Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Agent 99 and Maxwell Smart are all owned by others. I only borrowed them for a little while. No copyright infringement was intended. All other characters sprang from my wicked mind.
Sex/Violence Disclaimer: Although not too graphic, this story depicts a loving relationship between two women. Also there is some violence (c’mon, Xena and her future personality are here! Of course there’s violence) and a hint of sexual violence in the form of rape, but its only briefly mentioned in passing.
Special thanks to my friends who greatly aided in the completion of this story. I won’t embarrass them by mentioning their names; they know who they are…well at least most of the time. If you’ve made it through my babbling, you’ve made it to the start of the story!
“Oh God.” Casey Bennett muttered, crystal blue eyes glued to the monitor as she watched a small strawberry blond woman sit down in her office. Before she realized it, the tall, jet black haired, muscular woman was moving rapidly, almost in a trance through the door.
Casey caught the surprised, concerned glances of her two employees as she flew through the private, hidden entrance that connected her private office with the public one. A brief momentary thought caused her to smile slightly, meant to calm and prevent any questions. “Casey Bennett,” she spoke softly, extending a hand roughened by hours practicing marshal arts and shooting weapons. She suddenly felt very underdressed as her eyes swept over the well manicured, petite woman sitting in her office. Not a usual feeling. For the first time, Casey remembered her worn blue jeans, scuffed Nikes and faded FBI training sweatshirt.
“Beth Jamieson,” the younger woman rose and took the offered hand, a forced smile plastered on her face. “Oh God, its her!” Beth silently thought as she stood face to face with the woman who haunted her dreams for the first time. Vibrant green eyes locked onto brilliant blue.
A deep cough broke the intense gaze between the two women. With a start, Casey noticed how soft the hand she held was. And that she was still holding it. “Please sit down. Where are my manners?” Casey prayed that her voice was even as she released Beth’s hand. Another fact registered as she saw the empty table in front of Beth. With a frown, Casey addressed one of the men, voice dangerously low. Courtesy was one of the many things she drilled into her subordinates. One word was all that was necessary. “Bob.” Both men flinched.
“Please excuse them Beth,” Casey continued in a much lighter voice. “Can we get you anything to drink?” Unconsciously her dark mood lifted and a small smile graced her features, causing her blue eyes to sparkle. “We’ve got just about anything you’d want.”
“A coke would be nice.” Beth smiled a real smile, unable to resist those sparkling blue eyes.
A raised eyebrow at Bob rebuked him as he set the requested drink on the table with a glass of ice and her own coffee. “I’ll take over from here. You guys go work on the museum case.” Casey dismissed them without a second thought.
“Beth.” The word rolled off her tongue like a gentle caress. She ignored and hid the small tremors that saying it evoked. “What’s the problem? Why do you need my services?” Casey settled back in the sofa opposite the woman, not at all comfortable with the unusual position. Usually she sat at her desk or in a chair when dealing with clients. But Beth had sat in HER usual place and she didn’t want to miss anything by sitting at her desk.
“Four months ago I started receiving threatening letters. I ignored them, figuring that the person was just making a comment on my latest book. I didn’t use my real name, but I didn’t hide the fact I wrote it either.” Beth shrugged her slim shoulders. “Although quiet popular,” she grinned self-consciously, still somewhat amazed that the book even made it on the top ten lists, not to mention how long it remained there. “It did get a lot of negative criticism. Some of the scholarly reviewers were quiet specific about where and how the book should be disposed of. I…”
“What book?” Casey interrupted, breaking one of her own rules. Never interrupt the first telling of the problem. There was time for questions later, after hearing the whole story.
“Warrior Woman: Tales from Ancient Greece.” Beth studied her folded hands, waiting for the usual reaction.
“Wait, you’re not the author listed. Just a second.” Casey got up and moved into her private office and removed the book in question from her desk, absently leaving the connecting door open. “You wrote this?” Casey continued, reentering the room. A nod in confirmation. “Wow, its very good. I really liked it.” Casey smacked herself mentally. “That’s it. Sound like a galking teenager!”
“I’m glad.” Beth noticed the slightly embarrassed flush on Casey’s face and couldn’t resist a tease. “Want it autographed? I can guarantee it will be the third and final signed copy.” She offered innocently, secretly delighting in the worn cover. That book had been read several times.
“Would you?” That was out of Casey’s mouth before she could stop herself. “I don’t know what’s gotten into me,” she mumbled more to herself than to Beth. “Get it together, Casey. You’re supposed to be a professional. But right now you’re a professional space case!”
Beth only heard part of Casey’s ramblings as she signed the book. “Here you go,” handing the book back. At Casey’s raised eyebrow, she added. “Well, I hope that’s true,” meaning what she wrote. “I hope we can be friends.”
“Third and final, huh?” Casey asked, more to give herself time to recover than anything else. She couldn’t believe that she asked for an autograph!
“Yeah, my sister has one.” Beth lowered her eyes, not wanting to tell Casey that she kept a signed copy of every book she’s written. To remind her that she could.
Casey took the hint and didn’t ask about the other copy. “Probably a boyfriend has it.” She didn’t know why that troubled her so. “You were telling me about the threatening letters.” Casey reminded, pulling both of them back to a professional level.
“I received one a week for the first two months and they were pretty standard. Just ‘stop writing that trash. You can and will do better. Or else.’ You know, run of the mill threats. Then I started getting phone calls. Hang ups and heavy breathing. The letters arrived on Monday, hand delivered and I’d get a phone call on Wednesday evening, between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. After getting that third phone call, I changed all of my phone numbers and computer accounts. But that didn’t help. Four weeks ago, the phone calls and letters took on a more threatening tone. They became quiet descriptive of what would happen if I continued to write the sequel to ‘Warrior Woman’. I started taping the phone calls after the second week. The proposed violence scared me, so I went to the local police. Big mistake!” Beth groaned painfully, unaware of the inner conflict raging inside Casey. “It seems threats are low on their priority list. I was basically told that they couldn’t do anything until something more substantial happened. I talked to my publisher and she recommended your firm. So here I am, hoping you can end this.” She took a drink from her coke, missing the blue eyes that briefly caressed her throat before looking away.
“Don’t worry, everything will be alright.” Casey slapped herself mentally as the words left her mouth. “Where’s your legendary control?”
“We’ll get to the bottom of this, I promise.” She reached out a hand and touched Beth’s arm comfortingly. Casey broke her number one rule: don’t get personally involved with the clients. It was bad for the client and herself. She felt herself falling hard and fast, not understanding her instant attraction nor her need to protect this small woman. Even though Beth struck a deep, familiar cord. “Did you bring the letters and tapes? Sit over here and show me.” The tall woman patted the sofa beside her, suddenly glad to have an excuse to sit next to Beth.
“Yeah I did.” Beth smiled gratefully, knowing she trusted this woman without reservation. It didn’t make sense, but she did. She smirked at Casey’s groan when she opened her briefcase. “I know its messy, but I know where everything is.” Beth reassured. “Let me make sure the letters are in order.” The strawberry blond fell silent as she flipped through the letters.
Casey sat back and watched Beth out of the corner of her eye, telling herself that she was giving the younger woman time to compose herself. “Yeah right!” She smirked silently. “Where is your control? Why is just the sound of her voice enough to make me break every rule I have? What do you think you’re doing, huh Casey? She’s a client, nothing more. Yeah keep telling yourself that and you might actually start to believe that.” The feel of paper jerked her wandering thoughts back to the present. “Thanks,” Casey spoke quietly. “Let me read these, then I’ve got some questions for you.”
“Sure.” Beth settled back, resting her head on the back of the sofa, feeling safe for the first time in weeks.
Carefully Casey studied the outsides of all the envelopes, holding them in her gloved hands, her experienced eyes noting the common, readily available brand of security envelope and identifying the clear, crisp letters on the address from a laser printer. Nothing too useful there, except the fact that the letters had been hand delivered; there were no markings from private delivery services. With soft sigh, she opened the first letter.
Casey stared at the last letter, absently fingering the corners as she struggled to contain her breathing. The last three letters were quite detailed, leaving in no uncertain terms what would happen to Beth if she continued writing the sequel. “Why does this bother me?” Casey fretted, slouching back uncharacteristically, studying the three most abusive letters. “I’ve seen much worse…been there for much worse…done much worse.” But she also knew, without a moments hesitation, she would kill to protect Beth. She would do whatever was necessary to keep her safe. Blue eyes drifted closed as she contemplated her strong attraction to the beautiful woman sitting next to her and her own uncharacteristic actions. Considered how close they were sitting. How quickly she needed to comfort, reaching out unconsciously to touch Beth earlier. How the sound of her voice forced her own demons back into the darkness. How comfortable and right it felt, sitting next to her. Their thighs only being inches apart. Their breaths, timed in unison. Their…
“Casey? Are you ok?” Beth quietly questioned, concerned about how quiet she was.
“Fine.” Blue eyes opened and met concerned green ones. “Have the tapes too?” Get your mind back on business! You don’t even know if she might be interested.” Shadowed blue eyes concealed the thoughts running through Casey’s head. “How could she be? She wouldn’t, if she knew.”
“I taped them on one tape.” Beth handed the mini-cassette recorder to Casey.
“Will it bother you if I play it out loud?” Casey asked, anxious about causing the gentle author more pain.
“No, go ahead.” Beth concentrated on staying calm. For some reason, she didn’t want Casey to know how upset these messages made her.
“Ok.” Casey closed her eyes as she pushed the play button. A metallic, electronically altered voice repeated the threats outlined in the letters. “Not very creative,” Casey commented once the tape played out, not yet looking at Beth. And cursed silently herself for the callous comment when she did. The scared, worried green eyes ripped her heart. “Hey, you ok?”
“Sorry. Give me a minute. I’ll be fine.” Beth muttered, standing up and moving away from the other woman. Needing some distance to regain control of her raging emotions. Afraid of what she might do if they were within touching distance. “God Beth! Get a grip! You’ve hear them several times before. Why are you acting like a baby? Especially in front of her? You…”
“Hey,” Casey approached silently from behind. “Its ok. We’ll get to the bottom of…” She was interrupted by Beth’s crying. “Don’t cry. It’ll be ok. I promise.” A large warm hand tentatively patted the slim, slightly heaving shoulder. She was totally unprepared when Beth turned and wrapped her arms around her waist, burying her head in her broad shoulder.
“Shh…shh…” Casey repeated softly, giving into her own need to comfort, pulling Beth loosely against her larger frame, gently stroking her flowing hair with a calming motion.
Several moments later, Beth stepped back, ignoring her racing pulse. “Sorry about that. Don’t know what got into me.”
“Its ok.” Casey said softly, mutely holding out a hand in invitation. And released an unknowingly held breath when it was taken. With a gentle tug, Casey led them back to the sofa. “Let’s go over it again. Ok?” Reluctantly Casey released Beth’s hand, wanting to concentrate on the problem. Not the incredibly soft skin of the author. Beth managed a tentative smile, took a deep breath and began to repeat her story.
As soon as Beth finished, Casey rose fluidly to her feet, startling the author. “C’mon. We’ll be more comfortable in the other room. I normally do most of my work in there.” Casey uncharacteristically rambled, flipping on the light, waiting for Beth to enter. “Sit anywhere,” she waved a hand to indicate the odd assortment of furniture that filled the room to capacity.
Beth sat her briefcase on the scarred coffee table, turning a curious eye on the room. Two large, worn sofas were situated slightly off-center in the room, with a large coffee table separating them; magazines and a few books resided on the second shelf of the table. One corner housed an immaculate huge oak desk. A complete computer workstation was on the left. The far wall held a built in entertainment system, with a fairly new leather recliner pushed neglectantly to the side. The other corner contained a punching bag, various weapons, including a couple of wooden staffs and an assortment of free weights with a door that led into another room. An odd assortment of pictures lined the walls, ranging from vivid outdoor scenes to abstract designs.
“Well, what do you think?” Casey asked nervously, interrupting the author’s survey of the room. It mattered a great deal what this virtual stranger thought of her private domain.
“It looks very comfortable.” Beth answered truthfully, smiling widely. “Looks like you.” The author sat on the sofa facing away from the door they just entered. “Wait until you see my office.” Beth’s grin got even wider. Oh, she couldn’t wait to see what Casey thought of her clutter.
“It is.” Casey sat opposite of Beth. “I’ll get started on these in a minute.” She indicated the letters and tape. “What I need from you first is a list of your computer accounts, phone numbers- both old and current, a list of ‘what happened when’ in relation to ‘Warrior Woman’….What?” She interrupted herself at Beth’s frown.
