Fire and Ice by Friction

fire and ice

Fire and Ice
by
Friction

LEGAL DISCLAIMER:
Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
LOVE/SEX WARNING DISCLAIMER:
This story graphically depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If depiction’s of this nature cause you distress, this story is not for you, stop now, save your time: life is short, enjoy. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal where you live, please do not read it.VIOLENCE DISCLAIMER:
Though not graphically, this story does depict violence against women and attempted rape, both of which are pivotal to the plot. If scenes of this nature disturb you, please be forewarned.

Part I

The figure scaled the wall effortlessly, dropping silently on the other side. A small hand-held electronic device took out the globe illuminating the rear entrance with a soft pop. In minutes the security alarm was disabled and the intruder was inside, moving seamlessly though the shadows of the mansion.

The safe was not a problem. It was a clean job. Things were going according to schedule. The dark figure moved slowly toward the exit. The narrow beam of the flashlight scanned the open door halfway down the hall. It was a small den. A quick glance revealed nothing of interest and the intruder started to turn away, when something on the floor glimmered in the soft light.

The thief bent to examine it. The gloved hand gently fingered the object. It was a writing nib, the tip of an old fashion fountain pen. The intruder paused momentarily and set it on the desk. Beside it lay a leather bound book. It was old, unique, covered with intriguing symbols. With little hesitation, the thief deposited the book in the bag of stolen goods and exited the room, continuing down the hall. But the brief stop proved costly. Soft footfalls warned of someone’s approach.

The intruder ducked into the closest doorway, a bedroom, and listened intently. Someone was steadily approaching. The thief pressed against the wall behind the door and firmly gripped the handle of the razor sharp knife. A woman entered and set a plate of food on the table by the bed. The intruder edged forward, preparing to take her out. Unexpectedly the woman changed direction, walking to the adjoining bathroom. The thief slipped back into the shadows and watched as the woman closed the bathroom door behind her.

The dark figure waited a beat and slowly came out of hiding, moving cautiously to exit. Suddenly, the bathroom door opened. The woman was framed in the doorway against a backdrop of light, her golden hair now clearly visible. The thief froze, mesmerized. Although the reappearance of the woman presented a problem, it wasn’t concern that the thief felt, but wonder. The blonde was strikingly beautiful, almost ethereal in the pale light.

The intruder’s trance was broken when the young woman shut of the light, shrouding the room once again in darkness. The thief leaned against the wall, motionless, hoping to escape notice. It seemed that the woman would walk past, but at the last moment she stopped as if sensing a presence. Just as she was about to turn and face the intruder, the thief clasped a hand over her mouth and pressed the cold blade to her throat.

Startled, Danielle gasped. Her heart pounded wildly as adrenaline rushed through her veins. She tried to move but the thief’s hold was firm, the strength of the arms daunting. She was powerless. Danielle tried desperately not to panic as she was pushed forward, toward the dressing table. The blade tightened against her neck as the assailant released her mouth and reached for something on the dresser. She inhaled, about to cry out when she felt the cool silk of her own scarf pressed to her mouth. Purposeful fingers parted her lips and pushed against her teeth. A sense of dread flowed through her as she realized what was to be done. The blade pressed insistently at her throat. Her resistance withered and her jaw went slack. She tried desperately not to gag as the scarf was pushed into her mouth.

Before she had time to think about her situation, she was turned and pressed back against the dressing table chair. Her eyes instinctively sought out the intruder’s face, hidden by a black ski mask. The dark form of her attacker melded with the blackness of the room, making it difficult to get a clear view. The coolness of wide blade burned against her skin, forcing her attention to return to the knife at her throat.

All at once, Danielle’s terror was doubled as she watched the gloved hand reach for the tie at the front of her robe. She froze, holding her breath as the tie was unfastened and pulled from the loops of her robe. The sensation of it gliding slowly across her hips made her shiver in dread. Her flimsy robe hung open, revealing her nakedness. A fear induced sweat coated her body, causing the cool air to sting her exposed skin. She was utterly vulnerable.

A shuddered passed through her as the gloved hand reached for the opening. She held her breath. Her heart beat wildly as she watched agile fingers grasp the edge of the thin material of her robe, lightly brushing her abdomen. Danielle closed her eyes, preparing for the worst. She would have begged for her assailant to stop but the gag prevented all but a guttural moan.

Before she had a chance to react further, the robe was pulled tightly closed around her. Her eyes sprang open in surprise. Startled by the small act of kindness, she risked a glance at her captor. The gentleness she saw in the brown eyes deepened her confusion.

The intruder quickly put the belt to use, tying her hands behind her back. With firm pressure, she was guided to sit and the belt was secured to the chair. The loose end bound her feet.

Danielle’s mouth and throat were dry, scratchy. She tried to swallow, but the scarf made her cough, causing the silky material to shift in her mouth. She gagged and inhale deeply. The forceful intake of breath drew the scarf to the back of her throat, blocking her windpipe. Her eyes watered and her chest heaved as she fought for air. She struggled desperately against her restraints. Just as panic overtook her, she felt the gentle touch of cool leather under her chin. The intruder quickly removed the scarf and looked into her eyes.

“Shhh….shhh.” The voice was calming, vaguely familiar. Soon, her breathing leveled off and her body relaxed. A leather-clad finger pressed to her lips indicating that she should remain quiet. Danielle did not utter a sound. She was entranced, lost in her thoughts as she tried to recall the melodic whisper.

She watched the intruder pull a roll of tape from the backpack and tear off a small length. The soothing eyes watched her intently while gentle fingers wiped her tears and pushed several loose strands of hair from her face. Danielle thought she saw the eyes sadden as the tape was placed over her mouth. She met their gaze for but an instant before the thief backed away, in a movement so fluid it seemed an apparition.

*****

Alex Lord stood at the bathroom sink. Tonight’s job had come close to ending badly. Too close. The old man was supposed to be the only resident. Her information had been wrong. There were too many mistakes on her part, enough to warn her that she was losing her edge. She removed the brown contacts and looked into the mirror. Her blue eyes reflected the concern she felt.

She stripped out of her dark work clothes and slipped into her robe. The experience had shaken her. She had allowed her emotions to rule over her better judgment. Her steely control was slipping, something she could little afford.

She poured herself a scotch and walked across the room to the fireplace. It was the one thing she required of her temporary residences. This one was magnificent. Sitting by a fire calmed her, made her focus on the present and push back memories of her past: things better not remembered.

Tonight the brilliant flames reminded her of the golden highlights in the young woman’s hair. She sipped her drink and tried to concentrate on the problem at hand. She had broken Julian’s number one rule: leave no witnesses. Yet from the first moment she laid eyes on the blonde, killing her had been out of the question.

She tried to rationalize her decision. The woman had seen nothing. She would not be able to identify her. Unlike Alex, who sensed she would never forget this woman. The blonde’s image was seared in her mind’s eye. She felt a pulling deep inside as she pictured the woman bathed in soft light and tried to dim the image with a long sip of scotch. She grimaced. Letting the woman live hadn’t been her only breach of his rules.

Something about this woman had thrown her off balance. Although they had never met, there was a familiarity that unnerved Alex. It was as if part of her awakened when she first looked into the blonde’s emerald eyes. It distressed her beyond her understanding to see the woman’s confusion and fear as she had bound and gagged her. To Alex she seemed the embodiment of innocence, completely naive and uncomprehending of the treachery that necessitated such an act.

Alex became increasingly uncomfortable as she recalled the young woman’s panic as she struggled for breath. What a stupid move that had been. Knocking her unconscious would have been more logical and certainly kinder, but it had never even occurred to her. The mere idea of striking this woman was disturbing. Rubbing her eyes, she finished her drink and refilled the glass. Ten years was too long for anyone to be in this business.

*****

Danielle sat motionless after the thief had gone. Her heart pounded furiously. This was the closest she had ever come to real danger. She felt utterly charged. The adrenaline rush lingered, making all of her senses more acute. Danielle listened intently for any sign of her uncle, silently praying he was all right. She tried to wriggle her hands free but the belt held her securely. She was considering tipping the chair over when a noise down stairs caught her attention. Her heart thudded loudly as footfalls approached.

She watched the door anxiously as two police officers rounded the corner into the room. Relief washed through her. They had responded so quickly that she wondered if the thief had been caught.

A young officer peeled the tape back from her mouth.

“My uncle, is he okay?”

“We haven’t found him yet ma’am.” He began working on the knots binding her hands.

“His bedroom is the last on the left.”

The officer motioned to his partner to check and continued untying her. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“It was fortunate that a neighbor noticed something suspicious and called us.” Danielle rubbed her wrists and moved toward the door to check on her uncle.

She released an anxious breath as she watched him rush down the hall toward her. “Honey are you all right?” He hugged her tightly.

“I’m fine. Are you okay?”

“I’m embarrassed to say that I never even woke up.”

The police officer interrupted him. “Sir, can you show us where you keep your valuables?”

“Certainly, the safe is located down the hall.” He lead the officer to the large study.

Danielle went back to her room and sat on the bed, her relief was followed by a sudden weariness.

“Can I get you a drink of water?” the policeman asked politely.

“No thank you. I’m just a little shaky, I’ll be fine.”

“Ma’am, were you hurt… in any way?” His question was awkward, tentative.

“No, he didn’t hurt me.” She thought back to how gentle he had been.

“You were lucky. These things can be very nasty sometimes.”

A short blonde man walked into the room and stepped forward to introduce himself. “Ms. Stafford is it?” She nodded.

“My name is detective Bowin, I know this has been a trying evening but I need to ask you a few questions. Do you feel up to talking about what happened?”

“Yes.” But even as she began answering his questions, she felt a heaviness settle in her limbs.

“The style of this robbery is similar to other cases I’ve been following.” There was one glaring exception that he didn’t mention. Until now, the thief he had been tracking had been too clever to leave witnesses. The jobs had been well planned and perfectly executed. He hoped he finally had the breakthrough he’d been looking for.

“Anything you might remember would be helpful.”

Danielle spoke about her brief interaction with the thief as the detective took notes. Confused by the robe and choking incidents, she purposely left them out.

Detective Bowin tried to establish as many details as possible while they were still fresh in her mind. His questioning went on for nearly forty minutes before he noticed her exhaustion and finally eased off. He ended by asking her to come by the station the next day to finish her statement.

*****

Her uncle circled her like a mother hen. He was appalled that she had to endure such a thing and kept wandering into her room to make sure she was all right. Fianlly realizing there wasn’t anything more he could do he let her rest.

Although tired, Danielle was too keyed up to sleep. Her mind was flooded with conflicting emotions. The police had handled her with care, as if she were in shock, and maybe she was. Why else would she have purposely misled them about his height and the color of his eyes? Although it made no sense, she felt reluctant to see him captured. There was something in his manor that had been almost apologetic. She blushed as she remembered how her skin had tingled when he touched the tip of his finger to her lips.

Danielle berated herself for these irrational thoughts. She could have been raped or killed. She was being foolishly sentimental. Still, somehow deep inside she knew that she had never been in danger. She was certain that he never would have harmed her, even though it defied all logic. Danielle shivered as she thought of his eyes riveted to hers, his gentle touch and soothing voice. Her senses had been keenly alert through the whole experience. She remembered the aroma of his leather jacket and something else, something that tugged at the edge of her memory. Danielle glanced around the room for an item that might have held his scent. There was nothing, even the scarf he had used to gag her was gone.

She scolded herself for romanticizing. He was a common thief, who had broken in, tied her up and taken what didn’t belong to him. The safe had been cleared out. Over two million dollars in jewels and cash were stolen.

Even so, the loss was minor in scope of her uncle’s wealth. But there was one item among the contents of the safe that could never be replaced: her mother’s medallion. It had been handed down through the generations to the eldest daughter on their twenty-third birthday. In a couple of weeks it would have been hers. Now the tradition would end. The thief had taken a piece of her birthright along with the jewels.

The thought distressed her. Feeling too edgy to sleep, she decided to write in her journal and discovered it wasn’t where she had left it. An exhaustive search of the house turned up nothing. A chilling thought occurred to her. Maybe the thief had taken it. The idea seemed ludicrous but she had no other way to explain its disappearance.

Her pulse quickened as she thought of him reading her private thoughts. What could he want with her diary? Was he hoping to find information, secrets? Her mind jumped to a variety of unpleasant conclusions. Luckily she had only recently inserted new pages, filing the old entries away.

She tried to recall what she had written in the last few weeks and groaned as she remembered the park. Was she allowing her vivid imagination to get the best of her? Surely if he had taken the journal, he would throw it out, probably without even reading it.

*****

Alex poured herself another drink. Her behavior this evening was worrisome. She was indeed slipping. How else could she explain her phone call to the police? She squeezed her eyes shut. God, what had she been thinking?

She grabbed her leather jacket from the chair and pulled the colorful scarf out of the pocket. Her mind flashed back to the fear she had seen in the young woman’s eyes and she winced. Remembering the woman’s suffering distressed her. Hoping to erase the vision, she stuffed the scarf deep into the pocket.

Her reason for alerting the police was simple. The thought of the innocent woman bound and uncomfortable had been unbearable. She had to call.

Her actions were completely out of character. She never allowed herself such sentimentality. It was too dangerous in her line of work. But there was more to it than that. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she knew this woman from someplace. Looking into those emerald eyes had felt like coming home. She had wanted to kiss her, to take her in her arms and protect her from the world. A ridiculous thought, considering she was probably the only one to ever pose a threat to the young woman.

Alex couldn’t explain her feelings, but it was clear that her heart wasn’t in her work anymore. She would have stopped years ago, but the decision was no longer hers to make. He was calling the shots now and she knew it would never be enough. He owned her.

She walked to the table and dumped out the contents of her bag. It had been a good haul. There was approximately $500,000 cash and an additional two million in jewels. They were high quality, many antiques. An unusual medallion caught her attention and she pulled it from the pile. It was oval shaped, made of gold with an intricate spiral pattern engraved on the front. It was obviously very old. Alex turned it over in her hands, examining it closely and felt a tingling sensation in her fingertips. She set it down and took another drink.

Her attention was drawn to the leather book. She picked it up and sat next to the fire, gently running her her fingers over the cover. This was old too. The spiral design on the front was similar to the one on the pendant, and there were symbols she couldn’t decipher. Its pages were held in place with leather ties. The cover was beautifully cured and oiled. It must have meant a great deal to someone, as it was well cared for. She leafed through the pages and smiled. She loved the scent of ink. Ever since she was a kid she associated the aroma with pleasant memories.

She glanced at the first page. The handwriting captured her attention right away. It was written with an old fashion fountain pen. The strokes widened and narrowed with artistic flair. Looking at the page as a whole, the script formed a beautifully abstract design. The penmanship was flowing, pleasing to the eye. As she looked closely it became obvious that it was a journal. She took another sip of scotch and began to read.

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7/1

It was another sleepless night in an unending chain. The darkness calls to me. I’m drawn to the risk, the mystery. The element of danger promises fulfillment, an escape from my ordinary life. I hunger for adventure.

I chose to walk through the park even though my uncle had warned me how dangerous the city was as night. The air was warm. I walked quickly, trying to cool myself with the breeze my movements created. I was lost in my thoughts, as I so often am.

A noise to my left caught my attention. I turned and listened. It was a deep moan. Curiosity drew me to the sound. The area was dimly lit and I had to strain to see two people in the distance. I edged closer. I was only twenty feet way when they came clearly into view. The woman was leaning with her back against a tree. Her lover was pressed tightly against her, their mouths locked in a steamy kiss. The woman was delirious with pleasure, her moans escaping the seal of their lips.

I felt like an intruder, but I was transfixed. My feet wouldn’t move. My eyes were locked on their undulating bodies. I stood frozen, watching his hands glide up the outside of her thighs, raising the light weight skirt above her hips. His lips were moving against her neck and I could see the intensity of her need in her expression.

The raw sensuality of it, stirred something in me, bringing me to my senses. I stepped back, intending to leave, when the unthinkable happened; a twig snapped loudly under my weight. I quickly glanced up to see if the couple had heard me.

They had, both were facing me now. I willed myself to run, but a realization settled over me and I hesitated. They were both women.

I ran. Flushed with embarrassment, feeling like a common voyeur.

My reaction to these women confuses me. My interest in this couple makes me more aware than ever that I need to get a life. I haven’t been out with anyone in over a year. Dating has always been awkward for me. I’m uncomfortable in intimate relationships. There is no desire.

I thought for a long time that the sexual part of me was dead, but tonight, for the first time, I felt… something. Maybe I am capable of those feelings, maybe they are lying dormant, waiting to be awoken. For the first time in my life I have a flicker of hope that I might be capable of falling in love.

It’s time I took the initiative, and tried another date. John, one of the sports reporters at work, has approached me several times. He’s friendly and attractive, maybe the time is right. Tomorrow I will ask him out for a drink.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Alex was captivated. She felt like a bit of a voyeur herself. But the young woman’s words drew her in and she couldn’t resist. She smiled and took another drink. Closing her eyes she tried to picture the blonde woman coming across the couple in the park. Instead she found herself fantasizing about the young woman leaning against the tree while she kissed her. The image was so vivid it was like reliving a memory.

She frowned when she thought about the sports reporter. Something told her this date idea had disaster written all over it. Reluctantly she put the journal down. She needed to contact her fence. It would be dangerous for her mother and brother if she were late with her payment.

*****

Alex walked through the dimly lit lot to the back entrance of the pawn shop. She rapped lightly on the door and within minutes Sal answered and ushered her in. He hit a button under the counter revealing a hidden panel. Upon keying in his code the wall behind him slid to one side. There was a metal door behind it. Alex stepped past him and walked in. Once inside he hit another button causing the wall to slide back into place.

He grinned at her. “The wonders of modern technology.” He loved gadgets, anything and everything electronic fascinated him.

Alex frowned. “You always did have a flair for the theatrical.”

She had known Sal since the early days. He had a bubbling personality, that, while on occasion grated on her nerves, she also found endearing. Their relationship was not built on trust, for Alex trusted no one. Rather she viewed their association as mutually beneficial. He had been fair in his dealings with her and was discrete. It was in his best interests that she not be caught because their association was very profitable for him.

Although the nature of her work demanded that she relocate frequently, she did business with Sal whenever possible. There was a familiarity with one another that gave her comfort. He represented consistency in a life riddled with change.

He carefully emptied the bag she handed him onto the table. “This stuff from the Palanos heist?”

“Yeah.”

“Didn’t think that one was yours.” He eyed her curiously. “I’ve never known you to have any witnesses. What went wrong?” She shrugged in response. Silently wishing she knew the answer. He sorted through the pile of jewels and continued to make small talk.

“You made the front page of the early edition.”

She looked at him with sudden interest. “What did it say?”

“Seems the witness is Palanos’ neice, his sister’s kid, …Danielle something” The mention of the woman made her pulse quicken.

He picked up the paper from the chair and scanned the article “Yeah, her name is Danielle Stafford.” He tossed the paper on the table. “Evidently she was just visiting for the weekend.”

He looked up and smiled. “Guess she picked the wrong time to visit.” Noting Alex’s lack of reaction, he continued.

“Anyway she wasn’t hurt and, if she saw anything, the police aren’t disclosing it. She works for the newspaper. That’s probably how they got the story so fast. I had to laugh though. The article says the man got away with about 2.5 million in cash and jewels.” He saw Alex’s uncharacteristically troubled expression and tried to cheer her.

“Hey, if she thought you were a man, she didn’t get a very good look. My eye sight isn’t exactly twenty-twenty but it’s a mistake I would never make.” He grinned at her.

“Don’t be so sure. I wasn’t dressed in typical feminine attire.” She grabbed the paper and read through the article as he examined the jewels.

“These are nice pieces. Shame to remove them from their settings. Hmm… this is interesting.” He picked up the medallion and examined it closely.

Alex looked up from her reading and took it from him abruptly. “I’m keeping this.” She pushed it into her pocket. “How much for the rest?”

“I’ll give you 1.5.”

She shook her head. “And they call me a thief. Haven’t you made enough to retire yet?”

“Alex, you know I’m not in it just for the money.” He winked. “I get to meet such interesting people.”

She ignored his comment and handed him a piece of paper. “Have the money transferred to this account by Friday.”

*****

Danielle arrived at the station early and waited outside Detective Bowin’s office. There was something about the place that made her nervous.

Marisa Sands walked past Danielle and entered the office.

“You wanted to see me?”

“Yeah, It looks like we might have a lead on the Palanos case. It seems our man left a witness this time.

“Well that’s good news.”

“I’ll tell you though Marse, something about this doesn’t feel right.”

“You always look a gift horse in the mouth.” She smiled and shook her head.

“Why after all these robberies would he slip up? It just doesn’t make sense.” Bowin puzzled.

“They all make mistakes eventually. Maybe this isn’t one of his?”

“No, I’d bet money it is, too many similarities. I can feel it in my bones. And if I’m right, we don’t have much time. If he holds true to pattern he’ll be moving on soon .”

“Okay, so what’s our next move?”

“I want you to sit in on this one. Keep an eye on her while I do the questioning”. She nodded and looked towards the door.

“You think she’s involved?”

“I’m not sure. Evidently she doesn’t visit often. Makes me wonder if it’s just bad luck on her part or something more.”

Marisa shrugged. “Want me to call her in?”

“Yeah, lets see if she can tell us more.”

Marisa led Danielle into the office. Detective Bowin stood politely to greet her.

“Ms. Stafford, thanks for coming down so early. I hope you’re feeling better today.

“Yes, thank you.”

He shook her hand gently. This is my assistant, Detective Sands.”

Danielle nodded.

“We won’t keep you long. I just had a few things I wanted to clear up.” His tone was casual but he watched her carefully.

“You say the thief grabbed you from behind and held one hand over your mouth while he put a knife to your throat?”

“Yes”

“Do you remember which hand held the knife?”

Danielle thought of a moment. “It was the right.”

“I would like to try a little experiment. See if we can trigger any memories, if that’s okay with you?”

“All right.”

Detective Bowin stepped behind and put his hand over her mouth pulling her back. It felt wrong to Danielle: his short stature, the body type, the grip, the very presence was different.

“Marisa give it a try.” Marisa positioned herself behind Danielle.

“She’s a bit taller than me. It will give us a different perspective.” Bowin explained.

Marisa pulled Danielle against her, covering her mouth. A shiver went through Danielle. The detective was strong, forceful. She hadn’t expected that from a woman. There were definite similarities and it unnerved her.

Danielle pulled away, obviously a little rattled.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, just brought back some unpleasant memories I guess.”

“Please have a seat.”

“So, was he closer to my build or Marisa’s?”

She hesitated only a moment and lied, “closer to your height and stature, I think.” Both detectives watched her shift nervously.

“When the thief was tying you up did you notice anything about him? You said his eye color was green.

“Yes, green I think.” Her voice quavered slightly. But she recovered quickly. “It’s kind of hazy and I was frightened.”

“Of course, that’s completely understandable. Was he white then?”

“I think so. He wore gloves and a mask. I never saw his skin.”

“Hmm, but the eye color would indicate someone of light skin.”

“Yes” Danielle was feeling uncomfortable with her lies. Why was she protecting the robber?.

“Did he speak to you at all?”

Danielle hesitated again. “No.”

Bowin cast a quick glance at his partner, wondering if she had noticed Danielle’s eyes lower. “Anything about him that was unusual? Mannerisms, walk?”

“Nothing I can remember.”

There was something strange going on. Bowin could feel it. He decided not to press the woman too hard. He could always call her back later.

“Well, that’s all I can think of for now. You’ll be available if we have further questions?” He stood and smiled. Danielle nodded, wondering if he was asking or telling her.

She was relieved to be leaving. Her head was pounding. She could not imagine what had caused her to lie, but she had done it with barely a thought. It had almost been instinctive. Uncomfortable with her fabrications, she wondered if her face may have revealed her discomfort. She took a deep breath as she exited the station. It was over now and she would just have to deal with the consequences.

*****

It was early morning by the time Alex arrived home. She poured herself a cup of coffee and settled on the couch. The journal lay on the table where she had left it. She ran her hand lightly over the smooth leather, her fingers tracing the curious design. ‘Okay Danielle, how’d the date go?’ Turning the pages to the point she left off, she began to read.

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7/2

The date was disastrous. We went out for drinks and then back to his apartment to see his autographed sports collectibles. God, how do I manage to get myself into these things? I knew

early on it wasn’t working out, but I wanted to give it a fair shot. After the second drink, his subtle advances escalated to heavy groping and forceful kisses.

He did all the things that make for effective love scenes in movies, the same things others before him have done. I felt nothing. Fortunately, he was oblivious to my disinterest and seemed genuinely reluctant for me to leave. At least, I didn’t hurt his feelings. He even asked me out again. At least one of us had a good time. Of course, I declined. It wouldn’t be fair to him. What’s the point, I’m hopeless.

Whatever triggered the sensations in me last night in the park, wasn’t there tonight. Was I attracted to the forbidden, the voyeurism, the sense of danger? Maybe it was the simple fact they were both women? But, my body had reacted long before I knew their sex, or had something deep within me known it all along? I’m curious.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“I’ll bet you are.” Alex smiled. Something told her that the young woman was far from hopeless. She had seen the fire in those green eyes. It was clear to Alex that the right person would have no trouble stirring the passion she sensed was smoldering below the surface. She got up to pour another cup of coffee, then sat back down to continue reading.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

7/3

I made plans to spend the weekend with my uncle. He is such a kind and lonely man. I feel a little guilty for not making more of an effort to visit him since I’ve lived in town. He was so supportive of my decision to move here. Without his help, my parents would have made it even more difficult for me. They were dead set against me coming out here.

If it weren’t for my grandmother, I would think that I was adopted. I have nothing in common with my family. They are appalled by my need for adventure and will never understand why I broke my engagement to Paul. It was the right decision. As nice as he is, I knew we weren’t right for each other. I like him, but I could never love him, not the way he wanted.

My father will never forgive me for the embarrassment I brought to the family, breaking the engagement and leaving town. But, my leaving was hardest on my mother. It made the memories of my grandmother surface. When I left, I could see the pain in her face. I knew she was remembering my grandmother’s scandalous affair.

It took all my courage to leave what was safe and familiar. I could have spent my entire life trying to fit in there. I never would have. I had to find myself.

7/4

I went to see the fireworks with some women from the paper. They were spectacular. I’ve always enjoyed looking up at the night sky. The stars fascinate me. My friends seemed much less interested in the fireworks than the men that passed by.

I feigned interest in their observations. Puzzled by what they found so alluring. None of the men we saw interested me physically. But then, they never do.

