Hostage of the Heart by Ambrosia (part 2)

CHAPTER 8

Piper forced herself to break away from the delightful kissing. She needed some answers, and she was determined that Desiree would be the one to give them to her. Piper reached a hand up and lightly brushed the younger woman’s cheek, as she smiled at her tenderly. So much had happened and she could hardly believe that she was seeing this woman again. Sometime over the last few days, Piper had considered the fact that she would most likely die tied to that tree. She had not known what had happened to Desiree and she did not want to think about it. A part of her thought that the young woman was dead, because all she had to go on was being attacked by someone in the dark and then waking up tied to a tree with the stench of something burning in the air. Piper then had the feeling that the cabin was on fire, and all she could think of was that she had handcuffed Desiree to the refrigerator. What gave her hope that the young woman was alive, was that perhaps the person who had attacked her was good and had come to rescue Desiree and had managed to get her out of the cabin before the explosion. This was not true. A man named Victor Redding had put the cabin on fire and Desiree had been saved by Taj. So, who was the person who had attacked Piper?

Piper looked at Desiree wearing a slight frown. The young woman looked back at her gingerly. The blue-eyed woman took one of her hands in her own and squeezed it.

“What happened, Desi?” Piper inquired.

The smaller woman took a deep breath. Oh where to begin? “What do you want to know?”

Piper shrugged. “Everything.”

Desiree laughed humorlessly. “Could you be a little more specific for me?”

The dark-haired woman thought about it. “Okay. Let’s start with you telling me who Victor Redding is.”

“He was a detective who took a monumental interest in you, and the murders you were accused of committing.”

“Any reason why he and I have the last name? Or just coincidence?” Piper asked.

Desiree nodded. She looked towards the door hoping that anyone would come through it. Even Alec of all people would be welcome. Desiree did not want to do this alone. How can you tell someone that a brother they did not even know that they had wanted to end their life? This was not an easy task.

Piper waited for the young woman to speak, but Desiree remained silent. The blue-eyed woman took a deep breath. This was as hard as getting blood out of a turnip.

“What is the reason, Desiree?” Piper asked calmly.

The smaller woman clasped her hands tightly together. “He’s your brother,” she murmured. She suddenly remembered that she had brought the letters from Emily on the trip. She would have to go get them out of Dion’s car so that Piper could read them. Thinking of the other woman, Desiree peered at her seeing the shocked expression on her face.

“I don’t have a brother,” Piper stated quietly. What was going on here?

Desiree ran a hand through her hair, once again looking back towards the entrance to the RV. “Yes you do. You also have a sister.” She heard the other woman gasp but continued, while studying the top of the table. “Your father had another family before he even met your mother years ago. He just never told you two about them. Your brother’s name as you know is Victor and your sister’s name is Emily. Andrea the woman you met earlier is Victor’s ex-wife and she has two daughters by him that are of course your nieces.” Desiree stopped, waiting for Piper to speak. After a silent moment or so passed, the strawberry-blonde looked up to see her staring at her incredulously.

“Piper?”

The dark-haired woman shook her head as though she had been in a daze. “I have siblings. A brother and a sister.” She fell silent for a moment. “My brother tried to kill me.” Piper peered over at Desiree. “Why?”

“Because you killed his father. He blamed you for that, although he knew why you did it. He wanted you to pay for it.”

“With my life,” Piper replied more to herself than the other woman. “How did you find out about all this?”

Desiree replied, “He told me. He told me all of it before he set the cabin on fire. He was insane, Piper.”

The dark-haired woman nodded. “I’ll say,” she paused. “I just noticed that you’re speaking in the past tense. Is he dead?”

Desiree nodded. “Taj came in just in time and they scuffled until Victor was shot and killed. Taj then picked me up, because I was tied to a chair that Victor had put me in, and carried me outside before the cabin blew up. The flames were already going haywire,” she explained.

“Where is my sister?”

The smaller woman looked down at her hands as if she suddenly found something fascinating about them. “She’s dead as well. She came to cabin in the back of her brother’s car unbeknownst to him. Emily had been intending to stop him, before he could attempt to kill you, but her plan obviously failed. That’s why we thought you were dead. While Victor was talking to me someone came through the door and he shot them. The person fell to the floor and I didn’t get to see their face nor did he, but I thought it was you. It had to be, because who else would be in those secluded woods? I saw the long dark hair and I freaked out. I just knew it was you. Problem is I never looked at your…the profile because it was faced down, and I wouldn’t have wanted to anyway. It would have hurt too much,” she finished quietly. Desiree then felt a hand brush across her cheek and glanced up to see Piper looking at her tenderly.

“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” the tall woman stated. “Emily must have been the person who attacked me, when I was coming back to the cabin. I was almost there when someone tackled me to the ground from behind. It was so unexpected I couldn’t defend myself properly. I managed to see long dark hair but I didn’t get to see the person’s face clearly. The next thing I knew it a rock or something came flying at my head and struck me so hard that I lost consciousness.” Piper gave a short laugh. “For a moment there I thought it was you, but then I noticed that the person was too big. It wouldn’t have surprised me if it was you.”

“Piper-”

“No.” The taller woman put a finger to Desiree’s lips. “I would have deserved it,” she halted. “Why don’t you continue.”

“Well that’s the basic story. I guess I should fill it in now.”

Piper nodded. “By all means please do.”

Desiree thought for a moment. “You know your lawyer?” she asked.

“Frank? He has something to do with this?”

The smaller woman nodded. “He was Victor. He was Victor pretending to be your lawyer Franklin Webb.”

The other woman’s blue eyes widened considerably. That was totally unexpected. Although, just about everything Desiree had told her thus far had been unexpected. All of this was so unreal. “You’re telling me that Franklin Webb was Victor Redding?”

“Yes he was.”

“And the point of him being my lawyer was…?”

“He meant to make mistakes as your lawyer in the hopes that the jury would find you guilty.”

Piper took a deep breath. Unbelievable. “So let me get this straight. My brother wanted to send me to prison and then when I got out he wanted to kill me. I assume that he was the one to commit all those murders.”

Desiree replied, “All of the jurors died at his hand except for Michael Lowell, the last one.”

“The one that was killed with the hammer?”

“Yeah. Your brother got Emily to do that one.”

Both Desiree and Piper turned toward the entrance of the motor home to see that Andrea had answered Piper’s last question. The blonde woman smiled asking if she could join them. Both of the other women nodded, gesturing for her to come over. Andrea sat at the table and studied the two women in front of her. When Desiree had kissed Piper back where the blue-eyed woman had been found, Andrea had been shocked to say the least. But looking at them now she could tell that the two cared for each other deeply. Although they were women, it didn’t matter to her. As long as they were happy that was all that mattered. Andrea had to admit that Piper and Desiree did make a cute couple. She briefly wondered if Desiree’s parents knew about them. The blonde woman considered that they probably didn’t. That father of hers would probably have a fit!

Andrea took two folded sheets of paper that she had in her hand and gave them to Piper to read. The woman took them, thanking Andrea. After she opened one of the sheets of paper, Desiree leaned over to see that it was one of Emily’s letters. Andrea had evidently gone to Dion’s car and retrieved them. Piper read the first letter without comment and then moved on to the next one. She read this one silently as well and then folded up both of the letters and handed them back to Andrea. The blonde woman shook her head, claiming that they were now Piper’s letters since one of them were originally meant for her anyway. Piper folded up the letters and put them in a pocket located on her shorts.

Piper turned her attention to Andrea. “Emily gave you these before she left for the cabin?”

Andrea nodded. “She sent them to me. I read them after I found out what had happened and then I knew that I had to give them to Desiree. Reading the letters I concluded that you could very well be alive, since I had yet to hear word about Emily’s whereabouts.”

“Thank you,” Piper said, looking at her ex sister-in-law intently. “If it wasn’t for you I might have died out there.” She reached over and squeezed the other woman’s hand before pulling away. The blue-eyed woman then turned to Desiree and gave her a peck on the cheek. Desiree smiled at her warmly.

“I just did what I felt had to be done,” Andrea replied while noticing the affection between the other two women. She then took out a wallet and extracted a picture from it. She handed the picture to Piper, explaining that it was picture of Emily from last Christmas. Both Piper and Desiree examined the picture, right away seeing the definite similarities between Piper and her sister. They both had the same blue eyes, dark brown hair and Andrea informed them that Emily had been tall as well, almost reaching a height of six feet. Piper gave the picture back to the Andrea and watched the woman put it away in her wallet.

Looking down at her lap, Piper clasped her hands together. “I had two siblings and I knew nothing about them.” She laughed humorlessly, feeling Desiree put a comforting hand on her back. “One of them tried to kill me and the other tried to sabotage me. Dad sure did make some fine children,” she stated sarcastically. “We’re all messed up.”

Desiree put a hand under Piper’s chin and lifted the woman’s face to her own. She didn’t speak until the blue-eyed woman made eye contact with her. “Now you listen to me, Piper. You listen good. You are not messed up. Victor and Emily had problems, but you don’t. I love the way you are. I wouldn’t have you any other way, and I don’t appreciate you talking about my favorite girl.”

The dark-haired woman gave her a crooked smile, suddenly feeling better. “I’m your favorite girl?” Desiree nodded adamantly. “Then we have something in common,” Piper continued. “‘Cause your mine as well.”

Just then, Larisa entered the motor home. She had her shades on again in the hopes that no one would see the pain and nervousness in her eyes. She asked for Desiree and Andrea to come outside so that she could tell everyone which automobile they were supposed to be in, in order for them to start the trip back to Los Angeles. Both Desiree and Andrea nodded as they got up to leave the motor home. Piper started to get up as well, but Desiree gestured for her to stay put, and told her to finish her lunch.

On arriving outside, Desiree and Andrea noticed that everyone was positioned once again in a straight line. Larisa asked them to join that line, and the two complied. Larisa had her clipboard in hand, as she began to tell the group that they would be switching vehicles. Therefore, those that had ridden in the motor home on the way here were to switch with those that had arrived in Dion’s car. Larisa asked if there were any problems with this new arrangement and everyone informed her that there wasn’t one. It was fair.
Ten minutes later, everyone was in the right vehicle and they were ready to head back to Los Angeles. Larisa for one was glad that she would not have to ride in the same vehicle with Piper. That would have been too tense and Desiree surely would have suspected that something was wrong between the two of them. Larisa had silently promised herself that she would not ruin anything for her younger sister. This would only cause Desiree pain if she were to find out.

The bad thing about riding in Dion’s car was that Larisa’s father was there. He was supposed to be riding in the motor home, but had swapped places with Alec, claiming that he would not ride all the way back to Los Angeles with that woman. Of all the people in the world, she did not want to deal with him right now. The first thing he did upon taking a seat was start talking rudely against Piper, calling her a “kidnapping female dog”. Poor Richie had to be subjected to listening to the insults. The dark-haired woman merely rolled her eyes and tried to ignore his ranting. She sincerely hoped this wouldn’t keep going until they reached Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, in the motor home, Desiree, Piper, and Andrea were sitting at the small table they had been sitting in before the group left the cabin. Out of everyone, Desiree was the happiest to leave. She did not care if she ever went there again. The young woman had enough nightmares concerning that night as it was.

Desiree looked down as something suddenly brushed against her leg. The strawberry-blonde smiled when she saw that it was Tobias. She picked up the cat and began to stroke him, instantly turning on his purr button. The cat rubbed his head softly against Desiree’s chin while enjoying the kitty massage.

Piper took a sip from her fourth glass of lemonade while watching Desiree fondly. She could not believe that they were together again. She thought back to their last moments spent together in that cabin and inwardly shuddered. What had come over her? Piper would never forget how she had so brutally hit Desiree with her fist, managing to knock the young woman’s tooth out with the force of her blow. The next image in her head was that of her father beating on her mother all those years ago. It took something like this for the dark-haired woman to realize that she was truly his child. Piper shook her head to rid it of the undesired thoughts. This was her chance to make it better. She wanted to make Desiree happy and she intended to do so.

“Looks like furball is trying to make me jealous,” Piper stated with a grin.

Desiree looked over at her, smiling. “Is it working?”

The blue-eyed woman snorted. “Yeah. I’m really jealous of your precious Tobias.” She leaned towards Desiree and whispered in her ear. “He may get your strokes but I get that and much more.” Smirking, Piper sat back watching as Desiree’s face went considerably red. Andrea frowned, wondering what it was that her ex sister-in-law had told the younger woman.

Leaning towards Piper, Desiree whispered back, “Watch it, Piper. In case it slipped your mind my mother is in this vehicle.”

Piper shrugged. “She’s taking a nap. She can’t hear me.”

“Yeah, but still.” Desiree looked slightly uncomfortable. No matter how proud she was of this woman, the last thing Desiree wanted was for her parents to find out about their relationship. If her father didn’t like Piper now, the young woman would not be surprised if he came over with a shotgun after being notified that she was his daughter’s girlfriend. Desiree admitted that it would sort of be funny to see the expression on his face, but it wasn’t worth it. Eventually they would have to know but that didn’t mean it had to be any time soon.

“So your parents don’t know about you, huh?” Andrea inquired of Desiree.

The younger woman shook her head. “And I don’t know when I’ll have the guts to tell them.” Desiree glanced at Piper. “I thought I liked boys until she came along.” She slapped her lover playfully in the stomach.

Piper chuckled. “Hey! What can I say? I’m good.” She kissed the strawberry-blonde on the cheek, much to the young woman’s dismay and delight. “Hello, Alec,” stated Piper conversationally while looking straight ahead of her. Desiree turned around and saw that her ex-boyfriend was standing behind the dark-haired woman, wearing a curious expression. Andrea glanced at the man wondering what was going to happen now.

Alec scowled at the back of Piper’s head. “How did you know I was behind you?”

Piper clasped her hands together on her lap and without looking at him remarked, “Because I can see Leroy is in the drivers seat and Taj right by him, which leaves you to be the only,” she snickered, “man in the motor home. Plus, when they hugged me I could tell that they weren’t wearing that cheap crap that’s supposed to be cologne.” She turned around to regard him. The man was glaring at her now but Piper merely smiled sweetly. “Of course it had to be you, and let’s face it. The only thing I think you have good taste in is women.” She glanced at Desiree quickly, but managed to see the younger woman blush. “Your problem is you don’t know how to treat them properly.”

“Who died and made you a relationship expert?” Alec inquired snidely. “Desi and I may have had our share of problems but we belong together,” he paused. “I don’t think I like you hanging around her. Why don’t you just leave Desiree alone?”

Before Piper could offer a reply, Desiree jumped in with, “Why don’t you just leave us alone, Alec? Thank you for helping out in the search. Don’t mess it up by acting like a jerk again,” she managed to say in a rather pleasant tone.

Alec narrowed his eyes at her briefly. “You are so naïve, Desi.” He shook his head sadly. “This woman is abnormal and you don’t want anything to do with her.”
The strawberry-blonde frowned up at him. “What do you mean she’s abnormal?”

The man glanced at Piper who was staring at him with an unreadable expression. He leaned down towards Desiree and answered. “She’s a dyke. I’m sure of it by the way she was looking at…” He didn’t get to finish because Andrea suddenly arose from her seat and pushed him so hard that he fell to the floor. Alec looked up at her in shock.

“Don’t you ever call my sister a dyke!” Andrea said between clenched teeth. “You may be a dick but she’s not a dyke. As soon as you start having respect for other people, just maybe you’ll get some back,” the blonde woman finished before heading back to her seat. Now she knew why from the first moment she had laid eyes on this man that there was something she did not like about him. It was him plain and simple.

Alec arose from the floor first glaring at Andrea and then at Desiree because she was chuckling. Tobias, still in the young woman’s lap even had something to say about it with a hiss at the enraged man. Growling, Alec picked the cat up by the back of his neck. He started to fling Tobias across the motor home but a severe blow to his stomach prevented him. He liberated the feline onto the floor as he doubled over in pain. Taking advantage of the situation, the cat reached up only on his hind legs and took a swipe at the man’s cheek while he was bent over. Alec let out a little shriek as four thin lines trailed on his left cheek from the cat’s sharp nails. A hand enclosed around his throat and lifted him up until he was face to face with Piper. Her cool blue eyes had fire in them as they bored into his. Meanwhile, her hand on his throat tightened almost to the point where he could not breathe at all. Alec’s face started to turn a slight reddish color.

“You listen to me,” the woman started, “don’t you ever put your filthy hands on that cat again.” The hand tightened a little. “Don’t you even look like you want to put your hands on him. On second thought don’t you even look at Tobias,” she paused. “And you know what else?” He shook his head as he was lifted onto his tiptoes. “Do not ever again try to get in contact with Desiree. Get it through your thick skull that she wants nothing to do with you. She doesn’t want you and she doesn’t love you. Just accept that fact okay? It’s over. Got it?” After Alec nodded, she let him go.

While taking in gulps of air, Alec touched his cheek with a finger. It came away with blood on it. Everyone in the motor home was looking at him, except for Sandra who had somehow managed to still be sleeping in the small compartment in the back. Leroy’s attention alternated between Alec and the road, until finally Taj told him to keep his eyes forward.

Alec looked from Desiree to Piper. He pointed at the dark-haired woman. “Is this what you want?” he asked loudly, causing Desiree to look nervously at the door her mother was napping behind. “Is that it, Desiree? No wonder you were sometimes hard to please in bed,” he goaded, finally giving up all hope that he would ever have Desiree for his own again. He touched his crotch. “You didn’t want my equipment. You wanted-”

Alec never even got to finish before he was hit so hard in the face, that he fell to the floor once more. He looked up expecting to see the blue-eyed woman again, but this time Taj was the source of his latest injury. A small mewling sound came out of Alec’s mouth as he wondered what this man who looked as if his second home was a gym would do to him. Taj grabbed Alec by the shirt and hauled him roughly to his feet, glaring at him all the while.

“You are the sorriest excuse for a human being that I have ever seen in my life. And I want you out of here now!” the Jamaican man demanded angrily. He continued to drag Alec towards the entrance of the motor home and opened it, pushing the man in front of him.

Leroy from the drivers’ seat looked over at his older brother inquiringly. “Taj, what are you planning on doing?” he asked nervously.

Taj glanced over his shoulder and stated, “I’m going to throw this bastard out of this vehicle. You have a problem with that?” At that moment, Alec twisted and turned in the hopes of getting free, but strong hands gripping his shoulders, squeezed tightly causing the man to yelp in pain as his knee’s bent slightly.

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Leroy said, easing off of the gas just in case his brother decided not to listen. The slower the vehicle went the better off Alec would be injury wise. Not that Leroy liked the man. In fact, he could not stand him from the little amount of time he had spent in his presence, but it would not do for them to have him thrown out of a fast moving motor home and then to possibly lose his life.

“Well I happen to think that it’s a grand one,” Taj replied, noticing from the pavement through the open door that Leroy had decreased the speed. He hadn’t decided whether to be relieved or annoyed by that fact. The Jamaican man glanced back at the other passengers. Andrea was looking at them curiously, silently questioning if Piper’s friend would actually go through with this. Desiree was peering over with a troubled look in her eye, but she had yet to say anything to stop Taj’s intentions. Taj had to chuckle when he looked at Piper. The dark-haired woman had a big grin plastered on her face and winked at him. She glanced at Desiree noticing that the younger woman’s attention was not on her, so Piper looked back to Taj and motioned with her hands for him to push Alec onto the highway. Valerie, Taj’s girlfriend had yet to hear or see anything. She was lying on the floor facing the other way with earphones blasting in her ears while she read a magazine. Well she was previously reading a magazine. Now she had her head down on her folded arms fast asleep.

Taj turned his attention back to Alec, who was no longer struggling to get loose. The bigger man patted him on the shoulder. “Well Alec, I guess it is time for you to go,” he paused. “Unfortunately, I can’t say that it’s been nice knowing you.” Taj began to push Alec out of the motor home, but was stopped when the man braced his hands against either side of the opening.

“Wait,” Alec started in a panicked voice. “You can’t do this to me. I could get killed.”

“Yes, I can and I will. And your possible death is a chance I’m willing to take.” Taj leaned towards him. “Remember to tuck and roll.” He then shoved Alec so hard in the back that the man fell out of the moving vehicle onto the road. The good thing was that they were in the lane closest to the side of the road and even if they had not been there were not a lot of cars.

As Alec yelled rolling on the pavement before he managed to stop the erratic movement, Piper appeared by Taj at the door looking back at him. She waved and flashed him a cheery smile. While getting up, Alec noticed both actions and gave her one of his own.

Piper chuckled and hollered to Alec as loud as she could, “Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to use that particular finger that way?”

Leroy sped up thinking that both his brother and Piper had lost their minds. What was left of them anyway. It had always been dangerous for those two to be together. They were like a pack of matches and a can of gasoline. When they were younger, they had gotten into all kinds of trouble with their impishness.

As Taj closed and locked the door with a faint smile on his face, Piper turned to see that Andrea and Desiree had a window open looking back at Alec. The dark-haired woman went over to them and put a hand on Desiree’s back while she was leaning out of the wide window. Feeling a hand on her, the strawberry-blonde straightened up to turn around and see Piper standing there, doing her best not to smile. Desiree shook her head, wondering what she was going to do with this woman. It was then that their deal popped into her head. She gave a magnificent grin. What would she do? Anything that she wanted for the next six months.

Piper noticed the grin and grew wary. What was this woman thinking of now? Out of the corner of her eye, Piper saw Andrea close the window and walk back towards the small table, shaking her head in bewilderment. The dark-haired woman put her hands on her hips, regarding Desiree. “Care to tell me what’s rolling around in that pretty head of yours?”

Desiree smirked. “I will. Later.”

***

A little after three hours later, both the RV and Dion’s car pulled into parking spaces at Desiree’s apartment building. Sandra came out of the small bedroom after looking out of the window to see that they were back. She had been awake for over two hours but hadn’t told any of the others. The last person she wanted to face was Piper. On entering the main part of the RV, Sandra saw her youngest daughter and Taj with their arms around Piper’s waist, helping her out of the vehicle while ignoring the slightly weak woman’s protest that she could walk on her own.

Sandra bypassed them and headed down the stairs to locate her husband. She found him stretching by the other vehicle. Walking up to him, she kissed him on the cheek. He asked her how it was to ride with that “dreadful” woman. Before they had left from the cabin, Richard had informed his wife that she should switch vehicles with him, but Sandra told him that she could handle being in the same vehicle as Piper. She hadn’t wanted to give up the luxury of the RV.

“It was fine,” Sandra replied. “I was in the bedroom for most of the time.”

They both turned their attention to Piper, Desiree, and Taj as the trio headed towards the entrance of the apartment building. The judge had a scowl on his face as he watched the woman who had taken his daughter hostage. If he had it his way, Piper would never see his daughter again. He wondered not for the first time how his daughter could make friends with this woman. Like the rest of her family, Piper Redding was filth. No child of his should be associating with that.

***

On arriving at the apartment, Taj’s parents had informed him that they were going to head straight back to his house with Dion. Taj insisted that they come up to the apartment for a few minutes because he had an announcement. After they said that they would, the couple watched as Taj took Valerie’s hand and led her through the double doors. By the time Nathaniel and Vivian had reached Desiree’s floor, they were sure they knew what their middle son was going to announce. Desiree’s door was wide open, so they walked in talking in low voices.

“Do you honestly think that’s what it is?” Nathaniel asked his wife. “They haven’t been dating long. I courted you for two years.”

Vivian linked arms with her husband. “I’m sure.” She smiled up at the big tall man. “Our baby’s getting married.” They took a seat on the couch that Desiree had reserved for them. Sandra and Richard were sitting by them.

Vivian looked at her husband. “I like Valerie. When she came over to the house last night, we talked some. Lovely girl.”

Nathaniel put an arm around her as he smiled revealing the deep dimples that Taj had inherited from him. Still speaking in a low voice he replied, “Well it’s about time he’s settled down,” he paused while thinking. “I think that boy has dated over two-hundred girls over the years.” He chuckled. “I lost track along time ago.”

“You think it was that many?”

“Remember his senior year? He must have brought home at least two girls a week for dinner.” He chuckled again, shaking his head at the fond memories. “He was probably trying to figure out who he would take to the prom.”

A few minutes later, everyone was settled waiting for Taj’s announcement. He was the only one standing up with Valerie choosing to sit on the floor Indian style by him. She was looking up at him curiously, wondering what this was about, just like everyone else except for his parents. They both had knowing smiles plastered on. Taj didn’t seem to notice this. Before the Jamaican man could get started, Sandra made a query.

“Where is Alec?”

At the dining room table, Piper put her hands over her face, desperately trying to smother the instant laughter. Sitting next to her, Desiree slapped the woman lightly on the arm, though she was smiling too. Across from them, Andrea just shook her head, though she found it necessary to bite her lower lip every time that she thought about the man being pushed out of the RV.

Valerie glanced up to her boyfriend. “That’s a good question. I don’t remember seeing him when you woke me up on our arrival. Did he leave already?”

With a straight face Taj said, “While we were still on the road back to L.A., he stepped out.” He heard Piper break out into a fit of giggles and almost lost it. “No. Seriously, he was acting like a jerk so I put him out. I’m sure that he’ll be able to find his way home. Alec will be fine,” he paused, looking around to see that everyone seemed to accept this. Taj rubbed his hands together. “Now for my announcement.”

Not being able to contain herself a moment longer, Vivian stated, “I can’t tell you how happy your dad and I are for you and Valerie, Taj.” The older woman had tears in her eyes, and after a quick trip to her room while everyone sat in silence, Desiree came back with a tissue for Vivian. The woman took it saying, “Thank you, sweetie.” Desiree smiled, thinking that her own mother had never called her sweetie, and went back to her seat beside Piper.

Taj stared at his mother curiously as Valerie peered up at him. “Mommy, what are you-”

He never did get to finish, because Valerie let out a loud shriek as she jumped up from the floor and threw herself at him, sobbing. Taj put his arms around her, wondering what was going on. He glanced over at his parents who were smiling again. Next he heard clapping, and looked over to where Dion was. The man had come out of the chair he had retrieved from the kitchen and was clapping while wearing a bewildered expression.

“I never thought you would actually do it, Taj,” Dion said. “I’m proud of you little brother.”

Vivian and Nathaniel joined in on the clapping, and soon everyone, including Sandra and Richard were clapping as well. Taj’s look of confusion turned to one of apprehension. No. They could not have thought that. Could they? Before he could set anyone straight, Valerie let go of her hold on him and looked at him with wet cheeks.

“This is so sudden,” she started. “We just began dating but if you’re ready then so am I.” She kissed him softly on the lips. “I would love nothing more.” She chuckled softly. “In case you didn’t know already, the answer is yes.” As the applause died down Valerie stared at him lovingly. “You have made me the happiest woman on earth, Taj Maurice Potter.” She hugged him again.

Taj thought about it, and then shrugged. Oh, well. This could work out. He was starting to love Valerie. In fact, he had never felt the way he felt about her with anyone else, and they had not known each other that long. Besides, he didn’t have the heart to tell her that wasn’t what he was about to say. He didn’t have the heart to tell his mother either. Resigned, Taj got down on one knee, fully aware that he didn’t have a ring to give her. That would look odd, but he didn’t have to have an engagement ring.

Looking up at Valerie, Taj smiled. She was quite a beautiful girl, and at only twenty-four she was successful with only her own clothing boutique here in Los Angeles that received notable business. Valerie was a petite woman standing at five feet five inches. She had smooth creamy skin a shade darker than cocoa butter. Valerie had thick jet-black hair that fell to just below her shoulders and big light brown eyes that Taj found that he could drown in. Yes. He could marry this sweet young woman. It was amazing how things could change so quickly.

Taj took both of Valerie’s shaking hands in his own, as he felt a breeze behind him. He turned around just in time to see Desiree hurrying into her room again so fast that one would think that she was being chased. Not saying anything, Taj just waited for her to come back. A moment later, the strawberry-blonde was heading in his direction with a small black velvet jewelry box in her hand. She handed it to the man.

“This is yours, Taj,” Desiree said smoothly. “You left it here this morning when you were showing it to me. I put it up in my room.” She winked at him while Valerie’s attention was riveted on the box. Desiree then went to go take her seat and gave Taj an encouraging wave.

Over her shoulder, Piper whispered to the blue-green eyed woman, “Where did you get the ring?”

“It was my engagement ring,” Desiree replied.

Piper then turned her whole body around towards the younger woman. “Alec proposed to you?”

Desiree replied simply, “No.” She patted Piper on the arm. “Let’s watch Taj and Valerie.” Really, she just mainly wanted to get the dark-haired woman’s attention off of her. Piper watched Desiree for a moment but then decided to let the subject drop for now. She turned back to the couple.

After clearing his throat, Taj looked up into Valerie’s warm light brown eyes and said, “I know you already said yes, but I’d like to make it official,” he paused. “Will you marry me?” He opened the box and Valerie let out a little yelp. Taj looked at the ring and his eyes grew wider. It was a fourteen-carat gold ring with a half-carat Marquise diamond. He figured that it must have cost close to two thousand dollars. The Jamaican man glanced over to Desiree to see that the young woman was smiling at him widely. Clearing his throat again, Taj took out the ring and put it on Valerie’s left ring finger. She brought it up to her face to get a closer look. Tears sprang to the young woman’s eyes again as she knelt down on the floor and put her arms around her fiancee’s neck.

“I’m so happy, Taj,” she cried.

He smiled as he wrapped his arms around her. “So am I.” He held her for a minute and then thought about his real announcement. Taj let go of Valerie and stood up, offering her a hand. She took it and he helped her up as well, ending up with putting an arm around her waist. He told everyone that he had another announcement to make. “You all are invited to a celebration at my house tomorrow. We will celebrate Valerie’s and mine engagement, and Piper’s reappearance. I hope that you all can make it.” He continued to tell them what time the party started and gave everyone a business card with his address on it.

Everyone except Sandra and Richard was excited about that. Richard rolled his eyes, whispering to this wife that they weren’t going. On cue Larisa came over and kneeled in front of her parents wearing an encouraging smile. She asked them if they were coming and they told her that they wouldn’t, giving the excuse that they needed to rest up the day before their flight left back to San Francisco. Their daughter gave them an incredulous look and softly stated that they were indeed coming.

The judge frowned at his eldest. There was no way that she was going to make him go to this party for that Redding woman. “What makes you think that we’re going?” Richard inquired.

Larisa gave her father a smile that unnerved him. “Because if you don’t,” she began only loud enough for he and her mother to hear, “I’m afraid that Piper might somehow find out about that twenty-grand you miraculously got eight years ago,” she paused, cocking her head to the side. “You don’t want that to happen, do you?”

The judge swallowed nervously. He could never hate any of his children, but his daughter was making it really hard for him to like her. Richard nodded, almost imperceptibly. He shook his head at his wife, knowing that she was about to say something. Having taken care of that, Larisa excused herself politely and walked away.

It wasn’t long after that, that everyone had taken his or her leave except for the Love clan. Larisa was about to be on her way, when she suddenly considered that her parents and Richie were staying here in Desiree’s apartment. Since Piper was here, maybe she should…Larisa shrugged. What the heck? This could be her good deed for the day. She deduced that her sister and Piper most likely yearned to be alone. The woman walked over to where her parents were sitting on the couch after having just turned on the television. Larisa punched the off button on the thirty-five inch Magnavox and regarded her parents. Her father frowned at her, which seemed to have become a habit.

“I think you two and Richie,” she looked towards the kitchen where her brother was just coming out with a Popsicle he had located in the freezer, “should spend your last two nights at my place, since you were here with Desiree last night.” She glanced at Piper who was still sitting at the dining room table. She offered the woman a smile, but was not surprised when it wasn’t returned. “And Mother,” she looked at Sandra, “you’ve been with Desiree for days now, so come spend some time with me. You guys will see Desiree at the party tomorrow. How ’bout it?”

“I think it’s a great idea,” Richie said, while licking his strawberry Popsicle. He didn’t have a clue that Larisa was trying to make it so that Desiree and Piper could be alone. The young man was thinking about the fact that his older sister had a swimming pool in her backyard. Plus, sleeping on Desiree’s couch wasn’t something that he cared to repeat. “I’ll go get my stuff, okay?” Even if they weren’t going, he would. When Larisa nodded his way, Richie made his way into the guestroom that his parents had been using. In there, he gathered his sparse belongings.

Larisa put her hands on her hips, looking at Sandra and Richard. They were still sitting on the couch. Richard frowned again. “Can you honestly say that you want us at your house?”

The dark-haired woman smiled at him. If nothing else, her father was perceptive. She considered that was what helped to make him good at his job. “Yes, I can,” she lied easily. Actually, Larisa didn’t mind her mother so much. It was her father who she had a problem with now. The way he treated Piper was not called for. He had exhibited traits the last couple of days that had been less than desirable. “Please come with me.” She glanced over to Desiree who was standing by the dining room table gripping her hands together tightly. Larisa could tell that she wanted them to leave.

Richard looked at his wife after she tapped him on the shoulder. She whispered something in his ear, causing him to scowl. The judge looked at his eldest daughter. “We’ll get our stuff together.” They both got up and headed towards the guestroom, passing Richie as he came out with the Popsicle stick hanging out of his mouth and a small suitcase in his hand.

Desiree walked up to her sister and gave the taller woman a hug. She thanked her for what Larisa had just managed to do. The oldest disengaged herself from the embrace and smiled at her youngest sibling. “What are sisters for?”

A few minutes later, Richard and Sandra Love were ready to go. They each hugged Desiree, telling her that they would see her tomorrow. After considering it, Sandra smiled politely at Piper before following her husband to the front door. Richard had chosen to ignore Piper, like he had done the whole day. She could not have cared less. Richie hugged his sister and then walked over to Piper, who had started to get up from the chair, but he gestured for her to stay seated. He knelt down and kissed her on the cheek before following his parents and older sister to the elevator. Desiree waved at them and then closed the door, making sure to lock it. She stayed there for a few moments not turning around. She had wanted to be alone with Piper, but now it had finally happened. Butterflies began in her stomach as she realized that they were truly alone. Desiree silently admitted to herself that she was nervous. She had Piper alone, and her heart was beating so fast, that the young woman was sure that her lover could hear it.

Noticing that something seemed to be bothering Desiree, Piper arose from her chair and slowly walked over to the woman. Reaching her she put her hands on Desiree’s shoulders from behind, and leaned in to take in the fragrance of her hair. The dark-haired woman closed her eyes at the wonderful scent coming from that strawberry-blonde hair. Over the days tied to the tree, a lot of her thoughts had focused on Desiree and how she longed to run her hands through the young woman’s hair and stare into those blue-green eyes. Piper had missed the woman more than she thought she could ever miss anyone.

Piper began to massage Desiree’s shoulders, causing the younger woman to moan faintly as she leaned her head back to rest on the dark-haired woman’s ample bosom. Piper smiled as she increased the pressure of her long fingers.

“I should be doing that to you,” Desiree murmured, indicating the massage.

She could feel the vibration coming from Piper’s chuckle. The taller woman put her soft lips against Desiree’s ear, causing the butterflies in her stomach to flutter more. Piper ran her slightly parted lips against the ridge of her lover’s ear a few times before replying in a low voice, “There are a lot of things you could be doing to me.”

Piper chuckled as Desiree turned around and slapped her playfully on the arm, before placing both arms around her waist and drawing Piper in as she leaned her back against the door. Piper put her arms around Desiree’s waist as well. The blue-eyed woman wore a triumphant smile as she noticed the blush that had formed on Desiree’s face. She briefly wondered if she should keep a record of how many times she was able to make the younger woman blush. Piper chuckled to herself. One thousand blushes a year easy.

“You are naughty, Piper Redding,” Desiree stated. “You gonna keep teasing me?”

Piper gave her a peck on the nose. “It’s what I do best.”

Desiree gave a low growl and kissed Piper with a passion that surprised the older woman. The strawberry-blonde forced her way into Piper’s mouth and their tongues began a furious duel. The kiss ended way too soon for Piper, leaving both women breathless. Desiree arose onto her tiptoes and whispered into the taller woman’s ear, “That’s not what you do best.” She quickly leaned back to see if the older woman had blushed, and was discontented to see that Piper’s face was just as tanned as always. She had an eyebrow raised, but that was it.

Piper smirked and nodded. “I see that you’re learning.”

“Well you are the Queen of Teasing. I learn from the best.”

Piper smiled her white teeth sparkling although they had not seen a toothbrush in almost a week. “The Queen of Teasing? I like it.”

“I like you.” Desiree put a hand on the back of Piper’s head and brought the woman’s head down to kiss her again. This kiss was softer but just as insistent as the last one. The blue-eyed woman was overjoyed that it lasted longer. Desiree finally ended it and placed her hand around Piper’s waist again. She noticed that the taller woman’s blue eyes had darkened considerably with her rising desire.

“You better stop doing that,” Piper warned. “Or I might just decide to take you right here on the living room floor.”

“I don’t think so Miss Stinky.” Desiree scrunched up her little nose, which Piper found endearing. She figured that everything about this woman was probably endearing. She loved the way Desiree’s nose scrunched up. It looked so cute. It looked so cute that she kissed it, causing her lover to grin up at her.

Piper then raised an eyebrow. “Miss Stinky?” She pretended to be offended. “Well you wouldn’t smell so good either, after being tied to a tree for days with the absence of soap and water.” She smelled her shirt, her eyes widening as she let go of her lover. “Whew! How could you stand to hug me? I do smell bad.”

Desiree smiled. “That’s an understatement.”

Before Piper could think of a comeback, there was a knock on the door. The strawberry-blonde squinted her eye to look through the peephole and saw that it was her sister. She opened the door and noticed that Larisa was holding a very disgruntled Tobias. Desiree’s mouth formed into an O as she remembered that she had forgotten all about her cat. The feline meowed when he caught sight of her, and Larisa handed the cat over. She knew that Piper was standing behind her sister, but she refused to make eye contact.

Desiree made Tobias little round face level with hers. “I’m sorry, Toby. Mama is so sorry that she forgot you in the RV.” She hugged his warm furry body to her and rubbed her cheek against his head. “How about some din din? Want something to eat?” Tobias meowed again as Desiree looked up at her sister. “Thank you for bringing him back.”

Larisa waved her hand. “No problem. Mother and Father were following Richie and I in the motor home to take it back when I heard a soft meowing. Richie went to investigate and found Tobias under the bed so we came back to deliver him to you. I imagine he is hungry after all these days.” She rubbed him with a finger under the chin, causing the cat to lean his head back for more. Larisa chuckled and informed her sister that she would see her tomorrow. She said bye to Piper without looking at the woman. Piper didn’t say anything back to her. Desiree glanced at her lover before giving Larisa a quick hug before they parted. She closed the door and headed into the kitchen with Tobias still in her arms. Piper followed her in there and sat at the kitchen table.

She watched as Desiree opened a cabinet and took out a can of cat food and rolled her eyes when the young woman reached into another cabinet and took out a crystal goblet. Tobias was one lucky cat. The feline busied himself with rubbing his body against his owner’s legs and crying nonstop. Desiree made cooing noises for him the whole time that she prepared his dinner. Finished she put the goblet down on Tobias’ own little forest green rug and watched a moment as he began to eat. She then filled a bowl that had the cat’s name on it with fresh water and put that down as well, before going over to sit at the kitchen table with Piper.

Desiree folded her arms and regarded Piper. “What is your problem with my sister?” she asked in a gentle tone of voice.

The dark-haired woman shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a problem with your sister.” She looked at Tobias as she said this, trying to avert Desiree’s blue-green eyes.

Desiree put a small hand under Piper’s chin and made her face her. “You don’t treat Richie that way. What’s the problem?”

Piper leaned back. “There is no problem. How did I treat your sister?” she asked as if she didn’t know.

“Like crap,” Desiree replied bluntly. “She said bye to you and you didn’t say anything. I know that there’s something going on. You care to tell me what it is?” She raised an eyebrow trying to mimic the other woman, and Piper started to laugh. She was infectious and soon both women were laughing so hard that tears rolled down their cheeks.

Piper gestured for Desiree to come over, still giggling. When the younger woman did so, she pulled her down until she was sitting on her lap. The dark-haired woman kissed her lover on the cheek and looked at her fondly. “You are so adorable,” she stated.

Desiree had a feeling that she was trying to avoid answering her question about Larisa, but she decided to let it drop for now. Maybe she was just imagining it. I’m probably making a mountain out of a molehill.

Desiree squeezed Piper’s shoulder and peered at her. “Are you hungry?” she asked.

Piper emitted a low growl and nuzzled the younger woman’s neck, causing her to laugh. “I most certainly am,” the dark-haired woman whispered in her lover’s ear.

Desiree shook her head. “You know that’s not what I meant.” She arose from the taller woman’s lap and faced her, putting her hands on her hips. “Do you want something to eat?” Noticing her choice of words, the young woman went on before Piper could offer a reply. “Food, I mean.”

Twiddling her thumbs, the older woman said, “As a matter of fact I do.” She grinned mischievously at Desiree. “I’m famished.” Leaning back in her chair she asked, “What do you feel like having?”

The younger woman could see naughtiness dancing in Piper’s blue eyes. They were now light with playfulness. The dark-haired was most likely wondering if she would take the bait and respond to her question with a flirty reply. Well Desiree was determined not to do that. She smiled innocently. “How about pizza?”

Piper stuck her tongue out at her. She murmured, “Sucker.” Louder she replied, “That sounds good.” Piper chuckled to herself. “I don’t even know what kind of pizza you like. What’s your favorite?”

The strawberry-blonde crossed her arms over her chest. “Funny. You know everything else about me. And I heard you call me a sucker. Excuse me for not acting like a horny teenager like some people I could mention, but I will refrain from naming names.”

The blue-eyed woman smiled broadly. Damn it! She loved this woman’s cattiness. “First of all, I don’t know everything about you. Most of what I do know I told you at the cabin. Second, am I supposed to be this horny teenager you’re referring to? ‘Cause if I am,” she was having a hard time keeping a straight face like Desiree seemed to be accomplishing. Piper wondered briefly if she was really upset, “excuse me, but I haven’t had sex in a week. Hell yeah I’m horny. And you know I always act like that. Playing off of your words.” She finally let her smile show. She couldn’t contain it any longer. “I like to see you blush.”

Desiree smirked. “Yeah. I’ve come to realize you like to see me blush. A week? Please, as if that’s so very long. Before that you hadn’t had sex in at least eight years so I really don’t see how that is an excuse.”

Immediately, it occurred to Piper that they were headed into dangerous territory so she deemed it time for a subject change. “I like Canadian bacon and pineapple on my pizza,” Piper stated as she arose from the chair heading out towards the living room with a frowning and suspicious Desiree following behind her. The younger woman called out her name.

“Hmm?” Piper stopped walking when she reached the couch. She looked at the two doors. One of which was by the kitchen. She pointed at that one. “That’s the room your parents were in so I assume that’s a guest room.” She pointed to the other door. “I know that’s your bedroom. Your bathroom is in there too, right? I need to take a shower.”

Desiree nodded as the older woman headed in the direction of her bedroom. Desiree continued to follow her. On entering the younger woman’s bedroom, Piper removed her shirt and made her way into the bathroom, where she placed the shirt on the cabinet. Her lover stopped at the entrance to the bathroom and watched, mesmerized. The blue-eyed woman reached behind her, undid the clasp on her bra, and let it fall to the floor, leaving Desiree with the difficult task of trying not to stare at her breasts. With strength that she did not know she possessed, the younger woman managed to keep her blue-green eyes on Piper’s blue ones. Leaning against the cabinet, Piper removed her shoes before straightening up to look Desiree in the eyes. The older woman grinned lasciviously as she hooked her thumbs into the waistband of her shorts and pulled them and her panties down simultaneously. There this almost six-foot Amazon of a woman stood naked as the day she was born. Desiree swallowed, desperately trying not to look. She knew if she did that, then it would all probably be over and she would never get her answers. At least not on this evening, she would.

Piper placed her clothing and shoes together on the cabinet and then turned to the shower to get it started. A few moments later the warm spray was coming from the showerhead. When Piper turned around Desiree had a blue towel and washcloth in her hands. She handed the washcloth to Piper silently and placed the towel on the cabinet. The woman took it and then regarded her young lover with a sensual smile.

“I believe there’s enough room for two. Care to join me?” the blue-eyed woman asked in a tone of voice that made Desiree ache with need. Oh, how she wanted this woman.

Desiree shook her head, although she would have loved to do the opposite. “Piper, can you answer a question for me?”

The dark-haired woman nodded. “I most certainly can try. What’s up?” She already had an idea of what the young woman wanted to ask her.

“I noticed you left the kitchen in quite a hurry.” Desiree cocked her head to the side in a way that Piper deemed was enchanting. “Care to tell me the last time you had relations with someone before me?”

Piper pretended to think it over. “Nope,” she replied as she got in the bathtub and closed the flowered shower curtain. One thing she had noticed about the young woman’s apartment. It was nicely done, just too colorful for her taste. Well at least her bedroom and bathroom were. The next thing Piper knew it the shower curtain was being pulled aside.

“Let me rephrase the question,” Desiree said pleasantly, although the other woman could tell that she was irritated. “When was the last time you had sex before having it with me?” It had just dawned on her that Piper had been out of prison for a few months before they met. It was possible that she could have been with people during that time. The rational part of Desiree was saying that she had no right to be upset, but she could not help her feelings. She couldn’t stand the thought of someone else putting their hands all over Piper’s body. The strawberry-blonde shook her head. She didn’t even want to think about it.

The blue-eyed woman picked up a bar of soap and began to lather her washcloth. “Shouldn’t you be ordering the pizza? I’m really hungry and I can just taste that mouth-watering gooey cheese.”

Desiree sighed. This woman really knew how to evade something she didn’t want to talk about. “Don’t try to change the subject. Did you have sex with anyone after you got out of prison? Besides me that is.”

The blue-green eyed woman was aware of the fact that her lover was now soaping the darkened area of her right breast ever so teasingly with the washcloth. She also noticed the tip enlarging. Desiree blew out a breath trying to maintain control of herself. “Are you trying to insinuate that I’m some sort of a harlot?” Piper asked though she was wearing a smile that made Desiree just want to give up and join her in the shower.

“No,” the strawberry-blonde quickly informed her. “That’s not what I meant. I just wanted to know if you’ve been with anyone. Call it curiosity,” she paused seeing that Piper was now moving on to her left breast. She sighed again. This was more difficult than she previously thought it would be. She should have known. “So have you?”

Piper smirked. “N.O.Y.B.” Her movements were closely watched as the dark-haired woman moved the washcloth to her flat stomach and began scrubbing it using a circular motion.

Desiree shook her head in an effort to clear it. Piper was really working to distract her. She got a confused expression. What in the world was the woman talking about now? “Noyb? Was does that mean? Not on your butt?”

Piper chuckled. “None,” The rag circled its way around her bellybutton, “of,” it moved to her abdomen as the dark-haired woman watched her lover watching the washcloth, “your,” the washcloth was now right above her dark curly thatch, “business.” Piper propped her right foot up on the ledge of the bathtub and moved the rag further down. She then began to move it up and down. Growling, Desiree snatched the washcloth from her and glared at her lover.

“Stop that!” the strawberry-blonde all but shouted.

Piper regarded her with a look of innocence. “What did I do?”

“You were washing yourself.”

The blue-eyed woman raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t that what you wanted me to do? I thought you wanted me to be clean?” She asked knowing why Desiree was upset. The petite woman looked so cute all hot and bothered. Piper planned on fixing that later.

“I did,” Desiree said between clenched teeth. “But you’re doing it all…sexy like.”

Piper chuckled again. “Sexy like?” She removed her foot from the ledge. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she lied, trying to hide a grin.

Desiree glared at her more. “Whatever,” she said in an irritated tone. “Are you gonna answer the question?”

“Tell me about the engagement ring.” As far as she knew, Desiree had never been married before. Piper hated to admit it, but the business with the expensive looking engagement ring was bothering her. She had got a good look at it on Valerie’s finger and had started to really wonder who have given it to the young woman if it hadn’t been Alec.

The blue-green eyed woman stared at her. “Is that the only way you’ll tell me?”

Piper nodded as she picked up a bottle of shampoo. She opened it and squirted some into the palm of her hand before rubbing both hands together and applying it to her hair. She massaged the scalp while looking at Desiree.

The strawberry-blonde thought about it. Two could play this game. “Fine. You tell me yours and then I’ll tell you mine.”

Her lover shook her head. “I don’t think so, Desi. You go first. After all, I did ask you that question before you asked me yours. Why should I tell when you didn’t?” She stopped washing her hair momentarily. “Now does that seem at all fair to you?” She resumed washing her hair.

Desiree shook her head. She never knew what emotion Piper was going to bring out in her from one moment to the next. She was used to being in control of her own emotions and here was her new lover throwing them all out of whack. It was driving her insane, but she wouldn’t change Piper for anything in the world. For some reason unbeknownst to her, Desiree liked the older woman just the way that she was. It was a shame that she might have to kill her within a week.

Desiree admitted, “I guess it doesn’t.” She stood there silently for a second. “I’ll go order the pizza.” She turned around to leave the bathroom, when she felt a tap on her shoulder. Desiree turned around and regarded Piper with a questioning look.

“I take it that you’re not going to tell me about the ring, are you?”

The smaller woman shook her head. She was determined that Piper would break before she would. Desiree could tell that the business with the engagement ring was upsetting the other woman. She smiled inwardly. Good. Now her lover knew how it felt not to be told something that one really was anxious to know. No, Desiree was not going to be the first of the both of them to break down.

Piper nodded. “Okay. That’s just fine with me. I can be just as cryptic as you.” She smiled. “Do you really want me to take a shower and get clean?”

Desiree nodded. “I would appreciate that unless you plan to sleep on the floor.” She grinned at Piper.

“Nah. I don’t plan on sleeping on the floor. On you, but not the floor.” She got a slap on the arm for that one. It only caused her to chuckle. “Well can I have my rag then?” Piper held her hand out for it, and Desiree realizing that she still had it gave it to her. The older woman thanked her and closed the shower curtain. The strawberry-blonde picked up Piper’s shoes and clothes and started to leave when Piper thought of something and called her back.

“Yes, Piper?”

The dark-haired woman poked her head around the shower curtain. “Do you have a spare toothbrush by any chance?”

Desiree bit her lower lip. She had not thought about that. In fact, she had not thought about getting any essentials for Piper. “No, I don’t.” The strawberry-blonde glanced at her own toothbrush sitting in a cup on the sink. She turned her attention back to Piper. “I guess you can use mine. I know it’s not very hygienic, but it’s better than nothing.” She grinned. “If you’re thinking otherwise, your breath won’t keep you out of my bed. Besides I have some Tic Tacs.”

The blue-eyed woman raised both eyebrows and gave a little grin of her own. “Well that’s good to know. I’ll just use my finger and toothpaste for the time being.”

“Okay. We can get you one tomorrow morning.”

“Great. See you in a few,” Piper replied before she disappeared behind the shower curtain once again.

Walking out of the bathroom, Desiree heard her lover beginning to sing More than a Woman by the Bee Gees in quite a lovely voice. So Piper could cook and sing. Desiree grinned wondering if the woman knew anything modern.

***

Piper walked into Desiree’s bedroom from the bathroom dressed in nothing but the towel that the younger woman had given to her. Desiree was sitting at her computer writing something. Watching her, Piper could tell that she had a look of intense concentration on her face. The dark-haired woman smiled. She looked so adorable. Piper shook her head, wondering when she had become this mushy. It was when Desiree had managed to break through her defenses most likely. The younger woman made her feel alive and playful. Piper hadn’t felt that way…well since Jamaica. That was probably her last happy memory before Desiree came into her life.

Piper walked around so that she could look at the computer screen. As soon as she did so, Desiree minimized it. She scowled at the younger woman asking why she had done that. All that Piper had been able to make out was the date. It was today’s date.
The strawberry-blonde turned around in her chair to face the other woman, placing her arms on the arms of the chair. “Because it’s not for you to read. It’s my private journal.” She sighed. “Unfortunately, I now have to start over.”

Piper walked a few feet back and sat on the bed. “I’m sorry, Desi.” The dark-haired woman shook her head. This was all her fault. She never should have brought Desiree to the cabin in the first place. When she thought of that though, Piper realized that they might have never met if she hadn’t taken her hostage. What would her life have been like if she hadn’t met this wonderful young woman? Would she still be running now? That made Piper think of the fact that she had to get her life back. She almost laughed at that. Before Desiree came into her life, she didn’t have much of one. Now she had a reason to want to live.

Desiree arose from the chair and went over to sit on the bed next to the older woman. She put a small hand on Piper’s bare knee. The towel didn’t reach down that far. “Don’t apologize,” the petite woman stated softly. “I shouldn’t have carried my journal entries in my purse.” She smiled. “None of this is your fault.”

Piper looked at her. “How can you say that? I nearly got you killed.” She abruptly left the bed and started pacing. “I took you hostage for purely selfish reasons.”

“You were being framed for crimes that you didn’t commit. I might have run too in your situation. Don’t blame yourself for your brother’s problems,” she paused thoughtfully. “I’m the one who should be apologizing to you.”

