Hostage of the Heart by Ambrosia

Hostage of the Heart
by Ambrosia

CHAPTER 1

Desiree Love had a hectic day, however this claim is probably a total understatement. First, she slept late, because her alarm clock decided to stop working all of the sudden. Due to this, she was caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeway, whereas it would usually move along smoothly, because she left early enough. Since there was a traffic jam, Desiree ended up almost being two and half-hours late, which her boss berated her for. Desiree, known for being a rather patient person most of the time, acted the complete opposite then.

“Well what did you expect me to do huh? Make like the Jetsons and fly over the stupid cars?” When there was bumper to bumper traffic on the freeway, Desiree could see why some people experienced road rage. Heck, she had been pretty close herself to letting it happen this morning.

The next thing Desiree knew it, she was packing her belongings in a cardboard box because her boss had thought his best option was to fire her. This was not a great loss, because she had only been a secretary, and it did not seem like she would be moving up any time soon, due to the fact that she would have been working there five years next month. Desiree had acquired the position when she turned eighteen, while concurrently attending UCLA with a major in creative writing and English. From the early age of seven, Desiree had wanted to be a fiction writer. She was on the verge of finishing her first novel. Then all she would have to do is locate a publisher, who would be willing to take a chance on her.

As Desiree pulled into her parking space when she arrived back at her apartment complex, she noticed that her live in boyfriends’ car was there. “What is Alec doing home this early?” she wondered aloud. As Desiree waited in the elevator to be taken to the fourteenth floor, she thought of the reasons he could be home. “Maybe the poor thing is sick,” she thoughtfully paused, “Or maybe the idiot had been fired from yet another job. Better not let it be the latter.” When the elevator doors slid open, the first thing Desiree saw was two people in front of her kissing. The couple was kissing quite passionately as though their lives depended on their performance.

“Alec!” Desiree shouted in disbelief, as she hurried to get out of the elevator before the doors closed again. As she did so, the woman her boyfriend had previously been playing tongue hockey with, hurried into it with her face averted from Desiree’s.

“Who was that?” asked Desiree, pointing at the now closed elevator doors.

“My girlfriend,” Alec replied easily.

“Your girlfriend? I’m your girlfriend!” Desiree was bristling.

Alec shook his head. “Not anymore. You’ve been replaced,” he stated calmly as though they were discussing something as trivial as the weather. In fact, he appeared very composed for a man who had just been caught cheating, which only infuriated girlfriend number one all the more. The very least he could do was to pretend like he felt bad for his infidelity! Was that so hard?

“Replaced? What am I to you Alec? Am I a freaking piece of furniture? We’ve been together for nearly four years and you’re telling me that I have been replaced?” Desiree did not know how much longer she could refrain from physically assaulting him. The last thing she needed was to be put behind bars. She ran her hands through her strawberry-blonde hair, to keep them busy.

Alec reached out as to touch her, but Desiree deflected him, so he let his arm drop back to his side with a small sigh.

“Desi, I didn’t want you to find out this way. What else can I say, but that I’m sorry. I was going to break the news to you tonight. I’m moving out today.” Alec then gave her a remorseful smile, which Desiree had the urge to remove with a sharp stinging slap. Make that a sharp stinging backslap!

“That would be wise. Get your stuff and get out,” Desiree said between clenched teeth. Alec nodded compliantly as he headed back to the apartment. Watching him go, Desiree’s vision became blurry and she fought the urge to break down in tears. This day was turning into a nightmare. Lost my job, lost my boyfriend…this day royally sucks.
***

Later that night, Desiree sat on her couch, rubbing her beloved cat Tobias, while he purred in complete satisfaction at the attention he was receiving.

“Well at least one of us is happy, Tobias.” As if he understood, the seven-year-old feline reached up and rubbed his cheek against her own, then again settled down in her lap, as his owner smiled fondly at him. Out of all the males that had been in Desiree’s life, he was the only one that had never failed her.

“You’re the first one today to put a smile on my face.” She sighed. “What am I going to do now?” She thought about it for a few minutes as she absently twirled a lock of her straight hair around a finger. She then came to a decision.

“I’m going out for ice cream, Tobias.” She put him down on the plush bright blue carpet, where he immediately began to meow in protest. He wanted more petting and he wanted it now! “Now don’t cry sweetie. I’ll bring you a pint of vanilla. I know it’s your favorite.”

If there were one cat in this world that was spoiled, that cat would be Tobias. Since Desiree did not have any children, she spoiled him endlessly. Tobias ate liver pate out of crystal goblets just like the cats on television and wore an expensive collar that cost more than all of Desiree’s jewelry put together. He was to put it simply, her baby.
***

Desiree instantly felt guilty as she walked back to her Lilac ’96 Honda Excel, with Tobias’ promised ice cream in hand. She felt like a pig after eating two banana splits with extra fudge and peanuts on each. Though she didn’t feel that well, they sure were tasty. Going to her favorite ice cream parlor Sweet Sensations always gave Desiree these feelings. She mused excitedly, “Maybe I can get a job here.” She thought about that for a moment and changed her mind. “Nah. I can’t be trusted with all that ice cream. I’d gain 20 pounds within a week.”

After Desiree put the key in the ignition, the next thing she knew it something cold was pressed against her right temple and an arm was situated around her neck rather tightly. Desiree’s heart started to beat expeditiously while her blue-green eyes wide with obvious fear, were frozen on the steering wheel.

“Do what I say and you won’t be meeting your maker anytime soon. Got it?” asked a low voice.

Desiree nodded, finding it impossible to speak.

“I can’t hear you.” More pressure was put on her temple along with a tighter grip around her neck.

“Yes,” Desiree shakily whispered, her voice filled with fear.

“Good. Now this is where you go…”

***

It was almost midnight as they continued to drive on the almost deserted highway in silence. Desiree was near tears, but so far, she had been able to control them. The person that had taken her hostage had not said anything, except for when she was giving directions. It was too quiet, so Desiree decided to take the initiative and say something to the person still sitting in the back seat. Desiree could tell by the voice, that the person was a female. That was the only evidence she had, because the woman had on a black ski mask, which covered her whole head except for her mouth and those electric blue eyes she had. The woman had taken away her arm and the gun, but Desiree somehow knew that she was on alert, although she was sitting back seeming to be in a relaxed state.

Desiree cleared her throat. “Do you think that’s wise?” she asked quietly.

“What?” the woman snapped, her eyes boring into the back of her hostage’s head. Desiree could feel them on her without looking in the rearview mirror.

“Wearing a ski mask, when somebody in another car could see you.”

The woman leaned forward, her lips almost touching Desiree’s ear as she spoke in that low voice, “Are you trying to tell me how to successfully kidnap you?”

Shivers that she couldn’t explain ran down Desiree’s spine as she replied, “N-no. I uh…I was just saying that you’re apt to draw attention with a ski mask over your head.” She shrugged. “That’s all.”

The kidnapper was quiet for a few moments, just staring at Desiree, in the process making her extremely uncomfortable. Desiree started to feel beads of sweat forming on her forehead. She thought, I should have just kept my big mouth shut.

“Pull over.”

Desiree jumped causing the woman in the back seat to began chuckling. She frowned when she asked, “Something strike you as funny?”

“Yes, you do. Poor baby. Are you afraid of me little girl?” the woman asked mockingly, with amusement in her eyes.

Desiree frowned again, now beginning to become angry. “Don’t call me a little girl. Do I look like a little girl to you?” She mentally chastised herself for getting an attitude with the kidnapper. I must have a death wish.

The woman made a show of examining Desiree from head to toe. Desiree did not know why exactly, but she started to blush. The woman once again leaned close to her ear. “Not at all. From this view, you look like all woman to me,” she whispered.
If Desiree was not blushing before, she definitely was now. Just what is she up to? she wondered in her mind.

“Pull over,” the kidnapper repeated her demand from moment’s before.

Desiree complied. As soon as she had pulled over, the woman hurried to get out of the back door with the gun pointed at her captive to let her know that she should not try to do anything tricky like drive off. Desiree would not think of doing such a thing, because for some reason she knew that the woman would be able to stop her efforts. The kidnapper got in the front seat and scooted onto the floor still pointing the gun at Desiree.

“You can drive now,” she said, but the tone of her voice clearly stated that Desiree did not have a choice.

Desiree did not move. “What are you doing?” she asked. The kidnapper’s tall frame looked rather cramped in the small space, but evidently she was determined to make it work.

“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m sitting on the floor. Now drive the car.”

Desiree then checked for any other vehicles. Not seeing any coming, she pulled out.

***

It was now two-thirty in the morning, and Desiree was so tired that she could barely keep her eyes open. She glanced down at her kidnapper to discover that she was staring up at her intently, as she had been for the past couple hours. The gun was still in her hand, but was not pointed at Desiree to the young woman’s great relief. That deadly weapon had been making her eminently nervous.

“Why are you staring at me?” Desiree asked.

“As if I have a choice. Not much of a view from down here.”

“Well nobody told you to sit down there,” replied Desiree, immediately regretting what she had just said. As if her mouth had not gotten her into enough trouble today. It had cost her her job, and now it could cost Desiree her life.

The blue-eyed woman cocked her head to the side saying, “You know, you have a smart mouth for someone being held at gun point.”

Desiree decided to change the subject. “I’m going to be missed by a lot of people.”

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you it’s not right to lie.” The woman grinned.

She was rewarded with a dirty look. It was at this moment Desiree knew that her life might not be in jeopardy. Sure someone was holding her against her will with a gun, but she now felt it deep down inside that this woman would not end her life. That grin and the teasing remark gave Desiree the security that she had been seeking. The kidnapper was not a cold-blooded killer that she was dealing with. Then who was she? And what did she do? Desiree thought, I just simply have to know.

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you it’s not right to take people against their will?” Desiree countered bravely, wondering if she had just lost her mind. This woman was still very dangerous.

The woman placed a hand on Desiree’s blue-jean clad knee. “Oh baby, you’ll know when you’ve been taken,” she answered in an even lower tone of voice than the one she had been using. She took her hand away, but not without a squeeze to her captive’s knee.

Her words and action caused the strawberry-blonde’s cheeks to break out in another blush. Was she flirting with her? No, that could not be. Could it? Desiree shook her head to try to clear her thoughts. The woman was just playing with her mind.

All was quiet for the next twenty minutes with each woman lost in her own thoughts. Desiree tried to concentrate on what she would write in the next chapter of her novel. She tried to do this so she would not fall asleep at the wheel. The last thing she needed was to have a car accident now. Her plan was not working, so she settled on talking to her complex kidnapper again, which was exactly what the blue-eyed woman was. One minute she was teasing Desiree, and the next she was gruff, menacingly holding up her weapon.

“I have a child,” Desiree stated out of the blue.

“Congratulations,” the woman on the floor replied dryly.

“I have to go back, because he depends on me. I’m the only one he has.” She was telling the truth. No one else would think to take care of Tobias in her abrupt absence.

The woman sarcastically replied, “You’re breaking my heart.”

Desiree sighed. “Please. He’s only seven years old.”

“You’ll be going home soon enough.” The woman raised a little to look out of the window. “A lake will be coming up in about ten or eleven miles. There will be a small road extending towards it, so turn on it. Got it?”

Desiree nodded. “Yes.”

The woman nodded and sat back down on the floor. “Good.”

Desiree took a deep breath. “He’s all alone.”

The kidnapper sighed. “Not this again. What is a seven-year-old doing home alone?”

“He’s a latch-key kid.”

“At seven?”

“We live in a safe neighborhood.” Desiree thought quickly.

“Ah,” the kidnapper gave a short pause. “Well it doesn’t matter, ’cause I don’t believe you anyway.”

Desiree frowned. She actually thought the woman had been buying her story. “You don’t believe me?”

The woman shrugged. “Call me crazy, but no I don’t.”

Okay. You’re a gigantic psycho and I think you ought to be locked up in a mental institution! Desiree mentally said. It was on the tip of her tongue to say it aloud, but she changed her mind. “Well it’s true. His name is Tobias and he’s probably going out of his mind wondering where I am.”

“Lady, save it for someone who’ll believe it.” She scratched her neck with the barrel adding, “He’s probably just a cat or somethin’.” She had to bite back a smile at her captive’s shocked expression. “What?” she asked innocently.

“Nothing,” the strawberry-blonde replied. After silently driving for about another mile, she got an idea. “I was bringing him ice cream home.” She picked up the now melted pint of ice cream for the woman to see.

The kidnapped shrugged. “So? That could be your ice cream. Got a picture of him? I’ll need some evidence.”

“I got a new wallet yesterday, and I haven’t gotten around to transporting the pictures from my old wallet to my new one.” Desiree mentally congratulated herself. I never knew I could lie so well. Not that that was something to be proud of, but still…

The blue-eyed woman shook her head. “I’ve gotta hand it to ya. You’re a good liar, although that’s not something to be proud of.” She leaned towards Desiree and whispered, “I think you need a spanking.”

The young woman blushed again, and this time almost ran into a bush on the side of the road. She corrected the car and glanced down at her kidnapper to find that she was grinning broadly.

“What?” asked Desiree with a hint of irritation edging into her voice.

The woman replied innocently, “Nothing.”

***

Fifteen minutes later, they were pulling up to a small cabin surrounded by trees and other plants belonging to mother nature. It seemed to be the only cabin around, and Desiree had to admit that from outside appearance it was a lovely little cabin. Four steps led up to a porch that sported a swinging bench and two rocking chairs. The scenery was beautiful with colorful flowers all around.

Desiree turned her head towards her kidnapper who was now sitting in the passenger seat instead of the floor. “Where are we?”

“In the woods.”

Desiree mentally counted to ten. Aye! This woman could be aggravating! “Could you be a little more explicit?”

“Yes I could,” the woman replied getting out of the car and coming around to the drivers’ side. She opened the door and told Desiree to hand her the keys and get out of the car. The young woman complied on both without one word.

It was then that Desiree noticed that the other woman was much taller than she was. Desiree stood at 5’4″ but this woman must have been pushing six feet. It also did not get past the strawberry-blonde that this woman had a killer figure. Although it was dark, and the woman was dressed in all black, Desiree could tell that she kept her body fit. The kidnapper noticed the shorter woman looking her over but chose not to comment on it. She might make her blush again, yet that might not be such a bad thing. The kidnapper thought that Desiree looked even prettier when she blushed or when she was ticked off.

The taller woman led Desiree into the cabin and deposited her in the kitchen in front of a black refrigerator. She took a pair of handcuffs out of her back pocket and cuffed her captive’s right wrist to the handle on the refrigerator door.

“What are you doing?” asked Desiree in a surprised tone. Never in her young life had she been handcuffed. Sure, Alec had attempted to do it once, but she quickly set him straight that she wasn’t into that sort of thing. She found the metal cold and slightly tight around her wrist.

“What does it look like? I’m handcuffing you to the refrigerator, ’cause I have to go do something.” The woman chucked Desiree under the chin earning herself a glare in the process. She chuckled and said, “I’ll be back” in an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice. She walked away briskly as Desiree looked after her, wondering after all did this woman have a screw loose.

When the kidnapper exited the front door, Desiree examined all that she could see from her position. She realized she could see everything. The kitchen was small, but seemed to have everything that it needed, from a black toaster oven to a white microwave. It had one of those modern electric stoves that were easier to clean. This was a black one, and Desiree longed to cook on it. She was an excellent cook, and she enjoyed doing it.

The countertop was white marble, and the floor was checkered with black and white squares. Desiree noticed that even the sink was painted black. The wooden cupboards and drawers were white and there was little window situated over the kitchen sink. Desiree could see the car from where she stood out of the window, and she could tell the woman was inside of it, but she could not tell what she was doing, due to it being so dark. She turned her attention to the refrigerator and opened the door to discover with much joy and surprise, that it was loaded with food. She then opened the freezer to discover the same thing. Old blue eyes must have been planning this.

Desiree then scanned the living room. There was one black leather couch that was in the shape of an L. In front of it was a cherry wood coffee table, which contained glass squares on top. Behind that was a fireplace situated against the wall, with wood already inside of it to burn. Desiree noticed that the carpet was stark white, and wondered anew if this woman was nuts. People who dared to have stark white carpeting must be begging carpet cleaners to come to their homes on a regular basis. Either that or they made it a rule to check the shoes and feet of everyone who entered. Desiree would be a nervous wreck with white carpet.

A few inches to the right of the fireplace was a huge black entertainment system. In it on the top shelf on the left were ten paperback books of equal height. Desiree could not make out the titles imprinted on the binders of them, because she was too far away. The top shelf on the right had software programs for computer usage. In the middle of the entertainment center was a black 35″ television with a built-in VCR. To the right of the television were two shelves packed tightly with videotapes. Desiree could not make out the titles of those either. To the left of the television were two more shelves. The top one held a state-of-the-art compact disc player, and the one below it held a few stacks of CD’s. Desiree briefly wondered what kind of music the woman listened to. There were three cabinets at the bottom of the entertainment system, but Desiree did not know what was inside, since the doors were closed.

Her eyes wandered over to a cherry wood desk located by the front door, with a big window in front of it, which was covered by white venetian blinds. The desk had what must have been about a 17″ black computer on top of it. Desiree could not figure out the brand from the distance, but it looked like a commendable one. Next to the computer sat a printer and a scanner. A leather-padded computer desk chair sat behind the desk.

“This chick must be loaded,” Desiree stated aloud. “Probably got all of this from robbing a bank or being a drug lord.”

She then spied three separate doors in the living room, and guessed that two of them were most likely bedrooms, and the other one led to a bathroom, which was what Desiree realized she needed right at that moment. She started to jump up and down slightly, finally taking notice of her full bladder. She looked out the kitchen window again for the kidnapper, but no longer saw her. She squeezed her legs together in a vain attempt to hold herself in check. The last thing Desiree needed was that woman teasing her for wetting her pants.

“Oh! I need some release,” Desiree whined, starting to do the “I’ve got to go to the bathroom dance.”

“Maybe I can help you with that,” said a voice suddenly.

Desiree’s head snapped to the front door to find the blue-eyed woman standing there with her mask still on.

“What?” Desiree asked in an exasperated voice.

“I said,” The woman began slowly walking towards her captive, “maybe I can help you with that.” She tugged on the leather belt around her waist.

Desiree rolled her eyes but she still blushed. “Must you take everything I say out of context?” she asked.

“Why whatever do you mean?” the woman asked too sweetly.

The strawberry-blonde shook her head. “Never mind. Could you just get me out of these things?”

“Your pants?” the woman asked, grinning lasciviously.

“The handcuffs!” Desiree had not meant to shout but this woman was getting on her last nerve.

“Oh,” the kidnapper said as if she had not known that. “Yes I can.” The tall woman did not make a move to do this however.

Desiree stared at her, waiting for the kidnapper to release her from the cuffs. Finally, she could not wait any longer. “Well?” Desiree inquired impatiently.

“What?”

Desiree took a deep calming breath. “Could you help me out of these handcuffs?” she tried to ask pleasantly.

“I have the ability to.”

3-2-1, 1-2-3. Who the heck is bothering me? Desiree thought. “Will you please take these handcuffs off of me?” she asked aloud.

The other woman shrugged. “Sure. Just a moment though.” Taking her precious time, she strolled over to a cupboard and took out a glass. Then she went over to the kitchen faucet and turned on the water, letting it run ever so slowly. The woman looked over her shoulder to see if her plan was having the desired effect. It was. Her captive was squirming even more now, what with the water running. The kidnapper had to bite her lip so that she would not bust out laughing. She asked Desiree if she wanted some water, but the young woman declined. The kidnapper slowly raised the glass to her lips, and took a sip of water.

You are pure evil! “Will you please get over here!?” pleaded Desiree.

The other woman stared at her for a second. “Patience is a virtue.”

“Please do something nice, and get me out of these.” She indicated the handcuffs.

The kidnapper placed the glass of water down in the sink soundlessly, and then walked towards Desiree. She stood close to the shorter woman and asked, “What do I get in return?”

“How about I stick my foot in your-”

“Whoa! What a naughty girl you are.” The woman asked, and leaned close to Desiree’s left ear. “Now you really deserve a spanking,” she whispered.

Desiree cocked her head away from the woman’s mouth, but not before she discovered to her astonishment that she liked the feel of the woman’s warm breath caressing her ear. She had not even touched her, and Desiree managed to shiver. Oh God, now I must be going crazy!

Desiree narrowed her eyes. “I was gonna say mouth.”

“Yeah right.” The blue-eyed woman gave her incredulous look. At least Desiree thought she did. She could not tell very well since the woman still had the ski mask on.

“Could you please unlock me?” Desiree attempted to ask this as sweetly as she could.

The other woman did not utter a word as she took out a small key from a pocket in her black jeans and unlocked the handcuffs. She then took Desiree by her left arm and led her to the door closest to the fireplace. She opened the door and ushered her captive inside, warning her that she better not try anything tricky. Desiree nodded as she hurried into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.

A couple minutes later after Desiree washed her hands, she took in her surroundings. The bathroom held a shower and one of those round bathtubs, instead of the basic oval shape. The sink and the surrounding area were black with gold-colored faucets and two black knobs for hot and cold. Desiree would have loved to soak in the gorgeous looking bathtub for an hour or so. Desiree opened the medicine cabinet, and discovered the basics in it. There was aspirin, cough medicine, a bottle of Tums and other medicines for ones ailments. All of the sudden a knock came at the door as she closed the medicine cabinet.

“Yeah?” Desiree called loudly.

“What are you doing in there?” asked a muffled voice.

“What do you think I’m doing? It’s a bathroom.”

“I heard the toilet flush. You’re done, so get out,” the woman demanded.

Desiree opened the door and said, “You know, you should really follow your own advice.”

“What do you mean?” the woman asked on the verge of impatience.

“Patience is a virtue.” Desiree tried to mimic the other woman’s voice.

“Well you were taking too long,” she argued.

“What did you think I was doing?” Desiree placed her hands on her hips. “Making a weapon out of the soap and toilet paper?” Talk about your paranoid kidnappers!

Desiree suddenly found herself wrapped around the waist by strong arms. She let out a yelp and placed her hands on the taller woman’s shoulders, as she was twirled around. The other woman let go of her as she rushed into the bathroom, slamming it after she got in.

Desiree laughed for the second time that day. She inquired to the closed door, “Well why didn’t you just say you had to potty?”

Desiree wandered over to the entertainment system to get a good look at all that was inside. Some of the books there she recognized and had read from such authors as Jackie Collins, Rita Mae Brown, and John Grisham. The CD’s were mostly oldies, soft rock and rhythm and blues. The videotapes seemed to be based mostly on drama, with a few comedies. Desiree even spotted a couple of her favorites, and some that she had wanted to see, but had not gotten around to yet. It then hit her that she could very well escape. Desiree looked towards the front door longingly.

“Don’t even think about it.”

Desiree jumped. “Must you sneak up on me!” She glared at the woman standing in front of the fireplace, seeming to appear out of nowhere.

The woman smiled, showing a nice set of white even teeth. “I like to keep you on your toes.”

Desiree nodded. “Ah.” She then studied the woman. “Why did you leave me alone?”

“Nature called.” The other woman shrugged. “Plus you wouldn’t have gotten very far. I would have caught up with you soon enough,” she replied confidently.

The strawberry-blonde rolled her blue-green eyes. “My. Don’t we have a big ego.”

“No. I’m just sure of my abilities,” the other woman said seriously. She then walked over to the couch, taking a seat. She indicated for Desiree to come sit down too, so she did, but Desiree made sure that there was plenty of space between them.

She then studied the woman’s ski mask. “Why don’t you take that off?” she pointed towards the mask.

“Oh so you can identify me to the police?”

Desiree shook her head. “I just thought you’d be more comfortable with it off is all.”

The other woman started to say something that would most likely make her captive blush, but she changed her mind. “Since when did you care about my comfort?”

“I don’t,” Desiree argued. “It’s just that you look silly wearing that when I don’t see any immediate need for it.”

The blue-eyed woman stared at Desiree so long after that that the young woman began to squirm. Finally, the woman raised a hand and grabbed the material of the mask around her chin and pulled if off. Desiree could not help herself. She gasped and openly gazed at the face behind the mask. This had to be one of the most beautiful women that she had ever laid eyes on. The woman had dark brown hair that fell a little ways passed her shoulders. It was mussed from having been stuffed into the ski mask. She had prominent cheekbones and lips that Desiree considered looked soft as cotton. Her sky blues seemed to stand out even more without the burden of the mask. Desiree surmised that the woman could not be much older than she herself was.

“Something you find interesting about my face?” inquired the other woman with mirth in her eyes.

“N-no,” Desiree stuttered. “I was just looking,” she tried to say nonchalantly.

The blue-eyed woman scooted closer to her and whispered, “Is that all you want to do is look?”

Desiree abruptly hurried off the couch to stand by the fireplace. “Why do you do that?” she asked, blushing furiously.

“Do what?” the other woman asked innocently.

“Tease me. Turn what I say into something lurid with your perverted mind,” she replied between clenched teeth.

The other woman shrugged. “It gets my juices flowing.”

Desiree rolled her eyes. “Can’t you get your juices flowing some other way?”

The kidnapper ran her eyes slowly down Desiree’s body. “Oh, I can think of one or two ways.” She smirked.

Desiree chose to ignore the not so hidden meaning. “Well I don’t appreciate it.”

“Funny.” She scratched her chin. “I don’t recall giving any implication that I cared about what you appreciated.”

Desiree yawned for an answer. She ran a hand over her eyes wearily.

“You tired?”

“What do you think?” Desiree snapped irritability. She was so tired that her eyes were stinging.

The kidnapper held up her hands. “I was just asking.” Arising from the couch, she grabbed a hold of her captive’s upper arm, leading her towards the door farthest from the bathroom. She opened it and ushered Desiree inside saying, “This will be your room while you are staying here.”

Desiree’s eyes roamed around the small but nicely decorated room. It was done in shades of blues and white. She turned her attention to the woman still standing behind her. “How long will I be staying here?”

The kidnapper shrugged. “As long as it takes,” she simply answered.

Desiree’s face scrunched up. “As long as what takes?”

The woman leaned towards her captive conspiratorially. “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.” She laughed at the look of shock on the young woman’s face. She chucked her under the chin saying, “I’m just kidding.”

“I knew you were,” Desiree announced defensively.

“Yeah right.” The taller woman smirked. “Listen, everything that you find in there feel free to use. Clothes, toothbrush, towels, everything. Got it?”

Desiree nodded. “Thank you.” She was not so sure that she should be thanking this woman since she was holding her hostage, but in spite of everything, the kidnapper was being cordial. How many kidnappers would give hostages their own bedroom, clothes, and bathroom needs? Desiree almost felt like she was on vacation, except for the part where she could not leave as she pleased.

“No need to thank me,” the woman muttered. Really, no need to thank me, she thought.

Desiree fidgeted with the knob on the door. “Well goodnight.” She began to close the door.

The other woman smiled slightly. “Goodnight, Love.”

***

Desiree stormed out of the bedroom. “What did you mean by that?” she demanded of the other woman who was now sitting in front of the computer.

The woman hurriedly switched the screen to black with a push of a button and swiveled around in her chair. She nearly choked on the soda she was drinking at the sight before her. Desiree had chosen to wear a simple white T-shirt to sleep in, but she looked absolutely gorgeous to the kidnapper. Her legs may not have been that long, but they were finely shaped. The hem of the T-shirt reached Desiree mid-thigh.

“Stop looking at me like that!” Desiree realized that she should have put that robe on she found in the closet.

“Like what?” The kidnapper inquired, forcing her blue eyes to focus on the younger woman’s face.

“Like I’m a piece of meat, and you’re a carnivore that hasn’t eaten in weeks.”

The kidnapper rolled her eyes. “Oh please. Don’t flatter yourself.” She mentally chastised herself for being so obvious.

Desiree shrugged, deciding it best to let the issue drop. “Whatever. Why did you call me love?”

The woman stared at her for a moment before answering. “It’s your name, isn’t it?”

The strawberry-blonde narrowed her eyes. “What do you mean?”

“Isn’t your name Desiree Meredith Love?”

Desiree gaped at her. “How did you know that?” Then it hit her. “Did you go through my glove compartment while I was locked to the refrigerator?”

The other woman shook her head. “No, I didn’t.” She sighed. Might as well give her some clue as to why she’s here, she thought.

“Then how did you know?”

The blue-eyed woman took a deep breath before beginning. “You’re name is Desiree Meredith Love. You are twenty-three years old, and you were born and raised in San Francisco, California, until you moved at the age of eighteen to attend UCLA for the next four years. You used to work at an office supply company, but unfortunately, you got fired yesterday. You’re currently writing a book, because becoming a well-known fiction novelist is your real passion in life.” She thought for a moment. “You have one younger brother and one older sister, your parents still reside in San Francisco, and you have a cat named Tobias. You know, that latch key kid of yours.” She finished smiling mischievously at the expression on her captive’s face.

Desiree plopped down on the arm of the couch with her mouth hanging open. If there had been flies swarming around the cabin she would have been in big trouble. “How on earth did you know all that?” she asked astonished.

“I used to be a ‘Psychic Friend’,” she replied grinning.

“Don’t play with me,” Desiree retorted in a warning tone.

“Oooh.” She pretended to shiver. “What are you gonna do to me Shorty?”

Her captive cocked her head to the side. “Shorty?” she repeated. If there was one thing she hated, it was for people to draw attention to her short stature. It was a sensitive topic for the vertically challenged strawberry-blonde.

The woman twined her fingers together in her lap. “That’s what I said. Question is, what’re you gonna do about it?”

Desiree balled up her hand into a fist and shook it menacingly. “How ’bout I knock you into next week?”

The kidnapper arched an eyebrow. “I’d like to see you try.” She beckoned Desiree over with the fingers of each hand. “Bring it on.”

Desiree marched over to her and then realized she had fell right into the Venus flytrap’s plan. The sitting woman had Desiree’s legs trapped between her own. She squeezed her own thighs against the shorter woman’s legs, and placed her hands on Desiree’s small waist. Desiree could not escape, but she was not so sure that she wanted to, as she felt the warmth radiating from the other woman’s hands coming through the thin cotton material. It was far from being a cold early April morning, but they felt so good. The strawberry-blonde hesitantly placed her hands on the other woman’s strong shoulders. She noticed that the woman had removed the black sweater she had been wearing along with her shoes and socks too. The woman was now only wearing her jeans and a black tank top, which showed off the muscles in her long bronzed arms. Desiree concluded that she definitely worked out.

The blue-eyed kidnapper peered up at her. “My, my, my. What a predicament you’ve gotten yourself into.” She slid her hands down to the hem of Desiree’s T-shirt. Any further down and she would be touching the young woman’s bare skin. Desiree was shocked to find that she sort of anticipated that happening.

“What’re you doing?” she whispered. Desiree then noticed that she was absently massaging the other woman’s shoulders. She stopped her hands from doing so. She’s not the only who is crazy. I’ve lost my mind too!

The woman’s hands finally connected with the warm bare skin of Desiree’s outer thighs. The strawberry-blonde gasped as the dark-haired woman started making circular movements with the padding of her thumbs on Desiree’s skin. She then whispered, “Making you want me.”

“What makes you think I want you?” Desiree had started to breathe heavily. What in the world is wrong with me? she wondered. I don’t even know this woman’s name.

“By the way you’re reacting to my ministrations, I’d be willing to bet that you want me,” the other woman explained, as she brushed a smooth jean clad thigh against her captive’s leg.

“Sorry, but I don’t play for that team.”

A slow knowing grin made its way to the kidnapper’s lips. “Oh, but I think that you could easily be drafted.” The woman ran a hand behind one of Desiree’s thighs and began to caress the well-defined flesh there. “You’re about as straight as a labyrinth.”

“I’ll have you know that I have a boy-”

“Yes. I know.” The other woman interrupted looking up at Desiree, and noticing the lovely flush on her ordinarily pale cheeks. “His name is Alec and you’re using the wrong tense. That’s had. Not have.” The woman grinned in a cocky fashion.

“That reminds me of my earlier question. How do you know who I am?” Desiree attempted to step back, but the other woman would not relinquish her hold.

“I told you. I used to be a ‘Psychic Friend’,” said the kidnapper smiling.

Desiree took a deep breath. “I’m serious.”

The blue-eyed woman changed the subject. “How much do you want me?” She asked, gazing at her captives beautiful blue-green eyes. Desiree noticed that the sitting woman’s hands were now dangerously close to her derriere.

“You mean, how much do I want you to take a flying leap into an erupting volcano?” Desiree asked sweetly. She even managed to paste on a saccharinely sweet smile.

The other woman chuckled. “You’re really cute when you’re angry, Desi.”

Desiree’s eyes narrowed in outrage. “Don’t call me that. Only my friends call me that.”

“And what am I?”

The strawberry-blonde put her hands at her sides. “Believe me when I say that you don’t want me to answer that.”

That initiated another chuckle, which only proved to infuriate Desiree even more. “You make me laugh, Desi.”

“What’s your name?” she ignored the usage of the nickname this time, knowing that the woman would not listen to her anyway. It would be futile to argue.

“Piper.” The expression on Desiree’s face was one of shock. “What? You don’t like my name?” asked the kidnapper.

“No-no, it’s not that. I just didn’t expect you to tell me that easily. You have to admit that you haven’t been very forthcoming with information.”

Piper shrugged. “I figured I know all about you, the least you could know is my name.”

“How do you know all about me?” Desiree countered.

Piper, kneading the backs of her captive’s upper thighs absently replied, “I don’t wanna talk about that right now.” She found herself wondering if her cute hostage would be a screamer in bed. Images of Desiree screaming out her name in ecstasy caused the kidnapper to inwardly groan.

“When?” Desiree closed her eyes, and let out a soft moan, which brought a slight smile to Piper’s lips that she missed.

Seemingly, within the blink of an eye, Piper raised Desiree’s T-shirt to just above her flat stomach and delivered a feather-light kiss to her belly button. “Later,” she whispered, as she headed in for another kiss. However, before she could deliver it the phone started to ring.

Cursing under her breath at the unwelcome interruption, she reached behind her for a small cellular phone that was lying next to the computer. She opened the flap, pressed a button, and said, “This can only be one of two people. No matter which one you are, you’re dead!”

“Well that’s a comforting thought,” the male voice on the other end of the line replied.

Piper frowned. “What do you want?”

“Your butt back here.”

“Sorry, but my butt is very content to stay right where it is.”

“Don’t be stupid, Piper. You need to get back before the authorities find out you’re missing,” warned the man.

“What makes you thing I’m missing?”

“I went over to your apartment and you weren’t there.”

“Did it ever occur to you that maybe I went out for a walk or something?”

“You skipped town didn’t you?” asked the man hesitantly.

There was a slight pause on Piper’s end of the line as she raised a hand to her head and began rubbing her temples with her thumb and middle finger. “Yes,” she admitted wearily.

A loud exhalation could be heard from the other end. “Running is not the answer, Piper.”

Piper shook her head, as if he could see her. “Wrong. It’s the only answer.” She let go of her hold on Desiree, and the young woman took a step backward, looking at Piper with obvious concern. “If I come back there, I will go straight back to prison. I refuse to go back there, and this time we both know chances are I won’t ever get out.” Desiree’s eyes widened, but she was not too surprised to hear that the kidnapper had been previously incarcerated.

“I’ll fight to get you out of it,” the man argued.

“Oh please Frank. You sound like Larry Parker. You gonna get me out of this, like you got me out the first time?” she asked angrily. “I don’t even know why I keep you as my lawyer. Deep down I must wanna be kept behind bars.”

Frank sighed. Much of the time this woman could be very aggravating. “Why don’t you come back Piper? I promise I won’t tell anyone that you left. This will be kept confidential.”

“No! Eight years of my life have already been wasted, and I’m not about to give up the rest. Good-bye Frank.” She started to press the end button on the phone but her lawyer stated that he had something important to say. “What is it?” she asked impatiently.

For a moment, the man said nothing. “Richard Love Jr. was shot yesterday afternoon.”

Piper’s blue eyes darted to Desiree and then cut away quickly. “Is he dead?” she asked nervously, hearing Desiree gasp.

“No, but he almost was. The doctor gave the report on the news that if the bullet would have been half an inch to the left that he would most likely be gone.”

Piper let out a relieved breath. She did not need another death on her hands, although at this point it probably would not have mattered much. “Is he gonna be okay?” she asked, noticing that Desiree looked relieved too. Piper smiled inwardly. Desiree did not have a clue as to whom she was talking about, yet she still managed to have compassion for this person who could be a stranger. If only she knew he is her brother, Piper thought grimly.

“Well it’s early, but his prognosis appears to be more on the positive side,” Frank replied.

“Good.” Piper paused. “Do they have a suspect?”

Her lawyer gave another brief pause. “They know for sure who did it.”

They do? Piper thought. “Who?” she inquired aloud.

She heard Frank take a deep breath before he replied, “You.”

Piper was silent for so long that Frank began to think she had hung up the phone until he heard a sound that he had not been suspecting. His client was laughing hysterically. She’s finally gone off the deep end, Frank thought. He wasn’t too surprised by that. It was bound to happen eventually.

“Of course I did it, Frank.” She stopped laughing, which soothed Desiree’s nerves. At the first sound of the laughing, she had jumped back wondering what the person on the other end could have said to initiate that kind of reaction. “Why there are only six freaking billion other people on this damn earth!” Piper furiously yelled, causing her captive to flinch.

“One, not everyone knows Richard Love Jr. Two, a lot of the people on this damn earth as you put it, have alibis. Three, not everyone is being questioned for three gruesome murders already, and four, not everyone has a motive,” Frank stated in a rather calm voice.

Piper scowled, “One, I don’t know Ri-” She bit her lower lip. She had been about to say the man’s name in front of his sister, “him,” she finished. “Never met the guy. Two, I wasn’t even in San Francisco when it happened.” I was in Los Angeles, planning on kidnapping Desiree Love, she silently added to herself. “Three…whatever, and four, what in the hell is my damn motive!?”

“Easy. Judge Richard Love sent you to prison for eight years and you decided to retaliate by trying to kill his son,” replied Frank.

Piper did not say anything for a minute. “You say that as if you truly believe it.”

Her lawyer gave no reply.

“Well, do you? Don’t tell me your taking their side against me. I thought you were my friend, and not just my lawyer,” Piper stated.

She heard her lawyer sigh. “Actually to tell you the truth Piper, I don’t know what to think.” He exhaled loudly. “Richard said that you shot him.”

Piper was speechless for a moment. “What? I never laid a hand on him! He’s either lying or crazy.” She ran a hand through her dark brown hair restlessly. This was an absolute nightmare!

“Well that’s what he said, and now there’s a warrant out for your arrest. Now their beginning to look for you, and you’re nowhere around.”

“So how did you expect to hide it from everyone that I left?” Piper inquired impatiently.

Frank did not answer right away. “I…uh didn’t.”

“You didn’t?”

“Piper I think that your best option is to turn yourself in.”

“You think I did it,” Piper uttered incredulously. “I have an idea, Frank. Why don’t you just kiss my ass!” She noticed that Desiree flinched again, so Piper turned her chair around so that her back was to the woman. “If I wanted to kill the man’s son, he would be dead! I don’t leave unfinished work.” Piper harshly pressed the end button, turned her chair around again, and threw the minuscule phone across the room, where it safely landed on the leather couch. She then put her elbows on her knees, and covered her face with her hands.

Desiree stood looking at Piper wearing a horrified expression. The words “I don’t leave unfinished work” kept running through her mind. What does that mean? Desiree thought. I know what it means. She’s obviously a hitwoman, and that’s why she kidnapped me. My God, someone has put a hit out on me. Who would want me to be dead? I don’t have any enemies. Sure I don’t get along with everyone, but who would have the nerve to get someone to terminate my life? She briefly considered her ex-boyfriend Alec, but Desiree could not come up with a valid reason as to why he would want her dead. Alec was a jerk but he was not that cold-blooded. Why would she go through all this trouble to kill me? She could have just shot me in the parking lot of “Sweet Sensations” and have been done with it. Desiree shook her head to try to clear her troubling thoughts. She figured that she just watched way too much television. Surely, Piper was not intending to murder her. Indeed, the woman did have the capacity to look very dangerous, but Desiree still believed that Piper would not end her life. “I don’t leave unfinished work.” Well she must have killed someone, Desiree admitted.

“Is everything okay?” Desiree inquired quietly.

Piper glanced up at her as though she had forgotten that the young woman was there. She straightened up in the chair and said, “Go to bed.”

Desiree took a hesitant step towards her. “If you need to talk I’m here to listen.”

The blue-eyed woman glared at her. “No. You’re here to do what I tell you to do. Now I said go to bed,” she replied in a warning tone.

The strawberry-blonde refused to back down. Obviously, no matter what she did, Piper needed someone that she could talk to. Desiree knew that she should not care about what the kidnapper needed, but she could not help the urge she had to reach out to her. “No one has told me to go to bed since I was thirteen, so what makes you think that you can do it?”

Silently, Piper reached into the waistband of her jeans and pulled out the gun from earlier. “This makes me think I can do it.” She held the gun up for Desiree to clearly see. “Now I said for you to get your stubborn little butt in that bed before I do something that you’ll regret!” she yelled. “Do I make myself clear?” she asked between clenched teeth.

Desiree knew when to quit so she nodded. “Crystal clear,” she replied in a small voice. She headed towards the bedroom and then turned around to face Piper who was still glaring at her. “Goodnight.” Desiree waited a moment, but Piper would not say anything so she shut the door quietly behind her.
***
“Did you manage to get a hold of her?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“Where could she be? Did you try her at work?”

“She got fired.”

Judge Richard Love looked at his wife in shock. “She got fired?” he repeated.

His wife nodded as she took her seat by her husband in the waiting room of the hospital. She took her husband’s hand and squeezed it gently. “I’m sure she’s fine Richard.”

The man shook his head. “I get the feeling that something is wrong. It’s not like Desiree to be gone without giving us any information on her whereabouts.”

“She’s a grown woman, darling. Probably just went out of town with some friends and that’s why she didn’t get our messages.”

“Surely she has seen the news. Her brother was shot and we haven’t heard from her yet. She should know by now, no matter where she is.” Richard scratched his graying hair in thought. He was worried about his youngest daughter. His son’s life had already been put in jeopardy and now his daughter was missing. She was not the only person missing. He had found out just a few hours ago that Piper Redding was now considered a fugitive. It was thought that after she had attempted to kill Richard Love Jr. that she had fled. She was considered armed and dangerous, and Judge Love was almost certain that Desiree’s disappearance had something to do with her. He would never be able to forgive himself if something were to happen to his daughter. He did not want to worry his wife, so Richard was not going to say anything just yet. If Desiree did not show up or if they did not hear from her within the next couple of hours, then he was going to take some action. For now he would try to be patient.

Richard regarded his wife. “Thank God our son will be all right,” he stated.

His wife nodded. “I don’t know what I would have done if we had lost him.” Her voice broke, and she began to cry. Richard put his robust arms around his wife and hugged her.

“If I ever get my hands on that Redding woman she will be sorry she was ever born,” he stated vehemently.

“That goes double for me,” said Larisa, Richard and Sandra’s oldest child, as she walked into the waiting room. She looked nothing like her siblings Richie Jr. and Desiree. Both Desiree and Richie Jr. had reddish blonde hair and pale complexions. Larisa was 5’9′, with shoulder-length dark brown hair, green eyes, and a tanned complexion.

Larisa took a seat on her mother’s side and rubbed her eyes wearily. She had hurried to the airport to catch the next plane heading to San Francisco after she heard that her brother had been shot. “He’s resting peacefully right now,” she said to her parents.

“Good,” both Richard and Sandra replied simultaneously, causing each to smile at the other warmly.

Suddenly the phone in Richard’s jacket pocket rang. He excused himself and walked out into the hall of the hospital to answer it. The caller was Piper’s lawyer Frank Webb.

“What on earth could you be calling me for?” asked the judge.

“I’m terribly sorry to bother you at this time sir, but I thought it was only fair to let you know that my client has skipped town. I talked to her a few hours ago, and I don’t have a clue as to where she is, but she’s no longer in San Francisco.”

“I already know that she left. There’s a warrant out for her arrest and she’s nowhere to be found.”

“I thought you might know, but really that’s just speculation. For all the police know she very well could be in San Francisco, but I have proof that she’s not, because she told me. Ms. Redding is scared and she feels like everyone is against her,” Frank explained.

“Well she should be scared, because if I have my way she will get the death penalty for all that she’s done,” Judge Love angrily replied.

“You have every right to be upset sir, but maybe she really didn’t do all those things.”

“All the evidence points to her Mr. Webb. Of course, she’s guilty. My own son saw her face when she tried to kill him, so don’t defend your psychopathic client to me. As far as I’m concerned yesterday when she went after my own flesh and blood, she signed her death certificate.” Judge Love ended the conversation and went back to his family.
***
Desiree awoke the next morning to a tongue licking her on her left cheek. “Oh, don’t tell me this woman is licking my face?” she thought. Someone please get me a straight jacket! Desiree mused that Piper’s tongue sure was rough and dry. She was happy to find that she felt not an ounce of arousal. Last night, or earlier this morning she had been worried that maybe she was attracted to Piper. She concluded that the feelings she was experiencing were due to lack of sleep and her emotional state. Whatever they were, they were gone now. Desiree opened her eyes to a very surprising sight. Lying on top of her was none other than Tobias. The light orange and white eighteen-pound tabby cat was busy licking her face, as if his young master was drenched in milk. Tobias stopped licking and started to purr when he noticed that his owner was now awake. Getting up on all four legs, he stretched and moved over to lie next to Desiree.

“Morning Sleepyhead,” said a low voice coming from the direction of the window.

Desiree turned her head on the pillow to see Piper sitting in a dark blue recliner with her feet up. The light from the sun was shining on her face and sparkling blue eyes. Desiree had no choice but to admit to herself that this woman was absolutely breathtaking. Too bad she was nutty as a fruitcake.

“Morning,” Desiree replied, as she sat up in the king-sized bed. She would hate to confess it aloud, but Desiree had slept wonderfully in this comfortable bed. In fact, she had not slept that well in months. She glanced at her cat, who was on his way to dreamland, still purring softly. Desiree smiled and turned her attention to Piper. “You went to go get him?” she asked the woman.

“No. I had my limo go pick him up,” Piper replied grinning.

Desiree rolled her eyes. “You just can’t answer a simple question. Can you?”
The blue-eyed woman shrugged. “Well it was a dumb question. Of course, I went to go pick him up. We just got back about a half hour ago.”

Earlier that morning, when Piper had rudely dismissed her captive to her bedroom she had instantly began to feel like a jerk. After all, it was not Desiree’s fault that she was upset. The young woman had even tried to give her comfort after hearing Piper’s part of the conversation. She now knew that the kidnapper was a convict, yet she did not back off until the woman had threatened her with the gun and her words. Piper knew that she had quite a large temper, and unfortunately, the sweet young woman had to be the recipient of it. After mulling it over in her computer chair for a while, Piper came to a decision. She would go get this so-called child of Desiree’s.

At three-thirty in the morning, Piper was on her way back to Los Angeles to get a cat. She shook her head, wondering if she had lost her mind. Here she was a fugitive, and she was risking her freedom to rescue a feline for her hostage. Piper broke the speed laws on her way to retrieve Tobias, but knew that would be the least of her problems if the police were to catch her. Somehow going over the speed limit by forty miles more per hour did not come close to being as important as the charges of murder, attempted murder and soon to be kidnapping once the police figured out the mysterious disappearance of Desiree Love.

Piper had reached Desiree’s apartment with no trouble by 7:30am. After searching the apartment for a few minutes, she had found the scared cat hiding in Desiree’s clothes closet behind a suitcase. By 7:45 Piper and Tobias were back on the road, and had reached the cabin by 12:30. The cat had cried most of the way, which was about to drive the blue-eyed woman insane. She turned on the radio in the hopes of drowning him out, but the louder the music got the louder he got. Piper momentarily thought about tossing the annoying feline out of the window, but then considered Desiree probably would not consent to that idea. Half way through the trip Piper remembered the ice cream Desiree had mentioned. She lifted the lid off of the melted lukewarm sweet stuff and held it with her right hand for Tobias to eat out of while she maneuvered the car with her left. Tobias licked it once, then turned around sticking his bushy tail up in the air as if to say, “You call that ice cream?”

“Picky little furball,” Piper muttered. “I can tell she spoils you. Well you’re not gonna get that from me.” Then she thought to herself, Great. Now I’m talking to a cat.

Desiree stretched while Piper wished she were standing as she did it. She would have been able to see more skin then. “Why did you do it?” The strawberry-blonde inquired, peering at Piper through sleep filled eyes.

Piper shrugged. “Couldn’t leave the kid home alone.” She smiled slightly.

Desiree did not say anything for a minute, as she studied the carpet. “Thanks,” she said, getting out of the bed and straightening her T-shirt.
“You’re welcome. I took the liberty of getting some of his stuff from your place. He’s already been fed. Half a can all right?”

Desiree shook her head. “He eats a full can.”

“At one serving?”

The young woman nodded.

“How many times a day does he eat?” Piper asked.

“Twice.”

Piper laughed. “No wonder he’s so fat.” She scooted down in her chair as Desiree marched over and slapped her lightly on the arm.

“Tobias is not fat. He’s just big boned,” she argued in defense of her beloved baby. She glanced at him, hoping that he was much too deep in sleep to hear the insulting words.

Piper shook her head still laughing. “Whatever you say.” She arose from the recliner and made her way over to the door. Looking back at Desiree she said, “Get dressed. Lunch will be ready soon.”
***
Opening the bathroom door, Desiree’s senses were quickly assaulted by a delicious aroma coming from the kitchen. Instantly, her stomach growled letting her know that it was time to eat. Desiree then realized that she had not eaten anything since the two banana splits last night, and she had skipped dinner. She walked towards the kitchen and discovered a sight that shocked her. The kidnapper was in the kitchen wearing an apron that said, “Kiss the Cook.” Desiree shook her head. So, the woman was a kidnapper and a cook. What wonders never cease.

Out of the corner of her eye, Piper caught sight of the strawberry-blonde approaching. She glanced towards her and stated, “Sit down. Lunch is almost ready.”

Desiree took a seat at a round wooden table with four matching chairs next to the kitchen. She felt refreshed after the hot shower she had taken. Afterwards, Desiree rummaged around in the drawers in her temporary bedroom and found something to wear. She had on a pair of white shorts that reached to her knees, and a navy blue T-shirt. She marveled that they both were a perfect fit. She had not bothered to put on any shoes, so Desiree lounged in a pair of white cotton socks. Besides, it would probably be better for the carpet anyway.

Desiree looked at the television and knew that her favorite soap opera One Life to Live was on. She had missed almost thirty minutes of it already, but she could still catch the rest. She glanced over to Piper, and wondered if she would let her turn it on.

“Can I turn on the t.v.?” asked Desiree.

Piper stared at her for a moment. “Why? So you can watch the news? Wait till after you’ve eaten. I’ve got something to tell you first.” Piper reached into the freezer and took out some ice cubes to put in a glass.

“What is it?”

“Patience Shorty.” Piper smiled at her, trying to ease the young woman’s growing tension.

Desiree did not reply as Piper walked over to her with a black plate and a glass of what appeared to be pink lemonade. Piper set the plate down and watched as Desiree’s eyes widened in shock. Before her was a fancily done grilled chicken sandwich and spicy smelling potato wedges. Her mouth watered at the sight.

“You cooked all of this?” she asked, looking up at Piper who wore a proud expression.

Piper nodded.

“Where did you learn how to cook?” asked Desiree, placing the paper napkin on the table in her lap daintily.

Piper walked back into the kitchen and retrieved a bottle of ketchup from the cupboard. She came back to the table, placing the condiment by Desiree’s plate. The young woman thanked her and Piper replied, “You haven’t even tasted it yet. It may just look good.” She knew that this was not the case though. If there was one thing that Piper knew how to do, it was cook. That was one thing her mother had started teaching her at an early age.

