Intimate Strangers by Watcher Part 2

Intimate Strangers (Conclusion)
by Watcher

 

Beth flopped down on the sofa in her grandfather’s old office, next to the phone they’d agreed to use to answer the call on Wednesday. They had moved the equipment in here because Casey said it was more convenient. The author figured, however, that the ex-agent didn’t want to take the chance of them not being in the same room when the call came. Sighing loudly, Beth looked at the clock above the mantel, not surprised to see that only two additional hours had past. Her shaking legs confirmed that she had been nervously pacing for the better part of five hours. Unable to stop thinking, the author’s impressive imagination kicked in, coming up with all types of scenarios for what was detaining her ex-agent. One involving a pool cue and a certain ex-agent leaning menacingly over the shaking messenger in a crowded pool hall. Of Casey leaning over the edge of a roof, spying on the messenger as he ate his lunch. Of said ex-agent looming dangerously over the messenger, dark hair falling gracefully around her beautiful features, waiting for an answer she believed. Then her thoughts turned darker. Of Casey laying beside the road, hurt and bleeding after a fight with the unseen stalker and his henchmen. Of the ex-agent silently running down a dark hallway, trailing blood, trying to catch up with the messenger. Of her being chased by a lunatic with a gun. Of Casey calling for her, needing her.

Without realizing it, Beth was on her feet, reaching for her staff. Just knowing that she had to find Casey. That she needed her help. The ringing of the telephone jerked her out of her trance. Unthinking, Beth grabbed the nearest phone, barking into it. “What?!”

“Well, well.” A voice the author didn’t recognize. Surprised, Beth remained silent. “Is this a bad time? I imagine it is.” A pause. “You’re all alone in that big house. Did you like my letter?” Another pause “What? Aren’t you going to talk tome? Doesn’t matter. You will soon enough. I’ll be…”

“Why do you hate ‘Warrior Woman’? Why bother yourself with it, since it disturbs you so?” The author had finally found her voice, grateful she hadn’t yelled, thinking it was Casey. Hopefully the stalker didn’t know Casey was investigating.

“You have a nice voice, Beth. I can’t wait to hear it in person. It won’t be long now.” The stalker chuckled softly, hanging up.

Shaking hands replaced the receiver, noting that the entire conversation had been recorded. “Casey. Need Casey.”

Beth stumbled to Casey’s desk and the cell phone resting behind it. The ex-agent had been insistent that in cases of emergencies, this one phone be used; a scrambler was attached to it. With tears in her eyes, the author heard Casey telling her why. “At least it will make it a little harder for someone to figure out what you’re saying. No phone line is secure, even this one. But it will take them awhile to figure out what was said. Use it in an emergency, ok?” Then Casey had gently tugged her hair and hugged her briefly. Tears were silently running down the author’s cheeks.

“Get Casey.” The author repeated, quaking fingers punching in the numbers for the ex-agent’s cell phone. She sighed in relief when it was promptly answered in a crisp, cool tone. “Bennett.”

“Casey, are you almost home?” Beth attempted to keep the wavering in her voice to a minimum. “I need…” Her voice broke. “Get it together, Beth. I was just a phone call.” She told herself with self disgust. “Don’t make matters worse!”

“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?” Casey stepped on the gas, scared. She knew Beth wouldn’t be calling unless it was an emergency. “Are you alright?”

“Just get here. I need you.” The author glanced at the door, jumping at a noise, one hand wrapped tightly around her staff.

“I’m almost there, just a couple of more minutes.” Casey squealed around the corner, pulling onto the road that led back to the house. “Within five minutes.”

“Good.” A thought occurred, directing her emotions away from herself. “You are ok, right?” Casey could hear the tears in the author’s voice.

“I’m fine. What about you?” Casey’s heart was pounding. Only her training kept her voice even.

“I will be when you get here.”

Spoken so quietly, that Casey almost didn’t hear it. “Hang on Sweetheart. I’m at the drive now. Just a couple of more minutes.” Nothing from Beth. “Come on Beth. Talk to me.”

That got a faint laugh from Beth. “So now you want me to talk, huh?” She sat up straighter in Casey’s chair, a little ashamed of the way she was reacting. “Can’t.” Croaked out. “Dry throat. Too much crying. Just get here.”

“Ok, I’ll be right there. Leave the phone on so I can hear that you’re ok. Please?”

“Ok. Be careful.” Beth sat the phone down, listening to Casey’s soft laugh. Knowing that the ex-agent was worried sick about her, and here she was telling Casey to be careful. A smile slowly worked its way into dominance, chasing her emotions back to a more manageable level.

The drive up the lane to the house took a lifetime for the ex-agent. It was the longest three minutes of her life.

Mindful of the phone on the bench beside her, Casey remained silent. “What happened?” Flinching she rounded a corner on two wheels, then floored the truck. “You better be ok.” Then. “There’s no place on earth this pervert can hide if he’s hurt you.” Over and over her mind cried Beth’s name, praying like never before for her safety. Finally the house came into view. Punching the garage door opener, Casey skidded to a stop in the garage. Shutting the door, she quickly unlocked the connecting door and ran into the house, yelling for Beth.

They met in the sunroom, running full tilt into each other’s arms. They stood, wrapped around each other for a timeless minute. Then Casey gently pushed Beth away, eyes raking over her slightly shaking form. “Are you alright?”

She needed to confirm what her eyes were telling her.

“Now.” Beth molded her body to Casey’s, loving the speed and manner in which her embrace was returned. A though suddenly hit the author in the heart, hard. “You called me Sweetheart.” Mumbled into Casey’s neck.

“So I did.” Casey confirmed, shivering at the sensation of warm lips, her warm lips, lightly brushing against her neck.

“Got a problem with that?”

“What do you think?” Lips softly brushed against the warm skin. “How did it go?” Beth tried to hide her concern behind her casual tone.

“You first.” Casey picked Beth up ignoring her protests and carried her into their offices.

“Go into your’s.” Beth spoke quietly when Casey slowed by the sofa in her’s. “The stalker called right before I called you. That’s why I called.”

The ex-agent tightened her grip on the author, sinking down to the sofa. Breathing harshly, she attempted to calm her fiercely beating heart. “Damn oh damn. And I wasn’t here.” Thought bitterly to herself. “I’m sorry you had to go through that alone.”

“Casey, its not your fault.” Beth pulled back, needing to see Casey’s reactions. “Hey, go easy on yourself. Its not your fault.” The dark, self-disgusted blue eyes worried her. “I mean it.” No change. “Sorry I freaked on you. I don’t know what got into me.”

That got through to the ex-agent. “Its not your fault.” Casey repeated, scrambling to contain her emotions. “If its not my fault for not being here when you needed me, its not your fault for having a normal reaction. Deal?” A tender kiss was her answer. “Tell me what was said.”

“Why don’t you listen for yourself.” Beth met Casey’s shocked gaze with a self-conscious smile. “I just happened to be right by the phone when it rang and I answered it unthinkingly. I know. I know. Don’t say it.”

“Say what?” Casey looked confused at Beth.

“I know I wasn’t supposed to use this phone, but I really wasn’t paying attention. At least I used the cell phone when I called you.”

“Its ok Beth. It wouldn’t have mattered if it was just a regular call.” She shifted, reaching for the rewind button on the machine to her left. “Where do you think you’re going?” Said to the squirming woman on her lap. “Stay put.”

They listened to the message three times before Casey shut the recorder off. Sighing, she rested her head against Beth’s before carefully shifting her to the sofa beside her. Face blank, the ex-agent transferred the digitally recorded call to the laptop sitting beside the phone. She started the complicated software that would electronically change the entire recorded call into a message that could be transferred to Bert at the office. After replacing the cell phone, Casey turned to Beth. “I left some stuff in the truck. Will you be ok until I get back?”

“Go ahead. I’ll be fine.” What scared Beth was not being alone. It was the blank, expressionless look on Casey’s face. With a heavy heart, she headed into the two offices’ shared bathroom.

Fuming quietly, Casey stalked back into the room. The ex-agent was still mad at herself. Mad because she hadn’t been there when Beth needed her. Mad because she hadn’t gotten backup. Mad because the stalker had escalated this into a suddenly much more dangerous game. Her anger came to a boiling head when she entered the empty office. Cursing profusely, she dropped her things on the desk and spun towards the door. A soft, hesitant voice
stopped her.

“Is everything alright Casey?”

“No, everything is most definitely not alright. And no, I don’t want to talk about it.” The ex-agent spun towards the sound. Blinking rapidly, she confirmed the safety of the author. “Where the Hell were you? Are you trying to give me a heart attack by disappearing on me?” Spitten out angrily. She couldn’t help herself, fear overriding her common sense. “Don’t do that to me again!”

“Breath, Beth. Nice calm breaths.” Beth told herself sternly, desperately trying not to react to Casey’s harsh tone or words. “She’s just worried sick about you. This is a first for her too.” At least the ex-agent was willing to be in the same room with her. Not sure what to do, Beth moved quietly to the door. “I’m just going to grab my laptop. I’ll be right back.” When no protest was forthcoming, the author hurriedly grabbed her laptop and two bottled waters, sliding silently back into Casey’s office. After leaving one of the waters for the ex-agent, who was purposefully
keeping quiet, Beth sat down, trying to compose herself enough to write.

About three hours later, Beth looked up, not sure why. Casey stood hesitantly at the end of the sofa, cautiously watching her. “What?”

“I’m sorry. I…I…” Casey was cut off by Beth flying into her arms. Emotionally the ex-agent drew a deep breath, words spilling out quickly. “God Sweetheart, I’m sorry. I didn’t to be such an ass.”

“You’re getting better.” Beth tugged Casey to the sofa and pushed her down. Snuggling beside her, she laced their fingers together. “Feel like talking about it?”

“You’re not mad at me?” The ex-agent growled, disgusted with herself. “I didn’t mean to do that to you.”

“I’m not happy, but I’m not really mad either. You know, something good has come of this.” Said with an impish look which tugged forcefully on Casey’s heartstrings, eliciting a gentle smile. “I like what you’ve been calling me.”

“You do, huh?” Casey grinned sexily at Beth, feeling tension of one sort be replaced by tension of another, more pleasurable kind. Leaning close, she whispered “Sweetheart” into the author’s ear, nipping the flesh.

“Oh, you’re bad.” Beth pulled back, slapping Casey playfully. “Starting something you can’t finish.”

“I know. Sorry.” The ex-agent wasn’t sorry at all. Taking a deep breath, she knew they needed to discuss what had happened. “Want to know what I found out today?”

“Of course. If you’re ready to tell me.” It took everything Beth had to add the last part. She desperately wanted to know what happened, but she didn’t want to push Casey.

“Well, my patient friend.” Casey smiled warmly at Beth, recognizing the author’s words for what they were, a promise of sorts between them. “Your stalker has been sending bundles of letters to Pete’s Handyman’s Service in the next town south of here. One bundle a month, each containing letters for the month in separate envelopes with the date of delivery penciled on the outer letter. I dusted the outer envelopes, and as expected, didn’t find any prints. I sent the rest of this month’s unopened letters to Susan for analysis. She’ll have them tomorrow morning. By afternoon, we’ll know if they’re like the rest. There was also a brief note instructing Pete to continue as usual. Now this is where it gets interesting.” Casey shifted, turning so she could see Beth’s eyes directly.

“The method of payment is easily traceable, with the right type of software and connections. She paid electronically, using five different banks, all within a 50 mile radius of Washington DC. The packages were also mailed within this same 50 mile radius, all from smaller towns. Once the point of origin of the initial start of each transaction is obtained, they will be cross-referenced with the closest mailing date, narrowing down the search area. In a way, this seems too easy. She’s been so careful about everything, I find it hard to believe that she’d be so predictable in this.”

Beth cocked her head, curiously. “Why do I have the feeling you’re making it sound easy? She couldn’t have known I’d pick an exceptionally brilliant ex-FBI agent to handle things. One who apparently still has connections in the criminal justice system.”