“Damn! Another old PI myth bites the dust.” Beth joked, grinning again. “Here I thought you were gonna ask if I had any enemies.”
“I’ll try to warn you in the future when I do that.” Casey answered dryly before giving in to the laughter shaking her insides.
“Hey,” Beth managed to say relatively evenly, once she had stopped laughing too. “Don’t we need to sign a contract before we go any farther?” Although Beth had no personal experience with private investigators, she did have plenty of business experience.
“Nah. We’ll worry about that stuff later.” Casey couldn’t believe what left her mouth. It was totally unprofessional and went against her own rules. Even when she didn’t charge a fee. It protected both the client and herself. Casey realized with a start that she didn’t want protected from this young woman.
“You sure? I can afford…”
“I’m sure. Don’t worry about it.” Casey interrupted Beth.
“We’ll talk about it later, if you insist. I promise you this will be taken care of…he or she won’t hurt you.” Serious blue eyes stared unquestioningly into equally serious, yet startled green eyes.
“Thank you Casey.” Beth broke the intense stare, slightly flustered. Glad for something to do, she removed her laptop from her briefcase and powered it up. “I figured you would want that information.” She spoke, hoping her nervousness wasn’t showing. She was unprepared for her instant emotional response to this woman. “My publisher said you were with the FBI?”
“Yeah, for 8 years before I decided to get out.” Casey shifted uncomfortably, sure if this gentle creature sitting across from her knew the real reasons she left, she would run away screaming. “I was recruited right out of college and went straight through the academy. Finally decided it wasn’t for me.”
“Here.” Beth pulled the data up on her screen. “Want a hard copy or disk?”
“Disk.” Casey couldn’t help herself; she grinned as Beth fumbled for a disk. “I’ll get you one of mine.” She started to get up, but stopped as Beth sighed triumphantly, waving the mentioned disk.
“Just plain ASCII DOS text is ok, right?” Beth asked.
“Perfect.” Casey slid next to Beth. “You know a lot about computers?”
“Just enough to get into trouble.” Beth joked, handing the disk to Casey. “Need anything else?” Unbidden thoughts of what she wanted rushed through her mind. Of pushing the ex-agent down to the sofa, kissing her incredible lips. “Get a grip, Beth!” She told herself sternly. “You just met her!”
“Not right now.” Casey couldn’t help herself and let her fingers linger on the offered disk, lightly brushing against Beth’s. Firmly clamping down on her rising desires, she finally took the disk. “I want the lab to check out the tape and the letters.” Casey rose, hoping her still shaking legs wouldn’t betray her. “I’ll get started on this.” She held up the disk.
“Can I do anything to help? Or should I just get out of the way?” Beth asked, not sure if that was her cue to leave.
“You don’t have to go.” Casey said in a rush. “I mean, I’m sure I’ll have some questions in a bit.” She smiled her most disarming smile, hoping to convince Beth to stay.
“You sure I won’t be in the way?” Beth felt like she had to offer, although she desperately wanted to stay.
“Positive.” A soft sigh of relief. Casey pulled out a long extension cord and phone line, offering them to Beth. “You can use these if you want. Or watch some tv or put on some music.” The ex-FBI agent slapped herself mentally for rambling, wondering why she couldn’t seem to control her mouth in the author’s presence.
“Thanks,” Beth took the offered extension cord. “I think I’ll work on ‘Warrior 2’ for awhile.” A bright smile for Casey. “Maybe you’ll want to read some of it later?” Beth couldn’t believe herself! She never let anyone read works in progress. She didn’t know what prompted her to offer, but the look she was currently receiving took away any doubt she had.
“Love to.” Without thinking, Casey absently tousled Beth’s hair. Suddenly feeling self-conscious, she moved decisively to her desk, missing the quickly hidden look of joyous surprise on the author’s face. Punching a button, she called her assistant. “Take these to the lab. I want complete analyses on both.” Casey turned to her computer, but spun back around when she sensed that her assistant hadn’t moved. “Problem Susan?”
“No problem Casey. Just a little surprised, that’s all.” She fled the room, not wanting to risk her boss’s wrath. Not believing what she had seen.
“So am I.” Casey muttered under her breath. This was the first time a client had been allowed into her private domain. “But you’re not really a client are you?” She continued to mutter, sliding the disk into her computer. A final glance at the beautiful author almost was her undoing. Beth had taken her shoes off and placed her feet on the sofa, with the laptop resting on her lap. She was pounding away furiously, with the most intent, serious look on her face. With a heartfelt sigh, she forced herself to sit down and work.
Beth ignored the comings and goings in Casey’s office. When she was writing, the outside world faded away. Her concentration was solely on the scene rapidly taking shape. The warrior woman, Xena, also known as the Warrior Princess, had just told her best friend and lover to curtly stay. Leaving Gabrielle alone, staring at her rapidly retreating form. With a soft sigh, sparkling green eyes drifted shut as Beth recreated her dreams, transcribing them.
On and off during the course of the next several hours, Casey found her gaze unwittingly returning to the beautiful author. Each time, she faded out, concentrating on the quiet glow reflected from Beth’s expressive face. At one point, she laughed out loud; the author had her tongue protruding between her teeth, eyes squinched tightly shut. Casey glanced up and met the amused eyes of her assistant as she carried in the large order.
“Think you got enough?” Susan teased quietly, hefting the two stuffed bags of chinese food.
“Give me those.” asey snagged the bags out of her hands, ignoring her assistant’s comment. She couldn’t believe how much she had ordered, but her background search revealed that the young author liked to eat. And could put many large football players to shame in that regard. “How’s the tape analysis coming?”
“That’s it Casey. Distract her.” She patted herself on the back mentally.
“Nothing concrete yet, but Bert said he’d call you as soon as he had anything definitive.” Susan eyed the still typing author curiously, but Casey’s low growl discouraged any questions and encouraged a quick retreat.
The tantalizing smell of chinese food waffled through Beth’s consciousness, dragging her back to the present. With a start, green eyes snapped open, accurately pinning the location of the food. “Oh wow,” Beth groaned as she saved her work before stretching sensually. “What time is it? I feel like I’ve been sitting for hours.”
“You have,” Casey laughed softly, setting the food down on the coffee table. “Hungry? We both worked through lunch.”
A loud grumbling caused Beth to blush a bright pink. “Oh God! Excuse me,” she muttered embarrassed.
“Guess that answers that question.” Casey teased. “I think I got all your favorites. Let’s see, hot and sour soup, crab rangoon, combo fried rice, cashew chicken, and mongolian beef.” Casey stole a glance at the author’s face as she pulled the items from the bags, deciding pink was definitely a good color. “Did I forget anything?”
“What did I do? Leave my takeout list on that disk?” Beth looked at Casey, laughing softly at the raised eyebrow she got in return. “No,” she answered the eyebrow. “You didn’t forget anything.” Picking up one of the containers of soup, Beth inhaled deeply. “This smells great. Thanks!” Then in a softer voice. “You didn’t have to do this. Sorry I got so caught up in my writing. I didn’t keep you from anything did I?”
“Eat.” Casey urged, picking up the other container of soup. The ex-agent waited until Beth had consumed about half of her soup before answering the other questions. “I know I didn’t have to do this, but I wanted to. And no, you didn’t keep me from doing anything. I got a lot done this afternoon too. Ick, gross!”
“What?” Beth exclaimed indignantly. “This is the only way to eat crab rangoon.” She paused in her dunking, mock glaring at the ex-agent. “And how would you suggest we eat them?”
“Go right ahead. They’re all your’s.” Casey pushed the remaining ones over to Beth. “I don’t like them anyway.” She drained her soup and reached for the unopened container at the back of the table, digging in appreciatively.
Beth inhaled her remaining soup and crab rangoon, rubbing her hands together in anticipation. Part of the rice and cashew chicken soon disappeared. All the while chatting about nothing in particular. Talking more to hear her new friend laugh than for any other reason. “What’s that?” Beth mumbled around a mouthful of mongolian beef. “It doesn’t smell like chinese.”
“Want some?” Casey offered Beth the half consumed container of mixed vegetables. The ex-agent had eaten slowly, watching the rapidly disappearing food in awe. She had never seen anyone eat that much in such a short time, especially not someone as petite and dainty looking as the author.
“No thanks,” Beth shuddered at the mixed vegetables. “How can you eat that? It looks disgusting.”
“I like it.” Casey huffed back, pretending to be offended.
“Sorry.” Beth looked away, feeling like a heel for criticizing Casey’s choice in food. Clearly the comment had bothered her, if the tone of voice and facial expressions were any indication. Old childhood feelings reared their ugly head: nothing she said or did was ever right. Nothing was good enough to please her demanding parents; not even her success now merited their approval. Writing, especially what she wrote, was not fitting for someone of her station. She could count the times…..
“Hey!” Casey tapped Beth on the arm, startling her back to the present. “Where did you go? You just faded out on me.” The ex-agent was concerned. One minute her dinner companion was laughing, having a good time and the next had such an ncredibly sad expression on her face that Casey just wanted to gather her in her arms and sooth all her fears and troubles away. It was totally uncharacteristic of the ex-agent. Casey was a little afraid of her almost instant emotional attachment to the author. She’d never felt this way before, but she couldn’t have prevented herself from asking, not if her life depended on it. “You ok?”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to criticize your choice of food.” Beth took a deep, calming breath and glanced at Casey, losing herself momentarily in concerned blue eyes. “Can I tempt you with some of this?” She motioned to the remaining food, wincing slightly at how little was left. “What’s left of it anyway,” she tacked on wryly.
“Well, maybe some of the rice.” Casey dumped most of the remaining rice in with her vegetables, smiling in relief when Beth smiled.
“You never answered my question.” Beth held out the mongolian beef until Casey took that too.
“I’ll answer your’s if you answer mine.” Casey said before taking a bite. “Which one was that?” She mumbled around a mouthful once Beth nodded.
“How did you know what chinese food I liked?” Beth gazed curiously at Casey.
“That’s an easy one.” Casey swallowed, noticing that Beth looked incredible in the soft, late afternoon sunlight. “Science fiction interview last year. I was hoping,” she added upon feeling those bright green eyes burn curiously into her own. “That by checking your publicity data something would jump out and strike me as different. Often stalkers follow their victims publicly, cropping up in the background of crowd photos, book signings, things like that.”
“Any luck?” Beth asked, suddenly feeling slightly sick. What if this person had been there all along and she never knew it?
“Only two people appear with any regularity, your publisher and your sister.” Casey answered reassuringly. “Now time for my question. Where did you go off to before?”
“Uh…hmm…well…” Beth stammered, not sure she wanted to explain her insecurities to this incredibly strong woman sitting beside her. “I don’t think you’d understand. Could you ask me something else?” She pleaded, hoping Casey would drop the touchy subject.”
“I think I would, but that’s ok.” Casey replied quietly, irrationally feeling hurt that Beth wouldn’t confide in her.
“Later, ok?” Beth touched Casey’s arm, bringing those serious blue eyes back up to her own pleading ones. “Ask me again when I’m already depressed and I’ll answer you then. I promise.”
“Ok, I’ll hold you to that.” Casey looked down at the small hand resting on her arm, smiling at the warm tingles running along her skin. “So why do you close your eyes when you write?” A reprieve was granted and silently, thankfully acknowledged.
“Oh. That.” Beth thought for a minute. “Well, I don’t normally. Only when I write about the warrior woman.” She closed her eyes for a moment and quickly made a decision. Mind made up, she opened her eyes, peering into concerned blue. “See, when I write about Xena and her bard, I feel like I’m transcribing my dreams. Everything is more vivid and real with my eyes closed. Its almost like I’m there, observing first hand. Weird, huh?” The author added at Casey’s openly curious expression.
“How long have you dreamt of the warrior woman?” Casey asked, totally surprising the author. “And no, I don’t think its weird.”
“The last fifteen years, give or take a couple of months. I’m glad the first book did so well. Now I can write the sequel without any guilt. There is something in these tales that call to me. I can’t really explain it.” Beth looked down at her hands, not really sure if she should continue. Or admit it was the beautiful, black haired warrior that attracted her. That reminded her so much of the woman sitting next to her. But it went far deeper than that. While the author was attracted to Xena, Beth felt like she had known this woman sitting next to her for her whole life. And the feelings that coursed through her body at a mere glance of those extraordinarily beautiful eyes caused her heart to pound erratically and her soul to fill with light.