“Well there is only one sure way to find out.” Desiree picked up the heavy sandwich and took a bite. She had to open her mouth wide because it was so big. As the sandwich hit her taste buds, Desiree knew that she was in heaven.

“This is delicious,” Desiree uttered, covering her mouth with a hand as she talked and chewed at the same time.

Piper smiled. “Glad you approve, Desi.”

Desiree once again did not say anything about the nickname. She decided that she didn’t mind at all if the blue-eyed woman used it.

“Where is yours?” she asked, after she had swallowed.

“I ate when Tobias did,” Piper replied, noticing a smudge of mayonnaise on the young woman’s upper lip. She started to tell Desiree to wipe her upper lip, but then she smiled mischievously after coming up with a better idea. Piper quickly bent down and licked the dollop of mayonnaise from Desiree’s lip, making the woman gasp in shock.

“Mmm. That tasted good.”

Desiree shot up from the chair. “What the heck are you doing?” she demanded, hoping that she was not blushing. Well unlike Tobias’ licking earlier, that sure did raise her state of arousal. So much for that theory about not being attracted to her, Desiree thought. I must be losing my mind. She’s a woman and she kidnapped me!

“Just tasting my creation. I made that mayonnaise you know,” she said, grinning. I am so bad, Piper thought.

“Did you now?”

A nod from the taller woman, as she gently nudged Desiree back into her chair. “Finish your lunch, and then we can talk and watch television.”

Desiree resumed eating her lunch quietly, as Piper walked over to the refrigerator and poured herself a glass of lemonade.

***

About twenty-five minutes later the two women were on the couch. Piper was spread near the curve of the couch with her bare feet propped up on the cushions. She was dressed in a pair of blue jeans with a short tight gray T-shirt that stopped an inch above her navel, which Desiree found herself peeping at frequently. She then remembered earlier that morning when the blue-eyed woman had kissed her own navel. Desiree felt her cheek and knew that she was flushed. Desiree also could not contain herself from gazing at the two swells that were well defined due to the tightness of the cotton shirt. She’s a woman, she’s a woman, Desiree kept repeating to herself silently like it was her mantra. Her hormones and body on the other hand obviously did not care.

Piper cleared her throat to start. She was nervous about their conservation. How was she going to explain to this woman that she was wanted for the attempted murder of her brother and the murder of three other people? Oh, what was a kidnapper to do? Desiree seemed like the type that would keep an open mind and listen to what Piper had to say, though even her own lawyer who had become a trusted friend had turned on her.

“Well you know that I kidnapped you for a reason,” Piper started.

Desiree nodded. “I figured you didn’t do it just for kicks.” Desiree crossed her legs under her on the couch as she faced Piper who was lying down.

“Right. I’m wanted by the police.”

Desiree did not say anything as she waited patiently for the woman to continue.
“I’m wanted for murder and attempted murder.”

The strawberry-blonde’s eyes widened considerably, but she still did not utter a word.

Piper did not know exactly where to take this. “Have you heard anything on the news about three jurors being found dead?”

Desiree thought for a moment and then remembered something she had heard about three jurors in San Francisco. Apparently, all three had been found dead within a period of less than forty-eight hours. The thing that was strange about it was, they all had served on the same case about eight and a half years back. “Yes, I remember. What does that have to do with anything?” Desiree asked.

Piper swallowed hard before inquiring, “Did you hear that they had a suspect?”

Desiree shook her head.

“Well they do.”

Desiree asked, “Who?” She already had a feeling what the dark-haired woman was about to say.

Piper shrugged. “Yours truly. They were three of the people who served during my trial eight years ago. The same trial that Judge Richard Love presided over.”
CHAPTER 2
Desiree was rendered speechless for a minute or two. “My father?” she finally whispered.

Piper nodded.

Desiree stared at Piper for a moment before saying, “It’s all starting to make sense now. You kidnapped me because my father put you in prison.” It was more of a statement than a question.

Piper shook her head. “No. That’s not why I kidnapped you. Eight years of my life were ruined because of his sentencing, but that has nothing to do with this,” she argued, sitting up on the couch.

“Then why am I here?” Desiree wore an expression of complete confusion.

The kidnapper sighed. “As I already told you, I’m wanted by the police.”

A slight nod from Desiree.

“Well, last week I went to court again because three of the jurors that served at my trial eight years ago suspiciously ended up dead. I was the prime suspect because they claimed to have some evidence against me.” She paused a moment to gather her thoughts. “Guess who was the judge when I walked into the court with Frank Webb my lawyer?”

“My father,” Desiree answered.

Piper nodded. “Yep. The honorable Judge Richard Love,” she said in a disgusted tone of voice. Just saying the man’s name caused her blood to boil.

“It’s not my father’s fault that you decided to become a criminal,” Desiree stated angrily. She was never really close to her father, but she would not let someone talk against him. “And that you are one now,” she added as an afterthought.

Piper’s face reddened in anger. “I didn’t have a choice,” she retorted in a quiet, yet angry tone. Piper smoothly arose from the couch and stormed into the bedroom that Desiree had yet to see the inside of. She came out a few moments later wearing a pair of sneakers and carrying the handcuffs.

Desiree immediately became alarmed when she caught sight of the handcuffs. Walking towards her, Piper grabbed Desiree by the arm, roughly pulling her away from the couch. She wordlessly led her captive into the kitchen and once again handcuffed the young woman to the refrigerator. Without a word, Piper hurried to the front door, opened it, and walked out, slamming it so hard behind her that the window in the living room shook. Desiree had not uttered another word, afraid that she had finally pushed the woman too far.

Desiree said out loud to the empty cabin, “Nice one, Love.”

***

Driving down a street of San Francisco, California, thirty-six year old Detective Victor Redding thought about the case of the three murdered jurors and of the person wanted for their senseless deaths. As far as Detective Redding was concerned, Piper Redding needed to pay for what she had done, and he was going to be the person to bring her down. Everything that had happened was her fault.

Victor was feeling triumphant after what had just occurred where the autopsies of the three jurors had been performed. He had aided by showing them that Piper Redding had left her calling card somewhat. They all had remarked on how stupid it was of her to do that, since she had adamantly claimed in court that she was innocent of the murders. Detective Redding had pointed out that all three murders had something to do with the number eight. Sally Harris, the first victim had been shot a number of eight times in her head and chest area. Douglas Foxx, the next victim had been stabbed eight times in the head. Walter Simpson, found yesterday afternoon, was deemed the most brutally murdered. His wife had come home from grocery shopping to find her husband of twelve years tied to a chair with rope and duct tape. His fingers were lying on the floor after having been severed from his hands. It was obvious that he had bled to death, which was confirmed during the autopsy today. Detective Redding pointed out that since Piper Redding had been locked up for eight years that this number was symbolized in the deaths of her victims. This evidence furthermore convinced the police and all others involved that Piper Redding was guilty.

There was an obstacle standing in the way of arresting Piper Redding. No one had any clue where she was. Last week, after she had been arrested for the murders of Harris and Foxx, and had been arraigned by Judge Richard Love, Redding had disappeared. She had been able to return to her home after attending court since it was mostly speculation then, but Redding had obviously fled because no one could locate her. It was Detective Victor Redding’s job now to help find the woman before someone else ended up dead. It was still not known exactly why Redding had killed these three jurors, but the other remaining nine jurors were being warned to be careful of where they went, and to be aware of their surroundings. Some had even spoken of going into the witness protection program, or at the very least taking long vacations.

Making a right turn Detective Redding thought about the disappearance of Desiree Love. He had a feeling that her abrupt disappearance had something to do with Piper Redding. He would bet money on it that Redding had taken Love as a hostage for bargaining. He was on his way to discuss the vanishing of Ms. Love with her father, Judge Richard Love at Baker Hospital, which was where his son Richard Love Jr. was being kept after the attempt on his life yesterday. His was the best evidence of all that Piper Redding was a murderer. Richard Love Jr. had told the police yesterday that he had seen Piper Redding’s face as she prepared to kill him in his own home. He described that the woman had been wearing black jeans, a black shirt or sweater, (he could not remember for sure which) black shoes, and she had on a black ski mask at first, but then had removed it. Richie Love reported that the woman said she had wanted him to see the face of the person who was about to end his life.

Now, Desiree Love was missing and the police were beginning to become frantic. No one in his right mind wanted to deal with the wrath of Judge Richard Love. The man was both feared and respected not only in San Francisco, but in other parts of California as well. Odds were since Ms. Love was missing that Piper Redding had abducted her. If the fugitive did have her, then it would be considered as a possibility that Desiree Love would never be seen alive again.

***

“Can I get you some more water, honey?”

“No, Mom. I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”

Richard stopped his constant pacing and faced his wife. “Sandra, stop harassing the boy! He’s not thirsty all right?”

Sandra’s eyes started to fill with tears again. “I know you are worried Richard, but that is no reason to yell at me.” She sat down in a chair by the window in the hospital room, covering her face with her hands. Her body began to shake as she cried. Richie would have gotten out of the bed to comfort her, but he was still too weak, so he just glared at his father for the man’s insensitivity. Judge Love had the ability to be harsh with anyone, including his own family. Oddly, none of his children seemed to take his most unfavorable attributes. They seemed to take mostly after their mother, especially Desiree with her sweet-natured manner and compassion for others.

Richard mentally chastised himself for his behavior as he hurried across the room to comfort his wife. He knelt by the chair, and taking her delicate hands in his big ones, he said, “I’m sorry, Sandy. I have no right to treat you that way.”

Sandra smiled and extracted one of her hands from her husband’s grasp to touch his cheek lovingly. Just then the hospital room door opened and one of the guards stationed in front of the room for Richie’s protection poked his head in. “A detective is here to see you, sir.” He directed this to Judge Love.

Richard nodded as he arose from the floor with a little help from his wife. He walked outside to the waiting room to see a young man sitting down with a small pad and a pen in hand. He had dark brown close shave hair, light brown eyes with a medium build. He stood up when he caught sight of the judge and Richard noticed that he was quite a tall man. Judge Love was six feet two himself, but this man was probably about six feet six inches.

“Good afternoon, your honor,” said the young man, shaking Richard’s hand with a strong firm grip.

“Good afternoon to you too…”

“Detective Redding. Victor Redding,” the man supplied.

Richard looked at him with suspicion. “Redding?” he asked with a touch of anger.

“No relation sir,” Victor offered him a smile, showing white even teeth.

“Quite a coincidence.” Richard indicated the chairs. “Why don’t we have a seat?”

Victor nodded as he headed for a chair to sit in. Judge Love sat in a chair to his left and looked at him expectantly.

“How is your son doing, sir?”

“He’s fine. I’ve got a tough boy,” he replied proudly.

Victor smiled. “I bet you do, sir.” He cleared his throat. “I wanted to talk to you about your daughter, Desiree Love.” He opened his notepad while removing the top from his pen.

Judge Love started to worry more than he already was. “Did you find something? Is she okay?”

“No, I didn’t find anything.” He wore a grim smile. “And I’m sorry, but I don’t know if she is okay. I’m sure everything is being done to find her sir.”

Judge Love nodded disappointment evident on his face.

“I saw your case on television and I wanted to help. I don’t know what I would do if one of my children ended up missing.”

“You have children?”

The detective smiled warmly. “Yes, I have two daughters. One is nine and the other one is six.”

“So you know how hard this is for my wife and I. Our son has already been shot, and now our youngest daughter has vanished.”

“The police don’t have any information on the whereabouts of Piper Redding?” Victor asked.

Judge Love shook his head glumly.

“Do you have a picture of your daughter?”

Richard nodded, taking out his wallet. He chose a photograph from it of Desiree at age seventeen (his most recent picture) swinging in a tire tied to a tree. He handed it to the detective, who studied it for a moment before he put it in a pocket in the inside of his jacket.

“When was the last time you saw Desiree?”

Richard thought about it for a minute. “I believe it was just after Christmas.”

The detective wrote in his small notepad. “Have you argued with her in the last few months?”

“No. Not at all.”

“No disagreements whatsoever?” Victor inquired, tapping the notepad with the pen lightly.

Judge Love shook his head adamantly. “I haven’t even spoken to her since January,” he said in self-loathing. He hated to admit it, but the judge had not bothered to keep in close contact with any of his children. Sandra had spoken to Richie, Larisa and Desiree recently, but her husband had not. The judge always seemed to be busy with a case or something else. Richard made a silent promise to himself that if all turned out well when this was over, he would make some time for his family. Maybe he would even plan a vacation.

“Do you know if she has a boyfriend?”

“Yes. She has a live-in boyfriend named Alec Drake,” Richard replied disgustedly. He never had felt that Alec was good enough for his daughter.

“I get the feeling that you don’t approve of this man,” Victor observed.

“No I don’t. He’s a freeloading idiot in my opinion.”

“Do they have a good relationship?”
The judge shrugged. “I honestly couldn’t tell you one way or the other.”

Victor nodded, writing again. “Do you think maybe he could have taken her, or maybe they went on a vacation somewhere?”

“Either is possible. I would prefer it was the latter, however I don’t think he took her.
Alec is a freeloader, but I don’t believe he would kidnap my daughter.” He paused. “If you ask me, I think Piper Redding took her. She already tried to kill my son, and now my daughter turns up missing the same day my son’s life was almost ended.” Judge Love clenched and unclenched his hands in rage.

Victor looked at the judge and quietly stated, “I think that Piper Redding is responsible for your daughter’s disappearance also.”

“I’m certain that she had something to do with this. I’m going to kill her,” Richard said savagely.

Detective Redding thought, not if I get to her first.

***

Glancing at her watch, Piper saw that it was almost four o’clock in the afternoon. She had been sitting there by the crystal blue lake, back propped up against a large oak tree for nearly two straight hours. She considered that she ought to start heading back to the cabin since her captive was still handcuffed to the refrigerator. As she thought about that, Piper felt the guilt overtake her once again. She felt bad about locking the young woman up and storming out of the cabin without so much as a word. Piper could not explain why, but if there was one thing in this world that she did not want to do, it was hurt Desiree. Piper grudgingly admitted to herself that she cared for the woman, and she knew without a shadow of a doubt that she would protect her to the best of her ability.

“Great Redding,” Piper murmured. “Rule number one. Never fall for your hostage.”

With that Piper got to her feet and checked the seat of her pants for grass stains. Pleased to not see any, she headed back to the cabin. To Desiree.

***

“I wonder if she’s coming back?” Desiree mused out loud. I hope so, she thought, kneeling on the tiled kitchen floor. I hope so? she thought again. Desiree realized that she really did want Piper to come back. One reason was because she seemed to be out in the middle of nowhere, which meant that Piper might be the only one who could get her back to civilization. Not to mention the irritating handcuffs. The other reason was that Desiree wanted to see the sometimes-teasing woman again.

All of the sudden she heard a door creak open and peeked around to see Tobias walking towards her quickly. When he got to her he stretched and yawned. Tobias looked at his owner’s predicament curiously while cocking his little head to the side.
“Good afternoon, Tobias.” Desiree patted his head with her free hand, making the feline purr with much delight.

“Did you have a good nap?” she asked.

Tobias meowed as if to say that he had.

“I wish you could get me out of this.” Desiree pointed to her handcuffed wrist. At that moment, the cat spied something much more interesting and hurried over to a green plastic bowl on the floor, which was what Piper had put his liver pate in earlier. She had got the liver pate, litter, litter box and even a couple of toys for the feline while at Desiree’s apartment, but she had left the crystal goblets behind. Desiree wondered how she was able to get Tobias to eat out of the bowl. She mused that her cat must have been very hungry to eat out of the plastic instead of his usual crystal. She frowned acknowledging that she spoiled him way too much. Maybe being here would teach Tobias some discipline. It was worth a try, although it was not as if she had much of a choice.

Tobias walked back over to his owner and started his “I’m hungry” crying, after discovering that the horrid pea-colored plastic bowl was empty. He had even drunk all of the water in the other plastic bowl next to the empty food bowl.

“I’m sorry Tobias,” Desiree apologized. “Mommy can’t get you any food right now.” Then it dawned on her that she was attached to a refrigerator. She would not be able to put the food in a container for her cat, but he could eat out of the can. Getting to her feet, the young woman opened the refrigerator door. After looking around for a minute or so, she discovered the rest of Tobias’ food from earlier. Obviously, Piper had not seen it fit to give Tobias the rest of the can of cat food after Desiree told her that he ate a full can in one serving.

“Here we go, Tobias,” said Desiree, taking out the can. She closed the refrigerator, knelt down again on the tile, and took the lid off the can, placing it on the floor. Tobias bowed his head to gingerly sniff the half-filled can of liver pate. He peered up at his owner as if to say, “Now you want me to eat it out of a can?” Bad enough that she expected him to eat the food out of a can, but it was cold too. He preferred his food to either be room temperature or heated in the microwave for twenty-five seconds. That wasn’t too much to ask, now was it?

Desiree sighed in frustration. This cat definitely needed some discipline. “Tobias eat. It’s still liver pate whether it is in a crystal goblet or a tin can.”

Tobias stared at her for a few moments, obviously thinking that maybe she would change her mind. Finally, he gave up and began to eat his meal making Desiree smile. She briefly thought about buying him a new toy for being a trooper and “roughing” it, but then let the idea go. If she kept rewarding him, he would never learn.

Watching him eat, Desiree then noticed that Tobias’ collar and nametag were missing. She became angry, guessing that the kidnapper must have taken them. She’s probably gonna try to pawn them, she thought irately.

A few minutes later Tobias curled up by Desiree sleeping peacefully, when the young woman heard the front door opening. Piper came in and shut the door quietly behind her, but Tobias heard anyway, and his head raised up. When the blue-eyed woman headed in their direction, the feline hissed at her, trying to look as menacing as was possible. How could this silly human forget his crystal goblets? Piper glanced at the feline raising an eyebrow slightly, but other than that paid no attention to him. She unlocked Desiree from the refrigerator and helped her up from the floor, mumbling something that the strawberry-blonde could not understand.

“What did you say?” Desiree inquired as she rubbed her wrists.

Piper took a step back and cleared her throat. “I’m sorry,” she said more clearly.

Desiree’s eyes widened upon hearing the apology, but all she replied was, “It’s okay.” Brushing past Piper, she walked into the living room, choosing to have a seat on the couch and stare at the fireplace.

Piper let out a slow breath, and walked over to take a seat next to the young woman. Both women sat staring at the darkened fireplace for a few minutes. Piper decided to take the initiative. Reaching over, she gently cupped Desiree’s chin and turned the young woman’s face towards her. “I really am sorry.”

Desiree shrugged saying, “It really is okay. It’s part of your job right? You’ve been treating me far too well.” She smiled slightly. “Like a queen,” she quietly finished.

“You deserve to be treated like one,” Piper murmured.

“Huh?”

The blue-eyed woman thought quickly, trying to cover her slip. “I said let’s have some fun. You wanna watch some t.v.?”

Desiree peered at her quizzically, but only nodded.

Piper arose from the couch, and going over to the entertainment system, she picked up the remote control lying on top of the television. Walking back to the couch she handed the remote to her captive while stating, “Why don’t you look for something to watch. Since I don’t have cable there might not be anything good on but there are some videos we could watch if you want.”

Desiree replied, “That sounds good.”

“Good. Pick anything you want.” She indicated the videos on a shelf of the entertainment system. “I’ll be right back. I’m going to the bathroom.”

Desiree nodded, as Piper head to the bathroom.

Just as she switched on the television Tobias jumped up on the couch to curl up beside her. She promptly put him on the floor, not sure if Piper would appreciate the feline lying on her obviously expensive leather couch. Tobias looked up at her and then fled into the bedroom Desiree was staying in as though he was annoyed with her. First she gave him frigid food still in its can and now refused to let him cuddle with her. What was going on here?

Desiree chuckled as she changed the channels, stopping when she found the news. She glanced at the bathroom door and turned up the volume a few notches. Apparently, she turned it on just at the right time, because Piper’s mug shot came on the screen. She listened to what the newsman was saying.

“Police are still searching for Piper Redding. Please, if you have seen this woman call the number located at the bottom of your screen. Do not, I repeat do not try to apprehend this woman, due to the fact that she is considered armed and extremely dangerous. Piper Redding is under suspicion for the murders of the three jurors, Sally Harris, Douglas Foxx and Walter Simpson who served on her trial in 1990. Redding is wanted for the attempted murder of-”

The television channel suddenly switched to a talk show, and Desiree found Piper lying across her lap. She blinked wondering how Piper got there so fast, and why she was there in the first place.

“What are you doing?” asked Desiree.

“I remembered that I like this talk show,” replied Piper in a semi breathless voice. Her heart was beating so severely that she half expected it to burst through her chest. In truth, she had just wanted to change the station before Desiree could hear the rest of the report. Piper could not have the young woman finding out that way. It was too soon. How can you tell someone that you have been charged with the attempted murder of his or her brother? Also, Piper could not bear to see the mistrust and hate she would surely find in those beautiful blue-green eyes. While washing her hands in the bathroom, Piper heard the person referring to her on the television, and had hurried out to change the channel quickly. Noticing that the remote control was on Desiree’s right she had to jump across her and stretch her arm out to get the remote, pushing the button with an arrow facing upward.

“I just think that you didn’t want me to hear what he was about to say about you.”

“Oh!” Piper uttered in a surprised voice. “They were talking about me?” she asked innocently as she pointed to herself.

Desiree smirked, not buying the innocent act for a split second. “You know they were.”

Piper shrugged as she turned on her right side and propped her right cheek on her hand to watch the television. She looked back at Desiree and asked, “Would you prefer that I move?”

The strawberry-blonde shook her head, and Piper turned her attention back to the television. Surprisingly, Desiree found that she enjoyed having the tall woman lying on top of her lap. They both watched the television show for a few minutes in silence before Desiree spoke.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized quietly, resisting the urge to run her hands through Piper’s long dark hair. It looked so soft and inviting.

Piper maneuvered until she was on her stomach, propping both of her elbows on the couch for support. She looked up at Desiree questioningly. “For what?”

“For saying that you were still a criminal. I was just upset and I lashed out at you.” She placed a hand in the middle of Piper’s back. She could feel her warmth through the thin cotton.

“I am, aren’t I?” asked Piper. “For all you know I killed those three jurors and attempted to kill someone else.” She naughtily wished that the young woman would bring her hand down lower.

“You said you didn’t do it and therefore I believe you,” Desiree replied earnestly.

“When did I say that?” Piper’s heart swelled at the fact that this young woman, who barely knew her, believed in her innocence. She was not used to people trusting her, and she found that it felt wonderful to have someone in her corner.

“When you were on the phone yesterday.” Desiree blushed at revealing her eavesdropping, but Piper did not seem to mind.

“Oh. How do you know that I wasn’t lying?” She mentally reprimanded herself, pondering why she appeared to be endeavoring to ruin a good thing. Shut up and just accept the fact that she believes you, she thought. It could happen.

Desiree was silent for an instant. “I don’t,” she finally stated with a casual shrug.

Piper stared at her in bewilderment. “Yet you believe me.” It was more of a statement than an inquiry.

The strawberry-blonde nodded resolutely.
Piper felt something that she had not felt in years. Her eyes began to brim with unshed tears, so she turned her head away before the other woman could notice them. She took a deep breath. “You don’t know how much that means to me.”

***

Opening her eyes, Desiree saw by the clock on the wall that is was 7:56 in the evening. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and stretched to find that something heavy was lying on her lap. She looked down and saw Piper sleeping contentedly on her back with her mouth slightly open. One arm was dangling off the couch limply, and the other one was resting on her stomach. Desiree could only come up with one word to describe this woman at the moment: adorable. She had a feeling that this woman never slept this peacefully.

Desiree rubbed the kink out of her neck while looking at the television. A ten-year-old movie was about to come on the current station. She once again gazed down at the sleeping Piper and wondered, What has happened to you? She reached down to brush back a few pieces of hair that were on Piper’s face. Immediately the woman’s eyes opened and blue met blue-green, as Desiree snatched her hand back sheepishly.

“Yes?” the blue-eyed woman drew out lazily, placing both of her hands behind her head.

“Hmm?”

“You woke me up from a good dream,” Piper announced, stretching, giving Desiree an even better view of her taut stomach.

“I did?” Desiree asked distractedly.

Piper nodded, noticing where the young woman’s attention was. She grinned mischievously as she continued. ” I dreamt I had you lying naked in a tub filled with whip cream, with luscious strawberry’s strewn on top.” She chuckled as she suddenly went crashing to the floor. “Ouch!” Piper looked up at a furiously blushing Desiree who was now standing up.

Piper chuckled again. “I was just kidding.” She paused for emphasis. “You were wearing a thong.” She got the remote control thrown at her and it struck her squarely on the forehead. “Ow!” She rubbed the injured spot, exclaiming, “That wasn’t very nice, Desi.”

Desiree ignored her as she stormed to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.

Pacing in her room, Desiree wondered how this woman was able to get under her skin so easily. The fact that she reacted to Piper’s taunting and teasing only proved to infuriate her even more. Desiree did not understand how the woman could be so nice one moment and in the next annoying and arrogant. Tobias lying on the bed watched his owner curiously as she went back and forth across the room. The feline meowed. Desiree went over and picked him up.

“Hey, Toby.” She said, cuddling him. “Is that woman driving you nuts too?”

Tobias meowed again as if to say that yes she was. His little head even bobbed up and down a bit.

Desiree sat on the bed for ten minutes in silence, before she heard a hesitant knock on the door.

“What is it?” she snapped.

On the other side of the door, Piper took a deep calming breath. No need for the both of us to be snippy, she thought. “May I come in?”

Desiree nodded, and then remembering that Piper could not see the action unless she had x-ray vision she replied, “Enter.”

The door opened and Piper poked her head in. She smiled at Desiree in a friendly way. “I was wondering if you wanted steak or pork chops for dinner?”

“What makes you think that I’m not a vegetarian?” inquired Desiree stubbornly, just in the mood to be difficult.

Piper pretended to ponder that. “Gee. Could it be the fact that you polished off that chicken sandwich for lunch? Every last piece?”

Duh! “Oh, yeah.” She felt very foolish at that moment. “Steak then. Well done if you will.”

Piper bowed her head before replying, “It shall be done.” She smiled and then left the room, closing the door soundlessly.

Staring after the closed door, Desiree murmured, “I guess cooking for me is her version of an apology.” Thinking about it, the strawberry-blonde considered that she much rather have a juicy steak as an apology rather than hear the actual words. Well, at least when she was hungry. Hearing her stomach growl, the young woman chuckled. Apology accepted Piper.

***

Some forty-five minutes later, both women were sitting at the table next to the kitchen, with steaming plates of food before them. Desiree marveled at the delicious aromas rising from the plate. Piper had cooked T-bone steak (Desiree found out that they both liked their meat well done) steamed baby carrots that were slightly sweet, baked potatoes with sour cream and bacon bits, and hot buttered rolls. She was not sure but Desiree thought she smelled an apple pie baking in the oven.

“How does it taste?” asked Piper, after Desiree had sampled every item before her.
Desiree nodded, swallowing. “Everything is delicious. Where did you learn to cook so well?” She wish that she had not asked because Piper’s face suddenly became pained, as if remembering a less than favorable memory. Desiree waved her fork in the air. “It’s okay. You don’t have to answer.”

“No. It’s all right.” The blue-eyed woman smiled. “My mother taught me how to cook. I fixed my first breakfast all by myself when I was seven. It was quite good too,” she stated proudly.

Desiree smiled warmly at her. “I bet it was.”

They ate in silence for a few minutes before Desiree spoke. “This is very weird,” she murmured.

“What is?”

Desiree looked up from her plate, surprised that Piper had heard her. She had not expected her to. “This.” She waved her hands around her. “This has got to be the strangest hostage situation in the world.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I have my own room, you cook for me, I get to watch television.” She paused thoughtfully. “It’s like being at home again. Only difference is you’re not my mother.” She speared a baby carrot.

Piper got up and leaned across the table until her face was in close proximity to Desiree’s. “Good thing I’m not your mother too, because no mother should have the thoughts I’m having about her child.” She sat back down in her chair, enjoying the blush she elicited from the strawberry-blonde.

Desiree took a deep breath, surprising herself with her next words. “And what thoughts are those?”

Piper raised an eyebrow. “Well Desiree. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were flirting with me.”

Desiree’s next response was interrupted by the arrival of a very hungry and irritable feline. Tobias made his way over to his owner and stood up on his hind legs, placing his paws on her right thigh. He started to cry. Desiree picked him, saying that it was time for his dinner. Piper showed her where she had stored the cat food, and Desiree fed the hungry cat a whole can, after Piper promised that she would make a trip to the store tomorrow. She had to pick up a few items anyway.

Coming back to the table, Desiree took her seat before picking up her fork. Carefully, she added a buttery baby carrot, a square piece of steak, and a bit of potato to the fork before placing the delicious combination in her mouth. As she happily chewed the food, Desiree heard chuckling and looked up to find that the dark-haired woman was gazing at her with an amused expression. Trying to look indignant but failing miserably, Desiree inquired as to why Piper was laughing.

“You’re just so cute,” Piper replied, grinning as her captive blushed. “I’ve watched you eat and I can tell that food is truly your passion. You love it don’t you?” Her grin broadened as she watched the strawberry-blonde swallow the contents of her mouth. She felt a pleasurable jolt in the southern regions of her body when Desiree unconsciously licked her lips. Piper suddenly wished that she were a piece of steak.

Sheepishly nodding, Desiree reached for her glass and took a small sip before placing it back on the table. “I guess you could say that food is a hobby of mine,” pausing, Desiree grew thoughtful before lightly chuckling. “I remember when I was child my mother would pack my lunch for school, she would have to put it all in a paper bag because what I wanted wouldn’t fit in a standard sized lunch box.” Both Desiree and Piper shared a laugh before she added, “She used to worry that I would gain weight, however I managed not to.”

“Lucky! How’d you do that?”

“Playing sports, exercising, and running around with my friends. Plus, I’ve always had a high metabolism.” As she finished the last piece of her steak, the strawberry-blonde covertly watched Piper’s. Thus far, she had only eaten about half of hers. “Are you done?” she asked, knowing that Piper had not touched the contents of her plate in at least three minutes.

A slow grin curved the dark-haired woman’s lips. “Do you want my food Desiree?”

Stabbing her last baby carrot, Desiree answered, “Only if you don’t want to eat anymore of it. I’d hate for it to go to waste.”

Smirking, Piper leaned back in her chair, folding her arms over her chest. “You may have it, but it’ll cost you.”

Desiree arched an eyebrow. “What is it that you want?” When Piper flashed her a mischievous grin, the strawberry-blonde grew alarmed. “You can’t have that!”

“Have what?”

It was now Desiree’s turn to smirk. “You know what.” I may love food but I refuse to prostitute myself for steak!

Managing to hold back a laugh, Piper explained, “That’s not what I’m talking about. Why would I barter for that when I, being a very talented and experienced woman could get it for free from just about anyone that I…desire?” While a cocky grin appeared on her lips, Desiree rolled her eyes.

“What are you talking about then?”

“It’s simple really. I just want to kiss you once on the lips.”

“Ms. Stud of 1999, if you can get that for free then I would think it would be even easier for you to obtain a simple kiss.”

Throwing her head back, Piper richly chuckled. Sobering after a few moments, she nodded. “Be that as it may, a kiss is my price.”

Sighing, Desiree nodded. One little kiss couldn’t hurt anything. “Okay, deal.” When she puckered her lips, Piper laughed. “What?”

Pushing the plate towards Desiree, the dark-haired woman replied, “I’m not ready to accept my payment just yet but g’wan and chow down.”

The strawberry-blonde became suspicious. She wanted to wait? What was the point of doing that? Shaking her head a bit, Desiree considered that she would probably never truly understand Piper. Though she rather just get the kiss over with, she acquiesced. “Okay, you just let me know when you are then,” Desiree said in a distracted tone of voice as she focused in on the food now in front of her. Licking her lips again, she indeed did chow down.

***

“I’ll help wash the dishes.”

Piper shooed her away with the dishrag. “No, I’ve got them.”

“Are you sure? You cooked. The least I could do is wash the dishes.”

“It’s no problem. You like apple pie?”

I knew it, Desiree thought excitedly. “Why yes I do.”

Piper smiled. “Good. Go sit on the couch, and I’ll bring you some when I’m done in here.”

Desiree smiled back. While walking away, she muttered to herself. “Okay, Mom.”

“I heard that.”

A few minutes later, Piper joined Desiree on the couch with a silver tray that she placed on the coffee table in front of them. Desiree’s mouth watered at the sight. A big slice of hot apple pie was lying in a white saucer, topped with a perfectly rounded scoop of vanilla ice cream. Also on the tray was a carafe of ice-cold milk, two glasses, and two silver spoons.

Within minutes Desiree had devoured her dessert, and shyly asked for another piece. Piper got it for her, wondering where the small woman was able to put it all, without the added pounds. She considered the fact that the young woman must work out regularly if she always ate this much. Piper did not mind though. She liked the fact that Desiree had a healthy appetite. If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s a woman who eats like a small bird.

Twenty minutes later the two women sat sipping cappuccinos (which Piper had also fixed) and chatting about everything and anything. Well everything except the reason they were there in the first place.

“How old were you you’re first time?”

“Excuse me?” asked Desiree, arching a golden eyebrow at the unexpected question.

Piper smirked. “You heard me.”

“That’s a little personal.”

Piper did not say anything, just stared at her waiting for an answer.

Thinking that the woman was not likely to let it go, Desiree finally responded, “I was nineteen.”

“Was it with Alec?” inquired Piper, grinning.

Desiree nodded, blushing. “When was your first time?”

“Guess.”

“Twelve.” She got punched lightly in the arm for that one and snickered when Piper stuck her tongue out at her. “I don’t know.” She shrugged. “Eighteen.”

Piper shook her head. “I was sixteen.” She took a sip from her black mug. “I remember it was in my parent’s bed, and they came home to find us there.” She laughed. “I was grounded for a month.”

Desiree laughed too. “Why would you do it in your parent’s bed?”

“Well because it was bigger than mine.”

The strawberry-blonde shook her head while softly chuckling at Piper’s response. “Alec made reservations for us at a five-star hotel. When we got in the room, I discovered that there were at least thirty candles lit around the room, which was the only light that we needed. I was nervous, but Alec was very patient with me,” she finished softly.

Piper felt irrational jealousy. “Do you miss him?” Tell me no. Please tell me no.

The nostalgia quickly disappearing, Desiree laughed at the question. “Like I miss the chicken pox.”

Piper smiled broadly relieved before she turned serious all of the sudden. “I’m really sorry about all this.” She placed her half-empty mug on a black coaster.

“Don’t be,” exclaimed Desiree. “This is like an adventure sort of. You might be doing me a favor.”

Piper regarded her with a surprised expression, wondering how on earth kidnapping her could be thought of as a favor. “How so?”

“This could do wonders for my writing career. It may give me some ideas for a book.”

The blue-eyed woman did not reply right away. “Well. I hope you get something good out of this experience.”

“I already have,” Desiree replied quietly. Electric blue eyes met blue-green, staying that way for what seemed like an eternity before Desiree looked away. She tried to stifle a yawn, but did not succeed.

“I think it’s time for bed,” Piper announced. She got up and offered a hand to Desiree. The young woman grasped the offered hand, standing up.

“Thanks,” she said.

Piper smiled warmly. It was then that Desiree decided that she loved it when the taller woman smiled at her.

“Anytime.”

Desiree headed towards her bedroom but then stopped, turning back around to face the other woman. Granting her with a questioning look, Piper waited for the strawberry-blonde to speak.

“Umm…how about that kiss now?” Desiree asked in a voice so soft that Piper had to lean down in order to hear what she said. Though she wanted to get the kiss over and done with, Desiree had already admitted to herself that she wanted to feel Piper’s lips pressed against hers.

Piper slowly grinned as she snaked an arm around the smaller woman’s shoulders and led her to her bedroom door. After opening the door, the brunette turned to Desiree. Leaning down so that her mouth was next to a small pink ear, she whispered, “All good things come to those who wait.” She grinned more as the other woman shivered a bit. Straightening, Piper silently gazed into Desiree’s eyes before she kissed her. On the forehead that is.

***

“How many times have I told you to make sure that I always have a clean white shirt to wear!”

“I’m sorry, Alan,” she apologized quietly, nearly shaking with fear.

“Sorry is not good enough.” He hit her with such force that she went flying over the back of the couch. Getting up, Marie felt a thin trickle of blood run down her chin. Alan had busted her lip for the second time that week.

“Alan, you know that Piper has been sick. I got preoccupied and I forgot.”

He advanced on her quickly. “Well maybe this will teach you not to forget again.” He hit her so hard in the stomach, that the wind was knocked out of Marie as her legs gave out and she collapsed to the floor. Alan brought his leg back as if preparing to kick her, but was interrupted by a small voice.

“Please, Daddy. Don’t hurt Momma no more,” the child implored, carrying her beloved teddy bear in one hand.

Alan whirled around to face her. “Get your butt back in that bed, Piper!”

The child began to cry. “Please don’t hurt my Momma.”

“Go to bed honey,” Marie pleaded. She did not want her husband to take out his wrath with her on their child.

Alan removed the belt looped through his pants. “I’m gonna really give you somethin’ to cry about if you don’t do what I say,” he warned menacingly. “Now get!”

A few minutes later, eight-year-old Piper laid in her bed, listening to what was going on outside of the closed door. She covered her ears with her pillow, and pulled the sheet and blanket over her head, in a desperate attempt to keep the chaos out. She started sobbing, saying over and over again, “Please don’t hurt Momma, Daddy. Please don’t hurt Momma.”

***

“Piper. Piper wake up.” She shook the woman a little bit more roughly. “Piper! Piper please wake up!” she shouted nervously.

Piper abruptly sat up in the bed, pushing Desiree on her back on the bed, and pinning her arms over her head. “Please don’t hurt Momma,” Piper stated softly. Her eyes popped open and she stared in confusion at the terrified looking woman she was straddling. Suddenly it dawned on her that this was Desiree, and she was not eight years old anymore.

“I’m sorry,” she exclaimed hoarsely.

“No problem,” Desiree replied in a whisper, beginning to calm down. She again assured herself that Piper would never hurt her. She examined Piper’s attire and could not help but to admit that she looked sexy in a simple way. Piper was wearing short black and red checkered boxers, and a tight black tank top, with her hair held back from her face by a rubberband, except for a few hairs that had escaped during her thrashing on the pillow.

Piper then did something that Desiree could not have expected to happen in a million years. The blue-eyed woman suddenly burst into tears and covered her face with her hands, still straddling the smaller woman.

“I’m so sorry,” Piper sobbed, her whole body shaking.

“It’s okay,” Desiree replied softly. “It’s okay, Piper.” She reached up to squeeze the woman’s arm, since Piper had released her hold on the young woman’s arms as soon as she realized who she was.

Piper then leaned down so far that Desiree just knew that the woman was about to kiss her. This is it, she ruminated to herself, closing her eyes for the pleasure that she was sure would follow. Instead, she got a crying Piper stretched out on top of her, with her face pressed into Desiree’s warm neck. The young woman could feel the tears dropping onto her skin. Desiree wrapped her arms around the sobbing woman who was lying completely on top of her. She had a feeling that Piper needed this cry, and she did not mind having to comfort her. This was pleasurable in its own way.

***

The next morning, Desiree awoke to find that something was chewing her hair. She knew exactly who the culprit was. “Tobias, stop,” she muttered with her eyes till closed. When he did not stop, she reached up a hand to gently swat him until he got off of the bed. “I’ll get your breakfast in a few minutes.”

Opening her eyes, Desiree was momentarily surprised to find Piper on top of her before she remembered last night. Based on the woman’s even breathing on her neck, Desiree could tell that she was still asleep. She had to go to the bathroom quite badly, so she tried to get from under the sleeping woman without disturbing her, but Piper was too heavy. “Oh, that’s just great,” Desiree muttered.

“Huh?” said a voice thick with sleep. Piper raised her head to see Desiree trapped beneath her. Her eyes opened wide as she scrambled out of the bed, which brought an instant frown to Desiree’s face. She felt like someone had just swiped her heater.
“What’s the matter?” the young woman asked, sitting up.

“Did I- did we…” Unable to finish Piper pointed towards the bed.

Desiree looked at her curiously before it dawned on her what Piper was trying to get at. She briefly thought about teasing the woman as payback, but then changed her mind. She sensed that this was not a time for joking.

“Nothing happened,” Desiree assured her.

“Then what was I doing on top of you?” Piper asked exasperated.

“You don’t remember? You were crying and you laid down on me. You cried for what must have been about an half hour before you finally fell asleep.”

An embarrassed blush appeared on Piper’s face. “Oh, yeah.” She put her hands on her hips. “I’m sorry about that.”

“Why are you always apologizing? It was no problem. It felt quite good in fact.” Desiree could have slapped herself for letting that last statement slip out. Where’s duct tape when you need it?

Piper raised an eyebrow, but other than that to Desiree’s immense relief did not comment. The tall woman walked to the door and then turned around asking, “What do you want for breakfast? French toast or pancakes?”

Desiree shook her head. If Piper kept this up, she was going to be in the Guinness Book of World Records for the hostage that gained the most weight while being held captive.

“Whatever is easiest for you,” answered Desiree, getting out of the bed. With great effort she kept from doing the “potty dance.”

“Pick one. Neither takes that much effort.”

“Okay, pancakes.”

Piper went out of the bedroom announcing over her shoulder, “One stack of flapjacks coming up!”

Desiree tried to walk in a casual manner to get to the bathroom, but Piper hurried into it, shutting the door in Desiree’s face. She did that on purpose, the young woman thought furiously. She knew I had to go to the bathroom. She hit the bathroom door, only to hear a chuckle come from inside. “You are so mean!” she shouted, only to hear more chuckling.

Tobias chose that moment to start meowing, and she irritably demanded him to shut up. Not used to that tone of voice from his owner, Tobias did the wise thing and stayed out of her way. However, before he walked away, he made sure to flip his bushy tail in her direction, telling his master just what he thought of her foul mood.

Desiree made a decision. “Fine. I’m going outside. Not like I’ve never used a bush before.” Glancing back at the bathroom door, Desiree could hear the shower running. Coming to the conclusion that Piper would probably be in there for a while, she went to the front door and opened it. She thought about leaving a note, but decided not to. Let the woman worry about her disappearance if she were to come out before Desiree could come back in. It would serve her right for behaving like such a bully at times.

Arriving outside on the porch Desiree marveled at the scenery. Beautiful green plants and flowers of all colors were strewn around the cabin. She could hear birds chirping and if her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her, that was a deer that just past by a few trees about thirty feet away.

“This is paradise found,” she said aloud.

Walking down the stairs and to her right, Desiree soon came to some bushes that she thought would do. Grabbing a couple of leaves that would take the place of toilet paper and then pushing her underwear down, the strawberry-blonde started to do what she came out there for.

“Well, well, well. Nice set of cheeks, and I’m not referring to ones on your face,” said a jovial voice coming from behind Desiree. The accent was Jamaican.

Quickly turning around, dropping her oversized T-shirt back into place, and pulling up her panties, Desiree spied what must have been one of the most gorgeous men she had ever seen. In fact, he looked like he had just stepped out of an issue of GQ magazine. He was smiling broadly at her, and she could see that he had pearly white even teeth. His skin was the color of dark chocolate and must have topped Piper’s height by at least six inches. He wore tan colored slacks, and a dark green short-sleeved shirt, which was tight enough so that Desiree could tell that he was quite muscular. He had a diamond stud in his left ear and was wearing shades with a green tint to match his shirt.

“May I help you?” she tried to ask calmly, feeling vulnerable in only a T-shirt and panties.

The man slowly nodded. “Maybe you can.”

***

“Let me go!” Desiree shouted. The Jamaican man was carrying her effortlessly over his left shoulder into the cabin. She figured that he thought it might have been empty and that she was all by herself. Wrong, buddy. Piper is not gonna like this, she thought, feeling secure in the fact that the woman was only in the bathroom and that she would be able to rescue her.
Piper opened the bathroom door wearing a black terry-cloth robe, her wet hair trailing down her back. She had heard the commotion and wondered what the young woman was up to. She figured she had the television up too loud, but the scene before her was completely unexpected. Her mouth opened wide as she ran towards the man. He put Desiree down and opened his arms for Piper’s arrival, swinging her off the floor and spinning around. By this time, Desiree’s mouth was now open. She knows this guy?

“Taj!” Piper exclaimed after the man put her down.

“It’s been too long, Pippy,” the Jamaican man said.

Pippy? Desiree thought.
CHAPTER 3
“You know him?” Desiree inquired of Piper.

Piper turned to face her surprised hostage. “Of course I do.” She squeezed Taj’s arm affectionately. “Taj and I go way back. He’s my best friend,” she added jovially.

“Oh, you know that’s not true,” the Jamaican man interrupted. “I’m your only friend.” He chuckled as Piper playfully hit him in the stomach.

Desiree watched this easy banter between the two old friends with growing jealousy. It was obvious that they truly were good friends, and the young woman berated herself for being upset by their relationship. What do you care for? She asked herself. It’s not like she belongs to you or anything.

“So Pippy when did you two get here?”

Before Piper could answer, Desiree interrupted with, “Are you in on this?” she inquired of Taj.

He nodded. “Whose cabin do you think this is?” He raised both of his arms.

Desiree placed both hands on her hips. “Let me get this straight. You helped her to kidnap me by providing the usage of your cabin?”

Taj smiled showing a set of dimples that looked deep enough to take a dive in. “That about sums it up.”

“Do you know what this is about?” Desiree asked of him. Perhaps he could provide her with the answers that Piper had neglected to.

Taj looked at Piper, who was standing next to him. “Did you tell her?” he asked in a quieter voice.

“Not everything,” Piper replied in an equally quiet voice.

The man gazed at Desiree thoughtfully. “She doesn’t seem to be afraid considering her situation.”

Piper smirked. “She says I treat her like a queen.”

“Huh. Does she know why she is here?”

Piper shrugged her shoulders. “She knows it has something to do with her father, and that he served on my case in ’90.”

“Is that all?”

“Pretty much.”

“Excuse me.” Desiree said, drawing the attention of the other two. “I guess you two forgot “she” is in the room and “she” would like to know all about what is going on,” she demanded furiously. Desiree started to tap a bare foot on the carpet.

Piper peered at her smiling slightly. “You look so very lovely when you’re angry, Desi.” Taj laughed at this, while Desiree gave Piper a dirty look as she blushed.

“I have a right to know, Piper.”

“You will soon, Desi,” replied the blue-eyed woman mocking the younger woman’s tone.

Desiree continued with, “When will soon be?”

“You’ll know when it gets here.” She flashed a cocky grin.

The strawberry-blonde threw up her hands in frustration, and huffed as she took a seat at the round table by the kitchen. Piper and Taj followed suit, with Piper sitting across from Desiree, and Taj to the right of the defeated young woman.

Might as well change the subject, Desiree thought. They’re not about to tell me anything. “So,” she started glancing at both Piper and Taj, “how long have you two known each other?”

“About thirteen years,” Taj answered.

Desiree’s blue-green eyes opened wide. “That long, huh?”

“Yep,” Piper and Taj said in unison, causing both to start laughing. Desiree just rolled her eyes thinking that in her opinion it was not that funny.

Thirteen years ago Piper Redding had met and almost instantly liked Taj Potter on their first day as freshmen’s in high school. Taj had just moved to California with his parents and two brothers from their previous home in Kingston, Jamaica a month before school started in September. He was just as nervous as Piper was about beginning high school.

Given her locker number, and after wandering down the halls for ten minutes, Piper finally located her locker. She spent the next few minutes desperately trying to open the locker, finally giving up and pounding it with her fist in anger. Even back then Piper’s patience was thin.

“Can I help you with that?” said a light male voice coming from behind her.

Piper turned around and said, “Be my guest.”

The lanky youth went up to the locker, asked Piper for her combination and had it open within seconds. He turned his attention to her grinning.

“How did you do that?” The last thing she wanted was to be showed up by a boy opening her locker for her, when she could successfully tackle most of the one’s in her neighborhood to the ground in a game of football. In her opinion, they were not much competition.

“Guess I’ve got that magic touch,” the boy replied still grinning.

Piper rolled her eyes. “Thanks. What’s your name?”

“Taj Potter.” He extended his hand and they shook briefly. “I’m from Jamaica,” he added.

“I know that,” Piper uttered indignantly. “I could tell from your accent.”

Taj shrugged. “No need to get defensive. I didn’t realize you would know.”

Piper replied, “Well I’ve got a brain.”

The teenager looked her up and down slowly. “As well as a body.”

Piper rolled her eyes again. The last thing she needed was another boy leering at her. At age fourteen, Piper was already well developed, which was part of the reason most of the freshman class girls did not like her. The other reason was that Piper did not like them either. All they cared about was their hair, make-up and gossiping about whom liked whom. Piper could not have cared less about any of those things.

The next thing Taj knew it, he was being slammed against a locker and Piper had a hand grasping his neck tightly, with the other in a fist shaking menacingly in his face. To his credit, even though he was in this predicament, Taj remained calm and collected. Piper noted this, and so did a few other students as they stopped to view the scene. Both Piper and Taj ignored them.

“You don’t look like you fear me.” She had to look up at him since he was taller than she was.
Taj replied coolly, “That’s because I don’t.”

“Because I’m a girl?” Her grip on his neck tightened.

“No. It’s just because you don’t frighten me, and even if you did I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction of knowing it.”

Piper narrowed her eyes, and then let go of him taking a step back. “You have the nerve to stand up to me,” she exclaimed silently. Piper peered into his deep brown eyes. “I dig that!” She slapped him good-naturedly on the shoulder much to the other student’s shock as they started to walk away. Usually her victims ended up with a black eye or worse.

“The name is Piper Redding.”

“Nice to meet you, Piper.” He moved his neck from right to left in order to get the crick out. The girl had a heck of a grip.

“I love your accent,” she commented, placing her lunch in the locker and then closing it.

“As I love everything about you.” He looked her over once more grinning again.

Piper sighed. If they were going to be friends, she was going to have to nip this in the bud fast. “Look, Taj you’re cute and all but you’re not my type.”

Taj replied in a low voice, “The color of our skin won’t matter when we are between the sheets.”

Piper’s blue eyes widened in shock. This must have been the youngest smooth talker she had ever encountered. “I’m not talking about your race, Taj. Frankly, that doesn’t matter to me.” She paused. “And where did you pick up that lame line?” She smiled broadly, and Taj fell in love with that smile.

“My older brother said it to some girl on the phone last week.”

“Did it work?” Piper inquired.

Taj nodded. “Must have, because he went out that night and didn’t come back home until the early morning smelling like Chanel #5 and wearing a big dopey smile.”

Piper shook her head, chuckling. “Your brother?” She thought about something. “Is his name Dion?”

“Yeah. How did you know?”

She began to walk to her first class with Taj following next to her. “He made a pass at me a couple days ago in an arcade. I asked you if he was your brother because I had never seen him before, and he had a Jamaican accent too.” She paused a moment. “Come to think of it you look like him a little.”

“Who do you think is cuter though?”

“Why you of course.” She linked her arm with his, both of them smiling.

“You’re just saying that because it’s true.”

That was beginning of a great friendship, and since then, they had been there for each other whenever they were needed. When Piper called Taj about needing help with her current situation he had been there. Even when she told him that she planned on kidnapping one of Judge Love’s daughters, he had been on her side, instantly offering his cabin secluded in the woods for them to hide in until Piper achieved what she wanted.

***

“How do you know you can trust him?”

“He’s the only person on this earth that I know would never betray me.”

Piper missed the look of hurt that appeared on Desiree’s face at the statement. The young woman could have kicked herself for feeling put out. Geez, she thought. You haven’t even known her for a whole three days. How do you expect her to say that she trusts you?

