Snap Shots by MJ

photocatsnapshots

Snap Shots
By MJ

Disclaimer: These characters may bare a resemblance to a certain duo (who don’t belong to me) that we all know and love, but that’s all. This is an uber story and the characters are mine.

Language warning: Not often but yes.

Love and sex warning: This story definitely portrays a loving relationship between two women.

Violence Warning: A little, unless you also count a projectile camera and battered door.

Thanks: I would like to thank first of all Garnet for doing a wonderful job in beta reading this story. To Carolyne, for her constant support throughout, and giving me the kick up the backside to continue writing whether she realised or not. And last but no means least Tammy, for all the invaluable information on horses that she gave me and for naming the two horsey characters.

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Part 1
The city streets were alive and with bustling activity. It was still early morning but with Christmas fast approaching, it seemed that shoppers were in a constant buying haze. Searching out the best bargains, purchasing the latest child’s toy before the fad ended and lovable darlings started wining for something else even more expensive.

The air was chilly and the beginnings of a light snowfall began to make its welcome appearance. Out along the rapidly crowding town centre, street marketers were selling novelty Santa hats and such upon cheap foldaway tables. Their voices echoed out along the mass of shoppers drawing them in to purchase their substandard wares. Children would stop, eyes glowing with excitement at the brightly coloured objects arranged on shorter tables, guaranteed to catch their eyes. Pleas for these certain objects would follow, that would either be ignored by impatient mothers, or yielded to by harried ones.

Tess Alexander pulled the collar of her black trench coat up high above her neck, mixing with the dark tresses of her hair. It shielded half her face, causing a striking vision of blackness broken only by two piercing green eyes. At six foot she stood high above most the crowd, and walked with an air of cavalier confidence. To her, none of these irritating people existed, and she made her way through the crowd like they were nothing more than an annoying obstacle. If she bumped into somebody, she would offer no apologies, just carry on her way, intent on her destination. She was not normally so cool and offhanded with people, but with the cold winds and congested streets, she just wanted to get away from all the commotion.

Tess was a photographer and worked in one of the most highly reputable firms in the country. Snap Shots, was based in the centre of the city, which although was a perfect point of situation customer wise, was right in the middle of town, and to Tess that was not good. Being a loner, she hated the exposed feeling it gave, and as an artist, she lived to her renowned temperament of guarded stoicism. That was not to say that she wasn’t an agreeable person, she was just a little less than forth coming with her inter personal skills. She did like people…just in small doses.

It had always been the case; when she was younger she was the school outcast, though it was more out of choice. Photography was her passion and she would happily spend hours working away in the dark room, alone. She would say darkness was her friend, and would do so much as to surround herself in it, wearing nothing but black clothes which she still had a tendency for today.

The crowd seemed to be getting thicker. Tess sped up her gait, only just managing to dodge a woman pushing a large pram with one hand and holding a small child’s hand with the other. Why did it seem like she was the only person walking in her direction and everyone else was going the other, purposely trying to get in her way. Growling quietly to herself she turned a corner on to Main Street, breathing a sight of relief as Snap Shots came into view.

The building was large, the span of three normal size shops and on two levels. It was an old red brick building, with a large black and yellow sign on the front. More or less, it was the main draw of the street. When people would talk of Main Street, they would say ‘you know where the photography studio is’ to which to other person would say ‘oh yes.’

Tess walked even faster towards the building. The snow was beginning to fall faster and the air was slightly colder, she wanted the warmth and familiarity of her work place. A light wind had picked up; blowing the bottom of her trench coat around her black, clothed legs, she was thankful she hadn’t chosen to wear her dress today. Yeah! Tess thought, like I even own one. She chuckled wryly to herself.

As soon as she walked through the door, a wave of comforting heat engulfed her. She closed her eyes, feeling the chill begin to leave her body and smiled, glad to be out of the cold. Breathing in the familiar smell of constantly brewing coffee, she walked into the reception to find it empty. Jason the secretary was not at his usual position behind front desk. It was strange; there was always somebody around reception in the morning. Tess frowned, and wandered further into the building, the sound of distant voices, getting louder the deeper she searched.

She walked through a corridor that leads to many different studios. Family portraits, animals, babies, whatever you wanted taking, Snap Shots could accommodate…well as long as it was within the boundaries of the law.

Nearing the employees’ lounge, she realised that’s where the sounds were coming from, Jason’s obvious camp voice high above the rest. Getting close to the door, she stopped just short of opening it, deciding to have a quick listen first. She frowned as she heard the topic of conversation.

“There is no way on Gods green earth that I am going to tell her” Tess instantly recognised that voice as Kat, one of the photographers. She was a medium size woman with short blonde hair and a pierced nose. “Jason should, she gets on well with him.”

“Oh…I think not girl.” Jason stated, “We may get on, but I am not telling her that…she will throw an artistic fit, besides she is just fine with you and you know it. Stop trying to get out of this, and show some balls for gods sake.”

Tess arched an eyebrow.

“She will throw more than a fit, and too right I am trying to get out of it…so are you, and me show some balls, may I remind you who is supposed to have them in the first place.” Kat stated.

Tess shook her head.

“Well what am I supposed to do…she was requested personally.” That was Robert, the manager. He was a tall, dark skinned man and who as most people described, ‘built like a brick shit house.’ He had the build of a wrestler yet the docility of a pussycat.

“What ever you do…do it when I am not around.” Said Kat. “Why don’t we just get Stan to do it?”

Stan was another photographer.

“Cause he isn’t in today is why…remember?” Jason drawled.

Tess was sure she could actually hear him roll his eyes with that comment.

Deciding she’d had enough, Tess slammed her hand on the handle, pushing the door open quickly. She was greeted by a Mexican wave of startled jumps. Grinning inside she looked over the group and smiled sweetly, too sweetly, they knew she had heard their debate.

“Morning all…lovely day out today…gona be a cold one…” She looked at their awkward faces. “Now stop with the shit and somebody tell me what the hell you all seem too chicken to say.”

Jason looked towards the ceiling, shaking his sandy brown hair from his eyes. Kat looked towards the floor, scuffing her trainers along the carpeting. Tess looked at Robert expectantly; she arched an eyebrow in waiting.

Robert gulped audiably, causing both Jason and Kat to look at him with compassion. Still it was up to him to spill, they were just humble employees after all. Tess folded her arms and pursed her lips, cocking her head to one side…waiting.

“Err…well it is like this.” Robert began, “You see we had a call early this morning from the head city council office. They are requesting the services of our most ‘infamous’ photographer, in other words you.”

Tess sucked air through her teeth, knowing that was not the end.

Robert coughed, “Anyway you have been requested to take the Christmas shots of the…” He paused.

Tess cringed internally, hoping he was not going to say, what he was indeed about to.

“The…the err…The Mayor.” His face crinkled as he ducked waiting for her reaction. He feared it would not be good.

Tess narrowed her eyes, “The Mayor?” Her arms dropped to her side, “That Rat Bastard.”

Jason closed his eyes, but opened one, taking a quick peek at Kat who was doing the same.

The tall photographer, looked around at the small group of cowering co-workers. Do they fear my temper that much? She thought. Ok…I can do control…for the moment. Sighing she turned towards the door, “Excuse me a moment.”

The others watched in confusion as Tess walked calmly out of the room, closing the door quietly behind her. They looked at each other bewildered.

*******

Striding into her own darkened studio, Tess flipped on the switch to the overhead lights. Instantly the room was illuminated with a bright white glow. She closed the door and leaned against it, looking into her room.

It was large, the largest studio in the building. Ahead of her was a spacious photographic area with screens, props, lights and such. There was a multitude of tripods, boxes of films and general tools of the trade all over the place. The floor was black tile, and the surrounding walls and ceiling were a matt white. There was a door to her left, which lead to her dark room, and that too was of a reasonable size.

Letting her head fall back against the door, Tess closed her eyes. It was typical that The Mayor would request her. She found the man cantankerous and domineering. Tess had been requested to take the official shots when the new Mayor, Richard Morris had been elected. Her initial surprise at being asked had been short-lived when she had met the, small sandy haired man. First he was late; then he left her waiting while he was on the phone, and then he spent the rest if the day questioning her abilities, methods and experience. It was the worst shoot of her life and she had barley managed to reign in her temper. After that she had told Robert she would never work for city council again, and up to that point she hadn’t.

I can’t bloody believe he wants me, what is he playing at. I though he was as displeased with me as I was with taking his shots…Maybe the guy has taste and recognises talent…yeah right!

A hesitant knock brought Tess out of her musings, “Yeah?”

The door pushed against her, so she moved out of the way in order to let the unknown visitor in. Kat poked her head around the door and smiled sympathetically at the taller woman.

“Robert couldn’t really refuse Tess, it is quite an honourable request really.”

The woman looked at the brown eyed blonde sceptically.

Kat walked further into the room, “Yeah I know it’s not like we need it, but well the mayor is not a man to refuse…he is a very influential guy.”

Tess folded her arms, “Yeah, well why couldn’t you, Stan or one of the others do it?”

The blonde shrugged, “He asked for you…said he liked the way the last pictures turned out. He likes your work.”

The taller woman laughed, “No…he likes that fact that I can capture him in a deceptive light…those pictures even made him look taller.”

Kat laughed and shook her head; “Well anybody is short compared to you… apart from Robert that is.”

The tall photographer rolled her eyes, “Great…well let’s go and see what I am supposed to do shall we?”

*******

Out in main reception, appointments were starting to filter in. Jason sat at his desk, brimming with enthusiasm, as he greeted each customer and answered each phone call with a happy smile. One family sat huddled in the corner, dressed in their smartest clothes, and waiting patiently for their sitting. The waiting room was very big and filled with large comfortable chairs. There was a drinks machine in the corner and a table with a variety of magazines covering a range of different subjects so suit all ages and sexes.

In the other corner a nervous looking couple sat together, holding hands as if for reassurance. And out by Jason’s desk, a large bald headed man stood, with a Staffordshire bull terrier held securely in his arms.

Tess walked in. She looked at the dog, that seemed to notice somebody taking an interest in it and began to wriggle. She grinned and walked over.

The tall bald man grappled with his dog, “Conan, will you stay still…bad boy.” The dog easily won the battle and dived to the ground, wagging its tail with such speed, that the whole back end of his body moved in unison.

Tess bent down and began rubbing the dogs’ stomach, “Well aren’t you a hansom fellow.” She whispered.

Jason arched an eyebrow and looked down at the normally impassive woman. She had gotten down onto her knees and was busily scratching Conan’s chest.

“Sorry…he gets like this around new people…you wouldn’t think so by looking at him…most people are afraid to go near him.”

Tess nodded, “Yeah well I have one at home, so I know their temperament.” She rose to her feet, much to the protest of the black bull like dog, which proceeded to rise onto its hind legs wining for attention.

“Don’t sweat it Conan, I am doing your shoot later.” She winked at the man, whom she decided looked like a replica of his dog, and walked off to Roberts’s office.

Kat walked over to Jason, “Did you know she had a dog?”

Jason shook his head, “Never been to her house. I’m actually surprised that any living being would put up with her for that amount of time.”

“I HEARD THAT!” Tess shouted from around the corner.

Kat looked at the shocked man, “How does she do that?”

Jason just shrugged.

*******

Robert sat in his office, feet up on his desk, hands crossed behind his head. His eyes were closed and a smug smile seemed plastered to his content features.

Tess barged into the room, causing the serene man to jump. His legs flew from the desk, kicking a pot of pens off the surface in the process. They collided against the nearby wall.

“Damn it Tessa don’t you know how to knock.” He said almost angrily, bending to pick up the impromptu projectiles.

Tess rolled her eyes, “Oh…you keep calling me that and I shall send your jumpy ass to an early grave.” She taunted, sitting down. “Bit early to be savouring the fruits of your labours isn’t it?”

Robert sighed, “Don’t care…now what can I do for you Tess?”

The photographer almost smiled, “There was not too hard was it? Anyway I wanted to know when and what time I am to see his high and mighty Lord Mayor.”

Robert looked down at the appointment book on his desk. “Tomorrow, at half ten.”

Tess nodded, “Great…fan-bloody-tastic. And what is it…the usual portrait?”

Robert shook his head and grinned, “Nope…it is a Christmas portrait with his family. He wants one canvas and a load of official looking Christmas cards. Being as though that is one of your many specialities…of course he wanted you.”

“Typical he wants cards with him on the front.” Tess grumbled.

“Not just him, his whole family. Wife, two daughters and the family cat.”

Tess jumped out of her seat, “Cats…I hate cats…slimy, smarmy, things with delusions of grandeur, and I am allergic.”

Robert shook his head, “No you are not…you can’t get out of it.”

Tess walked towards the door, “Fine…but I am telling you now…you are sending me to the worst job in my life and I may never forgive you.”

The manager laughed, “Promise?”

Tess narrowed her eyes, delivering a look of death until Robert stopped smiling; she walked triumphantly out his office.

*******

The city streets were once again, crowded with people, only this time they were on their way home, from either a day of shopping or work. The light snow that had fallen all morning didn’t even have a chance to settle, with the constant onslaught of determined shoppers. All was left was small clusters of icy white powder, stuck in corners and on top of shop roofs and cars.

Tess trudged the well-worn paths grudgingly. She was not looking forward to tomorrows shoot and was doing her best to make the day come as slowly as possible. Walking towards her bus stop the tall woman scanned the rapidly crowding area. She grimaced as she stood counting the mounting mass of misbehaving children. Why me, she thought to herself frowning, while wishing her damned temperamental car had have started this morning. I would be home now if it wasn’t for that bloody thing. Taking a strategic position, which stated that she was there for a bus, but didn’t want to be approached, she quietly waited.

It was getting dark a lot earlier now, and the whole town centre was alight with tacky Christmas decorations, that some minor celebrity had switched on a week before. From the insides of shops, Tess could hear the clashing sounds of different ‘especially spoilt for the retail trade’ Yule tide carols.

Pushing cold hands into her pockets, she looked around in the hopes of seeing the approaching bus. It was almost seven o’clock and she wanted to be home for Leto, she would be hungry by now.

Hearing the distant sound of a diesel engine, Tess was inwardly happy to see the bus approaching. Digging into the back pocket of her black jeans, she grappled around for some change as she waited for the vehicle to stop. Then waited patiently until all the other passengers had boarded the large double-decker before she climbed aboard, paying her fare to the harassed looking driver at the front.

*******

It was half seven by the time Tess arrived home. Sliding her key into the lock, she twisted it gently and pushed the door open. Quietly she stepped inside the darkened house.

Suddenly she was thrust back against the door, in-avertedly slamming it closed in the process. The photographer looked down to see Leto wagging her tail, and trying her best to jump into the tall woman’s arms. She grinned and slid down the door, allowing the golden dog to vault into her lap.

“Oh and who is a beautiful girl then…has ‘tow tow’ been to good for mommy while she was at work?”

The dog barked and proceeded to bathe Tess with a good old traditionally facial doggy bath. She laughed and pushed herself to her feet, carrying the heavy dog in toe. Leto whined when she realised where her owner was heading and struggled to get down. Tess obliged and walked over to the food cupboard.

“Well let’s see what ‘tow tow’ is to have for dinner tonight shall we?”

Leto whined and rose up onto her back legs looking up at the dark woman with pleading eyes. Tess shook her head and proceeded to feed her dog, before deciding what to make for her own dinner. She would make something that took a long time to cook. Anything to drag out this day and seemingly make tomorrow take a little longer to arrive.

*******

In the realm between sleep and awake, Tess was aware of eyes watching her. She could sense herself being observed closely and although she was loathed to leave the dream she was having, she was finding it harder to stay in her somnolent world. As she began to drift towards the land of the living she then became aware of the fact that she was pinned to her bed. A heavy weight pushed down on her shoulders, and a tingling, pins and needles sensation told her that she had been trapped for some time.

Prizing one unfocused eye open, she looked in front of her, but saw nothing but a blur. She decided to open both eyes. At this her vision cleared and she looked up into two desperate amber eyes. Leto whined and woofed when she realized her master was awake, and started licking her face with abandon.

“Oh for gods sake, ‘tow tow’ I do not want to see your ugly mug up this close in the morning.” Tess grumbled in a deep, sleep filled voice. “Oh alright what is it you want…or need I ask…a cup of tea right?”

Leto dived of the bed and ran towards the open door, looking at Tess with near desperation.

“Yeah, yeah…I am coming keep your fur on will ya.” She swung her long legs out of bed and ambled towards the stairs.

Tess completely owned her house, due to nothing but hard work and dedication, and the place was of a decent size too. On the ground floor were a living room, dining room, study, and breakfast kitchen and laundry room. On the second floor were two bathrooms, three bedrooms and her dark room. The whole place was sparsely furnished except for the dark room of course, which housed all the latest photographic gear; it was the room she spent the most time in after all.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs she trudged her way to the kitchen. The coldness of the floor tiles assaulted her bare feet. Forcing air out through pursed lips, she made her way to the kettle and switched it on, Leto sitting adoringly by her feet.

“Don’t give me that innocent look dog…you are spoiled…how many god damn dogs expect a bowl of tea every morning anyway?”

Leaning against the grey worktop, she waited impatiently for the kettle to boil, all the while Leto happily wagging her tail by her masters feet.

Tess looked down at the dog, her mass of sleep rumpled hair falling over her shoulders, “Wish me luck today ‘tow tow’ Mommy’s got a trying day.”

Leto barked and rose up onto hind legs, exchanging her looks between the kettle and her bowl. She wined again, and proceeded to nudge her bowl with her muzzle for emphasis.

The sleepy woman rolled her eyes, “Do you even care dog? I could stop your food for today just to prove a point.”

Leto cocked her head and sat down obediently.

A smug smile, “Yep…that’s what I thought.”

*******

Standing next to the open door of her garage, the photographer looked menacingly at her car. It was an old black ford, which had belonged to her father years before. When he had died, her mother, knowing it would be in good hands, had given her the car. Tess loved it, and believing it was a classic; refused to buy a new one, opting instead to keep up constant repairs the vehicle always seemed to need.

She folded her arms and crossed her feet at the ankles, standing on one leg. She could think of no reason why the car would not start, she had checked out every feasible problem she thought it could possibly be.

“Ok car…I have a job today, which means going out into the field. I need you to quit coughing and spluttering and start revving otherwise I shall be forced to transport you to the knackers yard.” Tess walked around to the drivers’ door and cautiously opened it. Pulling her backpack from her shoulder, she chucked it onto the passenger side and climbed into the drivers seat.

Holding the keys in her right hand she looked at the dashboard, “Remember either you start today or tomorrow you will be trailing you way towards metallic oblivion.”

She pushed the key into the ignition and twisted. The engine turned, and wheezed. She tried it again, still the same. Muttering a statement that included the phrase ‘one last time’ she turned the key once more.

There was a moment of silence, before the engine revved into life. Tess slapped the dashboard, “Ah ha, just shows what an idle threat can do.” She proclaimed, and proceeded to steer the car out of the garage. “If things come in threes like they say, then I have one more productive threat left, and I know just the person I would like to use it on.”

*******

Through the night another gentle snowfall had graced the city streets, and in the early morning light, the new day seemed to glow with a virginal whiteness. It was surprising actually that there was snowfall this close to Christmas, but being as though this was England, it would be gone by the time people really welcomed the sight. Tess could only ever remember seeing one white Christmas in her twenty-six years, and secretly like so many other people, she wanted another one. But would she admit that? ‘Bah humbug’ she hated Christmas and made sure everybody got that impression to.

Tess loved early morning drives into the city. There was still a certain amount of peace around and everything seemed kind of distant, and pristine. She could be out in one of the busy cities in England and still feel secluded.

Turning her car towards the town centre, the photographer thought of the day to come. It was not going to be a good one; that was for sure. She thought she had a pretty good judge of character and on her first assignment, had already decided she really didn’t like Richard Morris. He had a somewhat strange personality, being both domineering and misogynistic. The kind of person that you just wanted to slap, for no other reason than because you didn’t like his face, well she didn’t anyway. Deciding what to wear today had been a tough one. Her usual jeans were a big no, no as far as Robert was concerned, so she had spent ten minutes trying to find something to wear…to Tess that was a long time. She had finally decided on a black (of course) two-piece, trouser suit and a red shirt.

Sighing, she turned on the radio and fiddled around until she found something worth listening to, it was useless. There seemed to be an epidemic of boy bands and she was not interested in (only just) post pubescent males with mediocre voices. Tess switched off the annoyance with distain. She would rather drive in silence than expose herself to that kind of music, (and she used the term very lightly).

*******

Jason sat at his desk, tapping his way through the computerised appointment log. He winced as he blanked out all Tess’ open windows, knowing she would be in no mood to deal with anybody else after her morning sitting. Hell, after hearing the woman’s comments about the Mayor, he wasn’t sure whether she would have any free time left today anyway.

He looked at his watch, it had just gone nine o’clock, and the man knew she would be in shortly to collect her equipment and stomp around a bit. When Tess was annoyed they all knew. Not that she would rant and rave, no she became even more mono-syllabic than usual, it was damn cold to be around her. Still he liked her, she had a heart of gold and he knew it, even if she refused to let it shine through. The incident with the dog yesterday was another of many examples, just like her supposed distain towards Christmas. He knew that she had donated her free time to take shots of the children with Santa at a charity Christmas party. But if she wanted to play at mean and moody, he would not stand in her way…it was fun to break her guard once in a while.

Suddenly the door whooshed open and he looked up to see Tess trudge her lightly snowed boots through the door.

“Well good morning sunshine!”

“Say that again tomorrow and I may be in a more receptive mood.” Tess growled.

Jason looked towards the computer, then back at the photographer, “Ah…well in that case I guess I shouldn’t beat around the bush and just come out and…”

“I though you already did that?” Tess interrupted.

Jason scowled, “Well at least one of us has admitted it.” It was the photographer’s turn to scowl but Jason pressed on. “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted…I will just come right out and say that the Mayors office rang…they want to move the appointment up half an hour. Oh and that the shoot is to take place at his home now.”

The tall woman’s face darkened, “Abso-frigging-lutely great.”

Jason grinned as the woman stomped out of sight.

*******

Tess drove her car along an over grown, narrow country road. There was only just enough room for two cars to get passed, and she prayed a tractor would not happen upon her.

Just bleeding typical that the guy would live right out in the sticks, the woman thought as she pulled her car in as close to the side as possible in order to let another vehicle passed. OK, she would admit she was not a big fan of the great out doors. The quiet, the strange animal smells, the seemingly exaggerated coldness in the air, it all accumulated to feelings of misery as far as she was concerned.

Following the directions she had been given, Tess took the next right at a wider road. Glad the feelings of claustrophobia were fading, she pushed her car towards its destination.

Eventually the photographer reached a wide wooden gate. It was shut and she had to get out of the car and open it. Once through, she followed the driveway until it opened up into a large courtyard.

To the right of her stood a three-car garage; to the left a pathway that seemed to lead to some stables and right in front was the house. Tess was actually surprised, she was expecting a small farmhouse or something similar, what she saw was a hell of a lot bigger.

It was an old pale brick house, which stood on two levels, but was as wide as three or four normal houses. All the windows had been replaced with double glazed ones, but apart from that it appeared to be in original condition. She was not sure how old it was but it must have been over a hundred or so.

Pulling her car up by the front entrance, she turned off the engine and got out. Her feet met a pebble grit pathway, which crunched under her as she made her way to the door.

She rapped on the large brass knocker and waited, kicking a stone that was under her foot in the process. There was no answer. She knocked again, putting a little more force into it. A moment later she heard the sound of approaching footsteps on a cold surface floor.

The door opened, revealing an old grey haired man who must have been in his early sixties at the least. He was dressed in smart black trousers, a jacket and tie. He smiled warmly at Tess, “Ah and you must be the infamous Miss Alexander?”

Tess mouth twitched in an effort to keep the smile of her face, “Err…I am Miss Alexander.” Damn that made her sound so formal, “But the infamous part…hmm afraid not, well I hope not anyway.”

The old man smiled, “Well if you are the woman here to take the portraits today then you are indeed one in the same.”

Tess smiled, “Guess I am then.”

The old man held out his hand, “I am James Abbot…the butler.”

The butler! Damn it how rich is this guy. Tess shook the offered hand noting the deceptively strong grasp.

James took a step out into the courtyard, “So let me help you bring your things inside and I shall show you were you are to set up.” He walked towards Tess’s car, “Shall we?”

Tess blinked off her surprise and spurred into action. Together they took out the large cases and folded tripods and began to carry them into the house.

When the tall woman entered she was taken aback by the grandeur of the place. It was huge, even bigger than it looked from the outside. There was an ornate staircase that stood to the right with many family portraits going up the wall. The floor was a black and white marble tile and the walls were a dark cream. It seemed that the ceiling reached all the way to the top of the roof in the hall, and a large crystal chandelier hung down from the top.

Pulling her self away from the sights, Tess followed James through the house. Finally they stopped by a large oak door, and James put down one of the cases in order to open it, Tess followed him inside. She watched as the old man put her equipment by the wall and stepped back towards the door.

“I will go and get the remainder of your things…you can start to set up, over there. I don’t know, test the lighting or what ever you people do.” He smiled.

Tess grinned back, “Sure thing, James I’ll get started.”

The old man smiled at the woman, already beginning to like her, and disappeared back out the doorway.

Tess dropped her own burden of equipment where she stood and moved to look around the room. It was very…she could not find the word to describe it. She supposed it was a very nice room…as rooms go, but there was something false about it, almost staged. Yes that was it; it looked staged, like it hadn’t actually ever been used. She wondered whether she should have taken her shoes off before she entered.

Walking to the window she looked out and saw two large horses in a side field. One was black and the other was golden, they stood very close to each other, almost lovingly. She watched as the golden horse moved away, the black one followed devotedly behind.

Approaching footsteps made her turn back to the room. James walked in and placed the last of the equipment by the wall. He looked around and spotted where Tess had just dumped her own things.

“Oh Miss Alexander…could you please not put things in the way…it could be dangerous…here by the wall is fine.”

Tess arched an eyebrow, Uptight about tidiness or what…Hell I hope he doesn’t start shuffling me into a corner. She smiled, “Sure but please call me Tess…I hate sounding so formal.”

James lowered his head slightly, “Ok Miss Tess…I shall leave you to get ready while I inform Mr Morris that you have arrived.” He smiled and nodded faintly, while backing out of the room.

Tess grinned, Miss Tess?

*******

It had taken her a good half an hour to set up all the equipment around a large family chair, with a nice plain backdrop. Then Richard Morris had arrived and told her he wanted the set up on the other side of the room, by some stuffy old bookcase. He left then, leaving Tess to re-do all her work.

She had wanted to say something, well really she had wanted to tell the misogynistic git just where he could shove his portraits, but she did not. Unsure how she did it her self, she managed to keep her mouth shut. No small feat in Tess’s eyes.

She began rearranging the equipment for the other side of the room, arranging the setting just so. She set one camera up on a tripod and took out another one for good measure. Tess tested the lighting, as she checked the clock, it had gone half ten. Resisting the urge to stick her head out the door and yell that she was ready she concentrated on checking the view through the camera.

About five minutes later, approaching footsteps informed Tess that hopefully the sitting was about to start.

Refusing to show her impatience, she continued looking over her equipment one last time, until she heard the same footsteps wander into the room. Tess was facing away from the door, so looked around to see who had entered. She saw the backs of two young girls, one with long dark hair and one short blonde. They were huddled together holding hands, and Tess presumed they were the Mayors two daughters.

“Hi…” She called turning fully around.

The girls were making their way to the couch, but the brunette turned around. She looked at Tess for a while then smiled. “Hello.”

Tess smiled back, as the girl waited for her sister to sit down then walked over to her.

“Hi…I am Lisa, and that is my sister Nikki.”

Tess moved her vision and took in the frame of the slight girl, sitting quietly on the couch. She seemed to be staring off into space.

Lisa grinned, her brown eyes sparkling, “Come on let me introduce you both.” Without warning, the friendly teen took the older woman by the arm and led her over to her sister. Tess could do nothing but comply as she was almost dragged over to the other side of the room.

“Nikki this is Tess…she is taking the photographs today…isn’t that cool. I love having my picture taken.” The brunette spoke with enthused excitement.

Tess watched the blonde head move up, but the girl didn’t look straight at her. She held out her hand with a smile and Nikki did the same, not connecting with the larger one.

Suddenly Tess realised two things. Firstly that this girl was a lot older than she appeared close up and secondly, she was blind.

So that’s why James didn’t want my stuff in the way of the door, She thought giving herself an internal slap on the forehead.

Reaching further out, she grasped the smaller hand, feeling tender warmth in its grasp. “Hi Nikki, how are ya?” She questioned, ignoring the pleasant feeling that centred on Nikki’s touch.

The blonde turned her vision slightly towards the surprisingly silk voice, “Hello, fine thank you.” She pulled her hand away, feeling a sudden need to do so, when she heard two more sets of footsteps heading towards the room.

Feeling a little bereft, Tess dropped her hand and turned suddenly hearing footsteps. She could not be sure, but she got the feeling Nikki heard them first. Nikki rose to her feet and all three women waited as the parents made their way into the room.

First Richard Morris walked in, he was dressed differently from when Tess had seen him last. He had changed into a more official looking suit and wore his Mayoral Chain around his neck. Tess mentally rolled her eyes. Next Rosalind Morris walked in, wearing a smart but neutral looking pale cream dress. If the photographer didn’t know any better she would swear that Richard had chosen the dress so not to out do his own attire. She looked to the other girls; both too were wearing plain, light blue dowdy dresses. Tess noticed how the colour matched the same shade as in Nikki’s eyes.

“Ah…ok…good, good I see everything is set up.” The mayor said scanning the setting. He looked back towards the three women. “Miss Alexander, I would like you to meet my wife, Rosalind.”

The small blonde woman held her hand out to Tess, “Pleased to meet you Miss Alexander…I am a fan of you work. I work voluntarily at the city art gallery, your pictures have quite a following.”

Tess smiled and blushed slightly. Her work at the gallery was more personal and she felt it was an open book to her character. She had never wanted to show it, but was talked into it by the gallery owner Andrew Spencer. Andrew was a college friend of Tess’s, and they had both been in the same art club. He had been in love with the tall brunette since they first met, but she had never had feelings for him. Tess actually didn’t know why, he was your typical tall, dark good-looking guy, but she never felt anything but loving friendship.

“Thank you, Mrs Morris, I…”

“Oh please call me Rosa.” The smaller woman quickly stated.

Tess smiled “Rosa.”

“Why don’t we get this session started shall we?” The mayor questioned, taking Nikki by the arm and gently leading her over to where the photographs were to be taken. Tess watched the blonde girl being guided away; unconsciously taking in every physical aspect and movement Nikki made.

Rosalind looked up at the dark, green-eyed woman and smiled, “It is amazing. She does not need his help really, can get by remarkably fine on her own. Yet he dotes on her hand and foot, you would not find a more loving and loyal father to these two girls.”

Tess managed to hide the surprised expression, just waiting to grace her features. “I suppose there has to be another side to him.” She looked at the frowning woman, “I mean…well I have only seen one side to him…and…well that was not the most agreeable of personas.”

Rosalind laughed, “Yes well he has an image to maintain you know…some people like to appear all rough and tough on the outside, while really on the inside they are as soft as a teddy bear.” The woman looked at Tess directly, “Know what I mean?”

The photographer looked away, felling like the woman was trying to read her, “Shall we get started…I see three people over there ready and waiting.” She said changing the subject.

Rosalind smiled, “Lets.”

*******

Though Tess wouldn’t care to admit it, the shoot was going surprisingly well. The Mayor had pretty much kept his opinions to himself and had let her lead the job. After the group family pictures were taken, a couple of shots were taken with the couple, before Tess was to take the daughters.

She took half a role of the siblings together then proceeded to take shots of them alone. Being the most excited about the whole shoot, Lisa was first to go it alone. She took her place, as Tess loaded another film.

“I think I want to take photography when I finished college,” She announced to Tess. “Mum and dad won’t be too pleased but I like having my pictures took.”

Tess smiled, “Well that would warrant you being in front of the camera, not behind it!”

Lisa scrunched her nose, “Yeah I guess it does…so you think I could do it? Be a model…I mean I bet you take loads of pictures of gorgeous people and all.”

The photographer stood behind the camera on the tripod and looked into the viewfinder, “Hmm well you definitely have a prettier face than some people I have taken.”

Lisa grinned, “I guess so.” She gushed, “What about Nikki, I think she is pretty as well. What do you think?”

Tess looked over to the other sister who was sitting on the other side of the room, waiting for her turn. She looked back at the younger sister, “Well err, yes she is too.” The tall woman was not about to say that she thought Nikki was very beautiful. “Why…do you think Nikki would want to be a model?” She asked; interested to know anything she could about the blonde.

The younger sister laughed and shook her head, “No, Nik only wants to work with horses. She has two of her own in the stables.”

The photographer pursed her lips, taking in the information. She finished off taking a couple more shots of Lisa, and then proclaimed she was ready for Nikki.

Lisa hopped of her chair and called out to her sister, announcing it was her turn. Then she headed out the door in search of her parents who had already left as soon as they were no longer needed.

Tess watched as Nikki confidently made her way to the other side of the long room. She stopped just short of the dark haired woman, who was crouching on the floor, idly searching her bag for another role of film. She looked up towards the young woman.

“You will have to tell me where you want me.” Nikki grinned, her head directed towards the ground to where the woman was positioned; she could hear her rummaging around.

“Right.” Tess said pulled out two more films.

Upon hearing the dark woman’s voice, Nikki turned her eyes towards Tess. The woman felt like the blonde was looking straight at her, through her. She took in an uneasy breath and rose from her crouched position, now looking down on the young woman. She looked into the big, round blue eyes and felt a sudden awareness that she had never felt before. It was like she was looking into something that was missing from her self. Pushing the strange feelings aside, she took Nikki by the arm and led her to the strategically positioned seat. Nikki put her hand on the chair, then sat herself upon it waiting, as Tess moved back to the tripod.

“Mother tells me you are quite the photographer. You take picture of all the famous people. She says your prints get quite a lot of publicity.”

Tess crouched down beside her bag again, “Well I don’t know about that, never looked at them in the gallery.”

Nikki smiled, “You don’t like talking about your work do you?”

The woman looked up surprised, “Well…I…no I guess not.” She leaned forward onto her knees, her long hair falling over her shoulders. “It is just work, have to do something to pay the bills.” She watched, as the smile grew bigger on the blonde’s face.

“My dad was not too keen on you to begin with, something stupid about not wanting a woman to take his shots.” She laughed, “Then when he saw them, I think he changed his opinion of you. You must be good…my father does not give praise lightly.”

Tess snickered.

“It is true.” Nikki laughed, “Even my mum thinks so. We all express ourselves in different ways…and if people like what they see, they will ultimately like the person. If you want to know what a person is like, just look at their surrounding, their work, their friends…you don’t even have to speak to him or her. It all shines through in so many different ways.”

Tess looked surprisingly at the young woman, “They are wise words coming from somebody so young.”

Nikki folded her arms, “I bet I am not much younger than you really…I have been told I am blessed with youthful looks though.”

“Mmhm” Tess drawled.

The blonde arched her eyebrows, “What’s that for?”

Tess rose to stand behind the camera, “Nothing.” She looked into the viewfinder. “Ready?” Nikki turned her eyes towards the camera, looking directly into the shot.

“Amazing.” Tess said in a deathly whisper.

“What is?” Nikki questioned.

Tess stepped back from the camera, “You heard that? Yeah I guess you did…I suppose you have pretty good hearing hey?”

Nikki nodded, smiling. “What’s amazing?” She asked.

The photographer took a step away from the tripod; “Well it is just that…well… you are looking straight at me…at the camera.”

The blonde woman cocked her head, “It’s funny…I have been told that I, obviously, never looked straight into a shot …but I don’t know I think it must be your voice.”

“What about my voice?” She had to know.

Nikki shrugged, “It is quite silky, commanding…you know…it is like I just know where you are. If I had to think of one word to describe it I would say captivating…must pull me in I guess.”

Tess felt her cheeks flood with heat. She took in a surprisingly, much needed breath and swallowed, letting the air pass back out quickly.

“Are you embarrassed by that?” Nikki asked.

The flustered woman shook her head, “No…not embarrassed.” She looked back through the viewfinder. “Want to get started?”

The blonde nodded.

*******

Tess left the house at one o’clock, agreeing to bring the proofs back round for viewing in three days. James helped her load the equipment back into her car, and then she was on her way.

On her journey back to work, Tess reflected on the day so far. It had gone a hell of a lot better than she had anticipated. The Mayor had been almost cordial, his wife had been gracious, and Lisa had been fun and friendly and Nikki, well she didn’t know what to think. The young woman had left an impression on her, but Tess just didn’t dare to understand what that meant.

The tall woman smiled remembering Nikki’s comments, when she had remarked on the fact that she had heard her conversation with Lisa. She merely stated that Lisa was always coming up with new career ideas. A couple of days ago she wanted to be an air cadet, now a model. Tess chuckled, wondering whether Nikki was trying to steer the conversation to another aspect of conversation she’d had with Lisa…either way she did not.

Driving into the city, the tall woman looked over at case of films on the passenger seat, then she looked down at the one in her pocket. It was the last roll of the shoot and she had unconsciously put it in her pocket, with the desire to develop it first. She refused to let her mind question that fact, as she directed her vehicle to the rear car park of Main Street.

*******

The television was on a low setting, providing a comforting background noise, in the otherwise quiet living room. Nikki sat upon a large plush cream leather sofa, her knees tucked underneath herself. In her lap she held a book that she was reading contently, her fingers flowing over the pages with familiar grace.

Lisa walked into the luxurious room and sat next to her sister.
“So did you enjoy today?”

Nikki smiled and turned her head towards her sister, “Yep…and I don’t even have to ask whether you did.” She grinned.

Lisa chuckled and looked towards the TV, frowning at the uninteresting program on screen. She looked back to Nikki, “The photographer was nice wasn’t she?”

Nikki nodded her head, but said nothing.

The younger sister rolled her eyes, “Oh come on, aren’t you just a bit curious to know what she looked like, don’t you want the description?”

The blonde woman smiled slightly, “It’s funny but I kind of have an idea of what she looks like. I imagine her hair is like the darkest night, her eyes are like spring time and when she walks into a room, she unconsciously draws people attention, without any real desire to do so.”

The brunette looked at her sister strangely.

Nikki smiled, “Well don’t look at me in that tone of voice,” she laughed, “Am I right?”

Lisa shook her head, “Err yeah…her hair is black, her eyes are green and she is quite beautiful.”

The older woman shrugged, “Well I would not know about beautiful…that is just the way she came across to me.”

Lisa laughed and pulled the book away from her sister, “Hell of a way to come across…hey are you sure mum didn’t tell you what she looked like, that was way too spooky.”

Nikki reached out towards her sister, found purchase of the book and pulled it back. “No mum didn’t tell me…now give me back my book.”

The younger sister leapt out of the chair laughing. “Oh touchy.” She stated making a swift exit out the door.

*******

Everyone else in the building had long since left for home. It was almost eight o’clock and Tess sat in her dark room silently developing her photos.

She had arrived back at work earlier in the day, to find the place in a mad rush. It seemed that there had been some kind of booking mix up, and it was a good job Tess had showed up when she did, and effectively saved Snap Shots hassle free reputation. Still she wasn’t too pleased that she had to do an animal shoot. It made her wonder where the cat was while she took the Mayors sitting, and she realised Robert had been winding her up on that part. With a growl she made a mental note to get him back for that one.

Developing each picture by hand, Tess mechanically carried out the familiar process. She picked up a photo and looked at the in the dim light, it was Nikki. The woman’s round innocent looking, blue eyes stared straight at her. She had a slight introspective look on her face, and held what Tess thought looked like a secret smile. The tall woman smiled at the picture, it was indeed a striking shot, and she was sure it would be a favourite.

Sitting back into her chair she continued to look at the picture. She felt a tug of familiarity every time her own green eyes moved to look into the blue ones. It was a peculiar feeling and one she ignored thinking it was one of those strange ‘déjà vu type things’.

Putting the photo on the side she continued with the rest of the developing, but every so often her eyes would return to the picture.
Part 2
The person on the other end of the phone ranted and raved with no sign of stopping. It was a voice so loud that it echoed off the thankfully empty waiting room. Jason held the receiver away from his ear with a scrunched up face, thankful that there were no customers in this early. At the first moment of silence, he put the phone back to his ear ready to speak, only to thrust it away again when the irate voice started up.

Lowering his head, light brown locks fell into his eyes and his body began to shake. It was at this point that Tess walked in, finding the seemingly deflated, man sitting with the phone away from his ear, his body shook. Tess frowned and took a step closer, wondering whether the guy was all right.

Sensing movement Jason looked up, and it was then that the woman could see that he was in fact laughing. Jason clamped his hand over his mouth and rolled his eyes, pushing the phone in Tess’s direction. With a questioning smile she accepted the noisy apparatus. Curiously she moved it towards her ear listening.

“AND ANOTHER THING…”

Tess pulled the phone away with a inquiring grin, she put her hand over the mouth piece, “What’s all this about?”

Jason shook his head and laughed, “I haven’t even had the opportunity to ask…but I get the impression it is somebody who thinks we are a delivery company of some kind, who seem to have messed up a dispatch.” He poked out his bottom lip with a shrug.

Tess pulled the phone back to her ear, grinning evilly as she listened to the woman’s rants; just then Kat walked into the office. The blonde woman looked at the amused expression on both Tess and Jason’s face and enquired as to what was going on. Jason quickly filled the woman in and Kat motioned for Tess to hand over the phone, the tall woman did so with a grin. Kat put the receiver to her ear:

“…BE HERE YESTERDAY…SO HOW MUCH LONGER DO I HAVE TO WAIT?”

“Ahem…all I can do is apologise for the mix up Mrs…?”

“Simons.”

Jason eyes bulged as he listened to Kats polite, docile voice.

“Mrs Simons…and say that we will do all in our power to get your delivery back from Scotland as soon as possible.”

Tess grinned at Jason.

“SCOTLAND…HOW IN HELL DID IT END UP IN SCOTLAND.”

The blonde woman pulled a face down the phone while the sandy haired man shook his head, “You are evil.” He whispered.

Kat nodded her head. “Yes Mrs Simons…that is where your…hold on a moment please” she paused, “Oh my…Mrs Simons…yes that is where your Deluxe Inflatable Vibrating Toy Boy has been shipped.”

“WHAT?”

Kat slammed down the phone quickly, unable to hold her composure any longer. Jason had given up and had rush to the other side of the room, trying to lessen the sound of his hysterics. Just then Robert walked out into the waiting room, to see Jason doubled over in laughter, Tess with an amused smirk on her face, and Kat chuckling silently.

