Ghost From The Past by Watcher

Ghost From The Past
by Watcher
part 2 in Intimate Strangers series

 

 

 

 

“Alright, lets go!” Casey slammed the door of the helicopter, sliding into the leather seat, placing the head set over her ears. A brief mummer answered the question asked by the pilot, confirming their destination. She tried to ignore her rapidly beating heart. A serious, intent glare silenced the unprofessional chattering of the young FBI agent sitting across from her. A slightly friendlier look crossed her face quickly while meeting the concerned gaze of her former team member.

“Same drill Casey?” The low voice of her former colleague asked. Meaning silence and study on the ride.

“Yes. “Short and to the point, knowing that was enough. The former agent had eased back into her former profession startlingly easy. Turning away from the curious stare of the young agent and his two cohorts, tortured blue eyes drifted shut as she re-lived the worst two days of her life. Of how she was sitting in a FBI
helicopter, wearing a FBI jacket, carrying FBI identification. Of why she wasn’t at home, snuggled with her partner…her life. Gripping the armrest tightly, Casey remembered.

…..Forcing the bubbling joy of finally being almost home firmly down, Casey scolded herself. “Get a grip Casey! You’d think you’d been away a month, not only four days!” Unable to keep her spirits from soaring, a wide grin spread across her beautiful face. Eight hours away from Beth was bad enough. Four days? Pure torture. Not even the out of state driver who cut her off earned her wrath today. Feeling the pain of the endured separation seep away, the tall, dark haired woman turned off the busy street and headed towards her, no, their home. Humming softly, Casey absently checked her appearance in the mirror as she waited for the stoplight to change, wanting to look good for her lover. The now natural action was familiar, comforting and
totally unconscious.

A few minutes later, Casey pulled into the drive and punched in the code that deactivated the security system. Another code turned on the lights and opened the garage door. A third series of numbers unlocked the door leading into the house. “God I’m glad to be home.” Thought giddily as she simultaneously frowned.
Beth had parked not in her normal place, but Casey’s. “Hope nothings wrong.” Starting to worry slightly, the tall, beautiful specialist (which is how she’d started thinking of herself after spending several months in her author’s presence. Beth hated Casey thinking of herself as an “ex” anything.) closed the door and reset the security system. Not bothering with her odd assortment of clothes and equipment, Casey bounded into the house, yelling. “Beth! Sweetheart, I’m home!!”

Not getting an answer, Casey figured Beth was in their newly remodeled office, lost in her own world, writing. That would be the only reason Beth hadn’t greeted her at the door, unless she’d fallen asleep. As always, Casey was prompt, arriving home exactly as planned. She didn’t want to worry Beth any more than
necessary, knowing her partner worried whenever she was involved in her work. That warmed the specialist; she had gotten used to the intense feeling of belonging that her partner’s worry caused.
It was that very worry that prompted the housing changes. After living together for a couple of months (and watching Beth struggle with trying to find her place, a place where she could write without feeling like she was intruding) the specialist surprised Beth, coming home one evening with plans for making the two back
upstairs bedrooms into one big office. One that overlooked the back yard Beth had found so entertaining on her first visit.

Not wanting to startle the author, Casey called out again right before walking into the empty office. Blue eyes slid around the controlled chaos of Beth’s half of the room and that which had spilled into her own space, particularly her favorite “thinking” chair, once again amazed that the author’s clutter didn’t bother
her. Casey was a neat freak, especially in her professional life. Then again, it was Beth’s clutter and that made all the difference in the world. Not seeing anything out of place, preoccupied she checked the machine for messages and left the room.

“Probably she’s asleep. That woman of mine can sleep through just about anything. “Chuckling softly, Casey never the less quickly walked through the rest of the upstairs, not wanting to have to come back up if Beth wasn’t in their bed.(The author could fall asleep just about anywhere.)That wonderful thought caused her to pick up the pace. Hurrying downstairs, Casey ignored the slight tightening in her gut. Stopping short, she
cursed, finding their bed empty.

“Damn! Where is she?” Casey stomped to the exercise room and the laundry (yes, Beth HAD fallen asleep in there once, waiting for something to finish drying), finally ending up at their expanded closet (another new addition since Beth had lots of clothes), frowning when Beth’s favorite work out clothes were hanging neatly along side of her own. The author never went anywhere without those clothes. That, the empty house and the parked 4Runner screamed at her. “Oh shit! When are you gonna learn to listen to your instincts?” Casey screamed at herself, taking the stairs two at a time, running for the garage and the now obvious sign.

Hitting the door open, Casey paused long enough to grab a pair of latex gloves and flashlight from her own car. Slipping the gloves on, she turned on all of the lights in the garage. Walking carefully around the vehicle, the specialist tried to distance herself from her raging fear, reaching unsuccessfully for her professional mask. Cursing her own weakness at her failure, Casey blinked back tears of frustration and fear. “Think stupid!!” She berated herself, closing her eyes, trying to regain a level of control. “She needs you. Now is NOT the time for this!” That idea immediately calmed her, there was nothing on this earth that Casey would not do for her author, no matter what the personal cost. Breathing deeply, shaking hands mentally grasped her professional mask and slipped it on.

“Nothing.” Casey finally spoke again after circling the 4Runner several times, studying it for hidden traps and anything out of the ordinary. Concentrating on the interior of the vehicle, she shined the light in, experienced eyes raking over the visible surfaces, intently searching for any clue. Shaded blue eyes
halted on Beth’s laptop (the author had used it two days ago at Eduardo’s. She’d been helping their oldest search for college information after dinner. This information had been imparted to the specialist prior to Beth’s leaving the house.).

The computer never made it in the house. Beth never left her computer in the garage. “Now I have a time frame. She’s been in trouble for the better part of two days. She must have made it at least until the driveway before getting into trouble, but she never made it into the house.” Damn, oh damn! Her mind screamed, control slipping momentarily. Breathing deeply, she ruthlessly thrust herself forward, not dwelling on her raging emotions. Seeing nothing else out of the ordinary in the exceptionally neat vehicle, Casey couldn’t hold back a slight chuckle. Beth’s office looked like a controlled tornado whipped through it, while her car was spotless.

A shaking hand reached for the door handle, but was quickly pulled back, then extended again, this time rock steady. Cautiously Casey opened the door, breathing deeply, determined to remain in control. Leaning forward, head just barely in the opening, Casey surveyed the interior again before kneeling. Trying to keep any part of her body from touching the vehicle (to prevent additional contamination), she shined the light under the driver’s seat, abruptly sucking in her breath. A small, hand held tape recorder sat under the seat. Carefully she studied the recorder. Finding no sign of a trap, Casey removed the object and rose to her feet. No obvious identifying marks were on the case or what part of the tape she could see. Leaning against her own car, the specialist spoke quietly to herself. “You know what this is gonna say, so don’t react! The faster you do this, the longer you retain control, the sooner you find Beth. That is ALL that matters now.” Breathing deeply, her index finger pushed the play button, eyes closed.

“Well, well, well.” A thin, reedy voice came across the tape. “The agent returns.” Ragged breathing accompanied the voice. “How does it feel? I have your life in MY hands now,” an evil chuckle chilled Casey. She had to agree with the nameless voice, her life meant nothing without Beth. “We’re gonna play a little game. Find out how long you can last. And how long,” here the chuckle changed to a snarl. “How long your friend can last.” Casey started shaking, unable to control her reaction. “Call your lover, if you’re ready to play.” The voice stopped and a high pitched scream cut through Casey’s heart, knocking her to her knees. That sound couldn’t have come out of her Beth.

“God…oh GOD!” Trembling Casey rose to her feet, stumbling for her own cell phone. Quaking fingers punched in the first number programmed into her own phone. Feeling her mind detach itself from her emotions, she noted the time, counting the first ring. Six rings until it was answered.

“Its about time. I was starting to think you didn’t care about Ms. Jamieson.” The voice sounded just as reedy unrecorded. “Just listen and don’t say anything. As you destroyed my life and my love, so shall I, unless you do exactly as I say. You have twenty-four hours to figure out who I am. I’m sure if you’ll put your impressive mind to the task, it will be easy. Well,” the voice laughed. “It did take you several months to catch MY love. Maybe it won’t be so easy after all. Any questions? You
get exactly one.”

“Can I talk to Beth?” Casey breathed laboriously, struggling to keep her wits and temper under control. Beth didn’t need her flying half cocked off the wall. It was all she could do to stand there, listening intently for any identifying sounds in the background.

“How predictable. You have twenty seconds, that’s all.” Casey flinched as the sound of a fierce slap reached her ears. Then another as the voice told Beth to watch what she said.

“Casey?” The tears in Beth’s voice released Casey’s.

“Beth! Sweetheart, are you ok? I love you.” Casey was on her knees again, without realizing it, heart pounding erratically at the barely restrained fear that Beth’s single word invoked.

“Love you too. Be careful! Don’t let her hurt you.” Beth’s voice quivered with emotion.

“Beth!” Casey yelled, hearing the phone being pulled away from the now sobbing Beth and another slap was delivered. “If you hurt her any more, you’ll only WISH you were dead by the time I get through with you.” Casey growled lowly, voice extremely dangerous, fist clenching in anger.

“Remember, hot shot! Twenty-four hours. Call me tomorrow at this time.”

The entire conversation took under two minutes. Blue eyes stared unbelievably at the now silent phone. “This can’t be happening!” Casey screamed her torment, venting the building pressure inside. “Think Casey. Think!” She paced through the garage, heading for her office. “What do you know?” Her mind raced through the conversation. Beth had confirmed her suspicions that her captor was a woman. Someone with a personal grudge against the ex-agent.

Punching her office’s number, Casey sat at her desk, staring at her still silent cell phone. Her only connection with her lover. “Not for long!” She promised herself, knowing without her Beth’s calming influence, she’d revert to her old ways. And be terribly unhappy. “I’ll be damned it that happens,” she spat emotionally.
“Susan. Listen up and don’t interrupt. Get the tech crew together and get them over to my house with all their equipment. Beth’s been kidnapped. Start Phil’s new assistant searching all outgoing phone calls and computer inquires, concentrating on our private line and her computer. I want to know anything out of the
ordinary! This takes top priority. Get everyone else together as soon as they cancel their current obligations.” Casey hung up abruptly, feeling her control flee. “God…Beth…Beth…”chanted softly.

A black rage washed over Casey, blinding her with its intensity. Precious minutes were wasted, fighting with herself. Turning to her favorite chair, Casey lashed out, kicking the chair across the room. Flipping to it, she struck its back, enjoying the sound of splitting wood and ripping cloth. Again and again she struck out,
losing herself in the darkness, not even feeling the painful throbbing in her fists.

Until a soft voice reached through the murky darkness, past the boiling rage, past the burning pain, right into her soul. Beth’s calm, soothing voice called from the depths of her heart, lovingly rapped around the shaking woman, slowly, forcefully pulling her back into the light. Blinking confusedly, Casey realized she was
in the middle of the room, the destroyed chair in front of her. “Stupid!” She cursed herself. “You don’t have time for this!!” Turning away from the chair, Casey started pacing, each step landing with quiet precision, mind racing.

“Alright. You know a female has Beth. You know you arrested someone she was in love with. Someone it took you months to finally apprehend.” The ex-agent’s analytical mind kicked in, absorbing the known information. The simple speech patterns and word usage. The desire to play. The implied criticisms on her
profiling abilities. The mocking tone and reedy voice. The physical violence. It wasn’t enough.

“Not enough information to go on. It could be any number of people.” That disappointing thought sent Casey to the computer. Quickly she called up her old cases profile, scanning the document for the first time in several months. Periodically she updated the file, as new information became available. Usually it was
appeals refusals or comments about the criminal’s family moving on. Most of the dangerous murders, rapists and kidnapers she’d arrested had someone in their lives. But most of them were shocked and outraged at their loved ones’ crimes. Concentrating on the ones who weren’t, Casey quickly complied a list of possibilities.

The ringing of the doorbell interrupted Casey’s thinking. Moving to the front door, Casey opened it, absently waving to Mrs. A across the street. “Damn! Engage your brain, stupid! Go see what she knows.” Casey cursed silently, stepping back to let her people enter.

“Phil, there’s a list on my computer. Get started on it. Bob, go over Beth’s 4Runner with a fine tooth comb. Bert, get started on the recording and check the feed from the external cameras. Both are in with my computer.” Casey calmly issued orders, reaching for her jacket. The ultra professional was firmly back
in control. “I’m going to run across the street and speak to Mrs. A for a minute. I’ll expect some answers when I get back.” Closing the door behind her, she jogged across the street and up Mrs. A’s porch. Long standing arrangements had her knocking and entering without waiting for a reply. “Mrs. A?” Called out loudly, the old woman was hard of hearing.

“In the kitchen dear. Does Beth want some more rolls? My that young woman can eat.” Mrs. A’s laughter reached the moving Casey, causing her heart to clench tightly at the mention of her lover, mind crying silently that this couldn’t be happening. Not to her gentle, forgiving Beth.” I know she’s glad you’re back. She missed you something terrible.”

“Hi Mrs. A.” Casey forced herself to hug the old woman, knowing she’d be offended if she didn’t, no matter what the circumstances. “Beth’s missing. When was the last time you saw her?” Casey didn’t pull any punches, she’d learned that lesson the hard way when the old woman’s house was broken into three years ago.