After the night in the park, I find myself thinking about women, wondering if that’s where my attraction lies. I’m more aware of women since that night. I appreciate the beauty of the female form. The soft sloping curves of a woman’s body are pleasing to me. Still, there is no physical attraction except for that glimmer of feeling I had watching the women in the park.

I will be twenty-three in a couple of weeks. That has been a milestone year for women in my family. My grandmother was that age when her life changed. Maybe it will be my year for self discovery, too.

7/5

Six years of journalism and I’m stuck writing obituaries. If only I could get a shot at writing a real story. I’ve only worked at the paper for five months but I’ve got some great ideas. I wish they would let me try one. I sent the outline for the domestic violence story to Liz, the editor of the women’s section. I wonder if she bothered to read it. It’s just the kind of story I have dreamt of doing. An opportunity to help people through my writing.

Elaine encouraged me to follow through with my idea for the story and agreed to talk to the women at the shelter about setting up a meeting. She has been the director for a number of years. They have come to trust and respect her. I hope we are able to get a few to participate. She thinks it might give some women in abusive situations the courage to leave.

I owe Elaine a phone call. We haven’t gotten together in a couple of weeks. She has been a good friend to me, but lately her attempts to set me up with her male friends have made me uncomfortable. She only wants me to be happy. I guess I’m going to have to work up the nerve to discuss it with her.

7/6

I have been trying to avoid John all week but today he caught up with me at lunch. I don’t know how to let him down easy. Although he’s a nice guy, I don’t think that he has any close friends. I should have left things as they were. Now, our friendship seems strained. I’ll have to talk to Elaine. She usually knows how to handle these relationship things. Who knows, maybe she could set him up with one of her female friends.

Maybe I should ask her to set me up with one of her female friends.

Since the night in the park, I haven’t been sleeping well. I am restless. Until that night I thought little about sex. Now my dreams are filled with longing. I chase a stranger whose face eludes me.

7/7

I walk the park nightly, secretly hoping I will see the lovers. I can’t stop thinking of them. They haunt me. I can’t shake the feeling that they hold the key that would unlock my heart and end my loneliness.

I believe the answer is linked with this incident. I don’t know what I’m searching for, only that I can’t give up trying to find it. I feel on the verge of discovering something I once knew and have now forgotten. There is a piece of myself that is missing. Without it, I’m incomplete.

It’s a promise of something wonderful, something I have waited my entire life for. My eyes linger on each woman I pass and I wonder if they are one of the lovers from that night.

7/8

An odd thing happened at the hair stylist’s today. I was waiting to have my hair trimmed when I glanced at the woman seated in front of me. It wasn’t the woman herself that caught my eye, but her hair. She slid a towel off her head, revealing long dark hair. It was wet and hung in tangles down her shoulders. I felt a shiver run down my spine.

I watched entranced as she ran her fingers through it, shocked that I wanted to do the same. I don’t know how long I stared at her. Time had stopped for me. My heart was pounding furiously. She turned to pick up a magazine from the counter and faced my direction. She was beautiful, but somehow I felt disappointed. What had I expected? Who had I expected? Did the woman against the tree in the park have long dark hair? I can’t remember. I’m not sure that I even noticed. I only know since that night I have changed.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Alex put the journal down and stretched. She wondered for a moment what Danielle would think of her long dark hair. She ran her fingers though it and laughed at herself. What an unlikely pair they would be. They were as opposite as night and day.

Although they were worlds apart, the similarities in their circumstances hadn’t escaped her. Something was lacking in her life too. Loneliness was a pain she had learned to bear. Like Danielle, she had never been able to commit to a relationship. She took care not to let her guard down. It was the one valuable lesson Julian had taught her. But, unlike this innocent woman, not committing hadn’t stopped her from using lovers of both sexes. In her short life, she had slept with numerous men and women. But, for her part it was always a manipulation, she had never opened her heart to anyone. She never felt love for them.

Reluctantly, she closed the journal. There were many things she had to take care of and she needed to rest. Her fingers slowly caressed the journal’s surface. The spiral design on the front fascinated her. Hesitantly, she laid it down and walked to the bedroom.

*****

Part II

*****

When Danielle arrived at work their was a message for her from Liz, the editor of the women’s section. She could barely contain her excitement as she made her way to her office. As she approached the door, Liz motioned her in.

“Dear, I’m so sorry to hear about the robbery. I’m glad you weren’t hurt.”

“It wasn’t bad really, just a little excitement.”

“Do the police have any leads on the robber yet?”

“No, I don’t’ think so. When I stopped this morning to give them a statement, they didn’t mention anything.”

“I’m sure you’re tired of the whole thing.” Liz paused and smiled. “I have some news that should make your day. I like your idea for the battered women’s story.”

“Really?” Danielle brightened.

“Yes. It’s a fresh approach on an old topic. The idea of following up on a story done five years ago to see how the shelter’s program may have changed these women’s lives is intriguing. It’s a good human interest piece. I’m giving you the go ahead to do a small three part series.”

“That’s great! Thank you.”

“This is your chance. I want part one on my desk by next Tuesday.”

Danielle’s thought’s were racing. This was the crack in the door she had been waiting for. If she could make this series a success, she would be given the opportunity to do more writing.

She hurried back to her desk to contact Elaine, the director of the Domestic Violence Program. When she had first arrived in town, she had made an appointment to see Elaine to discuss her idea. They hit it off immediately and quickly became friends. Elaine was a rather petite woman with long curly hair. What she lacked in stature she made up for in her serious no nonsense demeanor. Having been abused herself she was the perfect role model to guide these women into safer lives. Danielle dialed excitedly. She could hardly wait to tell her friend the good news.

“Hi, Elaine.”

“Hey, I’ve been trying to reach you all morning. I read the paper. Are you okay?”

“I couldn’t be better. Listen, I’ll tell you all about that later.” She paused unable to keep the excitement from her voice. “You aren’t going to believe this, but I got the go ahead for the series we discussed.”

“That’s terrific! I thought you had something there.”

“Have you had any luck setting up a meeting?”

“Yes, of the 35 woman who were in the program when the last story was written, nine agreed to be interviewed by you this evening at the center.”

“That’s great.”

“Danielle, I assured these women that their identifies would be kept confidential. I can’t stress how important that is.”

“I understand. Elaine, thanks for your help with this.”

“You bet, I think it can be a positive thing for the center.” From Elaine’s first meeting with the young woman, she was touched by her need to help others. Danielle was genuinely interested in the program and enthusiastic in her desire to inspire battered women to seek help. Elaine felt that printing the stories of women who had been successful in turning their lives around could only encourage others.

“Okay, I’ll see you tonight then.”

“And Danielle, tonight I want to hear all about this robbery thing.”

Danielle was still smiling when she hung up the phone.

*****

Elaine walked Danielle to the small conference room and stepped up to the podium in the front of the room to introduce her. Danielle glanced at the nine rather anxious women seated before her and touched Elaine’s arm, stopping her introduction.

“I’m sorry Elaine, I don’t mean to interrupt but this isn’t exactly what I had in mind.” She spoke to the women before her. “Is there some place more comfortable we can sit and talk? A lounge or kitchen maybe? I don’t know about the rest of you but I would love a cup of coffee.”

Elaine lead them to the kitchen, where they all gathered around the large table. Danielle sat on the counter facing the others. “My name is Danielle Stafford, Elaine has probably explained why I wanted to meet you here. I was hoping you would be willing to share your stories.”

“Aren’t you going to tape us or something?”

Danielle smiled. “I don’t use a recorder. I like things informal, besides I have a knack for remembering details. Ever since I was a child I loved hearing people talk about their lives. I’d like to keep this casual if it’s okay with all of you.” There was a perceptible shift in the room as the women relaxed.

A woman with short red hair spoke up. “Why do you want to hear our stories? None of us are important.”

“I think everyone has a story to tell. But in addition to that, all of you are in a unique position. You have faced difficult times and made it through them. I believe that other women in similar positions might find hope for themselves in your stories. My intention is to reach out to them and show them there’s a way out.”

“What about confidentially?,” a tall willowy woman asked. “Some of us are worried that our husbands might track us down.”

A woman with short cropped dark hair interrupted. “I come back to the shelter to help out when I can. I know Danielle. She spends a lot of time here. I trust her.”

“Thanks Spike, I don’t intend to use any names and I will keep details from the stories that would disclose too much. I’ll give each of you the opportunity to look over what I’ve written before it’s printed. If there is anything you object to or are uncomfortable with, I’ll change it.”

“That sounds fair enough.” A woman with long blonde hair commented. The other women nodded in agreement.

“Great, I’d love to hear your stories. Anyone feel comfortable starting things off?”

The dark-haired woman spoke. “I think Ann should start.” She turned to face a plain looking woman with straight brown hair. “If you feel up to it?

Ann looked up shyly and cleared her throat. Her hands trembled as she clutched them in her lap. She nodded.

“My name is Ann. I got married when I was sixteen. There were nine children in my family. My leaving meant one less mouth to feed so my folks didn’t care. My husband was in training to be a police officer and I felt pretty lucky that a man in such an important position would marry me. The men he worked with really liked him. His friends nicknamed him ‘ice’ because he never lost his temper, at least not around them. What they didn’t know was that he saved up all his anger for me.”

“Anyway, that lucky feeling I had didn’t last long. In the fifteen years I was married to him I lost track of the number of times I was knocked unconscious. He hit me nearly every day. Any problem at work was reason enough to come home and beat the tar out of me. My nose has been broken so many times I forget what it used to look like.” She shook her head in frustration, “But I stayed with him.”

“I had four miscarriages. I think my body was worn out from all the beatings. Probably had a lot of bruises inside too. After I lost those four babies, my husband decided he wanted one for real and the beatings lessened. I ended up giving birth to the son he wanted.”

“I was happy during those months when I was carrying my son. It was the most peaceful time I’d known in my marriage. I thought the baby was my salvation. But, shortly after his birth the beatings started up again. I didn’t mind so much cause I had Josh. He was the sweetest little boy, so shy…” she paused and looked down at her hands. The woman to her right lightly touched her shoulder, bringing her out of her thoughts.”

“One time, not long after Josh turned seven, my husband had to take me to the hospital. I was broke up pretty good that time. I’m sure I should have gone to the hospital for a lot of the injuries I had over the years, but it was hard to explain to the doctors how I got that way, so most times I suffered alone at home.”

“This time when I peed, I could see red. I knew it was bad. The doctors said it was good I came in. They had to sew me up inside. My husband told them I took a bad fall and, since he was a police officer, they believed him.”

“I knew I came close to dying and after I got home I began to think about my son and what would become of him if something happened to me. After a while I worked up the courage to ask my parents for help. My father didn’t believe me. He said I should stop complaining and count my blessings, my husband was a good provider and they didn’t grow on trees. My mother, who had always born her suffering privately, thought I should do the same.”

“It was five months after my parents turned me and Josh away that I got the worst beating of my life. He came home one night drunk and mean. I think I would be dead, but Josh stepped between us to protect me. I’ll never forget his small body twisted in a heap on the floor. The doctors told me he died instantly. Those few minutes play over and over in slow motion in my head. Six years later and I still see them.”

The room fell completely quite as if they shared a common memory. Although her face and voice showed no trace of emotion, Danielle could see the loss reflected deeply in her eyes: a pain so great that she would forever be marked by it.

“Even though my husband didn’t mean to hurt Josh, he meant to hit me, he ended up going to jail for it. I can only hope he will be there a good long time.” She took a deep breath. “Anyway that’s how I found my way here. I remember how strange it seemed to go to bed without pain and wake up without new bruises.”

“At first I almost missed it. That must sound funny to you, but for nearly fifteen years the pain was there, proof that I had survived another day, reminding me I had to be careful not to set him off.” She sighed at the irony.

“This place saved me. They got me the medical help I needed and kept me safe. It’s been five years, I’ve been on my own. I have a job working as an clerk in the county morgue. I don’t like being around people much, so the work suits me. It’s quiet and kinda peaceful.”

There was an awkward silence. An attractive woman with brown hair tied in a pony tail spoke up. The shorter redheaded woman next to her was holding her hand. “God, we all knew how to pick ‘em didn’t we.” The women laughed in agreement.

“By the way, my name is Nikki” She looked at Danielle. “Our stories are similar except for a few different twists here and there. All of us…” She waved her arm to indicated everyone in the room. “we are the fortunate ones, we survived. Many women don’t.” She looked lovingly at the woman seated beside her. “Kate and I met here. We both had feelings for women from the earliest time we could remember but we got trapped in loveless, abusive marriages trying to fit in and be ‘normal’. Whatever that is.” She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, after several years of being close friends we realized that we loved each other. We’ve been together as a couple for over two years. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Her partner nodded and squeezed her hand. “We went to school to become Emergency Medical Technicians. In fact, we work for the same ambulance company, usually on the same shift. The job’s different everyday. We like that. Both of us are kind of adventurous. But the best part of our work is being able to help people when they need it most.”

“I think everyone here would agree that Elaine, deserves the credit for giving us a second chance in life. She works hard helping women like us. Your story should really focus on her and the good she does.” Everyone voiced their agreement. The bond these women shared was tangible. Danielle could almost feel the aura that surrounded them. It was a wonderful thing.

The brassy young woman with the spiky hair and vibrant eyes chimed in. “For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Tara, but my friends call me Spike.” She ran her hand through her shortly cropped hair for clarification and smiled. “I used to be a hooker. I was in an abusive relationship with my pimp, but only for three years. So I was luckier than some. But like the rest, I never knew what was going to set him off. I blamed myself, thought it was my fault. I wonder to this day why I stayed as long as I did. But you know, in spite of it all I cared for him. After a bad attack he would be so attentive and loving. At times it seemed almost worth the beating.”

Several of the women nodded in understanding.

“You see, they break you down over time. It’s not only physical. There is mental abuse too. Anyway I’m a survivor, thanks to the support of Elaine and the women from the shelter. Believe it or not, I’m a stunt woman in television now. I figured I been thrown around enough that it seemed right down my alley.” The women laughed softly.

“Yep, life experience gave me most of the training I needed.” She smiled wryly. “The best part is that now, they pay me for it and pretty well I might add.”

Rachel, the long-haired blonde sitting on the end was the next to speak. “Yeah, it’s ironic the path life leads us down. I was completely dependent on my husband. My life revolved around him. Leaving was the farthest thing from my mind.

The neighbors used to call the cops when they heard him ranting. When the police came, they never did anything. So after I got my life straightened around. I decided to become a cop.”

“I found my own power. The kind that comes from deep inside. There were so many times I prayed for someone to be there to help me. In the end, I had to take that first step myself. The rest would not have been possible without Elaine. I want to make a difference, like she has. I want to help women like me. And the best part is, I think I have. At least I’ve tried.”

“Although I’m new on the force, I make an effort to see that the police are more aware of the problems abused women face and why they are reluctant to press charges and ask for help. I try to stop by the center on a regular basis to encourage the new women. When they first get here they are so down on themselves. All the good feelings have been beaten out of them.”

“I know Danielle too. She’s a good friend. I wanted to be interviewed, the story is a good idea. Battered women need to see that there’s still hope.”

Danielle smiled, “Every now and then we all need to be reminded of that.”

They talked until late. Each woman elaborating on her tale. Danielle listened intently to their stories. They were compelling and often heartbreaking. She was amazed by their strength and courage. They had found their places in life and were making their unique contribution. If only she could find hers.

*****

Danielle stirred, her mind deep in the throws of a dream. She was in the park. Looking for the lovers that she had become obsessed with. They were not there. She walked to the tree and ran her fingers against the rough bark. A soft sound behind her made her turn. It was him, the thief. His face covered by the mask. He took a step toward her, raising a gloved finger to his lips. Her heart raced as he came closer, leaving only a few inches between them.

Strong hands settled firmly on her waist, easing her back against the tree. His eyes met hers, silently questioning. She placed her hands over his and guided them down over the curve of her hips. She moaned as she felt the cool fabric of her skirt caress her skin as he lifted it. Her heart hammered. She prayed he wouldn’t stop. She slipped her hands under his leather jacket and froze as they came in contact with the gently sloping curve of breasts. Her eyes snapped open.

It took her some time to fall back asleep.

A loud crash woke her the second time, something breaking. It was followed by a male voice raised in anger. It sounded like her neighbors were fighting. So much for the joys of apartment living. She tried to block out his angry voice. She was ready to grab for a pillow to cover her ears when she heard a woman’s scream, followed by a loud bang. Something was wrong. She picked up the phone and called the police.

The ranting continued. She quickly dressed in sweats and went to the door of their apartment. She could hear a muffled voice through the door.

“You bitch, what did I tell you about staying out of my things!”

A woman’s voice pleaded in the background. “Not the stomach… please.” There was a sickening crack.

Danielle knocked loudly. It became quiet and she heard footsteps approach. A very handsome man opened the door. She was rather taken back by his appearance. The expression on his face was so casual that she felt she had made a mistake.

“Yes?” His voice was calm. His look questioning.

“I heard… screaming, I was concerned that someone might be hurt.”

“Oh that, I’m sorry. We must have had the television too loud. I apologize.”

“Of course, I’m sorry I bothered you.” Danielle’s face colored. Embarrassed for jumping to a rash conclusion. She guessed it wasn’t too surprising since she had spent the evening listening to stories of abuse.

She was about to leave when she noticed blood spattered on the front of his shirt. Danielle tried to keep a neutral expression on her face. Her mind searched for a way to stall him until the police arrived. “I live across the hall.” She put her hand out in greeting. “Danielle Stafford.” He took it awkwardly.

“Drake Morrison”. His hands were cold, clammy, not nearly as composed as his face.

“It’s nice to meet you .” He smiled warmly. His voice was so charming compared to the raging she had heard moments before that it caused a chill to run through her.

“I promise we’ll keep the noise down in the future.” He began to close the door when she heard a low groan and a terrible wet coughing sound. She held her hand out stopping the door and looked at him questioningly.

“My wife’s got a cold. Bad time of year for that kind of thing.”

“I’ve had some first aid training. Maybe I could take a look at her?”

“Thanks but that’s not really necessary, she’s seeing our family doctor.” A small cry for help came from behind him.

His expression hardened and he glanced over his shoulder. Danielle pushed past him. About ten feet in front of her she saw a woman sprawled on the kitchen floor. She hurried toward her and nearly slipped in a pool of blood. Danielle had never seen a face so savagely brutalized. She knelt on the other side of the woman, careful not to turn her back to him. She watched him cautiously as he approached. His face stricken.

“She fell.”

The terrified woman whimpered like a wounded animal. Danielle laid her hand lightly on the woman’s shoulder, in an attempt to calm her. The comment didn’t even rate an answer. Her contempt for this man rose like bile. “You can tell it to the police. They’ll be here any minute.”

His mouth opened in confusion. He ran his fingers through his hair nervously. Then without a word he turned and headed into another room.

The woman grabbed Danielle’s hand. “He’s going for his gun… he’s going to kill us.” Another violent cough brought up blood. Danielle had no reason to doubt her. She pulled the woman to her feet and struggled toward her apartment. They made it into the hall before he caught up to them.

Danielle leaned the woman against her door and stepped in front of her protectively. “Don’t make things worse for yourself. Put the gun down.”

“You should have minded your own business, bitch!” The change in his expression was terrifying. Like Jekyll and Hyde. Danielle tried to keep her composure. She had to buy them time.

“Your right, I have a real problem that way. But this can still be fixed.” She paused gauging his reaction. “When the police come we can say she fell down the steps. That would explain the noises I heard. I know you didn’t mean to hurt her. She knows that too.” She could see that he was considering her words. She just needed time.

A car backfired outside. He spun around to look, startled by the noise, when he turned back to face them, Danielle drove the palm of her hand into his nose. The gun flew from his hand and rattled down the stairs. He buckled and clutched his nose painfully. She used her momentary advantage to push the woman through the door to her apartment, locking it behind her.

The man pounded so violently that Danielle feared the door would give in. She grabbed for the phone and dialed 911. They calmly assured her help was coming. Danielle hung up the phone and shoved a chair under the door knob. Slipping her arm around the trembling woman’s back she moved her to the couch. The woman looked about eight months pregnant. As Danielle watched a trickle of blood run down the inside of the woman’s thigh, she silently prayed the police and ambulance would arrive in time to save the woman and her child.

In the distance she could hear the sirens approach. She took the woman’s hand in her own. “Hold on, it’s going to be all right. Help is coming.”

*****

Alex finished dinner and settled in for the evening. She sat by the fire, curling her legs underneath her, she paged to the next journal entry.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

7/9

Faceless women with raven hair haunt my dreams. My obsession has prompted me to do something that had previously never occurred to me: I decided to go to a lesbian bar.

I fretted for an hour over what to wear, finally deciding on black jeans and a T-shirt. The club I picked was a small smoky little place. I stopped at the bar to get and drink and found a seat in the back where I could watch without attracting attention.

It wasn’t much different from other bars I had been in, with the exception that there were only women there. I watched them as they danced, talked, held hands, and kissed. Many of the women were very attractive, but I felt nothing. I finished my drink intending to leave, when a tall woman walked by me, headed toward the bar.

I inhaled and my head reeled. The scent of her leather jacket sent a rush of excitement through me. I watched her take a seat at the bar. My eyes were riveted to her back. With a shake of her head, her dark hair cascaded down her back. My heart skipped a beat. I watched with interest as she shifted in her seat, amazed at the sensations I was experiencing. My entire body tingled. She stood, her hips swaying as she pulled money out of her pocket to pay for the shot.

A pleasant fluttering in my abdomen nearly caused me to gasp out loud. My arm were covered with goose bumps. I gently ran my finger over them, thrilling at the sensation. When I looked up she was gone. A panic swept over me as I quickly scanned the room. I caught sight of her heading for the door. She was leaving.

Without thinking, I jumped up and hurried after her. Just as she was about to exit I reached out, grazing her lightly on the shoulder. When she turned to face me, my heart fell. She looked at me puzzled. I lamely apologized and told her she looked like someone I used to know. As I heard my own words, I felt that somehow they were true.

She was nice, but I left the bar alone. Unfortunately, I still felt nothing. I had no desire to be with her in a sexual way.

I am more desperately lonely than before. I could deal with the fact that I might be a lesbian. What truly depresses me is the fact that no one of either sex holds any attraction for me. I’m confused. But, these occasional bursts of sensation leave me hopeful. I feel I’m on the verge of a breakthrough. It’s both exciting and frightening.

7/10

Mother called today to remind me about the medallion. She wanted to make sure my uncle remembered to give it to me next week on my birthday. It surprises me how much this tradition means to her considering how strained her relationship was with my grandmother. She never got over the hurt and embarrassment of her mother leaving my grandfather for a woman. She felt abandoned and could never understand how my grandmother could put a mysterious woman before her own child.

I never knew my grandmother. She died before I was born. Mother never talked about her. I understood even at a very young age that the subject was not to be brought up. My mother only discussed her with me one time and it was very brief. The day my grandfather died I found her in the backyard burning stacks of papers. Her face was wet with tears. In a fit of anger she had burned the letters my grandmother had written to her throughout the years.

I never understood the magnitude of this loss until I was older. Now, I would give anything to have those letters. A sense of my heritage has always been important to me. I have recorded my thoughts since I was a child. Writing is a life line. I find solace in it no matter how alone I feel. It’s sad that we never knew each other; somehow I feel connected to her. I think her thirst for adventure is in my blood.

Of grandmother’s belongings, mother kept only two: the leather journal I have used since childhood and the medallion. As the eldest daughter the medallion will pass to me on my twenty-third birthday as it did to my mother before me. Mother never wore it that I knew of, but family is very important to her. I think the medallion represents a link to her mother. I will treasure it.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Alex set the journal down. The enormity of what she had taken from this young woman flooded over her. She knew somehow she had to set things right.

The ringing of the phone interrupted her thoughts and she moved across the room to answer. It was Sal.

“Thought you might be interested in the late news on channel seven tonight.”

She clicked on her set. Danielle appeared on the screen. Alex watched intently as the cameras panned first to the woman on the stretcher and then to the concerned face of Danielle Stafford. At the corner of the screen she could see a man being directed into the squad car. She recognized the look in his eyes and knew immediately that Danielle was in trouble.

“Sal, I need you to do a favor for me.”

He was surprised by the request. In all the years he’s known her, Alex had never asked anything of him. “Sure Alex, what can I do?”

“I have a package I need to have delivered to this Danielle Stafford at the newspaper on Monday. I can’t have any connection to it. If I drop it by tomorrow morning, can you find someone reliable to handle it?”

“It shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Make sure the delivery person can’t be traced.”

“Okay…” He hesitated. “Alex, tell me it’s not a bomb.”

“That’s hardly my style.” She smiled and shook her head. “And besides, what makes you think I’d trust you with a bomb?”

He laughed “I had to ask.”

“Sal thanks, I owe you one.”

After hanging up, Alex couldn’t get the young woman off her mind. She sensed danger and she was rarely wrong about these things. She could think of a hundred reasons why she shouldn’t get involved but none of them mattered. The instant she had sensed trouble her mind had been made up. She had a few days before she needed to leave town, enough time to follow this woman and make sure everything was okay.

*****

The next evening, after visiting the hospital, Danielle went for a long walk. Her mind was swimming. In the past few days she had experienced more excitement and danger than she had her entire life, but it still left her wanting.

She walked through the park, stopping by the tree where she had seen the two women. Her fingers brushed the rough bark. She leaned against it, closing her eyes. Her mind flashed back to her dream. She could feel the strong hands moving down her hips, the warm breath against her neck. When she opened her eyes the fantasy faded. She felt empty, alone.

Danielle headed back to her apartment, taking a short cut through a rather deserted neighborhood. Gradually she became aware of someone behind her and increased her pace. The footfalls behind her quickened, matching her own. She tried to calm her racing heart, sure her imagination was getting the best of her.

As she turned the corner, she stopped to listen. It was quiet. She took a relieved breath and was about to continue home, when a hand grabbed her from behind, pulling her into a dark alley. He pushed her roughly into the corner.

It was the Drake, the wife beater, and he had two friends with him. She looked around quickly for a way to escape. There was very little gap between the men. She was effectively trapped in the corner.

“You never should have interfered in my life, bitch.” A coldness settled in the pit of her stomach. His confidence surged as he sensed her fear. He smiled menacingly.

“Go ahead, scream.” He taunted her. His voice filled with hate. “No one will hear you.” She tried to break past him but one of the men caught her and threw her back against the wall.

“I’m going to teach you to mind your own business.” He glanced back at his friend.

“Joe, watch the entrance.” The heavy set man turned and walked toward the street. That left two. She knew this might be her only chance. She had to act quickly.