“What on earth is going on here?”

Jason tried unsuccessfully to calm, but failed as the phone started ringing again. Kat look at him expectantly but realising he was in no condition to answer the shrilling apparatus, still there was no way she was going to pick it up now.

With a confused look to a smirking Tess, Robert picked up the phone “Good morning Snap Shots…No…No a photography studio…No I am sorry…ok then…yes good bye.” He put the phone back down and looked back and forth between the sniggering work mates. “That was some woman thinking we were Express Deliveries.”

Kat and Jason looked at each other once more and burst into laughter, leaving a bewildered Robert wondering what the hell was going on.

*******

Tess wondered why she was doing this; they usually hired a courier to send out the proofs of the photographs, to those who didn’t come in for a viewing. So why was she driving all the way back out into the countryside to deliver them herself. It had been an impulse suggestion that she would bring them over, and even then she had wondered why. Not that she was busy today…though it was a Friday, she’d only had one sitting in the morning and had the rest of the day to her self. The dark woman had planned on taking a trip down to Boscastle, to see her mother over the weekend. It was a good job she had not called with plans.

Steering her car into the courtyard, Tess pulled into a side car park by the garages. She grabbed the folder from the passenger seat and got out, pulling her thick padded jacket out the back before locking the door behind her.

It was getting colder, but the snow had more or less disappeared, leaving behind the odd remains of icy, grey slush. Placing the plastic folder between her jean clan knees, the tall woman slipped on her black jacket. Once ready she retrieved the folder and resumed her trek to the front door. She rung the bell and waited, wishing she had donned some gloves as well.

It was a few moments before the door opened; James looked at the woman and smiled, “Miss Tess, nice to see you again.”

Tess smiled, “You too James, is Mr Morris in?”

The butler shook his head, “No…he and Mrs Morris had to go out on Official business…but he told me you were coming round this afternoon and I was to take the proofs with thanks. He says the family will go over them tonight and call in to the studio Monday with his decisions.”

Tess nodded, “Ok…well here you go.”

James took the folder, “Are you sure you would not like to come in for a warm drink, it is awfully cold out there today.”

The photographer smiled, “Ah…no thanks…I guess I should get going. Catch you later James.”

The grey haired man smiled, “Good day to you Miss Tess.” And with that he shut the door.

Tess looked back at the door and shook her head, Miss Tess, that’s almost as bad as Miss Alexander…makes me feel so old.

She turned around to go back to her car, when a distant but very recognisable voice sounded far off to the left. She turned and looked around but saw nothing. Waiting, she heard the voice again, it was Nikki, and though she may have only spoken to the woman once, the voice was so familiar to her. Turning towards the gentle voice she headed in its direction; the stables.

*******

Nikki held the grooming brush with poise, brushing the stallion with smooth confident strokes. She chatted amiably with the large black horse, telling him about her day and what she had been reading lately. Behind her a golden mare, stood eating in the corner.

She could hear the footsteps approaching, but was unable to recognise them. They seemed familiar but they didn’t belong to anybody at the house. Continuing her comforting task, she waited to see who was heading her way.

Tess arrived at the open stable door and looked inside. It was fairly light and she could make out a golden horse over in one corner of the sturdy brick structure and a black horse in the other. She frowned knowing that this was where she had heard the voice coming from, yet there was nobody in sight.

Cocking her head, and wondering why she didn’t just turn around and leave she stepped into the building. The strong smell of horses made her remember why she didn’t like the country, but she stepped further inside anyway. Not stopping until she was in the middle of the large space, Tess looked over at the black stallion. She spotted something in its close proximity.

“Well are you going to introduce yourself?” Nikki asked coming from around the side of the large horse.

Tess spotted the short blonde locks first, “Oh…hi…yeah…sorry it’s Tess, from the other day, I took the photos remember?”

Nikki fully emerged from behind the black horse, “Hey yeah…god is it that time already…I must have been out here for a while. You came to bring the pictures round right?”

Tess nodded before realising she would have to give a verbal answer, “Err…yeah. I left them with James, as nobody else seemed to be in. Guess they timed it just right.” She joked.

The small honey haired woman smiled, “Well there is always something needing my fathers presence, I didn’t see my parents at all yesterday” she paused, “…you know what I mean.”

The tall green-eyed woman smiled, desperately trying to find a conversation opener. “Hmm…so your sister said you like horses. That you want to work with them?”

Tess watched how Nikki’s face lightened up at the mention of her favourite subject, “Oh yes…I love horses. The black one over there is Thunder and the golden one eating in the corner is Jenna. Jenna is pregnant, but she won’t give birth for another few months yet, in the early spring, around March. Yep…Thunder is going to be a proud daddy soon.” She walked back over to where the black stallion calmly stood, “Aren’t you Thunder boy, yes you are going to be a daddy soon.”

The tall woman smirked, listening to Nikki talk to her horse. It was strange, but she had never really considered horses as animals worthy of spending time with, but Nikki seemed to fully enjoy their presence.

Turning around, the blonde moved towards Tess, “You don’t like horses much do you?”

The tall woman frowned, “Well it isn’t that I don’t like them. I have never been in the presence of one before, kind of unsure how to react, you know.”

Nikki grinned and held her hand out, “Well let me be the first to introduce you.”

Tess frowned and backed up a step. She was unsure of what the blonde had in mind, but was damn sure she was not going to sit on one of those things. Anyway don’t you need lessons first?

“Come on, don’t get apprehensive on me, he wont bite…and neither will I.” Nikki grinned and held out her hand again, waiting to her the woman’s approach.

Cautiously Tess walked forward, taking the smaller woman’s hand without much thought. However at first touch, a tingling heat travelled from the blonde fingers and scorched Tess’s skin underneath. Surprised, she looked down at the entwined appendages, wondering what the woman had been holding before she entered. She looked back up at Nikki, to see her smiling face.

Not letting the hand go, Nikki pulled Tess over to the other side of the stable, where Jenna was idly watching the two women’s antics. She brought Tess to a standstill by the mares’ side. Thunder nickered softly, gaining his owners attention, wanting his grooming to continue, but Nikki knew he would not appreciate Tess having a lesson in grooming on his coat.

Lifting up her other hand, Nikki brought the brush up to Tess’s hand currently within her own grasp, and replaced it.

“Now all you have to do…is groom.”

Tess looked down at the wooden handled brush, suddenly feeling deprived. “Groom?”

Nikki grinned, “Yeah…use the brush and brush down sweet old Jenna here. It is very calming, and a great way for horse and human to bond.”

Tess grinned slyly, “Ah…I am not sure I want to bond with a horse…aren’t their laws about that kind of thing?”

The blonde smiled, “Don’t get funny with me ‘Miss Tess’. Just use the brush and start grooming…come on I bet you will actually find it quite tranquil after a while.” Nikki stepped back a little and waited, listening to the darker woman’s movements. After a while she heard a haphazard brushing sound.

“Whoa…hold on…not like that.” She moved forward, reaching out for Tess. The dark woman took a hold of Nikki’s hand and placed it with her own, not even wondering whether this was what she had in mind.

Nikki felt the strong, sinewy hand beneath her own as she lead them both towards the horse. With strong, confident strokes she pushed the brush across Jenna’s golden coat.

“See like this…how does that feel?”

Tess breathed deeply, wondering how brushing a stupid old horse could feel so good. Had she been missing out on something all this time?

They stood that way for some time, gently gliding the brush across the mare, neither one wanting to end the unexpected turn of events. It was a very relaxing experience for both women.

Nikki stood by the right side of Tess, both their right hands on top of each other. A sudden though sprung to the tall woman’s mind and she had to ask.

“Do you mind if I asked how you lost your sight.” She said quietly.

The blonde smiled, “Not at all…well actually I never had it to begin with…I was born this way, I have never been able to see.”

Tess just nodded.

“To be honest, I couldn’t imagine life any different. I mean we all have our own perspectives on things and how they come across to us, the impressions they make on us. I don’t feel different because I cannot see visually…I just use my other senses more. If I want to know the physical appearance of something I can feel it, if I want to know when somebody is coming I will hear them way before any other person could. To me this is normal…I have lived with it for twenty-three years now, guess I don’t know any different.”

Tess’s hand had stopped, and she was looking down at the small blonde with wonder. She had never seen it from that perspective before, and although she could not agree, especially considering her occupation, she understood Nikki completely. In only a few sentences the blonde had managed to give her a unique perspective into her own world.

Nikki moved slightly towards the brunette wondering why she had stopped. Realising she should do something, Tess pulled away quickly and took a step back.

“Listen…I really should be going. I have to get back and get some cleaning done.”

Nikki frowned, “You clean as well?”

Tess grinned, “Yep but it is my house and if I don’t do it, nobody will. I know for damn sure Leto wont.”

“Who is Leto…Your husband?”

The tall woman laughed, “God no…Leto is my dog. She is more into creating mess; I guess I have yet to teach her how to put rubbish in the bin after she has finished tearing it to shreds. Not that she does it all the time, just when she feels I have neglected her…if I am really naughty, she will even pee in my shoes.”

Nikki laughed, listening how Tess’s voice rung with enthusiasm when talking about her dog, she was obviously an important part of her life.

“I would love to meet her some time.” It was an offhanded remark, but she did mean it.

Tess smiled thinking of her dog, “Yeah, she would probably like you. You have the same colouring.”

The blonde looked up, “Oh yeah…what’s that?”

Tess frowned, trying to think of a good description for the honey-haired woman, “Ah…well err…sun, yes like the sunshine.”

The smaller woman smiled fondly, “Wow…I can actually sense that, thank you. Like the sun…so that would be warm and comforting?” She waggled her eyebrows, making Tess chuckle. “Or hot and encompassing?”

The tall woman promptly stopped, the colour draining from her cheeks.

Nikki sensed the silence and smiled, “Oh chill out ‘Miss Tess’, I was only kidding, you don’t have to answer that really. This time Nikki chuckled, as the other woman shook her head.

“So you wanna meet Leto then hey?”

“Would love to…I have always wanted a dog, but mum’s allergic so that kind of blew that idea out the window. Meant I couldn’t have a guide either…that didn’t bother me much, I have my cane.”

The taller woman frowned then looked around and saw the white stick, leaning against the corner of the wall for the first time. She didn’t actually give any thought as to whether Nikki actually used anything to get around with, but obviously that was the case.

“Well how about tomorrow…I usually take her to the park. I could bring her round here first if you would like?”

“How about I accompany you and Leto? I would love to go to the park and play fetch.”

“Oh…ok sure.” She wasn’t expecting that, but the idea of spending more time in this woman’s company was strangely appealing. “Ok I usually take her in the afternoon…say about three, is that ok.” ‘Say yes, say yes, say yes’.

“Sounds fine with me.”

The photographer smiled, “Ok then, and don’t forget to dress up in your winter woollies, it gets pretty brisk down there. Leto loves the snow, so I shall put her in her little doggie coat.”

Nikki started to laugh and Tess wondered what was so funny.

“What?” She asked.

“Oh nothing, it is just that…well I have heard a bit of your reputation. Tess Alexander, the brilliant but supercilious photographer. I cannot imagine you walking your pooch around in a little thermal coat.”

The tall woman didn’t know whether that should offend that. But decided it was not worth the hassle, besides she couldn’t muster up any annoyance for some reason. “Well I guess I better get going then.”

“Yes…see you tomorrow… ‘Miss Tess’.” The blue-eyed woman grinned and moved back over to Thunder.

Tess smiled, turned around and walked back out the stables.

*******

She was expecting it even before she opened the door. It was inevitable really and although she did experience the odd slam of pain, it was worth it to feel so unconditionally loved.

Opening the door, Tess slid quietly through, bracing herself for the inevitable. She didn’t have to wait long, as one golden mass of muscle hurtled its self towards her in a barking frenzy.

Leto pushed her owner up against the door and barked continually, while trying to jump up in her arms to cover her with pooch smooches, as Tess called them. Realising it was futile to try and escape until she had been greeted, the tall woman slid down the door, so the dog could welcome her home.

“Are you pleased to see mommy today ‘tow tow’?”

The short haired, golden dog whimpered and proceeded to give Tess a thorough doggie greeting. She allowed the over enthusiastic dog a minute of indulgence, before finally sliding back up to her feet. She walked into her kitchen and looked down at the floor, something had caught her eye. Frowning she moved closer and bent down to pick up the object, it was a letter.

“LETO!” The dog came happily scampering in, until she saw the ripped up envelope in her masters’ hand. Then her head lowered and she gingerly backed out of the room.

“Don’t you move.” If it was possible for a dog to gulp, Tess was sure she had just witnessed it.

“What is this?” She asked calmly

Leto’s head lowered and she lifted up her paw in hope.

“Don’t try and get around me now…you have eaten my mail, you little…hound.”

Leto whined and shuffled her still crouching body over to her master.

“Nope don’t want to know…and to think I was going to take you to the park.” Leto’s ears pricked up at her favourite word, “But maybe I wont take you to the park now. I was looking forward to taking you to the park, but the park will be one doggie less tomorrow.” Tess suddenly remembered who was supposed to be coming with them tomorrow. “Ah hell…you have some major sucking up to do ‘tow tow.’

Leaning up against the pine cupboards, the tall woman prised open the sheet of paper, in hopes of salvaging her mail.

When she realised it was nothing important, she threw it on the surface and trudged into the living room, all the while one despondent dog, grovelling closely behind. She pushed the wooden door open, and walked quietly into the room. It was sparsely decorated with two sofas, a TV, music system and small coffee table. There was only one picture on the pale sand coloured walls, of an ocean that she took while she was on holiday. It was a beautiful picture of the night sky, reflecting on the water below. When she’d developed it, the shot had captured her attention in such a way that she had enlarged it, purposely for her living room.

Dropping onto the couch, Tess folded her arms and looked down at the golden dog that was looking hopefully up at her master.

“No use Leto, you will have to kiss ass for a while longer yet.” The dog lowered its head and sunk to the floor, lying gingerly upon Tess’s feet.

Tess though back on her day. Am I crazy or I am taking the Mayors daughter to the park with me tomorrow. Jesus Christ…am I insane? She shook her head, how the hell will he react to that news, I wonder?

*******

Lisa looked up as she saw her sister walking the living room. The younger sibling could not be sure, but she thought she noticed a strange smile on the blonde woman’s face.

“Finished with the horses?” She asked looking at her sister expectantly

Nikki nodded, “Yep.” She moved around to the front of the couch and sat down next to her sister. “The parents not back yet?”

Lisa turned her body around, facing her older sister, “Nope…so Tess Alexander brought the proofs round today…” Nikki just nodded so she continued, “I saw her arrive from up stairs…she didn’t come in and her car was there for a while.” The blonde nodded again, “So what did you talk to her about?”

Nikki smiled, it was pointless asking her sister how she knew she had been with Tess, and she knew it. “Nothing much…horses…dogs…that kind of thing.”

The brunette nodded, “Yes and…what is that it? You had Tess Alexander in there with you and all you did was talk about horses and dogs…are you insane…it is a wonder you didn’t scare her off for fear of boredom.”

“Why?” Nikki asked.

“You can not talk to a woman like her, about boring things like that. She is fairly famous you know…takes pictures of famous people. I bet she could not wait to get out of there.”

Nikki turned her head away, “Actually no…I showed her how to groom Jenna and then she asked me to the park with her tomorrow. She takes her dog down there, said she would pick me up in the afternoon.”

Lisa’s eyes bulged, “What are you going to tell mum and dad?”

The blonde girl sighed, “I don’t know and I don’t care. I am fed up with them thinking they have to look out for me all the time, I am old enough to think for myself. I am going tomorrow and I am going to have fun, and that is the end of it ok?”

The brunette smiled, “You go Nikki…I can’t believe you are going to the park with her…my friend is going to be so jealous. You know Sally?”

Nikki nodded.

“Well she thinks Tess Alexander is absolutely gorgeous…she will be so jealous when I tell her this. She freaked when I told her she was taking our photographs…wait till she hears about this…I am going to call her later.”

Nikki was quiet for a while, Lisa’s comments going over in her mind. “So she…Tess I mean…she is attractive then?

Lisa laughed, “Ha…that is an understatement sis. She is gorgeous, I think guys fall over her where ever she goes…all dark and mysterious to.”

The blonde nodded, it didn’t really bother her what Tess looked like, but she had the feeling the woman was captivating, in her looks as well as her personality.

Lisa got up, “Right I have a phone call to make.” She chuckled as she made her way out the door.

*******

Over the night a light snow had fallen, and though it was not enough to warrant not going outside, it was enough to cover the ground with a fresh blanket of brilliant white flakes. It set the day off looking like one of those corny Christmas cards…well that is what Tess thought. Everywhere was covered, but the sun still shone brightly in the sky, and the tall woman knew it would not be long before the snow melted away. For that she was glad, not wanting to take Leto out in the dense layers of icy flakes. Leto didn’t mind though, she loved the snow; it was the rain she had a problem with. Tess could never get the animal out then, the dog would take one look at the rapidly falling drops and would shake her head, almost literally.

As suspected by the afternoon, the density of the snow fall had more or less diminished, leaving behind more sporadic grey mound of slush. Tess opened her front door and looked out, Leto peeking out between her legs.

“What do you think girl…want to go to the park?”

Leto woofed, wagging her tail furiously.

Tess looked down her legs to the mass of whining muscle, “Well don’t just stand there…go and get your lead.”

With that order, the dog took off on a mad search, desperate to find the one item that secured her walk. Tess smiled as she heard the unmistakable sound of a rattling metal chain.

*******

Precisely on time, she was pulling her car by the side of the garages, at the mayors home. Leto woofed alarmed in the back seat, wondering why they had pulled up here, it definitely was not the park. Tess looked back and rolled her eyes, at the somewhat desperate expression on the hounds face.

Getting out of the car, the woman walked around to the front door, however before she could even knock Lisa was pulling it open with a beaming smile on her face. The photographer smiled at the teen before noticing another grinning face behind her. She looked at Lisa for an introduction.

“Tess I would like you to meet my friend, Sally.”

The tall woman smiled at the tall red head, who had suddenly become incredibly shy. Tess wasn’t positive, but she was sure she noticed a blush work its way around the girls’ cheeks.

Lisa opened the door fully allowing Tess to enter. She walked in and looked around expectantly for Nikki, and or her parents.

“Nikki is on her way, I think she was looking for her hat when I saw your car arrive. Mum and dad aren’t here, they have gone to a charity function, or something like that.”

Tess nodded her head, she had yet to speak, but as she was about to do so Nikki appeared in the hallway. The girl had on a pair of light blue jeans, brown boots and a thick padded jacket. Upon her head she wore a grey woolly hat that covered half her ears, and tiny wisps of her honey blonde hair poked out below.

Tess couldn’t help but smile at the vision, thinking it was funny that they had both worn similar clothing, though she was sans a woolly hat. She took a step closer to the blonde, noticing how Nikki smiled, sensing the movement towards her.

“Ready to go?” She asked

Nikki nodded, “Sure am…I have been looking forward to this. So where is Leto, in the car?”

“Sure is…wining like a baby as well, so we better get going, before she decided not to wait any longer, if you know what I mean?” Unsure of what to do, Tess waited wondering whether Nikki would want to walk out with her.

The blonde woman reached out and Tess naturally stuck her arm in the way for her to take. Nikki grinned as she hooked her arm around the taller woman’s. “Lead the way.” She proclaimed.

Lisa watched them leave with a crooked smile on her face. She turned to her friend and winked. “And you didn’t believe me.” She chastised, closing the door as the women walked out of view.

*******

Tess walked with Nikki to her car, taking her to the passengers’ side. Leto whined as the two women came into view, and proceeded to bark at the unknown blonde. It was not a bark of warning, merely to inform Nikki that she was there and would appreciate some attention.

Tess shook her head, “Oh for Gods sake Leto shut up…you will have plenty of time to say hello when we get to the park.” She chuckled lightly at the dogs’ antics.

Leto immediately shut up upon hearing her favourite word once again. Nikki giggled at the dogs’ antics, as she got into the passenger seat and closed the door. She pulled on her seat belt and waited as Tess made her way to the drivers’ side. Leto whined and scampered around, desperate to get attention from the new girl.

As Tess got into the front seat, she turned and gave the misbehaving dog and stern look; Leto took the hint and quieted down.

The journey to the park was filled with Nikki chatting amiably to Tess, who found it unusually pleasant just to sit back and listen. She didn’t really have to say much as blue-eyed woman told her about Lisa, her horses, the red head Sally who had a crush on her. Well at least it explained to Tess why the girl blushed when they were introduced.

When Tess casually asked what her parents thought about going to the park with her, Nikki had explained that she hadn’t even told them. That it wasn’t their decision anyway as she was old enough to take care and think for her self. Tess realised it must have been hard for her to assert her independence when she was constantly surrounded by two parents who thought they were doing the right thing by wrapping her in the proverbial cotton wool.

The journey to the park took twenty minutes. Tess drove around to the back entrance and parked her car in a small area reserved for patrons’ vehicles. There were no other cars, and for that she was glad, as it meant there was a possibility the place would be quite empty.

They both got out, and while Nikki stood by the passenger door waiting, Tess opened the boot to let the whining mass of muscle out. Before she could even react, Leto had raced off to find the woman who had yet to fuss her. The golden dog raced round the car and hurtled towards Nikki, but before she would usually pounce she stopped and sat at her feet, barking furiously.

Nikki bent down, reaching for the dog, “Ok…ok…wow you are a sturdy thing aren’t you?” She said, running her hands over the ecstatic hound.

Tess stood back and watched, surprised that the mutt hadn’t tried to knock the poor girl off her feet. She grinned, shaking her head.

“Wow…what does Tess feed you?” She slapped the dogs’ chest, feeling the solid muscle underneath. The dog spun around onto her back wanting more attention.

“Right that is it ‘tow tow’ come on if you want a god damn walk you better get your ass moving girl. You have all the time in the world to get attention from Nikki.” It wasn’t until the words left her mouth, that she realised its implications. Tess thought she better correct her sentence, but Nikki spoke up.

“Come on then ‘tow tow’” she said with a smile, “I think your mommy wants to get moving.”

Nikki pushed herself back to her feet and waited as the taller woman hooked the lead to the dogs collar.

“Ready?”

Nikki nodded and held her arm out, so she could hook it around the photographers. Once they were ready, they made their was to the fields, Leto pulling as hard as she could to get there faster.

*******

Cobble Stone Park wasn’t really that big. It was about the size of four-foot ball fields, with a children’s playing area at the far end, away from the main road. There were sporadically placed bushes, and trees that covered the main area, and a small pond in the centre. Unfortunately it had frozen over with the winter weather. Not that Tess minded, Leto had a tendency to dive into the pond and she didn’t like having to deal with the hound smelling like a wet dog.

Every summer the park would play host to the summer carnival, in which Tess would participate. She would work at the past times photography booth, where she would take black and white portraits of families dressed up in old style clothes. It was a huge attraction every year, and raised vast amounts of money for whatever charity was benefiting from the event that year.

Although the photographer preferred the city life, this was one open space that she didn’t mind coming to, basically because it was surrounded by the town. In the early mornings you would find people out jogging, or walking there dogs, and in Tess’s case doing both, (when she could be bothered). Around morning to midday, young children, with their parents and the elderly used it more. Around the afternoons to evenings there were more people out with their dogs or older children with nowhere else better to be.

Having never been before, Nikki held on to Tess as the tall woman manoeuvred them towards the centre of the field. She released her grip on the older woman’s arm as Tess bent down to un-clip the lead from Leto’s collar.

“There you go girl…now be good and don’t go chewing on anything unless it is something that has fallen from a tree…Ok?”

Leto barked excitedly, and as her lead was released, she took off on a mad sprint around the fields.

Nikki laughed, “Wow listen to that…I guess she really likes to get out in the open, hey?”

The photographer smiled, “Don’t all dogs…she has a fixation with the word park…though you only have to start with the ‘p’ and she is looking at you like her very life would depend on the rest of that word. But yeah, she loves it here.” Tess watched the dog sprinting towards the pond. “Oh no she is not going to…shit…LETO…NO.” She shouted.

But it was too late, the golden hound had hurled herself towards the pond, landing on the ice and sent herself skidding across the surface. Tess burst out laughing as the dog tried to right herself but her little legs kept slipping over the icy surface and she would fall over again.

“What happened?” Nikki asked amused.

Tess sucked in a breath, “Awe the stupid thing just tried to go for a swim, but the pond has completely frozen over. Now she can’t stand for falling on her butt.” Tess chuckled keeping her eyes on the confused mutt, “Oh hold on Nikki while I go and rescue her before she descends to the watery depths.”

Nikki waited with a smile as the dark woman ran off to rescue the whimpering dog. She managed to grasp a hold of its collar and pull it to safety…the whole time laughing lightly at the poor mutts plight.

“Well that will teach you for all those times I had to put up with your stinky ass on the way home wont it ‘tow tow’?” Tess stood back up and the Leto ran off as she made her way back to Nikki. “I think she may have learned her lesson…and gotten a good dose of hurt doggie pride in the process.” She stated with smugness in her expression.

The blonde started to laugh and Tess watched transfixed, unable to turn away from the small woman’s face, which had lightened up with unreserved joy. The cold wind had given the cheeks and tip of her nose a endearing rosy colour making her look incredibly cute in Tess’s eyes.

“I didn’t know they had any pride…they certainly don’t have any when it comes to begging, do they?”

Tess grinned, “I guess not.”

They linked up again idly strolling around the grassy area. Leto ran up with a recently found stick and dropped it at Nikki’s feet. She sat down and barked earnestly.

“I think somebody wants you to throw her a stick, it’s by your right foot”

Nikki bent down and retrieved the stick. She listened carefully then turned around. “This way I think,” She threw the stick into the air.

Leto made after it in a mad dash, barking at the strip of wood as it sailed through the air.

“Wow nice throw Nikki, good arm you have there. Say why did you choose to throw it that way?”

Nikki grinned, “Because I know I have a good throw.” She chuckled, “If I had thrown it the other way it would have probably landed in the road. I can hear it not far ahead, Brook street right?”

Tess frowned, “How did you know that if you said you have never been here before?”

The blonde arched an eyebrow, “Ah ha…it is all in the nose. I can smell the bakery and the fish market. Only Brook Street has a bakery and fish market on it. Oh…and the fact that I can hear slot machines, there is an amusement arcade right next to the bakery.”

Tess folded her arms amazed, “Well, well I am impressed. So what other talents do you have Miss Morris?”

Nikki waggled her eyebrows; “Oh I have many surprises up my sleeves.”

They laughed as Leto returned with the stick, ready for another turn.

They played with Leto for another half an hour, throwing the stick to see how long it would take for the dog to give in and admit defeat. However it didn’t work. Leto was having far too much fun, and had yet to show signs of slowing. In the end it was Tess who decided to call it a day, realising that Nikki would not give up if the dog wouldn’t. On her final throw she ‘accidentally’ judged the distance wrong and the stick landed on the frozen pond. Leto ran to the frozen water and looked back at her master. She made several feeble attempts at stepping on to the ice, but gave up in the end and walked away with a doggie huff.

Tess proclaimed that being as though the dog had given up they might as well start to make tracks. She put her arm out for Nikki, who took it as they began to make their way back to the car. Only an hour had gone by, but both women were beginning to feel slightly tired.

They made it back to the car and were strapped in and ready to go within two minutes. It was then that the dog decided to let her fatigue be known as she flaked out in the back of the car.

*******

The drive back was a quiet one. Nikki listened to Tess’s nervous tapping on the steering wheel, speculating as to what was going through the woman’s mind. She wondered whether she would voice whatever it was that seemed to be bugging her.

Tess stared ahead not really looking at the road, there was something she wanted to ask Nikki, but didn’t know whether it was appropriate. Oh for Gods sake just ask her Tess the worst she can say is no right?

Taking a deep breath she looked towards Nikki, “Nik…I was wondering…do you fancy going out for a drink or something. I mean I understand if you would rather get back, it is just a thought really…if you want to that is.”

Nikki grinned wondering why the woman felt so nervous about asking such a simple question, “Yes I would love to…thanks”

Tess felt like a weight had just been lifted off her shoulders, and released a unknown held breath “Great…err…then we will take Leto home and go to the that place in the city centre…is that ok for you…they do some food as well if you like.”

The blonde turned her head towards the apprehensive sounding woman, “Food sounds good to…I am starving after all that fresh air…could eat a horse…no disrespect towards Jenna or Thunder though of course.”

“Great, food it is.” Tess stopped her nervous tapping and a smile spread upon her features, as she drove the rest of the way to her home.

*******

When they got to Tess’s house, Nikki waited in the car while the tall woman deposited the happy dog back home. She gave her fresh water and food, and was back out of the house within in a minute, ready to take the blonde girl out for something to eat.

The drive into town was not quiet as Nikki opted to listen to the radio instead, tuning it into her favourite station. Tess rolled her eyes as she heard another mildly talented boy band, but smiled when she heard Nikki’s corresponding groan at the current song.

“I thought I was going to have to suffer in silence.” Tess commented

Nikki shook hear head, “Nope can’t stand this either, but sometimes you have to put up with the garbage in order to find what you are looking for.”

Tess frowned, “I usually just turn the damned thing off.”

The blonde shrugged, “Yeah suppose you could, but what if the next song happens to be one that you like…then you will miss out.”

“That’s a little profound considering we are just listening to the radio.”

Nikki laughed, “Yeah well…what can I say I like to consider myself a musical connoisseur.”

“So you like music…can you play?”

“I strum on the old acoustic occasionally…but don’t ask me to sing, because I guarantee Leto’s howling would sound better.”

Tess smirked, “I will keep that in mind.”

*******

The usual ten-minute drive into town, took an extra ten due to the early evening traffic. As it was the run up to Christmas, shops were staying open longer and the city centre was still pretty much alive with the throngs of rowdy shoppers.

They arrived at ‘Jakes Wine Bar’ around five o’clock, before the evening crowds would arrive. Walking into the establishment a strong blast of heat engulfed them, marking a strong contrast from the rapidly dropping temperature outside.

Nikki immediately un-zipped her jacket and pulled the hat from her head, already she could feel an on coming sweat. She re-took Tess’s arm and they walked further into the bar, as the taller woman scanned around for a table.

Jakes bar was also an Italian restaurant. At the far end were the kitchens, which were open to the patrons who would watch the cooks, make their meals with a comedic edge. Juggling balls of dough between the chefs, and listening to their competitive banter, all served as a draw to the place. In the centre of the large room was the bar, which was another spot light for attention. Sometimes the bar staff would compete with the cooks for the customers’ attention, and it all served as its own kind entertainment.

The rest of the area was covered with tables, and Tess guided Nikki through, towards her usual spot. She often came here as Jake the owner was actually her work mate, Jason’s lover, and they lived together above the bar.

Finding the table empty, she and Nikki sat down across from each other, giving the brunette an unobstructed view of the blonde. She laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Nikki asked.

Tess shook her head, “Oh nothing you just look kind of cute with you hair all cow licked from that hat you were wearing…it suits you.”

Nikki scrunched her nose as she pushed a hand through her locks, “I thought it felt a bit unruly.” She said, not really comprehending what the woman had said.

Tess looked around the room. Out of the thirty or so tables, only eleven of them were occupied. She knew, that by seven the place would really start to fill up, which is why she had chosen to eat early. She liked this place, but didn’t want to subject Nikki to the hungry masses that would besiege the bar in a few hours time.

“So what would you like to drink?”

Nikki shrugged, “Surprise me…as long as it is alcohol…just not too potent, a cider would be ok.”

Tess rose from her chair, “Well it wont be a surprise anymore but a cider it is…I shall bring a menu back with me as well.”

After purchasing the cider and a coke for herself, Tess grabbed a menu and made her way back to Nikki. The woman sat listening to the soft background music, it was Mozart’s ‘Clarinet concerto’.

“I like this piece.” She commented.

Tess sat down, putting Nikki’s drink in front of her, “Hmm, they will change it soon, to a more upbeat sound. That will be when the customers start to filter in, and the entertainment begins.”

“Entertainment?” Nikki asked.

Tess went on to describe what she meant, making the woman laugh with the story of how she was once roped into joining the chefs with the juggling of the dough.

By six o’clock, they had eaten and were just sitting talking, when a loud vice called Tess from four tables away. She looked up to see her work mate Jason, sitting with his lover Jake.

Mindless of the blonde sitting in front of her, she got up and walked over to the two guys.

“Well, well, it looks like we need not ask what you are doing here. Who is the blonde?” Jake asked, pushing a hand through his thick mass of black hair. He was your typical good-looking Italian, though a little on the short side, a fact that Tess liked to tease him about mercilessly.

“The blonde is Nikki and we are just here having something to eat.”

Jason frowned, “Nikki…never heard you mention her before…I didn’t know you were seeing anybody called Nikki.”

“I am not seeing anybody Jason, we are merely here for some food. If you must know it is Nikki Morris.”

Both Jason and Jake frowned.

Tess sighed, “Nikki Morris, as in Daughter to Richard Morris.”

A sudden light dawned on Jason’s face. “Nikki Morris as in daughter to the Mayor…Tess…the Mayors daughter…you are taking out the fucking Mayors daughter?”

Tess leaned forward, “I am not taking her out…it is not like that ok…besides why would I…she is blind anyway.” She wasn’t sure whom she was trying to convince more, the two men or herself.

Jake frowned looking completely clueless, “Yeah, what does that have to do with anything?”

“Oh nothing, look I have to get back.” She looked towards Jason, “See you on Monday.”

Tess turned and walked back to the woman, waiting quietly at their table. She sat down and noticed the uncomfortable look on Nikki’s face. Feeling an instant rush of concern she reached out, taking her hand, “Nik, what’s wrong?”

Nikki pulled her hand away, “Nothing I am just feeling a little under the weather I guess. I think I need some fresh air…do you think you could take me home now please?”

Tess said yes and rose from her seat, as Nikki did the same, pulling on her coat in the process. After securing the taller woman’s arm, they navigated the tables and were on their way outside, and towards the car park.

*******

The drive back to Nikki’s home was quite with neither the radio on, nor any form of idle talk. Tess wanted to say something, but being as though conversation starting wasn’t her strong point, she kept silent. Well there was also the fact that she got the impression Nikki didn’t really want to speak, anyway.

It was ten to seven when they pulled up outside the Mayor’s house. Tess cut the engine and turned to the still silent Nikki.

“Well here we are; how are you feeling?” She asked concerned.

“Ok I guess.”

“Do you know what caused you to feel so unwell suddenly?”

Nikki shrugged, “I was feeling fine Tess, I was having a wonderful time until I heard your conversation with those two guys behind us.”

“You heard that?”

“Of course I did…good hearing remember. Look I didn’t know that I made you uncomfortable in any way.” She said sadly, “And I am sorry I pushed to take Leto out with you, it is obvious not that you were just being polite by agreeing to let me come with you.”

Tess shook her head, wanting to speak but Nikki continued.

“I didn’t realise you had a problem with me, my bl…”

Suddenly they both turned hearing the front door to the house open and Rosalind Morris rush out the house. She headed for Nikki’s side and opened her door.

“Nicole where in Gods name have you been, we have been worried sick wondering where you were.” Rosalind looked swiftly at Tess giving her a cold stare.

“I went out with Tess to take her dog for a walk mum, that is all. Didn’t Lisa tell you were I was, I asked her to tell you if you got back first.”

Rosalind took Nikki by the arm and led her out the car. “Yes she told us dear but that was hours ago.”

“I have only been out for about four hours mum.”

Tess decided to speak up, “We only went out for something to eat, Rosa.”

The woman looked at the brunette, “Mrs Morris to you.” She turned to look at her daughter. “Now come on and lets get you inside, you must be freezing…being out in the cold” She looked accusingly at Tess once again.

The photographer wanted to say something, but after what Nikki had said, she felt suddenly deflated.

“You must never do that to us again sweet heart, do you understand how worried we were?”

Nikki sighed; it was always the same, no matter how much she craved some semblance of independence, she constantly felt like she was watched and coddled. She yearned for her parents to realise that she could manage on her own and was old enough to make her own decisions.

For a brief moment she felt the sudden urge to call out to Tess and ask her to take her away from the constant overprotection, but then she remembered the tall woman’s words at the bar. Instantly defeated, she realised she might just as well go along with her mother to placate the sudden surge in her overprotective behaviour.

“Yes mother, don’t worry…I will not be doing it again.” She said despondently.

And then she was whisked away by her mother. She disappeared behind the door and it slammed shut behind them.

Tess looked at the closed door, feeling suddenly bereft once again. It was just like when Nikki had pulled her hand away on their first meeting. Gripping the searing wheel she tried to clear her mind. ‘What the hell just happened here?’ It seemed like a dream, a whirlwind of events happening in the space of a single hour. The echoing words of Nikki telling her mother she would not do it again, hurt her deep inside. Why was she even bothered by this, she cared little for others in any other way than just a casual acquaintance, but this little blonde had just…she had no idea.

Feeling a surge of anger, that the fact she would care even the slightest that she may have hurt the blondes’ feelings, she turned on her engine and drove out of the courtyard. ‘Fuck it, why should I care…this is exactly why I don’t keep close friends in the first place…because I always fuck up.’

But with the hurt still strong in her chest, Tess knew it was not going to ease with anything short of Nikki’s understanding and forgiveness. She needed to explain, but how was that possible when she didn’t understand her own heart anymore than Nikki would herself.

Part 3
It was dark, the lights weren’t on, but then again they weren’t really needed. There was a heavy silence in the air, only broken by the disturbance of distant noises. Nikki lay on her bed thinking about what had happened the day before. It was now Sunday evening and she had spent most of the day in her room after stating that she didn’t feel too well. It was just a ruse to be alone; unfortunately her slightly less than truthful comment had a negative result. Her mother had decided that it must have been going out into the cold that had caused her to feel ill. And remarks about how she should not have gone out with Tess had stared once again. She had spent all Saturday evening listening to them, and had then to endure it the next day too.

Nikki rolled onto her stomach, burying her face into a pillow. She’d had negative responses from people before about her blindness and had, over time, developed a defence against the upset it once caused. When she was younger she would get hurt that other children were not forth coming to play with her, and her parents had taken this as a sign to keep her away from the sadness it caused. It was James the butler who had explained to Nikki that the other children just needed a dose of understanding, and he had helped her provide it.

After that, she had always been able to charm her way around those who seemed uncomfortable with her. And though she didn’t realise it herself, she had created quite a following of admirers, a fact closely monitored by her mother. Yet as she lay on her bed thinking, she couldn’t understand why she had reacted the way she had towards Tess, and why it hurt her to think that the woman would be uncomfortable around her.

She recognised Lisa’s footsteps, and knew she was about to getting a visit from her younger sister.

The door cautiously opened and the teen poked her head around, not able to see anything she switched on the light. Spotting Nikki lying face down on her bed, she gingerly stepped in, closing the door behind her.

“Hey sis how are you feeling, still a bit under the weather?”

Nikki responded only with a shake of her head.

“You weren’t really feeling ill were you?”

Again Nikki shook her head.

Lisa sighed, “What happened yesterday, with Tess Alexander and mum. You were gone a lot longer than I thought you would have been, you know.” She sat down on the corner of Nikki’s bed, “So did you have fun then…what is she really like?”

Waiting for an answer, Lisa looked around the immaculately presented bedroom. As the saying went ‘there was a place for everything and everything in its place’. Nikki’s bedroom was arranged just so, everything was in a certain place and order so that she could move around the privacy of her own room with comfort and familiarity. Everything had a place, from the lamp by her bed, to her brush on her dressing table.

The teen looked back to her sister, who still had yet to speak, “Did something happen while you were out Nikki?”

The blonde rolled over, facing the ceiling. Lisa could now see the pained expression the older girls eyes held.

“What happened with her Nikki, you have never reacted this way about the parents behaviour before…so I know it had to have been her…what did she do?”

Nikki didn’t want to speak; she didn’t want to tell her sister what had happened. She found herself not wanting to say anything bad about the woman, yet feeling foolish that she had trusted her. And at the same time she didn’t want her sister to think that she had in fact, been irrational in the way she had reacted to Tess’s comment without giving her a chance to explain. So instead she decided it was best to say nothing on the subject.

“So are you going to speak or what?”

Nikki smiled, “Nothing happened, we had a good time. We took her dog to the park and played fetch. Then we went to Jakes Wine Bar in the city and had something to eat.”

Lisa’s eyes bulged, “Jakes Bar…man that place is supposed to be so cool…” She paused, “But if you had such a good time, why do you look like you lost a tenner and found a penny?”

The blonde rolled her eyes, “Look I just wanted some time alone alright, I don’t know what the big deal is anyway…I just want to be left alone.”

Taking her sisters hint, the brunette got up off the bed and walked to the bedroom door. “Fine you want to be alone…be alone.” She walked out and shut the door firmly behind her.

Nikki rolled back onto her stomach and sighed, she had just hurt her sister and knew she would have to apologise. Still she decided to wait until she felt a little more like herself.

*******

Mondays, it was said to be the most hated day of the week. Why? Tess was a little unsure. She herself had always liked Mondays, but maybe that was because she’d always loved her job. For most people it signified the start of a new working week, and if they hated their job, then they would obviously hate the day that meant the end of their relaxing weekend.

Unfortunately on this Monday, Tess was not in the best of moods; in fact she was probably in the worst mood that she had ever recalled. And as she made her way towards the entrance of Snap Shots, she knew she was not going to be flavour of the month.

Still what did she care, the day before she had been just too miserable for words. She had spent the morning watching religious programs. The afternoon watching omnibus editions of soaps that she had never even heard of, and the evening watching lame British comedies, that should have been axed along with the writers, long before. It was clear to say, she had spent the entire day, in front of the TV, doing and eating nothing. Even the dog seemed to be aware of her masters mood and had the good sense to stay away, thankful at least that Tess had fed her on time.

Walking into the building, the photographer saw two appointments already waiting in reception. She carried on walking, straight past Jason who seemed to look a little on the sheepish side. He noticed the cold look she held and decided it was not the right time to tell her that the Mayor had called and cancelled the appointment until Wednesday. She hated cancellations.

Tess shook off her coat as she headed towards the employees lounge. Once inside she slung it on the nearest chair and headed towards the drinks machine, she needed caffeine and she needed it now. As she picked up her cup, Robert walked into the lounge.

“Bad weekend or just a bad day?” Robert asked folding his arms.

“Why.” Tess asked putting the sugar spoon back into the pot.

“Because that was four sugars you just put in the coffee, you only go for the sweet stuff when you’ve had a bad one or you are possibly pre menstrual.”

She turned to face the man, slightly angry at his comment, “When the hell did I become so fucking transparent.”