“Missing? Oh my!” The old woman sat abruptly, scaring Casey with her paleness. “Stop fussing dear!” Said to Casey as she poured a glass of water and wrapped the old hand around the glass. “I’m not feeble, you know! We had breakfast the day after you left. That was two days ago.”

“You haven’t seen her since then?” Casey had been hoping she was wrong. So much pain could be inflicted in two days. She pushed that thought firmly from her mind; it wasn’t helping anything.

“No. Beth was planning on teaching two afternoon classes at the dojo,” Mrs. A stumbled over the unusual word. “Then eating with Eduardo’s family. I wasn’t feeling well, so I didn’t go. Oh dear, if I had, maybe she’d be alright.” The old woman looked pained.

“Don’t think that! If you’d been with Beth, you might have been hurt. Its not your fault. Did you see anyone strange hanging around our house?” Calming the old woman, Casey patted her hand soothingly. And calmed her own racing heart slightly in the process.

“No! I would have called your office immediately if I had. Beth was planning on doing some serious writing, or so she said. She said something about the warrior and bard,” here the old woman couldn’t help smiling. These two reminded her so much of the women Beth wrote about. “Having a serious fight and wanting to work through it before taking a break. So I decided not to call and bother her. I wish I would have.”

“Its not your fault!” Casey patted the old woman’s hand soothingly, understanding her frustration and anger.

“Its not your’s either, Hot Shot.” The old woman read the frustration and fear in Casey’s eyes.

“Hot shot! Of course!” Casey jumped to her feet, startling Mrs. A. The teasing term, first used by the old woman after her house was broken into jogged the younger woman’s memory. “Thanks you’ve been a big help. Don’t worry, I’ll bring her home.” Consciously she softened her fierce, angry expression, not wanting to scare the old woman who’d been her only friend outside of her employees until she’d met Beth, any more than she already had. Impulsively she hugged the old woman, delighting her.

“Be careful dear!” Floated after Casey as she raced back to her house. Startling the men working diligently in her office, she yelled as soon as she cleared the front door. “Its someone connected to Hamilton!” Charging into the room, Casey tossed her coat on the broken chair, dragging Beth’s desk chair with her. Closing her eyes, Casey inhaled, breathing in the faint, subtle sent of Beth. “Pull up all the information we’ve got on Hamilton.”

“How do you know this is connected to Hamilton? I don’t remember him having any family.” Only Phil, who’d been with her since before the Hamilton case could have gotten away with asking that question. Even as he spoke, he pulled up the requested file, knowing enough about Casey to do as she ordered.

“Remember what he whispered to me at the hospital that last day? Nobody’s safe Hot Shot? Then he started laughing.” Casey rolled over beside Phil, staring seriously at him.

“Yes I remember you saying something about that. We kind of shrugged it off, thinking him to be a loner. He had no family on record and certainly not any we could find.” The computer beeped for attention. Moving out of the way, Phil started his own computer, expanding the search without being asked. He barely noticed Casey’s nod.

An hour later, Casey groaned and sat back. Her memory hadn’t failed, there was nothing in the case file to even suggest Hamilton had any family. “Nothing,” she sighed disgustedly. “You?”

“Not yet. I still have several searches going.” Phil stared at his hands, gathering his nerve. “You gonna call Johnson?”

“If we don’t find something soon, there isn’t any choice. Beth’s life is at stake.” Casey knew the price for calling David Johnson, the man behind the scenes of the violent crimes section of the FBI. At the very least, he would insist on an unspecified future favor. Most likely a high profile case. “But this is Beth!” Her mind cried in torment. Casey knew she’d do whatever Johnson asked. Running a hand through her dark hair, Casey sighed, going back to her computer.

“I found a couple of stray prints on the interior of Beth’s vehicle.” Bob announced, entering the room, interrupting a short time later. “I’m running them right now. As I expected, the only prints on the door handle were your’s Casey. Everything in the garage looks clean. I’m getting ready to start outside.”

“If we get lucky, we’ll have a possible name to aid in the search. Where did you find them?” Casey exhaled slowly, this was an unexpected break that would hopefully pan out.

“On the bottom of the driver’s door, like someone reached out to stabilize themselves.” Bob left the room when no more questions were asked.

“I’ll be damned!” Casey’s head whipped up at Phil’s whispered curse. “What?” Said demandingly as she stopped reading the background information Phil had sent over an hour ago.

“The prints belong to one Elaine Davidson. She went to high school with Hamilton. According to his recent psychological reports, Hamilton was quiet taken with her and they were inseparable while in high school.” Phil had swung around as he talked, making eye contact with his suddenly excited employer.
“According to him, she was willing to do whatever he asked, whenever he asked. A trait he valued in a woman. He’s been talking about her, on and off for the last two months.”

“Elaine Davidson is not mentioned in any of his later life. Find out where she’s at now. I’ll run a search through the FBI’s computer. Its not a coincidence.” Casey traded sensitive information right after leaving the Bureau for access to the FBI’s computers with one of her former friends. Luckily that link had never been closed. “Where did you get the information? Doctor’s reports or FBI file?” Asked distractedly over her shoulder as she began the long process of getting into the FBI’s computers.

“His doctor’s records.” Phil didn’t blink an eye at breaking the law and obtaining his recent profiles. “Right now I’m searching for other references.”

“Good thinking. Let me know if you find anything else out.” Casey turned back around, punching in a password that should have been eliminated years ago. Confirmation that Hamilton’s old friend had her lover sent Casey reeling. “God, I have to find her quick!” She ruthlessly pushed her desire to cry down, she didn’t
have time for emotions.

“He’s got some serious explaining to do!” Casey cursed, reaching for the phone a short time later. Quickly she dialed Johnson’s home number (gotten from the FBI’s computer), tapping her fingers impatiently, the only outward sign of her anger. A child answered the phone and she asked to speak to his grandfather, telling him that it was work related.

“Johnson,” came the cool voice of her former boss and mentor.

“Casey Bennett.” She forced herself to speak calmly, rationally. “Why didn’t you let me know about Elaine Davidson?” Short and to the point.

“Well Casey, its so nice to hear from you too!” Casey could hear him moving away from his family. “I don’t know any Elaine Davidson. Should I?”

“Yes you should.” Ground out through clenched teeth. “She was Hamilton’s high school sweetheart.” Casey flinched at that, using her affectionate term for Beth in any connection with Hamilton. “Five weeks ago, one of your agents made a notation in his case file, saying that Elaine’s name was mentioned by a delusional
Hamilton. Why didn’t you let me know this?” Casey knew Hamilton was routinely studied by the Bureau, as one of the most interesting (in a very sick sort of way) serial killers ever captured.

“Hamilton’s mentioned a lot of names over the last four and a half years. You wanted me to let you know every time he mentioned someone new? If you’re that interested in Hamilton, you should have stayed with us.I think you overstate your importance, my dear.”

Casey dropped all pretense of being nice, voice going emotionless. “Elaine Davidson was in my home two days ago and kidnapped my lover.” The sharp intake of breath didn’t slow her at all. “I want you to clear a meeting with Hamilton for me tomorrow morning.”

“I’ll meet you at the federal hospital in the morning at 9:00am sharp. We’ll talk more then. What do you want me to do?” The clear, expressionless voice of his former protégée scared him; he’d only heard her that way once and he never wanted to again. If he closed his eyes, he could still see her as if it was yesterday, coolly, systematically disabling each member of the street gang. Could hear the cries of their pain as limbs were
broken. See the deadly calm on her face as she fought them off, saving his life and her own. He knew he had to move fast to contain her without appearing to, or there would be hell to pay.

“I don’t know yet David. Let me see what I can come up with on this end by morning.” Casey breathed a little easier when her old boss didn’t fight her.

“I’ll gather the team for a meeting at noon. We can go over everything then. Do you need any special equipment tonight?” David was well aware of the leak in his system. Well aware of the flow of information between Casey and her former team members. Well aware that his former employee didn’t need anything from him except a legal presence and that wasn’t important to Casey, considering the situation.

“Thanks, but I’ve got everything that I need.” Casey hung up, thinking, “except Beth! The most important person in my life!” To Bert and Phil, she added. “We’ve got a lot of work to do by tomorrow morning.”….

A tap on her arm jerked her back to the present. Quickly Casey reviewed the latest updates from Phil. He was close, but not close enough. Nodding her thanks, she turned back to the window, skipping ahead to her first meeting with David Johnson since this nightmare started.

…..As agreed, Johnson was waiting for Casey at the federal hospital Hamilton was interned at. “Casey, its been a long time.”

“Cut the crap, David. You agreed far too easily to help me. What’s up?” Casey walked a fine line, trying to sound not too insulting. Johnson’s support would give her more options, make things a little easier for her.

“I can see you haven’t changed a bit.” He didn’t understand why Casey blanched at his well intentioned words, not knowing how much she had welcomed the changes in her life. “Here. You’ll need these.” David handed her a package. “You’re back on active duty, from a really long extended,” his brown eyes twinkled, knowing this was going to shock her. “Leave of absence.”

“I quit, David.” Casey stared at him suspiciously, wanting to argue but recognized the importance of his words. “Beth needs me,” kept floating through her mind, reminding her why she needed his help.

“We can talk about it later.” David held up a restraining hand. “I don’t expect anything from you after this. And I know you’ll return them as soon as this is over. Team briefing is at 12:00 at the regional office.”

Blue eyes stared surprised at his retreating back, not knowing what to say. There had to be a trap or hidden agenda somewhere. Ripping open the package, Casey pulled out her FBI identification, team roster and a short memo about Hamilton’s recent behavior. Staring at her old badge, Casey felt a shiver run up her spine.
“Its been a long time,” thought dejectedly. “At one time, this was all I wanted. Now when I see this,” blue eyes blinked rapidly. “All I can think about is how I wish I didn’t need it. Wish that Beth was standing right here beside me, because I don’t know how long I can hold it together without her. Come on, Casey quit screwing around. Go find her.”

The newly reinstated agent sighed, battling against her growing fears that even she wouldn’t be good enough to save her lover, and slipped the ID in her pocket, heading in to talk to Hamilton, each step changing into the professional she once was.

“Bennett, FBI.” Casey barked at the guard, knowing what behavior was expected of her, internally wincing as the words past her lips. She never thought she’d say them again. Handing over her own weapon and valuables, she headed back into the psychiatric ward, gathering her nerves. For a long time, she stood and observed Hamilton through the camera mounted on his small room. Casey fought her growing nausea and disgust at the thought of standing face to face with this animal, face twitching as she struggled to slip on her stone cold professional mask. “It didn’t use to be so hard,” she thought amazed, thinking of all the times she stood observing society’s monsters without a second thought. “Maybe I have changed.” That rolled wondrously through her being, her soul joyfully acknowledging the normal yet totally unexpected reactions. Her gentle author had healed her soul in more ways that Casey had realized. She watched and learned, waiting until his
erratic movements didn’t result in any outward sign of discomfort or judgment before entering the room.

“Remember me Hamilton?” Casey asked quietly, voice totally devoid of any emotion when her presence was noticed by the rocking man.

“Been a long time, Agent Bennett. Come back to abuse me some more? That’s all women like you are good for. Don’t know your proper place.” The deep tone of his voice was startlingly familiar, even after all this time. Casey fought against the instant desire to hit him, flashing back momentarily to a moonlit clearing. Feeling the night close around her. The crackling of the fire. The terrified screams of another woman. The feeling of her foot connecting with his chest. Watching him fly across that dark clearing. Feeling her fist slam into his stomach. Breathing shallowly, Casey outwardly reflected a calm, professional stance.
Inside she was boiling.

“What do you want?” Added when he didn’t provoke a reaction from the stoic woman. Unintentionally focusing her on the present and the reason for being here…Beth. “Beth, my love.” Her mind grabbed onto that wonderful thought, leading her firmly back into the light. Beth was all that mattered to the agent now.

“I wanted to tell you personally,” here Casey leaned in, invading his space, using her height and muscular form to intimidate. “That Elaine Davidson is dead.” Blue eyes carefully studied his reaction. The sudden flaring of his nostrils, the almost invisible flinch in his eyes, the hint of trembling in his hands.

“I don’t know the lady.” Voice very flat and emotionless.

“Really?” Casey stepped back, careful to keep her expression neutral. “That surprises me, since you wanted to marry her in high school.” Nothing but a slight shake. “Maybe you can appreciate the artistic beauty of her death then, since you don’t care. You know, recognize the skill of her killer.” Titling her head to the side, Casey strove to maintain her neutral expression, her insides shaking. “Remember Beth,” her mind chanted, focusing her thoughts. “Seems her killer was a student of your’s. A rose, your favorite flower if I’m not mistaken,” hooded blue eyes flickered to his, almost as if seeking confirmation of his favorite flower before continuing. “Was carved on her back before she died. Must have been quite painful, several of the lines were ragged, like she’d struggled while receiving them.” Casey firmly pushed her distaste at sinking to his level down, concentrating on the only important think in her life…Beth. “You would have been proud. It was almost perfect! Then,” she paced to the small window, looking out at the sunny sky, seemingly missing his shudder, but was very aware of every move he made. “She was brutally taken, several times in fact. The killer was most considerate, leaving the trowel at the murder scene.” Giving him just a second to see the entire picture, she lazily turned, eyes boring into him like a hawk stalking her prey, ignoring the brief but unmistakable flair of pride at provoking the hardened criminal. And sighed, thinking some things never changed.