“Me too.” Casey reached over and tentatively took Beth’s hand. She swallowed hard when Beth met her gaze. “I can’t explain my attraction to the book. Its almost like these are true stories.” Casey refused to admit out loud her attraction to the book’s author. Refused to admit how much her life had changed in just one day. Her priorities now were totally different than when she woke up this morning. “I know,” she held up her other hand, forestalling any arguments. “Some of the moves Xena uses are physically not possible, but…”
“You too?” Beth interrupted the ex-agent. “Even when I was a kid, I felt like these things happened, more or less. I mean…”
A throat clearing at the door interrupted the talking women. “Bert. What do you have?” Casey motioned the man in, pointing to the sofa opposite her.
“The tape is clean.” Bert began somewhat uncomfortably. He wasn’t used to discussing business in front of clients; he was most thankful for the warning Susan gave him. “There was no background noise. The masking of the voice is almost flawless. I ean,” he noticed the confusion on the young woman’s face sitting next to his boss. “That the same speech sounds and words consistently sound the same in each phone call. The caller either used very expensive equipment or spent a lot of time finely tuning and maintaining the unit. In either case, it wasn’t cheap.”
“So we’re either dealing with a professional or a techno geek.” Casey said for Beth’s benefit.
“That’s right.” Bert confirmed. “The only distinctive thing about the recorded messages are their cleanness.”
Casey nodded, dismissing Bert. “Thanks Bert.” As soon as he left the room, the ex-agent turned to fully face Beth. “The letters were also clean. High quality paper and ink were used to print the documents. The fingerprints on the letters were rapidly identified as your’s and your publisher’s.”
“No clues then, huh? Damn.” Beth swore softly and frowned. She wanted this problem taken care of quickly.
“I wouldn’t say that.” Casey grinned at Beth. “Based on what we did learn, I’d say we’re dealing with someone who wants to impress or intimidate you with their cleverness and cunning. This person is highly skilled in certain aspects of electronics and computers. Or they have the money to higher someone who is and knows how to be discreet. What we don’t…what’s wrong?” Casey interrupted herself at Beth’s suddenly sick look.
“Oh God!” Beth moaned silently. “Could it be? Could my parents be behind this? I know they don’t approve of my lifestyle, but would they stoop to this level? Use whatever means necessary to get me to stop?” A large hand on her cheek abruptly halted her frantic ramblings. “Huh? I was…” Beth broke off, losing herself in the deep blue eyes holding her own.
Casey felt her heart racing as she found herself leaning towards Beth. Wanting nothing more than to kiss those lucius lips, not only to sooth her pain. Fiercely she reined her desire in, clearing her throat to help break the hypnotic gaze. “Where’d you go? That’s twice tonight. Are you sure you’re alright? You’re really starting to worry me.” Casey’s voice was low and husky. With extreme effort, she pulled away slightly, letting her hand fall away from the author’s soft cheek, struggling to regain a measure of professionalism.
For an answer, Beth extracted a pen and pad of paper from her briefcase. Writing furiously, she wrote down her parent’s names and many addresses, along with the name of the law firm that handled the family’s personal business. “Check out my parents.” Beth spoke quietly, handing the paper to Casey. “Its possible that they might have taken this tract to ‘persuade’ me to give up this foolish pursuit.”
“What?” Casey was floored. Thinking furiously over everything she had learned about the author this afternoon, she couldn’t recall seeing anything out of the ordinary about Beth’s family. Her sister was the only one mentioned and infrequently at that.
“My parents, how do I put this?” Beth paused sarcastically. “Don’t think highly of my chosen profession. It’s not ‘proper’ for a woman of my social standing to write mysteries or science fiction. And certainly not proper to write about two strong, ancient greek women who traveled around by themselves. It, I should say, I don’t fit in their lifestyle.”
“Stupid!” Casey slapped herself mentally while listening to Beth. Beth was a Jamieson, of the Boston Jamieson’s. It hadn’t occurred to her to look beneath the surface, simply assuming the family wasn’t close. “Engage your brain, stupid! You’re the professional, remember?! Don’t make assumptions.”
“I should have thought of that.” Casey told Beth quietly. “I don’t know where my head is at.” This was a straight lie. Casey knew exactly where her thoughts had been: on one incredibly sexy author and what she’d like to do with her. NOT on her problem. “Maybe you should consider…”
“Not on your life, Casey Bennet!” Beth talked over the ex-agent. “I want someone I trust to handle this.” The author gazed unwaveringly at Casey, speaking softly. “And I trust you.”
“If you’re sure,” Casey began, but stopped at Beth’s exasperated sigh. “Ok. We’ll get to the bottom of this, I promise.” She debated with herself for a moment. “Let me get started on your parents. I just gave them a cursory glance before. You gonna write some more?” It didn’t even occur to Casey that Beth might not want to stay until after the words left her mouth. “That is if you want to hang around for awhile longer.”
“I’ll stay.” Beth answered, suddenly shy.
“Good.” Casey answered honestly. “I want you to.” The ex-agent turned towards her desk, missing the pleased grin that flickered momentarily across Beth’s place.
“Want a coke?” Beth offered, grabbing a bottle for herself from the well stocked refrigerator.
“Toss me a bottled water, please?” Casey smiled as Beth brought the water over to her. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” Beth returned the smile before returning to the sofa. Flipping open her laptop, Beth settled down to work. Several minutes later, she sighed softly, unable to concentrate. Setting the laptop down, the author curiously explored the room. Casey’s tasted ran the gauntlet, in music and furniture and weapons. Curious fingers traced over a well worn leather whip. Green eyes searched through the remaining weapons, noting the two expertly maintained iron and steel swords. Hefting a staff, Beth cautiously spun it in a lazy circle, getting the balance and feel of the unfamiliar wood. After spinning the staff in a tight
circle around her body, Beth replaced the staff and wandered back to the sofa. Sighing softly, the author resumed her previous position and began to read what she had written earlier. An hour later, her eyes drifted unconsciously shut as she drifted off to sleep.
Casey glanced up, not surprised when she heard Beth spin her staff expertly, but quickly looked down, not wanting Beth to catch her staring. Hiding a heartfelt sigh, Casey resumed her detailed search for information on the Jamieson’s. A couple of hours later, Casey’s attention was drawn to the slumbering woman. Soft cries of distress filled the air. Swiftly the ex-agent crossed the room, kneeling beside the tossing author. Speaking lowly, Casey extended a hand to shake the woman’s shoulder, talking quietly. “Beth.” Nothing but another cry. A firmer shake. “C’mon Beth. Wake up.” Faint sobs pierced the ex-agent’s heart. “C’mon Beth. Please wake up.” Casey repeated more firmly, lightly stroking the author’s cheek, trying to clamp down on her own raising panic.
With a start, startled green flew open in shock and misery. Absently Beth noted the calloused fingers stroking her cheek. Embarrassed beyond belief, the author turned a bright shade of pink. “God! Sorry about that.” Beth mumbled, swinging her legs over the sofa, sitting up. “Haven’t done that in awhile.” She added, gazing into the concerned eyes looking up at her.
“Are you ok?” Casey asked, sliding on the sofa beside Beth. Preoccupied with trying to calm her racing heart, Casey took Beth’s right hand in her left, slowly rubbing her thumb along the back of her hand.
“Yeah.” Beth closed her eyes momentarily, contemplating the wisdom of explaining her dream. The clear, anxious eyes that met her own made her mind up. “I’ve had that dream for a long time…ever since I was a little kid.” The author paused, taking a deep breath before continuing. “I just haven’t had it for awhile. Not since I decided to try and write ‘Warrior Woman’.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Casey interjected into the silence, noting that Beth had curled her fingers around her hand.
“I’m standing in the middle of a clover field strewn with white and yellow daisies. Tall evergreen and oak trees surround the field. A small, lightly gurgling stream flows through the center of the field. The sun is shining brightly and not a cloud is in the sky. A gently breeze lightly caresses my skin, lifting my hair away from my body. Its so beautiful its almost surreal.” A pause. “I feel so peaceful.” The author fell silent, her gaze locked on their entwined hands.
Casey remained quiet, noislessly turning to face Beth, wordlessly encouraging her to face the ex-agent. Casey wondered why this upset the author; the dream sounded wonderful. Very peaceful and tranquil. The silence stretched on. Unable to stand not knowing what so upset Beth, Casey brought her other hand to rest under the author’s chin and gently brought her head up so their eyes met. “What happens to ruin your wonderful place?” The ex-agent asked, taking a gamble.
Beth smiled ruefully, taking Casey’s hand in her’s. And gathered her courage. With a deep breath, she continued. “I watch myself run across this beautiful place, delighting in the breeze, the sunlight…in being alive. Suddenly a dark cloud covers the sun, throwing a blanket of darkness over the field. Within a couple of heartbeats, everything is dead. The flowers…the trees…” The author broke off, her voice only a whisper of what it was when she started. The warm, comforting pressure of the strong hands entwined with her own and the nonjudgmental look bestowed upon her gave Beth the courage to continue. “Everything was dying inside of me too. All of my words. My stories. Who I was…I am…slowing disappearing in the darkness.” Choked out with a sob.
“God.” Casey breathed emotionally, reacting to the pain radiating from the author. “C’mere.” She pulled Beth into a fierce hug, rocking the shaking woman, whispering soothing words in her ear.
Several minutes later, Beth pulled away. “Sorry about that.” She mumbled, staring at their hands, still embarrassed by her outburst. “I don’t usually go off like that.”
“Don’t be.” Casey smiled reassuringly. “We all have bad dreams.” The ex-agent paused and made a decision. “Its getting pretty late. Are you going to stay in town tonight?” She sincerely hoped that Beth wasn’t going to try and drive to her rural home tonight. The ex-agent needed time to get her gear together so she could accompany Beth, among other things. She turned her back on the other reason; that she didn’t want Beth to go home. Not without her.
“I’m staying at The Continental tonight. I have to sign some contracts at my publisher’s before I go home.” Beth finally met Casey’s gaze as she finished speaking.
“Good!” Casey breathed a sigh of relief. “I want to go home with you when you do. To see what we’ll need for surveillance and to make sure the area is secure. I’ll…”
“You can stay with me.” Beth interrupted her, then blushed slightly. “I mean I have plenty of room.”
“Thanks, sounds good.” The ex-agent didn’t even flinch as she broke yet another of her rules.
“Great! Company on the way back. Guess I won’t be talking to myself this time.” Beth rose, forestalling any forthcoming arguments, tugging on Casey’s hands. “I’ve got three cars, you can use one of them to get around, if you want.”
“What time is your meeting?” Casey let herself be pulled up from the sofa and watched in amusement as Beth started throwing her papers in her briefcase haphazardly. “And where are we going now?”
“At the ungodly hour of 9:00 am. But now, its time for desert!” Beth grinned widely, stowing her laptop and snapping the case shut. Seeing Casey’s amused smirk, the author wiggled her eyebrows. “Trust me.”
“Lead the way.” Casey pulled an inconspicuous looking leather bomber jacket off the rack by the door. Stored in the hidden internal pockets were the ex-agent’s identification, money, credit cards, cell phone, handcuffs, and an extra clip for the 9mm Smith and Wesson she had holstered at the back of her waist. “So where are we going?” Casey asked again, setting the security system and locking the door.
“My favorite place in the city.” Beth shifted her purse, digging for her keys. “C’mon, I’ll bring you back here or home when we’re done.”
“Fine with me.” Casey held the outer door open, glancing cautiously up and down the street, sighing as Beth barreled out. “Hey! Wait up.” Casey called exasperated, hurrying to catch up.
A practiced, experienced eye reviewed the contents of the specially made suitcases one final time before snapping shut and locking them. A large duffle bag held clothes. Grinning uncontrollably, Casey carried the bags to the front door. A check of the street did not reveal the blue 4-Runner of the author. Sighing loudly, the ex-agent threw herself down in the easy chair, thoughts returning to last night.
The author’s favorite place in the city was an authentic mexican restaurant. The owners, a small family, had beamed when their favorite customer walked through the door. The food was exceptional, but the ex-agent learned that Beth’s idea of desert differed from the norm. They’d started out with the traditional salsa (very spicy) and crunchy chips, then shared a chicken quesadilla, finally ending desert with “normal” desert items: fried ice cream with chocolate sauce and churros (fried bread rolled in cinnamon and sugar) dipped in chocolate. Two small children pulled a laughing Beth from the table, saying they had to show her their latest artwork.
As soon as Beth had left the room, the proprietor moved swiftly to their table. “May I join you for a moment?” The small muscular man asked politely, waiting to sit until Casey nodded. “You are Beth’s friend?”
“Yes,” the ex-agent responded, knowing she was already more attached to Beth than any “usual” friend.