As Drake reached out to grab her, she struck out hitting his bruised nose. He stepped back wincing in pain. But, before she could run, the other man punched her hard in the face. Her head snapped back and hit the brick wall. She reeled from the blow.

The wife beater wiped a trickle of blood from his nose. His eyes filled with rage. He swung at her face but she managed to dodge the blow. She tried once again to get past him but he threw her back, punching her savagely in the stomach. She doubled over with pain. Taking advantage of her weakened state, he grabbed her hair and forced upright. He hit her several times in the face, splitting her lip. She fought to stay on her feet but her legs were too wobbly to hold her up and she slumped to the ground.

“Grab her hands.”

The large man pinned her hands above her head, while Drake positioned himself between her legs. “You’re going to pay for that.”

Danielle struggled to free herself, but the man above her was too strong. She felt Drake’s hands slide under her skirt, pushing it up and knew he meant to rape her. She kicked wildly with her feet as he tore at her underpants. When she cried out for help, he punched her repeatedly.

Pain flooded her body, draining the strength from her limbs. She lay helpless, praying for unconsciousness.

Her vulnerability excited him. He unfastened his belt and unzipped his pants. His callused hands grabbed her thighs and forced her legs farther apart. “Here it comes bitch.”

He leaned forward preparing to thrust into her, when a loud thud behind them prompted him to turn. “Joe?”

A tall figure illuminated by the street light, walked slowly toward them. He squinted, struggling in the dim light to see who approached. It was a woman.

“Joe can’t answer you, I broke his jaw.” Something about her manner and confidence unnerved him. He stood up quickly, haphazardly zipping his pants.

Alex glanced at the man holding Danielle. “Let her go… NOW!”

He released Danielle and rushed Alex. She threw a round house kick to his chest knocking him to the ground. He came at her again. This time, she stepped to the side and grabbed his arm, twisting, while jerking it upward, neatly dislocating his shoulder. He dropped to the ground screaming in pain. A single punch to the temple knocked him unconscious.

Drake looked at her fearfully, not sure what he was up against. It was one on one and he didn’t like his odds. She turned to face him. He saw her face for the first time and his blood ran cold. She was smiling.

“Your fun is over. And mine, is about to begin.” She moved in deliberately slow, giving him time to think about his predicament. He back up fearfully, but quickly ran out of space.

“Looks like your luck just ran out.” She grabbed him by the neck and pressed him viciously to the wall. He looked at her in horror as he felt his feet leave the ground. She lifted him like a rag doll. Slowly he felt her grip tighten, shutting off his air.

Disoriented and in a great deal of pain, Danielle could think of nothing but escape. She began a torturously slow crawl toward the street. As she got closer her eyes focused on the back of the tall woman strangling her attacker. The gurgling sounds he made as he gasped for air sickened her.

“You are a dead man.” Alex snapped, her voice filled with menace. His feet flailed helplessly as he struggled for breath. His face was flush, an ugly purple color.

“Wait, please.” Danielle tried to get up but her legs failed her. “We need to call the police.” She pleaded as she crumpled back to the ground in pain.

The tall woman eased her grip, sliding him down the wall, back on his feet. His lungs burned as he took in desperately needed air. He looked into her eyes. The coldness he saw there terrified him. He prayed the girl would go for the police. Alex grabbed his crotch and twisted savagely. He released an agonizing cry as the pain tore through him in an excruciating wave. He feared he was seriously injured.

“No police” She growled.

The words sent a chill through him. Her face was poised only inches from his, her expression feral. He tried to turn his head away, but she grabbed his face and glared at him. His fear doubled when he saw the predatory look in her eyes. Understanding he was the prey, his body shook uncontrollably.

“I take care of my own problems. No loop holes. No juries.”

There was something in the tone of the woman’s voice. Danielle knew without a doubt that she intended to kill him. She spoke again. Her voice weak and filled with pain. “Please don’t do it… not for me.”

Alex paused and breathed deeply. She leaned into his ear and for one chilling moment he thought she might bite it off. Instead she tightened her grip on his neck and whispered. “If I ever lay eyes on you again or hear that you’ve come within a hundred miles of her, I will kill you… slowly.”

She glared at him. He nodded, tears streaming down his face. “If anything happens to her, I’m coming after you.” Her knee ground into his groin and he nearly passed out from the pain. She released him, letting him collapse to the ground, his pants soiled by his own blood and urine.

Danielle clutched her stomach, and tried to rise. Alex went to her side and gently picked her up, carrying her out of the alley. Danielle squeezed her eyes shut as her stomach spasmed and ripples of pain rolled through her. “I’m going to be sick…”

Alex eased her to the ground and held back her hair as the she vomited, her bruised muscles clenching painfully. Alex untucked her own shirt and used it to wipe the young woman’s mouth.

“Easy… it’s okay.” She held her, speaking softly. Her soothing voice had a wonderfully calming effect. Danielle’s body relaxed in response. She slowly opened her eyes and looked at the face of the woman who had saved her. A gasp escaped her lips.

Alex misunderstood her reaction. She tightened her hold on the young woman, cradling her in her arms. “I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

Danielle knew without question that this was the one, the soul she sought. Fate had brought them together. She stared into Alex’s blue eyes and prayed she wasn’t hallucinating. “Are you real? Am I dreaming?”

Alex smiled softly. “I’m real.” Danielle closed her eyes as a wave of pain rolled through her. Alex gently pushed her hair from her face, taking a quick inventory of the damage. The young woman grimaced in pain as Alex ran her hand over the bruised ribs. Her injuries didn’t seem life-threatening but she was reluctant to take unnecessary chances.

“I’m going to take you to the hospital.”

“No, please.” Danielle knew if her family found out it would be impossible to convince them she would be safe remaining in the city. She tried to get up but dizziness toppled her back into Alex’s protective arms.

“Do you live near here?”

Danielle could not make out her words, but she listened, finding comfort in the steady voice. Finally, the picture was complete: the voice, the hair, the eyes. The last thought to cross Danielle’s mind before she lost consciousness was leather, the biting scent of leather. She knew she was safe. A weariness descended on her and she gave into it without a struggle.

Alex made the decision to respect the woman’s wishes. She would take her home with her and they could talk more about it in the morning. She carried Danielle to her car and settled her gently into the passenger seat, buckling her safety belt. Danielle was in a world of hurt, even in unconsciousness her body reacted to every bump in the road. Alex drove carefully trying to spare her discomfort. Twenty minutes later they pulled up in front of Alex’s cabin.

She carried the young woman in and laid her on the waterbed. Alex used a damp wash cloth to wipe the dried blood from Danielle’s face. She took great care not cause her further pain. When she had finished she allowed herself the luxury of lightly running her fingers through her soft blonde hair.

Danielle’s lashes flickered and her eyes opened. Her body ached. As the horrors of the night flooded over her once again, her stomach rebelled. She raised her hand weakly to her mouth. Alex carried her into the bathroom, where Danielle dropped to her knees. She retched into the toilet, her stomach long ago empty. Alex knelt beside her, an arm supporting her shoulders and gently wiped her face with a cool cloth.

Danielle went limp in Alex’s arms and the tears came. “God if you hadn’t come…” She cried for her helplessness, her vulnerability. For the first time she had an idea of what the women at the shelter had faced. ” I… I need a shower.”

The sight of the battered young woman broke her heart. “Are you strong enough to stand?” Danielle nodded. Alex started the water and went to get some clean towels.

When she returned Danielle was in the shower. Alex set the robe, towels and toothbrush down and left, gently closing the door behind her. Much later Danielle emerged from the bathroom. She staggered, exhausted from her efforts. Alex carefully lifted her and carried her to bed. When she pulled the covers over her, Danielle grimaced. Every breath, every movement tormented her bruised ribs. She closed her eyes tightly and tried not to cry out.

“I’m going to give you something for the pain.”

Alex removed a medical kit from the closet. She pulled out a hypodermic and quickly unwrapped it from its packaging. She inserted the needle into a small vial. Carefully eyeing the dosage, she pulled back the covers and injected the Demerol into the fleshy part of Danielle’s hip. “This will ease your discomfort and help you sleep.” She gently tucked her in. “I’ll be in the next room, if you need anything just call.” Alex stood to leave.

“Please…” Danielle reached out, imploringly. “Can you stay with me for a while?” Alex pulled a chair next to bed and took the young woman’s hand. Danielle squeezed tightly and closed her eyes. In a few minutes the pain eased. She felt marvelously lightheaded, as if she were floating. She curled on her side facing Alex. Her eyes flickered open not quiet fixing on anything. She pulled Alex’s hand under her cheek and inhaled deeply.

Just before sleep claimed the young woman, Alex heard her whisper “I always knew you would find me.”

She seemed so frail. It was all Alex could do to look at her bruised face. If she had only gotten there a few minutes sooner, but she had lost Danielle in the park when a drunk delayed her. Alex wished suddenly that she had killed all three men. They were monsters. Her anger began to surge but dissipated when she felt the woman’s warm cheek snuggle against her fingers.

Normally nothing would have prevented her from taking their worthless lives. Alex thought of the young woman’s appeal for mercy on her assailant’s behalf. She had glimpsed something she hadn’t believed existed, something she had long ago stopped fantasizing about: forgiveness. A calmness enveloped her.

She took a deep breath, allowing her body to relax. Why did this feel so right? The need to protect this young woman was almost instinctive. She watched over Danielle for a long time, until, at last, she too fell asleep.

******

Part III

******

Danielle awoke the next morning disoriented. Memories of last night, came flooding back. Her body ached from the beating she had received, confirming that it hadn’t been a dream. She looked in wonder at the woman asleep in the chair beside her. She was the most attractive woman Danielle had ever seen. It was as if this dark beauty had stepped out of her dreams. A warrior sent to protect her, she fantasized. A calm washed over her, when she thought of this woman staying with her the entire night, insuring her well-being. She had never felt so safe, so protected.

Her muscles complained, stiff from being stationary. She needed to shift her position, but hesitated, not wanting to awaken the woman. As if sensing her thoughts, Alex opened her eyes. Danielle was momentarily stunned by the blue she saw there.

“How are you feeling?” Alex asked.

The sound of the woman’s voice was like a balm to her soul. He mind went blank for an instant. The troubled expression on the woman’s face brought Danielle back to her senses. “I’m better. I… I don’t know how to thank you.”

“I was just in the right place at the right time.”

“I don’t even know your name.”

“There wasn’t much time for formal introductions last night.” She smiled warmly. “Alex, Alex Lord.”

“Danielle Stafford.”

Alex gently pulled her hand from under the young woman’s cheek. Danielle flushed with embarrassment. It had felt so natural against her skin that she hadn’t realized she was still holding it.

Alex smiled. Flexing her fingers, “I’ll need these if I’m going to fix breakfast.”

Danielle’s stomach perked up at the mention of food. It felt abysmally empty. When Alex went to the kitchen, Danielle gingerly made her way to the bathroom. She was shocked when she looked in the mirror. Her nose was swollen and both of her eyes were back and blue. She opened the robe and winced at the ugly bruises on her abdomen and ribs. It could have been a lot worse. She had been incredibly fortunate.

Enticed by the aroma of chicken soup. She made her way to the kitchen. “Mmm, something smells wonderful.”

“Chicken soup out of a can. I’m sorry, but I’m not much of a cook.” Alex apologized, placing a bowl in front of the woman.

“This is great, thanks.” Danielle began eating with a fervor that warmed Alex’s heart. It was clear she relished every bite. Alex passed her the bread and watched while she finished the entire pot of soup and half a loaf of bread.

“Good to see you have an appetite.” She was fascinated by the way Danielle’s eyes sparkled when she smiled.

“I’m always able to eat, believe me.” Danielle commented, flashing her beautiful smile again.

“Yes, I see.” Alex lifted a brow playfully. There was something completely disarming about the young woman’s demeanor. Alex found herself looking at her longer than was appropriate. She stood up and began cleaning the dishes.

Danielle stretched cautiously. Amazed how much better she felt. “That miracle drug you gave me last night really helped. Are you a doctor?”

Alex hesitated. “Not really, I hope you’re not going to turn me in for practicing without a license.”

“Are you kidding? It would have been a rough night without your help.” Danielle shivered involuntarily as she thought how close she had come to being raped. “Where did you learn to fight like that?

“It’s just something I picked up.” Alex replied and tried to shift the direction of the conversation. “Why were you walking alone in that part of town?”

Danielle blushed. There was no way she could explain the park thing. “It’s a long story. But this wasn’t a random attack, he knew me. I called the police the night before last when he nearly beat his wife to death.” She frowned. “I can’t believe he’s out walking the streets already.”

“If it’s any consolation, he won’t be walking that well this morning.” Alex smiled, rather pleased with the vision.

“I found that the police aren’t very effective in dealing with these situations.” Danielle was puzzled by her friends reluctance to get the police involved, but after all Alex had done to help her she didn’t press it.

“It’s hard to understand what drives a person to such violence. I went to see his wife at the hospital last night, she’s in pretty bad shape. They had to deliver the baby early and weren’t sure if the child would make it. It’s so tragic. What a way to come into the world.”

Alex couldn’t meet her gaze. “Violence is all some people understand, they don’t have any good in them. One way or another this baby is better off without that kind of father, believe me.”

“I don’t agree. Everyone has good in them, deep down. Even he deserves a second chance, an opportunity to get help.”

Alex decided not to argue the point and wondered if she needed to believe just a little of what Danielle had said. “It’s sunny outside. Feel like having a cup of coffee on the porch?”

They sat out on the deck that wrapped around the back of the house. It had a magnificent view of small lake only a hundred yards off.

Danielle sat back in the wicker chair, letting the sun warm her achy muscles. “This is a wonderful place you have.”

“Thanks, actually I’m only renting. I won’t be staying much longer.”

Danielle tensed at the news. “You’re moving?”

“Yeah, I never stay in one place very long. I get restless.”

Danielle tried not to let her anxiousness show and changed the subject. “What do you do for a living?”

Alex hadn’t prepared herself for a conversation with the woman. She used an old standby. “I just got out of the service. I’m between jobs.”

“That must be where you learned to handle yourself so well, huh?”

Alex nodded. Uncomfortable with the lie. She stood, attempting to divert the focus of the conversation. “I’m about ready for a refill. Can I get you one?” Alex walked inside effectively avoiding further questions.

Continued…Part 2

——————————————————————————–

Return to The Bard’s Corner

lied and tried to shift the direction of the conversation. “Why were you walking alone in that part of town?”

Danielle blushed. There was no way she could explain the park thing. “It’s a long story. But this wasn’t a random attack, he knew me. I called the police the night before last when he nearly beat his wife to death.” She frowned. “I can’t believe he’s out walking the streets already.”

“If it’s any consolation, he won’t be walking that well this morning.” Alex smiled, rather pleased with the vision.

“I found that the police aren’t very effective in dealing with these situations.” Danielle was puzzled by her friends reluctance to get the police involved, but after all Alex had done to help her she didn’t press it.

“It’s hard to understand what drives a person to such violence. I went to see his wife at the hospital last night, she’s in pretty bad shape. They had to deliver the baby early and weren’t sure if the child would make it. It’s so tragic. What a way to come into the world.”

Alex couldn’t meet her gaze. “Violence is all some people understand, they don’t have any good in them. One way or another this baby is better off without that kind of father, believe me.”

“I don’t agree. Everyone has good in them, deep down. Even he deserves a second chance, an opportunity to get help.”

Alex decided not to argue the point and wondered if she needed to believe just a little of what Danielle had said. “It’s sunny outside. Feel like having a cup of coffee on the porch?”

They sat out on the deck that wrapped around the back of the house. It had a magnificent view of small lake only a hundred yards off.

Danielle sat back in the wicker chair, letting the sun warm her achy muscles. “This is a wonderful place you have.”

“Thanks, actually I’m only renting. I won’t be staying much longer.”

Danielle tensed at the news. “You’re moving?”

“Yeah, I never stay in one place very long. I get restless.”

Danielle tried not to let her anxiousness show and changed the subject. “What do you do for a living?”

Alex hadn’t prepared herself for a conversation with the woman. She used an old standby. “I just got out of the service. I’m between jobs.”

“That must be where you learned to handle yourself so well, huh?”

Alex nodded. Uncomfortable with the lie. She stood, attempting to divert the focus of the conversation. “I’m about ready for a refill. Can I get you one?” Alex walked inside effectively avoiding further questions.

Detective Sands rushed into Bowin’s office and tossed a file on his desk He looked up to find her grinning ear to ear.

“We got a break on the Palanos robbery.” His eyes brightened with interest.

“We really got lucky on this one. The guys in vice picked up some rich boy on drug charges. Turns out his father is a jeweler. In an effort to save his sorry-ass son, he offered information on a recent robbery. He agreed to give the name of a fence who sold him the items, if the charges were dropped against he and his son.”

“Who’s the fence”

“Our old friend Sal.”

“Call Judge Brennen, let’s get a search warrant.”

Marisa winked and handed Bowin the warrant. “I thought you were going to say that.”

He smiled outright. “What would I do without you?”

“Beats me.”

“Let’s go get him.”

*****

Alex rummaged through her clothing looking for something that would fit Danielle. The best she could do was a T-shirt and pair of sweats. She also grabbed a pair of underwear. Danielle was sitting on the couch, staring into the fire. She looked up when Alex came into the room.

“I think I’ve managed to find some clothes for you. They are no a fashion statement but they should do for the trip home.”

Danielle was quiet. The idea of going home to her empty apartment right next door to her attacker frightened her. Alex noticed the change in the young woman and sat beside her. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I… It’s just the thought of going home… He’s my neighbor.”

Alex cursed herself for being insensitive to the young woman’s fear. The pained expression on Danielle’s face made her want to take the young woman into her arms and comfort her but she held back. “I’m sorry, I should have thought… I… you’re welcome to stay with me as long as you need to.”

“I don’t want to be a bother… I’ve been too much trouble already. I just…”

“You haven’t been any trouble…” Alex tried to think of something to say that would make Danielle feel better. “I have enjoyed your company. It’s been nice having someone around to talk to.”

Danielle glanced at her hopefully. “Really?”

“Yes, I’d like it if you stayed.” Alex realized with some surprise that she truly meant it.

“Thanks… if I could just stay the weekend?”

“As long as you want.” Alex watched the young woman visibly relax. “I have one condition though. I want you to get these underclothes on so that I can take a look at your bruises. I want to make sure you’re healing properly.” Danielle heart swelled at Alex’s concern.

She beamed. “I’ll get changed.”

While Danielle was in the bathroom dressing, Alex went to the bedroom to retrieve a jar of homemade salve from her medical bag.

“Okay doc… I’m ready.”

Alex smiled. “Hop on the bed and lie down.”

Danielle did as she asked, suddenly feeling a little self-conscious. Alex sat beside her and examined the bruises on her face. The swelling had gone down from this morning, but she still looked as if she was the loser in a boxing match.

“I’m going to put a little salve on the cuts and bruises. The pressure may hurt a little, but the salve itself is painless.” Alex dipped her finger in the jar and began to apply the ointment with gentle strokes.

Danielle closed her eyes and braced herself for the pain. She was sore, there was no getting around it. But, the physical discomfort was forgotten as she became acutely aware of the softness of Alex’s fingers and the tenderness in her touch.

She opened her eyes. Alex was leaning over her, blue eyes focused on the task. Her fingers were so attentive that it brought to mind the intimacy of a lover’s caress. Danielle felt the surface of her skin heat.

Her glance dropped to Alex’s mouth. Her full lips were parted slightly. She wondered if they could possibly feel as soft as they looked. Danielle wanted to know. She felt an urge to press her lips to Alex’s and fought to suppress it, but she couldn’t help thinking about what lay beyond her lips. What would this amazing woman taste like? Her body was melting under Alex’s touch. It tingled all over. She stiffened, afraid she would not be able to control the sensations building inside her.

Alex pulled back. “I’m sorry… did I hurt you?”

“Just a little,” Danielle lied. “But it’s okay.”

“I’m done with your face, I’m going to take a look at your ribs and stomach. Ready?” Danielle nodded.

Alex’s hand hesitated momentarily at the tie of Danielle’s robe. She flashed back to the robbery and forced her mind to clear. Her finger trembled slightly when she causally attempted to open the front. As she looked down at Danielle’s slender form, her eyes lingered on the firm, well proportioned body. Alex gently ran her fingers over the ribs. Although Danielle was terribly bruised, the skin was not broken. She slowly began to cover each bruise with the medicine.

Danielle clenched her teeth to stifle a moan. Her body was alive with sensation. She could feel her nipples harden against her bra, so sensitized that the material felt coarse against them. The muscles of her lower abdomen tightened and she felt a warm moisture building between her legs. She could not believe what was she was experiencing. Was this what other people felt? It was incredible. She glanced quickly at Alex, praying she hadn’t noticed. Alex was focused on her task.

Danielle had never in her life felt anything so wonderful. Her skin burned everywhere Alex touched. With each stroke her arousal increased. She felt a spasm between her legs and held her breath, terrified her body would betray her feelings.

Alex felt Danielle flinch and assumed she was in pain. She tried to hurry along. At last, she finished. When she removed her hand, Danielle’s body trembled. Alex quickly closed her robe.

“You’re going to be fine. Nothing’s broken. You’re healing well. I want you to apply this salve twice a day until the bruises begin to fade.” She handed her the jar.

Alex noticed the oddest look on the young woman’s face. She let it pass without comment. Danielle had been through a lot in the past few days. It had taken it’s toll. Danielle needed rest and time to allow her body to heal. Alex stood up reluctantly.

“You should try to get some sleep. I’m afraid I don’t have much in the house to eat. I’m going out to get groceries. I thought I’d pick up Chinese food for dinner… if you like it.”

“Sounds great!”

“Okay then, I’ll be back in a little while.” Alex closed the door quietly behind her.

As soon as the door clicked shut, Danielle released an audible sigh. Her body hummed with a new found energy. The physical excitement pulsing through her was intoxicating. She pulled the comforter over herself and let her hand slide under the elastic of her underpants. Her inquisitive fingers slid lightly across her sex. She withdrew them from the slippery wetness and curled up on her side. A single tear hit the pillow. Alex had just awoken her.

*****

When Alex returned she noted the subtle aroma of incense. Danielle had also set the table and started a fire. Suddenly the cabin felt like a home to her. Not since she was a child had she come home to find someone waiting for her. It reminded her how alone she had been and it hurt to realize that soon she would be alone again. Danielle would return to her life, as she would. She squared her shoulders and went to the kitchen. She found Danielle there, brewing a pot of coffee.

“I thought you were going to get some rest?” Alex questioned.

“I did sleep for a little while… I had a nightmare and…”

Alex put down the groceries and turned to face the young woman. “You don’t have to worry about him hurting you. I know his kind. He’s a coward. You’ll never see him again. In fact I doubt he’ll return to his apartment.”

Danielle hugged herself rubbing her hands along her arms in an attempt to rid herself of the chill that enveloped her. “I hope you’re right. Just thinking about going home makes me nervous.”

“I would never take you back there, if I thought it weren’t safe.” Alex spoke with more emotion than she had intended. She felt the heat rise to her face and shifted uncomfortably.

“Anyway, I hope your hungry. There’s a lot of food here.”

Danielle smiled, relieved to have something else to focus on. “I’m always hungry.”

After they put the groceries away, they sat down to eat. Alex handed the young woman a pair of chopsticks.

Danielle had never used them before and watched Alex for a few bites before giving it a try. After a few attempts, she was successful at grabbing a pea pod and lifted it carefully. It was almost to her mouth when the sticks separated, sending it flying toward Alex who gracefully snagged it in mid air with her own chopsticks. Danielle looked at her in amazement.

“Wow, you’re really good with those!”

Alex winked. “Just one of those unusual skills I’ve picked up.” Danielle looked regretfully at her empty sticks. Alex smiled and held the morsel out for her to eat. Danielle opened her mouth in grateful acceptance. As Alex slid the chopsticks from Danielle’s lips, their eyes met. Danielle felt the spark between them and glanced down.

“Maybe I should get you a fork.” Alex said clearing her throat.

“No, I want to give this a chance. Let me try again.”

Alex walked up behind her and leaned down. She placed her hand over Danielle’s molding her fingers into the proper position. “It’s just a matter of applying the correct amount of pressure.”

Her hair draped down, tickling the young woman’s neck. Danielle felt Alex’s breath against her skin and realized if she turned her head, their lips would nearly touch. She felt a rush of heat and fought to stay concentrated on her task. With Alex steadying her fingers, she made it all the way to her mouth.

“See? Nothing to it.” Alex released her hand and sat back down. “Now, try it on your own.”

Danielle looked reluctantly at her friend. “Something tells me this is going to be the longest meal in history.” Alex smiled.

Danielle poked at her food and tried to sound casual. “So you said you were leaving soon. Where are you moving?”

Alex hesitated momentarily. “I’m trying to decide between a couple of places.” She quickly changed the focus of the conversation. “It depends on what I decide to do career wise. What about you? What do you do?”

Danielle had finally gotten the hang of eating with the strange instruments and hurried to finish a mouthful. “I work at the Sentinel.”

“A reporter, huh?”

“Well, not yet. I’ve been stuck writing obituaries for the past six months, but I just got the go ahead to do my first article.” Danielle paused thoughtfully.

“I really don’t think of myself as a writer. I’m more of a storyteller. People’s lives and adventures fascinate me. My whole life I’ve been intrigued by exciting and dangerous tales.” Alex watched Danielle with interest. She enjoyed the animated way she spoke, using her hands and body with great flourish.

“It’s good they’re finally giving you a chance.”

“Yeah, this is a big break for me.”

“So, what’s the story about?”

“Battered women who have survived and turned their lives around. I hope that victims of abuse who read it find comfort in hearing how others have escaped and gone on to happier lives. Maybe they’ll be encouraged to do the same.”

“You like helping people.” Alex stated.

“Well, yes. These women are so brave. They have triumphed over such adversity. Their stories really touched me.”

Alex got up to pour coffee. “So do I get a preview of the article?”

Danielle’s face lit up. “Sure.”

They sat by the fire while Danielle spoke about the women’s lives. Alex was moved. But it wasn’t just their stories that captivated her but the skill with which Danielle related them. She had a wonderful ability to bring their experiences to life. Alex felt like she was watching their stories unfold. She found herself touched by the tragedy and inspired by their courage. Alex could visualize the women, feel their pain and appreciate their achievements.

Much later that evening, Danielle finished, nearly breathless. Her face was flushed with excitement. “I’m sorry, I really ran on.”

“Don’t apologize. You were wonderful. You really have a gift.”

Danielle blushed, flattered. “A gift of gab maybe.” She smiled.