“How many time,” Casey paced closer, maintaining eye contact. “Do you think the trowel was rammed inside?” Fighting the intense acid churning in her stomach, the mask of the ultra professional did not waver. Inside she was dying a little with each word, feeling her world slip out of control…”Beth, remember Beth.” That thin thread the only thing holding her from the darkness.

“Ten?” No comment. “Twenty?” Hamilton was clearly shaking now. “Thirty?” Come on, give! God Beth, I really need you. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. Thought Casey shakily, knowing she was close to breaking herself. That unique, unprofessional thought, the one her lover’s heart had been supplying throughout this whole exchange, surprisingly comforted her. Then pushed harder, voice surprisingly dark, almost like she was enjoying the words…still “remember Beth.”

“How she must have hurt, feeling the cold, hard, unforgiving wood ramming into her, tearing her, kill…”

“Enough!” Hamilton cried, breaking down. The only woman that had understood him, loved him, was dead. Casey almost didn’t hear his whispered cry. “She didn’t deserve it.”

“Sounds like you though, huh?” Casey invaded his personal space, looming dangerously over the cowering man. “WHERE IS SHE?” Yelled, knowing the sobbing man wouldn’t hear anything else. Hoping she’d judged him right and that he’d speak without thinking, feeling he had nothing left to loose.

“A cabin in the woods, near the scene of my fourteenth kill!” The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.

“How do you know that?” According to the visitor’s records, Hamilton had only had two visitors in the last two months, outside of law enforcement officials. One was a college doctoral student doing research and the other a former gardening colleague who occasionally dropped by to exchange gardening tips.

“It was time.” The quiet words stopped Casey cold, stopping her mind in the middle of its chant…”remember Bet….”

“What? What do you mean, it was time??” Casey had a sinking feeling that suddenly things were going to get a lot worse. “Damn, oh damn!” Hamilton knew more than he was letting on. The trick was to get him to talk about it. “You wanted a captive audience at one time. You’ve got one now. Wanna tell me about it? Impress the likes of a lowly female?” The reinstated FBI agent moved back, trying to appear less menacing more like a friendly confidant, leaning against the wall opposite him, erasing her dark look, striving to replace it with an interested, yet non judgmental look. It was the hardest thing the agent had ever done, her mind calling for her partner. “Beth!”

“I can tell you now, since she’d dead.” The agent’s words still hadn’t penetrated his brain. He seemed unaware of his audience’s attention, although his slowed breathing betrayed his direct knowledge. “We made this plan, after the fourteenth kill, that if I was caught, Elaine would extract our revenge on the person responsible. I must say, its taken you a long time to get over me, Agent Bennett.” Hamilton smiled sickly, seemingly lost in his dark thoughts, his only desire to hurt the woman standing before him. “You must have found someone to love, because now its happened to you. We’ve been waiting this entire time.” He missed the rapidly clenching and unclenching of those strong hands and the dark, dangerous glint that flared in icy blue eyes. “It was brilliant, really. First Elaine would kidnap the person closest to you. Then she would ‘rough’ this person up until you called, gradually increasing the intensity…speed…pain of each hit. Next the torture would begin, each small cut meant to be extremely painful. All the while, reminding why each cut was necessary. That his or her lack of good judgment was the reason for the pain. A person with a normal tolerance for pain should last two days.”

Casey inhaled, struggling with herself, heart pumping furiously, muscles quivering with the restrained desire of inflicting the same pain on the monster before her, crying out for her lover. “Once physical pain stopped having any meaning, drugs would be given, causing painful hallucinations, until the person you love dies, alone, frightened, thinking you abandoned them.” Finally Hamilton looked up, meeting the agonized glare of his visitor, feeling the life slowly leave his visitor. “So how far did she get before you caught her?” Assuming Agent Bennett murdered his old sweetheart. “How much of this do you have first hand experience of?” Staring the woman straight in the eye, Hamilton smiled, extracting his revenge.

“You sick bastard!” Casey stormed out of the room, afraid to remain in Hamilton’s presence any longer. At least while there was a camera recording Hamilton’s (and her own) every move. The desire to beat Hamilton senseless almost overpowering her iron control. One thought steadied her…”Beth.” Stepping outside the
door, she breathed deeply, trying to slow her racing heart. Sending the guards to find his doctor, a steady hand reached up and disconnected the security camera. Quietly sliding back into the room, cold, hard blue eyes bore into the softly laughing man, abruptly interrupting him. A few more steps and those strong
hands were wrapped in white cloth, picking the startled man up right off his bed. A twist and a few steps and he was shoved forcefully into the wall.

“I promise you this, you sick, degenerate bastard.” Hands squeezed convulsively, not leaving any marks. “If I don’t get there in time,” blue eyes turned ice cold, shaking the man slightly to insure his attention. “You won’t have to worry about dying in here.” Said softly, extremely dangerous. “YOUR worst nightmare will come to pass.” A feral promise as he ineffectually struggled to get away. “You’ll only WISH you were dead by the time I’m through with you. As you have pointed out on any number of occasions, I can be evil when necessary.”

No more than thirty seconds had past since Casey entered the room, but she knew it was time to go. Before she lost what little control she still possessed. A final shake as she slammed the meaning home, rattling the light fixture as his back connected with the wall, Casey tossed him on the bed and exited the room,
stopping to connect the camera, nodding to the guards as they reported (big surprise) that his doctor wasn’t on the premise at this time. Deep in thought, Casey picked up her belongings and headed out into the bright mid-morning sun. Feeling her life slip away. This was all her fault. Beth was in danger…hurting because of her. That thought nearly sent the agent to her knees. Only the warm beating of her lover’s heart kept her upright, kept her moving.

“God! I can’t believe I was only in there for an hour.” Mumbled under her breath as she blinked rapidly in the intense light. Heading for her car, she called Phil, trusting the skills of her own, knowing he’d use whatever means necessary to get the location. Quickly she told him what she needed and when she needed it by. Another call to the field office had them arranging the tracing equipment. Thinking of what she had to
do…..

“Trouble?” Spoken only loud enough for the pilot to hear, the rough turbulence pulling her out of her memories. Listening for a moment, Casey sighed, distractedly checking her watch as they hit another patch of turbulence, frowning with the realization that they were just half way to Davidson’s property and still no
definite word from Phil. “Hang on Beth I’m coming! “Whispered feverishly to herself as she blinked back a lone tear. “Just hold on Sweetheart, please!” Then admitted to herself. “I can’t lose you. Will never survive without you, not now. Not now that you’ve taught me to feel again…live again. I love you.” Closing her suddenly expressive eyes, ignoring the half hidden looks sent her way, Casey sank back, nightmare returning in full force.

….. Confidently Casey strode into the full back room, eyes flickering coolly over its occupants. As was her habit, she appeared to ignore the agents, observing their reaction to her covertly. Nodding to herself in approval as they quickly returned their attention to their respective jobs, the agent headed straight for the closed door in the back. Announcing herself, she entered the room, blue eyes noting and dismissing the younger man seated by Johnson.

“As soon as we get a confirmed location on Davidson’s cabin, I’m taking a team up there. It’s in the vicinity of the fourteenth crime scene. Phil will have the exact location soon.” With forced casualness, she sat, pouring all of her abilities into maintaining her control. She even managed a semi polite, but curt nod as Johnson introduced the young pup sitting on his left .”Remember Beth,” she told herself watching the politics with a weary eye.

“Tell me what we have so far.” Johnson caught and held the controlled gaze of his once again employee. Reminding Casey who was in ultimate control, should he chose to exercise that option. Suppressing a frown at the young man’s presence, Casey tilted her head, acknowledging the familiar unspoken command and outlined what had happened since she’d arrived home yesterday afternoon.

“There are a couple of hours until Ms. Davidson’s next phone call. Do you know what you are going to say? Maybe we should go over it, just to prepare.” The smug young man unwisely spoke, his whole manner insolent and disrespectful. “After all, it’s been a few years.”

“One hour and 46 minutes until the next phone call.” Casey replied to his implied criticisms without checking her watch, reminding herself that she couldn’t get together all the necessary equipment in two hours. She needed Johnson’s people to get to Beth. Her author was counting on her. Blue eyes met and held his gaze, dressing him down as she had many before him, meant to remind the young agent of his place. Treating him as a member of the team, no matter what her personal feelings were.

“There is no need to ‘rehearse’ because I won’t know what I’m going to say until I talk to her. The entire conversation depends on HER actions. If you’d been paying attention in class, you’d know that.” She couldn’t help tweaking the young man, smiling as Johnson fought to hide his laughter, no doubt remembering rebuking a different young, green, wet behind the ears agent. Sighing softly, Casey outlined her plan and personnel requirements, ignoring the young agent’s gasps at her straightforward, bold plan. She wasn’t going to waste any time in freeing Beth.

“Ok people! Thirty minutes until the call, if she’s prompt. And we have every indication to believe that she will be. Its all about revenge and she’s waited a long time to take action. I trust you’re all familiar with her profile.” Casey called out loudly, waiting for everyone in the room to focus on her. That was the second profile Casey had completed since leaving the FBI. It had taken her all night to construct it, taking extreme care to be excruciating thorough. A mistake could cost Beth her life. Ignoring the painful ache in her chest, Casey continued. “Study the two possible locations closely. Its very probable after talking to me that Ms Davidson will switch locations, moving to a close fall back position. I’ve marked the most likely places. Study those as well. Double check your gear now, because there won’t be time later. You’ll have the chance to review the phone conversation in transit.” She met each confident gaze, hiding her sigh at their unintentional arrogance. These people were the best of the best, yet they didn’t fully realize the consequences of their actions. “Just like me,” thought bitterly. “I never even considered the possibility I could have been wrong. Missed something as important as Hamilton’s high school sweetheart. Doesn’t matter that they purposefully hid her from me. My own arrogance might cost me…”She couldn’t finish the thought. Nodding, she left the room, joining Johnson in the small telecommunications room.

Ignoring Johnson’s concerned, yet appraising stare, Casey paced around the room, mentally reviewing the locations. “Its like you’ve never stopped doing this.” The words froze Casey, who turned angrily, yet outwardly calm, raising an expressive eyebrow in rebuke.” How could you give this up? You’re so damn good at it! The best I’ve ever seen.”

“If I’m so ‘damn good at it’,” Casey made quotation marks in the air. “How did I miss something as important as Davidson? How come my insides are shaking? How come all I can think about is getting her back?” Her professional facade dropped, letting her old mentor feel her pain, at least momentarily. “Breath, Casey.
Breath.” She told herself firmly, slapping the mask back in place. Losing control would only hurt Beth. “I gave this up,” she smirked, raising an insolent eyebrow at Johnson. “Because I found that I couldn’t live with myself any more. It was either quit and find myself or lose myself for good.”

“It wasn’t your fault for missing Davidson!” Johnson defended his best student. “If you recall, all of the evidence, pointed in another direction. Every indication, based on hard, physical evidence was that Hamilton was a loner. Your own profile on Davidson supports this! I don’t know how they managed to keep their relationship a secret, but you’ve been around long enough to know not everything can be explained. Not everything can be found. Hindsight is most illuminating. If you keep beating yourself up, you are going to make mistakes.” He watched his words roll over his former student, seeing them make no dent. “Well, at least that hasn’t changed. You’re as stubborn and hard headed as always! How does Beth put up with you?” Instantly he realized his mistake as Casey’s posture went frighteningly rigid.

“How indeed.” Casey stalked stiffly to the window, body extremely tense. This was something the specialist thought to herself as she held her lover, watching her sleep. She knew she didn’t deserve it, but she’d come to accept it…to believe in it…to depend on it. Beth was ALWAYS there for her. Casey knew she couldn’t live without it, without Beth. Not now, not ever.

“Because she loves me and I love her.” Casey mumbled under her breath. A mental flash caught her off guard, causing her to lean against the window. Her upset mind conjured up a bright, smiling picture of Beth, unconsciously trying to sooth herself. Closing her eyes, Casey concentrated on her author, drawing
strength from her presence. Mentally she wrapped her arms around Beth, burying her face in the soft, fragrant strawberry blond locks. “I want to always be there for you too, my love.” Spoken from her heart, aimed at her lover’s. Breathing deeply, Casey would have sworn she felt Beth return the embrace and emotions.

Anger and rage derailed once again, the agent turned around, deep blue stared seriously at her nervous mentor. “Because she loves me and I love her. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her.” Casey drew a deep breath, pushing her rising fear away. “If we don’t make it in time, I don’t know what I’ll do.” A knock on the door brought the professional mask back in place. Acknowledging the brief report that everything was set, Casey motioned for Phil and his team to enter.

“Its time.” A quick glance confirmed Phil was already working on the call. Adjusting the head set, she watched Phil punch Beth’s number in. Casey held her breath as the phone started to ring.

“Prompt. I like that.” The thin, reedy voice oozed through the line. “Hear that in the background?” The phone was moved closer, labored panting reaching the agent’s sensitive ears. “Beth’s proving to be more of a challenge that I originally thought. Do you know how many times I had to hit her to get her to cry out?
Before she begged me to stop? Do you have the answer to my question?” Added after pausing a moment to allow the questions and their meaning to sink in.

“Elaine Davidson.” Casey struggled to keep her voice even. Expressive blue eyes were tightly shut, hands balled into barely trembling fists, trying to contain the rolling rage that swept through her shaking body as it became evident that Elaine Davidson was slowly torturing her lover. It was clear, at least to one so familiar with Beth’s pants, that the author was in extreme pain. Lurking beneath her lover’s petite physique beat the heart of a seasoned, conditioned athlete. “Can I talk to her?” The question surprised everyone, except Phil and Elaine. “Please??”