“Beth!” Casey blushed brightly at the praise. “I still have a couple of friends at the bureau. We occasionally do favors for each other. Its not that big of a deal.” What the ex-agent left out was that this was the first time since she’d left the bureau that she’d asked for anything. Usually her former associates came to her, when they wanted information fast or someone tailed, especially when it wasn’t prudent or exactly legal for them to do so themselves. The one thing she’d repeatedly refused to do was help profile. In return, they passed the occasional client her way, along with information regarding Hamilton.

Now came the hard part, at least for Casey. The late morning and afternoon activities were second nature for her.

Something that any FBI agent or good private investigator would know how to do. Now Casey had to tell Beth about the stalker…and how she’d gotten the information. “Did I tell you what I did at the FBI?” Casey didn’t think she had, but she had no idea what she’d told Beth in her sleep.

“Just that you were an agent for about eight years and that you’d left because of a change of heart. But,” Beth wrapped a hand around the ex-agent’s neck and drew her close. “First things first.” The author wanted Casey to remember exactly who she was talking to. Wanted to give the ex-agent a reason to stay emotionally with her in the present. Teasingly Beth brushed her lips against Casey’s before firmly pressing them together. Possessively she kissed the ex-agent, her tongue establishing ownership of her friend’s mouth. Taking a break to breath, green eyes dazed with passion commanded equally smoky blue. Beth kissed her again, this time tenderly, trying to express her unspoken love for the ex-agent.

“Now who’s the tease?” Casey rested her forehead against the author’s, breathing deeply. Lightly the ex-agent nipped Beth’s lips before withdrawing to a safer distance. “Based on my previous experience before I joined the FBI and how I did in certain classes at the academy, when I graduated I was assigned to the violent crimes unit. It seems I had an aptitude for solving the hard cases, the ones nobody wanted to touch. Six months after graduation, I was off of probation and had four older agents working with me. I started out as a profiler, someone who tried to explain why criminals committed violent crimes in specific ways as well as what type of person was responsible. Within three years, I had a team of ten agents working full time for me. As a team we were unstoppable. Out of the 30 cases assigned to my team, only one remained unsolved. A record that remains unbeaten to this day. This is the experience I drew on when I profiled your stalker.”

“You would be director of the unit if you’d stayed, wouldn’t you?” Beth read the underlying tension in Casey. That, with what the ex-agent had told her in her sleep, convinced the author that Casey had been one hell of an agent.

“Probably.” Casey confirmed, then felt compelled to add. “If I made it that long. Good profilers (here she was being modest. She was one of the best.) usually don’t last more that ten years in violent crimes before they transfer out.

Too much violence and cruelty.”

“So what about my stalker?” Beth stared at Casey, belief in her friend shining from deep within.

Grounding herself by hanging onto the author, Casey began in a serious, low voice. This was the first profile/analysis she’d done since the Hamilton case. It was harder than she thought, dredging up old memories that were more painful the second time around. She had sworn she’d never do another profile the day she had left the FBI. But this was too important to her; she wouldn’t trust Beth’s case to anyone else. Rusty or not, the ex-agent knew the skill that had been with her for years wouldn’t fail her. She was strongly counting on that fact.

“Your stalker is approximately 25-35 years old and had some college education, with classes in criminology and computers. This is reflected in the flawless use of sophisticated equipment and the manner in which the letters were delivered. Most wouldn’t think to use a handyman as a messenger. They’d chose an actual small firm or hire someone off the street. Handymen are a common part of life. The move around frequently and wouldn’t be as noticeable as an actual messenger. Not to mention the contents of the letters. She knew the local police wouldn’t take any action until there was absolute proof of intent to harm or she’d actually harmed you.”

“She’s a white middle class female, easily frustrated by non technological things. The writing on the short notes she stuck into the packages with the letters and the haphazard way she’d addressed the packages support this. She was comfortable with the keyboard, but not the pen. A handwriting analysis will show the author hesitated and was frustrated during the completion of the notes. Variations in the darkness of the ink show the pressure used to hold the pen changed dramatically during the course of writing one note. Also the way the packages were wrapped, almost like she wasn’t sure it she was doing it correctly. The letters themselves also support this; remember they were flawlessly done and handled. She wore gloves during the entire process, from start to finish. Thus the lack of trace evidence.”

“The stalker has problems dealing with people one on one, especially when not expected. Based on her speech patterns from a real conversation, I’d say the first calls were pre-recorded and played when you answered the phone.

I’m having this checked out. By answering the phone, you pushed her a little farther, making her think she needed to speed up her plan a bit. Notice how she hesitated at first, how her volume increased during the conversation, as she gained confidence. She had to work herself up to the point of dealing with you in the manner she thought appropriate.”

“She’s frustrated to the point of explosive anger by non-conventional roles and occupations, especially concerning women and their place in society. ‘Warrior Woman’ certainly isn’t conventional. More to the point, its heroines are two strong females in non-traditional roles, who don’t need men to survive and be happy. The length of time it spent on the top ten lists made her feel unworthy and jealous. You yourself aren’t conventional. Most women writers only write in one field, not several. And most of them aren’t near masters with a staff. She saw herself as less of a person because she made herself fit into roles she considers ‘proper’. It’s these frustrations that have driven her desires and technological skills into hiding. She wouldn’t want anyone seeing her doing anything that made her less than female in her eyes. But her attraction to technology is undeniable. She’s married to or recently divorced from an average
guy, very similar to her father in his opinions and attitudes. She married not out of love, but the expectation that females get married and raise children.”

“The escalation in violence, especially in the last three weeks, means she’s close to the breaking point…ready to make her move. Most likely she broke into your computer and saw how much of ‘Warrior 2′ you’ve written in the last month or so. Or she intercepted the bits you’ve been sending to your publisher. Your rapid progress on the sequel convinced her she needs to move quickly. If she attacks before we find her, she’ll use the most conventional weapon she can…a revolver or small automatic. The attack would happen up close, so you’d be forced to see the righteousness of her position and the wrongness of your’s.” Casey fell silent, absently taking a drink of Beth’s water.

The ex-agent was out of practice; she hadn’t talked so much in one sitting since leaving the FBI.

“Wow,” Beth smiled and took the water out of Casey’s hand, drinking after her. “You got all of that from a few phone calls, letters, and handwritten notes?”

“That and eight plus years dealing with psychos.” The ex-agent couldn’t believe Beth was taking this so well.

“Why do I think that was harder on you than me?” Beth refused to release Casey from her gaze. “I could feel you shaking the whole time. That’s the first profile you’ve done since the Hamilton case, isn’t it?”

“How did you know?” The ex-agent finally managed to ask. She had no idea how Beth came up with that.

“A bunch of little things. You’ve told me that your firm usually doesn’t handle cases of this nature. The way you explained your FBI career and the reason for quitting. Then there’s the fact that you were shaking, almost nervously while youwere talking. But mostly it’s the way you’ve been acting…like this case is very difficult and painful for you.”

“Good reasoning.” Casey brought Beth’s hand to her lips, kissing the warm flesh tenderly.

“Why now?” The author caressed the cheek near her fingers.

“I would think that’s pretty obvious.” The ex-agent glanced down at their bodies snuggled tightly together. “I care about you too much to not take care of this in the most efficient, safest way possible and that meant coming up with a working profile.”

“Just remember that works both ways, ok? I don’t want you to get hurt either.” Both women jumped when the phone rang. The ex-agent got up so Beth could reach the phone, then slid in behind her, wrapping a supportive arm around her waist.

Beth sighed when she heard her mother’s voice. Leaning back against Casey, the author let her mother vent, yelling at her for not returning her phone call as promised.

Casey’s mood darkened with each negative, abusive comment hurled at her author. She didn’t know what upset her more, that Beth was calmly taking the insults or that her mother was quietly yelling them. It wasn’t until she felt Beth start flinching that she yelled loud enough to be heard by her mother that dinner was ready. Wasn’t she coming? The phone conversation ended immediately.

“Thanks, but you didn’t have to do that. She was about done.” Warm green eyes sparkled at her protector.

“Yes I did. It was either that or tell her to shut up. You don’t need that on top of the day you’ve had.” Casey couldn’t believe what she’d heard. Even her own mother, who had a good reason to be angry with her, didn’t yell at her like that.

“So what’s the plan for dealing with the stalker?” Beth changed the subject, not wanting to talk about her mother.

“I’ll hear back first thing in the morning about the banking transactions. The phone call today was routed through several stations, making tracing difficult but not impossible. That’s being done right now. We should have a location in the morning. Most likely it will end in one of the small towns in the 50 mile radius of DC. If all goes well, we should have a name and picture by late tomorrow evening. When we have that, we’ll do a comprehensive background search on her, along with locating her. Once we have that, its time for a visit and an arrest.”

“It sounds like its almost over then.” Beth grinned in relief. “That’s great!”

“Not so fast.” Casey looked seriously at Beth. “Based on the escalation of violence, I wouldn’t be surprised if she planned a visit in lue of the Wednesday phone call. It’s a question of who’s faster now. If she realizes that you’ve gone for help, she’ll be much harder, but not impossible to fine.” This was added because of Beth’s groan. “Speaking of help, two of my operatives will be arriving tomorrow with additional equipment. They will help guard you, uh…your house until the stalker is caught.”

“So, you’re sticking to me like glue until this is over, right?” Beth guessed, trying not to grin. This was a serious situation after all.

“And what a hardship that’ll be.” Casey dead-panned, laughing when Beth lightly hit her stomach. “I think we both could use something to eat and then get some sleep.”

“I think I’m going to take a nice, long bubble bath. Food can wait.” Beth grinned, waiting for Casey to finish checking the windows in the large room off the gym. Leaning against the wall, the author sighed quietly, watching her friend tug forcefully on the small windows and then check the walk in closet for unwelcome visitors.

Before doing anything else, Casey had insisted on searching the whole house, from top to bottom. Needing to make sure the house was secure, given the phone message from the stalker. She didn’t want to take any chances. “That way,” the ex-agent had responded to Beth’s questioning of the direction of the search. “If there is an intruder, she’d be flushed down and out.” Then in explanation. “If an intruder is cornered without a means of escape, he or she tends to become even more dangerous.” A situation the ex-agent didn’t even want to consider with the author present.

“I saw that! Don’t roll those gorgeous eyes at me.” Casey cautioned, sticking her head out of the bathroom. “I told you why this is important.”

“I know.” Beth groaned loudly, trying to annoy the ex-agent. The author wanted her friend as frustrated as she was.

“It would be more fun if you let me help.” She had been allowed to help upstairs. “It wasn’t my fault that she looked so cute with her behind sticking in the air. I couldn’t help myself!” Thought quietly to herself, grinning at the mental picture. Casey was bent over a chest, retying her shoe when Beth just happened to look up and catch the sight.

Unable to restrain herself, Beth had tiptoed over and pinched the firm flesh, giggling. Casey spun around, pinning the giggling author with a withering glare. Then proceeded to lecture the delinquent author on the importance of their search and the need to pay close attention to detail. After another mishap two rooms down the hall, Casey had made the author promise to stay in one place and told her quite grouchily to keep her hands to herself.

Smothering a grin, the ex-agent raked her eyes over the leaning author, before pretending to ignore her, sure Beth was standing provocatively just to distract her. “God give me strength,” she muttered under her breath. A few minutes later, breathing under control once again, Casey announced they were finished. Everything was secure and undisturbed.

“Great! Can I move now?’

Beth sounded so serious that Casey shot a concerned glance at her before answering. “Yes you can. Come on, I’ll walk you back upstairs so you can get started on that bath.”

“Want to join me?” The author blushed brightly as the secret thought popped out. “Um…I mean…uhh…”

“Any other time and I’d race you to the tub.” Casey glanced down, gathering her wits. “Talk about your surprises.

Never expected that.” She mused quietly, breathing deeply. Extending a hand, Casey led the still blushing woman upstairs.

“Breath Casey, breath!” The ex-agent muttered, rapidly doing spot checks of some of the little surprises she’d left waiting throughout the house. On her forth pass of Beth’s bathroom, she forced herself to leave the area, not trusting her weakening resolve. Each splash and contented sigh had drawn her closer to the mostly closed door, wanting nothing more than to join the author.

Carefully balancing a full tray, Casey knocked softly before pushing the half open bedroom door open. Tilting her head towards the bathroom, Casey froze when she didn’t hear any of the painfully familiar noises. “Beth you ok?”

