part 7 in the Intimate Strangers series
“Gods above, how did I let myself get talked into this?” Booted footsteps echoed throughout the room as a small, strawberry blond woman stomped rhythmically across the hardwood floor. Spinning when she reached the corner in the neat side of the room, green eyes landed on the occupant’s spotless desk, sighing dramatically. “Figures,” Beth snipped, running a hand over the smooth, clean surface. “Casey’s desk is always neat. It’s a wonder she gets anything accomplished.” Feeling peevish, the author opened the center desk drawer and pulled out a handful of paperclips, scattering them over the shinny surface. “That’s better. At least it looks like someone works here.” Literally dragging her feet, the upset author made her way to her own desk, settling down in the organized chaos with a sigh. “I do not want to do this!” Beth complained once more, opening the thick file centered on her blotter. Narrowing her eyes, the author focused on the reports before her, unaware of the passage of time.
“Hey, Sweetheart. How’s it going?” Warm arms slid around the seated author, hugging her gently. Lips nuzzled their way through the strawberry blond locks, nipping lightly at her lover’s earlobe.
“Ug…not well.” Beth exhaled noisily, leaning back against her lover. “What are you doing home so early? Did the meeting with the kids not go well?” The author knew her lover was supposed to have spent the afternoon reviewing the performance of four new profilers as a favor for her old boss, Director David Johnson. Even though Casey was no longer a profiler for the FBI, she was still considered one of the best and occasionally, her former boss sought her opinion and help.
“It went fine.” A worried eyebrow arched, considering her author and the carefully stacked papers before her, noticing her computer wasn’t on. You’re not writing…what’s going on? “It’s after 7:00pm.”
“Oh…guess time slipped away from me.” For the first time, Beth noticed how much of the file she’d worked her way through. Then her stomach rumbled, loudly.
“Well, that answers that question.” Casey teased, gently urging her partner to rise. “C’mon, you’ve been working long enough. Let’s get something to eat.” The former agent, now a security specialist, waited until her lover had risen and taken her hand before continuing. “What had you so engrossed that you lost track of time?” It was very unusual for her author to miss a meal and not even realize it when she wasn’t working. It was another matter completely if she was writing.
“Remember how I wanted to help the clinic and homeless shelter?” Beth headed them towards the kitchen. Now that her thoughtful lover had pointed out the time, she was suddenly starving. I can’t believe it’s this late. “Well, my parents and sister insisted that if I wanted to have some control over the foundation’s philanthropic donations, I had to agree to attend the board meetings. The first meeting is tomorrow.”
“Isn’t that short notice?” Casey thought furiously, trying to recall when her lover talked to her parents last. How long have you known and why didn’t you tell me? Drawing a blank, the specialist refused to let Beth stop in the kitchen, leading them to the garage, snagging their coats from beside the door. This must be bad…you’re not even protesting!
“They were sneaky about it.” Beth sighed, not believing how easily they manipulated her. “After making the donations, Cassandra informed me that foundation policy strictly lists how organizations are chosen to receive grants and gifts. If there is any deviation to this policy, the family member making the request has to serve on the board for one year. I opened the door to a special messenger this morning and then Cass called. I guess they figured if they didn’t give me time to come up with a way around the rule or to make the donation myself, I would have to show up for the meeting. I think Cass wants an ally on the board, to help her stand up to our parents and that’s why she didn’t warn me.”
Opening Beth’s door, Casey fought to control her emotions. Or more likely, she wants another target. Damn! They manipulate Beth every chance they get. Even her sister, who supposedly is her ally. Well, we’ll just see about that. Hoping her face was supportingly neutral, Casey met Beth’s eyes and smiled. Brushing her lips across her lover’s, Casey quickly made her way around the vehicle. “What are you hungry for?”
“Something fast. I need to finish that report tonight before bed. Not to mention digging out a business suit for tomorrow.” Beth thought quickly. “How about Davies? Today’s special is apple pie a la mode.”
“Sounds good to me.” Casey stepped on the gas, shooting a questioning look at her lover. “When and where is the meeting?”
“10:00am in Boston.” Beth groaned, calculating how early she’d have to get up to catch her plane.
“Want some company?” Casey breathed a silent thank you that her voice didn’t betray her anger. Figures. It’s just like her family to not even give her twenty-four hours. Even if your intentions are honorable, little sister, I think your methods definitely aren’t. Watching her lover out of the corner of her eye, Casey tried to appear neutral, but quickly discarded that in favor for worry. “Hey, it will be OK. What time are we leaving?” What the specialist saw made Beth going alone not an option.
“You don’t have to come,” Beth started to object, then changed her mind. I need her to be there. “Thanks, I really appreciate it.” A deep sigh escaped. “The plane leaves at 8:00am.” A thought occurred; green regarded her tall partner. “Listen…just having you there will be all that I need. There isn’t any reason for you to have to dress up and suffer through the meeting too.” Except that I love how you look dressed up. Heh. Maybe the meeting won’t be as bad as I think. Knowing Casey would insist on being with her every step of the way.
“Hey, cut that out.” Casey swore softly, hitting the breaks to avoid the car that cut them off. “People drive like fools.” The specialist shot her lover an exasperated look before returning her concentration to the road. “I’m there with you, all the way. So knock that crap off, please.”
“Do you know how much I love you?” Beth faced Casey, laying a hand on her thigh and squeezed lightly. My protector. I don’t think there is anything you wouldn’t willingly suffer through for me. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.
“I love you too, Beth.” Casey flashed a grin at her author, feeling a tingling warmth from her lover’s answering smile spreading throughout her body. “Why don’t you call and get me a reservation on your flight?” Pulling into Davies, Casey muttered something that Beth barely caught.
“Don’t worry, you can sit next to me.” Beth grinned, rubbing Casey’s thigh. Sitting up, the author put on her best haughty look and spoke in a formal matter. “It wouldn’t do for a Jamieson to have to sink to the level of a commercial flight. Not when the family jet is available.”
“You’re not teasing, are you?” Casey’s eyes widened, wondering for about the one hundredth time how Beth liked living with her. If she considered it a step down because all modesty aside, Casey knew her lover’s life had changed, especially with respect to physical comforts. Casey was well aware of the fact that Beth loved her completely, without reservation, without holding anything back. Of that wonderful, delightful fact, Casey had no doubts. Beth had beaten it into her enough, that she actually believed it. Why was another matter, though. But like all halves of a couple, Casey wanted the best for her partner. The specialist knew she wasn’t poor by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Casey made a good, comfortable living. But Beth’s own house would hold two of hers. Not to mention the fact that Beth could buy and sell her several times over. All told, at times it made the specialist feel a little inadequate. Casey took as good of care of Beth as she could (and as much as the author would allow), but occasionally she felt it wasn’t good enough. Especially when they were confronted with Beth’s parents.
“Where did you just go?” Beth interrupted her lover’s thoughts, not liking the distant, puzzled look in her eyes.
“No where important.” Casey tried to shrug off the question, reaching for the door handle. Stop being stupid, Casey. And was abruptly stopped by a Beth’s hand on her arm. Swallowing emotionally, the specialist forced herself to meet Beth’s concerned gaze. Great, stupid! You’ve worried her. “You said you’re wearing a business suit tomorrow?” She tried to misdirect the conversation, not wanting to expose herself, knowing how her lover would react. It usually worked, too, since the author was easily sidetracked by the thought of Casey dressing up. “I think I’ll wear my black suit, if that’s OK with you. Don’t want to clash.”
The extremely worried, low tone hit Casey hard. Damn…I don’t want to do this. Thankfully, Beth’s stomach provided a delay. “C’mon, you’re starving.” Slipping out of the vehicle, Casey had her face composed by the time she reached Beth’s door.
Green eyes watched Casey slowly walk around the vehicle, her characteristic bounce conspicuously absent. What did I say? What happened? Casey willingly talking about clothes? Gods, she must be really freaked out. Or totally avoiding something. Unlike her partner, the author’s thoughts were very visible on her expressive face. Casey looks like I hit her. Just what the hades is going on? You were fine a few minutes ago. Not finding an answer, Beth smiled at her partner as her door was opened. Ignoring Casey’s hand, Beth wrapped her arms firmly around her lover, squeezing tightly, nuzzling the smooth skin of her lover’s neck. I don’t know what’s wrong, but this usually works. C’mon, beloved. Relax. Tell me what’s wrong.
“Hey.” Casey returned the embrace, molding her smaller lover’s body to her own, slumping against her with abandon. Way to go, Casey! All Beth needs is something else to worry about. And I always manage to do that quite well. Mentally snorting in self-disgust, the specialist forced her limbs to not respond to her thoughts. Concentrating on the warmth radiating between them, Casey let their closeness pull her from her dark thoughts. Oh God, this feels fantastic. So warm…so addicting…I never, ever want to be without this…without Beth. Soaking in her lover’s presence, the specialist lost all track of time, keeping her senses on alert, trusting them to warn her before anyone got to close. Drifting, Casey just held on. And felt, rather than heard, Beth’s stomach growl again. “C’mon, Sweetheart. I’m starving, too.” Pulling back, blue twinkled. “I think I hear that apple pie calling.”
“Right. Lead on, 99.” Beth giggled softly, ignoring her partner’s raised eyebrow. Wow, it worked again. “I’m not going to be keeping you from anything too important tomorrow, am I?” The author changed tracts, deciding to give Casey a break.
“Nope. The last thing on my schedule this week was the meeting with the kids. I was planning on taking tomorrow off anyway.” Considering how Beth might take that, she hurried on, opening the door to the restaurant, concentrating on projecting an innocent aura. “You’re saving me from working on the snow blower and winterizing the house. Both things you know I love doing.”
Casey’s sarcastic tone and raised eyebrow had Beth giggling again. “OK, OK. You don’t need to hit me over the head…” The author grinned sexily, pinching her lover discretely as they followed the hostess to their seat. “At least too often before I get the point.”
Feeling frisky, are we, lover? Two can play that game. Turning a full wattage, heart stopping smile on her lover, blue darkened passionately, capturing green as they slid into their booth. Upping the stakes, Casey wet her lips suggestively, tongue gently, slowly journeying across her lips, blue never leaving green.
Oh…gods…breathe, Beth, breathe. Conceding the match to her lover, Beth picked up her menu, fanning her hot face. Too bad this won’t work on the rest of me. That thought had Beth grinning wryly. Forcing herself to ignore her pounding blood and the throbbing that had her ready to forget they weren’t alone, the author sat back in the booth.
“What are you hungry for?” Casey didn’t bother with the menu, meeting Beth’s eyes innocently. I win!
“Casey!” Beth blushed, her mind screaming ‘YOU’. “As if you have to ask. You win,” Beth told her lover with a smile, confirming what she silently admitted earlier. Thankfully the waitress appeared at the table, saving her from saying anything else. Quickly Beth ordered her usual: a double cheeseburger with bacon and onion rings.
Not missing a beat, Casey nudged Beth under the table, running her foot up the back of her author’s calf, grinning slightly when Beth blushed again as she ordered. Casually, Casey ordered a club sandwich and a salad, also her usual. “One of these days,” the specialist sighed dramatically when the waitress walked away, ignoring her own rising desire the contact elicited. “Your eating habits are going to catch up with you.”
“Don’t worry, you won’t be stuck with a fat lover.” Beth answered innocently, playing with her silverware. I can do this…don’t look up! The author knew that one look into her lover’s eyes and she’d loose it.
“Elizabeth Jamieson!” Casey growled lowly, not liking Beth’s comment at all. Just how shallow do you think I am? “That’s not what I meant and you know it! I will always love you, no matter what you look like. Are you saying you won’t love me if I change?”
Whoa, hold it right there. The serious, almost hurt tone of her partner startled the author. “Of course not! I was just teasing, love.” Where the hades did that come from? Dropping her teasing, Beth looked up and frowned, not liking the confusion and fear that were lurking behind the anger in her lover’s eyes. Way to go, Beth. That was really a dumb thing to do. “Sorry.” Beth spoke sincerely. “That was really a stupid thing to say.”
“No, I’m sorry.” Casey realized how badly she reacted. Blowing out steadily to calm her irrational fear, the specialist smiled wanly. “I guess it’s just been a long day.” Blue eyes awkwardly met apprehensive green, silently asking Beth to let the whole matter drop.
“The kids were that bad, huh?” Beth changed the subject again, pleased to see her lover relax. Gods, Casey. You really think it matters what you look like? The author admitted she loved the way her lover looked…for Beth, Casey was perfection. But there was just so much more to her dark lover than her breathtaking beauty. It wasn’t anything as simple as her exceptional looks. It was, gods… her sparkling, expressive eyes…her utterly charming smile…her gentle strength…her powerful convictions…her dry, witty humor…her willingness to help…her tender, loving caresses…her huge, caring heart that lurked beneath that delightfully gruff exterior…her agile mind…
“No, no.” Casey sighed, slapping herself mentally. “They were fine. Still really green, but they’ll grow into their jobs. I…” Falling silent as their waitress brought their drinks, Casey cocked an eyebrow at her lover. Time to lighten up, Casey. “Did you and Mrs A have fun shopping this morning?”
“Of course.” Beth grinned widely. “I think between the two of us, we bought out the grocery store. Oh, that reminds me.” Green eyes fixed on her fidgeting lover. “Someone I know, but won’t mention, promised to go buy some new clothes.” Thinking of her lover’s very worn jeans and thin t-shirts, Beth frowned. Not to mention, her old, ratty sweats.
“Hmm, I thought you liked my clothes. You’re always wearing my sweatshirts.” Casey smiled disarmingly, calling forth the image of her large clothes swimming on her lover. Damn, she’s so cute in them!
“I do like them.” Given Casey’s unpredictable mood, Beth figured she’d better answer truthfully. “But you need some new jeans and shirts. Look,” the author reached for her lover’s hand, eyes intently trying to read her partner. “I know how much you hate shopping. Just tell me what you want and I’ll pick them up for you.” Truthfully, Beth had planned on doing this, but her lover had promised to get them herself. “It’s no trouble, really.”
“I’ll do it, if it’s that important to you.” Casey spoke quietly, blue not meeting green. Fidgeting, the specialist sat back, removing her hand from her lover’s. Since when are clothes so important to you? Do I embarrass you when we’re out? Is that what this is all about? Or do you think I can’t afford them? Why does this matter so much to you? It’s not like I’m running around naked. Sinking back farther into her bench, Casey concentrated on keeping her breathing even, unaware of the tiny lines that spoke eloquently of her distress that appeared around her eyes. Feeling very insecure, Casey couldn’t make herself look at her partner.
“Casey? C’mon now, love.” What the?? “Casey, look at me. Please.” Beth’s pleas filtered through her lover’s consciousness, compelling her to meet Beth’s eyes. “I don’t give a damn what you wear as long as you’re comfortable.” Green darkened seriously, refusing to release her partner. “What’s wrong? Did I do something to make you mad? Tell me and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it right.” Beth added when Casey just looked at her. Holding her breath, the author sat nervously, very confused, desperately trying to figure out what she did wrong.
“You didn’t do anything. Honest.” Hesitantly Casey reached for Beth, lacing their fingers together. Growing more confidant in the face of the never wavering support and love in her lover’s eyes, the specialist sighed, silently brooding. I have no idea what’s wrong with me. Casey said as much, then hurried on, not giving Beth time to tell her it was OK. Not when it clearly wasn’t. One look at the lurking anxiety in her lover’s eyes convinced the specialist to get a grip on herself. “I’m sorry I’m being such a jerk.” Briskly giving herself a mental shake, Casey drug a smile out. “You can take me shopping this weekend. And I promise I won’t complain.” The tension in Beth’s fingers hit her hard. “Beth, I’m so sorry…” Casey sat back, thanking the waitress as she left their food. God, Casey. Where did this insecure crap come from? This is all Beth needs now.
“Sorry, we can’t go this weekend.” Beth grinned as Casey handed her the salt and catsup without being asked. “We have a date, remember?” We need to talk. I think the last few months have been really rough on us. Meaning Casey’s revelations about her past and Adam Carr.