“Well, I guess. Since you asked so nicely. Who’d of ever guessed that the icy control queen could be so emotional? Here.” The loudness of the pants increased as the phone was brought closer to Beth.

“Sweetheart, hang on. I love you.” Casey couldn’t keep her emotions out of her voice. Beth’s whispered, painful “me too” almost pushed her over the ledge. The sound of flesh forcefully hitting flesh jerked through Casey, straining the limits of Casey’s iron control.

“You don’t get something for nothing. Remember that. Call me tomorrow at this time. Then we’ll deal .Oops! Gotta go, don’t want you tracing this call.” Laughing evilly another blow was delivered as the connection was severed.

“Go. Give me a little time and I’ll send the location of the phone call as soon as I nail it down.” Phil spoke immediately, not waiting for Casey to ask and he didn’t even spare her a glance, already working furiously, employing his vast skills at tracking the call.

“Lets go!” Casey left the room and headed towards the helicopters. Forcing her growing rage down, she calmly delivered directions to the pilots on the way. The only thing keeping Casey from flying out of control was the knowledge that Elaine didn’t know they were coming. She wouldn’t be prepared, thinking she
had at least another twenty-four hours before her location could possibly be pinpointed….

The ringing of her cell phone jerked her back to the present, forcing the painful memories away. It was time to get Beth back. Casey knew she couldn’t go on much longer without her. Ripping off her headphones, Casey grabbed her phone. “Bennett.” Spoken lowly, evenly, a direct contrast to her rapidly beating heart and
pounding blood. She breathed a sigh of relief as Phil answered back.

“Got it! The call was made from the northern most cabin. Sorry it took so long.”

“Thanks Phil! I really owe you.” Casey bit back her tears. At least now she had a direction.

“Just get her back, Casey.” Phil hung up before either of them got too emotional.

“Go to the north location.” Casey spoke to her pilot, looking at the men sitting beside her. “The call originated from the north cabin .We’re going there.” Quietly she called the other helicopter and informed them of the news. They were to check out the eastern cabin and surrounding area, just to be safe.

Nodding in approval as her team reviewed the terrain maps and invasion plans, Casey’s thoughts turned inward. Concentrating on that slight nagging feeling that had been bothering her for the last twenty-four hours, Casey tried to put her finger on what was bothering her. Suddenly it hit her. This was too easy. They’d
been following faithfully along, staying right on the path that Hamilton and Davidson laid out. Everything was happening right according to schedule. Every move she’d made had been planned in advance, her enemies knowing HOW her mind worked. The only think in her advantage was that Elaine didn’t know Beth’s phone had been programmed to emit a tracking signal of sorts when used. This made tracing the call much faster than conventionally possible. “Damn! You’ve followed like a faithful puppy!” Casey thought
furiously. “They want you to find Beth, but not so soon. I’m sure Elaine won’t deviate from her routine, Hamilton never did.

So if I were them, where would I hide? I’d be close enough to watch the storming of the house. Laughing that I was controlling them.” Her mind flew over the layout of the area, taken from old surveys and pictures taken from Elaine’s family home. There was only one possibility. She’d be hiding in the trees, watching. Beth wouldn’t be in the house, that was way to easy. “Beth’s in the cellar!” Casey hadn’t realized she’d spoken aloud until asked to repeat herself.

Ignoring the men beside her, Casey reached inside herself and reviewed her reasoning. Breathing deeply, she made a hard decision. If she was wrong, it could cost Beth her life. “But you’re not wrong,” her mind whispered. Where her lover’s heart was rebelling, Casey’s professional mind took over, for once overruling her heart. All of her instincts were screaming at her that she was right. That any other course of action would result in not finding Beth in time.

Calling the other two helicopters, Casey ordered them to meet at the rendezvous place for the north location. Another call had their vehicles racing to that location too. “I want to talk to everyone at once.” Casey spoke directly to her team members for the first time, repeating what she’d told the other team leaders.
The next twenty minutes past agonizingly slow as they finally reached their destination.

“Ok, here’s the plan!” Casey looked appraisingly at them. “Beth’s (she couldn’t make herself say hostage) being held in the root cellar west of the house. Team two will approach and search the house, just as planned. Be careful, I don’t know what type of surprises have been arranged. We will split up about a mile from the cabin. The woods should muffle the approach of our vehicles. Give us twenty minutes to reach the outer edges of the property, then proceed to the house. Team three will circle in the woods to the north and east, looking for Davidson. Team one will search in the woods to the south and west, avoiding the
immediate area surrounding the root cellar. Give a yell if you find her. Only once we have Davidson in custody will we enter the root cellar. Any questions?” Not surprisingly, there were none. Casey fully expected to have to explain herself once this was over, but for now, the professionalism of her colleagues would prevent them from asking for details not necessary for completing this mission successfully. A definite benefit. One based solely on her past reputation. For the first time in longer than she could remember, Casey was glad for her experience. “All right. Be careful!” With that, Casey entered her team’s vehicle, nodding for the local state trouper to get started. It would take them another thirty minutes to reach Davidson’s property.

The state trouper slowed then stopped the car. “We’re just a little over a mile from the Davidson place, if you head straight north through those woods. Sure you don’t want a guide?”

“We will be fine. Just wait here like planned.” Casey jumped out, buttoning her jacket against the slight chill in the air. Meeting the eyes of the leader of team two, Casey nodded briefly, then took off in a light run. Within a few moments of leaving the road, Casey was leading the silent men and women behind her,
easily skirting the branches that littered the forest floor, heading in a straight line for their designation.

Nine minutes later, the moderately breathing line stopped. Wordlessly Casey raised an eyebrow at their accelerated breathing, thinking she’d have to have a word with Johnson about the lack of physical stamina of his agents. Motioning with her hands, she split the teams up, sending them in their assigned directions. Separating her own team, Casey sent them to their places.

Watching the time, Casey slipped into her own position and waited. She’d picked the most likely area for Davidson to be hiding for her own search location-an area relatively disperse of trees and objects to hide behind, but one that offered an excellent view of the road, house and root cellar. “Don’t think, just don’t think.” She repeated to herself, fighting of the dark rage that seemed to grow steadily with each massing
breath as her vivid imagination kicked in, painting terrible pictures to accompany the sounds of Beth in pain. The sounds replaying over and over, driving Casey furiously forward one minute, then back the next as she regained control. The remaining minutes seemed to drag by, the beating of her heart sounding obscenely loud in the natural quiet of the pre-dusk forest.

“Finally,” Casey exhaled slowly as the sound of the approaching vehicle reached her sensitive ears. It was slow going, the road leading to the cabin was one big curve that switched back on itself. The rocky, pitted surface provided an excellent warning system to the house’s occupants. Before the truck cleared the last
two curves, the house’s owner flung open the door, listening. Cursing, she reached into the house and removed a shot gun, running off into the woods, heading directly towards Casey.

Casey felt time stop as the taller than average, muscular woman ran towards her. Unable to restrain the low growl that erupted from her throat, Casey’s heart kicked into high gear as she recognized the dark stains on the gray sweatshirt. “Beth’s blood!” Her mind screamed, muscles straining against the tight control of being forced to remain undetected.

“Concentrate!” Told firmly to herself. Shaking slightly, Casey concentrated on her enemy. It was important to see how she reacted to the agents now approaching her house. Her reaction would determine where and how Casey started searching for Beth. “Hang on Sweetheart! I’m right here. Just a few minutes more and you’ll be safe. I promise.”

“Stupid. Stupid!” Davidson crouched behind a thick fallen tree, watching the agents knock and search the outside of the house. She never even flinched when they got near the abandoned truck or the tool shed. “Fools!” Spitten out in anger. “Too early! I’m not ready. They’re messing my plans up! They shouldn’t be here, not yet.” Then. “Something’s not right. She should be here. Where’s the bitch?”

“Right behind you!” Casey had crept silently behind the watching woman as she spoke bitterly. And slap-kicked the gun out of her hands as she swung around startled. Connecting with the side of the smaller woman’s face, Casey forcefully backhanded her, knocking her over the fallen tree. Planting her knee in the
heaving woman’s stomach, Casey leaned forward, letting her weight press painfully against the woman, her back digging into the unyielding tree. “Where is she?” The muscle in Casey’s check trembled, her clenched jaw aching. It was so hard not to give into her rage and kill the woman who hurt her lover. “Remember
Beth,” her mind whispered, keeping her tied to the present…just barely.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Elaine Davidson showed courage in her arch enemy’s presence. Certainly more than her boyfriend. “You’ll never make it in time, not before she dies! You aren’t good enough, not fast enough to reach her.” She taunted the agent, ignoring her own pain, relishing in her enemy’s.

“Shut up!” Casey snarled, slamming her fist into Elaine’s face, snapping her head back against the tree, knocking her unconscious. Quickly, but thoroughly she searched Elaine, then pulled her to her feet. Dropping her at the nearest tree, she reached her arms around the trunk, handcuffing her to the tree, slamming her head against the tree, yelling their position, alerting the agents to Davidson’s position. Pulling the key she’d removed from Elaine’s pocket, she took of at a dead run, long legs rapidly eating the distance between the root cellar and her. Shaking fingers placed the key in the new lock and opened the door.

“Beth? Sweetheart? Can you hear me?” Casey called out loudly as she fumbled with her flashlight. Cursing her own uncharacteristic clumsiness, she finally managed to free it from her coat. Clicking it on, she shined it into the small room.

“Oh my God!” Casey whispered, frantic eyes landing on her lover. Beth was tied to the back wall, barely sitting on a crude bench, arms spread painfully out wide supporting most of her body’s weight. Her head was slumped forward, normally bright and shiny hair matted with blood and dirt. Blood liberally stained the front of her sweatshirt and jeans. Her arms were a mass of bruises and small cuts. The second it took Casey to see Beth was burned into her brain. Crying softly, Casey started talking and felt to her knees at Beth’s feet. “You’re gonna be ok now. I’m here. Everything will be alright.” Carefully, Casey ran trembling hands down Beth’s legs, fighting the need to pull her lover into her arms, needing to see if anything was broken. She repeated this action on Beth’s arms, still finding nothing. When she moved to Beth’s chest, to check her ribs, the tears were freely flowing. “At least you were wearing your favorite shirt.” Beth’s favorite shirt was her old faded sweatshirt from the academy. As her hands touched Beth’s chest, the author jerked and moaned. That horrid, retched soul tearing moan cut through Casey’s heart. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!” Cautious hands ran along Beth’s neck. “I’m sorry love. This is gonna hurt.” Casey rose, pressing her shoulder against Beth to hold her up.

Growling, Casey untied the knots holding Beth’s right arm in place. Gently she lowered the bruised limb then shifted, holding her lover in place with an arm against her chest and shoulders. Changing her position, Casey once again braced Beth with her shoulder, fingers fumbling with the knots holding her other arm in
place. “Hold on my love. I’m gonna get you out of here.” She placed Beth’s arm around her own shoulders and slid one arm behind Beth’s back and the other under her legs. Rising smoothly to her feet, Casey turned and headed towards the now barely visible door. Shrugging off the offers of help, she carried Beth over to the center of the clearing, tersely giving orders as she walked, making sure the crime scene was preserved, stepping back from her lead position as planned, turning control back over to the real authorities.

The next five hours flew by, Casey only paying attention to her lover. She stood by silently, watching with a stern, fearful eye as the EMT on the team thoroughly checked out Beth. She had several severely bruised ribs, numerous small cuts on her arms, a deep gash on her forehead, a badly split lip in two places and a
bloody, broken nose. It was clear she’d been beaten unconscious several times over the past few days. Casey ignored the agents as they started to search the crime scene and left as soon as it was determined Beth could travel without causing any more damage to her bruised and battered body. Holding Beth’s battered body
against her own, Casey mumbled words of comfort, wanting her author to wake up, despite the EMT’s assurances that she wouldn’t, not for awhile because of her concussion. She refused the offer of a litter for Beth in the helicopter once the EMT said she wasn’t hurting Beth any more by holding her. She finally had to relinquish her hold on the author when they reached the hospital, allowing the doctors to carefully check out her lover. Pacing in the hall in front of the examining room, Casey was abruptly forced to concentrate on something other than Beth’s condition.

“How is she?’ David Johnson had watched his pacing former student for sometime before interrupting her. He fingered the identification handed to him by his other agent.

“I don’t know! She’s been in there forever.” Casey shot a dark glare at the still closed doors. Gone was the professional, left was one very worried, scared lover. “They won’t tell me anything!”

“They’re…” He was cut off by the opening of the door. Listening to the conversation, he watched the relief roll over his former student as she was told her lover, given time, would be ok.

“Did you hear that?” Casey turned back toward Johnson. “Thank God!” Quickly she walked over to him and surprised him with a brief, stiff hug. “Thank you for helping me get her back.” His reply was lost as she hurried over to her lover’s side, picking her hand up and walking with the bed down the hall. She never
looked back, never saw the hint of tears or his mumbled greeting in return.

“Can I tell you something?” Casey slid onto the large bed next to her partner, turning on her side so she faced her author. Reaching out a shaking hand, she tenderly brushed the hair out of Beth’s face. The specialist remembered reading something about unconscious people being able to hear what was spoken around them.