“Good,” the man replied, shooting a glance towards the kitchen door as it opened. Seeing only his wife, he continued. “I’m glad. You’re the first person Beth has brought here. We were starting to wonder…”
“No,” his wife interjected, laying a hand on his shoulder. “We were worried because she spends so much time alone. She’s so shy and quiet.” The woman got up as the door opened, admitting new customers. “Excuse me,” she left the table.
The door opened again and the proprietor rose as well. “Be good to our Beth. She deserves happiness.” He held the ex-agent’s eyes for a minute, apparently liking what he saw. Nodding once, he left to help his wife.
“Well, that was different.” Casey thought, absently watching the new customers, checking for any problems. Then something stuck her. “I’m the only person she brought here? And she’s shy and quiet? Not my Beth.” The ex-agent was unaware of her term of endearment. Feeling suddenly warm, Casey sat back, quietly observing, waiting for Beth to return. A slow, gentle smile spread across her face, lighting the dark features; the author had returned.
“Well, that was fun.” Beth returned the grin, sliding onto her bench. “Get enough to …”
Beth’s remembered words were interrupted by a slamming of a door. Jumping to her feet, Casey moved silently to the window. Seeing it was just her neighbor down the street, the ex-agent left the curtain fall back into place. A quick look at the clock confirmed what her stomach was telling her, it was past time for lunch. Deciding she would wait for Beth, she started to worry.
“I should have gone with her.” Casey mumbled as she paced across the room. “She should have been back by now!” Her footsteps reflected her darkening thoughts as she moodily, but very quietly stepped back and forth across the floor. Then. “Maybe I should go look for her, she might need help.” Another scowl out the window. “No, she’s a grown woman. She can take care of herself. If she had car trouble, she would have called.” Last night the ex-agent had insisted Beth put her private number, the one she could always be reached at, in speedy dial on her cell phone…for emergencies. The ringing of the cordless phone interrupted her nervous pacing.
“Hello?” Casey resumed her pacing, knowing it wasn’t Beth. Her direction changed as she headed towards a small room off the living room, recognizing the voice.
“Glad I caught you,” Susan answered. “The background search on the Jamieson’s didn’t reveal anything. Just the normal bickering in some families.”
“What about financial?” Casey flipped her computer on, listening to what her assistant was saying. Nothing obvious jumped out at the ex-agent, but she wanted to read the reports for herself. If appearances were correct, the family had nothing to do with threatening Beth. “Ok, I’m ready. Send me the files.” The encrypted files slowly started being transferred. “Thanks Susan. I’ll let you know what’s happening later.” She hung up, waiting for the files to finish being transferred. Immediately she started the encryption program, translating the jumbled data, knowing it would take about 10 minutes for the decoding to be complete. The sound of a slamming door had her striding to the window again. “Its about time,” she growled, feeling the tension start to fade.
“Hey,” Casey opened the door, surprising the author as she ran up the steps. “You went to a business meeting in that?” Blue eyes flickered over the well worn jeans, flannel shirt and hiking boots.
Amused green eyes took in the hastily hid relieved grin of the ex-agent. “Yeah I did,” Beth grinned as she entered the house. “I wanted to shock them this morning. Sorry I’m late. Had to wait while one of the contracts was modified to my satisfaction.”
“Oh, no problem.” Casey fibbed, thinking she was hiding her worrying. “Have a seat. Want something to drink?” Casey crossed to the computer in the next room and quickly saved the translated files on a couple of floppies.
“I’ll get something on the way out of town.” Beth looked around the room curiously. Nothing personal filled the walls or the tables. Frowning, the author decided this room was for show…for company the ex-agent didn’t want to reveal anything to.
“What’s wrong?” Casey caught the tail end of the frown. “Did something happen on the way over here?” Immediately the ex-agent started silently berating herself for letting the author out of her sight.
“Nothing’s wrong.” Beth sighed quietly, not sure why this room bothered her so. Then a thought occurred. Maybe she didn’t like this impersonal room because she didn’t feel like Casey was a stranger. It hurt, thinking the ex-agent might think of her that way.
“You sure?” Casey questioned, not liking the sudden change in the author. A thought occurred. “You hungry? My neighbor brought over some cinnamon rolls this morning.”
“And you didn’t eat them all?” Beth faked shock. “It would be a shame to let them go to waste.”
“C’mon then. They’re in the kitchen.” Casually Casey led the way, suddenly feeling self-conscious.
“Wow, bright colors.” Beth was surprised at the light, open, airy feeling of the room. This was a room someone had spent a lot of time planning and decorating. “You do all this? It looks great!”
“Well, not really.” Casey slid the rolls into the microwave to warm them up. “My younger brother helped.” The ex-agent thought about the decor briefly. She had redecorated the kitchen during one of her blacker moods while still with the FBI. The bright, cheerful room hadn’t lifted her spirits as hoped.
“The two of you did a nice job.” Beth felt the tension rolling off Casey in waves. Clearly there was more to the story than Casey offered; her body language was clearly warning Beth to let the subject drop. “What’s to drink?” The author changed the subject, granting Casey the privacy she desired.
“Whatever’s in the fridge. I think there’s the usual.” The microwave beeped for attention. “Help yourself.”
“Want orange juice or milk?” Beth studied the bare refrigerator, pulling out the milk when Casey answered. She joined the ex-agent at the window table. “Are you already to go?” The author asked around a mouthful of roll.
“Yup, as soon as we finish the cinnamon rolls.” Casey grinned, the last of her dark mood slipping quietly away in the sunny author’s presence. “Mrs. A makes good cinnamon rolls, huh?”
“She sure does!” Beth sighed happily, snagging a second off the plate. “I can’t believe you were just gonna let these go to waste. You better not say you have them so often that it didn’t matter.” A mock glare flashed at the ex-agent.
Casey opened her mouth but snapped it shut, not wanting to voice her immediate thought of “why don’t you hang around and find out?” Instead she shrugged her shoulders. “Oh, I eat them at least once a month.” She pushed the remaining roll at the author. “Go on, eat the last one.”
“You don’t have to twist my arm.” Beth took the last roll, smothering a yawn.
“Legal stuff is boring. No wonder you’re tired.” Casey nodded sympathetically at the author. “Glad I didn’t have to spend the morning going over contracts.”
“Its ok. It pays the bills.” Beth answered seriously, surprising the ex-agent. “I’m sure that you’ve discovered that my parents have all but disowned me. They’d do that, if my Grandmother’s will hadn’t tied their inheritance to me staying part of the family.” The author fell silent, thinking rapidly just how much she was willing to tell her new friend. The answer shocked her. She realized that she didn’t mind telling Casey. In fact, she looked forward to being able to talk about it with another person. Specifically the tall, dark haired woman sitting across from her. “You’d of liked her. My Grandma.”
“Hey.” Casey reached out and touched the author’s arm. “I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories. Initial indications are that your parents don’t have anything to do with the threats.” The ex-agent silently sighed as she broke yet another rule: don’t speculate until the facts are in. But, she reasoned with herself. She couldn’t let Beth go on thinking that her parents were likely suspects. “Want another glass of milk?”
“Nah, just let me wash up and I’ll be ready to go.” Beth stretched, then grabbed her plate and glass and joined Casey at the sink.
“Go on. You know where the bathroom is.” Casey grinned crookedly as she took the dishes from Beth, deciding she really liked her kitchen. When the author was in it. “Wonder what the bathroom….don’t go there, Casey.” She warned herself, setting the dishes to dry. The ex-agent quickly checked the backdoor and windows, waiting for Beth to finish. Still the author hadn’t come out of the bathroom. “Beth? Are you ok?” She called, worried. There had been no sound from the bathroom for sometime.
“C’mere.” Beth breathed quietly.
Scared by her tone of voice, Casey drew her gun and cautiously turned the door handle. Slowly she pushed the door open, weapon at the ready. “Damn! What’s so interesting?” The ex-agent slumped in relief, seeing Beth looking out the window.
“Did you think I got ambushed in here?” Beth laughed softly as she caught the tense armed form leaning against the door. “Take a look.” She moved to the side of the window, allowing Casey to view the scene.
“Oh, the squirrel does that all the time.” Casey concentrated on her companion. “He’s a real comic. You should see him when he’s trying to eat the bird food on the sly.” A thought occurred to her. “You live in the middle of the country. Don’t you have squirrels?”
“Yes, but they avoid the house. They’re real skittish around manmade things.” Beth looked wryly at Casey. “Guess we should get going.”
“Sounds like a plan to me. If you’ll excuse me for a minute.” The ex-agent laughed as Beth turned red. “Go look in drawers or something.” She was still laughing as she shut the door.
Beth wandered by a closed door, thinking it must be a bedroom. The pictures on the hall walls stopped her. Curious eyes explored the happy family lining the walls. Warmth and love radiated from every shot. Feeling slightly jealous, Beth never heard Casey approach behind her.
“That’s Mark in the red, David in the blue and Stephanie in the yellow.” Casey spoke softly, warmth reflected in her voice. “Mark’s in medical school, David’s a banker and Stephanie’s a lawyer.”
“Nice family you’ve got there, Casey.” Beth noticed the absence of parents in any of the pictures, but she didn’t comment on it.
“Yeah, makes me wonder how they put up with me.” Casey teased, guessing Beth’s line of thought. “Come on, we need to get going.”
Beth followed Casey silently, until she caught sight of the luggage by the door. “What’s all that? Planning on staying a couple of months?”
“Don’t I wish!” She silently answered herself.
“No, just stuff I hope I won’t have to use.” Casey looked at Beth cautiously, thinking she had read something in their interactions that wasn’t there. Unexplainably this made the ex-agent’s heart beat faster at the depressing thought. “I’ll try to stay out of your way as much as possible.”
“You won’t be in the way.” Beth turned, surprised and forced Casey to meet her gaze. “You can stay as long as you like. I think we’re gonna have fun. Now,” she picked up the duffle bag, guessing correctly that it had clothes in it. “Lets hit the road, Ms. Bennet.”
“After you, Ms. Jamieson.” Casey locked the door and waved to Mrs A. across the street, who just happened to be on her front porch. She tossed her stuff in the back, then climbed in beside Beth.
About an hour later, Casey interrupted Beth’s musing on Xena. “Are you ok Beth? You seem awfully tired.”
“Guess I’m getting to old to stay up writing all night and then try to function properly the next day. Xena and Gabrielle loudly demanded my attention last night.” The author smothered another yawn. “Just need some caffeine, and I’ll be fine.”
“Pull over and I’ll drive.” Casey offered. “I really don’t mind,” she added at Beth’s raised eyebrow.
“You’re sure?” But she was already pulling over to the side of the road.
“Positive. You can take a nap and be ready for that tour you promised.” Casey changed places, then looked over as Beth turned in the seat. Here. Use my jacket.” She draped it over the author’s almost asleep form.
“Thanks.” Beth mumbled sleepily. “Night Casey.”
“Sweat dreams, Beth.” Casey waited a minute to make sure Beth was done moving around, then she pulled back on the road. A gentle smile graced her features. A few minutes later, her face darkened as she recalled why she was in the car with Beth. The last letter she’d received had been quiet specific, detailing how the author could be made to stop writing ‘Warrior 2.’ The dark emotions grew in strength, triggering her own carefully hidden demons.
The Hamilton case…the one that ended her career as the rising star of the violent crimes unit of the FBI. James Hamilton was a professional gardener and a brutal rapist and murderer. From the fall of 1992 to the spring of 1993, he terrorized the eastern coast. 25 victims fell to his murderous rage, one every 10 days. The one thing his victims had in common was their mundaneness. Just ordinary men and women, ranging in age from 21 to 30, working middle class jobs. Teachers, nurses, bank tellers and small business owners. Each victim had a different flower intricately carved into their backs postmortemly. Almost 5 years later, Casey still vividly saw the blood stained ground, smelled the dark tang of fresh blood mixing with new grass, heard the tortured, terrified screams of the 26th victim as she crawled through the cold, wet mud in the blackest part of the night. The scene flashed through her mind with blinding intensity.
The bright moon was directly overhead, eerily illuminating the just awakening pasture as the new spring growth struggled against the unseasonably cold night. A large crackling fire provided additional light as well as warming the chilly air. The maniacal laughs and grunts of Hamilton mingled with the terrified screams of his victim as he repeatedly thrust a trowel handle in and out. Telling the woman laying beneath him she deserved it for existing in his domain.
Something in Casey snapped when she crested the slight rise leading to the edge of Hamilton’s camp. Pictures of each victim, their terrified stares as they left this world, the pain and humiliation they suffered burned straight into her soul, igniting a tightly held and buried rage. Every horror she had seen, experienced first hand seized her heart, rushing out from their tightly locked corner. Time seized to exist for the agent, proper procedure forgotten. Slowly, icily calm, she crawled on her belly through the outer edges of his camp, her weapon safely tucked in its holster. She knew she wouldn’t be needing it. Just as Master Hung had taught her, the agent became one with her surroundings.