“I didn’t know if you’d still want to go to Grandma’s.” Casey answered, grinning for real as Beth took a big bite, chewing enthusiastically. The specialist had never known anyone who enjoyed eating as much as her wife. The specialist felt her dark mood lift, disappearing in the face of her lover’s exuberance.
“What kind of question is that?” Beth mumbled, then took a drink, clearing her throat. “Of course I want to go hide out with you for a few days.” A lifetime of stolen weekends isn’t enough. Green eyes narrowed, observing her partner who had a strange look on her face. “Damn this meeting,” Beth growled, interpreting Casey’s look to mean they could have left for their long weekend one day earlier if they weren’t flying to Boston.
“No, that’s not it.” Casey insisted, grinning as the warmth from Beth’s heated curse soaked into her still uncharacteristically hesitant, apprehensive being. Stupid, Casey. Beth loves you, no matter what. Get it through your thick head. Clothes, the house, money…none of them matter to her. “I actually was planning on winterizing the house.” Why am I grinning like a fool, then? Without another thought, Casey let her body take control, falling into the light, sensual haze that her lover’s presence invoked. Feel what you do to me…for me…
“OK, OK…I’m busted.” Casey mock growled, blue twinkling as her thoughts took a decidedly naughty turn. “When have I ever just worked on the house when we’re both home at the same time?”
“Oh.” Beth blushed, her active mind filling in the blanks in vivid detail, forgetting what she was doing.
“Yeah?” The author looked up, meeting Casey’s amused eyes.
“Eat.” Laughing softly, Casey couldn’t believe she had to remind Beth to eat. Beth’s raised eyebrow had her eating too. A question had her listening as her lover filled her in on her latest additions in her new book. Casey allowed her mind to drift, getting lost in Beth’s melodious voice, pushing her fears firmly away.
Talking as she ate, the author engaged a skill she rarely used anymore, at least with her partner: carrying on two conversations at the same time. What the hades is going on with Casey? I’ve never seen her so skittish, so insecure. Well, at least not since our first couple of weeks together. I really think she expected me to say if she physically changed or stopped being so active, I’d stop loving her! As if! Gods, there isn’t anything or anyone that would make me stop wanting, stop loving her. Doesn’t she know that? Apparently not. Beth answered herself after a beat, very disappointed. I had hoped these rings would make the difference…wait Beth, be fair. A lot has happened recently that has made me worry and wonder. It’s no different for Casey. Deep inside, I know Casey loves and trusts me. And that she knows I love and trust her…if she didn’t, she wouldn’t be sitting her, letting me distract her. She sure as hell wouldn’t have willingly offered to go shopping. The author couldn’t deny that. She was well aware of her lover’s self protective habits. She never backs down from our teasing. Yet today she did, not once, but twice! Did you hurt yourself at the dojo? For the first time in two months, Casey had worked out with others who had black belts in karate and kung foo. Normally, Casey worked out by herself or with Beth. But Master Hung had asked her opinion on two fighters and that was that. Green eyes unobtrusively studied her sprawled over, noting the residual tension with dismay. At least she’s not hurt…at least that I can tell. I’ll make sure to check for bruises later. Losing herself for long moments, imagining searching her lover, the author jerked back to the present when their apple pie arrived. Returning to her original question, Beth divided her attention between her pie and lover. So what’s wrong? What has you doubting me, doubting us? Not finding any satisfactory answers, the author promised to take Casey up on her offer and ask her when they settled in for the long weekend. I don’t want any interruptions or I’d ask tonight. But all I’d get would be a ‘nothing’s wrong’ since we’re dealing with my parents tomorrow.
“Beth?” Casey nudged her lover, wrapping an arm around her waist as they walked to the car. Unconsciously she matched her steps to her partner’s shorter ones.
“Yeah?” Beth shivered, moving closer to her warm blooded lover.
“What’s going to happen tomorrow?” Casey picked up the pace, hurrying them to the car to get lover out of the chilly night air. The cold didn’t bother the specialist, but it did her author. “What’s the meeting like?”
“The three I’ve been to were all the same. Long and boring.” Beth resisted getting into the 4Runner in favor of hugging Casey fiercely. “In case I didn’t say it, thanks for going with me tomorrow.”
“That’s my job, remember? Who knows how much trouble you’d get in if I wasn’t there?” Casey joked, squeezing tightly in return, then turned serious. “I love you, Beth. Anytime you need me, I’m there. No questions asked.” Remember that, Casey. Get a grip. Beth needs me. That’s all that matters. Certainly not my misplaced insecurities.
“I love you too.” Beth reluctantly released Casey. “I can’t tell you how much that means to me. You know that goes for me too, right?” Oh well. Beth sighed as the words left her mouth; she wasn’t going to push the point tonight.
“Right. Now get in before you freeze.” Casey shut the door, then ran around to the driver’s side. “Well?”
“The meeting starts at 10:00am with a thorough review of the ongoing projects. When Cassandra’s finished, we break for lunch. Then a brief discussion of new contributions and what groups want funding and finally a vote to determine which organizations get money. If we’re lucky, we’ll be out of there by 3:00pm.” Beth glanced at Casey, seeing only interest. Quirking an eyebrow, she continued.
“The Whizle Foundation was started by my great-grandparents in the 1920s. Whizle was my great-grandmother’s maiden name and the original money for the foundation came from her family’s ammunition business. The foundation is funded by a series of trusts set up over the years by various Jamiesons and Whizles, and donations from family friends and corporations. Last year a total of fifteen million dollars was given out in renewable grants and single time gifts.”
“The board consists of ten people.” Beth smiled in spite of the situation, thinking that spending the day with Casey, no matter what the reason, was a good thing. “My parents are co-chairs and ultimately cast the deciding vote in case of a locked board. Cassandra is in charge of making sure the recipients of the grants use the money properly. Chris Dupree heads the group that solicits corporate donations. Two of my parents’ friends, Mr Charles Wabash and Mrs Henry Torrington, sift through all the requests for assistance. Aunt Margaret and Uncle Joe deal with the organization’s personnel and any publicity that comes up. Jimmy, Margaret and Joe’s son, was learning the ropes, splitting his time between Cassandra and Chris.” Beth stumbled over Jimmy’s name, still having a hard time accepting his death. Taking Casey’s offered hand, Beth continued. “The final two members, Mr Matthew Rupert and Mrs Jennifer Steiner, give sufficiently large donations every year, so they were asked to sit on the board.”
“Six of the board members are your family and two are close friends. It really is a family affair.” Casey commented when Beth paused. “Sounds very formal and regimented.”
“It is.” Beth sat up straight, growing excited as she remembered something. “HEY!” Her enthusiastic yell startled Casey. “You’re gonna dress up and I get to sit having fantasies about you. This isn’t gonna be so bad.” Bringing Casey’s fingers to her lips, Beth brushed her lips over them suggestively. “If you’re a good girl, I might even sneak a few touches.”
Casey swallowed at the low, sexy growl that came out of Beth. I’d walk through hell for her touch, her love. “Beth. You’re going to drive me crazy.” Muttering, Casey reluctantly removed her hand from her personal temptation. Breathing deeply, the specialist put a damper on her body’s reaction to her beautiful lover. At least until we get home.
“Are you going to watch T2 tonight? It’s on cable again.” Beth smiled as Casey appeared to struggle with her answer before granting her lover a reprieve. “It’s a good thing it’s on tonight. You can watch while I finish Cassandra’s report.”
“You sure?” Casey turned onto their street, shooting a quick glance at Beth. Casey was well aware of her lover’s desire to keep things pertaining to her family that hurt or bothered her locked deep inside.
“Positive.” Beth nodded, smiling at her lover. “I’ll probably be finished by the time Sarah plays doctor in the garage.” Wiggling her eyebrows, Beth cringed in reaction to her words as she opened the garage door. “The movie starts at 9:00pm.”
“Great.” Casey grinned, jumping out to get Beth’s door. “C”mon, you.” Pulling her non-resisting lover from the car, Casey kissed her lightly before ushering her into the house.
“Hey, aren’t you going to watch your movie?” Beth looked up when Casey suddenly appeared before her, leaning against the arm of the sofa. The author had decided to read in here because it was quiet and deserted. She figured that way she’d get done quicker, being able to concentrate on the report, not her gorgeous lover.
“Will I bother you if I watch in here?” Holding up a pair of headphones that were plugged into the tv, Casey shot a pleading look at her lover. Don’t make me go in the other room. I need to be with you. The specialist shook her head mentally, knowing she was being clingy, but unable to do anything about it.
“Nope, not at all.” Beth relented immediately, glimpsing the restrained emotion in her lover’s face. Anyway, temptation is good…very good. Biting back a giggle, the author patted the sofa beside her.
“Thanks.” Casey sat down, wrapping an arm around Beth’s shoulders, pulling her closer. “Do your homework, love.” Flipping to the movie, Casey slipped on the headphones, eyes glued to the screen.
After a few minutes of re-reading the same sentence, Beth sighed noisily. This is not working. The heat of Casey’s arm around her shoulders had the author’s thoughts drifting towards other, more pleasurable activities. Maybe if we changed positions. Patting Casey’s leg reassuringly, Beth laid down, using Casey’s thigh as a pillow. Much better. Nice and firm. Picking up her report, Beth forced herself to concentrate.
Worried blue eyes tracked her lover’s unconscious movements, the movie long forgotten. You’re playing with your ring again. What’s wrong? The uncharacteristic actions had attracted Casey’s attention earlier. Uncommon dark emotions were freely visible on her author’s face. You never play with your ring. Why now? Without warning, the specialist’s insecurities returned, blinding her. It’s because of tomorrow, isn’t it? Don’t you want your family to know how much we love each other? Do you want to hide our relationship? Damn…I knew this was going to happen…might as well get this over with. Knowing you, you’re trying to figure out how to ask me without hurting my feelings. You’re a good person and, damn it, I’m not. The last few months that has been thrown in your face enough times you can’t ignore it now. How many times are you going to be hurt because you love me? Oh god…I am hurting you. With what we’ve been through lately, I am extremely lucky that you’re willing to wear it at all. If you want to take your ring off for the day, I understand. How could I not understand? Feeling her heart break at that thought, Casey struggled to remain seated. Struggled to push back the rising darkness that seductively called, tempting the specialist with the promise of no pain. Struggled to find the words that would end her lover’s torment. Fighting with herself, Casey missed Beth calling to her. It wasn’t until the author was seated in her lap that agonized blue eyes focused on her lover. For once in your life, do the right thing. “Beth?”
“Love, what’s wrong?” Beth had one hand resting on Casey’s shoulder, the other lightly holding her lover’s chin, insuring eye contact. One minute the author had been fretting about tomorrow, about how she didn’t want to deal with her parents, the next she felt Casey start to tremble. The next instant, she was in Casey’s lap, calling her lover.
“Tomorrow…if you..” Stuttering, Casey drew a deep breath, then spoke rapidly, afraid she wouldn’t get the words out any other way. “If you don’t want us to wear our rings tomorrow, I understand.”
“What?” Beth sat back, totally floored. What?? Then she got angry, the stress of dealing with her family and unfilled expectations to much to ignore. Green flashing dangerously, Beth got right in Casey’s face. “Under no circumstances is that ring to come off your finger! You promised me! Just because we’re dealing with my horrid family does NOT mean you can run and hide. You said you’d be there for me, damn it!! Don’t even THINK about it, Casey Michelle Bennett.”
“I love you.” Spoken softly, Casey reacted to Beth’s anger. A calming wave of love washed over the specialist, the darkness not standing a chance in Beth’s presence. Thank you.
“I love you, too.” Beth barked back without thinking, used to responding to that phrase. Realizing what she said…how she said it, the author sagged, anger fleeing as suddenly as it came. “Casey?” Terribly confused, Beth dimly noticed Casey was holding her protectively. Where did that come from? Gods, I’m so confused. Does Casey not want to wear her ring?
“You’re OK with us wearing our rings tomorrow, right?” Casey needed verbal confirmation of why her heart was leaping joyously.
“Of course! Why wouldn’t I be?” Beth shook her head, blinking back tears. Don’t you want to?
“You were playing with your ring, like it made you uncomfortable.” In one swift motion, Casey changed their position, so she was fully covering Beth, molding them together. Need to feel you. Blue eyes bore into green, striving to comprehend what happened. At this point, Casey wasn’t taking any chances. She needed to feel as well as see Beth’s response.
“Never.” Beth ran her fingers through Casey’s hair, letting the silky strands calm her farther. Slapping herself mentally, the author finally followed Casey’s actions. Damn…she thinks I’m ashamed of her, of us. “Casey, you are the best thing that’s every happened to me.” Green darkened emotionally, adding weight to her heart spoken words. “I love you.” The author spoke slowly, succinctly. “I gave you that ring because I wanted everyone to know how much I love you.” Especially you. “I am not, nor have I ever been, ashamed of our relationship.” Believe me…
“That goes for me too.” Casey buried her face in Beth’s neck, suspiciously sniffling. What is wrong with me? I know Beth loves me.
Holding Casey close, Beth whispered words of love and reassurance until her lover raised her head. “Are you OK, love?”
“How do you put up with me?” Casey stopped Beth’s protests by covering Beth’s lips with her own, using her lips to express her thoughts. I love you…I need you…you’re everything to me… Meeting Beth’s eyes, Casey swore softly. “I plan on only taking my ring off once…when the minister blesses them at our wedding.”
“Good thing or I’d have to hurt you.” Beth teased gently before turning serious. “I love you, Casey Michelle Bennett.”
“I love you, too.” Deliberately lightening the mood, long fingers brushed teasingly against sensitive sides. “Hmm, seems like I could really take advantage of you, Beth.” Grinning playfully, Casey wiggled her fingers, blue eyes sparkling brightly when her lover shifted uncomfortably.
“Yeah, sure.” Beth gasped, trying to squirm away from Casey’s fingers. “You’ve got me pinned. I can’t move.” The rapid change in moods didn’t surprise the author. Both women used humor to lighten emotional moments. “C’mon, you. Move.” Gently shoving against her larger partner, Beth didn’t stop until they both were on their feet. Clicking off the tv, Beth reached for her lover’s hand. “Thank the gods,” the author ignored the laugh from her partner that her curse earned, leading them from the room. “My light gray business suit was cleaned recently. I am not in the mood to iron. What?” Green darkened suspiciously at the look she was receiving.
“Nothing, nothing.” A low chuckle escaped from amused lips.
“Casey!” Beth glared at her lover when Casey tried to look innocent. “And just what’s wrong with my gray suit?”
“Nothing, Sweetheart.” Casey insisted, swinging their entwined hands. “OK…OK!” Giving in, once again unable to resist those puppy dog eyes, Casey laughed, delighted, remembering the first time she saw Beth in that suit. “Don’t you remember?” Unable to stop herself from teasing Beth, Casey dropped her hand and picked her startled author up, swinging her in a circle. You are mine…now and forever. I’m never letting you go.
“Casey!” Laughing, Beth hung on. “Hey, you’re making me dizzy.” The author mock grumbled, tugging her lover’s silky locks in complaint.
“The first time I saw you, you had on that gray suit. God, you were so beautiful.” Sighing in memory, Casey hugged Beth tightly. I was captivated from the minute I saw you. One look and I was hooked. One word, and I was ready to change my whole life. Thank the gods, as you say, that you hung in there with me.
“Oh.” Spoken very softly. Warm lips found Casey’s. Locked in a timeless embrace, neither woman was conscious of falling together, expressing their love.
Carrying a full tray, Casey hurried back into the room, slapping the alarm off seconds before it started blaring. “That was close.” Muttering quietly, the specialist sat the tray on the night stand. Sitting beside her lover, blue eyes swept over her lover. “You really have no idea how much I love you. God knows, I don’t act like it some times,” frowning, last night flashed before her eyes. “I can’t believe I did that…I have no idea what was wrong with me. Not again. You need me. Nothing else matters.” Strengthening her resolve, Casey lightly ran a finger down Beth’s cheek, her own feelings inconsequential. “You are gonna knock them dead today, my love.” Leaning over, she brushed her lips against Beth’s. “Your parents better not utter one single negative thing about you or they’ll have me to deal with.” The specialist knew she could be damned intimidating when she wanted to. “To get to you, they’ll have to go through me. And that’s not gonna happen. Not in this lifetime.” Blue eyes darkened with her heartfelt promise. “Guess I better not put if off any longer.” Raising her voice, Casey called loudly to her sleeping lover. At the first hint of movement, she swooped down, teasing Beth awake with her lips.