“I think these women are fortunate to have you telling their stories. It’s great that you’ve found your niche.”

Danielle had a talent for drawing people out, getting them to talk about themselves. But, so far she’d been unsuccessful with Alex. Whenever she tried, Alex became uncomfortable and changed the flow of the conversation.

“Have you found yours?” Danielle questioned.

Alex smiled cynically. “I’ve found what I’m good at. I’m just not happy doing it anymore.” She stood anxiously. Danielle could almost feel the walls go up.

“I’ve kept you up long enough. You need your rest. I’ll grab a blanket and sleep on the couch.”

“I don’t want to kick you out of your bed again tonight. I can sleep on the couch.”

“No, I insist. I end up falling asleep on the couch most nights anyway.”

“Okay, goodnight Alex.” She turned, a little reluctant to face her dreams.”

“Danielle if you have a nightmare and need to talk… I’m a light sleeper.”

*****

Alex awoke in the middle of the night. An unfamiliar noise alerted her senses. Someone was in the room. Slowly her eyes adjusted and she looked about warily.

Danielle lay on the floor beside her, curled up in a blanket.

Alex whispered, not wanting to startle her. “Are you all right?”

Danielle rolled over to face her. “I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”

“Is everything okay?” Alex asked.

“I had another nightmare. I didn’t mean to wake you… I just wanted to be close to… someone. I’m such a coward.”

“You are anything but a coward.” Alex reached down to give her a hand up. “Come on, I think we would both sleep better in bed.”

Danielle felt relief wash over her and she looked up gratefully. The unexpected tenderness of Alex’s expression touched her heart. Their eyes met, and Danielle felt that pleasant flutter again. She glanced away nervously.

Alex noticed her anxiety “You don’t snore, do you?” Alex teased.

“Err, no. At least I don’t think so…” She relaxed a little and decided to play along. “I hope you aren’t one of those people who steal all the covers.”

Alex started toward the bedroom. “I’ve never had any complaints.”

Danielle didn’t doubt that for a minute. She smiled to herself and followed.

They settled in quietly. The memories of her attackers were the furthest thing from Danielle’s mind as she lay beside the older woman. She felt safe.

“Thanks.”

Alex was on her side facing the door, an ingrained safety precaution. She turned to Danielle, and gently tucked a stray lock of hair behind the young woman’s ear. “Get some sleep. Everything’s going to be all right.”

Danielle knew it was true; she never felt better. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. In no time she was fast asleep.

*****

It was a beautiful sunny day. They rowed across the lake to a favorite spot of Alex’s to have a picnic lunch that Danielle had spent the morning preparing. After pulling the boat ashore, they hiked into the woods for several miles. It had been well worth the walk. The view when they broke through the woods into the clearing took Danielle’s breath away. The sun streamed down giving the area a magical feel.

It was a pleasant afternoon. Danielle spent most of the time chatting non-stop while Alex listened.

She had tried to draw her friend out on a couple of occasions but Alex seemed content to let Danielle monopolize the conversation. She found the stories about Danielle’s childhood experiences fascinating. Danielle’s youth had been so different from her own.

Alex began packing up the remnants of their picnic lunch while Danielle sat back enjoying the feel of the refreshing breeze against her skin. She had never been more content and didn’t want to come down from this natural high. The time she had spent with Alex the last two days had been wonderful.

She stood and stretched in the warm sunlight, taking in her surroundings with a child-like awe. Catching a glimpse of color to her right, she walked toward it.

“Wild flowers!”

Alex watched with amusement, as Danielle ran her fingers over the brightly colored petals and took in their sweet scent. She was amazed how the smallest things gave Danielle pleasure. The young woman saw only the good in things, approaching life with a naive wonder. It was a fragile quality and Alex found herself wanting to shield her from anything that would corrupt it.

Danielle sat on a log, reveling in the beauty around her. She was so distracted that she didn’t notice four fox pups emerge from a burrow near the end of the fallen tree. They ran playfully toward her. She gasped in surprise.

“Alex, look…”

Alex got to her feet and scanned the tree line cautiously, sure the mother was nearby. “Danielle, get up and back away slowly.”

Danielle looked up and smiled. One pup playfully nipped at her shoelace, pulling her attention from Alex. Danielle laughed and gently ran her fingers through it’s coat. “He’s so soft.”

Alex started to repeat her warning, but it was too late. The vixen broke through the woods and headed toward Danielle. There was not enough time to position herself between Danielle and the mother. Alex looked around quickly for something she could use as a weapon. She eyed a good sized rock and bent to pick it up.

Danielle noticed the mother’s approach and looked toward Alex. When her eyes settled on the crude weapon in Alex’s hand, her stomach lurched. She understood what her friend meant to do.

Alex gauged the distance, taking the weight of the rock into consideration. She watched the vixen anxiously, her muscles taut, ready to react. If the fox made a move to attack Danielle, she felt fairly confident she could hit it.

“Wait!”

Danielle slowly stood up. She took a small step backward. But, the pups followed her playfully biting at her sneakers. The mother was only about twenty feet from Danielle now, weaving back and forth, watching her intently.

Danielle sat down, eyeing the worried mother. She slid her sneakers off and began playing with the pups. The vixen got within ten feet and stopped. Her attention fully focused on the young woman.

Danielle could not contain a laugh as one aggressive pup pulled the shoe from her grasp and proudly pranced off to present the prize to it’s mother. The vixen sniffed the shoe and laid down, cautiously watching the scene.

Alex looked on in disbelief. Three of the pups were frolicking around Danielle and the fourth was snuggled up against her leg. “Alex.” Danielle waved her arm, encouraging her friend to come closer.

Alex approached slowly, never taking her eyes off the mother. As she neared, the vixen sat up warily. The tall woman’s body was tense, ready to react. Danielle smiled up at her and reached out, lightly brushing the fingers that clutched the jagged weapon. The young woman’s touch melted her tension away. Danielle eased the rock from her grasp and laid it down, replacing it with the warmth of her hand. She gently pulled Alex’s arm, urging her to sit.

As soon as Alex was at their level, the pups were all over her, sniffing and prodding. Danielle held her hand, squeezing comfortingly, then she placed it on the pup at her side. “Feel how soft. Aren’t they beautiful?” The orange pups had black ears and feet. Their bellies were white and their tails were long and bushy. Their eyes were alert, cat like.

Alex ran her fingers through the plush fur, acutely aware of the hand that lay over hers. As Danielle’s fingers stroked the soft fur, her palm caressed the back of Alex’s hand. Alex sunk her fingers into the thick fur and quietly relished the innocent contact.

Danielle didn’t seem to notice. Her attention was focused on the playful pups. Alex allowed herself the luxury of extending her gaze at her young friend. She was entranced by the way Danielle’s nose crinkled when she smiled and her eyes sparkled when she laughed. Alex thought for one moment about lifting the soft fingers to her lips and quickly closed her eyes.

Suddenly the energetic pups bounded onto her lap, pushing her backward. Danielle was startled by the soft sounds coming from her friend. It struck her that it was the first time she had heard Alex laugh. It was magical.

Danielle looked down at the happy woman, normally so stoic and controlled, and her heart swelled. The pups were having a field day. One had a hold of the laces of Alex’s top, another was licking at her neck, while yet another was engaged with her in a tug of war for Danielle’s sneaker.

The sun reflected off her dazzling blue eyes and suddenly Danielle was lost in them. Without thought, she moved her hand to Alex’s face, her fingers lifting the stray strands of dark hair from her moist lips. Their eyes met and Danielle began to lean down.

There was a sharp bark. Danielle pulled back and Alex sat up quickly. The father was at the edge of the woods calling. The family quickly ran to him, disappearing into the woods. Danielle’s heart was pounding furiously. She meant to kiss Alex and had nearly done it.

Alex smiled and looked at her. “That was amazing.”

Danielle heart stopped for one instant, then realized they were thinking different things. Alex hadn’t even noticed her clumsy advance.

Danielle shrugged and tried to recover. “Animals like me.” She winked. “You aren’t the only one with unusual skills.” She effectively masked her disappointment with humor.

“Apparently not.” Alex grinned.

Danielle glanced at Alex’s dark top sprinkled with red fur. She innocently wiped the hair off, accidentally brushing Alex’s breast. Suddenly aware of the intimacy of her action she pulled back. “I… err… they got hair all over you.”

Alex’s nipple hardened from the brief contact. She stood up awkwardly and brushed off her clothes. A torrent of unfamiliar emotions flooded through her. “Yeah… ah… it’s getting late. We should finish packing up and go back.”

“Sure, if you want.” Danielle said sadly.

They picked up their things in awkward silence. Danielle was angry with herself for ruining the moment. Had Alex thought she was making a pass? She hadn’t meant anything by the casual touch, but even as the thought crossed her mind, she knew her lack of courage had been the only thing to keep her from doing more. Her fingers tingled, remembering the brief contact. She felt miserable and risked a glance at Alex who seemed to be avoiding eye contact. Danielle got up to search for her sneakers.

Alex watched Danielle walk away and grimaced. She didn’t think Danielle had noticed her react to her touch but she wasn’t sure. Alex was confused by the excitement coursing through her body. Her friends action had been innocent, she had no doubt about that, but for a split second she had considered pushing the young woman back on the grass and …

What was happening to her? She knew she had to get a grip on her emotions. She cared about Danielle far to much to lead her on when nothing could come of it. The thought saddened her. She looked up to see Danielle return shoeless and tried to act casual.

“No luck, huh?”

“Nope.” Danielle shrugged. “They were kind of old anyway.” She looked hesitantly in the direction of the lake. The idea of tromping through the woods in her stocking feet didn’t appeal to her.

Alex hesitated only a moment. “I’ll give you a lift.”

Danielle looked at her curiously. Alex smiled. “Come on, I’ll carry you.”

“You… you mean like a piggy back ride?”

“Yeah, didn’t you ever do that when you were a kid?”

“Sure, it’s just… well I’m quite a bit heavier now. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Alex’s face broke into a playful smile. “I think I can handle the strain.”

Danielle couldn’t help but laugh. “All right, you asked for it.”

Alex positioned herself in front of a large rock. “You’ll have to carry the basket. I’ll hold your legs.” Danielle stepped up and wrapped her free arm around Alex’s neck. Her legs slid easily around the taller woman’s waist. Firm arms locked around her thighs, securing her in place. They were a perfect fit.

True to her word Alex carried her effortlessly and much sooner than Danielle would have liked, they were back at the boat. The trip across the lake back to the cabin was a quiet one. Both women had a lot on their minds. The weekend was over. It was time for Danielle to return home.

******

Part IV

******

Danielle shifted nervously in her seat as they pulled up in front of her apartment. A cold dread seeped into her bones as she reach to open the car door. Alex sensed her fear and place a hand reassuringly on her shoulder.

“You wait here. I’ll to go up and check things out.” Danielle glanced at her gratefully, ashamed at her own fear. Still she remained frozen in place as she watched Alex climb the stairs to her apartment.

When Alex reached the top she pulled a pick from the inside compartment of her jacket and deftly unlocked the neighbor’s door. The apartment was empty. Not a stick of furniture remained. She checked out every room before returning to Danielle.

“It’s just like I thought. He’s moved.”

Danielle relaxed. “Really. Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I opened the door and looked in.”

Relief washed over her and she hurried up the stairs and peaked in the apartment. She blinked not trusting her eyes. “Everything’s cleared out,” she said in amazement.

“Yeah, doesn’t look like he’s coming back.”

“Wow, what did you say to him?”

Alex shrugged. “He must have decided that it was in his best interests to keep away from you.”

“Well, I’m glad he’s gone.” Danielle pulled the door closed. “Do you think we should lock it?”

Alex shrugged. “Even an amateur thief wouldn’t have a problem with these locks.” Danielle looked a little anxious at the prospect. Immediately she was sorry she had voiced her thoughts.

“Would you like to come in for a drink?”

“Sure.”

Once inside Alex scanned the room. The apartment was decorated in earthtones. It had a warm, homey feel that she felt at ease in. She spotted a picture on top of the bookcase and picked it up to examine.

Danielle handed her a scotch. “My family.”

“You look a lot like your mother.”

“Yeah, I’m fair, like her. My sister is dark like my father. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

Alex took a sip of her drink. “I have older brother.” She glanced away awkwardly and set the picture down. “This is a nice apartment.”

“Thanks, it’s kind of small, but cozy.”

“It suits you.” Alex took another sip of her drink and set it down. “You have to be up early. I really should be leaving.” Danielle tried to hide her disappointment.

She stepped forward and gave Alex a fleeting embrace. “Thank you… for everything.” Alex felt her face grow warm.

She shrugged and made her way to the door as Danielle followed.

Alex’s hand tightened on the knob. This was it. She could step through, pull the door closed and ease out of the young woman’s life forever. Alex hesitated, reaching into her pants pocket she pulled out a slip of paper with her cell phone number. She handed it to Danielle. “If you need anything, call me.”

Danielle clutched the number gratefully in her hand. As Alex turned to leave, Danielle worked up the courage to speak.

“I was wondering if… maybe we could get together for dinner this week.”

Alex paused awkwardly, knowing she should decline. Danielle’s eyes were filled with such hope, such expectation that she couldn’t bear the idea of disappointing her. “How about Tuesday?”

Danielle beamed, then she remembered her appointment with Elaine Tuesday evening.

Alex noticed her hesitation. “Maybe some other time.”

“No, I can make it… It’s just that I was supposed to meet a friend at the shelter, but I can cancel. No problem.”

“I don’t want you to change your plans.”

“No really… I don’t mind. I…” A thought came to her. “You could come with me. Maybe you could show the women some self defense moves.”

“Well, I… I don’t…”

“You could meet some my friends and we could have a late dinner afterward.”

Danielle was looking at her again with those bright imploring eyes, and Alex knew she couldn’t say no even though she disliked social situations.

“What do you say?” Danielle asked as she flashed a beautiful smile.

“Okay, I pick you up at six on Tuesday.”

*****

It had been a hectic morning but Danielle had managed to get the first segment of the story to Liz for approval. She was just contemplating skipping lunch to get caught up when Jan from the front desk approached her and handed her a package.

“Someone left this for you.”

Danielle gave her a puzzled look and tore the brown wrapping. Her mouth dropped open.

Jan noted Danielle’s curious reaction. “Everything okay?”

Danielle could not speak. She pulled her journal from the wrapping and held it in her hands. Quickly, she flipped open, looking for a note or explanation. She was startled to see the medallion carefully wrapped in tissue paper inside.

“Who gave this to you?” Danielle questioned

“Some kid, couldn’t have been more than twelve years old. Why?”

“How long ago?” Danielle stood up, scanning the room.

“Probably twenty minutes ago anyway. I got busy and couldn’t get away from the desk. Is something wrong?”

Danielle sat back down. “No… It’s just… Jan, can you sign me out? I’m going out for lunch.”

She hurried past the puzzled woman, anxious to speak with Elaine.

*****

The rest of her day went painfully slow. She thought it would never end. Elaine had shown distress over the journal appearing out of thin air and advised her to contact the police. This was the last thing she wanted to do even though she was now certain that the thief had taken her diary. The medallion had been in the safe. Including it with the journal left no doubt that the thief had taken them both. Why did he return them? Had he read her journal?

She briefly considered discussing it with Alex. But the last thing she wanted was to scare her new friend off. How would Alex react to her being the stalked by yet another crazy man? But the thief wasn’t crazy or violent. She closed her eyes and found her thoughts drifting to him. He had been so gentle, his voice so tender. She visualized his warm brown eyes. There had been nothing threatening in them. Something about him called to her. This strange fascination worried her.

*****

Alex was right on time. Danielle had never been happier to see anyone. She had missed Alex and felt so at ease with her that she began filling her in on the events of the last two days, including the robbery and diary incident in spite of her previous reservations. She was confident Alex would know what to do. Danielle trusted and valued her opinion.

Alex was extremely uncomfortable with the conversation. She felt guilty for deceiving the young woman and hated lying to her.

“Do you think he read it?”

“I don’t know Danielle. It’s likely he did.”

“Why do you think he returned them to me?”

“It’s hard to say.”

“Elaine thinks I should call the police. What do you think?”

Alex paused only a moment. “I think your friend’s right. This person could be dangerous. I don’t think you should take chances.”

Alex pulled up outside the center. Danielle turned to her. “Alex, I know in my heart that this thief would never hurt me. It sounds crazy but I think he returned them because he knew they meant something to me.”

Danielle looked down at her hands shyly. “I’m not going to call the police because I don’t want to see him caught. In fact the night of the robbery when the detective questioned me I… I lied about his description.”

Alex was stunned and couldn’t hide her surprise. “Why?”

“I can’t explain it, but my instincts tell me to protect him. Give him a chance.” She looked up at Alex expecting to see disapproval in her eyes instead there was something else…

Alex turned away.

“You think I’m nuts.”

Alex cleared her throat. “No I think you’re very special. But be careful who you forgive, not everyone deserves a second chance.” She exited the car ending the conversation.

*****

Danielle smiled as Alex patiently instructed the large group of women.

She watched Alex move with fluid grace. The powerful woman excited her and she felt her body automatically respond. The scene was somehow familiar and tugged at something inside, unitl the attraction she felt for Alex was so strong that she felt a need to distance herself in order to collect her thoughts. Elaine and Spike followed her when she left.

Elaine looked Danielle over carefully. Though faded, the bruises still had an angry look to them. “You really took a beating. Are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah, physically I’m fine it’s just … well emotionally I…”

She dropped into a comfortable chair, not knowing how to explain what she was feeling.

Elaine spoke softly. “These things can leave scars. It might help to talk.”

“It was tough at first. I had nightmares and … I felt so vulnerable. But I’m better now. Alex has helped me so much I…” She blushed.

“Yes, unusual friend you have there,” Elaine said carefully.

Spike threw an eyebrow up. “Unusual was not the word I had in mind. Jesus, she’s like frickin Amazon.”

Danielle’s expression broke into an undisguised smile. “She’s incredible, isn’t she?”

“Hmm” Elaine responded guardedly. “Handles herself very well.” She watched Danielle’s reaction closely.

Spike laughed. “Elaine, as always, you’re the master of understatement.” The dark-haired woman turned to Danielle. “Do you have something going with her?”

“Nnnn…no, of course not.” Danielle blushed, looking away.

“Danielle, what do you know about this woman?” Elaine asked cautiously.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure how to put this, but I can’t help being a little suspicious of her.”

Danielle ruffled a little. “Elaine, she saved my life. I don’t know how I would have gotten through this without her. She’s been a good friend to me.”

Spike rolled her eyes, sensing there was more to this than Danielle was saying.

“Relax, I know this isn’t any of my business but you’re my friend.”

Danielle’s eyes softened, realizing Elaine had only her best interests at heart.

Elaine continued. “It’s just… well… she seems a little worldly for you.”

Spike piped up. “Hey, different is good. You kinda balance each other.”

Danielle looked hopeful. “I really care about her.” She stopped, waiting for their reaction. They both remained silent so she went on. “I’ve never felt this way before. From the moment I wake up all I can do is think about her. I’m just putting in time at the paper. If I didn’t have this series to concentrate on, I wouldn’t be able to write at all. When we are apart, I just want to find a way to be with her again.” She took a deep breath, relieved to have finally voiced her feelings.

“Sounds like you’ve got it bad.” Spike prompted. Elaine rolled her eyes at Spike’s comment.

“When I’m with her my heart races… I feel truly alive for the first time in my life. And believe it or not sometimes I get so nervous that I can’t even speak.”

“Does she know how you feel?” Elaine asked seriously.

“No. I…”

“Well god woman, you should tell her.” Spike interrupted.

“Yeah right,” Danielle shook her head doubtfully. “Tell her that I dream of her at night, and fantasize about her all day… that I can’t imagine my life without her?”

“Well… those aren’t the lines I would lead in with.” Spike offered. They broke into soft laughter.

Danielle shook her head. “It’s all so sudden, I know it sounds crazy but I think I’m in love with her.”

“Hey, love’s a crazy thing.” Spike smiled.

Danielle looked to Elaine. Her friend was silent, her expression troubled.

“Maybe she feels the same,” Spike added hopefully.

“Sometimes, the oddest feeling comes over me and I’m certain she does. Then later, I convince myself it’s just wishful thinking.” Danielle took a deep breath and voiced her concern. “She may not even like women… that way.”

Spike stood up. “Just leave it to me. I’ll find out for you.” She turned, winked at Danielle and left the room.

Danielle stood to protest but Spike was already out the door. She looked at Elaine anxiously. “She’s not going to do anything embarrassing is she?”

“When it comes to Spike, I can’t make any guarantees.” Elaine smiled softly.

Danielle’s expression was serious, her eyes sad. “Alex told me she’s planning to leave town .”

“Danielle, I don’t want to see you get hurt. Maybe it’s best if you get out of this now.”

“I can’t. Not if there is a chance that she feels something for me too.”

“And if she doesn’t?”

Danielle released a heavy sigh. “I need her in my life.”

*****

Alex’s training was finished by the time Spike caught up to her. Some twenty excited women were huddled around the tall woman questioning her. Spike broke through the crowd, coming to her rescue.

“Let’s step outside for a minute. It’s cooler.” Alex took a deep breath, relieved for an excuse to be away from the commotion.

Spike lit up a cigarette and offered it to Alex, who declined.

“Yeah it’s a filthy habit. I’d quit if I didn’t enjoy it so much.” She let her eyes run the length of Alex, unabashed. “So, are you involved with anyone?”

Alex was taken of guard and smiled. “Why Spike, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were hitting on me.”

“Subtle, I’m not. So?”

“I’m not with anyone… it’s just… ” She hesitated.

“Not into women, huh?”

The conversation was much more personal than Alex was comfortable with and she considered ending the discussion with a simple no, but she liked the woman and decided to be honest. “Actually I am ‘into’ women. It’s a bad time for me, that’s all.”

“Just my luck.” Spike winked.

Alex laughed. “Do you think Danielle’s done speaking with Elaine?”

Spike smiled and opened the door for Alex. “I’m sure she’s got all the info she needs… now.”

*****

Alex watched as Spike made her way through the crowd. Her eyes glanced nervously around the room until she caught sight of Danielle. The tension in her body eased. A large group of women had surrounded her young friend, engaging her in conversation. Danielle looked happy and relaxed. It was obvious that she shared a special bond with these women.

Alex stood in the shadows and watched her friend converse with a confident grace. She was spellbound. Every gesture, every expression drew her deeper. The other women faded from view, the sounds of their voices dimmed into silence. For Alex, there was only Danielle.

*****

Spike maneuvered through the crowd to Danielle. She leaned in whispering in her ear. “I think your warrior is getting restless.”

Danielle’s heart skipped a beat. “What’d you say?”

“You know, your friend, the Amazon.” Spike joked.

“Oh… I…” Danielle looked confused for a moment. Her face flushed.

“Hey, are you feeling all right?”

“Yeah. It’s just… what you said… I got the oddest feeling. She is like a warrior isn’t she?”

“Well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that she knows how to handle herself.”

“No, I guess not.” Danielle glanced across the room at Alex. Spikes comment had hit home.

“Don’t you even want to know if she is or isn’t?”

“Is what?” Danielle questioned, lost in her thoughts.

Spike ran her hand in front of Danielle’s face. “Interested in women.” Spike snapped her fingers to get her friend’s full attention. “You wanted to know her preference, remember?”

Danielle broke out of her haze. Her attention now fully focused on the brazen young woman. “Did you find out?”

“Of course.” Spike commented proudly, pausing for effect while her anxious friend looked on. You’ll be happy to hear that she is.”

“Just like that, she told you?” Danielle asked in surprise.

“Well, no. I made a pass at her first.” Spike grinned mischievously.

“What?!”

“Take it easy, nothing happened. She said it was a bad time for her.”

“You have more nerve… ” Danielle was suddenly envious of her friend’s boldness.

“So I’ve been told.” Spike winked. “Aren’t you even going to thank me?”

“What would I do without you?”

“You’re life would probably be even more dull than it is now.”

“Sometimes I swear…” Danielle feigned irritation, then laughed cheerfully.

Spike smiled. “The ball’s in your court now. Good luck.”

For the first time, Danielle allowed herself to think that maybe she had a chance with Alex after all.

*****

Alex was uncharacteristically caught off guard by a voice behind her. “It was nice of you to come tonight and show the women a few moves. I appreciate it.” Elaine smiled warmly but Alex could feel her distrust. She had developed a sixth sense about these things over the years.

“I was happy to do it.” Alex responded.

“Danielle believes you saved her life.” Elaine commented.

Alex noted the edge of doubt in the woman’s words. “I’m glad I was able to help.”

“Lucky for Danielle you happened to be there.”

Alex sensed the accusation beneath her words, but didn’t comment.

“You’re new to this area aren’t you?” Elaine continued.

“Yes. I move around quite a bit.” Alex took the opportunity to change the direction of the conversation. “This is an impressive organization you’ve built here.”

“Yes it’s amazing what women can accomplish together. We’re a family. We look out for each other.”

“I can see that,” Alex said sincerely. “Danielle seems very much at home here.”

“She is part of our family.” Elaine looked at Alex pointedly. “I hope I’ll have the opportunity to get to know you better, now that you’re seeing so much of Danielle.” Alex caught the hidden warning. She respected Elaine’s efforts to protect Danielle. Elaine had good instincts not to trust her.

“I would like that, but I’m afraid I’ll be moving soon.” Alex conceded. Their eyes met in a silent understanding. Elaine only nodded.

They turned and walked toward their common interest.

*****

Danielle felt a presence beside her and looked up to see Alex. She couldn’t help prolonging her glance, Her mind processing the information Spike had given her.

“You getting hungry yet?” Alex asked, a little anxiously.

“Yeah, you know me and food.” Danielle turned to Elaine and Spike. “We really should be going.”

Spike stepped forward to embrace Danielle and whispered into her ear. “Go for it.”

A warm sensation flood over her body as she considered the possibility. Danielle turned quickly to Elaine in an attempt to ignore the pleasant sensation..

Elaine noticed Danielle’s giddy tension. Something about this new friend wasn’t right. She sensed danger in the tall woman and wanted to talk to her friend privately. She hugged Danielle, releasing her slowly. “Call me when you get home.” As they walked away Elaine’s eyes lingered on the mysterious woman at Danielle’s side.

*****

On the drive back to Danielle’s apartment, Alex seemed distant and it worried Danielle. She couldn’t shake the feeling that Alex was planning to leave town soon and she desperately needed more time with her.

“Would you like to go to a movie tomorrow night?”