The blue-eyed woman stopped pacing and faced her. Desiree gestured for her sit down again, and Piper did so. Piper started to utter something, but her lover gave her a pleading look for her to remain quiet. Desiree took both of her hands between her smaller ones and looked the woman in the eyes. “I lost faith in you.” Piper began to speak again, but the strawberry-blonde put an index finger against her lips. “And I don’t know how I can ever forgive myself for that. When Victor told me that he was the murderer, I felt like I could just die.” She tried not to cry, but the tears began to fall anyway. Piper moved her hands so that she was now holding Desiree’s in between her own. “Part of me wanted him to kill me because I felt so horrible because of the way that I had treated you.” Her voice broke and she couldn’t go on. Gently pulling the younger woman into her arms, Piper made soft cooing noises in her ear while she rubbed her hair softly.

“Don’t cry,” the dark-haired woman spoke quietly. “Please don’t cry, baby. It’s okay. Everything is gonna be okay now.” Piper placed a kiss in her hair. “You don’t have any reason to apologize. I don’t blame you at all.” Piper shuddered, thinking about her actions that day. “I’m sorry I hit you. I don’t know what got into me. My father and I are two of a kind,” she said disgustedly.

“No!” Desiree shouted as she pulled out of the comforting embrace. She wiped away her tears and sniffed. “You are not like that man, Piper. You were under a lot of pressure and stress and let’s face it. I wasn’t making it any better for you.” She placed her hands on either side of Piper’s face. “Piper, I’m so happy that you’re in my life. I don’t know how I ever did without you. I…”

Blue eyes closely studied her. “What?” Piper prompted. Her heart started to beat faster wondering if Desiree was going to say those three special little words.

“I…think you are…beautiful.” Turning away from Piper, Desiree rolled her eyes. Well that was lame. I am a sucker. She had started to tell Piper that she loved her, but changed her mind at the last moment. She was afraid that Piper might not feel the same way. After all, they hadn’t known one another for very long. I’ll just wait a bit longer.

Piper put her hand on the younger woman’s chin and brought her face back around so that she could see her. She was wearing an adorable crooked little smile. “You’re the one who is beautiful.” Leaning towards Desiree she added, “I bet if you were to look up beautiful in the dictionary there would be a picture of you displayed along with the definition.” Piper chuckled as Desiree rolled her eyes again, but she had managed to make the young woman smile. What Desiree had just told her wasn’t what she had been hoping to hear but it was alright. They had plenty of time.

Desiree gave her two thumbs up. “Awesome pick-up line you got there.” She giggled.

Piper feigned hurt. “Hey! I’ll have you know that I’ve never used that particular line before. Besides the important thing is that I meant it.” She grinned and kissed the younger woman on the nose. It was quickly becoming a habit.

Desiree sighed in contentment. “That must be the third or fourth time you’ve done that.”

“I like doing that.”

The strawberry-blonde whispered, “I like doing this.” She then leaned towards Piper and trapped the woman’s lips in a passionate kiss. Piper wrapped her arms around the smaller woman’s waist and laid her down on the bed. Deciding to put her hands to good use, Desiree entwined them in her lover’s still wet hair. They ended up on the nape of her neck and Piper moved her mouth away from Desiree’s and openly kissed the woman’s neck causing her to moan. She bit the side of her young lover’s neck gently while her hands began to slide Desiree’s shirt up.

“Okay. We can finish this later,” the flushed younger woman stated as she gently pushed Piper away. Sitting up on the bed, Desiree looked at the dark-haired woman who was breathing as heavily as she was. Her blue eyes had grown darker again and she wore a slightly irritated expression. Desiree grinned as she kissed her on the nose. That initially earned her a scowl that quickly changed into a smile.

Rising from the bed, Piper said, “That was cruel woman. Very very cruel. You’re lucky I’m a gentlewoman.” She grinned as she walked over to Desiree’s closet and opened it. “As much as I love wearing this towel do you have anything big enough for me to wear?” Piper turned to look at Desiree who was still sitting on the bed. “I mean I know you and Barbie wear the same clothes, but-”

She never got to finish her statement because she was attacked. She ended up on her back on the carpet with Desiree straddling her. Piper raised an eyebrow. Oh, yeah this was her kind of position! The smaller woman put her hands on her lover’s broad shoulders and lowered herself until they were nearly nose to nose. Desiree was trying to pretend that she was angry but she wasn’t in the least bit convincing. A smile kept playing on her lips.

“I hate it when people bring attention to my short stature.” Desiree playfully growled only arousing Piper all the more.

“I didn’t say anything about your short stature, Dino. What I was stating in a way was that you were small. That’s all.” Piper grinned as she put her hands on the woman’s hips. “Did you order the pizza?”

Desiree nodded. “Should be here soon.” She put on a mock frown. “What do you mean by calling me Dino?”

“Simply that you act like him. However, this is the first time that you’ve been successful in knocking me down like he does Fred. I like it. It’s a cute nickname for you because you also have this cute little growl like Dino.” She grinned again and said in a lower voice, “Growl for me, baby.” She started to raise the shirt again but Desiree slapped her hands away. Piper stuck out her lower lip.

“Don’t try the boo-boo lip routine on me. It doesn’t work. And do I look like a pet to you? I’ll growl when I want to.”

The dark-haired woman looked her up and down. “Well I don’t know. You are cute and small.” She swiftly moved so that Desiree now had her back on the carpet. Leaning over the younger woman, Piper smiled like a hunter in the wild that had finally caught his prey. “And it feels nice to cuddle with you too.” Piper leaned down and captured Desiree’s lips in a searing kiss. It took all of the younger woman’s self control not to rip Piper’s towel off of her. It didn’t take long for Piper’s lips to find their way to her neck again. Except that this time they were on the opposite side. Desiree began to moan and finally got the willpower to push her lover away again. “Okay, okay,” Piper started as she sat back on her heels. “We’ll wait until later. But I don’t know why we can’t do it now.”

Desiree got to her knees in front of Piper. “Anticipation is part of the excitement. Waiting can make it even better.” The truth was that she was scared. They had made love more than once before, but now everything was different. The circumstances were different. They were no longer hiding out in the woods, but were free. It felt good but at the same time nervousness kicked in. This was reality and Desiree did not know if she could handle it. She hardly knew Piper and was already making plans in her head to have the woman live with her. She sincerely hoped that the dark-haired woman did not intend on going back to San Francisco. Obviously, she did not have to continue on her probation since not even Desiree’s father had said anything about it. It appeared as though Piper was actually a free woman. The question was if she was with Desiree long enough would there eventually come a point that she wanted to be free of her as well? The younger woman did not know if she would be able to stand it.

“I guess that could be true,” Piper said grudgingly. “If the waiting doesn’t kill me first.”

Desiree smiled at her warmly before she kissed her chastely on the lips. “I’m sure you can wait a couple more hours.” Maybe more.

Piper rolled her eyes. “Do I have a choice?” she grinned at the smaller woman as she again noticed the chain with the charm on it around Desiree’s neck. From the first time she had noticed it back at the cabin grounds, the blue-eyed woman had been curious about it. “What’s this?” Piper asked as she reached out to open the charm. “Is there a picture in here?” Before Desiree could stop her, she had opened the charm. A thimble full worth of ashes fell to the floor as the younger woman’s mouth opened but no sound was forthcoming. Piper frowned. Of all things why had Desiree been carrying around ashes in a charm? Hair she could understand, but ashes? And wasn’t it supposed to be a picture?
Piper chuckled slightly. “Are those from a memorable bar-b-que or something? Had some tasty ribs did you?” she asked, noticing that the strawberry-blonde seemed to be speechless. This was highly unusual. “Is something wrong, Desi?”

Desiree nodded mutely.

The other woman was now very concerned. Removing the chain and charm from around her neck, Desiree closed the charm before laying both on the carpet. She looked at Piper after the woman called her name in a worried voice.

Opening her mouth Desiree whispered, “You just wasted your sister.”

Piper looked at the younger woman as if she had just stated that she was from another planet. The blue-eyed woman glanced down at the ashes on the floor and then brought her attention back to Desiree.

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

“Remember when I told you while we were still in the RV that Taj and I had spread ashes out in the ocean thinking that they were yours?”

Piper nodded and then it dawned on her where this was heading. She pointed at the ashes. “Do those…is that…um…Emily?”

“Yes. That’s her.” Desiree shrugged. “A little bit of her anyway.”

The dark-haired woman peered at the ashes a moment in silence, before glancing at the other woman. “I wonder what part. A bit of an ear maybe.” She chuckled. “A nose.”

Desiree’s mouth formed into a wide O. Before Piper could even think to stop her, the younger woman had reached out a hand and slapped her none too gently on the side of the head. Ignoring her lover’s shocked expression, Desiree grabbed the chain and charm as she arose from the floor. She walked over to her dresser and placed both items in her floral designed jewelry box, almost lovingly. Desiree heard Piper asking her why she hit her, but did not offer a quick response. Instead, she kept her vision focused on the jewelry box, willing her temper to cool down some. Finally, sensing that she could control any outbursts, Desiree turned around to regard the other woman. Piper was now leaning against the wall close to the bathroom entrance with her arms crossed over her chest. It was clear from the expression on her face that she was waiting for an explanation.

“How can you be so callous?” Desiree asked in a quiet voice. “This is another human being we are talking about. Your own sister, Piper.”

A scowl appeared on Piper’s face. “Let me get this straight. You are defending a woman who tried to frame me for a murder that she committed? I don’t have any sisterly feelings for that woman.” She shrugged. “If that makes me seem cold-blooded then so be it.”

Desiree mentally counted to ten. This was starting to become one difficult relationship, but the young woman was determined to make it work. Who am I kidding? This has been difficult from the start. She knew there was a heart of gold in this woman. “She’s dead,” Desiree simply stated.

The dark-haired woman studied her for a few seconds in silence. “Not my problem.” Her blue eyes had turned ice cold, and the strawberry-blonde got the distinct impression that she was pushing her luck. Piper was speaking in a normal tone of voice, but Desiree knew that the woman was most likely seething underneath it all. Not exactly at Desiree herself, but at the whole situation with her siblings. That’s something else that I’ll have to work on. She is way too hot tempered.

Desiree sighed. Should she just drop the subject for now? That might be in both of their best interests. “So you want something to wear?” She tried to ask brightly.

Piper nodded, glad for the change in subject.

The younger woman turned towards her dresser again and opened the top drawer. After rummaging in there for a few moments and not finding anything suitable, she moved on to the next drawer. As Desiree moved the clothes around in that drawer, she felt warm hands on her shoulders. Next, she felt a pair of soft warm lips lightly touch the skin just beneath her left ear. “I’m sorry,” Piper whispered. Desiree looked in the mirror in front of her and spied both her own and Piper’s reflection. The dark-haired woman gazed at her through the mirror. “You make me want to be a better woman.”

Desiree’s face screwed up in thought. That sounded so familiar. Where had she heard it before? As it dawned on her where, the younger woman began to chuckle softly. Her lover raised a dark eyebrow, still looking at her reflection in the mirror. “Is there something that you find particularly humorous?” Piper removed her hands from the shorter woman’s shoulders and repositioned them on her small waist.

Desiree nodded as she finally managed to stop chuckling. “You stole that line from the movie As Good As it Gets and you know it.”

Piper barely managed to keep from grinning. She had figured that she would be able to get away with it. “I don’t recall Jack Nicholson saying that Helen made him want to be a better woman,” she retorted.

The strawberry-blonde chuckled again. “You stole the majority of the line though. Just edited it a bit.” She turned around in Piper’s arms to face the taller woman, smirking. “Don’t try to pull one over on this Love girl. I live and breathe movies and that flick happens to be one of my favorites.”

Piper tightened her hold as Desiree put her own arms around her neck. “So you’re a movie buff, huh?”

Desiree nodded.

The blue-eyed woman said, “Well, I meant it. Every single word, even though…as you put it, I stole it.” She leaned down and kissed her lover on the nose, receiving a low growl from the younger woman. Piper smiled. “That’s my Dino.”

***

Ten minutes later, Piper was dressed in a tight fitting navy blue T-shirt that showed off her upper body quite well in Desiree’s opinion. For the lower half she had on baggy white cotton workout pants that had belonged to Alec until the blue-green eyed woman had swiped them the last time she had washed the clothes. When the dark-haired woman asked her why she did that, Desiree had replied that the pants looked comfortable and warm since some nights she found to be chilly. Unfortunately, she had never got the chance to wear them because the next night she was abducted.

At first, Piper was adamant against wearing the pants, stating that she did not want to wear anything that had belonged to the other woman’s ex-boyfriend. Desiree shook her head, wondering why this woman had to be so stubborn. Since Desiree did not have any underwear that would fit Piper, and the ones she had on before taking her shower had just been tossed in the garbage it was either the pants or nothing. The strawberry blonde told her that if she refused to wear the pants then she would have to walk around either with the towel wrapped around her waist or with her naked rear end sticking out. Not being in the least bit modest, Piper was all for the latter. Desiree shook her head. There was no way on this earth that she was going to allow this woman to walk around in nothing but a T-shirt that barely covered her abdomen. The strawberry-blonde decided to deliver an ultimatum. Piper was told that she either put on the pants or sleep on the couch tonight. Alone. After mulling it over for all of a second, the dark-haired woman put on the pants in what must have been a record time. Desiree shook her head, chuckling as she showed her lover the blow dryer.

While Piper busied herself combing out the tangles and drying her hair, the other woman took a quick shower. Standing right next to the shower Piper was sorely tempted to cease fixing her hair and join Desiree no matter how much she protested. If the dark-haired woman had her way, Desiree’s resolve would break soon. Just as Piper finished with her hair, the other woman cut off the shower and asked her politely for the towel that was lying on top of the lid of the toilet. The blue-eyed woman got a mischievous glint in her eye. No way was she going to let this golden opportunity pass. Turning towards the closed shower curtain, Piper put her hands on her hips.

“Gee, I don’t know if I can,” she stated in a sing song voice.

“What do you mean you don’t know if you can?” Desiree inquired behind the shower curtain.

Piper could not see the younger woman but she could imagine what Desiree must look like. All wet and slippery…The blue-eyed woman shook her head. Thinking like that was not a good idea, since her lover obviously wanted to wait. Piper could not fathom why she wanted that, but she was determined to respect the younger woman’s wishes. Even though, the tortuous waiting was starting to drive her completely insane.

Piper shrugged though Desiree could not see the action. “I just don’t know if I can.”

The strawberry-blonde mumbled something under her breath and the dark-haired woman asked her to repeat what she had said. “Nothing. I said nothing. Forget it. Listen. Piper, just hand me the towel okay? Please? I’m getting cold.” Which was true. Desiree wrapped her arms around herself in an effort to retain some warmth. She shook her wet head. That woman was going to get what she had coming to her very soon.

“Then turn the hot water back on,” Piper offered, grinning.

Desiree argued, “But I wanna get out.” She was nearly whining now.

“Sounds like a personal problem to me.” The blue-eyed woman could hear her partner growling in frustration or anger. She couldn’t tell which. Either way she was happy. Desiree was so cute when she was miffed.

“What do you want, Piper?” the strawberry-blonde asked in an irritated tone. Yes, her lover was definitely going to get it. She didn’t know what “it” was yet, but Piper would most definitely be getting it.

Piper sauntered towards the closed shower curtain until she was close enough to open it if she wanted to. Which she really wanted to. “Oh, you know what I want,” Piper replied in a deeper voice that sent warm tingles through the other woman’s body. It’s amazing how she can just turn me on with her voice.

Desiree pulled the curtain back just far enough for the taller woman to see her face. Piper had a good view since she was standing right outside the tub. If the woman managed to get any closer she would probably trip over the edge and fall in. Desiree raised a golden eyebrow. Suddenly her nervousness had disappeared. She wanted Piper and she wanted her now. “What is it that you desire, lover?” she asked in her smokiest voice, pushing the shower curtain back so that the other woman could see her entire body. She immediately saw Piper’s blue eyes darken with her passion and the goofy grin she was wearing evaporate.

“You,” the dark-haired woman answered in a whisper that Desiree could barely hear. However, Piper did not make another move. In fact, she was as still as a statue, waiting for the strawberry-blonde to make the next move. It was completely up to Desiree what occurred next. Piper did not have to wait long for the younger woman to act.

Wrapping her wet arms around Piper’s neck, Desiree brought her lips to those of her partners in a light touch. The blue-eyed woman placed her arms around Desiree’s waist as the kiss deepened. Piper’s tongue asked for entrance into the other woman’s mouth and was immediately let in. Their tongues danced together as Piper began to move her hands up and down her lover’s smooth back. Desiree moaned softly as she broke the kiss and quickly moved her lips to the older woman’s neck and bit the skin gently causing Piper to let out her own moan.

“Oh, baby, I want you so bad,” the dark-haired woman whispered hoarsely. She moved her hands down to Desiree’s firm yet soft buttocks and began to massage her cheeks. Desiree moved her mouth to Piper’s ear and started to suck the lobe gently. The taller woman felt Desiree’s hot breath on her skin and involuntarily shivered in delight.

Unfortunately, someone picked that precise moment to ring the doorbell. Piper growled in frustration as she took a step back, releasing the other woman from her embrace. Running a hand threw her hair, Piper told her lover that she would die if she didn’t have her soon.

Desiree chuckled. “I don’t believe deprivation of sex can kill someone.”

The dark-haired woman gave her a mock scowl in return. “You just remember this conversation when you’re weeping over my tombstone that reads, ‘Here lies Piper Redding. Died because she couldn’t get any’. You’ll be sorry then.”

Laughing now, Desiree playfully slapped her on the arm, informing the woman that she should get the door. Piper headed towards the bathroom door, but then stopped and came back around to face the strawberry-blonde. The blue-eyed woman wrapped her arms around Desiree’s waist and kissed her quickly before stating huskily, “I’m gonna rock your world tonight, Desi.” She let go with a wink and hurried out of the bathroom to answer the door as she heard the doorbell ring again. Piper heard Desiree telling her that the money was on her dresser if that was the pizza deliverer. The dark-haired woman quickly grabbed a twenty-dollar bill lying on the dresser before all but running for the front door. She hadn’t had pizza in months. Not since she first got out and treated herself to one. After that one time, Piper had not allowed herself to splurge very often.

After peeping through the peephole, Piper opened the door and greeted the deliverer with a bright smile. She could smell the delicious aroma coming from the rectangular box already. The young pizza delivery boy took one look at Piper and took a step back as he gasped. For some reason, the action caused the dark-haired woman to quickly look over her shoulder. Not seeing anything, she turned back to him with a raised eyebrow. Piper asked him if something was wrong.

The teenage boy nodded then shook his head. It was obvious that he was confused or frightened about something. Piper wondered briefly if he was high on some illegal substance by the way that he was acting. The dark-haired woman shook her head sadly. Some of these kids today… He pointed at her. “I…I kn…know you. I know you,” he stated in a shaky voice as he jumped a little.

Piper raised an eyebrow again. “You do?” he nodded emphatically. “Funny. Because I don’t think I know you. To be honest you don’t look familiar at all.”

The boy pushed a few strands of shoulder-length blonde hair out of his face. “Dude, I wouldn’t. You don’t know me but I know you.” He moved towards her a step. “I thought you were dead.”

It then dawned on Piper why he was acting the way that he was. She took a deep breath. Maybe answering the door wasn’t such a good idea. “You’re not the first person to tell me that today. So you’ve obviously heard of me.”

“Yeah.” He chuckled and bounced some. “I can’t believe that I’m staring you in the face.” The next thing Piper knew it, the teenager had a hold of her hand and was shaking it. After forcing himself to let go he looked at his hand as though he would never wash it again. He glanced at her and said, “I am a big fan of yours, Ms. Redding. May I call you Piper?” Before she could answer his question, he went on talking excitedly. “I’ve been keeping up with you since all this shit happened and I hafta tell you that I thought you were innocent of those crimes from the start. Sure it looked shady but I never gave up hope.” He put the pizza on the ground and pointed at himself. “By the way, I’m Ice Cream.” He shrugged. “That’s not my real name but they call me that because I’m smooth, cool, and sweet.”

He gave her a look that caused the dark-haired woman to roll her eyes. Poor thing, little did he know he didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of wooing her. “Look, Ice Cream…thank you for believing in me. I really appreciate.” She glanced down at the pizza box. “May I have my pizza now?”

“Just a minute.” Ice Cream removed his work shirt and showed Piper his T-shirt underneath. “Check this out. I had a friend of mine do it. Cool, huh?” The white cotton shirt sported a picture of Piper that was taken during her trial nearly nine years ago. She was sitting in a chair in the courtroom wearing a gray charcoal suit. She remembered that day. It was the day the jury had read the verdict. Underneath the picture in all capitals and bold writing was printed the word “INNOCENT”. Ice Cream turned around and Piper read on the back of the shirt, “UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY”. The dark-haired woman thought it odd that the boy would choose the picture that was taken the day she was indeed proven guilty. Ice Cream turned back around to face Piper with a huge grin plastered on his face. “Do you like it, Piper?”

She nodded although all she really cared about was getting her pizza. “May I now-”

Ice Cream cut her off. “Ooh! Dude, can I have your autograph?”

Both of the dark-haired woman’s eyebrows shot up. “You want my autograph?” So, the boy saw it fit to give her the status of a celebrity. Well far be it of Piper to let him down. Besides, the quicker she got rid of him, the quicker she could sink her teeth into that mouthwatering pizza.

The delivery boy nodded. “Please?” He took out her receipt and turned it over on the back, which was blank. “Do you want this?” Ice Cream waved the small slip at her, and Piper shook her head. “Okay. You can put it on the back of here then.” He felt on his pockets and then informed her that he did not have a pen.

Out of the corner of her eye, the blue-eyed woman saw Desiree coming out of the bedroom wearing green plaid pajama bottoms and a green tank top to match. The top showed off the smooth feminine muscles in her arms and Piper grinned in appreciation. The strawberry-blonde was drying her hair with a fluffy towel as she came over to the door wearing a curious expression.

“What’s going on Piper?” the young woman asked as she looked at the pizza boy who appeared to be a little bit too excited about delivering pizza.

The dark-haired woman turned to her. “Ice Cream here, knows me.” At Desiree’s blank expression she continued, “He knows who I am and he wants my autograph.” She shrugged and finished, “He’s a fan.” Piper tried hard not to, but she could not manage to keep a grin off of her face. Thinking it over it felt good to know that she had someone else in her corner that didn’t even know her personally. The dark-haired woman asked Desiree if she would get her a pen. The young woman left to retrieve the requested item and shortly came back. She handed it to Piper who asked Ice Cream for the receipt. Piper then asked him what he wanted her to write on it.

“Put to my greatest fan, Ice Cream. Yours always, Piper Redding. Oh! And that’s Ice Cream with a “K” not a “C”.”

The blue-eyed woman nodded as she began writing the message on Desiree’s back. Finished, Piper handed the autograph to the delivery boy. Thanking her, he folded the autograph and put it in his wallet. Picking up the pizza, Ice Kream handed it to Piper while announcing that it was on the house. She tried to pay him but he refused to take her money, so she and Desiree ended up getting a free pizza. The delivery boy shook Piper’s hand and then made to leave when the strawberry-blonde called him back. Ice Kream looked at her expectantly.

“Now this is our little secret, right?” Desiree inquired. “You won’t tell anyone that you saw Piper here, will you? She really doesn’t need the press hounding her right now. She’s been through enough as it is.”

The delivery boy nodded. “Of course I won’t tell anyone. I completely understand what you mean, Miss…?”

Standing beside her, Desiree heard Piper chuckle. She resisted the urge to glare at the older woman, and instead turned a sweet smile on Ice Kream. So, he did not know who she was, eh? The strawberry-blonde did not know whether to be insulted or relieved by that fact. So what if the teenager did not ask for her autograph. It did not matter one bit to Desiree. What am I? Chopped liver?

“It doesn’t matter, Ice Kream,” Desiree replied. “I’m just a friend of Ms. Redding’s and she just came here for some peace and quiet before she resurfaces. So mums the word. Okay?”

Ice Kream nodded again. “Of course. You have my word that I will not tell anyone.” He laughed. “Dude, I won’t even tell my own shadow.”

***

Desiree eyed the last piece of pizza in the box. It was not hot anymore, but she still wanted it. If there was one thing that the young woman excelled at, it was eating. From an early age, she had done it well. Piper, sitting next to her on the couch, smiled inwardly. At first, the strawberry-blonde had been turned off at the idea of eating pineapple on pizza, but she ate more of Piper’s half than she did. She also ate her own which only consisted of pepperoni.

The dark-haired woman stretched her legs out on the coffee table. “You looking at my last slice of pizza?” she asked with a trace of amusement in her voice.

Desiree spared her a quick glance. “No.” She turned her attention back to the old movie playing on television. She was full, but it tasted so delicious.

“Come now, Desi.” Piper leaned towards her and whispered in the younger woman’s ear, “You know you want it.” Desiree gulped. “You can just taste it, can’t you?” Piper quickly ran her tongue on the ridge of the other woman’s ear, causing her to shudder. Leaning back into the comfortable couch she said in her regular voice, “G’wan and take the pizza.” When Desiree did not make a move she added, “Take it before I change my mind. You can have it.” Giving in to temptation, the strawberry-blonde reached over and swiped the last slice from the box. She practically inhaled it while Piper looked on in amazement. How could such a little thing consume so much? Piper guessed it was probably one of those many mysteries in life.

Impulsively, Desiree reached over and kissed the dark-haired woman on the cheek and said, “I’m so happy to have you back, Piper.”

The other woman smiled at her warmly. “Ditto.”

Desiree grinned back and then maneuvered herself until she was stretched out on the couch with her head in the other woman’s lap. Piper immediately placed a hand in the strawberry-blonde’s hair and began to stroke it gently as she turned her complete attention to the movie.

A while later, as Desiree watched the credits of the movie roll, she wondered if Piper had fallen asleep since she had been quiet for the last fifteen minutes or so. The strawberry-blonde had learned something interesting about the other woman. Piper, to Desiree’s great surprise enjoyed talking while watching a movie. Now probably with anyone else she would have been irritated, but not with the woman whose lap she was lying in quite comfortably at the moment. Piper liked to make comments, most of which were positive, though some of what she said caused Desiree to start laughing.

Enjoying where she was immensely, Desiree did not want to move, but it was time to wake Piper up and get her to the bedroom so that she could lie down and get some much-needed rest. Desiree sighed. The last thing she had on her mind was rest, but she considered that the other woman needed it, and as bad as she herself had been sleeping, Desiree had to admit that she should head to bed as well.

The strawberry-blonde reached for the remote and clicked off the television as she felt a drop of something wet fall on her cheek. It was followed quickly by another drop leaving the young woman to wonder if there was a leak in her ceiling coming from the apartment above hers. Another drop fell and Desiree turned so that she was lying on her back, with the back of her head on the other woman’s lap. With widened blue-green eyes, Desiree noticed that Piper was crying. The dark-haired woman swiped the tears away and turned her head to the side.

Biting her lower lip to keep from laughing, the strawberry-blonde lifted a hand to turn Piper’s full profile back to her. However, Piper refused to make eye contact.

“Piper, that is so adorable,” the younger woman stated as she left her hand on the other woman’s cheek and began to caress it softly.

The dark-haired woman glanced down at her. “What is?”

“That you’re crying over the movie. At least I assume that’s why you’re crying.”

Piper sniffed and quickly wiped at her right eye. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Desi. I wasn’t crying,” she retorted stubbornly.

Her lover smiled. “Yeah, right. So those things falling from your eyes aren’t tears?”

The dark-haired woman lied, “I just got something in my eye is all. I don’t cry over movies. Not like it’s real or anything…”

Yeah, sure, Desiree thought to herself. Did Piper actually think that she was fooling someone? Well Desiree was not about to press the issue.

Piper leaned over and kissed the strawberry-blonde on the nose. “Ready to hit the sheets?” she asked waggling her eyebrows.

The younger woman chuckled. Well rest could wait. “Yes, but you go on ahead.” Desiree got up and stretched before starting to gather their mess from dinner. Piper offered to help her, but the younger woman refused, advising her to go wait in the bed. After thinking it over quickly, the dark-haired woman decided to take her up on her offer and all but skipped to the bedroom. Desiree could never be sure, but she thought that she even heard Piper whistling a little happy tune.

Gathering the empty pizza box and everything else, Desiree took them to the kitchen. She washed the few dishes and glasses while Tobias rubbed against her legs while purring. After finishing and drying her hands on a dishtowel, Desiree picked up the cat and scratched him for a few minutes as her thoughts traveled back to the sensual woman waiting for her in her bedroom.

Piper Redding was her girlfriend, and Desiree supposed live-in lover. That is if the dark-haired woman decided to stay. Desiree certainly hoped that she would. What if she wanted to go back to San Francisco? The young woman shook her head. No, that wasn’t going to happen. She was sure of it. After all, there was nothing for Piper there. Her friends were here and Desiree considered that she didn’t have anything to go back to. No commitments or family. The strawberry-blonde knew for a fact that she herself would not want to go back.

Desiree sighed. She would have to get working on her book again and get a job if she didn’t want to get herself, Piper and Tobias evicted. She was sure that her parents would help out, but that was what she was trying to avoid. Desiree wanted to be on her own without their help. She was an adult and she was fully capable of taking care of herself. So, that was what she would do. If she had to get a job at a burger joint for the time being in order to pay the bills then so be it. Sometimes you had to work your way up the ladder of success.

That settled Desiree deposited Tobias down on the floor despite his meows of protests. The young woman began to walk out of the kitchen, but then turned back around and went to one of her cabinets rummaging around until she found a bottle of whiskey in the back behind a big can of coffee. Untwisting the cap and taking it off, Desiree tipped the bottle and took a few swigs of the alcohol. The nervousness had returned some but she needed Piper. She wanted her so much that she could taste it. Taking another long swig, Desiree put the cap back on and replaced the bottle in the back.

Taking a deep breath, the young woman made her way through the living room and then quietly opened her bedroom door. The light was on and she could plainly see Piper in the bed, stretched out under the sheets and blanket with an arm across her face, covering her eyes some from view. First sighing, and then chuckling to herself, Desiree turned out the lamp next to the side of the bed Piper was sleeping on and then crawled in next to her. In her sleep, the dark-haired woman immediately rolled over and threw an arm around Desiree. Feeling her lover’s warm deep even breathing on her neck, the strawberry-blonde succumbed to sleep.

She was dreaming and my, was it vivid! Someone was kissing her on the neck and she discovered that it was quite a delightful feeling that sent wonderful sensations through her body. She moaned as she felt a soft warm hand enter the waistband of her pants and roam down until it was covering her mound. The woman moaned again as a pair of soft lips covered her own. The tip of a tongue touched her bottom lip and the woman opened her eyes to find that this actually was not a dream at all.

Desiree blinked her eyes and then reached over to turn on the light. With her eyes narrowing because of the brightness, she squinted at Piper, who was lying besides her with their bodies in close contact. Desiree could all but feel the heat emanating from her lover. She could also feel Piper’s index finger consistently rubbing at the entrance of her center, and she involuntarily let out a soft moan of pleasure.

“Pi…Piper, what are you doing?” What kind of idiotic question is that? What does it look like she’s doing?

The dark-haired woman chuckled low in her throat. “You know what I’m doing, Desi,” she whispered. “I like to keep my promises.” Piper covered a patch of skin on the younger woman’s neck with her lips again. “If you notice the time,” she went on between kisses, “it’s not yet midnight, therefore it’s still Sunday and I distinctly remember saying that I was going to rock your world tonight.” She stopped to gaze into Desiree’s eyes. “That is a promise that I won’t break.” Finished with her short speech, Piper leaned down to capture the other woman’s lips with her own. Desiree moaned as she kissed her lover back passionately. Far be it from her to prohibit Piper from fulfilling her promise.

Moments later, Piper ended the kiss and got to her knees. She reached down and began to pull Desiree’s shirt off of her. Wanting very much to help, the younger woman sat up and shucked her T-shirt, throwing it across the room. Piper growled low in her throat as she leaned down to take one of Desiree’s rosy nipples into her mouth. The blue-green eyed woman gasped at the stimulating contact. Piper increased her sucking as she gently nudged the other woman to lie down. Desiree did so willingly due to the sudden weakness that she was feeling.

The dark-haired woman crawled down to kneel besides the other woman’s legs. She pulled Desiree’s pants and panties off of her at the same time. Piper threw them onto the floor, as her darkened blue eyes raked over her lover’s body. The strawberry-blonde began to fidget from the silent exploration. She wanted this woman to make love to her. Not examine her like a rare piece of art.

Desiree cleared her throat. “Are you going to just look or…touch?” she asked in a lowered voice.

Dark blue eyes glanced at her, before Piper hurriedly removed her own T-shirt and caused the bed to bounce some, as she pulled off the baggy pants and threw them in the general direction of the shirt. Now it was Desiree’s turn to admire her body. Was it the younger woman’s imagination or had Piper managed to look even better with her clothes off, then she had a week ago?

Piper covered the smaller woman’s body with her own and started kissing her soft lips. Desiree wrapped her arms around Piper’s back and began running her hands over it as she melted into the kissing. The older woman began to grind her middle into that of the other woman’s as she broke the contact of their lips and began to kiss along Desiree’s jaw line.

“I want you so bad, Desi,” Piper stated in a lowered voice. She began to kiss the younger woman’s neck. The dark-haired woman could feel Desiree’s heart beating as rapidly as her own was at that instant.

Before Piper knew what had happened, she was lying on her back on the bed with the strawberry-blonde straddling her hips. The older woman grinned, wondering what Desiree was intending to do. One thing was for sure. Piper was not about to let herself be handcuffed tonight. Though she had thoroughly enjoyed it up at the cabin, she wanted full usage of her hands tonight. For some reason, she didn’t believe that Desiree had any handcuffs lying around anyway.

Desiree leaned down and kissed her lover on her eyelids softly. She then kissed the woman on the nose, and then made a detour for one cheek and then the other. The strawberry-blonde passed those wonderfully full lips, and went for Piper’s neck instead. She placed her lips over the spot where she could feel the dark-haired woman’s racing pulse. Desiree’s lips traveled to a collarbone that she gladly kissed along, as she felt Piper’s long fingers run through her hair. She then felt the woman’s hands on her shoulders, putting a slight pressure there, silently urging the strawberry-blonde to go lower.

Desiree smiled mischievously up at her impatient lover. “Did you want something, Piper?”

The blue-eyed woman growled low in her throat. “You know what I want, Desi. Please don’t tease me tonight,” she replied sounding earnestly desperate. There was pleading in Piper’s eyes, and Desiree being a soft-hearted person, did not have it in her to tease when the other woman was being so sincere. She thought back to events from earlier that evening. Though it wasn’t like Piper didn’t deserve to be teased. The younger woman considered that she had every right to pay the woman back, but not now. Besides, Desiree was getting impatient herself.

One more ribbing wouldn’t hurt anything. She could not resist. “You know,” Desiree began in a conversational tone, fully aware that Piper looked like she might be getting ready to take charge of the situation, “this chick once told me that patience is a virtue.” The strawberry-blonde smirked.

“Really?” Piper lifted an eyebrow. Rule #1of dating Desiree Love. One must watch what they say around her. For it could come back to haunt them. “Well whoever she is, she’s crazy.”

Desiree kissed her lover on the lips and grinned. “I couldn’t agree with you more.”

The dark-haired woman smirked. “Cute. Very cute.” She gently but quickly pushed Desiree off of her and the younger woman landed on her back, with a gorgeous naked Amazon of a woman kneeling over her.

I can’t believe she’s mine. “Hey! What did you do that for?” inquired Desiree in a playful tone.

“I’ve decided,” the blue-eyed woman started as she slowly lowered herself onto her younger lover. Piper closed her eyes at the exquisite contact of their bodies. Sure she was much bigger than this woman, but they were a match made in Heaven. Blue eyes opened as a hand began to travel down Desiree’s body, starting at the side of her breast. The strawberry-blonde’s breath began to quicken, wondering where that hand would end up. Piper went on, “to take,” the dark-haired woman began to kiss her small lover, starting with her chin and slowly going down her throat as her hand stroked the woman’s thigh. Piper moved down the other woman’s body until her mouth was level with her full breasts. Her tongue darted out and lightly flicked across an extended rosy nipple, as Desiree arched her back, beginning to moan softly, “matters,” Piper whispered before she closed her mouth over the other woman’s nipple, taking as much of the breast into her mouth as was possible. She heard the younger woman call out her name as her mouth moved to give equal attention to the other breast. After a few moments, Piper ended the sweet torment and slid off of Desiree, making sure that their bodies were still touching. Her hand traveled up the inside of the other woman’s thigh having a destination in mind, “into,” Piper went on in a voice thick with desire as one finger slid into the strawberry-blonde’s hot and moist center, “my own hands.” Desiree cried out at the pleasure. The dark-haired woman began to move her finger in and out slowly as she reached up to place a feverish kiss on her lover’s mouth. This was true bliss.

Their tongues thrashing about, Desiree’s hips moved against the digit plunging within her, deeply caressing her. Wanting her lover to feel what she herself was experiencing, Desiree slipped a hand between them and stroked Piper’s womanhood, her outer lips coated with her thickened nectar. Moaning in delight into her mouth, the brunette practically begged Desiree to come inside of her while as she added another finger, her pace quickening. Not wanting her lover to have to wait another moment, the strawberry-blonde slipped a couple of digits between her swollen lips causing Piper’s hips to began almost furiously gyrating.

They eagerly matched each other’s strokes and soon worked up to a feverish pace, sweat dampened foreheads touching, heated puffs of air flowing between them as slick thrusting fingers brought them to the precipice where they swiftly catapulted into a pool of rapture.

Breathing heavily, Piper kissed the length of her lover’s neck as soft palms languidly rubbed up and down her back. Softly moaning, she raised her head and tenderly touched her lips to those, which she deemed sweeter than honey. Gazing into Desiree’s eyes, a smile curved her lips.

“That was…damn,” she reverently whispered.

Desiree lightly chuckled while giving a slight nod. “My sentiments exactly.”

With the lights now off, Piper gently rubbed Desiree’s back in a circular motion, while the woman’s head rested on her broad shoulder in the aftermath of their lovemaking. Their breathing had returned to normal and the two women were quiet. Neither had said much in the last few minutes, and Piper felt the need to break the silence.

She began to speak in a quiet voice. “Desi, I don’t feel like I deserve you. In fact, I know that I don’t. You deserve to have someone that can give you so much more than I have to offer. Just look at the way we met. I kidnapped you.” She bent her head and gently kissed the object of her affection on the forehead before lying back on the pillow. “I’m so sorry, baby,” she whispered as a tear escaped her eye. Piper didn’t bother to wipe it away. “But I’m way too selfish to just leave you. I can’t do that. I don’t wanna leave you. I need you. It frightens me that I need and want you so much,” she paused. “I guess you could say that I desire you Desiree.” Piper chuckled. “I’ve been waiting to use your name and that word in the same sentence,” she paused once again. “If you were ever to decide that you didn’t want me, and I wouldn’t blame you one bit…I might just die. Not actually, but I know that I might just die inside. I’m hooked on you now, and I have a feeling that that will never go away. That it’s forever. I’ll always want you. Need you.” Another tear fell as Piper whispered, “I guess what I’m trying to say is, I love you, Desiree Meredith Love.”

Minutes passed without Desiree offering any comment. Piper’s heart to began to beat faster. Oh, God. I’ve probably scared the poor girl. Good going, stupid. Should have just kept my mouth shut. “Desi, I’m sorry I said all that. Are you upset?” When the younger woman still did not answer, Piper’s brow furrowed as she turned her head to look down at the woman. Since it was dark, she reached over and clicked on the light. Getting a good look at Desiree’s face, the dark-haired woman felt instant relief and a small amount of disappointment at the say time. The strawberry-blonde was fast asleep.

“I’ll be damned,” Piper said good-naturedly. Oh well. Maybe Desiree was not meant to hear her declaration just yet. Extinguishing the light before slipping her arms around her young lover, she closed her eyes. As she lay there, it suddenly dawned on Piper that she had not been this happy in a long time. The feeling was incredible. A slight smile evident on her lips, Piper drifted off to sleep.
CHAPTER 9
Yawning, Piper opened her eyes. She smiled when her eyes landed on the other woman lying next to her. By listening to her breathing, she could tell that Desiree was still in a deep sleep. Must have worn her out, Piper thought to herself as she grinned. Well after last night, it did not surprise her one bit. Speaking of sleep, Piper raised up to take a look at the clock. The woman was shocked to find that it was nearly eleven o’clock. She never slept that late.

Piper frowned. There was something warm and heavy on her back. Glancing over her shoulder, the woman noticed that the culprit was Tobias. She shook her head. This cat had some nerve deciding to rest on her, when usually he would not give her the time of day.

Still looking back at him and seeing that he was asleep as well, Piper said, “I don’t understand you, furball.” Cocking open one eye, Tobias peered at her in apparent boredom. “I know you don’t like me, but you obviously don’t find any problem with using me as your personal pillow.” The feline opened the other eye and yawned. “Get off of me.” Stubborn as a mule, Tobias didn’t move an inch. Piper shook her body a little thinking that that might make him leave, but of course, it did not do the trick. “I want you to get off of my back right now, furball. That’s an order.” Tobias stretched out his front legs and extended his claws, as if threatening his human pillow. Since Piper’s bare back was exposed, those sharp claws could really do some damage if the cat chose to use them in a negative way. Piper raised an eyebrow. “You wouldn’t dare.” Tobias’ right paw was now close to the dark-haired woman’s smooth bronzed skin. “In case you forgot, I defended you yesterday, furball. Remember? Against Alec?” Piper shook her head again. She was trying to hold a one-sided conversation with a cat. Not only that. She was trying to reason with him too. What truly frightened her was that she believed he was actually listening and understanding every word that she said.

Both of Tobias’ front claws were all but touching Piper’s skin now. “If you fancy keeping your tail, Tobias, get off now,” Piper stated in a low voice. The cat then tried to stare her down, but after a couple of minutes gave up and jumped off the bed. Piper chuckled to herself as she lay back down on her pillow to gaze at Desiree.

She did not get to do that for long, because Tobias, now sitting on the floor right next to the bed, began to cry. Rolling her eyes, the dark-haired woman turned her head to the left and rested on her elbows. “What is it, furball?” Tobias continued to cry while looking up at her. “I suppose that you want to eat now?” It seemed as if his crying became louder after she asked the question. The blue-eyed woman could not understand how Desiree could continue to sleep through that noise. She glanced back at her lover noticing that the woman was either playing possum, or she was still very much asleep. Quietly getting out of bed, Piper retrieved the pants she had been wearing last night. After putting them on, she located her shirt, which was lying in Desiree’s computer chair. Slipping on the shirt, she told Tobias to be quiet. Of course, the cat would not listen as he rubbed against her leg and purred loudly, doing a fairly good impression of a lawn mower.

“Oh, now I’m your best friend, huh?” The dark-haired woman said, walking towards the bedroom door. The feline beat her out of the room and all but raced to the kitchen as if his life depended on this very meal. Piper took her time walking to the kitchen. She was not about to hurry to feed that little ungrateful brat.

On entering the kitchen, Piper went to the cabinet the cat’s food was in. She took out a can of liver pate and opened it. Taking Tobias’ crystal goblet out of the dish drainer, Piper emptied the cat food into it before placing it on the cat’s rug. Instantly stopping his crying, the feline walked up to the goblet and began eating.

The blue-eyed woman ran a hand through her mused hair as her stomach grumbled. Well it was time to feed the human. Piper went to the refrigerator and noticed a box of cornflakes on top. Taking it down she found a couple of bowls in another cabinet and poured cereal into each. She then poured some sugar into each bowl from a sugar bowl that was in the shape of a kitten. Starting to whistle, the dark-haired woman took out a banana that she was delighted to find in the refrigerator and sliced it. She put an equal amount of slices into each bowl. After putting two pieces of bread in the toaster, Piper poured milk onto the cereal, and then added a spoon to each bowl. The toast popped up and the woman put margarine and strawberry jelly on them, before putting both on a saucer. Pouring orange juice into two glasses, Piper set them on the cabinet, before putting the saucer on top of one of the bowls and carrying the bowls of cereal to the bedroom.

Entering the bedroom, the dark-haired woman put what she was carrying on the nightstand, before hurrying back to get the glasses of juice. When she came back, Piper halted at the entrance to the door, watching in amusement as Desiree took a gigantic bite out of one of the toasts. The strawberry-blonde licked away a spot of jelly on her upper lip before eating a spoonful of cereal with two slices of banana on it. Desiree had another spoonful ready when she heard someone clearing their throat. She glanced up in embarrassment. The young woman hurried to swallow the food in her mouth and rested her spoon in the bowl.

“Sorry,” Desiree apologized sheepishly. “I woke up and saw the food. Being extremely famished, I couldn’t wait for you.”

Piper chuckled as she came towards the bed and handed her lover one of the glasses of juice, before putting her own on the nightstand. The dark-haired woman sat on the bed and picked up her bowl. She plucked the remaining piece of toast from the saucer now lying on the bed between them. Piper bit a piece of the toast and then kissed Desiree on the cheek. “No need to apologize, Desi. I know after last night you must be starving.” The dark-haired woman grinned as the other woman blushed. First one of the day, Piper thought in amusement.

The two women ate in silence for a few minutes with the only sound being the clink of their spoons against the bowls. Desiree glanced at the time and informed the other woman that they should get ready soon for Taj’s party.

Piper finished the rest of her toast. “I don’t have anything to wear.”

“That’s not a problem,” Desiree replied. “We can go shopping and you can change in the dressing room. We have to get you a toothbrush anyway. After that, we can head to Taj’s house.”

“Shopping?” The dark-haired woman was wearing a look of part distaste and fear. “You plan for us to go shopping?”

“Yeah,” the other woman replied cheerily. “It’ll be fun.” Desiree then studied Piper’s face. “What’s the matter?” The strawberry-blonde looked at her companion’s cereal.

“I don’t really care for shopping,” Piper replied, noticing where the other woman’s eyes were. “There are more cornflakes in the kitchen, Desi. Go get you some.”

“I don’t want your cereal,” Desiree lied. She then drank the remaining milk in her bowl, emptying it. “Thank you for breakfast.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Why don’t you like to shop?” the younger woman asked after a few seconds of silence. She had always found shopping to be quite pleasurable. Desiree would enjoy spending a whole day strolling through the stores of a mall. “It’s so fun to do.”

The dark-haired woman snorted. “Maybe for you. Not for me, though. I never liked it.”

Piper thought back to the last few weeks of past summers. She had always dreaded them while growing up. It was not because she had to return to school, but that her mother would make a whole day out of shopping for her school clothes. On that dreaded day, Piper would have to try on at least a dozen outfits in a dressing room. What eight-year-old wants to spend a summer day trying on clothes?

Though, her mother always meant well. Not all parents took that time with their children. Marie had always tried to make their shopping day lively, but her daughter had never enjoyed them. Although, at the end of the hectic day, Piper always ended up with a smile plastered on her face. After piling the bags of clothes into the trunk of the car, mother and daughter would take in a movie and then go out to dinner. Though sometimes that would be reversed, depending on when the movie started. Piper considered that getting to spend a wonderful evening with her mother was worth enduring the shopping experience.

“How about this?” Desiree started. “We can just go right in, pick something quickly, buy it and you can change. Shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.”

The dark-haired woman pondered this for a moment. Why did she get the feeling that Desiree most likely loved shopping as much as she loved food? Marie would have enjoyed having her as a daughter. Piper sighed. Well she did need clothes. She informed Desiree, albeit stubbornly, that they could go shopping. She made the young woman promise that they would not be in the department store any more than fifteen minutes unless the line was long. The strawberry-blonde agreed to the deal, though it was evident she was not overjoyed with it.

Desiree made to take the dishes in the kitchen, but Piper stopped her, telling the younger woman that she could just get ready. The strawberry-blonde kissed her on the lips and began to get out the bed when her lover pulled her back around and kissed her deeply. Wrapping her arms around the other woman’s neck, Desiree got to her knees on the bed in between Piper’s spread legs. Hugging Desiree to her, Piper broke the heated kiss and began to deliver light kisses to her collarbone.

“Piper,” the blue-green eyed woman said in a faint whisper. When Piper kept kissing her without replying, Desiree called her name again, a little louder.

Piper reluctantly stopped her pleasurable assault and looked the other woman in the eye. “Yeah?”

“It’s passed eleven o’clock.”

“So?”

“So we have to get ready, go shopping for something for you to wear and buy a toothbrush, before heading over to the party. You know it starts at one.”

“And?” Piper leaned forward and began to suck on Desiree’s earlobe, almost achieving in distracting the younger woman completely.

“And…and we have to be there…can’t be late.”

“And why can’t we?” The dark-haired woman began to suck stronger causing Desiree to moan.

“Because it’s Taj’s wedding party and your welcome…welcome back party, Piper.”

Piper kissed her on the lips. “I’m sure that Taj won’t mind if we’re a little late.”

Desiree hurried out of the bed before Piper could grab her. The strawberry-blonde stood by the bed with her hands on her hips. “Piper, we are going to get ready right now, because I do not want to be late for that party.” She was wearing a look of determination, and the dark-haired woman knew she should give up.

Piper sighed. “All right.” She waved towards the bathroom. “Then go on and get ready.”

In all her naked glory, Desiree began her short trek to the bathroom with a victorious smile on her lips. She could practically feel Piper’s eyes on her and could not resist shaking her hips a little, as she walked. The strawberry-blonde chuckled when she heard a faint groan coming from behind her. Just before Desiree closed the door, she heard the other woman ask if she could join her in the shower in a few minutes. Now that was not such a bad idea.

“I’ll be waiting.” Desiree winked before shutting the door quietly.

Grinning from ear to ear, Piper arose from the bed and gathered the dishes and glasses. She glanced at the bathroom room door longingly, as she left the bedroom. Walking into the kitchen, the dark-haired woman dumped the dishes into the sink and turned on the hot water. She was waiting for it to heat up when she heard the doorbell ring. Piper sighed, hoping that it was not Desiree’s parents. The blue-eyed woman hurried to the door and opened it without asking who it was or looking through the peephole. She quickly found out that she should have done one of those or both.

On opening the door, Piper was greeted to five or six reporters with microphones, tape recorders and camera’s that they snapped in her face, causing the dark-haired woman to close her eyes briefly from the bright lights. All of the reports were attempting to speak at the same time.

“Miss Redding, how did you survive the fire?” one woman with frizzy bright red hair asked.

“What exactly is going on between you and Desiree Love?” a tall heavily bearded man asked as he thrust a mini tape recorder at Piper. She wanted to break the tape recorder as well as the hand holding it. How did they find out that she was at Desiree’s house? More importantly, how did they find out that she was alive? The dark-haired woman’s eyes narrowed. Ice Kream. Why that big-mouthed pizza boy…

“What are your plans now, Miss Redding?”

“I know what my plans are,” a voice yelled angrily from behind the reporters. They along with Piper turned towards the voice. Larisa Love was standing there with both a shopping bag and a white plastic bag in hand. With her shades pushed to the top of her head, green eyes glared at the reporters. “Who the hell do you think you people are? Put yourselves in her shoes,” she said pointing at Piper, who was staring at her with a blank look on her face. “This woman has endured enough crap already and she doesn’t need you vultures bothering her. I know that this is what you do for a living, but why don’t you look up the word “decency” in the dictionary and then try to have some. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves,” she paused. “Now get on the elevator and get out of here now! The show is over.”

For some reason, the reporters decided to take this woman’s advice without any argument. A couple of them even murmured apologies to Piper as they made their way down the hall. Larisa moved out of the way to let them pass easily. After the reporters quietly shuffled into the elevator and the doors closed, Larisa looked at Piper not having a clue what she would read if anything on the younger woman’s face. The blue-eyed woman was still looking at her blankly, but her jaw was clenching and unclenching.

“For the record, I don’t need you to defend me, Larisa,” Piper said as she walked back into the apartment, leaving the door open. Larisa took that as a good sign. At least the woman had not closed the door in her face. Following the other woman into the apartment, Larisa closed the door, making sure to lock it behind her. She noticed that Piper was briskly walking towards the kitchen, and followed her in there. Larisa saw the younger woman making dishwater. She took a seat at the kitchen table, sitting the bags on the floor.

“I know that, Piper,” the older woman stated quietly. “I was only trying to help.”

“Don’t need or want your help,” the other woman muttered as she picked up a sponge and a bowl.

Larisa sighed. This could not go on much longer. “Tell me how long do you think you can keep your thinly veiled animosity toward me hidden from my sister? You two are building a life together I presume.”

Piper scrubbed the bowl with more force than it needed. “You got a problem with that?” She kept her eyes towards the sink.

The older woman shook her head, then realized that Piper would not be able to see the action. “No,” she whispered. “It’s none of my business what you and my sister do,” she halted, trying to gather her words. “I’m happy for you both.”

The blue-eyed woman rinsed the bowl off and put it in the strainer, before reaching for the other one. Was that pain she heard in Larisa’s voice? Did she care? “Are you really?” she glanced over her shoulder at the woman.

“Yes. I really am.” Knowing that she should change the subject, Larisa had to inquire one more thing. She could not help herself. “Do you love her?” she asked in such a low tone of voice that Piper could barely make out the words.

In silence, the younger woman quickly finished up the dishes before turning around, leaning against the sink as she regarded Larisa with another blank look. “What’s it to you?”