Robert winced inside, she was really in a mood, “You are not transparent, I am just a good judge of character, and anyways I have known you a while now…I am bound to notice things.”

Tess walked towards the door, “Well for your information it was a bad weekend…now if you will excuse me, I have work to do.”

Robert stepped out of the way and she excited the room, shutting the door behind her.

He realised that Jason obviously hadn’t told her about the Mayors cancellation, ‘Shit…why do I get the feeling, there will be yet another argument as to who is going to tell her about this.’

*******

Safely shut away within the confines of her studio, Tess locked the door behind her and walked into the dark room. She turned on the overhead lights and sat at her desk, deep in thought.

She had never let things bother her like this had. The woman had always been able to keep a tight rein on her emotions, never letting anything upsetting bother her. Really she knew it was fear, she was afraid to feel. She would deceive herself with the notion that it was strength to keep control, yet really she knew it was a weakness. Her mother had stated as such on the day her father died. She refused to cry, refused to even admit that it hurt…but it did. Control, it was an important word in Tess’ vocabulary, and one she constantly tried to assert within herself, even though occasionally it meant shutting others out.

Tess leaned back in her chair and looked over at the photo lying on her desk. It was a picture of Nikki, the first one that she had developed. Although knowing it was wrong, she had purposely left it out of the proof set that she had taken round to the Mayor last Friday. For some reason, she found she was unable to let it go. It seemed strange when she thought about it, but for some reason, she could not part with it. The shot seemed to capture a side of Nikki that seemed to shine with her inner being. Tess felt it was yet another insight into the young woman’s personality, but some how only visible to her. If she was to admit it to herself, it was the side she most wanted to get to know. But now she had ruined it, all because of her stupid insecurities, and guarded persona.

Rubbing her eyes furiously, Tess got up out of her chair. It was pointless dwelling on what had happened, so she had two options. Forget about it, or go explain herself. In any other situation, she would have forgotten about it, but the fact that this had invaded her conscience proved that was not going to happen. So with the easiest option out of play, she was left with the latter, she had to explain herself, and hopefully salvage the friendship before it was too late.

Tess thought back to the hurt expression in Nikki’s eyes as she spoke to her in the car. The realisation that she had caused that pain was just as painful to her as she was sure her cowardly comment was to Nikki.

With the affirmation to speak to Nikki, Tess headed out of her office to find out what time Richard Morris was to come for the viewing.

*******

By afternoon the sun had risen high in the sky, but as usual it had not taken the chill out of the air. Unseen to Nikki, it shone down between a mass of white clouds, warming her fair features. There was always something so comforting about it, she decided. It was the warmth, like a welcome, soothing presence. Whether on a cold day like today or a warm summers day, when the sun was shining she felt peaceful.

Walking at a familiar pace, she made her way to the stables feeling a need to see her two neglected horses. She had not been with them since Saturday morning and had gotten Lisa to look after them while she was in her reclusion. Obviously her sister was none too pleased with this, she knew how to tend to them but didn’t much care for it. There were much more interesting things that she could have been doing.

Tilting her face towards the penetrating warmth, Nikki breathed in the cool air. She remembered Tess’ comment about the colour of her hair and could not help but smile, however it didn’t last long. The comments that she over heard in Jakes Bar surfaced in her mind. Again she scolded herself for letting it bother her, she was angry but she was not sure at whom, herself for allowing this to get to her, or Tess for her ignorance. Was it ignorance? She questioned as she entered the stable doors. Thinking back to the rest of her overheard conversation, she was suddenly unsure. She got the strange feeling that Tess was being ribbed for dating the Mayors daughter. Dating? With a frown of confusion, she made her way over to Thunder, and entered his stall.

Thunder nickered, upon seeing Nikki.

“Hi there baby, and how are you today?” She asked as she picked up his grooming brush. “I am sorry that I haven’t been to see you since Saturday, but I’ve had a few things on my mind.”

Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out half an apple and held it out, smiling when she felt him take it from her hand. “But I am here now and I am going to spend the rest of the afternoon with you and Jenna, how does that sound?”

Thunder nickered again, and Jenna in the stall to the right followed suit. With a contented smile, Nikki started grooming.

Her thoughts wandered once again to Tess. When she had asked her whether she was all right in the bar, she had sounded so genuinely concerned. Why then the contradictions, what had she missed, and why didn’t she give the photographer more of a chance to explain?

Making an inner decision, that she needed to give the woman a chance to do as such, Nikki suddenly felt a little more contented. Still she wasn’t sure when and how she was to do this. Her father was not going into town until Wednesday and she was damned sure he would not take her.

“Sod him,” She whispered, as she realised she was doing exactly what her parents wanted her to do…depend on them.

“I don’t need them to take me anywhere do I boy, I can find another way. Get a taxi, or if I have to, I will bloody well ride you into town.”

Thunder nickered once again shaking his head.

“Well ok then…I will get a cab…how does that sound?”

The black stallion leaned down to started eating some of his food.

Nikki grinned, “Great I knew I could trust your opinion on this boy.”

*******

The sun was low in the late afternoon sky, as Nikki made her way back inside. It was hidden behind a mass of large grey clouds, and with the drop in temperature, she knew more snow was soon on its way. Taking a detour from her usual familiar path, she decided to enter the house by the side entrance, leading into the conservatory.

Her parents were still not back from whatever function they were supposed to be attending today, and with Lisa out with her friends, she was on her own in the house. Smiling at the thought, she pulled open the conservatory door, walking slowly inside and shutting it quietly behind her. In the not so distance, she could hear the clanking of metal, and realised it must be around half past four, as James, regular as clockwork, always cleaned the silver on this day and time. It was one of the many ways she was able to gage the time of day, without the aid of her audio watch.

James turned around at the sound of footsteps entering the dining room, and smiled as Nikki pulled off her woollen hat.

“And how are Thunder and Jenna today Miss Morris?” He asked, in his usual friendly manner.

Nikki smiled, turning in the butlers’ direction, “They are great…not too happy with the weather I don’t think, but a few apples tends to appease their moods a little.”

James finished putting away a large silver teapot, and closed the sideboard door. He turned fully around, leaning against the edge of the rich mahogany wood. “Mr Morris called while you were out in the stables, they are not to return until late this evening, and Miss Lisa called just five minutes ago, she is staying the night round her friends house.”

Nikki sighed, “Great, so what culinary delights do I have for dinner this evening James?”

The greying man smiled and walked towards the smaller woman, placing a hand on her back as they made their way towards the kitchen. “Why your favourite of course. I thought that being as though you would be the only one dining tonight, I would prepare you favourite dish.”

The blonde smiled indulgently, “Spaghetti bolognaise?” she asked hopefully as they entered the large, white and silver catering kitchen.

“What else.” James replied.

Nikki smiled, “You will be eating with me, wont you James?”

The smartly dressed man smiled tenderly at the woman, who had come to mean as much to him as a daughter would. He knew that although Nikki liked the time she was able to spend alone, away from the constant molly coddling she received from her mother, she still preferred not to be by herself, and welcomed his presence, as he did hers.

“It is always my pleasure Miss Morris.” He replied.

*******

Kat stood in the doorway to the employees lounge, looking at Tess who was flaked out over a two-seated sofa. Her head rested on the dark armrest and her long navy trouser covered legs, hung over the other end, swinging idly near the ground.

It was Tuesday, late afternoon, and had been one hell of a day. Stan had called in early that morning, saying he was unable to come in due to a sudden bout of the flu (24 hours Tess was sure!), and what with Carl, the other of the four photographers out on an all day school shoot, Tess and Kat were the only people left to take the sittings.

The blonde walked in lounge and sat on the chair facing the flaked out woman. Tess’s eyes were closed, and in her right hand she held a small slip of paper and mobile phone.

“This may sound cliché…but you look just how I feel” Kat stated, leaning back into the comfortable seat.

Tess opened her eyes and look to her right, taking in the sight of the tired looking woman, “Well if you feel like you may take early retirement, go live on a desert island somewhere, and vow never to return to the rat race ever again…then I know how you feel.”

Kat smiled and closed her eyes, sighing in the quiet of the room, “Uh huh, sounds about right. That was one hell of a day today huh?”

The green-eyed woman blew out a forced breath between pursed lips, “If I ever state that I want children…remind me of this day will you? If I was that way inclined I would consider putting a curse on Stan for leaving me with that booking.”

Kat chuckled, “Hey not all children are ‘Screaming spawns from hell'” Kat said, quoting the exact statement that Tess had used to describe her last sitting to Robert not ten minutes before.

Tess chuckled, “I was talking about the twins I had to put up with, I am sure your kid’s an angel Kathryn.”

The blonde pulled a wary face, “Well he has his moments, but all in all I would have to agree with you”

Tess smirked and looked back towards the ceiling.

Kat looked at the phone in Tess’s hand. “Are you making a call…I can give you some privacy if you want?”

The photographer looked down at her hand and pulled the piece of paper from under the mobile, looking at the number she had scrawled down earlier. It was Richard Morris’s home number, and she was going to call on the pretence of confirming the appointment tomorrow, with the hope that she would get a chance to talk to Nikki.

“Err…well no that is ok, I was going to go back to my office and make the call, I just came in for a coffee.”

The older woman nodded, “Uh huh, but found the appeal of the couch too tempting to pass up.”

Tess shrugged, “Something like that.” She said. ‘Or I was just biding my time before I make the call, putting it off until this nervous feeling in my stomach disappears.’

Drumming her fingers idly on her stomach, she swung her legs round and rose to a standing position, knowing that if she didn’t move her arse soon, she never would. She looked down at the scrawled phone number on the slip of paper and sighed, thinking that she might as well get it over with. So with an anxious look, and death like grip on her phone, Tess headed back to her office.

Kat watched the woman trudge out, wondering what kind of phone call it was that would put such an anxious look on the photographers face.

*******

Lisa lay in the family room across one of the three-seated sofas, her head rested on top of a large cushion, and her feet lay upon her sisters’ lap. They were watching one of the usual early evening quiz shows and trying to out do each other in answering the questions.

Nikki sat slightly to her right side, elbow resting on the arm of the chair and her head held comfortably in her hand. Her other hand lay at the bottom of her sisters legs, where sensitive fingers idly traced the flowery patters at the bottom of Lisa’s trousers.

They were watching ‘Blockbusters’ a questions and answer show quiz show for students. Nikki listened to the female presenter, waiting for her to stop chatting and start asking the next question. She shifted in her seat when the contestant chose another letter.

“What ‘H’ was the Roman city, destroyed along with Pompeii when Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD”

Lisa scratched her head, “Err…oh god I know this one…damn it, what is it again…awe…we did it in school.”

Nikki shook her head, “It was Herculaneum.”

The teen rolled her eyes, “Nope that was not it.”

“Herculaneum.” Answered one of the contestants

“NOPE” Lisa shouted

“Correct” Answered the host.

Lisa looked around to the TV shocked, “Since when?” She asked

Nikki chuckled, “Since 79 AD.”

The teen folded her arms; about to make her reply when the phone rang, she grabbed the remote control, turning down the volume on the box in order to hear the conversation, thinking it may be somebody for her.

By the sound of the footsteps echoing down the hall, Nikki could tell her mother was heading towards the phone.

*******

Tess sat at her desk chewing on her bottom lip, as she waited a short eternity for her call to be answered.

“Hello Rosalind Morris speaking.”

Tess cringed, remembering the look on the woman’s face last time they had met. “Hello Mrs Morris, this it Tess Alexander. I am ringing to confirm Mr Morris’s appointment for tomorrow.”

“Miss Alexander, how nice to hear from you…”

From the other room both Nikki and Lisa’s ears pricked up at the mention of the photographers’ name.

“Why yes…Mr Morris and myself will both be present to give you our choices tomorrow…one o’clock in the afternoon right?”

Tess nodded, “Err, yes one o’clock.” She didn’t realise they would both be present. “Well I shall look forward to seeing you both tomorrow.” She drummed her fingers upon her desk nervously. “Mrs Morris…I was just wondering whether Nikki was there?”

Rosalind smiled “No I am sorry, she isn’t here at the moment.”

Tess swirled her fingers around the patterned grain on her wooden desk, “Oh OK, well thank you anyway, and I shall see you tomorrow.”

“Yes see you then Miss Alexander…goodbye”

The line went dead.

The green-eyed woman hit the termination button on her phone and placed it down on the desk. She breathed a sigh of relief, feeling a slight reprieve at the fact that Nikki was not home, but at the same time it meant she still had to speak to her…and she had spent ages practising what she was going to say as well.

Glancing at the watch on her wrist, she realised it was almost half past six. Deciding she had spent way too much time at work today, Tess rose from the desk and grabbed her bag, slinging it over her shoulder as she headed towards the door. She was pretty sure Leto would be in need of some company, and a nice long walk around in the woods at the back of the house sounded pretty good too.

*******

Rosalind Morris placed the phone back on its charger and headed into the family room, where she knew her daughters were watching TV. She was not a big fan of the rubbish that seemed to be on the television these days, but at least they were watching an educational program.

Walking into the room, she found her youngest daughter sprawled across the settee with her legs upon her eldest daughters lap.

“Lisa Margaret Anne Morris, sit up like a proper young lady. For goodness sake, what would people think if they saw the way you two were sitting, like a pair of lower class scoundrels.”?

Lisa shuffled up to a sitting position, then swirled her legs around to the floor, sitting like her mother had always instructed them to. Naturally and without thought, Nikki straightened her posture, sitting upright in the chair.

“So who was on the phone mother?” Lisa asked

Rosalind smiled, “It was the photographers, just confirming the appointment for your father and myself tomorrow afternoon.”

Lisa nodded and covertly looked towards Nikki, who was sitting with her head down, listening to the conversation. They had both heard their mother on the phone and knew that Tess had asked to speak to somebody else, and for whatever reason, the woman had chosen to tell her that whoever she wanted was not at home. Both girls were pretty sure Tess had asked for Nikki.

Rosalind folded her hands together, “Well I do believe Abbot should have supper ready shortly, so why don’t the two of you go and wash up. I better go and remind your father about tomorrow’s appointment.”

And with that she left the room.

Lisa and Nikki rose together and headed towards the door. The teen walked up to her sister and put an arm around slim shoulders.

“Do you think that Tess Alexander had asked for you?”

Nikki shrugged.

“I think she did.” Lisa supplied.

“I do to.” The blonde answered.

Together they headed out of the family room and towards the stairs, climbing them side-by-side, Lisa’s mind working overtime.

“What happened on Saturday Nikki? Why wont mother let you talk to her, and why do you look so down every time I mention Tess Alexander?”

Nikki sighed, “It is nothing, just a misunderstanding. She said something and I should have given her a chance to explain…but I didn’t…and now she probably thinks I no longer wish to speak to her…and that is so not true.”

“What did she say?”

The blue-eyed woman shrugged once again, “It is not important now…but lets just say I intend to speak to her, and apologise for the way I was…and the way mother acted.”

“You don’t have to apologise for her Nik”

“I have to, Tess is a nice person and I don’t want to lose her friendship.”

Lisa scrunched her nose and grinned, “Uh huh…is that all?”

Nikki frowned, “What do you mean?”

The brunette smiled, “Oh nothing.” And chuckled to herself as they reached the top of the stairs.

*******

Wednesday morning found Tess sitting upon the counter in her kitchen, watching the small TV that sat on top of the fridge. She had been awoken by her usual alarm clock…Leto pinning her to the bed in the hopes of getting a bowl of tea out of her. It was only seven and she had three hours until she wanted to be at work, so she was wondering what to do with her time.

Nibbling on a slice of dry toast, she aimlessly watched the TV, not even completely aware what it was she was watching. It had puppets and was obviously intended for children that was all she was sure of.

Thinking back to her conversation with Rosalind Morris yesterday, Tess idly wondered where Nikki was. With her horses maybe or out with her sister somewhere? A fleeting thought in her mind wondered whether the blonde was actually there when she called, but she dismissed the notion as soon as it entered her mind.

The kettle boiled then clicked off, and Tess jumped down from the work surface, pouring the hot water into her cup and Leto’s bowl. The golden dog, running excitedly round her legs with impatience. After topping the bowl up with enough cold water to cool the hot tea, she placed it on the floor, and watched amused as the hound dove in, almost inhaling the beverage before it even had a chance to hit her taste buds.

Shaking her head, she jumped back onto the counter and picked up her coffee, wrapping her hands around the warmth. It was cold, even though she had put on the heating; she knew it took a while for these old houses to warm up. Besides she was only wearing grey shorts and a red tank top, not exactly winter woollies now.

Taking a drink, Tess revelled in the heat making its way through her body, luxuriating in its welcoming warmth. There was no doubt that it was going to be another cold day, and it was only getting colder. She was glad her car was in a garage, as it meant she would not have to waste time, waiting for the iced up windows to clear and engine to warm up.

Once again her thoughts returned to Nikki, they seemed to be doing a lot of that lately. Ever since she had first met the woman, she found her thoughts would turn to her at the most unexpected of times. Wondering what she was doing, how she was feeling, and often after hearing an amusing comment, thinking of how it would have make the small blonde laugh as well.

It was strange, she had not know the woman that long, yet she had made such an impact on to her consciousness, in such a small amount of time. It was so much so, that the though of not being able to re-new her friendship with the blonde, was becoming a painful concept.

Pursing her lips, Tess jumped down from the counter and made her way to the stairs, intent on having a shower. Why sit there waiting to warm up when she could just as easily jump into the hot stream of water and heat up in no time at all.

*******

Jason sat at his desk, chewing on his thumb as he scanned the appointment books. He had just finished doing a bit of a reshuffle, and hoped Tess would not be too annoyed at why he’d had to change her booking to an earlier time. Luckily the customers had been happy with the change.

Scratching the tip of his nose, he scrolled through the day’s appointments.

“Stop picking that before your head caves in.”

Jason jumped and looked up, surprised to see Tess standing by his side.

“Good god woman, are you trying to give me a heart attack. Besides I was not picking my nose, I was just scratching it.”

Tess rubbed her chin, nodding her head with faux sincerity, “Of course you were.”

Jason folded his arms with a sulky expression on his face. “You are late this morning, sleep in?”

Sitting down on the edge of Jason’s desk, Tess folded her arms as well, “Well considering I don’t have any appointments until twelve o’clock, I though I would do a bit of cleaning at home, I still have two hours before the sitting anyway.”

Tess watched the man shuffle nervously in his seat; she arched an eyebrow and looked at him expectantly “OK…what is going on?”

The man smiled. “Well the Mayor rang this morning…he wanted to change his appointment today.”

“Tell me you are joking Jason…now.”

The secretary shook his head, “Afraid not…but he only wanted to bring it forward an hour…twelve instead of one o’clock. So I managed to push your twelve o’clock sitting to eleven…in other words, your sitting today is in one hour not two.”

Tess rose from the edge of Jason’s desk, “Why is it…that man has everybody running around after him huh? Why didn’t you just say that it could not be done?”

“I did…at first…knowing how much you hate to be messed around. Then he said he would have to cancel it for today, and knowing that he’d done that once already, I checked with your sitting to see whether it would be OK, and it was. In his defence though, he did seem very apologetic about having to switch times.”

“Oh I am sure he was”

Jason shrugged, “Well I don’t know what you are so gripey about girl…this means you get an extra hour on your half day today. You can go take pictures of the mud or piles of stones, or whatever it is you artistic types do when you have private time.”

“Jason did anybody ever tell you, that you have a unique eloquence with your words?”

The young man smirked, “Tess, did anybody ever tell you sarcasm does not become you?”

The tall woman grinned and headed towards her studio, “Sure…many times, but you wouldn’t want me any other way right?”

Jason didn’t answer.

“I take that as a NO then.”

Jason turned to give his retort, but she was gone.

*******

Lisa stood at her bedroom window watching the black Bentley move down the driveway. A grin formed on her face as the official car disappeared out of view.

“NIKKI?” she shouted.

She waited for a few moments but heard nothing.

She moved towards her door, “Nikki, are you there?” A few seconds later the blonde appeared in Lisa doorway, “I heard you the first time Lisa, I was not in the stables you know. Though I think Thunder and Jenna, might have actually heard you shout my name like that!”

Lisa grinned, “Oh ha de ha, so you told me to tell you when the parents left…and they have.”

“Right.” Nikki walked back out of her sister bedroom, Lisa right behind her.

“Hey are you going to tell me what is going on?”

Nikki shrugged, “I have something to do. If mum and dad get back before I do, which is more than likely, just tell them I have gone out, but you do not know where…ok?”

Lisa nodded, “Sure. Are you going to see Tess Alexander?”

The blonde disappeared into her bedroom, grabbing her black padded jacket, gloves and woolly hat. “Yeah.”

The teen smiled, “Well good luck sis.”

Nikki sighed as she pulled the zipper up on her jacket, “Thanks.” She picked up her cane, and bag walking back out her bedroom door towards the stairs, “Now I just hope I can get a cab that will get me to the studio, after mum and dad have left.”

Lisa bit her lip as she watched Nikki go down the stairs; she crossed her fingers for her sister. She hoped so too.

*******

Tess’s eleven o’clock sitting had gone well. She was taking the shots of a young couple that had wanted engagement photos, and had enjoyed working with the humours couple. As she escorted them back to the waiting room, she noticed Richard and Rosalind Morris enter the building. A tall blonde haired man was also with them, and it was he who opened the door for them to enter. She noticed he was wearing a smart black suit and cap and realised he must have been the driver of the illegally parked Bentley at the front of the studio. She could see it clear as day through the double, clear glass doors, and felt a fleeting hope that a traffic warden would happen upon it and give them a ticket.

Grinning at the sly thought, she waved goodbye to the couple and walked over to greet the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress.

“Mr and Mrs Morris…how nice to see you again.” She gushed, while grating her teeth on the inside.

Richard Morris held out his hand first, “Miss Alexander, thank you so much for agreeing to bring this forward an hour.” He said, taking her hand.

Tess grinned, ‘agreeing?’ She looked over at Jason, only to find him drooling over the tall, smartly dressed blonde. Making a mental note to have a few words with the man, she turned to Rosalind who stood by her husband quietly.

“Mrs Morris?” She said.

Rosalind held out her hand, and Tess took it, shaking lightly before both women pulled away, a little too quickly.

“Well if you would both follow me, I have the shots ready for you to go through. Would either of you like a drink?” Tess asked as she led them into the viewing room.

“Tea would be nice.” Richard answered.

“I wont be a moment.” Tess responded and disappeared back out of the room. She jogged up to Jason who was making a beeline for the chauffer.

“Jase…” she shouted

The sandy haired man jumped, and looked in Tess’s direction.

“Tea…now…thank you.” She said, and made her way back to the viewing room.

Jason sighed and turned towards the kitchen. “I’ll give that girl bloody tea.” He moaned, and took a fleeting look at the blonde Adonis, before he disappeared from view.

*******

Tess sat in her chair, wondering how she had managed to keep her cool during the most annoying hour and a half of her life. Rosalind Morris had gone through each shot one by one, pointing out every nuance she though ruined the picture, a hair out of place here, a hand in the wrong position there. Luckily she had managed to pick a family shot that she agreed look ‘acceptable’ and now all they had left were the shots of Nikki and Lisa to look through.

“If you don’t mind me saying Miss Alexander, you took some beautiful shots of the girls.” Richard Morris said. He pulled up a particular one of Nikki that had caught his eye. “This one here is outstanding. It is as though you have managed to catch something in her that I have never been seen before. Quite remarkable…”

Tess smiled, “Yes she is a very beautiful woman Mr Morris.” She noticed Rosalind flinch in the corner of her eye, and decided to amend her statement.

“Two beautiful daughters in fact, it was a pleasure capturing that.”

Richard smiled proud of his offspring. “Well thank you Miss Alexander, I must agree of course.” He joked.

The rest of the sitting took another ten minutes, with the Mayor choosing his favourite shots of Nikki and Lisa. And by the time the session was over, both women seemed glad to get out of there, a fact completely unknown by Richard Morris.

As the three made their way back out into the waiting room, Tess was the first to spot Jason looking a little too friendly with the Mayor’s chauffer. She cleared her throat as they all entered the front foyer.

“Well Mr and Mrs Morris.” She said with a little extra volume to make sure Jason was back in place. “I will get on with your order, and will personally call you when everything is ready for you to view. As for your Christmas cards, I shall get them done first and delivered to you by tomorrow evening.”

Richard Morris clapped his hands together, “Wonderful, that is just wonderful. Thank you so much Miss Alexander, and I shall look forward to seeing you tomorrow evening with the finished results.”

The Chauffer, to which Jason had discovered was called Dennis, stood and opened the door for the couple. He smiled at them both as they headed out to the Bentley, and then winked at Jason before leaving the building himself.

Tess’s mouth dropped, “Have you forgotten that you are almost a married man?”

Jason grinned, “Nothing wrong with a bit of harmless flirting.”

“Uh huh…I…” Tess’s reply was halted as Kat’s appointment came through the door. It was a young couple, arriving to view their pictures. Tess smiled at them both, “Ah the future Mr and Mrs Lloyd…nice to see you again.”

They smiled shyly, and Tess thought how much a match this couple made, they both seemed to be afraid of their own shadow.

Jason looked over to the pair, “Please sit down a moment…we will be with you shortly.”

As the young man and woman made their way to the row of chairs, Jason looked desperately towards the tall woman, “Hey!” she looked at him and he motioned her to move closer.

“What is it?”

Jason frowned, “Kat isn’t in yet, she is running late this morning, can you do the viewing…I don’t know how long she will be. She called me while you were in with your last appointment and asked me to ask you to cover for her.”

Tess rolled her eyes, “Yeah, yeah that’s fine.” She looked up at the young man and woman, “Mr Lloyd, Miss Miller…follow me please.”

The couple got up and followed Tess as she led them towards the viewing room.

*******

This viewing had gone a lot smoother than her last and had only taken Tess twenty minutes. The photographer emerged back into the waiting room, a smiling couple by her side within half an hour. After a quiet thank you the future Mr and Mrs Lloyd left the building.

“Well that went easy!” Tess commented.

“Please tell me you didn’t scare that poor couple into buying all their pictures just for the extra commission.”

Tess folded her arms, “Hey that commission stays Kat’s, and no I didn’t scare them I was a perfect gentleman…if you even know what that means?”

Jason scowled, “Look be nice or I may forget to tell you something kind of important.

Tess held up her hands, “Oh, and what is that then?”

“Well…hmm.”

“Jason!”

The man grinned, “Oh ok…since you look so cute when you are intrigued.”

Tess growled, and advanced on the man.”

“Just kidding, gosh no need to be so touchy.”

“Jason if you don’t tell me…”

“Alright, alright…you had a visitor, arrived just as you disappeared with Mr and Mrs docile. Cute blonde, blue eyes, went by the name of Nikki” Jason watched amazed as the tall woman blanched.

“Who is Nikki?” Kat asked, as she entered main reception looking harried, her coat hanging off one shoulder as she closed the front doors.

“What did she say…where did she go?” Tess asked nervously

Jason pushed a hand through is hair, “Well I kind of got the feeling that she wanted to speak to you alone, so…I escorted her to your office.”

“You left her there alone!” Tess asked incredulously already moving towards the door.

“She knew I could not leave front desk for long, and Kat was still on her way here, she said she would be fine, that she had a book in her bag to keep her occupied until…you…were…free…and…anyway.” Jason turned to look at Kat, “Why am I continuing to speak when she has already left the room.”

Kat shrugged.

*******

Tess stood at the entrance to her studio; a nervous fluttering besieged her stomach. Placing her hand on the knob she took a deep breath and pushed open the door, ready to face the woman she had not seen since Saturday evening.

Tentatively she walked into the spacious studio, shutting the door behind her. The quiet of the room seemed almost ghostly as she scanned the area looking for the blonde. Her eyes moved over to an ornate antique looking sofa, which was actually a prop of hers, and she spotted Nikki tucked into one of its corners. Her shoes were off, feet tucked under short legs, and her head resting back and to the side. Her eyes were closed and it was instantly obvious to Tess that that young woman was out for the count.

With an affectionate smile, she moved towards the sleeping figure, taking in the gentle sight. Blonde eyelashes rested against pale cheeks, and soft pink lips were slightly parted as Nikki took deep, somnolent breaths.

In her lap lay a medium size book, open on a particular page. Tess looked down at the page and ran her fingers over the curious bumps. She had never felt Braille before, and as her fingers passed over the indentations, she wondered how on earth Nikki was able to make either head or tail of these seemingly random bumps. A new respect swelled inside of her at the thought of all that the blonde had to over come, and more importantly how she had managed to make it to the studio on her own. Obviously it was possible, she realised, but the fact that she had taken the step, struck an unknown emotional cord deep within her.

Kneeling, Tess leaned back on her heals, taking in the vision still sleeping peacefully before her. She felt a sudden urge to push away the few stray locks that had fallen into Nikki’s eyes, not that it would have bothered the blonde, but unbeknownst to Tess, it was just an unconscious urge to make physical contact.

Deciding that Nikki wouldn’t really be too thrilled to learn that she had slept through her return Tess wondered how to wake her up. Feeling a little self conscious about waking her in this way, she pushed herself to her feet and walked back to the door. With more noise than she would usually make, she opened the door and coughed loudly before closing it with a little extra vigour.

Nikki jumped upon hearing the sound of coughing, the book in her lap fell to the floor with a clump, and she immediately bent forward to pick up the fallen object, flustered and a little confused.

“Hi!” Tess said.

Nikki pushed herself back to her feet; tucking the book under her arm, she smiled sheepishly.

Tess looked at the woman, and wondered whether she had made the right move in the way she had woken her up. Every bone in her body had been pushing her to wake the blonde up in some very different way indeed.

“How are you?” She asked, wondering whether she sounded as lame to Nikki as she did to herself.

Nikki smiled self-consciously, “Ok I guess, obviously a little tired…”

The tall woman grinned.

“How are you Tess?”

Tess walked towards Nikki, not stopping until she was directly in front of her, “Been better.” She answered truthfully.

Nikki nodded, so Tess continued.

“Look Nik, I am just going to come right out and say this…” she paused briefly “What I said the other day, I didn’t mean it the way it sounded…honestly I didn’t. I am sorry for how I behaved, somebody made an assumption about you and I kind of reacted the wrong way, it was not meant to sound the way it did. I am so sorry that I hurt you.”

Nikki moved until she felt her legs against the chair, and sat back down. “No I am sorry for the way I reacted without giving you a chance to explain…I guess we were both a little wrong in how we behaved.”

Tess nodded, “Well in that case…I will accept your apology, as long as you will accept mine…deal?”

The blue-eyed woman grinned, “I do believe you have a deal there Miss Tess!”

“I’m glad” Tess replied sincerely

Nikki fiddled with the corner of her book, a certain thought running through her head. It was a thought that had been running through her head for the past few days. She moved her head up towards Tess, “So…what assumption was made against me that got you kind of angry?”

Tess looked down at the floor, suddenly finding the dull tiles very interesting. “Ah well…it doesn’t really matter now, it was something that they should not have assumed…and were very wrong in doing so.”

“Oh” Nikki responded, slightly disappointed with the reply.

Tess moved forward and sat beside Nikki. “It is in the past now…if we keep talking about it, I will feel the need to apologise again, and me down on my knees is not a pretty sight…trust me.”

Nikki laughed, “Oh shame, and here I was thinking I could milk you being down on your knees for all it was worth.”

That earned the blonde an arched brow, “Really, you think I should continue my grovelling?”

“No, you accepted my apology so I accepted yours…that was the deal remember.”

“Uh huh…well in that case, I truly hope I never have to get down on my knees before you then.”

“Why?”

“Because I never want to do or say anything that will hurt you ever again.” As the words left Tess’s mouth, she realised just how true the statement was. She smiled as a soft blush worked its way over Nikki’s cheeks and a crown of blonde hair came into view, as Nikki moved her face out of view.

Placing two fingers under Nikki’s chin, she lifted her head until she could once again look into Nikki’s clear blue eyes.

“Why that isn’t a blush I see is it…it cannot be?”

Nikki laughed lightly and tried to move away but she was caught in a strong grasp. The blush deepened further.

“Oh more…I like that…looks very cute.”

Green eyes watched blue move sightlessly around until they stopped, stock still, seemingly looking straight into startled green. Tess stopped breathing, a bolt of awareness shooting through her, so strong that it vibrated within her heart.

Nikki sensed the change in Tess and wondered what the woman was thinking. She wanted to speak, but dared not break the fragile spell that had woven its self around them, she did not understand it, but felt powerless to pull away.

Tess’s eyes searched the heart shaped face, taking in every line, freckle and barley visible changes in skin tone. The soft skin beneath her fingers glided gently over her tips, and she suddenly realised she was stroking the tender area.

Blinking rapidly, as if to break the unexpected trance, she pulled back ashamed of her behaviour. Moving away, she rose to her feet, and took a step away from the quiet woman.

“Err, um…” She took another step away, desperately trying to think of something to say. “So how did you get here?” Oh that was a good one Tess, she scolded.

Nikki shook her head, confused at what had just happened. “Oh…well, I err booked a taxi…to get here for when my parents viewing had finished, so was my mother was her usual fastidious self?”

Tess smiled, “She was kind of fussy yeah.”

The blonde smiled, “You are so polite.” She chuckled, “I know how she is…wants everything her way, and will do whatever it takes to keep it that way.”

The smile left Tess’s face, “It must be hard for you being there, I don’t mean that in any kind of disrespect to you or your family, it is just that…well she does seem like the kind of woman to fight for what she wants and believes.” She stated

Nikki shook her head, “No it is more a case of fighting for what she thinks is most acceptable and socially correct.”

Tess nodded in understanding, “I take it they do not know you are here today?”

“No…as far as I am concerned, they were not there when I made the decision to go out.” She shrugged, “I am big enough and ugly enough to make my own decisions…sooner or later they are going to have to accept that.”

“Uh huh…well how about making another decision today?”

The blonde pursed her lips, “And what may that be?”

Tess sat next to the woman, “Come out with Leto and I this weekend, we are taking a trip…though don’t tell Leto yet or she will not shut up about it until I leave the house with her.”

Nikki laughed, “Where are you going?” She asked.

Tess shook her head, “Ah ha, that would be telling…it will be a surprise…do you want to go?”

Nikki pulled a face; appearing to be considering the offer, “Err…well as long as you feed me, I think it sounds like a great idea.”

Tess smiled, “It’s a deal.”

*******

Jason and Kat sat in the employees lounge, heads close together in deep conversation. Their muted whispers sounded through the room, and as Robert and Stan entered the area, they pulled away innocently.

Robert looked over at his companion with a frown, and then looked at the two possible conspirators.

“Ok…so what is going on here?”

Jason shook his head, and Kat shrugged as they all turned to the sound of footsteps moving towards them.

Tess appeared at the doorway, her arm closely held by a small blonde. All eyes looked at the two women full of question.

“Everyone this is Nikki…Nikki this is every one. Jason, whom you have already met, Kat, and Stan they are photographers like me. There is also Carl, but he is out today, and last but not least Robert, the big bad boss.”

Nikki smiled to a series of hi there, and hellos.

“Well guys if you will excuse us…sorry we cannot stay and chat, but Nikki has a taxi that should be here any minute, so we have to go.”

After a few quick goodbyes, they left the doorway, heading for main reception.

Jason looked towards Kat with a raised eyebrow, “So what do you think?” He whispered.

Kat winked, “Definitely worth keeping an eye on.” She answered.

Robert walked up to the two conspirators, “What is worth keeping an eye on?”

Kat shook her head, “We will let you know when we have more proof.”

Robert placed his hands on his hips, shaking his head, “Why do I get the feeling Tess is not going to be pleased with you two?”

Two wide eyed, innocent faces looked at each other in faux surprise.

*******

As the women made it to reception, Tess was slightly disappointed to see that Nikki’s taxi was already waiting for her. With the blondes arm still held securely around her own, she guided her out onto Main Street.

“Well I guess I will see you on Saturday then yes?”

Nikki nodded as the tall woman opened the door for her, “Even though you are not going to tell me where we are going…yes you will…and thank you, I look forward to it very much.”

“No thank you.” Tess said, “Believe me, it will be nice to have more than the dogs company for a change. No matter how hard I try, I just cannot seem to grasp doggie language.”

That earned the brunette a laugh, “Well I am glad I can be of service to you. So what time?”

Tess thought about it quickly as Nikki got into the car, “I will let you know when I bring your fathers cards around tomorrow…that ok? It is just that I am not completely sure yet.”

“That is fine, I shall see you then…goodbye Tess.”

“Bye Nikki.” She replied and shut the door.

Standing on the curb, she watched as the vehicle drove silently away disappearing around a corner, a happy smile never leaving her face.

From inside the main reception, Jason, Kat, Stan and Robert all stood at the window watching the scene with interest.

“So what do you think?” Kat questioned the rest of the gang.

“Definitely worth keeping an eye on.” Robert stated, a little uneasy about what his employees were implying.
Part 4
There was a strange kind of sound that signalled the coming of each new day. It was like distant life, from hundreds of miles away, would echo through the dusky sky. It was familiar and comforting, creating an almost peaceful ambiance to each birth of a new day.

Smells were different to. They were cleaner, fresher, delighting the nostrils with its cool scent. It was almost as if you could tell what kind of day it would be just by experiencing these sensations as the sun rose gracefully into the morning sky.

Nikki had woken early Thursday morning, with a strange feeling of unrest, or was it excitement? She had managed to get home before her parents the day before, so was able to avoid the inquisition she was expecting from her mother upon her return from the studio. That night she had gone to bed early, wanting to get away from the hassle of listening to her mothers constant tittle-tattle. So she had proclaimed tiredness, and had escaped to the privacy of her bedroom where she fell asleep still in her day clothes.

When she had come around, she was on top of her bed, shoes still upon her feet, and book still resting on her stomach. The clock told her it was half past six, so that meant it was still pretty dark outside, and everyone but James would still be asleep.

Getting up from the bed, she walked over to the veranda doors, which lead to a small balcony from her bedroom. Grabbing the jacket that hung loosely on the corner of her vanity chair, she shrugged into its extra warmth, and opened the doors, walking out onto the small upper tier.

A brisk northerly wind blew gusts of cold air upon her face, and she shivered as it worked its tendrils around the collar of her coat. It was going to snow today, she was sure of that. The past few days had seen a rise in temperature, but now it was dropping again, and Nikki knew a good fall of snow was definitely on its way.

Folding her arms she leant forward, placing them on the black railings that surrounded the small rectangular balcony, and breathed in the cool air. She loved these times of the day; the soothing silence gave her a calming feeling that eased her sometimes-whirling mind.

With a deep sigh she let her thoughts wander, allowing the speculation as to where Tess was intending on taking her at the weekend. It would have to be somewhere that Leto would be able to go, so she was sure it would be outside. As her mind wandered, she thought back to the day before, and the strange emotion that had passed between them. She was not sure but she got the strange feeling, if only for a fleeting nano second, that Tess was going to kiss her.

Nikki shook her head, angry at the ludicrous notion; the woman had probably just paused in thought nothing more. With an even deeper sigh, brought on by an unexpected disheartened feeling, she pushed herself way from the railings and wandered back into her bedroom, closing the door firmly behind her.

There was a sudden quiet tapping on the bedroom door that led onto the landing.

“Yeah?” She whispered loudly.

The door slowly crept open and a grey head poked around the frame, “Morning Miss Morris, I heard your veranda door shut and just though I would come and see whether you required anything…a warm drink maybe, or some breakfast?” He looked at her dishevelled state with a frown, “Why, you did not sleep in your clothes last night, did you?”

Nikki smiled sheepishly, “Yes…guess I was pretty tired, I flaked out not long after my head hit the pillow. I was only lying down to read as well.”

James Abbot walked into the room pushing the door to, but not completely shut. “Possibly it was your unexpected outing that tired you so?”

“Ah…” Nikki sighed, “Maybe.” She chewed on her bottom lip and sat down on the corner of the bed. “I am sorry I didn’t tell you where I was going, I guess it was thoughtless of me…but Lisa knew. I just didn’t want you warning me about annoying mother, one day she will see that I am able to lead a life of my own James. I understand her protectiveness, but she has to understand that I need my independence too.”

James sat down next to Nikki, he knew that it wasn’t really appropriate for him to be doing such a thing, but the woman needed some reassurance and he wanted to provide it.

“I think it is hard for all parents to watch their children grow up. One minute you are taking care of them, trying your best to do what is right, and the next minute the children all grow up, able to take care of themselves. But the thing is, that it does not stop the parent from wanting to do their utmost in looking out for what they will always consider ‘their babies’.”

Nikki shook her head, “It’s not that…”

“I know I know…” James assured, “I see how it is, and although I am in no position to point out what I see, I can assure you that I am on your side, and will do whatever is in my power to help in any way I can.”

The blonde smiled, “Thank you James.”

The butler rubbed a slim shoulder; “I have known you from the first day Mrs Morris brought you home from the hospital. I saw you take your first step. I was there when you spoke your first word, and came home from your first day at school, all dirty with grazed knees.”

Nikki laughed.

“Your mother was so annoyed at your scraped up knee. She made you wear long dresses to hide the scabs…and we both know how much you hated wearing them.”

The smile faded from the blondes face, “Why is she always so consumed by what people think, and making the right impression?”

James shook his head, “I cannot answer that, and all I can say is that deep down she does love you and your sister. It is hard for a person to know how to show affection when they were not accustomed to it themselves. My father worked for your grandfather as you know, and he said that your grandfather was very much how your mother is now, it could explain why she is the way she is.”

“But I don’t ever want to be like that James.” Nikki stated, terrified by thoughts of innate shallowness.

The butler laughed, “I don’t see any chance of that happening, you and your sister are both too independently minded. The trick is to be aware of others around you, and not become wrapped up in yourself, and how you want others to see you. You have a loving, caring heart Miss Morris I would not want to see that change.”

Nikki blushed, “Thanks James.”

Rising to his feet, the butler walked towards the door. “Well I think I should get on with my duties. It is almost time for your fathers wake up call, and I need to go start the breakfast. Which by the way leads me back to my original question…can I get you anything?”

“I will be down in about half an hour James, just give me a chance to get more presentable and I will be on my way.” She paused, “But saying that, if you could get some bacon cooking, I would be most appreciative.” She grinned, as she moved over to her wardrobe.

James nodded, “Bacon it is…” and he left the room with a smile.

*******

By eight o’clock the snow had started its descent from the grey morning sky. Heavy flakes fell with purpose to the ground, thick and fast in their approach. Quickly covering the city with a never-ending blanket of brilliant white shavings that the hustle and bustle of Thursday morning commuting traffic could not disrupt. And it had stayed that way, a dense assault of snow, falling all the morning, through lunchtime and on into the afternoon.