Piper and Desiree were currently sitting at the eating table, playing checkers. Taj went to the store almost an hour ago after convincing Piper that she should stay at the cabin with Desiree, saying that someone might recognize her if she were to go out in public in broad daylight. She agreed that he was correct, and after he left she challenged Desiree to checkers. Now Piper wished she had never done that because the young woman was beating her to the point where it was positively embarrassing. Piper’s temper was starting to take a hold on her, and she had to control herself from throwing the checkerboard on the floor and having a hissy fit.

“Are you cheating?” she asked suspiciously.

Desiree looked up at her after having just stole another one of her pieces. She had not been surprised in the least when the blue-eyed woman had chosen to play with the black pieces. She made a mental note to question Piper and Taj about their fetish with black and white. In her opinion, the colors of the living room were a bit on the depressing side and far too clinical.

“How could I be cheating?”

“I don’t know, but we’ve played four games now, and you’ve won all of them. What gives, Desi?” Piper sat back in her chair, crossing her arms.
“Maybe I’m just good.” Desiree smirked, and then bit her lip. She had a feeling that the other woman was about to mess with her words.

Piper stared at her with a blank expression for a few seconds silently. Desiree started to squirm, despite her efforts to stay still. Piper leaned forward and finally replied huskily, “I bet you are.”

I knew it, Desiree thought. She just can’t help herself. Before she knew what she was doing, the strawberry-blonde sent a red checker flying at the other woman’s forehead. However, it did not make it to its destination because Piper caught it. She looked at Desiree, who was gaping and raised an eyebrow at her.

“Now it’s war, little girl.” Piper threw a black checker at Desiree, and then noticed that was her last one except for the one she had just caught in her hand. She had not managed to get any of Desiree’s red checkers.

The shorter woman noticed her dilemma. “Tsk tsk. Now how can you have a war without ammunition Piper?” she teased.

“You wouldn’t dare,” Piper said confidently.

“That’s obviously one thing you don’t know about me.”

“What is?”

Desiree stood up. “Never dare Desiree Love,” she replied in a serious tone.

“Oooh. I’m scared of you shrimp.” Piper grinned.

Desiree smirked. “That’s it. You’ve done it now. Always trying to play the short card!” She picked up a couple of checkers from the table.

Piper grabbed the checkerboard for a shield just as a checker thumped her on the nose. The next thing she knew it, black and red checkers were rapidly flying at her. Piper managed to deflect most of the throws with her ‘shield’. Finally, she got tired of just sitting there, so Piper arose from her chair and started to throw the checkers back. She realized that this was the most fun she had had in ages. The two were laughing as they pelted one another with the small round pieces of plastic.

This was what Taj entered in on a few minutes later, with two full grocery bags in hand. He put the bags down and just stood there slightly grinning, waiting for the giggling women to recognize that they were not alone. Finally, Desiree glanced over to see him standing with his arms crossed.

“Hey, Taj,” she said, tossing the checkers in her hand on the table.
Piper glanced over. “Welcome back, Potter,” she grinned at her attempt at a joke, as the other two groaned. “Hey it wasn’t that bad. I thought it was kind of funny,” she added defensively. She had got the joke from the title of a show from the seventies “Welcome back, Kotter” starring John Travolta.

“You have your opinion, we have our own,” Taj replied, grinning.

Piper threw a checker at him, but he ducked it. Straightening up he said, “Missed me, missed me, now you gotta kiss me.”

Piper raised an eyebrow and sauntered over to a smiling Taj, while Desiree still standing next to the table frowned, wondering if Piper was really going to kiss the man. She did. Piper went right up to Taj and placed a quick but sweet kiss on his lips. She then turned towards Desiree, happily noticing that the young woman looked as if she could have shot Taj at the moment if she had a gun. Are we a wee bit jealous, Desi? Piper thought hopefully.

“Do you want a kiss too?” she asked of Desiree.

Is the Pope Catholic? The young woman replied, “I rather kiss a toad.”

Piper chuckled and glanced at Taj. “Well what do you think he is?” She pointed at the Jamaican man.

“Hey!” Taj wrapped his strong muscular arms around Piper and pulled her towards him until her back was pressed against his chest. “Say you are sorry.”

“You are sorry,” Piper chuckled again.

“You’re in trouble now, Pippy.” Taj began to tickle her, bringing the tall woman to her knees on the floor, protesting against the attack, yet laughing the whole time.

Desiree rolled her eyes, deciding that she could not take anymore of this bonding. She told Piper and Taj that she would be retiring to her room to take a nap with her cat. Piper told her that she would let her know when lunch was ready and the young woman nodded before quickly disappearing into her room.

Piper and Taj busied themselves with putting the groceries away. The blue-eyed woman noticed that Taj had bought twenty cans of cat food. She figured it out in her head that twenty cans meant ten days, since Tobias ate two cans a day. She hoped that this would all be over by that time, but could not help but to wonder what would happen where Desiree was concerned. Yes, she liked the young woman and if all worked out correctly she wanted to keep in contact with her. Piper smiled to herself, wondering what the young woman’s reaction would be if she were to ask her out on a date. She’d probably blush.

***

Judge Richard Love once again tried to call his daughter to no avail. The answering machine picked up again causing him to slam the phone down harshly in frustration. Something must have been wrong, because he knew that Desiree would never be that careless not to let her family or anyone else for that matter know where she was going if she were to leave on a vacation. Judge Love managed to get a hold of Alec Drake, and had found out that he and Desiree had split up on Monday, and the young man exclaimed that he had not heard or spoken to Desiree since. He promised the judge that he would call him if he found out anything. All other friends of Desiree’s that her father had spoken to didn’t know anything either, and stated they would call if they obtained any information on her whereabouts.

Sitting behind the large oak desk in his office at home, Judge Love decided that he would take a trip to Los Angeles. He started up his computer to make airline reservations via the Internet, when his cordless phone rang. He hurriedly pulled up the antennae and pushed the talk button saying hello. The other end remained silent so he said the greeting a little bit louder. Still no answer, so he nearly shouted the next time.

“Talk! I can hear you breathing,” Judge Love said impatiently, picking up a pencil to tap on the desk nervously.

“My, Judge. Aren’t we demanding,” the person said almost cheerfully.

The pencil instantly snapped in two from the pressure the judge put on it. “You,” he said menacingly. “Where is my daughter?”

The female voice chuckled. “What makes you think I have her?”

“You tried to kill my son, and now you’ve kidnapped my daughter. You will pay for this.”

“No. I think that you have that backwards.” The woman now sounded deadly serious.

“Your son almost died because he has an idiot for a father, and as for your daughter? Yeah I have her. Now listen to me judge.” She said the title in a sneering tone. “If you ever want to see Desiree again, you will find a way to get those ludicrous charges off of me. Do you understand?”

“How am I supposed to do that?” he asked in an exasperated voice.

“I’m sure you can find a way. You are so smart,” she stated sarcastically.

“You’re guilty,” the judge argued.

“That’s what you think,” she paused. “Oh. By the way, it would be in your best interest to keep the police out of this. There is no need for them to know that your precious daughter is missing. I’ll be in touch.”
The phone clicked and Judge Love knew that she was gone. He put the phone down and ran a hand through his thinning hair. There was absolutely no doubt in his mind, as well as others that she was guilty, so he knew that it would be virtually impossible to get the charges against her dropped. She had called him an idiot. Thinking back, he considered she might be correct.

*****

“Oh, Taj that feels so good,” Piper moaned, reclining on her back on the couch.

“You like that, huh?”

She replied, “You know I do.”

A few minutes later, Taj said, “Give me the other one.”

The blue-eyed woman obediently put her right foot on Taj’s lap. He sent his strong warm hands to work their magic on it, eliciting a few more moans from Piper. A few more minutes passed by before she spoke.

“If I were straight, I’d marry you,” stated Piper, with her eyes closed.

Taj replied, “That is if I said yes.”

The woman sat up and waved her fist in his face threateningly. “Oh, you’d say yes.” She tried to keep a grin from showing on her lips, but failed to do so.

“Tsk, tsk,” sounded Taj. “Once a bully, always a bully. Huh, Pippy?” He smiled broadly at her.

She smiled back. “Always.” She removed her foot from his lap and crossed her legs Indian style. “Hey! Maybe I’ll marry you anyway. You’re smart, you cook, clean, you’re handsome, funny,” she paused thinking, “give good massages and you’re my best friend.” She shrugged. “I could overlook what’s in your pants.”

The Jamaican man chuckled. “You are a naughty girl, but who knows? Once you try out what’s in my pants you may become ad-dict-ed.”

Piper laughed loudly. “And you’re calling me naughty? Listen to you.”

Taj chuckled again. “I’ve missed you, Pippy.”

“Right back atcha.” She squeezed his arm affectionately. “I see you have continued to hit the gym.”

“Have to stay buff for the ladies.” He glanced at Desiree’s door. “What’s up with your little hostage? Is she ever going to come out of there?”
Piper sighed. “I really don’t know what’s wrong with her. Maybe she’s homesick.” She felt instant guilt at the fact that she was keeping the young woman away from her family and friends. Desiree had for the most part been very easy to get along with and that made Piper feel even worse. She knew that the young woman did not deserve this, but she played an important role in Piper’s plan. The blue-eyed woman needed Desiree in order to survive. She was her one and only lifeline.

An hour after Desiree had gone to take her nap, Piper went to tell her that lunch was ready, but she had declined announcing that she was not hungry. Later on, Piper told her that they were about to eat dinner, but she forfeited on that too. Piper was about to sit down at the table, when Taj informed her that the “little one” had to eat in order to keep up her strength. He insisted that Desiree eat, so he brought her a tray of the food and placed it on the nightstand next to her bed. She said a quiet thank you but offered nothing more. An hour later when Taj came to pick up the tray he was happy to note that the young woman had eaten all of her dinner.

Her eyes were closed, but he got the impression that she was playing possum. The only times that Desiree had come out of her bedroom was to make a trip to the bathroom once, and to feed Tobias.

Taj sighed. “I don’t think she likes me,” he stated.

“Ah, Taj she just doesn’t know you that well is all.”

“Was she this quiet with you at first?” he asked.

“No, she was actually quite brazen. But she’ll come around. You’ll see.”

“Hmm.” Taj glanced at his Rolex watch. “I should be getting to bed.”

Piper looked at the clock on the wall. “Already? It’s not even 9:00 yet.”

Taj stood up and stretched. “Yes, but I’m tired.” He turned around and looked at Piper. “So get off my bed.”

She raised her eyebrows suggestively. “What makes you think that you have to sleep on the couch?”

The Jamaican man grinned. “Don’t even tease me like that, Pippy.”

She lauged, rising from the couch. “Goodnight Taj.”

“Nite Pippy.”

She took a couple of steps towards him and they hugged tightly.
“Everything is gonna be all right. Isn’t it Taj?” Piper asked, still hugging him. She desperately needed some reassurance.

He smiled warmly. “Of course it will Pippy.” He released her and took a step back. “You’ll be a free woman in no time.”

***

Desiree awoke from a deep sleep to the sound of her cat mewling. She switched on the light and looked down at Tobias who was sitting on the floor crying his little heart out. She glanced at the clock, noticing that it was past midnight.

“What is it boy?” she asked, her voice thick with sleep. Desiree shook her head. As if he is going to answer me.

She looked at the bedroom door, noticing that it was closed. She instantly deduced that the feline wanted to get out. At home she never slept with the door closed all of the way, but she could not stand to hear Piper and Taj laughing and talking with each other as if they were the only two in the world that mattered. She knew that she was acting foolish, but Desiree could not help herself. She admitted to herself that she was indeed jealous and the young woman did not enjoy the feeling one bit. She wondered how she could be jealous of a man who obviously held affections for a woman who had kidnapped her. Desiree figured that she must have been losing her mind, because she had never in all her twenty-three years felt these sorts of feelings for another female. She knew her parents would have a fit if they were to ever find out that while their daughter was being held against her will, she discovered that she as Desiree put it earlier played for that team.

The strawberry-blonde arose from the bed and proceeded to walk to the bedroom door, with Tobias following right on her heels. She opened the door quietly to peer outside, and found that it was pitch black in the living room. She switched on a light and noticed that there were covers on the couch as if someone had been sleeping there, but other than the covers, it was empty. Tobias raced past her to get to the kitchen, and she followed him to see that the cat had wanted a drink of water.

Desiree turned around to head back to her bedroom when she heard a noise coming from behind Piper’s bedroom. Her curiosity and concern got the best of her leading Desiree to the other woman’s bedroom, as she had went last night when she heard Piper repeating something, to find that the woman was having a horrible dream. The woman refused to talk about it, but Desiree knew without a doubt that it had something to do with her father. From what she heard, the young woman concluded that the man must have been abusive. Last night when she heard Piper screaming in her dream at her father, a horrendous wave of rage had overtaken Desiree at the man for hurting this woman that she hardly knew and her mother.

Reaching the door, Desiree momentarily hesitated before opening it as quietly as she could manage. It was dark inside, but the light from the living room allowed her to see more clearly. What she saw broke her heart in two, and she recognized that she was on the verge of tears. Taj and Piper were in her bed together with the sheets pulled up high around them, but the young woman could tell that Taj’s upper body was bare. She figured that if the rest of him were clothed, then it would not remain that way for much longer. Half of Taj was lying on top of Piper, and Desiree saw that the woman had her arms wound tightly around his neck. She could not see her face and only the back of Taj’s head, which was a relief. The last thing she needed was to see the passion that would surely be on their faces. It would surely be her undoing.

The hurt young woman closed the door silently and went back to her room to collapse on the bed bursting into tears. About twenty minutes later, Desiree sat up on the bed, swiping at her tears angrily. How could she play with my emotions? She furiously wondered. She figured that Piper had been playing some twisted game with her all along, and wondered how she could not see that the woman was indeed cruel. Desiree thought that she had seen evidence of goodness in the woman, but evidently, she was wrong. All of the enticing statements, lustful looks and touches had been apart of her perverted game, and the young woman had half a mind to leave right there and then, but quickly decided against it. It was dark outside and she did not have a clue as to where she was although she had driven here. So, she was trapped here with two jerks that got their kicks messing with people’s minds. She makes Alec look like a prince.

***

The next morning Desiree was stirred from her sleep by the smell of bacon cooking. She abruptly remembered what she witnessed last night and thought she would be sick. Damn you Piper for making me want you, she thought on the verge of either crying again or pounding the wall with her fist.

There was a knock on the door, but Desiree chose to ignore it. Let them think that she was still asleep. The knocking grew louder and more insistent so she marched over and opened it harshly. She frowned at the person standing there.

“Morning, Sunshine,” Taj said wearing a big smile.

She wanted to slug him but miraculously managed to keep her hands to herself. Instead, she replied, “Shut up!” Desiree slammed the door in his face, and then went to the closet to get something to wear. Moments later, there was another knock at the door. She let out a ragged breath and opened it again.

“Is there a problem?” she inquired testily, holding her belongings in one hand.

“I was intending to ask you the same thing,” retorted Piper, wearing a questioning look.

“No. Everything is just freaking peachy,” replied Desiree between clenched teeth.

Piper put her hands on her hips. “What is your problem?”

“You.” The young woman brushed past her and hurried into the bathroom, leaving a confused Piper and Taj behind her.

“I told you she didn’t like me,” Taj stated as he placed three glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice on the kitchen table. He had demanded on cooking breakfast so Piper gave the kitchen over to him, but refused to let him use her “Kiss the Cook” apron. Her argument was that she had brought it with her, and no one wore it but her. Taj pouted but she would not give in.

Piper turned to him. “I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for her behavior.”

Taj shrugged. “Yes there is. She doesn’t like me.”

“That’s not reasonable,” Piper argued.

The Jamaican man decided to drop the subject. “You should tell her breakfast is ready.”

Piper hesitated before knocking softly on the door.

“What?” Desiree snapped from the other side.

Piper took a deep calming breath. She was started to lose her own patience. “Breakfast is ready.”

“Can’t you see that I’m in the bathroom?” the young woman called.

The blue-eyed woman pinched the bridge of her nose, feeling the beginning of a headache. “Well when you get done, please come eat,” she said as pleasantly as she could.

“Oh, I bet you’re hungry. Aren’t you?”

Piper frowned, but did not even try to ask what the young woman meant by that comment. Desiree was not in a cordial mood, and soon the same was going to be for her kidnapper.

Taj and Piper decided to wait for Desiree to finish whatever it was she was doing in the bathroom to join them for breakfast before eating. Taj had tried to keep the food as warm as possible. Finally, when both were on their second cup of coffee, the bathroom door opened releasing a gush of steam and a clothed Desiree. The young woman had chosen to wear a pair of white jean shorts that were accompanied by a striped red and white cotton short-sleeved shirt. She was wearing red sandals too.

“You look cute,” Piper commented, taking another sip from her coffee.

Desiree granted her with an annoyed expression and took her place at the table. Taj arose from his chair and retrieved the plates of food, telling Piper to stay seated when she tried to help him. Desiree glanced at the plate placed in front of her, and could not help but to admire the good-smelling and delicious looking food. She had been intending to protest eating, but changed her mind. She chastised her hunger for being a traitor.

Taj folded his hands to say grace and the other two women joined, with Piper a little reluctantly until Taj kicked her lightly in the leg. She glanced at him noticing that the man was wearing a slight mischievous grin. He said grace and Desiree grudgingly acknowledged to herself that it was well spoken. Desiree picked up her fork, sliced off a piece of a buttermilk pancake on her plate, and put the piece in her mouth. This man could give the International House of Pancakes competition. They may be jerks, the young woman thought, but they can both cook.

“How is it?” asked Taj looking at Desiree.

“Fine,” she retorted tersely.

A couple minutes later Piper said, “I fed your cat.”

Without looking up from her plate Desiree replied, “You want a medal?”

Piper bit her tongue in an effort not to say anything. Something was definitely bothering Desiree and she had a feeling it had nothing to do with being homesick. She grudgingly admitted that it must have something to do with her friend, but could not understand what it could be.

They resumed eating and halfway through the meal Taj inquired if anyone wanted some more juice.

“Oh, I bet you were thirsty last night,” exclaimed Desiree, unable to stop herself. “Weren’t you Taj?” she sneered.

Piper dropped her fork on her plate with a loud clang. She glared at the other woman asking, “What the hell is your problem?” Taj quietly called her name in warning, but Piper ignored him. “No, I wanna know what is up with her.”

Desiree put her own fork down. “I already told you.”

“Yeah. Me. What did I do?”

The strawberry-blonde laughed humorlessly. “You know exactly what you did.”

“Actually I don’t, Desiree.”

“Oh, come now.” The young woman paused. “Wait. You did that last night didn’t you?” She leaned towards a confused Piper. “Why don’t you brag about how many times.” She felt the tears beginning to sting her eyes and could have kicked herself for appearing so sensitive.

“What are you babbling on about?” asked Piper, her forehead creased in confusion.

Desiree sighed. Not gonna make this easy for me, are you? She thought bitterly. “You and Taj.”

“What about me and Taj?”

The tears started to run down her cheeks. Piper reached out to her noticing the tears, but Desiree got up from the table and took a quick step back. “Don’t you touch me!” she yelled. “Don’t you ever put your hands on me again.” She started to cry, with Taj and Piper glancing at each other wearing confused expressions.

Piper sat on the edge of her seat. “Desiree, please tell me what’s wrong,” she stated calmly. Seeing the small woman crying nearly broke her heart.

The disturbed young woman did not answer right away. She wiped a few tears away with the back of her hand, ignoring the napkin that Taj held out to her. “I saw you two.”

“What do you mean you saw us?”

Desiree shook her head. “You know what? I don’t know why I’m tripping because it’s none of my business anyway what you do and who you decide to do it with. It’s not like I own you.”

“Just spit it out.”

“Last night I saw you two in bed together. I thought you might be having another bad dream and I opened the door to see you and Taj in a very intimate position.”

Desiree could have slapped Piper for what the woman did next. Piper started laughing so hard that she fell to her knees on the floor. Desiree glanced at Taj to notice that the man was chuckling. Her attention went back to Piper and she saw tears streaming down the woman’s face.

“I don’t see what’s so funny about it,” Desiree said indignantly, causing the other woman to laugh even louder.

After a few more moments, Piper finally got herself together and took a seat back in her chair. She motioned for Desiree to sit down too, but the young woman chose to remain standing.
“Desi,” Piper chuckled. “No offense to you to Taj,” she glanced at the man, “but I wouldn’t sleep with him if he were the last person on earth. You want to know why?”

“Why?” Desiree asked still angry.

“Because he’s a man. Males aren’t my forte, and I thought I had made this abundantly clear to you already.”

“I thought you had too, but when I saw you with Taj, I figured you were just messing with my mind.” Could it be that I was wrong? Desiree silently hoped so.

Piper shook her head. “No, I wasn’t. Let’s get this straight.” She paused. “No pun intended. I’m gay.” She pointed to herself. “Always was, always will be. I don’t play on both teams and I can assure you that I’ll never get the urge to. I strictly like the ladies.”

“But he was practically on top of you.”

“I was trying to hold her down,” Taj interjected. “I was on the couch asleep when I heard her in her room. I hurried in to find her thrashing around on the bed, so I held her down so I could wake her up. I didn’t want her to hit me in the process or hurt herself. Finally, she woke up, put her arms around my neck, and started…” He looked at Piper apologetically. “Sorry but I should tell her.” He turned back to Desiree. “She started to cry, and I held her until she fell asleep again.”

“You didn’t have a shirt on.”

“A lot of men don’t sleep with a shirt on. I haven’t since I was twelve.”

Desiree thought for a second and then closed her eyes momentarily. “Well I feel like an idiot,” she said.

“It happens to the best of us,” retorted Piper. She wanted to jump up and down and shout it from the rooftops. Obviously, the young woman liked her more than in a friendly way, and the blue-eyed woman could not remember ever being as happy as she was at that moment.

***

The rest of the day pretty much past in a getting-to-know-you sort of way. Desiree learned that Taj had two brothers, one older and one younger who also still resided in California. His parents were retired and now lived in Bakersfield, California. His oldest brother, Dion was married to a wonderful woman and they had two young daughters who Taj claimed said that they adored their Uncle Taj. His youngest brother was currently attending a college in San Francisco into his second year and on the dean’s list. Taj spoke of his family in a proud manner, and Desiree could tell that they were all very close.

She thought about the way she had been treating the man since his arrival, and felt guilty. Desiree discovered that after talking with him awhile that she enjoyed the man’s company, although to be honest she could not wait to have Piper all to herself again. She was both anxious and nervous to be with the woman alone, and gathered that Piper felt the same way.

When she asked him if he was seeing anyone, Taj said that he wasn’t but he would be heading back tomorrow morning because he had a hot date on Saturday night. He asked them both to wish him luck, because this would be his third date with this woman and he felt it could be going somewhere soon.

Early in the evening Taj challenged Desiree to checkers, after hearing from Piper that the woman was indeed a master of the game. He proved her right when after four games, Desiree had won the majority of them. Piper laughed at Taj and he retorted that at least he was able to win one game. She wisely chose not to comment again on the subject.

Taj exclaimed that he would make dinner since it would be his last night with the lovely ladies. They reclined on the couch watching a video that Taj claimed he had already seen, while he cooked soon filling the cabin with mouth-watering aromas.

When the trio took their seat the table, Desiree smiled at her plate in happiness. Taj had prepared fried chicken, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, and a loaf of freshly baked bread. For dessert, there was chocolate cheesecake. This was one of Desiree’s favorite desserts of all time.

“You guys are going to make me fat,” she exclaimed joyfully.

“Only more of you to love, darlin’,” replied Piper in a mock southern accent, causing the young woman to blush.

The rest of dinner past in friendly conversation between the three. The two women relentlessly told Taj how delicious the food was and he smiled, basking in their praise of his cooking. Desiree asked him where he learned to cook, and he stated that his parents had taught him how. If there was one thing in this world that Taj Potter got along with it would be the stove. He loved to cook and he loved to see people eating his cooking.

***

“It was good to see you Taj.” She hugged him tightly.

“It was good to see you too Pippy. You take care okay?”

She nodded. “You make sure to do the same.”

He turned his attention to Desiree. “I will miss you, little one. You watch out for her okay?” He pointed at Piper. “She’s my best buddy.”

Desiree nodded, smiling. “I will. You take care Taj.” She put her hand out in front of her.
He looked at her hand. “What is that? I don’t do handshakes when a hug is more appropriate.” Before Desiree knew what was happening, she was being lifted off of her feet and was wrapped in a big bear hug. She hugged Taj back, laughing as he swung her around. He put Desiree down on her feet and chucked her under the chin.

He smiled at them both as he grabbed his suitcase and went around to the back of the cabin, which is where he had parked his Jaguar.

“I’m actually going to miss him,” Desiree said.

“Yeah. Me too,” Piper replied as she casually wrapped around the smaller woman’s shoulder.

***

“So what do you wanna do today?” Piper asked sitting on the front porch with Desiree. They both had their own chair to sit in.

“I don’t know. What do you wanna do?”

Piper thought for a moment. It was a beautiful Friday morning. Why not? “You wanna go fishing?” she asked admiring Desiree dressed in tan shorts and a white tank top that showed off the well-defined muscles in her arms. She herself had opted to wear short blue jean cutoffs and a red T-shirt. She had her hair in a ponytail, while the younger woman chose to wear hers in a french braid.

“I’ve never been fishing before. I always wanted to though.”

“Then let’s do it.” Piper got up from the chair and started to go down the stairs.

“Do it?” Desiree said. Give her a taste of her own medicine. Although she’ll probably like it. “I thought we were gonna fish?” she asked, smiling a little.

Piper turned around to face her wearing a surprised expression. She started to chuckle and said, “I see you’ve picked up a bad habit of mine. This chick once told me that I turned something she said into something lurid with my perverted mind.” She paused. “Now you’re doing it.”

Desiree slowly walked up to her, stood on her tiptoes, and whispered in Piper’s ear, “You’ll know when I’m doing it.” She then started to walk in front of the other woman, then not knowing where she was going turned around and asked, “You coming?”

Piper chuckled and said under her breath, “I hope so later.”

“What?” asked Desiree, not hearing what the woman had said, but quite sure it would have been blush worthy.

“Oh nothing,” Piper replied innocently.

***

An hour later they were standing by the lake after having gathered all the equipment they would need for fishing. Desiree had made sandwiches for them while Piper made sure everything else was ready for the eight-minute walk to the crystal blue lake. Both applied suntan lotion to themselves so that they would not be in danger of sun burning. Piper had put on a red baseball cap that Desiree considered she looked cute in. She didn’t tell the woman that, but she thought it.

After they got to the lake Piper exclaimed that she would be back soon, and disappeared for a few minutes. When she returned she was holding an old coffee can.

“What’s that for?” Desiree inquired.

Piper smiled, her perfect teeth gleaming in the light. “Bait.”

“Bait?” Desiree repeated. “Are there worms in there?” She took a step back although the other woman was about fifteen feet away from her.

“Yep,” Piper replied cheerfully.

She set the can down on the ground and motioned Desiree to come over. The young woman hesitated before realizing that she was being foolish. They were worms, not tarantulas for goodness sake. After closing the distance between she and Piper, the woman handed her a fishing pole. Gazing at the slim rod, she didn’t know the first thing to do with it. Piper picked up one for herself.

“Today you’re gonna learn how to fish,” she said.

Desiree nodded. “Is this what’s for dinner?”

Piper shrugged. “Maybe. We’ll see.” She turned her attention to the pole in her hand. “Now these fishing poles are identical. Do you know what they’re called?”
Desiree silently shook her head.

“They are spinning reels.” She continued to tell Desiree all about spinning reels and how you fish with them, eventually making the strawberry-blonde wonder if there was going to be a test on this later. She had the feeling that she was back in school and Piper looked as if she was in full teacher mode.

Finally, Piper seemed to be done with her lecture. She bent down to pick up the coffee can with Desiree standing next to her trying to resist the urge to slap or pinch her on the behind. Piper straightened up, put the pole on the ground, and took the lid off of the can.

“We are going to use these little fellas as bait.” She turned the can in Desiree’s direction so that the woman could see that there were seven or eight live worms in it. She resisted the urge to start squirming around. Desiree hated creepy crawlers.

“Get one.”

“What?”

“I said get one. I’ll show you how to put it on.”

Desiree suddenly laughed thinking back to health class and when they showed videos on how to put on a condom. Piper sounded just like the people on the television.

The blue-eyed woman stared at Desiree strangely. “What’s so funny?”

The young woman blushed. “Nothing.” She cleared her throat. “Proceed.”

Piper continued to stare at her for a moment and then continued, “Pick a worm. Any worm at all.” She held the can out to Desiree.

“I don’t want to.”

The tall woman sighed. “I though you wanted to fish.”

“I do. But can’t I used one of those pretty artificial baits?” Desiree inquired while pointing to the tackle box sitting on the ground.

“The proper name is lures.”

Desiree rolled her blue-green eyes, which Piper noticed seem to sparkle when the sun hit them. “Thank you for correcting me Professor Redding,” Desiree remarked in a sarcastically sweet tone of voice.

Piper smirked. “Try to teach somebody something and they don’t wanna listen,” she said to herself more than to the other woman.

“Okay. I’ll cooperate.”

“You will?”

Desiree nodded. “I promise.”

“Then get a worm. It won’t bite you.”

After a couple of hesitant starts, Desiree finally reached into the can and picked up a worm between her thumb and middle finger. Piper proceeded to show her how to put the bait on the hook of the fishing pole.

After a few more minutes of lecturing on how to cast the fishing pole into the lake they were ready to begin. Although it took her a few tries, but Desiree finally got it right and gave her “teacher” a huge smile. Piper smiled back.

“How about we make a bet?” Piper asked while tugging down the hood of her cap in order to keep the sun from shining on her eyes.

Desiree looked over at her. “I’m game if you are.”

Piper nodded. “How about this. If I catch the biggest fish then you owe me a full-body massage. If you catch the biggest fish then I owe you a full-body massage. How ’bout it?” The tall woman was quite sure that she could win this bet. You can beat me at checkers shrimp, but I’ve gotcha here!

“Sounds good to me.” Oh. Geez, I’m gonna lose.

After a few more minutes past, Piper broke the silence again. “I’ve got a proposition for ya.”

“What would that be?” Desiree asked as she kept her eyes riveted to the still lake. Come to me fishy, fishy, she thought.

“How about you no longer be my hostage?”

“You mean, you’re going to take me back?”

“No. Not that.”

“Oh,” Desiree said in a way that made it sound as if she was relieved, which she was. She realized that was not ready to go back. She wanted to stay a little while longer in this secluded little paradise with the blue-eyed beauty standing beside her.

“I need you here to accomplish what I want to accomplish.”

“And what is that?”

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.”

“My do-whatever?” Desiree frowned. What the heck was that?

“Yeah. I’ll do whatever you want me to do for six months. Pick up your dry cleaning, cook for you, wash your car…whatever.” She shrugged. “All for free, because I’ll owe you. I’ll owe you big time.”
Desiree thought about it. Her do-whatever. That could have some interesting benefits. “You have a deal.” She reached over and they shook hands on it.

***

“I still say you cheated.”

“I did not. Why are you always accusing me of cheating? Tell me how I can cheat at fishing?” Desiree placed the empty lunch pail on the kitchen sink and turned towards Piper, who was standing a couple feet behind her.

“I don’t know how, but you did. Either that or you lied. You have fished before. Therefore you hustled me!”

Talk about a sore loser. “Piper, it was just beginner’s luck.”

“Yeah right,” replied Piper incredulously.

“I’m not going to stand here and argue with you.” She brushed past Piper, only to have the woman grab a hold of her arm and pull her back to face her.

“What do you want for dinner?” she asked, between clenched teeth. She realized to herself that she was definitely a sore loser. Desiree caught the bigger fish, and that’s all there was to it, yet here she was making a big deal out of something so trivial. It just wasn’t fair though! Piper was used to coming out as the winner.

“What makes you think I’m hungry for food,” Desiree retorted brazenly, before trying to walk away again, this time succeeding.

Piper watched her walk away in shock. “She’s been hanging around me way too much,” she said out loud.

***

Later that night after eating their dinner in separate rooms, Piper figured it was time for them to kiss and make up. Well she wasn’t sure about the kissing part, but definitely time to make up, because this fight was ridiculous and childish. She knocked on Desiree’s door with a towel and a bottle of baby oil in one hand. She heard a muffled ‘come in’ and walked into the room, seeing Desiree sitting on the edge of the bed.

“May I help you?” the young woman asked coolly.

“I’m sorry,” Piper mumbled.

“Excuse me? I didn’t hear that.”

The blue-eyed woman took a deep breath. “I said I’m sorry,” she repeated more clearly.

Cocking her head to the side, Desiree stared at Piper for a silent moment. “I forgive you,” she simply said.

Piper shrugged. “Is that it?”

“Yep. It’s not healthy to hold grudges. What’s that stuff for?” She pointed at the towel and baby oil in Piper’s hand.

“For you. They are for your full-body massage, since you won the fishing bet fair and square.” She paused while trying to keep a grin from showing. “So get nekkid.”

Desiree’s eyes widened considerably.

Piper chuckled, “And put this on.” She threw the towel to her and Desiree caught it before leaving the room, announcing that she would be back shortly.

Piper sat on the bed, wondering how she had gotten herself into this predicament. Oh yeah. The bet was your idea, stupid. She was nervous, not knowing how she was going to be able to perform this massage without keeping herself from doing something unprofessional. In just a few minutes, she was about to have her hands all over Desiree’s enticing body and the idea both excited and terrified her. Piper did not totally trust herself to behave appropriately.

When Desiree walked back into the bedroom wearing nothing but the towel, Piper could have sworn that that towel had been shorter when given to her. I should have picked the blue one. Getting up from the bed, she instructed the young woman to lay on her stomach across the center of it. Desiree silently did what she was told, folding her arms and laying her head on them. Taking a deep calming breath, Piper then straddled the young woman’s strong smooth legs. She pushed the towel up her thighs a little before flipping the cap back on the bottle of baby oil. She then went to work, sending a silent prayer that she would not do something stupid.

She poured some oil into the palm of one hand and rubbed it with the other. Piper then applied gentle pressure to Desiree’s thighs, when she heard the young woman gasp. She swiftly glanced up to see that Desiree’s eyes were closed.

Before long, Piper was working her way down to Desiree’s legs and then she began to massage her delicate little feet. She had started to tickle the arch of the young woman’s foot but did not want to ruin the mood. Soon she was on her way up again and almost at Desiree’s derriere, which brought back fond memories of that first night at the cabin. When she was dangerously close to those firm yet soft cheeks she heard Desiree say something.

“Repeat that please.”

“I said don’t go there,” the young woman mumbled, with her eyes still closed. Her heart was pounding so hard that she was a little shocked Piper could not hear it. Desiree was afraid that if those skilled hands were to touch her behind, no matter how much she craved it, she would loose all control. She was not quite ready to take the next step. Chicken.

“But Taj said they were so purty,” she said with a southern drawl while broadly smiling.

Desiree opened her eyes and raised her head. “He told you?”

Piper chuckled. “Yep. He saw you squatting in the bush.”

The young woman lowered her head in embarrassment and closed her eyes once more. “Remind me to kill him if we ever cross paths again.”

Piper chuckled again. “Will do.”

She decided to skip the derriere then, and lowered the towel until the edge was just at the beginning of Desiree’s buttocks. Piper applied some more oil to her hands and massaged the young woman’s smooth warm back, eliciting a few moans from the woman beneath her. Piper smiled beginning to thoroughly enjoy herself. She happily worked for a few more minutes in silence before deciding to speak.

“You know what, Desi?” she said quietly. “You are the sexiest woman I have ever seen in my life. You’re absolutely gorgeous. I think you might really be a goddess and I would joyously spend an eternity worshipping every beautiful inch of you.” She waited for the young woman to reply, but after a few minutes of silently massaging her again Piper stopped and bent down to discover that Desiree was actually sleeping. She sat back on her heels while trying to decide if it was a good or a bad thing that the woman had not heard her small speech.

“Well what do you know. I put her to sleep.” Piper smiled to herself. “I’m good.” Arising from the bed, she left the room soon to return with a blanket that she found in her closet. She placed it over Desiree, assuming that the young woman would not care for it if Piper were to dress her in her nightclothes. If she did not want Piper to see her nude, then the blue-eyed woman would respect that. Before leaving the young woman’s room Piper looked back at her and said although the woman was fast asleep, “I still owe you the front.”

She then headed to the bathroom and proceeded to take a long shower. A long, long cold shower.
CHAPTER 4
Before even opening her eyes, she could tell that she was not alone. There was someone or something in the bed with her that was not there the last time she had been conscious. She deduced that the object lying behind her was alive, based on the warmth that was radiating from it, and she could feel warm breath on the back of her neck. She knew who it was and smiled, wondering what they were doing there. She opened her eyes, and sure enough, there was an arm thrown across her waist. She could barely make out the soft light blonde hairs on the petite arm, and she noticed for the first time that the fingernails bore clear nail polish.

Turning onto her back, she peered at the sleeping face to her left and smiled warmly. The woman had light blonde eyebrows, a petite mouth that just begged to be kissed, long graceful eyelashes and a little nose that the woman found extremely adorable when the strawberry-blonde smiled broadly causing it to crinkle. She found herself foolishly wanting to tweak the cute nose. Heck, she mused to herself that she wanted to tweak every part of this young woman that she could get her hands on. Her eyes returned to the generous mouth and she wondered if those lips felt as soft as they looked. She started to find that out, but changed her mind. She did not want her first kiss to be with this young woman when she was dead to the world.

She gently rubbed the young woman’s pale cheek and thought back to the one time that she had given her heart to someone. A few months before she got in trouble with the law, she had met someone while she was vacationing in Jamaica for a month during the summer. The affair had lasted only a little over three weeks, but those had been the best weeks of her life, until her lover had dumped her, claming that their relationship would never work out. She had been heart-broken and had vowed that she would never give her heart to another for as long as she lived. She glanced at the young woman sleeping beside her and cursed under her breath. Her heart was a traitor and she was breaking her vows.

***

Detective Victor Redding removed his gold-rimmed eyeglasses, placing them quietly on the desk. He pinched the bridge of his nose, and squeezed his eyes tightly shut. Piper Redding and Desiree Love were still missing, and he had no idea, no clue where they could be. He desperately needed to locate the whereabouts of the fugitive. Opening his light brown eyes, he glanced at the phone thinking that perhaps the judge would have some information for him. The detective took the phone off of the receiver and flipped through his Rolodex until he found the judge’s cell phone number. Quickly dialing it, the phone began to ring and he sat back in his leather chair, waiting for Judge Love to answer. Three rings later a voice came on the phone.
“Hello?” said a tense male voice.

“Is this Judge Richard Love?” inquired the detective.

“Yes it is. Who am I talking to?”

“You may not remember me, sir. I’m Detective Victor Redding. I came to see you earlier this week at Baker Hospital.”

The judge breathed a sigh of relief. “Of course I remember you, Detective. Have you found something?”

“No, unfortunately I haven’t. I know it’s a long shot, but have you?”

Judge Love started to tell the detective about the phone call he had received on Wednesday, but quickly changed his mind. Desiree’s life could very well depend on what he said next. For now, he would play the game Piper’s way.

The judge took a deep breath. “I have.”

The detective’s eyebrows went up in surprise. “You have?”

“Yes.”

“What?” the detective asked on the brink of impatience.

Judge Love cleared his throat. “I found my daughter.”

“Is she okay? Where is she?” He had been hoping that the young woman’s abrupt disappearance would lead him to Piper. Now it may not be true if Desiree turned out not to be missing after all.

“She is fine.” I hope, he thought grimly. “She called yesterday, apologizing for not telling us that she went on a ski trip with her friends up in the mountains somewhere. This memory of mind won’t let me remember where she said they were.” He paused. “So as you can see we won’t be needing your help anymore.” He hoped he sounded convincing.

Detective Redding frowned. His instincts told him that the judge was not telling him the truth, and he began to wonder why. Something was not right with this story, and he was determined to find out what it was.

“When did she leave on her trip?” he asked. He would catch this man in a lie if it were the last thing he did.

“Monday.”

“I see. So, she went on a ski trip after being fired. Most people wouldn’t be in the frame of mind to take a vacation after losing their job.”

“What can I say? My daughter is different.” The judge began to perspire. He had the impression that the detective was not buying his story.

“Hmm. You didn’t get the number of the place she’s at?”

“No, I didn’t. I was just so happy that she was all right, I forgot to ask.”

The detective shook his head. You’re lying to me judge, he thought. “Do you know when she will be back?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Do you know who she went with?”

“I’m sorry. I can’t tell you that either,” Judge Love replied, anxious to end the conversation.

“I only have few more questions for you sir. Do you know how she traveled?”

Judge Love recalled that the police could not find Desiree’s car, so he replied, “She took her car.”

“I see. So she didn’t tell you where she was, who she was with, nor how long she would be gone, but she told you that she took her car?” Detective Redding tried to keep his voice from sounding annoyed.

Judge Love started to get angry. Where did this man get off questioning him like he was some type of criminal? “That’s right. She said she picked up a couple of her friends and they went skiing.”

“All right then. Have you heard anything from her boyfriend?”

“He told me that they broke up. What does that matter anyway, detective?” Judge Love closed his eyes as a dull ache started in his head.

“I was just wondering if he knew anything concerning her whereabouts. They broke up huh?”

“Yes they did.”

“Okay. Well thank you for your time, sir. I’m still searching for Piper Redding, so I’ll keep you informed on what happens,” said the detective.
“Thank you, Detective. I appreciate your help.” He sighed in relief that the conversation was almost over.

“Not a problem. This is my job.”

The detective hung up the phone and reflected on what the judge told him. The man sounded nervous, and Victor knew something was up. He blew out a frustrated breath and searched through his Rolodex again, until he found the name and number that he wanted. Picking up the phone again, the detective dialed the number and waited for the person to pick up.

“Yeah?” a male voice said.

“Good morning. Is Alec Drake there?” asked the detective.

“You’re talking to him. Who’s speaking?”

“Detective Victor Redding. I’m working on the case of Piper Redding and Desiree Love’s disappearance,” he replied.

“I already told her dad that I don’t know anything.”

“Mr. Drake, I’m certain that you could help me. When did you tell Judge Love that you didn’t know anything? He called you?”

The detective heard a female voice in the background and he heard Alec tell her to shut up. No wonder they broke up, the detective thought.

“Yeah. He called me Wednesday.”

Detective Redding wrote something down on his now open notepad. So far, the judge’s story made sense. He called the boyfriend on Wednesday still worried, and his daughter called him on Friday.

“Have you heard anything about Desiree since then? Has she tried to get in contact with you?”

“Like I told the judge, I haven’t spoken to or seen Desiree since Monday. I have no idea where she is.”

“Did she say anything to you about going on a ski trip?”

“No. I’ve never known her to ski.”

The detective smiled. Something was definitely amiss and he would find it indeed. “Where did you last see Ms. Love?”

“In our apartment.” He paused. “Or I should say her apartment now. We broke up,” he added.

“Yes, I know. So she didn’t say anything about going out again?”

“Nope.”

“Did she have any bags or suitcases packed?” asked Detective Redding.

“No, she didn’t. At least not to my knowledge,” replied Alec.

“Did she ever seem like the type to be impulsive?”

“No.” Alec laughed. “Not Desiree.”

“Have you been to the apartment since Monday?”

“Nope. Just packed my bags that day and left.”

“I see.” I’m not getting anywhere, the detective thought. “Well thank you for your time Mr. Drake. I’ll call you in the future if I need your help again.”

“Sure. You do that, detective.”

Alec hung up the phone, and Detective Redding was left listening to the dial tone. The man did not seem in the least bit concerned about Desiree’s disappearance. Sure they had broken up, but she was still his ex-girlfriend from a relationship that lasted four years. The detective hit the desk impatiently. The judge could not be telling the truth. Piper, I’m going to find out the truth and track you down. And when I do, you are going to pay.

***

Desiree awoke in bed to find to her disappointment that she was alone. She glanced at the clock and saw that it was close to ten o’clock. Putting a hand on the empty space beside her where Piper had been sleeping she noticed that it was cold. This indicated that the dark-haired woman must have got up a while ago. Desiree sat up and stretched, noticing Tobias curled up at the foot of the bed.

“Hey, Toby. What’s shakin’?” she reached down and patted him on the head, which activated his purr button. “Is Piper in the living room?” she asked him. He got up, jumped down from the bed, and walked out of the room for an answer.

Desiree got up and followed her cat into the front of the cabin to see a yellow post-it note attached to the bathroom door. She took it off and began to read while noting that Piper had a lovely penmanship.

Hey Sleepyhead,

Went out for a drive. Needed to think. I’ll take good care of your car (smiley face)

-P

P.S. I fed the furball.

Sighing, Desiree folded up the small note as the sadness began to seep in. Here it was probably going to be a perfect beautiful Saturday to do something, and the woman decided to go out on her own. The strawberry-blonde wondered where she could have gone. She hoped that Piper would be careful not to get herself caught, then reprimanded herself. If anyone could take care of him or herself, it would be Piper Redding.

***

“You be good, all right?”

“Yes daddy,” the seven-year old twin boys said in unison.

“Okay.” He ruffled both of his children’s hair. “Where’s my hug?” he asked.

The boys ran into their father’s arms and squeezed him as tightly as he squeezed them. They then went to their mother and hugged her too, before they piled into the waiting station wagon with the neighbors’ and their children. The William’s had offered to take the Lowell’s children to the park for the day. The boys had been ecstatic when their parents said that they could go.

The William’s had known that the Lowell’s would want some time alone since it was their ten-year anniversary today. They claimed that it was only part of the gift that they were giving them. Michael and his wife Annie appreciated the William’s for giving them this quality time.

“Why don’t we go inside,” Michael said. “I don’t know about you, but I’d like to work on creating a little girl,” he said in as sexy a voice as he could muster.

Annie turned to her husband and smiled joyously. “Do you mean it, Mike? You want to start trying today?” They had been discussing the idea of having another baby for the past six months or so.

He shrugged. “Why not? I’m not getting any younger so we better hurry,” he joked. Michael was thirty-eight years old, but he acted like a big kid at times. Especially when he got on the floor and wrestled with his boys.

“Oh you.” She playfully socked him in his side. “Well then. I guess we better get started.” She lightly kissed him on the lips.

He put an arm around her shoulders and headed back to the house, thanking God that he had this wonderful woman in his life, and that she loved him as much as he loved her. Was there anyone as lucky as he?

***

The lilac Honda pulled up in front of the suburban house and shut off the ignition. The person seated inside thought over what they were about to do, and they did not relish the job, but they had to do it. It was all part of the plan. Parked a few houses from this one a few minutes ago, they had witnessed the twin children leaving so that meant it should only be Michael Lowell and his wife at home. The person mused that it was better that the children not be there. They didn’t need to see this.

Taking a deep breath, the person got out of the compact car and walked up the driveway to the front door. Glancing around to make sure no one was looking, they took out the black ski mask and gloves they had brought with them. Next, they rang the bell and proceeded to wait for either Michael or his wife to answer. The person hoped that it would be the husband. Otherwise, the wife might have to go as well.

***

Michael stopped kissing his wife and cocked his head towards the bedroom door. He looked back at his wife and asked, “Did you hear something?”

Annie replied, “I think the doorbell rang.”

Her husband sighed, getting up from the bed. “Just my luck. We’re trying to make a baby and we get interrupted.” He leaned down to tenderly kiss Annie one more time before leaving the room. “I’ll be right back,” he called over his shoulder.

Michael went down the stairs as fast as he could. Reaching the door, he squinted through the peephole to see a nice looking dark-haired woman standing there. He opened the door and gave her a welcoming smile.

“May I help you?” he asked.

“No, I highly doubt it,” the woman retorted pushing Michael so hard that he landed on his back on the floor.

Peering up Michael could see that this woman was tall, as she hurriedly closed the front door soundlessly, and put on a black ski mask and gloves. She then reached behind her and took out a claw hammer that appeared to be brand new.

“What are you doing?” Michael asked nervously.

“I’m going to kill you,” the woman replied matter-of-factly in a low voice. She then raised the hammer above her head to strike him, but Michael got up from the carpet and charged her, taking the woman to the ground. She kneed him in the groin, causing the man to groan and roll off of her.

She got up and asked, “You just have to make this difficult, don’t you?” She raised the hammer once again, and this time was able to make contact with Michael’s arm, causing the man to yelp in pain. She raised the hammer again and hit him on the left side of his head. She broke his nose with the force of her next blow, causing the man to start bleeding.

Hearing her husband’s screams, Annie hurriedly got out of the bed and headed towards the door, wearing nothing but a short nightgown. She looked over the railing at the top of the stairs and her eyes widened at what she saw. A tall person dressed in all black was striking Michael again and again, with what looked to be a hammer. Annie ran down the stairs and screamed, running towards the attacker furiously.

Hearing the wife’s scream, the woman’s head snapped around to see Annie coming towards her. She readied herself for the imminent attack. Annie reached her and balled up a fist to hit the attacker, but the woman easily caught the fist before it could strike her. She proceeded to squeeze Annie’s hand until the older woman went down to her knees in pain. The attacker turned her attention back towards Michael, who by now was unconscious and bloody in his facial area. His blood started to soak into the carpet. She figured a few more blows ought to finish off the job. Just before she was able to hit him again, the wife pulled her right arm back and bit down, but it did not do much good, since the sweater the attacker was wearing was thick.

The tall woman turned around to face Annie, and the shorter woman put her hands around the attacker’s throat and attempted to take the thick ski mask off. She did not get very far before the woman pushed her to the carpet and leaned over her to hit Annie in the face. Annie reached up again and managed to at least scratch the woman on the neck, which was the only part of her exposed at the moment, except for her lips and those electric blue eyes.

“Lights out,” the attacker stated causing Annie to realize that this was a woman as she heard the low voice. That was her last thought before the woman hit her so hard with a fist that everything instantly went black.

The woman turned back to the unconscious Michael and sighed. She really did not want to do this, but it must be done. There was no other choice. She raised the blood splattered hammer and delivered a few more blows to Michael’s head, before she hurried back to the car, not even bothering to remove the ski mask and gloves in her haste.

***

Three-thirty that afternoon found Detective Victor Redding heading towards 1240 Evergreen Lane in Pasadena, California. The police had arrived earlier that day at the house, due to a panicked call from one Annie Lowell. Apparently, someone had come into their home that morning and attacked her husband with a hammer. The body had already been taken to the coroner’s office, since when the ambulance arrived Michael Lowell was already dead.

Reaching the house, the detective parked on the curb and glanced around at a few police cars that were already there. Getting out of the car, Victor glanced around to see a few neighbors looking over, trying to determine what was going on. Victor walked up the driveway and entered the house, since it was already open. He saw Annie Lowell sitting on a couch, rocking back and forth and seemingly staring at the floor blankly. A policewoman had her arm around the distraught woman, trying to comfort her. The policewoman glanced up as the detective came towards them. He nodded to her, letting her know that he would take over now, and she nodded back, getting up from the couch and patting Annie a final time on the back gently before taking her leave.

Detective Redding sat down in the space the policewoman had previously been occupying, and took out his notepad and a pen. He peered at Annie, smiling slightly at her, although she did not see it because she was not looking at him. He put two fingers under her chin and lifted her face until she was looking at him instead of the carpet. He saw the tears in her eyes and offered her a tissue from his pocket.

She shook her head, holding up a handkerchief for him to see. He nodded and squeezed her shoulder gently, before putting the tissue back in his pocket.

“I know this is a dumb question, but how are you doing?” he asked quietly.

Annie sniffed and wiped her runny nose. “My husband is dead, and now I have to tell our children when they come home,” her voice broke and she bowed her head crying softly. Detective Redding rubbed her back for comfort.

“I realize this is a hard time for you, but I have to ask you some questions,” he said.

She looked up at him. “Now?”

The detective nodded while looking at her apologetically. “No telling how many other lives might be in jeopardy if we don’t find the person that…killed your husband.”