Larisa nodded. That answered her question. “Just curious is all. I hope you treat her right. She deserves to be happy. My sister has been through more than you probably know.”

Piper replied, “I’ve come to the conclusion that we both do.” More than I know? “Is there something that I should know about?” she asked, her voice laced with concern.

“That is wholly up to Desiree to decide.”

The younger woman glared at her. “Then why the hell did you bring it up in the first place?”

Larisa sighed. Piper’s temper strikes again. “Would you try to lower your voice and maintain a semblance of control, Piper?” she asked calmly. “I just thought that you should know that you aren’t the only person that has had problems.”

The blue-eyed woman crossed her arms over her chest. “Are you saying that I’m self-absorbed? I know I’m not the only one who has problems. I’m aware of that fact thank you very much.” Piper leaned over to pick up Tobias’ empty goblet and tossed it in the still hot dishwater, before picking up the sponge to wash it.

Larisa bounded out of the chair and came over to stand next to Piper. The other woman refused to make eye contact with her and when Larisa put a hand on her arm, Piper shrugged it off. She inwardly sighed. If this kind of behavior kept up, it would not be too long before Desiree found out.

“Piper, we have to talk. We really need to talk.” Larisa glanced towards the entrance to the kitchen to make sure that her sister was not coming. The coast was clear.

The taller woman glanced at her. “I don’t have anything more to say to you.” She tried to get passed Larisa, but the woman stopped her by putting her hands flat on Piper’s stomach. She felt the muscles contract under her touch. “Get your hands off of me,” the younger woman demanded in a dangerously low voice. Larisa hurriedly did what she was told.

“You act like I have cooties or something, Piper.”

“I just don’t want you touching me,” the other woman retorted. “Never put your hands on me again.”

Larisa shook her head. This was not going well at all. “Okay. I’ll keep them to myself, but will you please try to talk to me? Please.”
Piper let out a slow breath and mutely nodded her head as she leaned a hip against the sink, crossing her arms over her chest again.

“My main concern at this point is my sister,” Larisa started. “Do you want her to find out?”

The younger woman silently shook her head. What would be the point? Nothing beneficial could come out of it.

“Well we agree, because neither do I. So this is what you’re going to have to do.”

Piper narrowed her eyes. “What do I have to do?”

Larisa moistened her upper lip with the tip of her tongue. “Forgive me,” she whispered.

The younger woman regarded her with an unbelieving look. “I can’t comprehend why you would ask me to do such a thing,” she paused momentarily. “That’s not an option.”

Larisa ran a hand through her hair. She could feel her heart breaking all over again. “Well can you at least pretend like you don’t hate me?”

Piper looked as if she was considering this. “Not sure if I can pull that off to tell you the truth.”

Feeling her temper starting to rise, Larisa was silent for a minute. She was even angrier to discover that her vision was growing bleary. Don’t cry you big baby. Don’t allow her the satisfaction of seeing you cry. Larisa bit her lower lip. “Well can you try? Just try for her sake?” The woman wiped at her eyes, noticing that Piper’s expression had not changed from one of boredom. “Let’s get something straight. Desiree is my sister and I plan on coming around quite often. I will not allow you to keep me away from her, so you’ll just have to learn to get along with me somehow, Piper.”

“I would never attempt to keep Desiree away from her family.”

Larisa nodded. “Well I refuse to stop calling and coming to visit just because of you.”

Pushing away from the sink, Piper stood to her full height in front of the other woman. She looked Larisa in her eyes, her blue ones cool. “I already told you that I will not try to keep you away. You can come around whenever you like,” she paused. “I get the feeling that you’ll be coming around a lot more often now.”

The shorter woman stared at her. “What is that supposed to me?”

Piper shrugged. “Just an observation of mine.”

Larisa chuckled humorlessly. “Well someone is full of themselves. Piper, I will be coming here because of my sister. It has nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing to do with you, you presumptuous bitch.”

Piper raised an eyebrow. “My, my. Such language, Risa. Now, shouldn’t I be calling you that? No.” She scratched her chin thoughtfully. “I suppose we can leave the presumptuous part off.”

Larisa came as close to Piper as she could before their bodies would be touching. “Believe it or not, I have an excuse. You’re just too stubborn to hear me out.”

The taller woman bent her head down. “There is no excuse for what you did to me.”

“Get over it, Piper. Go on with your life.” Their faces were so close now, that they could feel each other’s breaths.

“I have gone on with my life. I just don’t particularly like that you are in it.”

“Well get used to it if you plan on being with my sister,” Larisa replied, staring into the other woman’s hypnotizing blue eyes.

“Oh, I plan on it all right.” Piper wanted to take a step back, but it was as if she was frozen to that spot.

“Go on and kiss already.”

Both women quickly turned their attention to the entrance of the kitchen. Desiree was standing there in a blue robe and a towel expertly wrapped around her head. She was wearing a playful smirk as she came towards the startled pair.

“You gals look like you just got caught with your hands in the cookie jar.” Desiree studied the two women. “Okay. What’s going on here?” She thrust her hands into the large pockets of the robe.

“Nothing,” Larisa replied, not sounding in the least bit convincing.

Her sister gave her an incredulous look before the young woman turned her attention to Piper. “So this is why you didn’t make it for our shower date,” she said, lowering her voice to a near whisper.

The dark-haired woman graced her with a lopsided grin. “Sorry ’bout that.” You have no idea how much. She glanced at Larisa, who stood there awkwardly. “Would have much rather been with you.” Piper then put her hands on Desiree’s waist and drew the younger woman towards her. She kissed her full on the lips as Larisa looked on. The kiss finally ended, with Desiree being a tad weak in the knees.
“That’s not gonna make me forget my question,” the strawberry-blonde breathlessly uttered, though it had almost succeeded. “What’s going on here?”

“I answered your question, Desi,” Larisa stated. “Nothing is going on.”

“Looked like something was going on to me. You were up in each other’s faces. Now what is it? I noticed something in the trailer between you two. There is some tension and I know I’m not imagining it.” Desiree carefully looked at each of them. “What I want to know is why? What were you talking about just before I came in?”

“Nothing, Desi,” Larisa repeated. “Just silly stuff.”

“Like what?”

Her sister sighed. Desiree could be persistent when she wanted to be. “Politics.”

The strawberry-blonde raised an eyebrow. “Politics?” Blue-green eyes settled on Piper. “So you’re into politics?”

Her lover merely smiled at her. Desiree did not know what to make of that. She looked back to her sister growing more confused and anxious by the minute. “I think you’re lying to me and I really don’t appreciate that. Please tell me what this is about. I have a right to know.” It was true. Her heart rate was starting to rapidly increase. What in the world was going on?

Larisa looked over to Piper. The woman did not seem as if she would offer any sort of help. Fine. If Desiree wanted an answer, then she would give her one. “All right, Desi,” Larisa started. “I’ll tell you the truth.” Out of the corner of her eye, Larisa could see one of Piper’s eyebrows going up, yet she continued to keep her mouth shut.

“What is it?” Desiree asked in a hushed tone, almost afraid to know but needing to.

“Piper used to be a stripper before her last bout with the law.”

“She used to WHAT?!?” Desiree all but shouted. The strawberry-blonde glanced at her companion. Piper’s mouth was slightly open now, but she was still silent.

Larisa nodded solemnly. “It’s true. We didn’t think that you would ever have to know, but since you’re unrelenting there it is out on the table.”

For a moment, Desiree had a difficult time finding her voice. “What was does that have to do with the tension between you?” she asked her sister.

“Easy. I went to San Francisco a few months back and my car stopped. Found out that the battery was dead later. Anyway, I noticed that I had stopped next to this gay strip joint. So-”

“Wait a minute.” Desiree put her hand up momentarily. “A gay strip joint? There’s such a thing?”

Larisa rolled her eyes. “Well of course, Desi. Where have you been? Anyway, so since I didn’t have my phone with me, I decided to go in and use the phone so that I could call AAA. So when I went in, I asked to use the phone and they let me. Were very nice people by the way. So I made the call and while I was waiting for someone to pick up, I detected movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned slightly and saw Piper walking out to the stage,” she paused, glancing at the mute brunette. “Piper, care to take it from here?”

The other woman shook her head. “You seem to be doing just fine on your own.”

Larisa gave her a sweet smile. “Okay then. Anyway, her stage name was Leggy Lola and she was dressed in a candy striper’s uniform. You know, the ones at hospitals?”
Desiree nodded hurriedly, wanting her to continue.

“Yes, well that’s what she had on that night at least. So the phone was finally picked up and I talked to a guy for a few minutes. They would be there soon I was told. I hung up the phone and went to take a seat since I had a little time on my hands. Now don’t get me wrong, sis. That’s not my type of place. Especially a gay strip joint.”

“Well you’re not gay. That would make perfect sense,” her sister casually stated.

Larisa nodded while the other dark-haired woman rolled her eyes, though only the storyteller caught it. “Right. But since it was so cold outside, I decided to have a seat. So I sat down and my eyes became riveted on Leggy Lola. I wasn’t attracted to her at all,” Piper briefly glared at this point, causing Larisa to almost burst out laughing, “but she had the most gorgeous eyes.” The woman shook her head. “They draw you in, you know?”

Desiree nodded, smiling slightly. She could happily gaze into those blue eyes for the rest of her life. “Yes, they do.” She glanced at Piper, who to her surprise blushed. “So then what happened?”

“Well that’s about it. She danced and then left. Someone else came on and then I was not interested anymore. I spent the rest of the time doodling on a cocktail napkin until the AAA service came.”

“That’s it?” Larisa nodded. The strawberry-blonde frowned slightly. “So why the tension?”

Larisa shrugged. “Piper was just worried that I would use the information of her being a stripper against her. She didn’t want you to find out about what she used to do. What Piper didn’t realize was that I would never try to bribe or threaten her,” she explained.

Desiree was silent for a few seconds as her gaze moved from her sister to her lover. “So that’s why you haven’t been getting along? Larisa is right, Piper. She would never do such a thing.” The dark-haired woman offered her a tight smile. “So now you don’t have anything to worry about. I know what you did and I’m not upset. Sure I was shocked at first, but sometimes we have to do things that we would rather not do. It saddens me, but I understand, Piper. It’s okay.” The woman then gave her a genuine smile and an arm squeeze. “So, everything is okay now, right?”

Larisa nodded and started to move towards her bags when Piper told her to wait. The older woman looked at her expectantly. “Yes, Piper?”

“You told some of the story, but you conveniently ‘forgot’ to mention the rest,” Piper coolly replied.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Larisa slowly stated.

The blue-eyed woman smiled coldly at her. “You didn’t mention the part where you called me a tramp. Sure I left the stage, but you know that I came back out for an encore. It was then that you called me that. I heard you loud and clear.”

Larisa stared at her silently before shaking her head. “I didn’t call you that.”

“Sure you did. I know what I heard, Larisa. In fact, you were loud enough for everyone in that joint to hear you.”

“I did not call you a tramp,” the older woman enunciated each word. “I called you a self-depreciating low-down dirty tramp.”

Piper seemed to be taken aback for a moment. Desiree’s blue-green eyes were wide with shock as she stared at her sister. The strawberry-blonde asked Larisa how she could pass judgment on someone she didn’t even know.

“She was all over this customer,” Larisa went on, trying to explain her case. “Dancing and shaking her half naked body on this chick’s lap.”

“It was a lap dance,” Piper argued, glancing at Desiree, who appeared to be slightly peeved by hearing the information. Oh, that’s just great. “I was only doing my job,” she added in an almost whining voice.

“You had your knockers so far in her face that I’m surprised the woman didn’t suffocate!”

Piper angrily replied, “I was only trying to give her, her money’s worth.”

The older woman shook her head. “What did you do that for, Piper? A few measly dollars? Enough to buy yourself a cheeseburger after work? And just maybe you’d have enough left over to get some fries?”

The blue-eyed woman balled her hands into fists at her sides, trying to control her temper. It would not look good for her to deck Desiree’s sister right there in the kitchen. No, it would not look good at all. “She paid me fifty dollars for that thank you very much,” she ground out between clenched teeth.

Larisa gave a short chuckle. “Oh, wow! That’s a lot,” she said sarcastically.

“To me it was. It meant food in my stomach and a roof over my head. It isn’t like I was sleeping with the woman. I only gave her a harmless dance. Not everyone can be a successful caterer, Larisa.”

“Okay, gals,” Desiree interjected. Enough was enough. “Why don’t we just forget whatever happened in the past, huh? Look to the future, because that is what matters.” She looked at Piper. “Piper, Larisa is very sorry for what she called you.” Her gaze traveled to her sister. “Aren’t you, Larisa?” She gave Larisa a warning look to behave.

The woman nodded. “Of course I am.” She looked at Piper. “You have got to believe me, Piper. I really am sorry for what happened between us in the past. I never meant to hurt you,” she finished quietly.

Piper studied her bare feet as if she suddenly found something very interesting about them. When she felt a nudge in her side given by Desiree, she glanced over at Larisa and shrugged.

“Does that mean that you forgive me?” Larisa asked hopefully. Her heartbeat started to increase.

The taller woman pursed her lips and was silent for a few moments before replying, “I suppose I do.” She received another nudge from her companion. “I mean I do,” she paused. “I forgive you, Larisa.”

Tears welled up in Larisa’s eyes as she put a hand to her mouth. The woman smiled at Piper as she resisted the urge to embrace her. The blue-eyed woman most likely would not appreciate that. As tears rolled down Larisa’s cheeks, her sister studied her curiously. For her part, Piper kept glancing at the entrance to the kitchen as if she wanted to escape.

Desiree reached out to put a hand on her sister’s shoulder and squeezed. “Hey, it’s okay,” the strawberry blonde said softly. “This really had you upset, didn’t it?” Desiree could not for the life of her figure out why her sister would be so disturbed by a few undesirable words.

Larisa nodded as she retrieved a paper towel from the kitchen cabinet. She blew her nose before replying, “You have no idea.”

Noticing that Piper appeared to be extremely uncomfortable, Larisa turned around and went to get the bags that she had brought with her. She picked up the bags and brought them to Piper. The blue-eyed woman took them, asking what they were. When Larisa told her that she had bought some clothes for her Piper tried to give them back, but the other woman put her hands in her pockets.

“I don’t want them, Larisa.” It was difficult to say the next part, however she did it anyway, so as not to make Desiree anymore suspicious then she probably already was. “Thank you, but I can’t accept these. Desiree and I were going shopping before we went to Taj’s party.”

“Well now you don’t have to. Please take them.” Larisa gave Piper a pleading look. “In the white bag you’ll find a toothbrush, comb, hairbrush and a razor.”

“That’s so sweet of you, Larisa,” Desiree said, as she excitedly grabbed the Robinson’s May bag from her lover. Looking inside of the bag, she smiled in delight.
Piper inwardly sighed. She did not want anything from this woman. She looked over to Desiree, who had on a smile that would put a hundred-watt bulb to shame. Dang! “Thank you, Larisa. I appreciate it, and as soon as I get a job and make my first paycheck, I’ll pay you back.”

The older woman waved a hand in the air. “Not necessary. I owe you.”

Piper had to bite her lower lip to keep from saying anything snippy. Well it was time to get out of there. “I’m gonna go take a shower,” Piper stated as she took her bag back from Desiree and kissed her on the cheek. “Why don’t you and your sister talk?” She smiled tightly at Larisa as she walked out of the kitchen. She could feel both pair of eyes on her. Just as Piper reached the bedroom, she murmured to herself, “Man, I’m a good liar.” Then again, so is she.

***

“Come on, Piper. Open up for me, sweetheart.”

“No way,” came the stubborn reply.

“Yes way. I’m sure it’ll look good. I bet you’re looking pretty sexy.”

She heard the woman give a brief snort. “I highly doubt that. I cannot believe I let you talk me into this.”

“Piper, open up right now!” Desiree pounded on the door.

“No, I can’t do that,” there was a slight pause. “I’m changing. She has some pants in here.” The voice began to drift away from the door.

“No! Please, Piper. For me?” There was only silence from the other side. “Just one day. If you don’t like it, then you will never have to dress like that again.”

“You promise?” Piper asked, sounding much like a ten-year-old.

“Now would I lie to you?”

The dark-haired woman winced at the mention of the “L” word. She tried to block it out. She had her reasons for being dishonest. After unlocking it, Piper slowly opened the door to see Desiree standing on the other side of it fully dressed and ready to go in a pair of blue jean overall long pants and a turquoise T-shirt that was a close match to her eyes. The strawberry-blonde had her hair done in a french braid and looked quite adorable.

“I don’t understand why you get to dress similar to a farmer like you’re about to go tend to the chickens and I have to wear a skirt,” the dark-haired woman managed to state in a serious voice. She was rewarded with a slap on her arm as Desiree gave her a mock glare.

“Very funny, Piper.”

The taller woman chuckled. “I’m only kidding. You look precious.” Precious? Never in her life had Piper told anyone that they looked precious. The woman shook her head. Desiree was having quite an effect on her. She inwardly smiled, not minding one bit.

Desiree blushed. “Thank you. You look absolutely gorgeous.”

Piper was wearing a sky blue skirt that went about mid-calf. It had medium-sized white flowers printed on it. She also had on a short-sleeved sky blue blouse. Her hair was held back with a white headband. On her feet were…

“Sneakers?! Piper, Larisa also had a pair of dress shoes in that bag. I saw them.”

“I don’t like wearing dress shoes.” Instead of wearing the dressy shoes, she had on a pair of white Nikes along with white socks.

“But they are flats,” Desiree argued.

“It’s not the hills. I just don’t like dress shoes. Sandals and sneakers are all I like. Now I’m wearing the skirt so try to meet me halfway, Desi.”

Both women stared at each other, neither wanting to give in. The strawberry-blonde then came up with something and had to fight to keep the smile off of her face. She informed Piper that she would be wearing the dress shoes whether she liked it or not. The dark-haired woman looked at Desiree as if she had lost her mind. The woman leaned against the doorjamb.

“What do you mean I’m going to wear them?” Piper asked.

Smirking, Desiree leaned forward and whispered in the taller woman’s ear. “I own you.”

The blue-eyed woman raised both eyebrows at her, even as shudders of desire swept through her due to the young woman’s breath on her ear and Piper had to admit that the words spoken stirred her arousal as well. She inwardly kind of liked the idea of this woman saying that she owned her. “And what makes you think something so ridiculous as that?”

Desiree rocked on her heels. “You’re my do-whatever,” she cheerily answered.

The other woman stared at her blankly for a long moment before Piper realized what she was referring to. She thought back to that day at the cabin when she had made the deal while they were fishing.

Piper sighed. “Let’s not get into that just yet. How about this? We’ll be in this as equals. You stay here with me a few more days, until I get this mess all straightened out. Just think of it as a little vacation. If everything works out according to plan then I’ll be your do-whatever for six months.”

Piper sighed to herself. Me and my big mouth. Maybe there was a way that she could get out of it. “That didn’t happen.”

Desiree frowned slightly. “What didn’t happen?”

“I said I would be your do-whatever if everything worked out according to plan,” she paused for effect. “It didn’t. Everything went haywire.”

The strawberry-blonde put her hands on her hips. There was no way that she was going to let this go. It was too perfect a deal. “Now, Piper that’s not fair. My life was still in danger. Whatever happened doesn’t change the fact that I was your hostage and I feel that you should go through with it. It’s not right that you’re trying to renege now.”

The dark-haired woman sighed louder. “Okay. I’ll be your do-whatever,” she mumbled. “But I don’t want to wear the shoes. Please don’t make me do that.” I already look silly enough in this stupid skirt with the big flowers on it. It’s so…girly! She attempted to look sad, hoping that her lover would take pity on her.

Desiree didn’t intend to give in to that look. “That means your butt belongs to me for the next six months. Until October 19th,” Desiree stated happily. This was going to be barrels of fun! “And you’re wearing the shoes, Piper. So go change. Larisa and I are waiting.”

Without another comment, Piper turned around to go change her shoes. October 19th. It seemed so long away. For the next six months, Desiree could tell her to do anything. What if she wanted to go shopping a lot? Piper shuddered at the mere thought of it. Unlacing her shoes, Piper shook her head. Me and my big mouth.

Minutes later the three women were getting ready to go out the door when the phone rang. Piper advised Desiree to let the answering machine get it since it might be reporters. While Piper had been taking her shower, Larisa filled her sister in on what had happened when she came over earlier. Desiree found out about the reporters in front of her door.

The young woman had taken the news well, knowing that that was bound to happen at some point, when people found out that Piper was still alive. The only part that she was worried about was if the media discovered that she and Piper were lovers. If they knew then it would not be long before her parents found out and then all hell would break lose.

The phone rang four times before Desiree’s cheery voice on the answering machine began. “Hello. I can’t come to the phone right now, but if you leave your name, a short message and the time you called after the beep, I will be sure to get right back to you as soon as possible. Have a wonderful day!” Beep!

“Hello Desi, this is Alec. It’s a little passed twelve.” The man’s voice sounded tired. “Not that you care, but I’m home now. I just got here not too long ago and thought I’d let you know. I had to hitchhike. If you want me to leave you alone then I will. If you rather be with someone with the wrong equipment then that’s your problem. Just don’t come crying to me when you realize that this woman liking business of yours is just a phase,” he paused, dramatically sighing. “Who am I kidding? I still love you and I want you back. You have my cell phone number if you ever need me. Bye.” The recorder beeped again signaling the end of the message.

All three women had different reactions to the message. Larisa rolled her eyes as she opened the door, wearing an expression of disgust. Desiree felt guilty that her ex-boyfriend had to hitchhike after he was pushed out of the RV. He might have been a jerk but that was taking it too far. Plus, he ended the message sweetly, which only added to her guilt. Piper had to bite her lip to keep from chuckling that the preppy boy had to hitchhike. Served him right for the way he had treated Desiree.

“Should we go, ladies?” Larisa asked as she walked into the hall.

“Let’s,” Desiree said as she followed her sister out with Piper right behind her. The three women walked towards the elevators with Desiree in the middle. She could still feel the tension between the other two and wondered if there was more to the story then what they had divulged to her.

Larisa pushed the down button and then waited for the elevator to arrive. Putting put an arm around Desiree’s shoulders, Piper pulled the young woman closer to her.
“There is something wrong with your message,” she stated in the quiet hallway.

The strawberry-blonde glanced up at her. “There is?”

The dark-haired woman nodded. “Yep. You told the caller to have a wonderful day.”

Desiree’s brow furrowed. “Is there something wrong with that? I want my callers to have a nice day.”

Piper smiled down at her as the elevator doors opened and the three women walked in. “The point I was trying to make was what if someone calls you at night? You just told them to have a wonderful day.”

Desiree put an arm around Piper’s waist. “So what should I say? Have a wonderful day or night?”

“No.” The blue-eyed woman thought about it. “Instead of saying have a wonderful day, say Piper is a wonderful lay.” She chuckled as Desiree took her arm from around her waist and gave the woman a little push.

Desiree grinned despite her best efforts not to. “You’re truly perverted, you know that?”

The dark-haired woman gave her a crooked grin. “Yeah, I know. You like me anyway though.”

The strawberry-blonde stood in front of her, putting her arms around Piper’s neck. “You know it.” She then leaned up on her tiptoes to plant a kiss on her lover’s lips as Larisa averted her eyes from them, trying to hold her tears in check.

***

“I remember the last time I was in this car with you,” Piper said as she stretched her legs out as much as she could in the small Honda.

“So do I. You scared the crap out of me,” Desiree replied as she made a right turn with Larisa following behind in her own car.

Piper chuckled earning a glare from the other woman. “You knew I wasn’t going to shoot you.” She sobered up. “But I’m still sorry baby.” She took a hold of the hand that Desiree had resting on the brake and brought it up to her lips to kiss the back. “I’m sorry that I put you through all of that.”

The strawberry-blonde brushed her hand lightly against Piper’s cheek before she placed it back on the wheel. “Forget about all of that Piper.” She glanced over at the woman who was looking intently at her. “I’m glad you did that. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t be together. That only proves that good things can be born from bad ones.” She gave the dark-haired woman a smile and Piper smiled back as she turned to look out of the window.

“Thank you,” Piper whispered still looking out the window a few minutes later.

Desiree turned her head towards the woman thinking that she had imagined that. “Did you say something?” she asked.

The other woman glanced her way. “I said thank you.”

Braking at a red light, Desiree inquired, “What for?”

“For being here. For caring even though I act like a jerk at times. And I’ll confess that I’ll probably act like a jerk in the future.” She shrugged. “But I’m working on changing. I want to make you proud of me. I achieve that and I know I’ve done something worthwhile in my life.”

Desiree leaned over and kissed her lover softly on the lips. “You’ve already made me proud.”

“Now how did I do that?”

“You’ve been through so much and yet look at you. You still have your sense of humor and you have kindness and warmth. Most people would be cold and standoffish. But that’s not you.” She continued on the street after the light changed.

Piper raised an eyebrow. “You must be thinking of someone else. The words kindness and warmth shouldn’t be associated with me. I think the only people on this earth that I really like and care for are you and Taj.” She was silent for a moment, gathering her thoughts. “I cared for, loved my mother but she left me. She left me of her own accord.” Her voice caught as unbidden tears came to her eyes. Piper turned back towards the window in an attempt to hide them.

Desiree’s knuckles turned white as she gripped the steering wheel tightly. No, that’s not true Piper. Your mother didn’t kill herself. I just haven’t gathered up the nerve to tell you yet.

“It was said that she committed suicide by hanging herself, but that’s not true.” He faced the young woman. “Guess who did it?”

“Oh, God,” Desiree groaned.

Victor laughed. “No, not Him. Yes, as you probably have already guessed I was the culprit. I made her write the suicide note and then I made her hang herself. I told her that I would sneak into the prison and kill her daughter if she didn’t do it, so she did.”

Desiree could feel the anger seeping into her as she thought back to how cruel and nonchalant Victor had been about killing Marie. She shook her head in an attempt to get the unwanted thoughts out of her head. She glanced over to Piper, who was wiping a tear away, that fell down her cheek and Desiree’s heart went out to the woman. She had been through so much. Convicted of a crime that in Desiree’s opinion she should not have been. And then sent to prison for eight years because the judge was paid off. Her own father had put the woman she loved with all her heart behind bars for Victor’s dirty money. Piper did not even know that. I don’t know if I can ever tell her how my father was involved.

Trying to lighten the mood, Desiree said, “I left something out that I’m also proud of you about.”

Without turning her way, Piper asked, “And what’s that?”

“You have some guts lady! I’m proud of you for taking me on.” The dark-haired woman looked at her. “That takes a lot of courage.”

Piper raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really now? Seems safe enough to me.”

Desiree gave a mysterious grin. “Well all I’ll say is since you’ve gotten in the car, buckle up for the ride.”

Stretching out an arm, Piper began to fiddle with the radio controls. “I’m sure it’ll be a fun one.”

***

Desiree parked her Honda in front of Taj’s house and shut off the ignition. She was about to get out when she noticed that Piper was not moving. The strawberry-blonde glanced over to her, wondering what the problem was. She asked Piper if she was feeling all right. The dark-haired woman gave her a reassuring smile and unbuckled her seat belt before opening the door.

“Yes, I’m fine, baby. I’m just nervous about this.”

“Because of my parents being here?” The young woman glanced around for her father’s car. So far, it did not look as if her parents had arrived yet. She hoped that they never would in order to avoid conflict. Desiree then watched as Larisa parked her car and exited, heading straight for the house without even so much as a glance in their direction.

Piper nodded. “Yeah, that and I’m embarrassed. That’s the main reason.”

“What reason do you have to be embarrassed?” Desiree inquired.

“Because a week ago people thought I was a cold-blooded murderer. Now a party is being held because they found out that I was innocent.” She peered at the younger woman. “I’m an ex-con. I remember that when I was younger, I used to go over Taj’s house for dinner. His house was more of a home to me than my own and I loved going over there. I feel embarrassed because his parents are in there and before yesterday they had not laid eyes on me since I was a teen,” she paused thoughtfully. “I haven’t done anything with my life. I just got out of prison a few months ago because I killed my father. That’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done and they know that. Vivian and Nathaniel were like my surrogate parents. There were times when I would lay awake at night, hearing my parents fighting and I would pray that I could be Taj’s parents daughter.” She bowed her head looking at her lap as a tear fell onto her thigh. Desiree put an arm around Piper’s shoulders. Both were quiet for long moments.

“First, this party isn’t being held because you are innocent. It’s because you’re alive. Thank God for that.” She kissed Piper on her left temple. “Second, I don’t know them, but I doubt Vivian and Nathaniel will be disappointed of you if that’s what you’re thinking. If anything, they should be proud. Proud that you were able to overcome all of that and keep living. You are a beautiful person, Piper. Inside and out. You have nothing, absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about.”

The dark-haired woman stared at her for a silent moment. “I don’t deserve you,” she said in a near whisper.

“Kiss me.”

Piper glanced out the window before capturing the other woman’s lips with her own. Desiree wrapped her arms around her lover’s neck as she increased the pressure of her lips. A moment later she stuck out the tip of her tongue and ran it lightly across Piper’s lips. The older woman opened her mouth and Desiree entered as both women let out a small moan. Piper wrapped her arms around the smaller woman’s waist and lifted her until Desiree was straddling her lap. The strawberry-blonde kissed Piper passionately as her small warm hands began to massage the woman’s neck. Finally, Desiree ended the kiss. Both women’s breaths were labored.

“Ever…ever say that again,” the blue-green eyed woman started, “and you’ll be missing those kisses because I’ll refuse to give them to you. Got it?”

“You’ll never hear the words I don’t deserve you come from these lips again.” Piper leaned forward to kiss her again, but Desiree took that moment to quickly exit the car on the dark-haired woman’s side. Piper growled in frustration as her companion looked at her from the sidewalk.

“What? Did you honestly think I was about to make out with you in broad daylight when my parents or anyone else could pop up at any second?”

“Desi, you can’t give me that kind of a kiss and then jump out of the car. It’s cruel. Lucky I’m a girl, otherwise I’d have a difficult time concealing my sudden arousal.”

The strawberry-blonde chuckled. “Are you gonna stay in that car all day?”

“I’m seriously considering it.” Piper crossed her arms deciding to pout.

“I don’t think so.”

The blue-eyed woman glanced up at her. “Huh?”

“I said I don’t think so. You’re not going to sit in this car for the remainder of the day. You’re going to get out and put on a happy face.” Desiree grinned. “Now do as I say, Piper. You don’t have a choice in the matter.”

Muttering something as she reluctantly exited the vehicle, Piper closed the door with more force then she needed to.

“And don’t try to break my car door just because you’re ticked.” Desiree smirked even as the other woman glared at her. “My Honda didn’t make you mad. I did.”

Piper wagged a finger at her. “You know what? I think you’re taking this do-whatever business a little too far. In fact I think you’re power hungry.”

“Power hungry? I’ve told you to change your shoes and get out of my car. And now you’re labeling me as power hungry?”

The dark-haired woman nodded. “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck then it must be a duck.”

Desiree narrowed her eyes. “You know what I feel like doing?”

Piper grinned lecherously at her. “I know what I feel like doing,” she said in a lowered voice as she took a couple of steps towards the smaller woman.

The strawberry-blonde shook her head, chuckling. “Is that all you ever think about?”

The dark-haired woman put her arms around her companion. “That and you. That with you.” She grinned as she nuzzled Desiree on the neck.

The smaller woman had to admit that she liked what her lover was doing, but this was neither the time nor place for it. She felt like getting in the car and going home to finish this now, but that would not be right. Plus she had been looking forward to this. Seeing Andrea again and meeting Piper’s nieces. She also wanted to talk with Leroy about his doing some research for her. She felt as if they could make a good team.
Hesitantly pulling away from the delightful contact, she informed Piper that they should be going in. Piper reluctantly agreed and they began the walk up to Taj’s front door. Desiree rang the doorbell, already hearing the music from inside. The door was opened a moment later by Dion. He smiled at them warmly and ushered the pair inside.
On entering, both Desiree and Piper spied the large “Welcome Back Piper” banner extending from one wall to another. Everyone was in the backyard except for a small child that was sleeping on her stomach peacefully on the couch. Dion gestured for Piper and Desiree to follow him to the couch. He caressed the baby’s small chubby cheek with the back of his hand as he smiled adoringly down at her.

“This is my littlest one, Nina,” Dion supplied proudly in his thick Jamaican accent.

Kneeling on the floor next to the couch, Desiree gazed at the child. “She’s so precious. How old is she?” The strawberry-blonde caressed the baby’s smooth coffee-colored arm. Desiree had always been fond of children and she just wanted to wrap this tiny bundle of joy up in her arms.

“Thirteen months,” Dion replied.

Piper patted him on the back. “Congratulations,” she said. “No one could ever tell me that you would be married with children, playboy that you were.” She grinned at him and he grinned back.

“What can I say? I saw her and I was hooked. I even burned my little black book.”

The dark-haired woman dramatically winced. “Was that difficult?”

“Honestly? Yes.” Dion laughed merrily. “I had collected a lot of numbers. It was like a hobby.” Growing serious, he pulled Piper to him, wrapping her in his arms. “I’m so happy that you’re all right and that this mess has been resolved.”

Piper hugged him back. “Me too.” She stepped back and smiled up at him. “Now that I’ve arrived, let’s get this party started!”

Dion, Piper, and Desiree ventured to the backyard to see Larisa sitting in a lawn chair talking with Dion’s wife who was sitting in an identical chair next to hers. Both were sipping tall glasses of lemonade. Vivian and Nathaniel were sitting on a blanket in the grass playing a board game with a little girl. Over by a grill, Taj was demonstrating to Leroy, who still had his short braids, how to form the perfect hamburger patty. The younger man made one and then put it on the grill. Taj happened to glance up and saw the trio standing by the sliding glass door. He grinned as he all but ran towards them.

“Pippy!” he exclaimed, lifting the woman up off of her feet and twirling her around. Piper chuckled as he put her down. The Jamaican man studied her. “You’re wearing a skirt. Never thought I’d ever see you in a skirt, Pippy. You look very pretty.”

“Thank you, Taj,” she replied.

Taj turned his attention to Desiree and gave her a charming smile. “Hello there, little one.” He put his hands on either side of her face and kissed the young woman on the forehead. “How are you doing?”

The strawberry-blonde glanced at Piper. “Very well, Taj. And you? Did you and Valerie set a date yet?”

The Jamaican man barely kept himself from sighing as his longtime friend gave him a knowing look. “I’m fine, little one. And no, Val and I have yet to set a date.” Taj then asked the two women if they would care for something to drink. Piper declined going over to help Leroy with the hamburgers. She claimed that she had a special recipe that would make them out of this world. Taj informed her that the grill was hers. When Desiree asked the Jamaican man if he had any beer, he hid his look of concern, remembering when she had drank so much that day at the beach. Instead the man ventured over to a cooler, took out a slim ice-cold bottle, and handed it to a grateful Desiree.

The young woman twisted off the cap and took a long swig before she walked over to where her sister and Dion’s wife, Rochelle were sitting. The big man escorted her over. The other two smiled as they came near and made room for Dion and Desiree to sit on the long chairs. Dion did the introductions for his wife and the strawberry-blonde. The two women shook hands and exchanged smiles.

“You have beautiful children,” Desiree exclaimed as she glanced over to who she presumed to be their other child playing on the blanket with Nathaniel and Vivian.

“Thank you,” Rochelle stated, lightly nudging her husband. “I’m trying to get him to work on number three. I would love to have a son.”

Desiree smiled warmly as Dion interjected, “And what if we get another girl?”

“Then we’ll keep trying,” Rochelle replied happily patting her husband on the thigh as he grumbled. The other two women laughed.

***

Nearly half an hour later, everyone who was invited to the party had arrived. Richard and Sandra had been the last to arrive with their son. They out right ignored Piper, but both gave Desiree hugs and asked her how she was doing. The dark-haired woman did not let it get to her as she continued cooking with Leroy’s help. Ten minutes into cooking with him, she had decided that the youngest Potter child did not have the ‘gift’ of knowing how to prepare food. Left alone, she knew he would cook the patties until they were extremely well done.

Grabbing a second beer from the cooler, Desiree went over to Taj who was putting paper plates and cups on a picnic table. The man smiled as he saw her. He declined her offer when she asked if there was anything she could do to help him.

“Taj?” Desiree started.

The Jamaican man looked at her as he straddled the bench. The strawberry-blonde did the same, sitting her bottle in front of her. “May I ask you a personal question?”

“Sure. Go ahead.”

“What do you do for a living? I notice that you have a nice car and a nice house.” She shrugged. “Just curious and maybe wondering if you could get me a job where you work.” Desiree laughed good-naturedly.

Taj scratched his neck while wondering how he should reply. “I’m a problem solver,” he finally stated.

The woman waited for him to say more. When he declined to offer anything, she asked him to elaborate. However, the man would not give anymore information.

“Oh, come on, Taj.” Desiree was near begging. He was going to make his choice of employment a mystery? It would nag at her to no end if she did not find out. “I won’t tell anyone. Girl Scouts Honor.”

“You were a Girl Scout?”

“Well no,” Desiree offered begrudgingly. “But Larisa was and I’ve learned a lot from her.”

Taj raised an eyebrow. “Your sister was a Girl Scout?”

The strawberry-blonde nodded. “I think it was a phase. Please don’t tell her I told you.”

The Jamaican man shrugged. “Your secret is safe with me, little one.”

“Great. Yours can be safe with me too, you know?”

Taj chuckled as he arose from the bench. “Nice try.” He squeezed her shoulder as he walked away, leaving the young woman wondering.

Whistling, Piper flipped a patty as Taj walked over to her. She offered him a smile after asking Leroy to get the cheese slices from the kitchen. Piper shook her head, chuckling as she returned her attention to her longtime friend.

“So, Taj tying the ol’ knot, eh?”

The man nodded.

Lowering her voice so that she wouldn’t be overheard, Piper asked, “You weren’t really gonna propose yesterday, were you?”

Taj shook his head. “Having a party for you was supposed to be the only announcement. But then I saw Val’s face and I couldn’t correct her.”

Piper nodded. “But you do love her, right? Don’t do this if you don’t want to get married. Just tell Valerie the truth.”

The Jamaican man was silent for a few moments. In that time, Leroy came back with the package of sliced cheese and put it on a small table for Piper to use. She thanked him, saying that he was free to go. Leroy was more than happy to let her finish the cooking as he left.

“I do love her, Pippy. And after careful consideration, after thinking it over last night, I want to marry her. I’m nervous about it, but I do.”

Giving him a bright smile, she put her spatula down before drawing Taj into a hug. “Well congratulations then. I wish you both much happiness.”

Within ten more minutes it was time to chow down. They were having hamburgers, hot dogs with and without chili, along with an assortment of chips, cookies and fruit salad. Everything was delicious, and Piper received much praise for her cooking abilities. That is from everyone except Richard. His wife however, managed to be borderline polite.

Afterwards, everyone separated and talked with others. Seeing some of the fruit salad left, Piper popped a watermelon ball into her mouth as she scanned the yard, studying everyone. Her inquisitive eyes came to rest on her oldest niece, Stacey. The little girl was sitting in the grass, plucking rich green blades up from the ground. The dark-haired woman made her way over to the nine-year-old and asked if she could take a seat next to her. Stacey looked up at her and nodded mutely.

Sitting down in the grass with her legs stretched out in front of her, Piper looked at the young girl. Stacey did remind of her of herself when she was a child. The same blue eyes and dark hair. They were tended to be quiet as well. Piper had earlier observed that Samantha was definitely the more outgoing of the two, and was now sitting at a small table playing a game with Alexis. The two seemed to hit it off perfectly only being a year apart in age.

Having woke up now, Nina was pestering her older sister and Alexis’ new friend by trying to steal the pieces they were using for the game. After a few more useless tries, the baby gave up and toddled away to get into other mischief. She went towards him as fast her little plump legs would carry her, when Nina noticed her Uncle Leroy holding out a chocolate chip cookie to her. Reaching him, the baby put one small hand on his knee as she took the cookie with the other.

Both Leroy and Desiree, who was sitting conversing with the man watched as Nina munched contentedly on the cookie. The strawberry-blonde stretched out her arms and the baby threw up her own arms as she walked to her on the other side of the table. Smiling, Desiree picked up the small child and put her in her lap. Double happy now with the attention and the cookie, Nina felt generous enough to offer her human seat some of the now soggy treat. Chuckling now, Desiree shook her head and said something to her that Piper could not make out from the distance. Whatever it was, caused the baby to laugh.

Wearing a tender smile, the dark-haired woman reflected on how good a mother Desiree could be. She herself had never really given much thought to having a family of her own. Turning her attention back to Stacey, Piper instinctively knew that something was bothering her. She asked her niece if she was okay. The nine-year-old nodded her head unconvincingly.

“Hey you,” Piper called softly. After a moment, Stacey looked up at her, meeting her eyes. “I know something is wrong. What is it? You can talk to me.” Having virtually no experience whatsoever with children, the dark-haired woman vied to do her best to help her niece.

Stacey plucked another blade of grass from the lawn and studied it in rapt interest. When Piper began to believe that she was not going to answer, Stacey spoke up, saying, “There’s something that I shouldn’t feel sad about, but I do,” she said in hushed tones.

“What is it, sweetie?”

Stacey looked down at the grass. “I know my daddy hurt you and Desiree, but I can’t help but to feel sad over his death.” A tear rolled down her cheek. “I feel bad for missing him.”

Piper’s heart broke for this child. She had never given any thought to the despair that Victor’s children could be feeling over his death. Samantha seemed to be taking it rather well. Though, she was only six. It seemed like the younger you were, the more resilient.

“Stacey it’s okay to be sad over what happened. What all did your mother tell you?”

“She said that my daddy hurt a lot of people, including you and Desiree. She said that it ended up costing him his life. Mommy also told Sam and I that daddy loved us but he was sick in his mind with hate for certain people.”

The child began to cry more so Piper picked her up and held Stacey to her. The little girl wrapped her arms around the woman’s neck and buried her face in her neck as well. The dark-haired woman told her it was all right to cry and made soft comforting noises as she rubbed the child’s back. Moments later, Piper looked up after feeling a hand on her shoulder. Andrea was standing there, concern for her child evident in her eyes. The dark-haired woman mouthed that it was okay and after being reassured a few more times, Andrea gave them privacy.

Piper wondered if Andrea’s children knew about their aunt as she began rocking back and forth, feeling the hot wet tears staining her neck. She had the feeling that this was the first time this child had allowed herself to really cry for her father’s passing. After a little while, Stacey’s crying subsided as she continued to cling tightly to her aunt. Piper knew that she had fallen in love with her eldest niece.

She proudly smiled to herself. This children helping stuff was not so difficult. The dark-haired woman asked Stacey if she were to ask Andrea if she could keep her, did Stacey think that she would say yes. The little girl laughed before she gave her aunt a peck on the cheek. Piper’s smile brightened even more. Being an aunt was turning out to be very cool.

Reaching up, she wiped away the remaining tears left on her niece’s cheeks. A song began to play over the speakers. The blue-eyed woman recognized it immediately, thinking that she had not heard that song in years. It was Into the Mystic by Van Morrison and happened to be one of her favorites. Getting up from the grass and wiping at the back of her skirt, the dark-haired woman asked Stacey if she would like to dance. The child shook her head negatively while admitting that she didn’t know how to dance.

“That’s not a problem,” Piper said extending her hand down to the little girl. “With me you can’t look bad.”

Stacey grasped the much larger hand. “Does that mean you dance real good?”

Piper shook her head. “Never said I was good at it. No matter how bad you are, I can guarantee that I’ll make you look great, ’cause I’m horrible.”

Stacey laughed and Piper joined in. “Girls can dance together?”

“Girls can do a lot-” Shut up, Piper. The woman cleared her throat. “Yes, they can, sweetie. Shall we?”

Her niece nodded in excitement. “We shall.”

The dark-haired woman led Stacey by the hand further towards everyone else. She then picked the little girl up and began to dance with her. Stacey wrapped her legs around her aunt’s waist as she grinned, revealing a missing tooth in the front. While they danced, Stacey mentioned that Piper was strong.

“Thank you, sweetie. I used to work out a lot. Have to start doing it again. I’m a little rusty.”

“I take vitamins,” Stacey offered proudly.

“You do? Why dontcha flex your arm for me?” Piper asked.

Stacey did just that, and the blue-eyed woman gently felt the arm. She then gave the girl a smile of approval. “I can tell you take vitamins. You’re very buff.” This caused the nine-year-old to grin. “I’d like to have muscles likes yours. How ’bout you hook me up with some of those vitamins?” Piper managed to inquire in a serious voice as she dipped Stacey, earning a laugh from the child.

“You can’t take my vitamins, Auntie Piper. They are only for kids.” She sounded much like those animated children in the Trix’s commercials. The only thing was Stacey did not call her aunt a silly rabbit.

Piper deadpanned, “I’m big for my age.”

Stacey let out a big belly laugh. “You’re funny.”

Three songs later the pair was still dancing. Andrea looked over to see that Stacey had fallen asleep with her head on her dance partner’s shoulder. The poor thing had not slept well in the past few days after hearing the news of her father’s death. Perhaps today she would begin to heal. Her mother sincerely hoped so. Like any loving mother, she hated seeing either of her children in pain. That was precisely why she dreaded telling them the news of their Aunt Emily. First their father and then their aunt. Andrea had wanted to be certain that it was Emily’s body in the cabin and not Piper’s before she told Stacey and Samantha. Now she knew for sure and they would have to be told soon. The blonde woman figured it could wait until they got back to San Bernardino.

Andrea smiled warmly towards Piper and Stacey. She was partly surprised and wholly overjoyed that the two had bonded so quickly. It would probably be tough trying to get Stacey ready for the trip back home. Once she attached herself to someone, the child was apt to not want to let go.

Andrea walked over to Piper and Stacey. The dark-haired woman smiled at her as she stated in a quiet voice that Andrea was raising a terrific daughter. Delighted by the
compliment, the blonde woman thanked her, asking if she could take the child to lay her down, since she had fallen asleep.

“Yes, I know,” Piper replied. “I’m good at putting girls to sleep.” She winked as Andrea shook her head, grinning. “I’ll put her down.”

Andrea shook her head. “No, it’s no problem.”

“I know that. Let me do it.”

The blonde woman shrugged, smiling again. “Okay. She’s all yours.”

Piper smiled triumphantly as she began to walk towards the house with Stacey in her arms. She turned around when Andrea called her name. The blonde woman informed her that she liked her skirt.

Not very good with receiving compliments, Piper replied, “Thanks.” She began walking again, thinking that she still did not want to wear a skirt ever again.

*****

“So I’ll bring over what I have of the story so far tomorrow for you, okay?” Desiree said as she bounced Nina on her knee. The baby was making happy gurgling noises as she raised her little arms in the air ever so often.

Leroy nodded. “I cannot wait to read what you’ve written. There’s just one little thing…”

“What’s that?”

The young man asked, “What’s it about?” That caused Desiree to sigh. “What’s wrong? You don’t want to answer the question?”

“Does any writer?”

Nina picked that precise moment to start crying. The strawberry-blonde considered that the child had wonderful timing and could not have been happier with the interruption. Nina’s hands balled into tiny fists as she wailed. “Fwed,” the baby cried. “Fwed.”

Desiree’s face scrunched up in though. “Fwed?” she said looking across at Leroy. “Do you know what a fwed is?”

The young man nodded. “She wants her teddy bear. His name is Fred.” Leroy got up from his seat. “I’ll go get him.”

“No, I’ll do it,” Desiree replied as she got up as well. “I need to make a trip to the little girl’s room anyway. Where can Fred be found?”

Leroy replied, “He’s in her baby bag. I think her mother put it by the couch.”
The strawberry-blonde handed the crying baby to her uncle and then began to walk towards the entrance to the house.

After she put the sleeping Stacey down on the couch and rubbed her cheek for a few moments, Piper got to her feet. Just as she was about to turn to go back outside Larisa walked into the living room from the hall. The other woman stopped walking when she laid eyes on Piper. Larisa offered her a smile that was not returned. Hurt but determined not to show it, the older woman started to go outside when her movements were blocked by Piper.

“We need to talk,” Piper announced. “In private right now.”

Desiree walked into the living room, empty except for Stacey sleeping on the couch. The blue-green eyed woman knew she had seen Piper come into the house not too long ago with Stacey in her arms. She wondered where her companion had ventured off to, because she had yet to return to the backyard.

Desiree found Nina’s bag and unzipped it. Lying right on top was a teddy bear wearing a red sweater with a red, white, and blue plaid bow tie. She took the small brown bear out and looked at him. “So you must be Fred,” she said to the stuffed toy, knowing that she was a little tipsy. She shook the bear’s paw. “It’s very nice to meet you, my furry inanimate friend. Your owner requires your attention, sir. But first I need to make a pit stop.” Standing back up, Desiree walked towards the hall, which she knew was the way to the bathroom. Nearing the hall, the young woman stopped as she heard voices speaking quietly. One of them she was positive was Piper. Deciding to hide next to the entrance to the hallway, Desiree did so, listening intently.

“What did you expect me to do, huh?” the other voice asked. Desiree identified this person as her sister. The young woman felt butterflies fluttering in her stomach nervously. She knew there must have been more to it than what they were telling her. “Tell her the truth?”

“It would have been better than that horrendous lie,” Piper replied angrily.

“Well I didn’t see you stepping in to tell her the truth.”

The dark-haired woman did not give a quick reply to that. “We never should have done that.”

“Well we did.” Larisa shrugged. “I feel bad about it, but it’s done now. There is no reason that she has to find out.”

Piper shook her head. “I can’t continue to look her in the eye knowing that we stood in her kitchen this morning and told her something that was completely untrue.”

“What are you saying, Piper?” Larisa’s heartbeat began to speed up. She did not want her sister to find out. It would most likely only cause her pain. What was the point?

The dark-haired woman took a deep breath as she leaned against the wall. “I think that we should tell her the truth.”

The older woman shook her head. “Big mistake. We already lied about it. So then if we tell her than she’ll know we lied to her. Piper, please let’s just keep this to ourselves. It was a long time ago.”

What was a long time ago? Desiree thought to herself. And what had they lied about? It hurt that Piper and her own sister could not be truthful with her in the first place.

“Regardless, she has a right to know,” Piper said. “I can’t continue to keep this from her. And if I’m to be honest there is no way on this earth that I can be civil to you when I can barely stand the sight of you.”

There it was. The pain struck her like a large truck traveling down a highway at over one hundred miles per hour. Tears stung Larisa’s eyes at the other woman’s words. The truth really did hurt. “So that part was a lie too?”

“What part?”

“When you said that you forgave me. You were lying about that?” Larisa inquired, already in her heart knowing what the answer would be.

The younger woman nodded. “Of course. It was all for show. I didn’t want Desiree to be suspicious. Oh and please stop with the tears. Don’t do that again.”

“What are you talking about? You’re hurting me and you expect me to keep a stiff upper lip?”

Piper narrowed her eyes. “I’m hurting you?” She snorted. “What about what you did to me, huh? I guess you’ve somehow forgotten about what happened in Jamaica. I’m the one that deserves to cry, not you. But I’m over it now. I grieved over it for a long time. The way you treated me was cruel and brutal. How dare you stand here and tell me I’m hurting you.”

“I never got the chance to explain,” Larisa said quietly. “I’m sorry I did that to you.”

Piper shook her head. “Too little too late, Larisa. You made me feel special and then you just dumped me for no good reason.”

Dumped her? Desiree clutched at the teddy bear in her nervousness. She wished that the two would just get to the point.

“Will you let me explain, please?”

“I don’t care to hear whatever you have to say. I just wanted to let you know that I’m telling Desiree the truth.”

“So you’re planning on telling her that we were lovers? Do you think that bit of information will help your relationship any?”

Desiree did not hear any more of the conversation because she ran out of the house as quietly as was possible. Closing the front door behind her, the young woman took a deep breath as the tears began to come, blurring her vision. Fred still in her hand, the strawberry-blonde walked towards her car and got in the drivers seat. She took her keys out of her pocket and started the ignition. The young woman laid her head against the steering wheel and closed her eyes as a few tears fell down her cheeks.

Her own sister and Piper had been lovers. They had lied to her and she had stood there like a naïve idiot believing every single word that they were telling her. Desiree put the teddy bear in the passenger’s seat before pulling away from the curb. She drove down the street not knowing where she was going, but knowing that she had to get away.

The young woman was remembering when Larisa had went to Jamaica during the summer almost a decade ago. When she had come back, she had been abnormally quiet and reserved. When the teenage Desiree had asked what was bothering her, her older sister had told her that everything was fine. Evidently, based on the way Piper was treating her, Larisa must have been the one to end the relationship.

And in all these years, her sister had never confided in her. Had she not trusted Desiree? That was causing her pain as well, that Larisa did not tell her that she was gay. Desiree considered that she had known for at least nine years that she was gay, yet she herself was not made aware of that fact. And of all the women in the world, Larisa had ended up being involved with Piper. Now what were the odds of that happening?

While making a right turn, she shook her head in bewilderment. This all had to be a nightmare. She wished that she would just wake up and everything would be fine. Ten minutes ago, she was in good spirits only to have her mood suddenly take a nose-dive. Ignorance could be bliss.