“Morning.” Beth rasped huskily, eyes widening in surprise as her mind realized what her body had already told her…Casey was already out of bed. Huh? I missed something. A delicious smell sidetracked her thoughts.
“Good morning, Slick.” Casey teased gently. Without warning, the specialist scooped Beth up, moving her to the other side of the bed and the stack of pillows she’d arranged before heading upstairs. “Don’t move.” Twisting, Casey retrieved the tray, settling it across her lover’s lap. “Hungry?”
“Casey.” She made me breakfast in bed. Gods. The author thought quietly, falling into her lover’s breathtaking smile. How…words failed Beth. Startled, yet very touched green eyes stared at the full tray.
One word, yet the specialist’s heart soared. “Eat before it gets cold.” Casey handed Beth a fork, blue flickering poignantly at the happily flabbergasted look in Beth’s eyes. Heh. I think I actually did something right, if that look is any indication.
“This is incredible.” Beth mumbled around a mouthful, arching an eyebrow at Casey until she picked up the second fork on the tray. They exchanged small talk until all of the pancakes and sausage were gone. “You certainly do a mean pancake, Casey. Thanks.” I can’t believe you brought me breakfast in bed. You have no idea how much that means…gods, beloved. Knowing that saying more would embarrass her lover, Beth settled for looking at Casey with adoration.
Carefully setting the tray on the floor, Casey pounced, unable to resist Beth. Exchanging hot caresses and passionate kisses, Casey put Beth in a much better mood.
“How do I look?” Smiling, Beth spun slowly as requested. “Well?” I don’t have to ask. That look says it all. “Lover.” Beth’s voice dropped to a husky purr. “If you don’t stop looking at me like that, we’ll miss our plane.”
“And that would be a bad thing?” Casey teased, smirking at Beth’s outrageous look. “You look absolutely beautiful.” Stepping closer, the specialist gave into temptation, kissing Beth soundly. “You know,” clearing her throat, Casey tried again, catching her breath first. “You know, I wanted to do that when I met you.”
“Hmm, I wish you would have.” Beth admitted, remembering how alive she felt, how her body instinctively sought out Casey’s. Funny, my body knew before my brain did…that all I needed was you. Everything else didn’t matter. And it still doesn’t. This, you and me, that is the only thing that matters. “Hey, what happened?” Green eyes darkened, finally noticing the long, cloth covered legs in front of her. Damn. Not fair. Frowning and pouting at the same time, Beth managed to glare meaningfully at her lover.
“Do you mind? I didn’t feel like wearing a skirt today.” Casey managed to carry off her innocent look, misdirecting her curious author. Heh…just wait. Cutting off her thoughts before her astute lover could interpret them, the specialist picked up Beth’s purse, handing it over with another innocent smile. “C’mon, Sweetheart. We need to get going.”
“I know. Give me a second to get my briefcase and that report.” Beth considered her lover with a knowing expression. What are you plotting? You’re up to something…that innocent look is a dead giveaway.
“No need.” Casey informed her casually, blue eyes glued to her lover’s gently swaying backside as they walked upstairs. “Unless you wanted something other than the report and your laptop.” For shame, Casey. Picturing Beth in her lap. Get your mind out of the gutter! Groaning almost in pain, the specialist forced her attention and her burning eyes away from her breathtaking love.
“How early did you get up this morning?” Beth asked curiously, catching Casey’s eye in the kitchen. Gods, it’s even clean in here! Breakfast, packed my briefcase, changed my purse, oh…stupid, Beth! Realizing that she hadn’t once said thank you, Beth spun abruptly, throwing both arms around Casey, not caring if she wrinkled either of their suits. “Thank you for this morning. I never would have made it without you.”
“You’re welcome, my love.” Chuckling softly, Casey returned the embrace. “You’ve done the same for me on any number of occasions.” Gently steering Beth to the garage, Casey picked up Beth’s briefcase on the way out, answering before her author could ask again. “Oh, not too early.” The specialist didn’t want Beth to start thinking in that direction. “I brought everything into the kitchen and did it while waiting for the sausage to cook.” Opening Beth’s door, blue twinkled, sure Beth was deliberately trying to drive her crazy. That brief flash of nylon covered thigh set her heart racing. Shaking her head at her wayward thoughts, Casey grinned, slamming the door on her erotic thoughts and oh yeah, the 4Runner.
“Head for the private entrance.” Beth directed Casey to a private hanger, rattling off a series of numbers to open the locked gate. “What?” The drive to the airport had been mostly quiet, both women enjoying the calming peace that had settled over them. At least until Casey straightened, taking on a faintly dark air. That was what the author was questioning.
“Hmm?” Blue flickered briefly, parking in the indicated spot. Casey had spent the drive, plotting and planning. First, she’d decided exactly how far she was willing to let Beth be pushed (not very damned far). Second, she mentally practiced scowling, calling up her dark emotions with ease, planning on using the expression a lot today, promising to keep the enemy at a safe distance. Third, she reviewed her extremely early phone call to Susan, her assistant, with a series of instructions she wanted accomplished today. Then she sent the same instructions on email, not wanting to chance a screw-up. What did my face look like? Better be careful, or Beth will know I’m up to something. “I’m sorry, did you say something?” Casey smiled disarmingly, blue clearing with a purpose. Distraction.
“Your loss. You missed it.” Beth improvised, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. “Guess we better head in. It’s almost 8:00am.” Reaching for her doorhandle, the author was abruptly stopped by her partner clearing her throat in warning. Sitting back, the author sighed, pretending to be irritated. Alright. We’ll do this your way. Just what are you plotting?
“Yeah, yeah.” Casey chuckled, reveling in the playful bantering. “Tell it to someone who doesn’t know any better.” Should I say it or not? Turning serious, Casey took Beth’s small hand in her own, thumb gently rubbing the soft skin. “You let me know if it gets to be too much today, please? Whatever you want, I’ll do it.”
“Casey! We had this discussion last night.” Peeved, Beth glared at Casey. I swear to God. Woman, we are getting married before you talk yourself out of it.
“Huh?” Confused for a moment by her lover’s rapid transformation from happy to extremely pissed, Casey actually slapped her forehead with her free hand. STUPID! “That is not what I meant. I was thinking more along the lines of beating up anyone who annoyed you too much.” Blue glowed brightly, testifying to the truth of her words. “Or shutting them up by doing this.” Leaning forward, Casey captured Beth’s lips in a passionate exchange.
“Oh.” Green flickered between sparkling blue and full lips. I never want to move. This is bliss. Inhaling deeply, drawing in as much of her lover’s intoxicating scent as possible, Beth let Casey’s physical presence calm her nerves. Can’t believe I reacted like that. We need a vacation.
“C’mon, now. Put on your lipstick.” Although Casey rarely wore anything other than clear lip balm, Beth frequently wore colors. They’d both learned to wait before applying their lipstick; it saved time and energy, since they found it impossible to refrain from kissing. “It’s time.” Catching the door opening and a face peering out at them, Casey mentally sighed. Might as well get going and get this over with. “Ready?” Asked as soon as Beth closed her purse. “Hang on, Slick. I’m coming.”
Nodding to the young man who held the door to the private hanger open, blue eyes swept through the neat, tiny lobby, stance relaxing slightly at the absence of trouble…her partner’s family. “Huh, I guess you weren’t kidding.” Casey quirked an eyebrow, discreetly indicating the group of people waiting for them.
“It was like this whenever I accompanied my parents. They can’t go anywhere without a compliment of people to wait on them.” Beth replied, barely audible, knowing Casey would hear her. “Well, here goes nothing.” The author forced a polite smile on her face and did the expected, greeting the man that deferentially approached, informing him that they were ready to leave at her pleasure. Almost laughing as the man snapped his fingers to hurry his crew up, the author followed, keeping a firm grip on her lover’s hand. After being guided into the main cabin, Beth dismissed the hovering man with a wave, telling him they’d be fine until airborne. “Gods, I’ve forgotten how annoying they can be.” Beth whispered when the cabin door shut quietly. “I swear he would wipe my nose if I asked him. Where do you want to sit?”
Casey had remained quiet, letting Beth deal with her family’s employees as she saw fit. The specialist frowned at herself, annoyed that she was actually a little surprised that Beth held her hand the entire time. Blue eyes focused on her lover the instant Beth spoke to her, halting her study of the plane’s interior. “Where ever you want is fine with me.” Casey smiled softly, thinking Beth looked very beautiful in the soft light of the cabin.
“Uh huh.” Green narrowed, not able to decipher her partner’s look. Gently pushing Casey towards the large, reclining connecting chairs that were more like a sofa than an airplane seat, Beth smiled back, not able to maintain her frown. Shrugging out of her jacket, she draped it over the back of a chair before sitting. How in the Hades am I supposed to do anything else when she looks at me like that? “Thanks, Casey.” Feeling very loved, Beth let Casey fuss, getting her settled.
“No problem.” Casey quickly buckled her own belt, then slid Beth’s briefcase into the slot on the side of the large chair. “Not bad.” Playfully bouncing a little on the cushy seat, blue twinkled humorously.
“I am to please, 99.” Beth shot back, reaching for Casey’s hand. “I…” The fussing little man stuck his head around the door after knocking, checking to see that they were comfortably and properly seated. Shaking his head, he hurried to retrieve their jackets, hanging them up with a tsking sound. Within seconds after the door closed, they were moving.
Casey watched concerned as Beth remained silent, growing paler with each passing breath. “Hey, what’s wrong?” Changing hands, the specialist slipped an arm around her lover, bringing her as close as their belted bodies would allow. Softly she whispered words of comfort, thinking furiously. I didn’t think Beth got airsick. She was fine when we flew to Cancun last winter. In fact, the trip was the author’s idea. Beth had checked with Phil and Susan, making sure Casey could take a few days off, then she’d surprised her lover by kidnaping her for a sensual long weekend in the sunny resort area. It was just one of the ways the author contributed. Casey wouldn’t take any money from Beth for living expenses, so the author surprised Casey, with trips, presents and needed items, especially when the author sensed her lover needed a break. This was also why Beth usually did the grocery and other household shopping without Casey. Forcing her attention back to her lightly shaking, pale partner, blue eyes darkened in apprehension. Not knowing what else to do, Casey tightened her grip, speaking whatever came to mind in the low, soft voice Beth loved. Not pulling back when the door opened, as she was inclined to do, Casey looked up as a small blond woman approached, frowning at the intrusion. Couldn’t the woman see they were busy? “Yes?”
“Here is Ms Jamieson’s medication.”
“Thank you.” Casey forced her hurt feelings down, taking the glass and pill from the young woman. Medicine? Why didn’t you say anything? Reminding herself that Beth was all that mattered, the specialist handed her still quiet lover her pill and water, observing in silence as the pill was handed back. Unclasping their belts, Casey wordlessly opened her arms, drawing her lover close. I can wait until you’re ready to tell me. Hoping that was true, the specialist offered whatever support and comfort she could with her body.
“Thanks.” Beth’s husky voice floated up softly. “That hasn’t happened in ages.” Aware an explanation was necessary, Beth cast about for one. How do I explain what I don’t understand? “When I was a child, I got motion sick whenever we traveled.” Beth started, trying to work through an explanation both of them would accept. “It didn’t matter…car, boat, or plane, especially when I was with my parents. After being embarrassed a few times by my behavior, my parents had the family doctor prescribe a mild sedative, convinced it was just nerves. By the time I reached sixteen, I only needed the pills occasionally. Huh.” Beth thought about what she said.
“And?” Casey prodded softly when Beth didn’t continue, sternly willing her trained muscles to not react. Damn. They drugged her!! Then… God, I gave it to her. Damn, damn, damn!
“When I went away to college, I found I didn’t need them, to my relief. I hated the way they made me feel, all sluggish, like I was trying to walk through waist deep water.” Beth grinned, startling Casey. “Hey, you worked faster and better than that pill ever did. Thanks!!”
“My pleasure.” Casey tried to return Beth’s excitement, but just couldn’t. I could kill your parents. They better not even think of trying anything today. “You only needed them,” the words came out easily, despite the effort it took to force them past her lips. “When you were with your parents, right?” At Beth’s nod, she continued, immediately understanding the situation. “I suppose it never crossed their minds that they were the problem, not the travel.”
“That’s not totally true.” The author’s smile softened. My protector…nice to see you today. “The travel did bother me, but with my grandparents I was too busy to get sick. Couldn’t let Grandma win a word game; she gloated unmercifully.”
“Does it bother you now?” Casey asked curiously. She’d bet that Beth didn’t have any problems with travel, given the happy smile that usually graced her face. “Beth?”
“Not usually.” Exhaling noisily, the author tried to find a polite way to answer, one that wouldn’t send Casey off yelling at herself. “If I’m already upset, sometimes sudden motion bothers me.” Guess that’s why it always bothered me as a child. Only with my grandparents did I feel happy.
“You mean like me racing around town like a fool.” Casey growled, blaming herself for causing Beth pain, even though it was unintentional.
“No, usually that makes me laugh. You get this look on your face that’s just adorable.” Beth countered, sighing. And I can’t resist it. Time to change the subject. The connecting door opened and the young blond woman returned, bringing coffee and an assortment of muffins and donuts.
“Guess next time I’ll make more pancakes.” Casey teased, watching Beth rapidly consume one donut. I’m not forgetting about this. We’ll talk about it later. Leaning over, Casey cleaned a dab of sugar from Beth’s lips. Swallowing her own moan as Beth’s lips parted, the specialist kept her kisses light and loving, trying to let her partner know how much she was loved and needed.
Ignoring the quiet, unobtrusive young woman as she checked on them throughout the short flight, Casey uncharacteristically chattered, using her voice to wrap a protective cocoon around her lover. By the time the plane was circling the airport in Boston, Beth was relaxed and the harsh lines of tension were invisible. “You look much better now.” Casey noted, pleased.
“I feel much better.” Beth confirmed, smiling in gratitude at her fussing lover, accepting the tissue with quiet thanks. “Thank you. I expected this to be hard.” Boy, that’s an understatement. But I’ll keep that to myself. Casey would yank me out of here if she realized how upset I actually was. “But I feel great…just fantastic.” The specialist’s kisses and tender, touching caresses had propelled the author past her anxieties and concerns. Beth knew that dealing with her parents all day would strain her, but right at this instant, she knew that everything was right in her world. All because of one incredibly sexy, dark haired woman.
“Fantastic, huh?” Casey teased lightly, deciding to let Beth off the hook. At least for now. “Here, let me get that.” Reaching over, she fastened Beth’s seatbelt, smoothing the fabric under it to prevent any additional wrinkles.
“You take such good care of me.” Beth relished the attention, soaking up her partner’s attentions. That reminds me. Wonder what she’ll say? “Aren’t you wondering why you can attend the meeting with me?” The author belatedly remembered she hadn’t answered Casey’s question from yesterday.
“Well, that thought had crossed my mind.” Casey chuckled, sitting back as Beth returned the favor of securing her seatbelt.
“The board meetings are open to family or by written invitation only.” Beth studied Casey carefully, looking for any reaction.
“Oh, well that makes sense.” Casey cautiously replied, thinking quickly. Is Beth saying what I think she is? I hope so. “I guess it wouldn’t matter if we wore our rings or not then, huh?” The answering glow in Beth’s eyes was all she needed to see. “Good. I don’t want there to be any doubts of my intentions.” I care about you…want you…your family doesn’t figure into the equation. They are irrelevant. “It’s best they understand I’m here to stay…I’m not going anywhere. Just so you know.”
Beth didn’t even feel the decent or landing, eyes locked with Casey’s. You have no idea what those words mean to me.
“Beth?” The author didn’t hear, lost in blue. “Sweetheart.” Reacting to the quiet wonder in her lover’s eyes, Casey exhaled softly, fighting the urge to carry Beth off, showing her exactly how she felt.