Tess stood by a large rectangle window, on the second floor of the Snap Shots building. She looked out into the city, now sparse with only the odd shopper daring to risk the blistering cold. Traffic was minimal to, and tended to only range from different forms of public transport, and the odd snow covered car thrown in for good measure.

Craning her head to the right, she looked at the tall cathedral that stood at the bottom of Main Street. It was facing the road, so provided a clear view to the photographer, who watched casually as people filtered into the huge building. Idly, she wondered what the event was. She had never been a religious person, and often wondered what was the draw for those that were. She was pretty sure Nikki attended the church on occasion, as it was common knowledge that the Lord and Lady Mayoress attended many Sunday masses.

Turning back, she looked up into the heaving sky; the snow was still coming in fast. So far today Snap Shots had received four cancellations from snowed in customers, but she wasn’t in the least bothered. However much she loved taking pictures, there were just some days, when she would prefer the solitude of working in the darkroom all day, and today was now one of those days. In fact, she had spent most of the day working away from the outside world, that when she had walked up to the window not ten minutes ago, the sight shocked her slightly. She’d never seen so much snowfall in such a short space of time, and inside her hopes of a white Christmas increased.

Hearing footsteps behind her, she turned around to see Robert walking into the storeroom, his arms full with three large boxes of camera films. Only the size of the man gave him away, and the top of the second box covered his view as he walked blindly into the room.

Not being able to see where he was going, Robert was unaware that he was walking into another box on the floor. Tess was too late in warning him, and his foot hit the box, jarring the third box on top of his pile. It fell forward, and the brunette jumped forward catching the item before it hit the ground.

“Wow…nice catch!” He said placing the other two boxes on another pile of even larger containers. The whole room was full of boxes, of different shapes and sizes.

Tess place her burden down and bowed, “No problem, sorry I was a bit lax in my warning.”

Robert smiled, “Well you saved me from a possible accident so thanks.”

“Ah it was nothing Robert and you know it.” She studied the man before grinning, “But if you insist on being grateful…you can thank me by lending me your jeep?” She looked at him with hopeful eyes.

A frown covered the burley mans face at the mention of Tess using his most prized possession again; she was always borrowing it when she needed the extra packing space, or more room for her equipment. “Why?” He folded his arms.

Tess rolled her eyes, “Because I want to use it.”

“What for?” He asked again, eyeing her up and down suspiciously.

This time she shook her head, “I promised the ‘Mayor” she emphasized the word for better effect, “That I would deliver something to him today, it is ready now, and would like to get it to him. The problem is my car will not make it in this weather…and you have all that ‘all wheel drive’ and ‘all weather tires’, it would be wiser to use your jeep…so I could get there safely. You know…in one piece, and more importantly, that I would be able to get the ‘Mayors’ cards to him on the agreed date.”

“Well I will do it then.” Robert stated taking a step towards the door.

“NO…” Tess said a little too quickly. “I mean, I said I would do it, and I will…don’t you trust me or something? I promise to be very gentle with your pride and joy, and treat her with the utmost respect and devotion…just like you do.”

The tall man frowned, “I am not that bad.”

Tess nodded, “Of course you are not. So can I borrow it? Come on, you know I am an excellent driver.”

Robert shook his head, “I don’t think so…why don’t you just go and buy your own car for gods sake…that rust bucket you drive around is highly in need of been replaced.” He held up a hand to stop the protest she was about to make, “Yes, yes I know it was your fathers and it has sentimental value, but I am speaking from a common sense point of view here. You need a new car.”

The photographer tapped her foot, “Fine…you are right…I shall buy a new car…satisfied.”

“Yup…” Robert nodded and took a step to leave the room

“Provided…that you let my borrow your jeep today…come on I promise to buy a new car if you allow me to use it just this one last time…come on Robert I did save you from a near accident with the boxes.”

Robert sighed his arms falling limply to his side, “You buy a new one at the weekend and it is a deal.”

Tess held out her hand, grasping the larger one in a firm handshake, “Deal.” She said; realising with annoyance she was going to have to change her plans with Nikki for the weekend.

Pushing his hands into his pocket, Robert pulled out his keys. With a reluctant growl, he handed them over to Tess taking a little too long in letting the metal objects go.

Tess gave a firm tug and released them from his fingers, “Cheers Rob.” She grinned and walked out of the storeroom, patting the distraught man on the back as she passed him.

*******

The journey to the Mayors house was slow, taking over twice as long as usual due to slow drivers and the fresh snow causing precarious road conditions. Still she knew that the country roads would be worse, and just hoped the jeep would manoeuvre the narrow dirt tracks with ease. She was glad that at least the blizzard had stopped, as she hated driving in those conditions.

Tess arrived at the house by five o’clock, and as she pulled into the driveway she noted that one of the three garage doors was open and presumably a car was missing. She hoped that meant Mr and Mrs Morris were out. Parking the jeep at the front of the house, Tess climbed out, her booted feet sinking into the heavily snowed path.

Zipping up her heavy jacket, she pulled open the back door, and took out the box of cards. Securing it under her right arm, she slammed the door shut and made her way to the front door. It was opened before she even had a chance to knock.

Lisa stood back allowing Tess to enter then quickly closed the door behind her. “Cold out?” She asked.

“Just a bit.” Tess replied as she spotted Lisa’s friend Sally, standing by the entrance to the family room, blush once again evident upon her cheeks. She smiled at the girl before turning back to Lisa. “So is your father here, I have his Christmas Cards, I need to get his signature on receipt.” Tess looked around hopefully.

Lisa smiled, “Have you changed jobs now…are you a delivery woman?”

Tess arched her eyebrow, trying to keep the smile from her face.

“Gosh I was only kidding!”

Just then Mrs Morris appeared in the doorway, an obvious faux smile plastered on her highly made up face.

“Miss Alexander…we were not expecting you until this evening…my husband isn’t even back from work yet.” She walked forward.

Tess pulled the large box from under her arm, “Well your cards were done, so I thought I would deliver them…” she took a side glance at a giggling Lisa, “…As promised, but before it got too dark, the roads are icy enough at the moment, they are bound to be worse once the temperature drops.”

Rosalind nodded her head, “Wise decision.” She stepped forward placing her hands out for the box and Tess passed it over.

“I will need a signature, just to state that you have received the package and are happy with the finished results.”

“OK…Let me have a look.”

The older woman walked over to a large hall table and placed the box on top. She pulled open the lid and reached in taking out one of the Christmas Cards. Talking the glasses that were hanging from a golden chain around her neck, she put them on and inspected the card.

Tess turned around to Lisa and her friend who were standing in the doorway to the family room. She looked at Lisa making eye contact.

“Where is Nikki?” She mouthed silently with a frown.

Lisa opened her mouth to respond…

“Well Miss Alexander, you have done a marvellous job here, I am sure my husband will be very pleased with them.”

Tess smiled at the small woman, as she pulled a sheet of paper out of her inner jacket pocket. “Well if you would just sign here then Mrs Morris I will be on my way.”

Rosalind took the form and picked up a gold pen from a large pad by the phone. She signed her name and gave the sheet of paper back to Tess.

“Thank you…is there anything else?” She asked keeping her eyes trained on the tall woman.

The photographer shook her head, “No that is it, Thank you Mrs Morris.”

Rosalind walked to the front door, “Well thank you once again for bringing them around so promptly Miss Alexander…I am sure my husband will contact you this evening.”

Tess walked out of the door, and into the cold, somehow feeling warmer now she was out of the woman’s presence.

“Goodbye Miss Alexander.”

“Bye.”

Rosalind shut the door.

*******

Tess sighed, blowing out a strained breath as she looked into the sky and noticed the snow once again falling from the thick grey clouds. She blinked rapidly as a flake hit her eyelashes, and turned away, heading back to Robert’s jeep.

She was annoyed, very annoyed. So it was obvious that Mrs Morris had for some reason decided to take a disliking to her; she still didn’t know why. What was so wrong about taking her daughter out for a few hours last Saturday anyway?

Pulling the keys out of her pocket, she was about to twist open the lock when she heard a voice call her. Looking up quickly, she saw James Abbot jogging towards her. He was wearing a large black coat over his shoulders, and she could tell he had come out for the intent purpose of talking to her.

“Hey James what’s up?”

The butler looked towards the house before turning back to Tess. “You were not supposed to be here until later this evening Miss Tess. I do believe Miss Morris wanted to speak with you, but as she presumed you would not be here until later, she was obviously not expecting you to arrive so soon.”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, I get the feeling that she would be very disappointed if she missed you…so…if you want to speak to her, she is at this moment in the stables, grooming her horses.”

Tess grinned at the elderly man, “Thanks James I appreciate it. Now get back inside before you catch your death.”

The butler smiled, “Thank you Miss Tess…why it is a little cold out here, I think I might just do that.”

With a small wave he turned around and headed back the way he came disappearing around the side of the house.

Looking briefly at the large building, Tess turned towards the path that would lead to the stables and headed off in search of Nikki.

*******

The temperature inside the stables was a lot warmer than outside. What with the solid brick walls and heavy oak doors, it was able to keep the blistering cold winds that hammered against the walls completely out.

Dressed in heavy jeans, a sweater and incredibly warm coat, Nikki sat on a bale of hey, listening to the wind. It was beginning to gather speed, and she knew she would have to return back to the house soon, or else risk the chance of being blown away. She laughed gently to herself at the thought.

Leaning forward she rested elbows on her knees and placed her chin in her hands. She felt peaceful, even with the howling winds, rustling trees and gentle nickering and stamping of Thunder and Jenna, she still felt relaxed. She smiled to herself realising that any sound would be more welcoming that her mothers prattling. A frown suddenly replaced her smile, it was not that she didn’t love her mother because she did; it was the constant feeling of suffocation that saddened her so.

Pushing back, she realised she should start making her way back to the house, when she heard the stable door open. Nikki rose to her feet, since she was in the back of the building, nobody would be able to see her from the doorway.

“Hello?”

Nikki recognised the voice immediately and moved out into the main area of the stable. “Tess.”

Tess saw the blonde walk into view and smiled at the welcome sight, “Hey, I was looking for you.”

“Yeah? You are here early, I though you were not bringing the cards round until tonight?” asked Nikki.

“Well I got them finished early and though I better bring them round. It is getting pretty stormy out there, and I didn’t want to tackle that along with the added danger of the darkness…spooky out in these non street lamp lit roads ” She pushed a hand through her hair, removing large flakes of melting snow from her dark tresses. She hated the feeling of wet windblown hair; it was an annoyance to comb.

Nikki nodded, “How are you?”

“Fine…you?”

“Yes I am good…so you want to talk about Saturday, I suppose if the weather stays like this it will be off huh?”

Tess walked further into the barn, needing to be closer to the blonde. She looked around at the two horses that seemed disinterested in either woman’s presence, as she stopped by Nikki’s side.

“Um…I have to cancel anyway. I made a promise to do something at the weekend and cannot back out of it. It was stupid really but the only way I could get Robert to lend me his jeep so that I could get here ok.”

“What was the promise?”

“That I would go buy my own jeep, and stop using his.”

“And you have to do it this weekend?” asked Nikki.

“Yeah, and Saturday is a better day for me, as I am the official photographer for some big Christmas charity function in Birmingham on Sunday.”

“Sounds interesting.”

Tess scrunched her nose, “Yeah dozens of celebrities pretending to give a damn about whatever the latest cause is that’s considered hip to support.”

Nikki shook her head with a smile, getting a glimpse of the infamous Tess Alexander that Lisa had heard of and told her so much about.

“So I only have Saturday to get the damn car…that is unless you think car shopping with me would be considered a fun day out?” She asked hopefully with crossed fingers and toes.

“I was just thinking that.” Nikki responded.

“Is that a yes?”

“Oh course, it could be fun. I just hope the weather holds off over the weekend though.”

“Great…I mean, yeah I hope so too.” Tess looked around the stable. “So have you finished with the beasts?”

“Yes.” Nikki laughed, “They have been groomed, had their forage feed, and are now feeling well loved and cared for…I hope.”

“Well in that case…would Miss Morris care for Miss Tess to escort her back to the main house?” Tess asked using her best James Abbot impression.

“Why yes I do believe Miss Morris would like that very much.”

Tess held out her arm, gently took Nikki’s and placed it in the crook, “Then let us get going then shall we?”

“Lets.”

With twin smiles, Nikki and Tess walked out of the stable and securely shut it behind them.

The snow was still falling with no sign of stopping as they made their way up the long concrete path. The force of the wind blew to the side, forcing them to turn their faces away from the blistering gusts.

“You never mentioned what time you intend on picking me up on Saturday.” Nikki stated in a raised voice, trying to be heard over the turbulent winds.

“I want to get there nice and early, so how does nine o’clock sound?” Tess asked above the high winds; she hoped the weather would not be like this.

“Fine with me.”

She smiled, “Great.”

They reached the main house, and Tess noticed Mrs Morris standing in one of the front windows watching them. Pretending she had not seen the woman, Tess walked Nikki up to her front door. Once under the porch, they were able to talk in a more normal voice, the majority of the winds howling blocked out by the brick structure.

“Your mother was watching us.” Tess whispered

Nikki sighed, “Ok, thanks for letting me know.” She whispered back smirking. She should have know her mother would have been somewhere around if Tess was about.

“Are you going to be alright?”

“Yeah fine, her bark is worst than her bite.”

The brunette pulled a face, “Seems like she has a pretty mean bark though.”

“Nothing I can’t handle, I will be fine.” Nikki assured her.

“Ok…if you are sure.” Tess still felt a little uneasy. “Listen…” she scratched her neck, “Could I give you my mobile number, just in case you ever want to speak to me…you can call me any time. The phone is always switched on. You could call me this evening if you wish, just so my mind will be put at ease.”

Nikki hesitated for just a minute, “Um…ok yes that would be great.”

“Are you good at remembering numbers, cause I have cards…but…”

“Actually I am terrible at remembering numbers…you tell me what it is and I shall program it into my watch.”

Tess gave out her number, as Nikki put it into her watch. Once done, she played back the data to make sure she had got the digits right. Then with slight reluctance, Tess said good-bye and made her way back to Roberts’s jeep, as Nikki entered the house.

*******

Rosalind Morris was waiting for her daughter in the hallway as she entered the house. She had noticed the jeep still parked in her driveway not long before, and had wondered what was going on when she spotted the two women walking back from the stables.

She walked into the hall, and stood by the table still holding the box of Christmas cards, as she waited for Nikki to come in. It had taken two minutes for the blonde to appear, and in that time the woman had come up with a million different scenarios as to what was going on behind the closed door.

Nikki walked in, knowing who would be waiting for her upon her entrance.

“I see you had a visitor.” Rosalind stated.

“Yes Tess came to say hello…why?”

The woman frowned, “I just wondered what she wanted to see you for…and why. I am concerned as to what her interest is in you.”

“I don’t understand.”

Rosalind walked to three feet in front of her daughter, “I want to know what a woman like that is doing with somebody like you.”

The words stung unexpectedly, “What do you mean ‘somebody like me’ mother?”

“Exactly what I said. That woman is a high paid, well-known member of society, even with her introverted and somewhat aloof personality. She does not mix in our kind of circles, so I wonder what she is playing at.”

“Maybe she just wants to be my friend.” She told her mother, even though inside she felt an unknown desire for something more.

“Nonsense, why would she want that?”

Nikki fought against the hurt, her mothers words produced. “Well I tell you what, when she comes to pick me up on Saturday, you can ask her.”

“I beg your pardon. She is taking you out on Saturday? I do not think so young lady.”

Lisa appeared in the doorway listening to the conversation. Though hidden from her mothers view, Nikki sensed she was there.

“Mother, you cannot stop her, or me for that matter. I would like to go out, and it would be a nice change for me. I always get stuck doing the same old boring things, this is something different, and I am going…ok?” Nikki heard her fathers’ car pulling into the driveway.

“Nicole Kathryn Morris, am I to understand you are disobeying my orders?” Rosalind advanced a step closer to her daughter.

“When will you understand I am capable of choosing my own friends and making my own decisions mother?”

Richard Morris walked into the hallway at that precise moment.

“I do not need you to vet people for me, I am a pretty good judge of character, and I like Tess ok. I am going out for the day with her on Saturday, and you cannot stop me when you have no valid reason, other than that fact that you don’t trust somebody. You have never even gotten to know her mother so you cannot make that kind of judgement.”

Behind the door to the family room, Lisa and Sally grinned and gave each other high five.

“I have never heard your sister speak up to you mother like that.” Sally whispered.

“She has never had a reason to before.” Replied Lisa.

Richard Morris walked in between the two women, “Ok, what is going on here?” he looked towards Rosalind.

“Will you please tell your daughter that she cannot possibly go out with that Tess Alexander woman at the weekend Richard.”

The mayor looked at his daughter, “Nicole are you and Miss Alexander going out for the day on Saturday?”

Nikki nodded, “Yes father, she only asked me whether I would like to go car shopping with her, and I said yes.”

“Then what is the problem?” He asked his wife.

Rosalind looked at the man strangely, unsure of what to say. “Well I just thought that it would not be appropriate…”

“Nonsense…” He butted in, “It is Nicole’s decision. And though I can understand where you are coming from,” He consoled his wife, “I am sure she will be in fine. I was a little unsure of Miss Alexander myself at first, but she is a nice woman, and a credible asset for us. Why did you know she is attending the ‘Christmas for children’ charity function this Sunday in Birmingham?”

Rosalind shook her head in surprised, while Nikki did the same, not surprised in the least that her father would find that a promising advantage.

“Well let us hear no more about it. It may not be the most desirable of days out Nicole, but I trust you will enjoy yourself.”

Nikki grinned and thanked her father, all the while knowing that if he had not approved, there was still no way she would have missed shopping with Tess. She knew that he could not really have stopped her, and so did he, but it made things easier for her to know that he approved of Tess, and for some reason, that was strangely important to her.

*******

Late into the evening Tess sat in her sparsely decorated living room. She lay across a large sofa, resting on her side with her head in her left hand. In her right she held the TV remote control, as she aimlessly surfed the multitude of satellite channels. She was not really interested in something to watch, her attention more upon the mobile phone lying directly in front of her.

Tess was hoping Nikki would call. Since the moment she’d given her number to the blonde, she had spent every moment with one eye and ear on the phone, wondering whether it would ring. And earlier when it did, she dove to the device before noticing her mothers name on the digital display. So she had answered the phone and asked her mother to call back on the landline, just in case the Nikki did indeed ring…but so far she had not. Tess wanted to think that was a good sign as it meant Nikki was probably ok, but she still felt a nagging disappointment…if she admitted it, she really wanted to speak to her again.

Still flicking through the channels, she thought back to the brief conversation with her mother. Hyacinth Alexander had asked when her daughter was to come down and visit her, as it had been over four months since they had last seen each other, and that was when Hyacinth had travelled up to visit Tess. Still her mother did relent due to the present bad weather, but issued an order to come visit her lonely old mother just as soon as the snow had cleared. Tess had agreed, but as she did every time she and her mother spoke, moaned about the fact that Hyacinth had moved down to Cornwall.

The relationship between mother and daughter had always been close, made even more so when her father had died. It was then that Hyacinth had decided to move, and had found a quaint little cottage on the on the outskirts of Boscastle. Tess was not too thrilled that she would be leaving the Midlands, but consented to whatever made her mother happy. And if it meant that she would get the odd holiday down to a costal town, who was she to complain?

Her perusal of the TV had strayed to the music channels, and she flicked through each station with disgust.

“Boy band.” Flick, “Boy band.” Flick, “Girl band.” Flick, “Another boy band.” Flick, “Ugh ancient band.” Flick “Weird band.” Flick, “Oh god…and I pay good money for this?”

She made one more attempted switch of the channel and landed on a history program, talking about the life of some unknown military leader. Shaking her head, she fought the urge to throw the remote control at the screen, and instead opted to make herself a drink.

As she got up, Leto, who had been sleeping peacefully on the floor, got up and followed her master into the kitchen. Tess was greatly aware of the hopeful expression for a possible snack, evident on the golden dogs features.

Once inside the kitchen, she made a beeline for the fridge, opening it up and surveying the contents. She really did need to so some shopping, the shelves were less than half full, and she always liked to keep a well-stocked fridge.

Deciding on the banana flavoured milk; she took out the carton and placed it on the counter, while reaching up to the wall cupboard for a glass. Leto noticed the beverage on the side and whined for some attention.

“No way dog, you don’t like this stuff remember? Banana milk, last time I gave you some it ended up all over the bloody floor.”

Tess filled her glass and put the carton back into the refrigerator, Leto still whining at her feet. With a dramatic sigh, she stuck her finger into the glass and pulled out some of the milk.

“Go on then, have a try…again.”

Leto lapped at the finger for all of one second before the flavour hit her taste buds, and she pulled away with a snort of disgust.

“Ha…told you so.” Tess proclaimed with a satisfied smile. Her moment of revelry was short lived as the ringing of her mobile filtered into the kitchen.

With a jump she darted into the living room and grabbed, noticing the unknown number in the display. With a frown and a slight feeling of disappointment that it was not whom she had hopped, she answered the call.

“Hello?”

“Tess?”

The photographers’ ears picked up at the sound of a familiar voice, “Nikki?”

“Yeah.”

“Sorry I didn’t realise it was you, the number was unknown to me.”

“I have my own line in my bedroom, that could be the reason.” The blonde chuckled.

“Ah ok…so how are you…how did things go earlier?”

“Fine actually, my father came home and backed me up…you know I think he might actually be starting to come around to the fact that I am not ten years old any more.”

Tess laughed, “Good for him.”

Nikki sat down on her bed, and then moved to lie on her back. She crossed her ankles and rested one hand upon her stomach. She felt suddenly content.

Tess walked back into the kitchen picked up her flavoured milk, and walked back into the living room, putting her glass on the floor as she got into her previous position on the couch. Leto trotted over, sniffed the glass, and snorting again at the memorable smell. She dropped herself down unceremoniously onto the carpet and closed her eyes. Tess chuckled quietly at her behaviour.

“What have you been up to this evening then?” Nikki asked, not wanting to end the conversation.

Tess leaned forward taking a drink of her milk, “Not a lot actually, pretty quiet evening for a change, and I haven’t even set foot into my dark room all evening…a first for me. I kind of watched TV, spoke to my mother, who is demanding that I go down and visit her, and took Leto out for a walk when I first came in, just in the woods at the back of my house though.”

“I love walking in wooded areas, all the sounds seem to echo, and there is a comforting kind of amity that is hauntingly familiar.”

Tess rolled onto her back; “You make it sound so romantic…I bet you write poetry don’t you?”

“Actually sometimes yes I do…but I assure you it is not very good.”

“I would still like to hear some of it some time.”

The blonde fidgeted feeling suddenly embarrassed, “Um…well maybe, I have never let anybody hear it before.”

“Well if you are willing I would love to be your first test subject…but I have a feeling I am going to like them. You have a way with words Nikki, sometimes they speak to me…in a deeper sense of course”

A blush covered fair cheeks, “Thank you. Can I tell you something?”

“Sure.”

She hesitated briefly, “I wish I was able to feel your work, I have heard so much about it that I regret I will never be able to see the beauty you capture.”

Tess rolled her head to the side looking at her favourite picture on the wall, “Maybe you would like me to describe one for you, a picture I took and loved so much that I placed it here in my living room.”

Nikki placed her hand under her head, “Yes…that would be wonderful.” She closed her eyes, ready to concentrate on Tess’s rich velvety voice.

The brunette looked hard at the shot. “It is night time…out in the middle of nowhere, and the sky is lit with a million stars like tiny chips of ice in the midnight sky…beneath the sky is the ocean…it is vast…and its icy waters move gently on the surface by a light breeze…if you were to put your hand into its water, you would be able to feel the chill and movement of the crests due to the light winds…in the centre of the sky is the moon…it is large and encompassing…fully rounded and shining bright like the daytime sun…it sheds its image onto the ocean below…and if you were to put your hand into the reflection…I bet you could feel an unexpected warmth…comforting and peaceful…When I first saw the sight, it captured something deep down inside of me…and it was like I was pulled into the moment. I wanted nothing more than to remember that feeling, so I took the shot and hung it here in my living room.”

Nikki held her eyes tight closed, breathing deep. Raw emotion welled inside of her and a single tear threatened to spill from her firmly shut eyes. “That is beautiful.” She whispered.

The tall woman heard the hitch in her voice, “Hey…you ok?”

“Yeah.” She took a steadying breath, “I have just never heard something that has been described to me in such a way that I was able to almost picture it in my head.” She opened her watery eyes. “Sounds a little strange, but it is almost like I can feel what it would be like to actually be there.”

Tess lifted to a sitting position, crossing her legs. “Maybe some day I could take you there, it was and still is my most favourite place to visit.”

Nikki sat up also, “Sounds like it would be wonderful.”

An unexpected knock sounded at Nikki’s door, she gave the permission to enter, and James Abbot opened the door quietly, “Miss Morris…your father has requested that you see him.”

Tess heard what James said in the background and was disappointed that their conversation would have to come to an end.

“Sorry Tess, it seems I have to go, my father wants me.”

“Ok Nikki, well thank you for ringing…it was a nice, if brief conversation.”

The blonde smiled, “Yes…I guess I will see you on Saturday then, bright and early I presume?”

“Yes I will be there…good night Nikki.”

“Night Tess.”

They both held the phone to their ears, neither one wanting to disconnect the line. Tess could her the light breathing, “I think you should go before your father sends a search party.” She said softly.

“Yeah I guess so…bye Tess.”

“Bye.”

The line went dead.

Tess pulled the phone away from her ear and looked at the black object. With a sigh she threw it lightly on to the chair to the right side of her, and flopped back down into the couch. Leto chose that moment to dive onto her master, making Tess gasp for air as the mutt landed on her stomach.

“Thanks ‘tow tow’.” She wheezed.

The golden dog whimpered.

“You miss her too huh? Yeah so do I.”

Tess realised the impact of what she had just said, and ruffled the Terriers wide head, short hairs falling onto her black tee shirt. “Guess I am in trouble aren’t I girl…this is just between you and me though ok. I don’t want to loose her friendship ‘tow tow’.”

The hound woofed lightly, before laying her head on Tess’s chest.

“You neither? Then I guess we better be careful huh?” With a deep sigh, she closed her eyes, and soon drifted into a heavy sleep, Leto still on her chest, and lines of uncertainty etched deep into her brow.
part 5
Rosalind Morris had risen early Saturday morning, knowing full well her daughter was to be leaving the house by nine o’clock. She could hear Nikki moving around in her room, obviously getting showered and dressed. Pulling on her dressing gown, she went down stairs in search of James for the possibility of a cup of tea. The house was warm, and the smell of freshly baked bread filtered out from the kitchen as she reached the bottom of the large mahogany staircase.

She had secretly hoped that a snowstorm would have developed during the night, thus meaning the cancellation of her daughters outing, but there was none. The weather had been pretty calm since Thursday evening, cold but unfortunately for her, peaceful.

There was something about Tess Alexander that she just did not like. At first, the thought of meeting the woman was quite exciting, as she had long before admired her personal work, but as they say…things change. Rosalind found she was concerned with the way her daughter had become such fast friends with the photographer, and she had to wonder why. Nicole was vulnerable, she had decided, and too defenceless against the outside world and the unscrupulous people who inhabited it. Vultures she had told herself, ready to prey on unsuspecting targets. Nicole was a target, with her background and impending wealth that she was to receive on her twenty-fourth birthday, a day that was not too far away. It was an inheritance that both of her daughters were to receive at that age, all due to her own fathers bequeath on his death.

Did Tess Alexander know this, she wondered; had Nicole in fact told her about this? Could this be the reason why the woman was taking such an interest in her daughter? Rosalind did not know, and realised she would have to some how approach the subject with her daughter in order to find this out.

Walking into the kitchen, something she rarely did, the woman found James pulling a fresh loaf of bread out of the oven.

“Good Morning Abbot, would you make me a pot of tea please.”

“Of course Mrs Morris, where would you like it?”

“Is the heater on in the conservatory?”

“Yes, I put it on first thing this morning.” James placed the hot loaf onto a wire cooling rack.

“Then would you bring it to me in there, and tell Nicole where I am when she comes down for breakfast would you, I wish to speak with her.”

“Of course.” James turned to prepare the tea, as Rosalind left the room.

*******

Quietly in the background, Nikki’s radio alarm clock played an unrecognisable tune. She had set it to go off at seven o’clock to make sure she was up with enough time to get ready before Tess arrived. Then had subsequently spent half an hour pottering around in her room thinking about what the day would have in store for her, before deciding to actually get ready. Besides she had heard her mother rise with the alarm, and did not want to start the day off in an uncomfortable way. Whatever her problem was with Tess, Nikki was sure she would get over it.

She sat on her bed, drying her hair with a small navy towel, already dressed in her most comfortable jeans and sweater. She had wanted to wear something a bit smarter, but with the weather she knew keeping warm was of the main concern.

Still with the towel draped over her head, Nikki reached down and put on her boots, threading the laces through the fourteen small holes. The snow was still relatively deep outside, so she realised they were her best option, and besides they were also extremely comfortable.

As she pulled the towel from her hair Lisa poked her head around the door.

“Morning Nik, just wanted to make sure you were up and moving.”

“Of course I am silly.”

Lisa pouted, “Well you never know, I am well aware of your procrastination when you are trying to avoid mother, and I know she got up at your alarm.”

Nikki walked over to her dressing table, picking up the canister of mousse. She squirted some in her hand then ruffled it into her hair. “Ok so I did partake in a little time wasting, but I am almost ready to go down. What time is it?” She asked, her watch still on her bedside table.

“Twenty past eight.”

“Hell I better get a move on then, if I want to dry my hair and still have breakfast before I leave.” She walked over, picked up her watch and wrapped it around her wrist. Then as an after thought she opened the draw, pulling out her favourite necklace, and hooked it around her neck.

Lisa took a step back out of the room, “Well I am going back to bed, I figure I still have another good three hours of sleep as long as I am not booted out of the sack…see you later and have a good time ok.”

Nikki smiled, “Thanks…later…oh hey you still have the mobile number just in case right?”

She heard a muffled ‘yes’ as Lisa trudged sleepily back to her own room.

By the time Nikki had dried her hair, which consisted of tipping her head upside down with the blow dryer, it was half past eight. So she grabbed her wallet, folded cane, coat and headed down the stairs in search of food.

James stood in the kitchen slicing bread, glass of orange juice and two slices of toast on the table waiting for her.

“Morning Miss Morris, I have fresh bread for you, toasted on one side only of course and a glass of juice.”

“Oh James that smells heavenly.” She walked over to the table and pulled out a chair, ready to sit in the kitchen and eat.

“Miss Morris, your mother asked that you join her for breakfast this morning. She is in the conservatory waiting for you, she has been since ten past seven.”

Nikki rolled her eyes, “Ok…ok, lets get this over with shall we.”

She pushed her chair back under the table, as James picked up the breakfast tray and followed her through the house to the conservatory.

*******

Tess had been up since half past five. She had driven to Coppell Stone Park to take Leto for a jog around the boundaries, before driving back home for breakfast. By then it was half six, so she poured herself a bowl of Honey Nut Flakes and sat eating them in her usual position. Sitting on the kitchen work surface, watching the early morning TV.

This morning it had been an educational program about Quantum Mechanics. She had only tortured herself with half an hour of the program, which happened to go right over her head. She had absolutely no idea what these guys were talking about, and actually didn’t want to know. There were just too many middle-aged men with unruly beards for her liking. They reminded her of a character from a children’s book that she read once when she was younger. It was about disagreeable man with a very wild beard, who would store bits of food in his facial hair, saving it as a snack for later. Obviously after that thought, her Honey Nut Flakes were introduced to the garbage disposal unit.

Tess left her house at eight o’clock, knowing that it took a good forty minutes to get to the Mayors house from where she lived, but she also wanted to give a little extra time for snowy road conditions. She left with her backpack slung firmly over her shoulder, containing everything she hopped she would need for the car buying expedition.

*******

Nikki stood by James side at the double glass door entrance to the conservatory, a mischievous smile upon her face.

“Well what am I to do?” She whispered to the butler. “She’s obviously fallen asleep.” She said, talking about her mother, who had indeed dropped off, while waiting for her daughter to arrive. “I don’t think it would be a good idea to wake her, I bet she looks nice and peaceful. Nope my opinion is…leave her, she will be fine, I’m sure.”

“Miss Morris she may be slightly annoyed at that.”

Nikki shrugged, “Well what am I to do, I don’t want to wake her when I know what I am to receive for my trouble…a good ten minutes of nagging I am sure.”

James tried to keep the smile of his face, he was glad that the front bell sounded and he walked off to answer the door.

Tess stood under the large porch, wondering who was going to open the door; she was relieved when it was James.

“Miss Tess, bright and early I see…come on in.”

“Morning James,” She replied as she entered the house, “Nikki is ready I hope?”

Just then Nikki came into view and James noticed the sudden smile that crossed the photographers face.

“You are fifteen minutes early.” Nikki said, a slice of half eaten toast within one hand and empty glass in the other.

“Sorry I booked the taxi for eight thinking I would need the extra time just in case the roads are still snowed up…but luckily they were rather clear, it is just the pathways that are a little on the slippy side. Still it should be ok in town though.”

Nikki nodded taking another bite into her toast, “Well let me go put this glass in the kitchen and I will be good to go.”

“Let me take that for you.” The butler stated, walking towards the blonde, “I am going back into the kitchen anyway.

“Thanks James.” She handed the container to the old man, as she bit into the last of her toast.

“Well, I guess we should get going then hey?” Tess walked towards the door. She opened it and waited for Nikki to follow, giving a quick wave to James as she closed the door behind them both.

*******

Once out in the cold air, Nikki zipped up her jacket. “So why did you book a taxi anyway, what is wrong with your car?”

They headed towards the cab; “Well I want to drive away with the new car, so thought it best to get the taxi. I phoned around dealerships looking for ones where I could purchase and drive home on the same day…and as long as it is not brand new, I can. I can go for the type that is bought by people who update their model every year, so it will be almost new…in a way. I just can’t get brand new because of sorting out the registration etcetera.”

Tess opened the back door and let Nikki in first, before climbing in behind her. She shut the door and turned to the driver, “Dorchester Road please.”

With a slight nod of the head, the car took off.

*******

They drove in silence for some minutes, both women lost in their own thoughts. Tess’s mind kept returning back to the night before, and the unexpected realisation she had made about her feeling towards the blonde sitting quietly beside her.

Turning her head, she took a sidelong glance at Nikki. She sat facing forward with both hands clasped lightly in her lap. Fingers were entwined and her thumbs were moving in a slight rolling motion over each other. Her vision travelled higher, taking in the large navy jacket that made her look twice the size she was, and up to the gentle sloping planes of her face. Her cheeks held their customary pink tint, and blonde eyebrows framed light blue eyes.

Tess became aware of her heart hammering forcefully in her chest, her skin felt flushed and she was very glad that she was sitting, as her knees suddenly felt awfully weak.

Looking away, she closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. Oh for gods’ sake get a grip T, the last thing you need is this. She rubbed her forehead, blowing out a slow breath.

Nikki heard the sigh, “Are you alright Tess?”

The brunette fidgeted in their seat, “Um…yeah fine.” She looked at the blonde to see Nikki had turned her head in her direction. She smiled to herself; I bet she has no idea of just how beautiful she is.

“You sound a little distressed.”

Tess shook her head, more like obsessed, man what is wrong with me? “No I am ok really.” She thought quickly to change the subject, “So ever been car shopping before?”

Nikki laughed, “No never really interested me before.”

“Oh…well you know you didn’t have to come…I mean, I don’t want this to be boring for you…I just…”

“Hey no this will not be boring believe me…the company is way more interesting anyway. Besides I have never been car shopping anyway, not really much input I can give I guess.”

Tess leaned forward, “Well a bit of advice then.” She moved to Nikki’s left ear. “You hear the sound of the engine on this car?” She whispered

“Yeah?” Nikki whispered back.

“Well if you hear a sound anything like this in the cars I am looking at, pull me away quick smart.”

The blonde chuckled, “I take it this car has a pretty cranky old engine then.”

“Oh yeah, sounds too much like my car at home.”

“Then why do you keep it?” The blonde asked in a normal voice.

“It was my fathers and for some unknown reason he loved it. He was a mechanic and was always fiddling around with it, and of course getting me to help him. When he died, my mother gave the car to me…she could not stand it anyway.” Tess laughed

“How did your father die, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Cancer…it was pretty sudden, we didn’t even know he had it until he collapsed in his garage one day, it was a few years ago now…he went down hill from then on. It was just six days later that he died…it was so unexpected.”

There were a few moments of silence.

“I am sorry.”

Nikki reached out and found Tess’s hand securing it in a soft grip. Their fingers entwined naturally and for the first time since his death, Tess felt a single tear slide down her cheek. She left it, not wanting to acknowledge its presence, feeling a little shocked and embarrassed at her sudden loss of emotional control.

*******

They rode the rest of the journey in silence. Nikki never relinquished her hold on Tess’s hand and Tess never wanted her to. It was another ten minutes before the taxi stopped in Dorchester Road. Tess paid the driver and got out, the blonde right behind her.

“So what’s the plan Miss Tess?”

The taller woman rolled her eyes, “Well I was thinking a walk around the shops for a while then go to the dealership…or the other way around. Either way I was considering sticking lunch in between. How does that sound?”

“Sounds ok to me, shopping first, then lunch, then go and get you a car…are you sure there will be enough time?”

“Uh huh…there are only two places I want to go, both of them recommended to me by Robert. I have a pretty good idea of what I am looking for and these places have a huge selection…besides I hate browsing, I will see what I want and go for it, simple as that.”

“Ok then let’s go.” Nikki took a hold of Tess’s left arm as they headed towards the town centre.

The city was still relatively quiet, the main weekend shoppers not yet having besieged the town. Tess took a turning onto Belgrave Road, heading towards a certain shop that she wanted the blonde to visit. They walked down the curved road at a slow pace, Tess describing the type of some of the more interesting shops that they passed. Eventually they came to a small road, but instead of crossing, Tess led Nikki down the small street.

It was called Victoria Lane, and not accessible to cars; thus they were able to walk down its middle. Nikki inquired as to the uneven road surface, and Tess explained that it was an old cobble stone road well over a hundred years old.

Victoria Lane was home to many of the so-called ‘back street’ shops. Smaller and more unique type businesses, that sold non-commercial items and many things from other parts of the world.

“Where are you taking me?” The blonde asked.

Tess poked the side of her mouth with her tongue, “Ah…I am afraid you are going to have to wait and see, it is a bit of a surprise. Well not a big surprise, just somewhere that I think you will like.”

“Ok?”

Tess stopped when she reached the place in question. It was a small grey brick shop, like most of the other establishments along Victoria Lane, but with one exception, this one did not have any front window. The area where a window used to be had been bricked up with newer bricks, a couple of shades lighter than the older buildings masonry. There were windows on the second floor, but they were draped with dark muslin, and it was impossible to see what was inside.

“Well we are here.” She stated.

“Where?”

Tess took a hold of Nikki’s hand, “Trust me.” She led the blonde to the entrance, “Watch out for two small descending steps.”

“Ok.”

With her hand still firmly within Tess’s grasp, and the right side of her body touching the back left of the taller woman’s, Nikki carefully followed the photographer into the shop.

Upon entering the first thing Nikki noticed was a strong smell of woods and varnishes. It wasn’t overpowering, but definitely a dominant aroma within the confines of the small shop.

“I refuse to believe this is a hardware store.”

Tess laughed, “No…no it is not a hardware store. It’s called ‘Hand Crafted’ and it deals with hand made wooden carvings from around the world. Statues and containers, of all different sizes on all different subjects, by all different types of people worldwide. I came across it by accident one day, during an aimless amble around town, and have loved this place ever since. Anyway I brought you here because I saw something not long ago and I immediately though of you.”

“What was it?”

The brunette led the small woman to a dark corner of the shop. She saw the item in question and released Nikki’s hand, picking up the object.

“Hold out your hands.”

Nikki did as requested.

“This.” She replied and placed the wooden carving in small hands.

Nikki frowned and grasped the slightly heavy object, as she began to run her fingers over the surface. A smile etched its way onto her face as she began to realise what it was.

“It’s a horse.” She proclaimed

“Uh huh.”

“I don’t believe it, the attention to detail is amazing…remarkable. I can feel every slight nuance, texture and…wow; the mane feels so detailed. It is almost as if I could count every strand of hair.”

“Can you believe it was carved completely by a man with no sight, somewhere in South America?”

“Really?”

“So I was told…I mean I am not sure whether that is true.” She leaned forward and whispered, “The woman who owns this place told me that, but between you and me, she is a bit of a strange one.”

Nikki chuckled.

“But anyway as soon as I saw it, I thought of you. So…um…do you like it?”

“Oh yes it is beautiful Tess…absolutely.” She continued to let her fingers glide over the object, amazed at the amount of detail she could feel.

“I am glad you like it.”

“Yes…why?”

“Because I bought if for you.”

Nikki’s fingers paused in their perusal, “Pardon?”

Tess switched nervously from one foot to another, hoping she hadn’t made a mistake in her actions. She had thought Nikki would like it. “I err…I err, I bought it for you…a gift if you will, I hoped that you would like it.”

“This is for me?”

“Yes.”

Nikki clutched the wooden animal to her chest, “I don’t know what to say…well I mean I do…but I am just so surprised…this is so unexpected Tess.”

“A simple thank you would do you know.” The embarrassed woman joked.

Nikki moved forward, wrapping her free arm up and around the taller woman’s neck, pulling her close. “Thank you.” She whispered.

Surprised by the unexpected gesture, and unsure of how to react, Tess put one arm around the shorter woman and hugged her back. “It was my pleasure, especially to see that smile.” She breathed in deep, taking in the scent of Nikki’s shampoo, it was fresh and fruity, just the kind of aroma she would associate with the blonde. She closed her eyes, luxuriating in the contented reaction her body produced.

Nikki smiled to herself, feeling the way Tess’s body moulded and relaxed into hers. For the want of a better word, she decided it felt so right, so…comfortable.

“Excuse me?”

Tess moved away swiftly and looked up to see the owner of the shop standing in front of them. She was a very tall woman, standing about six inches taller than Tess with long straight red hair that reached over half way past her back. Wearing a wrap around skirt, top and large heels, she was an imposing sight to behold. Yet the soft smile and pale features gave away a slight glimpse to a gentle personality.

“Oh hi Carmen.”

Carmen looked between the two women, “I see you like the gift Miss.”

“Yes it is very beautiful.” Nikki replied with a smile

“I am very glad, that was one of my favourite pieces and I am happy it is going to somebody who will appreciate it as much as I do.”