***

With Nina saddled on his hip, Leroy went inside of the house, passing Larisa who was on her way out to the backyard. The woman did not seem to notice him as she walked pass. Piper was about to pass him as well, when the young man stopped her, asking if she had seen Desiree in the past few minutes. The dark-haired woman shook her head negatively.

Leroy frowned. “But I saw her come in here. She was supposed to be getting Nina’s teddy bear out of her bag and going to the bathroom. I saw that you just came from the hall. You didn’t see her?”

Piper became alarmed. “She just came in here?” she asked the man.

He nodded. “Just a few minutes ago.” He went over to Nina’s bag and looked inside. “And the bear is missing.”

The blue-eyed woman checked the kitchen. She was disappointed to find that it was empty. The dining room was empty as well, which meant the only way that Desiree could have gone without being noticed would be the front door. Using long strides, Piper walked towards the door and opened it. Going outside she saw that the Honda was gone. Oh, crap.

Leroy came outside still holding Nina, who was quiet now, but every so often, she would softly utter Fred’s name. He noticed that Piper’s face was etched with worry and asked what was wrong.

“She’s gone,” the dark-haired woman said barely above a whisper. She looked up and down the street as though the lilac car would appear at any moment.

“Maybe she had to go run an errand,” Leroy offered helpfully.

“Maybe,” Piper said. Or maybe she heard my conversation with her sister and took off.

Leroy shifted the baby to the other side. “Well wherever she went, I think she took Fred with her. Whatever called her away must have been important.”

***

Desiree pulled into the parking lot of a bar not too many miles from Taj’s house. She sat there for a few minutes after turning off the ignition. Piper and Larisa used to be lovers. It was so unreal. And the worst part about it was that they had lied to her. The young woman’s shoulders began to move up and down as she sobbed out her anger and pain. Desiree’s hands tightened on the steering wheel as she lay her forehead on it.

Finally able to pull herself together some, the young woman got out of the car and headed into the bar. She needed a drink desperately. On opening the door to the building, Desiree’s eyes had to adjust to the darkness within. Walking inside, her nostrils were assaulted by the stale and smoky odor of the place. Desiree sat at the practically empty bar and pulled a basket of peanuts in front of her. She did not have much of an appetite though.

The barkeep ventured over and asked Desiree for her license as he wiped an area of the counter with a towel.

“What for?” the young woman asked.

He eyed her curiously. “I’m not sure that you’re old enough to be in here.”

Both were surprised when Desiree suddenly reached out her left hand and grabbed the barkeep’s collar, pulling him towards her across the bar. Anger in her green-blue eyes, she balled up her right fist and drew it back as if to strike the man. The barkeep stared in fear, wishing that he had just called in sick today.

“And I’m not sure,” Desiree began softly, “that I could knock your front teeth out if I were to hit you in the mouth.” She brought her face closer to his. “Care to find out?”

The man shook his head and the strawberry-blonde let him go, wondering what had come over her. She looked at the man and quickly apologized. The barkeep appeared to be shocked but nodded, accepting the apology. Instead of asking for her license, he asked what she would like to drink.

“Anything with alcohol,” she replied. “I’ll take a shot of whiskey.”

***
Walking out to the backyard, Piper scanned it until she found Taj. He was sitting on the bench, holding hands with Valerie. His parents were sitting on the other side as all four conversed. The dark-haired woman went up to Taj and asked if she could talk with him for a moment. Knowing that something must be wrong, the Jamaican man excused himself, leading Piper inside the house. They went to the dining room to sit at the table.

“What’s wrong, Pippy?” Taj asked in a worried voice.

She did not answer right away, as she looked down at her hands on the table. “Desiree’s gone and I don’t know if she is coming back.”

“Where did she go?”

Piper blew out a ragged breath. “Good question. I just don’t have an answer for you.”

“What happened? Did you have a fight?”

The dark-haired woman shook her head no. She glanced around to make sure no one was there and then asked the man if he remembered when she had that affair in Jamaica.

Taj shook his head. “With Larisa. Yes, I remember that like it was yesterday.” He also remembered Piper crying on his shoulder on and off all night after she informed him that the woman had broken it off with her that afternoon.

Nodding, Piper continued on to tell him that she and Larisa had discussed how they had lied to Desiree this morning about why they did not get along. “And I think she might have overheard us.”

Taj sat back in his chair. “Why did you lie, Piper?”

“I didn’t want her to know that I had an affair with her sister.”

“It isn’t like you had it concurrently while seeing Desi.”

The blue-eyed woman nodded. “I know. I just couldn’t tell her. So I took the easy way out and lied about it.”

“Lied about what?” Larisa asked as she came into the house.

Piper narrowed her eyes. “Why don’t you mind your own business?”

Larisa bit her lower lip to keep from saying anything surly. Just keep walking. Larisa continued towards the front door silently. She stopped when Taj asked where she was going.

Turning around, Larisa replied, “Sorry, Taj. That was rude to try slipping out without saying goodbye.” She walked over and shook hands with him. “That was a very nice party and I wish you joy in your marriage. Congratulations.” She leaned down and gave Taj a peck on his cheek. “I have to be going now.” She did not have to go. Larisa just wanted to. Nothing had changed with Piper and she no longer wanted to be here. The woman glanced at Piper. “I’ll be seeing you, Piper. And can you tell Desiree when you see her that I said bye?”

“Desiree’s gone, Larisa,” Piper stated.

Larisa frowned. “Gone? Where did she go?”

“That seems to be the million dollar question,” Taj offered as he looked up at Larisa. “We have no idea.”

“Is her car gone?”

Piper nodded. “I think she overheard our conversation and hightailed it out of here.”

Sitting down at the table, Larisa muttered an expletive. “How did you come to that conclusion?”

“I found out from Leroy that she was in here at the time we were. She was supposed to be getting Nina’s teddy bear and never came back outside with it. She and the bear are gone.”

Taj chuckled, not being able to help himself he added, “You think maybe this is payback? Desi took Fred hostage.” The Jamaican man doubled over in his chair from laughing so hard. The laughter was infectious. Larisa found herself chuckling as well. Piper merely glared at the other two.

“Very cute, Taj,” Piper said dryly. “I love it that you’re cracking jokes at my expense.”

Getting himself under control, Taj replied, “I’m sorry, Pippy.” He reached over to squeeze her shoulder. “Don’t worry. We’ll straighten this whole mess out and everything will be fine. You’ll see.”

***

“Another pease.”

The barkeep came over and refreshed Desiree’s drink for the he did not know what time. The young woman picked up the shot glass and drank all of the burning liquid in one gulp.

A woman sitting at a booth watched Desiree asking for another drink. She shook her head as she finished her Pepsi. The woman sat there thinking for a few moments. Coming to a decision she got up and walked over to the bar. She asked Desiree if she could take a seat on the stool next to her. The young woman turned to see the one of the most beautiful women she had ever had laid eyes on.

This gorgeous Latina stood at about five feet seven and had a slim athletic build. She had deep brown eyes and straight dark brown hair that went a couple inches past her shoulders. She sported a pair of soft lips that practically said, “Kiss me”. The woman had on a tight dark brown tank top that showed off the delicate muscles in her bronzed arms and the gentle curve of her ample breasts. She had on a pair of tight blue jeans that had the ability to make one notice her round well-defined derriere. Just ask Desiree. She did.

Unable to speak at the moment, the strawberry-blonde nodded for the Latin woman to sit down. With a small smile, the woman took a seat on a stool on Desiree’s right. It was then that the barkeep came back with his now completely inebriated customer’s next shot of whiskey. The dark-haired woman shook her head though, telling the man in a rich low voice that the woman sitting next to her was done. Desiree glared at her and mumbled that she should mind her own business.

The woman chuckled. “You are my business.”

The strawberry-blonde stared at her without speaking for a minute. “You think so? Wuz make you think that?”

The woman looked her in the eye, wearing an expression of complete seriousness. “Because you just saved my life.”
CHAPTER 10
Everyone gathered into the living room at Taj’s home. Taj, Larisa, and Piper had decided that it might be wise to let them all know that Desiree had left. Yes, she was grown, but with all that she had been through lately and with what she had just heard not too long ago, it might be dangerous for the young woman to be alone.

Taj, Larisa, and Piper had also decided to leave out the reason why Desiree had left in an upset state. If they were to give the reason why she was not there, than Desiree’s parents would find out the true nature of their daughter’s relationship with Piper. They would also know what their oldest daughter had been up to in Jamaica nearly a decade ago. Now was not the time for Richard and Sandra to find out that both of their daughters were lesbians.

Richard, Sandra, Nathaniel, and Vivian were all sitting on the couch. Having woke up when the grown-ups started piling in, Stacey was sitting in her mother’s lap on the floor with her sister sitting next to them. Samantha once again began playing with Alexis. The two were trying to work out a small jigsaw puzzle. Andrea’s brother Keith had chosen to stand, leaning against a wall. Leroy had a nodding Nina in his arms as he sat in a recliner. Rochelle, Valerie, Taj, and Dion were all sitting in chairs that they had brought in the living room from the dining room. Tommy had already left, taking Richie Jr. with him after the young man had exclaimed that he was tired. Tommy had offered to give him a ride back to Larisa’s house after lunch.

Like Keith, Larisa was also leaning against a wall. She had her arms crossed over her chest as she watched Piper pace in front of her. She felt like grabbing the woman and yelling at her to stop. Instead, Larisa called the other woman’s name softly in order to get her attention. Piper looked at her with a look bordering on annoyance.

“Calm down,” Larisa stated quietly. “Please.”

Piper did not get a chance to reply. For the judge chose that moment to look around the room before inquiring loudly to no one in particular where Desiree was.

“That’s why you all have been called to the living room,” Larisa answered. She took a deep breath and raised her eyes to meet her father’s. “She left.”

“Maybe she had something important to attend to,” Valerie offered, trying to be helpful.

Larisa shook her head. “We have reason to believe that she was upset, and that’s why she left in such a hurry.”

The judge leveled a glare at Piper. Whatever had happened, it most likely had something to do with this woman. He had to find some way to get Desiree away from her. There was no way that a child of his was going to have a friendship with the likes of Piper Redding. “And why was Desiree upset?” Judge Love asked still staring at Piper. She merely rolled her eyes and tried her best to ignore the man.

Larisa sighed before answering, “She-”

“I made a pass at her,” Taj interjected.

Both Larisa and Piper stared at the man as if he had suddenly grown wings. That was not what they had decided to say. Larisa quickly looked at Valerie to gauge her reaction. As she had expected, the young woman looked as if she were about to explode. Richard sat on the edge of his seat, now glaring at Taj. And to think he had been willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt.

Tears starting to form in her eyes, Valerie arose from her seat, picking up her purse in the process. When Taj began to say something to her, the young woman put her hand in his face to silence him. Without a word, Valerie marched towards the front door, opened it, and left, closing the door soundlessly behind her.

Shaking his head, Taj turned to meet the blazing eyes of Judge Love. The Jamaican man silently thanked God that Desiree’s father did not have a shotgun handy.

“You did what?!” Judge Love nearly shouted. His wife put a hand on his arm in the attempt to calm him down some. Richard did not seem to notice the action.

“I said I made a pass at her,” Taj repeated slower. I’m already in the doghouse. Might as well keep this going. “Today wasn’t the first time I did.” He looked at Larisa. “You remember that day I came over to get Desi out of her apartment?”

Larisa nodded mutely, wondering where he was going with this. She also wondered why he was doing this.

Taj continued, “Well we went back to my place after we supposedly dumped Piper’s remains in the ocean. That was when I first made a pass at her.” He looked at his younger brother who to Taj’s chagrin appeared to be disgusted. “You weren’t in the room when it happened.” Leroy merely shook his head and put Nina down on the floor before going out to the backyard. Concerned about her youngest son, Vivian followed him. Her mother’s instinct told her that Taj was lying, though she could not figure out why.

Before Taj could get another word out, Judge Love was out of his seat and heading towards him quickly. “Why you dirty punk!” Richard screamed as he grabbed the collar of Taj’s shirt and lifted the startled man to his feet. “I should kill you with my bare hands!” However, the judge did not get to do anything further, because both Dion and Keith managed to pull him away.

“Father, will you please calm down?” Larisa asked wearily. “That’s not really what happened.”

Judge Love regarded his daughter with a furious look. “What do you mean? This hoodlum,” he pointed at Taj, “took advantage of my daughter! He admitted it.” Sandra called her husband’s name but he ignored her. “And I’m tired of you always butting in Larisa.”

Larisa took a deep calming breath. “If you’ll just listen to me Father, you will find out the truth.”

“That was the truth,” Taj stated as he gave Larisa a look, shaking his head.

Larisa noticed that he wanted her to keep quiet. She tried to silently argue with him, but it was no use. You have a death wish Taj? Larisa thought. The woman shrugged, sticking her hands in her pockets.

Judge Love stood toe to toe with Taj. “I want you to stay away from my daughter.” As an afterthought, he then turned to glare at Piper. “The same goes for you. Don’t try to call her, live with her…anything! Do you understand me?”

Piper nodded. “Though it is up to Desiree whether I stick around or not. I don’t know if you realized it, but she is quite capable of making her own decisions without her daddy.” She gave him a cold smile. “Now why don’t you leave since you can’t seem to keep your hands off of people.”

Sandra stood up from the couch and came over to take a hold of her husband’s arm. Judge Love stared at Piper for a few silent moments. “You mean like you couldn’t keep your hands off of your father?” The expression on his face grew pensive. “Or would that be your hammer?”

The dark-haired woman clenched her hands into fists at her sides but said nothing in reply. She would not give him the satisfaction. The judge looked at Piper as though he expected her to say something. After a second, Richard turned his attention on his daughter. “Let’s go, Larisa,” the man stated.

The young woman shook her head. “I’m not going anywhere yet. Why don’t you and Mother go back to my house and I’ll let you know when we locate Desiree? I’m sure we’ll find her soon,” she stated in a reassuring tone.

Larisa was surprised when her father did not argue. Instead he put an arm around Sandra’s waist and headed for the front door. They left neither saying another word.

Sighing in relief because they were gone, Larisa glanced at Piper who was staring toward the floor. With some uncertainty, Larisa reached out to put a hand on Piper’s arm and squeezed gently. The other woman glanced at her in some confusion before moving away so that Larisa was no longer touching her.

The blue-eyed woman cleared her throat. “We need to start looking,” she said to no one in particular.

“Maybe she just went home,” Andrea said, still sitting on the floor. “She could be there by now. Couldn’t she?”

*****

Desiree stared at the woman sitting next to her. “How did I save your life?” she reached into a small basket and took out a beer nut to put in her mouth. Chewing, she waited for the woman to answer.

The gorgeous Latina grabbed a cocktail napkin and began to fold it. She kept her gaze on her task as she replied, “I was going to do something very foolish, but then I kept looking at you and ended up changing my mind.” She lifted her head to study the strawberry-blonde. “To put it bluntly, your looking like crap over here, drinking so much and appearing like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders made me want to live. And I thank you for that.”

Desiree ate another beer nut, trying to process the information she had just been given. Since her brain was currently working in the lowest gear possible, she found processing extremely difficult. Finally, she replied, “No biggie.” Desiree ran a finger across the scarred wood.

“What happened?”

The strawberry-blonde glanced at her. “Long story.”

“I’ve got time. I should introduce myself.” The woman put her hand out towards Desiree. After grabbing at the air twice, she successfully grasped the hand offered to her. “My name is Micaela Chavez.”

“I’m Desimee.” She chuckled to herself, finding her inability to speak properly hilarious. “I mean I’m Desiree,” she paused as if in deep thought. “Love.” She asked Micaela had she heard of her. The woman shook her head.

“Should I have?”

Desiree shrugged. ” ‘Pose not. Not evewybody has.”

“Are you famous?”

She shook her head for longer than was needed. “Not weally, but my girlfriend is.” Desiree slapped a hand over her mouth, noticing that she had let it slip that she was a lesbian. To her credit, Micaela did not so much as blink.

“And do you feel neglected because of that?”

Desiree shook her head. “That’s not it. Let’s not talk ’bout it. I’d like another drink.” She looked at the bartender who was a few feet away from them, polishing glasses.

Micaela put a hand on her arm. “No more alcohol. I’m taking you home.”

The strawberry-blonde looked at her suspiciously. ” ‘Cuse me?”

Micaela got to her feet and walked back to where she was sitting in order to get her jacket. Coming back to the bar she replied, “That’s right. Don’t worry, Desiree. I’m not a psychopath or anything. Get up so we can move on out.” She slipped her jacket on and insisted on paying the other woman’s tab. Without another word, the young woman tried to get up from the barstool. Noticing that she was having trouble, Micaela put an arm around Desiree’s waist and instructed the young woman to put an arm around her neck. After the smaller woman did so, the two left the bar.

The Latin woman headed towards the Honda Civic, after Desiree pointed out that car as being hers. Grabbing the keys in her pocket, the strawberry-blonde handed them to Micaela. After the Latin woman secured Desiree in the passenger seat, she jogged around to the drivers’ side and got in. After buckling herself in, Micaela asked the other woman for her driver’s license. Desiree handed it over, warning her designated driver that the picture was hideous. Chuckling, Micaela studied the address on the card before driving out of the parking lot.

*****

They had been driving around Los Angeles for the past twenty-five minutes or so. Before everyone had split up at Taj’s house, the Jamaican man had informed them, (although some of them were not exactly on speaking terms with him) that he had considered the fact that Desiree might have been in a bar somewhere. He explained that the day he had went to the beach with the young woman that she had consumed a considerable amount of champagne within a short time.

Silently sighing to herself, Piper hoped that Desiree was all right, wherever she was. Please don’t let me have driven her to drink, she thought to herself as she stared out of the passenger window of the car.

Larisa came to a halt at a stoplight and glanced at her passenger. Sighing softly, Larisa noticed that the woman was even more beautiful than she had been when they first met in Jamaica all those years ago. Piper did not have the appearance of a woman that had been locked up in a prison for the past eight years.

Feeling eyes upon her, Piper turned her head towards the other woman and quietly asked if there was a problem. Shaking her head, Larisa turned her eyes to the red light, willing it to turn green. Seconds later it did and the two were off once again.

Piper took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Looking out of the passenger side window again, she said, “Maybe we should check out some bars.” She fell silent for a moment before continuing, “I hope she’s not drinking.”

Larisa instantly replied, “Not Desiree. My sister is too smart for that.”

Cool blue eyes turned to regard her. “And that’s why she almost polished off a whole bottle of champagne by herself, isn’t it?”

Larisa bit down on her lower lip to refrain from retorting something nasty. She had had just about enough of Piper’s attitude towards her. “Piper, how long are you going to keep this up?”

“Keep what up?”

“Acting like you hate me.”

Piper turned towards the window again, replying, “It isn’t an act,” she paused shortly, “You see, I really do hate you.”

Chuckling humorlessly, Larisa pulled into a gas station and shut off the ignition after stopping by a pump. Both women sat in silence for a few moments before the older woman said, “I have a tip for you, Piper. You really should grow up.”

Still looking out of the window, Piper replied, “And you can take your tip and shove it up your ass. I have grown up.”

Larisa opened her door and leaned down to pull the latch up in order for the gas tank to pop open. “You could have fooled me,” she retorted before getting out of the car, shutting it loudly behind her.

Piper leaned her head back against the headrest and closed her eyes. Her thoughts quickly drifted to the woman pumping gas into the car. While in prison, Piper had often thought about that time in Jamaica with Larisa. She never knew why she did it. The memories only seemed to cause her pain. She still remembered that dreadful day as though it had happened just yesterday.

Nearly twenty minutes late because she lost the key to the hotel room and had to find Taj in order to use his, Piper walked into the crowded restaurant. She stood at the entrance for a few moments, trying to get her breathing under control after the short run here from the hotel. The dark-haired young woman had just learned a very valuable lesson that could be useful to all women around the world. Running in high heels and a short dress is not the best idea. Speaking of the dress, Piper did not feel comfortable enough in it, but she wanted to look great for Larisa.

The older woman had asked her out on a date a couple of days before and stated that they would be going to this restaurant, which happened to be the hottest dining place on the beach. The two had been on several dates before, however Piper always felt the same nervousness and excitement when she knew that she was about to be reunited with the love of her life. She was in love and it was the most wonderful feeling in the world. She was in love with the most beautiful, intelligent, witty, and kind woman in the world. Piper did not see how life could possibly get any better.

Thank goodness, she and Taj had decided to vacation in Jamaica at this time of year. Otherwise, she might not have ever met Larisa and known that this special woman who made her feel so wanted and loved, existed. It was a frightening thought, and Piper inwardly shuddered every time that she thought about it.

The young woman scanned the restaurant, and soon blue eyes connected with green. Piper smiled brightly, hoping that she did not have a goofy look on her face, as she moved through the tables and nearly collided with a waiter on her way to Larisa’s table. As she drew nearer, Larisa stood up and walked around to pull her date’s chair out for her.

Reaching the table, Piper leaned over to give Larisa a kiss on the lips. The older woman quickly ended it with a faint smile at Piper. Thanking Larisa, Piper sat down in the chair and placed her small purse, (of which she detested carrying around because she deemed it too much trouble) on the small round table set for two.

“Hey,” Piper said in a breathless voice. “I’ve missed you.” This was quite an understatement. She had not seen or heard from her lover since that day she was asked on a date to here. Larisa had claimed that she had something extremely important to take care of, and would not be able to see Piper for a couple days. The younger woman had felt instant heartache at the news, but looked on the bright side. At least Larisa had given her something to look forward to.

Pumping gas into the car, Larisa took the opportunity to study Piper unnoticed through the back window. The other woman had her eyes closed, her lips slightly parted. Shaking her head, to clear her thoughts that were traveling to places that they were better off not going to, Larisa suddenly began to think about the day that she had broken up with Piper in Jamaica. She often regretted what she had done, but at the time she had felt there was no other way. All of those years ago, Larisa had convinced herself that what she was going to do was the right thing for them both.

“Yeah, right,” the woman muttered to herself, remembering.

“Hello,” Larisa replied, having a difficult time keeping her eyes off of her date. Piper was simply the most gorgeous creature that she had ever laid eyes on. The blue-eyed woman had on a light coating of make-up that only proved to accentuate her beauty, but she could easily do without any. “I’ve-” Automatically, Larisa began to state that she had missed Piper as well, which was the truth, but it would only make what she had to announce all the more confusing. “I’ve been waiting for you.” Larisa picked up the menu so she could focus her eyes on something else other that the beautiful person sitting across from her. “Almost half an hour. Started to think that you weren’t going to show up.”

Piper picked up her own menu and opened it, her eyes still on Larisa. “I’m sorry. I had some trouble getting into the hotel room.” She had on a sheepish look now. “Lost my key.” With much difficulty, Piper turned her attention to the menu.

“It’s just that we had reservations for 6:30.” Larisa reached over picking up her glass and taking a sip of her water, hating the way that she sounded, but it was all for a reason. There was no alternative. “I would have appreciated it if you would have been considerate enough to pick up a phone and call.”

The younger woman’s brow furrowed. Something was not right here. Larisa was being unusually cold to her. Was she that upset that Piper was late? The woman quietly put the menu down, having decided what she wanted and folded her hands together in her lap. “I already said that I was sorry,” she replied in a calm quiet voice. “I should have called you, but I didn’t think about it.”

Neither woman said another word until after their waiter came to take their orders. After the man came back with their beverages and left once again, Piper busied herself with rearranging the silverware on her cloth napkin, while wondering what the sudden tenseness between them was all about. Not being able to stand it another moment, Piper broke the silence, asking Larisa if there was anything wrong.

Taking a sip from her glass of wine, the green-eyed woman put the flute down on the table slowly with a thoughtful expression on her face. Looking up, she studied Piper’s face. For the first time, she was having doubts about what she was about to do. Perhaps this was not the way to go about this after all. She wanted to be with this woman for the rest of her life and it caused Larisa a lot of pain to know that it could never be. She had to do this. The woman inwardly told herself that she should just get this over with.

“Piper,” she started, “I don’t think we should see each other anymore. That’s why I invited you here. To break up with you.”

The other woman’s blue eyes begin to tear instantly. “What do you mean you don’t think we should see each other anymore? What happened?”

Sighing, Larisa sat back in her chair and regarded her companion. “Did you honestly believe that I really loved you?” The look that Piper gave her obviously said yes. Larisa chuckled coldly. “Oh, please little girl…you could never win my love.” She almost winced and could have kicked herself as she saw the tears rolling down Piper’s strong cheekbones. She was causing the other woman pain and hated herself for it.

Piper shook her head. “You’re lying. You do love me. As much as I love you.” She realized that she was behaving desperately but could not help herself. There was no way that Piper intended to live without her beloved.

Larisa chuckled all the more, going on with the show. “You’re deluded, Piper. Remember when I told you that I had something important to take care of the last two days?” Piper nodded mutely. Leaning forward in her chair, Larisa continued in a near whisper, “Well during that time I was screwing someone else.” She grinned. “She knows how to please me in ways that you never could and I plan to take her back home with me to California. You were just my little toy. Thanks,” Larisa finished casually.

The blue-eyed woman shook her head, not wanting to hear another word of this, as her shoulders began to shake with the force of her sobs. Customers started looking her way curiously, but Piper was blind to them. She kept her eyes on Larisa and realized that this was not the woman who she had made sweet love with not five days ago. Larisa had transformed into this cold-hearted person sitting before her smugly.

“You used me?” Piper said in a small voice.

“Yes,” replied Larisa. She looked thoughtful for a moment. “You know what? You’re really pathetic. Sitting there crying like the baby that you are. Frankly, I don’t now what I ever saw in you. You may have the body of a twenty-five year old but you’ve got the mentality of a child. A little itty bitty chi-”

“Shut…up,” Piper said between clenched teeth as she glared at the other woman. Larisa held her breath momentarily, thinking that she might have gone too far. Piper looked as if she could do just about anything at this moment. “Just shut the hell up,” Piper continued in a low voice. “You have messed with the wrong person.” With that said, the blue-eyed woman arose from the table and stormed out of the restaurant never to be seen again by Larisa until years later.

Noticing that the gas was about to overflow, Larisa quickly stopped pumping and removed the pump from her tank. She was soon back in the car, where she sat without touching the keys placed in the ignition. For a couple of minutes Piper did not say a word, but soon grew curious as to why they were just sitting there. Looking over at Larisa, she asked the woman why she had not started the car yet.

Larisa did not so much as spare Piper a glance as she continued to gaze out of the windshield at nothing. Piper followed her eyes and only saw the wall of the electronic car wash that the gas station had.

“Are we going to sit here all evening or are we going to go try to find Desiree?” Piper asked.

“We need to talk,” Larisa said quietly, still staring out of the window, her hands resting on her thighs.

Piper shook her head. “I have nothing to say to you, Larisa.”

“Fine. Then just sit there and listen to me.”

The blue-eyed woman inhaled deeply before allowing the air to escape from her lungs slowly. “We can talk later, ’cause right now Desiree is my main concern.”

Larisa turned her gaze on her ex-lover. “You promise?”

Piper nodded curtly as she reached over to start the engine herself. “Promise.”

*****

On opening the door, Micaela led the strawberry-blonde into the dark apartment, making sure to keep an arm around the younger woman’s waist securely. She shut the door softly behind her before feeling along the wall until she found a light switch that she turned on. Both women squinted as the bright light overhead assaulted them. Micaela asked Desiree where her bedroom was and the young woman pointed to a door towards the left. The duo headed that way slowly. Desiree had an arm around the Latin woman’s shoulders and was leaning heavily on her.

Soon Micaela had the blue-green eyed woman in an oversized sweatshirt that had the letters UCLA emblazoned on the front of it. Pulling back the covers, she helped the woman to get into the bed before tucking the covers around Desiree. Not being able to stop herself, Micaela leaned down and tenderly kissed the younger woman on her forehead before straightening back up and walking out to the living room searching for a chair.

By the time that she got back with a chair from the dining room table, Micaela noticed that Desiree was fast asleep and had curled up on her left side, her right arm tucked beneath her head like a second pillow. The Latina smiled tenderly as she placed the chair next to the bed and sat in it quietly. Glancing at the lamp, she decided to leave it on.

Micaela observed the sleeping strawberry-blonde and silently thanked the Lord for this angel (for she looked like one if you paid no attention to the drunkenness) that had saved her. Though Desiree had not been attempting to and had no way of knowing that Micaela was in trouble, she was responsible for the thirty-two year old being alive. If it hadn’t been for her, I would have taken that gun out of my glove compartment and used it by now. Micaela shuddered and wondered how she could have been so selfish and stupid. That was by far the dumbest thing that I have ever thought of doing. She thought for a moment. Well maybe it was among the top five dumbest things.

Micaela Chavez was born and raised in Mexico. She came to the United States after she graduated from high school. She went to Texas and enrolled at an art school, studying there for the next two years while she stayed with her mother’s sister during the first year and half before she got her own apartment. It was not long after Micaela moved into the very first place that she could call her own before she met Clint Reynolds, a mobster. The gorgeous Southern man basically swept the young woman off of her feet. It did not take long before Micaela was moving into Clint’s mansion, which meant that she could save money by not having to pay rent and she could quit her job as a waitress to focus on school. Micaela had agreed to be Clint’s lover in return for all that he gave her. Though she knew that the man participated in illegal acts, Micaela felt that Clint was one of the sweetest men that she had ever known. He treated her well and she could have just about anything that she wanted.

At first, the arrangement was all right, until a few months after living there, Clint started to “lend” Micaela to his friends. The first time that she got up the nerve to confront the man about it was the first time that he raised his hand to her and slapped Micaela so hard that she fell over the couch that she had been standing in front of. After that, the young woman decided not to bring up the issue again out of fear. Two months later, not being able to take it anymore, Micaela attempted to escape but did not get far before one of Clint’s cronies located her and brought the frightened young woman back to the mansion. For her trouble, Micaela was beaten with a belt that left welts and bruises all over her back, rear end, and thighs. Clint also warned her that if she ever tried to leave him again that he would make sure that she would have no family to go home to back in Mexico. He would also do away with the aunt that lived there in Texas. Shakily, Micaela had promised that she would never leave again.

Soon, the young woman started to find solace in alcohol and began drinking on a daily basis. By the end of the day, Micaela was usually wasted. There were quite a few evenings when she passed out right on the floor and someone had to carry her to bed. Clint hated it when Micaela was inebriated, especially in front of his colleagues, so he used that as an excuse to beat her on occasion. There were a couple of times that he beat her so bad that the young woman had to be taken to the hospital. Of course, she always came up with a lie as to how her arm, ribs, or something else became broken or bruised. It took five very long years, but Micaela got help for her drinking problem and learned that alcohol would not make her feel better. Leaving Clint was the solution, but the Latin woman still could not bring herself to do that. There was just too much of a risk where her family was concerned. She had no doubts that Clint would have her family murdered if she tried to flee.

One Christmas set the next course of events. At the age of twenty-nine, Micaela was allowed to go home to Mexico to visit her family for two weeks during Christmas. Her family knew of Clint but had no idea how horrible the man was and Micaela had no desire to tell them. It would be dangerous to.

One evening, after being at home for a few days, Micaela was sitting down in the living room reading a book. Everyone else had left to pick up the tree, but the young woman had decided to stay there. The front door opened and in walked her brother-in-law Luis, who always had given her creeps from the first moment that she set eyes on him.

Luis smiled at Micaela as he shut the door behind him, asking the young woman what she was reading. Wearing a slightly suspicious look, she told him, noticing that he was steadily making his way towards her. Luis had his hands at his sides and was clenching and unclenching them. The man towered over Micaela by a good seven inches as his dark eyes penetrated into hers.

The young woman set the book down and swallowed with some difficulty. “Is something wrong, Luis? I thought you were with the others.”

“I decided not to go,” he said in Spanish, deciding to speak with his native language. “Why don’t you and I have some fun.” He grinned at her maniacally.

“No thank you, Luis. I’m reading right now.”

Luis picked up the book that Micaela had set down and threw it across the room. “No you’re not.”

“Please leave me alone,” the young woman pleaded softly, her eyes darting around as if trying to find an escape.

Not saying anything, Luis suddenly pulled Micaela roughly to her feet and tossed her over his shoulder as if she weighed nothing more than a bundle of hay. Squirming, the woman tried to get away as she yelled at her brother-in-law to let her go, but Luis would not listen. Entering a bedroom, the man tossed Micaela on the bed. When she tried to flee from the bed, Luis punched her hard in the jaw, causing the young woman to become a little dazed. It was then that he proceeded to rape her. Tearing her clothes off and ignoring her pleas, Luis roughly assaulted his sister-in-law as she attempted to get the huge man off of her though it was no use. It took no more than five minutes, but to Micaela, it seemed like a lifetime.

Not twenty-four hours later, Micaela was on a flight back to Texas. She had informed her family what Luis had done, but none of them had believed her. They chose to believe that Micaela had slept with her brother-in-law and now wanted to make trouble. Crying and shocked, the young woman gathered her belongings and ran out of the house. Even her own mother and father had turned on her and Micaela now felt that she had no one.

A week after being back at the mansion, the young woman found out that she was carrying Luis’s baby. She knew that it was his since she had not been with anyone in nearly a month prior to going to Mexico, and there had been no one since she had been back in Texas. She would not lose this baby. If Clint were to find out that she was pregnant, he would surely make Micaela terminate the child. In the past nine years, the young woman had become pregnant three different times, all of which were the babies of Clint’s friends (the one’s that she had been on loan to) and had been forced to get an abortion for all of them. Well not this time. Micaela silently vowed that she would keep this baby. Although it was Luis’s it was an innocent child and she did not want to lose yet another baby. There was only one way to assure the safety of her unborn child.

Curled up on the couch, Micaela held a book in her hands, but her eyes were on Clint, who was sitting across from her on the other couch. He was reading the newspaper and looked up when he felt eyes upon him. The Southern man caught Micaela observing him and offered her a charming smile, showing white even teeth as he laid the newspaper aside and sat forward.

“Is there somethin’ the matter, Mickey?” Clint asked with a hint of a Southern accent that Micaela used to find adorable.

The woman tried to smile at him. “No. Nothing is wrong Clint.”

Getting up, Clint walked over to Micaela and took a seat next to her on the couch. He put a hand on her knee and the woman resisted the urge to pull away. Bright blue eyes raked over Micaela’s body. “You know…for bein’ almost thirty, you sure do look good, darlin’,” Clint said as he traced a finger over the woman’s knee. “You know it’s been a while. Since we’ve been together,” he paused. “Why don’t you get sexy for me tonight and come into my room? I’ll get some champagne.” He grinned at her. “And those chocolates you like.”

Perfect, Micaela thought. “Sure. That sounds splendid Clint. I’ll be there,” she smiled sexily at the man, “wearing little.”

Later that night, Micaela entered Clint’s lavish bedroom and headed towards the adjoining bathroom after detecting that the shower was running. She was wearing a short silky black chemise with a matching silk robe over it that she left hanging open. Opening the door, Micaela was assaulted with the hot steam coming from the shower. Barefooted, the woman made her way to the shower and slid the door back. Clint jumped a little in surprise having not heard her.

“Hey darlin’! You scared me.” The man chuckled as he turned towards her with his short blond hair slicked back. His eyes twinkled, as he looked Micaela up and down, taking his time.

Micaela did the same to him, thinking that Clint did not deserve the gorgeous body that he had been given. Nine years later he looked even better at the age of forty-five. There were a few wisps of gray in his hair, but they only proved to make Clint more handsome. Weren’t the bad guys supposed to look worse as the years went on? Lucky bastard, Micaela thought to herself.

“You gettin’ in?” Clint asked. “God, you are one beautiful lady, Mickey.” His blue eyes fell on her brown ones. “I did a lot of thinkin’ while you were in Mexico and…uh…I wanna let you know that I’m gonna change and do right by you.”

Blinking several times, Micaela focused on Clint closely not being able to believe what she was hearing. “What?”

The Southern man sighed softly. “I know that I’ve done you wrong in the past. A lot. I had no right to treat you like I have been. I want you to know that I’m getting help. Now I realize that I need it. I’ll never raise my hand to you again and I’ll never make you do anything that you don’t wanna do. I can’t lose you, Mickey.” Leaning forward, still in the shower, he kissed her softly on the lips, which was unusual. Clint usually kissed Micaela roughly as though stating that he owned her.

What was going on here? Why this? Why now? Clint was behaving like he was when they first met. She could not trust that it would last. He had gone back on his promises in the past. There was no real proof that this time he would really change for the better. If he found out about this baby, he might go ballistic. If her own family did not believe that she was raped, who was to say that Clint would?

“I love you, Mickey,” Clint whispered.

Taking a couple of steps back, Micaela reached into a pocket on the right side of her robe. She looked at Clint who was smiling at her. “Clint?”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Her heart began to beat faster as her breathing increased.

Clint cocked his head to the side in an adorable fashion. “For what, darlin’?”

Wordlessly, Micaela took her hand out of her pocket. She was holding a gun that she pointed at her lover’s chest. The man had no time to react as she pulled the trigger twice. The force from the bullets was so hard that Clint stumbled backwards and slammed his back against the wall of the shower with a shocked look on his face. Slowly, he slid down to the floor of the shower as blood seeped out of his chest from two holes. Unable to turn her eyes away, Micaela watched as his blue eyes began to close as he looked at her, astonished.

*****

Larisa pulled into the parking lot of the third bar that she and Piper would be checking tonight. At the first two, they had not discovered anything. None of the people at the bar had seen the woman on the picture that Larisa and Piper showed them. The women silently made their way into the smoky bar and immediately headed over to the bartender who was serving another customer. On seeing the lovely women, he raised a hand to his hair and patted it down as though he thought that he had a chance with them.
Dream on, Larisa thought to herself as she took out the picture. “Excuse me, sir. Have you seen this woman?” She handed the picture to the bartender. Piper stood beside her quietly.

The bartender looked at the woman on the picture and then at the two women before him, before finally settling his gaze on the woman doing the talking. “Maybe…I have. Maybe…I haven’t.” I can probably make some money on this.

Larisa barely stopped herself from giving the man a dirty look. “Look. She’s my sister and I just want to know if she’s been here tonight. I’m worried about her.” She glanced at Piper whose eyes were riveted to the bartender. “We both are.”

The man started to wipe the already highly glossed bar top. “Like I said…maybe I have and maybe I haven’t. A little cash might help my memory.”

Quickly, Piper clenched parts of the man’s shirt in her hands and proceeded to pull him over the bar top onto the floor. He landed on his stomach on the floor between the perturbed woman and a startled Larisa. Piper then kicked the man in his side, causing him to howl in pain as he moved onto his back, placing a hand over the injured area.
Dryly, Larisa asked, “Piper, haven’t you ever heard of the phrase never kick a man when he’s down?”

Ignoring her, the blue-eyed woman placed her right foot on the bartender’s crotch only touching the area with the sole of her shoe. “Now,” Piper pressed down on the sensitive area, adding a little of her weight, “I think having full function of your balls will help with your ability to father children. Don’t you agree?” She pushed down harder, causing the bartender to break out in a sweat as other patrons in the bar looked their way curiously.

“Mmhmm.” The bartender nodded. “I couldn’t agree with you more. I saw her, I saw her.” He mewled softly at the pressure. “She was here earlier.”

Raising her foot, Piper indicated for the man to get up, which he did hurriedly. Walking slowly over to a barstool, he sat down in it, facing Piper and Larisa while he placed a protective hand over his crotch.

“Are you sure it was her?” Piper asked.

The bartender nodded. “Yes, I’m sure. You’re not the only chi-person to attack me tonight.”

The blue-eyed woman raised an eyebrow. “She attacked you?”

“Yeah, well sort of.” The bartender looked flushed. “I asked for some ID to make sure she was over twenty-one ’cause she didn’t look like it and she didn’t wanna give it to me, so she threatened me. She really didn’t do anything to me though,” he paused. “She wasn’t old enough, was she?”

Ignoring his question, Piper asked another one. “When she left was she drunk?”

The bartender nodded. “But I don’t think she was driving. Some lady she met took her home.”

“Lady? What lady?” Larisa inquired of the man.

He looked to her. “I dunno. Never seen her before. She was gorgeous though. Came right over and started talking to the blonde and ended up paying her tab. Not long after that, they hightailed it outta here. Probably a little over an hour ago.”

Piper’s hands balled into fists as she tried to remain calm. So this is what Desiree was going to do after overhearing hers and Larisa’s conversation back at Taj’s house. Just pick up some woman, or be picked up by one in a bar and take her home. And who was to say that this woman wasn’t some sort of psycho who preyed on vulnerable young women? I have to get to Desi. She could be in trouble.

The blue-eyed woman turned to Larisa. “Let’s go. We have to get to Desiree’s right now.”

*****

Running a hand through her hair, Micaela got up from the now uncomfortable chair and stretched. Deciding to get a glass of water, the woman headed for the bedroom door quietly so as not to disturb Desiree while she was sleeping. Opening the door, the woman walked out into the darkened living room. Hearing a key turning in the lock, she paused by the front door as it was opened and two silhouette’s came in.

Before Micaela got a chance to say anything, she was attacked by the shorter of the silhouettes. The figure rushed her with such a great impact, that they both fell to the carpeted floor. The Latin woman managed to shove the figure off of her and they stumbled to her right. Bringing her foot up, Micaela hit the person in the nose with the bottom of her shoe. She heard the person cry out in pain as the room suddenly was illuminated.

Piper stood by a light switch, staring down at the pair before her blue eyes focused on Micaela, glaring at her. Larisa sat up on the floor and held a hand to her bleeding nose. Not paying much attention to Piper’s glare, Micaela looked between the both of them before she swiftly arose to her feet and offered Larisa a hand up. Quietly, the woman allowed herself to be brought to her feet by the stranger.

The dark-haired woman shook her head at Larisa. “Way to go Xena.” Larisa smirked at her. Turning to the Latin woman, Piper asked in a low voice, “Who are you?”

“Micaela. I assume you both know Desiree. I brought her home. She wasn’t in any shape to drive so I volunteered to bring her home.” She pointed towards Desiree’s bedroom. “She’s in there getting some shuteye. Please relax, I don’t mean any harm. I was only try to help.” Micaela looked at Larisa, who still had her hand cupped around her nose. “I’m sorry about that. You jumped me and it was a reflex.”

Larisa shrugged. “No big deal. You were only trying to defend yourself. That was a dumb thing for me to do.”

“You got that right,” Piper muttered, earning another smirk from Larisa. “I’m gonna go check on her.” The blue-eyed woman proceeded to walk towards Desiree’s bedroom.

Micaela turned to Larisa and said, “Why don’t you come with me? I’ll get you fixed up.” She began walking towards the kitchen and the other woman followed her silently. Her eyes ‘of their own volition’, settled on the other woman’s rear. Oh, now that is quite lovely. What I wouldn’t give to be those jeans! Larisa shook her head. What was she thinking? This was definitely not the time. However, her eyes stayed on Micaela’s behind and she almost walked into a wall, not watching where she was going. Smiling sheepishly, Larisa entered the kitchen and sat down at the table. She tipped her head back, watching Micaela as she retrieved the dish-drying towel and then brought it over to her.

“You should lean your head forward slightly. A lot of people think that it’s best to tip the head back with a nosebleed but that’s not true.” Placing her hand on the back of Larisa’s head, Micaela gently pushed her head forward some. “If you lean back, then you run the risk of the blood going down your throat.” She then took the towel and gently blotted at the blood on Larisa’s face and the surrounding area. Larisa attempted to do it herself, but Micaela would not let her.

The green-eyed woman obediently sat with her hands in her lap as this virtual stranger doted over her like a mother hen. Larisa had to admit that she was thoroughly enjoying the treatment. Micaela was so gentle. “Are you a doctor or a nurse?”

The Latina smiled down at Larisa, her brown eyes full of warmth. “No. I’m an artist.” Done, she informed the woman to pinch her nose between her thumb and forefinger for ten minutes without letting go. Larisa followed the advice, as she informed Micaela to sit down. However, she declined saying that it was time for her to go.

“Will Desiree be in good hands with you both?”

Larisa nodded. “Yes. Thank you for looking out for her. You didn’t have to stay and baby-sit.” But I’m glad that you did. Otherwise, I might never have met you.

“Well I didn’t want her here alone,” Micaela replied, tossing the stained towel in a nearby trash can. “Haven’t you heard stories of people that drink too much choking on their…well not to be gross but vomit and dying of asphyxiation? I didn’t want to take any chances with that happening with her.”

Larisa stared at her in bewilderment. “Are you sure that you’re not a doctor?”

Micaela laughed and Larisa decided that she very much enjoyed the gleeful sound coming from this woman. “Unless I apprehended my Ph.D. during unconsciousness or a period of amnesia, I’m pretty sure.” She winked at Larisa.

The other woman grinned in return. “What did you say your name was again?”

“Micaela.”

Larisa raised an eyebrow. “Are you like Cher and Madonna?”

The brown-eyed woman chuckled. “I’m sorry. My last name is Chavez. And what’s your name?”

“Larisa Love.” She put out her free hand and shook hands with the other woman, noticing how soft and warm Micaela’s palm was. After a moment, Larisa reluctantly let go, resting her hand on her thigh. “So…can I give you a lift?” she asked, hoping that the answer would be yes.

Micaela was about to decline the offer when she suddenly thought that it might not be such a bad idea. Getting a ride from Larisa back to the bar to pick up her car would save Micaela all the money taking a taxicab would cost.

“If you don’t mind,” the Latina started, “I would really appreciate it if you could do that.”

The other woman smiled, quite pleased with Micaela’s answer. “I don’t mind at all.”

*****

Piper saw the women to the elevator before coming back into the apartment, making sure to lock the door behind her. Sighing softly, she walked into Desiree’s bedroom noticing that the young woman had changed positions in the bed, now lying on her stomach with Tobias curled up on her pillow, sharing it. Silently moving to the bed, Piper pulled the covers up around her lover as she wondered how she would explain what Desiree overheard earlier that evening at Taj’s house.

Shaking her head, Piper headed in the direction of the bathroom. Fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into this time, Piper. You may have just screwed up the best thing that has ever happened to you, she thought.

Twenty minutes later, Piper walked out of the bathroom feeling refreshed from a hot shower. Giving her hair a final squeeze with the towel, she tossed it on the back of the computer chair before moving to her side of the bed and getting in, careful to be quiet so as not to awaken Desiree. She wanted to postpone the imminent conversation that they would have to have for as long as possible.

Lying back on the pillow, Piper glanced over to Desiree’s side of the bed to notice Tobias looking at her with what seemed to her an annoyed expression on his face. “What?,” she said softly. “Did I disturb you your majesty?” Tobias chose that moment to stick out his tongue, (though he might have only been licking his mouth), however Piper stuck hers out as well. “Spoiled brat,” she muttered, thinking that the furball would find himself on the floor if he even laid one paw on her pillow. Piper doubted that he would though. It was clear to her that Tobias disliked her.

Turning on her side with her back to the cat, Piper shook her head. I think I’ve finally lost it, she thought to herself. She was actually allowing the thought that Tobias did not like her, bother her. What did she care if the furball liked her or not? It was Desiree’s opinion that she should be concerned with. Piper suddenly smiled. Tomorrow she would get him one of those squeaky cat toys. Surely, she could score points with Tobias for bestowing upon him a gift. Who says you can’t buy love?

*****

At hearing the loud knocking on the door, Taj quickly arose from the bed and ran to the front door to answer it, hoping against hope that he would find Valerie standing on his threshold. Quickly wiping the sleep from his eyes, the man opened the door wearing a hopeful smile. It faded as he noticed that the person was not his fiancée.

“Geez…don’t look too happy to see me Taj.” Piper chuckled as she asked if she could come in.

With a sheepish look, Taj moved to the side to allow his friend entrance into his home. Closing the door behind her, he said, “Sorry Pippy. I thought you might have been Val.” He offered the woman a bright smile as he walked over to her, lightly kissing her cheek. “Good morning. I take it that Desi is still in bed since she’s not with you.”

Both walked over to the couch to have a seat as Piper replied, “Oh good. Larisa got in contact with you.” She took a seat next to Taj. “I asked her to call everyone to let them know that Desiree was all right. Would have done it myself but all I wanted to do last night was go to bed.”

Taj nodded. “That’s understandable. You should be tired after all that has happened lately.” He paused thoughtfully. “So…something tells me that this isn’t a social visit. What’s up?” After years of knowing her, Taj could tell when there was something on Piper’s mind.

Piper leaned back on the couch as she looked at the Jamaican man. “I need the package.”

Taj gazed at her blankly for a few moments before it dawned on him what she was referring to. He inwardly sighed, having hoped that Piper would have forgotten all about the package by now. He should have known better. “What are you intending to do with it?”

“Ruin him.”

Taj shook his head. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea Pippy.”

“Well I don’t recall asking you what you thought Taj,” the dark-haired woman replied with a hint of irritation in her voice.

Taking a deep breath, Taj managed to keep his cool. He had learned long ago that sometimes it took much patience to deal with this woman. “Pippy,” the man started, looking at his dearest friend pleadingly, “don’t do this.”

Piper sighed. She wanted that package and the only way she would get it was if Taj cooperated, which he did not seem to be inclined to do anytime soon. What was his problem? The whole point of gathering the information in that package in the first place was to destroy Richard Love’s career. Piper thought back to the day she asked Taj to help her.

A smile lit up her face as the twenty-year-old spied her best friend making his way towards the table she was currently sitting at. Standing up, she ran over to him, quickly closing the distance between them. Laughing, the man swung her around as he heard her squeal delighted to see him as much as he was delighted to see her.

“Hey!” Taj said brightly, taking a step back to look Piper up and down. “How’s my buddy doing?”

Piper nodded, still smiling. “I’m good.” She shrugged a little. “Well as good as one can be locked up behind bars.” Her smile began to fade a bit though she fought to keep it in place. Taj only hugged her to him tightly, his tender embrace expressing more than words could.

“Why don’t we sit down?” Piper inquired moments later, already walking back to the table. Sitting down on a chair on one side of the table, she watched as Taj sat in a chair directly across from her own. Reaching over, she placed her hand over his, immensely glad to her best friend. Visiting day was a day that she looked forward to the most and Piper intended to enjoy this time with Taj. Right after she took care of some important business first.

“Hey Taj…I have a huge favor to ask of you.”
Placing his other hand on top of the one she had on his other, Taj said, “Anything. You can ask me anything.”

“You know that judge who sentenced me here?”

Taj nodded, waiting for her to get to the point of this.

“I want him to pay,” she said, regarding her friend with a deadly serious look. “I don’t know what it is but something about my trial seems fishy. I feel it in my gut that that bastard had something to do with it and I want him to pay dearly.”

“What do you want me to do exactly?”

Piper lowered her voice so that only Taj could hear her, “Find something on him. Something dirty. Everyone has a secret and I fully intend to expose whatever he’s hiding when I get out of here. Just get me something and keep it for me. I’ll take care of the rest later.” She looked closely at Taj. “Think you can do that for me?”

The Jamaican man nodded. “I know I can.”

“He’s going down Taj and I need that package to do it. Please give it to me.”

Taj sighed as he replied, “Pippy I know that you’re upset about the money, but I feel that by doing this you’re–”

“Money?” Piper quickly interjected. “What money?”

Taj’s eyes opened a fraction wider as he suddenly realized that perhaps Piper did not know about the money Richard Love was paid to give her a long prison sentence. Since Piper did not know about the bribe, then that meant that all hell would break loose where she and Desiree were concerned. Oh…little one…I am so sorry.

“Taj…what money?” Piper repeated growing anxious. What could he be talking about? Whatever it was, Piper could tell that her friend would rather not have to explain his comment.

Maybe he could find a way not to answer her question. “Nevermind Pippy.” Taj stood up, thinking that he could dismiss the issue. “How about some breakfast?” he asked casually.

Piper arched an eyebrow. Taj was trying to change the subject. Reaching up, she wrapped her hand around her friend’s arm and gently tugged him back down on the couch. “How about you tell me what’s going on?”

Taj sighed. Maybe not. “Pippy,” he started, looking at the young woman closely, “during your trial Judge Love excepted twenty thousand dollars in turn for giving you a long prison sentence.” He paused shortly, gathering his thoughts. “He got the money from Victor, though he didn’t know it was him during that time. Victor pretended to be some English man.” The Jamaican man waited for the explosion, but Piper just sat quietly. He found himself almost wishing that she would scream instead of having to endure this silence.

Finally, Taj could not take it anymore. “Pippy?” he said softly.

The blue-eyed woman turned her gaze on him. Her eyes appeared to be devoid of any emotion whatsoever. “Give me the package, Taj,” Piper said in a quiet tone of voice.
To his chagrin, Taj had no idea what his friend was thinking. All he knew was that she was acting too calmly and that could only mean one thing. She was pissed as hell. “Piper I don’t think that you have thought this through. Have you thought about the consequen-”

“Taj please,” Piper said a little more forcefully, “spare me your advice or any lectures, because I am not going to change my mind. I just want my package and I want you to hand it over right now.”