Casey wanted her lover to know she was safe and not alone. That she was loved and missed.” Do you remember our first ‘real’ date?” Casey paused and laced her fingers with her partner’s, careful to not put pressure on her raw wrists. “Remember your grandparents’ building dedication?”

…..It was five days before the big event. Beth had not mentioned the party since that one evening at her house and Casey wasn’t sure if they were still going or not. Sitting with the author wrapped in her arms, watching a movie on tv, the ex-agent decided there was only one way to find out if they were going to the party or not. Sighing, Casey waited for a commercial, trying to decide what to say. “I am definitely not good at this!” She complained silently when nothing profound came to mind. “Whatever made me think I could handle this…being half of a couple? Why would she even WANT to go with someone like me? Maybe that’s why she hasn’t said anything else. Maybe Beth’s decided she doesn’t want me to meet her family.”
Tightening her hold on the woman in her arms, Casey buried her face in the author’s sweet smelling hair. “Don’t mess this up. You need…”

“Casey? What’s wrong?” Beth’s soft voice cut through Casey’s growing despair.

“Umm…well, you see…”uncharacteristically Casey stumbled over her words. Just how do you ask your new lover if she wants you to meet her family?

“Let go a second.” Beth turned around and sat on Casey’s lap before she had time to react. “What’s bothering you?” Gently she ran a finger down the ex-agent’s face. “I love you.” Said calmly, without any pressure, knowing her new lover needed to hear the words often. Almost as often as she needed to say them. Green eyes stared reassuringly into worried blue.

“Commercial’s over. Your movie’s back on.””You chicken!” Said to herself as she tried to avoid Beth’s question.

“I don’t give a damn about the movie.” Beth took the remote off the sofa and turned the tv off. “Please, tell me what’s wrong.” Suddenly her heart started to pound…maybe Casey had decided she was tired of her already. Maybe all this closeness was just too much, too soon for the ex-agent. By her own admittance, this was all frighteningly new. She’d lived without strong emotional attachments for so long, now suddenly she was deeply, intimately involved with someone. Biting her lip, Beth asked worriedly, praying with her whole heart the answer was no. “Damn Beth! Push her a little harder, huh? Look where you’re sitting .Like you have a right to be here!” To Casey she asked. “This is an awful lot to deal with all of a sudden. Do you want me to leave? Give you some space?”

The questions rocked Casey. “NO!I mean, not unless you want to. Do you?” The last was barely whispered as she peered deeply into Beth’s eyes.

“I am right where I want to be.” Beth brought her hand back to Casey’s face, lightly running her finger over soft lips. “I love you, Casey Bennett. Just so there is no misunderstanding, I am completely happy for the first time in my entire life. There is no where else I’d rather be.” Her hand dropped to rest over Casey’s heart. “I am home.”

“I love you too, Beth Jamieson.” Casey took Beth’s hand in her own and kissed her fingers. “There is no place I’d rather be.” Slowly she leaned forward, bringing their lips together.

“So what’s bothering you?” Beth pulled back, studying Casey intently.

Gathering her fragile courage, Casey asked the question that had been bothering her for the last two days. “Did you still want to go to your Grandparents’ dedication ceremony? With me?”

“No I don’t want to go,” Beth answered, feeling her lover’s heartbeat quicken. “But I will.” She paused a second, trying to read the suddenly shaded blue eyes. “What kind of question is that? Of course I want you to go with me! That is the only way I’ll make it through the evening!” And was relieved to see those incredible blue eyes lighten. “I just have been avoiding it, that is all.” Taking a deep breath, Beth smiled and asked her lover one final question. “Casey Bennett, will you do me the honor of escorting me to the dedication ceremony?”

“It would be my pleasure, my love.” Casey used the endearment without thinking, feeling a warmth rush through her and leaned forward, kissing her lover deeply. “Now what does one wear to a dedication ceremony? Guess this means we’ll be going shopping tomorrow.”

“Ohhh, I get to dress you. This is gonna be fun!” Beth thought a moment, grinning sexily at her love. “I might need some practice, though.” Purred huskily as her hands started to caress the skin under them.

“Practice away…”

“Excuse me, Ms Bennett. The doctor said I should ask if you wanted me to have another bed brought in, since you are staying until Ms. Jamieson wakes up.” The nurse interrupted Casey’s soft spoken memories, bringing a slight blush to her face at being caught in such an intimate position. “But it doesn’t look to me
like you’ll be wanting another bed.” The nurse grinned, watching the blush deepen. “If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask.” With a wide smile on her face, the woman quietly shut the door as she left the room.

“Well, that was kind of embarrassing!” Casey leaned forward, carefully laying her head on Beth’s shoulder. “Now where was I? Oh yeah, the big date.” Cautiously wrapping an arm lowly around her partner’s non-bruised hips, she snuggled slightly closer, needing the close contact. “Do you remember how much fun you had teasing me when we shopped? Or how about the drive up to the school? Never in my life has a three hour drive taken five! It was fun though. But by far my most favorite part of the evening happened later.”

…..”Ready?” Casey sucked in her breath as her lover turned around and she got her first really good look at her friend. “My god, you’re beautiful.” Awestruck blue eyes stared amazed at the lovely vision before her. The ex-agent’s mind refused to function as the radiating smile of her lover blew every rational thought out of her head.

“Think so?” Beth looked absently down at her shimmering blue dress, fingers playing with the silky fabric. Then she noticed the dazed look on her lover’s face. “Casey? What’s wrong?”

Unable to do anything but open her mouth, Casey watched the bewitching vision of loveliness move towards her. “Casey?” She closed her mouth. “C’mon Casey. You’re scaring me.” Spoken seriously, concerned green eyes looked to her partner for an answer. Soft skin touched her own, forcing the dazed look from her eyes. What came out of her mouth totally astonished the ex-agent. “Mine?” Immediately a dark blush covered her face, but Casey didn’t retract the half question. Heart pounding painfully, she waited for her companion’s answer.

“Your’s,” Beth confirmed, smiling softly. Losing herself in a sea of deep blue, the author felt herself floating, awash in the intense emotions visible in her lover’s eyes.

“You look incredible.” Casey finally managed to find her voice. She reached out a trembling hand, but stopped short of touching the author’s face. Changing direction, she ran her hand down the smooth skin of her lover’s surprisingly muscular arm, entwining their fingers when their fingers touched.

“So do you.” Casey found herself lightly blushing as her lover’s eyes raked over her tuxedo clad form possessively. The doorman buzzed, announcing the arrival the family car.

“Guess its time to go.” Casey’s voice was husky but she couldn’t pull her eyes away.

“Just remember who you’re with tonight.” Beth refused to release Casey’s gaze or hand. “You. Are. Mine.” Each word spoken slowly, deeply, from the heart.

“Your’s.” The whispered reply as Casey lightly brushed her lips against her life’s. That thought stopped her. “My god, its true!” She thought rapidly when Beth pulled away to get her purse. “I don’t think I can live without her.”

“Ready?” The doorman buzzed again. In answer, Casey held out her arm and grinned, exceptionally happy…..

“Did you realize at the time what happened?” Casey gazed up at the silent, but now peaceful face of her partner. Wincing at the dark bruise on the side of her face, Casey rubbed her hip soothingly. And grinned when she felt Beth’s body trying to respond. “YES!I knew you were in there. I imagine you are enjoying this, huh? Next time you want me to tell you a story, just ask. OK?” Casey choked and closed her eyes, fighting off her tears. Telling herself to keep it together, she continued. “That evening, when you told me I was unquestioningly your’s, I knew. Knew that I couldn’t live without you.” Catching herself before she could slide her leg over her author’s, Casey frowned at her body’s lack of control. “God, you’re laying here hurt, and I find I’m having to fight to keep my hands to myself! But,” Casey couldn’t restrain her grin. “You like that. Seems you always have a problem keeping your hands to yourself too. Remember the car ride to the dinner? The look on your face when the car door was opened was priceless.” Snuggling a hair closer, Casey
stretched her neck and gently kissed Beth’s check, settled back down and closed her eyes, letting the emotions come forward once again.

…..Casey cast a loving look at her companion, thanking the doorman when he opened the door, motioning a limousine forward. Only years of controlling her outward reactions keep the dark haired woman’s jaw from dropping. The biggest limousine she had ever seen started to pull up.”I knew your family was rich,
but…”Casey whispered, letting her voice fade away as the imposing car stopped and smartly dressed driver hurried around to open the door for them.

“Good evening Ms Jamieson. How are you this evening?” The driver opened the door, revealing the deep leathered interior of the vehicle.

“Fine Robert. This is my friend, Casey Bennett.” Beth nodded politely at the man, but was unable to hide her sigh of relief at seeing the occupants of car. “We’re in luck.No parents.” Whispered out of the side of her mouth as she moved to get in the car with a wide ear splitting grin plastered on her face, thinking about dancing with her beautiful lover.

“What am I missing here?” Casey asked confused to the other occupant of the car while Beth and her sister (which she knew because Beth had shown her a picture) were holding on to each other, laughing hysterically. The slightly fake tint of the laughter worried her. The answer of “inside joke” made Casey’s
heart skip a beat. Although she wasn’t very forthcoming with her own secrets, the ex-agent found she was really starting to loath the idea of her lover having them.

“Where are my manners?” Beth managed to get out around her laughing. “Casey,” she turned to pick up her friend’s hand, her smile softening lovingly, all traces of falseness replaced with sincerity. “This is my sister Cassandra and our cousin, Jimmy. And this is the love of my life, Casey.”

Beth’s introduction warmed the ex-agent all over. “Nice to meet you both.” Casey flashed an impish grin at her lover, briefly toying with the idea of teasing her, but the mostly hidden panic lurking behind those lovely green eyes changed her mind. Not quite sure what to say, Casey leaned against her lover, trying to keep a polite smile on her face.

“How did you manage to convince Mother to not come?” Beth unconsciously stroked the back of Casey’s hand, resting her head against the ex-agent’s shoulder, looking curiously at her sister.

“She wanted to be early tonight and I knew you wouldn’t be ready.” Cassandra teased her sister, playfully slapping Jimmy’s shoulder when he snorted. “Quiet you!” Neither relative caught the slight narrowing of instantly icy blue eyes at the implied criticism.

“Me? What about you?” Beth shot back, but felt herself tensing at the subtle slam. “I’m happy it’s just us.” She sighed, tightening her grip on Casey’s hand. “So what’s new with the two of you? How’s work?”

As Beth’s sister and cousin started talking, describing their charity work, Casey could feel her author getting more tense with each passing word. The sideways looks they were getting for being close were starting to bother Beth, that she was sure of. Not sure how to much physical contact Beth would be comfortable with,
but knowing she had to do something, Casey switched hands and slid her arm behind Beth’s shoulders, gently, subtly tugging her closer, not giving a damn what her lover’s family thought, only concerned with comforting Beth. And was immediately rewarded by the release of tension in her lover’s posture….

Emotionally, Casey raised her head from Beth’s shoulder and raised up on one arm, so she could see her love’s face. “I know I never told you how much that whole night meant to me. For the first time in my life, I was more worried about my partner, than myself. Since I’m being honest and telling you how I feel, I might as well go all the way, huh?” She absently played with the light blanket covering her author’s battered body, composing her thoughts.

“The way you casually, almost without thought, included me in the conversation meant more to me than you’ll ever know. It told me loud and clear that you wanted to be where you were. With me. You really didn’t care about my past. And your actions were unplanned, like second nature. Even when you were hurting, you
were there for me. Oh,” she laughed softly. “Not that I actually participated in the conversation much. But every look, every touch, assured me that you loved me. That you weren’t ashamed to be with me. You were so responsive to my touch. Almost like you craved it…craved me. Now I know you did. As I do your’s.” Casey fell silent, eyes tracing the flower pattern on the blanket, finding it difficult to express herself, even when Beth was unconscious.

“When you introduced me to your parents, it was all I could do to not hit them. Did you know that?” Casey paused and nodded, as if Beth answered. “Didn’t figure you did. You were so strained and self-conscious. So unlike the Beth I’d come to know and love. My Beth.” She hesitated, taking a deep look inside herself. “I
hated them for putting you through everything they did while you were growing up.” Blue eyes flickered over the silent form. “Hated them for making you feel ashamed of what…of who you are. You my friend, you are the most open and caring person I know. How could they try and silence that?” Quietly she remembered, not wanting to upset her lover with dark, hateful emotions.

…..Beth was laughing softly at something Casey said as they mingled, meeting her grandparents remaining classmates. Looking up as her lover’s laughter was abruptly terminated, green darkening unreadably, Casey swept concerned eyes over Beth’s stiffening form. “What’s wrong?” Whispered so only she’d hear, pushing back the wave of uneasiness sweeping through her body at her lover’s uncharacteristic actions and her stiff, rigid form.

“Here comes the inquisition. “Beth stuttered, fighting with herself to remain standing beside her lover and not fleeing. “If you want to leave, if you don’t want to be with me after this, I’ll understand.” Spoken so softly that only someone with Casey’s exceptional hearing could have heard it. “Never,” whispered back
as the approaching couple got close enough to prevent private conversations. “We’ll talk about this later, Beth.” Casey promised herself, squeezing Beth’s hand reassuringly.

Not wanting to create a scene, Beth reluctantly released her death grip on Casey’s arm and rapidly stepped forward, lightly kissing her mother’s and then her father’s cheeks. Rejoining her lover, Beth quietly made the introductions.

