honey he’s a cop. Of course he was there-“

“He was in jeans, Ashton!” Scarlet hissed.

“What are you thinking?” Ashton asked, voice steady and calm. She felt a stab of fear in her gut.

“Everything alright, ladies?”

They both turned to see Officer Wayne standing in the opened galley door of the kitchen. He eyed them both, hand resting casually on the butt of his service revolver.

“Everything’s great, Officer. Why don’t you go have a seat and we’ll be with you in a few minutes.”

“Nah, I think I’ll just hang around. No reason to waste anymore time than necessary. While you make coffee, Miss Reed and I will talk.” He flashed a smile at both women. “After all, we wouldn’t want this to turn into an explosive situation, now would we?”

Scarlet felt absolute terror fill her as she started into those impenetrable eyes. “What would you like to know?” she asked, mentally slapping herself on the back for managing to keep her voice steady.

“I’d like to know what you saw tonight? What scared you bad enough to make you turn tail and run to your friend, here,” he motioned toward Ashton, who was making coffee, doing her best to keep her hands from shaking.

“I-“ Scarlet cut herself off, her mind turning quickly in her head. “Nothing,” she lied. “I guess I was just spooked after everything that’s happened at the club, and with my co-workers.”

Officer Wayne took a step further into the room, casual and leisurely. “Why are you lying to me, Miss Reed?” he asked, voice soft. He stared into wide green eyes. “See, I read the report you gave to the goodly detective earlier tonight.

“If you’ve already read the report, then why are you here? Asking Scarlet the same questions?” Ashton asked, turning away from the counter. Her mind was already racing, trying to remember where any sort of weapon in the house would be.

“Because I want to hear it from her. I want to know what she thinks. So, on that note, Miss King, it would be wise if you stayed out of an official investigation.” Again, his hand came to rest on his holstered piece.

“I don’t appreciate people coming into my house, Officer Wayne, threatening me, police or not. I think you should leave now, and allow Miss Reed to go to the station in the morning, as was already planned.” Ashton’s voice was deadly calm, the storms brewing in her eyes.

“I don’t really care what you think, Miss King. Be careful, however, or I will arrest you for obstruction of justice.”

Without taking her eyes off the officer, Ashton grabbed hold of Scarlet, giving her a hard shove toward the door that led to the dining room, on the opposite wall of where Officer Wayne was. “Get out of here, Scarlet,” she hissed.

“No. Not without-“ Scarlet had no choice as she was shoved again, this time flying through the door.

The man glared at Ashton. “That was a really stupid thing to do,” he growled. “That whore will die, just like the rest of her friends.” He grinned, looking Ashton up and down. “You, on the other hand, we might be able to work something out.”

The words were no more out of his mouth before he found an entire pot of hot coffee thrown at him. He screamed, trying desperately to get the hot liquid off his skin. When he opened his eyes, he found himself alone in the kitchen.

“Fucking bitch,” he snarled. “Now you die, too.”

Ashton ran into Scarlet as the blonde ran toward the living room, both standing in the front hall, just beyond the entryway. She caught her arm. “We’ve got to get out of here. He’s the killer, Scarlet.”

“I know. Come on, let’s get-“

Before she could finish her sentence, a vase near her head exploded, sending shards of priceless glass raining around them.

“Shit. Run!” The shots were coming from near the entryway, which left the front door out. The only other way to go was toward the back of the house, which would leave them trapped. “Upstairs.”

Scarlet took off at a dead run, followed by Ashton. She knew the maze of the upper floors would leave the officer confused, and would give them a chance to get away, as he tried to figure out which room they hid. More shots were fired, wood from the banister splintering.

Reaching the top of the stairs, Ashton grabbed Scarlet’s hand, tugging her wordlessly down the hall to the fourth door they found. The gunman’s thundering steps could be heard on the stairs.

Hurrying inside the room, Ashton closed the door as quietly as she could, looking back around to see where they were. She had taken them to her father’s old upstairs office, hoping against hope that he had some of his gun collection still in the room. No reason to ever enter the office, she hadn’t been inside for years. The room was near pitch black, heavy curtains hiding the large windows to keep the room warm.