Looking down, Taj noticed that the woman’s hands were clenching and unclenching. She was trying not to lose it completely. Sighing softly, the man arose from the couch and silently walked out of the room leaving a quietly fuming Piper behind. Moments later, Taj walked into his bedroom and headed towards a painting on the wall. Removing the painting from the wall and gently placing it on the floor, Taj looking at the safe that was behind it. Perhaps he could just flush the evidence down the toilet and inform Piper that if she wanted to ruin Richard Love, then she would have to find some other way to do it. Taj shook his head. No, if she wanted to do this then so be it. After all, she was a grown woman and could make her own decisions, no matter how wrong those decisions might be. Besides, Taj was still clinging to the hope that Piper would not go through with this anyway. Perhaps the woman would come to her senses. He could only hope that she would.

Seconds later, Taj had the safe open and was reaching into to pull out the rectangular shaped manila envelope. Closing the safe, the man put his painting back on the wall, making sure that it was straight. He then headed for the door to see his little brother standing there. He appeared as though he had just awakened.

“Hey Leroy,” Taj said, putting on a smile. Last night the younger man had been so upset with him that he had begun to pack his clothes thinking to go back home with his parents. Taj managed to explain to Leroy that he really had not made any passes at Desiree and why he said to her father that he did. At first, the young man did not seem inclined to believe him, but Taj finally got through. Now all he had to do was to explain to Valerie. He sure did miss her.

“Hey Taj,” Leroy returned, his eyes on the envelope. “What’s that?”

“What’s what?” Taj asked, pretending not to know what his brother was referring to.

“What’s that in your hand?” He pointed at the envelope. “Something to do with Piper?”

“How’d you know that?”

Leroy replied, “’cause I saw her pacing in the living room just now. She didn’t notice me though.” He paused before asking, “Is something wrong?”

“Nothing that I won’t fix,” Piper said, now standing behind Leroy. Her sudden appearance made the young man nearly jump out of his skin as he quickly moved, standing beside his brother. Piper glanced at the envelope in Taj’s hand and reached out, plucking it from his grasp. “Thanks Taj,” she said before vanishing from their sight, leaving both speechless.

Muttering an expletive, Taj raced out to the living room with his brother following closely behind, wondering what this was all about. His worried eyes catching sight of the wide-open front door, Taj knew that he was too late. She had already left and with a damning package that was sure to ruin a certain judge’s career and perhaps his life as well. Releasing a sigh, Taj walked over toward the front door and glanced around for any sign of his friend before shutting it.

Sidling up to his older sibling, Leroy asked him what the problem was. Slipping an arm around the younger man’s shoulders, Taj shook his head. “According to Pippy, nothing that she won’t fix.”

Leroy glanced towards the couch to see a stuffed animal lying on it. “Hey look.”
He pointed towards the toy, as Taj turned to look at it.

“Is that who I think it is?”

Leroy nodded, smiling. “Yep. She brought Fred back.”

*****

Parking the lilac Honda in the parking lot, Piper got out of the car, shutting the door behind her. She stormed inside the apartment complex, heading towards the elevators. Punching the arrow pointing upward, she waited impatiently for the elevator to arrive as she paced, the now opened manila envelope in her tight grasp. She had let her guard down and had been betrayed. That was exactly what it felt like. A betrayal by someone she had allowed into her heart and trusted.

The elevator doors finally opened and Piper walked inside, pressing the number of the floor that Desiree lived on. Taking deep breaths, Piper once more went over her plan. Richard Love was definitely going to pay for what he had done. All this time Piper had known something was wrong concerning her trial, she just did not know it was this heinous. She simply could not wait. The judge was going to pay dearly for what he had done to her.

The elevator doors opened and Piper walked out. Making her way to Desiree’s door, the woman inserted the correct key into the slot and opened it, walking inside. Closing the door behind her, she tossed Desiree’s keys on a nearby table before heading towards the bedroom. Opening the door wide, she noticed that the strawberry-blonde was still fast asleep in bed. She was going to have one hell of a hangover when she finally awoke. Good.

Eyes moving towards the computer, Piper went over to it and took a seat in the computer chair as she looked for the correct button to turn it on. Finding it, she pressed it and waited as she slid a hand into the envelope and removed the contents, putting them on the desk. Piper had had an idea of what was in the package but this was almost too juicy. Taj really had done a superb job. This information would definitely ruin Judge Love.

Placing her hand over the mouse, Piper pointed the arrow to the AOL symbol and clicked on it, waiting for the log in screen to appear. Moments later it did. The dark-haired woman soon found out that she would need a password in order to sign on. Glancing towards Desiree, she arose from the chair and walked over to the bed. Reaching out a hand, she tapped the young woman on the shoulder getting no response. She did it again, more forcefully this time, but still no response. Piper then slapped Desiree on the back of the head, causing the woman to quickly sit up in the bed, her sleepy eyes opened wide. The young woman focused her vision on Piper, who was standing next to her bed.

“What did you do that for?” she asked in irritation, her voice thick with sleep. Clearing her throat lightly, Desiree reached up to run a hand through her messy hair.

“I wanted you to wake up,” Piper replied casually. “I need your password.”

Wearing a confused expression, Desiree’s brow crinkled. “What password?”

“To the Internet. I can’t get on without it.” She folded her arms over her chest. “What is it?”

Though she wondered what Piper would want it for, Desiree told her anyway. “It’s bard123.”

“As in B-A-R-D?”

The strawberry-blonde looked annoyed. “You know any other bard?”

“Don’t get smart Desiree.”

“Can’t get what I already am,” Desiree cattily replied. Where did Piper get off having an attitude? She was the one who had the right to be upset after finding out what Piper and Larisa had been hiding. They had lied to her face yesterday and now Piper was behaving as though she had done something wrong. What nerve.

Icy blue eyes narrowed. “Yeah…yeah you are quite a smart cookie Desiree. What with getting drunk enough last night that you needed someone to escort you home and keeping things from me that I have every damn right to know…” She trailed off as she went back to the computer, typing in Desiree’s password and then tapping the enter key. Piper sat back down in the chair as she saw the other woman out of the corner of her eye, moving so that she was sitting on the side of the bed, facing the dark-haired woman. The movement caused Desiree a bit of nausea and she wrapped her arms around her middle.

“What are you talking about?” Desiree asked.

Not answering, Piper kept her eyes riveted to the computer screen. AOL welcomed her as she put a hand on the mouse and moved the arrow towards the symbol to write mail and clicked on it, an email form appearing. Glancing at the desk, Piper picked up the black floppy disk that had been in the envelope and searched for where to put it. She found the correct drive and inserted the disk. She then picked up a piece of paper that Taj had written instructions on how to attach and send files. Piper thought that this was much easier and quicker than sending the information by regular mail. She could get used to this Internet thing.

“Piper…what are you doing?” Desiree asked as she remained on the side of the bed while attempting to see what the other woman was doing, but she could not see the computer screen. What in the world was she up to?

“Just a moment,” Piper mumbled as she followed the instructions. Soon she had the correct files attached into the email. The pictures Taj had and the report he had written to explain them all, including what Richard Love had done a few years back. Piper smiled to herself. Revenge was truly sweet. Looking at the paper again, the woman began to type in the email addresses Taj had provided her with. After doing that, she sat back in her chair, admiring her handy work.

Desiree started to get up, but another wave of nausea swept through her so she remained seated. She was about to ask Piper again what she was doing when the woman suddenly swiveled around in the chair, facing her.

“You want to know what I’m doing Desiree?”

The strawberry-blonde nodded slightly, her head starting to pound. She felt like swallowing an entire bottle of Excedrin.

“Simple. I’m going to make your dear old daddy’s life a living hell.”

Desiree’s eyes opened wide. Had she slept through some major event? “What? Why?”
“Why?” Piper cocked her head to the side. “I think you know why Desiree. The question is why didn’t you tell me?”

The younger woman grew alarmed. “Tell you what?” she asked softly.

Piper crossed her legs as she folded her hands together on her knee, regarding the other woman. “That your father was paid twenty grand to grant me a nice long free trip to prison of course,” she replied all too casually. “Did it slip your mind or were you trying to protect him?”

She knew. Dear God she knew. Desiree suddenly wished that she were anywhere but there. Was it her imagination or was her head beginning to pound even more? “I…” Desiree began to speak but did not know what she wanted to say. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly.

Piper arched an eyebrow. “Oh, you’re sorry? Is that it? That’s quite lame of you Desiree.”

“What do you want me say, huh? I’m not the one who put you in prison. I had nothing to do with it. What my father did was despicable but it’s not my fault.”

The dark-haired woman nodded. “You’re absolutely right. It’s not your fault, but you should have told me. Instead, you kept it a secret because you wanted to protect him from me. You didn’t want me to find out.” She paused. “Tell the truth. You did not intend to ever tell me about the bribe. I’m correct right? You would have been content with my never discovering your father was paid to strip me of my freedom.”

Desiree wanted to refute the accusation, but found that she could not do so. Most likely, it was true. She never really intended to inform her lover of what her father had done all of those years ago. In her opinion, nothing good could come out of telling Piper about the bribe. Not answering, Desiree merely turned her gaze to the floor, not being able to meet Piper’s angry blue eyes.

“It’s okay,” Piper started. “You don’t have to answer. Your silence is confirmation enough. You never intended to tell me,” she finished quietly.

Silence fell between them, as each woman became lost in her own thoughts. Tobias broke the silence as he got to all fours in the bed after having just woke up from his latest nap. Stretching, he walked over to Desiree and curled up next to the young woman. Putting a hand on his head, the woman absently rubbed Tobias’ head, causing the feline to purr.

“What are you going to do?” Desiree suddenly inquired, half-afraid to hear the reply. She had a feeling that Piper could get dirty if she really wanted to.

“Did you know that your father had an affair five years ago?”
The strawberry-blonde’s head snapped up as she focused her eyes on the other woman who sat almost smugly in her chair. “Wh…what?” Desiree shook her head. “No…you have to be mistaken. My father would never do anything like that.”

“Oh, but he would send a woman to prison for eight years because someone gave him twenty grand to do so?” Piper slowly nodded. “I see. He’s not an adulterer, just a crooked judge. Makes perfect sense.”

Desiree closed her mouth, realizing that Piper had a valid point.

The dark-haired woman went on. “And did you know that the woman he had an affair with-an affair that went on four months I might add-ended up pregnant with his child and he paid her off so she wouldn’t tell anyone about it?”

At Desiree’s disbelieving look, Piper swiveled around in the chair and grabbed the pictures she had put on the desk. Getting up, she walked over to the bed and deposited the photographs on the other woman’s lap before retaking her seat in the chair. Piper watched as the younger woman cautiously picked up the photographs and started to examine each one. One was of her father and a woman who looked to be around Desiree’s age. Richard had his arm around the young woman’s shoulders as they walked down the street smiling at one another, neither having any indication that their picture was being taken. Another was of the two of them sitting at a small table outside next to a café. Desiree’s father held the woman’s hands in his as he kissed her on the lips. The next photograph made Desiree sick to her stomach as she saw her father in bed with the younger woman. It was obvious what they were doing. Throwing the incriminating pictures down on the bed, the strawberry-blonde ran towards the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.

Piper remained seated in the chair as she heard Desiree in the bathroom retching loudly. The dark-haired woman felt a twinge of guilt but quickly shrugged it off. Desiree had betrayed her. She felt as though she had willingly given away her heart and then had it thrown back in her face. This is what happened when you trusted someone too much. They in turn hurt you.

Minutes later, the bathroom door opened and Desiree walked out, not even glancing at Piper as she made her way back to the bed. Sitting down, her eyes strayed to two remaining pictures. One was of the young woman walking towards a car clearly pregnant by at least seven or eight months. The other was of the same woman pushing a stroller with a newborn baby in it.

Shaking her head in bewilderment, Desiree took deep breaths, not sure whether she wanted to cry or shout. Perhaps she wanted to do both. Looking up, Desiree noticed Piper observing her. “Are you proud of yourself?” she asked in a quiet voice.

Piper looked as though she was pondering that. “I guess you could say that I’m pleased with the results. As you can see, your daddy ain’t perfect.”

“No one is.”

Piper nodded in agreement. “True. But people are about to find out just how imperfect he is.”

“What’s done is done Piper. Why now?”

“Why not now?”

Desiree momentarily closed her eyes as she softly sighed. “I know it’s easy for me to say because this had nothing to do with me, but let it go.” She looked at the other woman imploringly. “Please. Just let it go.”

Piper pretended to think about that before she answered. “No. I can’t do that. You don’t know what it’s like to be locked behind bars for nearly a decade. And you don’t know what it’s like to have your freedom snatched away from you. You’re father, the judge,” she sneered, “put me away and was paid for it. He got twenty thousand dollars in exchange for my freedom and I’ll be damned if I let it go. I refuse to do that. Do you understand?”

Not waiting for an answer, she swiveled around in the chair to face the computer screen. Putting her hand over the mouse, Piper directed the tiny arrow on the screen to the “Send” button. With the arrow hovering over the button, the dark-haired woman noticed Desiree’s reflection on the screen as she came towards the computer, choosing to stand behind Piper as she examined what was on the screen.

“Who are you sending this information to?”

“Just a couple of newspapers. One located here in Los Angeles, and the other in San Francisco. And three judges who know your father well. At least they thought they did,” Piper replied casually as she poised her index finger to click. She actually found that her hand was beginning to shake slightly. You can do this Piper. Just click the button and let the chips fall where they may.

Desiree crossed her arms over her chest. “If you do this then we are through. If you send that email, I never want to see you again. I never want to hear from you again. I want you to go away…forever. So if you go through with this vindictive scheme, you lose me.” Her heart beginning to beat faster, Desiree barely breathed as she waited for Piper to make the next move whatever that may be.

Click. It was done with the click of a button. Both Piper and Desiree watched as the email vanished before their eyes and a tiny box appeared on the screen letting them know that the email had been sent. Now that the bomb had been planted, all to be done was to sit back and wait for it to explode. There was no turning back now.
Desiree swallowed hard, feeling a lump in her throat as she attempted to keep the tears from falling. “Thank you for just letting me know how very little I mean to you,” she said quietly, not moving. “Now get out of my home.”

Without so much as one word, Piper arose from the chair, and obtained everything that went inside of the package she came back from Taj’s with. She then walked towards the bedroom door not even glancing at Desiree. The younger woman remained standing where she was as she watched her now ex-lover heading towards the front door. The dark-haired woman opened the door and exited. As she closed the door behind her, Desiree shakily walked over to the bed and sat down as hot tears started to run down her cheeks. Moving so that her whole body was in the bed, Desiree curled up into a tight ball as her body began to shake while she sobbed, mourning the loss of her lover and the father she now realized that she didn’t know.

*****

“Val…please honey just listen to me. I can explain what happened last night. I just need you to pick up the phone.” Taj listened, hoping that Valerie would talk to him. There was only silence on the other end of the line so he ended the conversation with the answering machine by saying, “I need to see you Val. Please don’t shut me out.” Taj paused thoughtfully. “I love you.” Pressing the end button on the cordless phone, the man began to pace back and forth in the living room. Soon the doorbell rang and Taj all but raced to the door to answer it. It must have been Valerie. Opening the door wide, Taj sighed as he noticed the caller.

“No applause is necessary Taj.” Larisa grinned. “Were you expecting someone else? Valerie perhaps?”

“That’s very perceptive of you,” Taj replied sarcastically as he moved out of the way so that she could enter. “Get your butt in here.”

Chuckling, Larisa walked inside, shutting the door behind her. “In a bad mood Taj?”

“Well let’s see…” the Jamaican man started as he tossed the phone on the couch before sitting on the arm of it. “My fiancee won’t talk to me, your father is probably trying to hire a hitman as we speak to get rid of me because he thinks I put the moves on his daughter, and speaking of Desi she probably doesn’t like me too much right now either.” He shook his head before looking at Larisa, who was now standing in front of him. “So to answer your question, yes I’m in a bad mood.”

“Taj don’t be worried about Desi being upset with you. She won’t blame you because you didn’t tell her about Piper and I in Jamaica. That was our job to do, not yours.”

Taj shook his head. “That’s not why I don’t think she’ll like me.”

Larisa’s brow crinkled. “Something I should know about?”

The man took a deep breath. “Pippy knows. She knows about the bribe.”

The dark-haired woman winced. “Oh, shit. You told her?”

He nodded. “The way she was talking, I thought she already knew about it. Now she certainly does know and…to put it mildly she’s pissed off. You know how she can get.”

Larisa nodded. “Yes. I definitely know.” She thought for a moment. “I need to get in touch with Desiree.” She spied Taj’s phone laying on the couch and asked if she could use it. Reaching behind him, the man picked up the phone and handed it to Larisa. Thanking him, she quickly punched in her sister’s phone number before putting the phone to her hear, listening as it began to ring. On the fourth ring, Desiree picked up. Instantly, Larisa could tell that she had been crying. If Piper had done anything to her baby sister, she would kill the woman.

“Sweetie this is Larisa,” she stated softly. “Are you okay?”

“Leave me alone,” Desiree enunciated each word before she hung up the phone, leaving a stunned Larisa listening to the dial tone.

Watching her, Taj’s expression grew concerned. “What’s wrong?”

Shaking her head, Larisa took the phone away from her ear and ended the call. “She told me to leave her alone and hung up on me.” She sighed. “I guess I don’t blame her. I did lie to her.”

Reaching out a hand, Taj gave Larisa’s shoulder a light squeeze. She in turn offered him a faint smile. “How am I ever going to get my sister back?”

“You will,” Taj replied. “Just give her some time to cool off. A lot has been happening lately and Desi needs time to process it all.”

Larisa nodded. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

“I know I’m right.” Taj grinned at the woman as she playfully rolled her eyes.
Larisa was about to say something when the phone rang. Pressing the talk button, she put the phone to her ear before saying, “Hello. Potter residence.” Glancing at Taj, Larisa noticed the look of hope plainly written on his face.

“I have a collect call from,” a computer voice stated.

“Piper,” said a human voice.
The computer went on to tell Larisa that if she wanted to accept the charges for the call to push five. If not, push one. Larisa pushed number five and listened to what else the computer had to say before the call was connected.

There was silence on the other end for a second before a female voice said, “Put Taj on the phone Larisa.” The dark-haired woman shook her head sadly as she mouthed an apology to Taj, letting him know that the caller was not Valerie.

“Is the word please in your vocabulary?” Larisa retorted.

“Are the words I’m going to kick the sh-”

Larisa quickly interjected, “Now now Piper. Let’s not resort to threats.”

“Just put him on the phone.”

“Taj is not accessible at the moment, so you’ll have to deal with me. What can I do you for, hmm? Do you need a lift?”

Piper wanted to say no just to disagree but that was her main reason for calling. “What makes you think that?”

“Because one, you called collect so that leads me to believe that you aren’t calling from Desiree’s phone and that you don’t even have thirty-five cents to call directly. Two, I can hear cars passing in the background and from that I can deduce that you are using a public phone. And three, since you don’t have even thirty-five cents that means you can’t even make it over here on a bus and that would be much too far to walk. Now am I right or am I right?”

“Pompous ass,” Piper muttered.

“Excuse me?”

“I said you’re a smart lass,” the blue-eyed woman said clearly.

Larisa smirked into the phone. “Yeah, sure you did. Where are you? I’ll come pick you up.”

Deciding not to argue, Piper informed Larisa exactly where she was before the woman told her that she would be right there. When they ended the call, Piper walked over to the curb to have a seat and wait while Larisa explained to Taj that she was going to go pick up the homeless penniless person-her exact words.

“You want me to come with you?” he asked.

“No hon.” Larisa handed Taj his phone. “I’ve got it all under control. I’ll be right back.” She started towards the door when she suddenly remembered her reason for coming there in the first place. Turning around, Larisa walked back over to Taj, who was still sitting on the arm of his couch. “Could you do something for me while I’m gone Taj?”

“Sure. What is it?”

Fishing a small piece of paper out of her pocket, Larisa handed it to Taj. On looking at it, the man saw written on the slip of paper seven letters and numbers grouped together with the name Micaela Chavez printed underneath them. Turning his eyes to Larisa, Taj asked what it was for.

“That’s a license plate number,” Larisa explained, “and that is the name of the owner of it. I was wondering if you could possibly find out where she lives.”

Taj arched both of his eyebrows. “You want me to find out this woman’s address based on the number of her license plate?”

She nodded.

Taj shrugged. “Sure. No problem. But who is this?”

“Oh, just someone I met last night,” Larisa tried to casually reply. She had been thinking about Micaela all through the night and knew that she simply had to see her again. If anyone could help her to locate Micaela, that person would be Taj.

The Jamaican man grinned knowingly. “Oh, just someone you met last night, hmm?”

Larisa nodded again. “Yep.” She paused. “Well I’ll be on my way now.” She headed towards the front door. “I’ll be right back with our ex-kidnapper.”

*****

Putting almost half of the donut into his mouth, George grabbed a napkin as some of the thick sweet red jelly inside squirted on his lips and dropped onto his tie. He muttered something about this being a present from his wife as he dabbed at the spot of noticeable jelly on the tie before tossing the napkin in a nearby trash can.

Things had just not been going well for the journalist the last few weeks. His job was on the line, the bills were piling up, he and his wife were arguing with one another constantly, and his oldest son was beginning to be a royal pain. Just yesterday George had been called into his boss’s office and informed that if he did not write a good story within a week’s time then he would be out of a job at this particular newspaper.

On finishing the rest of his donut, George reached into a pink box for another when he noticed an email in his box from a DesLove@aol.com. The journalist found that name vaguely familiar as he clicked on the email to see what it contained. Reaching over, George grabbed his glasses off of his desk and put them on before beginning to read.
Download to get a killer story.

A killer story. That was the only sentence written in the email but George saw where he could download an attached file. Moving the arrow over the correct button, the journalist clicked and waited for the file to be transferred to his computer while he waited, completely intrigued to know what this was about. Could this story, whatever it may be, possibly save his career? He most certainly hoped so.

*****

As she pulled up to the curb, she noticed Piper sitting on the sidewalk with her arms folded across her knees and a manila envelope lying next to her. She appeared to have a lot on her mind as she stared down at the ground, having no idea that Larisa had pulled up. On honking the horn, Larisa was able to obtain Piper’s attention as her head shot up, eyes moving to the car. The blue-eyed woman watched as Larisa pulled down the driver’s side window, a hint of a grin on her face.

“So tell me,” Larisa started as she made a big display out of moving her eyes up and down Piper’s body, “do you charge by the hour?”

Piper gave the woman a dirty look, not being in the least bit amused.

Larisa chuckled. “Oh, you know I’m just playing with you.” The other woman just stared at her. “Are you going to get in or not?”

Taking her time, Piper arose from her seat on the sidewalk, grabbing her package in the process and walked around Larisa’s car to the passenger side. Opening the door, she got in, still not uttering a word. Shifting gears, Larisa pulled back into traffic, heading towards Taj’s house. There was silence in the car for a while, until the driver of the vehicle just could not take it anymore.

“What happened between you and my sister?” Larisa inquired.

Looking out the passenger side window, Piper coolly replied, “Ask your sister.”

Larisa bit her lower lip. This attitude of Piper’s had to go. “I would, but Desi isn’t talking to me right now. I called her just before you called Taj and she hung up. Told me to leave her alone,” she finished quietly. When there was no reply from her passenger, Larisa asked what happened again.

Piper rolled down the window and placed her arm on the ledge of it. “She did something that she shouldn’t have done and I did something that she didn’t want me to do.”

“That summary is far too succinct. Will you go into detail a little more?”
The blue-eyed woman inhaled sharply. “She kept something from me that I was entitled to know.”

“You mean the bribe?”

Piper glanced over at Larisa. “You knew too.” She shook her head. “That’s great. That’s just freaking wonderful!”

Larisa kept her eyes on the road. “Okay. I’ll take that outburst as a yes.” Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Piper glaring at her. Larisa decided to ignore it. “And what did you do?”

“Something that needed to be done.”

Rolling her eyes, Larisa checked the traffic before carefully pulling into the parking lot of a grocery store. Finding a space, she pulled in and stopped the car, cutting off the ignition. Removing her seat belt, she turned so that she was facing the other woman, who was now looking at her.

“Why did you stop?” Piper asked.

“Because I want to give you my full attention. Now…what did you do Piper?”

Not saying anything, the blue-eyed woman reached into the manila envelope and took out a few pictures. She handed the photographs to Larisa and watched as the woman observed each one. Larisa’s expression did not change, as she looked through the pictures of her father with another woman and of the woman alone with a baby. Done, she handed the photographs back to Piper.

“So Father had an affair,” she quietly stated.

Piper merely nodded.

“And…you found that out and had some photos of them together taken, unless you took them yourself.”

“These were taken five years ago so I couldn’t have taken them since I was locked up behind bars. So yeah, I had someone else do it.”

Larisa nodded. “I see.” She looked up into Piper’s eyes. “Does my father have another child?”

Piper nodded again.

“He doesn’t see his child though, does he?”

“No. He paid his mistress to keep quiet about their affair and the baby. I have no idea where she and the child are now.”

Nodding again, Larisa stared out of the window not saying anything. Minutes later, she started the car and drove out of the parking lot, heading in a direction other than the one leading to Taj’s house. Noticing, Piper asked the woman where she was going.

“Home,” Larisa replied.

*****

This was going to push him to the top again. This email was simply brilliant. Imagine the honorable Judge Richard Love having an affair with a woman and then paying her off to keep the conception of his child a secret. This story had fallen into George’s hands and he was quite thankful, though he wondered if anyone else had received the email. Glancing around, he noticed that no one seemed to be acting out of the ordinary. Perhaps he was the only one. Though even if he was not, George was going to do everything in his power to get this story printed as soon as possible. Hopefully by tomorrow morning, everyone who read this newspaper was going to know the scandal of the judge.

Looking at his computer screen, the journalist observed the email address. DesLove. If life were an animated cartoon, a flashing light bulb would have appeared over his head. It suddenly dawned on George who this could be. Acting quickly, George pulled up a newspaper article on the disappearance of Desiree Love. Scanning the article, the journalist recalled how ex-convict Piper Redding, who coincidentally had been sentenced to prison by the young woman’s father, had taken her hostage.

For some reason unbeknownst to George, Desiree Love put together an email that could shatter her father’s career and reputation. The big question was why?

*****

Opening the door, Larisa walked into her home with Piper coming behind her. Hearing someone talking in the kitchen, Larisa headed in that direction. Entering the kitchen, she noticed her parents sitting at the kitchen table, Piper appearing at her side seconds later.

“What is she doing here?” Richard asked his daughter, sparing the woman standing beside her a glance.

“Her name is Piper and she’s here because I want her to be,” Larisa testily replied, while Piper crossed her arms over her chest as she leaned her shoulder against the wall, wondering what Larisa was going to say.

Sandra sighed as she looked up at her daughter, quietly saying, “Larisa, please don’t speak to your father in that tone of voice. It isn’t at all respectful.”

“Respectful?” The dark-haired woman gave an empty laugh. “You want to talk of respect mother? Well what about the respect your own husband has given you, which is none.”

“What are you talking about now?” Sandra asked in an exasperated tone.

“I’m talking of how Father has disrespected you by not being honest about his past indiscretions.”

Sandra closed her eyes, softly replying, “You know.”

Both Piper and Larisa raised an eyebrow at that as the older of the two said, “You already knew about it.”

Opening her eyes, Sandra looked up at her daughter again, as her husband sat across from her, his stomach tying into knots inside. How could Larisa have found out about his affair? He had not informed anyone of it except for his wife. Richard’s eyes suddenly settled on Piper as she watched Larisa and Sandra. His eyes narrowed. Somehow, this was her fault. It had to be.

Sandra nodded. “Yes. Your father told me five years ago. How did you find out?”

Larisa shook her head in bewilderment. “You mean you stayed with him even though he had an affair? Mother he laid down with another woman.”

“I forgave him.” Reaching out, she put her hand over her husband’s. “Your father is sorry for what he did.”

“So you condone him for abandoning his child too?”

Sandra appeared to be confused now. “What do you mean? What child?”

Oh, dear God. They had found that out too. Richard looked at his wife, but she had her eyes on their daughter. He felt his heart beginning to pound harshly in his chest and briefly wondered if he was experiencing a heart attack. With all of this stress, it would not have surprised Richard if he had been.

By the expression on her face, Larisa instantly knew that her mother did not know of the baby. She looked at her father then. “Why don’t you tell her Father? Tell your wife the rest of the story. I suppose you conveniently forgot.”

Sandra removed her hand from her husband’s and placed it on her lap as she looked at him. “Richard?” she said as calmly as she could, though her voice was shaking.

The judge felt as though his world was suddenly crashing before his very eyes. “It’s true, Sandy. When I had an affair with Theresa, she ended up pregnant. I didn’t want her to tell anyone so I offered her money and had her sign a contract stating that she would never let anyone know that I was the father. I haven’t seen her or the baby since.”

“How could you?” Everyone turned to see Richie standing in the entrance to the kitchen. He stared at his father with a hurt look on his face. “How could you do that to my mother?” He shook his head. “And to think I respected you. I looked up to you.” Tears formed in his eyes as Larisa came towards him, attempting to hug her brother, but he shrugged her off. “No, you’re just as bad, telling her like this.”

“Rich-” Larisa started.

“No. Don’t say a word to me.” He walked over to his mother and helped her up from the chair. “I think we should go home now Mom.”

Sandra nodded in agreement. “Yes. Why don’t you get our things and then we’ll head to the airport.” Complying with his mother, Richie walked out of the kitchen. Sandra turned to her daughter. “Larisa, could you possibly give us a ride? Please don’t worry about Richie. He didn’t mean what he said. He’s just upset right now.”

Larisa nodded. “I know Mother. I don’t blame him.” Putting a hand in her pocket, she took out a ring of keys. “I’ll take you and Richie to the airport whenever you’re ready to go.”

“Don’t leave,” Richard spoke up in a near whisper, as he remained seated at the table. “Please don’t leave me,” he added, his usually booming voice sounding almost childlike.

Sparing him a glance, Sandra replied, “I don’t even know you anymore.” She walked out of the kitchen without another word, Piper, Larisa, and Richard watching her go. Larisa then looked at her father, asking him to leave her home. Not bothering to plead with her, the man arose from his seat and walked out of the kitchen, heading for the front door. Moments later, both Piper and Larisa heard the door slam as he left.

Running a hand through her hair, Larisa let out a ragged breath. “Will you stay here while I take Mother and Richie to the airport? That is unless you want to come with us.”

Piper shook her head. “No. I’ll just stay here until you get back.”

Nodding, Larisa said, “Okay. I’ll be back soon.” She started to walk out of the kitchen when Piper reached out, putting a hand on her shoulder.

“You all right?”

Surprised by the concern she heard, Larisa gazed up at the taller woman for a moment before replying in a soft voice, “I will be.” She then continued on her way, still feeling Piper’s touch.

*****

As Piper sat on the couch she heard footsteps behind her and glanced back to see Richard walking towards her. She was about to say something when she suddenly noticed the gun the man toted in his right hand. It was pointed down at the floor, but Piper found herself becoming uneasy all the same. The judge must have finally flipped his lid.

“Hello Redding,” Richard said in a conversational tone, as though the two of them were old friends. Walking in front of her, he chose to stand there. Piper remained seated on the couch, not moving a muscle. “I’m pleased that you decided to stay here while Larisa took my son and wife to the airport. I think we need to have a little chat. What do you think?”

The blue-eyed woman chose not to say anything, just staring up at him, waiting for the man to make a mistake so that she could wrestle the weapon away from him.

The judge laughed, though there was not a hint of humor in it. “Well you’ve now screwed me over just like I did you, Redding. First you took my daughter as your hostage and then somehow managed to make a friend out of her. And then you make my wife leave me and my son now hates me too. I’m sure you told Desiree about my indiscretion as Larisa called it, so she most likely hates me as well. And you know what?” he stared down at her with a thoughtful look on his face. “I bet you let a lot of other people know too. Am I right?”

Piper nodded slightly.

The judge nodded. “I thought so. There goes my career down the drain. So in a nutshell I have no family and no job,” he paused, “because of you. Did you tell anyone about the bribe? I know you must know about that too.”

Piper shook her head negatively. “True, I know about it but I haven’t told anyone.”

“Why not? That’ll be even more perfect. Then you could probably send me to prison. Wouldn’t that be ironic?” Richard humorlessly laughed again.

There was no response from Piper as her eyes glanced from Richard to the gun.
“So the way I figure it Redding,” the judge raised the gun and pointed it at the young woman. Piper’s breath caught as she stared at the barrel of the gun, “you should finish the job. I know you want your revenge on me…so take it. Here,” coming towards her, Richard pushed the gun into Piper’s hands, startling the woman. Taking a step back, the judge stood with his hands at his sides, “finish me off Redding.”

The blue-eyed woman looked down at the heavy gun in her hands before she raised her head to look at the judge, who stood waiting. “I’m not going to shoot you.”

“Why not? You’ve taken away all that I had to live for.”

“It’s not as though you didn’t help to make that happen,” Piper replied matter-of-factly.

Richard blinked away a couple of tears. “Aim the gun at me and then put your finger on the trigger and pull it. It’s as simple as that.”

The dark-haired woman shook her head. “I won’t.”

“What’s the matter with you? Don’t you want me dead? I ruined your life. Sent you to prison for what? Eight…nine years? You did time while I used that money to paint my house and purchase a new car. Surely, you want to kill me. There has to be some part of you that is screaming for you to pull that trigger. Come on Redding…kill me like you did your daddy.” Although he was saying all of this, the judge knew that she would not kill him in cold blood. There was no way that she was going to pull that trigger.

Piper’s hand tightened around the handle of the gun until her knuckles turned white. “I refuse to take your life.”

Richard heavily sighed as he outstretched his hand towards Piper. “Then give me the gun back.”

Piper raised an eyebrow. Did he think that she had stupid written all over her forehead? There was no way that she was about to give him that gun. “No, I don’t think so.”

“No, you don’t think so?”

The dark-haired woman nodded. “That’s what I said.”

“Give me my gun now.”

Piper shook her head. She was about to get up when the judge suddenly jumped at her, causing them both to fly back in the couch as the back of it landed on the floor, making them both tumble onto the floor. The blue-eyed woman let out a yelp of pain as she felt her wrist snap when she attempted to break her fall with her left hand. Pain radiating up and down her arm, Piper still held the gun in her right as a much bigger Richard held her down, clamping a big hand over Piper’s own hand holding the gun.

“What the hell are you doing?!” Piper yelled, trying to squirm from underneath the man.

Not answering, the judge placed a finger over the one that Piper held in front of the trigger and forced the barrel of the gun to aim at his head. She attempted to move the gun away from Richard, but he used his free hand to get a grip on her wrist keeping the weapon in place.

“Don’t…do…this,” Piper said, sweat forming on her brow, trying to resist the finger pushing down on her own. She tried to push the judge away with her free hand, but it hurt too much to do so.

The judge looked her in the eyes as a tear fell down his cheek. “I’m sorry,” he whispered as he pushed down on Piper’s finger enough to get her to pull the trigger. There was a loud bang as Richard landed on top of Piper, completely still, his grip on her wrist and hand relaxed.

*****

As Larisa pulled up to her house, she noticed an ambulance and a few police cars parked outside of her house. Some of the neighbors stood around watching, interested to see what was going on. Larisa came to a stop as she saw two men carrying out a stretcher with a filled body bag lying on top of it.

“Oh, God…Piper,” Larisa whispered as she got out of the car and ran towards the two men. A police officer caught her.

“Whoa…Miss I can’t allow you to be here.”

“This is my home! I live here,” Larisa struggled to get past the man.

“Miss calm down.” The officer placed his hands on her shoulders. “You say you live here?”

She nodded. “Yes. I’m Larisa Love. Wh…who is in that body bag?”

The officer sighed. He absolutely detested this part of his job. “Miss, I’m sorry but I have some bad news. Your father Richard Love has been shot. By the time the ambulance arrived here he was already dead.”

Larisa shook her head not wanting to believe him. “No, that can’t be right. You see my father isn’t even here. He left.”

“We have a positive ID on him Miss. I’m terribly sorry.”

“Wh…who shot him?”

“Well Piper Redding is being questioned right now.”

Larisa exhaled loudly. “She wouldn’t kill my father. Where is she?”

“She’s inside, though I can’t let you in there.”

The woman looked at him pleadingly.

The officer sighed. He was always a sucker for a woman with eyes as pretty as hers. “I’ll escort you in Miss.”
*****

“So you’re telling us that Richard Love came in here, tried to get you to shoot him and then when you wouldn’t he attacked you, forcing you to point the gun at him and made you push the trigger by manipulating your finger?” Officer Penn inquired.

Piper nodded for what must have been the fiftieth time during the questioning. “Yes. I tried to wrestle the gun away from him but I couldn’t. He was lying on top of me, weighing me down and he had the upper hand.” The young woman cradled her left arm against her body, with her right hand wrapped around her aching wrist. She had a feeling that it was broken.

“Piper…” Larisa said a few feet away from the woman. The blue-eyed woman looked over to her with tired eyes. Decreasing the distance between him, Larisa quickly walked up to Piper and attempted to hug her when the woman took a step back, indicating her shirt, which had blood all over it.

Larisa saw the blood and shook her head as if in a daze. “God…what happened here?”

“Who are you Ma’am?” Officer Penn asked.

The young woman glanced at him. “My name is Larisa. Richard Love was my father and I want to know what happened.” She looked back at Piper.

“He killed himself,” Piper stated in a quiet, apologetic voice. “I tried to stop him but I couldn’t. Of course, it looks like I did it because I have his blood all over me, I know my fingerprints are on the gun, and I probably have gunpowder residue on my hands. But I didn’t do it. I didn’t kill your father Larisa.”

The older woman nodded. “I know you didn’t.” She turned towards Officer Penn and his partner. “This is a waste of time.”

“Miss Love, we found a man shot here and we’re going to investigate before ruling that it was indeed a suicide. Until then, Miss Redding is our only suspect.”

“Well did she call 911 to let them know what happened?”

“Yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Your father had already passed away by the time she called.”

“Where did she get the gun from?”

“She says your father had it when he came back after having left earlier because you asked him to.”

“So why don’t you do a trace on where it came from?” She had been paying attention to some of those many cop shows on television.

“Can’t do that,” Officer Penn replied. “The number was scraped off. Though we will ask around to see if anyone knows anything.”

Larisa nodded. “And what about my neighbors? Are you going to ask them questions?”

The other officer spoke up. “We’re right on top of that Miss Love. If Piper Redding is indeed innocent then we will find that out.”

“Until then?”

“Until then I’m afraid we’ll have to take Miss Redding into custody,” Officer Penn stated.

Larisa cursed softly under her breath. “This is such bull. I know this woman and I know that she would never do anything that heinous. She and my father did not have the best relationship, but there is no way on God’s green earth that she would kill him.”

“As I said before, if that is true we will find out,” Officer Romero said.

“Excuse me, Officer Penn and Romero?” All four people in the living room turned to see the young officer who had let Larisa in a few minutes ago.

“Yes?”

“I have a witness out here who says that she saw Richard Love get out of a taxi and walk up to this house. She says that he took a gun out of his pocket as he entered the house.”

“Have her come in please,” Officer Penn replied.

Nodding, the young officer left the house, returning a few moments later with a short-haired blonde woman who appeared to be in her early forties. Officer Penn asked the woman her name, and she informed him that it was Bridgett Martin.

“Okay Ms. Martin…tell us your story please.”

“Well I was out watering my yard when a taxi pulled up to the curb in front of Larisa’s house. Being nosy, I waited to see who got out. I recognized her father the judge immediately. He looked a little worse for wear too. Anyway, he walked up to the house, but before he opened the door, he took a gun out of the pocket of his jacket. He then disappeared inside and I never saw him again.”

Officer Penn nodded. “What time was this about?”
“Oh, I really couldn’t tell you. I started watering my lawn sometime around 12:00, but it wasn’t long after that that he arrived.” Bridgett shrugged. “Maybe ten…fifteen minutes later.”

Officer Penn took down a note. “Did you happen to catch the license plate on that taxi by any chance?”

Bridgett shook her head. “No, I’m sorry I didn’t.” She thought for a moment. “But the driver was a man if that helps any. He had on a red baseball cap.”

Officer Penn smiled at her. “Thank you for your assistance Ms. Martin. If you remember anything else please let us know.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a small card, handing it to the woman. “We’d really appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome Officer.” She turned to Larisa and wrapped her arms around the woman, hugging her tight. “I’m so sorry sweetheart. If there is anything that I can do don’t you hesitate to let me know. I’m right across the street.” Patting the young woman’s back she let go, giving Larisa an encouraging smile to which the woman returned a faint smile of her own.

“Thank you Bridgie. I will.”

Winking, Bridgett headed towards the exit with the young officer who had escorted her in. Officer Penn turned to Piper who stood quietly.

“Miss Redding, I’m afraid that we are going to have to take you in now.”

“Wait a minute,” Larisa interjected. “You’re arresting her? You just learned that my father came here with that gun. You honestly think that Piper took it away from him and shot him with it?”

Officer Penn replied, “Miss Love, I would like to prove Miss Redding innocent just as much as you would, but with the evidence that we have now, it’s enough to take her into custody. Now we are going to be investigating and I assure you that the truth will come out.”

“It already has. She’s innocent.”

“I want you to let me prove that. I’m on your side here. Both Officer Romero and I are.” Officer Romero nodded in agreement with his partner. “Try to trust me here.” He smiled at her, showing a set of deep dimples. “We’re good at our job.”

Softly sighing, Larisa nodded. “Okay. But can you give me a moment with her alone?”

Officer Penn nodded. “Yeah, sure. We’ll be right outside.” With that, both he and his partner left the house to wait just outside the door where they could see but still give the women their privacy.

Larisa looked up at Piper. “How are you holding up?”

The blue-eyed woman nodded. “I’m okay considering,” she paused. “What about you?”

Larisa shook her head. “I don’t know. I’m…I’m just in sort of a stupor. I can’t believe all of this is happening. Last time I saw my father I kicked him out of my house and now he’s dead.” She swallowed with some difficulty. She was not about to break into tears now.

“I’m sorry,” Piper started. “I really tried to stop him.”

Giving her a faint smile, Larisa replied, “I know.” She glanced towards the front door, where the policemen were waiting. “I guess I better let you go now. You’ll be out of there soon okay? You’ve spent enough unfair time behind bars.”

Reaching out, Piper squeezed the other woman’s shoulder briefly before she started to walk towards the door. Suddenly she stopped and turned back towards Larisa. “Desiree. You need to go tell her before anyone else gets the chance.”

Larisa nodded. “I know. I’m headed over there now.” Piper started to walk away when the other woman suddenly thought of something and called her name. Piper turned around again.

“Hmm?”

“Did you see a suicide note? Did he say anything about one?”

Piper shook her head. “No. He probably didn’t have one.”

*****

Desiree retrieved the mail out of her box before walking over to the elevator and pressing the button to go up. As she waited for the elevator to arrive, she rifled through the mail, finding a couple of sales papers, coupons for a new pizza place and a letter from a friend who had recently moved to Texas. There was also an unmarked envelope, which had been stuck into the crack of her mailbox. Desiree wondered what that was as the elevator doors opened.

A little unsteady due to the amount of alcohol she had consumed earlier, the strawberry-blonde walked into the elevator and pressed the correct button for her floor as she leaned against a wall. Closing her eyes, she tried not to think about Piper who she had to admit she already missed. Her eyes, that smile, the way she made Desiree feel safe and protected, even when she had her hostage at the cabin. But the woman had chosen revenge over her and it was all over. It had to be. Piper obviously was not the right person for her after the stunt she had pulled just that morning.

The elevator arrived at Desiree’s floor and she walked out, trying to keep one foot in front of the other. Making it to her apartment, she opened the door and walked in, putting the mail on a desk located near the front door. Going into the kitchen, Desiree grabbed a small glass and the half-full bottle of whiskey she had been drinking from. Pouring some of the liquid into the glass, she took a small sip before moving back into the living room and to the desk. She was about to pick up the unmarked envelope when there was a knock on the door.

For a split second, she hoped that it was Piper as she opened the door. The caller was a woman, but not that one. “Larisa, what do you want?”

The other woman saw the glass. Walking into the apartment, she closed the door behind her before gently taking the glass of whiskey from Desiree. The strawberry-blonde started to protest when Larisa held up a hand, stopping her. “I have something to tell you.” She put the glass on the desk before asking her sister to join her on the couch. Obediently, Desiree followed Larisa to the couch and the women took their seats, sitting next to each other.

“If this is about you and Piper…”

“No,” Larisa shook her head, “this has nothing to do with that.”

Desiree started to feel that something was terribly wrong. “What happened?”

There was simply no easy way to put this. She just had to come out and say it as gently as she could. “Desiree…this afternoon Father…he committed suicide.”

The strawberry-blonde’s eyes widened as she shook her head in disbelief. “No,” she whispered. “You’re wrong…he wouldn’t do that.”

Larisa attempted to take Desiree’s hand in her own, but the other woman pulled away before she could get the chance to. Softly sighing, Larisa quietly said, “It’s true…” She noticed that her younger sibling’s eyes began to brim with tears and ached to hold her. “He killed himself in my house not too long ago. He and Mother had a disagreement so she decided to leave with Richie. I took them to the airport and by the time I arrived home there was an ambulance and policemen parked in front of my house.”

“Why would he kill himself?” Desiree asked in a shaky voice. “So what if they had a disagreement…”

“I confronted him about his affair. Piper told me today,” she explained before her sister could ask. “It turns out that Mother knew about the affair all this time, however she didn’t know about the child. So she became upset and decided to return right then without Father.” Looking down at hands resting in her lap, Larisa softly concluded, “I suppose that is why he did it. He felt as though he had lost his family.”

Both women fell silent for several moments before Desiree asked, “How?”

Though it was a one-word question, Larisa instantly knew what her sister was inquiring. “He shot himself.”

Desiree closed her eyes tightly as tears streamed down her cheeks. Her shoulders began to shake as she cried. Not being able to stand it another minute, Larisa scooted closer to the younger woman and wrapped her arms around her. She was relieved when Desiree did not pull back, opting instead to put her own arms around her sister. Stroking up and down her back, Larisa gently rocked the strawberry-blonde back and forth, as she cried hard for the loss of their father.

A while later, Larisa noticed that her sister had grown quiet and completely still. Looking down at the younger woman, she saw that Desiree had cried herself to sleep. Knowing that she did not have the strength it took to carry her sister to the bedroom, Larisa gently arose and laid Desiree out on the couch, careful not to disturb her sleep. Walking into her sister’s bedroom, she soon returned with the other woman’s bedspread. Laying the cover over her sister, Larisa leaned down and placed a tender kiss to her forehead before she took a seat on the floor with her back to the couch. She let out a soft sigh as she wondered just how everything had managed to get out of hand within such a short amount of time.

Desiree had taken up the hobby of drinking now. Larisa could smell the whiskey on her breath when they were talking.

Desiree and Piper were no longer on speaking terms.

There was another sibling out there somewhere that they knew nothing about.

Her mother no longer had a husband and she, Desiree, and Richie no longer had a father because he got the idea in his head to shoot himself.

Piper was probably sitting in a jail cell right now for being charged with his death.

What else could possibly go wrong?

*****

He finally added the last period of the story before starting to go over it, correcting any mistakes that he might have made. George Stanley smiled to himself. This was brilliant. Truly brilliant. The journalist simply could not wait for people to read his article in tomorrow’s newspaper. For what must have been the thousandth time today, the man silently thanked Desiree Love for the email she sent him, though he still could not fathom why she did such a thing. Why she would want to expose her father’s less than perfect past was beyond him.

Having left it for the last thing to add to the article, George was about to write a title when Daniel Morris, a friend and co-worker of his perched himself on the edge of the journalists’ desk. Earlier today, George had called Daniel over, letting him know about the email from Richard Love’s daughter. Not being able to keep the information merely to himself, the journalist had to tell someone, so he chose his most trusted friend.

“Hey Dan, what’s up?” Looking up at his friend, George instantly noticed the melancholy expression on his face. “What’s wrong?” he asked, his voice laced with concern.

“You haven’t heard what happened this afternoon?”

George shook his head. “No, I’ve been working on the Love story. What happened?”

Dan blew out a ragged breath as he ran a hand through his short red hair. “Richard Love…he’s dead.”

A shocked look appeared on George’s face. “Dead?” Dan nodded. “How? When?” What was this going to mean for his article? “Did his daughter kill him? Desiree that is.”

Dan shook his head. “Nah, she didn’t do it. Check this out. Apparently, the cops think Piper Redding knocked him off. She’s been taken into custody.”

His eyes opening wide, George sat back in his chair. “Piper Redding,” he started in a low voice, as though he were talking merely to himself, “arrested for the murder of the man who put her behind bars for eight years. Desiree Love, the woman who was taken hostage by Piper Redding, sends me a hot story this morning that could jeopardize her own father’s career. And this afternoon…he’s dead.” The journalist was thoughtful for a few moments before he looked up at his friend asking, “How was he killed?”

“He was shot.”

“You said the police think she did it. Does that mean Redding has pleaded innocence?”

Dan shook his head. “I don’t know George. They didn’t give a lot of information thus far in the news. All I know is that she was arrested for killing him. It happened at his other daughter’s home. No one else was there at the time.”

George absently nodded, as he grew thoughtful once more. Finally, looking at his friend, he said, “I know what happened.”

“What?”

The journalist glanced around to make sure that no one else was listening in on their conversation before he scooted closer to Dan in his chair. In hushed tones, he replied, “It’s simple really. Love had Redding kill her father.” Not being able to keep a serious expression on his face, Dan broke into laughter. George smirked at the man while he waited for him to calm down before going on. “It makes perfect sense.”

Dan shook his head, still chuckling every so often. “No it doesn’t. George, as good an article as that would make, it’s not true.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know her personally, but I honestly don’t believe that Desiree Love would put a hit on her father.”

“She sent me that email this morning. She was able to do that,” George refuted.

“There is a huge difference between sending out an email that can destroy another human being’s career and getting someone to put a bullet in that person’s head.”

George chewed on his bottom lip as he thought quietly. “Well like you said you don’t know her. Desiree Love could be capable of anything for all we know. Even murder. She found out about her father’s shady past and something snapped inside of her. She wanted revenge, so not only did she want me to put in print what her father did all those years ago, but she also wanted him dead. So she had her lover kill him and Redding had zero qualms about doing that since she blamed the judge for putting her away.” George sat with a pleased look on his face. It all made sense to him. Everything seemed to click. What a story he had!

“Whoa…how did you establish that Love and Redding are lovers?”

“You know how we heard that Piper Redding was found at her former hostage’s apartment. It’s obvious that she’s staying with her. That right there lets you know that Desiree Love isn’t dealing with a full deck. What person is going to welcome the one that held them hostage into their home Dan?”

Dan shrugged. “That doesn’t mean they’re lovers.”

“Fine…whether they be lovers or just friends, Love put a hit on her father. And Redding executed it. And I’m going to let our readers know all about it.”
CHAPTER 11
Larisa paced back and forth in her sister’s kitchen as she talked on the phone with Taj. She made sure to speak in a low voice just in case Desiree happened to awaken from her nap on the couch. By the time that Larisa called Taj, he had already known about Piper’s arrest from watching the news and was on his way out of the door, heading to the police station. She filled him in on Piper’s version of what happened at her home and they both agreed that the woman was innocent. Though she obviously detested Richard Love, she did not have it in her to murder him in cold blood. Now all they had to do was prove that to the police.

“So I’ll meet you at the police station in a little while,” Larisa said to Taj, getting ready to end the call. She nodded as he said something. “You bet we are. I don’t want Piper to spend anymore time in jail for this then she has to. Enough of her life has already been wasted.” As Larisa made a U-turn to pace back towards the entrance to the kitchen, she suddenly came to an abrupt stop as she noticed her sister standing there with a confused expression. “Hey Taj…I have to go. Desiree just woke up…Okay, see you then.” Pressing a button to end the call, Larisa looked at Desiree. She was getting ready to say something when the younger woman cut her off.

“Why is Piper in jail?”

Larisa placed the phone down on the kitchen table before she motioned her sister to take a seat. Walking over, Desiree pulled out one of the chairs and sat down as she watched her sibling closely, wondering what was going on. Larisa took a seat next to Desiree, taking a deep breath before letting it out slowly. She had no idea how the other woman would react to what she was about to divulge.

“The police think that she is responsible for Father’s death, but she’s not and Taj and I plan on proving that,” Larisa explained quickly.

Desiree’s confused expression changed into one of anger. “What do you mean by responsible?” she inquired slowly.

Larisa suddenly desired to be anywhere but here. “She was arrested because it’s suspected that she might have killed him.”

The strawberry-blonde stared at her sister silently for a few moments. Larisa resisted the urge to fidget in her chair as Desiree unexpectedly picked up the phone. Standing up, she threw the object and watched as it flew towards the wall, making impact with it before hitting the floor. “That bitch!” She stormed out of the kitchen leaving a shocked Larisa behind. Never had she heard her sister speaking with such venom in her voice. Never had she witnessed Desiree give such an outburst.

Getting up from the chair, Larisa walked out of the kitchen to find her sister standing at a window looking out. Hearing her footsteps, Desiree looked towards Larisa, shaking her head. “You said that he committed suicide,” she said, her voice shaking with anger.

“He did,” the dark-haired woman replied quietly. “I know he did.”