They spoke briefly with the shop owner, as she wrapped the carving up and placed it in a secure box. As the statue was made from a soft wood there was more chance of it breaking if dropped.

When they left the shop and made their way back onto Belgrave Road, the town was beginning to fill. Shoppers of all ages, children with mothers or fathers and gangs of youths…filtered into the town centre and the noise level rose at a steady rate. Nikki took the cane out of her pocket and snapped it into place, feeling the need for a bit of extra assurance with all the onslaught of people. So Tess took her bag, and with Nikki on one arm and the bag on the other she guided them both through the pedestrian style traffic.

Entering a large indoor shopping centre, they were both quick to detect the smell of baking biscuits. Nikki groaned at the tempting aroma and so Tess decided it was time for a snack. With her only having half a bowl of cereal and Nikki one slice of toast, they were both in need of some sustenance. She had never actually been to the place before, so had to follow her nose until they found the small bakery in question. It was called ‘The Cookie Jar’ and looked more like a large cubbyhole in the wall than a shop. It specialised in many different styles and flavours of cookies from around the world.

A frown creased the photographers’ face as she noted the long queue tailing back from the kiosk, she realised there must have been about twenty people. With a slight growl, she and Nikki joined the end of the queue.

“I take it you are not a fan of queues?”

Tess’s reply was a quiet grunt, and Nikki laughed softly. “Oh come on it is not that bad…we can chat while waiting.”

Tess sighed, “I’m just not a fan of waiting, more a woman of action, but I am sure as long as you are here to entertain me I will be fine. So what you want to talk about?” The tall woman thought quickly, “Oh how about you tell me…” She poked out her bottom lip in thought, and looked down at the blonde.

Since her jog this morning, a thought had occurred to Tess and she hadn’t been able to put it out of her mind. Today had supposed to be a day out…but of the more interesting kind, she hadn’t planned on taking Nikki shopping for a new car. That wasn’t her intention at all. Then during her journey to the Mayors house this morning, she had been considering her idea and wondering whether Nikki would think about it.

“What is it?”

“Huh?” Tess asked then gently escorted Nikki a few steps forward in the queue, “What, what is it?”

“You seem to be in deep thought.”

“How can you tell?”

Nikki shrugged, “Not sure, I just can…so what are you puzzling about?”

Tess bit her lip, “Err…well I was thinking this morning about how this probably would not be a very enjoyable day for you…no let me finish…and I thought that maybe I could kind of make up for today.”

“But Tess…”

“No, no…hold on. I was wondering this morning whether you…well you see my…I mean…err, how do you…”

“Tess what are you trying to ask me?”

“Do you want to come down to Birmingham with me tomorrow?” She blurted.

Nikki’s mouth fell open.

“I mean, only if you want to.” Tess looked at the blonde, “Are you going to say something…Nikki?”

“Are you serious, and am I allowed to do that?”

“Of course I am serious and yes you are allowed.” She smiled, “My so called invitation stroke contract for the evening requests myself and my partner.” She cringed at her words, “I mean I can bring another person if I wish.” Nice going T, “The only problem is that it is a late evening and a hotel room is provided, so we would not return until Monday morning.”

“I get to go to Birmingham for the ‘Christmas for Children’ charity function?”

“If you want to, yes, I would love for you to come with me.” Please say yes.

“Well I, I mean yes I would love to. I can’t believe it.” Nikki moved forward reaching out for Tess and pulled her forward. Her right hand reached up feeling the taller woman’s face, and she pushed up onto her toes kissing the woman on the cheek.

Tess’s breath caught as she felt the soft lips touch her cheek. Rapid warmth spread within her body, as she felt her cheeks flush a deep crimson.

Nikki moved away but left her right hand upon the brunettes’ face, her fingers moving lightly. “Can I…do you mind if I…it is just that I have been wondering and I um…”

Tess took a deep breath, “You want to feel what I look like?”

The blonde nodded, “Yes.” She whispered

A loud hammering sounded within Tess’s ears, as her heart thudded within her chest. She tried hard to control the increase her breathing, “…sure.”

Nikki’s other hand moved up to the brunettes’ face. Starting on Tess’s forehead, her fingertips moved gently over the soft surface. The fingers moved down past Tess’s temple and over her cheeks. She noted the increased warmth and wondered as to the cause.

“You have strong cheek bones.” She stated, continuing on her perusal. Moving across the fine nose and down over full lips. Tess closed her eyes, revelling in the torture she was receiving.

“Uh huh.” She answered weakly, loving the sensation so much that she feared its continuation.

For Nikki the world spiralled away to nothing, until her focus was on the photographer and herself, all outside sounds had completely disappeared. Her finger moved across Tess’s lips, as the woman involuntarily moistened them, and the tip of her tongue touched Nikki’s fingertips. She shuddered as warmth penetrated her belly, swelling in heat.

Tess felt Nikki’s hands tremble against her, and she opened her eyes looking down at the blonde with question. A blush had worked its way around the fair cheeks, and she could just make out the movement of a rapid pulse on her neck.

The smaller woman continued, touching the strong chin before moving across either side of Tess’s jaw to her ears, where her hands once again cupped the woman’s face. Then she froze, unsure of what to do, her trembling hands gently holding Tess’s face with a strange feeling of uncertainty.

Tess looked down, her shoulders rising and falling with her increased breath, eyes searching out Nikki’s face for some form of comprehension.

“Excuse me!”

Nikki pulled her hands away and Tess turned around dazed to see a small blue haired woman wearing a long maroon overcoat. The woman nodded and motioned her eyes towards the queue. Tess turned around and noticed that the rest of the line had disappeared and she was next to be served. Smiling weakly, she took a still confused Nikki’s arm and led her to the counter.

“What can I do for you darling?” The assistant asked with a bored smile.

Tess looked at Nikki, “What would you like?”

Nikki licked her dry lips and brought her foggy brain into gear. “Err, whatever has lots of chocolate chips in it please.”

Tess scanned at the selection until she found what she was looking for, “Two of them please.” She asked, pointing to the large double chocolate chip cookies.

It was Nikki’s intention to pay for their snack, but her confused mind, still puzzling over her bodies reactions to taller woman, didn’t realise the transaction was complete until Tess was leading her away. She shook her head, clearing her thoughts.

“Um…I err, I think I want to save mine until after lunch.”

Tess looked down at the white, highly decorated paper bag, before turning to Nikki, “Yeah me too.” Dropping the cookies into the bag with the carving, she led the blonde out of the shopping centre.

*******

As midday approached the swarms of people grew to annoying levels. Tess growled as the fifth person bumped into her, and she cursed the season and the fact that with only one week till Christmas day it was only going to get worse. She hated this time of year, not the celebration, just the increase in shoppers that plagued the city centre in mad rushes to buy their presents in time for the big day.

It was the same on the roads, and the fleeting thought to buy a great big truck entered her mind. Something that could mow down all the crazy drivers who would park in the middle of the lane if they just happened to see what they wanted to buy while driving down the street. She shook her head, Yep, crazy times she thought, and realised she was glad she only bought presents for the barest minimal of people. Then she looked down at the blonde closely tucked by her side. But I think I will be buying one more present this year.

Tess made an executive decision…that they would find a small eatery on the outskirts of town, and closer to the dealerships. She really didn’t have the patience to deal with fanatical shoppers any longer. Heading back to Belgrave Road and following it to the outskirts of the city she was glad to be away from the throngs of shopping savages.

She asked Nikki what she would like to eat and the blonde said anything as long as it was warm and filling. So she decided on a small Italian place that she spotted earlier that morning, it was open all day, and served supposedly good food. Well that is what it said on a notice board at the front of the establishment, so she was easily swayed.

It turned half past twelve as they entered the café, and Nikki was glad of the chance to sit down for a while. A tall man with dark greased back hair greeted them and ushered the women to a small table in the corner.

He pulled out a chair for Nikki as she sat down, then did the same for Tess, who sat down opposite her.
“Here are your menus ladies…” he placed the cardboard list in front of Tess then looked at Nikki, before quickly walking off, and returning with different one for the blonde. “I have a Braille one here if you wish Miss.”

Nikki’s grinned, “Yeah thanks.”

He placed it down, “Now can I get you both a drink?”

“Do you have hot chocolate?” Nikki asked.

“Yes Miss.”

“Great I’ll one of them please.”

“And a coffee for me.” Tess added.

The waiter then disappeared leaving them alone in the half empty café. Tess looked around the small establishment, and decided that it may have served Italian food, but it looked most definitely English. Each of the round tables was covered in red and white gingham tablecloths, and the walls held many old black and white prints of the city.

Nikki opened the menu and started her perusal of the foods available, as Tess did the same. There was a comfortable silence and neither woman felt the need to fill it at that point. Her fingers glided over the list until they stopped suddenly.

“Pizza!” She exclaimed

Tess looked up surprised at the sudden outburst, “Huh?”

“Pizza that is what I want…topped with extra cheese, pepperoni, ham, and pineapple.”

“Sounds good.”

“You want to get a medium…no a large, and share?”

“Sounds like a plan to me.” the Photographer replied.

“Great.” Nikki tapped her menu, “Do you think we should get an extra large?”

Tess laughed, “Depends how hungry you are.”

The waiter returned with their drinks, “Are you ready to order?”

“Yep.” Nikki replied, “One extra large pizza with extra cheese, pepperoni, ham and pineapple.”

“It will be about ten minutes.” He replied, and disappeared with a smile.

*******

Tess decided it had been their first argument, though it wasn’t really an argument, and more of a disagreement, she had to smile at the blonde’s persistence. When they had finished lunch and she had asked for the bill, Nikki had instructed the waiter, whom they had discovered was called Samuel, to bring it to her. That was when the disagreement began. Tess had tried to insist that she was the so-called host for the day so this was her treat, and she had to pay, but the blonde was having none of it. She had then pointed out that Tess had bought her the wonderful gift, and the cookies, so she wanted to buy lunch.

Tess had been stuck then for something to say, that didn’t mention how she wasn’t sure about Nikki’s monetary situation. She realised she had no idea whether the blonde had an income, and didn’t know how to approach the subject in a casual way.

Nikki stated that she was paying and that was the end of it, and when she pulled out a gold card with her name on, Tess realised that was the end of it. Though Nikki did quietly ask her to go with the guy and watch the card, as she didn’t use it out much and her father had constantly warned her about the evils of credit card fraud. Tess laughed at this shaking her head, as she followed the guy to the register on the pretence of asking a question.

They left the café at half one, Tess leading the way to the garage Robert had recommended. He had bought his pride and joy there, and stated that the service was second to none. Tess was not bothered about that. As long as she was able to purchase the vehicle she wanted without some slimy ass sales man trying to persuade her to buy shares in the company while at it, she was fine.

Within ten minutes they had reached the garage, and it was huge. Tess assessed that it must have been about the size of six football fields, with one large, two-floor, red brick office building near the entrance. They walked in together through wide wrought iron gates, and up a long tarmac pathway.

“Tess?”

“Yeah?”

“What should I wear for this ‘shin dig’ tomorrow evening…what will you be wearing.”

Tess frowned, “Well I usually stick to a three piece pants suit, something smart but functional for working in. Just wear a kind of smart but casual ensemble…that’s usually the standard dress at this event. There are no posh frocks, or party gown laws.” She joked.

“Ok, I guess I can ask Lisa to pick something out for me. She is always looking in those celebrity magazines, so I think she will have some idea of what I can wear from…um what I have in my wardrobe.”

“Well then I am sure you will be fine.”

Nikki nodded, “Hope so.”

Tess pulled her arm from Nikki’s grasp and set it around her shoulders, pulling her in, “I know so.” She stated, and Nikki laughed.

*******

Their assistant had been a tall Asian man with greying hair and small round spectacles. He had greeted the women upon entering the main show room, with a happy smile and friendly demeanour. Nikki had been taken with him upon their first introduction, and had laughed and joked with him from the onset. Tess on the other hand was being a little more guarded. She was not about to be duped into anything she was not willing to buy, so was a little mistrustful of the over-friendly man.

The photographer had stated that she was looking for either a jeep or truck; good at handling those hard weather conditions, with not too may miles on the clock. She also stated that she was looking at driving the vehicle home on the same day, so there was no use in showing her brand new models.

The assistant had taken them out into the large selection of cars, and took them to a few he though Tess would like. It had only taken her five minutes to choose the one she wanted, a two-year-old, British Racing green Blazer. As soon as they got in for the test drive, Nikki started inspecting the insides.

“So does it have those cute little cup holders that spring open when you push them?” She asked

“Yep.”

“What about heated front and back windows for quicker clearing of ice?”

Tess looked towards the blonde, “Are you a secret car enthusiast?”

Nikki shrugged, “I just like all those extra little things they can do.”

“Uh huh, well this one has electric windows, power steering, A.B.S…”

Nikki scrunched her nose, “That is all the technical stuff, I want to know whether it has a CD player or, I don’t know…those little pull down table things on the back of the front seats for the back passengers.”

The assistant who was sitting in the back piped in, “There is a CD player that it was installed by the previous owner.”

Nikki nodded, “See, Al here gets me.”

Tess shook her head, “Tell you what, when it is all bought and paid for I will install a mini oven, TV, and video recorder…how is that?”

“You see, now you are just being sarcastic.” The blonde said with a smile.

Tess laughed.

*******

Nikki soon realised that choosing the car was the easy part, as she sat in Al’s office while he and Tess sorted out all the documentation. It had taken them a while to get things arranged, having to add the car to her insurance, and register the vehicle in the photographers name upon other things. Still she was glad she had come, and was looking forward to the next day very much. Tess had stated while eating lunch that she would pick her up at about eleven o’clock, and then they would drive down to Birmingham and register in the hotel. She had also stated that she would ring them and change the room to a double with two beds when she got home that evening.

Some time later everything was complete, and the women were ready to go. Tess opened the door to her new car for Nikki to enter, then walked round to the drivers seat. She climbed in and fastened her seat belt, making sure Nikki had done the same before starting the car.

“So, what do you feel like doing now?” She asked as she pulled the vehicle out onto the main road.

Nikki though for a moment, they had spent most of the day together, and she wondered whether Tess had other things she needed to be doing. “I don’t want to be in your way if you have things you need to do.” She said suddenly.

Tess looked over to the blonde and frowned, “Nikki I have done what I needed to do today. Why did you say that, do you want to return home now?” She asked with uncertainty.

“Oh no, I just thought that maybe you wanted to call it a day. We will be bugging each other all day tomorrow as well you know.”

Tess smiled, “Oh so I am bugging you huh?”

“NO…I didn’t mean that.”

The brunette laughed.

“I just meant that, oh I don’t know…it doesn’t matter.” Nikki shook her head. She would admit to herself that she didn’t want to feel like she was imposing on the woman, or have her think that she needed to be looked after. She wanted to voice these concerns, but knew Tess would rebuke her insecurities hastily, and she realised gradually, that was all the convincement she needed.

“I do have a suggestion though.” Tess added

“Ok.”

“Well Leto has been in all day, so how about we go back to my place and take her out for a walk in the woods?”

“Sounds great.”

“Excellent, I bet the old mutt will be pleased as punch to see you.”

Nikki chuckled, “I will be happy to see her to.”

Tess turned the car towards the motorway, “Home it is.”

*******

They stood by the front door to Tess’s house.

“Now I have to warn you, when you first enter Leto has a tendency to attack you with full doggie force, intent on giving you as many pooch smooches as you will allow.”

Nikki pulled her most serious face, “Ok, I shall keep that in mind.” While inside, her mind was once again smiling at the cute words Tess had used when talking about her dog, Pooch smooches?

Tess pushed the key in the lock and twisted it slowly, “I’ll go in first and take the brunt of the attack, you stay behind me and when she has calmed down a little I shall allow her to greet you, which she will be more that willing to do, I assure you.”

The blonde nodded “Lead the way Commando sir.”

The photographer sniggered as she gently pushed the door open. Suddenly and as expected, ten pounds of golden yapping muscle hurtled towards her. Tess braced herself and for the impact, but was surprised when Leto barged right passed her and fell the blondes’ feet. She looked down at the dog confused.

Feeling the hound wriggling around on her boots, Nikki bent down and started scratching the offered tummy. “Looks like the ambush did not go as expected Captain.”

Tess just stood slack jawed at the dogs’ antics.

“Well somebody is glad to see me.” Nikki stated fussing the dog that was sprawled on its back, while trying to lift its head, extending her tongue as far as possible in order to provide the pooch smooches. Unfortunately for Leto, Nikki was too far away and she was unable to make contact.

The taller woman stared down in amazement, “Have you even noticed I am here Leto?”

The golden dog looked up at her master and wagged her tail before returning to her indulgence in the blonde.

Putting hands on hips, the dark haired woman sighed, “Well I suppose somebody will not be wanting a walk in the woods then.”

Leto froze and looked up at Tess.

“I think somebody is trying to say something.” Nikki sang, “Are you saying that if Leto does not pay you some attention she will not be getting a walk?”

“Oh that is exactly what I am saying.”

Leto dived up from the floor and hurtled herself into the surprised woman’s stomach, knocking her down in the process. She mounted Tess’s chest and started her customary tongue bathing for all of five seconds before dashing off to find her lead. Tess lifted to her elbows, “Ouch, I think I just bruised my butt, I mean that damn dog did.” She complained.

Nikki moved to the other woman, “Are you alright?” She reached out a hand and found purchase of Tess’s left leg. Leaning on her knees, and bracing herself on one hand she ran her other up the appendage until she had located Tess’s arm; she took a hold of the left hand. “Did she hurt you?”

Tess sat on the floor, unable to move. The moment Nikki’s hand had touched her leg she froze. And as it began its journey up her thigh she felt an intense feeling of heat; liquefy within her. She had closed her eyes and sucked in a deep breath, biting her lip at the unexpected feeling of pleasure the touch had invoke.

“Tess?”

Suddenly her eyes shot open, “Huh?”

“Are you alright?” Nikki had heard Tess’s reaction, and was unsure as to the cause. Had she accidentally touched a sore point where the dog had jumped the woman?

“Um.” Tess wondered whether to say something, but what. God damn it, why did this have to happen to me, and why with her? She looked deeply at Nikki, because she is the most beautiful person I have ever met…inside and out is why. Oh shit! She grasped the hand holding hers, “Nikki, I…”

At that moment Leto came bounding back into the hallway, lead securely entwined around her sharp jaws. She barked repeatedly at the women who seemed to be way too oblivious to the world around them, or more importantly…her.

Tess sighed, “Yeah, yeah I can hear you ‘tow tow’ come on then let’s get going shall we?” She pushed herself to her feet and helped Nikki up also, before bending down and securing the lead to the dogs collar. Nikki remarked that she had not gotten a chance to tour the house so Tess promised her one when they got back.

Arm in arm and with one happy dog trotting in front, lead scraping along the floor, they made their way to the back of Tess’s house. Tess had a long garden with a gate at the bottom, which lead into the woods. As they made their way to the gate, Nikki asked about the garden, and Tess simply stated that it tended to look nice after a visit from her mother. She admitting that she had unfortunately not inherited the genetic Alexander ‘green fingers’ that had always been a family trait. So Nikki assured her that she was sure the brunette could do many other talented things with those fingers. That statement had forced a deep colouring onto the taller woman’s cheeks.

Picking up the lead as they reached the end of the garden, Tess unlocked the gated and led them all out into the forest. With the sun already making its decent in the sky, and the mass of shade from the trees, it was relatively dusky. Nikki released Tess’s arm and pulled out her cane from her back pocket, snapping it into place, and began a slow walk through the wood.

When they got deeper into the woodlands, Tess unclipped Leto’s lead and allowed the dog to run off for some exercise. She turned and looked to her left where Nikki had bent down and was picking up a pinecone. Staying in a squatted position she studied the object with an oblivious smile, before chucking it back down to the ground and moving to a standing position. She started walking again, her cane rustling around in the mass of damp brown leaves.

“It is lovely out here in the summer.” The photographer commented

Nikki nodded, “I bet so, the sun warming all the plant life and creating the most fragrant of aromas.”

“Yeah but I was meaning more that you don’t have to wear great big coats and keep moving to stay warm.” She chuckled, “You could just sit out here in shorts and a tank top and forget the outside world even exists.”

“Sounds like bliss.”

“Very much so.”

Nikki moved towards the taller woman, and Tess naturally put out her arm for the smaller woman to take. “Do you ever wonder why we are here Tess, I mean what is the purpose of the lives we lead and the cards we are dealt?”

Tess stopped forcing the other woman to do the same; she was a little surprised by the profound question. “I don’t know, I guess I have never thought about it. In my opinion all we can do is make the best out of what we are given, strive for what we want and try to be happy.” She shrugged.

“And what if you find the happiness you so desire with another person?” The tone of Nikki’s voice forced the taller woman to look closer into the blondes’ heart.

Tess moved her hand up, pushing away stray locks of golden hair that the wind had blown around Nikki’s head, “Then I guess that is what you strive for.” Her hand dropped until it was cupping Nikki’s cheek, her thumb gently moving over the soft surface. She looked deep into Nikki’s eyes, memorising the bright blue orbs, before her own eyes moved down to gaze upon silky pink lips. “And fight…with everything inside of you, never to let it go.” She whispered.

A small hand lifted and Tess felt fingertips run along her arm until they wrapped around her wrist. She momentarily feared Nikki was going to pull her away, but the loose grip tightened around her, holding her in place.

“Would you fight for me?”

Tess felt her heart slam within her chest as she moved her other hand up to the back of Nikki’s neck, “With every last breath.” She replied and moved a fraction closer, checking the blonde for any signs that she was about to make a mistake; but there were none. Her lips mere inches away from their goal, she looked down from Nikki’s eyes, to see her tongue moisten slightly parted lips. She moved closer.

Nikki felt Tess’s warm breath against her lips and moved her other hand to the taller woman’s hip, lightly holding her. She waited, her breath increasing with anticipation.

Just as there lips were about to touch Tess stopped, “Do you want this?” She asked in a light whisper.

“Yes.” Nikki replied and suddenly she felt two incredibly soft lips touch her own. She took in a quick breath and grasped a firmer hold of the woman’s hip as the touch lifted then returned with a firmer pressure.

Tess closed her eyes luxuriating in the blissful contact; it seemed she had waited forever for this. She walked forward, sealing her body with Nikki’s and moaned at the sheer ecstasy it created.

Nikki’s hand moved around to the small of the photographers back, and she grasped the material of the thick jacket. Again the lips touched and parted, a firmer contact each time they connected, a connection melding the women’s souls tenderly together. She sighed, and then shivered as a chilling wind whipped around them.

Tess pulled back breathlessly and looked down at the Blonde, “Are you cold?”

An answer died on Nikki’s lips as a loud shrilling sound filled the silence of the forest. It took a moment for Tess to realise it was her mobile phone; she pulled it out of her pocket and answered the call.

“Hello?”

“Um…hi, this is Lisa, is Nikki there?”

“Yeah sure hold on.” Tess looked at the blonde, “It is for you.”

“Oh ok.” She frowned as she accepted the phone off Tess, “Hello?”

“Nikki…sorry to call you but I think you better come home.”

Nikki felt suddenly alarmed, “Ok…why what is wrong?”

“James had a fall, I don’t think he is very well at all. We are waiting for the doctor to arrive, but I really want you here Nik, I am scared what if he is dying or something.”

“Ok…I am on my way, I shall be there as soon as possible ok, bye.” She passed the phone back to Tess, who disconnected it.

“What is going on Nikki?”

“I have got to go home. James has been taken ill and Lisa is scared and wants me there…I am sorry I have to go.”

“God don’t apologise sweetheart…” She pulled the dogs’ lead from her pocket, “LETO…come on girl time to go.” The dog came bounding up to them. “Do they know what is wrong with him?”

“No, but Lisa always has a tendency to be a little on the pessimistic side at times like these…I am sure he will be fine, but I still want to be there and see him, make sure he is ok.”

“Of course.”

Nikki took Tess’s arm, and together they walked back towards the house.

*******

The drive back to Nikki’s had been quiet, each woman considering in their own thoughts, and by the time they had reached their destination, Nikki was feeling a little nervous. She had been swept up in Lisa’s panic, and was beginning to think that something may be wrong.

Tess pulled the Blazer into the drive, and switched off the engine. “I would offer to come in but…”

“Yeah, I understand…listen Tess no matter what strange ideas my mother seems to have about you, I know they are not true. I had a wonderful time today thank you, and I am sure I will have just as wonderful time tomorrow.”

“You’re still coming…I mean what if it is serious?”

“I will cross that bridge when I get to it, but at the moment I am still coming and am looking forward to it immensely.” She paused, “I look forward to any moment I spend with you.”

Tess reached over and took a hold of a small hand, “Nikki, I…” She stopped when she spotted the front door opening and Lisa jogging up to the car.

“Wow nice wheels, is this what you bought today?”

Tess nodded.

“Lisa how is James?” Nikki asked opening the door.

“Oh the doctor just left, he says James just needs to rest for a couple of days, something about a cold or flu bug…I can’t remember exactly. Anyway he is in bed sleeping, I bet he will be out until tomorrow now.”

The blonde sighed, “Good, you had me worried there for a moment.”

Lisa smiled sheepishly at Tess, “Sorry, I hope I did not interrupt anything.”

Tess grinned and shook her head, “No nothing that can’t be continued at a later date.” She noticed the smile and blush Nikki produced as she got out of the car.

“See you tomorrow Tess.”

“Eleven o’clock…see you then.”

Nikki shut the door and waited as she heard Tess drive off. Lisa hooked her arm around her sister shoulder and together they walked into the house.

*******

The sisters walked into the family room. Richard Morris sat in his customary brown leather chair by the fire, doing the daily crossword. Rosalind sat opposite him; glasses perched on the tip of her nose as she read another of her favourite, yet tacky romance novels.

“Hi.” She greeted.

Both parents looked up at their daughter, “Hello Nicole, how was your day today?” Her father asked with a smile.

“It was wonderful, I had a lovely day.” She thought back to the feel of Tess’s lips upon her own, “Amazing.”

“And did Miss Alexander get her new car?”

“Yep she got it, it is a Blazer and she calls it British Racing green in colour.”

Rosalind Morris had yet to speak.

“Um, she also invited me out tomorrow.”

Lisa looked at her sister, “Tomorrow, but we put the Christmas tree up tomorrow. Oh Nik, we always put it up about five days before Christmas, do you have to go out tomorrow.”

“Lisa we can do the Tree on Monday instead and yes I want to go. She has invited me down to the Charity Function in Birmingham tomorrow evening.”

Rosalind looked up from her book surprised and took the glasses from her nose, “Why?”

“Because her invitation stroke contract is for two and she asked me whether I wanted to attend, it will be quite an evening by all accounts.”

Richard got up from his chair, “Well that is wonderful, my daughter has been invited to the ‘Christmas for children’ evening. You did say yes didn’t you?” He asked suddenly.

Nikki beamed, “Of course I did, who would pass up the opportunity.”

Lisa jumped up suddenly in the air, “Oh my god, I don’t believe it, there is going to be loads of famous people there. God I am so jealous, I can’t wait to tell all my friends.”

Richard hugged his daughter, “Well I hope you have a wonderful evening darling, you are very lucky indeed.”

Nikki beamed, “I know.” She turned to Lisa, “Can you help me sort out something to wear, Tess said casual but smart.” She recited the photographers’ words, “As there are no posh frocks or party gown laws.” She laughed to herself.

Lisa clapped her hands again, “Yes I cant wait…come on lets go now.” She took hold of her sister hand and gently pulled her out of the room.

Richard Morris turned to his wife, who had gone back to reading her book, “You don’t look to happy for her.”

Rosalind placed the book on her lap, “For Nicole I am happy, but I still don’t trust that woman.”

The Mayor shook his head and sat back in his chair, picking up his paper and continuing with his puzzle. What his wife had against Tess Alexander he didn’t know, but it was typical female behaviour he thought.

*******

Lisa stood by her sisters’ wardrobe, filing through the mass of clothes the woman owned. She pulled each item out one by one, and then shoved it back into the cupboard with a firm shake of the head. Nikki lay reclined on her bed, a dreamy expression on her face.

“So how was the day Nik?”

Nikki sat up, “I had a wonderful time.” She smiled, the dreamy expression still playing on her features.

Lisa looked at her sister and frowned, “Are you alright?” She cocked her head to the side, “Ok what is going on, you have some weird expression of your face and it is freaking me out, tell me before I have to beat it out of you.”

The blonde laughed, “Yeah like that is going to happen.”

The teen folded her arms and walked over to the bed, she sat down with a heavy sigh, “Ok tell me why you have that Cheshire cat smile on your face.”

“Oh it’s nothing.”

“Uh huh…now tell me.”

“It’s Tess.” She instantly smiled to herself.

“What about her?”

“She um…she kissed me.”

“Huh?”

“She kissed me.”

Lisa frowned, “Kissed as in KISSED?”

“Yes.”

Lisa mouth was agape, “She kissed you? I don’t believe it, and you let her?”

“Uh huh.”

“You mean she’s a…but you’re not a…are you?”

Nikki shrugged, “All I know is that she kissed me and I wanted her to and it was wonderful.”

The teen scratched her head in thought, “Wow, you and Tess Alexander.” She giggled, “I can’t believe it, when did this happen?”

“Just before you called.”

Lisa’s jaw dropped again, “You mean I did interrupt something.”

Nikki laughed, “No, we were just about to head back to her house as it was a little cold.”

“Where were you?”

“In the forest at the back of her house.”

“Really. Wow, and now you are going away with her for the night.”

“Yeah.”

“So you really like her?”

Nikki crossed her legs and rested her elbows on her knees. She frowned and thought about the question carefully as she rested her chin in her hands. It was something she hadn’t allowed herself to consider, for fear of futile thinking. “Yes I do like her…I think I was attracted to her from the first moment we met.”

Lisa smiled, “When I think about it, it was kind obvious I suppose. Oh shit, do you think that is what mother is noticing?”

Nikki shrugged, “I don’t know, but whether she is or isn’t, she is not going to interfere in this…I wont allow it.”

The teen smiled and moved off the bed, walking back over to the wardrobe, “Lets find you something for tomorrow evening that is going to blow the socks off Tess Alexander huh?”
part 6
Early Sunday morning and before anybody else was awake, Rosalind Morris sat quietly in her husbands personal office. It was six o’clock, the time James Abbot was supposed to start his day, but with him temporarily out of action, she was the only one up and about.

The office was large with deep maroon carpeting and dark oak furniture. One side of the wall had been converted into shelving and housed many hundreds of books. On the other side were framed pictures of several generations of both sides of the family. She sat at a wide desk, a computer to her right and large telephone/fax machine to her left. In front of her was a wide telephone directory in which she was diligently flicking through trying to find a specific number. Eventually her eyes came across the digits she was searching for. Lifting the receiver off the phone, she tapped in the number and waited as it rang.

“Hello?”

“Hello Martin…it’s Rosalind Morris.”

“Rosalind Morris? Are you kidding, it is six in the morning what is going on, has something happened?”

The woman straightened her dressing gown, “No, no everything is fine, and I am ringing because I have a something I would like you to do.”

“And this could not have waited for a more decent hour?”

“Look Martin, how long have you been this families solicitor?”

“Fifteen years.”

“And your father before?”

“Forty five.”

“Then if you wish to stay that way, you will understand that it is advisable to undertake the task I ask of you.”

There was a slight sigh, “What can I do for you Mrs Morris?”

“Excellent. Ok I want you to do some digging around, find out what you can on a Tess Alexander…yes the photographer…and I need this doing as soon as possible. Any debts, offences, relationships, whatever you can dig up on the woman, I want to hear about it, understand?”

“Yes, I shall do my best Mrs Morris.”

“I want you to exceed your best on this Mr Saunders, and I need this as soon as possible, got it.”

“Yes I’ve got it.”

“Good, I look forward to hearing from you in the very near future, my wishes to your wife Martin, goodbye.” She hung up the phone with a haughty smile. Lets see what you have in that closet of yours shall we Miss Alexander.

*******

Tess stood in her bedroom, Leto idly watching her from the comfort of her masters’ bed. She lay on her stomach, paws up and crossed over her muzzle, her eyes peeking over the top of sharp claws, Tess was positive the dog looked board.

The bedroom was fairly large, covered by a cream carpeted floor, and walls. On the ceiling was a large fan that was only ever turned on during the hottest of summer days, and being as though this was England, it wasn’t that often. A large double bed stood in the centre of the room by the far wall, and opposite was a row of pine, built in wardrobes. There were three double doors to the wardrobe in which Tess organised her clothes. One set held casual clothes; the next held working attire and the third held more formal clothes. It was the third set of doors that she stood by, pulling them open and regarding the mass of choice.

She pulled out a long black dress, “So what do you think.” She looked at the dog and held the item against her body, “Look alright for this evening?”

Leto’s amber eyes looked her master up and down before turning away unimpressed.

“Good job I was joking then.” She stated putting the dress back and pulling out a simple black designer suit. “Ok girl, how about this one?”

Leto rolled onto her back, her legs hanging limp in the air.

“Hmm, yep I think this one to.” Tess pulled out a protecting cover for the suit, zipped it inside, and then hung it on the handle to one of the wardrobe doors.

At seven o’clock that morning she had driven into work early, intent on picking out the gear she would need for the evenings shoot. There was going to be a lot of people there, all wanting to get their faces into a picture that could grace the pages of the latest celebrity, or social life magazine. She picked up a whole box of films, and decided on two cameras that she much preferred to work with on such events. Both were light weight, and simplistic in their loading functions.

Tess was a little wary that Robert might have been in the studio; she had no desire to see him until after the function. The photographer knew he would start questioning her and she would not want to misguide him about the fact that Nikki was going down with her, but she knew he would not be too impressed by that revelation.

Upon her return, she had rung the hotel and asked for her suit to be changed to a room with two beds and luckily she had been able to do so. A cancellation the evening before left only one room available and as luck would transpire, it was indeed a double room.

Tess stood in her en-suite bathroom filling a bag with all the things she would need for her overnight stay. These ‘posh’ hotels as she called them, always had the necessary toiletries to offer, but Tess preferred to use her own.

“Right, toothbrush…” She placed the item in her bag, “Toothpaste, moisturiser, err soap…where is the damn…oh here it is…” she chucked the soap into the bag. “Shampoo and conditioner…check. I think that is everything…God no…deodorant” She pulled the aerosol from the top shelf, “Life’s essential…um is that everything?” She asked, looking at the golden dog still sprawled out on her bed, “I think so…oh I know perfume.” She picked up the bottle of her favourite scent and placed it in the bag.

Tess turned to leave the bathroom, “Well that is…” There was a quick pause, “Oh for gods sake!” She turned back into the room, “Comb, brush, cotton wool, make up…you see Leto THIS is why I hate to go away… because I have to take so much bloody crap with me.”

Leto rolled onto her stomach and slid off the bed. She looked at the woman flinging a mass of items into a way too small bag, and trotted out of the room unimpressed, if she wasn’t getting any attention, there was no point in her being there.

Once everything she needed was packed, she had taken Leto down the road to the teenage boy who walked her during the day for Tess. He had offered to always look after the dog whenever Tess was away, so she was glad of his help, plus he was cheaper than other dog sitting alternatives. She would have considered her mother, as she had rung late Saturday night, informing her that she intended to come up and spend the Christmas holidays with her. Unfortunately she was not to arrive until Wednesday, but Tess was still glad she was coming.

*******

Lisa got down onto her knees and looked under her bed, she spotted the item she was looking for and dragged it out. Getting to her feet, the teen zipped open her sports bag and looked inside. The site of a mass of unwashed gym clothes greeted her and she winced at the sight, well at least they’re not rank! She thought. Picking up the dark green bag, she tipped it upside down, watching as the collection of multi coloured garments fell out into a pile on her bed. Once the carrier was empty she slung it over her shoulder and headed out of her room.

Nikki sat on her bed, an assortment of articles in front of her, waiting for Lisa to return. Her sister had offered to help her pack for the night, and she had accepted, wanting to make sure she didn’t forget anything.

She had woken at seven that morning, but had not risen until half eight. The blonde had spent the early morning lying in bed, thinking mainly about the day before. Tess, she thought to herself and a smile naturally graced her lips. Lacing her fingers behind her head, Nikki had recollected their time spent in the forest while taking Leto for her walk. Her thoughts lingered, and she remembered the kiss, though only brief it was all encompassing. The feel of Tess’s hands as they held her, there was no mistaking their intent, both wanton and at the same time protective. The softness of her lips as they delicately touched her own, gentle yet full of promise. The feel of pliant breasts against her chest, pressed against her tightly, like the moment never wanted to end. And most of all, the vibration of Tess’s moan, the memory of it alone causing heat to build within her, swelling her.

It was then that Lisa had barged into her room, full of excitement for the pending hours to follow. Nikki wasn’t sure who was more excited about it, her or her sister. She though back with a smile at how Lisa had rang her friends later the night before telling them the news. Still the blonde didn’t really see what the big deal was, just a load of famous people whom she probably wouldn’t know. The photographer had told her that there would be a large majority of soap actors there, and she was not an avid fan of that. Still Lisa had begged her to ask Tess for some pictures, especially if a certain male actor from her favourite soap was there. She had agreed with a laugh, knowing the only excitement she felt was for the woman she would be spending some of the time with. Nikki accepted that Tess would not be able to spend much of the evening with her as she would be working, but she was still happy.

Lisa trudged into the bedroom, sports bag in tow, “I found it under my bed.”

Nikki grimaced, “Oh no, don’t tell me it still had all your stinky gym clothes still inside?”

“Ok.”

“Ok what?”

“Ok, I wont tell you.”

“Ugh, so it did.” The blonde head fell into small hands.

Lisa grinned, “What you don’t know, won’t harm you.”

“I think you just answered my question.”

“Oh for gods sake chill out sis, I checked it out and it does not smell like old training shoes or anything like that.” She chucked the bag onto the bed beside her sister.

“Small mercies.” The blonde replied.

Lisa laughed, “Hey just be grateful ok, now come on and lets get these things into the bag before sexy woman arrives.”

“Lisa!”

“Yeah, yeah…come on will you.”

Nikki sighed, “Oh all right, but don’t you dare call her that when she arrives.”

“Cross my heart, hope to die, blah, blah, blah…” She giggled, and ducked as Nikki threw a pillow in her direction.

*******

At five minutes to eleven Nikki recognised the already familiar sound of Tess’s Blazer turning into the pebbled driveway. She had been downstairs for half an hour, and had a surprisingly normal conversation with her mother. Rosalind Morris had not mentioned Tess once, but had commented on how lucky Nikki was to be attending such an event, and how she wished her an enjoyable evening. Richard Morris wasn’t home, as he was attending Church that morning and Rosalind had decided to stay at home and wait for the maid to arrive. She was not supposed to work on a Sunday, but with Abbot sick, Rosalind needed the help. She had no qualms about making dinner; she just refused to do any of the cleaning…period. That is what the hired help if for, she had repeatedly stated.

Lisa had been looking out the window when Tess arrived, so was first to greet her before the photographer even had a chance to knock. Pulling the door open, she sported a wide toothy grin.

“Hi.”

“Lisa.” Tess replied, smirking at the teen’s own peculiar grin.

“Come in, Nikki is ready.”

Tess walked into the wide hallway, noticing the large sports bag sitting by the wall, and long black clothing cover. She wondered what Nikki had chosen for the evening, assuming that’s what was inside.

“NIKKI, TESS IS…”

“Yes I know you don’t have to shout.” Nikki replied, coming into the hallway. She was wearing comfortable clothes for the journey, simple beige trousers and a black shirt. Tess had chosen black jeans and a green local rugby team sweater, the cold weather still making her choices limited. Still, she was a Tigers fan anyway and watched them play whenever she was able.

Lisa watched the tall woman’s reaction to her sister, grinning at the expression on Tess’s face. Looks almost dreamy, she thought to herself and chuckled a little too loudly, forcing a questioning look from the dark woman. Lisa looked away, seemingly inspecting an imaginary mark on her top she brushed at the spot, hiding her smile.

“Are you ready?” Tess asked.

Nikki grabbed her jacket from where she had left it, on the banister and put it on. “Yep, I think I have remembered everything.”

Just then Rosalind Morris walked into the hallway, standing beside her youngest daughter.

“Miss Alexander, nice to see you again.” She replied evenly.

“Mrs Morris, how are you this morning?”

“Oh just fine.” She turned towards her daughter, “Well Nicole…what time will you be home in the tomorrow?”

“Um…I am not sure…Tess?”

Tess walked over picking up Nikki’s bag and clothing protector, “Well I guess it will be some time around mid-day, maybe a little after.” She stated with a nod, “I am supposed to have a meeting with the director of the Organization around half past ten, so we shall be leaving straight after I presume.” She placed the bag over her shoulder, and draped the garment over her left arm.

Lisa opened the door as she watched Nikki take the photographers arm. “See you tomorrow sis.” She looked towards the taller woman, “Tess.” She smiled innocently.

Rosalind walked towards the door as the two women walked out into the cold morning. Light snowflakes had started their decent again, but seemed too inconsequential to last. “Good bye Nicole dear, have a wonderful time.” All she could do was hope things would be fine until she was able to get the information she had requested, then she would find out just what Miss Alexander was up to.

“Bye Mother, Lisa…don’t forget about Thunder and Jenna.”

“I wont, don’t worry.”

“Great, just checking, see you tomorrow.”

They watched the women until they reached the Blazer, and then shut the door, the brisk wind too cold to keep it open much longer.

*******

Tess opened the back door, putting Nikki’s bag next to her own. She hung the coat hanger of the garment cover on the side handle above the passenger door; it was on the opposite side of her own. Shutting the door she looked around for Nikki, and found her getting into the passenger side at the front, she smiled, and opened the drivers’ side.

“Ready to get going?” She asked as she climbed into her seat, “No last minute realizations of items you think you might have forgotten?”

“No.” The blonde replied, “God Tess do really think me that much of a lame brain.”

Tess pouted sheepishly, “Well no, but I had to ask. I was half way down my street before I remembered my hair dryer.”

Nikki bit her lip. “Sorry.” She shook her head with a smile, “Why did you bring your hair dryer anyway; won’t they have some at the hotel?”

“Suppose…I just prefer to use my own things, that way I can be sure I am the only person using it, have used it, or will ever use it.”

“Ah, well actually I didn’t bring my hair dryer thinking I would be able to use one of theirs, do you think I should go in and get mine?”

Tess started the engine, “No, no you can use mine.”

“But you just said…”

The photographer grinned, “You are the exception to the rule, I don’t think I will mind you using my things.” She looked at the blonde, noticing the shy expression, and decided to push a little further, “I am sure I could get used to your hands on my things.”

Nikki snickered, “Well I shall keep that in mind.”