“So you’re an ex-FBI agent, Casey?” With heavy accent on the “ex” portion of his statement, Beth’s father attempted to flank Casey, wanting to separate her from his daughter.

“Yes sir.” Casey’s mother had drilled manners into her. She’d be damned if she wasn’t civil to Beth’s parents, no matter how she felt about them.” After eight years with the violent crimes section, I decided it was time to move on.”

“What are you working on now Beth? Another torrid little book?” Ironically Casey’s training allowed her to follow both conversations and restrain herself from belting the woman into next week for her crude comment. “When are you going to give it up? Come work for the family charities?” Beth’s mother
relentlessly pushed her daughter, trying to draw Beth away. Casey wrapped an arm around her waist, firmly anchoring her author to her side. She wasn’t planning on letting Beth out of her immediate reach. Breathing a sigh of relief when Beth moved a hair closer, she forced her attention back to her conversation with Beth’s father. She wasn’t sure how Beth would react to physical contact in her parent’s presence and was relieved by her reactions.

“So you quit.” The way he said it, made it sound like Casey was a total and complete failure. The look she was receiving from Beth’s mother would have intimidated a less confident woman. It also carried the hint of “what do you expect? She’s latched on to money now.”

“Yes, I quit.” Casey drew a deep breath, battling her rising temper. She felt herself growing more rigid by the second. Lightly swallowing, Casey firmly shoved her anger down, not wanting to upset Beth any more than she already was. Her respect for her lover grew by leaps and bounds. Just how did Beth survive growing up? She refused to give them the satisfaction of seeing her scramble for answers or make excuses for herself.

“What do you do now, dear?” The sarcasms dripped off of each word. It was crystal clear what Beth’s parents thought. They thought she was using their daughter for her family money.

“She’s Casey Bennett, Father.” Beth’s voice surprised everyone, especially Casey .Casey had never heard that low, deadly serious tone from her lover before. Or seen the icy glare pinning her parents in place. The warning was unmistakable. “Back off.” From the look of surprise on their faces, her parents hadn’t
either. “Of Bennett and Associates? I know you’ve heard of the agency.” Beth couldn’t help herself. She was not going to stand by and let her lover be maligned, certainly not by her parents. She’d never had the desire to stand and fight for herself, it just wasn’t important enough. But her lover was a totally different
matter. “There’s Grandma’s old roommate. I want you to meet her, Casey. If you’ll excuse us?” Without waiting for an answer, Beth casually returned the embrace and led her away, each step measured
and confident.

Making small talk, Casey kept a concerned, yet discreet eye on her lover. In the short time Casey had known Beth, she had never seen the author so tightly wound and in control of her emotions. Focusing on Beth drew her attention outward, away from her raging emotions. The desire to knock some sense into Beth’s parents was growing, as each threatening, hateful look was shot their way. Yet at the same time, her lover’s heart was singing. Beth wanted her, protected her. Finally their conversation ended and Casey pulled Beth towards the balcony, where it was fairly quiet. The cold stares of Beth’s parents followed them outside.

Stepping out onto the mostly deserted balcony, Casey guided Beth over to a darkened corner. “You ok?” Said quietly as she turned and faced the author, trying to gage her lover’s reaction to the confrontation with her parents.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” Beth wrapped her arms around Casey’s waist, lightly resting her head against the white silk of her shirt. “Used to it.” Mumbled into the security of her lover’s chest.

“Hey, it’ll be ok. I promise. And Beth? I love you. I’m not going anywhere, not without you.” Casey responded by returning the embrace, laying her cheek against the top of Beth’s head. Then Beth sniffled and the ex-agent felt her own heart start to pound….

Blinking rapidly, Casey jerked back to the present as Beth shifted in her arms. “Thank god!” The specialist thought happily. The doctor had told her that Beth would start to move around a little as she edged closer to consciousness. “Come on Sweetheart. Wake up.” Nothing. “Please?” Still nothing. “You just want to hear the rest of the story, I know. I promise I’ll finish if you open your eyes.” Casey waited several heartbeats, sighing worriedly when Beth didn’t move again.” Ok. Ok. You win.”

“Did you know it broke my heart when you started crying out on that balcony? Well it did. I was ready to go back in there and…well, you get the picture. Anyway,” Casey smiled at the peaceful look on her life’s face, ignoring her own increasing heart rate.” You remember what I said to you? That I loved you, no matter what? Well, it was and is true. You were so afraid that your parents would drive us apart. I told you then that
nothing would drive me away. Nothing. How could you ever believe that, for even just a minute?” She paused, thinking about what she just said. “How long did it take you to believe me? Do you believe me now?” Casey fretted, twisting a wayward strand of strawberry blond hair around her fingers. “I sincerely hope you do. Because I love you.”

Casey smothered a yawn, cursing her own weakness as two sleepless days of constant worry and action caught up with her. “I think I’m falling asleep on you, love.” Another yawn, much deeper. “Can’t stay awake…sorry.” Barely heard as she laid her head back down on Beth’s shoulder, traitorous eyes closing of
their own violation.

The sound of voices in the hall woke the specialist. Blinking sleepily, Casey groaned softly, tired blue eyes critically studied the silent form in her arms. “You look better.” She mumbled, forcing her limbs to release her author. “I can’t believe I slept so long! It’s already morning.” Standing, Casey stretched painfully, working out the kinks from sleeping in one position for too long. Looking up questioningly as the door opened, Casey stopped stretching, listening intently to the nurse’s advice.

Hurrying back to Beth’s room, Casey pushed her own guilt aside. The nurse had been right. She did need to take care of herself, not only because her author needed her healthy, but because she most certainly did not want to deal with an irate author when she woke up. A wide grin spread across her face, contemplating Beth’s reaction if she knew she hadn’t eaten or slept for two days. Nodding to the nurses at the desk, Casey increased her speed, suddenly very anxious to check on Beth. Quietly she pushed open the door, sighing with disappointment. “Damn. You’re still not awake.” Moving to the bed, she kicked off her Nike’s, climbing up beside the author.

“Now where were we?” Casey snuggled up as close as she could get without hurting her author. Blue eyes lovingly caressed the bruised features. “Do you have any idea how much I love you? How much I need you?” The words flowed out uncalled.

“You changed my life.” Tears of joy slowly rolled unchallenged down the tanned face. “Instinctively you know what to do, what to say, to make me feel better.” Casey thought a long moment, various memories played across her mind, bringing a happy, contented smile to her face.

“Remember the first time you let me read something that was giving you trouble? It was three days after you joined me at the house. Actually,” the contented grin turned snappy. “It was 3:18 on Saturday afternoon and I was working on my computer. You stomped into the room and glared at me until I met your blazing eyes. I actually felt sorry for whomever made you so mad!” A light chuckle escaped from the specialist’s lips, remembering how incredibly beautiful her lover looked, green eyes snapping with fire, shinny strawberry blond hair glowing in the afternoon sunlight, body humming with tension. “You asked me if I meant it
when I said I wanted to read some of what you were working on. Seeing my nod, you handed me the disk and practically barked at me, saying something wasn’t ‘clicking’, then stalked out of the room.” Pausing a moment to answer the question from the interrupting nurse, Casey waited until she left the room to continue.

“You know, I still don’t see what was wrong with that scene. Xena couldn’t just blurt her fears out, that wasn’t her style.” Thinking “Sometimes Xena and I are so alike!” “And she was right to protect her bard.” Casey frowned, something suddenly “clicked”.”I just figured it out! You weren’t annoyed that Xena
wouldn’t share her feelings with Gabrielle or the fact that she wanted to protect her. What really bothered you was the fact that Gabrielle consciously ‘let’ Xena do those things .Not because it made Xena feel better about herself, but because it let Gabrielle avoid some painful issues with herself. And we both know how you feel about not fighting your own battles. Anyway, that really isn’t what I wanted to tell you.”

“You trusted me, plain and simple. You knew I wouldn’t consciously hurt you. And what would happen if I accidentally did hurt you. Anyway,” Casey mused after careful consideration. “What I’m trying to spit out is how special, how loved, how trusted you made me feel. That simple act of sharing your thoughts, your work, touched me deeply. Like nothing ever has before.” Overwhelmed, Casey lowered her head, resting it lightly
on Beth’s shoulder.

Suddenly laughter shook the specialist’s body. “Remember when I read your latest murder mystery?” Distinctively she did remember.

…..”You serious? You want a serious critique?” Casey needed some reassurance before telling Beth what she really thought. It was roughly six months after they’d started living together and Beth had just received her copy of the newly published book. Although Casey often played the role of literary critic, usually it was related to the warrior princess and Amazon bard. She definitely did not want to hurt Beth’s feelings.

“Yes, I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t.” Green eyes twinkled with amusement from above. “Its that bad that you have to ask? Go on, I can take it.”

“Well,” Casey cleared her throat, caring to much about Beth to lie. “As always I was pulled into the story, actually feeling what the characters felt, seeing the events that affected them from their own perspective. The story line,” here she had to grin, blue eyes sparkling with joy. If anyone had told her a year ago that she’d be playing literary critic, laying with her head snuggled in her lover’s lap, she would have fallen over laughing.
“Was very plausible and well thought out. As you would say, ‘it flowed’ smoothly.”

“But?” Asked softly as gently fingers traced the bold lines of Casey’s jaw. Beth asked insistently, reading more in her lover’s hesitation. This was a chance for Casey to express her feelings and Beth didn’t want to loose it.

“But your PI, Sharon, didn’t have the necessary skills or information to reach the conclusions she did. At times, especially in chapter,” she fumbled with the book, double checking. “In chapters three and nine, her logical conclusions didn’t make sense, based on what she actually knew at that time. And her tailing of her subject wasn’t correct. There are several different ways to follow someone, but this wasn’t one of them.
She should have been spotted or stopped several times.””Damn! Knew I should of said I loved it,” Casey thought angrily at herself, misreading the shaded look on Beth’s face as hurt.

“Hey, I really did like it. No one but a nitpicky professional who thinks she’s better than everyone else would pick up on that.” Beth didn’t respond. “Sweetheart?” Added after a moment of continued silence, heart pounding erratically.

“What? Oh.” A breathtaking smile, one that caused the shadows to flee, spread across the author’s face. “Sorry, was just thinking. And no you shouldn’t of said there was nothing wrong with it.” Correctly reading her lover’s tension. Gentle fingers returned to Casey’s face, lovingly stroking. “Thank you. I know
that was hard for you. But I think you’re gonna regret it.” Beth chuckled evilly, sneakily tickling her lover’s sensitive ribs. “You know what it means, don’t you?”

“What?” Casey gasped, lightening fast reflexes responding to the challenge. Before Beth knew it, she was under her lover, being tickled in return.

“Lessons!” Beth forced out squealing when those long fingers found just the right spot.

“You don’t need any lessons,” Casey purred, touches instantly turning into caresses. “Love you just the way you are.” Whispered into Beth’s ear as she lightly nipped the tender lope.

“Not what I meant.” Beth moved sensually into the heated caresses, tugging Casey’s shirt out of her jeans, needing to feel her lover’s skin on her own.

“Really?” Warm lips journeyed across the sweet skin, telling their tale of love and devotion. “I…God…Beth…feels soo…good…”The words tumbled out as skillful hands unerringly found just the right places. A promise made shortly after they met trickled through her consciousness. “I promise, tomorrow we’ll start Tailing 101.”

“Maybe I do need lessons, if you’re still thinking about that.” Beth whispered heatedly into Casey’s ear, fingers stopped their journey and pulled at offending clothing. “I love you.” Not wanting to release her lover, Beth slid her hand beneath the offending clothing, groaning at the hot wetness that drenched her fingers.

“If you get any better you’ll kill me.” Casey husked, thrusting against her lover’s conquering fingers. “Love you too.” Growled lowly before rational thought became impossible….

“Damn.” Casey blew out steadily, sternly telling her heart to stop racing. “How are you doing Sweetheart? You should be waking up soon, I hope!” Lightly shaking hands rubbed Beth’s hips, one of the few places that wasn’t covered in cuts or bruises. Refusing to even think about what she would do if Beth didn’t wake up.

“You know, you really have changed the way I think about myself. The dedication of your last book blew me away. No one, ever, has made me feel so special or loved.” Casey closed her eyes, picturing Beth’s face as she handed her the book, shyly asking her read it and tell her what she thought. Then reliving the onslaught of emotions as she read the dedication, both handwritten and printed. Beth’s neat concise handwriting tugged at her heart, “Casey, Forever, I promise. I love you, Beth.” Then with tears brimming in her eyes, she read the typed words. “For my own ’99’, my light, my joy. I love you now and forever.”

“Those words are just as powerful today. Still bring me to my knees.” Casey gazed lovingly at Beth. “During this last case, Phil said something that got me thinking. About just how much I have changed in the last nine months. You’re really rubbing off on me. Take this talking thing for instance. I never would have been able to do this when I first met you. You’ve taught me how to open up, express myself. At least more that I used to. And that’s changed the way I respond to you and others. I know I’m not really good at it yet, but in time I will improve.” She fell silent, considering what she just said. Distractedly, Casey talked to the nurse who stuck her head in to see if everything was alright.

“No matter what mood I’m in, you’re always right there. Holding my hand or yelling at me, pulling me away from my worst enemy…myself. No matter what we’ve been through, from disapproving parents to strange work schedules, there’s been one constant in my life these last nine months. You. The one thing I’ve come to count on more than anything else. Why you chose me is still a mystery.” Casey thought a moment, frown deepening as guilt resurfaced.