Annie nodded. “I guess your right. She needs to be caught.” She blew her nose.

“She?” Detective Redding wrote something down in his notepad.

Annie glanced at him. “Yes. I was surprised to find that it was a woman.”

“Did you see her face?”

She shook her head negatively. “I heard her voice though. It was low and she spoke with an American accent.”

“You don’t even know what ethnicity she was?”

“I think she was Caucasian, because I saw a little of her neck.” She paused thoughtfully. “By the way she may have a scar, because I managed to scratch her on the neck.”

The detective smiled. “Good for you, Annie. May I call you Annie?”

She nodded.

“Okay. You say you heard her voice. What did she say?”

“She told me light’s out, just before she punched me so hard I lost consciousness.”

“Did you see how tall she was?” the detective inquired.

Annie replied, “She must have been at least five-feet ten.”

The detective wrote something else down. “Hair color or eye color?”

“I don’t know what color hair she had, but I’ll never forget her eyes for as long as I live. They were blue. A cold, ice blue.” She shivered involuntarily.

Detective Redding wrote in his notepad once more. “What would you guess her weight to be?”

Annie thought for a moment. “Probably about one-forty. It was hard to tell with the clothes she was wearing.”

“What was she wearing?”

“All black. She had on a black ski mask, black jeans, black sweater, gloves, and black shoes. I don’t know what kind.”

Detective Redding smiled warmly at her. “That’s fine all right, Annie.” He took a deep breath. “Now for the harder part. What did she use to kill your husband?”

Annie took in a deep breath, trying not to cry again. “A hammer,” she whispered.

The detective looked around the room. “Did she take it with her?”

Annie shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t even know when she left.”

“Do you know what type of vehicle she was driving?” he asked.

“I don’t even know if she was driving. You’re the first person I have spoken to about all this.”

The detective nodded. “Yes. They were waiting for me to get here to question you.” He closed the notepad and looked at Annie, who had tears running down her face again. He took her hand and squeezed it. “Thank you for all your help, Annie. I promise you that we will find the woman who did this to your husband. She won’t get away with it.”

“Please do.” She wiped at her now bleary eyes.

Detective Redding nodded. “If you remember anything else, just call me.” He took out a business card and handed it to her. “Anytime. Day or night, ‘kay?”

Annie nodded and smiled as best she could at him. The detective got up to go interview the neighbors outside, to see if they knew anything. Before he could make it out of the front door, a uniformed policeman stopped him. He remembered the man’s name was Raymond Banks.

“Hello, Ray,” he said shaking the man’s hand.

“Hello Detective.” Ray sighed. “Quite a mess, isn’t it?”

“Yes it is. A shame what happened.”

“You get anything from his wife?”

“Yes I did.” He paused. “I have a suspect. In fact I’m sure this person did it.”

“Who?” the policeman inquired.

Detective Redding slapped his thigh with the notepad before answering, “Guess. I happen to remember that Michael Lowell was one of the jurors along with Harris and the other two that were killed.”

Ray inhaled sharply. “Our beautiful blue-eyed fugitive.”

The detective rewarded him with a disgusted expression. “Anyone, who can do things like that,” he pointed over to where the carpet was bloody, “is the farthest thing from beautiful.” Victor then walked out of the house not saying anything more.

The detective walked across the street and studied the neighbors. He saw an elderly woman dressed in a pink jogging outfit and a white headband. Detective Redding decided to question her to see if she knew anything. Making his way up to her, he tapped the woman on the shoulder to get her attention. She turned to him wearing a worried expression.

“This is horrible, isn’t it?” she asked the detective. “That Michael was such a nice young man. He used to come over and mow my lawn for free when my arthritis would act up.”

Victor nodded. “Yes, it is. I presume that you live on this street?”

The white-haired woman nodded adamantly. “I’ve lived here for over twenty years now,” she replied proudly.

The detective graced her with a smile. “That’s quite a long time.” He opened his notepad and uncapped his pen. “May I ask you a few questions Mrs…?”

“Mrs. Ida Emmett. That’s two m’s and two t’s,” she offered, looking at the detective’s notepad to make sure he spelled her name correctly.

“Did you see anything, Mrs. Emmett?” he inquired.

“Yes. I saw a woman dressed all in black go up to the Lowell’s house and ring the door bell.”

“How do you know it was a woman?”

“I saw her…” Mrs. Emmett put her hands out in front of her chest to indicate exactly what she was referring to. “No man should be that big there.”

Detective Redding chuckled. “Can you describe her for me?”

“She had long dark hair, she was tall and I believe she was white.”

“How old did she look?” asked the detective.

Mrs. Emmett thought for a moment. “I would have to say about thirty.”

“Do you know how she got here?”

Mrs. Emmett nodded, smiling cleverly. “She was driving a purplish colored car. It was a Honda Civic.”

Detective Redding jotted down something in his notepad. “Would you say it was lilac?”

Ida nodded.

“How do you know all of this?” the detective inquired.

Mrs. Emmett looked sheepish. “I was peeping out of my window. I was curious because I’ve never seen that car in this neighborhood, nor that woman.” She paused while thinking. “Also, she looked sort of suspicious,” she whispered conspiratorially.

“Hmmm. Can you remember anything else for me?”

Mrs. Emmett thought. “No, nothing else, but that she hurried out a few minutes after entering with a blood stained hammer in her hand. She hurried into her car and sped off down the street.”

“Did you happen to catch any of the license plate number?” the detective asked.

“There wasn’t a license plate. In the front or the back,” she replied confidently.

“Well thank you for your-

“Detective! Detective wait.”

Detective Redding turned around to see Annie Lowell running towards him. She made it to him and stopped, bending over slightly trying to catch her breath. He put a comforting hand on her shoulder and squeezed it.

“Are you all right?” he asked. He then noticed in the sunlight the purplish bruise forming on the woman’s cheek from the punch the attacker had given her.

Annie managed to catch her breath, and stood up properly again. “Yes, I am.” She glanced at Ida. “I have to speak with you privately,” she stated low enough for only the detective to hear.

“Of course.” He took a hold of her elbow and walked with the woman to his car. He placed her in the passenger side and then jogged around to get in the driver’s seat. He then turned his attention to her, waiting for Annie to speak.

Annie cleared her throat. “I think I know who did this, and I have proof that this person is the one who,” she stopped, taking a deep breath, “who killed my husband.” A tear rolled down her cheek.

Victor reached on the dashboard and took a tissue out of a box handing it to her. Annie took it, exclaiming a quiet thank you. She wiped her eyes and sniffed.

“You have proof?”

Annie quickly nodded.

“Who do you think did this, Annie?” he asked, his heart starting to race.

She whispered, “Piper Redding.”

***

Sitting on the couch, Desiree picked up the remote control and shut off the television. She rubbed her eyes, after having just watched three movies in a row, since she could not find anything good to watch on regular television. Earlier that morning she had been subjected to cartoons, and found (although she would never tell this to another living soul) that she still liked watching the animated characters. They had some new ones on that she had never seen or heard of before, and she found them quite enjoyable. After the cartoons went off, Desiree explored the videos in the entertainment system, and ended up viewing three of them. One of them she had been dying to see, and after finally watching it, she concluded that it was well worth the wait. It was by far one of the best movies she had ever seen.

The news had been on earlier, but Desiree had been determined not to watch it, no matter how curious she was to hear what they had to say. She figured that it would all be lies against Piper, and she knew that it would only make her mad, because they were talking against a woman she had grown to care for deeply. Desiree could not calmly sit and listen to the filth that would surely come out their mouths. No matter what anyone said, she believed in the blue-eyed woman’s innocence completely. If no one else on this earth had faith in Piper’s innocence, then Desiree knew that at least she and Taj did. Forget everyone else if they were too blind to see through the falsifications.

She glanced at the clock and noticed that it was going on three-thirty. Piper still was not back yet, and she had not heard a word from the woman. Desiree began to worry as she paced back and forth across the floor. She tried to tell herself that there was a reasonable explanation for Piper not being back yet. Desiree then took notice of the computer and figured she could put some of this nervous energy to good use. Walking over to the personal computer, she took a seat in the comfortable revolving chair in front of it. She remembered that the first night they had been here, she had come into the front and Piper had quickly shut off the computer as if she were involved in something that she did not want the young woman to see. Desiree bit her lower lip, wondering if she should mess with Piper’s computer, and then she recalled that mostly everything in this cabin belonged to Taj not Piper, including this Compaq Presario. She mulled it over and concluded that the Jamaican man would not mind if she were to work with it.

Desiree turned on the computer and thought about what she would do next. She figured she could work on either her novel or her journal. She decided that she would work on her journal since she could now. When the young woman had been getting dressed that morning, she had discovered her purse lying on the dressing table in her room. She deduced that Piper must have put it there for her before she left. Desiree had opened the purse to discover that all of her belongings were still there, and did not even look as if they had been tampered with. An instant wave of guilt washed over her for thinking that the older woman would go through her things without asking. One of the things that the young woman kept in her purse were her floppy disks that had her journal entries on them. Some people carried around a pound of makeup but Desiree carried around her journal on disks.

Desiree inserted the latest used disk into the A drive and started the Microsoft Word program. She then opened her journal and paged down until she found where she had left off. Desiree did not write in her journal very often anymore so the last entry was dated back in early January of this year. She skipped a couple of spaces, typed in today’s date, and sat back to ponder what she would write. A few minutes later the young woman started typing.

April 10, 1999

Dear Journal,

I know it has been along time since I have written to you. Things have been hectic lately, and you wouldn’t believe the latest adventure of my life. Who am I kidding? I don’t have a lot of adventures in my life, but this certainly is one. Guess what? This gorgeous woman kidnapped me earlier this week. Yes, I called the woman gorgeous. She is beautiful! We have been secluded in a quaint cozy cabin in the woods since this past Monday, and call me crazy but I’m not ready to go back to Los Angeles yet. Well at least not without her. I don’t have all the details about what is going on and why she kidnapped me exactly, but it has something to do with my father. Oh well. I guess she will tell me soon. At least that’s what she says. Anyway, J, I think I…well I have feelings for this woman. Can you believe it? I have fallen for a WOMAN! All of these years I guess I have been fooling myself and now I know why I really couldn’t make it work with Alec. Poor guy (poor jerk more like it) it wasn’t his fault that he was the wrong gender. Oh geez! If my parents find out, they will have a conniption fit. What am I gonna do? I can just picture the reunion scene with my folks:

“Desiree, are you all right?” my parents ask me as they envelope me in smothering hugs.

“Yes, yes I’m fine,” I answer calmly. “But guess what?”

“What?” they say.

“Well,” I start, “I got kidnapped and I didn’t get hurt, but I became a …”
AH! J, I can’t even say the word. I can’t believe this has happened, and I
keep trying to blame it on the fact that all of this excitement has made me think that I am…well you know, but I know deep down inside that this is not true. (I’m taking a deep breath). Okay. Here goes.

“Hello. My name is Desiree Love and I am a lesbian!!”

Whoo hoo! I typed it. I typed the word, J. What do you think of that? Well I should be going now. I will be sure to get back to you soon. Of this I promise.

P.S. Now all I have to do is get up the courage to say it aloud.

Love 4ever,

Desi

Desiree clicked the save button and then took out the now warm disk, placing it back with the rest of the disks into her purse. She ended Microsoft Word and arose from the chair speculating on what she should do next. As a yawn escaped her, she decided to take a nap. Desiree was hoping that when she woke up Piper would have returned. It was worth a try.

Strolling towards her bedroom, Desiree walked inside and closed the door behind her before she slipped out of her shoes and climbed into the bed. Wrapping her arms around the pillow, she closed her eyes soon drifting off with thoughts of the mysterious blue-eyed woman roaming through her mind.

***

Victor Redding parked in a spot at the Los Angeles Police Station and wandered inside to talk with Captain Irving Pruett about the murder of Michael Lowell and how it was possibly connected to Piper Redding. He knocked on the man’s office and heard a gruff voice tell him to come in. The detective walked into the office, said his greetings and took a seat across from Captain Pruett, who was reclining in a chair behind his desk.

“Something you want, Redding?” the older, white-haired man asked roughly.

Detective Redding cleared his throat. “I have some news on the Piper Redding case sir, and how it might be connected to this latest juror death.”

The man stared at him. “What?” he asked in a tired sounding voice.

“I have proof from Annie Lowell herself, the victim’s wife that Piper Redding caused the death of Michael Lowell.”

“What is it?” the captain asked impatiently. He hated it when these young think they know it all idiots beat around the bush.

The detective cleared his throat again, causing Captain Pruett to glare at him. “I was told by Annie Lowell, and she is willing to testify that in 1990 her husband was given money to argue that Piper Redding was innocent, while he served on her trial.”

The captain began to look slightly interested. “Go on.”

“She, Annie Lowell I mean claimed that her husband was given five-thousand dollars in cash to say that Piper Redding was innocent. Ms. Redding actually initiated the whole thing. Therefore, with this evidence I am certain that Piper went to the man’s house today and killed him with a hammer, because she was sent to jail, even though she gave him money to keep her from going. Her devious plan didn’t work so she retaliated on him today.” The detective took a deep breath while waiting for the captain’s response.

“What makes you think that these aren’t just the ramblings of a distraught widow?”

The detective reached into his pocket and withdrew a bank receipt. He handed it to the captain who snatched it and squinted at the both light and minuscule writing. He refused to put on his glasses in front of this young guy who probably had twenty-twenty vision. He examined the slip and discovered that a deposit for five thousand dollars had been made into the joint bank account of Michael and Annie Lowell a week before the verdict was read for Piper Redding.

Captain Pruett looked impressed, which did not happen often with him. “Why did she kill three other jurors?” he asked. “Do you have an explanation for that?”

“Yes, I most certainly do sir. She also paid Sally Harris, Douglas Foxx and Walter Simpson. Each five-thousand dollars in cold hard cash.” He looked pleased with himself. Score another point for Redding.

The captain narrowed his eyes, making his bushy white eyebrows come closer together. “How do you know this?”

“I got access to their bank accounts, and I was able to talk with Walter Simpson’s wife today. She met with me and admitted that her husband had also been paid five-thousand dollars.” Detective Redding wore a smug smile.

Captain Pruett nodded. “Do you know if any other jurors were paid?”

The detective nodded. “I checked, and none of them were. She only paid those four.”

“And all of them are dead,” the captain stated as if to only himself. He shook his head. “I heard that Desiree Love had been found. I talked to her father on the phone.”

“Yes,” the detective sounded like he was hesitating going any further, “but I don’t believe it, sir,” he finished.

The captain regarded him with an agitated expression. “What do you mean you don’t believe it? The man said that his daughter called him from a ski trip she went on with some friends, so evidently Piper Redding didn’t abduct her.”

Victor wondered if he should push any further. He decided he would give it a try. “Yes, I know sir, but I have possible proof that Desiree Love is still missing.”

“Why would Judge Love be lying?”

The detective readily replied, “Because he wants to protect his daughter. I think that he talked to Ms. Redding, and is now worried that if he lets the police know that his daughter has been kidnapped, that the woman will do something to her.”

The captain was silent for a moment. “What’s your proof, detective?”

“Witnesses say that the murderer drove away in a lilac Honda Civic.”

“And?”

“And that is the kind of car that Desiree Love drives. And get this. The license plates were missing, so obviously Piper Redding removed them so people wouldn’t know that it was Love’s car.”

“I don’t know. Honda is a very popular automobile.”

“Yes, I agree with you, sir, but what are the odds? We know the murderer is Piper Redding, and we know that she shot Richard Love Jr. and now the judge’s daughter is missing. He is lying, and I don’t care what he says, Piper Redding has that young girl, and he knows she does. He thinks he’s protecting her, but he’s only making matters worse by keeping silent.”

The captain looked contemplative. “I’ll put out a missing report on her. I want you to look more into this. I admit it does sound a little fishy.”

Detective Redding stood up to take his leave. “Thank you, sir.”

***

Piper shut off the ignition and sat in the car thinking. How exactly was this problem going to be fixed? She hoped it would be soon, because she hated the waiting.

“Judge, you better come through,” she stated out loud, as she grabbed the key out of the ignition and opened the car door, getting out. It was starting to get chilly as the sun began to set and she hurried to get inside. Looking up she could see clouds starting to form.
Opening the front door, Piper walked in to an empty room. Instantly she became alarmed that Desiree had decided to leave. Hurriedly, she made her way over to the young woman’s bedroom and put an ear to the door to listen. She could not hear anything, so Piper silently opened the door to see to her immense relief Desiree lying on top of the covers sleeping. She smiled as she went into her own room and retrieved a blanket from the closet. She carried it back to Desiree’s room and covered the young woman with it. Piper gazed down at her, thinking once again that the young woman did not deserve to be entrapped in all this.

She took a deep breath as she exited the room, closing the door softly in her wake. Piper looked over at the computer and noticed Desiree’s purse lying next to it. Obviously, the young woman had located it on her dressing table during sometime that day. Piper
went to the car that morning right before she left, got the purse and placed it in Desiree’s room so that she would have it in case there was anything she wanted from inside.

Piper sat down in the computer chair and glanced at the light brown medium-sized purse. It was unzipped and she could see some floppy disks inside. She wondered if the young woman had been using the computer. She hoped that she had not somehow managed to tap into her personal files. That would not do at all, and Piper would not have the slightest idea how to explain it. She figured that Desiree would not be able to get past her password.

Piper curiously looked at the floppy disks in the purse again and wondered what they could contain. Who toted around computer disks in their purse? Evidently, the strawberry-blonde did. Piper bit her lower lip and contemplated on what she should do. She knew she should mind her own business, but the bright green disks seemed to be calling her to check them out. Piper glanced back at Desiree’s closed door and decided to sneak a peek. What would it hurt?

She extracted the disks from the purse, feeling like a thief and chose one, putting it in the correct drive. She turned on the computer and entered Microsoft Word. She opened the only file, which was named “journal,” and saw that she was indeed looking at a journal entry. She was not surprised to find that the young woman kept her diary on disks instead of having them the old-fashioned way. Desiree seemed like the type that would be that orderly. Piper paged down until she found something that caught her eye.

April 15, 1994

Dear Journal,

I have a major dilemma. The prom is coming up and I have to choose between Bobby and Andrew to go with. I don’t know which to choose though. I don’t want to hurt either of them, and I like them both. Bobby is very intelligent and we like the same sort of things like music and movies. We get along with each other very well. Andrew is the captain of the football team, muscular and your all around American teenage hunk. How am I to choose?
“Oh, what is a girl to do when she finds herself in such dire circumstances,” Piper stated out loud in a bored tone. “Maybe she is straight after all.”

Oh, who am I trying to kid? Now I am lying to you, as I have been to myself and those I have relationships with. Frankly, I don’t want to go to the prom with either Bobby or Andrew. Sure, they are nice enough guys, but my heart belongs to another. There is someone else that I would like to go with, but that can never happen.

“Hmmm. This is getting interesting.” Piper glanced at the still closed door, satisfied before returning her attention to the screen. This was almost like reading a juicy soap opera instead of watching one.

I don’t even know if this person likes me the way that I like them, and do I actually like this person this way? I can’t. It can’t be possible. Not me. There has got to be some reasonable ex-

“What are you doing?”

Jumping slightly, Piper turned around guiltily to find that Desiree was standing behind her. She offered the perturbed young woman a smile, but Desiree would not return the kind gesture. Instead, she stood with her arms crossed, glaring down at Piper.

“I asked you a question.”

Piper cleared her throat. “It’s not what it looks like.” Yeah, she’s gonna buy that one! Piper sarcastically thought.

Desiree gave her a wary look. “I think it is exactly what it looks like. You were reading my journal. How could you? How could you go into my private things?” She did not wait for answer as she marched back to her room, slamming the door behind her, managing to make the blue-eyed woman flinch.

“Now you’ve done it Piper,” she said to herself, feeling like a numero uno rogue.

Piper called herself giving the young woman time to calm down, by waiting a few minutes before she knocked on her door softly. She didn’t know what she would say but she had to say something. Piper did not know why exactly, but it bothered her extremely when Desiree was upset with her over some matter.

“What?” an angry voice said on the other side of the door.

“May I come in?” Piper asked quietly.

“What?”

A little louder she asked, “May I come in?!”

“Whatever,” was the young woman’s only reply.

Piper opened the door and smiled at Desiree, who was sitting on the end of her bed. Piper came in a few steps and said, “I’m sorry.” Was it just her imagination, or did she seem to be saying that a lot lately?

“Yes you are,” Desiree retorted furiously. “Very sorry.”

Piper gave her an annoyed look. “How long are you going to be angry with me?”

“I don’t know. I guess until this sick feeling I have that you intruded on something that I consider to be very private goes away. Until then you are at the very top of my you know what list!”

The blue-eyed woman sighed. “I don’t know what else to say.”

Desiree glanced up at her. “How much did you read?” she asked nervously.

“I only read some of one entry. You stopped me before I could finish. That’s the truth.”

Desiree did not say anything right away. She shot up from the bed and got in Piper’s face. “You can’t handle the truth!” she yelled in an imitation Jack Nicholson voice.

Piper stared at her for a moment before she burst out laughing. Mere seconds later Desiree joined her, and soon both of the women were sprawled on the floor laughing joyously. The strawberry-blonde turned on her side and regarded Piper, who had tears in her eyes from laughing so hard.

“I’m sorry, Piper. I took that all out of proportion. There was no reason for me to get that upset.”

Piper sat up. “No. You had every right to be upset with me. I really do apologize for opening your journal, but I couldn’t resist.” She shrugged. “Temptation got the best of me.”

Desiree nodded. “I understand. It happens to the best of us.” She smiled at Piper, and the woman smiled back. The younger woman then noticed the scratches on Piper’s neck. Two red parallel lines ran down the left side of her neck for about an inch and a half. “What happened to your neck?” Desiree inquired as she pointed towards the scratches.

Piper touched the scratches and smiled sheepishly. “Stupid how it happened. I fell asleep in the car and when I woke up nature was calling, so I hurried out of the car towards the bushes where some rather long branches sticking out scratched my neck. I’m okay though. Doesn’t even hurt that much,” she finished.
“Did you put something on it?”

Piper shook her head. “No, I didn’t bother to.”

“I’ll be right back.” Desiree got off the floor and walked out of the room to go to the bathroom for what she needed. When she came back out, she heard Piper calling her from her own room. She went into the other woman’s bedroom with cotton and alcohol in hand. She walked up to her and stood between her legs, like she had the first night near the computer. Except this time, it was of her own volition.

“I’m sorry but this is gonna sting,” she warned Piper.

The blue-eyed woman bravely replied, “I can take it.”

At the first touch of the alcohol soaked cotton ball, she raised slightly from the bed, hissing loudly. Piper looked at Desiree to see if she had noticed, and caught the young woman smirking. She looked away embarrassed. Who’s a wussy? I’m a wussy!

Continuing to lightly run the alcohol soaked cotton ball along Piper’s neck for a bit longer, Desiree then leaned down and blew on the area, trying to hurry along the process of the alcohol drying. Little did she know the effect her warm breath on Piper’s neck was having on the brunette. Holding in a moan of pleasure, Piper silently wished that Desiree would lean a bit closer so that she could feel those lips on her neck.

“Okay. All done,” Desiree said as she stood back up, tossing the cotton ball into a nearby wastebasket.

Piper smiled at her, hoping that she didn’t look as flushed as she felt. “Thank you doc.”

The strawberry-blonde winked. “No prob, Bob.”

Piper put her hands on Desiree’s small waist and peered up at the woman. “Why do you always end up like this?” she asked.

“Like what?” Desiree inquired, pleasantly feeling the warmth of the other woman’s hands on her waist. She blushed, thinking to herself that she wanted those hands on other places.

“Between my legs,” Piper whispered seductively. “Are you hungry?” she asked in her normal voice, remembering that she had not eaten dinner, and the other woman probably had not either.

Desiree shook her head almost in a daze. “Not for food,” she retorted wantonly, surprising herself with the admission.
The blue-eyed woman softly growled as she stood up and put her face so close to Desiree’s that there must have been only a centimeter of space between them. “Neither am I,” she stated. She walked slowly past Desiree, and asked the young woman to sit on her bed. Desiree did as she asked, watching as Piper extracted something from one of her drawers’ and left the room. The young woman sat there nervously, waiting for Piper to come back. She wondered what the older woman was up to.

She did not have to wait much longer. Soon the music to a song began to play. Desiree instantly recognized that it was “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye. A slight grin lifted the corners of her lips.

I’ve been really trying baby
Trying to hold back this feeling for so long
And if you feel like I feel baby them come on
Oh come on
Let’s get it on

Out of the corner of her eye, Desiree suddenly noticed a long, smooth, bare tanned leg curving around the entrance to the room. All of the sudden Piper came in, and the younger woman’s jaw dropped to the floor. Piper was clad in a pair of french lace black panties with a matching brassiere. She was wearing a see through silk black long-sleeved shirt over it, which was completely unbuttoned.

The tall magnificent woman started to dance erotically in time to the music as Desiree stared in amazement at her. Piper turned around and glanced back over her shoulder looking at Desiree as she slowly removed the black shirt from her body. The light fabric cascaded down her arms to the floor and she winked at the astonished woman sitting on her bed.

We’re all sensitive people
With so much to give
Understand me sugar

Piper turned back around to face Desiree and sauntered towards her. She bent down and mouthed the next two lines of the song.

Since we’ve got to be here, let’s live
I love you

Not being able to stop herself, Desiree reached out to touch her, but Piper lightly slapped her hands away, and wagged a finger at the aroused young woman. She backed up, swayed to the music gracefully, and blew a kiss to the strawberry-blonde.

There’s nothing wrong with me loving you
Baby no no no
And giving yourself to me can never be wrong
If the love is true

Falling to her hands and knees on the carpeted floor, Piper crawled towards Desiree, who’s already wide blue-green eyes managed to open further. Never in her wildest dreams would she have guessed that she would have someone crawling on the floor to her. The young woman swallowed hard. Piper crawled towards her, reminding Desiree of a wild jungle cat with her ease and smoothness. The older woman reached Desiree and stuck out her tongue, running it across her upper lip seductively. Desiree had to control herself from jumping her. It proved very difficult to do.

I ain’t gonna worry
I ain’t gonna push
I won’t push you baby
Come on, come on, come on, come on baby
Stop beating around the bush
Hey, let’s get it on
Oooh, let’s get it on

Piper got to her knees in front of a panting Desiree and reached behind her to undo the clasp of her bra. She stood up and let the bra slide down her long bronzed arms to fall onto the floor. Desiree gazed at the twin mounds in front of her and started to say something, but Piper placed two fingers against her lips to quiet her. Desiree picked up the bra and put it to her nose, inhaling the wonderful scent of this woman.

Piper stepped back dancing again, and hooked both of her thumbs into either side of her panties and began to slide them down at a painfully unhurried pace. Desiree bit her lower lip and grabbed a handful of the blanket she was sitting on.

Oooh, come on, come on, come on, come on, come on darlin’
Stop beating ’round the bush
Oh gonna get it on
Begging you baby
I wanna get it on

The panties finally made it to Piper’s ankles and she kicked them off, only to have Desiree catch them in mid-air. Perhaps she would keep them for a souvenir. Please, Desiree thought, if I’m dreaming don’t let me wake up anytime soon. Piper danced, rocking her hips from side to side.

You don’t have to worry that it’s wrong
If the spirit moves ya,
Let me groove ya
Good, let your love come down
Piper walked up to Desiree and gently pulled the woman up from the bed, only to vacate the spot that she had been sitting in. She placed her hands in the waistband of the young woman’s gray sweat pants and pulled them down and off of her completely. She then helped the flustered young woman remove her socks. Piper crooked a finger at Desiree and the young woman straddled her thighs, her face inches from the older woman’s.

“You ready to get it on Desiree?” Piper whispered hotly.

Instead of using words, the young woman answered by crushing her lips to Piper’s, forcing her way into the older woman’s mouth. Piper loudly moaned as she held on to Desiree’s waist. She thrust her tongue into the strawberry-blondes mouth, causing Desiree to moan loudly as she started grinding her center against Piper’s abdomen. Keeping one arm around the smaller woman’s waist, Piper slid her hand along the outside of Desiree thigh, lightly stroking up and down. Ending the kiss, Desiree started placing feather-light kisses along Piper’s jaw, making her way towards the woman’s neck where she twirled her tongue around her pulse point.

“That feels terrific,” Piper announced in a faint whisper as she slid her hand to the inside of Desiree’s thigh, steadily moving up it. As the strawberry-blonde’s sweet mouth sucked and nibbled on her neck, Piper slowly slipped a finger beneath the edge of her panties, moaning as she felt Desiree’s immense heat. “You’re so hot,” Piper whispered as she found the smaller woman’s center and slipped one digit inside, causing Desiree to cry out in pleasure. “And so wet,” the dark-haired woman added as she began to move her finger in and out of Desiree’s moist cavern at a slow pace.

“Oh, God,” Desiree drew out the word, slowly moving her body up and down her new lover’s long digit as she held onto her shoulders for support. Never had she felt anything so wonderful in her life.

Removing her finger, Piper heard a small mewl of disappointment from Desiree. She kissed her tenderly on the lips before telling her to stand up. On shaky legs, the strawberry-blonde did as she was told, already missing the warmth of the other woman’s body. She watched intently as Piper reached out and started to pull her panties down. As they reached her ankles, Desiree barely had time to kick them off before she was pulled back onto Piper’s lap. She grinned at the woman as she wrapped her arms around her shoulders and captured her lips for a heated kiss, their tongues playfully dueling.

Reaching between them, Piper buried her finger in her lover’s center, her digit thrusting back and forth in perfect rhythm with her tongue. Her lips still on Piper’s, Desiree whispered for her to add another finger before she started sucking on her lower lip, lightly nipping with the edge of her teeth. More than happy to comply, Piper slipped in another digit, letting out a moan as it was enveloped by Desiree’s moist heat.
Breaking the kiss, Desiree threw her head back in rapture as she continued to ride her lover. She moaned more as Piper’s mouth descended upon her exposed neck, lightly sucking at the flesh. Her fingers slick with Desiree’s sweet nectar, Piper continued stroking her inner walls at an unhurried pace while she watched her. Desiree had to be the sexiest woman she had ever seen.

“Take your shirt and bra off for me baby,” Piper stated in a voice thick with desire.

Folding her arms across her upper body, Desiree pulled her T-shirt over her head and threw it over her shoulder. She blushed just a little as intense blue eyes watched as more of her body was revealed. Reaching behind her, she undid the clasp on her bra with minimal difficulty before sliding the straps down her arms. Momentarily halting her thrusting, Piper licked her lips as she waited for the offending bra to disappear so that she could behold the twin treasures beneath. Knowing the effect she was having on Piper, Desiree took her time removing her bra, as a grin spread across her lips.

“Desiree,” Piper said in a low voice, drawing out the last syllable of the woman’s name. Slightly amused blue eyes flickered to the strawberry-blonde’s face. “Show me the goodies.”

Chuckling just a bit, Desiree took mercy on her lover and finally removed the bra, dropping it to the carpet. As blue eyes focused in on the gorgeous mounds displayed before them, Piper let out a moan of approval. Perfect. They were absolutely perfect. Though she had a feeling that every part of this endearing young woman was perfect. Raising her free hand, Piper brushed her fingertips across the swell of Desiree’s breasts, eliciting a moan from her.

When Desiree moved her hips slightly, Piper began to thrust in and out of her again, watching for a moment as the younger woman’s full firm breasts gently bounced with her movements. Feeling greedy, Piper leaned forward, taking one of the bouncing breasts into her mouth, her tongue leisurely twirling around a sensitive pink nipple.

“Mm, yes Piper yes…” Desiree bit down hard on her lower lip as she placed a hand to the back of Piper’s head, holding the woman to her breast. She cried out in pleasure as teeth lightly pulled at her enlarged tip. Her hips began to move faster against the skilled fingers plunging within her center.

Not wanting the other breast to feel left out, Piper moved to it, flicking her tongue across Desiree’s nipple before drawing it into her mouth, lightly suckling. Feeling her lover’s vaginal muscles tightening around her fingers, Piper added her thumb, lightly flicking it back and forth across Desiree’s clitoris, successfully driving her wild.

Wrapping an arm around Desiree’s waist, Piper held on tight as the woman rode her faster and harder. Instinctively knowing that she was close to climaxing, the dark-haired woman increased the pace of fingers, driving them in and out of Desiree almost furiously fast.
“Ooh, I’m gonna come,” Desiree stated in a breathless voice, bouncing up and down on top of Piper like a kangaroo.

Releasing the smaller woman’s nipple, Piper kissed her parted lips. “Come for me baby,” she whispered, following it with a longer kiss. “My sweet sweet baby.” She continued playing with the woman’s hardened little nub, pressing the padding of her thumb against it.

Not being able to hold on any longer, Desiree yelled out her lover’s name as she started to come, waves of pleasure running through her body like volts of electricity. Burying her fingers deep within Desiree, Piper watched in fascination as the small woman writhed on top of her. She had never witnessed such a beautiful sight.

“Ooh, Piper yes! You feel so good,” the strawberry-blonde purred, still riding the fingers inside of her, albeit at a slower rate. Pressing her face into the crook of Piper’s neck, Desiree concentrated on trying to get her breathing and heart rate back to normal as tiny orgasms quaked through her body.

Moments later, Piper slowly removed her fingers before bringing them to her lips and drawing each one into her mouth as Desiree silently watched. The dark-haired woman grinned at her. “Mm, you taste better than I had originally imagined.” As the fair woman blushed, Piper’s grin widened. Wrapping her other arm around Desiree, she hugged her tightly, smiling as she felt the hug being returned.

The tall woman stood up, and Desiree wound her legs tightly around her waist as Piper carried her to the top of the bed. She turned back the covers and sheets and gently placed Desiree there. Piper then took the time to admire her body and contemplated on how lucky she was to have this gorgeous young woman in her life.

“You are truly beautiful,” she whispered in awe, causing Desiree to blush again.

“You’re the one who’s beautiful,” Desiree shyly replied.

Smiling, Piper got into the bed, lying close to the younger woman. She kissed her forehead, then her eyelids, making her way down to the young woman’s sweet soft and tender lips. She could never have dreamed that something could be so perfect. Loosely wrapping her arms around her lover’s neck, Desiree teasingly ran her tongue across Piper’s lips before slipping between them, provoking a low moan of approval.

Ending the kiss, Desiree gazed deeply into darkened blue eyes as she started to caress Piper’s cheek, idly brushing her thumb back and forth. “You’ve just made me feel so wonderful,” Desiree started in a faint whisper. “Made me feel things that I’ve never felt in my life. I didn’t know anything could feel so good…so right.” Leaning forward she brushed her lips across the other woman’s before whispering close to her ear, “Allow me to return the favor.”

Smiling tenderly at her, Piper quietly replied, “You needn’t ask.”

Her lips curving upward in a smile, Desiree gently pushed the dark-haired woman onto her back before she straddled her thighs. Leaning down, she passionately kissed Piper as she felt the woman’s soft palms come to rest on her waist, her fingertips lightly stroking in small circular motions. While successfully keeping her lips joined with Piper’s, the smaller woman stretched out so that she was lying on top of her.

Feeling the need to move on, moments later, she broke the sweet contact of their lips, and started trailing butterfly kisses down Piper’s chin, her neck, chest, until her face came to nestle between the woman’s bountiful breasts. Piper moaned as she felt a warm wet tongue lazily stroking up and down the valley of her bosom. Placing a hand on top of Desiree’s head, she started to gently sift her fingers through the woman’s long soft tresses.

“So you like to be on top, hm?” Piper asked with a small grin on her lips.

Blue-green eyes glanced up at her, seeming to twinkle. “Top…bottom…really doesn’t matter,” she said while starting to kiss all over Piper’s breasts, ignoring their aching tips for the time being. “I’m pretty flexible.” Desiree grinned before her mouth suddenly enveloped a nipple. She lavished it with her tongue, while holding it captive to the roof of her mouth.

“Ooh, I’m starting to recognize that,” Piper breathlessly replied as she arched her back, letting out a guttural moan. She then shut her mouth, finding it virtually impossible to form coherent speech.

***

After their passionate lovemaking, Piper laid on her back with Desiree curled up next to her, resting her strawberry-blonde head on Piper’s shoulder. Enjoying the afterglow, neither of them had said a word in the last few minutes as they lightly caressed each other.

“Piper?” Desiree whispered.

“Yes, baby,” the older woman said, running lazy circles on the younger woman’s arm with her fingertips, causing goosebumps to arise.

“How did you wind up in prison for eight years?” She held her breath, hoping that the sudden mention of this topic did not upset Piper.

Piper wondered how much she should reveal. She figured that she might as well start telling Desiree everything. After the beautiful experience they had just shared, Piper deemed there should be no more secrets between them. She owed the young woman the complete truth. The rate of her heartbeat starting to rapidly increase, Piper thought of how she should start. There really was no easy way to say it.
“I took someone’s life.”

Closing her eyes, Desiree softly sighed. Well she knew that it couldn’t have been petty theft. She figured that Piper’s incarceration was due to murder or at least attempted murder, yet she had hoped she was wrong.

“Who did you kill?”

Piper was silent for so long, that Desiree started to think that she wasn’t going to answer the question. Finally, she heard the woman sigh before she gravely replied, “My father.”
CHAPTER 5
Desiree sat up on the bed and stared down at Piper in utter disbelief. Of all the people in the world, she had not expected the blue-eyed woman to say that she killed her own father. Desiree crossed her legs while trying to locate her voice.

“You killed your own father?” she asked.

Piper nodded, wondering what the other woman was thinking.

“Did you do it on purpose?” Desiree inquired hesitantly. She wasn’t sure that she wanted to hear the answer. For some reason, she had a feeling that the murder was deliberate.

“Yes, I did.”

The younger woman frowned. “What gives you the right to choose who should live and who should die?”

Piper scowled at her. She sat up in the bed glaring at Desiree. “Don’t you presume to judge me for what I did. You don’t know the whole story. He had to die.”

Desiree shook her head. “It shouldn’t be up to you.”

“Look,” Piper took a deep breath, desperately trying to contain her anger. Desiree was the last person she wanted to lash out at, “you don’t even know me, so why don’t you just see your way out of my personal business,” Piper stated evenly.

Falling silent for a few moments, Desiree bowed her head, thinking that perhaps she had gone too far. Piper was correct. She didn’t know the whole story, so who was she to reprimand? Desiree glanced up at her, looking apologetic. “Why did you do it?” she whispered.

Releasing a loud sigh, Piper reached over laying a warm hand on the other woman’s exposed thigh. Peering at Desiree, she warned her that this wasn’t a pretty story.

“I didn’t expect it would be,” the strawberry-blonde replied.

“He used to beat my mother a lot.”

The expression on Desiree’s face was pained. “Is that why you dream about him? I remember you telling him not to hurt your mother when you had that nightmare.”

Piper nodded. “I dream about him doing that most of the time. Although the last couple of nights they haven’t come because you were with me.” She gave the young woman an appreciative smile and took one of her hands in her own. “It’s like you’re my protector, my shield. I never did thank you for holding me last night.”

Desiree smiled, shrugging. “You would have done the same for me. Plus I was being partly selfish. I just wanted to touch you,” she announced slightly embarrassed, causing the blue-eyed woman to grin. “What are you grinning at? You look like the Cheshire cat.”

“And you look like you need to be kissed.” Promptly leaning forward, she touched Desiree’s lips lightly before she opened her mouth running her tongue over the younger woman’s lips, silently asking for entry. Desiree acquiesced and their tongues dueled for space in each other’s mouths. As good as this felt, a few moments later, the younger woman placed both hands on Piper’s shoulders and pushed her back.

“I’m not that easy to manipulate, Piper.” She wagged a finger at the flushed woman. “Tell me what happened. Please.”

The dark-haired woman sighed. “Well I guess I should tell you. It all started in November of 1989. I arrived home from work one evening to walk into what looked like the aftermath of a battlefield…”

Entering the one-story house, Piper saw what a mess it was, which was unusual because her mother usually kept it orderly and clean. The cushions on the couch were strewn around on the floor, the coffee table was turned over, and the books on the shelf were scattered around the small living room. Eighteen-year-old Piper became worried that either they had been robbed or her father had gone on another rampage.

She hurried towards the kitchen, because she heard a muffled sound coming from that direction. Entering the kitchen, the teenager saw her mother bloody and crying in anguish. She was lying on the cold linoleum floor with her husband stooping over her with his big hands wound around her slender neck. It was obvious that the man was trying to choke her, and Piper got the impression that this time he meant to kill her mother. This was no ordinary beating. The teenager hollered for him to stop, but her father paid her no attention.

Making up her mind, Piper went to a kitchen drawer and extracted a hammer. She came towards her father and glanced at her mother who was gasping for breath with her eyes bulging out. She raised the hammer high above her head and brought it down so fast that the air could be heard and slammed it against the back of Alan’s head. He immediately tumbled over and ended up lying next to his wife, whose eyes were wide with shock, as she looked at him and then her daughter. Alan looked at his daughter with blue eyes filled with agony, anger, and even hatred. With some difficulty, Marie sat up as
Piper took a couple of steps towards her father, and began to strike him relentlessly with the hammer all over his body.

“Piper, stop it!” her mother shouted hoarsely, desperately trying to pull her daughter away from her husband, who was writhing in pain.

The teenager just shrugged her off, as she continued to strike her father with her hammer, mainly focusing on his head. She meant to kill him and no one was going to stop her. All the years of abuse that this man had put her mother through, finally came down on her. All the rage she had felt came out in those few life-changing minutes.

“Die! Die you bastard!” Piper yelled, hitting her father again on the side of his head. She could faintly hear her mother begging her to stop, but she would not cease until his vacuous heart was no longer beating. Breaking out in a cold sweat, Piper then noticed the pool of blood that was forming under her father. An icy grin formed on her lips just before she felt something hard strike her in the back of the head. Instantly, her surroundings turned black.

Piper fell silent as she looked at her hands, as if she had found something interesting with them.

“What happened?” Desiree asked quietly.

The blue-eyed woman glanced at her. “I found out when I came to that my mother hit me with a frying pan.” She smiled humorlessly. “I woke up just after the police arrived.”

“Did your mother press any charges against you?”

Piper shook her head. “In fact she apologized for hitting me with the frying pan. She said I was scaring her and she had to do something to stop me. She and Frank, the man I was speaking to the first night we were here, tried to get me out of it, but they found me guilty anyway.” She paused. “However, I wasn’t much help because I refused to plead innocent. I was guilty and that’s all there was to it. Frank after much talking finally got me to plead innocent by claiming temporary insanity. I felt like a jerk doing that, because I really don’t know if I lost it when I killed him. I remember that I felt stable. I was just angry. Very angry.”

Desiree studied her silently for a moment. “You said my father presided over your case?”

Piper nodded. “That he did.”

“So you kidnapped me because he sent you to jail for the murder of your father,” she stated.
Piper cocked her head to the side. “Not really. I mean that was part of it, but not the whole reason why I did that.”

Desiree sighed. “Then why?” It was like pulling teeth trying to get information out of this woman.

“Because he sentenced me to prison for eight years, and frankly I think that something is going on, but I just can’t put my finger on it. Your father is part of a conspiracy that I have to solve,” Piper replied mysteriously. Her blue eyes took on a far away look.

Desiree was shocked. “My father part of a conspiracy? He didn’t do anything he wasn’t supposed to.” She tried to soften her next words. “You broke the law, you pay for it.”

Her lover glared at her. “Why don’t you just shut your mouth, Desiree?” Getting out of the bed, Piper walked toward the closet and retrieved a short black silk robe, which she proceeded to put on. She then turned back toward Desiree who was speechlessly staring at her. “You may think you know everything, but here’s a news flash for you. You don’t. I know something is wrong I just don’t know what it is yet, and I know that your father is apart of it. A big part of it.” After securing the straps on the robe, Piper folded her arms across her chest as she leaned against the wall.

Desiree turned around in the bed to face her. “I’m sorry, Piper. It just seems so clean cut. You killed your father. Now maybe he deserved to die but it’s not your responsibility to decide when.” She held up her hand for silence when the tall woman looked like she was about to say something. “And then my father presided over your trial. You were found guilty by the jury and then sentenced to eight years in prison by him. Now where’s the conspiracy?”

Piper stared at her for a minute in silence. “I know you’re not dumb, Desiree.”

“I know I’m not dumb either, Piper.”

“Then why don’t you examine what’s happened thus far.”

Desiree frowned. “What do you mean?” she asked.

Piper sighed. “Three dead jurors mean anything to you?”

The strawberry-blonde put a hand to her mouth. “That’s right,” she whispered. She looked up at Piper. “Do you think somebody’s trying to frame you?”

“Either that or I’m really the killer.”

“But you’re not.”

Piper’s eyes narrowed in the younger woman’s direction. “Is that a question or a statement?” she asked quietly.

Desiree replied a little too enthusiastically, “A statement of course.”

The dark-haired woman nodded, but gave her a skeptical look. “Well there is something else that you should know too.”

“What would that be?”

“You remember when I spoke to my lawyer Frank Webb, and I asked him if the person he was talking about was dead?”

Desiree thought. “You mean the one who had an attempt on his life?”

“Yeah, that’s it.” She paused. She had no idea how Desiree was going to take this, and this may be the end of a great relationship. “The person we were talking about was your brother.”

The young woman’s eyes grew wide as she jumped out of the bed and marched right up to Piper naked as the day she was born. She placed both hands on either side of the taller woman’s head and leaned her face in close. For a moment, Piper inanely thought the woman was about to kiss her, but she would not be lucky enough to get that kind of reaction.

“What do you mean you were talking about my brother? Somebody tried to kill my brother and you didn’t tell me?” Desiree asked between clenched teeth.

“I did tell you,” Piper replied almost meekly.

“When?” Desiree almost yelled.

“Just now.” Piper tried smiling, but the shorter woman continued to shoot daggers at her. If looks could kill, I’d have collapsed to the floor right about now, Piper thought. She still looks cute though.

“Don’t be smart, Piper. What happened?”

“I don’t have all the details, but apparently last Monday someone tried to kill your brother by shooting him and he blames me for it.” She swallowed. “He says I did it. That I tried to kill him.”

Desiree stared at her in confusion. “Why would he say that if it weren’t true?”

Piper shrugged. “That’s what I’m trying to find out. Maybe he’s afraid of the real murderer, or maybe he’s in on it too. I don’t know.” She took a deep breath, half wishing that she had just skipped the country.

“So you think Richie meant to get himself shot?” Desiree stared at the tall woman dubiously.

Piper sighed. “I don’t know. Could be.”

“Why would he do that to you?”

“A good question, but I don’t have an answer, Desi.” She was starting to have a difficult time concentrating on the conversation, what with the young woman standing in front of her not even wearing one stitch of clothing. Sure this was a serious conversation they were having, but she was only human. And horny. Again.

“Well is he gonna be all right?” She had never been as close with Richie as she had been with Larisa, but she did care and love him deeply. They were family, and it terrified Desiree that he had almost lost his life.

“He’ll be fine,” Piper swiftly assured her.

The strawberry-blonde sighed as she stepped back from Piper. “Okay.” She glanced up at the tall woman. “We’ll figure this out. There has to be a-”

“Wait a minute,” Piper interrupted. “We?” she inquired.

Desiree looked at her. “Yeah, we. As in you and I. You have a problem with that?”

The dark-haired woman offered her a smile. “Not a one.”

Desiree nodded. “Good.” She leaned forward and gave her lover a peck on the cheek. Piper would have preferred the lips, but that would do for now. Desiree took Piper’s hand and began to lead her out of the bedroom.

“Where are we going?” Piper asked.

“We’re gonna try out that bathtub together. A good soak always helps me think.”

Fifteen minutes later, the two ladies were reclining in a tub full of peach scented bubble bath water. Piper had her back against the wall of the tub with Desiree sitting between her legs with her back pressed against Piper’s chest. Steam was rising from the water due to it being so hot.

Piper ran a hand through the younger woman’s now soaked hair and smiled to herself. She deemed that she was indeed the luckiest woman in the world at that moment.
“Piper?”

“Yes,” the dark-haired woman said distractedly.

“We need to figure out who is doing this to you.”

“I agree,” Piper retorted, turning her attention to the conversation at hand.

Desiree glanced over her shoulder at Piper. “Did you tell me the whole story?”

Piper nodded. “Yeah, you know about everything I know at this point.”

“So in a nutshell you kidnapped me because you figure that my father is apart of some conspiracy that you want to solve.”

“And I want all of the charges that have been brought against me to be dropped,” Piper added, picking up the peach scented soap to run it across the younger woman’s slippery back.

“Right now you’re wanted for the murder of three jurors and for the attempted murder of my brother.”

“And for you’re kidnapping unless your daddy handled his business.”

Desiree scooted around in the bathtub until she was facing her lover. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“I talked to him. I told him to get the charges dropped against me and you would be fine. Also I told him that if he ever wanted to see you again, that he better not mention that we had that little conversation to the police,” remarked Piper.

“He’s probably worried sick about me, Piper! Did you tell him that I’m all right?”

“He knows that you’re alive.”

Desiree threw her hands up in the air. “Damn it, Piper. Just because you have problems doesn’t give you the right to mess with other people’s emotions,” she stated angrily, wondering if she had moved too fast with this woman. Right now, she found herself wishing that she had never met Piper Redding. The woman was too unpredictable.

“Your father was the creator of my problems,” Piper retorted in a voice that was much too calm.

“No. You created your problems when you decided to knock off your daddy!” Right after the words left her mouth, Desiree desperately wanted to take them back. If only it was possible to rewind time. That was a low blow, Love, she thought miserably.
Piper raised her hand as if she were about to strike the younger woman, but just as quickly lowered it. Tossing the bar of soap she had been holding in the water, she quickly jumped out of the tub and left the bathroom, leaving a more than sorry Desiree behind.

***

Desiree entered the living room and looked at the blue-eyed woman sitting on the floor in front of the roaring fireplace. Piper was dressed in a pair of blue cotton sweatpants and a black T-shirt. She had her legs bent, with her arms wrapped around them and her chin resting on one of her knees. She stared blankly into the fire.

Desiree, now dressed in a nightshirt with a picture of Tweety bird on the front, cleared her throat to get the other woman’s attention. Piper glanced up at her but did not say anything. The strawberry-blonde walked towards her and took a seat Indian style next to the older woman. She stared into the fire for a few minutes before saying anything.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Desiree softly inquired.

“About what?” Piper asked, still staring into the fire.

“About your father. About growing up with a man who beat your mother.”

The blue-eyed woman shook her head. “The last thing I wanna do is talk about that man,” she stated with a bitter tone.

Desiree fell momentarily silent. “Then how about we talk about your mother? Where is she? Does she still live in San Francisco?”

Piper’s eyes instantly began to fill with tears. “She died,” she whispered.

Blue-green eyes gazed at Piper sympathetically. “What happened?” she asked.

“She killed herself two years into my sentence.” Piper took a deep breath. “She put a noose around her neck, jumped off the kitchen table and hung herself. She left a note saying that she couldn’t live with herself anymore, and that it was her fault that I was put in prison because she didn’t have the guts to leave my father early on in their marriage.”

“That’s horrible. I’m so sorry.” Desiree hesitantly put a hand on Piper’s back and began to rub in a circular motion. “Do you have any other family?”

Piper shook her head. “My mother has a couple of sisters but I don’t know them well. Haven’t seen them since I was eight years old.”

A few minutes passed before Desiree said, “I’m sorry about what I said in the bathroom. That was cruel and inconsiderate.”

Piper offered her a small smile. “That’s okay. I don’t blame you.” She stared at Desiree for a moment, before she leaned in and kissed the young woman lightly on the lips. She took one of Desiree’s hands in her own and squeezed it saying, “I don’t know how you feel, but it’s good to have you here. I’m glad to say that I have met you and I’m sorry for this mess.”