She called out softly, setting the tray down on the table in front of the window. Quietly she walked to the door, trying to see if everything was alright in the fogged mirror. Slowly she pushed the door open, hoping she’d find the author asleep. “Sorry for interrupting, but I…I….”

The ex-agent’s jaw dropped, awestruck by the sleeping author. Beth was indeed asleep, sprawled comfortably in the large old fashioned claw tub. Her eyes hungrily devoured the wet, sleek form, mind dangerously close to overloading.

The soft flowing hair. The smooth, graceful line of her jaw. The power, yet gentle arms. The soft mounds just peaking through the light bubbles…. “Stop! Don’t look anymore.” Casey’s mind screamed, yet she was unable to look away. “Just a few minutes more,” she mumbled, leaning against the doorframe for support.

“I’ve gotta catch the stalker before it’s the death of me.” Casey wasn’t willing to take any chances with Beth’s safety. Groaning lowly, the ex-agent grabbed a sponge and tossed it at the author.

“What?” Beth woke up, startled. And caught the almost painful expression that flew across Casey’s face before it disappeared. “Everything ok?”

“I brought you some dinner, if you’re still hungry.” Casey forced her eyes to remain fixed on the author’s, not on the bubbles moving in gentle time with her breaths.

“Thanks, I’ll be right out.” Beth sighed softly when the door closed quietly. A few minutes later, the author exited her bathroom, dressed in her usual night attire: a flannel sleep shirt that came to right above her knees. “Oh, how romantic,” Beth blinked back a few tears. “You certainly outdid yourself, my friend.” Soft flickering candlelight, accented by the low, romantic tones mixed with the sweet scent of fresh cut fall flowers gently waffling through the air, filled the author with a never before felt sense of contentment.

“You like?” Casey leaned against the door, quietly drinking in the author’s joy. “Glad I listened to myself,” she whispered under her breath, thinking that it was certainly worth the effort. The look on Beth’s face washed away any doubts.

“Yes, very much.” Beth plucked a little nervously at her night shirt. “I think I’m underdressed.”

“You’re perfect.” Casey wrapped her arms around the author’s waist, pulling her back against her. Leaning down, warm lips brushed the author’s sensitive ear. “You hungry?”

After a moment to regain control of her liquid muscles, Beth reached behind her and sunk a hand in the ex-agents dark hair, holding her close. “Yes, I am.”

“Well,” Casey teased the earlobe quivering beneath her lips. “We better eat before it gets cold.”

“There’s not much chance of that happening.” Beth purred, turning around in the ex-agent’s arms. Warm lips skimmed silky flesh teasingly. Finally lips met in a heart stopping kiss.

Regretfully Casey pulled away, rubbing Beth’s back soothingly. “We really should eat something.”

“You’re right.” Beth mumbled not moving, content in the warm haven of Casey’s arms. “Don’t wanna move.” The author complained, resisting the ex-agent’s attempt to end the embrace.

“You think I do?” Casey reacted strongly to the author’s complaint, her insecurities coming out in full force. “You really think I do? That I enjoy pulling back? Restraining myself from touching you…feeling you…loving you? How can you possibly think that?” Contrary to her words, the ex-agent jerkily extracted herself from the author’s embrace, retreating from her emotions. Moodily ignoring the anguished look on Beth’s face, she stared out the window, willing her racing heart to settle, having no idea where all that came from.

“Casey.” No answer. “Casey.” More insistently. “Come on now. Please talk to me.” Beth moved closer to the ex-agent slowly, deliberately, not wanting to startle her upset friend. “I never said you did, my friend. Each word,” tentatively a hand touched the tense back. “Each action ,” the hand slid around her waist. “Each look,” the author gently pressed against the tight body. “Each touch,” Beth captured her friend’s hand, lacing their fingers together, squeezing slightly. “Convinces me.” The only reaction that the ex-agent had that Beth could tell was that her body relaxed slightly. “Casey, please look at me.”

The deep, compelling tone could not be ignored. Casey turned and finally met Beth’s worried gaze. “Sorry. I, uh, don’t know where that came from.” The ex-agent glanced at the romantic setting and grimaced. “Sorry I ruined things.”

“Don’t apologize.” Beth tugged her towards the table. “You didn’t ruin anything. Believe me?” “When this is over, we are going to have a long talk, my friend. I’d tell you now, but I don’t think you are ready to hear it.” The author thought quietly, turning a questioning look on the ex-agent when she resisted. “Don’t you?” Meaning if she was believed or not.

“I do.” Casey hugged Beth briefly, then scooted around to the side, pulling out Beth’s chair.

“You’re such a romantic.” Beth grinned when Casey sat opposite of her. “Who would of guessed, beneath that tough exterior lurks the heart of a romantic?”

Casey cocked her head to the side, considering the author’s statement. Suddenly a wide grin stretched itself across her face. “Not before you. You bring it out in me.” She pinned the author in place with a sexy glare. “Just wait.” A definite promise that caused both women’s hearts to pound wildly.

“You were right. You do a mean salad, Ms. Bennett.” Beth sat back, stuffed. The author briefly debated with herself, weighing her need to express her emotions with Casey’s need of maintaining a safe distance. Reluctantly she reached a compromise. “Thank you, Casey. I really needed this.” Meaning more than dinner, wishing she could add, “I love you.”

“Me too.” Casey surprised the author. “I wish I …” The ringing of her cell phone interrupted her. “Damn,” the ex-agent swore, heading for the phone. Not sure if she should be mad at herself or not for feeling relieved by the interruption.

“It figures,” Beth muttered, stacking their dinner dishes on the tray. Regretfully she blew out the candles and turned the music off. Grabbing the tray, she caught Casey’s eye before heading out the door.

The ex-agent swore softly when she got off the phone. Things were progressing, but not fast enough for her.

Wondering what was keeping Beth, Casey headed for the kitchen. “Where is that woman? She better not be working.

Its late and she needs her rest.” She stalked down the hall towards her office, preparing mentally for the upcoming battle. The next 24 hours were going to be rough and Casey wanted Beth rested and prepared. “And just what do you think you’re doing?” Casey stared menacingly at the sheepish looking author, waiting for an answer.

“Not what you think. I needed to make a call and I didn’t want to disturb you.” Beth frowned, realizing how that sounded. “I mean, uh…I”

“Its ok Beth. You don’t have to explain.” Casey held up a hand, forestalling any arguments, shocked to realize that she was hurt by Beth’s desire for privacy. Just who was the author calling that she didn’t want her to know about?

“Ready to turn in?”

Beth flinched, easily reading the hurt look being hastily hidden in her friend’s eyes. “I was supposed to call my attorney earlier today, but I forgot. I needed…”

“It really is ok, Beth.” Casey wrapped an arm around the author, escorting her upstairs. “I was concerned, that’s all.” Breathing easier after Beth explained the call.

“I just needed to tell him that the contract he sent me yesterday was fine. I didn’t want to forget again, so I just called and left a message on his machine.” Beth didn’t want Casey to think she was hiding things from her, especially considering how she reacted. “Aren’t you coming in?” The author looked questioningly at Casey, alarmed when she resisted Beth’s tugging.

A gentle shake of the head. “Goodnight Beth. Sweet dreams.”

“C’mon, please?” Beth tugged on her arm again. “Well, at least kiss me goodnight, then.” Giving up disappointingly when Case wouldn’t budge.

“Sweetheart, I mmmm.” Warm lips covered her own, encouraging a reply. Swallowing a groan, Casey carefully kissed Beth back. Her control over her emotions was weak at best; she needed to remain alert and this certainly wasn’t helping.

The restrained response to her kiss threw an icy bucket of water on her desire. Muffling a groan of disappointment, Beth released her hold on the ex-agent. Shaded blue eyes quickly, but thoroughly scrutinized Casey’s face. Realizing that her friend was serious, she nodded slightly, unhappily accepting the decision. “Night Casey.” She stepped back, reaching for the door, thinking her face was expressionless.

“Beth, wait.” Large hands spun her around. Without a word, Casey swiftly covered the author’s mouth with her own.

There was no mistaking the intent of this kiss. The ex-agent’s tongue deeply, passionately invaded and conquered.

Again and again their lips met until both were gasping for breath. Casey slapped herself mentally when she realized that she had Beth pinned, intimately trapped with her arms and legs against the door.

“Stay with me.” Beth ran loving fingers down Casey’s cheek, eyes bright with passion. Hoping Casey would give in and stay.

The soft whispered words ignited a raging fire of desire in the ex-agent. Fighting for control, Casey concentrated on deep breathing. “I can’t.” Her voice low and raspy. “Oh God, I do want to, but I can’t.” When Beth looked like she was about to protest, Casey placed a silencing finger on her lips, shivering when those lips lightly caressed it. “Please don’t.” Fighting every inborn response she had, Casey forced her limbs to release the author and stepped away. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Night Casey.” Beth fought several emotions as the ex-agent returned her goodnight and left the room. “You knew that was going to happen,” the author thought dejectedly, falling on her bed. “She did warn you.” Groaning faintly, she pushed a shaking hand through her tangled hair, thinking quietly. About how she’d jumped playfully at Casey two nights ago, unexpectedly surprising the ex-agent, both falling onto the sofa in Beth’s office. She remembered her laugh fading from one of merriment into an intense silence, as their eyes met and locked. Without thinking, the author reacted to their closeness, moving suggestively closer. And had been abruptly stopped, to her amazement.

Reading the hurt and confusion in the author’s eyes, Casey explained that she couldn’t, not right now. But Beth hadn’t understood, not really. Understanding didn’t make it hurt any less.

“God!” Casey exhaled noiselessly, shutting the door behind her. Cursing under her breath, the ex-agent quickly walked through the house, making one final check. Standing in the hall between their rooms, Casey listened, wanting to hear if Beth was still awake. Hearing Beth talking to herself, Casey sighed and went to her own room.

Two hours later, Casey found herself creeping into Beth’s bedroom. She hadn’t been able to sleep and she’d convinced herself that checking on the author wouldn’t hurt anything. All she was going to do was stick her head in and make sure she was resting comfortably. “Then you are leaving,” the ex-agent reminded herself forcefully.

Silently she approached the bed, kneeling. So she’d see better, or so she told herself.

“Hey.” Beth hadn’t been sleeping when the door opened. She waited to see what Casey was doing.

“Hey yourself. Can’t sleep?” Casey commanded her limbs to move, but they rebelled. The ex-agent remained on her knees.

“No. You either?” Beth made a decision, she needed the ex-agent’s presence to sleep. “Get in here,” opening the covers. “No arguments. All we’re gonna do is sleep.”

Casey knew she shouldn’t, but before her brain could impart this, her heart overruled her head. Again. “I shouldn’t, but…” The ex-agent grinned ruefully, sliding in beside the author. “Wait, hold still a second.” Casey crawled over Beth so she was now able to hold the author and face the door. She wrapped one arm around Beth, nuzzling her face into the author’s sweet smelling hair.

“This is better.” Beth sighed contentedly, snuggling back against the ex-agent.

“Much,” Casey agreed happily, yawning. “Night Sweetheart.”

“Night my, uh…Casey.” The author bit her lip, thinking that was a little close.
“Good morning!” Beth cheerfully greeted the ex-agent. “Sleep well?” The author had woken up a few moments ago, delighted to find Casey sprawled over her body.

“Never better.” A quick glance confirmed the location of her wayward limbs. One hand was firmly cupping a full breast. The other was tangled in strawberry blond hair. One muscular thigh was draped over the author’s. Her face was comfortably resting on Beth’s small, but powerful shoulder. “What time is it?” Surprising herself and the author, Casey remained exactly where she was.

“Shortly after 8:00.” Beth turned and kissed the side of Casey’s head. “Thanks for staying with me last night. I haven’t slept like that since, well…for a long time.”

“I’m glad, I did too.” Casey smiled, wondering exactly was it was about the author that put her so at ease. Her body responded instinctively, seeking the safety and comfort of the author’s embrace. The ex-agent decided to tell Beth.

“I’ve never responded this way to another person before. Its like my body knows its safe. That I’m safe with you.”

Casey reluctantly moved away, needing to see Beth’s eyes. “I feel like I’ve known you for a very long time.”