Her breathing stabilized until it matched the pitch and level of the wind. Each slither, almost in perfect time with the crackling fire, took her closer to her intended target, until she was within arms distance of Hamilton. Who remained totally unaware of her presence. With a loud, focusing yell, Casey rushed Hamilton. Her first kick sent the trowel flying into the darkness. Her second kick landed square in his chest and cracked several ribs; picking Hamilton up and over his backpack. He fell on his back a good 10 feet from the woman he was raping. Casey bounced on the balls of her feet, loosening muscles tightened by the long crawl on the cold ground. Taunting the cowering, quivering man, she grabbed his bloody jacket and hauled him to his feet. Blinded by the emotional pain and blood coursing through her, Casey repeatedly hit Hamilton, using her martial arts training to leave no bruises.
High choking sobs of pain broke through her consciousness, jerking Casey back to the present. Slowly she focused on the half unconscious man slumped at her feet. Staring unbelievingly, the agent couldn’t believe she had lost control. Many times over the last eight years Casey fought her rage and pain to submission as each case reveled a new horror. Quickly she handcuffed Hamilton, frisked him, then forced him to lay face down in her plain sight.
Moving slowly so she wouldn’t frighten the woman any more, Casey talked softly, telling her she was safe, that everything would be ok. In control once more, Casey became the ultra professional, mentally detaching herself from the horrifying scene, handling things by the book.
The next week past antagonizingly slow for the agent. Her every waking thought was filled with analyzing the situation at the pasture, trying to figure out what triggered her uncontrollable rage. By the end of the week, Casey had come to the conclusion she wasn’t any better than the criminals she tracked down. Each blow landed after the second kick was unnecessary; Hamilton was on the ground and helpless. Terrified she wouldn’t be able to control her rage, and by extension, the fighting skills that were ingrained from years of hard work, Casey resigned amid the flowery praise and adulation she was receiving. Reasoning that if she avoided the hard, painful cases, she could contain and control her rage.
A soft laugh snatched her back to the present. Troubled blue flickered momentarily over her slumbering companion, quickly ascertaining that Beth was ok, just dreaming. The peaceful sight reminded the ex-agent just how different they were. And hardened her resolve. Nothing would hurt the peaceful, beautiful creature who dared to call her friend after just meeting. Not as long as she was around to prevent it. Even if the ex-agent was protecting her from herself. Firmly grasping her resolve, Casey turned her attention to the task at hand, slipping on the familiar mask of the ultimate professional. Ruthlessly she ignored her own suddenly aching heart, which was pounding erratically at the thought of walking away from Beth; from the positive, light, joyous emotions that had finally returned after such a prolonged absence.
Possibilities and scenarios were formulated, discarded and reformulated as the ex-agent relentlessly focused her attention on the problem at hand. The miles and time flew by. In a way, the reappearance of the professional was welcomed by the ex-agent. It was easier to exist in the relatively pain-free internal environment where no soul searching was endured. It was the way the ex-agent had experienced and lived the years since the Hamilton case. Emotions were locked tightly away, used sparingly, only when absolutely necessary. The cold, emotionless ex-agent returned; it was if the past 36 hours hadn’t happened.
Beth woke up slowly, unaware of the soul searching and changes that occurred in her new friend. Lazily she opened one eye, looking at the ex-agent’s profile. Startled, both eyes flew open, observing the changes in posture and manner. An icy calm fairly oozed from the still, straight form. Beth shivered slightly in reaction. Suddenly Beth was afraid. “Casey, are you ok?” The author asked in a sleepy voice.
“Fine. Why?” Cool, shaded blue eyes turned momentarily to the author then returned to the road.
“Are you sure?” Tentatively a small hand reached across the car and lightly touched the tense, muscled arm of the agent. “You look different.” Rapidly the author mentally woke up.
“Oh God! Don’t react!” Casey told herself sternly, stealing her head against the pain coming from her heart as the compassionate touch of the author gave her heart the courage to fight back. To her companion, she merely replied. “Of course I’m sure. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” A raised, almost haughty eyebrow at the warm hand resting on her arm caused it quickly to be withdrawn.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.” Beth closed her eyes, trying to fight the overwhelming sense of rejection of the ex-agent. The soft, almost sweet scent of the ex-agent that rose from her jacket was too much for the author. Hiding her sigh, she folded the jacket and put it in the backseat. Remaining silent, Beth tried to deal with her hurt feelings; she had been so sure that the ex-agent liked her and more than a friend. Each touch and tender comment were burned in her soul. Now, from the emotions practically oozing from the cold woman, the author wasn’t even sure if she liked her. Let alone anything else. The next few days were going to be rough, the author dejectedly decided. If Casey kept acting like Beth didn’t even exist.
“We’re almost there.” Casey needlessly informed the author, breaking the oppressive silence that had settled over the traveling women during the last hour. It had been all the ex-agent could do to remain calm and silent, not apologizing for her cold behavior. She knew she had hurt Beth with her withdrawal, but Casey told herself it was for the best. Better Beth be hurt by her silence now when they were just getting to know each other than her past or if she neglected her duties. The ex-agent’s heart fought back, reasonably pointing out that she wasn’t any closer to knowing who was threatening Beth. None of the scenarios she’d come up with in last couple of hours were original; she’d thought of them during the past two days. Silence returned in force with the author’s brief nod.
“God,” Beth thought dejectedly, employing a skill she had perfected as a child: carrying on a conversation with another, while holding a private one with herself. his was how she’d survived the endless stream of dinners, events and situations she’d been forced to endure growing up a Jamieson. Now she exchanged small, polite conversation with her dinner companion (just as she had growing up) while reviewing the painfully polite evening.
Upon arriving at her home, Beth had given the ex-agent a brief tour, one not as extensive or as personal as planned. Casey had nodded throughout the tour, making polite small talk. When they reached the author’s private office, Beth had hoped that her companion would open up a little. Beth’s office was as personal and distinctive as Casey’s. Unfortunately the ex-agent remained in her super polite mode, simply nodding at the large comfortable room.
“Damn, I wish I hadn’t fallen asleep.” Beth moaned silently, passing the asked for salad to Casey. “What happened to you when I was asleep? I thought we were getting to be friends. God, how did it happen so quickly? That I wanted, no needed your friendship and support? I woke up with a distant stranger…one who didn’t want to know me, to be with me.” To Casey, she asked, “more dressing?”
The last thought made Beth slink down a little farther in her chair. “Is this what Gabrielle felt like in the beginning of their friendship? How did she stand it?” A long time ago, before even starting writing ‘Warrior Woman,’ Beth was convinced that Xena and Gabrielle had actually laughed, cried, fought, loved. They had a very full life, one filled with all the ups and downs of living. But also filled with much love and happiness. “Once,” Beth reasoned, falling silent. “Xena learned to trust Gabrielle and to figure out that it was not a sign of weakness to need, to love someone. And,” she thought furiously. “For Gabrielle to trust herself…to believe in her own love for the warrior AND the warrior’s love for her. I wonder what Gabrielle would tell me…”
“Beth!” The firm voice of the ex-agent interrupted her thoughts. At the questioning look she received, Casey continued. “Are you ok? You haven’t heard a word I’ve said for the last 5 minutes!” The ex-agent couldn’t hide her concern about the author, even though she tried. In the short time they’d known each other, Beth had faded out like that three times. The pain swiftly hidden in the green eyes battered relentlessly against her weakening resolve. “I had no idea it would hurt so much to see her hurting because of me.” Casey thought quickly, waiting for the author to answer her question.
“I’m fine.” Just a little bit longer than the reply Beth had received to that same question earlier. Seeing that she wasn’t believed, she added churlishly. “Just thinking, that’s all. Sometimes ideas just come to me.” The author lied, mad at herself for feeling guilty for the half lie. “What does it matter? She doesn’t care.” Thought quickly to herself, thinking her face was expressionless.
Quietly Casey looked down at her plate, struggling to make herself remain seated. Unlike her companion, she was quiet skilled at keeping her face expressionless; Beth was totally unaware of her inner struggle. “Damn, you jerk,” Casey judged silently. “You can’t even sit across from her without hurting her! This is another reason why you shouldn’t even think about a relationship. Can’t control yourself enough to be…”
“Finished?” Beth inquired, wincing at how loud she was speaking. She needed to get away from the ex-agent to get her emotions back under control.
“I’ll get the dishes.” Casey offered, smiling unsurely. Anything to distance herself from the pain coming from her heart, the mask of the ultra professional cracking a little more. “If you don’t mind a stranger in your kitchen.”
“You sure?” Beth smiled wanly back, relieved with the offered reprieve. “Ok, I’ll be in my office if you need anything. Like I said earlier, take whatever room you want.” Promptly she escaped and headed right for her private domain.
“I’m so sorry,” Casey whispered at the rapidly retreating woman. “I wish I could give you what you deserve.” Sighing loudly, she began to clear the table. Her thoughts turned to business and almost succeeded in blocking the painful emotions surging through her body.
Two hours later Casey grew concerned; she hadn’t seen the author since dinner. Walking noislessly through the house, the ex-agent checked the doors and windows on her way to Beth’s office. Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, she approached the open door hesitantly. Knocking softly, she stuck her head around the door, not surprised when an answer wasn’t forthcoming. Beth had told her yesterday that when writing, she was in another world. Unconsciously a soft smile spread over her face. Without her permission, her heart overruled her head. She stood dazed, the soft light highlighting the author’s high cheekbones, the gentle curve of her jaw, the tangled mane of reddish blond hair. The restrained, joyous expression on her face gave the ex-agent’s heart a surge of support and warmth. With her heart tentatively in control, Casey crossed to the sofa and sat down, content to be in the author’s presence.
Gradually Beth became aware of her surrounds and the breathing of another person, the intense emotions of the warrior woman and her bard fading into words on the computer. Cautiously her eyes opened, not sure if she wanted to face what was coming. Guarded green eyes met the admiring, yet pained eyes of the ex-agent, surprising the author.
“Hi,” Casey said softly, reaching out with both hands to hold onto her heart. While she sat, waiting for the author to come back to the present, her heart had battled with her mind and won, making the decision to try with Beth. Not wanting pain and anger to be her controlling emotions. That was weakness, and the ex-agent abhorred weakness of any kind. It was time she faced it in herself. If Beth would give her a chance. Because the ex-agent knew she couldn’t do this, face herself, without help and support. For the first time since the Hamilton case, Casey was ready. Maybe it was simply time. Maybe it was Beth. All Casey knew is that she wanted to try, with Beth’s help.
“Hi yourself.” Beth answered, rising and stretching. “Find everything ok?” The warily peaceful woman sitting in her office was not the same one she left in the kitchen earlier. Curious, Beth joined Casey on the sofa, trying to make herself NOT hope.
“I owe you an apology. I was a total jerk earlier.” Casey spoke lowly, forcing herself to meet the concerned, yet guardedly hopeful eyes of the author. “I’m so sorry.”
“Why?” eth needed to know what triggered the ex-agent’s retreat.
“Why I’m sorry or why I was a jerk?” Casey asked rhetorically. She chose the easier of the two to deal with first. “I’m sorry because my behavior hurt you. I never meant for that to happen. And don’t say it didn’t.” Added sensing the author about to object. She wasn’t sure how to answer the second question. It had taken a tremendous amount of soul searching and willpower for the ex-agent to just be here, like this with Beth. “I was, uh…a jerk…I mean…”
“Its ok. Take your time.” Beth interrupted the stammering woman. Not believing this was actually happening, she reached out and took Casey’s hand to assure herself this was real. And was astonished to feel the barely restrained tremors quaking beneath the surface. Without a thought, Beth pulled the ex-agent into a tight embrace. “It? S alright.” She repeated several times when Casey hesitantly returned the embrace.
“Oh God,” Casey thought desperately, pulling herself closer to Beth. “What do I do now? How do I tell her? What happens if I don’t? I don’t know if I can. What will she think?” With each frantic thought, the ex-agent tightened her hold on the author. Gradually she became aware of the soft, delicate scent invading her consciousness. Of her face buried in the warm, soft skin of Beth’s neck. Of the small hands holding her close. Of her own hands, one attached to the author’s waist and the other tangled in soft hair; both holding the willing author captive. Of the quiet words of support whispered in her ear. Scared by how quickly her body abandoned itself to the author’s comforting presence, the ex-agent’s head battled again with her heart. “See what eakness… emotions do? You’re as helpless as a baby right now. What is someone attacked? How can you sit here knowing what could happen??” Ruthlessly she commanded her limbs to retreat. But her heart quickly fought back and to her great surprise, she stayed attached to the author. “Is the way you lived before better? Not knowing happiness or joy or love? Think about how you feel with her! You’ve never felt anything like it. Do you want to abandon this undeserved, unasked for chance at a relatively normal life? Stop punishing yourself for something that…”
“Enough,” Casey moaned, not realizing she spoke out loud until Beth’s tentative voice answered her.