Alex hesitated. The longer she let this go on, the harder it would be to leave town. “I can’t tomorrow. I…”

“Oh…. well what about Thursday?” Danielle saw Alex hesitate and added desperately, “I need you’re advice on a new lock for my apartment. Maybe you could take a look at it and suggest something”

Alex’s resolve faltered. She was grateful for a legitimate excuse to see Danielle again. It was important that Danielle was safe before she left town. She ignored the warning voice in the back of her mind. “Sure, Thursday’s fine.”

Danielle beamed. “Same time?”

She nodded. “I’ll bring a new lock for your door. It shouldn’t take me long to install it.”

“Great! I’ll see you then.”

Alex couldn’t help smiling as she pulled out of the lot. She knew she had to leave town soon and their friendship would have to end, but for now, she allowed herself the small pleasure of looking forward to their next meeting.

*****

When Danielle awoke Thursday morning, she was twenty-three. Unfortunately her day was so hectic she did not have much time to think about the milestone. She worked nonstop to complete the series and gave it to Liz for approval. Fearful that her time with Alex was coming to an end, She requested vacation. Alex was her priority, she wanted to spend every possible moment with her.

Danielle was running late. Several things came up at work, delaying her. As soon as she was in the door she began shedding her clothes. She jumped into the shower, letting the warm water ease her nervous tension. When she shut the water off, she heard her doorbell. Quickly pulling a robe over her wet body, she ran for the door. No one was there. She stepped into the hall and hurried down the stairs. As she stepped outside, she saw Alex opening the car door.

“Wait! Don’t go!”

Alex turned to face her. Danielle stood in the driveway, her hair in wet tangles around her face, her sheer robe clinging to every curve of her body. She was beautiful.

“I just came down to get my tools.” Alex smiled.

“Oh… I… I was in the shower.”

“Mmm, I can see that.” Alex said playfully. “Maybe we should go inside.”

Danielle was too relieved to be embarrassed. She laughed. “Right.”

Back upstairs Alex set down her heavy tool box.

“I’m sorry I’m running late. It’s been one of those days.” Danielle apologized.

Alex shrugged and tried to concentrate on something other than the perfect body before her. “I read your story in the Sentinel. It’s very good.”

Danielle blushed. “Thanks, I didn’t think you got the paper.”

“I wouldn’t have miss it.” Alex said sincerely. “Why don’t you finish getting ready and I’ll take care of the lock?” As Danielle turned to go Alex couldn’t help casting one last admiring glance.

She installed the lock in no time and put the tools back in her car. Before closing the car door she grabbed a bag from the back seat.

Danielle was sitting on the couch when she returned. Alex pulled a bottle of champagne from the bag and sat across from her. “I brought this to toast your first story.” She handed the bottle to Danielle.

Danielle’s eyes sparkled as she clutched the bottle. “Thanks, I love champagne.”

She twisted the cork furiously to extract it. Suddenly it let loose in a violent explosion. Alex snagged it in midair just as a burst of champagne soaked the front of her shear blouse.

Danielle looked aghast. “God, I’m so sorry! Damn, I’m so clumsy.” Danielle ran to the kitchen to grab a towel. Dropping to her knees, she began dabbing at Alex’s top nervously.

“It’s okay. The cleaners will get it out,” Alex assured her.

She took Danielle’s hands in her own, stilling their frantic movement. Their eyes met and Alex knew without a doubt Danielle wanted her. The young woman’s hunger was undisguised. Danielle closed her eyes and willed Alex to kiss her. As if caught in a spell, Alex cupped her face in her hands and leaned forward. Danielle released a faint sigh. Her lips parted in expectation. She was the essence of innocence.

The tender surrender stopped Alex cold. Her blood rushed hot through her veins, but she held back. She was in too deep, her control was slipping. She resisted a nearly insuppressible urge to flee. When nothing happened Danielle opened her eyes. Alex could not look into them. Instead, she bent in, kissing her lightly on the forehead.

Danielle’s pulse was racing. The sensation of Alex’s lips on her skin set her on fire. She prayed she wouldn’t stop. “Alex I…”

Alex interrupted. “I better get out of this wet top. Do you have a T-shirt I can change into?” Danielle got up on unsteady legs and retrieved a shirt from the bedroom. She watched sadly as Alex entered the bathroom and closed the door behind her. Her head was reeling. She felt Alex’s desire, she was sure of it. What had she done wrong?

Alex stood in the bathroom gripping the sink. She looked at her image in the mirror and turned from it in disgust. Danielle deserved better. From the beginning she had deceived her. This had to end before it went any farther. She quickly changed and tried to collect herself.

Danielle filled two champagne glasses and sat waiting on the couch for Alex. The powerful feelings were so new to her that she didn’t know how to proceed.

When Alex returned she sat in the chair beside the couch purposely leaving some distance between them. She lifted her glass in toast.

“To the first of many stories.” Their glasses clicked and both took a long sip.

Alex took another drink. “It’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment. You should always remember today.”

“I’m sure I will.” Danielle smiled. “It’s my birthday. ”

“Happy Birthday.” Alex smiled. “That’s even more cause to celebrate.” She raised her glass to Danielle’s and tapped the lip. “I hope your birthday wish comes true.”

Danielle eyes were riveted to the woman before her. She couldn’t stop thinking about her soft lips and the way they had felt against her skin. She spoke without thinking. “You could make my wish come true.”

Alex froze and Danielle knew once again she had gone too far. She tried to cover her slip by revealing a different fantasy. “I… I saw the motorcycle at your cabin. I’ve always wanted to… I wonder if you would give me a ride.”

Alex visibly relaxed. “Just say when.”

“What about tomorrow?”

Alex looked surprised. Danielle’s interest piqued her curiosity. “Okay, you’re on.” She watched as the young woman’s eyes shone with excitement.

“That’s terrific.” Danielle exclaimed.

“So you’ve never ridden before?”

“No… but it has always been a fantasy of mine.” Her face colored slightly, embarrassed by revealing this facet of her personality.

Alex couldn’t contain her curiosity. “Why?”

Danielle looked at Alex shyly. “They seem so powerful… There’s something about harnessing all that power that excites me. It’s kind of silly… I…”

“It’s not. Tell me.”

“Well… I think it’s the element of danger that attracts me. The idea of being in control… even for a short time… It’s… it’s alluring.” Danielle blushed fully with her admission. “I haven’t had much adventure in my life.” Danielle smiled. “At least not until lately and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t enjoyed it, just a little.”

“It’s ironic.” Alex said, giving voice to her thoughts.

“What?”

“My life is full of… adventure. But, sometimes I think it would be such a relief to let…” Alex contemplated her discovery. For someone who had always set her own course, made her own decisions, lived life on the edge, the idea of relinquishing control, even for just a brief time was alluring. Oddly this felt more dangerous than the multitude of risky things she did on a regular basis.

Danielle watched her friend carefully. At last, Alex had taken the first step and revealed part of herself. It made her long to know more.

Alex broke out of her thoughts and smiled. “Anyway, I understand. The danger… that’s part of the attraction for me too.” Danielle loved Alex’s sudden openness.

She gave Alex a sly wink. “So what should I wear for this little adventure, something in black studded leather maybe?”

“Somehow that image of you doesn’t work for me.” Alex grinned.

“No?” Danielle feigned disappointment, then laughed softly. “I guess you’re right. I don’t fit the stereotype do I? The only thing pierced on me is my ears.” She smiled and looked inquisitively at Alex. “What about you?”

“Nope, but if I did, it wouldn’t be my ears.” She smiled wickedly and Danielle had to laugh. “Just wear something warm. I’ll have the leather requirement covered.”

The evening passed quickly, all awkwardness faded. The champagne helped take the edge off. But it was more than that. Alex had never felt so comfortable with anyone before. When she was around Danielle she was totally at ease. She loved her enthusiasm and energy. Danielle had a passion for living that matched her own.

She was sorry to see the night end.

*****

Danielle watched out the window for Alex. When she saw her pull up, she hurried down the stairs to meet her. As her eyes settled on this beautiful woman seated on the massive machine it brought to mind some great beast that Alex had tamed. It seemed to roar defiantly before Alex shut it off and dismounted to greet her.

“All set?”

“I’ve been looking forward to this.” Danielle said excitedly.

“Where would you like to go?”

“Why don’t you surprise me.” She winked. It seemed natural to follow wherever this woman chose to lead her.

Alex handed her a helmet and signaled for her to settle in behind her. Danielle straddled the bike in a fluid motion.

“Hold on tight.” Alex cautioned and kicked the starter. The engine growled and Danielle felt the bike vibrate deliciously between her legs. Her hands slid around Alex’s waist. She could feel Alex’s abs flex beneath her fingers. There was a raw power that emanated from both Alex and the bike. It was a heady mix. Danielle loved it.

They spent the entire day together. It was incredible. The best day of Danielle’s life. They had driven around the better part of the afternoon, finally stopping for dinner. As they walked back to the bike to return home, Danielle smiled outwardly. The sun was beginning to go down, cooling the air considerably. The thought of pressing against Alex’s warm body for the ride home thrilled her, causing a chill of excitement to run up her spine. Alex noticed and immediately offered her jacket.

“No really, I’m fine.”

“The temperature’s dropped. It will be cooler on the ride back.” She slid the jacket off and placed it over Danielle’s shoulders. Her heat still warmed the lining. Danielle fantasized for a moment that she was in the older woman’s embrace.

“Now that you have the outfit, do you want to give it a try?”

Danielle gave her a puzzled glance. “Me?”

“Yeah, I’ll help you.”

Danielle’s pulse quickened and an eager smile spread across her face.

“Climb on in front.” Danielle straddled the bike and Alex climbed on behind her. The feel of Alex pressed against her back coupled with the anticipation of what she was about to do was exhilarating.

Alex flopped the pedal out and placed the bike in neutral. “Okay, put your left hand on the on the grips and pull the clutch. Squeeze it in.”

“Like this?”

“Perfect, turn the key. Now you’re going to crack the throttle. Put your hand on the right handle and twist. That’s right.” Alex placed her hands gently over top Danielle’s.

Next, you’ll kick the starter with your right foot. It takes a bit of strength so you want to stand on the pegs and jump up, bringing the force of your weight down on the pedal. Ready?”

Danielle took a deep breath and raised up on the pegs. She jumped and thrust. The engine roared. Her heart pounded furiously in her chest. “I did it!

“I’ll guide you now. Here we go.” Alex shifted into gear and they were off. Danielle could not get over the incredible sensations that flooded her senses. Her view was completely unobstructed. It was like flying. She could have ridden forever.

When Alex pulled up in front of her apartment, she asked her up for a drink, trying to extend their time together. “It’ll warm you up.” Danielle suggested. Alex smiled and followed her inside. Like Danielle, she didn’t want the day to end.

Danielle dropped the jacket on the chair and went to the kitchen. She returned with two glasses of brandy. She handed Alex the snifter, their fingers touching briefly in the exchange. The contact was electric. Alex shivered.

“You’re cold.” Danielle frowned. “Maybe you should put your jacket on until you warm up a little.”

She turned away from Alex and walked over to the chair to get the jacket. When she reached to pick it up, she noticed something bright protruding from the pocket and pulled it out. Her mouth dropped open. It was her scarf, the one the thief had use to gag her.

“I’m fine.” Alex insisted. She took a long sip of the brandy enjoying the warmth that spread through her. Danielle was standing motionless, her back to Alex. Something was wrong.

“Danielle, what is it?”

The younger woman turned, holding the scarf. Her hands were trembling.

Alex’s breath caught. The moment to lie or pass it off as a coincidence had passed. The expression on her face confirmed her guilt.

“Danielle, I…”

“It… it was you?” Danielle looked confused.

Alex couldn’t speak. Her shame was too great. The fantasy was over. Danielle knew the truth and would hate her for it. She merely nodded.

“But… your eyes. I don’t…” Danielle’s voice was unsteady.

“Contacts…” Her voice cracked. She was not able to continue.

Danielle’s knees started to give and she sat down in the chair. Her mind worked furiously to catch up. “And my journal… YOU took my journal… you read my private thoughts.”

Alex couldn’t respond. Her world was collapsing around her.

“All this time…you lied to me…” Betrayal and hurt seeped into the young woman’s voice. Her mind frantically replayed the past weeks and their new significance.

“I…” Alex tried to speak. There were no words. No way to justify her actions.

“And the medallion… ”

Alex ran her fingers nervously through her hair, she wanted to run.

Danielle’s expression flipped between anger, hurt and disbelief. The enormity of the invasion threatened to overwhelm her. It was too much to take in. She shook her head in disbelief.

“Why…? I… I trusted you… I thought you were my friend.” Her mind was reeling. She stood waiting for a response.

Alex stood mute. How could she explain what she herself didn’t understand? How could she tell this woman what she was truly feeling? There was no defense for her actions. They were reprehensible.

Danielle looked at her angrily. “Well?”

“Danielle, I… I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?! That’s it!? You rob my uncle’s home, tie me up, take my diary, and…” Her next thought was almost too painful to voice. “and … pretend to be my friend.”

“I wasn’t pretending, I…”

“What is it you want? What is it you’re after that you didn’t get already?” Tears born of betrayal ran down her cheeks.

“You… you only had to ask… I would have given…” She stopped herself, too wounded to share her true feelings… that everything she had, could have been Alex’s, including her heart. She squeezed her eyes shut as more realizations flooded over her. Alex must know that, she probably knew everything. She had read Danielle’s thoughts, her fantasies.

“How much did you read?” There was an edge of panic to her voice.

Alex didn’t answer. She couldn’t. Danielle’s words sliced through her heart like a dagger. The only true happiness she had experienced her entire life had been the time she spent with Danielle. She understood the words Danielle had written, her pain, her desire. She felt the same and wanted the young woman in her life more than anything in the world. But it could never be. She was endangering Danielle simply by being around her. She had selfishly indulged her need to be close to this woman and now it was over.

Danielle interpreted Alex’s silence as an unwillingness to talk. She grew eerily quiet. Her eye’s fell to her journal that she had just made a new entry in that morning. She picked it up and tossed it at Alex. “Here, take it. I’ve added to it since your last reading.”

Alex held the leather book in her trembling hands. She reached out to return it to Danielle. “I…”

“In light of things, you should get quite a laugh out of it. Take it! I won’t be needing it any more.” A pain gripped her heart and she thought she might cry out it was so intense. She took a deep breath.

“I think you better leave.” There was no longer any anger in her voice, only pain. “I need to be alone. I… I need time to think.”

Alex left quietly, clutching the journal to her chest.

The click of the door catching as it closed signaled the end of the happiness Danielle had found. Her dreams shattered.

*****

Continued…Part 3

——————————————————————————–

Return to The Bard’s Corner

ou rob my uncle’s home, tie me up, take my diary, and…” Her next thought was almost too painful to voice. “and … pretend to be my friend.”

“I wasn’t pretending, I…”

“What is it you want? What is it you’re after that you didn’t get already?” Tears born of betrayal ran down her cheeks.

“You… you only had to ask… I would have given…” She stopped herself, too wounded to share her true feelings… that everything she had, could have been Alex’s, including her heart. She squeezed her eyes shut as more realizations flooded over her. Alex must know that, she probably knew everything. She had read Danielle’s thoughts, her fantasies.

“How much did you read?” There was an edge of panic to her voice.

Alex didn’t answer. She couldn’t. Danielle’s words sliced through her heart like a dagger. The only true happiness she had experienced her entire life had been the time she spent with Danielle. She understood the words Danielle had written, her pain, her desire. She felt the same and wanted the young woman in her life more than anything in the world. But it could never be. She was endangering Danielle simply by being around her. She had selfishly indulged her need to be close to this woman and now it was over.

Danielle interpreted Alex’s silence as an unwillingness to talk. She grew eerily quiet. Her eye’s fell to her journal that she had just made a new entry in that morning. She picked it up and tossed it at Alex. “Here, take it. I’ve added to it since your last reading.”

Alex held the leather book in her trembling hands. She reached out to return it to Danielle. “I…”

“In light of things, you should get quite a laugh out of it. Take it! I won’t be needing it any more.” A pain gripped her heart and she thought she might cry out it was so intense. She took a deep breath.

“I think you better leave.” There was no longer any anger in her voice, only pain. “I need to be alone. I… I need time to think.”

Alex left quietly, clutching the journal to her chest.

The click of the door catching as it closed signaled the end of the happiness Danielle had found. Her dreams shattered.

Danielle sat paralyzed on her bed. She had no tears left. The best day of her life had suddenly become the worst. She had always envisioned her twenty third year as a turning point in her life. Always hoped that by some miracle things would at last fall into place for her. Instead, she was devastated, her heart broken.

She reached for the medallion hanging on the bedpost. Her fingers tingled as she ran them over the surface. She clenched it tightly in her hand. Her thoughts drifted to Alex and her deception. The medallion grew warm. As, her hurt and disappointment escalated to anger and frustration, the medallion began to radiate a heat that she could not ignore. She opened her hand and touched the delicate engravings. The spiral patterns like those on her journal made her thoughts return to Alex.

Her mind flashed back to Alex saving her life and she knew it wasn’t all a lie. It couldn’t be. She had an instinct about people. Alex had been kind to her. There was no denying that the time she had spent with her had been the happiest in her life. But it was much more than that. Danielle was in love with Alex, hopelessly. The medallion popped open with a soft click, startling her. Carefully she held it up and looked inside.

She blinked her eyes, disbelieving what they revealed. The locket held two oval sepia tone photos. On the right side was a picture of a woman that could have been Alex’s twin. On the left was a woman who looked very much like herself. She knew immediately that it was her grandmother who had died before she was born. Carefully, she extracted the image with her likeness and looked at the back. It read, Briana, descendent of Gabrielle of Poteidaia. She carefully replaced it and took out the one that resembled Alex. The notation on the back indicated that the woman’s ancestor was Xena of Amphipolis.

The half remembered tale of her grandmother running off with a woman came back to her. The implications of the photos were clear. She closed the locket and clutch it to her chest. She needed to find Alex. They had to talk. She grabbed her car keys and headed out the door.

*****

Part V

*****

Alex berated herself for her carelessness. She couldn’t imagine why she hadn’t gotten rid of the scarf and wondered if subconsciously she had wanted Danielle to find out all along. It had ended their friendship quickly and irrevocably. Something she did not have the will to do. She deeply regretted the pain she had caused Danielle, but it was out of her hands now. The important thing was that Danielle was safe. Somehow Alex had to move on.

Never one to indulge in self pity, she tried to convince herself this was for the best and struggled to keep sorrow from engulfing her. If she focused on what she had lost, the pain would paralyze her. She had to plan her next move. She couldn’t afford to get sloppy. Her mother and brother would be in danger if she were arrested.

It was time to leave town. Her heart grew heavy as she thought of the numerous times had she packed up her few belongings and moved on. For the first time it felt like she was leaving home. Her pain deepened as she realized that Danielle was the reason for that.

Walking through the cabin, gathering up her scant possessions, proved to be tortuous. There were memories of Danielle everywhere. Her eyes fell on the champagne cork on the stand beside the bed. She flashed back to the surprised expression on Danielle face when the champagne had sprayed her. The memory of Danielle tore at her heart. Alex carefully set the cork down and hastily left the room.

She was almost out the door when her cell phone rang, startling her out of her thoughts. She hesitated answering it, then relented.

“Alex?”

“Julian.” She expelled a frustrated sigh. This was the last thing she needed.

“My sources tell me your in New York. I have a job for you to do.”

“I was leaving today. Things are beginning to unravel here.” She forced the emotion she felt from her voice.

“I’m sure you can handle it. What difference will a few days make?” She grimaced. The idea of remaining at the cabin with her memories was unbearable.

“What do you want?”

“A van Gogh from the MET.”

“Alex laughed sarcastically. “Oh… is that all.”

“You can consider it a personal favor.” There was a hint of urgency in his voice.

Alex listened intently, wondering if she might at last have an out.

“It’s not like I’m asking you to break into Fort Knox. This shouldn’t be much of a problem for you.”

“Easy for you to say,”

He laughed. “Alex, you’re so resourceful. I’m sure you won’t let me down. I’ll contact you in a few days.”

Unable to leave town and unwilling to return to the cabin, Alex set up camp in the surrounding woods. When her life was bleakest she found solace in the forest. The quiet darkness and star filled sky were usually a comfort to her, but not tonight. She was miserable. She sat by the fire staring at Danielle’s journal. She couldn’t summon the will to read it. Yet she found a curious comfort in holding it close.

If only she hadn’t gotten involved in Danielle’s life. But she had, and Danielle was suffering because of it. Had the young woman been serious about her journal being of no use to her? Did she mean she wouldn’t write anymore? Alex pushed the thought from her mind. It was too painful. She ran her hands over the spiral design and summoned the courage to open it. Nervously she flipped to the last entry.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

In my mind, there is but one certainty. I want Alex: in my heart, in my life and in my bed. My attraction for her is utterly compelling. The desire I feel for her is overpowering. I long for her touch. I want to feel the heat of her skin beneath my fingers. I can’t stop thinking of what it would be like to feel her body pressed to mine. I want to climb inside her, feel her arms around me. The thought that it might never be, leaves me aching, hungry. Traces of her scent linger in my mind. I dread the time we are apart. At last I know desire and my misery is exquisite.

When I can’t be with her, the night is my solace. In sleep I have Alex. My unconsciousness thoughts are more than fantasies. They have the feel of recollections, something between a dream and a memory. Her arms have never held me like a lover. Her lips have never kissed mine and yet I hunger for the sensations they would elicit. When we are together my eyes refuse to leave her. And when our eyes meet, even fleetingly, it is electric. I know those eyes. But only in my dreams do I see the need in them, their hunger for me.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Alex closed her eyes, her soul blanketed in a sorrow from which there was no escape.

*****

The drive to the cabin seemed endless. Faced with the prospect of never seeing Alex again, the memories she had of their time together made her heart ache. Yet her mind refused to discard the vivid images. As painful as they were, they seemed essential to her very being.

It was inconceivable that only hours ago her life had been filled with promise and now things were desperately bleak. Danielle feared Alex was already gone. The thought that she might never see her again was terrifying. She prayed for a second chance, one more opportunity to speak with her.

Danielle’s heart sank as she pulled into the driveway. Alex’s car was gone. The cabin was dark. She tried the door. It was locked. She slipped her hand deep into the sleeve of Alex’s leather jacket and broke the glass on the door. Reaching inside, she unlocked it and entered. The sight of the familiar room filled her with longing. She went to the bedroom. The closet doors were open and Alex’s clothes were gone.

Suddenly weak, she sat on the bed. She had never felt so alone in her life. She was ready to walk out of the room when something on the bedside table caught her eye. She picked up the champagne cork and rolled it in her hand, gently she closed her fingers around it. “Where are you Alex?”

*****

Danielle walked out on the porch and looked out over the water. If Alex didn’t want to be found it was unlikely that she would ever see her again. She walked toward the lake unsure of what to do next. The moon light sparkled off the surface of the water, but Danielle never noticed the beauty before her. She walked along the shore lost in her thoughts.

The medallion around her neck seemed to pulse against her skin, bringing her out of her contemplation. As she ran her fingers over the spiraled surface, her pain became more acute and her eyes filled with tears. When she tilted her head back to wipe them away, a flicker of light in the distant woods caught her attention. Mindlessly, she headed toward it. As she neared, she saw it was a campfire. Her heart began to race as she moved quietly toward it. She was about twenty feet away when she saw her, bathed in the glow of the fire’s light, her head bowed down solemnly. Danielle came forward slowly. Her approach was nearly silent but Alex felt her presence long before she heard her. She turned to face Danielle. Her face mirrored the anguish she felt.

Even in the dim light Danielle could see her pain, She had never seen Alex so vulnerable. Danielle stilled, afraid her friend might bolt. Alex turned back to the fire, struggling to compose herself.

“Alex I need to talk to you…”

She kept her back to Danielle, knowing her face would betray her and reveal too much.

“Please, you owe me that much.” Danielle watched Alex’s shoulders stiffen at her words.

Alex did not respond. It was all she could do to keep her body from shaking.

“Did you read my journal?”

Alex looked deep into the fire, as if to draw strength from it. She nodded. “I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you.”

“Were you going to leave without saying good-bye?”

“I thought you would call the police” She swallowed her pain. “You should have.”

Alex’s words hurt. “I would never… What reason have I given you not to trust me? I… I lied to protect you. You… read my journal. You know everything… and I know nothing.” Tears slid down her cheeks.

Alex lower her head in shame. “I don’t deserve your trust.”

“You saved my life. You… touched my heart. If you care even a little… you’ll stay, give me time to understand… time to talk.”

“I… Danielle please… you should leave.”

“No, damn it! Tell me what your thinking! Don’t shut me out.” Danielle was frustrated, desperate.

“I can’t… I’m sorry… Please believe me… you’ll be better off without me.” Her voice was shaky but resolved, for once in her life she intended to do what was right.

Danielle closed the distance between them and grabbed her wrist, pulling the taller woman around to face her. “I’m not leaving until you talk to me.”

“Please… let this go.” Alex felt the skin of her wrist tingle from the young woman’s touch. She avoided the hypnotic green eyes that sought her out, fearing she would lose what little control remained.

“No, you mean too much to me! I have to know the truth. I have to know how you feel.”

Alex met her gaze for the first time, reaching deep inside for the strength to do what she knew was right. “It doesn’t matter how I feel, I’ve done things… things you can’t begin to imagine. I’ve made enemies. People who would get pleasure from hurting you. We can’t be together. I’ve been fooling myself. I can’t put you in that kind of danger.” Her voice was firm, final.

Danielle released her wrist and looked down sadly. “I’m never going to see you again, am I?”

Alex felt the young woman’s despair. The last thing she wanted was to cause her more pain. Her hand reached out to comfort her. “I’m sorry. It’s best this way.” Her fingertips lightly brushed the smaller woman’s arm.

The casual touch ignited a spark inside Danielle. Her body responded instantly and she knew she could not give Alex up without a fight. There had to be a way to convince her.

“Your leaving is not best for me!” Danielle clenched her hands in frustration. “You don’t know what you’re throwing away, for both of us. I can’t let you give up on us.”

The young woman’s words hurt so much that Alex didn’t think she could endure it. She took a shaky step back.

“You don’t understand. I have a darkness in me that…” She paused knowing it was impossible for Danielle to comprehend the extent of her sins. “I’m no better than the monster that tried to rape you. I’ve done so many things I…” Her voice cracked with emotion. “You have to forget me.” She looked at her helplessly.

The pain Danielle saw broke her heart. She met Alex’s eyes. “There is good in you, so much. I see it. I feel it.” Her voice was gentle, but resolute. “We’re meant to be together. I don’t understand it, but I know in my heart it’s true and I think you do, too.”