“I feel that way too.” Beth brushed the rumpled hair back off of Casey’s forehead. “Like I’ve known you forever. I, uh, I mean I’ve…” The author fumbled, ironically looking for words to express how she was feeling.

“I love you.” Casey took the step first. Leaning forward, she brushed her lips lightly against Beth’s before retreating to see her reaction. And was instantly dismayed to see tears running down the author’s face. “I know its too soon, but I…” Cut off by the author’s lips, the ex-agent found herself once again on top of Beth, being kissed deeply.

“I love you too,” Beth managed to get out shakily. “I’ve been fighting saying it because I didn’t want to scare you. I…” Predictably, the phone rang. Groaning, Beth answered it, closing her eyes in annoyance as she heard the voice of her publisher.

A hand on her arm halted Casey’s withdrawal. Grinning foolishly at the goofy face Beth made at her, the ex-agent laid back down beside the grouchily talking author. Feeling frisky in spite of the situation they were in, Casey lazily let her fingers roam over the author’s nightshirt, stoking her developed abs. Almost immediately, her wandering fingers were grabbed and held still. Sighing happily, Casey laid her head down on Beth’s shoulder. “I don’t deserve this,” the ex-agent thought, absently listening to the author’s conversation, thinking of how violent a person she could be. Of the personal demons that haunted her. “But I don’t have the strength or willpower to fight it. Or the desire.”

A pause as Beth slid an arm behind her back, holding her close. “I never thought I could feel this way. Or that she’d feel this way about me!”

“Dollar for your thoughts.” Beth offered, wondering what caused that silly grin on Casey’s face.

“That much, huh?” Casey laughed delighted. “Just thinking about you. Everything ok?” Added because Beth was blushing faintly.

“Yeah, Nancy just wanted to see if I was interested in writing another sci-fi mystery. Told her not until ‘Warrior 2’ was finished.” Beth closed her eyes, then reluctantly pried them open. “I suppose we better get up.”

“Yeah, we better. Wait here while I check the house, please?” Casey asked, sitting up. She didn’t tell Beth, but a couple of times during the night, she crawled out of their warm bed and checked the house. The giddiness she was feeling hadn’t interfered with keeping the author safe. That was why she allowed herself to remain in Beth’s loving embrace.

“I’ll take a fast shower. Then I’ll start breakfast. I’m starving!” Beth laughed at the comical look on Casey’s face, pushing her out of bed. “Go on woman, hurry up!”

“Yes ma’am.” Casey tossed a mock salute at the author, then disappeared out the door. About fifteen minutes later, Casey quietly entered Beth’s room, intending to tell her it was all clear. “Hey, you asleep?” The author was fully dressed, laying on her made bed with her eyes closed.

“No,” One eye popped open, studying the ex-agent who was still wearing the shorts and tee shirt she’d slept in. “Just waiting for you. Needed to save my strength. Didn’t want to faint from hunger.”

“If you’ll give me a few minutes, I’ll help with breakfast.” Casey sat beside Beth, staring seriously at the author. “You don’t need to wait on me. I…”

“Hush.” Beth sat up, poking Casey playfully in the stomach. “You’re one to talk.” She glanced meaningfully over her shoulder at the flowers and candles still on the table from last night. “Go take your shower. I’ll see you downstairs in a bit.”

“You telling me I smell, Ms Jamieson?” Casey faked indignation. “Maybe I’ll make you smell too, then!” Laughing dangerously, Casey surged forward, tickling unmercifully.

“I yield. I yield!” Beth laughed and squirmed, trying to ignore the pleasant tingling sensations wherever Casey’s fingers touched.

“Giving up so easily?” Casey’s fingers stilled and she stared unbelievingly at the author. Beth didn’t seem like the type to give up so easily. “What are you up to?”

“Me?” With an innocent look in her eyes, Beth smiled sweetly at the ex-agent. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Uh huh. Why don’t I believe you?” Casey relented though and allowed the author to get off the bed. A sudden thought occurred, bringing a wave of insecurity. Swallowing hard, Casey enveloped Beth in a warm hug. “You’re not mad, are you? I was just playing.”

Cursing herself mentally for worrying her friend, Beth leaned back, turning so her head rested against the soft skin of Casey’s neck. “I’m not mad. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I was about to jump on you when you got all serious. Now,” she sighed aggravated. “Now I have to think of another plan.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Casey hid a relieved sigh, drinking in the warmth of the woman in her arms. A few minutes later, she reluctantly released Beth. “I better go get cleaned up. I’ve got a few things to do before the guys arrive today. I’ll tell you about them at breakfast.”

“No problem. See you downstairs. And Casey?” The author paused, displaying her best innocent look. “Use lots of soap, ok?”

“Brat!” Laughing Casey pushed Beth towards the kitchen.

“Ok, so who’s joining us today?” Beth asked, grabbing another piece of toast.

“John and Phil.” Casey swallowed and cleared her throat. “Phil is an electronics expert. He’ll be setting up some additional equipment. I’ve known Phil since the academy. Shortly after I left, he decided to leave too. Told me that working with all the rules and restrictions was just too much. John’s an experienced tracker and weapons expert. I met him shortly before I left the FBI. He’s pretty quiet and solitary, but he’s the best tracker I know.” Her large hand caught Beth’s, holding it loosely, oblivious to the action. “I trust both of them. They should be here shortly after lunch. Everything will be in place tonight for the call.”

“Good!” Beth wanted this whole mess over. They had more important stuff to do. “Want me to write elsewhere today? I don’t want to bother you guys with my ramblings.” The author didn’t want to be in the way; she wasn’t sure how much extra room Casey and her associates would need.

“Actually, I was going to suggest that we both move into the sunroom. They’ll be running in and out all afternoon. I don’t think either of us would get much work done.”

“Fine with me.” Beth grinned, glad Casey would be staying with her. “Well, I guess we better get busy then.” At the ex-agent’s “well?” glance, Beth looked pointedly at their joined hands.

“Oh. Sorry.” Casey blushed brightly, releasing Beth’s hand. She had no idea that she was holding hands with the author. “This is gonna be a little embarrassing.” Said more to herself as she was carrying her dishes to the sink.

Beth froze at the words. It never occurred to her that the ex-agent might be uncomfortable with or embarrassed by their budding relationship. A sharp pain cut through her heart at the thought. Not sure whether she wanted to cry or scream, Beth opted for leaving the room.

Unaware of what happened behind her, Casey started talking to Beth. Turning when she wasn’t answered, Casey growled when she realized the author had left without saying anything. “Stupid!” She cursed herself; her senses certainly hadn’t told her when Beth left. “Moody author,” the ex-agent continued mumbling under her breath as she headed for Beth’s office. “Can’t even tell me when she leaves.” Rounding the corner, more annoyed with herself than
the author, Casey stopped surprised in the empty room. A quick check ascertained that she wasn’t in Casey’s. Starting to get concerned, the ex-agent hurried to the basement. Over the past several days, the ex-agent had learned that when upset or needing to focus, Beth worked out. Usually to the point of exhaustion.

“Damn!” Casey cursed the empty gym. Heading back upstairs, the ex-agent tried to figure out what happened. Her half-muttered words came back to her, hitting her in the face. “God only knows what she’s thinking! I didn’t mean it like that.” Casey thought rapidly. The author was the most moody person the ex-agent had every known, outside of herself. She collided with Beth in the sunroom. As usually happened to the ex-agent when upset, she yelled. “Where did you go! I was worried sick!” Not giving the astonished author time to react, she spun her around and marched her to the sofa. “Sit down! Don’t move, I’ll be right back.”

Beth stared open mouthed at Casey as she stomped out of the room. Breathing deeply, she tried to slow her racing heart and temper. “I can’t believe she said that! Telling me not to move. Its my house.” Surging to her feet, Beth took two steps towards the door, intending to find her friend and tell her exactly what she thought. Then abruptly turned around and flopped back down on the sofa, remembering her own flight earlier. Without warning, the tears began to flow.

Casey stomped all the way to her office, fighting her burgeoning emotions. She looked around the room, then stomped back. The sight of Beth sitting with her head in her hands, crying, blasted through her mental cursing. “I caused that,” Casey thought despairingly, heart aching. “Beth. Sweetheart.” She sat beside the author cautiously, not sure of her reception. And was shocked when Beth wrapped both arms around her tightly. “Shh. Shh, Sweetheart.”

Casey rocked the crying woman in her arms.

“Sorry.” Beth murmured, kissing Casey’s chin before pulling away. “Didn’t mean to scare you.” It never occurred to her that the ex-agent would react like that.

“My fault. I’m sorry for yelling.” Casey rubbed Beth’s back soothingly. “I have a tendency to yell when I get worried or upset. I never meant to make you cry.”

“I know you didn’t. I…” The noisy rumbling of the handyman’s truck interrupted Beth. Groaning she rose to her feet.

“Want anything from town? I’m sending Mike back in for some chocolate. I’m out. What?” Added because of the ex-agent’s look of humor.

Casey couldn’t help herself, she started chuckling. “You said that so seriously! Like …”

“Not a word, Ms Bennett.” Beth stared haughtily down her nose at her sitting friend. “I take it you don’t want anything?”

“Yes I do.” Casey tugged Beth back down, wanting there to be no misunderstands. “I want to know why you left the kitchen without saying anything.”

“I, uh….” The author tried again. “Are you embarrassed by me…us?” She finally managed to get it out, heart pounding in fear. Beth didn’t know what she would do if Casey was embarrassed or ashamed of her, of them.

“That’s what I thought. No I am not embarrassed or ashamed of you or us.” Casey heard the unasked plea. Deadly serious blue eyes bored into cautiously hopeful blue. “I’m just not used to my body unconsciously doing things. Like taking your hand in the kitchen or” she looked down at her legs, not surprised to find she’d moved instinctively closer to Beth without even knowing. “That’s all I meant. How could I be embarrassed by you? I love you.”

“I love you too. I’ve got to warn you about something.” Beth seriously studied the face of the woman she loved. “I either want to hit something or cry when I get emotional. If that’s a problem, we…”

Casey swallowed the last of Beth sentence, kissing her fiercely. “Mike’s got lousy timing.” Casey grumbled, hearing Mike noisy shout as he entered the house. The ex-agent stressed the point earlier after almost decking him when he snuck into the house with no warning.

“I know. So did you need anything from town? He’s going to the post office and grocery store.” Beth waved at Casey as she left to talk to the handyman.

“Oh Hades!” Beth exclaimed under her breath, borrowing one of Gabrielle’s favorite curses, as Casey walked through her office. “She does that on purpose!” The author was convinced that Casey was trying to drive her crazy. This was the fifth time in just over two hours that the ex-agent had walked through Beth’s office, mumbling one thing or another. Each time she’d stopped to do something, like tying her shoe or bending over to scratch an annoyance. This time she had stopped and stretched her back, arching her body suggestively towards the author. “She’s trying to see how far she can go before I knock her down and kiss her senseless.” That thought sounded so good to the frustrated author (who hadn’t been able to do more than stare at her computer, fantasizing about the ex-agent) that she picked up her staff, twirling it expectantly. Grinning naughtily, she waited, knowing Beth would be back in just a minute.

“I’d hate to be on the receiving end of that. You look positively evil!” Casey laughed from behind, startling the author. The first two trips through Beth’s office had been necessary, busy checking a few details. When she returned the second time, she felt Beth’s burning gaze, following her every move. The other three were merely for fun, teasing the author. And if pressed, the ex-agent would cheerily admit to thoroughly enjoying the half-hidden hot looks that caressed her form.

“Just working off a little energy,” Beth huffed, turning to glare at her laughing friend. Cursing her silently for sneaking in the other entrance and spoiling her plans. “Having trouble writing?” Casey didn’t have the guts to say concentrating. She knew she’d been being a tease. Moving sensually, the ex-agent crossed Beth’s office, sitting with an innocent look on her face. “Maybe I can help?” The ex-agent knew she was walking a fine line, but this was just too good an opportunity to pass up. Briefly Casey wished she was wearing her tight leather skirt, sexily showcasing her toned legs, sure Beth would loose it.