“Casey?” Beth fought her natural instinct to obey that pain filled voice, instead tightening her hold on the ex-agent. A repeat of earlier was not acceptable; she wasn’t sure she’d survive it. This time Beth was aware of the internal battle being fought in Casey. The body she cradled against her own shook with its intensity. Giving in to her instinctive desire to protect the woman in her arms, Beth willingly let her heart dictate her actions, not even aware of what she was saying. Until that one word uttered aloud.
“Please…don’t let go.” Spoken straight from her struggling heart. For the first time since the Hamilton case, Casey willingly released her emotions. Tears of pain and sorrow coursed down her face, soaking the sweatshirt beneath her. She cried for the victims she hadn’t reached in time. For the one she did. For how she shut herself off from her family. For the friends she’d hurt and lost. For herself.
Beth barely heard the whispered plea and was compelled to answer. “Never,” fiercely spoken. The author maintained her secure hold on the ex-agent, shakily recognizing the implied trust as the tears continued to fall.
“Thank you.” Casey whispered in Beth’s ear before pulling back slightly, needing to see Beth’s reaction. She wasn’t sure what she expected, but it certainly wasn’t the open, honest concern, trust and longing that radiated from the author. It floored her. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out.
“Are you ok?” Beth’s expression didn’t change.
“I’m not sure.” Casey spoke huskily, unsure. “I haven’t done that in longer than I care to remember.” Embarrassed, she removed her hands from Beth’s hair and waist, moving slightly away from the author.
Recognizing Casey’s need for a little space, Beth released her own hold as the ex-agent shifted. “Want to talk about it? Its ok if you don’t.” Added quickly at the panicked look that flew across Casey’s face.
“I’m not sure I can.” Casey forced herself to meet Beth’s eyes. Her heart repelled, making Casey shiver slightly. “I, uh…in the car. I relived something, hmm, from my past.” She finally managed to get it out.
“And it wasn’t a good memory. This made you retreat into yourself?”
The calm, gentle, nonjudgmental tone bolstered Casey’s courage. “More than that. I’m sorry I was such a jerk before. I want to say it won’t happen again, but I don’t want to lie to you.”
Beth read the honesty in Casey’s eyes. “That’s ok.” Beth was quick to anger, but quick to forgive. “I haven’t been the nicest person since we got here either.”
“Its not your fault!” Casey insisted. “If I hadn’t been such a pain in the …”
“Casey!” Beth interrupted before she could finish the phrase. “Promise me something?” It came out before Beth could stop herself.
“If I can.” Came the guarded reply.
“Next time, try talking first, ok? Maybe it will help.” Although Beth was happy, ecstatic that they were sitting here, talking…being close, she needed to know that Casey was willing to try.
“I’ll try.” The ex-agent released the breath she’d been holding. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it, but I will try.”
“That’s all I ask for.” A winning smile graced Beth’s features. It was time to lower the level of intensity. Both women needed a break. “Still interested in that tour? I didn’t give you a very thorough one earlier.”
“Very much so.” Casey rose, grateful for the reprieve. “C’mon you. I wandered around a bit, but not much.” She extended a hand to the woman on the sofa, smiling gratefully when it was taken. The ex-agent had toured the home thoroughly while Beth was writing, memorizing the features and layout. But she wanted a private tour.
“Its too dark to go outside to the lake; we can do that tomorrow. Did I tell you the history of this house?” At Casey’s nod, she continued as they left the room. “My Grandfather had it build in the late 1960’s, when he and my grandma wanted a place they could retreat to for privacy. My Grandma had it totally redone in ’92. Wanted a ‘more modern’ look.” Beth grinned at Casey. “My Grandma was a hoot. She loved the remodeling, I’m glad she was able to enjoy it before she died. She left it to me when she died. Said I was a kindred spirit. I had a lot of fun in this house.” Beth patted a wooden doorframe as they moved into a large sunroom. “This was our favorite room. We’d spend hours in here, telling stories, singing, laughing…” The thankful granddaughter fell silent, almost expecting to hear her Grandma’s voice.
“Hey, you ok?” Casey moved to face Beth when she didn’t continue. “Your Grandparents sound wonderful.” When the faded, faraway look didn’t change, Casey brushed her fingers down Beth’s cheek, guiltily drawing pleasure from the skin tingling sensation. “Want to tell me about it?” Casey offered when emotional green eyes focused on her concerned face.
“Most of the best times I had as a kid were here. With my Grandparents.” Beth smiled reassuringly, leaning slightly into the fingers caressing her cheek. “Yeah, I’m ok.”
With a start, Casey realized she hadn’t withdrawn her fingers. “I’m glad.” She lost herself in those incredible green eyes. The ringing of the phone broke their hypnotic gaze.
“I better get that.” Reluctantly Beth moved towards the phone.
“Wait. Use the one in your office.” Casey switched into professional mode, urging Beth back towards her office. By the eighth ring, Casey motioned Beth to answer it, starting the equipment necessary to trace and record the call.
The sound of her sister’s voice relaxed Beth. Covering the phone with her hand, she looked at Casey, who was studying her intently. “Its ok. Just my sister.” Casey nodded, shut off the equipment and started to stand, intending to give Beth some privacy. “Wait! You don’t have to go.”
“Positive. We never talk long.” Beth nodded encouragingly to Casey, then absently answered her sister. Green eyes covertly followed the ex-agent as she thoroughly explored the office. Watching as she picked things up, systematically examining the contents of the room.
The sound of silence drew Casey out of her musings. The office had surprised the ex-agent. Like her office was for her, this room clearly reflected the personality of its primary occupant. The walls were covered with built in light oak bookcases. Big floor to ceiling windows were generously spaced throughout the large room. The floor was covered with a soft, multicolored brown carpet. A forest green sofa sat in the center of the room, facing the largest window, a light oak coffee table in front of it. Wedged in the corner opposite the door was Beth’s desk. It matched perfectly the shade of the bookcases. A computer took up its surface, with a tall leather swivel chair behind it. Directly behind the desk was a bookcase, stuffed to capacity with reference books, dictionaries, and writing books. On either side of the bookcase were more windows which looked out onto a woody area. About one third of the bookcases were full. Mysteries, science fiction, and classics of all ages lined the shelves. Interspersed with the books were various statues and vases. The other corner contained a large fireplace and two easy chairs. Beth’s laptop was resting between the two chairs. Above the mantel a sword and staff were mounted. The ex-agent turned and faced her companion. “Lovely room. I can tell you spend a lot of time in here. Can I ask you a question?”
“Ask away.” Beth rose, stretching.
“Your books. Why do you have a signed copy? Is that some kind of author thing?” Casey was surprised. A copy of ‘Warrior Woman’ on the shelf had caught her eye, the autograph and message inside puzzling.
“It’s a Beth thing.” She replied shyly. “If you want her to be open with you, you’d better start being open with her!” Beth told herself as she crossed to where Casey was standing. “I keep a signed copy of every book I publish. See, uh…. its… hmm…”
“Its ok. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.” Casey stared at Beth compassionately. “I know its hard to…” soft finger on her lips stopped her.
“Its not that. Its just kind of embarrassing. That’s all. Its ok. I want you to know.” Beth smiled and pulled her first book off the shelf. “It started with ‘When I Sleep’. I wrote it during college and published it my senior year. I gave my Grandma the first copy. She had me sign it, ‘Knew you could do it. Am proud of you! Love Beth.'” Beth handed the book to Casey and waited while she glanced at the inside cover. “Then she brought me in this room and pointed to this bookcase. Told me to fill it up as I experienced life. That these,” she lovingly ran her hand along the one mostly filled shelf. “Would remind me of what I was capable of. And that it was something to be proud of.”
“She sounds like an amazing woman, your Grandma.” Casually Casey wrapped a friendly arm around Beth’s shoulders, sincerely hoping the author couldn’t hear her racing heart. “She was right you know. You have a lot to be proud of.”
“Thanks.” Beth whispered, returning the embrace.
“You look exhausted. Looks like its bedtime.” Casey gently steered the yawing author to the door. “We can finish the tour tomorrow. While you work, I’ll set up some surveillance equipment, then hit the computer.”
“Can I help? Sounds like fun.” Beth was curious. The three mysteries she’d written did not dealt with the practical side of investigations. They centered on a normal person, trying to cope.
“You just want to see me on the ladder!” Casey teased, pleased Beth wanted to work with her. “But yeah, you can help if you want.”
“Good! Sounds like fun! And its work to boot!! This is gonna be fun research.” Beth paused at the door to her room. “Which room did you pick?”
“That one.” Casey pointed directly across the hall. “Where do you want me to set up my computer and stuff?”
“Why did you pick that small room? There are several bigger, nicer rooms. That bed is hard! I’ve been meaning to replace it, but I never seem to get around to doing it.” Leave it to Casey to pick the most unfriendly room in the house. “I wouldn’t even make my parents stay in there!”
“Its fine, really.” Seeing that Beth didn’t believe her, Casey continued. “C’mon, look out the window and see for yourself.”
“Oh yeah, that’s some view there, Ms Bennett. Just what I’d want to look at. The boring drive.” Beth sighed, dropping the curtain.
“That’s why I chose this room. Because I could keep an eye on anyone who pulled up. If someone wanted to enter from the back of the house, they’d have to swing down from the roof or try to climb up the gutters. Either way, not quiet. But the flower trellises in the front would support someone trying to enter on the second story.” All of the first floor windows were wired to an alarm. Casey sat on the author offending bed and waited while Beth processed the information.
“PI lesson number one!” Beth smiled widely, sitting beside Casey. A slight bounce confirmed her memory. “Ok, I can see your point. Tomorrow I’ll get Mike, the handyman, to help us move a different bed in here.”
“That’s not necessary! I’ll be fine.” Casey protested. “Really.”
“No, I insist.” Beth stood up and walked to the door. “Need anything before I turn in?” The scene she’d been working on earlier this evening flashed vividly through her mind, only she and Casey replaced the warrior woman and her bard. The moon softly lit the late fall night, the crackling fire providing warmth and security. A gentle breeze brought the faint fragrance of late fall flowers mixing with the lingering odor of their dinner. A soft nicker of their horse in the background joined the late evening symphony of crickets and the natural snapping and crackling of the forest preparing for sleep. Casey wrapped around Beth, her warm lips trailing a blaze of fire down the author’s neck. A large roughened hand gently caressing her breast. Her own small hands buried in the ex-agent’s midnight hair, holding her close. Her cry of pleasure as…”
“Hey!” Casey snapped her fingers in front of the madly blushing author. “Where’d you go? Looks like you were having a great time, if that moan was any indication. What I’d give to know what you were thinking!” Casey smiled innocently at the author, silently wishing she’d have to courage to admit her thoughts.
“Maybe I’ll tell you sometime.” The obtrusive avoidance. “Night Casey. Pleasant dreams.”
“Goodnight Beth. See you in the morning.” Casey stared as Beth closed her door, effectively ending the enticing picture of the author’s walk.
Casey woke leisurely, the morning sun pouring in her window, lightening the dark feeling of the room. A quick glance at the bedside clock confirmed that it was still relatively early. Stretching as she rose, Casey was stunned by the realization that she had slept soundly through the night. That never happened when she relived the Hamilton case. Her nights were usually fraught with dark dreams and waking struggling to regain her detached level of consciousness. Shrugging her shoulders, Casey was glad for the reprieve. Figuring Beth was still asleep, she elected for a shower before exploring the house in the daylight.
A short time later, clad in old sweat pants, a faded ‘FBI agents rock’ tee shirt and the same scuffed Nikes from yesterday, Casey opened her door. Unbelievingly she stared at Beth’s open door. “Wonder why she’s up so early?” Casey stuck her head in the author’s room, grinning at the haphazardly made bed. “Well, guess I’ll see what she’s up to so early in the morning.” A happy grin was plastered on her face. “Damn, I’m in a good mood!” The ex-agent actually laughed as she searched for the author. Growing slightly concerned when she wasn’t in her office or kitchen, Casey remembered the gym in the basement. The sounds of Madonna assaulted her ears as she rounded the landing. The sight that greeted her, stopped her in mid-step.