The repeated phrase, along with a light caress pulled the author from her thoughts. “Yeah? You said something?”
“We’re on the ground.” Casey grinned rakishly, basking in her lover’s delight.
Oh no I’m not. “So we are.” A soft, happy glow lit the author’s face. My heart, my soul…they’re still up there. I can’t believe Casey is OK with this…I’m basically staking a claim on her. Not that I have any problems with that, not in this or any life. Where’s my shy, reserved lover? Awash in the sensual haze her lover’s, her wife’s words invoked, Beth absently followed where led. It wasn’t until they were in the limousine that the author realized where they were. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself.” The wide grin on her partner’s face was contagious. Until Casey remembered who they’d been meeting shortly. “How much trouble will I be in if I pump Chris Dupree for information?” The specialist’s expression changed, switching from playful lover to circling hawk in an instant. Both of us need to think of something else.
“More trouble than you can handle.” Glaring, Beth gave the impression of standing with her hands on her hips. Two can play this game, lover. “So don’t even think about it, Casey Bennett!” No giggling, Beth.
“There’s no such thing.” Casey scoffed, arching an eyebrow at the ridiculous thought. “But since you asked so nicely, I’ll behave.” You’re safe with me. No one, especially myself, will give you any cause for alarm. “But it will cost you.” Smirking sexily, the specialist called up various images of how she’d like to be repaid.
“Ask him anything you want.” Beth stopped playing, turning uncharacteristically shy; it would be easier if Chris filled in a few blanks. “There isn’t anything from my past that I don’t want you to know.” The author noted the lightly shaded look in Casey’s eyes. “Or my present.” Beth amended, relieved to see her lover’s eyes clear, then sweep over her approvingly.
“You look incredible today.” Casey realized with a pang that she hadn’t told Beth how lovely she looked on the plane. Something she had promised herself she’d do.
“You aren’t too shabby either, my friend. Thanks.” Beth couldn’t help but blush slightly. Casey’s heated gaze leaving no doubt as to her attentions, if they’d been alone. Unconsciously, the author shifted, meeting her partner’s stare with intense passion. See what I’m thinking…what I’m feeling…experience what you do to me.
“Ready?” Casey spoke softly, breaking their hypnotic connection when the car stopped. Leaning down, the specialist kissed Beth lightly before her door was opened. Blue twinkled as Beth’s blush deepened. Glaring at the driver until he moved, Casey helped Beth from the limo. “I guess it’s time.”
“Let’s get this over with…we have plans, remember?” Squaring her shoulders, Beth walked confidently into the modern building, extremely conscious of the almost menacing presence of her lover at her side. One last look, one last touch, and Beth nodded to the secretary, pushing open the door to the board room.
Blue eyes focused intently on her lover, not believing what she heard. That’s the third time that’s happened…you never back down from anything. And you never, ever let anyone tell you what to do, not without a fight. What’s going on? Beth’s uncharacteristic behavior pulled the specialist from her thoughts.
Upon entering the room, Casey had taken a polite, yet protective stance along side her lover, suffering through introductions to the board members before the meeting started. Using her scowls sparingly, Casey had kept questions about their relationship to a minimum. Her lover had pegged her family and their friends; almost every question asked was to delve into Casey’s past or her future plans. Every person in the room had noticed the rings that graced their fingers. Her exceptional hearing had picked up more than one comment, but no one had the courage to ask the scowling woman or the woman she shadowed specifically about the rings. At times, the specialist felt like she was being asked to prove her worthiness for admission into an exclusive club, one made up entirely of the Jamieson family and close friends. Ignoring her own discomfort at answering personal questions, Casey tried to put them at ease, so they’d leave Beth alone. And whenever she felt Beth tense up, she’d casually moved closer, brushing Beth’s arm or shoulder in a friendly manner, letting her partner know she wasn’t alone. Surprisingly, the elder Jamiesons avoided their daughter, not acknowledging her presence until moments before calling the meeting to order. Once the meeting started, the specialist had switched tactics, using the table to cover her touches as they became more familiar. A warm hand to Beth’s tense knee. A loving, reassuring pat to a hard thigh. Each time maintaining contact until the author relaxed and her breathing evened out. After plastering a politely interested look on her face, Casey’s thoughts started to roam, reviewing her plans. It wasn’t until Beth deferred yet again, that the specialist’s attention forcefully returned to her lover.
“What?” Beth mumbled out of the corner of her mouth, feeling the concerned blue eyes openly study her as soon as her sister started speaking again.
“You OK?” Blue burned into green. At Beth’s nod, blue flickered to her author’s hand, up to curious green, and finally, to her own hand. Casually she put her hand on her lover’s silky thigh, taking Beth’s hand and entwining their fingers when it joined hers under the table.
Not sure what was going on, Beth forced a reassuring smile on her face before turning to face Cassandra. How did you know I needed that? Needed you? I am so glad you insisted on coming with me. Thank you. I’ll explain later…wait, what was that? What are they volunteering me for? No way am I going to host a benefit luncheon for your snooty friends. I’ll go, but that’s it. Regretfully, the author concentrated on her mother, having learned the hard way that it wasn’t safe to trust her parents. A few well placed, yet totally non-confrontational comments changed the conversation, successfully avoiding her mother’s trap.
The next series of questions came from Beth’s father, who had remained silent up until now. Blue narrowed dangerously as his nasal voice dipped, addressing Beth haughtily by her full name, Elizabeth Alexandra. No wonder you don’t like to be called that…how did you survive growing up? Feeling Beth tense, Casey squeezed her hand reassuringly. Quickly she noted that the deviation in routine surprised everyone but her lover’s parents. Even Cassandra looked ticked; she had yet to finish one section of her report without being interrupted. I guess it’s possible that Cassandra did just want an ally.
The more Beth pulled back into herself, the angrier Casey became, not liking how Beth bent over backwards to avoid a confrontation. Yet the complex word games Beth engaged in to navigate the onslaught of attacks made Casey proud. Her lover’s parents were not gaining any ground, but the specialist could clearly see how their harsh words, cloaked in politeness were hurting her lover. I’m sorry you have to go through this. Growling silently, Casey swore that this would be the last time they hurt Beth. She would have put a stop to their questions immediately, but Casey didn’t want to embarrass Beth by flying off half cocked. All I can do is sit here, holding your hand. DAMN! Why did I ever agree to just sit here? Laying in bed this morning, wrapped around each other, Beth had asked Casey to let her do all the talking during the meeting. Now I understand why you made me promise. I don’t like it, not one bit. Is this what it was like for you growing up? Being forced to be someone you weren’t? Being molded into their warped idea of the perfect daughter? I have no idea how you survived, let alone with your thirst for life, your caring nature, your goodness. You told me I was the brave one. You’re much braver than I ever was…you managed to land gracefully on your feet, body and soul intact. I’m so proud of you. It makes me feel really proud that you love me, that you’ve chosen to spend your life with me…if you let me, I’ll spend the rest of my life loving you. Knowing that was exactly what Beth wanted, Casey couldn’t stop the soft smile from spreading across her face or her tense muscles from relaxing. Guess you felt that, huh? The curious look she fielded from her partner didn’t change her grin. Get a grip, Casey. Concentrate on what’s being said. Not planning on letting her lover get roped into anything she wasn’t totally in favor of, the specialist brought her thoughts back to the conversation, listening intently. And promptly her good mood flew out the window as Beth cringed slightly as another subtle slam landed, but remained silent. Bound by her promise, Casey just sat there, waiting.
Thank God! Casey rose quickly to her feet, taking her slightly startled lover with her as soon as Beth’s father rose, saying it was time for lunch. Leaning over, she whispered in Beth’s ear. “Where’s the restroom?”
“C’mon, I’ll show you.” Smiling politely as they past her aunt and uncle, Beth guided them discretely yet determinedly around the room and through an ornately carved door into a large room that had been tastefully divided. Green eyes briefly flickered over the rich, formal decor, before firmly turning her attention to her partner. “What’s up?” Speaking quietly, Beth took Casey’s free hand when the door shut behind them. The author was well aware her partner could have found the washroom on her own. Looking up into Casey’s eyes, Beth reminded herself to breathe. As always, the depths of emotions reflected in crystal blue stole the author’s breath.
“Are you OK? What happened out there?” Tugging gently, Casey dropped Beth’s hands, wrapping her arms around her lover’s trim waist.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Admitting to herself that she knew exactly what Casey was asking. Beth did not want to have this conversation now. It had been all she could do to stay seated during her parents’ questioning. Inquisition is more like it.
“That shy, timid woman who sat in on the meeting is not the woman I know and love.” Casey bit her lip, holding in her exasperation at her lover’s reluctance to talk. Aren’t you always after me to open up? Is this how I make you feel when I don’t? The faded, hurt look in Beth’s eyes hit her hard. Oh crap! Beth thinks that…unable to complete that thought, Casey swore softly, tightening her hold measurably. “I love YOU,” Casey spoke passionately, from her heart. “I am worried about you. Talk to me.” Some of the tension and pain fled Beth’s eyes, dragging a relieved smile out of Casey.
“I don’t know where to start.” Beth acquiesced quietly, leaning against Casey wearily. Dealing with her family exhausted the author; it always had. I need Casey to know. “Can I tell you something?”
“Anything.” Casey whispered in Beth’s ear, then pulled back to meet her lover’s pained gaze. Unconsciously, her hands started to rub soothingly, slipping under her partner’s tailored jacket. Increasing the pressure slightly as Beth relaxed under her skillful hands, Casey asked her to continue.
“I’m glad you are with me today. I don’t think I could have made it without you.” Beth knew no truer words had been spoken. In fact, the author could pinpoint the moment her anxiety fell to a barely tolerable level, enabling her to remain at the meeting – when Casey had scooted unnoticeably closer, taking her hand. “My protector, you kept the demons away…” And kept me whole. Falling silent, Beth frowned as she recognized her sister’s voice. “Damn. I guess we can’t hide out in here for the rest of the day.” Sighing, Beth reluctantly released Casey and stepped back as the door opened.
“There you are Beth.” Walking into the room, Cassandra rolled her eyes as she noted the close proximity of her sister and her lover. “I need a moment of your time before lunch. I have some papers for you to sign.” Cassandra hadn’t stopped, talking over her shoulder as she stepped around the corner.
Exhaling in irritation, Casey hugged Beth quickly while Cassandra chattered on about the meeting from the other room. “Hang on, Sweetheart. It’ll be OK, I promise.” Whispered in Beth’s ear.
“I love you, Casey.” Beth turned her head, inhaling her lover’s intoxicating, exotic scent. “You always smell so good.” The author closed her eyes and breathed deeply, then stepped back, hearing that Cassandra would walk around the corner any minute. Her delight in the sensual experience was obvious; Beth’s cheeks were lightly flushed and her breathing erratic. The experience so captivated the author, that she missed her sister’s comment. “Cassandra, what did you need again?”
You little imp! What can I say to that? Growling softly, Casey tried to shake off her body’s instant reaction to her surprisingly playful lover. Not sure if she should accompany Beth or not (it was clear from Cassandra’s look that she wanted a few minutes alone with her sister), the specialist stayed in the room, out of the way while the two sisters hugged briefly. Guess I’ll take my cue from you, love. But if she hurts you, I’ll… Not trusting herself if she finished the thought, Casey narrowed her eyes, staring protectively at her lover.
“You look happy.”
Casey’s acute hearing caught Cassandra’s mumbled statement. Beth’s giggled answer inspired one in her, interrupting the conversation. OK, I can take a hint. Watch your back, Sweetheart. If you need me, yell and I’m there. “If you don’t need me,” blue sought out and held green unwaveringly. “I’ll find Chris.”
“Go ahead, I’ll catch up with you shortly.” Beth smiled brightly, convincing Casey she was serious. “This should just take a few minutes. I need to sign the papers that legally make me a member of the board for the next year. Try to behave, 99.” Beth teased gently, feeling a little extra assurance was necessary.
“Never fear, Slick. I’ll be good.” Smirking, Casey exited, knowing how Beth hated not getting the last word in. Grinning mentally in relief, the specialist vowed to pull the rest of the story out of her unusually quiet lover. And ran right into Beth’s mocking parents.
“Ms Bennett.” Twin sets of familiar green eyes swept mockingly over the tall, dark haired woman. “We’d like a moment of your time.”
“Mr and Mrs Jamieson, what can I do for you?” Casey’s voice was pleasantly polite, successfully masking her raging emotions. All it took was Beth’s father’s nasal voice and his disapproving stare to re-ignite her anger at her lover’s treatment.
“Casey, dear…may I call you Casey? Won’t you join us for a little bit. Surely you have nothing better to do.” Mrs Jamieson didn’t pause for an answer, impetuously steering the specialist to an open corner. “How do I say this without being misunderstood?” A pained look swept over the manicured features, leaving no doubts she thought the common, ordinary words were necessary. “Never in my deepest nightmares did I envision having this conversation. You’re a danger to Elizabeth. You have her so blinded by her physical attraction,” Mrs Jamieson almost choked on the words, clearly showing her distaste. “That she can’t tell what’s right and wrong. Not to mention the actual physical danger she’s been exposed to since meeting you. Tell us, what would it take to get you out of our daughter’s life? How much? Your type always have a price. Name your price and it will be deposited in your bank within the hour.”
“My type?” After a few stunned moments, the specialist found her voice. Casey reminded herself that Beth would not approve of nor appreciate her flattening her parents. “Let me tell you something.” Casey straightened measurably and stepped forward, using her height and muscular form to intimidate. “I love your daughter. Nothing you could offer me, no amount of money will ever change that. Nothing will make me walk away from Beth.” Blue flashed explosively, causing Beth’s parents to step back. “Watch yourselves closely.” The specialist’s voice fell dangerously low as she followed their retreat menacingly, summoning her dark side, the one that caused hardened criminals to tremble in fear. “Don’t you ever put Beth through what you did this morning again.” Casey held their gaze steadily, letting their minds fill in the blanks, instinctively knowing the dark images her presence invoked and that their imaginations would fill in the blanks. The specialist would have bet her last dollar that Beth’s parents had conducted a thorough investigation of her – they knew what she was capable of.
Casey reasoned it was safe to confront Beth’s parents now. She’d only promised to remain quiet during the meeting. “And if you ever try to drug Beth again,” the specialist forced herself to remain standing. A brief mental image of her fists connecting with those oh so pompous faces flashed before her, causing an evil, satisfied grin to spread across her face. A small portion of her brain noted the startled, scared look on the elder Jamiesons faces. That’s it. I’m your worst nightmare. Be afraid… “I am not a nice person, especially when the woman I love is threatened.” Casey knew better than to voice an actual threat. Really it wasn’t necessary, because there was no doubt in any of their minds what the former FBI agent would do. None whatsoever.
“Let me make one thing very clear.” Dark energy radiated off Casey, eloquently reflecting her inner thoughts. “I love your daughter very much. I do my damnedest to protect her. I would willingly die to keep her safe.” If Beth’s parents cared to look, they would see the truth in Casey’s eyes. “Beth gave me this ring,” Casey lifted her hand, indicating her ring. “She gave it to me because she loves me.” Blue softened slightly, unable to remain so angry when talking about their love. “I’m only taking it off once, when the minister blesses them at our wedding.” Gleefully, Casey confirmed their fears. “I’m here to stay, so deal with it.” Catching Beth out of the corner of her eye, the specialist slapped herself mentally for not checking on her earlier, frowning at the slightly bewildered look in her partner’s eyes. Go to her. “Remember what I’ve said.” Briefly, Casey focused on the Jamiesons once more. “There isn’t anything I won’t do for her, even put up with you. Excuse me.” Spinning around, Casey heard their mumbled curses as she quickly made her way across the room.
Projecting a dark scowl that Beth couldn’t see, Casey stared pointedly at the talking couple, prompting them to hurriedly finish their conversation. Standing at Beth’s side, Casey protectively slid an arm around her lover’s waist, not caring what anyone thought. As she had walked confidently across the crowed room, the specialist recalled her introduction to the two people cornering her lover. Her parents ‘dear friends’…it figures. “Mr Wabash, Mrs Torrington.” Biting back an evil chuckle as they politely excused themselves, Casey allowed herself a moment to insure her face reflected nothing but love and support, before stepping protectively in front of Beth, gently pushing her farther back into the corner. “Everything OK, Sweetheart?” Casey spoke lowly, eyes never straying from Beth’s.