“Some days are like that.” Meaning that writing wasn’t always easy. Beth didn’t trust herself to sit next to Casey. Grinning impishly, she headed back towards her desk, intending to pretend to write and not give Casey the satisfaction of seeing just how much her presence rattled her. The sound of Mike returning saved her. “I better help Mike. He had a lot to pick up today.” A wicked thought occurred. She stretched both arms above her head and groaned, the movements thrusting her breasts in profile. “See you later.” Beth smirked triumphantly, astutely conscious of Casey’s heated gaze on her as she left the room. She couldn’t resist throwing a slight wiggle in either.

“Touché!” Casey grinned wryly, eyes glued to Beth’s gently swaying hips. Fanning her face, Casey moved to the door, watching the author’s enticing movements. With a heart felt sigh, she closed her eyes, then went back to her computer.

It had taken awhile to unpack all the groceries and go through her mail. Then awhile longer to make lunch, wanting it to be a little special since this was their last meal alone until after the stalker was caught. The soft, goofy grin slowly faded when she entered Casey’s office. “Busy?”

“Kind of. What’s up?” Casey looked up distractedly until the computer beeped for attention.

“Never mind. Its nothing important.” Beth disguised her disappointment with a yawn.

“You sure?” Casey looked up again, verifying that Beth was ok.

“Yes. Go back to work” Beth grumbled all the way back to the kitchen. Quickly she filled a tray for the ex-agent and headed back down the hall, knowing that Casey wouldn’t take the time to eat unless forced. Quietly she placed the tray beside her friend, gently rubbing her shoulder before stepping away, the ex-agent’s muted thanks ringing softly in her ears.

Absentmindedly Casey inhaled the food, missing the fact that she had to cut the steak and add sour cream to her potato, noting only that it tasted great. About an hour later she stared guiltily at the tray. It suddenly dawned on her that what she had eaten was not their normal lunch. The ex-agent grabbed the tray and headed for the kitchen. Not finding Beth, she headed for the gym, surprised when she met Beth coming downstairs.

“Hey.” Casey smiled tentatively at the author, relieved when Beth smiled back. “Thanks for lunch. It was great.” She wrapped an arm around Beth’s waist. “Got a minute?”

“You’re welcome. What’s up?” Beth breathed deeply, leaning into her friend, then turned to face her curiously.

“Sorry I messed up your plans.” The food finally registered as she saw the fresh cut flowers on the table; Beth’s intentions suddenly hitting her hard.

“There’s nothing to apologize for.” Beth ran her hands up soft, muscular arms, smiling softly as the skin trembled beneath her touch. Slowly, eyes locked together, each leaned towards the other. Just as there lips touched, the sounds of two slamming doors reached their ears. “Damn. We never get a break!”

“Never,” Beth sighed disappointed. “C’mon, we’d better go meet them.”

“I know.” Quickly Casey stole a kiss before dragging the author after her.

Closing her eyes, Beth leaned back in her chair, quietly thinking. “Well, that was interesting. Phil and John seem nice enough. Both were sure surprised when Casey kept her arm around me the entire time.” That was an understatement.

John’s jaw had dropped before he belatedly realized he lost his composure. Phil had looked questioningly at the pair, then turned his attention back to unloading his equipment. “Wish Casey would relax a little, she’s going to exhaust herself.” The ex-agent had spent most of the afternoon running back and forth between the sunroom and her office, apparently conferring with her associates. Growling noiselessly, Beth turned her thoughts to her unproductive afternoon, berating herself for her lack of mental control. Deciding that a workout was necessary to focus her wandering thoughts on writing, not the bewitching ex-agent, Beth forced her eyes open, jumping a little at how close Casey was. “Hi,” the author spoke softly, not able to keep the smile from spreading across her face.

“Hi yourself.” Casey was kneeling beside the author’s chair. “You ok?” The ex-agent watched Beth before approaching, not wanting to interrupt if she was engrossed in her writing.

“Yeah. How’s it going in the other room?” Beth inquired, having not seen the ex-agent for some time.

“Phil’s running a diagnostic check now and John is poking around outside. Stand up a second..” Fluidity Casey rose and took the computer out of the author’s hands. Beth raised a questioning eyebrow, but did as asked. The ex-agent winked, then slid behind the author, taking the author with her when she sat.

As Casey’s strong arms settled around her waist, Beth leaned back, wrapping one arm around the ex-agent’s shoulders. “Everything ok?” Beth was concerned. Casey had kept her touches casual since she associates arrived, a hand on the arm or an arm around the waist.

“Everything’s fine. I’m going to be busy for the next couple of hours and I wanted to spend a little time with you first.

That ok?” The ex-agent left out that she needed to ground herself before reading the reports that were currently being decoded. That she needed the author’s scent, the feeling of her in her arms while learning the possible identity of Beth’s stalker.

“Anytime, I promise.” Beth felt the tension in the warm body beneath her. The author pressed her face into Casey’s neck, breathing deeply, contented. Gradually the tension dissipated, both women wrapped in a cocoon of warmth and security.

Reluctantly Casey tightened her arms and kissed the side of Beth’s head. The files would be decoded in a minute. “Sweetheart, I’ve got to go.”

Beth heard the regret and tightened her hold momentarily, then kissed Casey’s neck before sitting up straight. “I think I’m gonna practice for awhile, then I’ll come back up here.” She didn’t want Casey to worry if she wasn’t in the sunroom if she needed her.

“Ok. John will probably wander down that way before long.” Casey rose, cradling the author in her arms. “C’mon Casey. Move! Let her go.” Said to her wayward limbs that were still comfortably attached to the author. Slowly the ex-agent lowered Beth to the floor. “Have a good workout.”

“I will. See you later.” Beth found that she didn’t have the strength to make herself move out of the ex-agent’s arms.

“See you later.” Casey echoed, stealing a quick kiss. Reluctantly both women stepped back and headed their separate ways.

Casey nodded at Phil before sighing wearily, sitting down to scan the documents. About an hour later, she looked up fighting to maintain her professional mask. The search had narrowed down to one of two sisters and two probable locations to investigate. Making sure they hadn’t made a mistake in following the evidence and then re-reading the reports took longer than she’d thought. Forcing her anger at this woman down, Casey picked up the phone and called her two field investigators while sending them the necessary data to get them started. Usually she investigated in cases she was personally involved in, but in this instance, she was to far away; “I really don’t think its going to be that easy.” Casey addressed Phil, watching as he double checked his program. “I bet she either calls tonight instead of visiting.” The ex-agent had revised her earlier assumption upon reading the actual background information. Both women were more timid in public that she thought; both needed to hide behind the safety of the technology they deemed inappropriate for women. “I’m going to go find Beth if you need me.”

“We’ll be ready for her when she does. Just checking now.” Phil nodded before turning his attention to the computer.

Absorbed in his work, he didn’t hear his friend leave the office.

The loud crack of wood hitting wood reached Casey as she reached the steps leading to the basement. Quietly descending the stairs, the ex-agent hesitated upon reaching the bottom step. Beth and John were totally focused on each other in the serious contest. John had tied his light brown shoulder length hair back with a leather tie and removed his red hooded sweatshirt, leaving him clad in his trademark tight black jeans and a white tee shirt. His black leather boots were sitting neatly beside the folded sweatshirt, showing his preference to fight with bare feet.

Two steps into the room, Casey froze, watching John launch into a series of complicated, high power moves. With her heart thumping painfully, the ex-agent watcher her author skillfully deflect the blows, then reach inside herself and hurl her own attacks. Given their physical differences (John was five inches taller and about forty pounds heavier), they were evenly matched. The two skilled opponents battled back and forth, until one of them mis-stepped
and both staffs rammed painfully in the other’s side. Grunting with pain and exhaustion, both fell to their knees, staring respectfully at the other. “That’s enough!” Casey called out, afraid for Beth. “I didn’t bring you up here to kill her, John!” Blue eyes flashed dangerously at her occasional employee. Given the nature of the cases her firm handled, the tracker/weapons expert was needed infrequently.

“My fault,” Beth breathed deeply, catching her breath. “I slipped on that last block.”

“Not at all. I mis-stepped too,” John grinned at Beth. “You’re one hell of a staff wielder.” He turned and looked at Casey, noting the worry and concern in her expression, then smoothly rose to his feet. “I’m going to get some rest. I’ll be up and ready as we discussed.”

“See you then.” Casey dismissed him, frowning at his departing form. “And you,” she added, facing her still kneeling author. “Are you alright?” Without waiting for a reply, scooped up Beth as she tried to stand. “What am I gonna do with you? Take it easy for me, please?”

“I’m fine. I’ve been hit worse than that.” “Whoops! Wrong thing to say, big mouth!” Beth fretted silently as Casey’s frown deepened, stalking into the back room and deposited her on the bed.

“Let me see.” Casey pushed up Beth’s sweaty shirt, fingers gently probing the suddenly shaking flesh. “I knew it! I’m gonna kill him. He knows…”

Warm lips smothered the ex-agent’s words, making the author’s reaction to her touch known. “I’m fine. Really.”

Beth kissed Casey again, fingers finding a home in the dark hair of the ex-agent. “So, why were you looking for me?”

“We need to talk. Did you want to get cleaned up first?” Casey offered, knowing that Beth usually showered after every workout.

“Just let me splash some water on my face and change this shirt.” Beth took the offered hand and was pulled to her feet. “What’s up?” The author returned momentarily.

“Not here. Let’s go upstairs.”

“That bad, huh?” Beth was getting scared.

“No, not really.” Casey cursed herself for frightening Beth. “Don’t worry,” a strong arm wrapped around the author’s waist, gently steering them towards the kitchen and then the sunroom.

“What’s wrong?” Beth asked a few minutes after they’d reached the sunroom. As soon as she seated Beth, Casey started pacing.

“Remember when I told you that we’d get the first reports in this morning? The ones tracing the payments of Pete and the location of the call?” At Beth’s nod she continued, taking the offered hand and sitting beside the author.

“Both the payments and phone call originated in a small suburb of DC. The payments were made from the stalker’s great grandmother’s bank account. The account is still active, apparently for the co-executers of the will to pay her last bills. The phone call came from a shared cell phone. Your stalker shares a phone with her sister. I pulled the records for calls coming to and from that phone number for the last four months. All but one call came from that phone and were dialed from the same area. The other from a phone booth in DC. I did a background search on both sisters, one fits the profile more than the other, but I don’t want to take any chances. Now Phil’s digging deeper, seeing if he can come up with something I missed. Two of my associates are checking the sisters out in person, hoping to shake something or someone loose.” Casey stared at the author concerned. Beth had remained still during the report and was now gazing blankly at the floor. “Beth? Sweetheart?” Beth’s eyes remained unfocused on the floor. “You’re scaring me. You are safe. She won’t get close enough to touch you, I promise.” Casey had purposefully left out the details, not wanting to worry Beth with how sophisticated the equipment the stalker used was or that she had a high tech scrambler on her cell phone.

“What about you? I couldn’t stand it if something happened to you.”

Said so softly that the ex-agent barely heard it. “I’ve dealt with far worse than she could ever hope to be. Don’t worry, I can handle her.”

“And that’s supposed to make me feel better?” Beth shouted, jumping to her feet, ignoring the confident tone of the ex-agent. “That you can ‘handle her’? What if she…”

“Its ok.” Casey followed Beth and enveloped the author in a tight hug. “I promise you that everything will work out.

Just relax.” Casey waited for Beth to calm down, rubbing her back soothingly. “I love you.” Whispered in the author’s ear.

“I love you too.” Beth hugged Casey tightly, then pulled back so she could see the ex-agent’s face. “Sorry. Don’t know where that came from.”

“Don’t apologize. You can tell me, talk to me about anything.” Casey traced a finger down the smooth curve of Beth’s cheek, smiling softly. “Why don’t you go upstairs, take a nice long bath and relax. It will make you feel better.”

“Can’t. I’m getting hungry. Like spaghetti and meatballs?” Beth couldn’t help but smile at Casey’s attempt to make her feel better.

“You aren’t going to cook! That’s not open for discussion.” Casey changed her argument noticing author’s fading smile. “I can do a few other things other than pancakes and salad. I’ll make something and bring it up for us. Deal?”