Beth was in the back half of the gym, swinging a wooden staff with deadly precision. The staff was spun in complicated patterns, flying high and low at incredible speed. Without warning, various thrusts and turns were added. The power behind the moves was undeniable. So was the skill of the staff wielder. Casey narrowed her eyes in concentration, frowning when she noted the sweat soaked shirt and shorts of the author. And the lines of exhaustion around her eyes. Clearly Beth had been practicing awhile. From the looks of it, she was trying to avoid or forget something. Swearing softly, she crossed the room and watched,
waiting for Beth to acknowledge her presence.
“Morning!” Beth had noticed Casey when she crossed the room, but wanted to finish her combination before stopping. Slowly Beth twirled her staff, cooling off, watching Casey.
“Good morning to you. You’re really good with that.” Casey firmly told herself to not ask what was bothering Beth.
“Thanks. My Grandfather gave me my first staff. His old army buddy taught him how to use it in Korea. He taught me until I was 12. Then he found me another teacher.” Beth caught the towel thrown to her one handed, wiping her face and neck. Leaving out the numerous family fights that her staff lessons had generated. Just another reason she didn’t fit in with her family.
“Thanks. I didn’t wake you up, did I?”
“Nope. You practice every morning?” Casually asked, although Casey was biting her lip to not ask what was wrong. Beth had practiced until she was past exhaustion.
“I normally practice when I wake up. Sometimes its in the morning, sometimes later in the day. But this morning,” Beth smiled at Casey, easily reading the worry on her face. “I woke up early and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I decided to come down here and work off some of the tension. You gonna work out?” She pointed to Casey’s worn clothes, then did a double take as she read the shirt. Before the ex-agent could answer, Beth laughed. Her light, sparkling laugh warmed the ex-agent’s heart. “I love your shirt!”
Another meaning occurred to the ex-agent and she blushed brightly. “Thanks, I think.” After a brief pause, Casey cleared her throat. “I usually work out after work. Helps break the tension of the day. I was going to start setting up the surveillance equipment. Still interested?”
“You bet. Do we have time for breakfast first?” It was Beth’s turn to blush when her stomach growled loudly.
“You go shower. I’ll whip something up.” Casey offered, walking up the stairs with Beth.
“Wait! I saw your kitchen, Ms Bennett. Can you cook?” Beth looked seriously at the ex-agent. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, you know.”
“You won’t starve. I promise!” Casey pushed Beth in the general direction of her room. “Go on now!”
“Yes Ma’am.” Beth sassed, looking over her shoulder at the laughing ex-agent. “It won’t take me too long.”
Casey smiled goofily at the retreating author. Giving herself a shake, she headed into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. A short time later, the smell of frying bacon waffled through the kitchen. Soon pancakes joined the bacon.
Beth entered the room, sniffing appreciatively. “Smells great! I never would have guessed you could cook. My apologies.” She sat at the table and grinned as Casey set two plates down.
“Don’t. This is about it for me. I’m real good with microwave dinners and salads. Oh,” Casey took a drink of orange juice. “And excellent with home delivery.”
“Well, you certainly do cook a mean pancake Casey.” Beth mumbled around a delicious mouthful.
“Thanks. You never said last night. Where can I set up my computer?” Casey asked, watching the mound of rapidly disappearing pancakes.
“Oh. Sorry.” Beth thought a minute. “Does location in the house matter? If not, you can use the office connected to mine.
It used to be my Grandpa’s study. I think you’ll like it. If location matters, chose wherever you want. Wherever you’re happy, I’m happy.”
Before Casey could answer, the sound of a slowly approaching, noisy truck reached them. Tensing slightly, the ex-agent rose, prepared to see who it was.
“That’s just Mike. He gets here about this time everyday.” Beth quickly polished off the last of her pancakes. “Let me go tell him we want to move that bed.”
“Really, the bed is fine.” Casey laid a restraining hand on Beth’s arm. “How long is Mike here today?” She didn’t want anyone to see the instillation of the security/surveillance equipment.
“Usually until around noon. Why?” The most likely reason occurred to the author. “Don’t you want him to know that you’re here?”
“That’s fine. I’m just a visiting friend. That shouldn’t raise any suspicion.” Casey looked curiously at the suddenly embarrassed author. “What?” Thinking that Beth misunderstood ‘friend’.
“Hmm. He won’t believe that. Let me go get rid of him. Nothing much for him to do anyway. What?” Beth refused to meet Casey’s inquiring glance. But the hand that tightened reflexively on her arm was harder to ignore. The hand gently lifting her chin was impossible to ignore. Taking a deep breath, Beth gazed sincerely at Casey. “I don’t have a lot of visitors.” She confessed. “You’re the first person that I’ve had up here that wasn’t family or my college roommate.” The author left out the fact that nobody had spent the night since her Grandma died.
“I’m honored that you invited me to stay.” Casey smiled honestly. “I’ll do whatever you want about Mike. I just didn’t want him to see us installing the surveillance equipment.” Added just so there wasn’t any misunderstandings.
“He’d better get used to you. He’s going to be seeing a lot of you.” Beth replied, tugging the ex-agent towards the front of the house.
Beth paused entering her Grandfather’s old study, drinking in the changes. “Its hard to think of this room as his now.” A thoughtful eye was cast around the room. The ex-agent had, at Beth’s urging, arranged things to her liking. The drapes were tied back, allowing the late afternoon sun to lighten the internal darkness. The large, heavy furniture had been removed, except for a large sofa in front of the fireplace, clearing the room for uninterrupted pacing. A table sat beside the sofa, containing a phone hooked up to a complicated recording/analyzing device. Off to one side a padded exercise mat took up about a quarter of the open space. A couple of clean, folded towels laid beside the mat, next to a pair of soft exercise boots. The massive oak mahogany desk was now facing the door that connected Beth’s office and this one, not the window overlooking the backyard. A powerful laptop computer rested in the middle of the desk, with various other electronic devices surrounding it. A cell phone replaced the ancient telephone on the desk, the old wires changed by Casey so it would support computer communications. An additional cell phone sat behind the desk, connected to some complicated equipment. Missing was one ex-agent. Turning to leave, Beth ran right into said ex-agent.
“Damn! Quick sneaking up on me!” Beth complained grouchily and mock stumbled, the twinkle in her eyes taking the sting out of the comment.
“Sorry.” Casey laughed, arms shooting out to catch the stumbling author. “Did you need something?” Said to help ignore the tingling sensations shooting up her arms at the contact.
“Yes, my quick friend.” The author bumped past Casey, pulling her into her own office. “Sit down.” They sat together on the sofa. “Tell me again why I can’t go with you tomorrow when you follow the messenger. I think it would be…”
“Beth!” The ex-agent turned deadly serious. “We’re not playing. I don’t want to take the chance of you getting hurt. Promise me you’ll stay here, with the doors locked and your staff close by. Promise me.” Casey unleashed her forceful personality, staring unwaveringly into Beth’s brilliant green eyes. The ex-agent didn’t want to think about what would happen if the author got hurt. She violently pushed that thought and its beginning panic deeply down.
“I can take care of myself. I…” Beth couldn’t look away, even though she tried. She didn’t want to make that promise.
“Promise me.” The intensity of the stare increased and she lightly stroked the back of the hand she was holding, knowing the pleasant sensations would help her case. “C’mon Beth. That’s what I’m here for, remember?”
“You win.” Beth couldn’t bring herself to actually say the words. Not when she wasn’t sure she’d be able to keep it. Her gaze fell to their entwined fingers. Instinctively the author knew that breaking a promise to the ex-agent would seriously wound, if not destroy their fragile relationship. The last couple of days were unlike anything in the author’s previous experience. They had joked, fought, laughed, worked (setting up the surveillance equipment was quiet an experience! One they would both laugh about for years to come), sparred. A light atmosphere of sexual tension laid gently over the pair, accompanying their every action. Beth found herself resenting the ex-agent’s use of their attraction to get what she wanted, even if she did have a point.
“Hey. C’mon Beth. Please look at me.” Casey knew her method was decidedly underhanded. The ex-agent knew how she’d react if Beth tried this tactic on her. When shaded green eyes finally met worried blue, she continued. “I know you can take care of yourself. I didn’t call for any backup, did I?” That was the primary reason the ex-agent sparred excessively with the author, not just staff against staff. Also staff against knife, gun and finally unarmed opponent. Only Casey’s long time expertise in marshal arts allowed her to gain the upper hand and disarm the author. She had soundly tested the author’s capabilities, needing to know she could take care of herself if the unthinking happened, and somehow the stalker got past her defenses.
“Its just that…” The frustrated author began.
“I know, Beth. I do know.” Casey smiled softly, delighted when Beth smiled back. The past couple of days provided an interesting but hard learned insight into her friend. The author hated being left out of things, hated people working around her. “I’ll make you a promise of my own.” The ex-agent wanted to believe, even when Beth hadn’t said the exact words. “When this is over, I’ll take you out and teach you how to ‘tail’ someone.” The real, bright smile on Beth’s face warmed the ex-agent all over. “And teach you how to recognize when someone is tailing you.”
“Really?” Beth forgave her friend, knowing she was only doing what she thought was best.
“I promise.” Suddenly serious blue eyes held green. Both reading more into the look than the stated promise. The ringing of Casey’s cell phone disrupted the moment. “Damn! That’s always happening.” Tossed over the ex-agent’s shoulder as she jogged into the other room. Listening intently, she reentered Beth’s office, frowning. Absentmindedly she sat beside the author, leaning against her slightly. The warm hand laced with her own brought a soft smile to her eyes. Finally she spoke. “Send me the data. I’ll take a look at it and get back to you tonight.”
“Gotta work, huh? My poor grumpy ex-agent. Never a moment’s peace.” Beth blushed when she realized what she’d said. “Something I can help you with?” he raised eyebrow in her direction caused her to turn an even deeper shade of red “Guess not. I’ll just…”
“Beth.” The single, quiet word stopped her ramblings. “Bring your laptop and work in front of the fireplace. I mean, if you want.” Casey smiled, hiding (or so she thought), her nervousness.
“I’d love to, but I’m at the noisy stage in my writing. You know, where I read passages aloud then discuss parts with myself. I’d just disturb you.” Beth pushed Casey into her office, grinning mentally at that thought. Her office.
“Give a yell when its time to make dinner, ok? I can help, you know.” Casey had both hands on her hips, mock glaring at Beth. Beth had a natural talent for getting a meal made without the ex-agent’s knowledge or help. “Even if its only to chop vegetables or open boxes.”
“Yeah, yeah. I hear you.” Beth tried to look innocent, but failed miserably. It just seem right that she prepared the meals. “Besides,” the author thought ruefully to herself. “I would like to be able to eat them.”
Several pages later, Beth looked up, blinking wearily out the window, noting the lateness of the hour. Damn, that was intense.” The author muttered, stretching. “I hate it when they fight.” Meaning the warrior princess and her bard. “Bet she’s still working too.” Grumpily Beth stomped to the connecting door and stuck her head inside. “God, she’s beautiful.” The author stared, losing her train of thought along with her grumpiness. Entranced by the play of light on the ex-agent’s black hair. By the tiny quirk of her mouth as she concentrated. The quiet rumble of her stomach brought her to her senses. Leaving quietly, Beth headed for the kitchen.
Purposefully Casey snuck up behind Beth in the kitchen. “Hey! Thought you were going to let me help?” Said loudly, a couple of feet behind the author. Meant to startle for not getting her to help.
“Hades Casey! Trying to give me a heart attack?” Beth growled, glaring at the smirking ex-agent.
“Hades?” Casey teased, poking a finger into Beth’s ribs. “I think you’ve been working to much, my friend.”
“You know what I mean.” Beth turned back around with two plates. “You’re just in time. I’m starved.”
“Looks great. Wish I could cook like that.” Casey sighed, lifting a fluffy fork of omelet to her watering mouth.
“I’ll teach you if you want.” Beth paused, adding a little more pepper to her plate.
“I appreciate the offer, but it wouldn’t do any good. I’m a failure in the kitchen. My mom tried to teach me with my sister and brothers, but I’m hopeless.” Casey grinned ruefully, thinking how much teasing she got as a kid.
“I bet I could make it interesting.” Beth raised an eyebrow suggestively. “Maybe you didn’t have proper motivation before.”
Casey stared wide eyed at the author, thinking rapidly. “Damn Casey, cool down! Breath.”
“I’ll have to take you up on that sometime.” Blue burned hotly into green. Just as Casey was about to rise, not able to fight the growing need to kiss the author senseless, the phone rang. After the second ring, Casey blinked. “Aren’t you gonna answer that?”