Avoiding her lover’s question, the author asked what was foremost in her mind, her own worries and concerns paled in comparison. “How are you holding up, 99?” Beth unconsciously stepped closer, inhaling the light fragrance that was uniquely Casey. Shortly after they moved in together, Beth had teasingly asked her new lover why she always smelled so good. The author was reasonably sure Casey didn’t use perfume or bath oils (the only ones in the house where what she’d brought with her). Her answer had been an embarrassed shrug of broad shoulders and a mumbled reply. Closing her eyes in memory, a delighted grin broke the tension on her face.
…..”I smell?” Casey quirked an eyebrow, waiting for Beth to continue. “Yeah, it’s very intoxicating and unique.” Beth inhaled deliberately, tasting the delightful aroma. “Hmm, I can’t really describe it…a hint of flowers on a warm summer night…a hint of sunshine…” Giving up, Beth stepped closer, nuzzling the sensitive flesh under Casey’s ear. “Whatever it is, it drives me crazy,” growling, the author nipped teasingly…..
“What’s that look for?” Casey interrupted Beth’s thoughts, smiling softly as the familiar grin warmed her inside.
“Just remembering how much I love how you smell.” Whoops! Better think before I open my mouth. The look she received from Casey set her heart racing. As if it wasn’t already. Beth thought wryly, wishing they were alone, someplace secluded.
“You’re evil, you know that?” Casey cleared her throat huskily, sternly telling her body to ignore the heat rushing through her veins.
“Trust me, I didn’t mean it that way. Although that’s even more true.” Beth blushed, reaching for Casey’s hand. Remember where you are, Beth. That thought splashed over her, cooling her faster than an icy shower. That reminded the author. “What did my parents want?”
“How much did you see?” Casey countered, wondering when Beth saw her. Hope I didn’t embarrass her…I don’t want to cause her any more problems. But there is no way I was going to let them get away with that again.
“Nothing.” Beth answered honestly, swearing silently. If they did anything to hurt you, they’re going to regret it. Beth had problems standing up for herself, but where Casey was concerned, she came out swinging, asking questions later. “I just figured they’d do something when I wasn’t in the room. That’s their style.”
“And you didn’t warn me?” Casey teased, bringing their entwined hands to her lips, kissing Beth’s fingers softly, not caring who saw. I’ll be damned if I hide how much I love you…especially here, where you need all the support and love I can give you. “Don’t worry about them.” Casey shrugged her shoulders, using her considerable skills to keep her emotions off her face. Beth doesn’t need another thing to deal with. And I did expect something like this to happen. Changing the subject, the specialist raised an eyebrow questioningly, knowing Beth loved when she did that. “Did you get your papers signed?”
“Yeah, Karen had everything in order. It was just a matter of signing on the dotted line.” Beth giggled, startling her lover.
“What’s so funny? And who is this Karen?” Blue narrowed in reaction to Beth’s silly grin and giggle. Who the hell is Karen? Why does she earn such a response from you? “You did read everything before signing, right?” Casey didn’t trust Beth’s parents to not try pulling something. To say she trusted them at all was an outright lie.
“Yes, I read everything.” Beth smiled, I think my protector is a little jealous. A warmth spread through the author, surprising her with its intensity. Wow. I never knew. “Karen McDonald is a childhood friend, a partner in crime, if you will.” Beth didn’t want Casey to have any doubts, knowing how she reacted to ‘her look’ being given in memory of someone else. “I met Karen when I was in first grade and have known her ever since. Like me, she didn’t want to rely on her family name to get ahead. Although she does use it now, once she obtained her position. I haven’t seen her for a couple of years, but we keep in touch through Cass and exchange the occasional email and cards at holidays. She’s now a junior partner in a large Boston law firm. Part of her firm’s charity contributions include doing a certain number of contracts for the Foundation every year.” Beth sighed softly, observing how uptight Casey still was. “I think Cass had her do the contract because we were all friends growing up.”
“Since you trust her.” Casey couldn’t believe how stupid she sounded. “When can I meet Karen?” the specialist smiled disarmingly, unconsciously turning on the charm. As if there were any doubts who Beth loved. “I bet she has some good stories.”
“She’ll be out in a little while.” Beth groaned, imagining what questions Casey would ask. “Promise me you’ll be nice.”
“I’m always nice.” Casey straightened, meeting Beth’s gaze innocently. “OK, OK, I give.” Casey caved in quickly, falling victim as usual to her partner’s innocent, puppy eyes. “Don’t worry. You’re safe with me, Slick.”
“I know.” Beth answered, very serious, hearing the unspoken plea in her lover’s voice. “There are three things I’m sure of, and that’s one of them.” For once in her adult life, Beth didn’t care what her parents thought, embracing her lover emotionally. If the author would have stopped to think, she would have realized that her relationship with Casey was the one thing she ever constantly defended and protected. And the only thing she ever knew she couldn’t live without.
“Beth?” Casey whispered in her ear, squeezing tightly. “Are you OK?”
“Yeah.” Beth breathed deeply, letting Casey fill her senses, calming her sudden fears. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Beth.” The specialist was a little confused by Beth’s rapid mood swings. Not knowing what else to do, Casey held Beth, offering what comfort she could with her body.
“That’s two.” Beth finally found her voice, even if it was a little shaky. “Thanks.”
“Any time. What’s three?” Casey stepped back, maintaining her hold on her lover, needing to see her face.
“That I would never willingly hurt you.” Beth’s soft, sure voice washed over the specialist, earning her a devoted look in return. What did you think I’d say? Huh?
“How come there are so many people here for lunch?” About thirty people filled the room; Casey was relatively sure no one had paid them much attention. She hadn’t felt anyone staring or heard anyone speaking about them. Almost going on autopilot, she trusted her senses to keep them safe and gave in to her need to comfort her lover. Those same instincts were telling her to change the subject, that Beth needed a break. They could talk later. Me? Wanting to talk? That thought had the specialist mentally grinning, aware of just how many times she’d said that in the last twenty-four hours.
“The Foundation has over one hundred full-time employees and the most productive member of each department was invited along with their supervisor. Various political and community leaders also were invited.” Casually, Beth pointed out several people she was at one time acquainted with.
“Here comes your sister.” Casey stepped back, intending to give Beth a little privacy with her sister, but was prevented from going too far by Beth’s strong grip on her hand. Standing silently, the specialist tried to offer support without acting like she was protecting Beth…which she was.
Listening to Cass prattle on about her new boyfriend, Beth suddenly grinned, startling her sister. Casey must hate this. Purposefully being a tease, Beth brushed innocently against her partner, patting her suggestively out of view. Bad author, bad, bad author. She’ll get even.
“What’s wrong?” Cass looked nervously over her shoulder, thinking her parents approach would be about the only thing that would cause such an evil grin, entirely missing her sister’s objective.
“Nothing’s wrong, Cass. Go ahead, I’m listening.” Unobtrusively, Beth reached under Casey’s jacket, pinching the tempting cloth covered flesh. I owe you for Davies. Heh, and you thought I’d forget. Never. You’re the one who wanted to hide back here against the wall. I’d be remiss in my duties if I passed on this perfect opportunity. Hiding her grin as blue eyes narrowed in challenge, Beth turned innocently to Casey. “Excuse me, Cass. I don’t mean to be rude. Casey, there’s Chris Dupree. Didn’t you want to talk to him?” The author knew without a doubt that she’d cave first if Casey touched her. The only way to win the challenge was a preemptive strike. Hence she covertly scanned the crowd until she found Chris’s familiar face. Ha! I win this time.
“Thanks, I did want to see him. Nice talking to you Cassandra.” Nodding politely to Beth’s sister, Casey took the hint and moved away from the sisters. What are you up too now? Blue met and held green. Mouthing ‘you win, for now,’ Casey smiled, conceding the round to her partner. Pleased that Beth felt comfortable enough to tease her when her sister was present, the specialist slowly moved to join Chris Dupree, intending to keep Beth in her line of sight at all times. Just because she feels better doesn’t mean I trust anyone in this room. I promise you, they won’t hurt you as long as I’m around.
“Casey, what a pleasant surprise.” Chris Dupree had seen the former FBI agent working her way towards him, speaking to her when she joined him. “What do you think of all this?” Asked as soon as they were alone.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to drive off your companions.” Said very drily as muscular shoulders shrugged an apology. Which was promptly waved off. “It’s nice to see you again, Chris.”
“Recuse missions your speciality today, Ms Bennett?” The older man chuckled at the perplexed look on Casey’s face. “Mrs Torrington doesn’t know the meaning of brevity.”
“Ah…glad I could help.” Missions? What did you see? Casey cleared her throat, pointing to a relatively open corner of the room. “Have a minute for a couple of questions?” Not wanting to miss this unique opportunity, Casey smiled in relief when Chris accepted the invitation.
“What’s on your mind, Casey.” Knowing eyes observed the young woman in front of him. He hid a smile as she shifted so Beth was in her line of sight. Philip would have loved you. I’m sorry he never got the chance to meet you.
“What happened in there this morning? Beth’s parents landed on her pretty hard.” The harsh tone left no doubts to the specialist’s feelings. “Beth is…” Beautiful, smart, sassy, loving, forgiving, strong, brave beyond words…my everything. “The best person I’ve ever known. Why do they treat her like dirt? Like she’s nothing to be proud of?” Blue focused intently on the older man, wanting to understand. Needing something, anything to temper the rage flowing through her veins at her partner’s treatment. Beth deserved nothing but the best, nothing but respect.
“I assume Beth hasn’t told you much about how she grew up. If you’d seen her as a child, you would be amazed at how much she’s changed. I was so surprised to hear she was joining the board…wait, I know it wasn’t entirely voluntary. I’m astonished she just didn’t make the donations herself and remove herself from a painful situation. You have no idea how surprised, yet pleased I was when Beth stood up to her parents today.” Chris Dupree weighed his words, not sure if it was his place to enlighten the specialist.
“Tell me, please.” Casey unconsciously looked to her partner, breathing easier as Beth laughed with her sister. You call that standing up for herself? Good God. What hell did Beth go through? “How can I protect her if I don’t know the whole story?” Intent blue eyes pinned the businessman in place, convincing him of her sincerity.
“Philip and Marie, Beth’s grandparents,” Chris Dupree sighed, shaking his head a little in remembrance. “They both wondered how they could have raised such a selfish, spoiled man as Charles. Charles and I were in the same class at prep school. My parents traveled extensively, so I spent many holidays and breaks with the Jamiesons. As the years past and the Jamieson Corporation acquired more wealth and power under Philip’s successful leadership, Charles changed too. Marie and Philip were the first to admit they shouldn’t have given their son so much lead way and freedom. But they reasoned that to learn responsibility, one had to be given the chance to make mistakes and then learn from them. Charles didn’t have much business sense, but he could talk with the best of them, running circles around his prey until they were so captivated, they gave him whatever he wanted. Recognizing his natural talents, Philip and Marie talked up the Whizle Foundation, figuring someone should get some good from their selfish son. And the Whizle Foundation has soared under Charles and Martha’s leadership. Anyway, Philip and Marie were both painfully aware that Charles would marry someone exactly like him and they weren’t disappointed. They vowed to not make the same mistakes a second time, knowing their socially conscious son and daughter-in-law wouldn’t want to give up their active, public lifestyle. I know they saw Beth and Cassandra as their second chance. This time they were determined to do the right thing.”
As Chris spoke, Casey split her attention between Chris and Beth. Although this wasn’t exactly the information the specialist was after, she’d learned a long time ago (through countless interviews) to let people tell their story in their own way. A little patience went a long way. Admit it, you like watching Beth. She’s so damn sexy in that suit. That’s the source of your patience. Blushing slightly when she realized Chris had stopped speaking (and she’d been caught staring goofily at her lover), Casey focused intently on the older man. The former agent wasn’t in the mood to explain about her unusual skills of tracking two things at once. “I assume Charles and Martha waited the ‘respectable’ amount of time before having children?” Casey’s question showed Chris that she was paying attention.
“Of course.” Chris chuckled slightly. “I know we were more excited than the parents-to-be. Unfortunately, Philip and Marie were correct in their suspicions and spent as much time as they were allowed with Beth and then later, Cassandra.”
Chris Dupree shifted, not quite sure how to explain his old schoolmate’s actions. Deciding there was no other way, he sighed, giving his view of the situation. “I guess Charles wanted ‘socially correct’ children, so he tried to limit his parents’ influence by expecting his daughters to be perfect little ladies. Luckily for Beth and Cassandra, Philip and then later Marie, controlled a significant portion of the family’s money. Charles was rigidly demanding, squashing any behavior or thought not deemed appropriate for young ladies of ‘their station.’ But no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t stamp out Beth’s fire, her quest for life. She was such a cute, lovable kid. The one thing she did inherit from her parents were their tempers.”
“Beth was smart and learned at an early age that every choice and action had a consequence. The cost of rebellion was always weighed against this knowledge.” Unknowingly, Chris caused Casey to stiffen, figuring the worst. “Punishments ran from having to wear frilly dresses which Beth hated, to long formal dinners where her every move was scrutinized and later judged, to limiting Beth’s time with her grandparents, the worst punishment in her book. Well, I guess that’s not true.” Chris interrupted himself, frowning. “I think the worst thing was not being allowed to think freely, to express her growing curiosity and impressive imagination. ‘Flights of fancy’ as her mother preached nearly every week, not only were unproductive, but totally inappropriate, especially for a Jamieson. Countless times, Beth’s journals were taken away and she was not allowed to write, to express her feelings.”
Breathe…in and out…you can’t kill them, Beth wouldn’t want that. That thought was the only thing holding Casey in place; the desire to throttle her partner’s parents was nearly overwhelming. As Chris talked, outlining Beth’s various punishments, blue eyes unconsciously found her partner. How did you survive? You’re much braver than I ever was or can hope to be. To have your creativity stifled like that…god, Beth.
“That reminds me.” Chris’s misplaced chuckle earned him a full force scowl from his companion. Which he ignored, continuing his tale. “I remember the first time Beth stood up to her parents.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. C’mon, Dupree. Spill it. Blue eyes flashed to Beth to ascertain her situation, then settled firmly on Chris.
“It was very late and we were surprised when a car pulled into the driveway. Philip and I were up, discussing business when the doorbell rang. I barely had time to open the door before a crying furry flew into the room, and Philip’s startled arms. It took me a second to recognize Beth, she was that upset. Slipping quietly from the room, I went to get Marie. I listened at the door, not sure if I needed to call the police or her parents.”
…..”Grandma, Grandpa! I was so scared! It was so real.” Sobbing, Beth clung to her grandfather.
“What happened, honey?” Marie Jamieson spoke calmly to her sobbing granddaughter, directly in contrast to her turning stomach. Meeting her husband’s startled gaze, Marie felt her heart break. ‘If my son is responsible for this,’ unable to finish the thought, she concentrated on Beth. “Are you hurt Beth? Did someone touch or hit you?” Added when her young granddaughter didn’t respond.
“It hurts.” Was all Beth could get out before giving in to her tears once again.
“Beth? Honey, listen to me. This is very important.” The low tone of Philip Jamieson worked its magic, making the crying adolescent straighten, attempting to control her tears.
“Yes, Grandpa?” There wasn’t anything Beth wouldn’t do for her grandparents.
“Who hurt you? Do we need to call the police?” The elder Jamiesons didn’t know what was wrong, but they weren’t taking any chances.
“No, Grandpa. No one touched or hit me.” Beth didn’t know it, but her words didn’t reassure her grandparents. “I was dreaming and I got scared. Guess I shouldn’t have run across town so late at night.” She didn’t even bother trying to rationalize why she didn’t tell the housekeeper or her sister. “I needed to talk to someone who’d understand. So I called the cab company we’ve used before and had them pick me up outside the gates.”
The coherent, well thought out statement alarmed the elder Jamiesons. It did not fit with the emotional child in their arms. “Can you tell us about your dream?” Marie spoke softly, soothingly, not letting on her grandchild’s wild flight terrified her.