Danielle slipped the medallion from her neck. “Alex, this isn’t a medallion. It’s a locket. It opens.” She placed it in the woman’s palm and gently curled Alex’s finger’s around it.

“Think about leaving me for my own good. Think about a life without me.” Alex’s eyes welled with tears. She opened her hand quickly, startled by the medallion’s change in temperature. She looked at the young woman, puzzled.

Danielle’s took Alex’s hand in her own and pressed her fingers closed on the medallion. She held Alex’s fist in both of her hands. “Now, think of the time we’ve spent together, the moments we shared. The time at the lake.”

Alex inhaled as she felt an energy build within her, surging down her arm until it passed through her skin into Danielle. For an instant they were one, it was electric. Danielle released Alex’s hand and stepped back, breathless. Alex stood motionless, trying to understand what had happened.

“Open your hand.” Danielle watched as Alex raised her hand, the medallion in her outstretched palm. It popped open. Alex held it up in the firelight.

“That’s my grandmother. And I’m willing to bet the other woman is your ancestor. The resemblance is amazing.”

Alex’s hand trembled as she gave the locket back to her. She knew she had experienced something miraculous, but it didn’t change her situation or the danger she posed to Danielle.

“Danielle, I can’t gamble with your life. I won’t.”

“Tell me you don’t feel anything for me and I’ll leave.”

Alex looked away, summoning the courage to lie. Before she could begin, Danielle interrupted her.

“Alex, please don’t do this.”

“I’m sorry … I can’t. My past would haunt us, destroy any chance we might have of a life together.”

“This is the biggest mistake of your life. Please give us more time!” Alex looked away and stepped back, putting more space between them. Danielle watched her retreat sadly. “There’s nothing I can say to change your mind?”

Alex shook her head.

Danielle inhaled deeply. She had never known such despair. “That’s it then?”

“Yes…” Alex responded weakly.

Tears overflowed Danielle’s eyes and she turned to walk away. The medallion tingled in her grasp. She stopped and turned to face Alex. It was now or never. She could not leave without expressing what was in her heart. Danielle took a deep breath.

“Alex, I… I love you. You touched something deep inside me. From the first moment I saw you, I knew you were the only one for me.” Alex remained silent.

“God I wish you could tell me how you feel. I know you care. I’ve seen it in your eyes… felt it in your touch.”

“Danielle, I’m sorry…I don’t… feel…” She quickly averted her eyes, unable to finish the lie.

“You don’t feel what…? The same….? I don’t believe you. Why were you following me the night I was attacked? Why did you return my journal and the medallion? Why have you stayed?” Danielle tired to make eye contact. “Alex, why did you save the champagne cork?”

She braced herself for Alex’s denial. When it didn’t come she continued. “Can you live the rest of your life wondering what we might have shared? I can’t.” She took a nervous breath. “I.. I’m drawn to you. I have nearly driven myself crazy with fantasies of what it would be like to share my life with you… to be with you.”

Danielle glanced away shyly. “I… I never felt desire until I met you… I can’t live my life not knowing the feel your lips on mine. I… I want you to….”

She raised her eyes slowly to meet Alex’s. “I need you to kiss me.”

Danielle’s heart hammered desperately, fearing both rejection and acceptance. “Please, one kiss and if you still want me to, I’ll leave… let you go.”

Alex took a step toward Danielle. Her heart ached as she viewed the anguish and longing in the young woman’s eyes. She wanted to take Danielle in her arms. Her need was so intense it seemed a physical pain. She reached her hand tentatively toward Danielle’s face. Her fingers lightly brushing the young woman’s trembling lips. Alex could not suppress the urgency pulsing through her. She wanted Danielle, desperately.

Danielle placed her right hand behind Alex’s neck and sunk the fingers into the dark silky hair. Alex’s body reacted before her mind could object. Her head bent forward, her lips only inches from the woman before her. Slowly, Danielle pulled her in. When their lips touched, Danielle moaned, her entire being tingled with sensation. Her mind and body reeled. Suspended out of time and space, there was only she and Alex.

She pressed into the kiss and shivered as Alex’s tongue slipped past her lips. She felt Alex tremble as her body succumbed to her need. The powerful woman melted in her arms, all resistance gone. The moment was electric.

Alex’s strong hands gripped Danielle’s waist, pulling her in. Their bodies pressed together in a fevered union. The heat was searing. Their kiss was endless.

Danielle’s body came alive. She ground her hips sensually against Alex. The dark-haired woman moaned and broke the kiss, her eyes searching Danielle’s. The love and need she saw there were dizzying. She closed her eyes, struggling to regain control. Her body thrummed with desire, making rational thought impossible. She didn’t have the will to fight it. Nothing in her life had ever felt so right.

Danielle whispered breathlessly. “Don’t stop, please… let it happen.” Her eyes pleaded, but Alex never saw the urgency there. She was focused on Danielle’s full lips. She had tasted their sweetness and she was lost. Alex swept the young woman up in her arms and carried her to the fire, laying her gently on her sleeping bag. She knelt beside her.

A primal need reflected in Alex’s eyes as she stared hungrily at the woman before her. Her feelings spilled from her in a heartfelt confession, her voice hoarse with passion. “Forgive me… I want you so much.”

Danielle didn’t hesitate, she took advantage of Alex’s weakness and pulled her down, rolling on top of her. She bent down, her tongue seeking the sweet taste of Alex’s mouth. Her thirst was insistent, driven by years of yearning. Every nerve in her body tingled. The thought that Alex might falter and pull back made her advances even more fervent. She had to have her, there was no turning back. “Alex I need you… I need you so.”

“Yes… Oh yes.”

Her words caused Danielle’s passion to shift from a slow burn to a blaze that was totally consuming. Their lips met again and her body trembled with the contact. Danielle’s heart felt like it would explode. All thought was gone. She was driven by instinct alone, euphoric as her body pressed against the length of Alex, claiming what she so desperately desired. She moaned and drank in her heat.

Slowly she pulled back, straddling Alex. Her face flush with excitement. Her lightweight skirt was pushed up tightly around her hips. Her breathing was heavy, fevered. A thin covering of moisture shone on her skin in her body’s futile attempt to cool itself. She looked to Alex for the release only she could provide.

When their eyes met, Alex thought she might die for want of this woman. She reached up and slowly unbuttoned Danielle’s shirt, sliding it off her shoulders. The sight of the young woman’s breasts took her breath away. Her erect nipples strained forward, begging for attention.

Her hands roamed up Danielle’s sides. She wanted to run her tongue over the eager flesh, to take each tenderly in her mouth. It was impossible to hold back. Her fingertips gripped the soft skin as her thumbs grazed the tip of each breast.

“Ohhh yes.” Danielle moaned and her head fell back.

Alex pulled her down, capturing the young woman’s mouth. The sweet taste of her was indescribable. She could not get enough. Effortlessly Alex rolled her over, gaining the top position. She sat back on her heels, breathless. Kneeling between Danielle’s legs, she unfastened her skirt, tossing it aside.

Danielle reached up to unbutton Alex’s top. Her fingers trembled with anticipation, making the task difficult. Desperately, she grabbed the edges of the material and forced them apart, releasing a shower of buttons.

Alex gasped in surprise. Danielle smiled, pleased by her reaction. The passion Alex saw in her young lover’s eyes inflamed her. She claimed Danielle’s mouth once more, groaning as their bare breasts touched. Her hands grasped Danielle’s bottom, kneading the pliant flesh. She pulled her onto her lap.

Danielle wrapped her legs around Alex’s waist, causing her to emit a low passionate groan. Alex had never felt such softness. Their bodies melded, as if they were each part of the same being.

Danielle greedily captured her mouth. Alex breathlessly relented as her lover’s inquisitive tongue pressed past her lips, exploring her with the ardor of a first love.

Throughout their kiss, Danielle pressed her sex firmly against Alex. The sensation of the wet cotton panties against her belly inflamed her. She slid a finger past the elastic waistband, desperate to rid Danielle of the garment without breaking the delicious contact.. She pulled back and looked into her lover’s eyes while tugging gently at the thin material that separated her from what she needed more than air.

“Pleeease… do it!” Danielle’s voice was hoarse, her eyes glazed with passion.

Alex recaptured her mouth and with two quick rips removed the unwanted clothing. With the last barrier gone, she felt Danielle’s naked sex press against her and released a shuddering sigh. Danielle immediately spread her legs wider, increasing their contact. Alex moaned as she felt the evidence of Danielle’s desire, wet and slippery, coat her skin. She pressed the young woman to her. Nearly lost in the rapture, she wanted to taste her, to thrust into her. Her fingers gently grasped the young woman’s bottom and slowly lifted and lowered her in a sensual rhythm. The heat of Danielle’s slick center gliding over her taut abdomen was delicious. Alex lightly caressed her lover’s earlobe with her lips. Then softly nipped her neck, breathing hotly against her skin.

Danielle was delirious with pleasure. The sensation of her swollen clit rubbing against Alex’s hot flesh caused her to moan unrestrained. The contact was intense, unrelenting. It was ecstasy. She felt an exquisite tension coiling inside her and knew instinctively that the rapture that she had yearned for her entire life was almost upon her. She was nearing orgasm, and she wanted it, more than she had ever wanted anything.

Her head fell back as she clung to the strong woman’s shoulders. “Ohhh… Alex… ”

“Let go, I’ve got you.” Alex whispered softly.

Instantly it was upon her. Danielle’s body went rigid and she cried out, gripping her lover’s shoulders as spasm after spasm tore through her. Her body quivered as glorious sensations spiraled outward from her center. It seemed to go on and on as Alex maintained the steady rhythm, prolonging her pleasure.

Danielle took a long trembling breath and collapsed against her lover, her head cradled in the hollow of the older woman’s shoulder. Nothing had prepared the young woman for the magnitude of her release. When her senses slowly returned, the raw intensity of her emotions overwhelmed her and she cried in her lover’s embrace. Alex pulled the sleeping bag around them and held Danielle lovingly in her arms, rocking her gently.

Soon, Danielle calmed and looked deeply into her eyes. “Alex, I remember you. My body remembers you.”

She softly kissed Alex’s face. Her lips lightly brushing her brows. She tenderly stroked her dark hair, afraid this was some wonderful dream that she would awaken from. Her fingers gently trace the fine features of Alex’s face in an attempt to verify she was real.

Danielle searched Alex’s eyes for a sign that her love was returned. The adoration she in her lover’s eyes made her fears disappear.

“I’ve never been so happy. Please… give us a chance.”

Tears rolled down Alex’s cheeks as she hugged Danielle. She tried to imagine how she could go on without this woman in her life. Her carefully constructed walls were crumbling. Like it or not, her heart had opened to this remarkable young woman. She realized that regardless of her decision, she owed Danielle the truth about her feelings.

She pulled Danielle tightly to her and whispered. “No matter what happens… know that I love you… more than life.”

Alex’s words filled Danielle with joy, renewing her conviction. She would find a way to make Alex understand that they were stronger together than apart. She looked deep into her eyes, trying to express feelings there were no words for.

The sky opened, releasing a light rain. Alex tipped her head back and let the cool water splash her face. Danielle watched entranced, as water droplets sparkled on her lover’s lashes. The woman before her was truly magnificent… and hers. Her mouth hungrily claimed Alex’s and their passion flared, mindless of the persistent rain.

*****

Back at the cabin, the two women sat naked in front of the fireplace holding hands. They stared into the glowing flames. Both needed to maintain physical contact, a link between them. Unfamiliar emotions left Alex confused and vulnerable, for the first time in her life she was truly afraid.

Danielle looked dreamily into the fire. She was caught in the wake of physical pleasure of an intensity she had never imagined. She didn’t want it to end. Her body had felt nothing for so long, that now she allowed herself to reveal in the incredible sensations she had experienced. Alex loved her. There was nothing she could not face. Danielle would not back down. She had to have Alex in her life.

Finally, she drew in a long breath and summoned the courage to speak, praying she would be able to convince Alex of the miracle that she now wholeheartedly embraced: they were destined to be together.

“I want to express what you mean to me, but I don’t have words to communicate the love I feel. I need to be with you.” She took Alex’s hand and press the long fingers to her lips.

“My entire life, I knew that something vital to my being was missing. At last I have found you. I feel whole.” She paused and looked intently in her lover’s eyes. Finding only love there, she continued. “Can’t you feel it?”

Alex did, but couldn’t reply. Her throat was tight with emotion. Her feelings were consuming her. It was too much. She gently squeezed Danielle’s hand.

Danielle squeezed back comfortingly. “Alex I know I told you I would leave if that’s what you decided, but I… I don’t think I can. There’s no going back for me. I am so sure of us. I am willing to risk anything to be with you. Anything… Please don’t send me away. I’m asking you to trust in our love.”

She held Alex’s face in her hands, desperate for her lover to understand.

A single tear slid down Alex’s cheek. She rose and stood before the fire, staring into the hypnotic flames. The thought of something happening to Danielle terrified her. The young woman’s safety was her main concern. Still, she couldn’t dismiss the miracle of Danielle’s love. She had no doubt that they were meant to be together. There was no denying that for some inexplicable reason their destinies were intertwined. She needed Danielle and believed in her heart that Danielle needed her. There were no easy solutions.

She felt the warmth of Danielle’s hand as it slid into her own and a calm enveloped her. The tension drained from her body. She sat down and parted her legs, gently seating Danielle between them. Alex eased her lover back against her bare chest, solving her need for contact, without revealing the emotions she was struggling with. She wrapped her arms tenderly around Danielle and gently rocked her back and forth, unsure if her actions were meant to comfort herself or her young lover. Danielle remained silent, relishing their closeness. She waited patiently, allowing Alex the time she needed.

Slowly Alex came to her decision. Closing her eyes, she allowed herself to feel the soothing presence of the young woman’s sitting between her bent legs. The warmth of Danielle hips against her inner thighs, the softness of her hair against her breasts was heavenly. She was keenly aware of the heat that radiated from her body at each place their skin made contact. It amazed her how in such a very short time Danielle had come to mean everything to her.

She took a deep breath and whispered softly into her lover’s ear. “Together then… for better or worse, we’ll go through this together.” Danielle’s heart leapt. She tilted her face up and eased back against her lover’s soft breasts.

“Oh…Alex….”

Alex bent to capture the eager lips of her young lover. Her kiss sent streams of tingling pleasure to Danielle’s core. A warm flush radiated through her body and she became acutely aware of Alex’s erect nipples pressing against her back. She wanted to turn to face Alex but her body refused to break the warm embrace.

She struggled to speak. “Alex I want you, I want to make love to you. Show me how to please you.”

Alex smiled and breathed hotly into her lover’s ear. “Mmmm… yes, I’ll show you. We’ll practice… on you.” The deep tone of Alex’s voice made Danielle’s pulse quicken, her body instantly responding to the idea.

“I’ll go very slowly, so you’ll remember every kiss… every touch.” She felt her young lover’s body tremble. Danielle moaned, her passion heightened by her lover’s words. Her head lolled back and rested on her partner’s strong shoulder. Alex’s fingers moved across Danielle’s torso with feathery light caresses. The teasing contact was delicious. Alex cupped her lover’s breasts in her hands. Her thumbs circled Danielle’s erect nipples.

“I love the way your body responds to me.” She whispered sensually.

The warmth of her lover’s breath and heat of her words eroded the last of Danielle’s inhibitions. All traces of the reserved woman she had once been were gone. Unabashed, she arched into her lover’s touch.

Alex’s thumbs brushed the harden tips of the her lover’s breasts, flicking the sensitive points. Danielle moaned as she felt moisture trickle from her opening. Encouraged by her lover’s reaction, Alex rolled the aching nipples between thumb and forefinger, pulling gently. Danielle groaned with pleasure. Alex’s left hand continued to caress her lover’s breasts while her right hand ventured lower. Her fingers at last reaching their destination, slowly sliding through the curly golden hair and across the moist outer lips. Danielle could not contain her excitement. She cried out.

“Do you need me to stop?”

“God no… please.”

Alex smiled, pleased at the urgency in her voice. She used two fingers to spread her lover’s lips and glided through the ample wetness, the inside of her fingers lightly stroking either side of the young woman’s clitoris. Danielle felt herself climbing quickly. She was very close.

“Mmm, you’re so swollen, so ready.” Alex smiled. Do you now how desirable I find you, how much you please me?” Danielle’s breathing quickened.

“You’re capable of such pleasure. This beautiful body was just waiting for me, for my touch.” Alex purred.

“Yes… oh God I… I…” Danielle exclaimed. Her heart pounded as her body flooded with excitement.

“You’re almost there again, aren’t you?” She stopped the motion of her fingers and felt her lover’s hips thrust toward them in an attempt to resume contact.

“Ohhh Alex… pleeease… ”

“Oh no… not so quickly this time. You can sustain arousal for a long time. A very long time.” Danielle trembled. It was such exquisite torture. Her body writhed against Alex, begging for her touch. She wanted more.

Alex redirected Danielle’s attention by lightly squeezing her nipple. At the same time, she ran the other hand along the inside of Danielle’s thigh. “I’m going to enter you very slowly. Are you ready?” Danielle couldn’t form words, she nodded vigorously.

Alex poised one finger at the young woman’s entrance and slid into her teasingly slow. She delighted as Danielle’s muscles tightened around her, pulling her deeper, until at last she was all the way in. She remained motionless allowing the young woman’s body to become acutely aware of her presence. Alex reveled in the warmth and softness surrounding her. It was heavenly.

“Oh, Alex.. I feel you … so deep…” It was utter bliss for Danielle. Her emotions were raw. She felt so much. Alex sensed her surge of emotion and began to ease her finger out.

“Please…” Danielle grabbed her wrist, holding her firmly in place. “I… I feel you… your energy inside me. It’s… oh God. Pleeease… I need you.”

Alex kissed her tenderly, then began a slow rhythmic thrusting, pushing deep inside then retreating to the edge of her entrance. She took her time, allowing the sensations to build inside the young woman. Danielle was climbing higher and higher, delirious with pleasure. Climax was nearly upon her, the steady pumping driving her wild. Poised at the brink of release, she held her breath. It was divine.

Then, without warning, Alex slowly extracted her finger. Danielle groaned, her inner muscles clutching at empty air. The loss made her ache. Alex adjusted her position moving out from behind the young woman and lowered her to the floor, careful not to sever physical contact. The young woman’s eyes locked with hers, desperate for an outlet for her mounting passion. She needed more and kissed Alex hungrily to express it.

Her tongue sought entrance to Alex’s mouth and the stronger woman relented, thrilled by the intensity of her lover’s desire. The kiss was more forceful and demanding than Alex had expected from the gentle woman but she loved it and submitted completely to the aggressive exploration. Soon both women were lost in the heat of the kiss, equally matched in their passion.

Gradually their frenzied efforts eased. When Alex felt Danielle’s body relax, she began to slowly rekindle the urgency. She lightly stroked her erect nipples, gently brushing her nails across the hardened nubs. Danielle’s head fell back and Alex gently pressed her knee between her lover’s legs, reminding her of her need.

Danielle moaned and arched into her partner’s thigh. Alex teased, pulling back. She positioned her firm leg inches above Danielle pulsing sex, forcing the desperate young woman to lift into her again and again, for but the briefest contact, each touch leaving her wanting. Danielle’s eyes were closed tight, fully concentrated on her effort. Her body unable to remain still.

Alex looked down at Danielle’s tense expression and longed to see the desire cloaked by long lashes and silky lids. Slowly she lowered her leg, pressing firmly against her lover’s wet center. Danielle’s eyes opened and Alex found herself looking into the depths of the young woman’s being. A soul that sought it’s twin.

Alex’s breath caught. The playfulness in her blue eyes, replaced by luminescent desire. Danielle’s heart hammered and she opened her mouth to beg her lover to continue. But, the words evaporated as she watched Alex’s head dip down and felt warm, wet lips closed on her nipple. Alex’s teeth grazed the sensitive erection, pulling while her tongue licked the aching tip. Danielle moaned softly and Alex began to suckle, with gentle but unrelenting pressure. Danielle squirmed under the tender assault, her mind adrift, swimming with pleasure. She was floating, lost in the sweet sensations.

Without warning, Alex entered her with two fingers, sliding deep inside. Danielle gasped. Alex caressed her tight walls, heightening her awareness, awakening every fiber of her being. Her suckling became more insistent. With each deep thrust, her mouth drew hard on the nipple, pulling sensations through the Danielle’s body like an electric charge. Their combined energy was building inside her, intensifying with each thrust, every pull. It was too much, and not enough.

Danielle was straining, desperate for even the slightest pressure on her clit. Her hands clenched at her sides, entangled in the fluffy comforter. The temptation to use them was great but she held back . Even at the height of her torment, she understood the perfection in her lover’s attentions and wanted experience their full impact. Just one touch and she would merge with this incredible woman, body and soul.

As if reading her mind, Alex circled the swollen nub with her thumb. It was divine torture. Danielle wanted desperately to shift her hips, force the contact. Her teeth clenched to keep from crying out and she struggled to keep still. At last, her lips parted and she exhaled in a long groan. She could not hold back.

Alex felt Danielle’s hips lift, her will broken, and let her thumb slowly glide over the swollen pulsing surface. That single stroke was all it took. The orgasm was upon her like a tidal wave. Danielle was helpless, plummeting over the edge. She cried out as currents of ecstasy raced through her, exploding in brilliant colors. She knew at once that the beautiful light that engulfed her was Alex.

As Danielle slept, Alex tried to imagine what she had done to deserve such a love. She would move heaven and earth to protect this woman. From this moment on, she would try be the person Danielle deserved.

To do that she had to free herself and that meant at least one more person had to die. And somehow she had to keep Danielle from being tainted by it.

Alex eventually drifted to sleep and dreamed of the beautiful woman she held in her arms.

******

Part VI

******

Alex awoke to a deep seeded pulling sensation. As she came to her senses, she discovered Danielle was gently suckling her breast. She opened her eyes and watched as the young woman efforts became more concentrated. A spasm shot through her as Danielle gently nipped the hardened point and she groaned in pleasure.

The young woman lifted her head and looked up innocently. “I didn’t mean to wake you. I guess, I got carried away. I couldn’t resist. You looked so luscious lying here.” She was surprised by the frankness of her own words, her face colored beautifully.

Alex smiled and caressed her cheek. “So do you.”

Danielle’s eyes blazed with desire as they ran the length of her lover’s body, finally fixing on Alex’s breasts. “Your nipples responded to my touch, even when you were sleeping.” She said proudly, barely resisting the urge to casually swirl her tongue over the sensitive flesh already stiff with desire.

It was Alex’s turn to blush. She didn’t usually sleep so soundly. In fact, she was stunned that she hadn’t been awakened by her lover’s ministrations sooner. She could not remember the last time she had slept through the entire night, felt so at peace. The edgy tension that was so much a part of her was gone.

“What a wonderful way to wake…” Her words were abruptly cut off as Danielle ran her finger lightly across Alex’s sex and held the glistening digit up to the light, marveling at the sight. She slowly ran her tongue over her finger, sampling her lover’s essence. The erotic act sent a shiver thorough Alex.

Danielle met her gaze and smiled playfully. “I want more.”

Alex inhaled sharply as the implications of her words slammed home. Before she could recover, she felt Danielle’s hair tickle her skin as her eager lover’s tongue blazed a hot trail down her anxious body.

“I want to feel you climax… with my mouth.”

Danielle’s breath blew lightly against her sex. Alex eagerly lifted her hips. The first contact was a long gentle stroke, the full length of her sex. It was nearly Alex’s undoing. Her body surged with desire, responding to her younger lover’s caress.

Danielle was thorough in her exploration. Her lips gently encircled her swollen clit, eliciting a moan from her lover. She flicked her tongue over the tip in a teasingly slow rhythm that was as steady and persistent as her own heartbeat. Each stroke was timed so precisely that Alex knew it was coming an instant before the contact was made.

Her inner muscles clenched each time in anticipation. Danielle’s touch was maddeningly light. Alex tried to thrust her hips forward to force greater contact, but Danielle’s left hand pressed down on her lower abdomen, commanding her to be still.

It was all Alex could do to not to use her superior strength. The temptation to rock her hips into Danielle’s touch was irresistible. “I need more.”

Danielle lifted her head for but a moment. “I know.” She smiled and lowered her mouth once again to the sensitive nub, teasing her mercilessly.

Alex exhaled a long anguished moan. The world drifted away until there was nothing but the persistent attentions of Danielle’s tongue, the gentle impact of each touch. The pulsing between her legs was driving her wild and Alex trembled as she strained for release.

Suddenly, Danielle’s fingertips brushed her thigh, adding a new sensation. The determined fingers traveled slowly up to her sex. Alex stiffened and groaned as her lover’s tentative fingers pressed against her opening, seeking entrance.

“Yesss!”

As Danielle pushed deep inside, Alex’s restraint snapped. The feel of Danielle inside her sent currents of pleasure through her body. She grasped Danielle’s head with both hands. The young woman yielded and slid her tongue back and forth with increasing pressure while pumping firmly inside her.

Her inner walls clutched at Danielle’s fingers with each thrust. She sucked in a long, deep breath, and stiffened in climax. Her thighs shook and she pushed against Danielle’s diligent tongue. She shuddered, her sex pulsing with sensation.

Danielle held her, stroking her hair. “I love you Alex.”

Alex looked into the green eyes that gazed at her, brimming with adoration. “And I love you. You were wonderful.”

Danielle sighed happily. “I was given excellent instruction.”

“Apparently…” Alex smiled. “But I don’t recall that particular lesson.”

She kissed her lightly. Danielle was happy that she had pleased her, but she sensed that Alex had held back. The raw passion that burned inside her had not been released. She felt the power of the untapped energy within Alex so keenly that it crackled like static on the surface of her skin. She ran her fingers over the fine hair below Alex’s navel, expecting it to cling to the tips of her fingers.

In time her love would help Alex let go of the guilt and pain she carried. Only when Alex allowed herself to be vulnerable, allowed herself to trust, would she at last unleash her full capacity to be loved. With time, Danielle was determined to earn that trust and take her lover where only she could.

She took a deep breath and rested her head on Alex’s soft breast. “It feels like I’m awake in my dreams. I’m so happy.”

Alex closed her arms around her beautiful lover and made a silent wish that she would never forget this moment.

*****

The delicious scent of sex filled the room. Danielle was insatiable, proving the perfect match for her energetic lover. They made love all morning, napping until early afternoon. Their bodies entwined.

When Alex awoke Danielle was asleep on her breast. The feeling engulfing her was foreign and powerful. She was happy. Alex wrapped her arm around her lover’s waist, causing Danielle to stir.

“Been awake long?” Danielle asked dreamily.