Ashton grabbed Scarlet’s shoulders. “Find a place to hide,” she whispered urgently. “I’m going to see if my father’s guns are still in here.

Scarlet nodded, holding fast to the brunette’s arms. “Hurry,” she said, near frantic. She grabbed the taller woman and kissed her hard on the mouth, then disappeared into the darkness of the large room, trying to feel her way to some place safe. She found a closet, arms out in front of her, trying to see what was inside. She felt nothing dangerous, or that could hinder her entrance. Standing inside the door, she flinched, able to hear the man out in the hall, doors opening and slamming shut. Squeezing her eyes closed, she silently prayed for help and for Ashton to join her quickly.

Ashton wished she could turn a light on, but knew she couldn’t dare chance it. Her heart was pounding as she heard the officer get closer to the room they were hiding in. She wished the walls weren’t so well insulated, as it was hard to hear what was going on outside the wood-paneled room.

From years old memory, she was trying to remember the layout of the home office, her fingers shaking as they trailed over the desk in the corner. Her father used to keep an antique pistol in the third drawer down, always loaded. With any luck, it was still there. She nearly danced for joy when her fingers came across the cold metal.

“Now, is it loaded?” she murmured. Glancing at the door, she quickly turned on the Tiffany lamp on the desktop, checking the status of the pistol. Her heart sank when she saw it was empty. “Shit.”

Scarlet’s hand came down on something very cold and hard. She felt along the long, smooth barrel, gasping when she realized it was a gun- a shotgun. She remembered going target shooting with her father when she was younger, and quickly assessed the gun, finding it empty. Her hands continued to search along in the closet, looking desperately for ammunition.

Ashton was just about to turn the lamp off when the door slammed open. The brunette gasped when for a split second she saw the bulking shadow in the doorway, the Tiffany lamp not able to cast a large enough shadow. She fell with a racing heart when a shot rang out, a framed degree exploding behind her head. Ridding the cop of the advantage, she unplugged the lamp while on the floor, leaving the office, and both of them in complete darkness again. She still had the gun in her hand, though now it was just a very old paper weight.

She wracked her brain, trying to decide what to do, even as she was on the move again. She heard a small cry as another flash of light briefly lit the room, something else- no doubt priceless- exploding near where Ashton had just been. She tried to listen above the sound of her pounding heart, trying to figure out where the gunman was. It sounded like he was standing near the two leather chair, set in front of the massive fireplace.

Riding on a hunch and a chance, Ashton rose to her knees, peering through the darkness, which her eyes had started to adjust to. She could see a dark shape. She raised her arm and grunted as she threw as hard as she could. The sharp cry made her grin, as did the sound of something hard hitting the ground. Two hard somethings. Taking a chance that he had dropped his own gun, Ashton flung herself in that direction, coming into solid contact with Officer Wayne.

Scarlet was nearly hyperventilating ass she found a dozen or more ammo boxes. She was trying desperately to figure out what type of gun the various shells went to, while listening to the struggle outside of her hiding place. She heard a thug and Ashton cry out.

“Shit, oh shit, oh shit,” Scarlet cried, crying out again as she dropped a handful of shells.

Ashton tried to shake off the stars she was seeing after her head was pounded into the thick Oriental rug beneath them. She felt the gunmen coming back over to her, and lashed out, shoving her foot as hard as she could, at whatever it came into contact with, first. She heard a satisfying crunch and cry, then a thud. While she had a moment, Ashton scrambled around on the floor with her hands, looking for either weapon.

Scarlet had opened the closet door, and was watching as she loaded the gun, her eyes adjusted to the darkness enough to see that Ashton was in serious trouble. It would have been comical had the situation been anything, or anyone else. Both- Ashton and the cop- were searching on hands and knees, almost as though someone had lost a contact lens.

The blonde raised the shotgun, the long barrel pointed at Officer Wayne. She squeezed one eye shut, concentrating on him. She gasped when she heard his victorious cry, then the cocking of a gun as he pointed something at Ashton.