“I’m standing in the middle of a green field filled with pretty white and yellow daisies. Many colorful trees, evergreens for sure and maybe oak…aren’t those the ones with the funny leaves, Grandpa? Anyway, they circle the meadow. I bet if I got tired, they’d be a good place to take a nap. A small, lightly bubbling stream flows through the center of the field, almost like it’s laughing and talking to me. Me! The sun is shining brightly and there’s not a cloud in the sky. A soft breeze cools me, blowing my hair. It’s so beautiful it almost hurts. It’s perfect.” Pausing, Beth realized for the first time how much more detailed her description was. “I feel…” Not having the words to describe her feelings, Beth sighed impatiently.
“Your meadow. I thought that was a happy place for you.” The Jamiesons had heard of this place, had heard it described several times, but never with this much detail. And it always made their young granddaughter happy.
“I’m so happy…then it changes.” Unconsciously, Beth tensed, leaning against her Grandpa. “A cloud covers the sun, making everything dark. Then everything starts to die! The flowers, the trees…the stream is now crying, laughing at me. It hurt, seeing everything die. I was so scared! If everything died, does that mean I die to? Grandpa, I don’t want to die.” Crying once again, Beth held on as tightly as she could to the two people who’d always been there for her.
Surprising her grandparents, Beth sat up, stopping crying almost immediately. “I think my dream means I don’t fit anywhere. I’m so different from Mother and Father.”
“Honey, what happened before bed?” Marie took the small hand in her own, smiling encouragingly at her granddaughter, knowing something had upset Beth.
“Nothing outside of the ordinary, Grandma.” Drawing courage from the love reflected in the eyes studying her so supportingly, Beth straightened, squaring her shoulders just as she’d seen her grandfather do her whole life. “Today was report card day and I was excited about earning all A’s. It’s tough to get an A from Ms Kraft in creative writing and I stupidly spoke loud enough for Father to hear how proud I was of my grade. Next thing I know, I’m grounded from doing any writing that’s not directly related to school. ‘It’s not proper for a young lady to spend her time existing in the world of make-believe. You need to concentrate on what’s important so you can take your proper place in this world, not some silly nonsense of knights and fair maidens. You’re a Jamieson and you have responsibilities. It’s time you started acting like one.'” Beth scowled, imitating her father and the look she most often received from him. “He doesn’t even know what I write about, let alone care.” Suddenly, Beth brightened, realizing her grandparents could help. “Grandma, Grandpa. Father listens to you. Could you talk to him for me?”
“We could,” Marie hated herself for what she was saying. “But it would only be a temporary measure until the next matter arises. Remember how Grandpa fought with your parents about your staff?”
“Yeah.” Beth wasn’t privy to the details, she just knew her Father had been very angry. But as long as her schoolwork and other lessons didn’t suffer, she was free to practice every day and attend competitions. “I don’t understand. Oh, wait.” Beth thought furiously, trying to make the connection her Grandma wanted her to. Various conversations came to mind, along with how hard her grandparents worked. “If I want something bad enough, it’s worth fighting for?”
“Elizabeth,” the use of her full name caused green eyes to narrow and focus on her grandpa. “What makes us thinking, caring individuals is the ability to stand up for what we believe. It isn’t painless and it certainly isn’t easy. Prior to contrary belief, just because you’re a Jamieson doesn’t mean everything is handed to you on a silver platter. Fight for what you believe, what you want. Know one thing, no matter what you decide, your grandma and I are very proud of you.”
“I want to write…my words are part of me. I can’t give them up, I won’t.” Beth answered immediately, sitting up straighter…..
“Yeah, yeah. My ears are still burning from the lecture I received for my midnight ride.” Beth quipped, joining the conversation. Grinning at Chris, Beth inconspicuously squeezed her lover’s hand. “How are you doing, Chris? It’s been a long time.”
“I’m fine, Beth. You look incredible.” Hugging Beth, he whispered in her ear, not knowing the woman standing with them would hear. “Your grandparents would be so proud of you. I’m sorry they’re not here to tell you themselves.”
“Thanks, Uncle Chris.” The seldom used, affectionate term slipped out easily. “Quite a meeting today, huh? I don’t think I’ve heard my father ever speak so much at sitting. At least when he’s not yelling at me.” Beth stepped back, reaching for Casey again.
“So what happened?” Casey didn’t want to let the matter drop.
“Christopher!” Turning to face Matthew Rupert, Chris nodded and walked away, figuring the ladies needed a few moments alone before lunch.
“That was smooth. Wonder if he timed that?” Beth giggled, the exasperated look on her lover’s face was priceless. “I wouldn’t put anything past those two. I swear they have an agreement to come rescue the other if cornered by any one person too long.”
“So what happened?” Blue flashed curiously, pinning Beth in place. “Tell me, please?” Casey really wanted to know, wanted to understand her lover.
“Thankfully it was a Friday night and my parents weren’t home. I had the housekeeper leave them a message and I spent the rest of the night with my grandparents. Unable to sleep more than a few hours, I thought long and hard about what I was going to say. I knew that I’d already erred, leaving the house without permission and that was going to damage my case. Realizing I deserved to be punished, I didn’t complain when my writing and reading privileges were revoked for two weeks. To make a long story short, I got my parents to agree to letting me write unrestricted for some concessions. Namely I wouldn’t fight the large, formal dinners my parents loved to drag us to and all that they entailed.” Green drifted shut, mentally groaning, remembering long sessions learning about makeup and clothes, what was acceptable behavior, and most importantly, what not to say to embarrass her parents.
“What?” Casey reminded herself once again that beating Beth’s parents was a bad idea. But it’s so tempting. It would make me feel better.
“You would have hated the lessons, that’s all.” Beth grinned, picturing a young Casey defiantly shrugging her shoulders, refusing to wear make-up. Getting her to wear a little blush and eye shadow when it wasn’t a professional necessity was a battle. “Anyway, I learned an important lesson, one I’ve never forgotten.” Green twinkled merrily, knowing Casey and she were thinking the same thing…Beth had no qualms about fighting for Casey. And even the formidable ex-FBI agent hadn’t stood a chance.
“I’m sorry you had to learn that the hard way, but I’m very glad you did.” Casey glanced around the room, seeing the servers start out with lunch. Just one more question. “Is that how you won your fight to go to a state university?”
“Well, not entirely. With my grandparents support, they were convinced.” Green eyes drifted closed, remembering the hurtful words and heated arguments like they were yesterday. It would have been easier for me to walk away. At times, I wish I hadn’t caved in. Gods, it’s so tempting. The author knew she couldn’t walk away now…for the same reasons. But I promised. I never could say no to either of you.
“Hey.” A pause. “Beth?” A longer pause. “Are you alright? C’mon, you’re scaring me.” Through their linked hands, Casey could feel Beth’s rapid pulse, feel her slight trembling.
“Sorry. Yeah, I’m fine.” With much effort, Beth returned to the present. And soundly cursed herself, seeing the worry and concern on Casey’s face.
“C’mere, you.” Pulling a surprised Casey into her arms, Beth embraced her fully, wholeheartedly.
“Right, why don’t I believe you?” Casey’s arms encircled Beth’s waist, squeezing gently. “I’m so very proud of you.” The specialist refrained from saying more; now wasn’t the time or the place. “I wish I could have met your grandparents. They sound like remarkable people.” And I’m so glad you had someone to look out for you, to love you. You’ll never be alone again, I promise.
“You know it’s only because of you.” Beth heard what Casey left unsaid, unable to not respond. I’m just me. You’re the special one. “I love you, Casey. Now,” Beth released Casey, preventing her from speaking. “I’m starved. Let’s go eat.” Pointing to the two open places beside her old friend, Beth nudged Casey forward. “Chris saved us a place.”
“No matter what else you say about them, my parents certainly know how to hire a good caterer.” Beth leaned back in her chair, having eaten only enough to stop her growling stomach. Too bad the circumstances aren’t different. The food was excellent. Sparkling green eyes swept up to meet gleaming blue. “What?” Please don’t call me on not eating.
“Nothing.” Casey chuckled softly, wishing she could reach out and brush the hair out of her lover’s eyes. I know what you said, but I don’t want to make you any more uncomfortable than you already are. “You didn’t eat very much.” Blue darkened in worry. “Are you feeling alright?” The specialist was astonished, Beth hadn’t even finished her own dessert, the author’s favorite part of any meal. The unusual occurrence was a strong testament to the author’s emotional state.
“You worry too much.” Beth tried to calm her nervous stomach, hiding her own amazement. She was surprised she managed to eat at all. “I’m fine.” Thank you for letting me get away with this. The author knew she’d have to answer her partner’s questions, but for the moment, she was grateful that Casey let the matter drop.
Casey leaned over and whispered in Beth’s ear. “Liar.” The specialist was prevented from saying anything else by Chris Dupree. Guess that’s another thing to add to the list. Meaning the ever growing list of things to talk about after the meeting.
“Casey, can we talk to you for a minute? We’ve got a couple of security questions and I’d like to pick your brains.” Chris indicated the nervous man standing beside him and the papers in his hands.
“Sure, let me see what you’ve got.” Holding out a hand, Casey was surprised when Chris shook his head. “I can’t help if you don’t let me see them.” Annoyed, Casey raised a questioning eyebrow. It didn’t matter to her if she helped them with their problem or not. Biting back a sigh, she felt more than saw Beth’s frown at her tone. Knowing her sensitive lover would insist on her helping.
“This is a private matter. Could we go someplace a little more secluded? I’m sorry, this shouldn’t take long.” Chris shrugged his shoulders in apology, knowing why Casey resisted.
“It’s OK, Casey. I’m sure my sister will come over and keep me company.” Beth spoke up, not wanting Casey to feel guilty about leaving her alone for a few minutes. Knowing that was why Casey hadn’t immediately risen.
Perturbed, Casey debated with herself, not wanting to leave Beth unprotected. Damn. I don’t want to leave you alone, but you’re gonna make me go, aren’t you? “Sure. Give me just a second.” As the men walked away, Casey turned to face Beth. “You sure you’re going to be alright? You can come with us.” I feel like I’m abandoning you in the middle of a viper’s nest.
“I’ll be fine Casey. What can happen? We’re in a room full of people.” Knowing my parents, anything. Beth’s mind answered quickly. Forcing a smile on her face, the author squeezed her lover’s hand reassuringly. “They’re waiting. You better go. Go on, I’ll be fine.”
“If you’re sure.” Hesitantly, Casey rose, smiling at Beth. Hiding her worry, Casey forced herself to join the patiently waiting men. You better be alright; I’ll never forgive myself if you get hurt when I could have prevented it. Be safe, my love. Please. With one last look over her shoulder, she left the room, listening to Chris describe the problem.
Oh gods, here she comes. Decided not too wait long, huh? Sighing, Beth unconsciously straightened as her mother walked purposefully towards her. “Mother, lunch was excellent.” Addressing her mother, Beth inwardly groaned as her remaining table mates added their compliments and then quickly excused themselves. Here comes the inquisition, phase two. Drawing strength from a mental picture of her lover, Beth forced herself to not react to her mother’s biting gossip. After several minutes, the conversation became more personal. As her mother started taking shots at her writing career, Beth outwardly remained calm, suspecting this was the real reason for the ‘friendly’ mother-daughter chat. Inwardly, the author cringed, trying very hard to not feel like the little girl she once was. Each carefully constructed verbal slam tore at her protective walls…walls that were strengthened by her love for Casey.
“I think I have the problem figured out, Elizabeth Alexandra.” Beth’s mother shifted a hair closer, presenting a picture of closeness to anyone watching. Just the right amount of concern was evident in her voice and facial expressions. As with everything, it was of the upmost importance to present the proper image.
“I wasn’t aware I had a problem, Mother.” Beth answered mildly, smoothly switching to full awareness. The author had been trying to amuse herself, to keep those childhood feelings of insecurity and pain away by picturing her lover and the funny faces she would have made while listening to her mother’s gossip. Experience had taught Beth to pay close attention to her parents when private conversations turned personal, especially when her full name was used. There was no one within listening distance to be impressed by her mother’s haughty tone. So now we’re getting to it, huh, Mother? Beth exhaled noiselessly, trying not to fidget. I am an adult. Beth reminded herself sternly, trying to quell her rapidly beating heart, forcing herself to meet her mother’s gaze straightforwardly. There is nothing you can do to me now. I am NOT the scared, terrified child I once was. Despite her brave words, the author found herself wilting under her mother’s glare. Felt her hard fought for control slip a little further as each second past. Gods, are you trying to torture me with silence?
“Elizabeth, you need to grow up and stop living in a fantasy world.” Martha Jamieson finally broke the silence, a triumphant smirk on her face, effortlessly picking up where she left off. “It’s time for you to take your rightful place in our family.” Lowering her voice with certainty, Mrs Jamieson moved in for the kill. “You are in love with a fantasy character, not a real person. Look at your lover.” She stumbled over the word, then continued on at full speed. “Casey looks just like the character you created in your childhood…that dreadfully violent Warrior Princess. She’s…”
“Hold it right there, Mother.” Beth interrupted her mother, eyes flashing dangerously, moving from a meek daughter to full-blown protector in a heartbeat. If her mother had cared to look, cared to take the time to get to know her daughter, she would have realized she was in serious trouble. “I love Casey, not some centuries dead warrior.” Green eyes narrowed, pinning her mother in place. “I’m not stupid, Mother. Shortly after I met Casey, I asked myself that same question because I didn’t want either of us to get hurt.” Leaning forward aggressively, Beth allowed the words to flow, unhindered. Very much reminiscent of the ancient bard protecting her warrior. “Yes, Casey and the Warrior Princess share some key characteristics…from excelling in their chosen professions, to exhibiting a startling command and control of their bodies, to being exceptionally courageous and caring. That’s just the good qualities.” Startling her Mother, Beth grinned. “They both are stubborn, pig-headed, have one hell of a temper and yell when angry.” Catching Casey approach silently out of the corner of her eye, Beth’s grin deepened, letting her lover know she was alright.
“So you admit it.” Mrs Jamieson sat up, not understanding the relaxing in her daughter’s posture.
“I’m in love with Casey, Mother, not the Warrior Princess. Call forth the Warrior Princess, in all of her magnificent glory. Now put her next to Casey.” Closing her eyes, Beth did just that, unknownly causing her lurking lover a moment of panic. Green eyes opened after a second, blazing with love. “I’d choose Casey, each and every time. Why?” Beth’s smile softened considering her lover, her eyes unconsciously drifting over to the impatiently waiting Casey. “Maybe it’s how her muscles ripple when she works out. Or the funny way her forehead bunches up when she concentrates. Or how she stalks around the room, stomping loudly, yet smiles unconsciously every time she meets my gaze when she’s upset or worried. Or her dazzling smile and sparkling eyes as she laughs. Gods, don’t even get me started on her laugh!” Clearing her throat, Beth continued, speaking now not for her mother, but for herself and Casey. Are you listening, love? I mean every single word. “Or maybe it’s because Casey’s always there for me…holding me when I need it, protecting me when I’m frightened, helping me when I’m confused, understanding me when I don’t understand myself, supporting me with every look, every touch, every fiber of her being. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Casey will always accept me, always be there for me.”
Green eyes lifted, meeting astonished, joyous blue. “I’m in love with the woman who’s voice makes my heart pound, who’s smile brightens my day, who’s laugh pulls me out of whatever dark place I am. There is no contest.” Beth’s voice cracked with emotion. “Oh no, Mother. I’m very much in love with a real, flesh and blood woman. I love Casey.” The author’s voice was bold and confidant. “There is nothing you can do or say that will ever change the fact that she’s the most important person in the world to me. I can’t imagine my life without her…I don’t want to. Now,” standing, Beth reached for Casey, lacing their fingers together. “You’ll have to excuse me, Mother. It’s almost time for the meeting to start.” Stepping confidently away, Beth headed for the bathroom and a little bit of privacy.
“All finished with Chris?” Beth spoke quietly, wondering why Casey had returned so quickly.