“Like what, stupid!” Casey mocked herself, hiding her worried look. “Please? For me?” She added, seeing that Beth was going to protest.

“For you.” Beth gave in, thinking she couldn’t refuse, not when Casey put it that way.

“I’ll be up in about an hour. Go relax.” Casey leaned forward, brushing her lips across Beth’s forehead. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I suppose it would be useless to try and convince you to join me? I figured.” Beth answered herself, a smile taking the sting out of her words, having learned that lesson earlier.

“I wish I could.” Casey answered truthfully, walking with Beth towards the stairs. She watched the author walk up the stairs before heading to check on things with Phil.

Beth quietly shut the door to her bedroom, sighing softly. Deciding she didn’t want to take a long bath, the author opted for a quick shower and a fresh set of clothes. Fully dressed once more, she reclined on her bed, thinking. A soft, gentle smile graced her features as she thought about the ex-agent, her “Agent 99.” She couldn’t choke back a giggle. Then her thoughts turned serious. Being honest with herself, she admitted that at first she was attracted to Casey because of her looks. She reminded the author of the Warrior Princess. And as they got to know each other, Beth acknowledged that the similarities between Xena and the ex-agent were more than skin deep. Both women were experts in their chosen fields, excellent fighters and very protective of those they cared about. Both were courageous and caring, sacrificing their own needs for others. Beth frowned. Both were also stubborn, pig-headed, had hell’s own (or Hade’s own in Xena’s case) tempers, and yelled when angry or scared.

“Am I like Gabrielle?” Beth turned to consider herself. “Both of us are storytellers, writers of tales. Both of us have an almost overwhelming need to express our emotions. Both of us fight to protect ourselves and those we care about, but don’t want to kill. Both of us love women with a past.” Beth sighed, deciding not to go into their shared negative traits. “After all, there are so few of them.” She smirked, laughing at herself.

So,” Beth continued to think, mind churning. “Am I in love with a woman from the past? Is our relationship based on the past or things I feel for Casey?” This was one of the author’s unvoiced biggest fears, that she would discover that she was in love with a long dead woman, not an alive, breathing woman. Not sure how she could really discover this, Beth closed her eyes. Her vivid imagination painted a picture of the Warrior Princess, straight from her dreams.

Standing tall and proud, in gleaming brown leathers and brass armor, the sunlight highlighting her features, yet casting her in muted shadows, Beth scrutinized the impressive form. Then her mind flashed to Casey, seeing her in various situations. Seeing her working out. Seeing the funny way her forehead bunched up when she concentrated.

Seeing her pace back and forth in worry. Seeing her dazzling smile and sparkling eyes as she heard something funny.

Seeing her sincere, loving face in the flickering candlelight. Seeing her sleepy face as they woke up in each other’s arms.

“Now be honest with yourself,” Beth admonished herself. “How do you feel about both? What would you do it Xena walked through the door? Who would you choose?” Immediately she had her answer. Without a doubt, she chose Casey, her “Agent 99”. The woman who’s voice caused her heart to pound, who’s smile brightened her day, who’s laugh pulled her out of whatever dark place she was in. The woman who, she was rapidly discovering, she couldn’t live without. The woman she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. The woman who aggravated, annoyed, worried, excited, loved her.

“Yes, the Warrior Princess and her bard were and are important to me,” thought the author. They had been her companions since adolescence. Through their loving, yet at times rocky relationship, they taught the author about life, love and herself. About how important it was to honor, trust and stand by the ones you love (a lesson her parents never taught the author). About how she could be whatever she wanted; the only person she had to answer to, to worry about making proud, was herself. At times, such as now, the author wondered about the similarities, physical and mental, between herself and Gabrielle. Which now included Xena and Casey. Coincidence? Descendant? Past lives? “Enough!” Beth admonished herself, head starting to hurt. Closing her eyes, she pictured her “Agent 99,” giggling.

“What’s so funny?” Casey eased around the door, hands full, smiling.

“Just thinking. What smells good?” Beth got up and joined the ex-agent at the table. “I thought you couldn’t cook?”

“I can’t.” Casey looked at the pasta and chicken mixture, grinning ruefully. “Phil took pity on you and made this while I watched the equipment.” She wasn’t about to tell Beth that Phil had taken one smell and banished her to the other room.

“That was sweet of him.” Beth took a bite, reaching hastily for her water. “Wow, this is spicy!”

“I should have warned you.” Casey smiled apologetically. “So what were you laughing at?”

Hiding a grin, Beth looked at Casey. “Oh nothing special, Agent 99.”

“What?” Casey choked, coughing into her napkin. “Did you call me Agent 99??” Casey was sure she hadn’t heard correctly.

“Yup. Got a problem with that?” Beth looked at Casey teasingly. “99 was always saving the day and Max’s butt.”

“I know, but really Beth!” Casey didn’t know whether to laugh or not.

“If it bothers you, I won’t call you that any more.” Beth started being upset with herself. All she had meant to do was tease the ex-agent, not insult her or her skills.

“Its ok. I was just surprised.” Casey stole a piece of bread off Beth’s plate and tossed it at her, trying to make her smile. “If I’m 99, does that mean you’re Max? Always getting into trouble and needing saving?”

“Mmmm. Not in the past, but I’ll see what I can do. Just to make you feel better, 99.” Beth tried to look innocent, but wasn’t successful.

“Don’t. Please.” Casey was serious. The situation they were in now was driving her crazy with worry.

“Actually I was thinking about you.” Beth changed the subject, talking between inhaling her food.

“Good thoughts, I hope?” Casey split the last of the French bread in two, handing half to Beth.

“Yeah, they were good thoughts.” Beth’s voice was husky. She glanced at her watch. “We’ve got a little time before we need to go downstairs. Wanna snuggle?” Beth tried to keep the hopeful tone out of her voice.

“I’d like to, but…sure. Best offer I’ve had all day.” Casey changed her answer, seeing the light slightly fade in Beth’s eyes. Quickly she consumed the rest of her meal, not tasting the spices at all. “I know you don’t understand why I insist on waiting. Believe me Beth,” bright, serious blue eyes strove to convey the sincerity and truth behind her words. “I don’t want to. But I can’t, not now. It would kill me if anything happened to you that I could have prevented, if I’d been paying closer attention.”

“I know. Excuse me for a second.” Beth managed a smile for her friend, but she knew it was a weak one. Closing the door behind her, Beth sagged against it. “Knowing how you feel doesn’t make it any easier to live with it.” The author whispered, blinking back a solitary tear. “Get it together, Beth.” She told herself sternly. “She just needs to know you’re safe. You’re not a hormonal teenager anymore! Stop acting like one!” Gathering her scattered emotions, Beth washed her face quickly and opened the door. “All finished? Maybe we should head downstairs to…what’s wrong?”

Beth hurried to Casey’s side, feeling her heart quiver at her friend’s hastily hidden snuffle. “Casey?”

“All I seem to do is hurt you. If I’m not yelling at you or telling you what to do, then I’m pushing you away. Telling you ‘later’. Or not telling you the whole story.” Casey tried to push away from Beth, but found herself locked in strong arms.

“Look at me.” Beth’s tone was commandingly low. Only when Casey complied, did she continue. “I love you! I haven’t been the most communicative person either. Look,” slowly she released one hand and brushed her fingers along Casey’s cheek, palm cradling her chin. “I do understand why you want to wait and why you’ve been yelling.

Just because I understand, that doesn’t make me want or need you any less. There’s never been anyone in my life that I’ve cared about like I care about you. This is new for me too. When we’re BOTH ready will be soon enough for me.”

“I love you too.” Casey turned her head and kissed Beth’s palm. “As soon as the stalker is caught, its just going to be you and me. No interruptions. No phone calls. No visitors. Just you,” she lightly kissed Beth. “And me. I promise you.”

“Don’t you think we should head downstairs?” It was only 7:30, but Beth didn’t want to put any pressure on Casey.

“In a few minutes. Right now I need to hold you.” Casey buried her head in Beth’s strawberry blond hair, losing herself in the silky texture and slightly sweet smell that was uniquely the author.

The sound of the door shutting down the hall drew the women out of the sensual spell they were under. Groaning softly, Casey reluctantly let Beth go. “I guess its time.”

“Ok. Let me grab the dishes first. I don’t think I can sleep with that smell.” Laughing, they piled their plates on the tray and Casey picked it up. “Before I came upstairs, I received confirmation that both sisters are under surveillance.

If she calls tonight, we’ll have her, baring unforeseen complications.”

“So which one do you think it is?” Beth was curious. “You didn’t say much about either of them.”

“I did that for a reason. Not to keep you in the dark.” Hurriedly the ex-agent continued, not giving Beth time to respond. “I figured it would be easier for you to keep her on the phone if you didn’t know too much about her. When she calls, we need to keep her on the line as long as possible. The longer the call, the faster the trace will be, because it will be done while you’re talking. Not tracing the signal back through busy relay stations after the fact.” Casey chanced a look at Beth, trying to gauge her silence.

“Its hard, you know? I have no idea why this woman is fixated on me. It seems to me that there are other women which would be better targets.” Beth took a breath. “I’ll try to keep her on the phone as long as possible.”

“Sweetheart, you’ll do great. There is no reason to be scared, I’ll be right there beside you.” Casey draped an arm over Beth’s shoulders. “If I were her, I have picked you too. You’re smart, funny, gorgeous,” she tickled Beth’s ribs.

“And you can cook too!”

“Keep it up 99 and you’ll be sleeping in the hall tonight.” Beth threatened, not realizing that Phil was behind them.

“99? That’s a cute name Casey!” Phil teased, stepping back to avoid Casey’s glare.

“I think it fits her Phil. Don’t you?”

“I think its sweet.”

“Cut it out you two!” Casey growled, motioning for Phil to enter the office first. “Everything already?”

“Just waiting for the call.” Phil’s voice was serious, all professional. Until he cracked, “99!” and fell over laughing.

“Yeah, yeah. Laugh while you can. Paychecks haven’t been signed yet this month.” Casey threatened, sitting beside Beth on the sofa.

“You big meanie!” Beth poked Casey, then moved what she deemed an appropriate distance away. A gentle tug pulled her back to the ex-agent’s side. “So Phil, is it always this boring?” The author asked after about five minutes of silence.

During the silence, she’d concentrated on covertly studying Phil. He was about her height and build, small for a guy.

Deep brown curly hair covered his head. Intelligent brown eyes were hidden behind his gunmetal gray glasses. Like Casey, his dress was casual, jeans and a faded FBI sweatshirt. Seeing him for the first time, the author never would have guessed he was a “computer nerd” (his term when Casey introduced them) and certainly not an ex-FBI agent.

Beth thought he looked like her high school English teacher.

“Yeah, once everything is set up. Nothing to do but wait. Usually we play cards or something.” Phil looked hopefully at Casey.

“Not on your life, Phil.” Casey didn’t even look up from the report she was reading. “Beth doesn’t need any help being corrupted. You…” The phone ringing interrupted her. “Take a deep breath and answer it Beth. I’m right here.” Casey set the report down and took Beth’s hand, lacing their fingers together.

“Hello?” Beth asked nervously. Then she sighed, shaking her head at Casey. “I can’t talk now. I’ll call you tomorrow.” A pause. “Why?” Casey could see the wheels spinning rapidly in Beth’s eyes. “I’m having a party. I’ll talk to you later sister.” Beth hung up the phone, aggravated. “You’d think I’d never had a party before, the way she was carrying on.” Beth stomped around the room, purposefully not looking at Casey and Phil’s laughing faces. A deep voice from the door startled her.

“Problems?” John entered the room, casting a curious glance at the pacing woman and the relaxed postures of his associates.

“Yeah, if you think my lack of a social life is a problem!” Beth continued to stomp. Then a thought occurred. “Give me that phone.” Said to Phil, who tossed her the secure cell phone. Quickly she punched in her parents number, for once thankful when her mother answered. Quickly she told her she was having a little party and not to believe her sister’s exaggerations. Then she swiftly hung up, sighting the arrival of her first guest. “Not a word!” The author barked at the silently shaking ex-agent and the laughing Phil. John remained silent, confused.

The phone rang as soon as Beth sat back down. After a nod from Casey, the author answered the phone. “Hello?”