Ashton cried out in shock at the loud crack that echoed in her ears, followed by a loud thud nearby. She jumped probably three feet to her right, instinctively trying to get away from the sound. She heard loud panting, and glanced over, seeing Scarlet standing near the closet door, shotgun in hand, slowly being lowered.

Stunned and slightly shell shocked, Ashton got to her feet, flicking on the light switch by the door. What met her eyes made her stomach roil. Derrick Wayne lay sprawled, eyes looking sightlessly up at the ceiling. He had a hole in his upper chest, which was bleeding profusely, as well as his blood was splattered on the wall behind him.

Scarlet set the gun down and stumbled over to Ashton, dissolving in her arms. Sirens could be heard off in the distance.

******

Four years later…
Scarlet smiled, turning her head slightly as the soft lips continued to make a trail down her neck. She felt the soft, dark hair tickling the skin of her bared, upper chest. She groaned happily. “What a nice way to wake up,” she murmured, smiling at the soft chuckle.

“I agree,” Ashton said, placing one final kiss on her partner’s lips before resting her head on Scarlet’s shoulder, wrapping a protective arm across her middle. “Good morning, my little graduate.”

Scarlet grinned big, excitement and accomplishment sweeping through her. She caressed Ashton’s back as she stared up at the ceiling, picturing what it would be like to walk onto that stage later in the day and get her hard-won degree. “I couldn’t have done this without you, Ashton. For so many reasons.”

Ashton raised herself so her head rested on the palm of her hand, looking down at the gorgeous woman she loved with everything in her. As she studied the love-filled green eyes, she thought about the past four years, which had started the night they had been attacked in Ashton’s own home. The police had shown up, after Arnold’s frantic call, and had taken away the body of the rogue cop. Scarlet had struggled with the fact that she’d killed someone for a long time, but ultimately she’d lost herself in school, and allowed herself to boil it down to self defense in a nightmare.

It hadn’t taken Ashton nearly as long to convince Scarlet to move in with her as she thought it would. After the events of that night, she realized that she loved the blonde, and wanted to start a life with her. What- Ashton felt- had been the kicker was when she’d suggested moving Laurel into the house with them, as well, hiring a full-time nurse, as well as the best doctors in their field, to take care of the young woman. It had been difficult at first, Scarlet needing to make her independence known. Eventually they’d managed to fall into a comfortable, loving stride that worked for all involved. Ashton couldn’t ever remember being so happy.

“No, baby, you did it all on your own. Don’t ever try and give away credit for what you’ve accomplished.” The brunette leaned down, placing a light kiss on soft lips. “I’m so proud of you.”

Scarlet wrapped her arms around Ashton’s neck and pulled the older woman down on top of her, relishing the feel of naked skin on naked skin, both melting into the tight embrace. “I really love you, Ashton,” she whispered, cupping the brunette’s head in her hand. She accepted the long, passionate kiss.

“I love you, too.” Ashton intended to continue the kiss but stopped, glancing over at their closed bedroom door, hearing chaos in the hall beyond. Looking back at Scarlet, she saw the blonde shrug, then they both climbed off the bed, quickly dressing in jimmies and robes.

Scarlet was nearly bowled over by Laurel’s nurse. “Miss Reed!” the woman exclaimed, tears in her eyes. She grabbed Scarlet’s hand and nearly pulled the blonde off her feet as she dragged her toward her sister’s rooms.

Ashton quickly followed, torn between anger at the nurse’s behavior, worry, and curiosity.

Once the small parade had made into the outer room of Laurel’s suite, the stopped in the doorway of the bedroom, where the prone figure lay quietly. Scarlet’s heart was pounding in her chest, terrified of what she’d find. She never expected to see Laurel staring back at her. A hand came to her mouth, automatic tears in her eyes. She stared into those eyes, and saw life in them. They were focused and staring at her.

“Oh my god,” Ashton whispered, her hands on Scarlet’s hips, unable to look away. “Happy Graduation, sweetheart,” she breathed, her own voice choked up.

 

THE END

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