“Yup, it wasn’t something that could be handled today. Chris is sending the documents to my office and I’ll work on them there.” Good, Casey. Keep control. That’s it. Breathe. In. And. Out. Beth does not want you to go off on her mother.
“My defender.” Casey drew Beth to her as soon as the door closed in the empty bathroom. “I’m proud of you.” God, what you said…to her. I’ll never, ever forget it. I love you, Sweetheart.
“For what?” Beth snuggled closer, lightly nipping the delicate skin under Casey’s ear. “For defending my love, my life?” Transferring her attentions to her lover’s earlobe, Beth giggled, surprising Casey. No contest, beloved. You are worth everything.
“What’s so funny?” Sternly commanding her body to ignore the delicious shivers her lover’s lips invoked, Casey loosened her hold, pulling back to see Beth’s face.
“I’m just glad Mother didn’t ask how come we both know so much about Xena and her bard. That might have been tough to explain.” Green twinkled, launching the ball firmly back at her lover. C’mon. Let’s talk about it.
“Elizabeth.” Casey drew out her lover’s name, knowing the affect it had on Beth when she said it. Blue darkened with love and passion, her lover’s eyes mirroring her own feelings.
“I know, I know.” Beth relented, resting her head on Casey’s shoulder. “I’ll drop it.” For now. The author closed her eyes, taking comfort from her lover’s embrace, thinking quietly, remembering a couple of months ago. Casey had been doing a little computer maintenance and had come across an old copy of Warrior 2. Not knowing why, she opened the file and scanned the brief document quickly.
….. “What’s this? I know this wasn’t in the copy I read.” Casey muttered, frowning. Concentrating, she re-read the short file again. “You little devil! Why didn’t you include that?” Deciding to ask, Casey headed to the basement where Beth was doing the laundry. “Hey.”
“What’s up?” Green eyes swept over Casey, observing her casual pose, picking up the hint of tension in her muscles. “We’re not going to fight about this, not again.” Frowning, Beth decided that Casey was going to protest their division of labor. Again. It wasn’t that Beth especially liked doing laundry, but she was picky and liked things hung and folded certain ways. Recognizing this fact, she concluded it was easier to just do the chore herself. Unfortunately her lover disagreed, no doubt remembering her own parents’ fights on the subject.
“I still think you took advantage of me,” blue eyes twinkled with the memory of how Beth convinced her. “Then again,” Casey moved closer, not wanting Beth to think she was seriously complaining. “You can take advantage of me that way any time you desire.” Her voice dropped to a low, throaty growl, leaving no doubt as to her feelings. Beth could ravish her any time, any place. Quirking an eyebrow, a large hand reached out, snagging the author. A gentle tug brought them together as lips and tongues reacquainted themselves.
“What’s up?” Beth repeated her earlier question, from the safety and warmth of Casey’s embrace.
“Why do you always downplay Gabrielle’s role, her importance to Xena? You know as well as I do that Gabrielle played a crucial role in Xena’s plans, especially the longer they were together. You didn’t include all of Gabrielle’s feeling when they went to Rome that time. Why not? And what about when Gabrielle got aboard that ship, just to help out their friend Autoclysis. That was an incredibly brave thing for Gabrielle to do. Or what about when Hope reappeared and she had to kill her daughter again? Why do you always downplay…what?” Beth’s sputterings finally registered, halting her monolog.
“Where did that come from? And how do you know about killing Hope again? Have you been sneaking around on my computer?” Beth pushed herself away, hurt that Casey would invade her privacy this way.
“I was doing regular maintenance like I told you. I wasn’t sneaking around on your computer!” Casey replied immediately, heart aching that Beth would think such a thing. “I’d never do that to you.”
The quiet, hurt tone broke through Beth’s anger. “I’m sorry, I know you wouldn’t. Forgive me?” The author sighed, very relieved when her lover nodded, reaching out for her again. “I can’t remember telling you about Hope…wait!” Beth’s head came up rapidly, in shock. “I’ve not written about either of those events, just taken a few notes. How do you know about them??”
“I don’t know. I was just scanning old disks and came across some of your discarded material for Warrior 2. Of course it was stuff dealing with Gabrielle’s bravery and courage that never made it to the final copy. That just set me off.” Casey narrowed her eyes, thinking…until Beth’s chuckle drew her attention. “What?”
“I was just thinking how far we’ve come, that’s all, my love.” Beth smiled gently, rubbing Casey’s back unconsciously. “You certainly don’t think twice about offering up criticism on my writing. So much for the good old days.”
Reacting to the gentle teasing, Casey grinned innocently. “I thought you wanted me to…OK, OK…I’ll behave!” The specialist hugged Beth, interrupting her protesting. “I don’t know how I knew.” Turning serious, Casey thought hard, not realizing she mumbled out loud. “Beth didn’t say anything…so how did I know? She doesn’t talk in her sleep, so that lets out the obvious answer. Although it would be lots easier to figure out what going on in her pretty head if she did. Damn. So how did I know? There isn’t any way, unless I…” Not wanting to complete that thought, blue focused on green, confusion evident in both their faces.
“For that matter, how do I know so much about them? It doesn’t make much sense, does it?” Beth sighed, not sure what to think. Thinking quietly, she didn’t protest when Casey picked her up, carrying her to their bed. “I guess it really doesn’t matter. Are we connected to the warrior and her bard? There is no way I’m gonna say that to Casey. She doubts our relationship enough; she doesn’t need me saying I’m not sure about this. She’ll take it to mean that I’m in love with the warrior princess, not her.”
“Where did you go?” Casey questioned softly, laying on her side beside Beth, fingers entwined, watching her lover’s face.
“Just thinking about how much I love you. Sometimes we fight about the silliest things, beloved.”
“Elizabeth.” Blue eyes opened wide in surprise as Beth reacted passionately to her drawn out name. Leaning down, Casey repeated herself, adding a nip to sensitive skin….
“Hey, your sister is gonna walk through that door any minute.” Casey spoke quietly, interrupting her wife’s thoughts. “Beth?” Added when Beth didn’t move.
“I don’t care.” Beth mumbled, happily wrapped in warm arms. “I am not ashamed of my feelings for you. So let her see.”
“If you’re sure.” Casey nuzzled Beth’s hair, inhaling deeply. Forcing her muscles to not react, the specialist raised her head as Beth’s sister opened the door.
“Oh, here you two are.” Cassandra walked into the room, looking curiously at her sister. “Are you alright, Beth? The meeting is about to start.”
“I’m fine, Cass.” Beth answered, ignoring the light blush that she knew was creeping up her neck. “We’ll be right out.” Breathing deeply when the door shut behind her sister, reluctantly the author released her lover. “Guess it’s time.”
Casey let Beth lead her to the door, then she tugged Beth to a stop. Before Beth could question her, Casey leaned down, capturing her lips in a dazzling display of love and passion. Growling lowly when Beth tired to pull away, Casey followed, stealing one last kiss. “I love you, Beth.” Casey’s voice was husky with emotion. “What you said to your mother, you know I feel the same way, right?”
“I know, love.” Giving in to temptation, Beth kissed Casey one last time. “Now we really do have to go.”
“C’mon then.” Raising a hand, Casey lovingly brushed Beth’s strawberry blond hair out of her eyes. Once last look, then Casey opened the door, exiting closely on Beth’s heels.
“Excuse me for a minute?” Casey smiled at Beth, inclining her head towards the bathroom. “No, no.” Added when Beth started to excuse herself. “Stay here and talk to your sister. I’ll just be a moment.” Squeezing Beth’s hand reassuringly, Casey slipped away. Oh no, it wouldn’t do for you to hear me make this call. It’s supposed to be a surprise, remember? Chuckling evilly as she imagined Beth’s surprise and faked indignation, Casey dialed her office, checking on the plans for tonight.
“What’s up with her?” Cassandra asked, surprised that Casey had left Beth alone. After their mother’s confrontation at lunch, Casey hadn’t budged from her sister’s side.
“She’s up to no good, that’s what.” Not fooled for a minute by her lover’s innocent smile and seemingly polite comment. “Guess I’ll find out later.” Turning, she faced her sister. “Cass, how do you put up with this all the time?”
“Normally they’re not so bad.” Cassandra didn’t need an interpreter to understand what Beth really asked. “Today they were on a roll, that’s for sure. I can’t believe you stood up to Mother at lunch. I can’t imagine what you said to upset her so badly. I wish I could have seen it.”
Oh no you don’t, little sister. “Some things are worth fighting for.” Beth smiled, taking the sting out of her words. “Some day, when you find the right person, you’ll understand.” I hope so, Cass. I really do. It’s the most powerful, wonderful feeling…to love and be loved.
“Maybe.” Cass conceded, shaking her head a little. “Just remember that they always get even. At least you didn’t embarrass Mother in front of her friends.”
“She’s lucky she didn’t start in front of them.” Beth countered, her expression darkening. “No one,” green instantly flashed explosively. “No one talks about Casey that way and gets away with it. No one criticizes our relationship or implies that I’m not totally head over heels in love with her. No one.” Beth finished intensely, glaring at her sister.
“Whoa…hold on there, Beth.” Defensively, Cass raised her hands non-threateningly. “I wasn’t,” she broke off, realizing how she sounded to her sister. “That didn’t come out right. I’m sorry, Beth. Anyone with half a brain can see how much you two love each other.”
“Really?” Beth stepped back, smiling sheepishly. She hadn’t meant to jump all over her sister.
“Oh yeah.” Sighing, Cass stepped closer again, whispering her next comment. “The air practically crackles when you two are together. God help the rest of us if you’re actually trying to look sexy or something. Whoa.” Fanning her face, Cass stepped back, enjoying the immediate blush that spread over her sister’s face. Leaving on a triumphant note, Cass quickly said goodbye to her sister’s lover and fled, grinning because Beth was still blushing.
“What was that about?” Casey cocked an eyebrow at the rapidly fleeing Cassandra, then took a good look at her embarrassed partner. “What did she say that got you so hot and bothered?” Unintentionally adding to her lover’s embarrassment.
“Gods.” Beth groaned quietly, smiling at Casey. “Let’s get out of here. Was your mission successful?”
“Mission?” Innocently, Casey fussed with Beth’s briefcase before heading for the door. “I just went to the bathroom, Beth.”
“Right, Ms Secret Agent.” Beth nodded politely and said goodbye to the other board members as they left the room. “In that coat of yours,” the author picked up her teasing when they were settled in the limo. “Is your cell phone and other various secret agent items. Just what are you up too, 99?”
“Nothing you won’t like, I promise you.” Casey caved in a little, distracted by Beth’s wandering fingers. “Would you do something for me?” The specialist decided it was time for a change, or she’d cave in the rest of the way. Between Beth’s puppy dog eyes and her loving caresses, the specialist was well on her way to melting.
“Anything, you know that.” Beth answered promptly, gazing at Casey curiously.
“C’mere.” Opening her arms, Casey sighed happily when Beth immediately snuggled close. Talking quietly, they spent the rest of the ride to the airport in a safe, secure haze, wrapped in each other’s arms.
Once the plane was in the air, Beth released the breath she’d been mentally holding. Thank God that’s over. “Thank you for being with me today.”
“Beth.” Blue eyes warned Beth not to go any farther. Shifting, Casey moved to cradle her lover. “C’mere.” Sighing happily as Beth quickly complied, the specialist drew a deep, calming breath. You need to get this off your chest. I want you to have a good time tonight. “Beth?”
“Hmm?” The author mumbled contentedly from her safe haven. The ensuing silence caused Beth to pull back, tangling her fingers with her lover’s. “Casey?”
Of all the questions the specialist wanted to ask her partner, there was something she had to say first. “Thank you for defending me today.” Casey gazed sincerely into her lover’s tensely curious eyes. How can I tell you how special, how loved your heated defense made me feel? “What you told your mother means a great deal to me.” How’s that for inadequate? It, you mean everything to me. “I’m sorry that with everything else you had to deal with today, you ended up defending me and our relationship.” Seeing the storm clouds gathering in smoky green eyes, Casey hurriedly continued. “You have no idea how loved and wanted I felt.”
“Good thing you added that, 99.” Beth relaxed, exhaling noisily. “I thought for a minute that I was going to have to hurt you.” Pulling back, the author flashed her most intimidating stare at her partner. “HEY! You’re not supposed to laugh!” Beth complained, teasingly pinching the giggling Casey.
“C’mere, my fierce wife.” Folding her long arms around her shorter partner, Casey lifted her lover, setting her sideways on her lap with a contented sigh.
“Comfortable, Muscles?” Beth teased, playing with the ends of Casey’s silky hair, inhaling her fragrance with delight. Secretly the author relished her lover’s casual display of physical strength. There was nothing quite like being surrounded by Casey’s strong arms and quiet protection. There’s no safer place on earth.
“Very.” Casey spoke firmly, leaving no doubt how comfortable she really was. Deciding she couldn’t put if off any longer, Casey sighed. “What happened today, Beth?”
Beth followed her lover’s question, mentally filling in the incomplete sentence. You mean why was I such a wimp. “I wish there was an easy answer.” The author glanced around the cabin of the plane, not sure how to explain something she didn’t quite understand herself. “I’m not sure there is an answer.”
“Try. For me, please?” Casey responded to the barely uttered words, tightening her grip supportingly. Try…I need to know.
“For as long as I can remember, nothing I ever did satisfied my parents.” Beth unconsciously snuggled closer, eyes glued to their entwined fingers. “I learned at an early age the consequences of not fulfilling my parents’ expectations. It was easier to just give in most of the time; the only things worth fighting for were my writing and my staff. But that’s not what you wanted to know.” Sinking deeper into Casey’s embrace, Beth laughed harshly, embarrassed and disappointed by her perceived failure. “Funny, I’m a writer, a lover of words, yet why can’t I express myself?”
“Take it easy, beloved.” Casey spoke softly, directly into Beth’s ear. “Everything will be alright.” The specialist whispered the sappy phrases that her author loved, until she felt the tension leave Beth’s body. Falling silent, Casey gave Beth the time she needed to compose herself, softly stroking Beth’s strawberry blond locks. When her lover looked up, the specialist spoke honestly, straight from the heart. “You, Elizabeth Alexandra, are not the timid, scared girl of your youth. You,” blue darkened seriously, earnestly. “You are a strong, confident woman.” Blue flashed with love. “You are able to hold your own in any situation. You are the most determined individual I’ve ever met.” Not wanting there to be any doubt about her feelings, Casey gave rare voice to her feelings, instinctively knowing Beth needed to hear her words. “You are the best thing that ever happened to me. No one has ever been all that you are to me. No one’s ever even come close. You’re my best friend, my confidant, my partner in crime, my lover. When I fall, you pick me up. When I’m hurt, you take my pain away. When I’m scared, you protect me. Instinctively you know just what I need…be it a hug or a kick in the butt. You’ve done what I thought was impossible…make me feel like a caring, worthwhile, complete person.” Shyly, Casey looked away, a little embarrassed by her declaration. Drawing a deep breath, the specialist pinned Beth in place with a fiercely protective look. “So don’t you let anyone make you doubt yourself, doubt your importance.”
“Or else, huh?” Beth finished softly, bringing Casey’s hand to her lips. Giggling at Casey’s ‘damn straight,’ Beth found herself speechless. Taking the comfort that was so willingly offered, the author thought long and hard about her lover’s words. Gods, Casey just handed me her heart. I’d do anything, be any one for her. Do you know that, Casey? Do you know I’d give up everything to be with you? Nothing matters without you. I’ll do everything in my power to never betray you…your love…your trust. Nodding once in confirmation, Beth drew a deep, steading breath.
“Thank you. I needed to hear that.” And you deserve to know what happened at the meeting.
Casey barely heard Beth’s whispered words. “I meant every word.” The specialist tightened her grip and held her tongue, not wanting to discourage Beth from saying what was on her mind.
“Most of the day I felt like I was a kid again. That nothing I did or said ever met my parents’ expectations. You saw a little glimpse of our verbal matches today. Thankfully it’s easier to engage in them today with my increased vocabulary and debating skills. But the emotional contents, the ever so politely phrased slams…the disapproval of me, my life, my choices. That hasn’t changed. ” Beth admitted quietly, resting her head against Casey’s shoulder. “Then my mother attacked you, attacked us, and I found myself responding…” Beth trailed off, not quite sure how to phrase her heated defense of her wife.