“I am so sorry that this happened. More sorry than you will ever know. Me…my dark past, hurt the one person I love more than life. It’s my fault,” choking back a sob, hot tears of remorse ran down tan cheeks and dripped onto Beth’s face. “My fault, that you are laying here. Abused and tortured all because you dared to love me. What was I thinking?” Sobbing openly, Casey rested her forehead against their entwined hands. “God help me,” she cried, tears soaking the sheet beneath their hands. “I don’t think I’m strong enough to walk away. Do what’s best for you.I can’t…I just can’t.”

“Hey,” Beth’s soft, dry voice penetrated Casey’s brain. “Casey? What’s wrong?” Forced out past her parched throat.

“Beth!” Without thinking, Casey wrapped her arm around Beth’s middle and hugged her close. “I love you.” The slight shifting brought her back to her senses. “God! I am so sorry.” Instantly she released her author, sitting up and reaching for the water on the table beside the bed. “Here, drink this.” She gently inserted the straw between parched lips and continued to ramble. “How are you feeling? Any pain or nausea? The doctor said you should be fine, given sufficient bed rest. Are you hungry? Need to get up? Let me get the doctor. What’s wrong?”

“Take it easy, love.” Beth mumbled around the straw, sucking noisily.

“Here, let me refill that.” Casey turned back around with the full glass. “Wait!” A large hand pressed gently against her shoulder, holding the author in place.” Where do you think you’re going? You need to stay in bed!”

“Want you to hold me.” Beth whispered, tears forming in her eyes. “I need you.”

“Me too.” Casey carefully laid back down beside Beth, loosely holding her, heart pounding in joy with her lover’s heartfelt plea. “Just take it easy. You are safe now. I’m not going anywhere.”

“I love you, Casey.” Beth relaxed against her lover’s warm body, her pain unimportant as she drank in the sorely missed closeness. “Oh God! What do I tell her? What CAN I tell her?” Beth thought as quickly as possible, given the fact that she was still slightly out of it. Waking up alert was never one of her many skills, unlike her lover, even on her best days. The few days she was held hostage past in a blur of pain. She wasn’t even sure what day it was. Skirting what her captor ranted, Beth concentrated on the warmth now surrounding her. A loud rumble interrupted her musing.

“Sounds like you’re hungry. Let me go tell the nurse you’re awake and hungry.” Slowly, reluctantly, Casey started extracting herself from Beth. “I’ll be right back.” Tenderly she brushed her lips against Beth’s head, gently squeezing her hand. “You’ll be ok for a few minutes?”

Beth’s stomach answered for her. A half smile was all her abused mouth could handle. Reading the controlled worry in her lover’s eyes, Beth nodded slightly. “Yeah. Go on.” Green eyes followed her out the door.

“C’mon Beth. You can do it.” Biting back a groan, Beth clung to the edge of the bed, silently willing her pounding head to settle down. “Maybe this wasn’t a good idea…”

“Beth! What are you doing?” Casey rushed over, wrapping a supportive arm around her waist. “Well?” Added when Beth didn’t answer.

“Gotta use the bathroom.” Leaning against Casey, Beth forced her shaking legs to support her. “Help me?”

Against her better judgment, Casey assisted her lover, refusing to leave her alone. “If I don’t,” she growled exasperated. “You’d just try on your own.” Helping her back to bed, Casey fussed with the covers, pulling them up snugly under Beth’s chin. Playing with the ends of Beth’s hair, Casey carefully studied her lover’s face, noting with relief that her brief trip hadn’t caused any additional stress. Distressed blue eyes studied each bruise, each cut, growing more dismayed as the violence inflicted on her lover registered loud and clear in her guilty mind. “My fault,” whispered over and over. “I am so sorry.” Casey wasn’t even aware she’d spoken. Warn fingers brushing against her cheek jerked her back.

“No it’s not!” Beth protested vehemently, the anger in her voice causing Casey to meet her gaze. “You listen to me, no it’s not!”

“How can…”The nurse interrupted their conversation, entering the room with the doctor. Moving to the side, Casey watched silently as they examined Beth. Sighing in relief, the specialist’s low voice cracked with emotion, grinning widely. “Beth will be ok.”I t was more of a question than statement. “We can go home in a few days.”

“Time to eat.” Casey moved to Beth’s side, pulling the chair close as the doctor and nurse left the room. “Don’t look like that. I’m sure its not as bad as it looks.”

“Tastes even worse.” Beth complained around a mouthful, frowning. “Can I talk you into smuggling in a cheeseburger and fries?”

“Later. Lets see how that sits first, Sweetheart.”

“I missed that.” Green eyes flickered lovingly over her lover. “Tell me what happened.”

Gulping, Casey forced her rising panic down, listing events from her perspective as emotionlessly as possible. Now that Beth was safe, the events seemed out of control, her guilt increasing with each word. The ex-agent felt it was all her fault and this came through loud and clear.

Beth listened, trying to keep a calm expression on her face, reading the controlled tension in her lover. Listening intently, the author focused completely on Casey’s words, whispering a silent prayer of thanks that her head stopped throbbing. It was critical that she filled in the blanks in a way that did not cause Casey to heap more blame on herself. But first things first.

“You did that, for me?” Beth asked, knowing how much Casey did not want to return to profiling and the FBI.

“No choice. It was the fastest, safest way to get you back.” Casey didn’t understand why Beth was surprised. “You know I’d do anything for you.” It came out more of a question than a statement.

“I do know.” Beth gazed at Casey, willing her to see the truth in her words. “So everything’s taken care of?”

“Yes, Davidson’s been charged with several crimes and is being held without bail.” Casey inhaled, focusing on Beth. It was time. She needed to know what Beth went through. “Tell me what happened.”

Buying a moment more of time, Beth reached for her water glass, playing with her straw absently. “I made it all the way home from Eduardo’s,” she began talking softly, instinctively knowing that avoiding the question would only cause her lover more pain. And she’d been through enough of that. “Without any problems. After
deactivating the security system, a woman startled me, knocking on my window and pointed a gun at me through the window. I thought about slamming the car in reverse and trying to get away, but decided against it when she told me to try it. She didn’t care if you found me dead in the driveway. So I did as she instructed and pulled into the garage.”

“I then got out, and abruptly fell to my knees. Later I woke up in the root cellar where you found me. She told me that she’d put some kind of slow acting knockout drug on the car door handle. That was why I fell.” Looking up at the sudden increase in her lover’s breathing, Beth reached out, entwining their fingers. “You ok?”

“Now that you are safe.” Casey squeezed Beth’s fingers, smiling slightly. It was just like her author to be concerned about her. “Go on.” She prompted when Beth didn’t continue. “I need to hear the rest.”

“I think what happened next is pretty obvious.” Beth forced her own rising panic down, drawing as deep as breath as possible, easily reading the thin hold Casey had on her emotions. “Hey.” Spoken softly as she extended a hand to her lover, which was promptly taken. “Get up here. Hold me.”

“Better?” Casey inquired with a smile after sliding an arm around Beth’s shoulders. “For me too.” Added as Beth snuggled a little closer, resting her head against Casey’s shoulder. “Doesn’t that hurt?”

“Don’t worry so much.” Beth mumbled from her safe haven, tightening her grip on her lover’s waist. “There’s really not much more to tell.” Beth resumed her perspective on the last few days. “Its pretty obvious that she beat me up several times. Most of this was done before you called. I think she wanted to make sure I would scream on demand.” She fell silent, thinking to herself that she could not tell Casey how terrified she was,
how much she hurt, how she pleaded with Davidson to stop, not realizing it when the tears started rolling down her bruised cheeks.

“You’re safe now.” Casey whispered over and over into Beth’s ear, each shutter tearing at her heart. Inside she was crying…”my fault. All my fault.”

“Sorry about that.” Beth sniffled, hanging on to Casey with all of her remaining strength. “Didn’t mean to do that.”

“What? Be human?” The specialist didn’t understand, it was her fault! Beth had nothing to apologize for. “It’s perfectly natural to…”

“Just hold me, ok?” Beth talked over Casey, not wanting to think about it, not right now. The author promised herself that as soon as her brain was working properly again, they’d talk about how this wasn’t Casey’s fault. She did the only thing she was able, offer comfort with her body. “I’m kind of tired. Hold me please?”

“Damn! I’m sorry Sweetheart. Where is my head?” Casey berated herself, wrapping one arm around her lover. Beth was exhausted and here she was, trying to make her talk. So maybe, just maybe she’d feel a little better about herself. A few moments later and the bed was horizontal again. “Better?”

“Much,” Beth sighed contentedly, mumbling sleepily. “Just need to close my eyes for a little bit.”

“Close your eyes and go to sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up.” Casey tightened her hold on the author, sighing herself when Beth drifted off, drifting herself, warm and comfortable. “What happened that you’re not telling me?” She considered quietly, watching her lover as she slept, brain slipping into gear. “What
did she do to you? I can see that she beat you repeatedly,” here she shuttered, forcing the pictures that thought generated from her mind. “I heard you. Heard how much pain you were in. Heard the unspoken agony in your voice.” Throughout her rambling thoughts, Casey’s fingers never stopped their gently caresses,
grounding her. “Just stop it.” She told herself firmly, focusing on the most important thing in her life…Beth. Slowly she joined her love in sleep.

“Hey…feel better?” Blue eyes focused intently on Beth’s now peaceful looking face.

Green eyes blinked sleepily. “Hey. Sorry about that. And yes, I do feel better.” Added after she cautiously stretched, settling back against the warm body next to her own.

“Don’t apologize. You need to sleep.” Casey rubbed her hip soothingly. And burst out laughing when a loud rumble erupted from Beth’s stomach. “Guess you’re hungry again.” Then frowned as she realized she had no idea how much Beth had eaten over the last few days.

“Don’t.” Gentle fingers brought blue eyes back up to green, instinctively following Casey’s unspoken thought. “Do me a favor?” Beth waited until that haunted, guilty look faded from Casey’s eyes.

“Anything.” Blue eyes deepened, conveying a promise.

“Smuggle me up a cheeseburger or something?” Beth tugged on Casey’s hair playfully. “This food is gonna kill me!”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Casey smiled widely, promising herself to check with the nurse first. “Guess this means I gotta move.” Leaning forward, she brushed her lips lightly against the least tortured part of Beth’s mouth. “I love you, Beth Jamieson.”

“I love you, Casey Bennett.” Green eyes twinkled at Casey, following her out the door. “Hmm. Now how do I tell Casey without causing her more pain? She already thinks this whole thing is her fault. Like she herself delivered each blow.” Beth fumbled for the bed controls, sitting up with a suppressed groan. “Wish it was an option not to tell her, but she’ll worry even more.”

“How are you feeling Ms Jamieson?” The nurse spoke as she entered the room, sweeping a professional eye over the reclining woman, unintentionally breaking the other woman’s chain of thought.

“Much better, thanks.” Beth didn’t add that she was hungry, afraid she’d be brought some more of that disgusting broth and mashed potatoes.

Changing tactics, the nurse spoke as she checked the author’s physical condition. “I see you managed to convince your friend to take a break. We had to force her to leave the room earlier so she could eat and get cleaned up.”

“Thanks for looking out for her.” Beth sighed, disgusted with herself. She never even thought about Casey not taking care of herself. But that was so like her, always putting others, especially Beth, in front of her own needs. “I know she was here the whole time. Don’t know how I do, but I know she was.” She thought a moment, waiting for the nurse to turn back around. “Can I go home tomorrow? I know I’ll recover better in my own bed.”

“It depends on how you sleep tonight, among other things. The doctor said she’d make her decision tomorrow.” The nurse nodded at Beth’s frown. “I’ll check back in on you later. Get some rest.”

“I will.” Beth promised, exhaling softly when she left. “Damn, Beth! Why didn’t you think of that? Just what were you thinking? You weren’t! That’s the problem.” The lines of exhaustion around her lover’s eyes and her unusually pale skin suddenly registered. “Stupid!” She didn’t realize she’d spoken until Casey spoke.

“What? I didn’t catch that.” Casey cast a thorough, searching look over her love’s form. “Hope you’re hungry,” she added when she didn’t find any evidence of new or increased pain. “I got some grilled cheese sandwiches and creamy potato soup. Two of your all time favorites.” With a grin on her face, Casey pulled the table closer to Beth, sitting the bulging bag down with a flourish. “Dinner, as requested.”

“Smells good.” Beth carefully watched her lover, looking for any sign of injury or discomfort. She knew what Casey said, but she also knew her lover. Knew she would try and hide her injuries so Beth wouldn’t worry. Too bad it never worked. “You too.” She pushed the second container of soup towards Casey.

“I was planning on it. Smells great.” Casey quirked an eyebrow at Beth who was looking at her rather strangely. “Problem?”

“Eat first, talk later!” Beth proceeded to wolf down her soup and sandwiches, the tantalizing smell making her realize how hungry she actually was. Surprisingly, Casey consumed the same amount of food as she did. “You were hungry too, huh?”

“Yeah, tasted good.” Casey patted Beth’s stomach, not telling her that food had no appeal earlier. She just couldn’t eat, not when Beth was in danger. “Not as good as what you make, but it was pretty good. Sorry about not getting a cheeseburger, but the nurse said this would be better. And,” she grinned knowingly at
Beth. “She also said this would be ok for your dinner, since you didn’t like what you had earlier.”