“So nice of you to be home Beth.” The author shivered at the hatred in the voice, nodding positively at Casey who was now listening to the conversation through a set of headphones. “Have you decided to stop writing the sequel to ‘Warrior Woman’ yet?”

“Convince me that I shouldn’t, without using threats.” Beth didn’t know where she found her voice, but she was surprised that it remained almost steady.

“Good! You’re afraid of me.” The stalker heard the note of fear in her voice. “You write about things that never possibly happened! You give people the wrong idea. That women are as strong as men. As capable as me. That’s just not true.”

“If its not possible, then why are you so upset? You didn’t have to read my book.” Beth’s voice rose, getting a little excited. The large hand stroking her arm calmed her.

“That’s not the point!” The stalker was now screaming. “I’m going to make you beg and plead with me to stop. I’m going to cut you so many times that you’ll be begging me to kill you. I’m gonna watch the blood slowly drain out of your body, your skin slowly loose its color, feel your muscles start to harden, enjoying every minute of it.” The heavy breathing another sign of the stalker’s loss of control.

This time it was Beth who comforted Casey, leaning in to her, forcing her to wrap one arm around her shoulder. The ex-agent had told Beth earlier that the stalker was mostly all talk. She’d never have the courage to go through exactly with her threats. “This is your last chance. Stop writing ‘Warrior 2’ and I’ll leave you alone. If not, prepare to die.”

The stalker hung up.

“Got her!” Phil yelled excitedly, breaking the silence. “Letting the guys know right now.”

“You ok?” Surprised, Casey looked at Beth.

“Fine. How about you?” Casey lied, tossing the headphones on the table and drew the author into a tight hug.

“Never better.” Beth mumbled, safe in Casey’s embrace.

“Which one?” Casey asked Phil over Beth’s head.

“The younger one, Sherry.” Rising, Phil pulled out his wallet and slapped a five dollar bill on the table. “One of these days I’m going to learn to not bet against you.”

“Nah, you’ll never be able to pass up a challenge.” Casey grinned, trying rein in her growing happiness, reminding herself this wasn’t over until Sherry was in custody.

“You guys were betting on who the stalker was?” Beth didn’t know whether to be mad or not. The regretful look on Casey’s face changed her mind. “I’m glad you didn’t ask me, since you were only betting for money. Now,” she slapped Casey lightly. “If you were betting for pizza or chocolate, I’d be mad!”

“Come on. Lets go in the other room.” Casey rose and met John’s eye. Nodding, he left the room. He would stand guard until the others reported back that Sherry was in custody and that she’d had no accomplices.

“As soon as I hear anything, I’ll let you know!” Phil addressed their backs with a smile.

“You’re not mad are you?” Casey settled back, encouraging Beth to rest her head on her shoulder. “We usually bet on the identity of the guilty party. I didn’t know how to refuse his bet in this case. I….”

“Its ok Casey. Really it is. When you bet for something interesting, let me know.” Beth blinked, fighting her fatigue, exhausted from her workouts, both physical and mental.

“Close your eyes. I’ll wake you when we know something.” Casey stroked Beth’s hair reassuringly.

“Don’t want to.” Beth fought a yawn and lost. “But I don’t think I have any choice.” She yawned again, closing her eyes. Within minutes, the calm breathing of her friend lulled Beth to sleep.

Beth awoke sometime later as Casey was putting her in bed. “What happened 99?” Beth asked sleepily, struggling to focus on the ex-agent.

“I couldn’t wake you up downstairs. I’ve got to go.” Casey fussed with the blankets, pulling them up around Beth’s chin, smiling in spite of herself at the nickname.

“Stop that!” Beth pushed her hands away, sitting up. “What do you mean you have to go?”

“Sherry and my associates are sitting in the police station, waiting for me to bring the evidence in. Seems that an off-duty police office just happened to be running in the park where they cornered Sherry. There was a brief altercation between them and the office pulled them all in for questioning.” Casey couldn’t make herself meet Beth’s eyes, not sure what she’d see. “I know I promised you that as soon as she was caught we’d be together. I’m more sorry than you can know that I can’t keep that promise.” No excuses, she told herself sternly, taking the full blame for the break of her promise.

“You were just going to sneak out and not tell me you were leaving?” Beth was crushed and reacted without thinking.

“I thought you cared more than that. Guess I was wrong.” Beth tried to push Casey away.

“I wasn’t going to leave without telling you. I just didn’t want to have this conversation in front of Phil and John.”

Casey refused to let Beth go. “It would take a lot more than this to get me to leave without telling you first.” Then, very quietly. “I do love you.”

“So when will you be back?” Beth gave in, knowing there wasn’t anything Casey could do about the situation. Also admitting to herself that they wouldn’t have done anything tonight anyway. That they’d wait until they were alone.

“I need a favor. Will you meet me at my house tomorrow afternoon?” Casey brushed the hair out of Beth’s eyes, elated that those eyes reflected love.

“I can do that. What time?” Beth tried to be positive, not letting on how much this separation was going to hurt.

“3:00pm sharp. John and Phil will accompany you to my house. If you arrive before 3:00, please go over to Mrs. A’s.”

Casey tried to gauge Beth’s reactions, but her face was now blank. “I know we haven’t talked about it, but if you want, bring enough stuff to say awhile. If you want.” Casey finished shyly.

Beth sat there stunned, wondering if she’d heard right. “You want me to stay?” Casey nodded and smiled hesitantly.

“Of course I want!” Beth hugged Casey tightly.

The ex-agent sighed in relief, thinking gratefully. “That went much better than you had any right of expecting!” “I know this wasn’t what you were expecting. But I promise you I’ll make it up to you.” Casey frowned, suddenly realizing how often she said that to Beth.

“I’ll hold you to that, 99.” Beth leaned forward, capturing the ex-agent’s lips passionately. “3:00pm tomorrow, right?” Beth breathed huskily, forehead resting against Casey’s.

“Right. Don’t forget to bring your writing stuff. I don’t plan on letting you out of my sight for a long time.” Casey closed her eyes, willing strength to her kiss weakened limbs.

A thousand questions and insecurities ran through the author’s head. Forcing them into the background, she answered the implied question. “I’ll be there with bells on.”

“I’ve got to go.” Casey met Beth’s gaze. “I love you.”

“I love you too.” Beth returned the stare, wattage for wattage. “See you tomorrow at 3:00pm ,99.”

“See you then, my love.” Reluctantly Casey rose and released Beth’s hands. Smiling softly, she left the speechless author and headed out into the night.

“She called me ‘my love’!” Beth sighed happily once she found her voice. Grinning foolishly, the author laid back down and tried to sleep.

“Well, this has been an interesting day.” Beth mused, glancing over at the slumbering Phil and then the clock…1:45pm. Excited, she’d gotten up fairly early and flown through her usual workout, a little surprised when John hadn’t joined her. Phil had explained over breakfast, telling her that Casey called around 2:30am, letting them know that Sherry worked alone. Phil also shyly told her that he was making some improvements to her security system. Packing took some thought. Although Casey had said she wanted her to stay, Beth wasn’t exactly sure what she meant. So the author had packed for a extended vacation, including all of her favorites. And he’d brought her staff and computer, non-vacation items. Thanks to Phil, she could now safely exchange data with her home computer from her laptop and made it virtually impossible for someone to break into her system without leaving an electronic trail. She’d ridden the first part of the trip with John, then changed vehicles when she sensed him getting tired of her
constant noise. Phil had insisted on driving until they were about an hour from Casey’s house, announcing that it was Casey’s orders.

Swallowing nervously, Beth glanced at the clock…2:25pm. “Almost time, Beth. Are you ready for this?” For the first time since waking up, Beth allowed her thoughts to center on what was going to happen or what she thought was going to happen in just a little while. Mental images of Casey flew through her mind, causing a sexy smile to grace her features.

Then a look at the clock….2:38pm. A sudden apprehension swept through the author, causing her to shake slightly.

Not sure why she was nervous, she unconsciously slowed down, thinking about everything that could go wrong. Then she slapped herself mentally, hanging onto the two thoughts she was sure of: that she loved Casey and that she wanted to be with her.

Another look at the clock…2:49pm. Beth turned onto Casey’s street, eyes narrowing in confusion when John pulled over a few blocks from the ex-agent’s house. Frowning she pulled behind him and looked to the now awake Phil for an answer.

“Casey wanted me to give you this.” He handed her a remote, glancing at the clock. “When you get there, go ahead and park in the garage. She wanted me to tell you to follow the note on the door.” Phil grinned at her blush. “Until she met you, I’ve never seen her be so…I don’t know. Open and happy. Casey’s a good friend, even if she won’t admit it.

Take care of her. And yourself. If you ever need anything, call.” Phil opened the door. “We’ll follow you just to make sure you get there safe.”

“Casey’s orders” they both laughed in unison.

“Thanks Phil. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you.” Beth smiled, waiting for Phil to get into the other vehicle. She waved as she pulled into the driveway, hitting the remote to open the door.

2:59pm…Beth inhaled deeply, driving into the garage. Gathering her nerves, she got out with shaky knees and opened the note on the door.

Beth,

I love you and missed you something fierce last night. Please come in and follow the lights.

Casey

“Short and to the point, just like you 99.” Beth lovingly folded the paper and put it in her pocket, planning on keeping it. Taking a deep breath, Beth pushed the door open and entered, shutting the door firmly behind her.

Beth propelled her shaking legs down the stairs, heading into a part of the house she’d never visited before. Following the soft lights, Beth glanced around curiously, then fixed her eyes on the semi shut door at the end of the room. And the barest hint of light escaping through the opening. The gentle sounds of Kenny G and the sweet smell of flowers teased Beth’s senses, causing her steps to falter for a minute, then resume. A small hand cautiously pushed the door open.

Stepping into the room, Beth was halted by sultry tones of Casey’s voice.

“Close your eyes, Sweetheart.” Trembling, Beth complied, trying to place the location of the ex-agent by hearing alone.

“I missed you.” Whispered into the shaking author’s ear as Casey settled a silk blindfold over Beth’s eyes. “Do you trust me?”

“Yesss.” Beth stammered, her body quivering, reacting to the seductive tones and heated breath on her skin.

Misunderstanding, Casey asked again, very serious. “Is this ok?” She fingered the blindfold. “We can leave it off if its not.”

“I trust you.” Beth made sure her voice was even and carried not a hint of hesitation. Somewhere, deep in side, she found the strength to make her body stop shaking.

“Thank you.” Warm lips grazed Beth’s ear, inspiring a wave of desire to flood the author’s senses. “Did you bring a phone?” Breathed teasingly into her other ear. All the author could do was nod no. “Good.” Beth felt Casey move away but returned almost instantly.

“Give me your hands.” Beth held her hands out in the direction of Casey’s voice. “You have beautiful hands. Strong yet gentle.” The ex-agent ran her own hands lovingly over Beth’s. “Firm yet soft.” Casey’s tongue replaced her hands, carefully tracing each, gently sucking on each finger. Beth whimpered, locked her knees and tired to ignore her growing desire to touch Casey.

Holding onto Beth’s hands, Casey stepped backwards. “Come with me.” Said so huskily that Beth had to swallow several times before she could force her legs to move. “Stop.” Abruptly Beth stopped, thoroughly aroused by the slowly unfolding game. “Now,” Casey returned to torture Beth’s ear. “Take off your clothes.”

“What?” Beth wasn’t sure she heard correctly, fingers itching to touch any part of the ex-agent’s smooth, silky skin.

“When you hear the door shut, pull off the blindfold. Then take your clothes off. There’s something here for you to put on.” Casey switched ears, nibbling delicately. “Then put the blindfold on and open the door.”

“Not unless you kiss me first.” Beth shivered, convinced she was dying…from eagerness. Her heart was pounding so hard in anticipation, she was sure it would burst.

“When you’ve changed..” Casey turned to go, voice low and gravelly, struggling to keep her own desires in check.

“Please?” Beth’s voice quivered, needing to feel Casey against her. Needing some reassurance despite her earlier confidence.