“No.” Alex replied kissing her lightly. Danielle looked at her wistfully.

“What are you thinking about?” Alex questioned.

“I was just thinking that I will never forget this room, this cabin, these woods.” Danielle looked at Alex seriously. “We won’t be able to stay much longer, will we?”

“No, I’m sorry. Will you mind?”

Danielle shook her head. “As long as I have you, I can be happy anywhere.” Alex held her close.

“Where will we go?”

“Where would you like to go?”

“I’ve always wanted to see Greece.”

Alex smiled. She had similar dreams. “I think that can be arranged.”

“Can we afford it?”

“Money isn’t a problem. I…” Alex stopped talking as memories of her past sins surfaced. She looked at Danielle with deep regret.

“I’m truly sorry about the robbery. If I could get your uncle’s things back I would. They’re gone.” She took a deep breath and waited for Danielle’s anger to arise.

“It’s only money Alex. My uncle has lots of it. It doesn’t matter.” She tried to reassure her, but felt Alex almost imperceptibly distance herself.

After several minutes Alex put her arms around Danielle and looked into her eyes.

“What. .. What is it?” Danielle asked.

“You are so quick to forgive.” Danielle looked puzzled by Alex’s remark.

“You know… the robbery, the journal… the deception.” The words made Alex wince. She looked away, but not before Danielle saw the sadness in her eyes.

Danielle turned on her side to face Alex directly. “Well, you didn’t know me, when you tied me up so I gave you some latitude on that one.” She smiled lightly and shrugged. “As for the journal, I admit at first it felt like a terrible invasion, but…” She paused. “Alex why did you take my journal?”

“I’m not sure. There was something about the design on the front that attracted me. I didn’t even know what it was.”

“Well, then… not much to forgive there.”

“It’s that easy, huh?”

“Well, no” Danielle said thoughtfully. “I’ve been thinking of ways for you to make up for those little indiscretions, believe me.” She winked playfully.

Alex looked back seriously. “I intend to spend the rest of my life making things right.”

Danielle smiled, refusing to let her lover lapse into guilt, “It shouldn’t be such a difficult task. I can think of some very pleasurable ways for you to do that.”

Alex looked off into the distance. Danielle waved her hand in front of her lover’s face. “Hey, I was hoping that would make you happy.”

Alex smiled for Danielle’s benefit. The love she saw on the young woman’s face was so genuine.

Danielle stroked her lover’s cheek. “I can see the wheels turning. What are you thinking?”

Alex glanced away, unable to mask her feelings from this incredible woman. Danielle looked deep into her lovers’ eyes. “You know that I love you. There’s nothing that can change that.”

“I wish that were true.” Alex replied doubtfully. Danielle opened her mouth to speak but Alex continued. “You don’t really know me… at least you don’t know who I used to be.” Danielle remained quiet. ” If you knew everything about me, you wouldn’t be able to love me.”

Danielle took Alex’s hand and pressed it to her lips. “Alex I can tell you that nothing from your past will ever change the way I feel about you. But I can’t prove it to you unless you take the first step and talk to me. I know it’s scary, but you’re going to have to trust me.”

Alex slid out of bed and put on her robe. “Lets get this over with, but not here.” Alex couldn’t bear to taint the memories of their incredible love making with the ugly tale she was about to tell. Danielle followed in silence out to the deck and pulled up a chair next to her. She watched as Alex poured a glass of scotch, then took her hand in support.

Alex took a sip. “I want to start at the beginning. I can’t justify what I have done. But I need you to know it all. If you decide to leave me, I’ll understand.” Danielle nodded and with a deep sigh, Alex began.

“Power has always been a lure for me. I’m drawn to it, intrigued by it. All my life I was drawn to people who had it and intrigued by how they used it. At a young age I realized I could use sex to my advantage, to exert control. I used my body to get what I wanted. It was a powerful tool in those early days, an easy way to manipulate people.”

Her grip tightened and she raised her eyes to meet Danielle’s. “It never meant anything to me… not until now… not until you.” Danielle squeezed her hand reassuringly. The tender gesture filled Alex with such relief that she was tempted to stop and take the young woman in her arms. She forced herself to continue.

“I grew up in a bad part of the city, a rough neighborhood. My father walked out on us when I was very young and mother had her hands full trying to care for the three of us. She seemed powerless and weak. Others controlled her. I was young and foolish then and had no idea of the inner strength she possessed. I only knew her life wasn’t for me. In nature, the strong survived and I intended to be a survivor.”

“I talked my younger brother into joining a gang with me, convincing him that it was the best way to protect what was ours. I had a knack for leading people and in no time I controlled the small group of street kids. They were fearless and had a ruthless reputation that was well-earned. Soon our small territory wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more… more power, more control.”

“And I got it. But for a terrible price, my brother’s life. He was stabbed during a skirmish with a rival gang and died instantly. He had been the calm voice of reason in my world. Without his steadying influence, I allowed rage to envelope me.”

“It didn’t take me long to track down the kid who killed him. I broke into his house and cornered him in his own bedroom. He was smaller than me and it was easy to grab him from behind. Without a second thought I slit his throat. His warm blood spilled from his body over my hands and it was done.” She clasped her trembling fingers in her lap in an attempt to cover the blood only she could see there.

“When I released him, he dropped to the floor, dead. I remember looking at his motionless body, amazed at how easily I had ended his life. I…” Her voice cracked with emotion as she replayed the memory.

“I heard a noise and looked up. His kid brother, no more than 5 years old had witnessed the whole thing. He sat cowering in bed, whimpering helplessly. I’ll never forget the look on his face. I was his worst nightmare come to life, a monster. It was as if he had held a mirror to my face. For the first time I understood what I was all about. There was no going back. I knew my soul was lost.”

Danielle saw the anguish on Alex’s face and held her hands in an attempt to comfort her. Alex looked right through her. Her eyes filled with regret. “There are some things that can’t be atoned for.”

She freed her hands and took a long swallow of scotch. It didn’t help. The entire bottle would not have been enough to dull her memory sufficiently.

“My mother was heart broken by my brother’s death. I saw the scorn in her eyes whenever she looked at me. Both she and my elder brother blamed me. They understood the evil I was capable of even back then. They wanted to be free of me.”

She took a deep breath. “I can’t blame them. I was responsible for his death as surly as if I had wielded the knife that killed him.”

“I feared if I gave into my grief, I would not survive it. The gang was all I had to keep me going. I let my anger consume me. They respected strength and detested weakness. The course of my life was set. I allowed myself to be ruled by anger and pride.”

“Those who knew me, feared me. This became one of my strongest weapons against my enemies. My reputation was becoming widespread. It wasn’t long before the gang wasn’t enough. Soon I was recruited by a middleman for a large and powerful crime ring. In no time I had his job. The position was a stepping stone to the people who had real power.”

“By now, I had proven myself sufficiently and had come to the attention of Julian Sezaree, a powerful crime boss. He was intelligent, charismatic and even more ambitious than I. In addition, he had the vision my youth lacked and showed me possibilities I had not even dreamed of. I was easily tempted by his promises of wealth and power.” She shook her head and took another drink. “He had me figured me out from the beginning.”

“I was eager to learn everything that he had to teach. I got into high end jewel and art crime, and even an occasional bank robbery. I was never so naive that I trusted him completely. But I was naive enough to think that I could keep one step ahead of him. I was young and stupid.”

“I never worked with Julian directly back then. I was too green. In those early years, my work was sloppy and people died because of it. Although I always got the job done, Julian was often angered by my lack of planning. Eventually he set me up with partners who trained me in the areas I was weak. I was more than willing to do whatever it took to improve.”

“I had learned well and went a number of years without a single kill. I meticulously planned every robbery. Soon, Julian was confident using me for the more important jobs. Things were going well, until I made a grave error. I trusted my partner and Julian.”

“We were to steal a valuable collection of art work from a senator’s house. Julian put my partner in charge of the details. The job was poorly planned. The senator and his wife returned home before we were finished and in a rash move, I killed the senator.”

“His wife watched in horror as his life blood bubbled from the open gash in his throat. I dropped him and went for her. She never moved. She looked right at me. Her eyes…”

Alex paused and struggled to continue. “There was something about her eyes that made me think back to that first one… and that little boy. I don’t know what came over me but I dropped the knife and pulled off my mask. That’s all I remember. My partner said I froze and he had to finish the wife. He told me that I just stood there for nearly fifteen minutes. It would have ended there if he had left me, but he didn’t. Later I found out why.”

“I knew I couldn’t do it anymore and went to Julian. He laughed and said it was a little late in the game to be developing a conscious. He told me emotions made people weak, that I had a lifetime of money to make for him. It was far from over for me.”

“I told him I was finished, knowing it might cost me my life and not caring. That’s when he showed me the tape my partner had made of me killing the senator. That in itself wasn’t enough to hold me and he knew it. He taunted me with my mother’s life, said how easy it would be for she and my brother to have an accident. He owned me and he knew it.”

“That was four years ago. He gets about 5 million a year from me and leaves my family alone.” She paused. “I’ve done some terrible things. Things I can’t change. But please believe me when I say that all I want now is to be out. I can’t do it anymore.”

“You don’t have to. You can stop.”

“I’m not sure I can. I’ve wanted to before… but Julian’s too powerful.”

“Before you were alone. Now your not.” Danielle spoke softly.

Alex searched her face for any hint of misgiving, afraid to believe Danielle would want to stay with her after everything she heard.

“Are you saying… you still want to be with me?”

“Yes, nothing will ever change that.” She took Alex’s trembling hands in her own. “I’ll always be here for you.” Danielle’s love seemed unshakable. Alex was deeply moved by her loyalty.

“Why? After everything I…”

“Alex, the past is written. We can’t change it. I still love you, I always will. But, I think you know that. What you’re reluctant to believe is that you deserve my love.”

Danielle lovingly brushed her cheek. “You do. I’m not going anywhere. Together we’ll find our path. Our life together starts here and now.”

Alex would have no more lies or deceptions between them. She paused and took her hands. “Danielle, I only know of one way to get out from under Julian’s control. As long as he’s alive I can never be free. He will never let me go. The only way we can have a life together is if he’s dead. He’s asked me to do a special job for him. I’m going to use it to lure him in and finish something I should have taken care of a long time ago. I’m going to kill him.” The disapproval in Danielle’s eyes was plain. Alex avoided her glance.

“First, I have to get you out of town. Make sure your safe.”

“Alex, I’m not leaving.”

“Please Danielle, I need you to do this for me.”

Danielle could not mask her frustration. “Alex, if you knew I was facing a danger from my past, would you leave me, to protect yourself? If I asked you to walk away, told you I needed for you to be safe would you go? Could you leave me?”

The answer was too obvious to verbalize. They both knew it.

“And why do you think it is any different for me?” She took Alex in her arms and kissed her tenderly, leaving no doubt about her complete devotion. She gently pulled back and held Alex’s face lovingly in her hands.

“There is nothing anyone can do to make me leave you. Not even you. Whatever the consequences I’m willing to pay them, because the alternative is unthinkable.”

Alex knew with certainty that her salvation lie with this young woman.

“Your not alone anymore. Together we are stronger than we could ever be apart. There’s a way out of this and we’re going to find it… together.”

Alex pulled Danielle to her, hugging her close.

*****

The Conclusion – Part 4

——————————————————————————–

Return to The Bard’s Corner

used and took her hands. “Danielle, I only know of one way to get out from under Julian’s control. As long as he’s alive I can never be free. He will never let me go. The only way we can have a life together is if he’s dead. He’s asked me to do a special job for him. I’m going to use it to lure him in and finish something I should have taken care of a long time ago. I’m going to kill him.” The disapproval in Danielle’s eyes was plain. Alex avoided her glance.

“First, I have to get you out of town. Make sure your safe.”

“Alex, I’m not leaving.”

“Please Danielle, I need you to do this for me.”

Danielle could not mask her frustration. “Alex, if you knew I was facing a danger from my past, would you leave me, to protect yourself? If I asked you to walk away, told you I needed for you to be safe would you go? Could you leave me?”

The answer was too obvious to verbalize. They both knew it.

“And why do you think it is any different for me?” She took Alex in her arms and kissed her tenderly, leaving no doubt about her complete devotion. She gently pulled back and held Alex’s face lovingly in her hands.

“There is nothing anyone can do to make me leave you. Not even you. Whatever the consequences I’m willing to pay them, because the alternative is unthinkable.”

Alex knew with certainty that her salvation lie with this young woman.

“Your not alone anymore. Together we are stronger than we could ever be apart. There’s a way out of this and we’re going to find it… together.”

Alex pulled Danielle to her, hugging her close.

She led Danielle into the bedroom and pushed the night stand aside, lifting several loose floor boards. A small safe was cemented into the floor. “Julian wasn’t the only to think of blackmail. I have enough documentation to send him to prison for life, but not without implicating myself.”

“There’s no chance you could get immunity for the information?” Danielle asked.

“I’ll never get immunity. I’ve done things that can’t be forgiven. It’s not politically expedient to grant immunity to someone who has committed the crimes I have. No politician is going to take that kind of risk, not even to nail Julian. And if by some miracle they did, Julian’s people would get to me. I wouldn’t last a week.”

“There must be a way.”

“I think there is.” Alex paused, knowing her lover would not approve. “He wants me to steal van Gogh’s “Corridor in the Asylum” from the Museum of Modern Art.

“You aren’t going to do it, are you?”

“I am. This will be the last.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow night. For some reason this is important to him, more than he’s letting on. I think I can get him to deal with me directly, maybe even collect it from me personally. I’ll arrange a meeting with him after I have it.” She hesitated before continuing. “I plan to kill him at the drop point.”

Danielle looked away.

Alex placed the floor boards back into position. “If I fail, if he kills me, I want you to get these documents to the police. It might save my mother and brother.” Alex removed the silver bracelet from her wrist, pointing out the small key that opened the safe. She put the bracelet on Danielle wrist and tightened the clasp.

Alex made eye contact and held it to be sure Danielle understood. “Don’t give the evidence to the police unless I’m dead.”

Danielle nodded and held her tight. Alex put a lot of faith in her showing her this. She would not let her down. But somehow, she had to talk her out of killing Julian, there had to be another way to free her. She had to find an alternate plan.

Alex interrupted her concentration. “I have a number of details to see to before tomorrow night.” She explained.

“Can I help?”

Alex was touched by her lover’s devotion. “You already have. But this will be easier for me, if I do it alone.” Danielle looked concerned.

She tried to console her. “I don’t expect any trouble.” She tucked a loose strand of blonde hair behind Danielle’s ear. “Just knowing your safe and waiting for me, is help enough.”

“Okay then, I’ll wait.” Danielle was determined to be supportive. “When will I see you again?”

“It will be at least a couple of days. I’ll come to you as soon as I can.” Danielle looked troubled.

“I’ll get this over with as soon as possible. You won’t even have time to miss me.”

The young woman released a heavy breath. “I doubt that very much.”

Alex smiled. “There is something you can do for me.”

Danielle looked up hopefully. Alex took her hand lovingly and pulled her up onto the bed.

*****

Alex pulled into the lot and looked up at Danielle’s window. She could see her talking on the phone and smiled at her animated gestures. She was dressed in a green satin robe that Alex hadn’t seen before. Danielle hung up and dug a spoon into a pint container of ice cream. Alex watched intently as the spoon slipped past her lover’s lips.

She took a deep breath. The sight of her lover excited her. She picked up her cell phone and punched in Danielle’s number. She felt a chill as she watched the young woman lick the spoon clean and pick up the receiver.

“Hello”

“Mmm, hi.”

Danielle exhaled in relief. She had been nervously awaiting word from Alex’s all evening. “Are you all right? Did everything go okay?”

“Just fine. I’m finished with my business and I thought maybe we could get together.” She watched a beautiful smile spread across her lover’s face.

“I would like that.”

“You have a beautiful smile, by the way, and green is definitely your color.”

“How do you…”

“I have my ways.”

Danielle stepped up to the window and peered out. Alex was leaning on the car gazing up at her.

“How long have you been watching me?”

“Not nearly long enough.” Alex winked. “Can I come up?”

Danielle paused and looked thoughtful. “Hmm… I don’t know.” She looked playfully at Alex.

“Please… let me in.” Alex purred, going along with the game.

“And since when did a locked door ever stop you?”

“Ahh… That was the old Alex. I’ve found love and given up my wicked ways.”

“I hope not all your wicked ways.”

“Never.” Alex smiled. “I’m coming up.”

“Wait… tonight I call the shots.” She smiled seductively, sending a chill down Alex’s back. “Agreed?”

Alex froze momentarily then nodded. Her legs felt rubbery as she climbed last of the stairs that separated them.

When she got to the top, Danielle was standing with the door open. She pulled Alex in and pushed her against the closed door, locking her mouth to Alex’s. The kiss was slow and sensual, leaving the older woman breathless.

“I guess you really did miss me.” Alex smiled.

Danielle nuzzled her lips against the hollow of her neck. “Terribly.”

She touched her tongue against warm flesh and tasted her lover’s skin. “I’ve wanted you all day.”

“And now that you have me what do you intend to do with me?”

“You’ll know soon enough.” Danielle promised.

She could see the dark outline of Alex’s nipples through her light blouse. Her fingers worked methodically at the buttons until her lover’s breasts were fully exposed. Alex’s erect nipples betrayed her arousal. The points stood up, begging to be touched. Danielle slid the blouse over the swell of her muscled shoulders and let it fall to the floor.

Without hesitating, she dropped to her knees and slowly unzipped her pants. She could feel Alex’s heat without touching her skin and smiled. Alex wasn’t wearing underpants. Danielle kissed the dark patch of curly hair in appreciation. She watched as the muscles of Alex’s abdomen contracted, releasing the delicious scent of her lover. Danielle’s senses filled. Without hesitation the tip of her tongue darted between Alex’s outer lips, sampling the wetness that coated her sex. Alex nervously pulled Danielle to her feet.

“Now you.” She tugged at the tie of her robe and watched hungrily as it fell open. Alex slowly pulled the belt from the loops of the robe. She snapped the material and smiled wickedly.

“Once a thief, always a thief.” She teased.

Alex draped the tie across Danielle’s wrists and raised a questioning brow. Danielle’s pulse quickened. The temptation to submit to her lover was strong, but she had different plans for Alex. This would have to wait for another night.

Danielle freed her hands and shook her head. “Not this time.” She winked showing her interest in the idea. “You promised I would be in control. Have you forgotten?”

Alex’s mouth went dry.

Danielle stretched the tie in front of her, gauging her reaction. Alex’s eyes darted anxiously, reminding her of a caged lioness. She dropped the tie. Alex’s relief was apparent.

Danielle guided the strong hands to her bare hips. The moment Alex came in contact with the young woman’s flesh her body relaxed. She ran her fingers up Danielle’s slides and quickly relieved her of her robe.

“Come.” Danielle whispered. She took Alex’s hand in hers and led her into the bedroom.

Danielle immediately took control, directing her down onto the bed. She urged Alex to slide back until her lower back was leaning against the headboard. Danielle hands gently spread Alex’s legs and she kneeled between them.

“Do you trust me?” Danielle asked. Alex met her gaze and nodded. Danielle leaned in and breathed hotly against Alex’s ear.

“No more barriers between us.” .

Alex’s chest tightened. She wanted to give Danielle her very soul, the young woman deserved nothing less, but she was afraid she couldn’t. In the back of her mind there was Julian, taunting, a continual reminder of her murderous past and misplaced trust. She wasn’t sure if she was capable of letting her guard down fully.

“Surrender to me.” Danielle breathed.

She was asking her to relinquish control, to trust her completely. Alex couldn’t speak, the words were trapped deep inside.

The young woman read the reluctance in her eyes. She held Alex’s face in her hands. “You think he owns you, that you have to destroy him to be free. But you’re ruled by your heart, Alex and he doesn’t own that… I do. And tonight, I’m going to prove it. After tonight, you will always remember.” She stared possessively into the vivid blue before her.

Alex feared her heart would burst from her chest. She could not stop her body from trembling. Just as she prepared to bolt, Danielle leaned in and lightly touched her lips. Alex’s body slowly yielded to her own need. Her lips parted, allowing Danielle’s tongue entrance, while her own tongue urgently sought out the heat of Danielle’s mouth. The fevered coupling was sheer bliss.

The younger woman sat back leaving Alex breathless.

Her eyes caressed Alex as she spoke. “I plan to go very slowly.” The older woman’s heart beat rapidly as Danielle guided Alex’s legs closed.

“No matter what I do, where I touch you, I want you to hold back.” She put her lips against Alex’s ear and straddled her legs.

“Don’t climax until I tell you…” A sensual smile spread across her lips. “Do you understand?”

Alex swallowed hard and nodded. In reward, Danielle ran her finger down the length of her torso stopping at the apex of her thighs.

Danielle’s mouth followed at a slower pace, moving down her neck, shoulder, and arm until she reach the swell of Alex’s breast. Her tongue circled the erect nipple several times before her mouth fell on it hungrily. She fed on Alex’s nipple as if it were her body, and not her soul that required nourishment. The insistent pulling flooded Alex’s entire being with heat. She arched into the exquisite contact, her breathing hoarse and needy.

Once again Danielle pulled back. Alex’s pleading expression revealed how desperately she wanted her young lover to continue.

Danielle smiled and reached into the ice bucket on the night table, grasping a piece in her fingers. Alex watched it glisten in the dim light. She was transfixed. The slick cube lightly grazed her skin just below the hollow of her throat, causing Alex to tremble with excitement.

The young woman’s tongue followed behind the cool ice, burning a trail. The contrasting temperatures brought every nerve in Alex’s body to life. She moaned at the incredible sensation. Danielle took her time as promised, tracing the curves of her breasts, moving torturously slow down her torso.

Alex was keenly aware of the wetness building between her legs as Danielle neared the place she needed her most. As in worship, Danielle kissed her lover’s mound. Alex attempted to spread her legs in offering, but Danielle’s knees proved to be an immovable barrier. A frustrated cry escaped Alex’s lips.

“Easy…” Danielle soothed, her fingers caressing the moist curly hairs. Alex groaned and forced her legs to relax.

“We have all… night… long.” Danielle whispered slowly. Alex inhaled sharply, not nearly as confident in her restraint as her young lover.

Danielle sat back on her heels and picked up another piece of ice. Alex watched mesmerized as the ice succumbed to her young lover’s heated skin, droplets streamed down Danielle’s fingers, dripping onto her stomach.

Alex felt a wave of dizziness as she realized, that like the ice, she too was melting under her lover’s touch. Danielle slowly reached for the something on the night table. When her hand came back into view, she held a long thin needle. She searched her lover’s eyes for her reaction, ready to abandon her plan at the slightest hesitation. Alex swallowed hard and nodded.

Danielle slowly circled her lover’s erect nipple with the ice. Alex’s shoulders snapped back, causing her breasts to jut forward, her nipples stood up provocatively . Danielle smiled and lovingly circled the hard point several times in succession. Alex shivered more from anticipation than cold. The knowledge of what her lover intended to do stimulated her beyond reason.

“Hold on to the headboard.” Alex obeyed immediately, her arms stretched out low to either side.

Danielle, set the ice aside and cradled her lovers right breast in her hand. Slowly she tightened her grip. “Be very still.”

With loving care and delicate precision, she passed the sharp needle through the numbed nipple. Alex was conscious only of her lover’s warm hand and a dull pressure. The sight of the needle penetrating the her erect flesh caused her head to swim with excitement.

Danielle reached for the small gold loop on the night table. She removed the tiny bead, opening the ring. With loving care, she threaded it through her lover’s nipple. She used a soft cloth to wipe away two of the three small drops of blood from Alex’s breast. The last she collected on the end of her finger. Alex quivered with desire as she watched her lover slowly lick the droplet with the tip of her tongue.

Danielle re-attached the bead to the ring, pausing to admire her work. Her eyes sparkled with approval.

“So perfect.” Danielle smiled.

She lifted Alex’s breast, causing the ring to shift slightly. Alex bit back a moan. “Yes… when it moves… when it tugs… when you feel your clothes rub against it, you’ll think of me.” She squeezed gently. “You’re mine.”

“Yes…” Alex hissed as her mouth closed hungrily on Danielle’s. Her hands slid through Danielle’s hair and pulled her in. The need in her kiss revealed her desperate hunger. Danielle gently pushed her back. Alex groaned.

“On your knees.”

Alex’s mind reeled as it processed the request. With little hesitation she complied, her body thrumming with anticipation as she turned and faced the wall.

“Place your hands on the headboard.”

Alex reached forward with trembling fingers, grateful for something solid to hold on to. She tightly gripped the low brass headboard. The metal felt cool against her fevered skin.

“That’s right… back up… just a little more… stretch your arms out… yes…that’s it.

The change in position caused the flow of blood to quickly circulate to her breasts, bringing a rush of warmth to the tender flesh. The cool numbing effect of the ice slowly faded and her nipple to began to throb with sensation, echoing the pulsing between her legs.

She kneeled, her arms outstretched, her nipples less than an inch from the bed. Each time she exhaled the small nipple ring brushed lightly against the sheets, sending a riot of sensation through her. She fought the urge to roll over and take control. With complete disregard for modesty, she rolled her hips in a silent plea to end her longing.

Danielle moved behind and slight to the left. She slowly ran her hand down Alex’s straining torso, and over her firm bottom, stopping just short of her sex. Alex spread her legs and moaned as her sensitive nipple rubbed against the sheet. Danielle wrapped her right arm around Alex’s waist holding her in place and playfully squeezed the neglected left nipple with her other hand.

Gradually Danielle released her and let the fingers seek out the source of Alex’s heat. They slid teasingly across her opening, slowly circling her entrance. Alex cried out. She was wet, open and empty… raw with need. The urge to rock her hips back was overwhelming, but the headboard anchored her in place. It was impossible to push back on her lover’s questing fingers without letting go.

As if in answer to her silent prayer, Danielle pressed two fingers a scant few millimeters past her entrance and paused, watching Alex twitch with anticipation. She smiled and pushed in a little farther, then paused again. Alex shuddered. Her young lover had been paying attention. Danielle pushed just a bit deeper, wriggling her fingers.

“I want every inch of you.” Danielle whispered hotly.

Alex groaned and threw her head back, teeth clenched. She managed to keep from crying out by expelling her breath in a deep hiss. The sharp exhale caused the nipple ring to graze the sheets, harder this time. She gasped as her aroused nipple tightened around the small ring. It sent a rush of heat to her very core.

Danielle’s fingers continued their slow progression inside her, until at last she was completely filled. Alex moaned, her pleasure was so acute.