The brunette beamed, “I shall look forward to it.” She pulled the car out of the driveway, and onto the narrow road.

*******

They had been on the motorway for forty-five minutes, and in Tess’s opinion were driving at the rate of a snail without slime. There had been an accident the M69, and their progress was minimal. Not knowing how far down the disaster was, Tess was unsure how long they would be in the tail back, and so far the radio had yet to give any details. She had it set so that traffic reports would interrupt the CD player, but as yet there had been nothing.

She looked over at Nikki; the blonde had dozed off before they had even hit the motorway. Tess had thought about waking her, but decided she looked too cute to rouse, besides she was sure the evening would be long so decided to let Nikki get as much rest as she could.

From the corner of her eye, flashing lights came into view and she craned her head to see whether she was finally reaching the front of the jam. Sure enough she spotted the cause of the commotion, two cars had presumably collided, blocking two lanes of the motorway leaving only one remaining for the mass of traffic to get through. Shaking her head at the realisation that rubber necking was probably half the cause of the hold up, she cursed the over curious drivers in front.

Nikki came around to the sound of light profanities.

“Bloody stupid, god damn nosey buggers…some of us would like to get moving you know.”

The blonde sensed the slow movement of the car, “What’s going on?” She asked in a sleep filled voice.

Looking around and feeling guilty that her outburst may have woken the sleeping woman, she immediately calmed, “Oh damn it…I am sorry Nikki, I guess I woke you.” Tess looked back at the road sheepishly.

“It’s ok…” Nikki yawned, “I can’t believe I fell asleep…I am the one who should be sorry Tess.”

The photographer chuckled, “Oh that is ok…my pride was not damaged too badly. It was ok to get some extra rest, you may need it for tonight, it’s usually a long evening.” She released a hand from the steering wheel, scratching the back of her neck, “And besides, you looked way too adorable to disturb.”

Nikki smiled.

The Blazer reached the front of the queue and Tess steered her way through the single lane with a sigh of relief. Suddenly a radio broadcaster informing drivers about an accident on the M69 interrupted her music, shaking her head and turned the radio off, muttering the word ‘typical’ as she did so.

“So what CD’s have you brought?”

“Oh um…” She put her foot down on the accelerator, gathering speed and glad to be out of the jam. “Well I just grabbed a couple of compilation albums, so there was a variety of different artists, I realized I was not sure what kind you would go for, so thought it may be the best idea.”

“Ok, so what are the choices?”

“Well there is a ‘Top Gear’ one, it has all those driving songs on, then there is a strictly female CD, one of Movie themes tunes and just a normal chart music one…so take your pick. I was listening to the road songs CD while you were sleeping…I guess that means it is your turn to choose.”

“Hmm.” Nikki poked out her bottom lip in thought, “Well I think I shall go for the All Woman compilation, I like them ones.”

“Excellent choice.” Tess proclaimed, and proceeded to change the disks.

*******

The rest of the journey went with little hassle at all. Tess was slightly annoyed when a white van in front cut her up, but managed to refrain from throwing any more verbal insults. Nikki had kept her occupied with her constant chatter, and she found it a pleasant alternative from the hum of back ground music.

They had spoken about many different subject, yet neither one of them had approach the subject of their kiss the day before. It was present in both minds but the women were a little apprehensive about bringing it up. So instead Nikki had entertained Tess with stories of antics that she and Lisa used to get up to as children. And how Lisa would always get the blame even though she was youngest, simply because the parents thought she had lead Nikki into these things. What Lisa didn’t tell, or allow her older sister to say, was that it was usually Nikki’s idea in the first place.

“So you were a bit of a wild child huh?” Tess had said, and Nikki laughed.

“Well I was eleven, so Lisa was…a few years younger, I came up with the plans and she executed them, so naturally she was the one to get caught.”

Nikki had then asked about Tess’s childhood, and the older woman had stated that she was an only child, but did have cousins that she looked on as siblings. She was very much a tomboy and spent her pre-teenage years either playing soccer with the other boys in the neighbourhood or with her father as he tried to teach her the mechanics of cars. Needless to say she wasn’t over interested in that, so only managed to pick up the basics. Nikki had laughed when Tess told here that during a class discussion, when the teacher asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, Tess had replied ‘A professional footballer.’

“When did you decide to take up photography?”

Tess thought for a while, “It was after a Christmas present I got one year. It was a pin hole photography kit, strange really just a black box that you stuck a hole in and exposed a sheet of photographic paper for about 3 seconds, but I was hooked. From that moment on, I spent all my time taking pictures, I got four jobs delivering news papers, I washed cars, cut lawns, anything I could to earn money for my own real camera. It was my college choice when I left high school, and I guess I never looked back.”

Nikki smirked, “So you decided against professional football?”

Tess laughed, “Well I guess so, besides the truth of the matter is that I was really terrible at it. I found that with my height, I was a lot better at playing Net ball, and Basket ball, but although I loved playing, photography always came first.”

*******

The closer they got to Birmingham, the thicker the snow became. As they reached the outskirts of the city, Tess noticed that the large flakes were settling more, giving the metropolis a picturesque pre Christmas look. The sky was dark, the day getting gloomier and with the Christmas lights already on, it looked as though nightfall was soon to arrive.

When they finally reached the Barbican hotel, Tess looked up at the familiar building, age wise it was fairly new. Built with light grey bricks and standing on thirty levels, it stood with one of four other hotels on its street. It was wide, easily twice the size of the others with two Grecian style columns on either side of the entrance.

Turning to the left just after the building, Tess took a small road that led down to an underground guest car park. She navigated around and down the ramp, as she looked around the three-floor basement parking lot. It was lit very well; with large round defused lighting fixtures on the white tiled ceilings. The first floor they entered was full, so she drove the vehicle down two ramps to the next level, where she found many vacant spaces. She spotted space in front of a wall, and pulled in between a red Focus and yellow Laguna.

“I take it we are here?” Nikki asked with a relieved sigh, glad to be able to get out of the car; her bladder had been calling her for half an hour.

“Yep.” Tess switched off the engine, and released her seatbelt. “Let’s get out of here shall we?” She looked at the car beside Nikki, “Careful of how you open the door, I think I maybe a little close on your side.”

“Ok.”

Tess opened her door and slid out, shutting it behind her as she heard Nikki do the same. She opened the back and pulled out both carriers and put them on the floor, as she placed the suit bags over her left arm.

“Is this ‘do’ tonight at the hotel?”

Tess slammed the back door shut and activated the alarm. “Yep they have three function rooms. One on the ground floor, one on the fifteenth, and one on the penthouse. We are on the top floor, one floor above our room.” She picked up both carriers with the arm holding the suit bags, and walked around to the blonde. “Ready to go?”

“Uh huh. Where is my bag?”

“I’ve got it.”

Nikki shook her head, “No I’ll take it, I need your arm, so and I don’t want you to be overloaded.”

Tess pursed her lips, “Ok.” She handed the lightest bag over to Nikki, who proceeded to place it over her right shoulder.

Nikki held out her arm, and Tess put the crook of hers out for the blonde to take, “Lead the way.”

They walked at a slow pace, their footsteps echoing around the underground parking area. Tess followed the signs leading them to an access point to the stairs and lifts. She momentarily contemplated which to take and decided on the lift, thinking it would be both easier and quicker.

They reached the elevator door, and Tess tapped the button waited.

“You taking the lift?” Nikki asked with an amount of uncertainty.

“Yes why?”

“Oh nothing just wondering that’s all.”

The doors opened and Tess led Nikki into the empty compartment, it shut with a loud clank behind them. The photographer hit the button for the ground floor and the elevator lurched into action, beginning it assent to the designated level. Nikki bit her lip and increased her grip on the taller woman’s arm, holding on with a firmer pressure, her breathing slightly broken. Tess looked down at the blonde with a frown, but before she could ask what was wrong, the doors opened onto the ground floor.

“Well here we are.” They stepped out and Tess led Nikki over to the reception.

The foyer was very large, with a black and white hexagon tiled floor. Around the area were an assortment of well know shops selling such things as, flowers, chocolates, alcohol, clothing, magazines, and a small shop that particularly caught Tess’s eye. It was one selling an assortment of gadgets; it wasn’t there the last time she was at the Barbican, so she made a mental note to check it out later.

They walked over to a long reception desk, manned by four assistants. Tess made a beeline for a suddenly available receptionist.

“Yes Miss, can I help you?” Asked a small perky woman with long blonde hair and black-rimmed glasses. She wore a white and red-stripped blouse under a navy suit jacket, the same look as the other receptionists behind the large front desk.

“Yes, Tess Alexander…I have come to check into my room.” She leaned slightly over, looking at the computer screen for her name.

The woman looked down at her computer and started tapping on a large keyboard. “Ok Miss Alexander…yes the twenty ninth floor, you changed your room from a single to double with two beds right?”

Tess nodded, and Nikki fidgeted beside the woman at the notion of what floor their room was situated on.

“Ok, if you will sign here, I will give you your key card.”

Tess picked up the special pen and signed her name across the electronic digital screen.

“Thank you Miss Alexander, and here is your key.” The blonde receptionist handed the card to Tess with a smile.

“Thanks.” The tall woman replied, taking the key and putting it into her back pocket, she turned in the direction of the elevators.

A crowd of people had started milling around the foyer, so Tess put her arm around the blonde, holding her close as they made their way through the growing number of people. Noticing there were a lot of young teenage girls, she realized they were probably fans of one star or another, waiting in hopes of getting a glimpse of their idol.

Reaching the set of three elevators, Tess noticed only one was going up, so led a quiet Nikki over to the door, which opened almost immediately. They walked inside, three more people entering behind them, and Tess pressed the button for the twenty-ninth floor. Once again Nikki held onto Tess as the doors shut and the compartment lurched upwards.

The photographer notice a stronger than usual grip that Nikki used to hold onto her arm once again, and she suddenly realized the problem. Releasing the girl from her arm, she put it firmly around the blondes’ shoulders, pulling her close. Pushing her arm further around the smaller woman, she placed her hand on the top of Nikki’s chest and put her lips next to a small ear.

“You ok?”

There was a slight nod.

“You don’t like lifts do you?” She asked in a whisper.

A small shake.

“Why didn’t you say something?”

Nikki took and deep breath, “Irrational fear…I have no reason to feel anxious…I just…”

“Don’t like them.”

Nikki nodded, “Um, yes I really don’t like them.”

The elevator stopped on the seventeenth floor, and the other passengers walked out, leaving them alone. The doors re-closed and they carried on their journey up to the twenty-ninth floor.

Pulling Nikki closer still the taller woman spoke softly into the blonde’s ear, “How about if I try and take your mind off your whereabouts?”

Nikki felt her breath catch at the unexpected words.

Tess lowered her lips until they touched soft fair skin. She kissed the area of flesh available with a gentle pressure. The burden of things she was carrying became meaningless and she wanted to throw them down to the ground, her body fully responding to the woman in front.

“Tess” Nikki breathed as the unexpected feeling started to cloud her senses.

“Hmm” The photographer responded, as her lips burned a trail up Nikki’s inviting neck to her ear. Her tongue snaked out, sucking in a small lobe, heedless of the tiny golden stud that adorned the pliant flesh. Tess breathing deepened and became ragged, her body revelling in mounting heat.

Closing her eyes, she let her head fall back onto the photographers shoulder, wanting the pleasurable sensations to wash over her, but something held her back. Bringing herself out of the wonderful haze that was trying to overtake her basic sense, she became aware of her surroundings. She could sense that the elevator had stopped and by the sudden gush of cool air, the door had opened. “Tess?” The photographers tongue found a particular sensitive spot at the back of her ear and she felt herself begin to swoon. Breathing heavily, she shook her head, “Tess…Tess?” She tried to pull away.

Sensing resistance Tess released the blonde, “Oh Jesus I am sorry Nikki.” Lowering her head, she rubber her temple suddenly thinking she had just make a terrible mistake.

“The door opened Tess, I thought that we should get out of here before anyone decided they want to use it.” She smiled shyly with the realization that the taller woman hadn’t even noticed.

The brunette looked up and noticed the open door for the first time, “Oh…OH I see…” She sighed, “Right, ok I guess we better go.” Taking Nikki by the arm, she gently led the woman out as she scanned around for their room, once spotted they walked to the white door. Tess pulled her key out, swiping it through the lock and opening the door, together they walked in.

Tess looked around; it was a nice size room. By the far wall were two beds one single and one double; she wasn’t too pleased about that. Opposite the beds and on the wall, was a TV/video and beneath it was a small unit that housed a fridge, set of draws and specific items needed to make tea and coffee. Near the door stood a freestanding wardrobe and on the opposite side was a door leading into a bathroom. The colours where a mix of whites and pastels, not very appealing colours as far as the photographer was concerned, she was glad this room was only for one night.

Tess took Nikki’s carrier and together with her own she placed them inside the wardrobe out of the way, hanging the suit bags on the silver railing above. She turned around to see the blonde feeling around the room.

“Can I get you something?” She asked self-consciously.

Nikki shook her head, “No I am just getting used to the place.”

Tess nodded, “Ok.” She sighed.

Nikki noted the slight defeated sound in the taller woman’s voice, “Tess…are you alright?”

“Why?”

“Well it is just you sound a little…” She though for a moment, and it suddenly hit her, “Tess, back in the lift, did you think I was trying to move away from you?”

“Well you were weren’t you?”

The blonde stopped by the side of the single bed, “You know what I mean.”

Tess looked down suddenly embarrassed, “Um well yeah kind of, but it is ok I know you weren’t now but for a short moment, I thought that I’d kind of…you know…pushed myself on you a little. It is just that…” She sighed, and decided to take a massive leap “Look Nikki, I um… when I am with you I can’t control the way I feel, I mean I can and do, but I can’t stop the way my heart feels when you are around. Do you understand what I am trying to say?” Nikki didn’t respond so Tess continued, “I have feelings for you, I care about you in a way more than just friendship.” The brunette looked desperately at the smaller woman hoping she was not making a mistake in her declaration.

Nikki brushed a hand through golden locks, and lowered herself to a sitting position on the single bed. She had no idea of how to respond, so spoke of only what came into her mind.

“Um…how can a virgin heart,
With such clarity,
Feel the first tremors of Love.

When but nothing before,
Has ever evoked,
Such a gift from up above.

With a spark it ignites,
Such feelings of warmth,
Encompass the beating heart.

Securing and binding,
Two souls as one
Never to be torn apart.”

Tess moved towards Nikki, and sat on the double bed facing the blonde, “That’s beautiful, who wrote it?”

Nikki lowered her head, “I did…the first day we met…you said you would like to hear some of my poetry some time.”

The brunette nodded, “Yes.”

“I didn’t accept it at first…but you are the reason I wrote it.”

“Didn’t accept it?” Tess frowned.

“I couldn’t believe it I guess, I mean how can you feel such things for somebody that you have only just met?”

“You feel these things for me?”

The blonde head nodded slightly.

A smile broke out on the tall woman’s face, as she leant forward onto her knees in front of Nikki. “I’m happy you feel these things Nikki.”

The blonde raised her head, as Tess pushed her right hand through the blonde locks, and then cupped one smooth cheek. Lifting to stand on her knees, she moved forward until her stomach rested upon Nikki’s knees.

Feeling the movement Nikki reached out, and finding Tess’s arm she moved her own hand around to the taller woman’s back. She parted her knees slightly, allowing the larger body to slip between them. Unable to resist the magnetic pull that drew them together, Tess leant forward, sealing her lips to the smaller woman’s with a contented sigh. The contact was soft and gentle, nothing more than a whisper of a touch, but as their confidence grew so did the kiss. Wrapping her other arm around the slight woman, Tess drew her in close, pulling her towards the edge of the bed.

Nikki moved forward, sinking her fingers into the long dark locks and basking in the their silky texture. She felt Tess’s lips part and a moist tongue move over her lips; with only a slight trepidation she accepted the questing muscle inside. Their tongues touched drawing moans from both women, as they caressed each other lovingly.

Feeling an intense glow radiate within her, Tess pulled Nikki forward, sliding her off the bed and into her lap. They held each other close, sitting on the beige carpeted floor, their kiss deepening in intensity, increasing in its passion.

Nikki wrapped her arms around the brunette, as she felt a new and overwhelming spark of awareness wash over her. The air around her became cold, as her body’s temperature accelerated, all due to the woman she was kissing in an escalating and heated embrace.

Breathing becoming increasingly difficult, Tess pulled reluctantly away, taking in a deep ragged breath of air. “Did I mention how much I liked your poem?”

The golden haired woman smiled, “If I knew I was going to get that kind of response, I would have written a few more for extra credit.”

The photographer laughed and cupped Nikki’s cheek, “With kisses like that, you don’t need extra credit…you can have me anytime you want.” The words were spoken in jest, but the meaning was all to clear to both women. Still, an embarrassed blush worked its was across fair cheeks, and Nikki lowered her head, conscious of the fact.

Tess put one finger under her chin and pulled her back up, “Hey, you know I love it when you blush, so stop trying to hide it…ok?” She lowered her hands, until they cupped Nikki’s behind. “Hmm, I think I am beginning to like this as well.”

A deeper blush covered the already glowing cheeks, but instead of lowering her head, Nikki moved forward with the intent of capturing Tess’s lips once again. A sudden knocking on the door halted her advance.

“Damn it.” Tess cursed, as Nikki lifted herself of the woman’s legs and re-deposited herself on the bed again with a smile. “Whoever that is, will be nowhere near as important as what they have just interrupted.” She pushed herself to her feet and trudged to the door with a dissatisfied sigh. With a frown she open the barrier just as another set of knocks sounded on the heavy wood. “Yes?” She asked before the door was fully open.

Standing with a large bouquet of flowers in one arm was Jeffery Soul, the charity director. He was a small man with a thick head of light brown hair, moustache and beard. He smiled at the tall woman as she looked down on him, “Tess, darling how nice to see you again, it doesn’t feel like a year since last we saw each other does it?” He asked.

The photographer smiled down at the small man, “Jeffery, yes been a whole year. So how are you and your lovely wife?”

“Fine, fine, we are all glorious. So, looking forward to this evening?”

“Sure am.”

“Great, and of course these are for you.” He handed Tess the bouquet.

Tess took the flowers, “Thanks Jeff.” She moved to the side, “Wont you come in? There is somebody I would like you to meet.”

Jeffery walked into the suite and spotted the blonde sitting on the bed, who had been waiting patiently for an introduction. His eyes lit up with a thousand questions, “Well hello there, I am quite surprised to see you my dear, Tess here has never brought a guest with her before.” He looked accusingly at the brunette, “Now why didn’t you tell me you were bringing a friend Tess, I would have brought this lovely creature a bouquet as well.” He turned back to Nikki, holding out his hand. “Jeffery Soul, I am very pleased to meet you my dear.” He stated.

Nikki smiled, “Nikki Morris, nice to meet you.”

Realising why his hand was not taken, he looked quickly at Tess and the woman smiled knowingly. “So Nikki Morris, are you looking forward to tonight?”

The blonde smiled, “Absolutely, I have been looking forward to this since yesterday.”

“Yesterday! You were only invited yesterday. Well that is just typical of our Tess, why there was this one time when she fourteen…she didn’t even tell her own mother she was lead in the school play until the opening night.”

Nikki laughed, “Wow you have know Tess for some time, maybe you could fill me in on some juicy snippets of information later.”

“Hey!” Tess exclaimed walking forward, “I am in the room you know.”

Jeffery flapped his hands, “Oh be quiet girl, I finally get to meet a friend of yours and you try and ruin all my fun.” He looked back at Nikki, “Absolutely, why I have many stories I could tell you.” He moved closer to the blonde, “We should wait until this evening when Missy here is hard at work, snapping away.” He said in a faux whisper.

Tess folded her arms, as Nikki laughed, “Can’t wait.” She replied.

The taller woman walked up to the blonde and stood by her left side. “I may have to sulk and mope about this you know.”

Nikki put her arm around Tess’s back, “Awe and we would not want that now would we?”

The photographer smiled looking down at Nikki, “Nope I would be pretty miserable company.”

“I am sure I could pull you out of your funk.”

“You sound pretty confident.” She stated, placing an arm over Nikki’s shoulders.

“I have my ways and yes I am confident in my abilities.”

Jeffery looked back and forth between the two women, watching the obvious play of flirtation, they seemed to be oblivious of his presence. A large smile etched its way onto his face, as realisation began to set in.

“Confident huh, you know I will have to see these abilities if I am to make a judgement in your…” She was cut off by the sound of a clearing throat.

“Tess I think I should be going now, Nikki dear, it was lovely to meet you and I look forward to seeing you both later this evening.”

The women disengaged; unaware of what they had just revealed. Tess led Jeffery to the door, “See you later this evening.”

The door open and Jeffery stepped out into the main corridor, “See you tonight Tess, and just for the record…I think she is a lovely woman.”

Tess nodded, “She is that Jeffery old boy.”

The man frowned as Tess used her mothers name for him, “You have just a little too much of your mother in you Tessa.”

The tall woman folded her arms, “Uh huh…see you later Jeffery.”

The man smiled and waved as he turned on his heels and disappeared down the hallway.

Tess shook her head and closed the door. Walking back into the room, she noticed the smile on Nikki’s face, “What you grinning at?”

Nikki shook her head, “Nothing, so you have known Jeffery for a while?”

“Oh yeah. He was our next-door neighbour when we lived in Coventry, and just seemed to keep in touch when we moved away. Actually he and my father worked together for a while.”

“He seems nice…I like him.”

Tess shrugged, “Yeah I guess so, he used to wind me up something rotten when I was younger. Anyway, when he joined his wife Barbara, on the charity board, he somehow sweet-talked me into doing the shots for their events. Hell I was just starting out in photography at the time, and it gave me the break I needed, in a big way. I don’t know what it is about taking shots of the stars that tends to build up your public profile.”

“So why do you lead the semi reclusive life you do, and work for a simple portrait studio?” Nikki asked. “I mean not that it is a bad thing or…um well you know. It is just that you have quite a reputation, yet you don’t seem fazed by it in the slightest.”

Tess walked over to the blonde and sat down on the single bed, Nikki following suit, “It’s just not me I guess, it is not that I don’t like the acknowledgement my pictures have gained…” She shrugged again, “Maybe I am happier behind the camera, it is almost like I can hide behind it and create a world all of my own. Capturing it as I see fit, and in a way I want it to be perceived. Does that make sense?”

The blonde nodded, “Yes, I guess it does. When people are looking at your pictures they are not looking at you.”

“Uh huh.” She smiled.

“But why do you feel this need to keep such a distance?”

Tess looked long and hard at Nikki, “I guess I just like the simple things in life, it does not take much to make me happy.”

“Should I be offended by that?” She joked

The photographer chuckled, “No, no it is my feelings for you that are simple to me.”

Nikki frowned, “Oh yeah, what do you mean?”

Tess looked down, Love she thought. Wait did I just say that, she shook her head do I love her? She looked back up at the Nikki; whose head was bent to one side in question. I love you. She thought…

Just then the phone rang causing both women to jump.

Damn it.

*******

It was early evening and Rosalind Morris had been pacing the house all day. When she told Martin Saunders that she wanted the information as soon as possible, what she meant was ‘today’. She knew he knew this, so was expecting his call at any time, the only problem was anticipating when that call would come. She didn’t want her husband getting suspicious as to what her solicitor was calling her for, so she was on tender hooks all day. Unfortunately Lisa had received most of the brunt end of her mothers bristly mood, she was unable to say anything for fear of being told off. So she had taken to spending the day in her bedroom, only leaving to give Thunder and Jenna some company.

When at last the phone did ring, Rosalind picked up the receiver with anxious haste.

“Hello?”

“Hello Rosalind, it’s Martin Saunders.”

The Mayoress sighed, “Well about time, I have been expecting you for some hours now Martin. Anyway, how did you get on with my request?”

There was a forced release of breath, “Not too well I am afraid.”

This was not what the woman wanted to hear.

“I did as you requested, looking for what I could on Miss Alexander, but I am afraid to say she has a pretty spotless record.”

“So you found nothing?” The woman asked, more than a little annoyed at this piece of information.

“Well…she has no driving offences, not even a ticket, no criminal record of any kind. She has no out standing debts, everything she owns is brought and paid for, as you would expect. She is a high earning individual Mrs Morris, all her monthly payments are paid by a direct debiting system from one of her bank accounts.”

Rosalind sighed, “What about back ground and personal information?”

“She keeps pretty much to herself I am afraid, there is not a lot to give. There isn’t even any relationship history…well apart from college rumours.”

The woman’s eyes sparkled, “Oh do tell.”

“Even this is pretty sketchy, they were just rumours about people she was said to have dated. A man called Andrew Spencer, two other guys and a woman…but this is all just hearsay.”

Rosalind’s ears pricked at the last statement, “Did you say a woman?”

“Yes apparently a girl that she shared a dorm with in college. There was talk that they were more than just friends. This started out as just rumours of course, but it did state on college records that her roommate was taken out of college by her parents because of a supposed relationship between the two women. But like I say, it seemed more likely to be the product of narrow minded, and or overprotective parenting, mixed with a bit of old fashioned idle gossip in my opinion. Also apparently the other girl was put into some sort of rehabilitation centre”

Dark eyes narrowed, “Thank you Martin.” The woman seemed to be deep in thought, “That was most helpful…goodbye.” She hung up the phone.

Folding her arms, she walked into the living room and sat on the pale sofa, if she thinks she will corrupt my daughter she is very wrong.

*******

Tess sat on the double bed, checking over her equipment. She had retrieved the equipment from her car earlier then had gone and set up a single camera and tripod in the back of the main hall facing a small stage, so all she had to do was ready the rest of her wears.

It was a quarter past six, and she was supposed to be there by half past so she could capture the arrival of the guests, but as yet Nikki had not emerged from their bathroom. She fidgeted on the bed, closing the final case and placing it on the floor beside another one. There was a black shoulder carrier, which held her surplus amounts of film, and a large rectangle silver case that held her camera.

She looked at her watch; another minute had passed since she last checked. Shaking her head at her own over eagerness, she got up and walked towards the bathroom door, “Hey Nikki do you need any help?” She questioned, hoping the woman would not think she was trying to interfere, or hurry her up for that matter.

“No, I am almost done.” Came the quiet reply.

Tess nodded and walked back into the middle of the room, standing between the two beds. She looked again at her watch; it was still sixteen minutes past six. Looking across the room, she checked her appearance in the full-length mirror, brushing her hands over the black tailored suit. She had tied her hair back into a long braid, and earlier she had trimmed the edges of her fringe after deciding it was too long, and getting in her eyes.

Looking at the closed bathroom door she sighed, Nikki had been in there a while, and as she thought about it, she realized that it probably took time for her to get ready. Mentally scolding herself for the lack of consideration, she folded her arms; sometimes you are an impatient fool T.

The sound of the door being opened, brought Tess back to her senses, and she turned to its direction. Her mouth literally dropped and her arms fell limply to her side as she watched the figure walk from the smaller room with uncertainty. She stood in silence, unable to tear her eyes way from the vision before her.

Nikki bit her lip, “Do I look ok, I mean I know it takes me a while to sort my self out, especially in a different place, but I managed ok…I hope. Lisa says I have turned putting the simplest application of makeup on, into an art form…” she laughed, “Tess?”

The photographer blinked and shook her head. She cleared her throat, “Um…I err,” Her eyes travelled along Nikki’s form. Her hair looked different, more styled yet still simplistic. She wore a simple fitting black dress that clung to her figure in all the right places. Tess realized it was the first time she had gotten a glimpse of the body underneath the thick winter clothes the blonde wore, and she was more than amazed at the sight. The dress came just above her knees and she wore simple black pumps with no heels, and a gold necklace around her neck. Tess released a breath, “You look…wow, I don’t even know if there is a word to describe how amazingly beautiful you are.”

Nikki’s skin flushed, “I think those words work ok.” She smiled shyly.

Tess walked towards the blonde, and cupped her face. “Not even close.” She stated and leant forward, brushing her lips gently upon Nikki’s. She pulled back and looked into sightless blue eyes, “You have left me almost speechless…well in the way that I cannot even begin to tell you how stunning you are.”

“Show me.”

Leaning forwards once again, the brunette sample the proffered lips with delight. They tasted slightly of cherry, and she realized it must have been the gloss the blonde was wearing. Their kisses were light and tender, lips coming together again and again with gentle pressure.

Nikki pulled away first, “You look beautiful too by the way.”

Tess grinned and chuckled, “Oh well thank you.”

The blonde smiled “The feelings you instil in me, speak so loudly of the person you are and to me that is the ultimate of magnificence.”

At a loss for words Tess leaned forward pulling the blonde into a warm embrace, “And you are the most wonderful person I have ever met.” She pulled away and looked at her watch, it was twenty-five past six. “Are you ready to go up?”

Nikki nodded, “Lead the way.”

*******

The evening had been a huge success. Tess and Nikki had arrived on time, with none of the other guests having made their appearances at that point, so Nikki was able to meet each person as they came. Tess took a shot of each couple or group of people as they arrived, and Jeffery and his wife greeted them and introduced them to Nikki.

The blonde was amazed; she had met so many famous names that she was sure Lisa would badger her for stories for the rest of her life. She met quite a few TV and soap personalities, and even the odd sports star, one of which that she was sure her father would be most amazed at as he played in his favourite football team. She stayed with Tess for the first part of the evening, but when Tess had to start moving around, she declared that she wanted to sit down for a while. Really she didn’t want to be in the way while Tess worked, though the photographer did not know this at the time.
While she was seated many people came to speak with her, including Jeffery’s wife, who after getting the scoop from her husband about Tess’s guest, was most eager about wanting to meet her.

While Tess had been doing her rounds, her eyes constantly strayed back to the blonde, feeling a certain amount of regret that she was unable to be with her, but she was glad she had so many people to speak with. And if Tess was honest, she was amazed that the woman had seemed to charm so many people in such a small amount of time. But regarding the blonde and how beautiful she looked, she decided maybe it was not such a big surprise after all. That sparked a slight feeling jealousy within her, and the want to get back and be with Nikki, forced her to do her rounds just a little quicker. It was not a possessive kind of jealousy, she knew that, but the thought of not being able to spend time with the blonde when others seemed to be more than able to do so, encouraged her to move a little quicker.

Half way through the evening the buffet had been opened and Tess returned to Nikki in time to eat with her. The blonde filled her in on all the people she had been speaking to, and teased her about details of Tess’s early life that Jeffery’s wife had told her about. The brunette smiled, having the feeling she was in for a small amount of teasing, when she realized just what tales Barbara had been telling her.

After dinner the auctioning began, with many different items being donated by stars and TV companies. As each item was being auctioned Nikki was amazed at the prices each piece was going for. Then suddenly the next item caught her attention, it was a gold disk of Lisa’s favourite band, signed by the group themselves. The bid started at one thousand pounds, and she put her hand up straight the way. Tess looked down at Nikki in surprise.

“Hey what you doing?” She asked.

“What does it look like? I am bidding.” Nikki whispered back with an excited smile.

“These things can get pretty high you know, are you sure you know what you are doing Nik?”

The blonde nodded, “Yes, trust me…Lisa will love this, I have to get it for her; and it will be like a thank you for looking after Thunder and Jenna.”

Tess looked amazed, “Whatever happened to a card or chocolates?”

There was a small chuckle, “This is much more interesting.”

The bidding continued, Nikki making the last bid of five thousand four hundred pounds, and then it stopped. The item went to the blonde, Nikki grinned and clapped her hands. Tess just looked on astounded.

At the end of the evening, the total amount of money raised was announced, seventy nine thousand pounds. Tess took some shots of a large check being handed over to the founder of the ‘Christmas for children’ organization. It was a charity that helped children who were either hospitalised or in care, and were away from their families over the Christmas season.

When the evening was over all the guests left for the night, and Tess and Nikki retired to their room.

*******

While Nikki had slipped into the bathroom to change for bed, Tess stood between the two beds with a frown.

“Nikki?” She called

“Yes?”

“Do you usually sleep in a single or double bed at home?”

“Double why?”

“Nothing I was just wondering, you can take the double then, I will take the single.”

Nikki emerged from the bathroom, the tips of her hair wet from where she had washed her face, her cheeks pink with that just scrubbed glow. She wore cream coloured pyjamas with picture of Tigger on the front of the top she wore. Tess grinned at the endearing sight.

“No it is ok, you can take the double, and I am smaller than you anyway, so I’ll take the single.”

Tess shook her head, “Nope, executive decision, you take the double, I do the single…and that is final.”

Small hands landed on slight hips, “Uh huh…executive decision my arse, I will take the single and that is final.”

The photographer laughed, “No you take it.”

“No you.”

“No you.”

“No…you.”

“Ok, I have an idea.” Tess bit her lip hoping she was not about to step her bounds, “How about we both take it, that way no more disagreements, and I promise to keep my hands to myself, even though you do look adorably cute in your Tigger pj’s.”

There was a slight pause of consideration, “Ok…but if I get in that damn bed and you get in the single, I will sleep on the floor.”

“Deal.”

“Ok.” Nikki walked cautiously over to the double bed and got in, as Tess disappeared into the bathroom.

She lay in the quiet room, her stomach doing slight flips at the thought of sharing the bed with the dark woman, even though secretly she had hoped for as much. Not that she would ever admit it, and unbeknownst to her, Tess had hoped for the same.

Tess returned from the bathroom, wearing white shorts and Tee shirt, she climbed in next to the blonde.

“Damn it!”

“What is it?” Nikki asked.

“I forgot to do my hair.”

“Want me to do it?” The smaller woman questioned with hope.

Tess thought for a moment, “Um…sure?”

They both sat up and Nikki reached for Tess, running her hands over the woman until she found the band at the bottom of her hair. Pulling it off, she slowly sifted her fingers through the braid, unravelling the silken hair.

“Hey Tess can I ask you something?”

“Of course?” Tess smiled in the darkness, loving the feel of Nikki’s fingers running though her hair.

“When you were thirteen, did you really punch a guy in the nose when he said that the best position you could play in soccer would be a goal post?”

The brunette laughed out loud, “Who told you that…oh hold on let me guess Jeffery right?”

Nikki smiled, “Yes…he said he and your father had to more or less beg the boys parents not to get the police involved.”

Tess smiled as she recalled the event, “Well yeah I guess so…but he deserved it, and besides he was a bully with all the girls.” She pouted, “He hurt my fragile pride, I was so sure I was going to be the first female star of the England football team, I couldn’t believe I was a terrible as I actually was.”

“Awe…well at least you found your calling in life.”

The tall woman nodded, “Guess so, though he is now a professional footballer playing in the Premier League…bastard.” She sniggered, and Nikki laughed. “So Miss Morris, can I ask you something?”

“Of course you can.”

She hesitated briefly, “Well I was just wondering how you could be so blasé about spending the kind of money you spent tonight…I mean five thousand is a lot. I would have a headache for a week if I just spent money like that on impulse.” Although Tess didn’t like to admit it, she could be a little frugal when it came to needlessly spending money.

Nikki finished with the long hair and lay back down, Tess following suit. The blonde decided it was now or never, she may as well get it over with and tell Tess what her mother had been grousing about for some years. After a slight pause she spoke, “My grandfather was quite a rich man, an entrepreneur, earning his money through many different avenues and business he’d started. Quite simply when he died, he left his fortune to Lisa and I.” She rolled onto her side facing the brunette, and Tess did the same. “The only thing he left my mother was the house we live in now, she is obviously quite upset about it, to say the least.”

Tess nodded, “I see.”

“Anyway, he left a kind of trust fund for us in which we have a limited amount of money at our disposal, until we reach our twenty forth birthday, then we get the bulk of our inheritance.”

She had to ask, “How much is the bulk?”

Nikki sucked in her bottom lip, then released it quickly, “Um…one and a half.”

“One and a half what?”

“Err, million.”

“EACH?” She asked astounded.

“Uh huh.”

“Jesus.”

“Yeah, I was a little shocked at first myself, but I guess now I have matured a little I’ve been making some decisions about what I want to do with the money.”

“And that is?”

“I want to start my own business, you know with horses. Maybe start up some stables, a stud farm maybe, I would like to open a place where mistreated horses can go and regain their health. That is how I got Thunder, he was neglected by his previous owner…he is such a docile creature.”

Tess’s brows were raised, “Wow.” She shook her head lightly.

Nikki smiled, “Yeah, the trouble is that this has caused a certain amount of tension since my grand fathers death…when my mother found out she only got the house, oh that and any money left over from that spence account. The thing is that it’s my birthday soon…Christmas day in fact.”

“No shit…Christmas day huh? God I always thought it must be pretty shitty for kids whose birthdays were around Christmas.”

There was silence for a long while, Nikki rolled onto her back, and sighed, “Does it bother you, I mean about the money?”

Tess reached out and took Nikki’s hand, “Why should it bother me, I think you are very lucky Nik.”

Nikki moved herself towards the taller woman, and then turned onto her side, facing away. They spooned together, Tess’s arm placed securely around the smaller woman’s stomach. “I am glad, I always feel slightly uncomfortable about this, and to be honest I am glad you’re not fazed by it.” She yawned, suddenly feeling very tired.

Tess kissed the blonde hair in front of her, “You snared me the first time I saw that dazzling smile of yours, and I think I was yours from that moment on, nothing could change that.”

Nikki pulled Tess’s hand to her lips, laying a soft kiss upon the long fingers, “You captured me when you first took my hand.” She smiled.

“Does that mean we are stuck with each other?”

“Forever…if you want?” Stated the blonde seriously.

Tess pulled Nikki in close, “I want.” She whispered and closed her eyes, sleep claiming her rapidly.
Part 7
The morning sun shone through a slight gap in the hotel room curtains, its slither of light beamed right into Tess’s face. Groaning and covering her eyes, she tried to move but found herself weighted down. Still not fully awake, she opened her eyes shielding them from the blinding ray, and readied herself to order Leto away. What she saw instead forced her mind into gear and an indulgent smile upon her lips. She realised that in her usual sleeping state she had wandered to the centre of the bed. And it seemed Nikki had done the same for she lay almost fully on the woman with her head pillowed just under Tess’s breasts.

Thinking back to the night before she remembered the conversation they’d had and the confessions that were made. Not so much about Nikki’s impending wealth, but the fact that they were beginning to acknowledge what they had together as a relationship. Lifting her right hand, she sifted golden hair through her fingers, but stilled as she felt Nikki stir upon her. After a few moments of silence, she continued her caresses of the woman beneath.

“Morning.”

Surprised to see that Nikki was awake she stopped all movement, “Oh hey there, you just woke up?” She asked sleepily.

There was a slight shake of the head, then Nikki turned her face towards the brunette, “Well actually I woke up some time ago and found myself in this position. I wondered whether I should move, but really didn’t want to,” She smiled, “So I decided to stay and see how you reacted to this.”

“I like this very much.” The photographer replied.

Nikki nodded looking almost thoughtfully, “Me too” she said quietly. Turning her head, she felt her lips brush against the underside of Tess’s right breast, and heard the definite gasp her action produced from the woman above. She stilled her movement, uncertainty creeping into her mind. Kissing she could handle, but with the revelations they had made the day before she realised she was wandering into completely unknown territory.

Tess cupped Nikki’s head, “You don’t have to stop.” She whispered breathlessly.

Nikki brought her own right hand up to just under the brunettes left breast “This isn’t exactly familiar ground for me Tess, I’m not sure I know how to continue.” She flushed with embarrassment.

Tess put her hands under Nikki’s arms and pulled her up until she was lying fully on top of the taller woman. “This isn’t exactly old hat for me either.”

Finding Tess’s lips with sensitive fingertips, Nikki leaned forward capturing them with her own. The kiss was deep and heated from the onset. Nikki plunging into Tess’s welcoming mouth, their tongues neither fighting for, nor surrendering control; more an acceptance of their sentiment towards one another.

Smoothing her hands along the body upon her, the photographer reach Nikki’s behind and cupped surprisingly firm cheeks. Nikki gasped at the touch, her lips moving away from Tess’s as they started a journey across the smooth jaw, to a strong, corded neck. She was going by instinct alone, and revelling in every moment of it, leaving nips and bites along Tess’s neck, as she tasted the delectable skin.

Tess groaned, the feelings already overpowering her senses. She cupped Nikki’s head, trying to direct her to breasts that ached to be touched.

A knock echoed in the room.

Nikki ceased all movement as Tess’s eyes flew open.

It sounded again, and Tess growled, “Ignore it.” She stated, and rolled over trapping Nikki beneath her much taller frame. Their kisses started again, deep and wanting, drawing groans of pleasure from both women.

Again the door knocked, “Room service!” Said the very recognisable voice.

The photographer pulled away with a sigh, “Damn it Jeffery, you always seem to have the most terrible of timing.” She looked down at the blonde, “I better get that, I am supposed to have a meeting with Jeff and Barb, this morning…I should go and see what he wants.”

Nikki nodded, “Of course, go and see.”

Tess gently lifted herself of the smaller frame and wandered towards the door. Nikki sucked in a deep breath and shuddered, feeling more than a little aroused, still she thought with a smile, it was a good feeling, if not a little frustrating.

“Only just getting up I see.” The man stated, as he took in Tess’s flushed and rumpled, state.

“Jeff it is still early, what can I do for you?”

“Not interrupting are we?”

“We?” Tess asked.

Just then Barbara appeared in the doorway, smiling way too brightly for the time of day, as far as Tess was concerned.

“We thought we should come and see you.” She stated, and brushed past Tess, letting herself into the room, “We’ve had a phone call and need to leave a lot earlier than planned this morning, so we have to bring forward our meeting I’m afraid.”

Jeffery followed his wife into the room, and Tess just stood back with an amused smirk, “Oh please do come in?” She said to thin air.

The husband and wife stopped in the room, both noticing the fact that only one bed had been occupied last night. They looked at each other and Jeffery winked.

“Well it seems there is a bit of a crisis at home, and we have to leave. It appears Jeffery junior has gotten himself into a spot of trouble.” Barbara said with a scowl, “Anyway, we have to leave as soon as possible, so I just thought I would come and sign the papers for the photos and such, so you can send them to me…express delivery right?”

Tess nodded and yawned, “Yeah, ok express delivery. I shall have them sent to you by Wednesday morning.” She moved over to her case, looking for the documents she needed.

Jeffery turned towards the silent blonde noticing the her flustered state, “We didn’t interrupt anything did we?”

“NO” Both women said together, and Nikki continued, “We were just getting up.”

Jeffery nodded as Tess handed the documents over for Barbara to sign. Once everything was completed the couple walked towards the door.

“It was just wonderful to see you Tess, let’s not leave it a whole year next time though.” Barbara looked towards the blonde, “And Nikki dear, it was absolutely wonderful to meet you, I am sure I will see you again yes?” She turned back to the brunette, “Well see you soon I hope. I spoke to your mother yesterday afternoon Tess, she tells me she is coming up for Christmas, yes?”