Desiree shrugged. “Same goes for me.” She paused. “Piper I know deep down in my heart that you didn’t do those things. Although my own brother said that you tried to kill him, there must be some explanation. You could never do such a thing.”

A tear escaped Piper’s left eye. She swiped at it quickly, hoping that the other woman hadn’t noticed. “You are simply amazing, Desi.”

“I just believe in you. I know I’m right. You’re innocent and that’s all there is to it.” She gave a slight pause before quietly asking, “May I have a hug?” She knew that Piper needed one as badly if not more so than she did.

Without any words, Piper scooted closer to Desiree, wrapping her arms around the smaller woman. Grateful for the contact, Desiree wound her arms around the dark-haired woman’s neck, clinging to her tightly. As she nuzzled her face into the crook of Piper’s neck, she started to cry tears of both sadness and joy. Sadness because of everything Piper had been through in her life and was still enduring. Joy because despite everything that was happening, Desiree was so happy that Piper had found her and that they were together. She didn’t quite know how, but somehow they would make it through this together.

They silently held each other for nearly an hour before Piper heard soft snoring coming from the young woman in her arms. The blue-eyed woman carefully laid Desiree on the floor before rising to her feet. She gazed down at the petite young woman as she continued to sleep. She smiled, thankful that Desiree still had faith in her innocence. She needed all the people she could get on her side. Reaching down, she picked up the lightweight causing Desiree to automatically wrap her arms around her neck, though still deep in sleep. Piper carried Desiree to the young woman’s room, and then exited the bedroom with her precious cargo after discovering a sleeping Tobias in the middle of Desiree’s bed. She made her way to her own bedroom and deposited Desiree on her bed. Pulling the covers around her, she then kissed her on the tip of her nose.

She whispered, “Goodnight, Desi.”

***

The next morning after feeding Tobias, Piper headed back to the bedroom with a tray laden with a bowl of strawberries, a bowl of whipped cream and a basket of warm freshly baked croissants. There were also a couple mugs of hot chocolate with minuscule white marshmallows floating on top. She smiled as she opened the door, discovering that the strawberry-blonde was still sleeping soundly. Piper sat on the bed and placed the tray next to her. Looking at the young woman, she wondered if a kiss on the lips would cause her to wake up. She thought it was worth a try. Besides, nothing would give her greater pleasure than to kiss this gorgeous sweetheart.

“Worked with Sleeping Beauty,” Piper stated aloud. Leaning down, she kissed the young woman with little pressure at all. She looked at Desiree not noticing any sort of a response. She kissed her again with more pressure, but no dice. Piper decided to try another tactic. Reaching into the glass bowl of strawberries, she selected one. She then dipped it into the whipped cream and placed it against Desiree’s lips. Nothing happened so she smeared the young woman’s lips with the whipped cream and was rewarded when the tip of a pink tongue reached out and rubbed against Desiree’s upper lip. Piper groaned, remembering what that little tongue could do. The young woman’s tongue came out again and soon licked all of the whipped cream from her mouth. Blue-green eyes opened and squinted at a grinning Piper. Desiree grinned back while sitting up in the bed. She ran a hand through her hair, which was very messy, but Piper thought that the young woman still looked sexy. In fact, the mused look somehow only proved to enhance her sexiness. I’ve got it bad, Piper jubilantly thought to herself.

“Were you trying to wake me up?” Desiree asked in a voice thick with sleep. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and then peered at Piper quizzically.

The blue-eyed woman grinned. “Guilty as charged.” She dipped the strawberry once again in the whipped cream and offered it Desiree. The young woman opened her mouth and bit down on the juicy strawberry that Piper still held in her hand. A thin stream of red juice dribbled down her chin to which Piper quickly leaned forward to lick clean with one swipe of her tongue. She leaned back and offered the sweet fruit again. Desiree swallowed, and then took another bite leaving only the green stem in Piper’s hand. Dropping the stem on the tray, Piper started to reach for another strawberry when Desiree suddenly wrapped a hand around her wrist and dipped all five of Piper’s fingers into the bowl of whipped cream. She brought the creamy digits up to her mouth and opened it to take in Piper’s thumb. Desiree kept eye contact with her lover while she sucked Piper’s thumb clean. She moved on to the next finger giving it the same attention. Piper could only offer little moans of complete pleasure while she gazed into the younger woman’s blue-green eyes.

Desiree soon made her way to Piper’s pinkie finger and sucked it clean. During the whole process the two women kept eye contact without either breaking away, although Piper had come close more than a couple of times. She just wanted to close her eyes with the ecstasy, but there was no way she was going to be the first to look away. Desiree then turned Piper’s hand until the older woman’s palm was facing her. She leaned forward and ran her tongue around the center of Piper’s palm in a circular motion a few times, causing the blue-eyed woman to moan even louder. It tickled but it felt so good. Desiree dropped her lover’s hand, got up on her knees on the bed, and leaned towards Piper. She reached one of her own fingers into a bowl and it came out with the tip covered with a dollop of the sugary cream. She then plastered Piper’s lips with the whipped cream while the older woman gazed at her. Piper had no idea whatsoever that breakfast would be this fun. Desiree brought her mouth close to Piper’s and poked out her tongue to run it lightly across the woman’s now completely white lips. Piper attempted to stick her own tongue out, but every time she tried Desiree would pull away until she obediently placed it back in her mouth. The strawberry-blonde finally licked Piper’s lips clean and then sat back on her heels, licking her own lips much like Tobias did after a good meal.

“I wonder if the rest of you tastes so good,” Desiree said in a low silky voice. “Guess there’s only one way to find out,” she whispered. Leaning forward again she captured Piper’s lips in an earth shattering kiss. She pushed the woman back on the bed and moved the tray out of the way. She then pulled Piper’s blue sweatpants off and flung them across the room. Straddling Piper’s hips, she smiled seductively while removing her Tweety nightshirt, leaving her only in a pair of cotton underwear, which were bikini cut. Piper reached her hands up to rub Desiree’s firm stomach, only to have them swatted away by a frowning strawberry-blonde. Desiree picked up her nightshirt and proceeded to tie Piper’s wrist together with it. She then placed her captive’s hands above her head. Next, Desiree did not bother to remove Piper’s T-shirt the correct way. Showing an amazing amount of strength, she managed to rip it off with her bare hands, surprising, and exciting the older woman in the process.

“I hope you weren’t too attached to that shirt,” Desiree said, a sexy little grin curving her lips.

“No, no,” Piper replied, her breathing already becoming uneven in anticipation of the events to come. “There are plenty of shirts in the sea.”

“Good, good. I’m glad.”

Both of them only wearing panties now, Desiree began to move on top of Piper, closing her eyes as she massaged the other woman’s delectable mounds, stimulating their rosy tips. Piper groaned loudly, beginning to grind her hips right along with the strawberry-blonde. She tested the piece of clothing binding her wrists together, only to discover that she could not get free. She admitted to herself that part of her did not want to get free. Desiree leaned down and the pair shared a passionate kiss before she abruptly broke away causing Piper to growl in frustration. She reached over, chose a strawberry from the bowl, and bit into it while Piper closely watched her wondering what the young woman would do next. Desiree rubbed the remaining part of the strawberry on Piper’s abdomen, smearing the sweet juice all over her stomach. She bent down to blow on the now wet stomach, causing the muscles underneath to contract. Desiree looked up at her lover, her expression showing her arousal.

“Do you want me, Piper?” she asked alluringly.

Piper amorously answered, “You know I do baby.”

“How much do you want me lover?”

“I want you so much that I feel like I’m gonna die if you don’t take me soon.”
Desiree smirked. “Well we can’t have that.” She crawled up, buried her face in the crook of Piper’s neck, and began to suck gently on her overheated skin. “I mean if it did, who would be my playmate then?” Desiree heatedly whispered before continuing her assault on the other woman’s neck. Piper moaned, closing her eyes. Never in her life had she felt something so incredible. Piper was sure that she would have a hickey after Desiree was done, and she would proudly wear the telltale mark.

The strawberry-blonde placed her nose close to Piper’s. “Piper?” she asked.

“Yeah, baby,” the dark-haired woman answered dreamily, her eyes still closed.

“Where are those handcuffs?”

***

Taj walked into the small bare room and took a seat waiting for Detective Redding to come in. He was thoroughly annoyed because a couple of policemen had shown up at his church that morning, claiming that they had to bring him in for questioning. At least they had waited until the service was over, but Taj had better things to do and it was quite embarrassing to have the police coming after him.

Now dressed in a midnight blue two-piece suit by Calvin Klein, Taj sat ramrod straight in a cold metal chair. Impatiently, he tapped his fingertips on the old scarred wooden table as brown eyes nearly bored a hole through the closed door, willing the detective to open it. Finally, Detective Redding entered the room with a portfolio tucked underneath his arm. Offering Taj an obviously insincere smile, he leaned against the edge of the table. Taj frowned, noticing that something about the detective seemed vaguely familiar, as if he had seen him before. Taj shrugged the thought off, considering the fact that he would remember this man if he had ever met him before, because he was excellent with names and faces.

Taj figured he knew what this was about, and his suspicions were confirmed when the detective opened the portfolio and he caught a glimpse of a picture of Piper. He made up his mind right there, that no way were the cops going to get information out of him. Piper was his best friend and he would do all he could to protect her.

Detective Redding glanced down at Taj and asked, “Can I get you something to drink, Taj?”

Taj shook his head negatively. “And the name is Mr. Potter.”

The detective smiled coldly at him. “Whatever you say, Mr. Potter.” The detective studied Taj’s suit. “Nice suit,” he said.

Straightening his tie, Taj replied, “I was at church when you sent your men after me.”
“Sorry about that,” Detective Redding retorted, not sounding in the least bit sorry. “Nice car you got parked outside too.”

The Jamaican man sighed. “Listen,” he started. “I am a very busy man so let’s just get down to business. I know you want to ask me some questions about my involvement with Piper Redding so stop beating around the bush, because if there is one thing I don’t have to offer you, it’s my time.” Taj sat back in the chair and crossed his legs. “Now get on with it.”

The detective frowned. “You have quite a bad attitude, Mr. Potter,” he exclaimed. “You haven’t been here five minutes and you’re treating me like I’m your worst enemy.”

Slowly rising from the chair, Taj leaned toward the other man. “That’s because I don’t like you. My impressions about people when I first meet them are usually right. It didn’t take me fifteen seconds from the first instance of laying eyes on you to tell that there was something crooked about you. I don’t exactly know what it is, but I’m receiving bad vibes. So excuse me if I seem a little wary of your intentions.” Taj took his seat again.

Detective Redding glared at him but chose not to comment. “Well let’s get on with it then. Do you mind if I tape this?” The detective indicated a tape recorder resting on the table. Taj shook his head so the detective pressed the record button. He then took the picture of Piper out of the portfolio, and held it up for the younger man to see. “Do you recognize this woman?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Who is she?”

“I believe that’s my best friend Piper Redding,” Taj replied.

“Your best friend huh? Do you know that she is a fugitive?”

“It’s all over the news. How could I miss it?”

“Do you know where she is?” the detective inquired, putting the picture down.

“No, I don’t have a clue,” Taj smoothly lied.

Detective Redding nodded. “I see. So when was the last time you saw her?”

Taj pretended to think about that, his brow furrowing in thought. “I saw her once after she was released from prison. It was a couple weeks afterwards. We had lunch at a park.”

“And that’s the last time you saw her?”

The Jamaican man mutely nodded.
Victor clasped his hands together and looked at the other man intently. “Piper Redding is a very dangerous woman, Mr. Potter. If you have any information on her whereabouts, you need to level with me. We have reason to believe that she may have kidnapped a judge’s daughter, and there is no telling what she will do to her if we don’t find her.”

Taj remained silent as he studied his perfectly manicured nails. He did not seem to be interested in what the detective had to tell him.

“Mr. Potter.” Taj peered up at him. “Tell me. Honestly, do you think that Piper Redding is innocent of these crimes?”

Taj did not answer right away. “No. I don’t.” The detective wore a triumphant smile. “I know she is innocent,” the Jamaican man added after a pause, causing the detective to frown.

“Was she innocent when she killed her father?” Victor asked angrily.

“She did what she felt she had to do.” Taj arched a curious eyebrow. The detective sure was heated about this case. I smell the stench of a vendetta, the man thought. He just had to figure out what that vendetta was.

“Just like in this case. She did what she had to do, which is kill four people, try to kill another and kidnap a judge’s daughter. Great argument, Mr. Potter.”

Taj sighed. “Are we almost done?” He checked his watch.

“Almost. What makes you think that she’s innocent?”

“I know her. I’ve known her for over ten years and she would never kill someone in cold blood,” Taj replied vehemently.

The detective studied him. “You honestly believe that.” He shook his head and shrugged. “Okay. I guess we have nothing more to discuss then. You’re free to go. Thank you for your time, Mr. Potter.”

Arising from the uncomfortable chair, Taj straightened his double-pleated trousers before heading for the door. The detective calling his name stopped him. Taj turned around and waited for him to speak.

“If I find out that you lied to me I’ll bring charges against you so fast you won’t know what happened. I bet that if I was to pay enough attention to you, that I would find something to charge you with. I bet you’re all ready doing something illegal. Aren’t you boy?” The detective once again smiled coldly.

Taj wanted to deck him but he managed to keep a cool façade. “I’m not your boy, and if I were you-Thank God I’m not– I wouldn’t threaten me.” Taj gave him a warning look as he opened the door. “You don’t know who you’re messing with.” Walking out, he shut the door as the detective glared.

***

The sound of her cell phone ringing brought Piper out of her deep sleep. She gently removed a sleeping strawberry-blonde from on top of her and hurried out into the front of the cabin, the cool air hitting her naked body. Reaching the computer desk, she found the phone and answered it sleepily.

“Piper?”

“Yeah. Who else would it be?” She rubbed her half-closed eyes.

“This is Frank.”

“I know that. What do you want Frank?” she asked in an annoyed tone of voice. “I have nothing to say to you, and if this is about trying to get me to come back it’s not gonna work.”

“No. That’s not what I want. You need to turn on your television to channel two,” Frank stated.

“What for?” she asked while feeling warm arms encircling her naked waist and soft lips touch the side of her neck. With her free hand, Piper rubbed one of the arms around her.

“Just do it. Now.”

The phone then went dead in Piper’s ear. She pushed the end button, frowning at the electronic device.

“Was that your lawyer?” Desiree asked softly.

“Yep.” Piper walked out of Desiree’s arms and took a hold of the young woman’s right hand. She began walking towards the couch saying, “Let’s watch some t.v.” Piper sat down on the couch buck naked, putting Desiree on her lap.

Desiree looked over her shoulder at Piper and said, “Piper I know it’s just you and I here, but I feel a little self-conscious sitting here with no clothes on.”

Piper laughed while removing her lover from her lap and walked into her bedroom. She emerged a few minutes later wearing a pair of blue jeans and the black tank top she had on the first night. She handed Desiree her Tweety nightshirt.

The young woman took it and smirked. “You get to wear day clothes and I get to wear this skimpy gown?”

Piper nuzzled her neck, causing Desiree to giggle. “You don’t have to, but I think you look pretty damn hot in it,” she whispered.

Desiree giggled again. “Well in that case I guess I will.” She put the nightshirt on and sat cross-legged on the couch. Piper took a seat next to her after retrieving the remote control. She clicked on the television and turned to channel two to find that the news was on. She figured that was what Frank had wanted her to tune in on. Turning up the volume the two women began to listen.

“And now we’ll go to Chad Adams live in Pasadena with the latest update of the Piper Redding Mystery.”

Piper saw Desiree glance over at her wearing a worried expression. She took one of the young woman’s small hands in her own and gave it a reassuring squeeze. The strawberry-blonde smiled slightly as she turned her attention back to the screen.

“Hello. I’m Chad Adams live in Pasadena with some sad news. Another juror from the 1990 murder trial of Piper Redding has been killed. Thirty-eight year old Michael Lowell was killed in his own home yesterday by a masked female who police suspect may have been none other than the fugitive Piper Redding. Annie Lowell, the victim’s wife witnessed the gruesome murder. Apparently, the female used a hammer that ultimately caused the death of Michael Lowell. Police have uncovered that a hammer was also used in the killing of Alan Redding, Piper Redding’s father. She killed him about nine years ago with that same tool.

“Here is the current description of the murderer of Lowell. The woman has been described as being a little less than six feet with blue eyes and long dark hair. She may have a scratch on her neck, and was wearing black pants, a black sweater, and a black ski mask. She was driving a lilac Honda Civic without a license plate. This is all of the news that we have now, but we will be sure to get back to you if anything else comes up. If you feel that you have seen this woman please call 1-800 555-7897. That number once again is 1-800 555-7897. Thank you. This has been Chad Adams. Back to the news room.”

Piper clicked off the television and stared at the now dark screen. All that she could hear in the room was her own ragged breathing, of which she was desperately trying to control. She glanced over at Desiree noticing that the young woman was staring at her with something in her eyes that made Piper flinch slightly. Those blue-green eyes were wide with evident fear and mistrust. Desiree snatched her hand away from Piper’s and jumped off of the couch walking away backwards. Piper got up causing the younger woman to back up until she could not go any further due to a wall being behind her.

“I’m not going to hurt you. Desiree you have to listen to me,” Piper stated in a voice that she fought to keep calm.

“There’s nothing you could tell me to make me feel better. You lied to me. It’s true. You are the killer. I believed in you and you lied to me.”

“I didn’t,” the dark-haired woman said louder than she meant to.

“You did!”

“I did not,” Piper remarked between clenched teeth. She was trying to hard to control her own temper. All the stress and accusations were starting to wear her out, and she did not want to take out her anger on Desiree. It was amazing that the young woman had trusted her this far.

“Where were you yesterday, Piper?” Desiree asked nervously. She could feel her palms becoming damp with perspiration.

“Huh?”

“Oh now you’re hard of hearing. I asked you where you were. You were gone all day.”

“I told you where I was,” Piper wearily explained.

“Tell me the truth.”

Piper balled her hands into fists. “That was the truth.”

“Okay.” Desiree placed her hands on her hips. “So you were gone all day because you fell asleep in your car?” Suddenly, that explanation sounded quite ludicrous. Desiree shook her head while feeling like the biggest moron on earth. How could she have believed this woman?

Piper nodded.

“And you got those two scratches from a branch.”

Piper confirmed this with another nod, though she had a feeling that Desiree wasn’t going to believe the story anyway.

Desiree gave her an incredulous look. “You must think I’m pretty stupid. I hope you’re not one of those people who think that blondes are dumb, because you’re the one who is behaving that way. You can’t even cover up your tracks well. Why don’t you just tell me the truth, Piper?”

The blue-eyed woman took a deep breath, feeling the beginning of a headache. “Doesn’t that strike you as odd?”

“What?”

“That it was so easy for them to say it was me. I wouldn’t go out in broad daylight dressed in black to kill someone. That would be stupid. Somebody’s trying to frame me, don’t you see?” She asked, her blue eyes pleading.

Desiree shook her head. “All I see is someone who killed four innocent people who were just doing their job, and someone who tried to kill my brother.” Angry tears formed in the young woman’s eyes. She had really believed in this woman’s innocence, and the truth was tearing her apart in side. “Damn you!” Desiree shouted. “You tried to kill my own brother! How could you make love to me knowing what kind of a monster you were? How could you be so gentle and yet so cruel?” Desiree wiped away the tears running down her flushed cheeks.

Piper ran a hand through her hair. This was turning into a nightmare. “Baby, listen to-”

“Don’t call me your baby!” Desiree shouted. “I am not your baby. I hate you! Do you hear me? I hate you. I’d like to kill you myself.”

“I didn’t try to kill your brother!” Piper yelled, her heart breaking in two.

Desiree laughed humorlessly. “Then why did he say you did? My God, I believed your word against my own brother’s! I must have lost my mind.”

“He’s lying.”

“No he’s not. You’re the one who’s a liar. You are a liar, a kidnapper, and a cold-blooded killer! But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, huh? You’re father was an abuser and a would be murderer. His child is successfully one. It fits, don’t you think?”

The next thing Desiree knew it she was collapsing to the floor. Piper had walked towards her so fast that the young woman had not had sufficient time to duck the blow that the older woman gave her. Coming out of her daze, Desiree touched her lip and when she pulled her fingers away, she noticed the bright red blood on them. She also noticed that one of her teeth had come loose. She spit it out and looked up at Piper who seemed to be as shocked as she was. Piper knelt down next to her.

“Baby, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to do that,” the dark-haired woman apologized, her eyes shining with unshed tears.

Desiree scrambled to her feet and went over to the computer desk. She searched it until she found the cellular phone. She then ran to the kitchen and came out a few seconds later with a butcher knife. Piper looked at her frowning.

“What are you doing?” the blue-eyed woman asked.

Desiree shook the butcher knife at her menacingly with blood still dribbling down her chin. She wiped it away and said, “Don’t you come near me or I’ll kill you. So help me God I will kill you!” She thought back to the news and remembered the number the newsman had given. Desiree began to dial the number after figuring out how to use the phone. She was on the third five when she heard Piper’s voice.

“Put the phone down, Desiree,” Piper’s voice was devoid of any emotion. Desiree looked up and saw that Piper was holding the gun she had managed to kidnap the young woman with.

“You’re going to shoot me now?” Desiree asked trying not to sound as terrified as she felt.

“If I have to,” Piper said coolly. “If I have to shoot you in order to protect myself then so be it. I may have taken you to bed, and we may have had some real fun together but you’re not worth going back to prison for.” She pointed the gun at the other woman’s head while hoping that her bluff would work. “If you don’t think I’ll do it, try me.”

Desiree noticed that the woman had a dangerous glint in her eyes, and for the first time, the strawberry-blonde got the impression that Piper might actually do her harm. She pushed the end button and threw the phone over to the couch.

“Throw the knife on the couch too.”

Desiree did as she was told, her heart beating loudly.

“Good girl. Now sit in the chair and stay there.”

Desiree did that too, as she cautiously watched the other woman go into her bedroom. Piper came out a few minutes later carrying a duffel bag and the handcuffs. She put the duffel bag on the kitchen table and placed one cuff around Desiree’s wrist. She then pulled the young woman up roughly and led her into the kitchen where she once again locked her to the refrigerator. Piper went back to the kitchen table and retrieved her bag. She headed to the front door and then turned around. “In case you’re thinking differently, I will be back. This isn’t over yet. I’m just gonna go take a dip in the lake.” With that, she left the cabin. Desiree shook her head while starting to softly cry.

***

Detective Redding picked up the phone and dialed Judge Richard Love’s number. On the second ring, the man picked up.

“Good afternoon Judge Love,” said Victor.

“Detective. Did you hear about the killing of Michael Lowell?”

“That’s precisely why I’m calling. We suspect that Piper Redding did that job too. What do you think?”
The judge did not give a reply right away. “I’ve been thinking about it, and maybe she didn’t do it. Maybe she’s being framed,” he lied. It was killing him not to tell the truth, but he had Desiree to think about. No matter what he had to protect his daughter. After all, it was partly his fault she was in this current predicament.

“Framed?” the detective repeated with surprise in his voice. Now he knew that the judge was hiding something. Piper Redding must have his daughter as her hostage. The detective smiled with victory. Now all he had to do was find out where the fugitive had stashed the young woman and herself as well. Not being able to find Piper was making the man extremely tense and agitated. “What do you mean?” the detective continued. “She tried to kill your son, sir. He even admitted that it was her.”

I know, the judge thought grimly. “Maybe he was just confused.”

“Confused, sir?” The detective frowned. What are you hiding, Judge? he wondered. “Did you hear the description of the female who murdered Michael Lowell?” he asked the judge.

“Yes I did, but Piper Redding is not the only woman who is tall, has dark hair and blue eyes. There are probably plenty of women who fit that description.”

“Uh huh. Well this information hasn’t been released yet, but I happen to know for a fact that Redding paid off the four jurors who died to argue in her defense. They were given five thousand dollars each. Obviously they didn’t fulfill what they were supposed to, so when she got out she killed them.” Victor sat back in his chair. “What do you think about that, sir?”

All the detective could hear coming from the other line for the next few seconds was the judge’s harsh breathing. “I told you that someone is framing her.”

“Why all the sudden are you defending her?” he paused for emphasis. “You hiding something, sir? If you are, you need to tell me what it is. This woman is very dangerous and needs to be apprehended as soon as possible. What if she goes after your daughter while she’s on that ski trip? What if she goes after Larisa? Too many lives have already been lost, don’t make it more by becoming silent. I need your help if you can give it to me.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t help you.”

Detective Redding cursed under his breath. “Well that’s too bad. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have a man like you in our judicial system. Have a nice day, sir.” The detective hung up the phone in anger. He hadn’t got anywhere with that call.

Victor looked at the computer screen in front of him and thought. This Tommy Jung that he located may have some answers for him. According to what he found, Jung, Potter and Redding had been like the three Musketeers in high school. He figured that Potter and Redding had been the closest, since Jung had not met them until he started at their high school as a junior. The detective mused that perhaps Tommy Jung was embroiled in this somehow. Well there was only one sure way to find out. The detective arose from the chair, obtained his car keys, and left the office.

***

He turned down the rock music playing on the stereo because he thought he heard a knock on his front door. Tommy left his bedroom and walked to the front door to squint in the peephole. He saw a man that didn’t look at all familiar to him. He asked who it was, and the man stated his name while holding a badge up to the peephole.

“I don’t speak to police. I’ve got nothing to say,” Tommy stated.

“Open the door Mr. Jung. This is very important. I need to ask you some questions.”

“Go away man.” Tommy ran a hand nervously through his jet-black hair.

The detective clenched his teeth together tightly while resisting the urge to kick the door in. “If you don’t open this door right now, I will open it myself. I have my own methods. You want to see?”

Two seconds later the door was opened and the detective saw Tommy Jung. The man was Asian, standing at about five feet five inches. He had dark brown almond shaped eyes and black hair. Most women would probably describe him as being cute in a teddy bear sort of way.

Detective Redding smiled at him as he walked inside. Tommy nervously smiled back, and the detective got the impression that if pressed enough unlike Potter, this man would talk.

The detective closed the door behind him and asked, “Do you know Piper Redding?”

Victor then saw a touch of fear in the man’s eyes. “No-no man. I don’t know her. She used to go to my high school, but that’s it.” Tommy tugged on an ear that had a gold plated earring in it. The detective noticing this reckoned that it was probably a nervous habit.

“The two of you weren’t friends?” the detective asked.

“No. Not really.”

Detective Redding frowned. “What do you mean not really?”

“I mean I knew her, but I didn’t know her. You know?” Tommy took another tug on his ear. “We were more like acquaintances.”
The detective raised both eyebrows. “Ah. So you don’t know where she is?”

Tommy shook his head. “I don’t have any idea man.” The detective stared at him, so he continued with, “If I did I’d tell you.”

“Oh you will,” the detective replied menacingly. He advanced on the younger man and snatched the earring out of his ear, causing the Asian man to cry out in pain. By ripping the earring out so forcibly, the detective had caused the man’s earlobe to split. Victor grabbed Tommy around the neck and slammed the man’s head up against a wall. Tommy soon found out that his feet weren’t touching the ground any longer. Fury showed in the detective’s brown eyes as he glared at the scared younger man. “You better tell me what you know right now, before I make you regret the day your sorry ass was born. Do you understand me?” He tightened his grip on Tommy’s neck.

Struggling for breath Tommy nodded profusely. The detective nodded putting the man back down on his own two feet. Tommy rubbed his neck looking at the detective. “What do you wanna know?” He hoarsely inquired.

“Did she take anybody hostage?”

Tommy nodded.

“Who?” The detective inquired impatiently.

Tommy swallowed and said a silent apology to Piper and Taj before answering, “Desiree Love, that judge’s daughter.”

The detective could not help it. He smiled brightly. Gotcha Piper, he thought. “Do you know where they are?”

Tommy nodded again as he began to tell the detective where the two women could be located. He also told him his and Taj’s involvement in the plan, and how he had made it possible for Piper to capture Desiree.

“Thank you,” Detective Redding said, patting Tommy on the back. “You’ve been a great help.”

***

About an hour later, there was another knock on Tommy’s door. His expression wary, he apprehensively moved toward the door and looked through the peephole before breathing a sigh of relief. Fumbling with the lock, Tommy opened the door and grabbed the person standing on the other side of it, pulling them into his apartment. Practically slamming the door closed, he locked it. His visitor put strong hands on his shoulders while asking if he was all right.

Tommy nodded. “I’m fine. We have a problem though, Taj.”

Taj squeezed his shoulders and let go of the man. “What problem is that?” He frowned noticing that his friend had a Band-Aid on his ear. He pointed towards it and asked, “What happened?”

“Some cop or something came here earlier harassing me. He tore my earring out man, but that’s not important right now.” He hesitated on going further. He knew how much Taj cared for Piper, and he had a feeling that the man was about to get very angry at what he had to say.

“What is important?” the Jamaican man asked.

“He made me tell him about Piper and Desiree.”

“What did he make you tell him?” Taj managed to ask in a calm tone of voice. That was the only thing about him that was calm at the moment.

“Where they were,” Tommy murmured.

Taj exploded. “How could you?!” With great control, he managed not to smack the smaller man.

“He was gonna kill me man! I had to tell him,” Tommy said in his defense, backing up just in case the other man had the urge to hit him.

“You don’t know how to protect yourself? Where’s all that black belt crap you’ve been bragging about for years?”

“Man, I know how to fight but he was big!” Tommy winced, wondering if the excuse sounded as sorry to his friend’s ears as it did to his own.

Taj glared at Tommy as if he could have killed him right then and there. Thinking it wise to leave before he did something he might (or might not) regret later, he turned toward the door and left without uttering another word.

***

Picking up the bottle, Judge Richard Love poured himself another shot of brandy. He drained it and sat back in his chair, wondering about what he would do. He could tell from the conversation on the phone earlier with Detective Redding, that the younger man had not believed what he said. He had a feeling that the man would go on investigating the disappearance of his youngest daughter. The judge poured himself another brandy and downed it in one gulp. He felt the warm liquid slide down his throat, but drinking half a bottle had yet to calm his nerves any.

He ran his hand over his face noticing the telltale signs of a forming beard. He had not even bothered to shave. The judge was half-afraid that he might try to take the razor and cut his own throat so deep was his despair and guilt over the current events. It was partly his fault that those jurors were dead. It was partly his fault that Desiree had been taken hostage and it was also his fault that his only son had nearly lost his life.

Pouring himself another drink, Judge Love thought back to the night that the greed had overtaken him.

The judge walked to his Cadillac and got in the car. Before he could start the engine, he saw out of the corner of his eye a figure standing next to his window. The man was trying to get his attention by making motions for the judge to roll down the window. Judge Love did so and asked the young man what he wanted.

The man spoke with an English accent. “I have an offer that you can’t possibly refuse. Why don’t you meet at the coffee shop across the street in let’s say,” the English man looked at his watch, “five minutes.” He straightened up from leaning in the window. “I’ll see you there.” The man walked off, leaving the judge wondering what this was all about. He glanced at his own watch, remembering that he and Sandra were supposed to have dinner with the Carlton’s tonight. He did not want to be late again arriving at the restaurant. He decided that he would make this short, so the judge started the car and headed across the street.

On entering the establishment, Judge Love instantly recognized the English man from outside sitting in a booth near the back. He made his way over and took a seat in the opposite booth. He looked at the man expectantly, wondering what it was that he wanted. The man had curly dark brown hair that went down to his neck and was wearing dark shades, so the judge could not tell the color of his eyes. He also had a dark brown mustache. Before anything could be said a waitress came by the table and sat a cup of coffee in front of the judge and the English man. Both thanked her as she moved away.

“I ordered you a cup of coffee. Do you like coffee?” the English man asked as he took a sip from his own cup.

The judge picked up the coffee cup. “Yes I do. Thank you for the kind gesture.”

The English man smiled slightly. He extended a hand and the judge shook it, noticing the man had a strong grip. “I have a proposition for you.”

“What would that be?” Richard asked. “And might I ask what your name is?”

The English man replied, “You can call me Joe.”

“Okay. Joe.” The judge knew that this probably was not the man’s real name, but he didn’t pursue it.
Joe leaned further across the table. “How would you like to be twenty thousand dollars richer?” he asked quietly.

The judge frowned. This was beginning to sound like a bribe. It would not be the first time someone had tried to give him one. “What would I have to do?”

Joe shrugged leaning back in the booth. “You’re presiding over the Piper Redding case. Aren’t you?”

“Yes I am.”

“When she is found guilty sentence her for at least ten years. You do that and the money is yours. Cash, and in any sort of denominations you desire.”

“How do you know that she’ll be found guilty?”

“Oh, she will,” Joe said confidently. “Just look at the lawyer she has. What’s his name? Franklin Webb. My dog could do a better job defending someone.”

The judge found himself to be tempted but shook his head nonetheless. “I can’t. I’m not interested.” He started to rise from the booth, but the other man put a restraining hand on his arm.

“Wait,” Joe said. Judge Love sat back down in the seat. The English man opened his jacket and pulled out a stack of twenty’s that must have been at least an inch thick. He handed the stack to the judge under the table. Richard looked around and took the money, placing it in his own jacket. Joe smiled at him and took another sip of his coffee. The young man tossed a five-dollar bill on the table and got up. “That’s your incentive. Remember the twenty thousand that can be yours too.” With that said Joe walked out of the coffee shop.

Judge Love downed another drink of brandy and put the top on the bottle. Sure enough, the jury had found Piper Redding guilty of murder two weeks later. Judge Love sentenced the nineteen-year-old with ten to fifteen years in prison. If he had never met the English man, he might have given Piper only three years. That was what he had planned on if she were to be found guilty. Two days later he received a phone call from Joe. The man asked him how he would like his twenty thousand. Richard replied that he would prefer all hundreds. The money arrived by airmail three days later.

Yes, the judge felt guilty for his actions, and now others were suffering because of his mistakes. True he had not made Piper go on a killing rampage, but if had just said no to that man all those years ago, this mess might not have started. When Piper Redding had got out two years before she would have completed a full decade, the judge had been worried that the mysterious Englishman would come back. So far, he had not heard a single word from him. He hoped that it stayed that way.
“What have I done?” the judge asked himself aloud. He opened the bottle of brandy again and took a swig straight from it while feeling lower than dirt.

***

For what must have been the twentieth-something time, Piper’s cellular phone rang. Desiree gritted her teeth in agitation, because she could not reach the phone, due to it still being on the couch and she being handcuffed to the refrigerator. Piper had yet to come back and that was fine with her. Well at least partly fine. If the woman did not come back then that meant eventually Desiree would die because no one knew where she was, and she had a feeling that no one ever came up here. The only positive thing she could think of to happen would be for Taj to come back to the cabin, but then she thought that maybe he was in this whole scheme the entire time. He and Piper might be in cahoots with each other. Desiree hoped not, because if Taj could not help her then all she had was Tobias. She glanced down at the cat that was lying beside her, and began to cry again. I’ll probably never get out of here alive, she thought miserably as the phone stopped ringing again. She touched her free hand to her aching jaw and touched the empty space with her tongue where her tooth used to be. Obviously, she had been wrong about Piper ever hurting her.

A few minutes later there was a knock at the door that made the already nervous young woman jump. She stared at the door wondering who it could be. Whoever it was he or she could very well be her ticket out of here. Luckily, Piper had left the door unlocked. She yelled for the person to come in. The door opened and a man who was probably somewhere in his early thirties walked into the cabin. He looked at Desiree wearing a shocked expression. She noticed that the man had curly blonde hair, green eyes, and was rather tall. The man closed the door and locked it. He came towards her and knelt down on the kitchen floor.

“What happened to you?” he asked studying her predicament.

Desiree replied, “I was handcuffed to the refrigerator by a murderer. Have you heard of Piper Redding?”

“Of course I have,” the man replied. “I’m her lawyer.” He stuck his hand out and she shook it. “My name is-”

“Frank Webb,” Desiree finished for him. “She told me.”

“Ah. Where is Piper?” He glanced around the room as if she would suddenly appear.

“She’s not here. She went out for a swim hours ago, but hasn’t returned yet. I don’t know what you think but she’s guilty. She probably did everything the police are accusing her of.”
Frank turned his attention back to her and smiled warmly. “Don’t worry.” He stood up. “I’ll get you out of here.” He looked at the handcuffs. “Do you know where the keys are?”

Desiree shook her head. “I don’t have any idea. Piper might very well have them with her.”

“Hmm.” Frank reached behind him and took a gun out of his steel gray trousers. “Now you have to remain very still.” He pointed the gun at the handcuffs as Desiree’s blue-green eyes widened.

“What are you gonna do?” she asked nervously, though she already knew.

Frank took a deep breath. “I’m going to have to shoot them off. It’s the best I can do for now, and we have to hurry.” He took the safety off, aimed and pulled the trigger. After the bullet went through the metal of the handcuffs, a sharp ringing started in Desiree’s ears.

“Sorry about that,” Frank said, helping the young woman to her feet. He put the gun back in his waistband.

“That’s okay,” she replied, touching her ears. She still had the cuff around her wrist, but at least she was free.

“Come sit over here.” Frank took a chair from the kitchen table and placed it over by Desiree’s bedroom door. She walked towards it and sat down. He squeezed her shoulder and asked, “Are you okay now?”

She looked up at him and gave the man a small smile. “I’m fine. I think we should be going now.” She started to get up but he gently pushed her back down in the chair.

“Not yet. Let’s wait for Piper to get back.”

“Why?” Desiree asked with fear creeping into her voice.

“Because I’m taking her with us. She’s going to get herself killed if she stays out in the streets, and no matter what she’s done I want her to remain safe,” he replied, leaning against the wall by Desiree.

“Why? She’s a murderer.”

Frank glanced down at her. “So you say.”

***

Taj drove down the highway as fast as his car would go. If a police car were to take notice of him at the speed he was going then they would just have to chase him, because there was no way that Taj was going to willingly stop. He had to get to the cabin as soon as possible to warn Piper and Desiree that someone knew where they were. He wiped the sweat from his brow wondering what they would do next.

The Jamaican man looked over to phone lying next to him. He picked it up and dialed Piper’s cell phone number again. He had been trying for the past few hours to get in touch with her, but every time he dialed the number the phone would just ring and ring. It was starting to worry him that Piper would not answer her phone. Maybe he was too late. Taj shook his head trying to remain positive. Piper was an intelligent woman and she would know how to defend herself. Everything would be fine.

***

The phone began to ring again. Desiree started to get up to answer it but Frank ushered for her to stay seated. He made no move to pick it up himself as he crossed his arms over his chest. The phone stopped ringing after a couple of minutes.

“Whoever it was they were persistent,” the lawyer stated.

Desiree agreed with him. “Frank?”

He looked down at her. “How did you know where we were? How did you find out?” It had suddenly come to her attention that the only person who should have known they were there was Taj. Not another soul was supposed to have a clue.

Frank smiled down at her before glancing toward his watch. “Well I don’t have any other explanation for you other then the truth. Would you like to hear it?”

Desiree frowned slightly. Something did not seem right. “The truth is always good,” she replied.

“Well,” he pushed himself away from the wall, “first let’s start off with how Piper and I met.” He started to walk back and forth in front of Desiree. “We met in San Francisco almost nine years ago when she needed a lawyer because she killed her father. Did she tell you about that?”

“Yes. She told me everything.”

Frank nodded. “Very well. Well I went to the jail she was being held in and volunteered my services after learning what had happened. This brave young woman had killed her own father in order to protect her mother from the abuse he gave her regularly. My heart went out to young Piper, so I wanted to take the case. Much to my relief, she and her mother decided to choose me, and that’s where it all began. Unfortunately, I lost the case and Piper went to prison for eight years.” He glanced at Desiree. “You don’t know how I felt when the jury read the verdict. I still remember it like it was only yesterday. And then for Judge Richard Love to give her ten to fifteen, that was brutal. I remember looking over at her and she looked calm and cool.” He smiled slightly. “I admired her for that. I’ve seen some people who have totally broken down and started screaming and crying, but not her. After that, I didn’t see her again until she got out a few months ago. I held her in my arms and she cried because she was so happy to be free. I had never seen her cry before that day.” He paused gathering his thoughts. “Now all this has happened.” Frank shook his head. “I don’t believe she did any of it. In fact I know she didn’t.”

“How can you be so sure?” Desiree interjected.

Frank stopped pacing and looked at her. “Because I know who did it,” he stated quietly.

“Who?” The young woman almost whispered. Maybe Piper really was innocent.

The lawyer then took off the genuine appearing blond wig and put it in his pocket. Removing the green contacts from his eyes, he put those in his pocket as well. As he smiled at Desiree, she noted his dark hair and brown eyes, confusion plainly written on her face.

“I did,” he stated simply. He smiled again while announcing, “I’m Victor. Piper’s big brother.”

***

Piper stopped running through the woods and leaned up against a tree, trying to catch her breath. She had been running for nearly an hour and she was drenched in sweat. She thought about taking another dip in the lake, but changed her mind. What she needed to do was get back to the cabin, and figure out what she was going to do with Desiree. While running, Piper had concluded that this was all over. She would go back to the cabin and set the young woman free, by giving Desiree her keys and telling her she was free to leave. After that was done Piper would try to get out of the state as fast as she could. After she was settled somewhere she would write Desiree a letter and send it stating how sorry she was about what had happened.

Piper held up her hand, which was beginning to bruise from the blow she had given the strawberry-blonde earlier. Piper could have kicked herself after she did that. She had never wanted to hurt Desiree and now she had done it. Now the young woman thought that she was a murderer and after Piper thought about it, she could not blame her. If she were in Desiree’s position, she would have most likely thought the same thing. Piper flinched every time she thought back to when the young woman claimed that she hated her. A tear rolled down Piper’s cheek and she wiped it away harshly. She wished that she were dead.

Looking around the now dark woods the dark-haired woman took a deep breath. It was time to go back to the cabin and send Desiree on her way. She pushed away from the tree and headed back to the cabin.
***
Desiree felt instant fear again. “I thought Piper was an only child.”

“That’s what she thought too, but as you can see it’s not true.”

The young woman licked her lips. “Then you’re not Frank. You were only pretending to be him.”

“Oh, you don’t get it do you?” he asked giving her a pitying look.

“Get what?” she asked wondering how she could get out of here. Desiree did not think it would be wise to just get up and try to go since the man had a gun, and he looked quite strong.

“I am Frank.” At her puzzled look he continued. “I was pretending to be a lawyer all those years ago. I made Franklin Webb up. I still can’t believe how easy it was to get away with it.” He laughed. “I’ve also been an English fellow named Joe, and I’ll tell you about him shortly.”

“Wait a minute. Her own brother was her lawyer and she didn’t know about it?”

“That’s right cutie. I used to hug her during the trial, like I told you she never cried but sometimes she needed comfort. Well sometimes I would hug her and I would have to restrain myself from snapping her neck.”

Desiree felt like she was going to be sick. “Why?”

He stared at her as if she were the stupidest person he had ever met. “You still don’t get it?”

“Get what?” she asked with a touch of irritation in her voice. Calm down girl. He has a gun, she mused to herself.

Victor sighed. “She killed my father. It took every ounce of control I had not to kill her a long time ago. It had to be perfect. Everything had to be just right.” He started to pace again. “You see I wanted her to suffer. Giving her death simply was not enough, so I made it that she would spend years in jail only to come out and have the threat of going back again. But this time I wasn’t going to let her go. No, my little sister would die before she went back in and everyone would know that I did it, because I would simply claim that she came after me because she found out that I was Alan Redding’s son. She was so angry and insane that she tried to kill me, but I got to her first. Of course, as you should know that plan flew out the window when I found out that she was missing, and so were you.” Victor shook his head. “Boy was I upset, because I was just about to go after her, and she pulls this stunt.” He took a deep breath. “So ever since last Monday I’ve been looking for you two. Searching and searching and finally I find out where you are from this guy Piper used to know in high school. Did she tell you about Tommy Jung?”

Her voice having deserted her, Desiree merely shook her head in the negative.

“Well he along with another guy Taj Potter were her friends during high school. Do you know Taj?”

Desiree nodded.

“Yes, I know him too. That asshole wouldn’t tell me a damn thing. But that’s okay because Tommy told me.” He fell silent for a moment still pacing. “So let’s talk about Joe.” He laughed. “I gave myself an English accent when I spoke as him. I have to admit I sounded very much like a true Brit. Anyway, I went to Judge Love, your daddy one night and gave him a proposition. I told him if he sentenced Piper to at least ten years in prison than I would give him twenty thousand dollars. He did and I mailed him the money, but she got out early so I suppose I’ll have to pay your daddy another visit. I know. After he finds out that you are dead as well as Piper then he’ll kill himself. He’ll be so distraught over your death and his own guilt that he’ll take a gun to his head and blow his brains out.” He laughed merrily. “Perfect.” He looked over at Desiree who was staring at him like a deer trapped in the sights of a hunter. “Don’t you think?” She didn’t answer so he asked again. When she still didn’t answer he came over and backslapped her. Feeling the painful sting in her cheek, Desiree’s eyes blurred with tears.

“I asked you a question. When you’re asked a question, you answer it. Don’t be rude Desiree.”

She nodded, and he went back to pacing. “I agree. Anyway, I knew that wasn’t enough. So, this is what I did. You know there are four jurors who died right?”

Desiree nodded again.

“Well I killed them of course. At least three of them anyway. I didn’t do the last job. Anyway, during the trial I offered all four of them five thousand dollars to convince the other jurors that Piper was innocent. I let them all think that Piper had orchestrated it, so years later the police could find out that she had paid them off. Therefore, when they ended up dead then her motive for killing them would be that they didn’t do what they were supposed to do. Now, you may ask how I could be so sure that they wouldn’t be able to convince the other jurors to vote in Piper’s favor. Well I pretty much knew that the verdict would be guilty, because as her lawyer I purposely messed up so badly that I made the prosecutors look even better than they were. I also made sure to tick off the judge, the jury, Piper, and her mama. I’d say stuff that would make the jury glare at me, and Piper would ask me on more than what occasion what I was doing and was I trying to get her put in jail. I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. She kept me anyway though, because sometimes I would do well and we became friends. Besides, it was too late for she and her mother to get another lawyer. Speaking of her mother you heard she passed away a couple years after Piper was put in prison, didn’t you?”

Desiree nodded.

“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.”

“Why would you kill her mother?”

Victor shrugged. “I was upset. Here my mother was a great woman, but he leaves us and marries Marie. She wasn’t good enough for him, and she deserved all the beatings he gave her. I’ll have you know that my father never had to lay a hand on my mother. She knew how to take care of him and she was a good wife. I loved every moment of Marie’s fear when she knew she was about to die. The look in her eyes was priceless.” A maniacal laugh fell from his lips. “I should have videotaped it.”

“You are truly a sick bastard,” Desiree said in a voice riddled with disgust.

Victor glanced at her and shrugged a bit. “Maybe I am, but I’m not the one who is about to die.” He took the gun out again and showed it to her. “Do you know what this is?”

Desiree looked up at him, briefly wondering if that were a trick question. “It’s a gun.”

He slapped her again on the other cheek. “Don’t be smart. I know it’s a gun, I mean do you know what type of a gun?”

She shook her head while touching the newly painful spot.

Victor sighed. “Women aren’t good for much more than cooking, doing what a man tells them to do and popping out babies.” He paused. “And the occasional beating when they need it. In fact, the only woman on this earth who I thought was worthy of being here was my mother. She died of a stroke last year, leaving only my sister and I. This,” he held the gun out again, “is a glock 17 9mm. Nice isn’t it?”

Not wanting to make him angry again, Desiree nodded. “It is,” she stated quietly.

“Do you know where I got the money to pay the judge and the jurors? A detective’s salary isn’t that much.”

“No, I don’t.” But I’m sure you’d be more than happy to tell me.

“Robbed a couple of banks in some small towns.” He laughed. “They never knew it was me, and it was so easy. I even saved a little bit for myself. Well for my family at least. I have a couple of children you know. I guess that makes Piper an aunt.”

“Do you think they would be proud of what you did?” Desiree asked. “Your children.”

“No they wouldn’t. But they don’t need to know. What they don’t know won’t hurt them. Right?”

“Absolutely.”

Victor nodded. “I’m glad that you see it my way. I’ll be right back.” Detective Redding went to the front door opened and grabbed a bag from outside. Closing the door, he came towards Desiree with a blue sports bag in his hand. He put it on the floor and unzipped it taking out a rope. He instructed Desiree to put her hands behind the back of the chair, and when she did, he tied her wrists together tightly. He then came around to the front and tied her legs to the front legs on the chair. Standing up he exclaimed, “That ought to do it.” Moving back to the bag, he reached inside and took out a can of kerosene. He showed it to Desiree. “Do you know what I’m going to use this for?”

“Are you going to burn me up?” Desiree felt a knot forming in her throat and swallowed. This man put the “p” in psychopath.

Victor laughed as though her reply was extremely funny. “Why I do believe you are getting smarter! Yes I am. Both you and Piper when she gets back. When will she be back anyway?” He glanced at his watch. “I’m anxious to get this over and done with.” He took the top off the kerosene and started splashing the liquid around the room. He put the liquid on the carpet, the walls, the computer, the kitchen table, and other places. Finally emptying the can, he put it back in the sports bag.

“Won’t that look odd?” Desiree asked.

“What?”

“Well, when the police find this place they may find out that the fire started due to kerosene. How are you going to explain that?”

“I won’t. I was never here. Nobody knows I’m up here now and nobody will ever know. So when they– if they ever find this place I had nothing to do with it,” he replied confidently. “My hands are clean,” he paused. “Well not really, but it’ll look that way.” Victor chuckled.

“So how will my father kill himself over my death when he doesn’t know that I’m dead?”
Detective Redding thought about that. “Good point. I’m going so fast I forgot about that.” He paused. “Okay. No problem. I’ll say this. I was here, but when I got here Piper was dousing the cabin with kerosene because Taj called her and warned her I was hot on her trail. Not wanting to leave any evidence behind that she was here, she puts it on fire in her haste to get away. So I get here, rush into the cabin, which is now on fire and she tries to kill me but I kill her first. It was self-defense. Unfortunately, due to the rising flames and smoke I can’t see you tied up over here, so I rush out of the cabin and it blows up, killing you in the process. How about that?”

Damn. “Do you honestly expect the police to believe that?”

“Yes I do. A lot of people respect me and they would never doubt me.”

“What about the fact that you’re her brother?”

“Nobody alive on this planet knows that except you, my sister and I. She’s not talking and neither are you because you’ll be dead.”

“Did you try to kill my brother?”

“No, I didn’t. I forgot to tell you about that. This is what happened. I shot him, wearing a mask and everything, but I made sure that it wasn’t fatal. Before I shot him, I instructed him how to tell the police what happened. I told Richie to tell the police that Piper Redding tried to kill him. If he didn’t do all that I told him to do, then I would come after his whole family. Obviously, the guy listened to me.”

Oh, Piper. I’m so sorry, Desiree thought to herself while on the verge of tears.

Just then, they heard a key working in the door and the detective rushed over to it. He shot twice before he even saw who it was. The person in the doorway fell face down to the ground. Victor put the gun in his waistband and dragged the body into the cabin. Desiree gasped when she saw the person.

The detective smiled triumphantly. “Well look who we have here. Piper has arrived.”

“Y-y-you killed her! You bastard!” Desiree shouted, noticing the blood that was starting to pool around the woman’s head. Victor must have shot her in the head with the two bullets he fired.

The detective looked at her in surprise. “What’s the matter? She takes you hostage, and by that bruise on your jaw she abused you too, and you’re upset by her death?”

“I loved her!” Desiree blurted starting to cry.

Victor rolled his eyes. “Oh, great. You’re not only stupid but you’re a dyke. I knew she was but you too?” He tsked. “And you’re so cute. What a waste.” He shrugged. “Oh well. It doesn’t matter because you’re about to die anyway.” He went to his duffel bag again and took out a matchbook. Next, he went around the room lighting matches and tossed them in various places. Mini fires started that would soon turn into huge ones. He went to his bag and picked it up. “Well I have to be going now.” He smiled at her. “Oh, don’t cry cutie. You and my sister will be together again soon. You’re about to join her in Hell.”