It was a wonderful sound, the purest reflection of the ecstasy she felt. Danielle’s left hand pressed against Alex’s lower abdomen, where she felt her own fingers moving inside her lover.

Slowly she brought them to a stop. Alex’s eyes clouded in a erotic haze, her lips forming one word, ‘please’.

Although Danielle had neither seen nor heard her plea, she was keenly aware of her lover’s need and placed two fingers on Alex’s swollen clit, gliding through her wetness. At the same time she began slowly pumping inside, taking nearly a full breath to push in completely then retreat. She massaged Alex’s clit with a slow back and forth motion in perfect rhythm with her thrusts.

“Ohhh, god Danielle I…I can’t…” Alex was on the brink of release.

“Just a little longer… for me.” Alex took long shuddering breath.

“That’s it …. yes… hold back.” Danielle’s voice was like a tender caress and Alex strained to obey. She tried inching forward to escape the relentless fingers teasing her clit, but Danielle leaned in, never ceasing her gentle stroking. Alex’s breaths came in rapid pants. She was going to come.

Danielle sensed it and lifted her fingers from her throbbing clit, yet never ceased her rhythmic thrusts. They continued, relentlessly, penetrating Alex’s very depths.

Danielle leaned toward her lover’s ear. Her breasts rubbing sensually against Alex’s back. “You can sustain this arousal for a long time.” She teased. Alex’s hands nearly left the headboard as her own words returned to haunt her.

She tried to ignore the friction of her lover’s fingers plunging inside her slow and steady. It was impossible. Her clit continued to pulse, as if reliving Danielle’s gentle caress.

When again, Alex thought she could no longer hold back, Danielle changed her tactics, confusing her senses. Her fingers played with her left nipple, firmly pinching it again… and again… and again. Alex’s moaned as she realized the this action too, was meant to match her lover’s thrusts.

She tried to concentrated on the short bursts of pain assaulting her nipple and the wonderful tingling sensation that radiated through her breast, but the movement of Danielle’s fingers deep inside her refused to be ignored. The tips of her lover’s fingers curled slightly, creating an exquisite new pressure.

Alex groaned as Danielle’s hand moved from her breast. Now her lover’s mouth pressed against her neck adding a new torment. She began drawing hard against the tender skin there. Alex’s arms shook and her shoulders strained as Danielle pressed her weight into her lover’s back, leaning into her. Alex’s body was awash with sensation. She couldn’t escape it. Nothing could distract her from the release building inside her.

At that moment Danielle knew Alex was hers. She eased her weight back and ground her pelvis against Alex’s bottom nudging her forward. This small concession freed Alex’s hips to move back and forth, swallowing her lover’s fingers. She groaned in gratitude.

The fingers of Danielle’s left hand once again found Alex’s clit and resumed their relentless stroking. Alex’s entire body stiffened in a final attempt to hold back.

“Come for me.” Danielle purred.

Alex nearly sobbed in relief. She groaned and pushed her hips back, forcing Danielle’s fingers deep inside. Danielle met her thrust for thrust as her fingers massaged her swollen clit. With every movement Alex felt Danielle’s energy pass into her, accumulating in her core, until the pleasure overwhelmed her and she had to let go.

“Now.” Danielle urged. “Let go!”

Alex’s hips froze in ecstasy as she came in a series of jarring explosions. She shook helplessly as spasms racked her body and braced against her young lover as currents of pleasure coursed through her. Danielle never stopped. She drew out the climax with gentle caresses until Alex cried out, giving in to her lover completely. As the spasms subsided, Alex collapsed, weakened by the force of her climax.

Every few minutes her body would tremble, remembering release.

It was redemption. The power of Danielle’s love, her utter devotion, mended her soul. Alex held her tightly as her breathing returned to normal. Her cheeks were wet with tears.

“You… only you…” Alex promised. Encircled in the glow of Danielle’s love she drifted, exhausted into slumber.

Danielle remained awake, formulating a desperate plan. No one would separate them ever again.

*******

Part VII

*******

Alex ate a huge breakfast. Food had never tasted so good to her. Danielle poured her a cup of coffee and flashed a beautiful smile. The older woman playfully ruffled her hair.

Alex felt wonderful. For the first time in her life she wasn’t alone. Danielle was an integral part of her life. She felt such joy just being with her. Her life had been transformed.

Danielle took a seat across from her at the kitchen table. Her green eyes were suddenly serious.

“What is it?” Alex asked.

Danielle didn’t want a confrontation, but knew this had to be settled before they could go on. She hesitated and reached out covering Alex’s hand with her own.

“I want to go with you when you meet with Julian.”

Danielle could not comprehend the evil he embodied. Alex would give her life to protect her from it, but she feared her life would not be enough. “No.”

Danielle pulled her hand back. “No? That’s it? No discussion?”

“It’s not safe.”

“Alex we’ve been over this. I stayed home while you did the robbery, but I can’t let you do this alone.”

“Julian may not know about you yet.” Her eyes pleaded for Danielle to relent. “It’s safer for you here.”

“You think he doesn’t know about me already?,” Danielle asked sarcastically.

Alex feared she was right. “He would enjoy bringing you pain… There is nothing I wouldn’t do to prevent him from hurting you, but I… I don’t know if I can protect you… He’ll sense what you mean to me and use you to manipulate me. You don’t understand what he’s capable of.”

“Alex, how can I make you see that our love is not your weakness but your strength?”

Alex reached out and took Danielle’s hand. She could barely keep her voice steady. “Your love means everything to me. I… I couldn’t go on if anything happened to you.”

Danielle spoke with conviction as she looked deep into her lover’s eyes. “Then you shouldn’t have any trouble understanding how I feel.”

“You’re not going to let this go, are you?” Alex said, shaking her head in frustration.

“No.” Danielle said firmly. “But if you bend this time, I’ll bend the next.” She raised a playful eyebrow.

Alex didn’t respond, memories of the extreme cruelty Julian was capable of flooded her thoughts.

“Alex, trust me. Believe in us. Together we can beat him. I have a plan.”

Danielle had a look of fierce determination. Alex had lost this battle and she knew it. She sighed deeply and pressed Danielle’s fingers to her lips. “All right, we’ll do this your way.”

Danielle was around the table in a flash, hugging her tightly. Alex could not share her lover’s happiness. For the first time in her life, she said a silent prayer.

*****

Danielle had just picked up the breakfast dishes when the doorbell rang. She was startled to see a police officer standing at her door and opened it hesitantly.

“Danielle Stafford?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve been sent to drive you to the station. Detective Bowin would like to speak with you.” Danielle tried to stall. Alex wasn’t home. She was out meeting Sal. Danielle wanted time to speak with her before she talked to the police.

“I’m expecting company. Can I come later?”

“I’m afraid not ma’am.”

Danielle grabbed her coat and closed the door, unable to shake the sense of dread creeping over her.

*****

Sal paced anxiously at their appointed meeting place waiting for Alex to arrive. He was relieved to see her drive up on time.

“Alex, thanks for coming.”

She could tell by his nervous behavior that something had thrown him. “What is it? What’s gone wrong?”

“I ran into some bad luck. The jeweler who purchased your merchandise gave my name to the police in return for a plea bargain. They’ve come down hard. Had five men searching the shop. Of course they didn’t find anything. They’re so inept.”

“So they don’t have anything? Are you sure?”

“Positive, they don’t have anything they can prove. But Alex, you should watch your step. They put a lot of pressure on trying to get me to roll over on you. Obviously, it’s not me they want. It’s you they’re after.”

Alex shrugged. “They’ll have to get in line.”

“You should take this seriously. There’s nothing to worry about as far as I’m concerned. They’ll never get me to set you up. I hope you know that.”

Alex nodded. She believed him.

“I wanted to warn you. I don’t know what your connection is to this Stafford woman. It’s none of my business, but now they think she’s in on it.” He notice a crack in her cool exterior.

“They’re likely to bring her in for questioning to find out what she knows.”

Alex tried to ignore the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. “Thanks for the warning. Is there anything I can do to help you? I have some contacts that might be of service.”

“Don’t worry about me Alex. Money has a way of wiping away most problems. And you know me, I have more money than God and the best lawyers money can buy.” That got a small smile. “Cover your own tracks. This Bowin guy is serious. He’s looking to make a reputation at your expense.”

She nodded in acknowledgment. “Look, I’ve got to go.” She gripped Sal’s hand in friendship. “Thanks. I won’t forget, that’s two I owe you now.”

Sal shook his head. “I’ll bet you’re wishing now you had placed a bomb in that package we delivered to the blonde.”

He saw her pained expression as she got in the car and drove off.

*****

She had to wait nearly twenty minutes before the policeman ushered her into Bowin’s office. Detective Marsh was there also.

“Have a seat, Ms. Stafford.”

“What can I do for you detective?” She tried to keep the edge from her voice.

“It seems you haven’t been completely honest with us.”

Danielle felt a rush of heat steal up the back of her neck. “I… I don’t know what you mean.”

“In following up on our investigation, we discovered that none of your uncle’s neighbors called in the robbery. The only ones that could have seen the house deny making the call.”

“Who then?” Danielle questioned.

“We think the thief made the call.”

Danielle was surprised by this information. “I don’t understand. Why would the thief call the police?”

Perhaps she didn’t want ‘her’ partner to remain tied for an extended period.”

Danielle’s blood ran cold when he said ‘she’. Did he know about Alex? She recovered and addressed the accusation. “Partner? You think I’m in on this?”

“Yes.”

“That’s ridiculous, why would I steal from my uncle?”

“Two and half million is a lot of incentive.”

“You’re wrong.”

Detective Bowin was about to attempt a carefully orchestrated bluff. He had no real proof, only a hunch based on years of experience. Bluffing her into a confession was his only chance.

“It’s over Ms. Stafford. We made a deal with her fence. He gave up the woman for his freedom.”

Danielle’s mind raced. Alex told her only a few hours ago that Sal called saying he had to meet with her about something important. Was it a trap? Her heart quickened.

Noting her reaction, he forged ahead, following through with his hunch. “I’ve had you followed the last few days.”

“We know about your friend. We can link her directly to the crime and several murders.” He watched Danielle and knew by the look on her face that she had bought it: hook, line and sinker.

Danielle looked as if she might faint. He decided to take things one step farther. “It’s a done deal. She made a big mistake stealing the painting. Now we have her prints, too.”

Danielle closed her eyes and tried to concentrate. It was useless. Her confession seemed to spill from her. “She didn’t have a choice. It was blackmail.”

Bowin smiled and glanced at Marisa. “And who was blackmailing her?”

Danielle paused for a heartbeat. “Julian Sezaree”

Marisa’s mouth fell open and she looked in disbelief at Bowin.

Bowin cleared his throat. “Maybe we could arrange a deal for your friend. If we had enough evidence to convict Sezaree, I’m sure we could get her a reduced sentence in return.”

Danielle’s voice was strained, the volume barely above a whisper. “He’ll have her killed.”

“If she can provide enough evidence against him I might be able to convince the DA to put her under protection.”

Danielle was quiet.

“It seems as if you’ve run out of choices. I can have my men haul her in now, then release her. Make Julian think she already gave him up. How long do you think she would last?”

Danielle couldn’t keep her hands from shaking.

Marisa stood beside Danielle and placed her hand on her shoulder. “At least with your help, she has a chance.” Danielle remain quiet.

Bowin motioned to Marisa. “Have a car pick her up.”

Danielle spoke quickly. “No, wait! I can get you the proof you need… if you agree to protect her.”

“I think that can be arranged.” He smiled and glanced at his partner. It had worked perfectly. Soon they would have the thief and Sezaree.

*****

After the terrible meeting with Bowin, Danielle went directly to the center. She spent several hours there, then drove out to Alex’s cabin.

Danielle didn’t waste any time. She went straight to the bedroom and lifted the floor boards. Using the key Alex had entrusted to her, she opened the safe and removed the tapes and documents. It felt like a betrayal, regardless of the circumstances. She closed the safe, putting the floor boards back in place and left the cabin. With a heavy heart, she drove to the police station.

By the time she arrived home, Alex was there waiting. Danielle fell into her arms. The stress of the day had taken it’s toll.

“Danielle, What’s wrong? Are you all right?”

Danielle pulled back. “I’m fine. I was worried about you. I’m so glad to see you.”

Alex stroked her cheek. “Nothing to be worried about.” She smiled softly.

“Did everything go okay with Sal.?”

“It’s just as I figured. The police brought him in for questioning. He wanted to warn me.”

She tried to comfort her lover. “They don’t have anything on me. Sal didn’t tell them anything. But we need to be careful. After the meeting with Julian we need to get out of town as soon as possible.”

“Are… are you sure he didn’t say anything to the police?” Danielle couldn’t help but be nervous. So much was riding on this.

Alex hesitated. In truth she trusted no one with the exception of Danielle. “I’m sure. I’ve known him a long time. I think he told me the truth.”

Alex saw Danielle’s distress and took her in her arms.

“What is it?” Alex pulled back, looking into her lover’s eyes. “I understand if you want out. I’m asking so much of you; it’s not fair.” She cupped Danielle’s face lovingly in her hands. “It’s okay. I want what’s best for you.”

“No, I intend to stand by you, no matter what.” Her voice was firm, leaving little doubt as to her conviction. “It’s just… I’m afraid for you. I… I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you.” Alex expelled a relieved breath lightly kissed her lover.

Without warning tears came to Alex’s eyes “I need you Danielle.” Alex’s heart-felt admission removed the final barrier between them. Danielle was too moved to speak. They stood for a long time in one anothers embrace.

*****

Bowin was like the cat who ate the cannery. With the Stafford woman’s evidence in hand he only had to wait for her to call with the appointed meeting time and place to arrest Lord and Sezaree.

He turned to his partner. “The waiting is the worst part of this job. I’m working on my fourth ulcer.”

“Well, this one should be well worth it. In a couple of hours you’ll have made the coup of the century. You’re really leading a charmed life.”

He laughed. “I couldn’t agree with you more.”

They both jumped when the phone rang. Marisa smiled nervously as Bowin answered. After a brief exchange he hung up. “That was Stafford. It’s a go. Let’s roll.”

*****

They had gone over the plan several times.

Still, Alex’s fingers trembled as she checked the bullets in her gun for the third time. She worried that she wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Her detached reserve was gone. The thought that Danielle could be hurt terrified her. She had never been so nervous. For the first time, her own life was worthwhile. She had something to live for, someone, to live for.

Danielle looked at Alex anxiously.

“Is there anything else you need to tell me?” Alex questioned.

“No, I’m just a little nervous that’s all.” Danielle felt guilty she couldn’t share her misgivings.

“It’s not to late to change your mind. Are you sure you want to go through with this?” Alex looked deep into Danielle’s eyes for a sense that she might be faltering in her decision.

Danielle took a deep breath and tried not to disclose any of the reluctance she felt. With all the confidence she could muster she replied. “Let’s do it.”

They climbed on the motorcycle and sped off. As she pressed her face into the softness of Alex’s hair, she prayed she was doing the right thing for Alex.

*****

They arrived at the rendezvous point on schedule. Julian was waiting, a bodyguard on either side of him.

“Alex, It’s been a long time.”

“Not nearly long enough.”

“That’s no way to treat and old friend.”

“We were never friends.”

“Don’t push me Alex. I’m still holding all the cards. I think that love has made you blind as well as stupid. You shouldn’t have fallen for her. She is just one more card I can use against you.” He winked at Danielle. “Mmm… and so attractive too. I could have some real fun with this one.”

He reached out to caress Danielle’s cheek and Alex pull her gun on him. Leveling it at his forehead. His body-guards drew their guns as well.

“Come now Alex, you know you can’t win. If you shoot me, they’ll kill your little girlfriend before you can prevent it.”

“I’ll take that risk.” Her voice was shaking. “It ends here. I’m out, if I have to kill you to do it.”

Suddenly, light flooded the area. The police had them surrounded. A booming voice blared through a megaphone: “Drop your weapons and put your hands up!”

Julian scowled and nodded to his men. They discarded their guns. Alex dropped hers with great reluctance. An officer quickly collected the fallen weapons.

Detective Bowin stepped forward. This was the best day of his life. “Ms. Stafford you can go. The evidence you gave us is all we need.”

Alex looked like she had been slapped. Her expression was one of utter disbelief.

Julian turned to the detective and pointed at Alex. “I have enough information on her for the DA to get the death penalty.”

Bowin smiled. “Looks like she won’t be alone, we’ve got enough evidence on you to make his mouth water.” Alex shook her head and looked painfully at Danielle.

Julian glared at Alex. “You and that little bitch. I’ll see that you rot in hell.” He looked at her with disgust. “You’re pathetic Alex. Have you ever slept with anyone who didn’t betray you in the end?”

Alex trembled and fought to repress a surge of emotion. In a flash she pulled a second gun from beneath her jacket and pointed it at Danielle, her eyes brimming with tears. As Danielle looked into Alex’s eyes she could only guess what betrayal by her could mean to Alex.

“I… I trusted you.” Alex choked in an unsteady voice. Slowly she raised the gun to Danielle’s chest. Her hand was shaking violently as her finger reached for the trigger.

“Alex… please… I…”

It was as if time had slowed. No one made a sound. Suddenly, the silence was broken by the piercing echo of a gun shot. Alex stumbled back and dropped to the ground. The gun falling to her side. A rookie cop had panicked, shooting her square in the chest. A dark red stain spread across the front of Alex’s shirt.

“NOOOOOOO!” Danielle screamed. She stumbled awkwardly toward Alex’s still body. Before she could reach her, Julian grabbed Alex’s gun and fired. The police tackled him, but it was too late. Danielle fell motionless to the ground only a few feet from Alex.

The rookie cop bent over the bodies, feeling for a pulse. “Their both alive, barely.”

The police were reading Julian and his bodyguards their rights when the ambulance arrived.

The emergency team quickly placed the two women on stretchers and loaded them into the back. Within minutes the ambulance pulled out.

*****

There was an ominous quiet inside the ambulance. The shrill scream of the siren was all that could be heard. The dark-haired EMT bent over Danielle’s still body. The blonde was still, deathly pale. The EMT slowly removed the IV from Danielle’s arm and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“Okay ladies, lets get rolling.”

Alex and Danielle opened their eyes and sat up. Alex’s tension eased at the sight of her smiling lover, but she anxiously checked her over.

Danielle kissed her lightly and gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “Damn you were right. Those blanks hurt like hell!”

“Are you all right?,” Alex asked, concern evident in her voice, her hands trembling.

Danielle could not contain the grin that lit up her face. “I’ll live.”

Alex smiled back. “Yeah, looks like we both will.” She took Danielle in her arms, hugging her tightly.

Nikki pulled back a tarp in the corner to reveal four corpses. “Hey you two. I need some help with our doubles here.”

Alex jumped into action. “Lets get them in place. We don’t have much time.” The three women worked quickly while Kate drove. Two of the corpses where dressed in EMT uniforms the other two were wearing the same outfits as Alex and Danielle. Nikki put the oxygen mask’s on and inserted IV’s into the two dead women in an attempt to make the illusion complete. The third body dressed in an EMT uniform was placed on the seat in the corner.

Danielle felt a little squeamish about using the four dead women that Ann had provided from the morgue for their scheme. She couldn’t help feeling sorry for them.

“They don’t look much like us.” Danielle pointed out, a little concerned.

“Their close enough in body type. Hopefully there won’t be much left to identify when the ambulance blows.” Alex tried her best to be reassuring. “If our performance was convincing, they won’t even check.”

Kate called from the driver’s seat. “Get ready to make the switch. We’re here.” She pulled the ambulance over to the side of the road about 200 yards from a cliff. Alex quickly placed the last corpse in the seat Kate had vacated.

A van waited nearby. Ann from the morgue was driving. Spike, the stunt woman, jumped out of the passenger seat. Alex clutched her arm. “Be careful.”

“No sweat”

Spike moved into the driver’s seat beside the fourth corpse, while the other women looked on anxiously. She put the timed charge on the oxygen tank and gunned the engine. Just as the ambulance was about to careen over the cliff she dove out of the driver’s window. Alex breathed a sigh of relief and gave her a hand up. The five women quickly loaded into the van. Ann pulled out onto the road at a casual speed.

*****

Bowin’s car was only minutes behind them. The explosion was deafening. He pulled over and watched sadly as flames engulfed the ambulance. He shook his head. It was inconceivable that there could be any survivors. He had liked the Stafford woman. It seemed a shame that she had to get mixed up in all this.

“Bitches got what they deserved.” Julian smirked from behind the barrier in the back of the squad car.

Detective Bowin looked at him with disgust. “I hope that thought is a comfort to you while you’re rotting in jail.”

*****

There was a tense silence in the van.

Alex turned to Danielle and enveloped her in her arms. “It was a brilliant plan.” Danielle’s smiled happily and the other women cheered.

Danielle pulled back and looked into Alex’s eyes. “I told you we made a great team.”

Alex’s heart swelled with emotion. “Yes, we do.”

Danielle stripped off her shirt stained with fake blood. Alex winced at the large bruise that was already coloring the young woman’s chest. She looked at her with concern.

Danielle smiled softly stroking Alex’s arm. “I’m fine, really.” She assured her.

“No thanks to me.”

Danielle took her hand. “What happened? Why didn’t you shoot me like we’d planned?”

“I… I froze. I just couldn’t do it.” Alex ran her fingers nervously through her hair. “Rachel saved the whole plan by shooting me anyway.” Alex looked down, feeling like she had failed Danielle.

Danielle pressed into the warmth of Alex’s hand reassuringly. “I understand, believe me. My heart nearly stopped when I watched you fall. It looked so real.” A shiver ran down Danielle’s spine. She shrugged it off. “The fates were smiling on us. It’s seems fitting that Julian unwittingly helped with our plan.”

“He’s always been ruled by his anger. With nothing left to lose, it was his last shot at revenge… He wanted us both dead.”

“I hope Rachel doesn’t get suspended from the force.”

“She’ll be fine. No tears will be shed over my death, believe me. They have the evidence against Julian. That’s all the politicians really want.”

“You had Bowin figured out. I might have fallen for the police ruse if you hadn’t warned me.”

Alex stroked her cheek. “Nah, you would have done just fine.”

Danielle was cheered by Alex’s confidence in her. “It was all I could do to keep a straight face when he told me you had left fingerprints. It was a good acting job. I think you would have been proud of my performance.”

Alex smiled wickedly. “I have no doubt. I’m always pleased with your performance.”

Danielle blushed. The sight warmed Alex’s heart. The magnitude of what she had nearly lost flooded over her. She felt weary. It had been difficult, leaving so many things to chance. They had been very lucky.

“Hey, you okay?” Danielle asked.

Alex shrugged and smiled. “I’m fine, in fact lately, I’ve sustained worse injuries in bed.” She winked at Danielle who blushed for a second time.

Spike grinned at the exchange.

Alex turned to Spike. “Great job with the special effects.”

“No problem. It was a snap. It’s easier to fool the police than the tv audience.”

Alex smiled and changed out of her shirt, tossing the broken pack of fake blood on the floor.

When they pulled up in front of the airport, Alex got quiet. Danielle sensed her struggle and gripped her hand. Alex took a deep breath. “I don’t know what to say… how to thank all of you… You’ve given me a second chance.”

“Since you’re already spoken for, a hug will have to do.” Spike embraced the unsuspecting woman.

“I don’t expect that I need to tell you to take care of her,” Spike warned. Alex smiled. “No, I’ve got it covered.”

Ann extended her hand shyly to Alex, who grasped it gently.

“Thanks for your help Ann.”

Danielle kissed Ann on the cheek causing her to blush furiously. “Please thank Rachel for us.”

“Take care of yourselves, huh and try to stay out of trouble.” Spike hugged Danielle tightly.

Ann pulled up to the entrance. Kate and Nikki planed to leave the country with Alex and Danielle. They were now dead in the eyes of the law. In the spirit of adventure they both craved, they willingly gave up their old lives and identities to help their friends.

Alex grabbed her pack and handed them each fake id’s. Danielle flipped hers open. When she saw the first name, she smiled. It was Gabrielle. She couldn’t help but be pleased. “Alex… it’s perfect. I think somehow we’ve come full circle.”

Alex smiled back. “It seemed appropriate.”

Spike and Ann sat in the van. Ann wiped away a tear, while Spike fought to hold hers back. They watched their four friends disappear through the glass doors of the airport and into their new lives.

Spike turned to her quiet companion. “Damn, but you did a good job matching up those corpses. When I sat down beside the one in the driver seat I thought it was Kate.” She laughed and patted the stoic woman’s shoulder.

“I’ve seen so many Jane Doe’s pass through the morgue in the last five years. It’s nice to know that these four will at least be given an identity and a proper funeral.” The slightest hint of a smile graced her face.

“That’s the spirit. It’s sounds like you might have enjoyed this adventure a little bit.” Ann gave Spike a genuine smile. It was the first one Spike had ever seen from her… and she liked it.

“Yeah, I guess I did.”

Spike put an arm around her shoulders. “How ‘bout you and me catching some dinner on the way home?” They drove off, feeling satisfied. It was rare they got to witness a real happy ending.

*******

Epilogue

Danielle stood on the balcony of their new home, looking out wistfully at the Aegean. It was a spectacular view. Alex watched thoughtfully. Slowly she approached and placed a hand on her lover’s shoulder.

“Do you regret giving up your family and your roots to come with me?”

“Not for a moment.” Danielle turned to face Alex. “You are my family. My home is wherever you are.”

“Danielle, thanks for seeing this through with me. I’ve never known such happiness.”

“If anyone deserves to be happy, it’s you.”

Alex was quiet, thoughtful. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, pointing that gun at you.”

Danielle looked at her lovingly. She placed her hand gently over the bruise on her chest. “It’s still bothering me some.” Alex’s brows wrinkled in concerned.

A twinkle lit Danielle’s eyes. “Yeah, I think you had better take a look. I’m sure that magical touch of yours can make it better.”

Alex smiled and gave her partner a flirtive glance. “I’ll see what I can do.”

She carefully unbuttoned her lover’s blouse and was relieved to see that the nasty bruise had faded quite a bit. Her eyes immediately fell to her lover’s erect nipples. Without hesitation she caressed one with her lips.

Danielle took a deep breath. “Ah… I think you are a little off the bruise.”

“Mmm, can’t be too careful.”

Danielle smiled and closed her eyes. “I think you’re right… I can feel it spreading… lower.”

Never one to take chances, Alex followed her lover’s direction. She dropped to her knees, intent on giving every inch of her skin loving attention. Danielle’s moans confirmed that Alex’s touch did work magic. Everything around them disappeared.

The end

Started 1-98/ Finished 5-98

Copyright May 1998 by Friction

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