“Yes it was good. Thanks for saving me from that nasty food. Even you cook better than that!” Beth answered the unasked question and reassuringly teased her lover in the same breath, then burped delicately. “Oh, excuse me,” frowning slightly as Casey smothered a laugh. “So what are your plans for this evening, Ms Bennett?”

“You were going to finish your side of things.” Casey snuggled up on the bed next to Beth. “Am I hurting you?” Asked as she wrapped her arms around her lover.

“Nope. Never.” Beth took a deep, focusing breath, the pain from her ribs barely noticeable in her lover’s arms. “This is important to you, huh? You really need to know exactly what happened?” Beth wanted to be sure before she continued.

“Yes it is. Unless its too painful for you to talk about.” Casey concentrated on keeping her breathing calm and even, knowing Beth would stop or severely edit her comments if she knew how upset she was.

“I need for you to know something first.” Beth shifted slightly, establishing eye contact. “I love you.” Spoken quietly, forcefully. “Nothing or no one will ever change that. If this is the price I pay for being with you, no wait! Don’t look away. Please.” Beth waited until tearful blue eyes met her own. “I consider myself lucky. I love you.”

“Damn!” Casey sobbed quietly, burying her face in Beth’s shoulder. “God, I love you too.” Mumbled through her tears. “I don’t want to hurt you…don’t want you to be hurt because of me.”

“Casey, stop it!” Beth tried to rest her head on Casey’s but the shooting pain in her side stopped her. She settled for tightening her grip on her crying lover. “I want you to hear and believe something!” She paused until Casey nodded slightly. “The only way you will hurt me, really hurt me, is to leave me. Tell me you don’t love me. Don’t want me.”

“Never, I promise.” Casey fought her inner demons and won, repeating the word as a sacred vow. “You too?”

The shakiness of Casey’s voice startled Beth. Her lover was so self assured, so confident, but in matters of the heart, she was painfully shy and timid. “Never, I promise.” She repeated her lover’s vow, speaking from the depths of her heart. “You ok now?” Beth asked, rubbing Casey’s back soothingly once she stopped crying.

“You do know I love you, right?” Casey pulled back, needing to see, wanting desperately to believe Beth’s reaction.

“Yes I do.” Beth let her emotions shine in her eyes. “I love you too.”

“I know you do.” Tenderly Casey brushed the tears off of her author’s face. “Please, tell me what happened. I really need to know.” Blue eyes supported her words, trying to convince Beth to continue.

“At first, the hits were meant to shock, to scare, to intimidate. She was trying to learn exactly how much I could take.” Beth gave in, knowing it would tear Casey apart if she didn’t hear the specifics. “It didn’t work. I’ve been hit harder in practice and been intimidated by far scarier people. Fists don’t hurt as much as words.” Thinking of her parents and how she felt growing up. Although never physically abusive, her parents were masters of intimidation.

“Then she changed tactics, using words along with her fists. She said some really terrible things, about what she was gonna do to you when you showed up. That scared me, hurt more than any physical blow.” Beth hesitated, closing her eyes, focusing on her breathing, pushing the rising panic and fear away .”Casey needs me to be strong.” Repeated over and over to herself as she won her inner struggle. Opening her eyes, she was startled by the pained, hurt look in her lover’s eyes. “Its ok. I’m ok.” Beth said softly, leaning into the warm fingers stroking her hair.

“The tape you heard was made on the first full day we were at her cabin. She gave me a mixture of drugs, I’m not sure what exactly, but they knocked me out for several hours while not letting me rest. I assume she left to deliver the tape and clean up the garage.” Beth risked a glance at Casey, feeling how tightly she was wound.

“What did,” Casey stumbled over the words, eyes closing briefly in agony. “Did she do to you to make you scream?” Silently screaming, fearing the worst.

“She hit me repeatedly in the ribs, in the face, describing what she wanted to do to you.” Beth blew her breath out steadily through her nose, the pain helping center her. This was bothering her more than she thought. But not so much that she didn’t edit her comments, sticking solely to the facts, leaving out the
descriptive phrases that still rang in her ears. “She said…she said…”Beth’s voice dropped to a whisper. “She was going to make me watch as she raped you, using a tr..tr..trowel. Then it was your turn to watch while she raped me. I started crying and she hit me again. Then I started screaming. Pleading with her to not do it, to not hurt you…to stop.”

“God Beth.” Unthinkingly Casey pulled Beth firmly against her, threading one hand into strawberry blond hair, holding her tenderly as she sobbed. “That’s it. Let it all out….You are safe now. She won’t ever hurt you again. I promise.” The specialist forced her own emotions ruthlessly away, ignoring her own screams of anguish that Beth had to suffer, concentrating on the crying woman in her arms. Long moments passed until the sobbing stopped. And it took even longer for Beth to regain enough control to raise her head and meet Casey’s concerned gaze. “Don’t you dare apologize,” she added, reading the apology in Beth’s eyes as she pulled away. “You didn’t do anything to apologize for.”

This gave Beth the opening she had been searching for. Now wasn’t the best time, but she wasn’t going to let this pass. “Neither do you. Not one word, Casey Bennett!” Seeing she wasn’t believed, Beth pushed forward. “And exactly how was this your fault?”

“If I hadn’t…”Casey began miserably, but was cut off by Beth’s snort.

“If you hadn’t stopped Hamilton, more innocent people would have died. Don’t even go there.” Blue eyes blinked, showing her surprise. “I mean it Casey. How much have you changed since I met you? How different is your home now? You’ve taken every available precaution to make sure I’m safe.” Beth ran right over Casey’s objections, silencing her. Both mentally picturing the virtual fortress they lived in…from the multiple dead bolt locks to the security cameras keeping a silent watch on the exterior to the extensive alarm system. “Outside of putting a twenty-four hour a day guard on me or locking me up, there is nothing else you can do. Don’t even think it!” Added as Casey perked up at the guard idea. “This wasn’t your fault.”S aid softly as the haunted, guilty look returned to her love’s eyes.

“But why do I feel like it was?” Casey said softly, pain evident in her words and posture. “I’d do anything to keep you safe.””Even die,” she added silently, not wanting to upset Beth further. Something Beth said suddenly struck her. “Oh, and its not ‘my’ home, its ours.”

“I know love. I do know.” Beth crooned reassuringly, comforting them both. “As much as you want to, you can’t protect me from everything. Just as I can’t you.” Beth thought quietly, thinking of the things Elaine used to torment her.T hose hate filled curses and torments more painful than any single blow. “I need for you to know something.”

“What?” Casey renewed her hold on her life, bringing their entwined hands to her lips, kissing them softly.

“No matter how bad it got…how much it hurt, one thought kept me going. I knew you were coming. That you would find and rescue me. All I had to do was hang on until you got there.” Beth returned Casey’s stare with a seldom used level of intensity.

“You knew that huh?” Casey felt her heart irrationally lighten at those words. “How do you do that? Know what to say to comfort me? Even now?” She thought quietly, feeling herself being caught, as green eyes gently, lovingly held her afloat.

“Yup. Never a moment’s doubt.” Beth flashed a half grin at her, the most she could do with her split lip. “You want me to continue?” Beth hoped the answer was no, but knowing Casey, it wasn’t. She would want to hear everything that had happened. “Alright,” the author hid her sigh as Casey nodded. Just this once, she wanted to be wrong. Striving to keep her voice calm and level, Beth started to reveal what happened to her.

“Well, that’s about it. The next thing I remember is waking up with you crying.” Beth squeezed Casey’s fingers, silently relieved that her story was so well received. At least her lover had managed to sit through the telling, hanging on to her composure, even if it was by a thin thread. “Is there anything you want to ask me?”

“Thank you. I know that was difficult for you.” Casey spoke lowly, voice controlled and even. She was well aware of the fact that Beth had edited her comments in an effort to spare her feelings. “I am so proud of you.” Now her voice cracked. “You didn’t let her win. You are the bravest, strongest person I know. I am proud that you are my friend. It still amazes me that you chose to be with me, share you life with me.” Casey kissed Beth’s fingers entwined with her own, struggling to retain her hold on her own emotions. “I love you.”

“I love you too.” Beth leaned back against the raised bed, sighing tiredly. It had taken more out of her that she thought, telling the edited version of her capture and torture.

“Close your eyes and get some sleep.” Casey kicked herself, seeing the faint lines of exhaustion around Beth’s eyes. A hand on her arm held her in place. “I’ll be right back, I promise.” Green eyes followed blue as they flickered to the bathroom and back. Reluctantly, she was released.

“Damn!” Casey swore to herself as she shut the door. Beth had been through so much. “My fault. All my fault.” For a minute, the darkness rose and washed over her, calling her with its seductive voice. It was so tempting to give in, to let the anger control her with icy calmness. But her lover’s heart rebelled,
fighting back, bringing forth pictures of the very reason the darkness was so unattractive…Beth. Exhaling noisily, Casey battled the darkness back, focusing on the one who needed her, loved her. “Stop screwing around Casey. Beth needs you.” With those words, she firmly walked back into her lover’s light. Pushing the door open, she glanced at Beth, surprised to see her still awake. “What’s wrong?”

“Can’t sleep.” Beth patted the bed beside her, sighing in relief when Casey promptly joined her. “Tell me another story? Please?”

“What?” Casey pulled back and stared at Beth, confusion and surprise warring for control. “You heard me?”

“I knew you were here. That I was safe.” A gently tug had Casey back down beside her. Turning slowly, she snuggled into her normal sleeping position. “Much better. Safe.” Mumbled as her eyes closed and she lost the battle with sleep.

Shaking her head in wonder, Casey pulled the blankets up, tucking them in around Beth, never really believing she had been heard. “Sleep now. I promise you are safe.” Casey whispered, closing her own eyes, falling into a restful slumber.

Epilogue

“You promised!” Casey’s deep voice thundered across the bright, sunny kitchen, stopping her sheepish looking author in her tracks. “You are supposed to be resting.” Exasperated, the specialist hurried into the room and swung Beth up in her arms. “I told you I’d get whatever you wanted. All you have to do is ask!” She spoke gruffly as she carefully made her way back downstairs with her precious burden.

“Casey! It’s been almost two weeks. I’m much better now. I’m perfectly capable of walking to the kitchen. “Beth sighed, battling with herself to keep from sinking into her lover’s warm arms. “Oh Hades,” the author silently repeated her favorite ancient curse, giving up her struggle and melted against her lover. “I just wanted a little snack. And,” barely cracked lips traced and intricate pattern along Casey’s neck. “I wanted
to see you.” Her lips ended up at one of their favorite places, teasing the sensitive earlobe.

“Stop that!” Casey told herself to pull away, but her rebellious body betrayed her, actually leaning into the caress. “The Doctor said no strenuous activities for awhile. You need time to heal properly.” Unable to repress the shiver those words elicited, Casey set Beth on the bed and stepped back, forcing herself to ignore Beth’s groan of disappointment and her own throbbing need. “I just want to make sure you’re ok. Can’t you
understand that?” Blue eyes looked to green for understanding.

“You said you’d get me whatever I wanted.” The low, seductive tone washed over the specialist, igniting her passion. “I want you.” Beth pinned her lover in place, smoldering green eyes stripping away Casey’s resolve. “Come here.”

Helpless to resist, Casey moved to join her lover, eyes locked together. “I don’t want to hurt you.” She tried to reason one last time, knowing the moment she touched Beth, she’d lose this battle.

“Love.” That one word, along with the silent plea in her lover’s expressive eyes, froze Casey in place. Allowed her to see, for the first time, how much her reluctance to be intimate with her lover, had hurt the one she had sworn she’d never hurt. Falling to her knees, Casey reached a shaking hand out, lovingly
tracing the delicate lines of Beth’s face. “I’m sorry.”

“For what, love? “Beth returned the caress, fingers tangling in incredibly soft black hair.

“For a lot of things. Not being here when you needed me. For taking so long to find you. For how she hurt you.” Her free hand shushed Beth, stopping her protests. No amount of talking could convince Casey that she wasn’t partly to blame for what happened. “For it taking this to happen before I told you how I feel.” Casey smiled softly, eyes drinking in Beth’s knowing look. They both had enjoyed the conversations of the last two week, as Casey slowly opened up and they shared their favorite memories. Casey knew she still had a long way to go before she could be totally open and up front with her feelings, but she now knew, deep in her
heart, that Beth understood. “For hurting you. I know I have. And that is the last thing I ever wanted to do.” Pleading eyes asked for forgiveness. “I do love you.” She raised up, kissing Beth tenderly, trying to show how much she loved, wanted Beth.

“I love you too.” Beth whispered as their lips parted. “Make love to me Casey. I need to feel you…feel us.” And felt her heart start pounding erratically when Casey’s hands slid lovingly to tug at her shirt.

“I love you.” Slowly Casey inched Beth’s shirt up, lips following the moving cloth. “I want you.” Warm lips and tongue paid homage as they journeyed up. “So much.” Whispered in her lover’s receptive ear as the shirt was discarded. “Feel me…feel my love.” Carefully Casey lowered Beth to their bed, showing her with every look, every touch, just how much she was wanted and loved.

“I promise you,” Casey held her sleeping love tightly, drinking in the delightful sensation of skin on skin. “You’re safe. I won’t let anyone hurt you. You are my life. I love you.” Blue eyes slowly drifted shut as sleep claimed the happily exhausted Casey. She totally missed Beth’s lovingly reply.
The End
Continued in Beyond The Darkness

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