When Victor turned around his nose connected with a fist, which caused him to stumble backwards, almost falling on Desiree in the process. Before he could straighten up again, he took another blow to his right cheek, which made him fall to the floor. Victor hurried to his feet and took out his gun shooting the person who was attacking him. The attacker did not seem to notice as the gun was kicked out of Victor’s hand and the other person caught it in the air. As the person pointed it at Victor’s head, the detective finally got a good look. Meanwhile, the fire was starting to quickly burn out of control.

“Well well well. If it isn’t the boy.” He smiled brightly. “How are you Taj…oops I mean Mr. Potter?”

“Better than you’re about to be,” Taj replied as he pulled the trigger three times. Victor fell to the floor instantly dead from two bullet wounds in his head and one in his chest. Taj knew the cabin was about to blow, so he did not bother untying Desiree. Instead he picked her up and carried her outside along with the chair. He then went back inside, trying to dodge the flames as he moved to the body lying by the front door. Taj knelt down and put two fingers on her neck feeling for a pulse although he did not expect to find one. He was right. It was too late to save her.

Taj put a hand to his mouth and swallowed trying to hold back the tears. He kissed her on the back of the head and said, “Farewell my friend.” Taj rushed back outside and hurriedly untied the ropes, releasing Desiree from the chair. He then grabbed her and started running away from the house just as it started to collapse. Desiree fought him, trying to go back to the cabin.

“No!” she shouted. “Piper is in there. I have to go get her!”

“She’s dead, Desi.” He was able to pull her back since he was stronger than she was.

“No! Let me go. Let me go, damn you!” she cried.

Just then the cabin exploded and flames flew high through the sky. Desiree screamed and collapsed to the ground. Taj put his arms around her as tears fell from his own eyes.

“NO! NO! PIPER!” Desiree screamed over and over again as Taj held her, trying to offer her some comfort. They watched the flames licking at the cabin, destroying it as well as someone very dear to them.
CHAPTER 6
Sandra Love was waxing the kitchen floor when she heard a knock on the door. Briskly walking towards the front door, she opened to find her oldest child standing there with a rather large lavender duffel bag in hand. Larisa smiled and gave her mother a quick peck on the cheek before strolling passed her into the apartment. She put the bag down and regarded her mother after Sandra closed the door.

“So how is she?” the younger woman asked, wearing a worried expression.

Sandra let out a loud breath. “Not too good.” She paused. “I honestly don’t know what’s going on with her. She won’t eat or do anything else but lay in that bed all the time.”

“Her friend just died five days ago Mother, and she nearly lost her own life,” Larisa replied. “That can take a lot out of a person.”

“Her friend? That woman almost got my child killed,” Sandra retorted with a tinge of anger in her voice.

Her daughter took a deep calming breath. “Then in that case, your husband almost got your child killed too.” Larisa was beginning to become angry herself. A lot of the time her mother had the ability to not observe a situation from all sides.

Sandra’s blue-green eyes opened wide. “Don’t you dare say a thing like that to me,” she demanded.

“I’ll mind my tongue, if you mind yours,” Larisa said in the most pleasant voice she could muster at the moment. It seemed like she and her mother were always fighting over one plight or another. It had always been that way between them. Out of Richard and Sandra’s three children, Larisa had been the most rebellious and outspoken, which caused her to get grounded on a regular basis.

“You watch your mouth young lady.”

Her daughter sighed. “Mother I am twenty-nine years old. All I’m trying to say is I wish that you wouldn’t talk about Piper. The woman is dead, and yes she took Desiree hostage, but if you really think about it can you blame her? Maybe it wasn’t the smartest decision, and she ended up losing her life, but it’s obvious that Desiree cared about her, and she’s hurting right now. So, I think that we should focus on making her feel better, and stop all the blaming. It’s over so let’s try to move on. My sister’s and your daughter’s health is the most important thing now. Don’t forget that.”

With that said Larisa began to walk towards Desiree’s bedroom, without waiting for a reply from her mother. She knocked on the door softly, but did not receive an invitation to enter, so she opened the door and walked on in, closing the door behind her. What she saw broke her heart. Desiree was lying in her queen-sized bed curled up in a tight ball. She had the sheets and blanket up to her neck while staring at the stark white wall. Her hair was a mess and her eyes were puffy and red from crying and had dark circles around them, as if she had not been sleeping well or at all.

Larisa slowly walked towards the bed and touched her younger sister on the shoulder. Desiree did not respond to the touch so she bent down and gave her a kiss on the nose, like she used to do when Desiree didn’t feel well. It used to bring a smile out of the younger woman, but this time not even a ghost of a smile appeared. Larisa straightened up and sat on the edge of the bed. It was then that she saw one tear escape Desiree’s eye. Looking on the nightstand, she spied a box of tissues. Larisa snatched one from the box and gently wiped her little sister’s cheek.

“Desi?” she whispered.

After a moment, Desiree moved her eyes to Larisa. She looked at her and tried to smile, but she could not. She sat up in the bed, putting her back against the headboard. Taking one of Larisa’s hands in her own, she gave it a light squeeze. Desiree then stared at her older sister for a moment.

“I feel so empty inside,” the strawberry-blonde stated hoarsely.

Larisa reached over and gave her a quick hug. She sat back and replied, “I know. But as time goes on you’ll start to heal.” Larisa paused, trying to find the right words. Helping people in their time of need was more of Desiree’s domain. “You really liked her, didn’t you?”

The strawberry-blonde smiled sadly. “I liked her a lot. It’s bizarre because she did kidnap me, but…we could have been…friends.”

“It’ll be okay little sis. You’ll see.”

Both women fell silent for a moment. “Is mom still here?” Desiree asked.

“Of course she is. I think I interrupted her waxing the floor.”

Desiree let out a short bark of laughter. “I think she must have been a maid in a past life. That’s all she’s been doing for the past four days. Vacuuming, polishing, mopping, washing…” She paused. “As if that’s going to make everything better, but I know she’s just trying to help. But between you and me,” Desiree leaned towards Larisa conspiratorially, “she’s driving me nuts.”

As soon as Desiree had got re-settled into her home, Sandra had been there every single moment. For the first few days, Richard had been there, but he had to fly back to San Francisco yesterday, because the hospital was releasing Richie Jr. He promised his wife that he would be back tomorrow along with his son.

Larisa laughed heartily. “Well you know how she used to fuss over us when we got sick.”

“Oh, I remember all too well.”

***

Sandra was just putting away the mop when she heard the doorbell rang. She walked towards the front door hastily and opened it. Her temper rose when she saw whom it was.

“What are you doing here?” Sandra asked tersely.

Taj took a deep breath, removing his round black-rimmed sunglasses that had a blue tint. “I came to see Desiree.”

“Well she has another visitor.”

“Would it be possible for me to wait then?” Taj asked patiently. From the first moment he had laid eyes on this woman, he knew they were going to have problems. He half could not blame the woman for acting the way she did towards him. The Jamaican man mused to himself that if the situation were reversed he would most likely be acting like Sandra was.

“Well I’m very busy, and I don’t want anyone in my way,” Sandra replied.

“Then I’ll wait outside.”

“No you won’t,” Larisa said having come into the room after hearing two different voices. She came towards the door standing next to her mother. “Taj please come in. You are very and always welcome here.” As Larisa said the last sentence, she looked at her mother. She grabbed Taj’s arm and led him into the apartment, shutting the door behind him.

Sandra took her daughter by the arm and walked a few feet away from where Taj was standing somewhat uncomfortably. “You have no right to invite just anybody into your sister’s home,” Sandra whispered.

“Taj is just not anybody,” Larisa replied with a tinge of anger. “In case it has slipped your mind, he saved Desiree’s life. She would have been dead if he hadn’t come along when he did.”

“If it wasn’t for that man and that other woman my daughter’s life would not have been put in jeopardy. As far as I’m concerned that man didn’t do anything he shouldn’t have done.”

Larisa sighed, putting a hand to her forehead. She could feel a headache approaching. This happened most of the time when she was around her mother. It was the reason why she always kept a bottle of aspirin in her purse, when she knew she was going to see the woman. Instead of offering a reply, Larisa left her mother standing there and walked back over to Taj. She smiled up at the tall man. Unlike her mother, from the first moment Larisa had seen Taj she knew that he was someone she could be good friends with.

“Taj, she’s in her bedroom.” She led him over to Desiree’s closed bedroom door. “She’s awake.”

“How is she doing?” he asked, concern plainly written on his face.

Larisa sighed. “One moment she’s melancholy and the next she makes me laugh.” She squeezed Taj’s arm. “She needs help. Maybe you can give it to her.”

Taj smiled warmly. “I’ll do my best.” He knocked on the door to hear Desiree say come in. Opening the door Taj walked in and smiled back at Larisa who was walking away. He closed the door behind him and turned around to face Desiree, who was sitting up in the bed.

“Hey Desi,” he said.

“Taj,” she replied in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

He walked to the bed and sat down. “I came to see you.”

Desiree’s blue-green eyes began to glisten with tears. “I didn’t think I would ever see you again.”

“Why wouldn’t you?” Taj inquired.

“Because you were Piper’s friend.” She shrugged not knowing what else to say.

“Desi.” Taj shook his head. “If you were not already so upset I would put you over my knees and spank you. How could you think that? True I’ve known Piper for years, but you have become my friend too.” He smiled brightly. “Besides she’d come back and haunt me if I didn’t come to see you.” He wiped away a few tears that were running down her cheeks, with the padding of his thumbs. “I care about you, Desi,” he said seriously. “And if you don’t mind I’d like it if we could hang out. Go places together. You know, the things that friends do.”

“I’d like that very much,” Desiree replied, trying not to cry again.

“Good. ‘Cause so would I.” Taj put a bag on Desiree’s lap that she had seen him come in with. It had the name of a toy store on the front.

“What is this?” Desiree inquired in wonder.

“It’s for you. Open it.”

Desiree shook her head, smiling slightly. She considered that Taj most likely was the sweetest man that she had ever met. She opened the bag and what she saw made her eyes tear up again. She wiped them away in frustration, tired of crying so much. She took out the stuffed animal that was a cat. It even had a collar that looked like Taj must have bought it separately.

Desiree looked up at Taj and said, “Thank you, Taj. This is so sweet of you.”

“You like it?”

She nodded. “I do. I really do.”

“Good, because I didn’t know how you would react to it. I intentionally didn’t get a stuffed animal that had the colors of Tobias, because I figured that might be too overwhelming for you.”

“It’s perfect.” She squeezed the fluffy white-haired stuffed animal to her while noting it’s bright blue eyes. Swallowing with difficulty, she held back the tears that threatened to come again. Those eyes reminded her so much of Piper.

“I’m glad you like it.” He paused wondering how to pose what he wanted to ask. “How long have you been in this bed?”

Desiree answered sheepishly, “Pretty much ever since I got home.”

Taj shook his head, suddenly looking like a worried parental figure. “That’s not good, Desi. How do you expect to heal right if you don’t try to help yourself? You can’t just stay in this bed all the time. That’s not going to make you feel better.”

The young woman looked down at her cat and rubbed its head as thought it was real. “I know,” she quietly agreed. Desiree had tried to get out of bed, but it took too much effort.

“I have to do something today,” Taj started.

Desiree looked up at him, silently waiting for the Jamaican man to continue.

“I have Piper’s remains,” he said softly. “I’m going to spread her ashes in the water at Cabrillo Beach.”

“And?” Desiree inquired while getting the feeling that Taj was beating around the bush.

“And I would really appreciate it if you would go with me.”

Desiree shook her head negatively. “I can’t Taj. I’m sorry, but that’s something that I’m not prepared to handle. Maybe Larisa will go with you. Why don’t you ask her?”

Taj peered at her and asked quietly, “Please? I want you to go. Maybe this will help you to heal easier.”

“Dumping her in the ocean is supposed to help me?”

“Lying here in bed and feeling sorry for yourself is helping you?” Taj countered.

Desiree thought about it for a few moments. Finally, she threw back the covers and sat on the edge of the bed next to Taj. She took one of his hands in her own and squeezed it. Peering into his brown eyes she said, “I’ll go. Give me half an hour, okay?”

Taj smiled and pecked her on the cheek. “Okay. I’ll be in the living room unless your mother puts me out.” Chuckling, he stood up and walked towards the door, leaving the room.

After he was gone, Desiree reached under the bed and took out the half full bottle of gin she had been nursing. Twisting the cap off she took a few long swigs before the putting the bottle back under the bed. Getting up, Desiree straightened out the sheets and cover on her bed, putting her cat on the pillow, before heading towards the private bathroom she had in her room. She turned on the light and looking at her reflection in the mirror caused the young woman to grimace. Too put it bluntly, she looked like she had been on a ten day drinking binge.

Turning away from the telltale mirror, Desiree peeled off her pajamas before entering the shower. Twisting the knob, she turned on the water as hot as she could bear it. Picking up her pink sponge, she generously put the liquid soap on it and squeezed with her small hands until the sponge was soapy. Proceeding to scrub her body vigorously, Desiree then rinsed off, closing her eyes as the hot water relaxed sore and tense muscles. Opening her eyes a couple minutes later, Desiree reached for the bottle of shampoo and started to wash her hair, repeating twice after rinsing. Turning the water off, Desiree wrung some of the water from her hair before getting out of the tub and grabbing a towel from underneath the bathroom cabinet, quickly drying off.

Wiping the condensation off the mirror with the towel, Desiree stared at the image before her. Tears began to form in her eyes as she wondered for the five-hundredth time how life could be so cruel. You found a person that made your heart fill with joy, only to have them snatched away from you abruptly. She had found happiness with someone, albeit someone with quite a few problems, but Piper had been very special to her. All she had been doing for the past few days was think about Piper and the few precious days that they had been lucky enough to share with one another. Fishing, teasing, playing games, making love. The strawberry-blonde shook her wet head. This was all so unreal. She wished that it was all just a horrible nightmare and soon she would awaken in Piper’s arms.

Taking a blow dryer out from underneath the cabinet, Desiree plugged it into the socket. She closed her eyes tightly while wondering how people could find the strength to go on after losing someone that they loved. Opening her eyes, Desiree looked up towards the ceiling.

“Well,” she began, “you said you would be my do-whatever after all this was over Piper, so here is your first thing to do. Come back to me.”

***

Taj was reclining on the blue couch in Desiree’s living room when the young woman came out of her bedroom. He stood up and smiled in delight at what he saw. Desiree had managed to considerably fix herself up from the way she had looked only about thirty minutes ago. She was wearing a pair of khaki pants and a short-sleeved white blouse under a white cardigan. A headband that perfectly matched her pants held her hair back. On her feet were white tennis shoes that she wore without socks. Desiree had even put on a little lipstick. Her eyes still looked puffy, red, and the dark circles could still be detected, but it was a great improvement overall.

“You ready to go?” Taj asked.

Desiree smiled slightly. “Sure.” She looked past Taj to see her mother peeking out from the kitchen with a dishcloth in her hands. “I’m gone, Mom. See you in a little while.” She beckoned Taj to follow her to the door and opened it to go out when she heard Sandra calling her name. Turning around, Desiree looked at her mother wondering what she wanted.

“Do you think it’s wise for you to go out with someone you hardly know?” Sandra asked, twisting the cloth in her hands.

Desiree sighed. She was hardly feeling in the mood to argue with her. “Mom, I-”

“Taj isn’t a stranger. She knows him just fine,” Larisa interjected before her younger sister could say anything more. She was standing behind her mother with a plate in her hand. “Mother we have dishes to finish so stop holding Desiree here against her will.” She waved the plate at Sandra who was glaring at her for interrupting. Larisa only offered her a saccharinely sweet smile before she turned her attention to Taj and Desiree, who were still standing by the opened front door. “Please go you two.” Sandra stormed past her oldest daughter into the kitchen without another word.

Taj motioned Desiree to exit the door first before he made to leave the apartment. Before she did so, she gave her sister a grateful look for stepping in. Larisa smiled and winked at her in return. Hearing Larisa call his name softly just as he began to close the door, Taj looked over at her questioningly.

“Thank you,” she mouthed. She was glad that someone had managed to get her little sister out of the house. Larisa had complete faith that Taj would take care of Desiree, and she knew that the depressed young woman was in good hands.

Taj smiled at her warmly. “My pleasure,” he mouthed back before closing the door behind him.
As Taj walked out into the sun, he removed his shades from the collar of his shirt and put them back on. He located Desiree patiently standing on the passenger side of his 1998 black Jaguar XK8 convertible. This car was his most prized possession. There was not a day that went by when he would not polish it with a special cloth he kept in the glove compartment. He made sure to check the car for scratches everyday. When his older brother, Dion and his family had come to visit a couple of months ago, Dion had claimed that he was insane when he saw his little brother fussing over his Jaguar. Taj had only replied that the man was jealous because his wife had forced him to give up his Porsche in order to get a more family oriented vehicle.

“Nice sports car, Taj,” Desiree remarked admiring the shiny automobile. She had ridden in it back to Los Angeles but had been in too much shock at the time to notice the Jaguar. It could have been a neon pink Cadillac for all she knew.

The Jamaican man grinned as he released the lock on the doors with the electronic car door opener on his keys. After the car beeped, Desiree opened it to get in. Taj opened the door on the opposite side and got in the driver’s seat. The inside of the car was white. White seats, white floor, white floor mats… Desiree shook her head. This was as daring as the white carpet Taj had at his cabin.

Taj put the key in the ignition and soon they were speeding off down the street. The top was down and the Jamaican man wondered if it was too much for his passenger, although it was a beautiful southern California day with not a single cloud in the sky and a calm breeze blowing. “Do you want me to put the top up, Desi?” Taj asked, glancing at her.

Desiree turned to him and shook her head. The warm wind blowing in her face felt wonderful. “It’s nice. I’ve never been in a convertible before.”

“Really?” he asked.

Desiree shook her head again. “Nope.” She looked up towards the clear blue sky watching a Goodyear blimp for a couple minutes before turning her attention back to Taj. “Could we make a stop before heading to the beach?” she asked him.

“Of course. Where do you want to go?”

“A jewelry store.”

Taj thought for a moment. “I know where one is on the way. We can stop there.”

Fifteen minutes later they were pulling into the parking lot of the jewelry store Taj had been referring to. Desiree jumped out the car, telling Taj that she would not be long. He nodded turning off the ignition. The strawberry-blonde went into the store and exited a few minutes later with a small plastic bag in her hand. She got in the car after Taj took off the alarm. He looked at her curiously while wondering what was in the bag.

“You hurried out of there pretty fast, little one. What did you do? Rob the place?” He chuckled. “You’re not carrying a purse.”

Desiree looked at him a faint smile on her lips. “Lost my purse at the cabin. I found a handy piece of plastic in my drawer and it’s in my pocket.”

“Yeah, right.” Taj started the car, put the gear in reverse, and backed out. “But that’s okay, Desi. I won’t tell anyone what you did,” he teased, a grin on his lips.

Desiree laughed softly, thinking that Taj reminded her a lot of Piper. They both had pretty much the same sense of humor, and the young woman was glad that Taj had decided to remain in her life, even though Piper was no longer living. He made her laugh and she found that very comforting. Impulsively, Desiree reached over and gave Taj a hug when the car came to a halt. The startled man wound his arms around her and wordlessly hugged her back tightly. Afterwards, Desiree sat back down in her seat and buckled her seat belt.

A few minutes later the pair was on the freeway headed towards San Pedro, the home of Cabrillo Beach. Desiree happened to look in the back seat and spotted a brown supermarket paper bag behind Taj’s seat. Her breath caught for a moment as she thought of what or rather who was in it. She turned her eyes to Taj and swallowed, her blue-green eyes shining with fresh tears that threatened to spill.

“Taj?” she whispered.

He looked over at her noticing her distressed expression. “What’s the matter Desi?” he asked in concern.

Not giving a ready reply, she pointed to behind his seat. “What’s in there? That bag I mean.”
Taj let out a ragged breath turning his attention back to the freeway. “An urn with Piper’s remains,” he replied quietly.

The strawberry-blonde nodded mutely turning to stare out to her right. A tear cascaded down her cheek to that she quickly wiped away with the back of her hand. She felt a warm hand squeeze her shoulder before it pulled away. They drove a few more minutes in silence, before Taj could not take it anymore. Not really wanting to listen to the radio, he reached behind Desiree’s seat and brought out a compact disc case. He handed the leather case to Desiree and asked her to choose a CD from it to play.

The strawberry-blonde rifled through the case looking through the clear plastic at the different titles. She finally chose a CD and extracted it to insert in Taj’s CD player. She then pressed a button on the CD player in order to change tracks before putting the case back behind her seat and sitting back to listen, closing her eyes. Taj was interested to know what Desiree had selected, but he did not have to ponder for long.

Sorry I never told you
All I wanted to say
And now it’s too late to hold you
‘Cause you’ve flown away

Not this song, Taj thought, as he glanced over at his passenger. Desiree still had her eyes closed tightly. He tampered with the idea of stopping the song from playing, but changed his mind. If this was what Desiree needed to listen to, then she wouldn’t get any objections from him. People had different ways of dealing with their grief.

Never had I imagined
Living without your smile
Feeling and knowing you hear me
It keeps me alive, alive

After switching lanes, Taj took notice of the lone tear rolling down Desiree’s cheek, although her eyes were still closed. She had her hands balled up into fists as if she was trying to hold the pain and agony inside. Taj shook his head. She would never heal correctly if she didn’t just let it out. If she were to continue on this path, then the young woman would eventually explode such as a ticking time bomb does. Taj reached over and encased one of Desiree’s fists in his own. He was pleased that she did not pull away from the contact.

Darling I never showed you
Assumed you’d always be there
I, I took you for granted
But I always cared

Hearing a soft gasp come from the young woman, Taj quickly turned his eyes to her. She had her eyes open now looking to her right. He could see the wet tracks on the left side of her face that had been left from the tears. He reached into his black leather jacket and extracted a white handkerchief. Taj held it out to Desiree. She took it and gave him a slight smile before returning her attention back to her right.

Although the sun will never shine the same
I’ll always look to a brighter day

Desiree removed her hand from under Taj’s and clasped his own tightly. The Jamaican man noticed that the palm of the young woman’s hand was cold and clammy. He hoped that his much warmer one would heat it up a bit.

And I know you’re shining down on me from heaven
Like so many friends we’ve lost along the way
And I know eventually we’ll be together
One sweet day

Desiree sniffed and dabbed her face with the soft handkerchief Taj had given to her. She wondered not for the first time if Piper knew that she was awfully sorry for what had happened between them on their last meeting. It was killing her that their last time together had been spent yelling and threatening one another. Piper, if by some chance you can hear my thoughts please know that I’m so sorry for ever doubting you. I love you.

Sorry I never told you
All I wanted to say

***

Arriving at Cabrillo Beach, Taj found a parking space and informed Desiree that he would not be long before leaving her alone in the car. About ten minutes later Taj returned, and raised the hood on his Jaguar and grabbed the brown bag from the back seat before he led Desiree, who was carrying her own small bag from the jewelry store to the water’s edge. Taj had rented a boat for them to take out into the water. He asked her if she had ever been on a boat before, and the young woman exclaimed that she had once or twice a few years back on her uncle’s forty-five foot Bayliner.

The Jamaican man helped Desiree into the boat and then got in himself, setting the bag down beside him. Handing the young woman a life jacket, he put one on himself after removing his leather jacket. The boat wasn’t motorized so Taj had to paddle. Desiree tried to help but he was dead set against it, telling her to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Taj paddled them out until they were about a half-mile from shore. Both of them noticed that the water was calm today. Desiree reached a hand down and ran it through the water finding it quite warm. She wished that Piper were here because she would have loved to go swimming with the blue-eyed woman. She bet the woman would have looked great in a swimsuit. Thinking of Piper caused Desiree’s eyes to tear up so she tried to turn her attention to the birds soaring up above.

Hearing the crinkle of the bag being opened, Desiree glanced at it with her heart starting to beat faster. She didn’t know how she would react to seeing an urn and knowing that what was left of the woman she had come to love so quickly was inside of it. Instead of taking out the urn, Taj took out two clear plastic cups and something wrapped in a wad of newspaper. He removed the newspaper and held up a bottle of champagne for his companion to see. It was a bottle of 1978 Dom Perignon that Taj explained he had put in the freezer before leaving to come to Desiree’s apartment. Briefly touching the bottle, she removed her now chilled fingers.

Taj opened the champagne and poured some into each plastic cup until they were both half full. He explained that was all he would be consuming, since he considered himself the designated driver. He handed a cup to Desiree and told the young woman that she could make a toast if she wanted to. Desiree started to decline, but changed her mind. If there were anyone in the world that she would feel comfortable talking about Piper in front of, it would be the person sitting in front of her. She started to speak, but then asked Taj if he would mind going first. He didn’t have a problem with it so he went first, but not before warning Desiree that he was never any good with putting into words what he felt.

“Piper,” he started gazing down at the cup in his hands, “I’ve known you ever since we were in high school, and I thank God that you came into my life. I’m proud to say that I knew you, because you were a very special person. You brought joy into my life, and I’m happy that I can call you my best friend. I will love you forever,” he paused and Desiree noticed his brown eyes starting to glisten with moisture. She reached over and squeezed his hand for encouragement. “Be obedient up there in heaven instead of a donkey’s rear-end. I don’t want you to get kicked out.”

Desiree laughed and Taj followed suit. He wiped his eyes gesturing for Desiree to begin. She took a deep breath and cleared her throat, choosing to look at the water. “I…um I don’t know exactly what to say. Piper, I want to apologize for the way I acted. If I’d had more faith in you, maybe you would be alive today.” Taj started to say something but Desiree motioned for him not to. He settled for shaking his head. “I want you to know that I truly did love you, although it didn’t seem like I did at the end. I didn’t show it and I’ll never be able to forgive myself for being so blind and stubborn. When you love someone you are supposed to believe in them,” her voice broke and she gulped, “and…and I couldn’t do that. I wish that we could have had more time together, but like they say, life is short. I hope you forgive me. I love you so much, and I will continue to love you until the day that I die. I know that you are not truly gone, because you will always be alive in my heart. You hold a special place there that no one else could ever touch. I know I’ll see you again someday.”

Her head dropping forward, she began to softly cry. Immediately putting his cup down, Taj pulled her into his embrace. She wrapped her own arms around his neck and cried on his shoulder. The Jamaican man began a rocking motion while he rubbed Desiree’s back, telling her that everything would be all right. After a few minutes the young woman had her emotions under control again and sat back, wiping her face with Taj’s handkerchief. Picking up his cup, Taj waited for Desiree to do the same. She did and they touched their cups together before taking a sip. Well at least for Taj it was a sip. He noticed with a raised eyebrow that the strawberry-blonde drained all contents of the cup in one long swallow. She asked him if she could have some more and he nodded mutely. Desiree picked up the bottle and poured the amber liquid into the cup until it threatened to spill over the brim. She soon finished that cupful, but drank slower this time. She wanted to get another cupful, but did not want to risk being reprimanded or questioned by Taj, so Desiree placed her empty cup on the boat floor while glancing at the champagne bottle longingly.

Reaching into the paper sack, Taj carefully removed the urn. He set the silver urn in front of him and glanced at Desiree. After her eyes caught a glimpse of the urn, the young woman quickly turned away. The strawberry-blonde had no desire to see what her lover had been reduced to. Looking at the urn had caused Desiree’s eyes to tear up again, and she mentally chastised herself for acting like a big baby.

The Jamaican man cleared his throat to speak. “Desi, do you want…or should I…”

She knew what the man was trying to get at. Desiree glanced at Taj replying, “If you don’t mind, would you…do the honors.”

He nodded, removing the lid from the urn. The Jamaican man then grasped the urn between his hands and made to toss the contents of it into the water, when he felt a hand on his shirt trying to stall him. Taj looked over at Desiree who was taking something out of her bag from the jewelry store. She took out a small black velvet case. Inside the case was a fourteen carat gold-filled heart-shaped locket, embellished with a ten carat pink gold rose with two twelve carat green gold leaves on either side of it. The piece of jewelry was hooked on to a twenty-inch gold-filled rope chain. Desiree held up the delicate jewelry in her hands and opened the heart locket. She then reached over to Taj, who still had the urn in his hands, and she hesitantly put a hand inside of the urn. Taj watched, understanding what she was about to do. Desiree’s hand came out with a pinch of ash between her thumb and first finger. She placed the bit of ash in the locket, closed it, and put the chain around her neck. Desiree motioned Taj to continue, afraid to look at his face in case the man was staring at her strangely for what she just did. Instead, she missed the look of compassion plainly written on the Jamaican man’s face. Turning to his left, Taj tipped the urn over the side of the boat and the pair watched, as Piper’s remains spread into the water. Hearing a soft gasp from his companion, Taj put a comforting arm around Desiree’s shoulders. They stayed there in the water watching for a little while longer before they headed back to the water’s edge.

Ten minutes later, the two were back on the freeway heading to Taj’s house in Gardena, after he managed to cajole Desiree to come over so he could fix her dinner. It didn’t take them long to arrive at Taj’s house, since he was closer to Cabrillo Beach than Desiree was. When the Jamaican made to turn into his driveway, he spied someone sitting at his doorstep. After he got out of the car and came around to the passenger side to help Desiree out, he walked over to see who it was. On closer inspection, he noticed that the person was his younger brother.

“Leroy? What are you doing here?” Taj walked over to his young sibling and caught the man in a bear hug. Leroy hugged him back just as voraciously.

Twenty-year-old Leroy Potter had nothing in common with his older brother, except for the fact that they both had the same skin tone. They looked nothing alike, but Leroy was just as handsome, except that he had a baby face, which made him look a couple years younger than he was. Leroy was five feet nine, which he hated. He had often exclaimed when he was younger that it was not fair that all the men in his immediate family reached six feet or above except for him. Also, out of everyone in the family, Leroy was the only one not to have a Jamaican accent. For some reason, he had lost the accent after he and his family moved to California when he was seven years old. Taj saw that his little brother had braided his hair. He silently shook his head and planned to speak with Leroy about the braids later.

“Can’t a guy just come to see his favorite brother?” retorted Leroy.

Taj narrowed his eyes suspiciously. He had the feeling that something was going on and he intended to find out just what it was. “Not before school is out, he can’t. Don’t you have classes today?”

Leroy shrugged, taking notice of Desiree standing a couple of feet behind Taj. “Hey, who is this pretty lady?” Leroy put on his most charming smile. The pretty lady in question found herself smiling back.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Taj turned to Desiree and brought her forth. “This is my friend, Desiree Love. Desiree I would like to introduce you to my little brother, Leroy.” Leroy stuck out his hand and he and Desiree shook hands. Taj noticed that he held hers a little longer than necessary. He cleared his throat causing Leroy to let go.

“Are you and Taj dating?” Leroy inquired, sticking his hands in the pockets of his blue jeans.

Before the young woman could answer, Taj said, “No. We’re just friends. Now stop stalling. I asked you a question.”

Leroy cocked his head to the side. “And what question would that be?” he inquired in an innocent tone of voice.

Taj took in a deep breath. “I asked you weren’t you supposed to be in school? Why aren’t you there?” He crossed his arms across his chest, waiting for the younger man’s explanation.

Leroy seemed to ponder this for a moment. Finally, he mumbled, “I got kicked out.”
His brother narrowed his eyes. “What?”

A little clearer Leroy repeated, “I got kicked out.”

Taj took a deep breath, trying to maintain a hold on his usually non-existent temper. There had to be a reasonable explanation. “How did you get kicked out?”

“Could we go inside?” Leroy asked wearing a nervous expression. If there were one person in this world that he did not want to ever disappoint, it would be the man standing in front of him now. He had always wanted to be like his older brother, and Leroy felt quite ashamed of himself that this situation had occurred. He mentally castigated himself for what must have been the hundredth time for his stupidity.

Taj nodded as he put an arm around Desiree’s shoulder and led her to the front door with Leroy right behind them. Taj opened the door and the trio entered, with Leroy closing the door. They walked into Taj’s spacious living room to sit on his black leather couch, which reminded Desiree of the one at his cabin, except for the fact that this one was larger. She admired the room in approval, except for the white carpet, just like at the cabin. She had to hand it to Taj though, because the carpet looked like it was brand new. To the right of the living room were huge glass doors that led out to an extensive backyard. Next to the vast winding couch was an oval glass coffee table, with black legs. Next to the couch also was a black recliner that possessed a massage device. Under the coffee table was a hand-crafted silk and wool area rug, with a convoluted design.

Taj sat on the couch with Desiree choosing to sit next to him. Leroy took space in the recliner, lifting the lever in order to put his feet up. Once again, Taj crossed his arms over his chest, acting more like a stern father than a brother, and waited for Leroy to start explaining. A few minutes ticked by with everyone present remaining silent. Taj stared at his brother, while Desiree fidgeted with a button on her cardigan. Starting to run out of patience Taj said, “Well?”

Leroy figured he had pushed his brother far enough, so he began his story, “I got kicked out because I plagiarized on a couple of essay’s for a couple of my classes.”

Taj’s brown eyes opened wide. “Let me get this straight. Plagiarizing for one class is bad enough, but you did it for two?”

His brother nodded mutely.

“Why?” Taj asked in quite a deceptively calm voice.

“Because I was overwhelmed with everything. I had tests, quizzes, essays, and deadlines…” He trailed off, shrugging. “Plus you know I was involved in sports and a couple of clubs. All the pressure just got to me, and I thought I could do it without anyone being the wiser.”
“Well evidently you couldn’t,” Taj exploded. Desiree put a restraining hand on his arm. Not looking at her, he nodded, understanding what she was trying to do.

Leroy shrugged again. “I’m sorry.”

“No need to apologize to me. You’re the one who just messed up your future. What did Mom and Dad say?”

“That’s why I’m here. Dad and I had an argument so I got on the first bus I could catch out of there going to LA. I then took a taxi over here, and I’ve been waiting for a few hours for you to show up.”

“Do they know where you are?”

Leroy nodded. “I called them when I got to the bus station here,” he paused. “Can I live with you?” he asked quietly. “Just for a while at least? Until I get my own place.”

“How are you supposed to get your own place when you don’t have employment?”

Leroy argued, “I’ll get a job.”

Taj put his arms on his thighs, sitting forward. “Where?”

Leroy shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ll buy myself a newspaper and start looking.”

“He can work for me,” Desiree said abruptly. It just sort of slipped out before she even fully registered what she was saying, however thinking about it, it might not have been such a bad idea. She could be helping him out as well as herself.

The younger man smiled at her. “I can?”

Desiree nodded. “What was your major? What do you want to be?”

“Desi, you don’t have to do this,” Taj said. She ignored him, focusing her attention on Leroy whose face had seemed to brighten considerably after her offer.

Leroy looked sheepish. “I didn’t really have one established yet, but most of my classes revolved around English and history. I would like to write screenplays,” Leroy exclaimed.

Desiree’s blue-green eyes shined. “Really? Well we have something in common then. I’m working on a book. And that’s what I need you for. How good are you with research?” she asked.

“Well…I’ve done it for my classes, but I don’t know if I could call myself a professional.”
The young woman smiled. “Honesty. I like that, Leroy.”

Though he almost commented that it wasn’t honest for the ex-student to plagiarize on his schoolwork, Taj managed to keep his thoughts to himself. As he observed his beaming little brother, he could have sworn that he saw him blush. He rolled his eyes, thinking that Desiree did not need Leroy falling all over her. Taj made a note to have a talk with the young man about the short little braids in his hair and that.

“There is one catch,” Desiree continued. “I can’t pay you much, since I don’t have a job myself at the moment, so it may behoove you to still look for other employment.”

Leroy looked at his brother. “What do you think?” he asked him.

Taj shrugged. “It’s your life. Are you not planning on going to any school again?”

“Maybe this has worked out for the best. Maybe it was meant to be this way, for me to come to Los Angeles. This is one of the best places to start with my screenplay writing. I could probably pick up a few pointers working with Desiree.”

“So in other words, you’re done with school.”

“Some people never go to college and they do just fine. At least I had almost two years experience,” he paused, noticing his older brother’s disapproving look. “On second thought I could take a couple classes at a local community college this fall.”

***

While chatting about their arrangement, Desiree and Leroy began to smell the delicious aromas coming from the kitchen, where Taj was fixing dinner. Desiree thought to herself that this would be good. Getting into her book again would help Desiree to heal and not think about Piper so much. She needed something to occupy her mind, and with Leroy’s help, she hopefully could succeed. As for the money, the young woman had a small nest egg saved up in her bank account from getting a few stories printed in magazines over the years and from her last job. It was then that Desiree decided that she needed a job herself. Sure her parents would be more than happy to help, in which they already were but the young woman wanted to have her independence.

“So, Desiree,” Leroy started, squinting at her. He was now sitting next to her on the couch. “You know what? You look familiar.”

Desiree took a deep breath. So, he had figured it out who she was. “Do you watch the news?” she asked.

Leroy’s breath came out sharply. “I remember now.” He put a hand to his head, thinking to himself that he was the stupidest person on the earth. So involved in his own problems, he had forgotten to mention anything about Piper Redding to his brother. When he found out a few days ago that the woman had been killed, he had immediately called his brother to give his condolences, but the woman had not once entered his mind since he arrived on his older brother’s doorstep. “You’re the Desiree Love that was kidnapped by my brother’s best friend.”

The strawberry-blonde nodded. “Yep. That would be me.”

Leroy patted her shoulder. “I’m sorry about what happened to you. Also, I’m sorry about what happened to Piper. I knew her since she and Taj were like this.” He crossed two of his fingers to show just how close Taj and Piper had been. “My brother told me that you and she had become friends. I didn’t think it was odd, because Piper can be easy to get along with if you’re lucky enough to get her to let her guard down. I’ll miss her, although I haven’t seen her in years. Actually, don’t think I’ve seen her since I was about fourteen. That was when Taj took me with him to visit her in prison. I remember I had to beg him to take me.” He chuckled softly.

Before Desiree could offer any sort of a reply, Taj came out of the kitchen informing the two that dinner was ready to be served, and that they should take their seats at the table in the dining room. Leroy arose first from the couch and escorted Desiree over to the table by placing a hand in the middle of her back, acting like a true gentleman. When they reached the glass table, Leroy pulled out a chair for the young woman, and she thanked him as she took her seat. Taj witnessed this whole event and only rolled his eyes. Leroy was becoming as bad as Dion used to be before he settled down and got married.

Leroy took a seat next to Desiree, as Taj came out of the kitchen again with a bowl of salad he made. It consisted of everything from croutons to tomatoes. Taj also placed on the table two different kinds of salad dressing, that he informed his brother and friend was homemade. Leroy called him a showoff, causing Taj to playfully sock him on the arm. Desiree fondly watched them, remembering how she and Piper used to play with one another. She could feel herself becoming emotional again, so she excused herself from the table, asking Taj where his bathroom was. Wearing a concerned expression, he told her and Desiree hurried off.

On entering the bathroom, Desiree closed it silently behind her and sat on the toilet after she lowered the top. She bent over covering her face with her hands and began to weep softly. Shaking from the wracking sobs, Desiree wondered if the pain would ever go away, or if she would forever feel this enormous loss. After crying for a few minutes, the distraught young woman reached over and tore off a few squares of toilet paper. She dabbed at her eyes and cheeks and then threw the now wet paper in the small green trash can she saw on the floor. Desiree then stood up long enough to remove a small silver flask from the back of her pants. She opened it and took a few swallows of the gin that she had put in it earlier. After putting the now half-empty flask back in her pants pocket, Desiree headed over to the sink and gargled with Taj’s mint flavored mouthwash so that neither he nor his brother would smell the alcohol on her breath. The young woman composed herself in the mirror and then went back out to the dining room.
Both Taj and Leroy asked Desiree if she was all right and nodded while attempting to smile. Neither brother felt it was the truth, but they decided by exchanging a look with each other that they would not pursue it for the moment. They did not want to push the young woman since she seemed so fragile already.

Desiree looked at her plate, knowing that if everything was all right that she would attack this food with a vengeance. As it was, the young woman found that she was not hungry in the least. Taj had made spaghetti and meatballs with melted mozzarella cheese on top. In a basket on the table was homemade freshly baked garlic bread. Desiree figured that she should try to eat, so she reached over to take a piece of the bread. She missed the smile of approval that Taj gave her. He had figured that she probably wouldn’t have much an appetite, but was glad to notice that she was at least making an effort to eat. Desiree twirled a few strands of spaghetti around her fork only to be swatted on the back of her hand. She peered up at Taj who was sitting on her right. He was smiling teasingly, so instead of frowning she smiled too.

“We didn’t say grace yet, Desi. We were waiting for you,” Taj informed her. “Would you like to do the honors?”

Desiree shook her head. She still did not trust herself with speaking yet. Taj motioned the two to bow their heads and he said prayer instead. Leroy kicked him under the table, because the young man thought that he was taking too long and he was famished. Taj ignored him, and when he finished saying grace, scowled at his little brother as he kicked him back. Desiree picked that moment to glance over at Leroy, noticing his pained expression. When she asked him what was wrong he told her she he was fine, but then gave his older brother a dirty look. Taj only smiled sweetly in return.

***

It was beginning to become dark, when Taj asked Desiree if she wanted to spend the night or did she want him to take her home. She chose to go home so before they headed out to the car, Desiree hugged Leroy informing him that she would be calling about the research work he would be doing for her. He nodded, exclaiming that he could not wait to get started.

Back on the freeway, Taj turned on the radio and discovered that an upbeat song was playing on the current station. He breathed a small sigh of relief, turning up the volume. Desiree said that she loved that song and he smiled. Maybe the young woman would be okay after all.

Taj pulled up in Desiree’s driveway and she thanked him for getting her out of the house. He retorted that he could not have done it without her. Before she got out of the car, the strawberry-blonde reached over and gave Taj a kiss on the cheek. He grinned saying that he would never wash his cheek again, causing Desiree to chuckle as she closed the car door. She had asked him if he wanted to come in, but Taj declined saying that he had to get home to have a chat with Leroy about a couple of things.
On coming into her apartment, the first thing that Desiree noticed was that her mother was sitting on the couch knitting a blanket. Seeing her daughter come in, Sandra arose from the couch, walking towards her to ask if she was all right. The younger woman simply replied that she was before she started to head for her bedroom. At any other time she would not have a problem with having a conversation with her mother, since they saw each other so infrequently, but tonight Desiree did not want to be bombarded with endless questions most likely concerning Taj and what they did. Desiree hurried into her bedroom, missing the shocked look that Sandra was wearing.

Desiree removed her cardigan and kicked off her shoes before kneeling down in front of her bed, and took out the bottle of gin that she had drank from earlier. She opened it and took a long swig from the bottle. It was then that she remembered the half-empty flask in her back pocket. Desiree took out the flask and after finishing the contents of it, put the flask in the nightstand next to her bed. Picking up the bottle again, Desiree headed into her bathroom to take a long hot bubble bath. She figured that this would relieve some of the tension in her muscles and help her to think about what she was going to do now. She realized that was going to have to make some decisions, and stop moping around feeling sorry for herself. Yes, it was definitely time to ease pain.

***

Walking into the apartment, Larisa noticed that Sandra was pacing back and forth across the carpet. She was wearing a worried expression. Sandra glanced up at her oldest child, but continued to pace.

“What’s wrong, Mother?” Larisa asked softly though she knew that it might not be that bad. Sandra had the ability to over-dramatize a situation.

Sandra stopped pacing to face her daughter. “Something is wrong with your sister.”

Larisa had to control herself from rolling her eyes. “Yes, Mother there is. I thought that we already had this conversation. Her friend was killed and she nearly lost her life as well. She’s been through a horrifying ordeal. If there weren’t anything wrong with her, then I would be worried. As it is what she is going through is expected.”

Sandra waved her hand impatiently in the air. “I’m not talking about that. She came home about fifteen minutes ago, and she barely said a word to me. She just went into her room and shut the door,” she paused dramatically. “Do you think that man did something to her?”

Larisa took a deep breath, which was quickly followed by another one. “Mother, his name is Taj, and no I don’t think that he did anything to her.” She probably just doesn’t want to be bothered with having to listen to your mouth, the younger woman thought.

“Why don’t you try to talk to her?”

After assuring her mother that she would try, she headed towards Desiree’s bedroom. The woman knocked a few times on the door not receiving an answer, so she gave up and just walked in. Scanning the room, Larisa saw that Desiree was not in it. Hearing a sound coming from the bathroom, Larisa headed towards that door. She knocked and heard her sister telling her to enter. She walked into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. Desiree was reclining in the bathtub covered with a thick layer of bubbles nearing reaching her shoulders. Some were even airborne. Larisa chose to sit on the floor next to the bathtub.

“I’m glad that it was you,” Desiree announced, chuckling slightly. “I really don’t wanna deal with Mom right now.”

The older woman smiled, glad to hear a happy sound coming from her younger sibling. “Well, I figured that you wouldn’t and I don’t blame you. She’s in drama queen mode right now.”

Larisa grabbed Desiree’s sponge and put a small amount of liquid soap on it. She told her sister to sit forward. When Desiree did so, Larisa began to wash her back with the sponge, just like she used to do when her sister was younger. Except then Desiree used to get the floor all wet and Larisa as well. The dark-haired woman smiled at the memory. A couple minutes later after washing the soap off her back, Larisa informed Desiree that she was done. The strawberry-blonde thanked her for it.

“So where did you and Taj go?”

Desiree rested the back of her neck against a folded up towel on the rim of the porcelain white tub. She closed her eyes before answering, “We went to go spread Piper’s ashes at Cabrillo Beach, and then we went back to Taj’s place where I met his delightful little brother and had dinner.”

“Who cooked?” Larisa decided not to ask for any details about Cabrillo Beach.

“Taj did. He’s an excellent cook too.” She opened her eyes to look at her sister thoughtfully. “I’ve been thinking unless you have a problem with dating outside of your ethnicity, I could fix you up with him. He’s two years younger than you, but he’s awfully handsome and sweet.”

The dark-haired woman had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. “I’ll have you know blondie that I have dated outside of my ethnicity before. I have no problem with that.”

Desiree shrugged and closed her eyes again. “Well how was I supposed to know that? I hardly see you anymore.”

“Hey! I don’t see you making an effort to come see me. I know it has nothing to do with the distance, because I don’t live that far from you.”
“Would you be willing to go out with Taj?” Desiree asked, changing the subject to what it was before.

Larisa inhaled deeply. “No. He’s a nice guy but I’m not interested.”

“Why not?”

The older woman laughed loudly. “Who are you now? Aphrodite? I rather talk about you then have you trying to fix me up. I’ll handle my love life.”

“What about me?” She would give up for now, but Desiree found that she would not mind having Taj as a brother-in-law. She could work more on her sister later.

Larisa did not know quite how to start what she wanted to ask. “Let’s talk about what happened at the cabin,” she began.

“What about the cabin?” Desiree still had her eyes closed, enjoying the heat radiating from the water.

Larisa hesitated. “How close did you and Piper Redding become?” she asked gently hoping that it didn’t sound like she was trying to pry.

Lifting one eyelid, Desiree glanced at her sister before closing it again. “What do you mean?” she asked procrastinating.

Her sister let out an impatient breath. Little sisters could really get on a sibling’s nerves. “I just asked how close you guys got.”

“Why?”

“Why what?” Larisa chastised herself for her suddenly sharp tone.

“Why are you asking?” Desiree inquired.

Larisa shrugged. “Call it curiosity. Just tell me.”

Desiree wondered if she should do just that. How would her sister react if she were to tell her how close she and Piper really did get? It was then that Desiree noticed that she had to tell someone. She wanted someone to know what had happened at the cabin, and she mused maybe her sister was the person. If there was anyone she could confide in, it would be Larisa. Desiree opened her eyes and sat up in the tub. Looking at her sister nervously, she considered how to tell her. Larisa helped by giving her an encouraging smile.

“She was my lover,” Desiree spoke clearly. She felt a heavy weight drop from her shoulders at the declaration. She had already decided that her parents did not need to know. What would be the point?

To Desiree’s shock, Larisa did little more than raise an eyebrow and glance at her lap. The other woman did not look surprised at the statement. For a moment, neither of the women said anything. Finally, Larisa took a deep breath and folded her arms on the rim of the tub, resting her chin on top of them.

“Were you in love with her?” the dark-haired woman asked in a whisper.

Desiree nodded as she swallowed, trying to hold back the tears that were threatening to come. “Yes, I was. Very much.”

Larisa nodded. “Did she love you?”

The strawberry-blonde shrugged. “I never knew. She died before I could tell her that I loved her, so she never even knew how I felt.”

“I’m sure she did,” Larisa nearly whispered.

“How?”

Her sister smiled slightly. “Knowing you Desiree, you probably showed her in your actions. She knew. Believe me she knew. And I’m sure she felt the same way.”

Desiree shook her head. “One of the last things that I told her was I hated her. How could she know that I loved her? More than I thought I could love anyone.”

Larisa thought for a minute. “She probably knew you were only hurt. Don’t dwell on the bad. Remember the good times that the two of you shared.”

“I just miss her so much.”

A tear fell down Desiree’s cheek. She tried to stop it, but she started to cry. Larisa moved until she was on her knees and gathered her younger sister in her arms. At first Desiree tried to stop her mumbling that she did not want to get her wet, but Larisa would not let her back away. The younger woman gave up and hugged her sister back, sobbing on her shoulder. Desiree did not see them, but tears were running down Larisa’s face too.

***

The next morning found Desiree and Larisa working the crossword puzzle that had come in the newspaper that morning. They had convinced their mother to go shopping, since she noticed a couple of dresses that she liked in a sales paper from the day before. They relished the peace and quiet with their mother away for a few hours. Desiree was looking up a word in her dictionary when she and her sister heard a knock on the door. Getting up to answer it, Desiree opened the door to see a blonde woman standing there who she guessed to be in her early thirties. Desiree offered her a welcoming smile, saying hello. As the woman returned the smile, she extended her hand and Desiree shook it briefly while not being able to hide the curious look upon her face.

Resting her hand back at her side, the visitor said, “You don’t know who I am, but Victor Redding was my ex-husband. My name is Andrea.”

Desiree wore a surprised yet confused expression. She had known that Victor had an ex-wife and children, but she could not figure out why the woman was on her doorstep. Stepping aside, she motioned Andrea to come in and she did so with a grateful look. The woman noticed Larisa sitting at the dining room table and offered her a smile as well. Larisa returned it as she folded the newspaper and pushed it aside. Desiree asked Andrea to take a seat at the dining room table while she offered her a beverage. The woman shook her head, declining the offer. Desiree took a seat in the chair that she had been occupying previously to Andrea coming.

“Um…Mrs. Redding…do you go by that name anymore?” Desiree inquired, wondering how anyone could have stood to be married to a horrible man like Victor. Well at least Andrea had had the good sense to divorce him.

Andrea nodded. “Yes, I do though please just call me Andrea.”

Desiree smiled slightly. “Okay. Andrea…is there something I can do for you?”

“Maybe there is something I can do for you.” The woman reached into her large cream colored purse and extracted a white standard business envelope. “I didn’t know where else to take this, so I thought I’d might as well give it to you.” She handed the envelope to Desiree, who took it, seeing that the front had the name Emily Redding printed on it.

“How did you find out where I lived?” Desiree asked the woman.

“I was rifling through Victor’s things at his house and I found your address in a little book that he had.”

The strawberry-blonde shuddered while an image of the horrible man entered her mind. On a regular basis, she had been enduring nightmares with him in them after the ordeal at the cabin. She would wake up in a cold sweat thinking about all the fire, the smoke, and Piper abruptly losing her life.

“Who is Emily Redding?” Larisa asked, getting into the conversation.