“I don’t think it’s a conscious reaction.” Casey stated hesitantly when it became apparent Beth wasn’t going to continue. I knew I should have decked them. “It’s a natural reaction to protect those you love.”
“And since I’m hopelessly, completely, head over heels in love with you,” green eyes twinkled, entirely happy, completing Casey’s comment. “I came out swinging.”
“Yeah, Ms ‘Take no prisoners’.” Casey teased gently. “My hero.” Said with complete seriousness.
“Right.” Teasingly, Beth nipped at Casey’s neck. We both know who the hero is in this relationship. But I don’t wanna go there, not today. “Did you hear everything I said to my mother?” I hope so. You needed to hear that too. “Good.” Beth said firmly, nuzzling Casey’s neck in approval at her nod.
“Beth?” Casey’s voice was low and husky, a direct result of Beth’s questing lips. Get a grip, Casey.
“Hmm?” Not bothering to look up, the author reattached herself to her lover’s ear determinedly. “You taste great.” Beth mumbled around Casey’s sensitive lobe.
“We are gonna give your parents’ employees an eye full if you don’t cut that out.” Reluctantly pulling away, Casey nudged her personal temptation to the seat beside her. And we’ll never make it through this evening.
“Fine. See how you are.” Beth grumbled jokingly, refusing to release her partner’s hand. “I guess you do love me, if you’re willing to put up with my parents.”
“That’s not even funny, Elizabeth Alexandra Jamieson. Dealing with your overbearing parents is nothing more than an annoyance. You know…what?” Peeved, Casey did not understand the gentle smile on her lover’s face.
“How come when you say my full name I melt?” Beth asked softly, lost in the emotions her wife’s voice invoked. Too late, I’m already a puddle.
“How can I be annoyed when you say that?” Casey asked rhetorically, kissing Beth’s forehead lovingly. One comment and I’m gone. Heh. You asked for it. “Elizabeth Alexandra,” Casey purposefully lowered her voice to a purr, watching the resulting shudder shake her smaller partner. “Elizabeth.” Growled faintly in one ear. “Alexandra.” Growled into Beth’s other ear with an accompanying sensual nip. Oh, that wasn’t your brightest idea, dummy. The taste of Beth pulled strongly at her control.
“Y…ye..yes?” Beth stuttered, awash in a sultry, seductive haze.
“What are your plans for this evening?” Asked in the mildest tone the tall muscular ex-FBI agent could dredge up. Sitting back in her own seat, Casey looked incredibly composed. Not at all like a woman who’d just reduced her lover to a quivering mass of desire with two simple words.
Still thrown off balance by the abrupt change in her lover’s demure, Beth looked at Casey like she was crazy. “I was planning on spending it with you. But if you’ve got other plans, I guess I’ll work out.” You better not have other plans, Ms Tease.
“If I were to suggest dinner and possibly some dancing, would you be interested?” Woohoo, I don’t think she suspects anything. I can’t believe I managed to keep this a secret for two weeks. Ever since asking Beth to marry her after they’d dealt with Adam Carr, Casey had been planning tonight’s festivities.
“Of course.” All Beth wanted was to be with Casey. She didn’t care what they did, as long as they were together. “Have you ever known me to turn down food?” Still upset about her confrontation with her parents and being put on the spot repeatedly throughout the day, the author didn’t give her lover’s invitation a second thought. She totally forgot about her mischievous partner’s strange behavior earlier.
“Food usually is a safe choice.” Casey agreed, reaching over to fasten Beth’s seatbelt before doing her own. “If it’s OK with you, I told Chris we’d go to the next board meeting with him. He said something about home movies.”
“Casey!” Beth groaned, not liking that idea at all.
“Just teasing, love.” Casey grinned at Beth, linking their hands once again. “Although you were a cute kid.” Changing Beth’s focus, the specialist patted the muscular nylon covered thigh, firmly commanding herself to behave. “Do you want to change before dinner?” The specialist looked at her watch. Please don’t change…I love you in that outfit.
“Nope, I’m comfortable.” Beth mentally sighed, wanting to change into comfortable clothes, but not willing to take the time. It was rare that Casey wanted to go someplace there was dancing and the author was not going to give her lover a chance to change her mind. Casey already checked her watch once.
“You really do look spectacular.” Blue eyes swept over her lover. Unable to resist, Casey twisted in her seat, pulling Beth’s hand to her lips. Gently she kissed the soft flesh, coaxing her lover into a relaxed, if a bit excited state. The smooth touchdown startled the author, earning a full fledged grin from her lover. “Guess my distraction technique doesn’t need any work.”
“Come on, lover.” Beth’s hand beat Casey’s to her seatbelt. “Lets get out of here. I’ve had enough for one day.”
“Your wish is my command.” Shrugging off the offers of help, Casey slipped Beth’s jacket on, pulling her hair tenderly out of the way. Grabbing Beth’s briefcase in one hand, she placed her other at the small of Beth’s back, gently guiding her off of the plane and to the car. Still feeling the prying eyes of the Jamiesons’ watching staff, Casey helped Beth into the car.
Casey drew Beth into a conversation about the Foundation’s security problems, distracting her author from their erratic, slow journey across town. It wasn’t until they turned the corner near Eduardo’s, that Beth realized where they were going.
“Hey, I thought you said we were going dancing?” Beth quirked an eyebrow at her lover. It wasn’t like Casey to purposefully lie or even mislead her. The slow, 30 minute drive across town started the author thinking. “What’s going on, Casey?”
“Trust me?” Casey asked teasingly. Pick up the pace before she figures out what’s up.
“Always.” Beth answered seriously, hearing what she thought was unspoken tension in her lover’s question.
“Thank you.” Casey quickly pulled into a conveniently open place, right near the door. “Boy, they’re pretty busy tonight.”
“Yeah, we might have to wait for a table.” Beth grumbled, her stomach suddenly making itself known with a loud rumble. “I think not eating much has caught up with me.” Blushing, Beth patted her complaining stomach.
“C’mon. Lets go feed the beast.” Jumping out, Casey ran around and opened Beth’s door. “Sweetheart.” Casey’s tone brought Beth’s eyes to her face questioningly. “I love you.” Not giving Beth the chance to reply, Casey captured her lips. First sucking on the bottom and then the top. Lightly, her teeth grazed the sensitive flesh, earning a shiver from her lover. Casey kissed her softly as she retreated.
“Hey.” Beth’s smoky voice halted Casey’s playfulness. “I love you too, Casey.” Stepping forward, the author knowingly took possession of her lover’s mouth. Lips and tongues met, exchanging passionate hellos.
“Ready for dinner?” Casey asked a touch breathlessly, regretfully stepping out of Beth’s embrace. Opening the door, Casey gently pushed her lover inside, grinning as their friends and family jumped out, yelling “CONGRATULATIONS!”
“You little sneak!” Beth laughed, playfully bumping into Casey.
“C’mon, love. Lets go say hello.” Tangling her hand with Beth’s, she pulled her lover farther into the room.
“What are you doing hiding in the corner?” Yueue Yang sat down beside Casey with a slight sigh.
“I just needed a few minutes peace and quite. It’s been a long day.” Casey admitted, biting back an exhausted sigh. The day had started out incredibly early, even for the specialist, at 4:30am. She had needed time to double check all of her plans and compose a list of last minute items that needed done before the party. She had planned on doing them herself, but the board meeting changed that.
“You did a nice job, Casey. The party is a huge success. I can’t believe you managed to keep it a secret. Beth’s face was priceless when she walked through the door.” Yueue fussed with her tea and napkin.
“What’s wrong?” Casey asked quietly, having never seen the old oriental woman fidget.
“Nothing.” The old woman sighed, deciding to not chastise the young woman who was like a daughter to her. “I’m just a little tired myself.”
“Right.” Casey snorted, sitting up straight. “You want to know why my mother isn’t here.” The specialist nailed the problem on the first try. “She was invited, but decided her appearance would put a damper on things. I think she was right. Neither of us are up to dealing with each other in public right now.” Left unsaid was the loud, vocal fight with her little brother or how her stomach rebelled at the thought of facing her mother for the first time.
“I’m proud of you for inviting her. I know how difficult it was for you.” A commotion caught her attention. “What is that man doing now?” Exasperated eyes found the specialist’s. “Excuse me before Wei makes an even bigger fool of himself.” Jumping up, she went to reclaim her rambunctious husband who appeared to be egging the Delgado children into mischief.
“Master Hung, have a seat.” Casey waved her hand in invitation as another person quietly approached. I guess it’s gang up on Casey time. The specialist thought with a wry smile; there wasn’t anyone else to blame. She had invited everyone there tonight.
“Thank you, Casey.” Gracefully her old teacher sat beside Casey. “When are you going to start calling me by my first name?” The startled look on his former student’s face brought a seldom heard, delighted chuckle from his throat. “You can say Jon, right?”
“Yes, Jon.” The word sounded strange to Casey. Of course she knew Master Hung’s name, knew he Americanized it when his young granddaughters had trouble pronouncing his Chinese name. It seemed almost disrespectful to address her mentor by his first name. But since he asked, she didn’t have a choice.
“What are you doing lurking in the corner while your beautiful fiancee is out there all alone?”
Startled blue eyes immediately found her laughing lover, then returned to her friend. I learned that from him. Meaning the totally bland look on the old man’s face. It was impossible to tell if he was joking or not. “I needed a little break.” The specialist admitted. Without thought, her restrained emotions burst forth. “I wanted to kill her parents today. What they did to her, my God, Jon.” Pained blue met understanding brown. Speaking haltingly, bitingly, Casey filled Jon in on what had happened and how useless she felt.
“I had heard rumors when I inquired about her training. Seems that her parents never attended one match or competition. Her grandparents and a family friend were there, though. For someone with no parental support, she advanced quickly.” Master Hung began softly, eyes glued to his former student. “She’s a very strong person, Casey.”
“Beth is the strongest person I know.” Casey confirmed her teacher’s observation. “They won’t hurt her again like that, I promise.” Meaning that never again would she sit calmly beside her partner and let her parents try and run over her. The specialist had talked to Chris briefly about that in his office, volunteering to take over the security needs of the Foundation. She figured if she contributed, she’d be in a better position to protect Beth. At least the elder Jamiesons couldn’t protest her presence at the meetings. Not that a little thing like their disapproval would stand in her way. It was less stressful for Beth if the author didn’t have to worry about Casey too.
“Good because I like that young woman a great deal. Beth is perfect for you.” Brown twinkled mischievously. “Who’s that pretty young lady following Beth so closely? She seems rather attached to your author.”
“Who?” Casey swung around, blue narrowing jealously. Calm down. You know Beth loves you. “A student of Beth’s from the dojo. She has a crush on her. Gina something.” Abruptly standing, Casey excused herself and moved purposefully towards her lover. So concentrated on glaring at the fawning young woman, she missed the muffled snort and ‘so predictable’ comment from her mentor.
“Having a good time, Sweetheart?” Casey slid a possessive arm around her lover, very pleased that Gina decided to walk away.
“Yes.” Beth turned, hugging Casey tightly. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Casey tightened her grip, lifting Beth teasingly a few inches off the floor. “Were you surprised?” The look on your face…god, love.
“Very. I can’t believe you planned this without me knowing!” Beth reluctantly released Casey, settling for taking her hand. Or at least she tried to; Casey wouldn’t release her totally, keeping one arm firmly around her waist.
“You wouldn’t believe how many times I opened my mouth to ask you a question without thinking.” Casey divulged, guiding Beth over to the food table. “C’mon, you haven’t eaten much.”
“That mean I’m gonna need my strength later?” Beth asked huskily, green eyes covertly watching the steadily rising blush creep up her lover’s face. Heh. After this, it’s only fair that I surprise you. “I’m starving.” Bad, Beth. Bad. The author scolded herself delightedly as Casey turned a nice, dark shade of pink. Taking pity on her lover, Beth picked up two plates, holding them while Casey silently placed some of everything on the plates.
“Wow, that was great.” Beth sat back, patting her full stomach. “What a unique combination of food.”
“Yeah. I think Mrs A, Alberta and Yueue decided to have a battle in the kitchen. God, I’m stuffed.” Casey looked at the dishes on their table in awe. After finishing their first plates, their friends had brought several items over that they just ‘had’ to taste.
Shifting closer to Casey, Beth snuggled closer, getting Casey to wrap an arm around her shoulders. Sighing contentedly, the author tiredly observed their remaining guests. Most of their casual friends and business acquaintances had already left. The Delgado children were asleep in one corner. Mark (Casey’s little brother), Cassandra and Phil (Casey’s computer genius) had their heads together, obviously plotting something. Chris Dupree, Master Hung, Eduardo Delgado and Wei Mao were gathered around a large table, talking quietly. Yueue, Mrs A, and Alberta were tasting each other’s creations at the food table. Susan (Casey’s assistant) and Gina were giggling like school girls in another corner. “Looks like everyone is having a great time.” Beth spoke quietly from her warm haven.
“I think you’re right. So I did OK?” Casey asked quietly, hoping the party in part made up for her lover’s really bad day.
“Fantastic.” Beth assured her anxious partner. “They’re quite a bunch. Where’s everybody staying? What?? Oh, get your mind out of the gutter.” Beth grumbled, following Casey’s mock glare and wiggled eyebrows.
“Everybody is staying at Chris’s hotel; he insisted when I invited him.” Chuckling, Casey tickled Beth. “I think everyone is getting together for a late lunch tomorrow here. Mrs A wanted to have it at her house, but the weather is too nasty to be outside.”
“Casey?” Beth looked up, meeting her lover’s curious gaze. “Thank you for tonight. You made me feel really special, really loved.” The author paused, debating the wisdom of her next words. “You’re not gonna plan the wedding without me, are you?”
“Nope.” Casey chuckled, feeling a wave of relief wash over her. The specialist knew she wouldn’t have reacted as graciously as Beth if their positions were reversed. “How does the end of January sound?” At first Casey had wanted to run right out and get married as quickly as possible. Watching Beth in bed after she proposed, changed her mind. Her lover glowed talking about how she never thought her fantasy would come true. “We can have a ceremony here then sneak off for a couple of weeks and go play in the sun.”
“I can’t wait.” Glowing green eyes zeroed in on brilliant blue. Lost in each other, they exchanged loving kisses and tender caresses.
“Hey, didn’t I promise you some dancing?” Casey asked when the romantic music filtered through her consciousness. Glancing up, she was surprised to see everyone dancing. “Look at that.” Both eyebrows rose dramatically.
“What?” Her lover’s tone of voice brought Beth back to reality. Green eyes widened in surprise. “I’ll be damned. I never would have guessed that!” Casey’s assistant and her young student were dancing slowly, arms tightly around each other. Content in her lover’s arms, Beth laid her head back on Casey’s shoulder, drifting in a happy, satisfied haze.
“Dance with me.” Casey whispered in Beth’s ear, knowing Beth’s favorite song was up next. Having planned the evening, right down to the order of songs played, definitely had its advantages.
Standing up, Beth extended her hand. Following peacefully, Beth smiled as her sister caught her eye. You little sneak! I can’t believe you didn’t say anything. Forgetting about Cass, Beth molded herself tightly against her taller lover. Moving slowly, sensually, Beth knew she was in heaven. Green eyes drifted shut as the gently throbbing beat changed into a familiar rhythm.
Ever so softly, Casey began to sing, feeling the words deep in her soul. As the last notes faded away, warm lips sought out her lover’s. Swaying gently together, the specialist lasted all of one minute. “Let’s go home. Now.”
The low response, the heat of Beth against her, fueled the specialist’s passion. Quietly Casey guided Beth from the room, knowing their friends would forgive their abrupt departure. “I love you, Elizabeth Alexandra Jamieson.” The husky words flowed straight from Casey’s heart, catching her a little by surprise.
“I love you too, Casey Michelle Bennett.” Beth swallowed emotionally, heart bursting with the love and tenderness of her lover’s words. “Take me home, love.”
“Always, Beth. Always.”
Here is a short visit with Casey and Beth in As She Sleeps