“Uh huh.”

“Well that will be nice for her. Anyway we have to go, take care both of you…bye.” And with that the couple left the room.

Nikki arched her eyebrows, “Wow that was kind of hectic.”

“Yeah they can be like that…blink and you miss them.”

“So your mum is coming up for Christmas huh?”

Tess nodded, “Sure is.” She moved to sit on the edge of the bed, “So how do you fancy meeting my mother.”

The blonde’s smile was dazzling, “I can’t wait.”

“Great, I know she is going to adore you.”

“Hope so, I feel like I will be meeting the in-law so to speak.”

“Oh you make it sound scary.” Tess teased.

Nikki smiled, “Well it is now that I think about it, I mean are you going to tell her about us?”

“Of course.”

“Well what is she going to think of me, I mean as a prospective match for her daughter.” Sudden feelings of self-consciousness invaded Nikki’s mind. “It is not like…I mean…oh I don’t know what I mean.”

Tess scooted to the head of the bed and put her arm around the nervous woman, “Believe me, she will be very happy to meet you, she has probably been dreaming of the day forever.”

Nikki bit her lip, “But…well you know, I am a woman.”

“What…you are, damn do you think she will notice?” The brunette joked looking her up and down, and causing the smaller woman to smile.

“No I mean, wont she mind?”

“If you had two purple heads and yellow spots she may be a little quizzical as to where you were born, but as long as you made me happy she wouldn’t mind in the slightest.”

“I hope so.” Answered the worried blonde.

“I know so, ok…trust me.”

“I do.” Nikki replied.

*******

Why did it seem that whenever one was waiting for something, the day seemed to take forever to pass. All the inhabitants of the Morris household were waiting upon the eldest daughters return all with this particular thought in mind.

Richard, was delaying going into work Monday morning with hopes that he may be there for his daughters return home, even though Rosalind had repeatedly told him she would not be home until the afternoon, and he may as well leave. He was having none of it, after seeing on the TV that his favourite footballer was to be at the charity function, he was desperate to hear how the evening went.

Rosalind Morris was impatient for a different reason. Since she had found out about Tess’s past she had made a few inquiries and had finally been given the number of the parents of the photographers’ old college roommate. Naturally, she rung claiming to be concerned parent afraid for her innocent daughters well being and reputation. Mr and Mrs Moon, parents to the ex-roommate Jennifer, were only too happy to oblige, being a strict religious family they thought it was their duty to be of any help they could.

Lisa on the other hand was anxious for Nikki to return home for more than one reason. She was desperate to know just how the evening went, and whether her sister was able to meet anybody famous. But also, she knew her mother was up to something, and although didn’t know what that something was, she knew it involved Tess.

Still the morning had been relatively quiet. Lisa stayed with Nikki’s horses until ten o’clock, hoping she would be able to hear Tess’s Blazer and see the women first. But there had been nothing, and not being too impressed with Thunder and Jenna as company, she left after making sure they had enough blankets, food and water.

Returning to the house she decided to go and see how James was feeling this morning. She tapped gently on his door, and after a quiet command to enter; she went in.

James sat up in his single bed, the morning broad sheets upon his lap. He held a cup of tea in one hand and a packet of Lockets in the other. Lisa grimaced at the odd combination such flavours would have produced, but decided he probably couldn’t even taste much anyway.

The ill butler looked up at his guest as she entered his room, and frowned as he noticed the troubled smile. “Morning Miss Morris, what could possibly be wrong this fine day?”

Lisa sat on the edge of his bed and pursed her lips, “I don’t know, I want Nikki to come back, but I don’t because I know mother has been up to something. She was making a load of phone calls last night, and I definitely heard Tess Alexander’s name mentioned in there a couple of times. I don’t know what’s going on and I have this strong feeling of uneasiness.” Lisa sighed, happy to be able to voice her concerns. James had been a confidant to both her and her sister since forever it seemed, and she knew she could trust him implicitly.

The butler frowned, “I see. Do you have any reason to think that your mother might have reason to be acting the way she is?”

Lisa shrugged.

“Come on you know you can talk to me Miss Morris.” He sneezed and Lisa quickly pulled his cup away to avoid spilling on the sheets. “Thank you.” He smiled, “So do you have any idea what may be wrong?”

The teen chewed on her thumbnail, “Err, well I think she may suspect that Nikki and Tess are in love.”

The butlers’ eyebrows disappeared behind his grey hair, “In love?”

Lisa nodded, “You can see it when they are together. Tess gets this sappy puppy dog look in her eyes, and Nikki just doesn’t stop smiling.” She pulled a face.

“Well that doesn’t mean that they are in love Miss Morris.”

“Hey look, I watch a lot of TV I know how you look when you love somebody, I can tell, besides Nikki told me that they kissed on Saturday.”

James nodded slightly surprised, “Well I never.” He thought for a long moment. “Ok so you think your mother can see this as well?”

Her brows drew together in thought, “I don’t know; all I can say for sure is that she is planning something and I don’t think anybody is going to like it.”

*******

Nikki spent much of the drive back home, lost in a haze of her own thoughts. She smiled thinking back to the pleasant alternative Tess had used to lessen the nerves she felt about their journey, back down to the ground floor of the hotel in the lift. The photographer had held on to her like before, leaving their belongings on the floor so she could wrap both arms around the smaller frame. She remembered the silken voice in her ear, telling her to block out all outside sounds, and interferences and just feel…and she did. Tess’s hands never strayed from their hold around her stomach, but her lips had covered every inch of the blondes’ neck, cheeks and ears. To Nikki, it had been pure heaven that had ended far too quickly when the lift reached the ground floor, and they had to get out.

She then remembered Tess’s eagerness to make a quick stop in a gadget shop, where the woman had taken Nikki around the large establishment as she fiddled with each useless piece of equipment. Tess had ended up buying a handful of gadgets for her car, dashboard compass, mobile phone holder, and small first aid kit for the glove box. Nikki had rolled her eyes at the first two objects, but conceded that the first aid box may well come in handy one day.

Every so often Tess would look over at Nikki sitting beside her and see the odd smirks on her face; she wondered what the blonde was thinking about. Her own mind had not gotten much past the waking up that morning and travelling down to the ground floor in the lift. Tess shivered with delight as she remembered each feeling her body reacted to.

They arrived back at Nikki’s by half past twelve, and were greeted by all three members of the Morris family, standing on the doorstep. Tess pulled the Blazer to a stop and unfastened her seat belt.

“Well, here we are.”

Nikki sighed, “Hmm, guess so.” She unclipped her own seatbelt and got out of the car.

Richard Morris was the first to welcome the women back; “You made it in fine time I see.” He walked up to his daughter putting one arm around her back, “So how was it?” He asked them both.

“Great.” Tess replied.

“Wonderful.” Nikki responded.

The Mayor followed Tess around to the back of the car and helped her take Nikki’s things out of the boot. Tess picked up a large rectangle parcel and handed it over to him with care.

“You didn’t go present buying did you?” He asked

Tess shook her head, “There was an auction for the charity, and lets just say Nikki could not resist splurging.”

Richard shook his head, “Women.”

The brunette looked at him with an amused smirk, and what am I? She thought.

“Well let’s not all stay out here, it is far too cold.” Rosalind stated, “Tess you will be coming in wont you?”

Tess shook her head, “No, I am sorry I am afraid I have to leave. I have to get these rolls of film back to the studio and get them all developed by tomorrow, so I can get them sent off.”

Rosalind looked a little disappointed by that, “Oh well if you are sure we cannot change your mind.”

“No I really have a lot of work to do Mrs Morris.” Tess wondered why the sudden niceties, and Lisa’s uncharacteristic quietness.

There was silence in the courtyard as looks passed between each person, and Nikki wondered what was going on, there was a sudden tension in the air, and she didn’t like it. “Well I guess we better let Tess get going then.”

Richard put Nikki’s bag over his shoulder, package under his arm and held on to the suit bag, “Yes I am sure you are very busy Miss Alexander, see you soon.” He stopped, “Would you like to come around for dinner maybe Wednesday?”

“I’m sorry Mr Morris, My mother is arriving on Wednesday.”

“Oh well, some other time then.” He turned around and headed towards the house.

“Come on then Nicole dear, it is rather cold out here.” Rosalind stated.

“I will be there in a moment mother, I just have to speak with Tess before she leaves.” Nikki turned towards Tess.

The older woman sighed, “Well do hurry, I don’t want you catching a cold out here dear.” She turned and led a still quiet Lisa into the house.

Tess and Nikki faced each other; the dark woman looked up and noticed Rosalind watching them from one of the front windows. “Your mother seems to have an eye on me.” She smiled at Nikki for show.

“Do you get the feeling she is just being a little too nice all of a sudden?”

“Hey lets not discuss that now.” She put her hand on Nikki’s shoulder, mindful of the woman still watching them; “I had a wonderful time yesterday…this weekend in fact.”

“Me to.”

“My mother will be arriving some time Wednesday afternoon, how are you for meeting her either in the evening or Thursday some time?”

Nikki rubbed her hands together beginning to feel the cold, “Whenever is more convenient for her, if she is too tired after her journey up on Wednesday, then Thursday will be ok.” She replied, and blew a gust of warm air onto her hands.

“Great.” Tess was still aware of the woman watching them from the window. “I really wish I could kiss you right now.”

“Go with it.”

“But your mother seems to be taking a very keen interest in what is going on out here, I don’t want to get you in any trouble Nik.”

The blonde sighed, “She is going to have to find out sooner or later.” She moved forward putting her arms around the taller woman, “Just block out all outside sounds and interferences and just feel.”

Tess smiled as Nikki used the words she had used in the elevator. Leaning down, she captured Nikki’s lips in a tender kiss. Seconds later she pulled back “I guess I should go then.”

“Uh huh.”

“I will see you soon, and if ever you need to ring me, please do ok?”

“Sure.” Nikki leant up and found purchase of the brunettes’ lips once again.

With effort Tess pulled away and looked up, noticing Rosalind gone from the window. She sighed, “You will be ok right? Remember if you need me, just call.”

They released and moved apart, “I will, see you soon Tess.”

The photographer looked longingly at her before sighing, “Bye.” She got into the Blazer with uncertainty and one last look, drove away; as Nikki made her way into the house.

*******

Nikki entered the silent house, not a voice could be heard and as such she was unsure as to where the rest of the family were. Taking a leap, she decided on the living room, and after taking off her thick winter jacket, set towards the room in question.

Lisa and her father sat quietly in the room, Rosalind having left moments before. They both looked up as Nikki entered, and the blonde could feel the tension in the air.

“Hi guys.”

Lisa was the first to jump up, grabbing her sister in a strong hug, “How was the weekend?” She asked trying to keep the stress from her voice.

“It was great, I got something for you.” She turned towards her father, “Dad were is that package Tess handed you?”

Richard Morris rose to his feel, “In the hall way, I wont be a minute.” He left the room quietly.

Nikki grabbed a hold of her sisters’ arm, “What’s going on?”

“We all saw it Nik.”

“Saw what?” Nikki asked nervously

“You and Tess outside. Mum just went really quiet and left the room, I don’t know where she is now.”

Nikki nodded, “And dad?”

“Well he is still here isn’t he…he didn’t storm out like mum did, so I guess that means something.”

Richard Morris came back into the room, carrying the package; he handed it to his daughter.

Nikki then passed it to her sister, “This is for you, it was one of the auctioned pieces last night and as soon as I heard what it was I had to get it for you, I knew you would love it.”

Lisa accepted the object and began to tear off the paper with abandon. When she reached the item inside, her chin hit the floor. She stood speechless for what seemed like minutes, trying to take in what she was holding. Eventually Nikki had to speak, “Do you like it?”

“I…don’t…oh my god…NIKKI…” She pulled her sister into a fierce hug, before quickly moving back, “I can’t believe you got me this, it, it is fantastic.”

The blonde laughed, “Well I hoped you would like it.”

“LIKE it, it’s the best present I have ever received.” She ran to the door, the earlier events all but forgotten, “Oh my god, I have to go and ring Sally, she will not believe this.” And she was gone.

Nikki stood in the once again quiet room, aware of her fathers’ silent presence. She was hoping he would break the hush, but he just sat still, a blank expression upon his face. Nikki moved towards the nearest chair and sat down. “Are you going to say something?” She asked

Richard Morris looked at his daughter, “I am a little unsure of what to say sweetheart…I had no idea. Your mother is not a happy woman Nicole.”

Nikki sighed, “I will cross that bridge when I come to it, right now I am more interested in knowing how you feel dad.”

The small man slid off his leather chair, and moved to situate him self beside his daughter, “I am a little confused, this was something I just never expected…I knew that you would eventually settle down with somebody no matter how hard I tried not to accept the fact, I just never even considered that it would be with a woman.”

Nikki fidgeted in her chair, “Are you angry?”

“Are you happy sweetheart?”

“Very” the blonde answered with conviction.

“Then how could I possibly be angry that my little girl has found happiness?”

“I am not a little girl anymore dad.” She grinned.

The Mayor smiled and put his arm around his daughter, “But to me you always will be.” He tucked her head under his chin, “And Tess Alexander no less, hmm…I guess I could get used to calling her daughter…but she is just so much taller than me.”

Nikki laughed.

*******

Tess’s drive back to work was one of thoughtfulness. So much had happened over the weekend that she felt a different person, changed maybe but not in a negative way. She was happy, a fact she realised when another white van cut her up on the journey and she didn’t even bat an eyelid, a first for her.

She pulled into back car park of Snap Shots by half past one, and parked next to Robert’s jeep, the large man just getting out of the vehicle as she did so. He stood back and admired the Blazer as she switched off the engine and got out the drivers seat.

“Nice set of wheels Tess, did you get that from the place I told you about?” He questioned, circling the vehicle.

She closed the door, “Sure did.”

“Nice.” He waited as Tess took her equipment out of the back; then helped her carry it into the building. “So don’t keep me waiting, how was last night?”

“Very good turn out, lots of money raised, and many pictures taken…How’s that?” She asked with a cocky smirk.

Robert looked at the brunette with a frown, “Well sounds just great, only you look different.” They walked into the front area where Jason and Kat were busy in an animated discussion, both stopped when Tess and the boss entered the room. “Well?”

“Well what.” The photographer asked.

“Why the ‘way too cheerful for Tess Alexander’ look, did you meet somebody? It is just that I am not used to seeing you with such a satisfied expression on your face…makes me wonder whether you got lucky last night.” Robert stated with and enquiring gaze.

The brunette sighed placing her burden down next to Jason’s desk. “Cant I just be happy for a change?”

All three co-workers looked at the tall woman with disbelief.

“You start giving me those kind of looks and you will see my temper quicker than you can say split personality.”

Jason held up his hand, “Hey no need to get so testy. So Tess how was the evening, I saw it on the news last night, all the famous people arriving for the big event. I can’t believe how much money was raised either, wow…most ever I heard.”

Tess hid a yawn behind her hand, “Second highest actually.”

Kat arched an eyebrow, “Still tired, are you sure you didn’t get lucky.”

“NO…it was a long night ok.”

“Fine, fine you had a long night. So do you want a coffee or something?” The blonde photographer looked down at her own empty coffee cup encased within both hands.

Tess picked up the black carrier with the large amount of films inside, “No, lot of work to do, I better get on with it.” She headed to the stairs, “See you guys later.”

Robert disappeared back towards his office and Jason looked at Kat. “So how much do you want to bet that a certain blonde is behind Tess’s present state of mind huh?”

“You mean the Mayors daughter? No way.”

“Oh please trust me girl, I know these things, and I know Tess for that matter, better than she would like to admit I am sure.”

“Yeah but…”

“Ah, ah no buts.” Jason interrupted, “It is the little blondie, trust me.”

*******

The Morris household had been quiet for the rest of the day. Rosalind had spent the afternoon and evening in her bedroom, not surfacing even for something to eat. Lisa was on the phone, calling one friend after another to tell them about the disk Nikki had won the bid on, and Richard had stayed with his daughter. They spoke for most of the afternoon, and evening talking about a variety of subjects. Richard had asked about the function and was shocked to hear that his daughter had not only met his favourite footballer, but had her picture taken with him. In jest he demanded a copy of the photo, and Nikki had agreed, telling him Tess was giving her a selection of shots she thought both him and Lisa would be most interested to see. No mention had been made about Rosalind, as she had shown no interest in the actual event its self.

As the evening progressed into nighttime, it was pretty obvious that the lady of the house was not going to make an appearance. Richard sighed as he rose from the chair he had been talking with his daughter for the best part of the day.

“Well I think I should turn in, having an unscheduled day off work means I have to get up and be in early tomorrow.”

Nikki rose beside her father, “I guess I should be going to bed too, I want to get up early and spend some time with Thunder and Jenna tomorrow.”

Richard put his arm around his daughters’ shoulders, “I will talk with your mother, and now she’s had a chance to calm down, I am sure she will be seeing things a little clearer.”

“Hope so.” Nikki listened as her father left the room, and started up the stairs, she hoped he was right.

*******

Tuesday morning was a clear and beautiful day. The skies were blue, but although the sun was shining it didn’t take the unmistakable chill out of the air. Prime snowfall weather Nikki and Tess had thought as they had awoken alone, both regarding the new day, and feeling as though something was missing. The morning before they had welcomed the new day in each other’s arms, and for some reason, it suddenly seemed impossible to go back to sleeping alone.

Tess had arrived at work by nine, knowing that she had no shoots for the day; she was able to seclude herself to the upstairs of the studio. Half the batch of films she had taken Sunday night had been developed, so she just had the other half to do. She estimated how much time it would take her, and realised she would have the afternoon left to spend some time doing house cleaning. With her mother coming she wanted to make sure everything looked presentable, and doggie hair free, not that Leto shed much, especially in the winter.

Tess had been working for just over three when she got a call from reception asking her to come down. She was in the middle of cataloguing a batch of pictures when the intercom call came through and was slightly annoyed to be interrupted during her sorting. Half an hour before, she had been looking through the charity function photos, and sorting out a selection for Nikki. Pictures of the blonde with certain people whom she was sure Lisa would be extremely excited about.

With an exaggerated sigh, she left the confines of the second floor and headed down to reception. On her way she passed Kat, who was taking a family of five into a viewing room. She gave a quick nod and a smile then carried on to see what Jason wanted her for.

When she arrived she was more than a little surprised to see Rosalind Morris standing by the young mans desk. She wore a smart grey woollen suit, and her hair was pulled back into a very severe French roll. Their eyes met and Tess knew instantly what the woman presence was about. With a quick look towards a sombre looking Jason, she walked towards the older woman.

“Mrs Morris, this is a surprise, how can I help you?”

The woman looked around the reception swiftly before turning back to Tess, “Miss Alexander, I would like to speak to you in private if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, ok would you follow me please?” Tess turned her back to the woman, and headed towards her own studio. The look in the woman’s eyes sent a shiver of uncertainty and dread through her spine. They walked passed Roberts office and Tess took a quick look inside as she passed, her eyes meeting with the dark mans only briefly as she continued onto her own room. Robert was about to call Tess in to speak with him, when he spotted the Lady Mayoress, behind her. Something about the air of tension both women radiated forced him to stay quiet, though he was now a little curious as to what was going on himself.

Reaching the studio door, Tess pushed it open and allowed the smaller woman inside; she shut it firmly behind them. There was silence for several seconds, as both women seemed to look intently at each other in an unspoken duel. Then Rosalind looked away, taking in the interior of the studio for the first time as she pulled slender white gloves off her hands and folded them, into a secure grip. “I have no time to waste here Miss Alexander, so I shall come straight to the point.”

Tess nodded, “That would be a good start, and give me some idea as to why you are here today Mrs Morris.”

The woman’s expression darkened, “I should very well hope you do have some idea why I am her Miss Alexander. I shall make this very clear, I want you to stay away from my daughter.”

Silence. Tess pursed her lips and looked down, somehow she was expecting as much from this woman. “With all due respect Mrs Morris, I do believe it is Nikki’s decision as to whether she wishes to spend time in my company.”

“No Miss Alexander, Nicole is naïve, she isn’t as worldly as I know you are and she doesn’t know the kind of person that you are. I am here to ask you to stay away from her, and I am doing so with as much civility as I can muster under the circumstances…stay away from my daughter.”

“Listen to me Mrs Morris…”

“No you listen to me. I know all about you, about your history with a certain Jennifer Moon, and how you tried to corrupt her…”

“Corrupt her…!”

“Let me finish.” Rosalind demanded, “I will not have you ruining my daughters reputation just like you did to that poor girls back in your college days. No, I want to make myself clear on this Miss Alexander, you are to stay away from Nicole and that is final.”

Tess fists gripped forcefully at her sides as she tried to keep her calm, “You have your facts very wrong Mrs Morris, I have no idea how you seem to have come across this information but you are way of the mark. And Nikki is not a naive young girl, she is a grown woman, a loving and intelligent woman, whom enjoys spending time with me as much as I do with her.” Tess took a step closer, her green eyes drilling into fuming grey, “How can you come here and demand…”

Rosalind raised her hand to halt Tess, “I come here because I am her mother Miss Alexander, and it is my duty to protect her from people like you. Now I am warning you, stay away. I don’t think you seem to understand how dire a situation I could make for you. I am a very reputable woman in this city Miss Alexander, I have a lot of contacts, know an awful lot of people, and I could ruin you. By the time I am through with your reputation there would be nothing left of the infamous Tess Alexander that anybody would care to know or even remember.” The Mayoress took her own step closer to a stunned Tess, “It is quite clear, if you wish to keep working in this city and have a standing within the art world you will stay away. Am I making myself clear?”

The photographer felt her whole body tremble with fury, “Oh you have made yourself very clear Rosalind.” She said through grated teeth.

The older woman nodded, “Very well I am glad we could clear up this whole unfortunate matter.” She appeared to calm somewhat; “I knew you were a wise woman Miss Alexander, now I must be going.” She pushed her hands back into the pristine white gloves. “I am sure after a time, this will all be forgotten. My daughter is aware that her family is much more important than some unnatural gold digging…” she paused in her speech, looking hard into Tess’s disbelieving eyes. “Good bye Miss Alexander.” She turned swiftly and left the room.

*******

With only four days until Christmas, sitting reservations had almost come to a halt, with only three left, all booked for Wednesday. So with little else to do, Jason sat on the corner of his desk flicking through a cooking magazine. He had decided to prepare Jake a meal after work, so was avidly looking for something extravagant but simple to make. He looked up from his scrutiny of a list of vegetable dishes to see the Mayoress walk quickly through the reception.

“Good afternoon Mrs Morris.” He said, but the woman walked straight past him. Whether she was ignoring him or not, she seemed to be deep in thought.

He watched surprised as the woman walked straight out of the building and got into her waiting car, it drove swiftly away. “Well I guess some people just have no manners!” He muttered with a wry expression.

Just then he heard a loud crashing sound erupting from the back of the studio. Jumping to his feet, he ran around to the back as another crash echoed, louder this time.

He stopped when he noticed Robert standing at the end of the corridor, by Tess’s door, desperately working the handle. “It’s locked.” The burly man shouted

Running up to the boss, Jason flinched as a loud bang hit the door from the other side. It sounded again and again and again. “Fucking, god damn, stupid, son of a…” He looked surprised and a little alarmed at Robert.

Robert tried the handle again; “She’s locked it from the inside.”

There was another crash and Jason cringed, “Well knock it down then, god knows what is going on in there. There is enough bulk in you to barge Fort Knox for gods sake.”

The man nodded and took a step back as Kat appeared at the other end of the corridor. She looked on surprised as Robert rammed his shoulder against the door and it flew open, breaking away from one if its hinges in the process.

Tess whirled around to see three of her co-workers standing in the doorway with worried expressions.

“Leave me alone.” She stated in a seething growl.

Robert looked around at his employee’s and inclined his head in the opposite direction, asking them to leave him alone with her. Kat looked at Jason and grabbed him by the arm pulling him away; she wasn’t sure she wanted to be present if Robert was going in there. Tess looked dreadfully angry.

As the other two left, Robert walked cautiously into the room and pushed the broken door to, having to brace it up against the splintered frame. He turned and looked towards Tess.

“I said leave me alone.” The tall woman said in an even voice.

Robert walked further into the room, noticing the blood covered knuckles. He looked back at the door and noticed the bloodied dents in the hard wood. “No.” He replied calmly, and hoped he wouldn’t have to pull rank on the woman. He had known Tess for a long time; long enough to know that although her anger was severe, it was usually quick to dissipate.

Tess whirled around looking at the burly man with blazing green eyes. Then suddenly her anger was gone, “Please.” She asked.

The man walked towards her looking around at the sight. Tripods and chairs had been strewn all over the room. A brand new camera lay in pieces on the tiled floor. Putting his hand on the deflated woman’s back, they walked towards her office mindful of the sink in the far corner.

“What is happening Tess, what did Mrs Morris say to you?” He asked as he turned on the tap and gently placed her hand under the slight drizzle of cold water.

Tess flinched, “You don’t want to know Rob.”

Holding Tess’s hand under the water, the large mans fingers lightly washed away the blood, his dark fingers a darker contrast to Tess’s paler hand. “Try me.”

Tess pursed her lips and nodded, “Ok. Basically she told me to stay away from her daughter…that I was an unnatural gold digger out to corrupt Nikki. Oh and if I didn’t stay away…she would ruin me.”

With all the blood washed away, Robert turned off the tap and pulled a handful of paper towels from a nearby wall dispenser. Carefully he started dabbing the still bleeding knuckles dry, he brows drawn together, “Why would she warn you to stay away from her, does she have a reason to?”

Looking up at the larger man openly Tess sighed, “Don’t tell me you haven’t been privy to Kat and Jason’s speculations about Nikki and I Rob? Even I have heard them.”

“I didn’t know what to think.”

The photographer shrugged, “Well they are true. I have been spending time with Nikki Morris, she came with me to the function on Sunday.” The man looked at her surprised, as Tess continued, “We get on, enjoy each others company…we…were attracted to each other.”

“And she is not happy with this then?” He asked, dabbing away blood that was still seeping from multiple wounds.

“She threatened to ruin me. My reputation, my career; if I didn’t stay away from her.”

Although he was a little surprised by the sudden events, the man couldn’t help but smile, “She threatened to ruin your reputation and career?” He shook his head, “She obviously doesn’t know you at all does she.”

Tess stared at him blankly, “What do you mean?”

“Well first of all since when have you ever given two hoots about having a reputation? Your work speaks for its self Tess and for a couple of years now people have though of you as taciturn and supercilious, purely because you don’t flaunt yourself…has it hampered your rep? No. Personally it is one of the qualities I like about you, and reasons why I employ you. Secondly I will admit that I did notice that doe eyed look that you were giving Nikki Morris the other day. It is clearly obvious that you two share feelings for each other. Thirdly, since when have you ever cared about what people think of you anyway? Fourthly, who has the right to decide what is unnatural anyway? Fifthly…”

“I think I get the message.” Tess interrupted with a smile. “Thank you Robert.”

The man smiled warmly.

“Now if you will excuse me I really would like to be alone, I have some thinking to do.”

He nodded, “Sure thing Tess.” He walked towards the door “Say do you want me to get those shots from Sunday evening sent off to Mr and Mrs Soul?”

“That would be great thank you.”

The boss smiled and left the room.

*******

Lisa sat on a large wooden bench; her legs crossed Indian style and her arms securely folded to keep herself warm. She had woken early with Nikki, and had talked her into putting up their Christmas tree before them both going to the stables to talk, as the blonde groomed and took care of her horses.

Their mother had left the house an hour before yet neither sister was aware of this fact, having spent the rest of the morning in the stables. Their discussions started with Lisa trying to grill her older sister about Sunday evening, and the sleeping arrangements, but soon the conversation turned to the events of the day before.

“I can’t believe dad was ok with it, I mean not that I though he would blow off on one, but you know…that he was just,” She shrugged, “Ok.”

Nikki put down her grooming brush and walked into the centre of the stable, “Yeah I know, I was a little surprised, but maybe after seeing how mum reacted to it all, he thought he better show some support.”

“Have you seen her yet?” The teen asked.

“Mum?” Nikki shook her head, “Not since when we arrived home yesterday.” She pushed a hand through her golden locks, “Ugh, god maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to…well you know…to…”

“Kiss?” Lisa asked.

“Yeah maybe.”

“For gods sake sis you are old enough to do what the hell you want to do anyway. People your aged don’t even live at home anymore…I mean I know you have to at the moment, but still. So what if you want to be with a woman, I mean shit…it’s Tess Alexander for gods sake…even I would consider switching teams.”

Nikki’s mouth dropped, “Lisa!”

The teen grinned, “Ok maybe not quite that far, but anyway I am sure you understand what I am trying to say.”

“I am sure she does.”

Nikki jumped, and Lisa whirled around to see Rosalind Morris standing in the stables wide door way. The woman walked further inside, her eyes trained on her youngest daughter, “Lisa I wish to speak with Nicole, leave us alone please.”

The tone in her mothers voice left do room for argument, “Yes mama.” She replied and with a worried look to a silent Nikki, she left.

“Morning mother.” Nikki said with confidence.

“Morning Nicole dear.”

“How are you today?”

“I am fine actually, just got back from visiting your friend Miss Alexander.”

Nikki started, a jump of nervousness fluttering in her stomach.

“Yes we had a short chat and came to the conclusion that you two will never see each other again. As you will imagine it is for the best, what would people think…my daughter with that…woman.”

Nikki bit her lip, “Tess wouldn’t agree to that.” She asked in disbelief.

The Mayoress clasped her hands together, “She would and she did, it is amazing what a threat to ones reputation can do to a person dear, and it just goes to show how much you actually meant to her I guess.”

Nikki frowned, “But Tess isn’t bothered by things like that.”

Rosalind stood in the middle of the stable, wrapping her suit jacket around herself, “Well then it does go to show how much you really didn’t know each other. Nicole you have a reputation to uphold, not only as my daughter, but as daughter of this cities Lord Mayor, all your actions have consequences.”

Trying to hold back sudden tears Nikki shook her head, angry at her mothers words, “That isn’t true, none of it. I do know Tess, and I don’t have any reputation to uphold, I am my own person and if I wish to be with Tess then…”

“But…” Rosalind interrupted, “What if she does not want to be with you. Do you really think an independent woman like her will be interested in having you around? Always having to look out for you, make sure things are not left in the way? You were just a fad to her, something new, what could you possible give a woman like that hmm?”

Love. Nikki thought.

“She would have tired with you eventually, you are better off with your family at home, where you belong.”

“I don’t accept it.” Nikki stated, though inside she was feeling more than a little useless.

Rosalind sighed, “Then I shall have to tell you what I hoped I would not. You are not the first one she has tried this on. There was a young woman whom she shared a room with at college. She was of impending wealth, and Miss Alexander seemed to latch on to that, and tried to corrupt her too. Luckily her parents found out about it before things got out of hand. And lucky for you, I found out about this in time too. I think that any feelings she may have had for you, were nothing more than just pity. She is best forgotten dear, trust me, I am your mother.”

Nikki hurt, her mothers words hurt. They were spiteful, untrue and she knew this, yet why was she saying them and making her feel the way she did. Not for one moment would she believe Tess was only interested in her for the money, she didn’t even know about it until the Sunday night. Blue tear filled eyes lowered towards the ground.

Rosalind put her arm around her daughter, leading her out of the stables. “Now lets not get upset about this dear, a woman like her just isn’t worth it. Lets go back into the house and fix you a nice hot drink.”

They walked back out into the winter air, the sky grey and looming, a strong wind gathering speed.

“I am going to take the private line out of your room, just so you don’t feel the need to ring her and embarrass her and yourself.”

“But…”

“No buts, I am your mother, you will do as I say…if you know what is good for you…do you understand?”

Nikki nodded, her mind a whirl of emotions. She didn’t believe her mother of that she was sure, but her spiteful words had hurt her more than she ever considered possible. She thought for a moment, and decided to give it some time. So what if her mother disconnects her line, she would still be able to use Lisa’s, but sill she would wait. Maybe tomorrow, she thought with a smile, just so there was enough time to placate Rosalind’s current temper.

*******

It was past midnight. Darkness filled the house, even though its sole occupant was very much awake. The distant Tick Tock of the kitchen clock, echoed through the house, sounding three times as loud as it did at any other time of the day.

In the bedroom Tess lay on her bed. Stretched out upon her stomach, arms folded in front and her chin resting within her good hand. Beside her lay Leto, looking constantly at her master with a distressed expression as she tried to figure out what was wrong with her. No amount of tricks or licks to the face seemed to win her over.

Tess looked down at the phone in front of her; she’d tried many times to ring Nikki, but had gotten a dead tone whenever she dialled the number. She contemplated ringing the main phone, but didn’t want to risk speaking to Rosalind until she was sure of what Nikki wanted.

If the blonde asked, she would drive over there and take her away at the drop of a hat. If she wanted to live with her, she would do the same. If she wanted to leave the country, the photographer would hijack a damn plane if she had to, in order to make sure she got whatever she desired. Yet she was unable to get a hold of her. Tess did consider ringing Lisa’s number until she realised she didn’t even have it. So all she did was lie in her bedroom and think…hour after hour, wondering what to do for the best. She needed Nikki, to talk to her and make sure she was all right.

Rolling onto her back, she folded arms over her stomach, being careful of the damaged hand. It was sore and swollen, and she had wrapped a bandage around it earlier to cover the open wounds her premature spurt of anger had caused. Closing her eyes she tried for sleep, but it wasn’t very forth coming. Images of Nikki invaded her mind, and worries of how the blonde was doing lay heavy in her thoughts. She realised sleep was not going to come easy to her this night.
Part 8
The house was dark and dreary, all the curtains shut giving it a haunted non-lived in like appearance. The old woman wondered whether anybody was actually home, but the dark green jeep in the drive way told her that there had to be. Pulling her heated Vectra to a halt behind the Blazer, Hyacinth Alexander turned off the ignition and got out of the car. It was cold out today, even for mid-day the sky was a mass of grey clouds, signalling yet more snow on its way.

She opened the boot, taking out her suitcase and carrier, placing them on the ground as she closed the car back up and activated the alarm. Lifting the carrier onto her shoulder, she picked up the heavy suitcase with surprising strength and made the short trek towards the front door.

She knocked once, and waited. Nothing. She knocked again and rang the bell. A few seconds later she heard Leto scrambling down the stairs and barking rapidly at the door, Hyacinth hoped this would rouse her daughter, if she was in of course. After another minutes wait, in which Leto had calmed her barking but now sat whimpering at the door, the old woman opened her handbag and pulled out a spare set of keys. She unlocked the door and pushed it open, immediately greeted by one over excited golden dog, who had flung herself to the visitors’ feet waiting for some attention.

Hyacinth bent down, “You are just the biggest fuss pot I have ever known.” She stated, as she scratched the dogs tummy. Leto wriggled with enthusiasm, basking in the attention she was receiving. “So ‘tow tow’ where is that daughter of mine hmm?”

Leto froze.

“Where is Tess, ‘tow tow’?”

Leto rolled over back to her feet and barked twice at the tall, stout woman before running off up the stairs, Hyacinth followed with a smile. Her grey eyes tracking the dog as it disappeared into Tess’s room.

Hyacinth pushed the door further open, and walked into dull room. She saw Leto sitting by her masters’ bed looking at her with desperation. The old woman walked forward and looked upon the sleeping form on the bed. Tess lay on her back, one arm by her side, the other resting cautiously on her stomach; she frowned at the bloody bandage on her daughters’ right hand. The photographer was still fully dressed, resting on the top of the covers her mobile phone lying next to the dark head. It had taken Tess until six in the morning before her worn out mind admitted defeat, and had given in to sleep.

Leaning over the double bed, Hyacinth stroked her daughters’ cheek, smoothing the hair from her forehead, but Tess didn’t stir. She tried a different tactic. She looked down at Leto, “Come on up here and give your slumbering mummy a kiss pooch.”

Leto dived up onto the bed and trotted over to her master, she proceeded to give the photographers face a through tongue bath. Tess groaned and pushed the dog away, Leto looked up at Hyacinth in question.

“Tessa honey come on wake up, do you have any idea what time it is?”

There was no movement or acknowledgement of any kind.

The woman put her hands on hips, “Tessa Josephine Alexander, get your butt out of bed before I come and roll it out!”

Tess’s eyes flew open with a start, and she looked up into her mother’s grey eyes. “Mum?”

“Well at least I know you are alive.”

Rubbing blurry eyes, the brunette flinched as she jarred her swollen knuckles, “You are here early what time is it?”

The older woman shook her head, “Almost one o’clock, what on earth happened to you sweetheart, and what happened to your hand?”

Tess looked down at the bandaged hand and the events of the day before began to surface in her mind. With a painful groan, she dropped her head back to the bed and covered her eyes with both hands. “Ugh god, Nikki.”

Hyacinth frowned, “Who is Nikki dear?”

Pushing herself to a sitting position, Tess forced a heavy sigh through pursed lips; she looked at her mother as she slid off the bed. “You want a drink?”

“That would be nice yes.”

“Ok well lets get comfortable because I have a kind of long story to tell you mum.”

The two women walked out the room, followed by Leto, who hoped one of them would remember her presence and let allow her out into the garden before it was too late.

*******

Within the confines of her bedroom Nikki paced the familiar area back and forth. Lisa had been in earlier and told her that Rosalind had informed her husband that their daughter was not feeling too well, so would not be making an appearance. It was a ruse, and the sisters knew it, hoping Nikki would come around to her mothers’ way of thinking before the day was up. She wasn’t bound to her room; quite simply she just didn’t want to leave, and had spent the remainder of yesterday in it, and so far all of today. It felt like her mothers eyes were constantly upon her, and she was unable to make a single move without being watched.

So in her room she stayed, her mind a whirlwind of emotions, confusion and disbelief the main contributors. Her mothers words returned to her time and again, Do you really think a woman like her would be interested in having a person like you around, and any feelings she had for you were probably just pity. Nikki didn’t know what hurt more, the fact that Rosalind had said these things, or the prospect of them being true. However much her heart dismissed this, her uncertainty waged a savage war within. She had wanted to cry, to release the tornado of emotions that churned inside of her, but she was outwardly numb, trapped in a haze of confusion and disbelief.

Reaching the end of her bed, Nikki slid down until she was sitting on the floor, her back braced against the bottom of the frame. Pulling her legs up, she wrapped her arms around, and rested her chin on slender knees. She wondered what Tess was doing now, and pressing the audio function on her watch, told her it was twenty past one. There was a possibility her mother would be there by now, she thought, and wondered how may hours it took to travel up from Cornwall.

She thought of Tess’s mother, the photographer had said her name was Hyacinth, but that was basically it. Still she had no qualms about the fact that she would like her, then again she mused, when did she really ever form a bad opinion of somebody.

Nikki could read people, in a way born from not having to suffer the visual fronts most people wore. Being able to comprehend a person from their vocal gestures and graces, did offer to serve a useful purpose. The blonde understood them, was able to discover their agreeable qualities in order to charm them. It was a trick James had taught, in her quest to overcome peoples uncomfortable feelings towards her blindness. And it worked, as she had discovered many times, despite her mothers constant over protectiveness.

A sudden thought came to Nikki, would she even meet Hyacinth? What had been the content of her mothers’ discussion with the photographer anyway? She seemed to be stuck in a web of unanswered questions, unsure of what to think, and unable to make a move because of her uncertainty. If only she could speak to Tess, if there was only one thing she did know it was that Tess did feel for her, of that she was certain…wasn’t she?

“Damn it.” She yelled and pushed her legs out stretched across the floor. She’d heard Tess’s admittance of how she felt, she had felt it ten fold in her kisses, why did she even doubt the woman.

The answer came to her, Mother! Nikki found it hard to believe Rosalind was that capable of saying such hurtful words, without there being a slither of truth behind them. But did she want that, to think that Tess had no real interest in her except her money? She frowned, She only knew about the money on Sunday night, her logical mind offered.

Sighing Nikki’s head dropped back onto the bed, No, she thought with assurance, I know how Tess feels about me…and I refuse to be led by my own self-doubt. I will see her soon, that if nothing else, I am sure of.

Her thoughts moved to Christmas, she had already got all her families presents, but now she had another person to buy for Tess’s mother! She had already decided on Tess’s present during the trip down to Birmingham, when the woman had told her about how her fascination with photography had started. She had remembered something her fathers father had given her, an item that although incredibly valuable held only interest to a younger Nikki, because of its interesting and detailed textures and form. Then and there she had decided she would give it to Tess, and just hoped the brunette would like it.

*******

Hyacinth Alexander sat in her daughters’ living room, cup of tea in one hand, Leto’s paw in the other. The dog had been begging for some tea since returning from the garden, but Hyacinth wasn’t giving in, finding the process of the dogs begging just too endearing to yield to.

Leto sighed blinking amber eyes at her masters’ mother, as she pulled her paw away. The subtle approach was not working, so she trotted off into the kitchen, with a more direct approach in mind.

“So what do you think?” Tess asked her mother, mono voice.

The older woman looked down into her tea, circling her index finger around the cups rim. “I am a little bombarded with conflicting emotions at the moment.” She stated honestly.

The brunette sucked in her bottom lip, “Emotions about what?”

“Well…like how I am supposed to feel about what that woman called my daughter. About the fact that my baby is injured and I have this maternal urge to just pull her into the kitchen and take care of the poorly hand.” Tess smiled and pulled at the makeshift bandage. “And that my daughter has fallen in love, under such difficult circumstances.” She shook her head, “The city Mayors daughter, over protective mother, heir to a small fortune.”

“You once said that you can’t control who you fall in love with mother, it just happens.”

Hyacinth took a sip of her tea, “And it just shows how right I am!” She smiled, “So what happens next?”

The green-eyed woman shrugged, “I don’t know, would it be considered impolite if I barged in there and demanded to see Nikki?”

“Hmm, we shall call that plan B, there has to be a less volatile approach to this whole situation.”

“I can’t think of one.” Tess said.

Just then Leto returned from the kitchen, a large clear plastic container held gently between her teeth. She trotted up to the elder of the two women and dropped it down by her feet, looking up with expectant eyes.

Hyacinth’s head dropped to one side, “Tessa dear, what have you been teaching this dog of yours?”

The tall woman laughed, “Hey that isn’t me, what can I say she is a smart little pooch.”

Bending down, the older woman poured some tea into the waiting bowl, “There you go ‘tow tow’ now just you remember who is the nicest of the Alexander women ok!”

Leto woofed and swooped down into her make shift bowl, clearing the beverage in seconds.

“Wow did she lap or suction that up?”