“Then why has Piper been arrested? Explain that to me Larisa.”

“Because she was there when it happened and it appears that she did, but both Taj and I know she didn’t. Piper would never go that far.”

Desiree shook her head. “You should have seen her this morning. She found out some information concerning Dad and was intending to use it against him. I asked her not to, but she wouldn’t listen. She was so cold and callous about it all. I now know that I never really knew her. She played me and now she’s doing the same thing to you and Taj.”

“That’s not true Desiree,” Larisa replied in a quiet voice. “She’s innocent. I know she is. And I intend on making everyone realize that.”

Desiree said something but her sister could not make out what it was so she asked her to repeat it. “I said,” the strawberry-blonde started in a louder tone of voice, “get out of my home. You’re not welcome here any longer,” her voice shook as her eyes filled with tears again. “If you and Taj want to play detective’s then fine. But you’re wasting your time because that…woman killed my father. Just as sure as you are that she’s innocent, I’m sure that’s guilty.” Desiree took a deep breath as tears rolled down her cheeks. “Now you have to go.”

“Desi…you shouldn’t be alone-”

“I said leave. I want to be alone.”

She turned back towards the window as though to dismiss her sister. Sighing softly, Larisa headed towards the front door. Opening it, she glanced back towards Desiree, saying, “I can’t go home…I don’t want to be there. So if you need…want to get in touch with me I’ll be staying at the Ashton Inn.” She waited for some type of response but there wasn’t one. Shaking her head sadly, Larisa walked out, softly closing the door behind her.

Hearing the door close, Desiree collapsed to the floor as the tears came. Her body shook as she wrapped her arms around her bent legs, burying her face against her knees. More than anything she wished that this was all a horrible nightmare that she would soon awaken from.

“Why?” she cried as she rocked back and forth. “Oh, God why?”

*****

Pulling into the parking space, Larisa got out of her car and looked around for Taj’s vehicle. She found it with him leaning against it. The Jamaican man did not see her, since he was facing the other way. Walking over she called out his name and Taj looked towards where the voice had come from. Not saying anything, he walked towards Larisa, wrapping his arms around her. She wrapped her own arms around the man as she swallowed, a lump forming in her throat. She fought the tears that were threatening to come. This was not the time to break down.

The two stood embraced for a moment or two before Larisa pulled back, attempting to give Taj a smile. “Thanks. I needed that.”

Taj tenderly smiled at the woman as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. She in turn put one around his waist. “How is Desi doing?” he asked as they begin to walk towards the police station.

“Not good as to be expected. She’s been through a lot lately,” Larisa gave a momentary pause. “I told her that Piper was arrested. Desiree thinks that she’s guilty. And since you and I don’t, that puts us on her you know what list. I was asked to leave…well told really.”

Taj squeezed her gently. “I’m sorry Risa. Like you said, she’s been through a lot lately. It has to be getting to her. It’ll be all right.”

Reaching the police station, Taj opened the door and waited for his companion to enter before going in himself. They asked to speak with Piper and were escorted by a police officer towards a door, which had to be unlocked. Following the man, down a short hall they soon reached Piper’s cell. She was lying on a small cot looking up at the ceiling. Seeing them, she quickly arose from the cot and walked over to the bars, wrapping her hands around them.

“Hey…it’s good to see some familiar faces.” She smiled faintly, as did Taj and Larisa. The police officer left, but an on duty guard was in the background, reclined in a chair.

“It’s good to see you too hon,” Larisa said as she noticed the cast on Piper’s forearm, covering all of her hand except for her fingers and thumb. “Is your wrist broken?”

Piper glanced at the cast on her left arm. “Yeah, I fractured it when I tried to break my fall. They ran me by a hospital before we came here.” She was afraid to ask but she had to know. “Did you speak with Desiree?”

Larisa nodded mutely.

“What did she say?”

When Larisa did not say anything, Piper turned to Taj with a questioning look. Clearing his throat, Taj uttered, “At this point Pippy, she has it in her head that you killed him. She doesn’t believe that it was a suicide. But try not to worry, because we’re going to make her see differently.”

Piper gave a slight nod. “I don’t blame her,” she said softly. “If I were her, I’d probably think I was guilty too.”

Slipping a hand through the bars, Larisa squeezed Piper’s shoulder quickly before letting go. “Well we’re going to prove that you’re not.”

“How are you gonna do that? All of the evidence points to me.” She counted the evidence on her fingers. “My fingerprints are on the gun. I have gunpowder on my hands. I have a motive for wanting him dead. I was the only one there when it happened. There isn’t a suicide note, and even if there was a suicide note that still doesn’t mean that I didn’t kill him. He could have come back to your house planning on committing suicide but I turned it into a homicide.” Piper glanced at them both. “Guys, I don’t mean to be cynical but it appears that I’m pretty much screwed,” she paused. “So I ask you again. How are you gonna prove that I’m innocent?”

Larisa and Taj shared a look before turning back to Piper. “You want the truth?” Larisa asked.

The blue-eyed woman nodded. “That’s what I prefer.”

“We don’t have a damn clue.” If the situation had not been so dire, Piper could have laughed at the admission. “But I assure you, you won’t be in here much longer. We’ll think of something.”

*****

Tapping his fingers on the Walkman, seventeen-year-old Dennis Farrow listened to the music blasting from his earphones. His head moved back and forth, as he looked around. He had never been in a morgue before. His father had worked here for nearly five years now, but Dennis never visited until today. Well he did not have much of a choice. His mother wasn’t home and his father had to work, therefore not having the time to take Dennis home.

For the past two hours, the teenager had been sitting in the lobby watching as people went in and out. He could identify those that had come to view a body by the expression on their faces. They all wore the same exact one. Fear. In all of his years, Dennis had never seen a real body except for on television and some part of him was curious. He kept glancing towards the door where people disappeared through.

While he sat, Dennis wondered how long his father was going to ground him this time. The reason he was at the morgue and not at school, which was where he was supposed to be now, was because the teenager had been caught selling drugs on campus during break that morning. He had been expelled from school and had to go to court. Dennis did not understand why everyone was getting so bent out of shape. All he had was some marijuana. The teenager did not really care about getting expelled. It was like being on vacation.

As side A of the tape in his Walkman finished playing, Dennis was about to turn it over when he changed his mind. Removing his earphones, the teenager placed the Walkman on the chair next to him. Not seeing anyone, he got up and walked towards the door he had been eyeing for the last couple of hours. Opening it, he strolled inside, looking from side to side, not spying anyone. Dennis saw three doors and chose one of them. Opening the door, he found himself in a brightly-lit room that had rows of square silver colored doors on one of the walls. From watching television, the young man knew those were the freezers for the bodies.

What really caught his attention though was the body bag lying on an examination table. It was the only one out. Looking around again, Dennis saw no one and hurried fully into the room, making sure to shut the door behind him. Slowly he walked towards the bag as though the person inside would wake up if he or she heard the teenager. On reaching the bag, Dennis spied the zipper. With a shaky hand, he pulled the zipper half way down before he looked at the face of the person inside.

Dennis’ brow crinkled as he studied the man. For some reason, he looked familiar, but Dennis knew that he did not know him personally. The teenager wracked his brain until a name finally popped in his head. This was Richard Love. He was the judge who had been on the news lately because his daughter was taken hostage. Dennis stared at the hole in his head, wondering who shot him. Looking around again, the teenager still did not see anyone before he looked back at the corpse. If they had not removed his clothing yet, then he must still have his wallet. That is unless his death was due to a robbery. Not feeling so much as an ounce of guilt, Dennis snaked a hand into the man’s jacket pocket, grasping something. It wasn’t a wallet though. Pulling the object out, the teenager studied what was a small tape recorder. As a door on the far right was pushed open, Dennis hurriedly slipped the tape recorder into a pocket of his baggy jeans.

His father glared at him. “What are you doing back here Dennis?”

Crap. “Sorry Dad. I was looking for the bathroom and I got lost.”

His father looked at him with a disbelieving expression. “Go sit down Dennis. You’re not supposed to be in here. My shift is almost done.”
The teenager nodded. “All right.” He started to walk towards the door but then turned back towards his father. “Hey Dad, who killed Richard Love?” He got a surprised look. “Hey, I watch the news. I keep up with what happens. So, who killed him? I bet it was Piper Redding. I think if anyone would wanna kill him it would be her.”

“As a matter of fact she was arrested. It’s possible that she did. Now go back to the front. And don’t move again. I mean it Dennis.”

The teenager put his hands up. “All right, all right. I’m going.” Turning around he walked out of the room and headed towards his chair. Sitting down, he took the tape recorder out of his pocket and pressed a button to rewind it.

“I wonder what we have here,” he said out loud. Minutes later the tape reached the beginning and Dennis inserted his earphones into the tiny hole located on the tape recorder before putting them on. Pressing play, he listened intently. There was silence so far except for faint footsteps. He then heard a male voice.

“Hello Redding.” Dennis noticed the voice as that of the judge.

“I’m pleased that you decided to stay here while Larisa took my son and wife to the airport. I think we need to have a little chat. What do you think?”

The teenager listened up to the point of a loud gunshot. Pressing the stop button, the young man took off his earphones as he thought over what he had just heard. Piper Redding was innocent. The judge must have recorded the whole conversation so people would know the truth about what happened. Dennis saw two options. He could take this tape to the police and become a true hero or he could use it to his advantage and make some money. The teenager grinned. Talk about a no-brainer.

*****

Desiree drained another glass of whiskey just as the phone began to ring. She started not to answer it but then figured the call might be important. Getting up, she searched around the living room for the phone before remembering where she had left it. Drunkenly, she moved into the kitchen and picked up the phone from the floor, amazed that it still worked. Pressing the talk button, she said hello.

“Hello, Desiree is that you?”

The strawberry-blonde nodded, but then remembered that the person on the other end of the line could not see it. “Yes…it is. If this is a reporter, I’m not in…intewested in talking,” the young woman slurred.

Micaela closed her eyes shortly as she listened to Desiree speak. It was clear that she was inebriated. “No, Desiree I’m not a reporter. Perhaps you’ll remember me from last night at the bar. I took you home. My name is Micaela Chavez.”

Desiree nodded again as she shuffled towards the kitchen table, having a seat in one of the chairs. “I remember you. Did you leave somethin’ here?”

“No, I called to offer my condolences about your father,” Micaela softly stated. “I’m so sorry to hear what happened. I know that this must be a difficult time for you and your loved ones. I know you don’t know me from Adam, but if there is anything that I can do please don’t hesitate to let me know. Why don’t I give you my phone number?”

“Thank you Micaela, but I’m gonna be just fine. I need to go now.”

“Wait. Please don’t hang up yet. May I have your sister’s phone number or is she there with you now?” Micaela had a feeling that Desiree was all alone since she was drinking so heavily.

“She’s not here. We had a disagweement earlier and she had to leave. You can reach her at the,” Desiree had to think for a moment, “Ashton Inn.”

“Thank you Desiree. So does that mean you’re there by yourself?”

“Yep. I like it like that.” The young woman rested her forehead on the cool table as she began to feel sick to her stomach. “Listen, I weally need to go now. Thanks for calling Micaela.”

“Okay. I’ll let you go. Take care of yourself now. Goodbye.” The Latina ended the call as she sat in thought for a few minutes. She came to a couple of decisions as she dialed information to get the number for the Ashton Inn. Dialing the number for the hotel, Micaela waited for someone to pick it up. On the second ring someone did. “Hello. May I have Larisa Love’s room?” Moments later she was connected to Larisa’s room as she listened to the phone ring.

“Hello?”

“Larisa, hello. I’m glad I was able to track you down. This is Micaela Chavez. We met last night. I uh…kicked you in the nose.”

Like I could ever forget you, Larisa thought extremely surprised that her caller was Micaela. She sat down on the queen-sized bed, her knees suddenly feeling a tad weak. She must have called Desiree. “Yes, my nose and I remember. A mighty fine kick it was.” Larisa emitted a short chuckle. “How are you?”

“I’m doing good. How are you? I’m sorry to hear about your father.”

“Oh, I’m hanging in there.” She smiled, though Micaela could not see it. “Desiree must have informed you of my whereabouts.”
“Yes, she did. She also said that the two of you had a disagreement. I know that it’s none of my business, but what could have happened? You and she should be together during this time.”

“I agree, but my sister is upset with me. In a nutshell, I believe that Piper is innocent whereas she doesn’t. So since I don’t agree with her, she doesn’t want anything to do with me right now. I had planned on staying at her apartment so she won’t be alone and neither will I, but that’s not about to happen. How did she sound to you?”

Drunk. “She said that she wanted to be alone. That she liked it like that, but I didn’t believe her.”

Larisa sighed into the phone. “I’d go over there, but I know Desiree wouldn’t let me in.”

It was time to execute one of her decisions. “Well why don’t you come over here? My apartment isn’t that grand, but I have room for you.”

Yes, yes, yes! “Micaela, I couldn’t impose on you like that. Thank you anyway though.”

“It’s not an imposition. I want you to come.”

Yes, I’d like you to do that too, Larisa thought, an image forming in her mind. She then shook her head. Wait, what am I thinking? This is not the time. And I don’t even know this woman. She could be some kind of psycho. Larisa shook her head again. Nah, what psycho would escort a tipsy woman home and then wait until other’s arrived there before she left?

“Larisa?” Micaela wondered if she had hung up.

“Oh, sorry! Spaced out for a moment.” She paused. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. There is no reason for you to be paying to stay in a hotel when you could just bunk with me. I could really use the company myself. Now do you have a piece of paper and a pen? I’ll give you my address.”

“Just a second.” Opening the drawer of the nightstand next to her bed, Larisa removed a thin tablet and a pen, both with the hotel’s logo on them. She began to write down Micaela’s address as the woman dictated it to her. “Okay, I’ve got it. What time should I come over?”

“Anytime that you want sweetie. If you can be here in ten minutes then that’s great.”

“Have you eaten dinner yet?”

“Not really. I just ate a bagel,” Micaela replied.

“Well that’s not a proper meal. I’ll bring something. What’s your favorite type of food?”

“Chinese.”

“That sounds yummy,” Larisa said as her stomach growled. She had not eaten a thing all day. “What dishes do you like?”

“Anything but pot stickers.”

Larisa laughed. “I don’t much care for those either.” She glanced at her watch. It was nearly six-thirty. “Okay, I’ll be there in a little bit. Thank you for having me.”

Micaela warmly smiled into the phone. “It is my pleasure. I’ll see you in a bit.”

*****

As she lay curled up in her bed, Desiree groaned as she heard the doorbell ring. She attempted to ignore the caller, but they were persistent, ringing the bell a few more times. Giving in, the young woman threw back the covers and on shaky legs made her way to the door.

“Hi there,” Micaela said in a cheery voice as Desiree opened the door. She held two small white bags in her hand and the strawberry-blonde could smell the rich aroma emanating from them.

“Hello.” Desiree cocked her head to the side. “Are you an angel?”

The Latin woman chuckled. “No, sweetie. I’m far from it. May I come in?”

Though she wanted to say no because she was not in the mood for visitors, Desiree had a feeling that Micaela would not take no for an answer, so she merely stepped out of the way. The other woman walked in and headed straight for the couch. Taking a seat, she put her bags on the coffee table as Desiree closed and locked the door. She then walked over to the couch as well, and took a seat next to Micaela.

Smiling at Desiree, Micaela opened the bags. Out of one of the bags came two sixteen ounce styrofoam cups with coffee in them. She asked Desiree what she liked in her coffee if anything, as she reached into the other bag and took out packets of raw sugar, Sweet n’ Low, a pint of milk, cream, and a couple of stirrers.

“I like a little milk and sugar.” Desiree sat back on the couch and closed her eyes, her head spinning.

Removing the top from one of the cups, Micaela poured in some milk along with a packet of sugar. Picking up one of the red skinny little straws, she mixed the contents of the cup together before replacing the top and pulling back the tab where you sip. Looking back at Desiree, she raised the cup until it was just under the younger woman’s nose. Micaela began to move it back and forth as the aroma wafted up. Desiree opened her eyes and took the cup.

“Thank you,” she said as she held the cup between her hands, the warmth from it seeping into her palms.

“You’re welcome,” Micaela replied as she picked up her own cup and pulled back the tab, taking a sip. “Drink up.”

Doing as she was told, Desiree lifted the cup to her lips and took a few small sips. “That’s good coffee,” she said. The other woman nodded in agreement.

Curling one leg underneath her, Micaela sat back on the couch facing Desiree. “So what do you think drinking is going to solve?”

The strawberry-blonde looked at her. She was not in the mood to be lectured. Especially by someone she didn’t even know. “Pardon me?”

“I asked what you thought drinking would solve?”

“What business is it of yours?”

Micaela shrugged. “None, but since you helped me I intend on returning the favor. You stopped me from making a very stupid mistake last night and I want to stop you before you become what I once was.”

“What were you?”

“An alcoholic,” Micaela quietly replied. “Well I am an alcoholic…I always will be, but at least now I have it under control.”

Desiree shook her head. “I don’t have a drinking problem. You saw me drunk last night and I assume you know that I’ve been drinking this evening but that doesn’t make me a candidate for being an alcoholic.”

The Latina nodded. “Maybe you’re right. All I know is picking up that bottle won’t solve your problems. It won’t make them go away. All you’re doing is masking them for a while.” Raising her cup, she took another sip before going on, “I drank because I was abused. Mentally and physically by a man that I thought loved me.”

“I’m so sorry,” Desiree said sincerely.

“It took me five years, but I finally got help for my problem and I’ve been sober ever since.”

“What happened last night?”

Micaela did not say anything right away. “I was planning on killing myself. The gun was in my car waiting for me as I sat there reviewing my life and feeling sorry for myself. I don’t know what got into me. That was not only stupid but also selfish. I have responsibilities.” She looked at Desiree who was listening intently. “You made me realize that I had to keep living, that I wanted to live.”

There was silence between the two women before Micaela finally spoke up saying, “Desiree, now is the time that you and your sister should be there for each other. Please don’t push her away.”

“Did she send you here to speak with me?”

Micaela shook her head. “No, she doesn’t know I’m here. I invited her to stay with me so she wouldn’t have to be alone in that hotel room. Why don’t come home with me and talk to her?”

Desiree shook her head before she took a sip from her cup of coffee before leaning over and setting it on the table. “No, I can’t do that. I don’t have anything to say to her. If she wants to believe that Piper didn’t murder our father then it is her choice to do so, but I haven’t a thing to say.”

Micaela cocked her head to the side. “What makes you so sure that you’re right and she’s wrong?”

Letting out a ragged breath, the strawberry-blonde stood up and walked over to the front door. On opening it, she turned back to Micaela who was still reclined on the couch. “Thank you for coming by to check on me and for bringing the coffee, but I think that it’s time you leave.”

The older woman smiled, but there was no humor in it. Getting up, she walked towards the front door with her coffee in hand. She stopped next to Desiree. “You’re awfully good at putting people out, aren’t you?” Not waiting for an answer she took a slip of paper out of her pocket and pressed it into Desiree’s hand. “That’s my address and phone number in case you want to contact your sister. Take care sweetie.” With that, Micaela walked out of the apartment, closing the door as she went.

*****

Arriving at apartment 2C, Larisa knocked on the door before she reached up to run a hand through her hair, smoothing it out. In her other hand, she held two heavy brown paper bags filled with various Chinese cuisine. Moments later she heard a tiny voice asking who it was and wondered if she had the wrong apartment. Deciding to take a chance, she gave her name and then heard the locks being turned before the door opened. Larisa had to look down to see who had let her in. She noticed a toddler dressed in pajamas that had Disney characters printed all over it. Oh, my. Micaela has a child.

The little boy smiled up at her, showing an adorable set of deep dimples in his cheeks. “Hi Ma’am. Mommy said you were gonna come stay with us.” He stepped out of the way. “Please come in.”

Smiling at his politeness, Larisa walked into the apartment before the toddler closed and locked the door. As he did so, a woman who Larisa guessed to be around twenty-five walked down the hallway towards them. She smiled at Larisa as she reached her, shaking the woman’s hand. “Hello. You must be Larisa. I’m Carly the baby-sitter. Sorry I didn’t hear you arrive. I was in the bathroom.”

Larisa turned to the little boy and reached out a hand, gently ruffling his pile of dark brown ringlets. “That’s all right. This fine gentleman did a terrific job.” The toddler beamed up at her. Larisa winked at him before turning back to the baby-sitter. “So Micaela isn’t here?”

Carly shook her head. “No, she said to tell you that she had to go see someone, but for you to make yourself at home and that she would be back shortly.”

Larisa nodded. “Okay. May I put these in the kitchen?” She held up the bags for Carly to see. The other woman nodded as she motioned Larisa to follow her to the kitchen. The toddler followed along behind the women. Putting the bags on the kitchen cabinet, Larisa smiled down at the boy again. “What’s your name?”

“It’s Dante,” he said, smiling. “Nice to meet you.”

Larisa chuckled. “It’s nice to meet you too Dante. That’s a very nice name you have.”

The little boy blushed. “Thank you Ma’am.”

He was so adorable. “You can call me Larisa, ‘kay?”

Dante nodded, smiling. “Okay Larisa. I like your name too.”

Carly smiled at them both before she walked towards the toddler, picking him up in her arms. “Okay Danny Boy, it’s time for bed now. Did you pick out the story you want me to read?”

Dante nodded, the curls on his head bouncing. “Yes Carly. I want Jack and the Beanstalk.” Jack and the Beanstalk was the toddler’s favorite story, and most of the time he chose to be read that one at bedtime.

“That was one of my favorite stories when I was a child Dante,” Larisa said. “I loved it.”

He smiled at her. “Would you like to read it now?”

The woman smiled back. “I’d enjoy that.” She looked at the baby-sitter. “Carly, would it be all right with you if I put Dante to bed and read him the story?”

Carly nodded as she handed the small child over to Larisa. “No problem.” She smiled. “He’s all yours.” She brushed the back of her hand against Dante’s cheek. “Danny Boy, why don’t you show your guest where your room is?”

Squiggling out of her arms, Dante placed his tiny hand around two of Larisa’s fingers before leading her towards his room as he merrily talked all of the way. Soon, the little boy was tucked into his bed with Larisa sitting on the edge of it with a copy of Jack and the Beanstalk in her hand. Reaching out, she gently pushed a couple of errant curls off of the boy’s forehead before she opened the book and began to read.

“Once upon a time there was a poor widow who lived with her son Jack in a little house. Their wealth consisted solely of a milking cow. When the cow had grown too old, the mother sent Jack to sell it. On his way to the market…”

Not too long later, Micaela entered the apartment. Seeing Carly on the couch in the living room, she smiled at the woman as she walked over to her. “Hey Carly. Did Larisa arrive yet?”

The baby-sitter nodded. “Yes. She’s in Dante’s room reading him a bedtime story.” Carly grinned as she stood up, putting the strap of her purse on her shoulder. In a near whisper she said, “She’s gorgeous.”

“Who?” Micaela asked, knowing exactly whom Carly was referring to.

The other woman rolled her eyes. “That sweet thing in your son’s room. If I were into women…” she trailed off still grinning.

Micaela playfully slapped her on the arm. “You’re bad.”

The baby-sitter chuckled as she headed for the front door, Micaela walking along with her. “Well you’re too good. You’ve been abstinent at least since the day I met you and that was three years ago.”

Micaela chuckled. “So?”

“So?” Carly opened the door. “I don’t see how you’ve done it. I’ve watched you Mickey. All you do is go to work and then come home to spend time with your son and maybe work on your painting every few months. This is not what I would call a fulfilled life my friend. What you need to do is get out and meet people.”

“Is that so?” Micaela said with an amused look upon her face. Carly was always trying to motivate her to get out and ‘meet people.’ “It’s not like I’m a complete homebody. I’ve been out on a few dates.”

“Five,” the baby-sitter replied. “In three years you’ve been out on five dates and none of them ended in the sack.”

Micaela laughed as she gently pushed Carly out of the door. “Okay Car, it’s time for you to go home now.”

Carly grinned. “Larisa…see if she’s interested. I have a feeling she is. You see Mickey, I know people.”

The other woman nodded, wearing that same amused expression. “Is that so? Goodnight Car.”

The baby-sitter chuckled as she began to walk down the stairs. “Goodnight Mickey. See you manana. Same place, same time.”

Chuckling, Micaela closed the door before walking down the hall to her son’s room. Looking in, she leaned against the doorjamb as she watched Larisa finishing up Jack and the Beanstalk. A tender smile crossed her lips as she saw her child nice and cozy underneath the covers fast asleep with his teddy bear in his arms.

“The magical sound of the harp cured his mother’s sadness and she was once again happy and cheerful. The hen kept on laying golden eggs. Jack’s life had gone through a lot of changes since he had accepted the magic beans. But without his courage and his wit, he and his mother could never have found happiness.” Larisa closed the book and put it on the nightstand before she leaned over and pressed her lips to Dante’s forehead. “The end,” she whispered before quietly arising from the bed and turning to head for the door. She stopped as she saw Micaela standing there watching her. She had a smile on her face so Larisa returned one. “Hello,” she said quietly.

“Hello,” Micaela mouthed back. She motioned Larisa to finish walking out of the room. After she did so, the Latina closed the door softly before she wrapped an arm around the other woman’s waist, leading her towards the living room. “That was really sweet.”

“What was?” Larisa was momentarily disoriented due to the arm that was suddenly around her waist. She found that she enjoyed it being there.

As the two women sat on the couch, Micaela kept her arm around Larisa replying, “You reading Dante his bedtime story,” she smiled, “and for the kiss.” She looked at the other woman. “You’re really sweet.”

Larisa swallowed with a bit of difficulty. It was not her imagination. There were actually butterflies in her stomach and her heartbeat had suddenly increased. Did Micaela have any idea what kind of effect she was having on her? Larisa suspected that the answer was no. Wrapping an arm around the Latina, she quietly thanked her.

Micaela winked at her. “Can I get you anything to drink?” She started to get up from the couch, stretching as she did so.

Larisa ran a hand through her hair as she asked, “You don’t by any chance have scotch, do you? After today, I could really use one.”

The other woman walked into the kitchen replying, “Sorry sweetie, but there isn’t any alcohol in this house except for the kind you put on your body. I’m a recovering alcoholic.”

Larisa arose from the couch, following Micaela into the kitchen, watching her removing two plates from one of the cabinets. “How long have you been sober?”

“Five years.” Micaela took the plates along with silverware to the dining room table before entering the kitchen again and picking up the bags of Chinese food, taking them there as well.

The younger woman smiled as she took a seat at the oblong shaped glass table with Micaela sitting on her right. “That’s wonderful.”

“It was difficult, but something I had to do.” Opening the bags, the Latina began removing the white cartons. “Mmm…these smell terrific. I haven’t had Chinese in weeks.”

As she was about to take another carton out of the bag, Larisa stopped her, by placing a hand over hers. When Micaela’s warm, brown eyes made contact with her green, Larisa simply said in a silent tone of voice, “Thank you.”

Smiling, Micaela arose from her chair before gently tugging the other woman out of hers. Not uttering a word, she embraced the younger woman as Larisa put her arms around her waist. Unbidden, tears sprang to Larisa’s eyes. Soon her shoulder’s shook as she began to cry, finally letting out the emotions that she had been holding in during the entire day. Micaela held her tighter, beginning to gently stroke up and down her back as her own eyes glistened. As Larisa’s knees buckled, Micaela guided them to the floor, managing to keep the grieving woman in her embrace.

Burying her face against Micaela’s shoulder, Larisa softly whispered as the tears continued to come, “I’m sorry Daddy. I’m so sorry.”

Beginning to rock her, Micaela started rubbing the woman’s back again as she whispered next to her. “It’s gonna be all right sweetie. Everything is gonna be just fine.” She tenderly kissed Larisa’s cheek as she held her tighter.

*****

Sitting up, she sighed. It was no use. No matter how hard she tried, she just could not sleep. Piper looked around the darkened cell figuring that it must have been around ten or eleven o’clock at night. She glanced at the guard who was currently reading a magazine before she sat back on the bed with her back up against the wall. Her wrist was throbbing, she was tired though she could not sleep, and she missed Desiree terribly.

Looking across at the guard again, Piper wondered if she could make a phone call. Since she had been placed in here, Piper had not attempted to contact anyone, but weren’t you entitled to one phone call? Arising from the cot, the dark-haired woman walked over to the bars, wrapping her hands around them as she studied the guard. What was his name again? Henry…Harold…oh, yes. She knew what it was now.

“Hank?”

Taking his eyes away from the magazine, the guard looked at Piper. “Yes Miss?” he said in a deep voice.

“Please let’s not be so formal. Call me Piper.” She tried a smile out on him, somewhat surprised when Hank smiled back, his dark mustache twitching as he did so.

“Yes Piper?”

“I know it must be late, but I was wondering if I could make a call? There is someone that I must speak with. It’s very important Hank,” she finished wearing a pleading expression.

Mulling it over for a moment, the guard closed his magazine before placing it on the floor as he arose from the chair standing at his full height of nearly six and a half feet. Walking over to Piper’s cell, the man took a small cellular phone out of his pocket before slipping it through the bars. “You can use my phone,” he said. “Take your time. Let me know when you’re done.” Winking at her, or at least Piper thought he did, Hank returned to his chair. Picking up his magazine, the guard resumed his reading. Thanking him, Piper walked back to her cot. Having a seat, she stared at the tiny electronic device in her hand for a few minutes, trying to get up the courage to call. She knew the number by heart. Now all she had to do was press the correct buttons and then talk. That sounded simple enough.

Her palms beginning to sweat, Piper pushed the numbers, all the while wondering if this was an absurd idea. She concluded that it was, but this was something that she had to do. Putting the phone to her ear, Piper listened as it began to ring. Resisting the urge to pace, the woman sat back on the cot as she crossed one leg over the other. Just as she was about to hang up, she heard a soft voice answer.

Having to find her suddenly lost voice first, Piper said, “Hi Desiree. Please don’t hang up. It’s me.”

There was silence on the other end but Piper was glad not to hear the click that signified that the phone call had been disconnected.

“You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to, but please listen to me okay?” There still was no an answer so she went on, “I’m sorry about what happened today. I know that sounds pretty lame but I am. If I hadn’t been so vindictive in the first place, none of this would have happened,” stopping for a moment, Piper took a deep breath, her heart harshly pounding beneath her chest. “Your sister informed me that you think I’m guilty, and frankly I don’t blame you. If I were you, I would think I was too,” she paused, quickly running her tongue along suddenly dry lips, “but I swear to you, I swear Desiree that I didn’t murder your father. He wanted me to kill him but I didn’t. Not technically anyhow…my finger pressed the trigger but only because he manipulated it.” Piper let out a loud breath. “I know that sounds totally stupid, which is why I’m probably going to prison for the rest of my life, but it’s the truth. Sweetheart, I’ll admit that I wanted your father to pay for what he did, but not like that. I would never go that far,” she stopped as she listened to Desiree’s soft breathing.

Good. She was still there. “You don’t have to believe me, but I sincerely wish that you would.” Piper sighed. “I suppose that I never should have entered your life in the first place because ever since that first night, one terrible thing after another has happened to you and I can’t apologize enough for that. But despite all of it I’m glad to have met you because you have brought so much joy to my life in the short time that we have been together,” Piper halted, wondering if there would be any type of response. She was greeted with mere silence. “I guess I’ll let you go now. I’m sorry to have called this late but I needed to speak to you. I…I love you Desiree.”

She heard a click as the caller hung up. Tears rolling down her cheeks, Desiree turned off her phone before placing it on the nightstand. Curling up on her side in the bed, she began to cry again. At that moment, Tobias strutted into the bedroom. Jumping up on the bed next to his master, he nuzzled her neck as though to offer comfort. Wrapping an arm around his warm furry body, Desiree brought the cat closer, placing a kiss on the top of his head as the tears fell. It was starting to seem as though the tears would never cease to exist. She thought back over what Piper had just said. Though her story of what happened was not concrete, Desiree began to question whether she really did kill her father. She suddenly wanted to believe that Piper was not capable of cold-blooded murder. I love you Desiree. The strawberry-blonde closed her eyes as those words ran through her mind again and again. Did she really?

*****

After putting the dishes from breakfast in the dishwasher, Micaela leaned against the kitchen cabinet watching her son and Larisa as she sipped her second cup of coffee this morning. She smiled at the two of them as they conversed on how to build the house they were trying to make out of Dante’s Legos. So far, they had a pool, a gate, and a blue front door. Micaela was amazed at how close they had become in such short a time. She could tell that her son absolutely adored Larisa and that the feeling was highly mutual.
Taking another sip from the cup of coffee, Micaela placed it on the cabinet before walking into the living room. Going past Larisa and Dante on the way to the front door, she reached down, gently ruffling her son’s curly hair. The little boy smiled up at her before returning his attention to Larisa and the Legos.

Opening the front door, Micaela picked up the newspaper that she received on a daily basis. Closing the door, she read the headline. She was glad that she hadn’t brought her coffee along with her when obtaining the newspaper, because she surely would have dropped it on the floor. Right there on the front page in bold letters was the words “Love’s Lover Kills Judge at Her Request.”

Brown eyes grew wide as saucers. “Oh, shi-“She glanced at her son who along with Larisa was now looking at her, “Shish kabob.” That was a close one. Last thing Micaela wanted was for her son to hear her swearing. “Umm…Dante, why don’t you go color Larisa a picture in your room okay? I need to speak with her for a bit.”

Doing as his mother asked, Dante put down the lego he had in his hand and arose from the floor. He headed towards his room to color. After she heard the door close, Micaela walked over to the dining room table and took a seat with Larisa soon joining her. The other woman asked her what was wrong. Not answering, the Latina merely handed the newspaper to Larisa. Taking it, the younger woman spied the headline, her green eyes narrowing in anger.

“What the hell is this?” She did not wait for a reply as she started to read the article, her blood beginning to boil. Finishing, Larisa slapped the newspaper down on the dining room table. She sat there quietly for a moment before glancing back at the newspaper searching for the author of the article. Her eyes narrowed again as she found it. George Stanley. He was going to pay for this. Standing up, Larisa stormed towards the front door.

“Wait a sec!” Micaela hurried over to the door. “Where are you going?”

“To have a little chit chat with George Stanley,” Larisa replied between clenched teeth.

“Who?”

Opening the door, Larisa explained, “The son of a bitch who wrote that piece of garbage. I’m going down to that newspaper and I’m going to give him a piece of my mind. And while I’m there I just might give the crack of his ass a piece of my foot!”

Placing her hand on the door, Micaela pushed it closed before the other woman could walk out. “Wait. If you must do this, then I’ll go with you. Carly will be here soon to baby-sit. Can you just wait a few more minutes?”

“Don’t you have to go to work?”

Micaela shrugged. “I’ll call in sick. I never do, so I have plenty of sick leave. Besides, I could use a day off.”

Larisa shook her head. “I don’t want you to do that. I’ll take care of this on my own.” She attempted to open the door again, but the other woman pressed her hand against it again.

“The hell you will. The last thing we need is for you to end up being Piper’s cellmate. I’m going with you whether you want my company or not. Got it?” Micaela gave Larisa the same look she sometimes had to give Dante when he got out of line. It worked like a charm.

*****

Desiree was just finishing getting dressed after having taken a long hot shower when she heard the doorbell ring. Buttoning up her shirt, she jaunted into the living room towards the front door. Opening it, she saw a young man around the age of seventeen or eighteen standing there dressed in a pair of baggy black jeans and an oversized blue sweatshirt. He smiled at her charmingly as he removed his sunshades, dropping them into his pants pocket.

“Hello,” he said in a jovial tone of voice. “My name is Brian Walker. You must be Desiree Love.”

Desiree nodded, wondering who he was. She had never heard of a Brian Walker. She would have thought that he was a journalist or in some profession like that but he seemed too young. Plus he did not dress the part. “Yes, I am. May I help you?”

“I think the real question is if I can help you?” He continued to smile. “And I do believe that I can.”

The strawberry-blonde grew alarmed. Something in this teenager’s smile seemed sinister. “I beg to differ with you Brian.” Desiree started to close the door. “I’m sorry that I have to cut this so short but I must be going now.”

Placing his foot in the door, the teenager stopped her from fully closing it. “Don’t you want to know what I came here for?” He kept that same smile in place.

“Not really.”

“Not really means some part of you does want to know.” Brian nodded. “Good.” Giving the door a small kick, he opened the door wide enough to walk into the apartment before he closed it, putting his back against it as Desiree took a couple of steps back, prepared to fight if need be. “Relax, I didn’t come here to make any trouble. I just wanted to give you something that I think you might be interested in having.”

“What’s that?”

“A tape.”

Desiree’s brow crinkled in confusion. Who was he and what was he talking about? “What tape?”

Brian replied, “The tape that is going to set your friend free. Piper Redding is…or was your friend, right?”

Desiree shook her head. “I don’t understand what you’re talking about. How can this tape set her free?”

“Easy. If the police got a hold of the tape that I have in my possession, it would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Piper Redding is innocent. It would prove that she did not murder Judge Richard Love after all.”

None of this made any sense. “How did such a tape get into your possession?”

“I found it.”

“Where?”

“You see,” Brian started, “my father works at the morgue and I happened to be there yesterday when Richard Love’s body arrived. I wasn’t supposed to be back there, but I sneaked in anyway because I was curious as to what a real body looks like. Well imagine my surprise when I see your father lying there. By the way, I’m deeply sorry for your loss,” Brian added, not sounding the least bit sincere. “I happened to see something in his pocket and I took it out. It was a small tape recorder,” the teenager paused for effect. “To get to the point, your father recorded the entire exchange between he and Piper Redding. I listened to it and she’s innocent. He really did commit suicide. I think without this tape, she’s going to get the death penalty or at least spend the rest of her life behind bars.” The teenager looked at Desiree closely. She had gone pale. “Now is that what you want to happen?”

“How…how do I know that you’re not lying?”

Brian shrugged. “You don’t. But ask yourself. Why would I fabricate such a story as that?”

“Where is the tape? I’d like to listen to it.”

The teenager shook his head. “No way. You scratch my back and then I’ll scratch yours.”

Desiree stared at him. A long list of unfavorable names to call him ran through her mind at that moment. “My father just died and you have the audacity to try to blackmail me?”

Brian nodded. “You hit the nail right on the head.”

The strawberry-blonde added a few more names to her list. “What do you want?”

“I think ten-thousand dollars should cover it. If you don’t have the money right now, I can wait a week or two. Piper can just sit in her cell for the time being.” He smiled again and Desiree had the urge to smack it off. Hard. Extremely hard.

“No, I have the money in the bank now. Will you take a check?”

“Sure,” the teenager began. “Of course you won’t get the tape until I take your check to the bank. I wouldn’t want to have to come back here if it bounces.” He winked at her.

Desiree bit her bottom lip hard to keep from saying anything negative. She started to walk towards the direction of her bedroom. “Please have a seat on the couch Brian. I’ll be right back with my checkbook.”

Nodding, the teenager strolled over to the couch taking a seat. He started to pick up a magazine laying on the coffee table when his eyes zeroed in on a slip of paper. Micaela Chavez. Could it be her after all of this time? Glancing behind him, Brian grabbed the piece of paper and slipped it into the back pocket of his jeans. This was his lucky day in more ways than one.

Desiree watched Brian as he sat on the couch with his back to her. She inched towards the couch holding an empty whiskey bottle in her hand. Gripping the neck of the bottle tightly, she made her way closer to him. Finally standing behind him, unbeknownst to the teenager, Desiree raised the bottle before striking down on the back of his head, successfully knocking him out and breaking the bottle in the process. She winced, hoping that she did not hit him hard enough to cause permanent damage.

Ten minutes later, the unconscious Brian was tied to a chair with a wide piece of duct tape over his mouth. Grabbing the phone, Desiree quickly dialed a number before pressing the phone to her ear. She started to pace back and forth as she listened to the phone ring. Come on. Pick up please.

“Hello?” a female voice answered.

“Valerie?”

“Desiree?”

“Well now we know who each other is,” Desiree said, nervously chuckling. “Is Taj home? It’s very important that I speak with him.”

“Sure, he’s here. I’ll get him. Hold on hon.”

Desiree heard as the phone was put down. Moments later, Taj picked it up. “Desi! It’s so good to hear your voice. How are you doing?”

“I…uh…well that’s a little difficult to say. Um…I need to see you as soon as possible.”

“What’s the matter?” Taj’s voice had grown worried.

“I think I might have evidence that Piper is innocent…” She began to tell him what Brian had said and what she had done to him.

“I’ll be right there.” That was the only thing he said before hanging up the phone.

Desiree resisted the urge to have a drink as she took a seat on the couch after cleaning up the glass, to wait for Taj’s arrival. She occasionally glanced at Brian, who didn’t move, his chin resting against his chest. A thought suddenly occurred to Desiree as she looked over at the small desk next to the front door. She remembered that she had deposited her mail there yesterday but had yet to open any of it. One of the envelopes was unmarked. Walking over to the desk, Desiree found the envelope, picking it up. It was thin except for a small bulge in the middle. It must have been another tape. Quickly opening the sealed envelope, Desiree had her thought confirmed. Inside lay a tiny tape designed for recording messages.

It was true. It had to be true. Piper was innocent. A wave of relief rolled over Desiree at the thought. Thank God, she was innocent after all. Taking the tape out of the envelope, the strawberry-blonde walked into her bedroom and searched for her tape recorder. Minutes later, she found it and slipped the tape into it before pressing the play button as she moved back into the living room to keep an eye on her captive. She heard her father’s voice as he began to speak. Taking a seat on the couch, Desiree began to listen intently.

“Desiree, I know that you probably think of me as a coward. Believe me, I feel the same way about myself. I took the easy way out and I only hope that someday you, Larisa, Richie, and Sandra will find it in your hearts to forgive me. What I did was wrong. All of it. The affair, taking that money in exchange for giving Piper Redding a long sentence…all of it. I have done some things that I am truly ashamed of and I don’t have it in me to face up to them. To show my face to the world and have those that once respected me to look down upon me. My job is to be fair, just, and honest and what it comes down to is that I’m nothing but a hypocritical coward. I’m sorry that I couldn’t be more. You all deserve better than me. I love you Desiree, and I love Larisa though she can be sassy, my son, and wife. You all mean more to me than you’ll ever know. I really am sorry for what I did.

Right now, I’m sitting in a coffee shop not far from your apartment complex. After I finish this tape, I’m going back to your sister’s house where I know Piper Redding is. I have a few things I want to say to her and you’ll all get to hear it because I’m going to be taping the whole thing so please make sure to get the tape recorder out of my pocket. I have a feeling that Redding will get blamed for this so that’s why I’m recording it. Despite what she did to you, that woman has been through enough and putting my personal feelings aside, I don’t want her to get in trouble for something that wasn’t her fault. I took my life, not her.

I can’t believe that I’m going to say this, but Desiree I want you to be happy. And though she isn’t one of my favorite people, it seems to me that Piper Redding makes you happy. I may be old but I’m not blind. I know there is more to your relationship with her then meets the eye. You have a connection with her that reminds me of the one that I shared with your mother. So, if she is what you want, then please don’t let her get away. You could do worse. I mean look at Alec (the judge chuckled). And tell your sister for me, that if she didn’t have such a big mouth, perhaps she’d find a lady friend as well. Anyone would be lucky to have her. Either of you. Though it might have seemed as though I was trying to run your lives…and I suppose that I was, I’m very proud of you girls. Well I’ll be going now. Again, I love all of you dearly. Please take care of yourself precious.”

After she picked her jaw up from the floor, Desiree shook her head at what she had just heard. She desperately wished that her father had been there at this very moment, because she would have hugged him so very tightly. Raising a hand, she wiped at the tears falling down her cheeks as she felt a deep ache for her father. Oh, Dad I love you too. You’re forgiven.

Rewinding the tape to the beginning, Desiree placed the recorder on the coffee table before getting up. She started to pace again and continued to do so until she heard the doorbell ring. Almost running over, Desiree opened the door, delighted to see that it was Taj. She gently pulled him into the apartment before closing and locking the door behind him. She indicated the teenager tied to her kitchen chair.

“Nice work little one,” Taj said, smiling like a proud father.

“Thank you,” Desiree replied. “I know he’s telling the truth now. The tape really does exist.”

The Jamaican man looked at her. “Did you find it?”

She shook her head negatively. “No, but I found another tape that my dad left stuck in my mailbox yesterday just before he went back to Larisa’s house. It was in an unmarked envelope, so I had no idea it was from him, otherwise I would have opened it yesterday. Anyway, on the tape he explains that he’s going to record the whole conversation between he and Piper. He made the tape to prove that she wasn’t guilty and that he committed suicide.”

Without a word, Taj wrapped his arms around Desiree, bringing her close to him. She hugged him back as she fought the tears that were threatening to come again. “I’m sorry about what happened little one.”

“Thank you Taj,” she replied in a quiet voice. Giving the man a squeeze, Desiree disengaged herself from his embrace, asking what they were going to do now.

Taj glanced back at Brian. “When Sleeping Beauty wakes up, we’ll ask him where he stashed the tape.”

“And you think he’ll just tell us?”

“No. That’s why I brought an incentive.”

Desiree did not get to inquire what that incentive was, because Brian chose that moment to start waking up. The pair looked at him as his head began to move slowly from side to side while he groaned. Taj took a few steps towards him as the teenager’s eyes opened. Focusing them, he stared up at Taj. The Jamaican man waved as he gave a mock friendly smile. There was no response to either.

“Would you like for me to take that off?” Taj asked, pointing towards the duct tape covering the teenager’s mouth. Brian nodded. “If I do, will you promise not to scream?” Taj was greeted with another nod. “Good.” Getting a grip on an edge of the duct tape, Taj forcefully ripped the tape off, leaving the area around the boy’s lips a bright pink. Not being able to help it, Brian yelped at the pain. “I’m sorry. Did that hurt?” Taj asked, trying to hide a grin. The teenager gave him a dirty look. “What’s your name?” The Jamaican man crossed his arms over his muscular chest.

“Brian. Brian Walker.”

Taj nodded. “Okay Brian, Brian Walker…what’s your real name?”

“That is my real name.”

Taj looked behind him at Desiree. “Little one, maybe you should go in the kitchen while I speak with your visitor.”

Desiree shook her head. “No thank you Taj. I’ll just stay right here.”

The Jamaican man nodded. “Okay. Suit yourself.” Turning back to the teenager, he abruptly backslapped him across the face. Brian’s head snapped to the side as another dirty look appeared on his face. “Care to tell me your name now?” The teenager muttered something. “I’m sorry. I didn’t catch that.”

The teen looked up at him. “I…said…my…name…is…Dennis…Farrow.”

Taj nodded. “Okay Dennis…where is the tape?”

“Where is my money?” He glanced at Desiree before returning his attention to Taj.

Not saying anything right away, Taj reached into the inside pocket of his jacket. He pulled out a revolver. Starting to whistle, the man slipped a hand into his pocket and removed a single bullet. Dennis watched, his eyes widening a bit. Opening the chamber, Taj slipped the bullet in before spinning the chamber and putting it back into place. He asked Dennis if he knew what Russian Roulette was. The teenager nodded, for the first time beginning to get nervous. He glanced at Desiree, who was looking on with a blank look on her face.

“I have a new version of Russian Roulette,” Taj exclaimed in a calm tone of voice as he pressed the barrel of the gun against Dennis’ crotch. The teenager swallowed with difficulty. “If you don’t tell me where the tape is right now, I’m going to pull the trigger. For every time that you don’t tell me, I’ll pull the trigger. Now if you don’t speak up, you might be asking me where your penis is instead of where your money is.” The barrel pressed against the teenager’s crotch more. “So where is it?” When Dennis did not say anything, Taj pulled the trigger and a clicking sound was heard. The teenager let out a relieved breath. “One down, five to go Dennis. You might as well tell me where it is, because penis or no penis you’re not getting so much as a penny.” When Dennis still declined to talk, Taj pulled the trigger again resulting in another clicking sound.

The teenager’s heart was beating wildly after that. “Okay, okay! I’ll tell you where it is. Just please get that thing off of me man!” He yelled, referring to the gun.

“I’ll take it away after you tell me. And it better be the truth. You’re not going anywhere until I hear that tape.”

“It’s right outside her door. Underneath the mat.”

Hearing him, Desiree walked over to her door. Opening it, she leaned down and pulled up her welcome mat. Sure enough, there was a tiny tape cassette lying there. Picking it up, the young woman closed the door. Taj and Dennis watched as Desiree took the other tape out of her tape recorder before placing that one in. Walking over to them, she pressed the play button. All three listened to the tape.

“Hello Redding.” There were the faint sounds of footsteps. “I’m pleased that you decided to stay here while Larisa took my son and wife to the airport. I think we need to have a little chat. What do you think?”

The judge laughed. “Well you’ve now screwed me over just like I did you, Redding. First you took my daughter as your hostage and then somehow managed to make a friend out of her. And then you make my wife leave me and my son now hates me too. I’m sure you told Desiree about my indiscretion as Larisa called it, so she most likely hates me as well. And you know what? I bet you let a lot of other people know too. Am I right?”

Though her voice was not on the tape, Piper must have nodded or something akin to that based on Richard’s next words.

“I thought so. There goes my career down the drain. So, in a nutshell I have no family and no job…because of you. Did you tell anyone about the bribe? I know you must know about that too.”

For the first time, Piper spoke up, “True, I know about it but I haven’t told anyone.”

“Why not? That’ll be even more perfect. Then you could probably send me to prison. Wouldn’t that be ironic?” Here Richard laughed again though it was void of any humor.

“So the way I figure it Redding…you should finish the job. I know you want your revenge on me…so take it.” Richard must have given her the gun at this point. Here…finish me off Redding.”

“I’m not going to shoot you.”

“Why not? You’ve taken away all that I had to live for.”

“It’s not as though you didn’t help to make that happen.”

“Aim the gun at me and then put your finger on the trigger and pull it. It’s as simple as that.”

“I won’t.” Piper sounded resolute.

“What’s the matter with you? Don’t you want me dead? I ruined your life. Sent you to prison for what? Eight…nine years? You did time while I used that money to paint my house and purchase a new car. Surely, you want to kill me. There has to be some part of you that is screaming for you to pull that trigger. Come on Redding…kill me like you did your daddy.”

“I refuse to take your life.”

“Then give me the gun back.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“No, you don’t think so?”

“That’s what I said.”

“Give me my gun now.” At this point, there was a loud crashing sound as the two on the tape sounded as though they were scuffling. There was a short scream from Piper not long before she yelled at the judge.

“What the hell are you doing?!” There were more sounds of scuffling and low groaning.

“Don’t…do…this.”

“I’m sorry.” The judge whispered this just before a gun was fired.

There was complete silence on the tape for a few seconds before Piper’s voice was heard again in a near whisper. “Oh, God. Oh, dear God…” She groaned as it sounded as though she were struggling to do something. There were footsteps after this, so she must have been getting up.

Soon Piper could be heard talking to someone, though her voice was very faint. “I don’t have to check…” Her voice grew clearer as she said, “Why don’t I? Because his eyes are open! He’s dead! This is a nightmare.”

“Okay…No, I’ll be waiting. I’m not going anywhere.” There was a small beep which must have been the phone being turned off.

More silence before Piper sighed. “Why did you do that? Why did you have to do that?” It sounded like she had started to cry. “This is all my fault…all my fault.”

There was silence after this until a knocked sounded at the door. Desiree and Taj discerned that it was the ambulance. The rest of the tape was hard to hear and soon the tape ran out. Desiree pressed the stop button as she resisted the urge to burst into tears. Never again did she want to listen to that tape. Reaching over, Taj gave her shoulder a light squeeze and she smiled at him gratefully.

“So can I go now?” Dennis asked impatiently, breaking the silence. There went the down payment for that car he wanted.

Taj looked at him shaking his head. “Nope. You’re going to the police station with us so you can explain to them how you obtained this tape and then brought it over to Desiree. You’re free to go after you do that. I never want to see your face again, you got it?” Taj gave the teenager a look that let Dennis know he was deadly serious. The youth merely nodded.

Taj turned his attention to Desiree. “Little one, we’re ready to go when you are.”

*****

The elevator doors opened and Larisa and Micaela stepped out of them. They looked around the busy office, both wondering which one of these people was the journalist they were searching for. As one young man walked passed them, Larisa stopped him, asking if he was George Stanley. By the look on her face, the man was thrilled to announce that he was not. Turning around, he pointed to the journalist’s desk where George could be seen eating a donut as he worked. Thanking the young man, Larisa and Micaela headed towards the desk.

Arriving, Larisa leaned against the journalist’s desk with the newspaper folded in her hand. She watched as George took another donut out of an almost empty pink box, having yet to see her, his eyes riveted to the computer screen. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you that too many of those things can kill you?” Startled, the journalist’s head snapped up as he looked at her. “Then again, so can people,” she said in a dangerous tone of voice.

George closed his open mouth. “Um…aren’t you Larisa Love?”

“The one and only. I have a bone to pick with you big boy.” Opening the newspaper, she slammed it down on his desk, the title staring him in the face. “Tell me…do you always write this kind of filth? Mr. Stanley, you have the appropriate skills that are needed to work at a tabloid. What are you doing wasting your time here at a respectable newspaper?”