Casey’s heart lurched at that single word. Wordlessly she took Beth’s hands, kissed the palms of each, then laced their fingers together, unable to deny Beth’s request. Holding their joined hands away from her body, Casey leaned forward, lightly grazing Beth’s lips with her own. She pulled back feeling and seeing the tension running through Beth’s body. “I love you.” Casey teased Beth with her lips, tracing the outline of her mouth, softly nibbling on her bottom lip, sighing when Beth’s lips parted in invitation. “So sweet,” she groaned huskily, finally seizing the author’s mouth in a searing kiss.

“I love you too. Now get out of here so I can change.” Beth gasped, fighting for breath. She wanted nothing more than to rip off her blindfold and take the ex-agent right now.

“Don’t take to long.” Casey whispered. Breathing rapidly, she closed the door, moving swiftly to begin the last stage of her plan.

Tearing off the blindfold, Beth briefly glanced at her surroundings. “Hmm, nice bathroom.” Curious green eyes flickered over the room as she hurriedly undressed, taking in the large whirlpool tub and the bright tiled floor in the colors of a sunset. The same colors painted the walls in varying degrees, making Beth feel like she was standing in the middle of a glorious sunset. Seeing the towel and toiletries resting on the counter, Beth took the opportunity to clean up a little. Finally she turned to consider the robe hanging on the door. “Wow,” Beth fingered the silk robe delicately.

“So soft. Its beautiful.” Slipping it on, the smooth silky texture cooling her heated skin, the author studied herself in the mirror. “Well Beth, this is it.” Grinning anxiously, Beth fingered the matching blindfold. “I do trust you” the author whispered. Replacing the blindfold, she reached for the door. Taking a deep calming breath, she pulled it open, more than ready to start this latest chapter in her life.

“Calm down Casey.” She admonished herself, pacing in front of the bathroom door. The ex-agent had spent most of the morning finding the necessary items for tonight. Then she threw herself into a cleaning frenzy, wanting everything to be just perfect. “Breath, Casey, breath.” She tried to calm her rising nerves. “What’s she doing in there?

Taking a bath?” The pacing reached a frantic level. Just as she was about to knock on the door and find out if everything was ok, the door opened.

“God.” Casey stopped, frozen in place by the lovely vision. The soft light flickered over the silk clad form, casting delicate shadows. “Good choice,” Casey managed to choke to herself. The deep green brought out the natural highlights in Beth’s hair and the even tones of her skin.

“Casey?” Beth’s voice broke through the ex-agent’s trance.

“Join me.” Casey finally found her voice, moving into the author’s space. “You look incredible. Come and join me.” Meaning more than now. “Be with me.” Meaning forever.

“I need to see you.” Beth whispered, fighting the urge to cry. She had no idea a person could feel this way. As if her life depended on seeing her chosen partner. Beth knew, before she left this morning, that she wanted forever.

“Please. Join me, be with me.” Casey pleaded, suddenly insecure. Needing an answer before she could continue.

“Always.” Beth promised, holding out her hands, hearing and understanding the unspoken pleas.

Taking them gratefully, Casey led Beth into the center of the room. Releasing Beth’s hands, Casey stood nervously in front of the author. “You can take off the blindfold now.”

Later, Beth would remember the room. Soft lights accenting the muted greens. The sweet smell of fresh flowers that waffled tantalizingly in the gentle breeze. The incredibly sensual tones of the saxophone that throbbed in time with her pulsing heart. The heat that started in the pit of her stomach and radiated out as her body reacted to the erotic setting.

But right now, Beth could only see Casey, standing tall and magnificent in her midnight blue robe. The jet black hair she loved to sink her fingers in settled gently over her silk clad shoulders. The sparkling blue eyes she could get lost in….the noble nose the twitched when the ex-agent laughed…the soft, full lips that she loved to taste. “Beautiful.”

“What?” Casey was sure she misheard the barely uttered word. Knowing that possibly couldn’t have been what the author said.

“You are so beautiful.” Beth took a step forward, eyes daring the ex-agent to protest. “You are without a doubt the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” The author inched forward, eyes locked on smoky blue. “You are the one,” her voice husky and low. “I want,” the author was now in touching range. “I need,” barely trembling hands touched the smooth skin of the shuddering ex-agent’s cheek. “I love,” whispered before warm lips met briefly.

“Please love me.” Casey thought she was going to faint from longing. Each word, each look, brought her closer to the edge.

“Forever.” Beth threw herself at Casey, wrapping her arms around her neck. Nipping her perfect neck, the author sighed contentedly when Casey’s arms encircled her waist, pulling her even closer. Tenderly their lips met, eloquently exchanging promises of love and devotion.

Pulling away slightly, Casey freed a hand to gently trace the features on Beth’s face. “You’re the beautiful one.” The ex-agent’s lips retraced the same lines as her fingers. “I want…” Her lips changed to demanding, taking what was willingly offered. “I need…” Now possessive, claiming the author as her own. “I love…” Her kiss gentled, expressing her heartfelt emotions. “…You.” Casey plunged into shimmering green, feeling the last vestige of her nervousness fade away.

Breaking the hypnotic gaze, Beth flowed behind the ex-agent, fingers trailing up and over the silk covered flesh. Ever so slowly, the author rubbed her palms across her friend’s back, delighting in the slight moan that escaped the ex-agent. “So soft,” Beth exclaimed enchanted, watching her fingers run through the black silk. Brushing her soon to be lover’s hair over her shoulder, the author pushed the collar of the robe to the side, tasting the warm skin underneath.

Swallowing her own groan as Casey shifted and lifted a hand to bury in her hair, holding her close, Beth drew a line of kisses from the back of Casey’s shoulder to her ear.

“God Beth. I need…ohhh.” Casey’s voice ended in a purr, intensity increasing as Beth sucked harder on her earlobe.

The ex-agent’s strength fled when the author’s teeth touched her. Her knees started to buckle when Beth’s finger slipped under the front of her robe, lightly caressing the taunt skin of her abdomen.

“I want to see you.” Beth growled in the pleasurably tortured ear.

“I want you.” Casey spun around in Beth’s arms, crushing her mouth against the author’s. “Now.” Stepping back, she picked the author up, cradling her against her chest and carried her to the bed. All the while concentrating on each step as Beth attacked her neck and ear, nipping and licking the extremely sensitive flesh.

“Beth!” Casey giggled softly when the author reached a ticklish spot and slowly let the author’s legs fall to the floor. “I…I…” The ex-agent sputtered, torn between ripping off the emerald green robe covering the tantalizing author and ravishing said author OR taking her time, experiencing fully each touch, each taste, each moan. “Beth…”

“Off!” Beth took the decision out o the ex-agent’s hands. Sure fingers swiftly untied the silk belt, passion-filled green eyes staring hungrily into sparkling blue. Impatiently the author started to push away the offending covering, stopping abruptly when the soft light danced over tanned skin. Gulping, Beth found herself awash in a raging sea of emotions… passion… fear… love… uncertainty… completeness, battling for the control to force her limbs from their desire frozen state.

“Let me help.” Beth’s chin snapped up with the tender words, eyes drawn to the ex-agent’s expressive face. The love and desire shining from that beautiful face at her…for her, took the author’s breath away. “I love you.” Beth whispered huskily, finding the only coherent words in her grasp.

“I love you too.” Casey took a deep breath and stepped back, dropping the robe slowly to the floor, eyes glued to the author’s face, nervously craving her reactions. It took every ounce of self-control the ex-agent possessed to stand there, experiencing the author’s heated gaze. She had never been willing to open herself up to this type of scrutiny, never ready or more accurately, willing to make this kind of commitment. Standing there, naked and exposed, Casey willing offered herself, body and soul, to the author.

“My god!” Beth dazedly thought, eyes glazing over in awe, recognizing the ex-agent’s intentions. Tentatively, shakily, Beth reached out, lightly skimming the naked form of her lover, leaving a trembling woman in her wake. Up the muscular arms, across and down the rise of her chest, down to her womanly hips, the author explored and examined Casey, replenishing her courage with each feather-light touch.

“Beth?” Casey couldn’t stand not knowing. She desperately needed to hear, to confirm what her eyes and body told her, to hear Beth’s approval. That she liked and accepted the gift being offered….herself. “She’s too quiet. God I’m dying.” Casey thought despairingly, her heart pounding wildly, half in fear, half in desire from the author’s gentle touch. “Beth? Do you…”

“Shh, my love.” Beth placed a silencing finger against Casey’s lips, not feeling the instant relief that flooded the ex-agent’s body with three words. And was unable to contain her groan when those soft lips reverently kissed her flesh.

Casey felt her world spin out of control when Beth stepped back from her. Breathing deeply, the ex-agent’s eyes were riveted on the author’s hands, swallowing convulsively as emerald green cloth peddled on the floor. Her eye’s devoured the author starting at her feet, sweeping up the graceful lines of her powerful legs, lingering at the curly hair covering her center, moving up to examine her full round breasts, finally resting on the author’s flushed face.

Her slightly parted wet lips just begging to be kissed. Her smoky green eyes holding a promise the ex-agent desperately wanted to believe.

“Touch me.” Beth’s command broke the mesmerizing connection between their souls. Beth had never felt so happy, so wanted, so loved as she did standing under Casey’s gaze. She never saw Casey move, one moment the author thought she’d die from wanting, needing the ex-agent’s touch to feeling the ex-agent all over all at once. Thighs pressed together, breasts nestled tightly together, hands buried in each other’s hair holding them together, lips crushed hungrily together.

Casey didn’t know she’d moved. Never realized when she lowered their entwined, heated bodies to the cool sheets.

The only thing she was aware of was the indescribable sensation of her flesh on Beth’s and the feelings of completeness and desire those sensations invoked.

Teasing, learning touches turned into heated, purposeful caresses. Cries and sighs of pleasure grew hoarser, more needful, more passionate. Moving it time, together as one, their body and souls joyfully joined. Panting… crying… pleading…loving… they surged together, sharing their shattering climax together… as one. Together as one, they fell, taking refuge in each other’s arms.

“Mine.” Casey muttered, not realizing she’d spoken aloud, hands gently caressing the sweaty flesh beneath her.

“For as long as you want.” Beth heard the uncertainty in Casey’s voice and reacted instinctively to reassure. Small hands caressed the heated flesh of the ex-agent’s back, attempting to comfort her.

“Always.” Casey blinked back a tear, staring into open, honest eyes. Freeing a hand, the ex-agent brushed the tangle of strawberry blond hair off the author’s forehead. Slowly, delicately, Casey traced the lines of Beth’s face. Gathering her courage to ask a question. Taking Beth’s hand in her own, smiling when Beth laced their fingers together, Casey placed their combined hands over her heart. “Your’s.” Spoken sincerely, firmly, quietly. The simple statement of a fact.

A breathtakingly beautiful smile lit Beth’s face. In answer the author moved their joined hands to her own heart.

“Your’s. For as long as you want.”

“Forever.” The ex-agent promised, sealing her vow with a loving kiss. Which was enthusiastically returned, emotion for emotion, promise for promise. Trailing kisses to Beth’s ear, Casey was stopped by a loud rumble. Pulling back, Casey cocked a raised eyebrow at the blushing author. “You didn’t forget to eat, did you?” Not believing she had to ask the author that question.

“No, I was too nervous to eat.” Beth shyly admitted as her stomach made itself known again.

“Well, c’mon woman! I can’t have you fainting on me.” Casey wiggled her eyebrows teasingly, pulling the author up by her extended hand. Another loud grumble caught them both by surprise.

“Didn’t you eat either, 99?” Beth patted the complaining stomach, grinning mischievously. A robe thrust in her face answered her.

“Put it on author.” Casey mock grumbled. “I can’t concentrate with you looking like that!” The ex-agent shrugged into her own robe, blushing as her stomach complained again.

“Casey?” The serious tone caught the ex-agent off-guard.

“Yes Sweetheart?” Casey wrapped her arms around Beth snugly.

“I love you. Heart and soul.” Beth laid her cheek on Casey’s breast, feeling the strong beat of her heart.

“I love you too, my author. Heart and soul.” Casey rested her head on Beth’s, drawing comfort from their closeness.

The loud rumbling of their stomachs in concert caused both women to laugh. Giggling, they headed for the kitchen, together.
The End

Sereis continues in Ghosts From The Past

**Thanks for reading my first uber.

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