Andrea replied, “That’s Victor’s younger sister. She sent me that envelope in another envelope with a note in it informing me to give one of the letters to Victor and the other to Piper. Well I never got a chance to, since both of them ended up passing away. I read the letters after finding out the news and then I knew that I had to give them to someone.” She turned her full attention to Desiree. “I thought I’d give them to you. See if you could make sense of what she said. Would you read them please? I thinks it crucial that you read them right away.”

Desiree glanced at her sister and then proceeded to take the letters out of the already open envelope. The first one she read was addressed to Piper. She read it out loud so that Larisa could know what it said.

Dear Piper,

We have never met and I feel that this is sad. I want to apologize for all that my brother and I have done to you. I wish that we could have had a relationship with one another, but things don’t always turn out the way you want them to. Please, I have no right to ask for your forgiveness but don’t hate me. Yes, I have wronged you and I will feel the guilt of that for the rest of my life.

Victor seemed to be obsessed by you, and I didn’t make the situation any better because I chose to help him carry out his malicious plan. I don’t know why I went along with all that he did. I guess because he tried to tell me that you were responsible for the death of our father. At first I tried to tell him that you did not have a choice because the man had tried to kill your mother, but soon Victor wore me down anyway. So, I helped him. I know that it was stupid, but I went along with him anyway. I guess that you could call me one of those people who jump off a cliff just because somebody else is doing it.

Victor was the one to kill the first three jurors, but I have a confession to make. I took Michael Lowell’s life while pretending to be you. I had reservations about doing it right from the start, but I did it anyway. Before that I had never harmed another human being in my life and I have to say that it was horrible. It was not as horrible for me as it was for Michael and his family though. I’ve come to realize that I took an innocent man away from his family forever. I wish that I could turn back the hands of time, but unfortunately, that can’t be done. Victor and I had a plan to make it seem like you did it. We even went so far as to get a lilac Honda Civic, because we knew that’s what Desiree Love drove. Of course, we didn’t know for sure if you had taken her hostage but Victor thought it probable that you had. At the time, he didn’t know for sure but it wasn’t long before he had it confirmed.

As you read this letter, I’m most likely locked up in a jail cell, which is where I know that I belong. I’m not going to try to plead innocent, because I am the farthest thing from it. I hope that you will be able to live your life now without having to run. I am sorry for disrupting your life, and I promise never to bother you again. You take good care of yourself.

Sincerely,

Emily Redding

Desiree put the letter down on the table now having the question answered of whom really murdered Michael Lowell answered. She remembered that Victor had confessed to her that he had killed all of the jurors except for Michael Lowell, but he had never divulged who the person was. She had forgotten all about his sister. Desiree looked up at Andrea who was the looking back at her.

“Where is Emily now?” the strawberry-blonde asked. For some reason, she did not feel a lot of anger towards the woman. In fact, she managed to feel some sympathy for Emily.

Andrea replied, “Just read the next letter.”

Desiree gave her a peculiar look, but did as the woman told her to. Unfolding the next letter, she started to read aloud.

Dear Victor,

I know you probably hate me right now, but I did what I had to do. There was no reason for our baby sister to go back to prison for our heinous crimes. We did them and we should be persecuted for them. Not Piper. I know I turned on you, but I don’t feel in the least bit sorry for it. Sure we may spend the rest of our lives in prison now or they may seek to give us the death penalty, but it is no less than we deserve. Somebody should beat us with a hammer or chop off our fingers. Victor what we did was immoral and I couldn’t apologize enough for it. I have already written Piper to tell her my main part in it, and how sorry I am.

I had been following you and I found out that you knew where the cabin was and that Piper had indeed taken Desiree Love as her hostage. Since you were going there, I knew that you would kill our sister and maybe that innocent young girl, so I thought about it and I came to the decision that I couldn’t let you do it. So, I devised a plan. I would sneak over to your house and get in the back of your car, hiding so that you wouldn’t know that I was there. When you got to the cabin, I would stop you before you could take anymore lives.

As you read this, we’re both probably behind bars and now you probably want to kill me as well. Well Victor we went too far. Let’s face it. Alan Redding was a horrible man who beat his wife and tormented his youngest child for years. Sure he was pretty good to us when he was around, but obviously deep inside he was a twisted person and if you ask me, we’ve seem to have inherited that trait based on all that we’ve done. Why should we defend a man who tried to kill his wife? Victor despite all of this you are still my flesh and blood brother and I love you. I hope you remember that when you’re cursing my name.

Love,

Emily

Desiree put the letter down and stared off into space for a few moments as she tried to gather her thoughts. One statement from Emily’s second letter kept running through her mind. When you got to the cabin, I would stop you before you could take anymore lives. So, where was this Emily Redding during that time? Desiree peered across at Andrea who had tears in her eyes.

“What do you have to say?” Andrea inquired of Desiree.

The strawberry-blonde shook her head. “I don’t know exactly what to say. Where is Emily? You wouldn’t answer me before.”

“That’s the weird thing about it. I don’t know where she is,” she paused wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. Hurrying into the kitchen, Larisa came back with a napkin that she handed to the emotional woman. Andrea thanked her as she dabbed her eyes. “Although I have a hunch. What I want to know is if you have the same hunch.”

Desiree frowned in thought and then her face brightened considerably. “What if it wasn’t her?” she said more to herself than anyone else.

“What if what wasn’t her?” Larisa asked, forming her own hunches.

Desiree turned to her sister. “The body,” she exclaimed excitedly. “What if the body in the cabin wasn’t Piper’s?”
CHAPTER 7
Larisa stared at her sister as though she had just lost her mind. She then glanced to Andrea to see that she was wearing a slight smile that appeared to be tinged with despondency. The dark-haired woman took a deep breath before she opened her mouth to speak.

“What do you mean by maybe the body in the cabin wasn’t Piper’s?” Larisa addressed this to her sister who was smiling like she had just won the California Lottery for a hundred million dollars. She was overjoyed to see Desiree smiling, but conceived she was wasting her happiness on something that could not possibly be true.

“I mean,” Desiree turned to her sister, “Piper could be alive. That body may have been Emily’s.”

“How do you figure? You and Taj saw the body, right?”

“Yes, but I never saw her face! I just assumed it was Piper. The woman had long dark hair and she was tall. As for Taj I don’t think he saw her face either.” Desiree could scarcely keep herself from bouncing up and down in her chair. If she was right then this was the happiest day of her life.

Larisa thought about this information. Well if Emily did go through with the plan she told Victor about in her letter to him, then that meant she was up at the cabin that night. Whether the body was that of Piper’s or Emily’s then someone was missing in action. Larisa asked both Andrea and Desiree if Piper was alive then where was she. Wouldn’t she have gotten in touch with them by now?

“I don’t know,” Desiree replied brightly, refusing to give up her newly found hope. She was clinging to it as though for dear life. She knew she should be thinking more rationally, but now she felt like Piper could not possibly be dead. Her love was out there somewhere, and Desiree was going to make it her personal goal to find out just where she was. She would not rest until she found her soulmate.

“Maybe she’s gone into hiding,” Andrea offered. “Could be that she’s afraid of what will happen if she reveals that she is still alive.”

Desiree excused herself from the table, announcing that she would be right back. Hurriedly making her way into the kitchen, she picked up the phone mounted to the wall. Only pressing a couple of buttons because she had him on speed dial, Desiree called Taj. The phone rang a couple of times before Leroy answered it. He began playfully flirting with her, until another voice came on the phone. It was Taj.

“Sorry about that,” the Jamaican apologized. “You’ll have to excuse my little brother because he doesn’t know any better. How are feeling this morning?” he inquired with concern.

“I’m better than ever!” Desiree exclaimed. “I have some wonderful news!”

Taj held the phone to his ear, amazed at the excited tone coming from this young woman, who only yesterday was crying her heart out. He briefly wondered if she had resorted to using illegal drugs and this shook his head. Desiree would never do that. She was too intelligent to get caught up in that kind of thing.

“What wonderful news is that?”

Desiree replied, “I’ll tell you when you come over. Please come to my place as soon as you can.”

“I’m on my way.”

After hanging up the phone, Desiree returned the dining room and explained to Andrea and her sister that Taj was on his way over. She hoped that he would be able to tell her that he had not seen the woman’s face in the cabin otherwise her theory might prove wrong. Desiree began to get nervous. Whatever happened next solely depended on what Taj saw. She prayed that he did not get a look at her face.

“If Taj didn’t see her face, then maybe it’s true,” Desiree announced.

“Now who is Taj?” Andrea asked.

Desiree explained that Taj Potter was Piper’s best friend and that they had known one another since their freshman year in high school. She also explained how he had saved her life at the risk of losing his own and how attentive and helpful he had been to her since that awful night at the cabin.

“Sounds like a pretty terrific guy,” Andrea commented.

The strawberry-blonde smiled. “Yes he is. And if anyone will be able to help find Piper that person would be Taj.”

“If Piper is indeed alive, then where is she?” Larisa asked. “Doesn’t make sense to me that she hasn’t gotten in touch with you or at least Taj by now. Even if she is in hiding, doesn’t seem like she would allow you two to needlessly worry.”

“Why are you being so negative?” Desiree inquired of her sister.

“I’m just being realistic,” Larisa retorted. “Desi, you have to face the fact that Piper might be gone forever,” she continued in a soft voice.

The younger woman shook her head. “You don’t know what you are talking about. The woman who died was Emily Redding and I’ll prove it to you.”

“How are you gonna pull that off?”

“By finding Piper,” Desiree stated confidently.

“So I presume that you and Piper became close?” Andrea inquired.

Desiree smiled warmly. “Yes we did. I have never met anyone like her.” In case Andrea would not approve of the true nature of their relationship, the younger woman decided it was best not to divulge into details.

“So Andrea where do you live?” Larisa inquired, attempting to change the subject until Taj arrived. Maybe she could find an ally in him. She wasn’t trying to be cynical. This just seemed too good to be true.

“I drove here from San Bernardino.”

Larisa’s green eyes widened. “You mean you came all the way from San Bernardino to deliver those letters?”

Andrea nodded. “I felt it was important that I give them to Desiree. Also I wanted to see if she would agree with my theory.”

“Which is?” Desiree inquired.

“Which is that the woman who died in the cabin was my ex-sister-in-law, Emily.”

“Exactly.” Desiree gave her a pleased smile while reaching over to squeeze the woman’s shoulder affectionately. Glancing at her sister, she offered her an irritated look, which Larisa ignored.

“Where are your children?” the strawberry-blonde asked. “Victor told me that he had children.”

“Oh,” Andrea began to proudly smile. “My little loves, Stacey and Samantha. They are at a hotel I’m staying at nearby, with my brother, Keith.”

“How old are they?” Larisa inquired in interest. The last few years her maternal urges had been kicking in, but Larisa knew that the chances were slim that she would ever have children. She had been giving a lot of serious thought about adoption, and had wanted to talk to Desiree about it, but around the time she wanted to do so, all of this started to happen.

Andrea replied, “Nine and six,” she paused. “It’s a shame that they’ll never get to have a relationship with their father. Although I suppose, it’s for the best, since I wouldn’t have wanted him around them anyway. The man was crazy.”

“That’s an understatement,” Desiree muttered.

“Is that why you two divorced? Because you knew he needed the kind of help that you couldn’t possibly deliver?” Larisa asked.

“Actually we divorced because we had started to fight all the time. We fought about everything and anything. That was two years ago. I didn’t know there was something psychologically wrong with him until Piper was released. It was then that I wouldn’t let him take Stacey and Samantha anywhere without my supervision. I didn’t want them out of my sight because frankly I didn’t have a lot of trust in him.”

Larisa stated, “I don’t blame you. Was he a good father though? I mean basically?”

Andrea thought for a moment. “At the end of our marriage he started to snap at the children, but for the most part, yes he did seem to be a good father. I just didn’t trust him to alone with them.”

“Did you trust Emily?” the dark-haired woman inquired.

“Yes, I did,” Andrea started. “She was a great auntie to my daughters. Stacey and Samantha adored her.” She wiped her left eye, which was where a tear had formed. “I had no idea that she was embroiled in all this, until I read those letters. I thought Victor was working alone on whatever he was trying to accomplish. I just wanted to stay out of it myself.” She wiped her eyes again. “Now I wish I had done something. Tried to find out what Victor was really up to. I never dreamed he would resort so far as to try to kill her, and that Emily would try to help him.”

Desiree reached over and squeezed Andrea’s hand. “It’s not your fault, Andrea. You can’t blame yourself for what your ex-husband did because you’re not responsible for his actions. He was sick and he needed help, but unfortunately he never got it.”

Andrea nodded. “Emily seemed like such a sweet girl. She was the type of person that you would say would never hurt a fly. Obviously I misjudged her.”

All three of them started thinking about the brutal murder of the juror Michael Lowell, and how he had been beaten with a hammer. Desiree winced, remembering how she had accused Piper of that. She had so many things to apologize for. She wouldn’t blame Piper if she never spoke to her again.

“I’m sorry, Andrea,” Larisa said. “Even though she did take a life and was gullible enough to be sucked into her brother’s schemes, it’s obvious that you cared for her a great deal.” Larisa then noticed that she was speaking in the past tense. She sighed, wondering if Desiree and Andrea were right all along. Maybe it was Emily in that fire, and Piper was still alive. That would be wonderful. True that someone would still be dead, but at least that person wouldn’t be her.

“I did care for her,” Andrea said while looking at Larisa. “But I would rather it be her than Piper in that cabin. I didn’t know Piper, but I would like to get to know her. Now that I know she wasn’t doing all of those things. I knew Victor was involved with her somehow, but I never knew that he was the one actually killing those people. I just figured that the both of them were insane.” She shook her head. “Sometimes it’s hard to figure someone out.”

“You can’t always judge a book by its cover,” Larisa added.

The three women talked some more. Larisa and Desiree mainly asked Andrea about her daughters and they found themselves chuckling at the stories that the blonde-haired woman told about Stacey and Samantha. Andrea promised that she would bring the children by before they all headed back to San Bernardino. Desiree found herself excited at the prospect of meeting Piper’s nieces. If they found Piper in time, maybe she would get to meet them too.

Hearing the doorbell ring, Desiree hurriedly arose from her chair to jog over and answer it. She opened the door to see Taj standing there and started smiling as she greeted the man and told him to come in. He gave her a questioningly look, choosing to remain silent for the moment. Studying her, Taj still did not know what the strawberry-blonde was up to. She seemed so excited that he half expected her to explode. Evidently whatever she had to tell him, was huge news.

He glanced over to the dining room table to see Larisa and another woman he did not recognize sitting there. He waved at Larisa and smiled politely towards Andrea. The Jamaican man turned his attention back to Desiree who asked him to sit at the dining
room table. He took a seat noticing that the petite woman was choosing to stand. She was acting like a child on Christmas morning.

“Taj I have some excellent news to tell you,” Desiree started. Taj remained silent, waiting for her to continue. He crossed his arms over his muscular chest giving the woman his full attention. “First, I want you to read these.” Desiree picked up the two letters on the dining room table and held them out to Taj. He took them and chose the one that was addressed to Victor to read first. Desiree took that one away and asked him to read the other one first. Taj cocked an eyebrow, wondering why it mattered but he acquiesced without inquiring. He read that letter without comment, and then reached for the other one that Desiree was grasping tightly in her hand. Various expressions flitted across Taj’s face as he read the second letter. After he finished reading it, Taj put the letter on top of the other on the table. He glanced around noticing that all three women were studying him closely. He felt like a lab animal that they were about to run a series of tests on. Taj cleared his throat looking up at Desiree, who was still standing.

“So what do you think?” she asked as calmly as she could.

“Well I remember you telling me that Victor said he had a sister. So this Emily is the sister he was referring to?”

Desiree nodded. “She’s the person that actually killed Michael Lowell. Whereas I thought it was Piper until Victor started rambling on about what all he had done. I didn’t know who actually killed that last juror until I read those letters. I had thought about the sister, but I wasn’t positive.”

Taj nodded. “So where is she?” he asked.

“Emily?” Desiree asked.

Taj nodded again. “Did she actually go up to the cabin or did she chicken out?”

“We don’t know,” Larisa cut in. “We don’t know if she ever went there and we don’t know where she is now.”

“Larisa,” Desiree said sharper than she had meant to. “Of course Emily went up there. She had to have been there, otherwise…” She could not and would not finish that sentence. She could not afford to. Thinking positive was the key here.

Taj frowned. “Otherwise what?” he inquired, looking at Desiree.

“Otherwise we have no proof that Piper is alive,” Larisa answered.

The Jamaican man turned to her. He considered all that had been said after he read the letters. He considered how excited and happy Desiree was acting. Then it all clicked together. He turned his attention back to the strawberry-blonde. “You think that that wasn’t Piper’s body in the cabin, don’t you?”

Desiree nodded profusely.

“That it was Emily’s?” he went on.

She confirmed this as well. “What do you think?”

Taj was silent for a few moments, as he tried to gather his thoughts. “It could have been Emily Redding,” he said. He turned to Larisa, after hearing her call his name. The dark-haired woman asked him if he had seen the face of the body in the cabin. Thinking back, Taj remembered that he had not been able to look at the face of his friend. He did not know if he would be able to see her lifeless blue eyes, so he avoided looking at her much as he kissed her on the back of the head. He shook his head to answer Larisa’s question. The next thing he knew it, there was a loud holler coming from Desiree as she launched herself into his arms. She burst into joyful tears as she kissed him full on the mouth. Taj as well as Andrea and Larisa became wide eyed with the excited display. Her sister knew that Desiree was usually an affectionate person, but her little sister never took it that far as to plop a kiss on somebody’s lips.

Desiree arose from Taj’s lap and regarded her sister triumphantly. “See? There is our proof that Piper is alive. She’s out there somewhere.” Desiree did a little happy dance. She and Andrea exchanged high five’s, since the both of them were true believers in thinking that Piper was still on this earth.

Larisa sighed, getting the feeling that she was quickly losing this battle. She shrugged. Well maybe they were on to something after all. Larisa just did not want to see her sister get hurt if it turned out that Piper was actually dead. Desiree might sink into a severe deep depression if she found out that Emily was still alive. Therefore, Larisa decided to go with the motto that if you couldn’t beat ’em then join ’em.

“Okay. So where do we start looking for her?” Larisa asked, glancing around at everyone.

Desiree smiled, glad that her older sister was going to listen to them. “I don’t know,” Desiree announced. She looked down at Taj. “What do you think?” she asked him.

Taj scrunched up his face in thought. If Piper were indeed alive then where could she be? The question that was bothering him was why was she hiding. Why didn’t Piper just come to his or Desiree’s place?

“Maybe we should start searching the area around the cabin,” the Jamaican man stated. He proceeded to tell them that if Piper were alive then it was possible that she was in that area, because there was no other way other than hitch hiking that she could have gotten back to where there were a lot of people.

“She could have hitch hiked,” Larisa said.

Taj turned to her, “Yes, she could have, but if she would have done that, then we would have heard from her by now. She’s not the type to let someone worry. Therefore she has to be somewhere, where she can’t reach a phone.”

Desiree asked, “So you think that she’s stranded in the woods?”

Taj considered this, and then nodded. “It’s a possibility.”

“Then we have to go out there,” the strawberry-blonde announced. “We have to go out there right away. Let’s go.”

Desiree grabbed the keys to her Honda off the key ring hanging by the front door and made to open the door, when Taj suddenly placed his body in front of it, successfully blocking her. She gave him a slightly irritated look as she tried to push him out of her way, but he would not give. Finally, she asked him to move while tapping one foot impatiently on the carpet.

“No, Desi. What are we supposed to do, huh? Just go out there with no plan? Just the four of us walking around calling out her name?”

Desiree shrugged. “That about sums it up. Let’s go now Taj.” She pleaded him with her eyes.

Out of the corner of her eye, Desiree noticed Larisa jumping out of her seat, as if she had just been bitten. She turned around to study her sister, as everyone else did the same. The woman, who had everyone’s attention, had a bright look in her green eyes. She told them that she had an idea. Her sister asked her what it was.

“Let’s form a search party!”

***

After all three of them working together got Desiree to settle down, Larisa announced that she had to go to the airport to pick up her father and brother, who were arriving from San Francisco today. Desiree got up from the couch and started pacing, telling Taj and Andrea that they should have been on their way out to the cabin searching for Piper instead of just sitting there. Taj explained to her that they needed to get people together so that their chances of finding her would be more successful.

Removing his cell phone from his jacket pocket, Taj thought of people he knew that would be willing to help. He decided to call his brother Dion first in San Francisco. Since Dion had an automobile that could carry up to six or seven passengers, Taj figured that they could use that. He was sure that Dion would be more than willing to help with the search, since he had met Piper when Taj introduced her to him back during their high school years.

The Jamaican was not disappointed after he got off the phone with Dion. After explaining the situation to him, Taj’s older brother was more than happy to help. He was overjoyed to hear that there was a chance that Piper was still alive. Dion informed Taj that he would be leaving as soon as he could pack a bag and arrange to have a few days off from work. When Taj asked him if there would be a problem with his job, his brother told him that it would all right, and that he needed a vacation away from it anyway. Just before they were about to hang up, Taj inquired if Dion would be bringing his wife and daughters. Dion said that he had not planned on it but changed his mind, when his younger brother asked him. Taj had just come up with a plan if all of this worked out in their favor.

The next people that Taj got in contact with, were his parents who resided in Bakersfield. After giving them the same explanation that he had given Dion, his father Nathaniel said they would be arriving as soon as he could make reservations for the next available flight heading to Los Angeles. Taj said he would call him back in about fifteen minutes to see what time he should pick them up, but Nathaniel insisted that they could take a taxi to Taj’s house.

Next, Taj called his friend Tommy Jung, who had helped with carrying out Piper’s plan to take Desiree hostage. Tommy informed him that he would be glad to help, since he felt responsible for what had happened at the cabin, because he was the one to leak where Piper was to Victor Redding. Taj told him that he would be in touch after he found out what the definite plan was for this search party.

Taj decided that he would tell Leroy the news about the search and see if he would help, when he got back to his house. He was sure that his younger brother would help, but if he didn’t then the Jamaican man mused that he could always threaten him with the prospect of not having a place to live. Also when he got home, he would call his almost girlfriend Valerie (he hadn’t really asked her to be his girlfriend yet because that word commitment made him nervous every time he thought about it) and see if she would be willing to help although she had never met Piper.

It was then that Andrea announced that she had to be getting back to the hotel. She gave Desiree and Taj the number of the nearby hotel she was staying at. She informed them that she intended to help, so they were expected to call the number. They promised that they would and Desiree hugged and thanked Andrea for brightening up her day. The blonde woman blushed from the gratitude while telling Desiree that she did not have to thank her.

After Andrea left, Taj informed Desiree of all the people he had called and she thanked him. He noticed that the young woman was so fidgety that he went to her kitchen to fix her a cup of hopefully soothing tea. He didn’t know if it would have the desired affect, but it couldn’t hurt to try. When he gave the steaming mug to the strawberry-blonde she smiled her gratitude and took a sip, informing him that it was delicious.

Desiree sat on the couch and grasped the mug of tea between her hands. She glanced over at Taj who was sitting at the dining room table, apparently deep in thought. Desiree had to call his name a couple of times in order to gain the man’s attention.

“Answer me honestly,” she began. “Do you think we will be able to locate Piper’s whereabouts?”
Taj replied quickly, “If she’s still with us, then we will indeed find her. I know we will,” he assured her, believing what he said with all his heart.

“What do you think she’s doing right at this moment?”

“I don’t know,” Taj replied. “Probably trying to figure out a way to get back to civilization.”

“But if she is out there in the woods, don’t you think she would have been able to find her way back by now? I mean I know I don’t know her as well and as long as you have, but she just seems like the type who would be able to achieve what she wanted to achieve quickly. Today is the sixth day she’s been missing. It’s not like she doesn’t know where you or I live.”

The Jamaican man thought for a moment. “Maybe she’s been injured.”

Desiree looked at him worriedly. “Please, Taj don’t say that. I can’t bear the thought of her somewhere hurt.”

Taj apologized just as they both heard a key in the lock at the front door. It opened and in came Desiree’s mother. The strawberry-blonde sighed, wondering how her mother was going to take this latest news. Sandra smiled at her daughter, but when she caught sight of Taj, she glared at him before turning her eyes away from him. She closed the door with her foot, since she was carrying three big shopping bags. Taj arose from his chair to help her with the bags, but she told him curtly that she could handle them on her own. Trying to maintain his own patience, Taj once again took his seat without another word. He was trying to make peace with this woman, but she was making that difficult to achieve.

Heading into the guestroom that she was using while staying at her daughter’s apartment, Sandra deposited her bags near the bed. Coming out and closing the door behind her, she made her way over to her daughter and took a seat by the young woman on the couch. Taking a hold of one of Desiree’s hands, she sandwiched it between her own while asking the young woman how she was feeling. Not sparing him another glance, Sandra had decided she would ignore Taj all together. Evidently, Desiree insisted that this man was welcome in her home, but as far as Sandra was concerned, he did not exist to her.

“I’m fine Mom.” Desiree looked at her mother as if she wanted to tell her something, but found it difficult to start. Sandra looked back at her expectantly, waiting for her to speak. “I have some news Mom.”

“Which is?” Sandra inquired.

Desiree took a deep breath. “Mom, Piper Redding may be alive.”

***

Larisa arose from her seat and went to the gate, after hearing over the intercom that the plane from San Francisco was preparing to land. While she had been waiting for her family to arrive, Larisa wondered if she should tell her father that the woman who had taken his daughter hostage, may not have died. A part of her wanted to wait to return to the apartment, but the man was sure to ask how Desiree was doing, so Larisa would feel inclined to tell him that his youngest daughter was in high spirits due to this recent revelation. The only thing that he did not need to know was that Piper and Desiree were lovers. He would have a fit and so would Desiree. Her sister may not ever speak to again if she were to let the cat out of the bag. Larisa shook her head. No, what Desiree chose to do with that information was her own business. Besides, Larisa thought grimly as she shook her head. She had her secrets as well.

Ten minutes or so later, Larisa stood at the window watching the passengers descend the stairs of the plane. It wasn’t long before she spotted her father and brother getting off the plane. She hurried over to intercept them when they came through the door leading inside the airport. When Richie saw her, his face broke into a wide grin and he ran to her. He managed to pick her up although the activity caused a twinge of pain. Larisa rapped him on the shoulder lightly, to get the young man to put her down.

“Richie, you shouldn’t be doing that,” Larisa warned, yet she was smiling. She ruffled his hair only to receive a mock glare from him that made her laugh.

“Yeah, well I just wanted to show you how strong I still am.” Richie puffed out his chest. “No bullet can stop me.” He grinned. He then felt a sharp pain of guilt at what that reminded him of. Richie partially put the blame on himself for what had happened to Piper Redding. He admitted that he had lied to the police about who had shot him. It had felt like an extensive weight had been lifted from his shoulders after revealing the truth. When Richie had apologized to Desiree over the phone, she had told him that there was no apology needed, but the young man knew that the guilt he was going through would always be there, no matter what the circumstances had been. Although the real shooter had threatened he and his family, Richie still felt the guilt.

Richard clapped his son on the back. “That’s my boy,” he said proudly. The older man looked at his daughter and squeezed her shoulder. Richard had never been the type of father who showed a lot of affection.

“How are you, Larisa?” Richard asked his daughter.

The dark-haired woman nodded. “I’m fine. How was the flight?”

“Smooth,” Richie said while reaching into a pocket of his pants. He took out two small bags of honey roasted peanuts and handed them to his sister. She laughed thanking him for the little treats.

The trio chatted, mostly Larisa and her brother as they walked to the baggage claim to get the two men’s suitcases. Richard found the bags and carried them both back to Larisa’s blue Nissan. She opened the trunk so he could deposit them in there. Richard insisted on driving so his daughter handed over the keys to him without any argument. Larisa moved into the back seat of the car despite her brother’s protest that he could sit back there. She wanted him to sit in the front in the hopes that he would be more comfortable. Besides, she didn’t particularly want to sit that close to her father just in case he was in a mood to interrogate. After he settled into the driver’s seat, they sped off into traffic.

“How is Desi doing?” Richie asked, stretching his legs out in front of him in the front seat. He could not wait to get his younger sister’s apartment to see her. He wanted nothing more than to envelop the petite woman in his arms and assure her that everything would be all right. Richie also wanted to tell Desiree how much he really loved her, since he had taken after his father in not showing much affection. It was times like these that made one realize how precious family really was. Richie winced, thinking that a tragedy had to occur in order for him to want to be close with his little sister. Right now Desiree probably needed all the love and affection she could handle, and he silently vowed that he would be the best brother he could be. Richie mused that it was all a part of the big brother’s imaginary handbook to look out for the little ones.

Larisa sighed softly as she wondered just how she should answer that particular question. Should she just tell them now or wait until they got to the apartment? She concluded that she might as well tell them now and get it over with. Besides maybe telling them now, especially her father might take some of the heat off of Desiree. The dark-haired woman had the impression that her little sister was hanging on by a very thin rope. A piece of thread maybe. Desiree would not be able to take much more stress before something drastic happened. Larisa did not have a clue what that would be, but Desiree was in a fragile state right now and she would not allow their father to push her any farther.

“Well,” Larisa began, “actually, she’s doing better.”

She saw her father nod in approval, for like her mother he did not understand why his youngest child was in such deep despair over someone who robbed her of her freedom for nearly a week. Larisa had also tried to explain to her father that somehow Desiree and Piper had become friends, but the stubborn man would not listen to her plea. It was times like these that Larisa figured that he and her mother were perfect for one another.

Richie looked over his shoulder at his sister, who was sitting directly behind his seat. He had yet to see his sister, but just from hearing her voice on the phone, he could tell that she was taking this hard. The young man had a surprised look on his face when he replied, “She is? Well that’s good. Has she started writing again?”

Richard snorted as he stopped at a red light. That was another matter. Richard was the only one in the family who did not care for Desiree’s chosen line of work. When she had announced that she wanted to be a free-lance writer, her father had told her that she would never be successful in the business since there was so much competition. Desiree would not listen to him and ended up building her major in college around her writing. Now, since she had lost her job Richard figured that she still considered herself to be employed as a free-lance writer. Being a free-lance writer in his opinion equated to simply being out of work. He had hoped that by now she would have grown out of it, but Desiree was still obsessed about her hobby, which was what he referred to it as.

“No, she hasn’t Richie, but I believe she probably will soon enough.”

“She needs to get a real job,” Richard stated as he kept his eyes riveted to the traffic.

Larisa took a deep calming breath. Arguing with her father was not an event that she wanted to get into at the moment. Matters, which were much more important needed to be discussed now. However, if the man brought up the subject of Desiree’s chosen employment in the future, than Larisa would defend her sister against him. She knew Desiree would not do it, and the odds that Richie would were slim. Larisa informed her brother and father that she had some important news to tell them. They both asked her what it was.

Larisa began to talk but then she got a disturbing image. What if when she told them, Richard lost control of the car resulting in an accident? Maybe she should ask them to pull over at the next café they passed. Larisa asked her father to do this, but the man replied that he was not making any stops so she should start talking where she was. The woman figured that it was a chance that she would just take.

“Desiree, Taj and I found out something today. Not long before I left to pick you guys up from the airport.”

“Taj?” Richard said with a frown. “You mean Taj Potter that no good friend of Piper Redding is at my daughter’s home?” he asked in an angry tone of voice.

Larisa rolled her eyes. If she did not know any better she would think that her parents were prejudice, but she knew that their animosity towards Taj was solely focused on him and not his race.

“Yes Father, Taj is at Desiree’s. And he will remain there because he is her friend, and there isn’t a thing that you can do about that. Why don’t you and Mother try to forgive instead of hating him and Piper?” Larisa could not help herself. She had to go further. “You claim to be strong Christians but right now you don’t resemble them in the least bit. You and Mother are filled with hate and bitterness and it truly disgusts me! You are such a damn hypocrite. Who’s the one who put Piper in the slammer for eight years for some filthy money, huh? How does it feel to learn that you took money from a Redding? You know, you’re lucky that it was Desiree to learn all this about you, because if it was me instead of her at that cabin that night with the police, I would have turned your antagonistic ass in!”

All of the sudden Richard made an abrupt right causing the tires to screech as he came to a halt that sent all three of them forward a little. Leaving the ignition running, he turned to regard his daughter, the expression on his face one of anger. He was flushed with the amount of anger that he felt at that moment towards his oldest daughter. Not backing down, the woman gave him a look of utter defiance. In all her twenty-nine years, Larisa had never spoken to either of her parents like that. She admitted to herself that it felt good to get that off her chest and she did not feel the slightest bit guilty about it.

Richard told his daughter in a low tone to get out of the car. He told her that she could walk to Desiree’s home for all he cared. Remaining quite, Richie watched the scene unfolding before him with dread. He had never seen someone stand up to his father like his older sister had just done and he didn’t know whether to decide that she was brave or just plain stupid. During her tirade, he had desperately wanted to slap a hand over her mouth but he got the feeling that it would not have done any good. Larisa would have been able to get out what she wanted to say despite his efforts.

“Excuse me?” Larisa said coolly towards her father.

Richie started to say something, but his father gave him a warning look before turning his attention back to his daughter. “I said get out of this car now!”

Larisa laughed which caused her brother to wince. He half figured that his sister had lost her mine, and now was in desperate need of a straight jacket. “I think you forget Father that this is my vehicle and therefore you cannot tell me to get out of it.”

“Oh, I remember,” Richard replied. “Now get out of the car,” he said between clenched teeth.

The dark-haired woman looked at her brother and smiled at him warmly, although part of her wanted to call him a coward for being so spineless at times like this. Leaning forward Larisa gave Richie a quick kiss on his cheek before getting out of the car without another look at her father. A second later, the blue Nissan eased back into traffic and continued on its way. Larisa watched as it took off just now remembering that she had left her purse in the back seat. Well she wouldn’t be able to take a taxi or a bus since she did not have a penny on her. She estimated that it would be about a nine-mile walk to her sister’s apartment. The woman began walking along the sidewalk, cheerfully whistling, and swinging her arms at her sides as she did so. No matter if people looked at her strangely. There was a possibility that Piper was alive, Desiree was feeling better, and she had got the opportunity to tell her father off. Larisa was in a good mood.

***

Richard Love and his son walked into the apartment after letting themselves in with a key Richard had made. The man found his wife pacing back and forth while giving their youngest daughter worried looks. Desiree glanced towards them and smiled when she caught sight of her brother. He smiled back as he began to walk towards her. Desiree met him half way and the man wrapped her in a big bear hug as he lifted her off the floor. She laughed slightly as he put her down and took a step back to look at her.

“You look good sis,” Richie said. “I’ve missed you.” He leaned for and gave her a peck on the cheek as Desiree gave him an odd look. She had never known Richie to be this affectionate and especially with an audience. What he said next surprised her even more. He told Desiree that he loved her and that he would be there for her whenever she needed him. Tears welled in her eyes as Desiree gave her big brother another hug. When she pulled away, she noticed that he was wiping an eye. He claimed that something had flown in it, but his sister knew better. She considered that that bullet in his chest must have done something good to his heart.

Richard cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention. He asked his wife what was wrong and she turned towards him standing still finally. Desiree and Richie took their seats at the dining room table, which was where Taj was. Reaching the other man Richie stuck out his hand and they shook hands. The younger man thanked Taj for saving his sister’s life but the Jamaican man waved it off.

Sandra put her hands on her hips. “I think our daughter has something to tell you.” She looked at Desiree as Richard did the same.

Desiree glanced around the room. Someone was missing. She addressed her father when she asked, “Where is Larisa? She did pick you guys up, didn’t she?”

“She had to take a walk,” Richard replied. “Now what is it you have to tell me?”

“Piper may be alive.” Her father’s eyes widened as she heard her brother gasp loudly.

“What do you mean she may be alive?” Richard asked. “She burned to a crisp, remember?”

Desiree winced at the tone of his voice and his poor choice of words. The man sounded as if he were merely discussing the weather, instead of someone’s death.

“Must you be so callous about it?” the strawberry-blonde questioned softly.

Her father glared at her briefly. “I’m just stating a fact.”

Desiree shook her head. “It’s not necessarily a fact any longer.” She reached on the table and picked up the two letters. Arising from her chair, she walked over to her father holding the letters out to him. “Read these.”

He took the letters and sat down on the couch. Reaching into his shirt pocket, Richard took out his reading glasses and put them on before starting. The other four people in the room watched Richard intently as he read first one letter and then the second. After finishing both, the man deposited the letters on the coffee table before he turned to his daughter and stared at her for a moment without speaking. “Let me guess. You think that the woman in the cabin was actually this Emily Redding?”

Desiree nodded. “Yes, I do. What do you think?”

“Who is Emily Redding?” Richie asked his sister. Desiree got up, grabbed the letters, and then handed them to her brother. As Richie read them, Desiree turned back to her father to hear his reply.

“I think you should move on with your life, Desiree,” Richard replied. “That woman is dead. Whether she is dead because she was killed or dead because she is missing, either way she is out of your life. She should be dead to you because of what she did to you. Piper Redding was or is a liar, kidnapper and cold-blooded killer and for the life of me I can’t figure out why you would want to associate with such a person.”

“She did what she had to do, Daddy,” Desiree said. “You know how her father was. He was abusive and he tried to kill her mother. Piper was only defending her. He probably would have tried to kill her too if she hadn’t done something about him.”

Richard sighed. “She beat her father to death with a hammer. According to that letter, her sister beat another man to death with a hammer and her brother killed a few people. If you ask me, that whole family is crazy. Where did you get those letters anyway?”

Desiree explained how Andrea Redding, Victor’s ex-wife had brought them all the way from San Bernardino to give them to Desiree, because she thought that the body that burned in the cabin was Emily’s and not Piper’s. Desiree also told her father that they planned to form a search party to go look for Piper in the woods by the cabin. She told him how Taj had been able to get a few people already to help them and that they were on their way to Los Angeles.

Before Richard and Richie had arrived, Desiree had told the whole story to her mother about how Piper might be alive. The woman had not wanted to listen to a word she said, but Desiree managed to tell her all of it. When she finished she asked her mother if she would participate in the search and Sandra had adamantly declined, announcing that she was not about to go looking for a woman who almost caused her daughter’s death. Desiree sighed trying to get the woman to realize that it was not Piper’s fault, but Victor’s, yet Sandra remained stubborn. The strawberry-blonde had not given up hope, considering that maybe once he got there that her father would be able to change his wife’s mine, but now Desiree was not so sure.

“Daddy would you help in the search party?” Desiree asked. She had debated using her puppy dog eyes but figured that it would not work. She hadn’t used them since she was fourteen years old because that’s when they ceased to help.

“No I won’t. And neither will you. There will be no search party because I’m calling it off.”

The front door suddenly slammed and everyone in the room jumped at the unexpected noise. All of their eyes widened as they noticed Larisa standing in front of it while breathing hard with a look of pure vexation on her face. There was no easy way to put it. She was an absolute mess. Her shirt was dirty and ripped. One of the sleeves from her jacket was missing and the seat of her pants was ripped so badly, that if she were to turn around, everyone would be able to plainly see that she was wearing silk black and silver designed boxers. Her hair was in a disorder, and if Richie wasn’t mistaken, he thought he saw bits of tomato and some sort of green sauce in it. Everybody scrunched up their noses as they began to detect a rancid odor emanating from Larisa. She warned them that the first person that said anything about how bad she smelled would get to smell her really well, because she would jump then.

Taj decided to have a bit of fun with that statement. “You don’t smell so fresh. Now jump me.” He gave her a suggestive look while attempting not to laugh. Richie chuckled, nudging Taj on the shoulder as Desiree grinned widely. Richard and Sandra just glared at Taj, but he missed them.

Larisa looked at him and smirked. “Funny, Taj. I’m laughing hard on the inside.” Removing what was left of her jacket, she opened the front door and tossed it outside into the hall. Closing the door and locking it behind her she turned back to regard her shocked audience.

“Rule number one people. Always lock the door when you enter your home, ’cause there are a lot of wackos in Los Angeles!” Larisa shouted while pointing an accusing at the door behind her that had been unlocked when she had turned the knob. “Rule number two is I’m running the show from now on.” She glanced at her father. “I heard what you said about there being no search party because you’re calling it off.” Larisa shook her filthy head. “I don’t think so. The search party will proceed as planned.” There was a note of command in Larisa’s voice as she continued. “Rule number three. Everyone,” she looked at everyone in the room when she said the last word, “will do as I say.” The dark-haired woman put her hands on her hips. “Any questions?” she asked lightly.

Everyone in the room looked at everyone else, wondering who was going to take the initiative to speak to the seemingly now crazy dirty brunette. They were all a little wary of Larisa except for her father. Richard presented her with a glare.

“Have you lost your mind?” he asked her angrily, causing his wife to wince at the tone of his voice. “Who do you think we are? Your personal army to boss around? You better keep a firm hold on your temper, because you’ve already ticked me off enough today, Larisa.”

Larisa smiled at him much too sweetly. “Oh, I’ve ticked you off, Father?” she asked calmly. “Who is the one who kicked me out of my own damn car, huh?” She heard her mother gasp at this information, which made the younger woman conclude that her father had not bothered to share with everyone why she failed to arrive with him and her brother.

“You were being disrespectful to me. I’m your father and I demand to be treated with more respect.”

“You gotta give it to get it Pops,” Larisa replied. “Maybe if you weren’t so narrow-minded you’d be a lot happier and respected.”

It was then that Sandra asked her husband why he put their daughter out of her own car. He told her the story of how Larisa had spoken so rudely to him, that it got to the point where he could not take it anymore, so he put her out on the street and told her to walk home. Sandra was upset with him for it, but Richard adamantly defended himself claiming that he was in the right. Desiree cleared her throat to get her quietly feuding parents attention, as well as everyone else’s. She then turned her gaze on Larisa, finding that she had to bite her lower lip in order to keep from laughing because her sister looked so ridiculous. Obviously something had gone wrong on her walk here, but it couldn’t have been that bad. Desiree asked her sister what happened to make her look so disheveled. Larisa glanced down at herself, as if she had forgotten what state she was in. She looked up to find that everyone had his or her eyes on her waiting for an explanation.

“I wondered how long it would take someone to ask. Well the walk started out nice enough. On the way here I came up with a plan as to how to perform this search party. I will inform you of that plan later. Anyway, after oh say about three miles all of the sudden I’m grabbed from behind and lifted off my feet…”

Larisa saw a big hairy hand clamp down over her mouth to prevent her from screaming. She was then dragged into an empty alley and deposited roughly on the ground. The dark-haired woman looked up to see two men grinning maniacally as they stood over her. One was tall and resembled a toothpick in width, with long stringy blond hair and a nose that was so disfigured that Larisa got the impression that it had been broken at least once before. By the man sat a big black dog that could easily be mistaken for a wolf. The other man was not as tall as the skinny man was, but both of them still towered over Larisa. The slightly shorter man must have weighed at least two hundred and eighty pounds. His hair was coal black, but there were more bald spots visible than hair. Both of them appeared to be in their mid to late thirties.

The bigger man leaned over Larisa and informed her that they were about to have a little fun with her and that there was nothing she would be able to do about it. The woman turned her head away not being able to stand smelling the stench of his breath. The man started to unbuckle the belt holding up his trousers when Larisa suddenly kicked him in the crotch, while informing him that he was not her type. He doubled over in pain, giving Larisa enough time to arise from her vulnerable position on the ground. It was then that the skinnier man charged her and managed to knock Larisa back to the ground. He managed to send a hard blow to her right eye momentarily dazing the brunette as he began to litter her neck with wet sloppy kisses. Thoroughly disgusted, she could feel the stubble on his cheek rubbing against her smooth one. Reaching up, she managed to grab a handful of his hair and gave it a sharp yank. Instantly letting her go he howled in pain as he grabbed his head. Hurriedly scooting away, Larisa drew her right leg back before she quickly brought it forth, kicking him square in the face, causing the skinny man to fall to the ground on his back.

Getting up again, the brunette noticed the heavy man was coming towards her, his face twisted into a snarl. Larisa sighed, wondering if this was happening because of the way she had treated her father in the car. By the time the big man got to her, she was ready for him. Making a tight fist, Larisa aimed for his nose, managing to make perfect contact. It began to bleed as he cursed her while holding both hands to his nose. Wordlessly, Larisa walked up to him and kneed him in the crotch again, which sent the man to his knees. She thought that she noticed tears in his eyes before she returned her attention to the other man. He was getting up again and was currently on all fours. Quickly taking advantage of the situation, Larisa kicked him in the stomach, which caused his whole body to flip over as easily as a pancake would with the help of a spatula. The skinny man landed flat on his back due to the severe blow. Larisa was abruptly pulled back from the writhing man by a rough tug on her jacket sleeve, which ended with the sleeve being ripped off. She turned around to see the big man sending his fist towards her. She managed to duck the hit and butted the man in the stomach with her head. She doubted it did much good, since he was so heavily padded there.

Larisa straightened up only to be pulled the other way by her shirt. It ripped too as she came face to face with the skinny man. She was not so much afraid as she was angry by this point. Gritting her teeth, she maneuvered herself in a position where she could put her hands on the back of both of the men’s heads. She then proceeded to bring their heads forward making the two attacker’s foreheads bang together with a loud thud. The skinny man fell to the ground, but the big man managed to stay on his feet as he blinked rapidly to clear his now fuzzy vision. Taking a couple of steps back, Larisa brought her leg up and kicked him in the face. She then delivered another kick to his groin, causing the man to groan in pain.

Before she could do anymore damage to his partner in crime, the skinny man swiftly yet quietly walked behind her and picked up her up. As the feisty brunette struggled in his arms, he carried her over to a nearby Dumpster and threw her inside. Larisa found herself smothered in garbage. When she got to her feet, she noticed that she was nearly up to her knees in trash. By then the skinny man was standing on a crate by the trash can putting them at about eye level. It was then that Larisa noticed that he was holding a pocketknife in his hand, which was aimed at her. She hurriedly looked in the Dumpster for something to defend herself with, since there was no way that she could quickly get out of all the trash. Her eyes landed on an empty beer bottle peeking out from beneath a newspaper. Picking it up by the neck, she turned around to the skinny man who was wearing a triumphant smirk, because he thought he had her now. Before he knew it, he was being hit over the head with a hard object.

Falling off of the crate, he landed on the ground, completely unconscious. The big man then came towards her wearing a menacing glare. The brunette threw the bottle down and pretended to look around for something else. When he came near enough, Larisa grabbed the broken bottle that now had jagged edges from being broken on the skinny attacker’s head and ran it across the man’s face. Thins lines with blood leaking from them formed on his face, as he howled in pain. He took a few steps back as Larisa managed to hop out of the Dumpster and came towards him. Drawing her leg back, she kicked him in the stomach making him double over, while he held one hand to his face. Larisa then hit him in the face with all her might. Feeling pain coursing through her hand, she knew she would probably have bruises on her knuckles, but it was worth it because the big man finally fell to the ground into oblivion.

Larisa breathed a sigh of relief, but it was short-lived. The next sound the woman heard was the dog growling. She had forgotten all about him. Reluctantly turning to face the canine, Larisa saw that he was baring his sharp fangs at her. She did not make a move, barely breathing until he suddenly lunged after her. Larisa cursed loudly as she began running down the alley with an incensed dog not far behind her. Running around a corner, she waved her hands in the air, yelling for someone to help her. She saw people in their cars curiously looking at her but they kept going. Glancing over her shoulder, she unfortunately noticed that the ferocious dog was catching up on her, strings of saliva flying from his wide mouth. The dark-haired woman kept on running with her breath starting to quicken more than it already had been from the attack. The unusual run was starting to pull in her calves, and Larisa made a silent vow that she would start going to the gym regularly once again if she could only get out of this predicament unscathed.

The next thing the woman knew the dog was right on her heels, trying to get a nip at her. She ran as fast as she could, but soon felt the teeth tugging at her pants. Screaming, Larisa desperately tried to get away, but the beast would not let go. He moved his head from side to side, yet Larisa noticed that he had yet to get her meat, which was good because the dog looked like he could have had rabies or anything. The dog managed to rip a big piece off the seat of the woman’s pants, and it was then that Larisa was able to take off again. Her legs pumping fast and hard, she heard the dog barking behind her. She heard his large paws as they slapped on the pavement as he once again began his pursuit of her. Larisa figured she had to give the dog some credit for being tenacious in his goal.

Rounding another corner, the brunette almost cried out in joy as she saw a liquor store up head. She glanced behind her to see that the dog was still coming after her rather quickly. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead and upper lip as the woman ran with all her might towards the store. At that moment it looked like the most beautiful thing she had ever laid eyes on. Finally reaching the store, Larisa ran inside and managed to push the glass door closed before the dog could enter. He stood on the outside looking at her as he barked loudly. Getting to his hind feet, he banged against the glass, as if he intended to break it. Larisa would have wagered that given enough time he probably would have been able to do just that.

The tired woman bent over, placing the palms of her hands on her knees as she quickly gulped air into her burning lungs. Two concerned looking men approached her. One was an older man and the other looked like he was in his early twenties. Larisa considered that they might be father and son, for the younger man looked just like a younger version of the other man. The older man introduced himself as Cliff and the other man as being his son, Gary. Cliff patted Larisa on the back, asking her if she was all right. She nodded as she gave a quick explanation of what had just happened. Gary asked her if she wanted him to call the police, but the woman declined saying that she just wanted to get where she was going. Cliff asked her where that was, claiming that they would give her a lift. Larisa started to decline this too, but then changed her mind, deciding that she did not want to walk home after all. She was tired, sweaty, messy and her emotions were all out of whack. By the slight pressure evident in her temples, she was also starting to get a headache.

Glancing at the barking dog outside, Gary went to the counter where the cashier was watching the trio as well as the irate canine intently. Fishing his wallet out of his pocket, Gary purchased a long stick of beef jerky before walking over to the entrance. He motioned for his father and Larisa to stand back as he started to open the door. Blocking the dog’s entry to the store, Gary allowed it to smell the edible stick before he hurled the beef jerky far down the street. As he had hoped, the dog turned around and chased after it in hot pursuit of the tasty treat, forgetting Larisa for the time being. After the dog got about twenty feet away, Gary told his father to hurry and get Larisa in the truck while he attained their purchases from the store.

Cliff led Larisa to the huge red truck parked next to the sidewalk. Wearing a look of apology, he asked her if she could get in the back because it was hard for him to do so, since he had arthritis. Not having a problem with riding in the back, the brunette told him so while wearing a grateful smile. Hopping in the truck bed, she rested the back of her head against the window with her legs stretched out in front of her. She watched the dog warily, wondering if she should scoot down in the truck just in case he was to glance over and see her in it. Before she did it, Gary came out of the store carrying two cases of root beer, which he put in the back of the truck with Larisa. He offered her a broad smile before he got in the passenger side of the vehicle, and they took off.

“And so Cliff and Gary dropped me off here,” Larisa said winding down her story. She had described everything and everyone else in the room looked as exhausted as she felt. “Therefore I am not in a good mood, and I would appreciate it if you guys would work with me here on this search party.” She turned to her parents. Before she could say anything more, her mother interrupted her.

“Where are the men now?” Sandra asked. “Don’t you think you should file a report?”

Larisa shook her head impatiently. “I guess they’re either still in the alley out cold or looking for their dog. I don’t care where they are and I don’t care about filing a report. Forget it. The important thing is that I’m okay.”

“Larisa, you just can’t let this go,” her father told her. His tone did not hold any anger in it now.

“Watch me,” the dark-haired woman replied, as Taj thrust a plastic bag of ice in her hand. She smiled at him gratefully and held the cold bag to her bruising eye. She winced at the pain the contact caused, but held the bag to the eye as best she could. “My main concern now is getting Piper back. Now, Mother, Father you will be in the search party. We need all the people we can get.”

“And if Taj’s parent’s can come all the way from Bakersfield to help, than you two should be able to do it. You and Mom are right here,” Desiree added, receiving a quick smile of approval from her sister.