George put his donut back in the box, his appetite suddenly gone. “Ms. Love, my article is not filth. I have never written filth. I tell it like it is.” He glanced at the gorgeous woman standing next to Larisa. She was glaring at him so he quickly looked elsewhere.

“You mean you tell it like you want it to be,” Larisa retorted. “I cannot begin to tell you how very furious I was to read this.” She stabbed a finger at the newspaper. “It’s not true. You have it completely wrong and you will fix it in tomorrow’s edition because you really don’t want to tangle with me. At the risk of sounding clichéd, I can be your worse nightmare.”

George cleared his throat. This woman sounded like she meant business. Okay, perhaps he went a little far with deeming them as lovers, but wasn’t everything else correct? “Everything is wrong?”

“Yes!” Well except for the lovers’ part, but that was none of the public’s business. “For one thing my sister did not send you that email about our father having an affair. She also didn’t have Piper kill our father. She would never do a thing like that. My sister is one of the most moralistic people that I know. And Piper did not kill our father. Yes, she was pissed with him and she had a right to be, but she would never go that far. She’s innocent. He committed suicide.”

“Then if he committed suicide why has she been arrested?”

I want to slap you so bad. “Because we don’t have any evidence to exonerate her yet, but we’ll get it.” At that instant, her cell phone rang. Reaching into her pocket, Larisa took out the small phone, answering it. Her voice sounded irritated at the intrusion. “What?!” She heard who it was. “Oh, sorry Taj…No, I’m okay. What’s up?” Her eyes widened as she listened to the man. “No way!” A triumphant smile appeared on her face, as Micaela and George looked at her, wondering what she had just been told. “That’s terrific! I’ll be right there…Okay see you soon.” Ending the call, she dropped the phone back into her pocket before turning around and throwing her arms around Micaela as she squealed in glee. Laughing, the Latina hugged her, thrilled to see Larisa so obviously happy.

“What was that all about?” Micaela asked as Larisa took a step back.

“That was my friend Taj. They have a tape that should set Piper free. Apparently, a kid found it at the morgue yesterday…his dad works there and he brought it to Desiree this morning. On the tape is the whole exchange between my father and Piper.”

Micaela appeared to be slightly confused. “You mean he recorded it?”

Larisa nodded. “Exactly! She didn’t do it! I knew she didn’t.” The woman smiled and Micaela did as well.

“That’s wonderful. So where are you going now?”

“The police station.” Larisa turned back to George who had been listening to their conversation. He had yet to decide whether to be happy or not. On the one hand, he had another story, on the other, the article he wrote yesterday turned out to be mere fabrication. That was not good for a journalist.

“Well Mr. Stanley, I’m sure that you just heard me. Piper Redding is innocent. I want you to make sure that your reader’s find that out pronto. If they don’t, and you better make it good, you’ll be slapped with a little thing I like to call a lawsuit. Are we clear?”

George nodded quickly. “I’m sorry for this.” He pointed at his article. The journalist was truly ashamed of himself. Maybe he would just resign after writing this latest article. “You and your family have my condolences Ms. Love,” the journalist stated earnestly.

Larisa nodded, knowing that he was truly sorry. “Thank you. Just get that taken care of.”

“I will.”

Larisa turned to Micaela. “You ready to roll?”

The Latina smiled. This fiery young woman was growing on her, and very quickly too. “Lead the way.”

*****

As they drove up to the police station, Larisa and Micaela spied Taj, Desiree, and Piper coming out. Taj was between the two women with an arm wrapped around both of their shoulders. Piper smiled at him as he said something. Parking the car, Larisa cut the ignition before jumping out. She waved at the trio with a smile on her face. Walking towards them, she grinned at Piper. “Hey jailbird. How’s it going?”

The blue-eyed woman stuck her tongue out at Larisa in response to the nickname. “It’s going all right. I’m very happy to have my freedom back. You and Taj said it would happen and you were both right.” She smiled.

“I’m always right,” Larisa replied, grinning.

“And modest too,” Taj added, chuckling.

Larisa winked at him. “That’s me.” She looked at her sister wondering if everything was all right between them now. “Hi Desi.”

Desiree smiled as she walked over to her sister, wrapping her arms around the woman, assuring her that everything was fine. Larisa hugged her back tightly. “I love you sis.” Desiree’s eyebrows raised high. It wasn’t very often that she heard those words out of her sister’s mouth.

“I love you too Risa.”

“This is truly a Kodak moment,” Taj inserted, causing everyone to laugh.

Moving over to her, Larisa wrapped an arm around Micaela’s waist. “Taj, I want you to meet my new friend here. Her name is Micaela.”

Taj gave Micaela a welcoming smile as he shook her hand. He thought back to yesterday when Larisa gave him this woman’s license plate in the hopes that he could locate where she lived using it. The Jamaican man started to mention it, but knew that he would most likely have to listen to Larisa’s mouth later if he did. So instead he just said, “It’s nice to meet you Micaela.”

She smiled at him. “Likewise Taj.”

“Say, why don’t we all go get some breakfast. My treat,” Taj offered.

“Well Micaela and I have already-”

“Oh! I need to check on him,” Micaela said, interrupting Larisa. She glanced between Desiree and Piper. She could be wrong but there seemed to be an abundance of tension there. The Latina had an idea. Turning to Larisa, she asked the woman if she could use her phone. Taking her cell phone out of her pocket, she handed it to Micaela, with a questioning look upon her face. Micaela began to walk away with the phone in hand. About fifteen feet away she called Larisa over, exclaiming that she did not know how to work it.

Wearing a curious expression, Larisa walked over to her. She was about to show Micaela how to use the phone when the Latina began to speak in hush tones. “I think we should give Desiree and Piper a little time alone together if you know what I mean. They should go to breakfast together without the rest of us. Maybe then they’ll began to talk and work through this so that they can mend their relationship.”

Larisa nodded, grinning. “I like the way that you think. Okay, how do we do this?”

“Just follow my lead,” Micaela replied. “Now I want you to go back over to them while I pretend that I’m talking on the phone.” She then pretended as though she was dialing a number before putting the phone to her ear. Following orders, Larisa jaunted back to where Taj, Desiree, and Piper were standing. Moments later, Micaela joined the small group. “Darn, I’m sorry. I can’t go to breakfast with you all.” She handed the cell phone back to Larisa. “My son isn’t feeling well, so I should be going home.” She looked at Larisa. “Sweetie, I know you probably want to spend time with your sister, so Taj, would you mind terribly taking me home? I’ll be willing to pay you. I don’t live far from here.”

Before Taj could say anything, Larisa did. “Actually, I can’t go either. I have a bar mitzvah that I’m catering to and I need to plan for that.” She looked at Taj. “So how about this? You drop Micaela off and then take me to work. I’ll even buy you an Egg McMuffin on the way. That way, if you take Micaela and I, then Piper and Desi can take my car. And then Desi could pick me up later.”

Taj raised an eyebrow. Hmm. An Egg McMuffin or a stack of buttermilk pancakes at the IHOP. Who in their right mind would pick the former? Now he could have suggested that Larisa just take her own car and drive Micaela home before heading to work, while he, Piper and Desiree went to breakfast but Taj kept his mouth shut. He knew that they were up to something. Larisa and Micaela wanted Piper and Desiree to be alone. Well he thought that it was a grand idea, so Taj decided to go along with it.

“Throw in a hashbrowns and you’ve got a deal.”

Larisa tucked her tongue against the inside of her cheek as she pretended to think before nodding. “You drive a hard bargain Mr. Potter, but it’s a deal.” She grinned at him and he grinned back. Fishing her keys out of her pocket, Larisa tossed them to Desiree. “Take care of my baby.”

“Wait a minute,” Desiree started, looking at her sister. “Why can’t you just drop Micaela off in your car and then go to work while the rest of us go to breakfast?” Desiree had grown suspicious. This resembled a set up.

“That won’t work because I just remembered that I have plans with Valerie. We’re supposed to go shopping for plates.”

Desiree arched an eyebrow. Was that the best he could do? “Plates?”

Taj nodded. “Yes, for the wedding. I can’t believe it slipped my mind. She’d kill me if I were late.” He glanced at his watch before looking at Micaela and Larisa. “Say ladies, we better get a move on. I have to be there by eleven -thirty.” Snapping his fingers, he then took his wallet out of his back pocket. Extracting some money from it, he handed it to Desiree. “That’s for breakfast. I know Piper doesn’t have any money.” He grinned at Piper receiving a smirk in return. “And I don’t expect for you to pay. Plus, breakfast is supposed to be on me.” When Desiree started to argue, trying to give the money back, Taj shook his head, not wanting to hear it. Finally, the young woman gave up as she pushed the money into her pocket, thanking him in the process. Piper did the same.

“You and Valerie made up?” Larisa asked, smiling. “Well that’s terrific news.”

Taj nodded with a smile on his face. “Yes, indeed. I called her up last night and explained everything to her. So we better get going.” He turned to Desiree and Piper, hugging them both. “I’ll talk with you lovely ladies later.”

All three waved as they began to move away, heading towards Taj’s car. Desiree and Piper stood there silently watching them until they got in the car and sped out of the parking lot. The strawberry-blonde then turned to Piper. “Well…I suppose we should go too. Where would you like to eat?”

“Anywhere,” Piper replied, smiling down at the woman, glad to be alone with her now. “I don’t mind where we eat.” As long as I’m with you.

Desiree started towards her sister’s car with Piper in tow. “I know a café near my apartment that we could go to. After that, we could go to my place and you can pick up your belongings. I packed them for you.”

Piper nodded. So, she still wanted her to leave. “Okay.”

Soon the two were headed down the street. Not being able to stand the silence between them, Piper asked if she could turn on the radio. When she received a nod, she reached over and switched it on. LeAnn Rimes was currently singing her song How Do I Live. Piper thought about changing the station, but decided against it. The song was appropriate. She listened as she stared out of the window at the passing objects and people.

And tell me now How do I live without you? I want to know, How do I breathe without you? If you ever go, How do I ever, ever survive? How do I, how do I, oh how do I live?

Without you, There’d be no sun in my sky, There would be no love in my life, There’d be no world left for me. And I, Baby I don’t know what I would do, I’d be lost if I lost you
If you ever leave, Baby you would take away everything real in my life…

Looking around to Desiree, the blue-eyed woman studied her for a few moments, wishing that she could take Desiree in her arms and never let go. Piper had a feeling that whatever the two of them had shared was truly over now. She put the blame solely on herself. Why couldn’t I have just left well enough alone? Feeling eyes upon her, Desiree glanced over to Piper. She smiled albeit it was a strained one.

Piper inwardly sighed. She doesn’t even want to be around me. “Thank you,” she said out loud, breaking the silence.

Stopping for a red light, Desiree looked at her again. “What did I do?”

“For bringing me the clothes.” Piper indicated the blue jeans and sweater, which matched her eyes perfectly, that she was wearing.

“Oh, that.” Desiree nodded. “That was Taj’s idea. He figured that you didn’t have anything to wear.”

“Ah, well I’ll have to thank him then.” Piper tried to smile before returning her gaze to the passenger side window as the car began to move again. Was it just her imagination or was this situation becoming chillier as time progressed?

Soon Desiree turned into the small parking lot of a café. Since there were only three other cars, it was easy to find a parking space. In the hopes of making Desiree laugh, Piper jokingly inquired if the food here was bad. Getting out of the car, the strawberry-blonde let out a small chuckle as she explained that the food was terrific, but there were never many customers since this café was not well known.

When they walked up to the entrance to the restaurant, Piper sought to be a true gentlewoman as she pulled the door open for Desiree. Thanking her, the younger woman walked in, Piper following along behind her. Since the restaurant was far from being crowded, the two women were quickly shown to a table and presented with menus. After having decided what they wanted, they each ordered their meals, both choosing to have pancakes. As Desiree sipped from a cup of hot coffee, Piper stared out of the window their table was near.

“I’m sorry,” Desiree suddenly stated, ending the heavy silence between them. Piper’s eyes fell on her, but the dark-haired woman chose to keep her mouth shut. Desiree went on, “I’m sorry for not believing in your innocence. No matter what has happened between us, I think that you’ve always been honest with me, though every time something happens, I doubt you. And that’s not right.”

The dark-haired woman shook her head, not agreeing. “You were justified Desi. I don’t blame you for not believing me. Back at the cabin and after what occurred yesterday, I looked guilty.”

“But Taj and Larisa believed in you,” Desiree replied softly as she looked down at her cup of coffee, feeling ashamed.

Piper softly smiled. “Well that’s probably because they knew me way back when.” Not being able to stop herself, Piper reached across the table and covered one of Desiree’s hands with her own causing the younger woman to look up at her again. “Desi, don’t beat yourself up about this. I’m the one who should be apologizing. I know I’ve disappointed you…more than once, and I’ll never be able to forgive myself for that. The last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt you baby,” she softly finished.

Blinking away tears, Desiree gently removed her hand from under Piper’s and placed it around the cup of coffee, bringing it to her lips and taking a sip. Placing the cup back on the table, Desiree waited until her heartbeat returned to its normal pace before looking at Piper again. The touch of her hand combined with the words she spoke affected Desiree more than she cared for them to. It was time for a subject change and the strawberry-blonde had something she needed to tell Piper about.

“Piper…there is something that I think you should know about.”

“What’s that?” Piper placed both of her hands in her lap, inwardly sighing again. Desiree could not even stand for her to touch her. She must have been disgusted. I really screwed up this time.

Lifting the coffee to her lips, Desiree took another sip before beginning. “It’s about your mother.”

A look of surprise appeared on the dark-haired woman’s face. “What about her?”

“She didn’t leave you,” Desiree gently replied. “Not on purpose.”

“What do you mean?” At that moment, the waitress brought their food over. After she left, Piper continued, “My mother killed herself while I was in prison. She even had a suicide note.”

Desiree nodded. “Yes, she did have a suicide note but she was forced into writing it.” At Piper’s confused look she went on, “When I was at the cabin and your bro- Victor arrived, he told me that he went to see Marie and he made her write that suicide note and then he had her kill herself. He said that if she didn’t do it that something would happen to you while you were in prison. She killed herself to protect you. I would have told you before, but I didn’t know how to, but I finally decided that you have a right to know no matter how painful it may be,” she paused gathering her thoughts. “In a way this might be better because you now know that Marie didn’t leave you on her own.” A tear fell down her cheek as she said in a faint voice, “She didn’t do what my father did.”

Piper closed her eyes momentarily, as Desiree’s words sunk in. If Victor was not already dead, she would have tracked him down and ended his life slowly and very painfully. Piper felt her heart wrench. Her mother had been taken away from her and it hurt more than she could put into words. Marie was practically the last family member that she had left and if it were not for Victor, perhaps she would still be alive today.

Looking at Desiree, Piper noticed the sadness in her blue-green eyes. Her father had committed suicide, and had it not been for Piper’s need for revenge, then the judge would still be alive as well. Sometimes people did not give thought to the consequences that their actions could bring about.

“Maybe we should get out of here,” Piper said as she glanced down at her plate, failing to notice the delicious aroma. “I suddenly don’t feel very hungry. What about you?”

Desiree shook her head. “Neither do I.” She hated to waste the food though. “I’ll get a doggy bag.” Signaling the waitress, the strawberry-blonde asked for two doggy bags and the check. While they waited for both, Desiree finished the last of her coffee as Piper took a couple of sips from her glass of milk.

“Thank you,” the dark-haired woman said. At Desiree’s questioning look, she explained. “I mean thank you for telling me about my mother. I know that it must have been difficult for you to tell me the truth about what really happened.”

Before Desiree could offer a reply, the waitress arrived with two Styrofoam square boxes and the check. Desiree and Piper began to transfer the food on their plates to the boxes. The dark-haired woman commented that it was an awful lot of food on the plates.
“I’ll give Tobias my scrambled eggs,” Desiree said as she closed her box and then fished in her pocket for the money Taj had given her earlier for breakfast. “I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand re-heated eggs.”

Piper chuckled. “Furball eats scrambled eggs? No wonder he’s so fat. Fat and spoiled.”

Picking up an orange wedge laying on her plate, Desiree tossed it at the other woman. Piper was able to successfully dodge it as she continued to chuckle. Desiree joined in. “What did I tell you Piper? He’s not fat just-”

The other woman nodded, a smile playing on her lips as she rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. He’s just big-boned. You know, de Nile just ain’t a river in Egypt, Desi.”

Her ribbing earned her the flash of a tongue.

*****

He winced as he touched the bruise on his cheek. So he was unable to get ten thousand dollars, but Dennis was not going to let that continue to bother him. He had obtained something that was a complete surprise, so it wasn’t a total waste of time. He picked up the piece of paper with Micaela Chavez’s phone number and address on it. Dennis grinned, knowing that he was about to make someone a very happy camper. He thought back to when he was at the police station. He was waiting for the taxi he had called to pick him when he saw her drive up with Larisa Love. She looked as good as he remembered. Actually, Micaela looked even more beautiful. What a very small world it was after all.

Grinning, Dennis moved so that he was sitting on the side of his bed. Picking up the phone, he called a number that he had on speed dial. He immediately recognized the rich southern accent of the person who answered. “Hey Uncle Clint! How’re you doing?”

“Denny?” Clint said in surprise. It had been a couple years since he had heard from his nephew. The boy’s father did not want his son around the man and Clint’s sister agreed with her husband wholeheartedly. “Hi there! I’m doing pretty good. How are things going with you? It’s great to hear your voice.”

“Oh, I can’t complain. Listen, I have some information that I think you would wanna hear.”

“What’s that?”

“Remember Mickey?”

There was a slight pause on the other end of the line. “Of course I do. That ungrateful twit shot me twice in the chest and then left me for dead, stealing some of my money. How could I ever forget her?” Clint felt the anger rising at the thought of that woman.

“Well guess what uncle? I found her.” The teenager grinned like the cat that ate the canary.

There was such a long pause, that Dennis started to think that his uncle might have fainted after hearing his good news. Finally, the man bewilderingly said, “Bull…”

Dennis’ grinned widened. “No bull.” He picked up the paper. “I’m looking at her address right now.”

“Where is she? Are you sure it’s her?” Three years ago Clint had looked for months but was not able to find any leads to where Micaela could have disappeared to.

“She’s right here in Los Angeles, California. And yes, I’m sure it’s her because I saw her. But don’t worry ’cause she didn’t see me. Though, she probably wouldn’t recognize me anyway.”

Dennis on the other hand could never forget her. He was fourteen years old the summer he went to visit his uncle. It was the last time he was permitted to go there. From the first moment he laid eyes on Micaela, he could not get his mind off of her. His uncle noticed the boy ogling his girlfriend and one night arranged for them to be “properly introduced.” Dennis could not believe his luck. He was going to lose his virginity and to a woman who was a goddess. Micaela however, protested the whole time. In fact, Clint had to tie her up and stuff a gag in her mouth since she was squirming around on the bed and screaming so loud. Despite her unwillingness, Dennis had enjoyed himself thoroughly.

“Well,” Clint grinned into the phone, “I guess I’ll just have to pay my ex-lover a little visit soon.”

*****

Desiree closed the door as she and Piper entered the apartment. Tossing her keys on the table next to the door, Desiree asked the other woman if she would like anything to drink. Wanting to prolong this for as long as was possible, Piper asked for a cup of hot chocolate. The strawberry-blonde indicated for her to have a seat on the couch as she walked into the kitchen to make the drink, a plastic bag in her hand containing their doggy bags from the cafe.

Plopping down on the couch, Piper stretched her long legs out before her. A moment later, she heard a soft meow and looked to her left where Tobias had jumped onto the arm of the couch. He was staring at her intently and Piper could swear he looked annoyed by her presence. She chuckled. “Don’t worry furball. I’m not staying.” Her chuckling ceased as she admitted that, a tinge of sadness in her voice. After the drink, she would have to go. The question that kept running through her mind was when would she be able to see Desiree again. Would she be able to see her again or was this it?

Piper looked at Tobias again. He was still staring at her, now with an ‘unreadable’ expression on his furry face. The woman shook her head as she arose from the couch. “Hey, furball would you like some eggs?” The cat meowed. “I’ll take that as a yes.” Piper headed towards the kitchen.

Standing at the entrance, she studied Desiree as she stood at the kitchen sink looking out of the window with a mug in her hand. She seemed to be daydreaming and did not notice as Piper walked towards her, standing directly behind her. The blue-eyed woman put her hands on Desiree’s shoulders and the young woman still did not budge. Her eyes remained unblinking as she stared out of the window.

“Hey you,” Piper said softly, close to Desiree’s ear, “what are you thinking about?”

The strawberry-blonde accidentally dropped the mug into the sink when she felt Piper’s warm breath against her ear. Placing her hands on the edge of the sink, she leaned back a little, drawing comfort from Piper’s nearness. She quickly decided that she would just stand there for a few seconds and then move.

“Just…um…everything.” Desiree rested the back of her head on Piper’s chest as the woman gave her shoulders a squeeze.

“Everything, hmm?” Piper kissed the top of Desiree’s head, taking in the scent of her hair. Her hands slid down the other woman’s arms before she wrapped them around Desiree’s waist.

Desiree nodded, beginning to feel a bit flushed. Piper’s closeness was starting to have an effect on her and she knew that the smart thing to do would be to move. However, the strawberry-blonde stayed right where she was. She then felt Piper’s soft warm lips on the side of her neck before the woman whispered in her ear. “I’ve missed you baby.” She pulled Desiree back into her more as she kissed her neck again. “I’ve missed you so much.”

Piper turned Desiree around and gazed into her eyes as she cupped her face between her hands. Desiree gazed back at her, knowing that she should stop this before it went any further, but it was as though Piper had put her under a spell that she just could not shake. Leaning down, Piper gently captured her lips with her own. Wrapping her arms around the taller woman’s neck, Desiree kissed her back, increasing the pressure of their lips a bit. She softly moaned as Piper caressed her lips with the tip of her tongue. Wanting more, Desiree parted her lips causing Piper to enter her mouth, her tongue beginning to duel with Desiree’s. The two women prolonged the kiss for as long as they could without breaking for air. When Piper started to kiss her again, Desiree gently pushed her away as she shook her head, her face completely red.

“I…can’t,” Desiree managed to say as she attempted to catch her breath. “We can’t do this…not anymore.”

Piper hooked her thumbs into the pockets of her jeans. “By anymore do you mean never again?”

The younger woman nodded. “Yes.”

“Why not?” I love you…I need you…I want you.

Desiree leaned against the sink with her arms crossed over her chest. “Because…”

Piper waited for her to go on but Desiree did not offer anything else. “Because what?” the dark-haired woman asked in a quiet voice.

“Because…I’m afraid of you,” Desiree admitted, though her words could barely be heard she uttered them so softly. She saw the look of pain and hurt that crossed Piper’s face before it vanished. “I’m sorry Piper, I just can’t…I just can’t give us another try because I’ll constantly be worrying if you’re going to pull something else in the future. Most of the time you can be so sweet and charming, and yet there are those occasions when I see another side of you that frightens me. Like yesterday morning, you scared me so badly. You had a right to be upset, but you were so cold and malicious. I don’t want to see that side of you again.”

Piper adamantly shook her head. “Baby you won’t. I promise you that. I’ve learned my lesson and I will never behave that way again.” She knew that she was begging, but Piper could not help herself. She wanted to be with this woman more than anything. She was one step away from collapsing to her knees and begging for another chance.

“I can’t do it Piper.” Desiree shrugged. “Call me a coward, but I really don’t have the energy. I care about you…but I can’t be with you.”

“Give me a chance to prove myself.” Piper felt as though she were hanging on to a rope for dear life, yet she sensed that it was about to unravel.

“You did what you had to do yesterday morning, and now I’m doing what I have to do. And that is let you go.” Desiree felt a knot forming in her throat. She was desperately trying not to cry but was quickly losing the battle.

“What if I don’t wanna be let go?”

“You don’t have a choice in the matter Piper,” Desiree replied in a near whisper.

Placing her hands on her hips, Piper slowly shook her head. “I think that you are making the biggest mistake of your life,” she said in a quiet voice. When Desiree did not comment on her words, she went on, “Desi, you would be a fool to let me walk out of that door and out of your life because despite the ass that I have been, you and I should be together. I know in my heart,” reaching up, Piper placed a hand over her chest, “that you and I were made for each other. My life was so barren and lonely before you entered it and made it so much better. You’ve made me happier in the short time that we have known one another, then all the positive moments in my life combined.” Her eyes became glassy as the tears threatened to spill, “And now you want to throw it all away. I realize that I have to rebuild your trust in me…give me the chance to because I know that I can change for the better. With you by my side I can do anything.”

Desiree did not trust herself to speak, so she merely shook her head. She could not take the chance of anything like this happening again. A relationship with Piper was not a risk that she was willing to take.

Piper nodded as she bit her lower lip. “So that’s it, huh? You’re just gonna give up on me…on something that had the potential to be so wonderful…so special. Well years from now you’re going to look back on this and wish that you’d given me a chance to prove myself…my love to you. Whether you choose to believe it or not you’re going to kick yourself for letting me walk out of that door and out of your life forever, because that is exactly what I’m going to do when my feet touch your threshold. I’m gone. Forever,” Piper enunciated the syllables of the last word while wondering if her words were having their desired effect on the other woman. “I have caused you to feel more alive than you have ever felt in your entire life Desiree, and you can’t deny that.” Taking a step towards the strawberry-blonde, Piper looked her straight in the eyes. “Now tell me you want me to go. Tell me you want me out of your life and I’ll leave. You won’t ever have to see me again.”

Desiree just stared at her not saying anything until she finally moved around the woman and briskly walked out of the kitchen on her way to the bedroom. When she came out of her bedroom moments later, she found Piper leaning against the wall next to the front door. Walking up to her, Desiree handed the woman a duffel bag explaining that her belongings were inside.

“I’m still waiting,” Piper stated quietly already knowing what was about to happen.

Desiree swallowed, feeling a small lump in her throat. This was harder to do than she had ever dreamed it would be. “Go,” she finally was able to whisper.

Opening the door, Piper walked out, not bothering to close it as she headed towards the elevator, tears falling down her face. After watching her walk down the hall for a few seconds, Desiree placed her hands on the door and pushed it closed gently, before she pressed her forehead to the door as she allowed the tears to come. Never before had she ever felt such anguish.
CHAPTER 12
With her eyes closed, she gritted her teeth at the sound of loud crunching near her ear. She had had just about all she could handle. Opening her eyes, Desiree looked over at her sister with an annoyed expression plainly written on her face. “Will you please eat your nuts more quietly or just move to a vacant seat? Some of us are trying to get some rest.”

Larisa cocked her head to the side as she gazed back at her sister curiously. “You know what I’m wondering?”

“Not really,” Desiree retorted testily.

The other woman smirked. “Well I’ll tell you anyway. I’m wondering when was the exact moment that you decided to become a…oh how should I put this? Ah, I know. A female of the canine persuasion.”

“That was when I decided that I wanted to be more like you because I so admire your smart-ass remarks.”

Larisa laughed good-naturedly as she tossed another peanut into her mouth, working on the fourth bag. “Nice one sis.”

Desiree turned her head, looking out of the small window at the land far below, which seemed so small from this altitude. “Thank you. I’m thrilled that you approve,” she replied, not sounding thrilled in the least. The two sat in silence, both women lost in their own thoughts before Desiree let out a long sigh as she turned to her sister. “I’m sorry,” she stated in a quiet voice. “I know that I’ve been difficult to deal with this past week. I don’t know how you, Richie, and Mom put up with me. It’s just been hard to be pleasant when all I feel like doing is climbing into bed and boohooing.”

Placing a hand over Desiree’s, Larisa gave it a squeeze. “It’s okay Desi. I understand perfectly. Mother, Richie, and I love you and we’re all trying to work through this. In times like these, it is highly common to feel anger. I’ve felt that way too. I’m pissed off. I’m pissed off because Father chose to die rather than deal with people confronting him about his past. I’m pissed off that he left our mother a widow and his children without a father, though we’re all grown…well except for that baby who will probably never know who his or her father was,” Larisa paused, “And I’m pissed off at you.”

Desiree looked at her sister. “Me? Why? Because of the way that I’ve been behaving as of late?”

Larisa shook her head. “No, because you blew off the love of your life.”

The strawberry-blonde turned her attention back to the window as though she was putting an end to this discussion before it ever really got the chance to get started, but Larisa was not having it. “We should talk about this.”

“No we shouldn’t,” Desiree replied in a stubborn tone of voice.

“Allow me to rephrase that. We’re going to talk about this.”

Desiree turned back towards her sister, unable to suppress a glare. “What are you doing? Trying to fix my relationship with Piper? For the life of me, I can’t figure out why you would want to do such a thing.”

“And why is that?” Raising the bag to her mouth, Larisa polished off the small bag of peanuts.

“Well since Piper and I are no longer together, seems like you would want to move on in. After all, the two of you did have a relationship years ago. It all makes perfect sense now. The looks you’ve given her…you still love Piper don’t you?” Desiree stared at her sister intently, waiting for an answer.

“Yes, I do,” Larisa admitted softly. “I do love her and a part of me always will, but I have no plans to make a move on her as you put it. You and she should be together. What Piper and I shared was over long ago, and I’ve come to accept that.”

“What she and I shared is over too.”

“You’re making a terribly big mistake Desi.”

Desiree stared at her sister with a look of surprise. “Piper said the same thing to me last week. What? Do the two of you share a brain or something?” Desiree gave a momentary pause as Larisa smirked. “Listen, if I’m making a mistake then allow me to make it. I’m a big girl and I’m fully capable of making my own decisions. Play matchmaker with someone else, okay? Better yet, stay out of everyone else’s business and mind your own.”

Larisa chuckled, being highly amused, which caused Desiree to scowl at her. “Look at my little sister. Trying to acquire an attitude.”

Desiree unbuckled her seat belt and started to rise when her sister gently yet firmly pushed her back into the seat, asking where she was going. “I’m going to find another place to sit and if I can’t find one, I’d rather stay in the tiny restroom until we get ready to land, then sit here and put up with you.”

Larisa concealed another chuckle. “I’m sorry.” At Desiree’s disbelieving look she went on, “I really am. I shouldn’t be teasing you.” She smiled. “You’re just so cute when you become indignant.”

The strawberry-blonde shook her head, though there was a faint smile on her lips. Big sisters could be such a pain sometimes. For one thing, they think they knew everything and for another, they often attempted to run your life. Desiree would not give up hers for anything in this world.

Larisa grinned as she looked at her sibling. “I know, I know. You’ve just got to love me.”

Leaning towards her, Desiree kissed her sister on the cheek. “You drive me crazy sometimes, but I love you all the same.”

“Yes, I know you do kid.” Larisa winked at her as she wrapped an arm around Desiree’s shoulders. “Now, back to Piper.”

“Larisa…”

“Okay, okay,” the older woman said quickly. “I’ll drop it.” She smiled to herself. For now anyway.

*****

After knocking on the door, Larisa stood on the threshold waiting for someone to answer. Moments later, the door opened to reveal Taj. He smiled at her as he drew her into a tender hug. She returned the warm embrace with a smile on her face. Releasing her, Taj invited Larisa inside before closing the door behind her.

“It’s good to see you back Larisa,” Taj earnestly admitted. “How did everything go in San Francisco?”

“Everything went well,” Larisa replied while desperately wanting to forget that the last week ever happened. “It was a nice service.” She decided to change the subject, not wanting to elaborate. “How are you and Valerie doing?” She smiled at Taj. “Set a date for the wedding yet?”

Taj chuckled. “We’re great. We don’t have a date as of yet, but when we do you’ll be the first to know.”

Larisa smiled. “I feel privileged.” She looked around the quiet living room. “Are you the only one home?”

The Jamaican man nodded. “Yes, besides Tobias. By the way, he was an exceptional guest.” Taj smiled. “Please tell Desi that he is welcome here anytime. Leroy went to lunch with some friends and Val and Pippy are at work.”
Larisa chuckled. “I’ll be sure to do that. So Piper got a job, huh?”

Taj nodded, looking proud as he replied, “Yes, she did. A few days ago, she gained employment. She’s working at a restaurant, which is in walking distance from here. That works in Pippy’s favor since she doesn’t have a car.” Reaching into his pocket, Taj removed a business card that he handed to Larisa. It displayed the address and phone number of the restaurant that Piper worked for.

Quickly reading the small card, Larisa tucked it into her pocket. She recognized the place instantly. Having been there a few times, Larisa knew that it was one of the trendiest restaurants this side of Los Angeles. Way to go Piper, she thought to herself. “How is she doing?” Larisa asked Taj.

He shook his head. “She’s trying to act like everything is peachy-king but I know better. She misses Desiree like crazy though she won’t admit it.”

Larisa sighed. “Women.”

Taj grinned at her. “So are you here to pick up Tobias?”

She nodded. “Yep. First thing Desiree asked when we arrived in town this morning was if I’d come over here to pick up her ‘son’. I started to tell her to come get him herself, but I’ve been pushing her buttons a lot lately so I thought she might finally go over the edge and give me a swift butt kicking.” Larisa laughed.

“Maybe that’s just what you need.” Taj laughed as he headed towards the stairs. “I’ll be right back.”

*****

Pulling up to the restaurant, Larisa cut off the ignition before turning to her passenger, who was sitting in a cage big enough for a full-grown Great Dane in the back seat. “I’ll only be in here for a few minutes little buddy. You hang tight, okay?” Granting her with an ‘as if I have any choice’ expression, Tobias lay down and wearily closed his eyes. He couldn’t wait to get out of this prison, which the human’s insisted he be in for no good reason. This was simply cruel and unusual punishment.

Ignorant to her ‘captive’s’ internal musings, Larisa exited the car and strolled towards the entrance of the restaurant. On walking inside, she noticed people milling around waiting to be seated at their tables. Walking up to the hostess, Larisa asked if she could speak with Piper Redding. The hostess went to the kitchen and soon returned with Piper walking closely behind her. Larisa checked her out as she approached. The tall woman was wearing a pair of black slacks and a white short-sleeved shirt with a black kerchief tied on her head, which made her look like a gorgeous pirate. Over her shoulder was thrown a once pristine white apron, which was laden with stains, but Piper was completely spotless except for a couple of small stains that were visible on her cast.
“Hi,” the woman said in her husky voice as she neared Larisa. “Glad to see you got back to L.A. safely.”

Larisa smiled. “Thanks. How are you?” She was chagrined to feel that old familiar tenseness between them.

“I’m doing all right,” Piper replied, lying through her pearly white teeth. It was difficult to make it through each day, but she kept trudging on. “Can’t complain. How are you? And your sister?”

“Us Love girls are hanging in there,” Larisa replied, smiling again. “I know you probably should be getting back to work, but I just wanted to ask you if we could talk later. I could pack us a picnic basket and we could go to the beach or somewhere. I’d like the chance to clear the air between us.”

Piper nodded. “I do owe you a talk so sure. That’s fine. You want to pick me up at Taj’s? My shift ends at four o’clock.”

“I’ll pick you up at five then?”

“Sounds good,” Piper replied. “I’ll see you later then. Gotta get back to the kitchen. I have a duck in the oven.” She winked as she waved at Larisa before turning and hurrying towards the kitchen.

Larisa waved back and watched as she left, attempting to keep her eyes off of the other woman’s derriere in those pants that fit her so very well. I am so very very naughty, she thought as she turned around and headed out of the restaurant. Glancing at her watch, Larisa started to think about Micaela. Taking out her cell phone, she paged the woman before making her way to the car. As soon as she was settled in and ready to start the car, her cell rang.

“Hello?”

“You paged me,” Micaela said in a cheerfully warm voice.

A delightful smile spread across Larisa’s lips. “Yes, I did. What time is your lunch break?”

“One o’clock.”

Glancing at her watch, Larisa saw that it was twenty-five minutes to one. If she hurried, she could make it to the mall in time to pick Micaela up. “I have an idea…why don’t I take you out to lunch?”

The Latina smiled into the phone. “Chinese?”

“You’ve got it babe.”

“You’re on.”

*****

After searching the beach for the perfect spot, Larisa finally settled on a place near the water. She and Piper spread out the blanket they brought with them before settling on it. Larisa looked around, noticing that there were few others on the beach at this time of day. It was almost as though she and Piper had the beach all to themselves. Opening the picnic basket, she took removed a couple of sandwiches, a can of Pringles potato chips, a container filled with freshly cut carrots and celery, two bowls of fruit salad, and a couple of ice cold cans of soda.

Piper admired the spread, her stomach starting to growl. She suddenly realized that she was hungry, having not eaten anything all day. Ironic, since she worked in a kitchen. “Everything looks so good,” she said to the other woman.

Larisa’s eyes trailed over Piper in her khaki pants and navy blue tank top that showed the feminine muscles in her upper arms. Indeed, everything did look quite good. Opening her soda, Larisa took a long swallow before replying. “Thanks Piper. I’d hoped you’d like it.”

Blue eyes peered into hers. “I do. Thanks for this. I needed it.” Piper glanced around their surroundings. “It’s so peaceful here. I should get to the beach more often. I haven’t been since Jamaica.”

“That’s what I wanted to speak with you about,” Larisa started as she opened the Pringles and handed Piper a sandwich encased in Saran wrap. Larisa picked up her own sandwich and started to peel back the plastic. “I wasn’t honest with you when we broke up all those years ago.”

Removing the plastic from her sandwich, Piper took a big bite out of it as she silently waited for the other woman to continue. Unbidden, the memory of that dreadful day entered her mind. You know what? You’re really pathetic. Sitting there crying like the baby that you are. Frankly, I don’t now what I ever saw in you. You may have the body of twenty-five year old but you’ve got the mentality of a child. Piper shook her head to clear it of the memories that had caused her such pain.

“The truth is,” Larisa went on, “I was just scared.”

The other woman looked at her. Had Desiree not said that same thing to her last week? “Scared? Did I somehow scare you Larisa?”

“No.” Larisa shook her head. “I don’t mean that I was scared of you. No, I adored you,” she said softly. “I was frightened of what my parents might think of my having a relationship with a woman. Back then I was not ready to deal with any hostility that they might have about it so instead of being brave and telling them the truth, I let you go. You were my true love but I was afraid of my father’s resentment. Breaking up with you might have been the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do. I never wanted to lose you Piper, but I was too afraid to keep you.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me this years ago?”

“What would you have said…done?” Larisa asked.

“I never would have let you go,” the blue eyed woman replied with confidence. “I would have found some way to persuade you into staying with me.”

Larisa placed her sandwich on the blanket as she looked down at it. “I’m sorry that I said all of those horrible things to you. I didn’t mean any of it. It was tearing me up inside to see the pain that was evident in your eyes, but I had to make sure that you wouldn’t try to win me back.” She glanced across at Piper who was watching her intently. “I had to cause you to hate me in the hopes that you would get over me more quickly if you did.”

Growing thoughtful, Piper didn’t respond right away. “I’m not sure whether I should thank you or not.”

“Thank me?” Of all the responses that she could give, Larisa never expected Piper to bestow gratitude upon her.

“Yes,” Piper replied while nodding. “If you’d been honest in the first place, then you and I might still be together…though on second thought perhaps we wouldn’t have been because I probably still would have went to prison.”

“I would have waited for you,” Larisa quickly interjected, knowing that it was the truth.

Piper grew momentarily speechless at the declaration. “Well…in that case we probably would have been. And Desiree never would have had to endure the pain and heartache that I put her through. You’re father undoubtedly would still be alive,” she paused. “On the other hand, I never would have taken your sister hostage and fallen in love with her. Despite everything, I’m glad that I did because she means everything to me. I love her more than I thought it was humanly possible to love. So I suppose that I should thank you.”

Larisa swallowed hard as she tried to muster up a smile. “Anytime,” she said in a light-hearted voice. “So…are we okay? I won’t say that I never meant to hurt you because that was the whole point, but I’m awfully sorry that I did.”

Piper playfully punched her in the arm. “We’re more than okay.” She smiled at Larisa, causing the other woman to smile back. “Now let’s eat.”

The two women began to dig into the food. “Hey Piper I just had a thought.”

“What’s that?” The blue-eyed woman picked up a carrot and began to munch on it.

“Though you would have been with me had things been different, you still would have met Desiree.”

Piper nodded as she finished off the carrot before verbally answering, “True.”

Larisa smiled. “So you know what I think? You two still would have ended up together. I have a feeling that somehow it would have happened anyway.”

The other woman wore a thoughtful look. “Hm, you might be right about that. Though I would have fought hard to remain faithful to you, Desiree probably would have seduced me before long.” Piper started to grin mischievously and ducked as Larisa tossed a piece of celery at her.

*****

She stood on the beach as the sweet summer wind blew gently in her face. She closed her eyes as the breeze caressed her body much like a lover would do. In her mind, she imagined that her lover was here. That her lover was touching and caressing her body, taking her to heights that she had never before known. The touch of those soft inviting lips on hers, the feel of those arms wrapped so tightly around her waist…she yearned it…craved it. Why had her lover traveled so far away? And would she ever return?

Highlighting the whole paragraph, Desiree stabbed the delete button with her index finger as she shook her head. It sounded too much like a Harlequin romance novel. Not that she had anything against them. She had read her fair share of those types of novels, but Desiree did not write them. Subconsciously, she knew that the woman standing on the beach was she and that the lover spoken about was Piper. Desiree tried not to think about her, but it was difficult not to. Piper had become a large part of her life within a small amount of time and Desiree secretly admitted that she missed her terribly. It had been over a month since she’d laid eyes on the woman and she often wondered how she was. Desiree sincerely hoped that all was well.

Letting out a loud ragged breath, she was about to start the third chapter over when the ringing of the phone pierced the silence in the room. Reaching over, she quickly picked it up with a cheerful greeting. Immediately recognizing the caller as Micaela, the strawberry-blonde smiled into the phone.

Over the past few weeks she had come to know the woman more and now thought of her as a dear friend. Desiree often teased her sister saying that if Larisa played her cards right, Micaela could become her sister-in-law. So far, the two of them appeared to only be friends but who knew what the future held? Desiree thought that Micaela and her sister would make quite a cute couple. Only one question though. Was the Latina beauty interested in women? Larisa and Desiree had their suspicions that she might be, but had yet to figure it out.

“Hey Mickey,” Desiree started in a jovial tone. “What’s up?”

“Nothing much sweetie. How is the writing coming along?”

Glancing at the blank page on her computer screen, Desiree frowned. “Well…my fingers seem to have a mind of their own and they’re typing things that I don’t want them to say.” She chuckled. “My Muse is not being very nice to me right now.”

“Oh, that naughty Muse. Would you like me to beat her up for you?”

“Will you?”

Micaela laughed. “Anything for you sweetie. Just let me dig my boxing gloves out of the closet and I’ll be right over.”

Desiree chuckled. “I’ll be waiting.”

“Oh, will you now?”

The strawberry blonde arched an eyebrow. Was it just her imagination or had Micaela’s voice just grown a tad sexier? Was she flirting? Desiree grinned. She and Larisa finally had their first real clue. “Yes,” Desiree answered. “I’ll be waiting with bells on.”

Micaela asked in a low and definitely sexy voice, “And is that all?” The Latina could not believe what she was doing. She was actually flirting and Micaela found that she was thoroughly enjoying it.

Rolling her computer chair back a bit, Desiree raised her legs and propped her feet up on her desk, one ankle crossed over the over. “Well should I be wearing anything else?” she asked, while trying not to feel guilty that she was flirting with the object of her sister’s affections. It’s harmless. We’re just having some fun.

Just then, Larisa walked into the room. Hearing her footsteps, Desiree quickly swiveled around in the chair facing her sister, who was staring at her with one eyebrow raised in question. “Oh!” Desiree exclaimed, a blush rising to her cheeks. “Hi Risa.”

“Hello,” Larisa said in a curious tone of voice as she wondered just whom her sister was talking with so brazenly. It couldn’t be Piper could it? As far as Larisa knew, nothing had changed between them. They hadn’t even spoken. Larisa watched as her sister returned her attention to the phone. A moment later, Desiree handed the phone out to her. With a quizzical look, Larisa took the phone and spoke into it.

“Hey you,” Micaela said in greeting. “How goes it?”

Larisa’s eyebrow arched again. Desiree and Micaela had been flirting with each other? Attempting not to feel jealous, Larisa blithely said hello back. “It goes well. What’s going on?” She watched as her sister swiveled around to face her computer.

“I need a huge favor. I would really appreciate it if you could help me out. I’d be willing to pay you.”

“No need to pay me babe,” Larisa replied. “What can I do for you?”

“You’re too sweet,” Micaela warmly stated. “A friend of mine has fallen ill and she teaches this art class every Saturday evening at a little studio that she rents. Well she asked me if I would teach tonight’s session and since Carly has plans tonight, I wondered if you could watch Dante for me. I shouldn’t be gone any longer than a couple of hours.”

“I’d be delighted to,” Larisa replied, smiling. She absolutely adored the three-year-old. Dante had become her little buddy over the past few weeks. “I’ll be right over.”

“Perfect. Thanks Larisa. I really appreciate this.”

The two women then ended the conversation. Larisa quietly placed the phone on Desiree’s desk and then studied her sister as the younger woman’s eyes remained glued to the computer screen. Larisa noticed that though Desiree’s fingers were on the computer keys, they were not moving. Arching an eyebrow, Larisa stood quietly as she waited for the strawberry-blonde to look up at her. Finally, Desiree did with a slightly guilty expression on her face. Larisa attempted to hide a smile, noting that the younger woman looked as though she had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

“It was just casual flirting,” Desiree explained, the silence getting to her.

Larisa laughed lightly. “It’s okay Desi.” Reaching out a hand, she patted her sister on the back. “I imagine that Mickey would be fun to flirt with.”

Desiree nodded slightly, still looking a tad guilty.

Leaning down, Larisa pecked the other woman on the cheek and watched as Desiree smiled at her. “It’s no big deal. I’m just delighted to see you in an upbeat mood. And if flirting with Mickey causes that to happen then by all means do it.” Hearing her choice of words, Larisa went on as Desiree started to grin, “Umm…flirt that is.”

*****

The black Cadillac pulled up in front of the apartment complex. Four doors opened almost simultaneously before four men exited the car. A distinguished looking man with silver-colored hair reached up and smoothed it back before he fixed his black trench coat. He nodded to the other three and they began to follow him as he walked towards the apartment buildings. He glanced at the young man…teenager really, walking next to him.
“What apartment did you say it was?”

“2C,” the teenager replied as he pointed to a building about twenty feet away. “This is the one. I checked it out a few weeks back,” he stated proudly.

The man nodded. “Upstairs or down?”

“Down.” The teenager studied the older man’s walk and tried to mimic it. If there was anyone on this earth that he had admiration for, it was the man next to him and he aimed to be just like him.

The man nodded again as he headed in that direction. A sinister grin appeared on his lips as he anticipated what was about to happen. He had waited a long time for this moment and it had finally arrived. She was going to pay dearly. Ending her life would be payment enough.

*****

Larisa rubbed up and down the toddler’s back as he slept soundly in his bed. She smiled adoringly as she watched him. Not long ago, she had finished reading Dante Jack and the Beanstalk. Half way into the story he fell asleep but Larisa kept on reading anyway until she reached the end.

After rubbing Dante’s back for a few more minutes, Larisa arose from her chair and quietly headed out of the room, intent on venturing to the kitchen to fix herself a snack. Moments later, she was removing the ingredients needed to make a sandwich when she suddenly heard a noise coming from the front door. Looking at the doorknob, she noticed that it was jiggling as though someone were trying to come in. Putting a small bottle of mustard down, Larisa quickly walked over to the door and looked through the peek hole.

Damn. Burglars, she thought as she saw four men who were oddly well dressed for burglars. Turning around, Larisa ran back to Dante’s room and gently shook the boy awake. Groggily, the toddler sat up in the bed as he wiped at his eyes with his balled up little fists. Dante sleepily asked his baby-sitter what was going on, but Larisa declined to answer as she picked him up in her arms. Seeing his earphones on the dresser, Larisa obtained those before she headed out of the bedroom. She glanced at the front door to see to her chagrin that it was slowly opening.

Entering the bathroom, Larisa quietly closed the door behind her before she turned on the night-light plugged into the wall, thinking that they would be able to see the bathroom light from underneath the door if she flipped the switch. Kneeling down on the floor with Dante still tucked safely in her arms, Larisa opened a cabinet underneath the sink and told the boy to climb inside. Though he gave her a questioning look, Dante did as he was told, pushing a few bathroom toiletries out of his way. Sitting down, the toddler crossed his legs Indian style as Larisa placed the earphones on his head.

“Hon we’re going to play a game okay?” Larisa said in the calmest voice that she could muster at this moment. Her heart was beating rapidly in her chest as she wondered what would happen. Her main concern was to protect Dante and she hoped that this would work. “I want you to stay in here and not make a sound okay? Whatever you may hear don’t come out of this cabinet all right?” At the little boy’s nod she went on, “If you stay in here until I come back you’ll win the game and I’ll give you five dollars.”

“Cool,” Dante said as a smile appeared on his face. The young boy had no idea that anything was wrong.

Larisa gave him a smile back as she pressed the play button and turned up the volume enough to make sure that Dante would not hear any noises. As the toddler began to listen to one of his favorite narrated fictional tales, Larisa winked at him before closing the cabinet. Standing, she grabbed a plunger sitting by the toilet, thinking that it was a sorry excuse for a weapon but it would have to do. Switching off the night-light, she headed out of the bathroom quietly and closed it behind her.

She stopped walking as she saw a man going into Micaela’s bedroom. Breathing a sigh of relief that he did not see her, she took a few steps so that she could look around the corner into the living room. There she saw three men standing together. They were saying something but she could not figure out what it was. Larisa was trying to decide whether she should confront them or not when she heard a clicking noise. Swiftly looking in the direction of Micaela’s bedroom, she saw the man who had went in there just a moment ago, pointing a gun at her. Though it was dark, she noticed a grin on his face as he told her to put her hands behind her head. Dropping the plunger, Larisa did as she was told, her heart beating so loud now, that she was sure he could hear it.

Quickly walking behind her, the man put an arm around her waist and pressed the cold barrel of the gun against her temple. He then instructed her to walk into the living room. As she did so, the man said something to the trio waiting by the front door.

“Hey boys, look what I caught.” He chuckled as one of the other men turned on a light. “Clint…she’s as pretty as you said she was.” He then kissed Larisa on the cheek and as her stomach churned, she resisted the urge to elbow him in the stomach.

Clint Reynolds glared at the man standing proudly behind Larisa. “That’s not Mickey you idiot. Didn’t I tell you that she’s Hispanic?”

The man looked at Larisa more closely. “Oh, yeah. That’s right. Then who is she?”

“How the hell should I know?” Clint yelled as he took off his trench coat and tossed it towards the couch. “But I intend on finding out.” Removing a silencer from the waistband of his pants, the tall Southern man ambled over towards them. He told the man holding Larisa to let her go. The man quickly did so, taking a couple of steps back. Clint charmingly smiled at Larisa who merely gave him a dirty look in return. “Hey darlin’,” he began, ignoring the look, “why don’t you tell me what your name is?”

“That really is none of your business, but I will tell you one thing. It’s not darlin’.”

Clint laughed, but it was devoid of any humor. Before Larisa could move out of his way, Clint backhanded her across the face hard enough to cause her cheek to become a brilliant red. His handsome face took on an evil look as he sneered at her. “You don’t want to upset me beautiful,” Clint stated in a soft tone of voice.

“It’s Larisa Love,” the youngest of the four men stated. All eyes turned to the teenager.

“How do you know that?” Clint asked his one and only nephew.

“Because I saw her on television a few weeks ago. Did you happen to see the news when that woman, Desiree Love, was taken hostage about a month and a half ago?”

The Southern man quickly jogged his memory. “I don’t have that much time for the news but I think I recall that.” He glanced at Larisa who still had her hands behind her head. “Is this her sister?”

The teenager nodded. “Yep.”

Clint looked back at Larisa, the silencer in his hand pointed towards the floor, though she was aware of the fact that he could raise it at any moment and pull the trigger. “Did Mickey tell you about me?”

Larisa shook her head, though she figured that Clint was the man Micaela said she had fled away from three years ago. She had not given Larisa much information, but said that it had turned into a sour relationship and that the man whom she was involved with started beating her. One day she had had enough and decided to leave him after finding out that she was pregnant after having been raped by her sister’s husband while visiting in Mexico during Christmas time. Micaela had never heard from him again.

“She didn’t?” Clint cocked his head to the side. “She didn’t tell you how she tried to kill me and left me for dead, running off with money that belonged to me?” At Larisa’s disbelieving look, Clint unbuttoned the top four buttons on his silk shirt before pulling it open to show the woman two scars that the bullets left. He then buttoned his shirt back up, making sure that it was neat.

You forgot to mention that part Mickey, Larisa thought. Though, I know this bastard probably deserved it. “Well I’m sure you had those coming to you,” Larisa boldly stated while wondering if she had a death wish. She thought back to the first tape her father made the day he died that Desiree let her listen to. He was right. I do have a big mouth. Must work on that. That is, if I’m able to make it through this night.