Not trusting herself to speak, Beth rose and stalked to the phone, silently fuming. “Of all the rotten luck! This is getting to be ridiculous!” Every time they had gotten close, something happened to distract them. If it wasn’t the phone, then it was Mike coming in for something or the housekeeper who came twice a week. Pulling the receiver off the wall, she barked a greeting. Holding the phone away from her ear, smoky green eyes rolled at Casey, mouthing “my mother.” As soon as she had a chance, Beth told her mother that she had company and that she’d call her tomorrow. Totally ignoring the short gasp and quickly asked questions from her mother. Mood broken, Beth flopped back down, frowning unhappily. “We shouldn’t have answered that.”
“Everything alright with your mother? Its kind of late to chat.” Casey missed seeing the beautiful smile on her author’s face.
“She always calls at weird times. She was just reminding me of that damn dinner two week’s from today.” Not hungry anymore, Beth played with her remaining food. Just talking to her mother put the author in a bad mood. “God, we can’t even talk for one minute without her making me feel like shit. How in the hell am I gonna survive that dinner? Damn I wish that my sister hadn’t asked me to go. My level of family tolerance has drastically decreased over the past few years. This is just what I need on top of everything else.” Beth’s frown deepened as she thought, using language that she normally didn’t.
“Hey.” Nothing. “Beth.” Still nothing. Casey walked around and knelt at Beth’s side. The author’s hands were like ice. Gently Casey squeezed them. “Beth. C’mon now. Talk to me.”
“Huh?” Confused, Beth glanced up, startled to find Casey kneeling beside her.
For an answer, Casey tugged Beth to her feet and pulled her into a loose hug. When the author wrapped her arms around the ex-agent, Casey tightened her hold. “Don’t go.”
“Have to. Promised my sister that I would. Can’t make her face that all alone.” Beth mumbled from her safe refuge. Wrapped in Casey’s strong arms, anything was bearable. “Thanks.” Beth whispered before pulling away. But was stopped by the ex-agent’s unmoving arms.
“Then let me go with you. No one will bother you if I’m there.” Casey didn’t understand why this dinner was upsetting Beth. “What’s the occasion?”
“Thanks, but I wouldn’t make you suffer through that.” Beth smiled at her protector. That was one of the many things she’d learned about the ex-agent. Inexplicitly it warmed her measurably. “It’s the dedication ceremony for my grandparents building at their prep school.”
“You’re not asking. I’m offering. What does one wear to such an occasion?” A thought occurred. “That is if you don’t mind me tagging along.” Casey could understand that Beth might not want to introduce her to her parents. After all, the ex-agent thought of herself as a violent person. Not one to mix with certain types of people. Certainly not one to hobnob with the rich.
“I want you to go.” Beth embraced Casey again. “Thanks. I really appreciate that.” She turned a regretful eye on her unfinished dinner. “Guess I’ll get something else.”
“My turn.” Casey kissed the top of Beth’s head before releasing her. “Just sit down.” Grinning over her shoulder, she added. “I think I remember seeing a frozen pizza in the freezer.” A genuine laugh from her friend. “Now tell me more about this dinner. Like, how many forks will there be?” Beth started giggling, a picture of forks chasing her friend stuck firmly in her mind.
Beth sat up, startled. Something had jerked her from the most pleasant of dreams. Then she heard Casey cry for help. Running from her room, she burst into Casey’s, staff at the ready. The author had taken the ex-agent’s advice to heart and had taken her staff to her room. Quickly she tossed the staff on the nearby chair, talking quietly. “Its ok Casey. Just a dream. You’re safe.” Tentatively she reached out and touched the ex-agent’s shoulder. Instead of waking, the ex-agent stopped thrashing about. After a few calm minutes, Beth rose, intending to leave. Knowing that Casey would be very embarrassed if she woke up. Before she made it to the door, Casey started to sob, raising her hands to ward off some unseen danger. Talking quietly, Beth returned to Casey’s bedside.
Subconsciously Casey reached out for Beth, tangling their hands together. Casey began to talk, blurting out things that made no sense to the author. Various details about cases while she was an agent. Slowly a picture started to form. One that both horrified the author and made her proud. Proud of the woman clinging to her.
Once Casey had fallen silent, Beth gently detached herself from her friend and kissed her forehead. Whispering softly in her ear, Beth told her that she was safe and that nothing was going to hurt her now. Before she made it to the door, Casey reacted to her absence once again. This time Beth slid in bed beside her friend, whispering reassurances to her struggling friend. Telling her she was proud of her. And that she loved her. Tenderly she wrapped her arms around the dreaming woman. Just as rapidly as before, Casey reacted to her presence, calming with each word almost immediately. Holding her friend released emotions she didn’t know she possessed. Slowly Beth drifted off to sleep, struggling to keep herself in check.
Casey thought she was dreaming. Her arms were cradling Beth, her cheek resting on her soft breast. Inhaling the soft, flowery scent that was uniquely Beth, the ex-agent snuggled closer. Kissing the flesh closest to her suddenly dry mouth, Casey blazed a trail of fire, questing lips heading for her friend’s so tempting mouth. She slid a firm, muscular thigh between the woman she was resting on, moaning at the exquisite feeling.
Beth shifted beneath her, wrapping shaking arms around her back. Small hands tangled in her hair, pulling her closer. The author’s own thigh moved to press against Casey’s heated center. Both women groaned at the wetness.
Casey’s eyes flew open as Beth shifted beneath her. “Oh God, I’m sorry.” Casey stammered as she jumped from the bed, terribly confused. Her confusion increased as she realized she was still in her own room. And that Beth was sitting up in her bed, staring at her in concern. “Oh God,” she repeated, sitting down, running a hand through her dark hair.
“Well, that’s not exactly the reaction I hoped for the first time we kissed. How did you sleep?” Beth tried for nonchalant, heart pounding from the intense passion stirred by their caresses.
“What happened?” For the life of her, Casey couldn’t figure out what Beth was doing in her bed. A deep breath did nothing to calm her racing desire for the sleepy woman in her bed.
“Casey.” Said very softly and expectantly.
“What?” The ex-agent was very rattled.
“What’s wrong? Why are you so upset?” Beth knew without a doubt that Casey was attracted to her. It made no sense why her friend was so bewildered.
“I…I…” Casey had planned their first kiss, imagining exactly how it would be. And how she hoped they’d both feel. In her wildest imagination, it didn’t happen when they were both asleep. And just what were they doing in bed together?
“Come here.” Beth held out both hands expectantly. Casey moved in front of Beth and placed her shaking hands in the author’s warm ones. Beth placed one of the ex-agent’s hands around her waist and the other against her cheek. Then she mimicked the embrace. Slowly Beth leaned forward, teasingly brushing her lips against Casey’s. Pulling back, the author was elated to see that the slightly lost look in her friend’s eyes was gone. Slowly Beth leaned forward again. This time, Casey met her half way. Both of pairs of eyes drifted shut as the tender kiss continued.
Lightly Casey caressed Beth’s cheek before pulling back. Blue eyes sparkled with delight at Beth’s heartfelt groan. Fully conscious of her actions, the ex-agent brought her lips to a breath’s width away. Ever so slowly, Casey traced the outline of Beth’s lips with her tongue, unable to hide her sigh of pleasure as those tender lips parted, inviting her in. Exploring tongues met and danced, exchanging greetings. Needing to breath, the ex-agent started to pull away, gently sucking on Beth’s bottom lip before fully retreating.
“Wow,” Beth whispered, falling against Casey. Nothing in the author’s limited experience had prepared her for the feelings now running rampant through her body. Never before had a kiss aroused her so. Never before had she responded so openly, so immediately.
“Yeah,” Casey breathed breathlessly. “Wow.” That had far surpassed the ex-agent’s expectations. It scared her a little. Unknowingly her thoughts ran along similar lines with her friend.
Gathering her gradually returning strength, the author grinned mentally. “Never thought I would be weak in the knees from a kiss. Especially when I’m sitting” Now time for the hard part, actually moving.
“Beth? I’m not complaining, not at all. Far from it, in fact.” Casey pulled back, needing to see Beth’s face. “Why are you in here? Is everything ok?”
The author had thought about how she would answer this question while waiting for the ex-agent to wake up. She’d come to the conclusion that nothing but the truth would do. Beth didn’t want any lies or secrets between them. “Shortly after midnight, you started dreaming. Your screams woke me up. I thought you were in trouble. So I came to see if I could help. I couldn’t wake you up, although I must admit, I could have, if there had been an emergency.” Beth looked unwaveringly into shadowy blue eyes. “I didn’t think it would be very fair or nice to wake you like that.” The author knew that one scream from her would have had the ex-agent on her feet, ready for anything.
So did the ex-agent. It was a testament of how much she’d come to trust her friend that she hadn’t waken when she entered her room. Let alone spoken or touched her. “What did I say?” Fear stabbed her heart, sure that if Beth realized how violent she actually could be, the author would run from her. And want nothing more to do with her.
“I think now I understand, at least a little bit, why you retreated in the car. The memory you spoke of, it was the Hamilton case, wasn’t it?” Beth surged forward, catching Casey before she could slide of the bed. “Get back here.” Arms strengthened by hours of staff practice caught and held the struggling ex-agent. “I’m proud of you.” Spoken loudly, meant to get the still struggling woman’s attention.
“You can’t mean that. You don’t know…” Casey became more frantic. Only her desire to not hurt the author kept her from throwing her off forcefully.
“I can and I do.” Beth insisted, squeezing tight. “You stopped that horrible bastard. I don’t know if I would have had the strength to stop. You did.” Abruptly the struggling stopped. “To answer your original question, my presence calmed you. Let you rest. I couldn’t walk away. Not when you were hurting.”
Silently, somewhat fearfully, Casey turned in Beth’s arms. “Really?” The ex-agent needed confirmation. Needed to see it with her own eyes.
“Really.” Beth met Casey’s gaze unflinchingly. “Now get back up here and kiss me again.” Crying, Casey fell into Beth’s arms.
“Be careful.” Casey kissed Beth lightly before stepping into the garage. It was almost time for the messenger to arrive. The ex-agent planned on following the messenger. Then learning everything he knew.
Sighing, Beth stared down at Casey, exasperated. They had been over the plan several times since breakfast. A wide, curious grin appeared without warning on Beth’s face.
“What?” The ex-agent looked down, making sure she was properly dressed. From the look Beth was giving her, she wouldn’t have been surprised to see her jeans unzipped or no shoes on her feet. Quickly she took stock of her equipment. Yup, cell phone, handcuffs, extra clip, money, keys, gun. Everything was in its proper place.
“I think I like this view.” Beth answered huskily and leaned down, kissing the daylights out of the ex-agent. “Yeah, I could get used to this.”
“God!” Casey caught her breath before retreating out of arms distance. “Behave Beth! I’ll never go if you keep doing that.”
A soft voice stopped her before she made it to the back door. “Please be careful yourself.”
Casey spun around, freezing Beth in place with her intense look. “I will be. I promise.”
Beth knew it was time. “I’ll stay here. I promise.” The ex-agent’s dreams the night before had convinced the author more than any words they’d exchanged during the day of the necessity of saying the words. Of their importance to the ex-agent.
“Thank you Beth.” Sincere blue eyes conveyed more than thanks as she quickly made her way back to the author, embracing her emotionally. After a moment, she retreated. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Call if you need me.”
“I will.” Beth waited until the door was firmly shut before adding. “I love you.” Unknown to her, Casey said the same thing before moving purposefully into the woods.
“I hate waiting.” Beth informed the silent room. “What’s taking so long?” It had been the longest four hours of the author’s life, since she’d closed the garage door. acing around Casey’s office, the author tried to release a little bit of her tension and worry. Beth was aware of what Casey was doing. After the messenger got out to deliver the message, the ex-agent snuck around and placed an electronic tracking device on his car. Then she waited until he was out of site before following in Beth’s seldom used, but powerful work truck she’d inherited with the house. This she knew because Casey took the time to explain what she was going to do.
“Now all I know is that she was going to follow and then ‘question’ the messenger.” Stomp…stomp…stomp. Beth paced noisily between their two offices, darting nervous glances at the view from the security cameras they installed together. “How long can that take?” Stomp. Turn. Stomp. A glare at the still empty driveway. She resumed her pacing, trying not to worry. “She’d better be ok.” More pacing. “I’ll kill her if she’s not.”
The author had tried to work once she’d retrieved the letter, but she couldn’t concentrate. The letter remained unopened, as commanded, on a special tray on Casey’s desk, along with the clear, latex gloves she’d worn to get the letter.
To be concluded in Part 2