Richard turned his gaze on his younger daughter. “I don’t care what Mr. Potter’s parents are doing. If you all insist on wasting your time on that woman, then do it. Your mother and I want no part of it. Besides, Redding doesn’t act like she wants to be found if she is alive. She probably just wants you all to leave her alone.”

“You don’t know what she wants,” Larisa stated with a slight tinge of anger in her voice. “You don’t even know her. Besides we think that she’s lost and possibly injured in the woods and that’s why she hasn’t contacted us.”

Her father swiftly retorted, “And you don’t know her either. This is a very dangerous woman.”

“She didn’t kill those people, Daddy,” Desiree supplied. “You know that now. It turns out that she was innocent after all.”

“I know that, but the woman is still a convicted killer and I don’t want her anywhere near this family or you. Why do you care so much about her anyway? What do you hope to achieve?”

Before Desiree could reply anything Larisa interrupted. “For the umpteenth time, Piper is Desiree’s friend. She just wants to help the woman. And Piper must not be that dangerous, because otherwise she could have killed Desiree. All she wanted was for you to get the police off her back. She didn’t do anything wrong and she was scared.” Larisa paused. “Try putting yourself in her shoes. Wouldn’t you have been frightened of being locked up again for something that you didn’t even do? She already lost eight years of her life due to your greediness.” Her father started to say something, but the woman held up a sticky hand. “No, it’s true and you know it. I think the only reason you don’t want to help is because you’re scared that Piper will tell what you did if Desiree or one of us was to tell her the whole story of what Victor Redding said that night. As of now we are the only ones who know what you did and you want to keep it that way,” she stated quite calmly. “You’re scared and you’re a coward.”

“Now wait a minute young lady,” Sandra said standing up. “I will not allow you to talk that way to your father. Either you show him some respect or you get out of this apartment.”

“This is my home Mom and Larisa doesn’t have to leave if I don’t want her to. So please don’t presume to think that you have rule over a place that doesn’t even belong to you,” Desiree interjected politely. She glanced away when her mother regarded her with a shocked expression. Larisa did the same but she smiled approvingly again. If her little sister kept this up, she would have to take her out somewhere special to celebrate sometime. It felt good to not be the only one standing up to their parents.

Richard glared at Larisa. “Look what you’ve done. Now you’ve got your sister talking disrespectfully.”

The dark-haired woman shook her head. “Blame it on me all you want. I don’t care. All I know is you’re helping out in the search,” she stated confidently.

“No I’m not,” her father argued, his eyebrows knitting together as he frowned at her.

Larisa smiled sweetly, which proved to raise everyone’s suspicions. Although Taj had not known her long, he had the feeling that she was about to do or say something out of the ordinary.

“You wanna know why you’ll help, Father?” Larisa asked. “Because if you and Mother don’t help in locating Piper’s whereabouts, I’m afraid,” she didn’t look like she was afraid at all, “that I may not be able to keep my mouth shut.” Looking at him innocently, she waited for a reply.

Her father continued to frown at her. What did she mean by that comment? “About what?” he asked hesitantly, while considering that his oldest child might be on drugs or something. Larisa had always been rather outspoken, but today she had reached a new level of speaking her mind.

“I’m so glad that you asked,” the brunette replied with a smile on her lips. “I’m afraid that I’ll have to tell the proper authorities about your little problem with incarcerating people for a certain amount of time for financial reasons. Are we on the same page here, Father?”

“You wouldn’t dare,” he argued thinking that based on the way she was behaving, she most likely would. Then his career would probably be over and he would be shamed in front of all that knew him. Not to mention this could possibly land him right behind bars.

Larisa clasped her hands together in front of her, a sober expression on her face. “You care to bet?”

***

About three hours later, Desiree and Larisa arrived back at Desiree’s apartment with a motor home they had rented for the drive up to the cabin. Larisa had come up with the idea that if they did find Piper somewhere wandering in the woods, that she would be most likely be tired and hungry. If they had a motor home, then she could use that to relax in on the trip back to Los Angeles, and possibly a hospital if she ended up needing one. After being assured by her sister that she could manage driving the big vehicle, Desiree agreed to the idea.

They had rented a thirty-five foot class “A” motor home for the next three days. The one that they had rented had roof air conditioning, a fresh water sink, hot water shower, a toilet that flushed, a waste water tank, a refrigerator, stove, oven and a furnace. It was also equipped with a queen-sized bed, which was located in a tiny bedroom towards the back, a table with chairs to sit at near the front and a padded bench. The people they had rented it from, assured Larisa and Desiree that the motor home was built to hold six to eight adult-sized passengers comfortably.

Before leaving to go shopping for a motor home, Larisa and Desiree had informed Taj what to tell the people he had arranged to go on the search party. The plan was for all the people involved to meet at Desiree’s house at seven o’clock Sunday morning, which was tomorrow. It would be then that Larisa would inform them of what else would be going on and what they were supposed to do. After that, they would head out on the road. Some would ride in the motor home while the rest would ride in Dion’s automobile. Both Larisa and Desiree had told Taj that they could not wait to meet his family. Larisa had already called Andrea to let her know to be at Desiree’s apartment in the morning at the specified time. The blonde-haired woman stated that she would be there.

Larisa and Desiree exited the motor home after finding a place to park it. Larisa declined Desiree’s offer to come inside, saying that she had some other things to take care of before the trip. Telling Desiree that she would make a trip to the supermarket to get the items and food that they needed for the motor home, Larisa headed towards her car. Having forgotten about stocking up the motor home for the trip, Desiree offered to come along but Larisa insisted that she stay home, pack and rest before they left. Just before getting in her car, Larisa hugged her little sister, promising that they would do everything they could to find Piper. Desiree hugged her back fiercely, fear creeping its way into her heart that they would never find her beloved before she managed to push it away.

Entering her apartment minutes later, Desiree went to the kitchen to get a snack. Finding her brother there, she took a seat at the kitchen table and began talking with him after grabbing an orange from a fruit basket on the counter. She had not seen him in a while so the two had a lot of catching up to do. When they started talking about the search party, Richie once again brought up how sorry he was for his part in what happened. His sister assured him that nothing that happened was his fault, and that he did not have a choice. She also told him that if she were put in his position that she would most likely have done the same thing. He was only protecting those that he loved so there was no reason to apologize for that.

Giving his sister a smile, Richie arose from his chair and wrapped his arms around her. He planted a kiss on the top of her head before leaving the kitchen saying that since he was in Los Angeles, there were some friends he would like to visit. Tossing the peelings of her orange in the trash, his sister followed him out of the kitchen.

Desiree gave him the keys to her Honda when she saw him searching in the Yellow Pages for a taxicab service. Gratefully accepting the keys, Richie offered his sister another hug before leaving the apartment. Desiree watched him walk down the hall to the elevator wearing an expression of complete bewilderment. That was the third time today that her brother had given her a hug. She couldn’t even recall receiving three hugs from him in the past within a six month span, yet alone a day. Desiree closed the door and locked it remembering Larisa’s warning earlier as she popped a piece of the juicy sweet orange into her mouth. Thinking about her sister, the young woman began to laugh so much that tears rolled down her cheeks. Thankfully, her parents were not there at the moment so she was free to laugh all she wanted to without interruption. Larisa had looked comical standing there covered in garbage stains.

After outlining the plan of the trip, Larisa had asked to use Desiree’s bathroom so that she could take a shower. When the strawberry-blonde commented that she would wash her sister’s clothing, she had been told to just put everything in the trash. Desiree argued saying that she might be able to salvage the shirt and pants with some thread and a needle, but Larisa insisted she toss them. After taking her shower, Larisa put on the clothes that her sister had laid out for her. The clothes were a tad bit small, but at least they were presentable.

Strolling into her bedroom, Desiree plopped down on the bed. After polishing off the rest of her orange, the strawberry-blonde licked the sweet juice from her digits before removing her shoes and placing them next to the nightstand. With any luck by this time tomorrow Piper would be with her. She smiled dreamily, knowing how good it would feel to hold the blue-eyed woman in her arms and profess her love to her. Getting up from the bed she went to her closet to take out her overnight bag. She put the necessary items and clothes into it, before setting the bag by her door.

Going back into the kitchen, Desiree pre-heated the stove, and opened the refrigerator, taking out a package of ground beef she had put in it this morning from the freezer. She quickly prepared the ground beef into a meatloaf, adding spices, and all else that was needed to it. After putting the meatloaf in the oven, Desiree went to the cabinet underneath the sink and reached into the back for what she wanted. Closing her fingers around its neck, Desiree pulled out a bottle of vodka.

Closing the cabinet, she went back to her room and sat at the desk in front of her computer. Putting the vodka on her desk, she powered up her computer. Desiree reached into a case sitting on the desk, took out a red floppy disk, and inserted it. She had chosen to start her journal all over again since the other disks had been destroyed in the fire at the cabin. This would be her first entry. The young woman started up her Microsoft Word program and then twisted the cap off the bottle of alcohol. She took a few sips while wondering how to start. Setting the bottle down Desiree flexed her fingers before she started to type.

April 17, 1999

Dear Journal,

Man! After the last time I wrote you things just started to get out of hand! Things have been going haywire, but it seems like my life is about to get back on track. I almost died last week at the cabin. This man Victor Redding (I will never forget him) is the reason that Piper kidnapped me. He had been committing murders and blaming them on her. I have a confession to make. I came to the conclusion that she was committing the murders, but evidently I was wrong. Tomorrow we are going to go on a search party and look for her, since Piper is now missing. I thought she had died in the fire, but I was wrong about that too. She is out there somewhere and I’m going to find her, J. I won’t rest until I do. I’m in love with this woman and I didn’t know that a person could feel such a depth of love for someone. Now it hurts that I can’t hold and kiss her whenever I want to, because I don’t know where she is. She means the world to me and I plan to tell her so. I just hope she’ll listen to me after the way I treated her on our last meeting. I was brutal. Let’s put it this way. I was all in the Kool-Aid and didn’t know the flavor. Well I’m going to go now. I’ll let you know what happens.

4ever,

Desi
Desiree saved her entry and shut down the program. Picking up the bottle, she took another sip feeling the alcohol slide down her throat. This would help to calm her nerves. After securing the top on the vodka bottle, Desiree went to her bed and laid down trying to put together what she would say to Piper when she saw her. She had so many things to tell the woman but did not know exactly where to start. Pulling over her gift from Taj, Desiree held the stuffed kitty close as she allowed her thoughts to wander.

***

The next morning, Desiree woke up to the smell of something good. It smelled like someone was cooking. Leaning on an elbow, she squinted at the alarm clock on her nightstand to notice that it was a few minutes before six thirty. Her eyes widened as Desiree considered that she should have been up by now. Hurrying out of the bed the young woman went to her closet and rummaged around until she found a light robe to put on. Quickly putting on the robe, she opened her bedroom door, heading in the direction of the kitchen. Her stomach grumbled letting her know that it was aware of the food too. Entering the kitchen Desiree was shocked with what she saw. Taj was over by the stove mixing something in a bowl with a whisk while whistling softly. He was wearing a forest green apron. The Jamaican man caught movement out of the corner of his eye and glanced up to see Desiree standing in the entryway looking at him with curious sleepy blue-green eyes, her blonde hair mused. He grinned while thinking that she looked adorable.
“Morning, little one,” Taj greeted her cheerily.

Desiree smiled starting to come forward to hug him, but then changed her mind when she figured she must look a fright. She had not brushed her teeth, washed her face or anything. Excusing herself, she turned around and headed out to go fulfill those tasks. The young woman also brushed her hair while she was in the bathroom. Coming out on her way back to the kitchen, Desiree smiled in amusement when she spotted her brother sprawled out on the couch sleep with his mouth opened so wide that she could see his molars. Though hating to wake him, she tapped the man lightly on his shoulder. When Richie opened his eyes and focused them on her, she told him to start getting ready. He nodded getting right up. Desiree continued on her way to the kitchen and this time she saw Taj flipping pancakes high in the air and watched as they landed safely back in the pan. Desiree’s mouth gaped open in amazement. She had only seen that done on television by professional chefs. The Jamaican man made it look so simple to do, but the young woman knew she would have been wasting them all over the floor.

“How did you do that?” Desiree asked with admiration in her voice.

Taj grinned at her. “Just takes practice, little one.”

“It smells wonderful in here. How did you get in?”

Taj replied, “Easy. I jimmied the lock.” At Desiree’s startled expression he laughed, covering his mouth with a hand to prevent himself from being too loud. “I’m just kidding. I knocked and your brother let me in. He offered to help, but I told him to go back to sleep. I went to the store last night to get what I needed to fix everyone breakfast. I’ve been here since about six o’clock.”

Desiree spied a basket of biscuits and swiped one like a child taking a cookie out of the jar, knowing good and well that dinner was almost ready. The young woman bit into the warm honey soaked biscuit and let out a soft moan. She told Taj that it was the most delicious biscuit she had ever tasted.

The Jamaican man chuckled. “Be careful, Desi. Anymore sounds like that and they’ll think I’m doing much more than cooking in here.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her. Desiree smirked as she playfully slapped him on the arm.

The young woman took another big bite out of the biscuit before saying, “You have made enough food to feed an entire army.”

“Well we have about thirteen or fourteen people among us. I hope everybody’s hungry.”

Desiree replied, “If they’re not, after they see this they will be.”

Just then, her father walked into the kitchen. Taj gave him a polite good morning and asked the older man if he had slept well. In response, the judge only narrowed his eyes at him before turning to greet his daughter. Desiree started to say something about his behavior, but a pleading look from Taj changed her mind. Her father asked her if she would start the coffeepot since he did not know how to work “the stupid thing” as he called it. Before his daughter could say anything a steaming mug of delicious smelling coffee was thrust into his hand by Taj. He started not to take it but changed his mind. He needed a cup of coffee first thing every morning. After taking a sip of the coffee, the judge had to admit that it was quite delicious. In fact, it was by far the best cup of coffee that he had ever had the pleasure of tasting. Looking at Taj, he gave him a nod of approval before glancing around the kitchen, paying extra special attention to the food cooking on the stove. He then turned back to Taj noticing the man’s apron.

“You cooked all this?” Richard inquired of the other man.

The Jamaican man nodded, suddenly feeling like a rookie in boot camp. “Yes I did, sir.”

The judge nodded again. “Are you a chef?” He took another sip of the coffee already knowing that he would have a second cup. Maybe a third too.

Taj shook his head. “I’m working on it though. I’d like to own my own restaurant, so I intend to take the necessary classes first.”

Richard nodded. “You’d probably prosper at your business.” Desiree beamed at the grudging compliment her father gave. While holding up the cup of coffee, the judge informed Taj of how good it was.

“I didn’t use Desiree’s coffeepot. I made it myself.” Desiree stuck her tongue out at him jokingly and Taj chuckled in return. “It’s called vanilla hazelnut. Added a little extra something that’s been in the family for a long time.”

“Like I said. You’d prosper.” Richard headed out of the kitchen after refilling his cup, saying that he was going to get dressed. He turned around at the entrance, grumbling something about letting him know when breakfast was ready, because he intended to taste everything.

Desiree watched her father leave before bursting into laughter. She turned her sparkling blue-green eyes on Taj who was wearing a broad grin. “Well they say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” She looked back at the empty entrance of the kitchen. “Guess it’s true.”

***

Fifteen minutes later the doorbell rang as Desiree ran to answer it with her hair still a bit damp from the shower. She was fully dressed except for her shoes. The young woman had chosen to wear something that she could easily move in since she would be strolling through the woods. She had on a pair of gray leggings along with a white T-shirt. After finishing the process of drying it, she would put her hair in a ponytail.
Opening the door, she saw her sister standing there in a pair of khaki shorts and a black short-sleeved Guess? Tee. Her dark hair was done in a french braid and was covered by a black baseball cap that she had chosen to wear backwards. Walking into the apartment, Larisa kissed her little sister on the cheek, before asking what was for breakfast after smelling the aroma coming from the kitchen. Desiree told her that Taj was cooking breakfast for all of them. As if on cue, Taj strolled out of the kitchen greeting Larisa with a cup of coffee and a warm smile. Thanking him profusely, she took a sip of the hot liquid. Telling him that it was delicious, Larisa quickly took another sip.

“So is everybody ready?” Larisa inquired of her sister. Taj was already on his way back to the kitchen.

Desiree glanced at her watch. “Well you’re early, but we’re almost done.” She motioned her older sister to follow her as she headed towards her bedroom. A few moments later they ended up in Desiree’s bathroom. Plugging in the blow dryer, she proceeded to use it on her hair as she and Larisa tried to hold a conversation over the noise. Finally they just gave up, opting to wait until the strawberry-blonde was done.

A few minutes later, Desiree wrapped up the blow dryer and placed it back under the sink, before grabbing her brush out of a drawer and running it through her hair, making it shine. She then extracted a rubberband from a bag full of them and pulled her hair back into a neat ponytail. Rummaging through her drawer for a comb, Desiree ran it through her short bangs until she was satisfied with the way they looked. As she finished, she detected the ring of the doorbell.

Desiree went back to the living room with her sister not far behind her. Before she could get to the door, her father answered it. Looking out through the peek-hole first, both Desiree and Larisa could see the older man grimacing at the visitor standing on the other side. Opening the door, he waved for the person to come in, though he didn’t look the least bit happy about it.

“Alec?” Desiree said as the visitor was revealed. Looking at his ex-girlfriend, he gave her a dazzling smile.

“Hey, Desi. How are you?” He started to come towards her but she held up her hand, causing the man to stop in his tracks.

“What are you doing here?”

Alec frowned, having not expected this kind of greeting. “What do you mean, what am I doing here? I came to help with the search party.”

“How did you know about that?”

Alec pointed at Larisa. “Your sister told me. You didn’t know I was coming?”
“Evidently I didn’t,” Desiree snapped before she turned to regard her sister. She gestured for Larisa to follow her back into the bedroom. Closing the door behind them, the younger woman put her back against the door, preventing Larisa from making an escape because she looked as if she wanted to bolt. Crossing her arms over her chest, Desiree greeted her sister with a glare.

“Do you have something to tell me, Larisa?” she asked as calmly as she could manage.

Larisa defensively replied, “I did it for you.”

Her sister scoffed. “You did it for me? You invited my old boyfriend who cheated on me by the way and seemed to have no shame whatsoever, to help us search for my girlfriend? Let me tell you something. The next time you have an urge to do something for me, don’t.”

The dark-haired woman scowled. “We need as many people as we can get. I’m not a fan of Alec Drake either, but he was willing to help when I called him last night. Excuse me for trying to help. He’s a jerk, but he has a pair of eyes. And those are what we need right now. Eyes that are capable of seeing. Alec is willing to look for Piper, so I suggest that you just shut your mouth and go with the flow.” Both women stared at each other as though they were having a contest before Larisa asked, “Are you going to get out of my way?”

Desiree cast her eyes down to the floor. When she looked back up at her sister, she had tears in them. “I’m sorry Larisa. My emotions are just a tangled mess right now. You only did that to help. I should be thanking you, not getting angry. Please forgive me for lashing out at you.” She shrugged. “I’m sorry.”

Larisa smiled warmly. “It’s okay, Desi,” she paused. “But I’m not gonna ask him to leave. We need him for the search. Plus he makes it an even number.”

The strawberry-blonde gave a short laugh. “Yeah.” She wiped her eyes. “You know we can’t have an odd number of people. That would just be wrong! How many are there anyway?”

“Fourteen.”

Desiree nodded, pleased. “Sounds like a fine number.”

***

Not much more time passed before everyone had arrived. All search party participants greeted one another and learned who everyone was, before they were hustled into the kitchen by Taj and Larisa to eat breakfast. The dark-haired woman exclaimed that she wanted to be on the road in no more than thirty minutes. Everyone hurriedly made their plates as if they were at a smorgasbord and sat where they could find a seat. The elders of the group, Richard, Sandra, Nathaniel, and Vivian sat at the dining room table. Surprisingly, Richard Love and Nathaniel Potter had a pleasant conversation mostly concerning what the younger crowd referred to as ‘boring’ subject matter. Sandra and Vivian seemed to be getting along rather well too. Watching them, Taj and Desiree smiled at one another, relieved that their parents were not being hostile.

After finishing their meals, everyone congratulated Taj on his excellent cooking skills, and true to his word, the judge made sure to sample every food that the young man had cooked. Feeling embarrassed from their words, Taj just smiled and quietly thanked them. Although Taj had made breakfast, there was hardly anything to wash, since he had brought paper plates, paper cups, and plastic utensils for everyone to use. After they ate, they were instructed to put their plates and everything into a big trash bag.

Just as they were about to leave Larisa stopped them all. She gave the group a pep talk that made some of them feel as though they were about to go play in the Super Bowl. After the rather long talk they all clapped because they were relieved it was over. Larisa smirked at them before she opened the door and went out with the rest following behind. Desiree was the last to leave the apartment, silently vowing that when she returned, Piper would be with her.

A few minutes later next to the motor home, the group stood in a line that Larisa had put them in. Larisa now carried a clipboard in her hand and sported a black leather fanny pack around her waist. She had put on a pair of black oval framed, smoke-tinted sunglasses and wore a shiny silver whistle on a thin black rope around her neck. Now everyone felt as if they were in the army. Richie even found himself checking to make sure his tucked in shirt was evenly lined with his pants. Taj informed the dark-haired woman to remember to take role call. She only smirked at him while wagging a finger in his direction.

“Okay folks,” Larisa started in a loud voice. “This is how we are gonna do this. In my hand, I have a clipboard with all of your names listed on it in alphabetical order. It goes from Alec Drake all the way to Andrea Redding. After thinking it over, I know how we will choose who gets to ride in the motor home and those that will ride in Dion’s vehicle. Here I have a coin.” Larisa fished a quarter out of her pocket. “I’m going to flip the coin. If heads shows up, then starting with Alec and choosing every other name those people will ride in the motor home. The other seven will ride in the Isuzu. If the coin toss results in tails then we will start with,” Larisa glanced at her clipboard, “Valerie Hall and then every other person. Do I make myself clear? Do you guys find that fair?” Everyone nodded and some murmured yes. The leader nodded, pleased with her group. “Okay then. I’ll flip the coin.” Larisa threw the coin up in the air and caught it in her right hand, flipping it over to the back of her left hand. She announced, “It’s heads. That means the following people will be riding in the motor home.” She read off her clipboard, Alec Drake, Tommy Jung, Larisa Love, Richie Love Jr., Dion Potter, Nathaniel Potter, and Vivian Potter.

“Why am I not surprised that you get to ride in the motor home?” said Desiree. She was irritated because she had to ride in a car with her parents on a four-hour trip. It was bad enough having them in her home, but she could not make an escape in a vehicle. She sighed. Well at least she had Taj with her, but he had his now girlfriend, (she had found out this morning) Valerie with him so he was paired off. Well there was still Andrea and Leroy. “How do we know that isn’t a two-headed coin?” Desiree squinted her eyes due to the sun as she looked at her sister.

Larisa sighed, coming towards her sister. She handed the young woman the quarter, claming that she could keep it. Next, Larisa informed everyone to get their bags and to get into the vehicle they were supposed to be riding in. Larisa was going to drive the motor home and Taj said that he would drive his brother’s dark blue 1999 Isuzu Oasis. Dion handed his little brother the keys, warning that he would be checking for even the tiniest scratch on it later.

Finally, the whole group was ready to head out for the road. Both the motor home and the Isuzu had a full tank of gas so they were ready to go. Larisa said that they would stop at every rest stop on the way to the cabin to stretch and use the restroom if needed. She wanted to be at the rest stops for no more than fifteen minutes each unless there were some kind of an emergency. Larisa figured that they should make the cabin by noon if they kept a steady pace.

The group was able to make the cabin a few minutes before twelve o’clock struck. They got out of their respective vehicles and stretched, while looking at the ruin that used to be Taj’s cabin. He looked at it too, shaking his head at what had happened inside of it. It was all so senseless. The Jamaican man glanced over to Desiree to see that she was hugging herself, as she stared at the ruins. He was also able to notice that she was slightly trembling yet it wasn’t at all cold. He swiftly walked over to her and wrapped the young woman in his arms. She wound her arms around his neck, crying softly. Taj tried to comfort her by saying that it would be all right. She nodded, listening to his words.

“I was so scared,” Desiree mumbled into the warmth of his neck.

“I know,” Taj replied. “I know, little one.” He saw over the crying young woman’s head, his mother coming towards them. She placed a hand on Desiree’s back rubbing it gently in a circular motion. Taj smiled tenderly at his mother. Crying for a couple of more minutes, Desiree finally let go of Taj and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

“That’s it,” Taj started. “Wipe your eyes. You don’t want Piper to see that you’ve been crying, do you?” He lifted Desiree’s chin up gently, so that she was looking at him. She gave him a small smile as she shook her head. Everyone then heard Larisa asking them to form a straight line. Some of them rolled their eyes but they did as their leader asked, and waited for the dark-haired woman to give her next instructions. They prayed that she wouldn’t take too long. Larisa placed herself in front of the group, still wearing her shades and backward cap, with her clipboard still in hand.
“Okay folks. I’ve constructed a list of pairs. I have divided you all off so that there will be a total of seven couples out searching in these woods. Now when I call off your name and that of your partner, I don’t want anyone to gripe about whom they are with. I put you in the pairs I am getting ready to tell you about for a reason.” She shrugged. “I don’t know if it’ll work, but it’s worth a try. Anyway,” Larisa looked at her clipboard as she cleared her throat, “group one is Desiree Love and Andrea Redding.” Both Desiree and Andrea seemed pleased with the match, and beamed at one another. Larisa had not expected any trouble from them. “Group two is Richard Love and Nathaniel Potter.” Larisa glanced up at her father and Taj’s father to see that both of their expressions were nonchalant. She shrugged again. At least they didn’t seem to be upset. She hadn’t expected them to hug each other and jump up and down in sheer excitement. “Group three is Sandra Love and Vivian Potter.” The dark-haired woman glanced up to see that the two women smiled politely at one another. Maybe the Potter’s and Love’s were starting to get along. Larisa hoped so.

Although, she mused it was really the Redding’s that her parents had to get along with, unless Desiree chose not to tell them of her relationship with Piper. Larisa shook her head. She did not want to be there if her sister ever did tell them. They would have to find out eventually it seemed. “Group four is Richie Love Jr. and Leroy Potter.” Like their fathers, there was no reaction from either of the young men’s faces. “Group five is Taj Potter and Alec Drake.” Larisa heard Taj groan loudly at this. She didn’t blame him one iota. “Group six is Tommy Jung and Dion Potter.” Tommy had known Dion because of being close friends with his younger brother, so they both accepted the match. “And group seven is Valerie Hall and I.” Larisa noticed Valerie smiling at her and she smiled back. Everyone seemed to take their partners better than she thought they would. So far so good.

Larisa then opened the fanny pack situated around her waist and took out a plastic sandwich bag. Everyone in the group looked closely at it to notice that it was filled with orange colored whistles. The dark-haired woman opened the bag, explaining that she was going to give each of them a whistle and then she would explain what they were for. She went down the line handing everyone a whistle. When she got to her brother Richie, he asked her jokingly why she got a silver whistle and they got plastic orange one’s. He only got a glare in return that succeeded in wiping the smile off of his face. He thought that if Larisa ever decided to retire from the catering business, she would make one heck of a drill sergeant. The woman continued down the line until she had distributed all of the whistles. She put the empty bag back in her leather fanny pack, and picked up her clipboard that she had laid on the ground.

“Now I will tell you what the whistles are for. Here are the calls.” She looked at her clipboard. “Please remember the following. Number one. Blow the whistle once if you and your partner have found Piper. Only blow the whistle once. Now when the rest of you hear that one blow from the whistle I want you to come directly back here and wait for the duo that found Piper to arrive with her. Got it?” She saw everyone nod at this. “Good. Number two. Blow the whistle two times if you have found Piper, but you need help with her.” Larisa looked up from her clipboard at the group. “Like if she’s injured or something. I have an emergency kit in the camper in case we need it.” The woman turned her attention back to the clipboard. She was silent for a moment before continuing with the next one. “Number three. Blow the whistle three times if you find Piper and she is…um…if she is no longer with us,” she finished quietly, unable to make eye contact with anyone. She heard Nathaniel, Taj’s father say in a strong voice that that would not happen. Larisa saw her sister smile at the older man gratefully. He gave her an encouraging one of his own.

“Well let’s all think positive then,” Larisa stated. She put her clipboard on the ground again and placed her hands on her hips. “Well let’s get going. Get with your partner and pick any direction you please. We will meet back here in,” Larisa glanced at her watch, “two hours. We’ll take a break then and have some lunch. Although, hopefully we won’t have to meet back here for a break, because we’ve already found her.” She clapped her hands together twice. “I wish you luck and remember to look for signs of where she may be. The search party is on!”

***

Desiree and Andrea walked through the woods, making sure to look at the ground for signs of footsteps or anything that might lead them to Piper. They had been searching for the past fifteen minutes, but had yet to locate any clues of the woman’s whereabouts. Desiree’s heart was beating so hard in her chest that she was sure that her partner must hear it. She was nervous, anxious, and excited all at the same time. She needed a distraction. The strawberry-blonde turned to Andrea.

“So tell me about your daughters.” That was one good thing that had developed from all of this. Piper did have living family after all. She had two young nieces that she could dote over. Desiree had a feeling that Andrea and her girls would remain in Piper’s life. She hoped her feeling proved correct. The young woman briefly wondered how Andrea would react if she were to tell her that her ex-sister in law and she were more than friends. Desiree prayed that learning this information would not push the woman away.

Andrea smiled proudly. “Those two are like night and day. Samantha, my youngest is very outgoing. Never meets a stranger and seems to make friends with everyone that she meets. Stacey is very quiet though I don’t think she’s really all that shy. She just doesn’t talk that much, unless she really gets the chance to become close with you. They are both very sweet and they mean the world to me.”

Andrea extracted a photograph from a wallet she had in her pants and handed it to Desiree. The young woman studied the picture of the two girls and smiled. Samantha was fair-haired like her mother and had gray eyes like Andrea too. Stacey on the other hand had dark hair and the same blue eyes as Piper. Examining Stacey further, Desiree noticed that this might have been the way Piper looked when she was a child. The oldest girl reminded the strawberry-blonde of the blue-eyed woman.

Desiree sighed inwardly, handing the picture back to Andrea. Oh, Piper where are you? she thought. I have so much to tell you my love.

***

Alec snapped a stick off a tree and started breaking it into small pieces. He glanced at the man walking beside him, and wondered not for the first time if there was something going on between he and Desiree. On studying them together, he noticed that the two seemed to be close to one another. He shook his head, silently asking himself why he cared. He had someone new now, although, Alec was contemplating about ending that relationship. He had found out after only three days that the woman he left Desiree for was not worth losing the blue-green eyed woman. His new girl was great in the sack, but not too bright in the brain. He simply had not known how good he really had it until he tossed it away. He glanced at Taj again, who was intently watching his surroundings. It was time for Alec to get some answers.

“So, Taj you and Desi are pretty close, huh?” Alec threw the rest of the stick on the ground and shoved his hands in his pockets.

Taj glanced his way, wearing a slightly irritated expression now. Of all the people, why did Larisa have to stick him with this man? What was the point? Going over it again and again, Taj could not for the life of him figure out what it was.

“I guess we are,” Taj replied slowly, wondering where the man was taking this particular conversation.

“Do you like her?” Alec inquired.

The Jamaican man looked over at him. Taj smiled inwardly. That was what it was. This man was jealous of him. Not that there was anything to be jealous about, but Taj could still have some fun with him. Alec did not know that. Taj licked his lips, wondering how far he should and could take this. The other man was still looking at him intently, waiting for an answer.

Taj finally said, “Define ‘like’.”

Alec sighed. “I mean do you like her as more than a friend.”

Taj clasped his hands behind his back, dodging a branch in his way. “And why is that any of your business?”

The other man shrugged. “I guess it’s not. I was just wondering is all.”

“Why?”

“I just want to make sure that you treat her right.”

Taj countered, “Oh, like you didn’t you mean?”

Alec scowled over at him. “Look, I may have made mistakes, but I’m sorry for them. I will never forgive myself for what I did to Desiree. I’m a jerk and I admit that. But I’m trying to change. I want to change.” He moved in front of Taj, blocking the other man’s path. The Jamaican man thought about pushing him out of his way, but changed his mind. He may not have been able to stop at that. “I want Desiree back. She’s mine.”

Taj glared at him. So far, this man did not impress him. “No, I don’t think she belongs to you Alec. She’s a person not a cockerspaniel and therefore belongs to no one but herself.” Taj used his height to his advantage by towering over Alec. “Do I make myself clear?”

Alec gulped. He told himself this other guy did not intimidate him. It didn’t do much good. “Sorry, if I sounded possessive. I just want her back so bad. Try to understand that Desi and I belong together.”

Taj motioned the other man to get out of his way, and Alec did. They resumed walking. “You can’t have her,” Taj said simply.

“Why? Because you do? I know about that girl Valerie. You already have a girlfriend, so I don’t think it’s right for you to judge me, when you’re doing the same thing I did. So don’t assume that you deserve her.”

Taj peered at him. “True, Valerie is my girlfriend, but I never said that Desiree was.” Well that was a short game.

Alec frowned. “Desiree is not your girlfriend?”

The Jamaican man shook his head.

“The why can’t I have her?”

Taj did not know for sure what was going on between Piper and Desiree, but he had drawn his own conclusions. However, he was not about to tell this man of them.

“Did it ever occur to you that maybe Desiree does not want you back?” Taj asked, making a right, with Alec keeping pace next to him.

“Did she tell you that?”

“Not in so many words. Although, I’d bet my life on it that she doesn’t want you. Frankly, I think she’d rather have a relationship with a cactus then to welcome you back into her life. You had someone very special, but you ruined it. You clearly decided to think with what was in your pants then with what was in your head,” Taj finished.

Alec was growing angry. Where did this man get off giving him a lecture? He didn’t know him. Alec clenched his fist at his sides.
“Who do you think you are?” Alec sneered. “A relationship counselor? Tell you what. Why don’t you just stay out of my business and mind your own. No matter what you or anyone else may think, I still love Desiree. I have always loved her. Yes, I treated her badly, but I’m not the first man to cheat on his girlfriend and then dump her for another one.” Taj decided not to tell Alec about the log a few feet in front of him. Let the man figure it out for himself. “All I know is that I want Desiree back and I intend to have her. We belong together. I can’t really explain it but that’s the way it’s going to be. And neither you nor anyone else is going to ruin what we can have again. So why don’t use just take a…whoa!”

The next thing Alec knew it, he was lying face down on the ground, his face pressed into a small bushel of leaves. He raised his head up to look back and noticed that he had tripped over a log. He had been so intent on giving his speech that he had forgotten to watch where he was going. He glared up at Taj after hearing a light chuckle coming from the man. Alec growled low in his throat. He should have never agreed to go on this search party. There were other ways to get close to Desiree than to do this. Who cared about this Piper Redding anyway?

***

For the past few minutes, Dion and Tommy had been walking in companionable silence. The both of them were desperately searching around for clues as to Piper’s whereabouts. Dion was a little worried because about thirty feet back he had located a few spots of blood on the ground, no bigger than the size of a quarter. However, he and Tommy had both agreed that that was not much a clue, and may have had nothing to do with Piper. They hoped so, unless it proved not to be serious.

Tommy suddenly stopped, grabbing Dion by the upper arm. He pointed down to where almost completely hidden in a bush was a duffel bag. He pulled it out and the two men knelt down next to it. They looked at each other and then down back at the bag.

“Do you think it’s hers?” Tommy asked, his heart hammering in his chest. What if she had been killed and her body was somewhere around here? The Asian man shook his head. He’d been watching far too many movies.

“It could be,” Dion replied. Then he thought about it. What were the odds that someone else was in these woods? His brother had chosen a secluded place to build his cabin at. Therefore, the duffel bag had to belong to Piper. “It must be hers. Now we have to figure out why it was stashed in the bushes as if someone were trying to hide it from view.”

“Maybe Piper did it,” Tommy offered.

Dion shrugged. “What would be the point? Why would she want to hide it? Maybe Emily Redding had something to do with it.”

Tommy stared at him. “You think she might have done something to Piper?” he asked in a quiet tone.

“I have no idea. She must not have done anything. She came up here to stop it. Let’s open the bag.”

Dion unzipped the duffel bag, and the two men noticed an extra set of clothes and a gun. Dion took out the gun and examined it, noticing that the weapon was fully loaded. He handed the gun to Tommy who studied it briefly before he put it back in the bag and zipped it up again.

Dion took a deep breath and let it out in a rush. “Well do those give you any clues?”

Tommy nodded. “I gave that gun to Piper. She was supposed to use it in order to kidnap Desiree.”

Dion decided not to say anything about how Tommy had been involved in the kidnapping. He had yet to say much to Taj about it. “So if the gun is Piper’s, then that means the clothes probably are too.”

Tommy nodded. “Probably.” He looked over at Dion. “We should start searching again. She must be around here somewhere.”

Dion agreed, so the two men rose from the ground with Tommy holding the bag as they continued on their way. A few minutes later, about fifteen feet away Dion saw someone sitting in front of a tree with his or her back against it. Neither he or Tommy could make out the face but the person had dark hair. The person’s head was down with their chin touching their chest as if they were sleeping. Both Dion and Tommy raced over to the tree. Reaching it they saw that the person was tied to the tree mostly by their arms being pulled backwards around the trunk of the tree with the wrists tied with rope and wrapped in black electrical tape. The figures ankles were also tied with rope and then with the tape. They also had a rope tied around their waist to the tree. The men noticed that the person did not move as they approached, as if they were either in a deep sleep or deceased.

Dion hesitantly reached out and moved the long hair out of the way, because it was obstructing them from seeing the face. He already had a feeling that it was Piper, but now it was time to confirm. With the hair out of the person’s face, he and Tommy both noticed that it was indeed Piper. Her eyes were closed and there was caked dried blood on her left temple. She was as still as a statue. Dion tapped her on the shoulder, receiving no response. He then put two fingers to her neck to locate her pulse, and was relieved to find one. Albeit one that was extremely fast, but an accelerated pulse was much better than no pulse at all.

“Is she alive?” Tommy inquired. He hoped they were not too late.

Dion nodded. “Yes she is, but we need help.” He took the orange whistle out of his pants pocket and blew on it twice, like Larisa had instructed. All of the sudden Piper’s eyes snapped open as she gazed at the Jamaican man kneeling in front of her. His eyes widened when he noticed her looking at him. Catching movement out of the corner of her eye, her eyes trailed over to Tommy. Piper then turned her attention back to Dion. None of the three had yet to speak.

“Dion is that you?” Piper asked in a slightly weak voice. She glanced at Tommy who had moved better into her line of vision. “And Tommy?” She offered them a crooked little grin. “Am I in Hell then?”

Dion and Tommy laughed relieved that she seemed to be all right considering. Taking out his whistle, Tommy blew on it once. Shooting up from the ground, Dion grabbed the other man’s whistle from him. He glared at Tommy who was busy wondering what he had done to deserve the expression. All he did was blow on the whistle once like he was supposed to.

“Are you nuts?!” Dion exploded, throwing the whistle onto the ground.

“What are you talking about man?” Tommy asked with a confused expression.

“Why did you blow the whistle again?”

Tommy replied, “Because she’s okay. We don’t need the others now. I think she can walk on her own.” The Asian man looked down at Piper who looked quite confused herself. What was with the whistle business? “Can’t you?” Tommy asked.

Piper shrugged. “I’ve been tied here for days and I don’t feel like I have much energy left, but maybe I can walk. I’ll sure try.”

Tommy turned back to Dion. “Well see. I just saved everybody a needless trip to find us.”

“No you didn’t. Do you know arithmetic?”

Tommy gave him a look. Did the man think he was a complete moron? “Yeah, I do. Learned back in elementary school thank you very much. But what does that have to do with anything?”

“Well two plus one makes three. Which whistle call does that remind you of?”

Then it dawned on Tommy what the others might be thinking. “Oops. My bad.”

***

Desiree suddenly halted her frantic running towards where she and Andrea presumed the whistle sound had come from. Andrea ran right into her from the back. The older woman asked her why she stopped. Desiree turned to her with blue-green eyes filled with evident fear.

“She can’t be dead!” the younger woman shouted. At Andrea’s confused expression she continued. “We heard two whistle blow’s right?” The blonde woman nodded. “I just heard another one, and that’s three whistle blows. Three means dead.” Andrea’s mouth opened wide.

“Maybe they just made a mistake.”

Desiree replied in a shaky voice, “Only one way to find out.” She turned back around and started running again, with Andrea right behind her.

Minutes later, both Desiree and Andrea arrived at the place where they saw Dion, Tommy and Piper standing. She was leaning against a tree, wearing a pair of short navy blue cotton shorts, and a dirty white tank top. On seeing Desiree, Piper’s tired face broke into a smile. The strawberry-blonde started crying when she noticed that the blue-eyed beauty was truly alive. Desiree let out a whoop as she ran towards the other woman. Piper watched her coming, suddenly thinking about the cartoon The Flintstones, when Fred would come home only to be bulldozed to the ground by his lovable pet Dino who was happy to have him home. Desiree was reminding her of Dino.

Reaching Piper, Desiree wrapped her arms around the woman’s neck hugging her tight. The dark-haired woman managed to stay standing on her feet, though she did take a few steps back as if she were going to fall. Piper soon felt hot tears dropping on her neck as Desiree broke down crying. She hugged the smaller woman tightly to her with one hand, as she rubbed her head gently with the other, making comforting noises and saying that she was all right. Desiree soon let go of her tight hold, though she still had her arms loosely wound around Piper’s neck. She gazed into the other woman’s eyes, barely able to believe that she was seeing them again. Desiree then shocked the heck out of Piper. She leaned forward on her tiptoes and kissed the woman passionately, pushing her tongue through the other woman’s lips. At first Piper was too shocked to react, and saw with her eyes still open Tommy, Dion and another woman she didn’t know staring at them wide-eyed. She then shrugged and closed her eyes, melting into the delicious kiss. If Desiree did not mind other people staring at them then neither did she. Both of them were breathless by the time Desiree pulled away. The younger woman glanced around with her face beginning to redden. So ecstatic over seeing Piper she had forgotten they had an audience. Well, now four people knew of their involvement. Maybe five if Taj had figured it out without Desiree telling him. Desiree gazed at Piper with her eyes still wet.

“It’s so good to see you again,” Desiree said in a voice thick with emotion.

Piper smiled warmly at her, caressing the smaller woman’s cheek with the back of her right hand. “Good to see you too. I never thought I would again.”
“I could say the same. I thought you were dead.”

Piper leaned forward and kissed Desiree sweetly on the lips. “I don’t think dead people kiss.” She grinned.

Desiree had missed that smile. Those eyes…heck she had missed everything about this woman. “I’ve missed you, Piper.”

The taller woman hugged her again. “I’ve missed you too, Desi.”

***

The five of them made their way back to the place where the motor home and Dion’s car was located. Desiree had one of Piper’s arms around her shoulders while Dion had the other. On the way back they had given Piper a brief explanation of who Andrea was, about how she used to be Victor Redding’s wife, the man who had tried to kill both Piper and Desiree. Piper had yet to find out that Victor was her brother and that he had been her lawyer as well. The blue-eyed woman was impatient to find out the whole story, but none of them would volunteer to tell it to her yet. She did know that Victor and she had the same last name, which had her wondering.

On seeing the condition of the burned down cabin, Piper asked the other’s what had happened. Desiree explained to her that Victor had burned it down intentionally. Piper also learned that Taj had saved Desiree’s life the night that all of this happened. The small group suddenly laid eyes on Richard, Nathaniel, Sandra, and Vivian. Desiree felt the tension rise in Piper as the woman saw her father. She also saw her lover’s jaw clench and her blue eyes grow cold as ice. Richard and the others came over to them. Reaching them, Richard stood in front of Piper. Desiree wished that he would step back, because she wasn’t sure if Piper would be able to keep her hands to herself. The blue-eyed woman stared at the man, but neither had yet to speak.

Richard cleared his throat and said, “I only did this for my daughter.” Which was false. The only reason he had agreed to participate in this search party was because his oldest daughter had blackmailed him. “So don’t think I’ve forgiven you for what you’ve done.” He walked away without waiting for a reply.

Piper looked at his wife Sandra and smiled politely, thanking the woman for helping out with her search. Sandra opened her mouth as if she were going to say something but quickly closed it, opting to just nod before walking away to catch up to her husband. Piper turned her attention to Nathaniel and Vivian, smiling widely at them. She greeted them and found herself in a three-way hug. She warned them that she did not look and smell her best but they let her know that it didn’t matter. When they let go, Vivian put her hands on Piper’s cheeks inspecting her eyes and face. Before she retired three years ago, Vivian had been a nurse.
“Are you okay, child?” Vivian inquired of Piper. Piper smiled again, remembering that this endearing woman had always called her child no matter how old she got. She didn’t mind it a bit.

“I’m fine, Aunt Viv,” Piper replied. At Vivian’s skeptical look she continued. “Other than feeling a little dizzy, hungry, tired and thirsty I’m all right.” She winked at the older woman earning a smile in return.

“Nothing some food and rest won’t fix,” Nathaniel stated.

“I am quite hungry,” Piper commented as she suddenly got the feeling that something was missing. “Oh, shoot!” She turned her attention to Desiree. “I forgot something.”

“What?” Desiree inquired.

“The cat.”

Desiree frowned in puzzlement. “The cat?” Was Piper referring to… “Tobias!” Desiree screamed, peering around Piper and the others. The other people turned around and all saw Alec and Taj coming towards them. Taj held in his hands a squirming furry bundle. The cat kept clawing at him so he let it go, having an idea where it was going. He found he was right, as the cat headed straight for Desiree. Before seeing the woman, Tobias had been completely still, but after noticing his master, the cat all but went wild in Taj’s arms to be set free.

Tobias ran to Desiree and she picked him up, cradling the feline in her arms as she rubbed her cheek against his head. He started purring in delight. He then saw Piper standing next to his master and turned away quickly as if he had nothing to say to the woman.

“Oh, now you’re gonna shun me, huh furball? I thought we might have bonded over these past few days. I should have known you were only using me because I was the only human around.” Piper said. The cat paid her no attention.

“Tobias it feels so good to hold you again,” Desiree stated while looking down at her cat adoringly. She figured he must have run out the cabin before it exploded. Life was good. She not only had Piper back but Tobias as well.

“I think you missed that cat more than me,” Piper muttered, but she was smiling at the same time. Desiree gave her a winning smile back.

Just then the rest of the group came in together. After spotting her, Leroy ran over to Piper and gave her a big hug. He tried to lift the woman off her feet, causing Piper to laugh, but he failed to do it. Leroy shrugged, trying to maintain an air of coolness.

“Piper you’re alive,” Leroy stated, looking almost bewildered.
“Yep.” The dark-haired woman put an arm around his shoulders. “That I am.” Piper than saw Richie smile at her somewhat shyly and she smiled back at him. He came over closer to her.
“I’m sorry about what happened,” Richie stated. “I was only trying to protect-”

Piper would not let him finish. “No need to apologize. We all did what we thought had to be done. I don’t blame you at and you don’t owe me any apology.” Richie stared at her for a moment and then nodded, walking away. The next thing Piper knew it she was being entrapped in a bear hug. This time she was lifted off the ground, only it was by Taj. She heard Leroy a few feet away calling his brother a show-off. Taj grinned at her.

“What’s the matter with you? You had us all worried sick. I-”

Piper cut him off. “Let me guess. You thought I was dead.” She smiled and then gave him a hug as she placed a tender kiss on his cheek. “As you can see I’m as alive as the rest of you.”

Taj nodded. “Good.” He stared at Piper so long that she noticed his eyes were red as if he had been crying. “Don’t ever scare me like that again.”

“I won’t,” Piper replied in a quiet voice.

Taj nodded again. “Do you want a sandwich?” he asked her.

Blue eyes brightened considerably. At this point, anything sounded good. As long as it was edible, she would gladly gobble it up. She told Taj that she would enjoy having a sandwich. He went to go get it, wearing a wide smile. On his way, he turned back around and took Valerie by the hand. He brought her over to his best friend.

“Piper,” Taj started. “Remember at the cabin I told you I had that hot date?”

The dark-haired woman nodded.

“Well this was her. Piper I’d like you to meet Valerie Hall. My girlfriend,” he stated proudly. It had only been a few days that he had been in this relationship, but so far, it was progressing rather well. He considered that he might be falling in love with Valerie already. Piper and Valerie shook hands and said a few words in greeting. Instantly, Piper felt that she could get along with this woman, and that she would be the perfect companion for Taj. She was very happy for them and thought they made a fine couple as she watched them walk toward motor home.

Standing on slightly shaky legs, Piper turned back around and informed Desiree that she needed to sit down. The younger woman wrapped an arm around Piper’s waist while still holding Tobias in the other one, and guided the taller woman to the motor home. On entering the large vehicle, Desiree helped Piper to sit at one of the chairs around the table. She informed Piper that she would be back shortly after hearing her name being called from someone outside. Taj then came up to Piper and handed her the sandwich along with a tall glass of lemonade. She thanked him as he too went outside with Valerie behind him.

Picking up the thick sandwich, she took a huge bite out of it. At that moment, it was the most delicious piece of food that she had ever tasted. Needing something to wash it down, she then took a long swig of the lemonade. Hearing someone coming up the steps of the motor home, Piper looked up to see Larisa. The older woman smiled at her as she came forward and asked Piper if she could take a seat. Silently, Piper gestured for her to do so. Larisa sat down across from Piper, watching the woman take another bite of her sandwich before putting it down on her plate. Piper then picked up a napkin and wiped her mouth free of any crumbs that may have been there. She looked over at Larisa expectantly.

Larisa found that her heart was beating fast. “I’m glad that you are okay.”

Piper nodded mutely, having not spoken a word to the other woman yet. She noticed Larisa’s swollen eye and wondered what had happened to her.

Larisa cleared her throat. “There’s something I have to tell you.”

“So tell me,” Piper replied tersely.

“I know about your relationship with my sister.”

Piper stared at her waiting for the woman to continue.

“I just have this to say. If you hurt her then I will spend the rest of my life making sure that you are miserable. She doesn’t deserve to be treated like crap, so don’t treat her that way. Desiree got enough of that from her old boyfriend Alec. Okay?” Larisa finished.

The blue-eyed woman did not say anything for a moment. All the sudden she laughed hollowly. Piper glared at the other woman briefly, before regarding her coolly. “Well isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black. Shouldn’t someone be telling you that, Larisa?” Larisa did not get a chance to reply as Desiree re-entered the motor home. Instantly, she could feel the tension in the air. The young woman looked at her sister and then her lover quizzically.

“What’s going on guys?” she asked them.

“Nothing,” Larisa replied getting up from her seat. She had to get out of there. She all but felt Piper’s eyes throwing daggers at her. “We were just getting to know each other.” Larisa glanced down at Piper, not really making eye contact. “Nice to meet you Piper,” she said.
Piper managed to smile politely at her though it proved quite difficult. Larisa then left the two of them alone. Desiree turned her attention to Piper, getting the feeling that there was more to it, but she decided not to pursue it. Grabbing the chair that her sister had been occupying, Desiree placed it next to Piper. She then sat down and took one of the dark-haired woman’s hands in her own, squeezing it. Glancing towards the entrance to the motor home, Desiree then turned back to Piper and kissed her deeply. The blue-eyed woman moaned as Desiree pulled away.

“Did I tell you that I missed you?”

Piper pretended to think it over. “You told me, but I don’t think you showed me enough.” She wiggled her eyebrows.

Desiree chuckled as she leaned forward and captured Piper’s lips with her own again. She wound her arms around Piper’s neck as the other woman wound her own arms around the smaller woman’s waist. They both knew they were playing with fire, because someone could enter the motor home at any moment, but they could not help it. They were together again and it felt oh so good.

Continued in Chapter 8

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