Switching his gun to his left hand, Clint balled up his fist and struck Larisa on the jaw, causing the woman to stumble to the floor. Pain radiating through her jaw, Larisa touched it as she winced. She tasted a warm fluid in her mouth and knew that she was bleeding. Spitting into her hand, Larisa saw one of her molars fall to her palm. Blinking her eyes rapidly to clear the stars clouding her vision, she looked up at Clint who was hovering over her with the silencer now pointed at her head.

“You really need to drop the attitude darlin’, because it’s gonna get you killed. Now…I want to know where Mickey is. Tell me.”

Keeping her mouth shut, Larisa raised her right hand towards Clint and bent all of her fingers except for the middle one that stood proudly. Quickly reaching out, the man wrapped his hand around Larisa’s middle finger and pulled forward until there was an audible snap. The woman screamed in pain as Clint let go of her finger, fully enraged now. Turning to his men, he motioned them over.

“Gentlemen,” Clint began as he glanced down at Larisa who was now cradling her hand. “Why don’t ya’ll show Ms. Love what happens when I become irate.”

Heading towards her, the three began to pummel Larisa while Clint stood watching stoically. After a few minutes, he yelled for them to stop, thinking that she might have changed her mind now. The two oldest men did, but the teenager kept going. He was about to deliver another kick to Larisa’s stomach when Clint grabbed the back of his collar and snatched him back, glaring at the youth.

“When I tell you to stop,” Clint started between clenched teeth, “I mean it. You understand?”

The teenager swiftly nodded, hoping that his uncle was not too upset with him. “Sorry Uncle Clint,” he uttered.

Giving him one last glare, Clint looked down at Larisa, who was balled up on the floor in the fetal position. She was attempting not to cry as waves of pain went through her body. Larisa knew that no matter how much they tortured her, she would not ever reveal Micaela’s whereabouts. Even if it meant that she would die.

“Ms. Love, surely you’re ready to talk now. Where is Micaela? It doesn’t appear that she’s home now so where did she go?” Again, Clint pointed the gun at Larisa’s head. He saw her shake her head negatively and growled in frustration as he kicked her in the stomach, forcing the woman onto her back as she yelped. Moving the silencer down her body, Clint pulled the trigger as he aimed at her kneecap, shattering it. Larisa screamed again as Clint repeated his question. She managed to shake her head and then cried out as a bullet entered her other knee. She fervently prayed that he would just get it over with by killing her.

“You are a stubborn one, aren’t you?” Clint asked the woman. “You’re willing to give up your life for Mickey? She must be pretty special to you.” There was no response from Larisa as she closed her eyes, willing this to be a horrible nightmare. “Well Ms. Love, I’m going to ask you one more time. Where is Mickey?”

Opening her eyes, Larisa looked up at Clint, thinking that if these were the last moments of her life then she was going out tough. Opening her mouth she managed to reply, “Bite me asshole.”

Clint stared at her for a few moments before shaking his head, the expression on his face and odd mixture of irritation, sadness, and respect for the woman refusing him despite the vulnerable position she was in. Glancing at his nephew who was standing right next to him, he handed the teenager his silencer. “Dennis, I want you to have the honors,” Clint started. “Finish her off for me.”

Dennis stared at the gun in his hand. Never in his life had he killed anyone, but if his uncle thought that he was up to it, then Dennis would not fail him. Licking his lips a little nervously, the teenager pointed the gun at Larisa’s head.

“No,” Clint said, shaking his head. Reaching up, he pushed Dennis’ hand down until the gun was aimed at her chest. “I want this to be symbolic. Shoot her twice in the chest.”

Putting his finger on the trigger, Dennis looked into Larisa’s face and noticed that she had her eyes closed waiting for him to end her existence. Taking a deep breath, the teenager steadied his trembling hand and pulled the trigger twice.

*****

After the story ended, Dante pulled the earphones off of his head and sat it along with his Walkman beside him. He did not know where Larisa had learned this game from, but he was not enjoying it in the least. It was one of the least fun games he had ever played. Knowing that he was relinquishing the five dollars, the little boy pushed open the cabinets door and climbed out. Standing up, he felt around for the doorknob in the dark. Finding it, Dante turned the knob and opened the door, walking out.

Peeping in his room, he noticed that Larisa did not appear to be there so he headed in the direction of the living room. That was when he saw her lying on the floor with blood soaking the carpet around her. Dante gasped as he ran to her, kneeling down. With his little hand, he shook her shoulder but the woman would not wake up. The little boy began to cry, knowing even at his young age that something was desperately wrong.

Suddenly he remembered what his mother had taught him in case there was ever an emergency. Standing, the toddler ran over to the cordless phone and picked it up. Pressing 9-1-1, he put the phone to his ear as someone picked up after the first ring.

“Hello,” Dante started in a shaky voice as he continued to cry. “Risa has a big boo-boo! I need an am lance fast!”

“Sweetie,” the operator started in a calm voice hoping that it would have an effect on the young boy she was speaking to, “can you tell me what happened?”

“I dunno,” Dante cried. “We were playin’ a game and I came outta the bath womb and saw her asleep on the floor. She’s beeding.”

“She’s bleeding? Okay sweetie, there is an ambulance on the way. They should be there soon. Can you do me a favor?”

Dante nodded as he sniffed. “Yeah.”

“Can you go outside in a few minutes and see if the ambulance has arrived? I see that you live in an apartment and they might need directions on how to get to your home, so do you think you can do that for me?”

“Yeah, I can do that Ma’am.”

The operator smiled. “Okay sweetie. Why don’t we talk until you go outside okay?”

“Okay.” He listened as the operator began to talk. She told him how she had a little boy who was probably around his age. Walking back over to Larisa, Dante kneeled by her and took her hand gently in his smaller one. He gave it a squeeze wishing that Larisa would open her eyes.

*****

As the sunlight began to glare through her eyelids, Desiree opened her eyes. Moving her head, she winced because she had a crook in her neck from sleeping in the chair all night. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she waited until they focused before looking at the woman lying in the hospital bed. It did not appear that Larisa had moved an inch all night, which meant that she was still unconscious. Standing up, Desiree stretched before walking the short distance to the bed. Leaning down, she placed a tender kiss on her sister’s forehead before she started to rub Larisa’s cheek gently with the back of her hand.

Whoever had broken into Micaela’s home had beaten the young woman badly. Larisa had two gunshot wounds to her chest, both of which had thankfully missed her heart by bare centimeters. A bullet in each of her kneecaps had shattered them both, so a surgeon had to remove them. Larisa also suffered from a broken jaw, which was now wired so that it could properly heal. Three of her ribs were broken, along with the middle finger on her right hand. There were multiple contusions all over her body, especially her face where Larisa’s eyes were swollen with dark purple circles around them. To help with her breathing, the doctors had inserted into her nose, nasal prongs, which were connected to a tube that ran into the wall where an oxygen tank was stored.

Desiree looked at her sister in amazement. Not everyone could survive what she had been through the night before. Continuing to caress Larisa’s cheek, Desiree once again sent a silent prayer of thanks that her sister was alive. If she had lost Larisa, Desiree did not know what she would have done. It was times like these when one recognized just how precious life was. That it should never be taken for granted because it could be stopped at any given moment.

Who did this to you Risa? Desiree thought. Though the police had interviewed Micaela’s neighbors, none of them had anything to report, which meant that the only witness was the victim, who now lay unconscious.

Taking her seat again, Desiree glanced at the other bed in the hospital room to see Dante there fast asleep. Poor thing, she thought as she looked at him. The toddler had cried on and off last night while constantly inquiring if Larisa was going to be all right. Micaela started to make arrangements so that someone could keep him last night while she was at the hospital with Desiree, but Dante insisted on staying as well. He said that he did not want to leave until “his Risa” woke up.

Finding that her bladder was full, Desiree arose from the chair and quietly walked towards the bathroom so as not to disturb Dante. By the time she came back out, Micaela was walking through the door with two Styrofoam cups in hand. The Latina smiled at Desiree as she handed her one of the cups.

“I found one of those hot beverage machines. Thought you might like a cup of coffee,” Micaela started as both she and Desiree took their seats next to Larisa’s bed. “Though I warn you, it ain’t Starbucks.” She softly chuckled, as did the strawberry-blonde.

“Thanks Mickey.” Desiree smiled at the woman before lifting the cup to her mouth and taking a sip. She found that the coffee was already lukewarm. As the women drank their coffee, Micaela informed Desiree that she had called Taj and Piper about half an hour ago to let them know what happened last night. Having not thought about doing that, Desiree thanked her as her heart rate began to increase. Did that mean that Piper could show up at the hospital at any moment? What would she say to her?

“Are you sure you don’t want to call your mother?” Micaela asked as she leaned down, setting her coffee cup on the floor.

Desiree nodded. “She’s been through enough lately, so I’d like to wait until Larisa is completely out of the woods.” Blue-green eyes brimming with fresh tears, she looked at Micaela while softly inquiring, “She is going to be okay, right? I don’t wanna lose her.” Her voice starting to crack, Desiree added, “I can’t lose my sister too.”

Standing up, Micaela opened her arms wide as she replied, “C’mere.”

Coming to her feet, Desiree all but ran into Micaela’s arms and buried her face in the woman’s neck. The Latina held her tightly as she stroked up and down her back while Desiree cried. The two women stood in a tight embrace for what seemed an eternity until Micaela took a step backwards before turning Desiree around so that she was facing Larisa. Standing behind her, Micaela wrapped her arms around the younger woman’s waist before Desiree folded her own arms over hers. She asked Desiree to look at the woman in the bed and the strawberry-blonde did so, almost starting to cry all over again.

“She is going to be just fine,” Micaela said in a confident tone of voice. “You just have to have some faith. Your sister is one of the strongest women that I have ever met…just like you, and I know that she will pull through this. Now it’s going to take some time for her to recover… it won’t be an overnight process… but she will. She’s going to make it sweetie. Believe that. Draw comfort from it.”

Looking back at her, Desiree softly smiled at the woman. “Thank you Mickey. I’m so glad that you’re here. I think you really are an angel.”

Micaela smiled back. “You’re the angel.” While giving the younger woman a small squeeze, Micaela kissed the top of her head.

As she reached the correct hospital room after having gotten lost a couple of times, Piper was about to enter when she saw Desiree and Micaela in what could only be described as a very intimate embrace. Telling herself that what she saw was nothing more than two people comforting each other, Piper lightly knocked on the already open door.

As they looked up, they noticed that Piper was standing at the door with a bouquet of lilies in her hand. Micaela disengaged her arms from around Desiree’s waist, as she got the feeling that Piper did not appreciate them being there. Micaela greeted Piper with a smile as the strawberry-blonde motioned her to come in.

“Hi Piper,” Desiree said in a pleasant voice. Her heart was beating even faster now and was it her imagination or had it suddenly become stifling hot in there? “Is Taj with you?”

“Hey there,” Piper replied. “No he’s not. I came in my own car. He should be here soon though.”

Returning Micaela’s smile, albeit a bit tightly, Piper walked into the room. She then placed the flowers, which were already in a vase, on the small dresser next to Larisa’s hospital bed. Looking down at her, Piper felt her blood began to boil. At that moment, she would have loved to get her hands around the throat of the person or persons responsible for this.

Piper looked up at Desiree and Micaela. “There aren’t any leads?”

Both shook their head. “My neighbors didn’t see anyone and they didn’t hear anything. The only person who knows what happened in my apartment is Larisa,” Micaela replied as she crossed her arms over her chest. Last night when she came home to find the police at her place, the thought that Clint had found out where she lived and then did this horrible thing to her friend crossed her mind, but then Micaela remembered that this could not have been Clint’s doing. She had ended his life three years ago and watched as he died.

“And they didn’t take anything? Whoever put Larisa in this condition?” Piper inquired.

Micaela shook her head again. “Not one thing was missing. It’s like they just broke in, tried to end her life and then left.”

Piper glanced at Dante sleeping in the other bed before she returned her eyes to his mother. “Your son didn’t see or hear anything?”

“He said that Larisa wanted to play a game. She woke him up and then carried him into the bathroom where she told him to get into the bathroom cabinet. She then put his earphones on his head claiming that if he stayed in there until she came back, that she would give him five dollars. After that she left and soon Dante got tired of waiting for her to return so he climbed out and left the bathroom. That’s when he found her lying on the living room floor. She was of course unconscious.”

Piper nodded. “So this person or persons broke into your apartment. They beat and shot Larisa and then left without taking any of your possessions,” she paused a beat. “There has got to be a motive. I don’t think that people normally do that sort of thing without a motive. Micaela, you don’t know anyone that would want to do you harm?”

“If you’d asked me that a few years ago I would have said yes.”

Piper cocked her head to the side. “Why has your answer changed?” She had grown suddenly suspicious. Piper did not know what it was, but Micaela was hiding something. She was sure of it.

“Because the person that would have done me harm then is not trying to do it now,” Micaela slowly replied as she carefully chose her words.

Blue eyes narrowed in suspicion. “How can you be so sure?”

“Piper,” Desiree started, “please leave Mickey alone. You’re acting like she pulled the trigger. Why don’t you stop and just let the police do their job, okay?” She gave Piper a pleading look.

“Sweetie, Piper just wants to know what happened to Larisa.”

Desiree ran a hand through her hair in frustration. “We all do, but attacking you is not the way to go about doing that.”

“You know what?” Piper started. “I’ll just go. Desiree, I was not attacking your new…friend. However since you got the impression that I was, then I sincerely apologize. See you around.” Turning, Piper started to march out of the room when Desiree called her name. “What?”

“Don’t go Piper.” She sighed. How had things got out of hand so quickly?

“Why stay? You don’t want me around,” Piper replied, a hurt look appearing on her face before it quickly vanished.

“How can you say that?”

“Over a month ago you made it crystal clear that you wanted me out of your life.” Piper nodded towards Micaela. “Why would you want me here when you’ve got Super Mickey? I bet she’s stuck by you like glue ever since the night she brought you home drunk from that bar, hasn’t she?” Piper knew that she was acting childish, but she was helpless to stop it. The thought of Desiree and Micaela possibly being a couple rubbed her the wrong way.

“Guys…” Micaela started softly, but neither of them was paying her any attention. She glanced at her son to see that he was still sleeping soundly.

“Piper just shut up.”

The dark-haired woman raised an eyebrow. “Shut up? You want me to shut up Desiree? Tell you what…I’ll just leave. I’m out of here.” With that said, Piper stormed out of the room.

On her way out of the hospital, Piper ran into Taj…literally.

“Whoa!” The man put a restraining hand on his friend’s shoulder. By the expression on her face, she was seething about something. Taj asked the woman what was wrong. When Piper attempted to walk past him without answering, the Jamaican man quickly moved so that he was standing directly in her path. Taj repeated his question.

“Everything!” Piper shouted loud enough for everyone within a twenty-foot radius to hear.

“That’s a little broad,” Taj said. “Could you please be more specific?”

Piper suddenly burst into tears as other people looked at she and Taj curiously. “I’m an idiot,” Piper said as she wiped at the tears strolling down her cheeks.

“Pippy, you are not an idiot,” Taj gently replied as he wrapped his arms around her.

The dark-haired woman nodded as she put her arms around Taj’s waist briefly before letting go and taking a step back. “Yes, I am.” She sniffed as she stopped crying and wiped away at the remaining tears. “I don’t know why I act the way that I do sometimes. Why I just fly off of the handle for no good reason. Desi probably hates me now.”

“What happened with you two?”

“It would be better if I just left her alone. Who am I trying to kid? I’m no good for her. She deserves much better. I’ll talk with you later Taj. I have to go now.” Piper started to walk out of the hospital. Taj called after her, but the woman merely kept going refusing to turn around.

*****

Desiree glanced at her watch. It was nearly twelve o’clock now. Except for Taj, she was the only one in Larisa’s hospital room. Not too long ago, Micaela had taken Dante down to the cafeteria to get something for lunch. Standing up, Desiree asked Taj if he would care for anything because she was going to get something to drink. When he declined the offer, Desiree started to walk out of the room saying that she would be right back when she suddenly her a low moan. Quickly turning around, she looked at Larisa, as did Taj. Both walked over to the bed, one on either side of it as they gazed down at the woman. They then heard another moan escape her lips.

“Larisa,” Desiree started softly, “please wake up hon. Come back to us.”

Slowly Larisa’s eyes opened. She blinked several times before she looked between Taj and Desiree the best she could with her eyes being swollen. Both Taj and Desiree noted that her right eye was blood red.

“Hello there,” Desire said softly. “Welcome back hon.” Reaching out a hand, she gently brushed her sister’s cheek. Larisa then tried to speak but Desiree quickly shook her head. “No, hon. Don’t say anything. Your jaw has been wired so you won’t be able to talk for a little bit. Do you feel like writing on a sheet of paper?”

When Larisa nodded, Taj walked out of the room. He soon returned with a notepad and a pen that he obtained from the nurse’s station. Handing the items to Larisa, he located a button the hospital bed that would elevate her head. Inquiring if she wanted to be raised, Taj then pressed the button as the woman nodded. Both watched as she began to write something using her left hand since it was difficult to do it with the right. Larisa then showed them the paper.

“How long have I been unconscious?”

“You’ve been unconscious since last night Risa,” Desiree answered. “Do you remember what happened to you?” At Larisa’s nod, she went on. “Do you know who did this to you?” Nodding, Larisa began to write again. This time it took her a few minutes before she finished. She had to turn the paper over because she was writing so much. Taj and Desiree then began to read what she wrote.

“Three men and one teenager broke into Mickey’s apartment. They assaulted me, because they wanted to know where Mickey was but I would not divulge that information, so this is what happened. I remember them like it happened…well yesterday. The leader of the quartet’s name was Clint. I don’t know his last name though. Anyway, he had silvery short hair and I’d say he was about forty-four or five. He stood about six feet and two or three inches and had a Southern accent. The teenager’s name was Dennis. Probably about seventeen or eighteen. He was about the same height as Clint, but he didn’t have an accent. The other two, I don’t know what their names were, but one was about five feet ten inches and had a dark beard. He was bald as an eagle. Around thirty-five years of age. The other was about the same height, but he had long blond hair that was pulled back into a ponytail. He was probably about forty.”

Taj’s expression grew thoughtful. He then looked across at Desiree. “Little one, remember that teenage boy who was trying to extort money from you in exchange for that tape?”

The strawberry-blonde nodded. “His name was Dennis right? You think this might be the same Dennis?”

The man nodded. “It’s possible.” Feeling a tap on his arm, Taj looked down at Larisa, who had a hand on his arm. She then showed him something that she had just remembered and written down.

“Dennis referred to Clint as his uncle.”

“Uncle Clint,” Taj started. “Okay, I’ll do some research on Dennis’ family background and see if I can turn up an Uncle Clint.”

“Did you say Clint?”

Everyone turned to look at Micaela, who was standing at the door with Dante beside her. The Latina hoped that she had heard incorrectly. Taj nodded, causing Micaela to sigh. “Clint had something to do with Larisa’s attack didn’t he?”

“He was there,” Desiree offered the information. “Do you know a Clint?”

Micaela sighed again as she nodded. Saying that she would be right back, Micaela picked up her son and headed out of the room. Walking towards the waiting room, which was not far from Larisa’s room, she set the boy down. Explaining to Dante to stay put, Micaela assured him that she would be back soon. Heading back to the room, the woman tried to gather her thoughts. Micaela felt her palms become wet as she entered the room and walked over towards the trio, choosing to stand next to Desiree. She smiled down at Larisa, overjoyed to see her awake. Larisa smiled back as best she could, since her jaw and cheeks were sore.
“Clint…Clint Reynolds,” Micaela said, “is a man that I was involved with three years ago. I met and moved in with him when I was twenty years old. To make a long story short, after a while he started to physically and mentally abuse me.” Micaela took a deep breath as old memories that she rather had forgotten flooded back. “He allowed others to physically abuse me as well. I took it for all those years but three years ago I ended up pregnant so I knew that I had to leave him. Otherwise, he would try to make me give up my baby. Plus, I just couldn’t take it anymore. So,” she paused, “one night I shot him. Twice in the chest while he was in the shower. And then I took ten thousand dollars and fled. I ended up here in California a couple weeks later. For the past three years I’ve thought that Clint was dead.” She glanced at the other three and softly smiled as Desiree put a comforting arm around her shoulders. “That must have been him last night. He and his nephew Dennis.”

Larisa drew everyone’s attention to her as she waved the notepad in the air. They read the latest note she jotted down.

“That was definitely him. It was Clint Reynolds. He basically said the same thing…leaving out the abused part however. Mickey…that…I hate to use the word man…is insane. I don’t think you should go back to your apartment because he obviously has revenge on his mind.”

“She won’t,” Taj said as he finished reading. He looked across at Micaela. It was clear that he was furious, but not with her. “I want you to stay at my house tonight, until I can get this taken care of.” Taj’s eyes moved to Desiree. “And the same goes for you.”

“Why me?” she asked.

“Because this appears to be a cycle. First Dennis tries to get money from you in order for you to have your father’s tape. Then a few weeks later, he and his Uncle Clint show up at Micaela’s apartment evidently looking for her. Now all of these years Clint couldn’t find Micaela, but he suddenly does now? Why now? Because his nephew led him to her.”

Desiree replied, “Could be just a coincidence. I couldn’t have led Dennis to Micaela. I didn’t even really know her then.”

“But I gave you my address, remember?” Micaela interjected. “After you and Larisa got back from San Francisco, I called and invited you over for dinner one night. You said that your sister was busy that night but you could make it. You asked me for my address again because you’d misplaced it…”

Desiree thought back, her brow crinkling in concentration. “Come to think of it, I haven’t seen that paper you wrote your address on since the day you gave it to me. And Dennis came over the day afterwards. He could have taken it.”

“Then it’s settled,” Taj said. “You both are staying with me tonight. I’ve got plenty of room.” He looked down at Larisa. “Risa, I’m going to have a couple friends of mine come here this evening to guard you. I really don’t think these guys are going to come after you again, but just as a precaution.” Taj glanced at Micaela and Desiree again. “Meanwhile, this evening I’ll escort the two of you to your places to grab a few belongings and then I’ll take you to my house where you’ll stay until I can take care of this.”

Desiree looked at Micaela. “We’re in good hands now. You see this is Taj’s occupation.” She smiled faintly. “He’s a problem solver.”

*****

That night while lying wide-awake in her bed, Desiree glanced at the clock for the hundredth time noticing that it was now after midnight. She then looked at Tobias who was sleeping peacefully curled up next to her. Thinking about her sister, Desiree sent a silent prayer that Larisa was resting well. This evening the doctors were quite positive about a full recovery. More than likely, Larisa would be in the hospital for at least two weeks, but it appeared that she would be just fine.

Turning on her side facing Tobias, Desiree’s thoughts drifted on to Piper. She had moved from Taj’s house into her own apartment nearly three weeks ago, so Taj and Leroy were the only ones living there now. Desiree softly smiled as she thought of Taj’s little brother. Earlier that evening, he’d offered to fluff her pillows, tuck her in…everything but do the actual sleeping for Desiree. Leroy did not attempt to hide it. He had a huge crush on her, which Desiree found endearing.

The strawberry-blonde glanced at the clock again. It was 12:24 now. Leroy, Micaela, and Dante were probably all fast asleep by now. Leroy was in his own room while Micaela and her son shared one. Taj most likely was not at home. After taking them to their homes to pick up a few belongings (Desiree picked up Tobias as well), Taj dropped Micaela and Desiree at his home, informing the women to make themselves at home. He explained that he and some other people, whom he would not give names to, were going to locate Clint. However, he neglected to mention what would take place if they were successful in doing so. Whatever they were going to do, Taj specifically asked Larisa not to tell the police what she told them that afternoon about those that attacked her. She was to pretend that she could not remember anything. Desiree wondered what Taj and his crew would do, but part of her would rather remain clueless.

Having an idea, Desiree pushed the covers back before getting out of the bed. Tobias opened one eye looking at her before closing it and going back to sleep. Standing up, Desiree slipped her feet into her slippers and put her robe on, tying the straps as she walked towards the door. Opening it, she walked down the hall quietly and headed towards the stairs on her way to the kitchen to get a cup of warm milk, hoping that it would work in helping her to get to sleep.

As Desiree reached the bottom of the stairs, she spied Micaela sitting on the couch watching television. At least she hoped that it was Micaela, because all she could see was the back of the person’s head and it was dark except for the glow emanating from the television screen. Quietly tiptoeing towards the couch, Desiree softly called out the woman’s name. Looking over her shoulder, Micaela smiled as she watched Desiree approach the couch and take a seat next to her.

“Hey, what are you doing up?” Desiree asked as she tucked one leg underneath her, glancing at the television where an infomercial was currently on. “Can’t sleep?”

Micaela shook her head. “Nope.” She pointed at the television with the remote control. “I’m thinking about buying these knives. They showed one of the knives cutting through a brick. And they said that I better act now ’cause this is a once in a lifetime deal and that you can’t and never will be able to find these special knives in any store.”

Desiree laughed.

Micaela joined in as she reached over and switched on a lamp before turning the television off. She turned so that she was facing Desiree. “You can’t sleep either?”

“No, I can’t. My mind won’t allow me to settle down.”

The Latina nodded. “Mine either. I keep thinking about Larisa lying in that hospital bed and how if it weren’t for me that she wouldn’t be.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Micaela went on, “that it’s my fault. It’s my fault that she almost lost her life.” Tears formed in her eyes, but she quickly blinked them away. Micaela figured that if she had never tried to take Clint’s life three years ago that he never would have came after her and ultimately almost kill her friend. She blamed herself because she deemed what she did wrong, although Clint was a sinister man. Who was she to decide when his life should be ended?

“Mickey,” Desiree said softly as she pulled the woman into an embrace. Micaela tightly wrapped her arms around the smaller woman as she rested her cheek on her shoulder. Desiree began to rock her gently as she said, “I believe that everything happens for a reason and this is not your fault. You did what you thought you had to do. In your place, a lot of people, myself included, might have done the same thing if there were no alternative.” She pulled back so that she could look into Micaela’s eyes. “You were trying to protect the life of your unborn child, which is what every mother is supposed to do. Who knows? If you had done differently, perhaps that precious little boy of yours wouldn’t be here today. You didn’t make Clint and his men break into your home and attack Larisa. Please don’t blame yourself for this. No one else does.”

Smiling softly at her, Micaela said, “You are indeed an angel Desiree.” Raising her hand, Micaela brushed it across the other woman’s cheek.
Desiree returned the smile as a small blush appeared on her cheeks. Before she knew what she was doing, Desiree found herself leaning towards Micaela and pressing her lips against hers softly. A little surprised at first, the Latina returned the kiss, both of her arms going around Desiree’s waist, gently pulling her closer. Desiree touched the tip of her tongue to Micaela’s lips, silently asking permission to enter. Her lips parting, the Latina moaned as Desiree’s tongue slipped into her mouth searching for her own. Their tongues intertwined as the women’s hands began to wander on each other’s body. Both wondered what they were doing, but they found themselves unable to stop. They craved this contact and it felt so exquisite.

Breaking the kiss, Desiree stood up, taking Micaela’s hand in hers. The Latina stood and Desiree led her towards the stairs after switching off the lamp. They held hands the whole way to Desiree’s bedroom. Tobias scurried past them out the door as the two women entered. As the door closed behind them, the strawberry-blonde sought out Micaela’s lips again as the other woman loosened the straps of her robe before pulling it down her arms and off of her body. Micaela wrapped her arms around Desiree’s body again, feeling her warmth now without the robe in the way. Her hands slid down until she was cupping the smaller woman’s rear, squeezing her firm cheeks gently. Desiree moaned as she did so, her lips keeping contact with Micaela’s.

“I’ve wanted you since the first time I laid eyes on you,” Micaela softly admitted against Desiree’s lips. Her hands slipped under the short nightshirt that the younger woman wore, warm palms gliding up the back of Desiree’s thighs until they reached her rear again, squeezing and kneading her cheeks.

Taking a step back, Desiree crossed her arms over herself and in one easy motion pulled the nightshirt over her head before tossing it across the room as she kicked her slippers off. She stood there in front of Micaela wearing only a pair of dark blue french-cut silk panties. The Latina’s eyes roamed up and down Desiree’s beautiful body, spending more time on her full high breasts with their rosy tips. Micaela felt a dampness forming in the crotch of her underwear as she began to strip out of her own clothes. Discarding her flannel pajama bottoms, panties, T-shirt, and socks Micaela took Desiree’s hand and led her towards the bed where Desiree laid down on her back. She tried not to think about the possible consequences of this happening, only feel as she felt Micaela’s lips on her neck, gently sucking the skin between her teeth. Raising a leg, Desiree rubbed her thigh against the other woman’s mound, feeling Micaela’s wetness and warmth as the dark-haired woman moaned into her neck.

Kissing along Desiree’s jaw and chin, Micaela captured the woman’s lips in a searing kiss as she moved her center up and down Desiree’s strong thigh. The strawberry-blonde sucked Micaela’s tongue into her mouth as she felt the woman’s fingers making contact with her own mound. Micaela’s fingers rubbed up and down Desiree’s outer labia eliciting low moans from her lips. Desiree’s back arched as the Latina entered her slowly with two fingers, beginning to pump in and out of her at an unhurried pace. Desiree pressed her thigh against Micaela’s center more as her hands slid down the woman’s back and cupped her derriere as it moved back and forth. Using her thumb, Micaela flicked it over Desiree’s clitoris, causing the smaller woman to jump beneath her at the pleasure it produced.

Ending the kiss, blue-green eyes stared into brown ones as Desiree breathlessly said, “I want to come with you Mickey.”

“Then let’s do it together sweetheart,” the Latina whispered before leaning down and tenderly kissing Desiree’s lips as her digits plunged deep within the woman while she moved her mound along Desiree’s thigh, the friction sending waves of pleasure through Micaela’s body.

Soon, both women felt themselves nearing the edge as their imminent climaxes drew closer and closer. Micaela’s fingers pumped in and out of Desiree faster and harder as she ground her mound onto the woman’s thigh. Both began to come as moans of ecstasy filled the room. They called out each other’s name as their overheated bodies moved against one another.

After lying on top of her for a few minutes, Micaela gently slipped her fingers out of the woman before moving so that she was lying next to her. Wrapping both of her arms around Desiree, the Latina pulled her closer. Desiree rested her cheek against Micaela’s chest, feeling the woman’s rapid heartbeat beneath. She listened as it slowed until it reached normal speed while Micaela quietly stroked up and down her back. Desiree’s eyelids began to grow heavy and soon she drifted into Morpheus’ realm. Micaela was soon to join her there.

*****

Hearing an insistent knock on the door, Desiree quickly awoke from a deep sleep, her head snapping towards the closed bedroom door. She heard Taj tell her to get up in jovial tones. In fact, he said, “Rise and shine little one.” Letting out a long yawn, Desiree sat up in the bed as she ran a hand through her messy hair. Looking down at herself, she noticed that she was completely naked as thoughts of last night ran through her mind. She had sex with Micaela, who was the woman that her sister was falling for. Desiree felt the guilt due to her actions. What had gotten into her?

Glancing around the bed and the room, she found that she was the only one there. Micaela must have slipped away earlier. Desiree wondered what Micaela was feeling as she got out of the bed, searching the room for her nightshirt and underwear. Minutes later she was dressed and tying the straps of her robe before leaving the room to make a pit stop at the bathroom to wash up and relieve herself.

Desiree heard whistling coming from the dining room as she came down the stairs. She smiled as she saw Taj putting platters of food on the dining room table while he whistled a little tune. Catching movement out of the corner of his eye, Taj looked her way and smiled brightly at the woman.

“Good morning little one,” he said, motioning her to come over and take a seat. Desiree said hello back as she walked towards the table. She thanked Taj as he did the gentlemanly thing by pulling a chair out for her. “You’re welcome,” he said warmly as he placed a cup of steaming coffee in front of her. “Did you sleep well?” Taj asked as he leaned against the table, studying Desiree’s face curiously.

She nodded as she picked up the coffee and took a few tiny sips before putting it back down on her place mat. “Yes, I did once I got to sleep.”

“And how was that exactly?” Taj grinned at her.

Raising an eyebrow, Desiree was about to say something when she and Taj heard footsteps. They looked towards the stairs to see Leroy, Micaela, and Dante walking down the stairs. Actually, it was more like trudging. All three still looked sleepy after having been gotten out of bed at six-thirty in the morning. Taj greeted them all with a cheery good morning and a smile. Desiree smiled at them, doing her best not to look sheepish when her eyes feel upon Micaela. The older woman smiled at her, though there was nothing sheepish, shy, or guilty about it. Though, Desiree figured that Micaela had nothing to feel guilty about. It was not as if Desiree was still seeing Piper, and Micaela as far as she knew, had no idea about Larisa’s feelings towards her.

Nearing the table, Micaela leaned down and placed a tender kiss on Desiree’s cheek, missing the blush that appeared as she turned to put Dante in a chair that Taj had put a plump pillow in so that the toddler could reach the table easily. Soon, everyone had taken their seat and was beginning to fill their plates, Micaela making both hers and her son’s.

“This all looks terrific Taj,” Micaela said as she added eggs with bits of ham and melted cheese in them onto her plate and Dante’s.

“Taj is an awesome cook,” Desiree remarked as she smiled over to him. He winked in return, that grin from earlier reappearing for a moment. Desiree pretended as though she did not see it. “You seem like you’re in a happy mood,” Desiree directed the statement towards Taj. “What happened last night? Were you able to find who you were looking for?”

He nodded as he took a long swallow of orange juice. “Mission accomplished. You and Micaela can go home today if you like. There is no…” Taj glanced at the young Dante as he cautiously chose his words. “There is nothing to be alarmed over.”

“That’s it?” Desiree asked. “It’s over?”

Taj nodded again. “That’s right. It’s over.” He smiled at her. “I did my job. My guys and I solved the problem. Let’s just say that you won’t have anymore infestations, because the roaches have been exterminated.”

Both Micaela and Larisa audibly gasped. Leroy looked at his older brother in shock as his fork clanked loudly on the plate. Taj glanced at the three of them while Dante did the same curiously, wondering what was wrong. He also wondered why Taj had exterminated their apartment when he and his mother did not have any roaches. There were hardly even any spiders, which he thought was a bummer since he was fascinated with the creepy crawlers.

“You exterminated the roaches?” Micaela quietly asked.

Taj slowly nodded. “Though it doesn’t have to be in the way that you probably think.”

“In what way is it?” Desiree asked.

The Jamaican man picked up a slice of bacon and took a bite of it. “Don’t worry about it. Just be comforted by the fact that the problem has been taken care of.”

“It’s never going to bother us again?” Micaela inquired.

Taj looked straight at her. “Never.”

*****

After having visited with her sister the whole day, Desiree was about to get into her car to go home when she spotted Micaela getting into her own car. Leaving Dante with the baby-sitter, Micaela had arrived at the hospital about two hours ago to spend some time with Larisa. She and Desiree had barely said a word to each other during that whole visit.

Calling out the woman’s name, Desiree then jogged over to Micaela’s car, saying hello as she arrived.

“Hello yourself,” Micaela returned as she leaned against her car. “How are you doing?”

“I’m hanging in there. What about you?” Desiree shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans.

“Same here.” The Latina smiled at her, knowing that something was on her mind. “This is about last night, isn’t it?”

Desiree nodded as she chose to look down at her sneakers. “I…I don’t…”

“Desi,” Micaela called, causing the woman to look up at her. “It’s all right. You don’t owe me any explanation. What happened, happened. I will always cherish our night together but it’s fine if you don’t want history to ever repeat itself.” She shrugged. “You were lonely and so was I. I think in a way we helped each other. We found solace with each other even if it was only for one night,” Micaela paused. “It was really nice.”

The strawberry-blonde smiled. “Yeah, it was pretty nice.” She glanced back at her car. “Well I guess I better head on home,” she said turning back to Micaela. “You drive safely Mickey.”

Micaela took a deep breath while realizing that she wasn’t ready for this woman to leave just yet. Of all the women in the world, I fall for one that is in love with someone else. Cupid should be fired. “You too Desi.” She watched as Desiree turned around and started to leave. The woman was able to take three steps towards her car when she faintly heard Micaela ask, “May I have one last kiss?”

Smiling softly, Desiree turned back around and walked up to Micaela. Removing her hands from her pockets, she reached up to cup Micaela’s cheeks. Leaning in, Desiree tenderly pressed her lips to the Latina’s as their eyes closed. Micaela’s arms encircled the other woman’s waist as she languidly traced Desiree’s lips with her tongue. Parting her lips, Desiree coaxed Micaela’s tongue into her mouth, chasing it with her own. They held the kiss until needing air became a definite requirement. After ending it, the two tenderly smiled at each other.

“Goodnight sweetie,” Micaela softly said before opening her car door and getting inside.

Reaching out, Desiree closed the door after the other woman was settled in the driver’s seat. “Goodnight Mickey.”

*****

Tucking Larisa into the bed, Desiree asked her sister if she could get her anything. When Larisa shook her head, the strawberry-blonde leaned down and hugged her gently. She smiled as Larisa wrapped her arms around her neck, returning the hug. Straightening, Desiree pushed her sister’s wheelchair next to bed, warning Larisa not to get out of the bed without calling her first. The woman promised that she wouldn’t as she happily snuggled beneath the covers. It felt wonderful not to be in the hospital anymore. Spending nearly three weeks there was more than enough. Larisa was overjoyed when the doctor informed her that she could be released today.

Turning her head to the right, she looked at the wheelchair next to her bed. Her goal now was to start walking again. If she had merely lost one kneecap then she would only have to use crutches or a cane, but since both were removed, Larisa had to get around in a wheelchair for the time being. It was going to be a real pain using the thing, but Larisa told herself that it was only temporary. She could not wait to start physical therapy.

“It’s good to have you home,” Desiree said as she brushed a strand of hair out of her sister’s face.

“It’s good to be home,” Larisa replied, her jaw still hurting when she spoke. She tried not to open her mouth too wide.

Desiree smiled as she switched off the lamp and headed for the door. “Goodnight Risa,” she softly said. “Have sweet dreams.”

Quietly closing the door behind her, Desiree walked across the living room to her bedroom. When she entered, she began to remove her clothes before putting on a pair of shorts and an old T-shirt to sleep in. After making a trip to the bathroom to brush her teeth, Desiree got in the bed. She was alone tonight since Tobias had decided to sleep on the living room couch. Looking at the other side of the bed, Desiree felt a deep ache within her that it was empty. Not of Tobias, though she loved him dearly, but of Piper. It appeared that instead of the pain and loss lessening as the days went by, hers only seemed to increase. Desiree missed gazing into those baby blues and having those powerful arms around her.

Glancing at the top drawer of her nightstand, Desiree sat up in the bed. Reaching over, she opened it and removed a bottle of whiskey. She simply held the bottle in her hand as she stared at it for Desiree did not know how long. Finally, she twisted off the cap before raising the bottle to her lips, taking a few swigs. Desiree closed her eyes as the alcohol slid down her throat. She hoped that it would numb the pain, even if it were just temporary. Screwing the top back on, Desiree placed it back in her drawer before she turned out the light and lay back down in the bed. Closing her eyes, she began to drift off with thoughts of Piper running through her mind.

*****

Propping up pillows behind her head, Piper stretched out in her bed as she turned on the television, beginning to switch the channels. She had worked overtime and it had been a tiring evening at the restaurant, so all she wanted to do now was relax. Stopping on a talk show, she watched as a young woman wearing a skirt that was three times too small yelled at her twin sister who was currently sleeping with her husband and possibly pregnant with his baby. Piper laughed as she shook her head, wondering why some people chose to come on television with these outrageous confrontations.

As a commercial came on, Piper reached toward the nightstand where an airline ticket lay. Picking it up, she looked at it while deep in thought. In five days, she was to leave for Florida where she would start her new life. With Andrea’s help, she had come to the decision to leave California, because there was nothing for her here. Not anymore. Everything was settled. Andrea had a cousin named Lindsay, who lived in Tampa, Florida. She had been looking for a roommate. After getting the phone number from Andrea, Piper had gotten in touch with her cousin. They talked on the phone for nearly half an hour and it was decided that she and Piper would become roommates.

Where she would be living was close to the restaurant that she would be working at as a chef. Though Piper liked where she was currently working, she had to admit that it would be worth her while to take the other job. The pay and benefits were better, it was in another state, one which she had always wanted to visit, and since she would have a roommate, Piper could save even more money that she would someday use to start a restaurant of her very own.

Five days and then she would attempt to put this all behind her, though Piper knew that she would never be able to forget the short time that she shared with Desiree. The younger woman was forever branded on her mind. Putting the airline ticket down, Piper reached for the remote and switched off the television, having had enough of the talk show. Deciding to listen to some music for a while, she turned her clock radio on. Turning off the light, she settled back on the bed and began to listen to a song playing. Seconds later it ended and another one that Piper recognized as I’m Wishing On a Star, began to play.

“What a perfect song to have playing right now,” she said aloud to herself as she closed her eyes. She wished that Desiree were with her at this very moment.

I’m wishing on a star
To follow where you are
I’m wishing on a dream
To follow what it means

Hearing the bed faintly creak, as there was pressure put on it, Piper opened her eyes to see Desiree hovering over her on her hands and knees. Piper smiled up at the woman as though she fully expected her to be there. Sitting up, she started to say something when Desiree pressed two fingers to her lips. Keeping her mouth shut, Piper closed her eyes as the other woman leaned in, replacing her fingers with her lips.

And I wish on all the rainbows that I’ve seen
I wish on all the people who’ve really dreamed
And I wishing on tomorrow praying it’ll come
And I’m wishing on all the loving we’ve ever done

I never thought I’d see
A time when you would be
So far away from home
So far away from me

The kissing seemed to last endlessly before Piper broke away, gazing at the woman before her. She watched as Desiree unbuttoned the thigh length shirt that she was wearing and shrugged out of it. This left her completely naked and Piper took her all in. Desiree was absolutely breathtaking. The dark-haired woman quickly shucked her boxers before she got to her knees, mirroring the strawberry-blonde’s position. Desiree helped Piper out of her tank top before she leaned down and took one of the woman’s nipples into her mouth, beginning to lightly suck, causing Piper to let out a throaty moan.

Just think of all the moments that we’ve spent
I just can’t let you go
For me you were meant
And I didn’t mean to hurt you
But I know
That in the game of love you reap what you sow

I feel it’s time we should make up baby
I feel it’s time for us to get back together
Make the best of things oh baby
When were together
Whether or never

Moving her mouth to Piper’s other breast, Desiree gently pushed the woman back until Piper was once again lying down on her back. As Desiree began to suckle on her lover’s nipple, Piper arched her back letting out another moan, putting a hand on the back of Desiree’s head. The strawberry-blonde gently tugged at the nipple with the edge of her teeth as she flicked a thumb across Piper’s other tip.

Leaving Piper’s breasts, Desiree started to slowly kiss her way down the woman’s body. Piper’s breathing increased as she nearly squirmed with anticipation. Desiree’s soft warm lips and the way she trailed the tip of her tongue along the older woman’s skin were giving Piper goosebumps. It felt incredible.

And I wish on all the rainbows that I’ve seen
I wish on all the people we’ve ever greeted
And I’m hoping on all the days to come and days to go
And I’m hoping on days of loving you so

I’m wishing on a star
Follow where you are
I’m wishing on a star
Ooooh
And I wish on all the rainbows that I’ve seen
I’m wishing on a star
To follow where you are…

Reaching Piper’s center, Desiree winked up at the woman as she placed soft kisses on the woman’s dark curls. Piper squirmed on the bed as the amount of her wetness doubled. She felt as though she were on fire. Piper shuddered as Desiree lightly ran her tongue along her opening before starting to move up the woman’s body, nipping and kissing on her way. Making her way to Piper’s lips, Desiree kissed her passionately, darting her tongue in and out of her mouth as she pressed her body to the one beneath her.

Ending the kiss, Desiree sat up and scooted forward until her mound was hovering over Piper’s mouth. As the blue-eyed woman stuck her tongue out to taste her, Desiree raised her body so that Piper would miss. The smaller woman grinned and Piper found herself grinning back as the woman turned around to face the opposite direction with her mound over Piper’s mouth again. Desiree then slid down her lover’s body until her mouth was directly above Piper’s center. She slowly entered with her tongue, causing Piper to let out a moan before she slipped her own tongue into Desiree while she rested her hands on the smaller woman’s derriere, pressing Desiree into her more. Piper knew that it would not take long before she came as Desiree’s tongue found her hardened nub and started to suck on it. She in the turn did the same.

*****

Desiree hurriedly pumped her fingers in and out of herself as she began to experience the impending orgasm. She plunged her fingers deep within her center as she moaned, beads of sweat covering her entire body. “Ooooh, Piper gods!” she screamed as pleasure soared through her. Desiree began to thrash on the bed as she came, imagining that the dark-haired woman was with her right now.

*****

“Aaah, baby I love you!” Piper called out she as pressed her fingers against her clitoris. Her heart was hammering beneath her chest as she came hard and fast while imagining that Desiree’s tongue was deep inside of her. Piper rocked her hips back and forth, as a low moan escaped her lips.

Minutes later Piper’s breathing slowed as she opened her eyes and glanced around the room. As she had suspected, no one was there but her. She had no idea that her imagination was so vivid. Piper sighed as she turned over onto her stomach, wrapping her arms tightly around her pillows. Resting her cheek on the pillow her eyes made contact with the phone. She had to hear her voice one more time.

Sitting up, Piper switched on the light before picking up the phone and punching Desiree’s number into the keypad. The phone rang a couple of times before it was picked up. Desiree’s voice sounded slightly breathless as she said hello. Wrapping a hand around the telephone cord tightly, Piper closed her eyes as she listened to that voice, knowing that she would and could never forget it. Desiree repeated the greeting but Piper said nothing. She had to bite her lower lip to keep from doing so. The other woman waited a few seconds before she hung up the phone, leaving Piper listening to the dial tone.

*****

Curling underneath the covers, Desiree lay on her side as she stared at the phone. Instinctively, she knew that the caller was Piper. It had to be. Part of her wanted to call the woman back but Desiree refrained from doing so. Closing her eyes, Desiree soon fell back asleep, wondering if she would wake up again from another erotic fantasy about Piper.

*****

Finishing the next chapter of her book, Desiree saved it before shutting her computer down. She glanced at the clock and noted the time. Desiree nodded, very pleased with herself. It had taken her a little over an hour to complete six pages, which was not bad at all.

Deciding to fix herself a snack, Desiree stood up and stretched. Since it was cold today and was pouring rain, a cup of hot tea along with a bowl of chicken noodle soup and sandwich sounded good. She turned to walk out of her bedroom when the phone began to ring. Jaunting over to it, she picked the phone up and said hello. It was Taj.

“Hey little one,” he said. “I started not to do this, but there is something you should know about.”

He sounded as though he were in hurry. “What’s that?”

“She’d kill me if she found out that I told you, but oh well. I’m willing to take that chance. Piper is on her way to Florida today. She’s moving there.”

“Florida?” Desiree sat down heavily on the bed. Piper was leaving?

“Yes, Florida. I just thought you might want to know. You might also want to know that her plane departs at two-thirty this afternoon at gate seven.”

Desiree glanced at her clock again. It was nearly two o’clock now. Could she make it in time to LAX by two-thirty? And was she actually going to go? “Thank…thank you for telling me Taj,” she said.

“You’re welcome little one. I’ll let you go now.”

He hung up the phone before she could say anything more. Quickly making up her mind, Desiree stood up and looked around the room for something to put on. She couldn’t go out wearing nothing but a flannel shirt. Well, she could but then she would most likely be arrested for indecent exposure before she could successfully arrive at gate seven. Hurrying over to her closet she opened it and found a pair of blue jeans on a hanger. Snatching the pants off of the hanger, Desiree put them on in record time before slipping into a pair of sneakers.

Grabbing her keys off of the desk, she ran out of the room and across the living room. Knocking on Larisa’s door, she waited until the woman granted her access before entering. Larisa was sitting up in the bed doing a crossword puzzle.

“Hon, I’m going to the airport to stop a plane,” Desiree quickly explained as her sister stared at her quizzically. “I’ll be back soon. You think you’ll be all right by yourself for an hour or so?”

Larisa nodded. “Sure. I’ll be just fine. But what do you mean that you’re going to stop a plane?”

Desiree ran over to the bed and kissed Larisa on the cheek as she smiled. “I’ll explain it all when I get back ‘kay? I really must run now.”

Larisa smiled back, though she wondered what was going on. She had a feeling that this had something to do with Piper. “Well…go get your woman sis.”

The strawberry-blonde looked at Larisa in surprise before a grin spread across her lips. “I fully intend to.”

*****

Managing to locate a parking space, Desiree pulled her Honda into it before jumping out of the car and running towards the entrance of LAX. The raindrops fell down upon her, but the young woman did not notice as she ran as fast as she could. Heading into the huge airport, she found out where gate seven was and ran towards it. Other people stared at her, most thinking that she had a plane to catch and was late getting to her gate.

Reaching gate seven, Desiree groaned as she noticed that the plane with Piper in it was pulling away. She placed her palms against the glass and watched as it left the gate. Coming to a decision, Desiree ran outside, heading in the direction of the plane. She called out Piper’s name, although she knew that the woman would never be able to hear her. She had a feeling that she would not be able to catch up to the plane, but Desiree knew that she would always hate herself if she did not at least attempt to.

Though hearing people yelling at her to stop, Desiree kept going. She sighed in relief as the plane stopped moving as she continued to run towards it while wildly waving her hands in the air and calling Piper’s name, her throat beginning to ache with the effort. Hearing hurried footsteps behind her, Desiree ran even harder to catch up to the plane. She was running towards her life…towards the love of her life. Just as Desiree drew next to the plane, two men grabbed her by her arms, trying to pull her back. Desiree tried to fight them off, but the men were too strong. Effortlessly picking her up, they began to carry her towards the building.

“All right, all right!” Desiree yelled to the men in irritation. “I’ll walk.”

They put Desiree down on her feet before beginning to walk, one on either side of her as they watched her cautiously to make sure that she would not bolt towards the plane. One of the men asked Desiree what her problem was. When she did not give any sort of reply, he repeated his question a bit louder.

“I was trying to stop someone from walking out of my life forever,” she stated softly as she glanced at both men. “I apologize for what I just did, but I had my reasons.”

“That was a very dangerous move Ma’am.”

Desiree nodded. “Yes I realize that.”

As they entered the building where people were talking in small groups after having just watched the obviously psychotic young woman run after a plane, the two men continued to tell Desiree how what she did was wrong. She nodded as they talked, not really listening to a word they said. All she wanted to do now was go home and have a good cry. They finally ended their reprimanding by asking Desiree if she was going to be all right. Both men could tell that the young woman was distraught. The strawberry-blonde nodded, assuring them that she was going to just fine, though Desiree did not actually know if the reply was true. Would she be all right now that Piper had walked out of her life, seemingly for good?

When the men allowed her to go, Desiree slowly began to walk back in the direction she had come earlier. Her clothes were nearly soaked through but the young woman still did not notice as she began to feel that familiar ache. Running a hand through her wet hair, Desiree finally exited the airport and walked towards where her car was parked as the rain continued to pour. As she came upon the lot where the Honda was, she noticed a figure leaning against her car. Her eyes squinted as she looked at the figure curiously. Desiree’s pace suddenly sped up, as did the beating of her heart. Could it be? No, it couldn’t. Could it?

Coming closer, Desiree had her answer. It was her. Desiree did not know how, but Piper was leaning against her car at this very moment. Her face lit up as she began to smile. Desiree stopped walking when she was within twenty feet of the figure and just stared in amazement.

“What can I say?” Piper shrugged as she grinned at Desiree. “I’m a sucker for a girl that chases after an airplane.” Standing upright, she opened her arms wide. “C’mon Dino. You know you wanna.”

Desiree squealed in delight as she ran towards Piper. Reaching her, she jumped into the woman’s arms. Both laughed as Piper swung her around in circles before putting Desiree back down on her feet. Cupping the younger woman’s cheeks, Piper offered her a warm smile before leaning down and gently capturing Desiree’s lips with her own in a tender yet passionate kiss.

“How did you know I was here?” Desiree asked as the kiss ended. She kept her arms around Piper’s neck, both of them completely wet as fat raindrops continued to fall on them.

Piper grinned. “Well I happened to glance out of my window and see a woman who looked just like you. I knew then that I had to get off the plane, so I told the pilot that you were my crazy cousin and that I had to help you to get back to the asylum before they knew you were missing,” she teased.

Desiree gently slapped her on the arm though she had a broad smile on her face. “Ha ha. Very funny. And how did you get to my car?”

“I walked.”

Desiree smirked.

Piper laughed. “I found your car by sheer luck. I just kept searching the rows until I did. It was actually very easy. I was surprised that you hadn’t left yet.” Leaning down, she kissed Desiree again. “Anyway, the important thing is that I caught you before you left and this time I don’t plan on ever letting you go.”

Desiree smiled up at her dreamily. “You’ll keep me forever?”

“If you’ll allow me to.”

“I’m yours,” Desiree replied.

Piper smiled. “And I’m yours baby. I love you.”

The strawberry-blonde had tears of joy strolling down her cheeks along with the raindrops. It was difficult to tell which was which. “I love you too Piper.”

Piper and Desiree shared another tender kiss as they embraced one another. Both were extremely happy to be together again and this time they silently vowed that it would last for eternity.

The End

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