Tess shrugged with a smile, but it soon faded. She sighed, “I don’t know what to do for the best. The thought of not seeing Nikki again hurts inside here.” She placed a bandaged hand over her heart.

Pouring the rest of her tea into the bowl for a happy Leto, the woman got up and walked over to her daughter, sitting down on the arm of the chair. “If this Nikki has my daughters love, then she must be a very special woman indeed.”

“She is, and she does…I just have to tell her that.”

“She doesn’t know that you love her?” Her mother asked slightly amazed.

Tess looked down, fiddling with her bandaged until her hand was slapped away, “I guess I was just a little nervous about saying it…I mean, look what happened the last time I said those words, and that is nothing compared to how I feel for Nikki. It hurt too much when Jenny left me back in college, it will hurt even more now.”

“Sweetheart, that was a long time ago, and you cannot spend the rest of your life afraid to open up for fear of the worst.”

“But it is happening all over again.”

“No it will happen only if you let it, besides this is not a case of teenage attraction and experimentation anymore is it.”

The photographer shook her head.

“Then stop whining and take action.”

Tess arched her brow, “Yes ma’am.” She said with a smile.

*******

Rosalind was waiting for Anita her maid, to get back from taking James Abbot a hot lemon drink. She had been gone far too long as far as the woman of the house was concerned and was just about to ring the bell demanding her presence when the woman reappeared in the doorway.

Anita was a small woman in her early twenties, yet unable to speak more than the barest amount of English, and for Rosalind that was perfect. It meant she could speak freely around the Asian woman, without fearing her personal business would become common knowledge. And because the older woman was the only one in the house who could speak Cantonese, Rosalind tended to consider Anita, her own personal maid. Anita wasn’t a full time employee of the Morris household unlike Abbot, but with the man ill in bed, she was called in for more hours. As the maid entered the kitchen, Rosalind issued a series of commands, basically telling her what she wanted for dinner that evening, then left. She decided it was time to go and see her eldest daughter.

Nikki stood at the entrance to Abbots room, when she heard her mothers’ footsteps coming up behind her. She’d had enough of being cooped up in her bedroom all day and had decided to go and see the Butler, now she realised it was not to be so.

Rosalind spotted her daughter standing by the helps door, “Nicole, I was looking for you, what are you doing in this part of the house?”

“I wanted to see how Mr Abbot is mother.” She answered evenly.

The woman reached her daughter and placed a hand upon her back, steering her away from the room, “I am sure Abbot does not need your company, he will be fine, besides how can he recuperate if he is besieged with visitors?”

“I only wanted to see how he was.”

“Yes well Anita just came from there and he was fine.” She led her daughter into the family room. “Now come in here with me, as I wish to speak with you.”

Nikki sighed inside, fighting the urge to grind her teeth.

Rosalind let go of her daughter and walked over to the large stone fireplace, standing by the marble surround. She turned around and looked at her daughter, standing in the middle of the room, a vacant look on her face. “Right Nicole, I…”

She paused as the phone rang.

“I’ll get it!” Lisa bellowed from the hallway.

The old woman sighed, “Honestly, do any of my offspring have any decorum.” She looked towards a suddenly smirking Nikki, “Right Nicole, now what I want to know is…”

“No mother.” Nikki butted in, causing a shocked look from the older blonde, “You don’t want anything, you are here to make demands and force me to stay away from Tess. But you know what? It isn’t going to happen, you can’t dictate whom I choose to socialize with…to be with” Nikki’s voice was calm, betraying the anger she was feeling inside. Half of her hoped her father would come home, and for once see his wife for how she can be but she needed to do this, to say what had to be said.

“Nicole dear…”

“I just can’t listen to you anymore mother, I am fed up of trying to live up to your expectations when all I ever get from you is criticism. I am entitled to live the life I want, and if that involves Tess, then that is my business…and my choice.” She could sense Rosalind come closer.

“I only have your interests at heart Nicole.” Rosalind’s voice was edgy and broken, “And you do have a lot to live up to, what would people think if…”

“If what? If they found out that the Lord and Lady Mayoress daughter was with a woman…was gay!”

“Nicole you are not…you are just ill, you need some help, we can take you to somebody. Get rid of all these preposterous ideas that woman has put inside your head.”

She sensed her mother take another step towards her so the blonde took a step backwards, “I am not ill mother I am in love, and I don’t give a fuck what you or any of your narrow minded…”

The slap was fierce and unexpected, hitting her hard across the left side of her face. Nikki stumbled back, holding her throbbing cheek with sudden yet unshed tears.

“How dare you speak to me like that, who do you think you are?”

Stunned into silence, Nikki didn’t reply but stood stock still processing the rapid change in events. Her parents had never struck her before, neither of their daughters. She fingered the side of her face, knowing that it would leave a mark, and in Lisa’s often humours opinion, ‘a really cool bruise’ behind, but she felt no humour now.

When Rosalind spoke it was with barely controlled rage, “I am your mother, it is I that has looked after you all these years, very well having to sacrifice much of my own life in order to take care of you. You owe me Nicole, and a dose of respect is only the start.”

Nikki turned and walked cautiously to the door when she felt her arm being grabbed from behind. She didn’t turn around, but stopped as her mother saw fit to continue her tirade. “You will never see that woman again Nicole, and that is final. Mark my words and understand that it would be best in both your interests if you just stayed away from each other…am I making myself clear?”

Nikki pulled her arm from her mothers grasp, “Perfectly.” She replied, pulling the door open and fleeing from the room, with as much haste as possible.

Rosalind followed her daughter out, coming face to face with Lisa as she put down the phone. “Who was that?”

The teen looked at her mother stone faced, “Sally…she just wanted to know whether I wanted to meet the day after Boxing Day…um Monday, and maybe go into…town, shopping.”

Her mother nodded, and disappeared further into her home.

*******

The house seemed so much bigger, so unfriendly, and as Nikki travelled to her bedroom, it seemed that she managed to bump into things she knew had been there for years. Eventually she made it, to the only place that she could consider her sanctuary in this whole place.

Stumbling into the room, she shut the door behind her and leant against the heavy wood. Her shallow breathing filled sensitive ears, as she tried to hold back persistent tears. The side of her face stung from where her mother had hit her, it was hard slap as well, she though, enough to cause the ache that was starting in her head.

Leaning heavily on the door behind her, she slid down the varnished wood until she felt the floor underneath. Shock and disbelief still laying heavy within her, she let her head fall onto pulled up knees with a sigh. From the other side of the room, she heard footsteps heading her way, and by the sound of them she knew they were Lisa’s. They stopped outside her door, and she heard a quiet tapping. “Nikki?” She whispered.

Pushing back to her feet, Nikki moved away from the entrance, “Come in.”

She heard the door slowly creek open as Lisa slid into the room, “Are you all…?” The words died on her lips as she noticed the large hand print on her sisters’ face. Already it was beginning to darken to a noticeable purple bruise. “Oh god did mum do that?” She asked already knowing the answer.

Nikki nodded and turned her face away, moving towards her balcony. “She was angry, I think I overstepped my bounds in what I said to her.”

The teens face reddened, “And you actually believe that?”

With a sigh the blonde shook her head, “No.”

Making sure the door was securely closed; Lisa walked further into the room, standing behind her sister, “Um…when the phone rang before…it was Tess.”

Nikki spun around in surprise, “Tess! What did she want…did she want to speak with me? Oh no wonder you told mum it was Sally on the phone.”

Lisa bit her thumb nail, “She told me to tell you that she was on her way to get you and that you should pack some things because she is taking you back to her house.”

The blonde stood completely shocked.

“Look Nikki you know you have to do this, mum will never let you have any independence if you stay here any longer.”

“What about you?”

“Oh trust me, I will be fine. I am going away to college next year anyway, besides I think a few home truths are about to be aired in the Morris household.”

Nikki frowned, “But what about Thunder and Jenna.”

“I can look after them for a while.”

“Yeah then I shall have them moved to the stables I was considering buying in the New Year. I still have first option…looks like I will be purchasing them a little sooner than expected.” Nikki paced her room.

Lisa nodded, “Well come on then, she will be here in about fifty minutes, we should get moving.” She pulled open her sisters wardrobe doors and started pulled hanger loads of clothes out, placing them on the bed.

Nikki got to her knees and pulled out two large suitcases, then remembered the item she was planning on giving Tess for Christmas; she pulled that out as well.

Lisa picked up a suitcase and placed it on the bed, as she started piling in her sisters’ clothes. “God, I can’t believe we are doing this.” She laughed, “You better tell me what you want in here, all the extra things you will need, um hair brushes, books, whatever we can fit in.”

“Uh huh.” Nikki placed the large box containing Tess’s present on her bed, “I can get the rest of my things later I guess.”

Lisa stopped and looked at her sister, “I am going to miss you sis, who else will I be able to argue with over the answers to questions on TV.”

Nikki pulled her sister into a hug, “You can come and visit me, and in the mean time, you will have to argue over them with dad.”

“Oh yeah, and you know how competitive guys are, he will be placing bets on the answers.”

The blonde laughed, “That will give mum something else to moan about.”

Pulling away the teen look at her sister, “Yeah, maybe it wont be so bad after all!”

Nikki smiled and shook her head as she turned back to carry on with their task at hand, they didn’t have long until Tess arrived. A new thought hit her, how the hell is mum going to react to this? She massaged the back of her neck, feeling sudden tension creeping in, well I guess it isn’t like she can be any more pissed than she is at the moment…I hope.

*******

Tess had jumped into the Blazer as soon as she had hung up from Lisa. The brunette had been so glad the teen had answered the phone and not her mother, as the way she was feeling, she was unsure exactly what would have been said. In the background the photographer could just hear the heated words that were being exchanged between mother and daughter, just not the actual content. Still it was enough to spur the woman into action, and force her to leave the house with only a quick, ‘be right back’ flung in her mothers direction.

Hyacinth had not minded in the least. She was a mother, and it was her duty to look out for her daughter and help her anyway she could. She followed behind her daughter car keys in hand, waiting as Tess realised she was blocked in and turned around to call her mother. Hyacinth waved the keys in front of her daughter, before getting into her car and moving out of he way. She watched feeling a sense of pride, as her only child backed out and headed off down the street, a quick wave to her as she did. The photographers’ lonely life style had always caused her a certain amount of concern, and although she was not expecting any of these events when she came up, she was more than glad to be present. This young woman had obviously captured her daughters’ heart, and she was more than eager to meet her.

*******

The drive had been agonising, felt way too long, and in Tess opinion was littered with the slowest drivers on the planet. Still she had managed to make it to Nikki’s albeit in one hell of an impatient mood.

Pulling into the pebble driveway, she noted that Richard Morris’s car wasn’t home. Tess didn’t know whether that was a good or bad sign. The car stopped near to the front door, and the photographer got out, sudden nerves fluttering in her stomach. Still it wasn’t going to stop her from what she wanted…and what she wanted what the woman she had fallen in love with.

*******

Rosalind had been pacing the house, deep in thought when she heard the doorbell ring. She called Anita to answer it, but the woman was busy cooking dinner so decided she may as well do it herself.

When upon opening the door and seeing just who was there, her face darkened further, “What can I do for you Miss Alexander?” She said; her voice infused with hostility.

Tess looked down at the small woman, “I’ve come for Nikki.” She replied.

Rosalind attempted to shut the door, but Tess put both hand and foot in the way barring her.

“If you don’t leave this minute I shall call the police.”

The taller woman held firm, “You have no reason to do that Mrs Morris…I have simply come for Nikki, when she is with me I shall leave.”

The Mayoress looked at the photographer with contempt, “I know what you are, and I know why you want my daughter, I will not allow you to just come here and take her out from under our noses like this Miss Alexander.”

“What if she is willing?”

Both women turned to see Nikki standing on the bottom step of the staircase.

As Rosalind stood back surprised to see her daughter, Tess pushed past her towards the blonde. She took one look at the bruising mark on the side of her face, and felt anger boiling just beneath her surface. “Who did this?” She seethed, cupping the swollen cheek.

“It isn’t important now, lets just get out of here Tess.”

“Where are your things?”

“In my room, it should be the only one with the open door. Two suitcases and the carryon that I used at the weekend.”

Tess nodded and mounted the steps two at a time. Nikki’s mother walked up to her daughter, shock all but forgotten. “Just what do you think you are doing, where is she going?” She looked at the forming contusion, and felt a pang of regret.

“I have to go away for a while mother, I am going to stay at Tess’s.”

Rosalind looked at her daughter peculiarly, “Don’t be ridiculous, you are not leaving here.”

Nikki lowered her head, “Yes I am mother, you cannot stop me, and you know it.”

“But you cant it’s Christmas…we have many people coming round, what will they think if you are not here…you are not leaving Nikki and that is final.”

“Oh yes I am mother, and that is final. Look I just can’t stay here anymore, I don’t know what you have against Tess but she is a wonderful person and I want to be with her.” She lifted her head, facing her mothers’ angry eyes; “I can’t live here with you any longer. Sometimes I think that your obsession with this families standing in society has made you forget what the most important things in life are.”

The older woman shook her head in disgust, “It seems to me you have forgotten what is most important things in life are Nicole…I have no idea what you think you are talking about.”

Nikki sighed, “Love mother, that’s what I am talking about…and caring for the people around you, not caring what the people around you think.” Tess reached the top of the stairs weighed down with Nikki’s belongings, “I love Tess, and I want to be with her, and if for one moment you would stop thinking about what other people will think and just thought for yourself, then maybe you would be able to see why.”

“Do you realise how foolish you are being?” asked Rosalind with controlled anger, only due to the fact that Tess was descending the stairs and could hear their conversation.

Lowering her head, Nikki walked past her mother as Tess reached the bottom steps, “Ready?” The taller woman asked.

Nikki nodded, and took a hold of Tess’s overloaded arm as they headed out the door. Lisa stood at the top of the stairs and watched them leave, she wanted to call out, but seeing the look of pure fury on her mothers face decided not to. As the door shut behind them the matriarch of the household folded her arms and walked over to the window to watch them leave. How can you think you love somebody whose only intention is to break your heart Nicole? A spark flickered in her grey green eyes, if I have to move heaven and earth I shall make you see just who she really is.
*******

They drove in silence for a long time, a silence only broken by the sound of outside intrusions. Eventually, not being able to wait any longer, Tess steered the car off into a small dirt ditch. Thorn bushes covered it on both sides, obscuring their view from the rest of the passing traffic. She unclipped her belt and turned around in her seat, regarding Nikki in silence for some minutes.

Eventually she spoke, “What happened Nikki, what happened to you face?”

The blonde sighed audibly and mimicked Tess in her actions, unfastening her seat belt and turning to face the larger woman. “I struck a nerve with my mother and she saw fit to react in a totally uncharacteristic way…obviously the sight of my face is the result.”

“She hit you?”

A faint but evident nod was her answer.

Tess closed her eyes, anger still coursing through her veins, “What did you say that made her react in such a way?”

Nikki smiled, “Just something about not giving a fuck about narrow-minded thinking…well it was along those lines anyway.”

Tess moved forward, placing a gentle hand on the swollen cheek. She leant forward and kissed the forming bruise, “How you could have even bared being in the same room with her after that is beyond me.”

The blonde shrugged, “She is my mother, I don’t really know if I can explain it, and this may sound terrible, but in a way it is what I expect from her. I am used to the hostility and small-minded ways of thinking. However much I would like her to be different, I don’t think it would be possible. I don’t hate my mother…but I have no respect for her, and for that reason, I cannot be around her any longer.”

Strong fingers moved in soothing circles around the contusion, “Well would you think less of me, if I said that at the moment my feelings for her are less than friendly?”

A small hand came up, gently laying over the larger one still upon her face, “I would understand why you feel that way.”

It seemed almost natural for the women to move forward, sealing their lips together in a mounting kiss of tender reassurance. Nikki pulled away first.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Anything.”

“Yesterday my mother said things, designed to make me believe that you were only interested in me for one thing…”

“Nikki you know…”

“Shush…I know it isn’t true, but what my mother said, about a somebody from your college days. What was she talking about, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Tess pulled away. She looked out of the windscreen in front of them seeing nothing but empty fields. “When I was in college I shared a room with a girl who played on the same netball team as I. Well we got very close; you know how it is, telling each other your secrets and things like that. Well one day I told her that I thought I may be gay, as I realised I was attracted to her, of course this was after a good deal of drink…we had just returned from some party or another. Anyway, she said that she was attracted to me to, and well as you can imagine, we um…we got close.”

Nikki nodded realising she felt a slight amount of jealousy at that comment; she dismissed the thought, knowing it was futile.

“Well anyway a few weeks later she told me that she didn’t want a relationship with me, as I was just an experimentation you know…just to see what it would be like. I was upset but got over it, being only twenty at the time; you tend to have that whole ‘plenty more fish in the sea’ quote flying around your head. Anyway then she started getting into trouble, mixing with the wrong crowds, doing thing she shouldn’t be doing and when her parents found out she diverted all the blame to me. Said it was I who’d introduced her to that life style after seducing her when I found out her family was quite opulent, then dumping her when I realised I couldn’t get my hands on any of her money. All hell was raised and she was taken out of school, and put into a rehabilitation centre of some kind.

I was lucky, that in some way her own reputation preceded her, and there were people who didn’t believe her tale, so I managed to stay in school. Unfortunately her parents still believed her, and it would be my guess that your mother had spoken to them in order to get that information.”

Nikki was quiet, her head lowered.

“Anyway, I had pretty much decided to stay out of relationships until I found that one person that I knew I could love…beyond all reasons of doubt. And well…it has taken me over five years but it looks like I have finally found her.”

Tess reached over, putting two fingers under the blondes chin and raising her head, “Nik, did you mean what you said to your mother…that you love me?”

“If I was only ever to be certain of one thing in my life, it would be that.” Nikki answered with certainty.

Pushing her hand through the golden hair Tess moved forward, “Say it…say the words, I need to hear them Nik.”

Nikki took a hold of the hand running through her hair and pulled it to her lips, she kissed the knuckles and for the first time felt the plasters covering the swollen flesh. “Tess what happened?”

“It doesn’t matter,” The photographer stated, “Later…please Nik, I need to hear it.”

She kissed the battered flesh and whispered, “I love you.”

The brunette leant forward and gently placed her lips over Nikki’s, “I love you too.” She stated and they kissed slow and deep. It was a kiss of affirmation, a seal of a union never to be broken.

Tess pulled away, “I think we should get home, my mother is there and I don’t want to keep her waiting too long…she will have my hide.”

Nikki laughed, “So I guess this is judgement time huh? Me meeting your mother?”

There was a sudden laugh, “Oh I think judgement time is over, I have said enough about you to make her love you more than her own offspring.”

“What…you have been talking about me?” The blonde covered her face, “Oh god now I do feel self-conscious.”

“What’s wrong? It was all good.”

“Uh huh, but that is just your opinion.”

Tess shrugged, “What and that counts for nothing?”

“No, but you may be bias.”

The brunette smiled, “Bias or not, you will be fine.”

*******

Over two hours had passed by the time Hyacinth heard her daughters Blazer pull into the driveway. During that time, she had taken to settling herself into the spare bedroom, unpacking her clothes for the weeks stay. She suddenly felt a little in the way, with Nikki coming, but considered two points. One, Tess would not even hear her speak like that, she knew her daughter. And two, she was sure Nikki wouldn’t be using the spare room anyway.

Hearing the engine shut off, Hyacinth walked over to the window to get a sneak peak of the woman whom had stolen her daughters’ heart. She watched as Tess got out the drivers side and walk over to the passengers door, opening it for the other occupant to exit. She smiled at the chivalrous gesture and loving smile on the brunettes face as she watched Nikki get out.

The older woman waited as Nikki got out of the car. The first thing she noticed was the short golden hair, framing the heart shaped face. Although Tess had told her she was twenty-three, she didn’t look more than twenty years old. Hyacinth watched with interest as Nikki closed the door, then held on to her daughter as she was guided slowly up the driveway, it was after noticing the vacant look in the blondes eyes that she realised the cause of Tess’s over attentiveness. Well I never, she didn’t tell me that, the woman thought with interest.

She was startled out of her thoughts by the sound of the front door opening, Leto was out in the garden so was unaware her master had returned home. Walking into the centre of the room, she waited for the women to enter.

The door slowly opened and Tess led a hesitant Nikki into the front room, Hyacinth smiled at her daughter.

“Mum this is Nikki…Nik, this is my mum.”

Hyacinth smiled and walked towards the blonde. The smile soon faded when she spotted the bruise on Nikki’s face, and she quickly looked to Tess for answers. The brunette shook her head, indicating that explanations would come later, so the older woman nodded and turned back to Nikki.

“Nikki I am very pleased to meet you.”

Nikki held out her hand with a smile, “And you too Mrs Alexander, I have heard a lot about you.”

Hyacinth took a hold of the offered hand and secured it in a warm grasp, “Well it seems like it is about time we met then as I have head a lot about you too, but please call me Hyacinth or just ‘Cinthy’ that is what most people call me.

Tess smiled watching the interaction between the two women; oh how she loved it when she was right.

*******

The late afternoon had quickly turned into evening, as the three woman sat and talked about the events of the past two days. It was not long after Nikki had arrived, that Hyacinth had insisted that she put an icepack on her cheek to bring out the bruising. That in turn made Nikki remember Tess’s hand, which led to an explanation from the photographer about what when happened when Rosalind had visited her at the studio the day before.

By nine o’clock, Hyacinth noticed Nikki’s fight to keep herself awake, so the suggestion that they all turn in for the night. It had been readily accepted, so all three women secured the house for the night, and went up stairs, Leto following devotedly behind.

Tess led Nikki into the bathroom. “I suppose it will take you a while to get used to this place huh…I mean finding your way around it, and such.”

The blonde nodded, “Yeah I guess so…” she paused, “Tess?”

“Hmm?”

“Thank you.”

“What for?”

Nikki shrugged, “For everything, for being there, not giving up.” She smiled, “For putting up with me.”

Tess snaked her arms around the smaller woman’s waist, pulling the blonde into her “Hmm…well there was not much I could do, I mean I tried to fight of course, but it was too late…I had already fallen.”

Turning into the embrace, Nikki smiled, “Well I guess I should be thanking my natural charisma then.”

“Hmm…I intend to spend many, many, many, hours finding as many ways as possible to worship that natural charisma of yours.”

“Oh? Should I be worried?”

“I hope not, I want it to be as delightful as possible.”

Nikki pulled away from the comforting embrace, “Well I think I will survive then. Now if you will excuse me, I think I should get ready for bed before I crash here on the floor.”

Tess moved away reluctantly, “Hmm, guess I better go and make sure mother has everything. See you in a bit.” The photographer left Nikki in the bathroom as she went in search of Hyacinth, and found her in the spare bedroom, stroking an attentive Leto, who was happily sprawled out on the bed.

Walking further into the room, Tess sat on the edge of the bed, her hand absently scratching the area around Leto’s ears; the dog leaned into the touch.

“So are you going to tell me what happened to the side of her face?”

Tess watched the older woman as she put down the toiletries she was holding and sat on the bed, on the opposite side of Leto. “It seems she said something her mother was not too pleased with.”

The hand that was stroking the golden dog froze, “And she hit her!”

“Uh huh.”

Hyacinth sighed, shaking her head, “That was quite some hit…it’s left a pretty noticeable bruise behind.”

Looking down Tess pulled her hands into her lap. “Yeah I know.” She folded her fingers together. “It makes me feel so angry, yet there is nothing I can do, you know?”

“I know, but you have to accept that it happened now and deal with the present, Nikki is able to.”

Tess stood suddenly, “Well just for the record, I never will.” She closed her eyes, forehead scrunched in pain, “I hate the thought of it happening, it makes me so angry that I wasn’t there.”

Hyacinth got up and stood by her daughter, putting a reassuring arm around her shoulders, “However much you may find this a useless comment it is in the past now. Nikki is here with you, and away from the seemingly overbearing clutches of her mother, it was what she wanted…everything will turn out just fine…trust me…I’m your mother.” She rubbed the strong back, before pulling away, “And just for the record myself…I think Nikki is wonderful, the perfect daughter in law.”

Tess smiled, “Thanks mum.”

“Anytime…now go back in there and make sure she is ok…I take it, this is the first time she has been in this house, she didn’t look at all comfortable moving around here.”

“More or less yeah. Ok I am going, good night mother I will see you in the morning.”

“Good night love.”

Tess walked out of her mothers’ room and closed the door behind her. She headed back to her own room…she paused…it wasn’t her own room anymore, she smiled, it was their room. Yep I like the sound of that better.

Walking quietly into their room, she spotted Nikki already in bed, and closer inspection of the woman told her she was in fact asleep. Tess grabbed her things and disappeared into the bathroom, emerging some time later, showered and ready for bed. She got in beside the blonde and moved close beside her. Nikki rolled over and threw one arm over the long body, settling her shorter frame close to Tess’s. The brunette lent down and placed a kiss on the blonde head, “Good night Nik…I love you.” She whispered, and closed her eyes.

*******

It had been a long day, too long. Called into one meeting after another Richard Morris had been busy all day and was now glad to finally be home, even though it was almost ten o’clock. Still wearing his jacket, and holding his brown leather briefcase, he walked into the living room and found it empty, the lights were on but nobody was around. Frowning at the waste in energy, a point he had always tried to drill into his family with such quotes like ‘what do you think this house is Blackpool Illuminations’ he turned off the lights and went in search of the family.

Reaching the second floor of the house, he noticed the lights on in Nikki’s room, so decided to go and see her. If the lights were on, it meant she was not alone in there. Coming to a halt by the door, he noticed his wife standing in the centre of the room. The wardrobe doors were open and many of the clothes were missing. Things that had always held a certain place in his daughters’ room were now missing, not just moved…gone.

Hearing a sudden sound to his right, he turned to see his youngest daughter emerging from her room next to Nikki’s. “What’s going on?” He asked her.

Lisa swallowed hard, “Um…she’s gone.”

“Gone? Nikki?”

“Yes father, she left with Tess today, she is living with her now.”

The Mayor dropped his briefcase in the doorway and turned to his wife. Rosalind’s red-rimmed eyes refused to meet his, he looked back at his daughter, pointing into the room, “Right in there now…I want some answers.”

Lisa obeyed, following her father into Nikki’s room; it was about time a few home truths were told, she thought.

*******

It was the sound of metal against porcelain that woke the blonde. Checked her watch told her it was half past ten in the morning, and after feeling the body wrapped around her back, she knew it could only be Tess’s mother down stairs.

Lying on her side, she held on to the arm that was wrapped protectively around her stomach, feeling its secure embrace. Tess stirred behind, pulling her further into the warm body behind, “Morning.”

Nikki moved forward, then rolled onto her back, “Hi.”

Tess lifted her head off the pillow, and turned slightly so she could see the digital alarm clock on the side, “Jesus…half ten, wow I guess we were really out for the count.”

“Yeah, must have needed the sleep.” Nikki’s arm travelled up the brunettes still around her waist. It found purchase of long silky hair, and moved within the soft strands.

“You know, this is my favourite way of waking up in the morning.” Tess said, rolling onto the blonde with a lascivious smile.

“I agree.” Stated Nikki, pulling Tess down to meet her waiting lips.

The kiss started slow, a gentle meeting of incredibly soft lips, touching again and again. But as the fire of desire grew so did the contact. Lips parted and tongues touched, caressing and stoking the hunger that grew with a heated craving.

Tess groaned as small hands slid along her body, finding the edge of her tank top, before moving up inside the garment, to make contact with hot flesh. It was going too fast, but they were too caught up on the moment to care, as Tess reached down and pulled the top away from her body.

“Oh yes.” Nikki sighed, as her hands moved against the naked flesh, feeling ample breasts resting upon her own, covered ones. Tess deepened the kiss further, seemingly unable to get enough of the woman beneath her.

“I think you should…OH god.”

Tess looked up to see her mother standing in the doorway, her shocked face turning to look in any direction but that of the bed. “Oh I am sorry…I…um…well I am so used to just coming in here and dragging Tess’s lazy butt out of bed that I just didn’t think.” She flushed embarrassed.

The photographer dropped her face to the bed, in a mix of wanting to laugh and wanting to die at the prospect being caught by her own mother. From underneath, Nikki chuckled, and Tess rolled off her quick, pulling the cover up around them both.

Still with her eyes trained on the floor, Hyacinth continued, “Err…ok, um, I think you two should come down stairs now, you have a visitor.” She looked up seriously, “Make it quick though ok!” Then she left.

Tess’s arms flew over her eyes, “Oh well that is just great.”

Sensing the urgency in Hyacinths voice Nikki climbed cautiously of the bed and stumbled slightly when she collided with something on the floor, “Shit.”

Tess looked up and found Nikki hobbling past her black boots, “Oh for gods sake, I am sorry Nik, damn it, I suppose I will have to get used to not dumping my shoes wherever I decide to take them off huh?” She dived out of the bed, “Are you alright?”

The blonde smiled, “Yeah, just surprised is all.”

Leaning down, Tess picked up one foot, causing Nikki to hold on to the woman’s shoulder for balance. She kissed the appendage gently.

“Don’t do that.” Nikki warned.

“No?” Tess looked up alarmed.

“Because I may start leaving your shoes out on purpose.” She smiled, “Besides we should get down stairs.”

“Huh…why?” Tess looked up the incredibly soft shapely legs, all other thought flying out the window.

“Because we have a visitor down there remember?”

“Oh hell, of course.”

They both quickly got into their clothes from the day before, and headed down stairs.

*******

Knowing Nikki wanted to get used to moving around the house on her own, and being over curious as to who had come to visit them, Tess bombed down the stairs first, to get an impatient look at their guests. She took a side-glance to her mother who was making tea in the kitchen before heading into the living room. Her momentum stopped when she spotted Richard Morris sitting in a single chair, a moment of dread engulfed her that was quickly quashed when she next saw Lisa sitting opposite. The large friendly grin on the teens face, told her their visit was a positive one, Tess turned to watch Nikki reach the bottom step and head towards her. Not saying anything, she waited for the blonde to reach her first.

Richard Morris had noticed the surprised look on the photographers face, but also said nothing as he waited for his daughter to appear. When she did, he suddenly rose to his feet, “Nicole honey, how are you?”

Surprised yet relieved to hear it was her father, Nikki moved towards him, “Dad, I’m so glad to finally see you.”

Richard hugged his daughter, then pulled back and examined the mark on her face. Saying nothing, but with a sombre expression he backed up a step, taking a quick look at Lisa, before turning to the photographer, “Miss Alexander…um, I suppose I should call you Tess now right?”

Tess nodded with a smile, “I think it sounds reasonable.”

The Mayor grinned, “Fine. Would you mind if I speak with my daughter alone for a while, we need to talk.”

Tess looked to the blonde, “Nikki?”

“Yeah it’s ok I will be fine, you can take Lisa out to see Leto, I am sure she is dying to know who is here. Oh yes, you can show her the photos from Sunday night as well.”

Lisa sprang to her feet, “Yes I would love to meet the infamous Leto, and see the photos.”

“Ok.” Tess turned to the door, “Follow me.”

The two brunettes left the room, leaving Nikki and her father alone. Richard put his arm around his daughters’ shoulders and led her over to the couch; they sat down.

“Seems I owe you an apology.” He started.

“Why dad?”

“Well because I feel like I haven’t been a very good father to you, and owe you an explanation.”

“You don’t owe me…”

Richard silenced his daughter, “Please just listen to what I have to say ok?”

“Ok.”

He took a deep breath, “I work late, a lot, and you know I have for a long time, but my reasons for doing so have meant that I have neglected the two most important people in my life…my daughters.”

“But you are a good father.”

Richard shook his head, “Maybe, but I could be better. Look Nicole, you know how strained your mothers and my relationship is, has been for a long time.” He smiled ruefully, “She has rather high standards that she insists on keeping, and forcing me to follow suit. I have always let her have her way, purely to keep the peace, though inside I know I have been reacting to this. Spending more time at work, and basically turning into the kind of misogynistic fool that I have always despised, and making others do the same, I am sure Tess being one.”

“Tess doesn’t hate you.” Nikki quickly stated.

The Mayor laughed, “She did when we first met, I’d had a bad day with your mother, she had been on the phone calling me and making demands about one thing or another, by the end of the day I had been very condescending towards her. Anyway that is beside the point now, what I am trying to say is that my cowardliness in not taking a stand against Rosalind, has lead to all this.” He shook his head, “I had no idea what was going on, I didn’t realise how strongly she felt about Tess. I can’t believe she hit you.”

Nikki let her head fall onto her fathers shoulder, “It doesn’t matter now dad.”

“It matters to me though.”

“I know but we should just forget about it and move on, at least everything is out in the open now.”

Pulling his daughter into a hug Richard smiled, Nikki was always so quick at forgiving people, he often wondered where she got if from, He suddenly laughed, “So it seems,” He replied to her statement with a twinkle in his eye, “and in more ways than one.”

The blonde grinned glad that her father was able to release the tension she could feel within him, “That wasn’t a joke was it?”

“Thought I would give it a try.”

“Well I almost laughed.” Nikki said.

“Damn.” The man sighed, “Oh well I guess I shall keep trying.”

Nikki pulled herself up to her feet, “Want to go and see where the others are?”

“Sure do, I was promised a cup of tea by one very charming woman. I am presuming it was Tess’s mother by the resemblance.”

“Great, lead the way.”

*******

Hyacinth, Tess and Lisa sat around the kitchen table looking at photos when father and daughter emerged from the living room. They all looked up anxiously to see two smiling face’s, Tess released a vocal sigh of relief.

Leto, who had been staring adoringly up at the new guest, that had given her a biscuit, sprang to her feet as she spotted another new prospect of attention. Hurtling herself towards the small man with Nikki, she fell at his feet, legs in the air, as she barked repeatedly to get noticed.

Lisa looked up disappointed, “Hey I thought she was my shadow.”

Tess pulled a sympathetic face, “I am sure she will be again, just as soon as she’s had her fill of tummy scratches from your father.”

Richard took a seat at the table and leant down, rubbing the golden dogs stomach, “She seems to like getting fussed, doesn’t she.”

The photographer laughed, “Yep, I’m afraid she was spoiled as a puppy, it kind of got her into bad habits.”

Hyacinth swatted her daughters’ shoulder, “And who did all the spoiling huh?” She turned to the Mayor, “So would you like that cup of tea now Mr Morris?”

“Yes that would be great…and please call me Richard…or ‘Dick’.”

Lisa pushed a pile of photographs in her fathers direction, “Dad would you look at these pictures…I can’t believe Nikki met all these people, I am so jealous.”

Nikki pulled away from the doorway where she had been standing, “Did you see the one of me with a certain male soap star?”

Lisa pouted, “Yes I did.”

Tess smiled, “Hmm, he seemed to take quite a shine to you sister.”

Lisa’s eyes bulged as Nikki followed Tess’s voice and stood by her side. The photographer pulled her down into her lap, without any though of who was present, and Nikki smiled, settling into the embrace. “Oh like he even had a chance.”

Richard looked up from the pictures, “Aren’t you in any of these Tess?”

“Well obviously I was taking them but Barbara, one of the event organisers, did take a picture of Nikki and myself, but I left it in here.” She tapped the envelope, “I thought you would only want to see the ones with just Nikki in.”

“Nonsense.” The man insisted, “I would love to see it, if you wouldn’t mind.”

Tess shrugged, “Sure.” She pulled the picture out and handed it to the older man with a smile.

Richard looked at the picture. Tess was standing behind Nikki with her arms around his daughters’ waist; a happy smile was upon both their faces. “This is a nice shot.”

“Uh huh.”

“So…” The man smiled, “Are you just going to leave it in that envelope or put it in a nice frame?”

The photographer blushed, “Well I was going to put it in a frame yes.”

Hyacinth stood behind Richard, placing down his tea, “Oh yes lovely picture, it would lovely in the front room dear.”

“I thought so too.” Tess replied.

Lisa who had been deep in thought, suddenly looked up at the rest of the tables’ occupants, “So what is happening on Christmas day?”

There was silence for a long while, as each person tried to think of the best way the day could be celebrated and still find some way of including the new extended family.

Nikki held onto the hand that way around her waist, “I guess mum will not be too enthusiastic about having us around.”

Richard smiled sadly, “She just needs time honey.”

Lisa grinned, “Yeah, just as soon as she realises that Tess isn’t the devils spawn.”

Nikki’s eyebrows arched as the rest of the tables occupants turn to the teen with varying degrees of surprise, “Well I just meant that…”

“It’s ok.” Tess chuckled and looked at her mother, “we knew what you meant.”

Richard took a drink from his tea, “Well as you know, we have Rosa’s brother and his family coming up for the day this year…and as much as I want you there Nicole, I would also like to see Tess and Hyacinth…but I am not sure how your mother will react to this…like I said she needs time to adjust to these new developments.”

Tess laced her fingers with the blondes, “Well it is the day for families to celebrate together…you could go back and spend the day with them Nik.”

The blonde shook her head, “No, you are as much a part of my family now, I want to be with you to.”

The tall woman smiled inside, hoping Nikki would feel the way she did.

“How about we all get together in the evening?” Hyacinth suggested, “We can workout where and when later, but it seems the best option…don’t you agree?”

Richard nodded, “That does sound like a good idea…Nikki, Tess what do you think…and you Lisa?”

The teen nodded, as did Nikki. Tess bit her lip, “Are you sure that is going to be alright with Mrs Morris?”

“It will just have to be now wont it…Like I have already said, she just needs time to come around to things. And besides it is Christmas, I demand to have both daughters with me at some point of the day…and dare I say my daughter in-law?”

Tess arched her brows with a smile, but said nothing.

*******

Father and youngest daughter stayed another half an hour, before they left for home, both happy with the way the visit have turned out.

It was an hour after that and Tess was sitting in the front room next to Nikki, both of them still had to get showered and dressed. She looked side long at the blonde who was leaning back in the chair, a content smile on her face. Tess didn’t know what had been said between father and daughter, but knew Nikki would tell her when the time was right.

Looking down at the picture she was holding of them both she smiled. This year it would be more than just Hyacinth and herself celebrating the Christmas, Nikki would be with her too, waking up in her arms. She sat up suddenly, Shit…oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!

Nikki sensed the change in the woman, “What’s wrong?”

“Oh nothing.” Tess got up quickly, “I just remembered something I had to do, nothing important, but I better do it before I forget.”

“Oh…ok.” Nikki smiled.

Tess walked out the room, nothing important…yeah right… it is Christmas day in two days and I don’t have a tree, or a present for Nik, oh this is just typical. She walked into the kitchen, to find her mother looking in the fridge with a frown.

“Tessa where is your Turkey, you do have one right?”

The tall woman shuffled from one foot to another, “Ah well you see,” she sighed, “Oh damn it I forgot, with everything that has happened, I forgot about the usual Christmas shit.”

“Tessa!” Her mother said in warning.

“Sorry. But I forgot, mostly because I don’t really bother, but now I want to. I don’t even have a present for Nik. I think a shopping trip is in order…and quick.”

Hyacinths eyes lit up at the mention of her favourite hobby, “Great, we can buy food, and a turkey, and you can get a present for Nikki…when do you want to go?”

Tess looked at the clock on the cooker, “In however long it takes for Nikki and I to get ready…oh hold on.” She jogged off back to the front room, “Nik, do you fancy a Christmas shopping trip?”

Nikki’s eyes lit up as much as Tess’s mothers, “Yeah great idea.” She lowered her voice, “I want to get your mother a present, so I will need your help.”

“Great, shopping it is…we better go get showered and changed…you go first.”

Nikki stood up, “Ok, I’ll call you when I am ready.” She headed slowly towards the stairs.

Tess watched her go with a smile, Damn it what can I get her for Christmas. Her brows creased in thought as she pondered the possibilities; suddenly the answer came to her. With a Yes, and a sudden thump in the air, she headed toward the phone, needing to make a few enquiries. This was something she knew Nikki would love.
Part 9
It was the Gallowtree shopping centre, so named because it was built over an ancient prison and gallows that stood hundreds of years ago. It was a large indoor site housing many shops that stood on three levels. On the first was the largest food hall in the city, and many book, toy and entertainment shops. On the second floor, was a wide selection of clothing and shoe stores, and on the third floor were more specialist shops, including a jewellers and dry cleaning warehouse. Above the building was a large four-story car park, with a lift and flight of stairs going though the centre of the complex. The whole building was structured in such a way that you could see up onto each level from the centre of the ground floor. It was square in shape, but had a coliseum feel about it.

Tess drove her Blazer up the steep ramps, as she searched each level for a parking space. She sighed in frustration, it was hopeless, and with only two days until Christmas the entire place was full. With a growl she headed up to the top level, this one had no roof and was usually the last to be filled, but even that had been filled to its capacity. She scanned the rows of multicoloured cars, until she finally saw one backing out of its space. From the corner of her eye, she noticed a red convertible seemingly heading for the same spot.

“Oh not in this life time.” Tess stated, and hit the accelerator speeding into the spot before the driver of the convertible even had a chance to blink. “Hmm, now that serves you right for driving your bloody car with the top down in winter.”

From the back seat, Hyacinth just shook her head and smiled at her daughters’ antics, Nikki, who was in the front, laughed. “I take it you found a spot then?”

“It was touch and go there.” Tess said, shutting off the engine, “But the superior driver won in the end.”

Hyacinth rolled her eyes.

The three women excited the car, stepping out into the cold December air. The sky was dark grey; amass with heavy winter clouds ready to release a backlog of snow that had been gathering for days. Tess buttoned up her winter coat, thankful that she had talked Nikki into wearing Jeans like herself. Cold wasn’t the word to describe today, she could see her breath form like puffs of smoke in the air as she breathed.

Hyacinth went to the ticket dispenser and brought a three-hour parking pass, then stuck it in the front window of Tess’s Blazer. “We all ready?” She asked. And with a double nod of heads, Nikki took a hold of Tess’s arm they were off.

There had been no question as to what passage they would use to travel down into the shopping centre, with only a choice between a glass elevator and double set of stairs, one escalating, one stationary, Tess had chosen the stairs. She approached the double set and turned to Nikki, “So what do you prefer escalators or stationary?”

Nikki pursed her lips in thought, “Like there is any question, stationary please. I have only been on an escalator once, and vowed never to use one again, it was bit too disconcerting for me.”

Tess directed Nikki to the stairs, “Me too, I especially hated them when I was a kid, thought they were some kind of monster, wanting to eat me up.”

Tess heard Hyacinth clear her throat behind them, “What do you mean when you were a kid, why you refused to get on one last year, claiming you didn’t like the cranking sound of the inside machinery!”

Tess shot her mother a look, as Nikki chuckled. “I only meant that it sounded like it needed servicing or something…cranking and grinding the way it was.”

“Of course you did.” Hyacinth stated, poking out her bottom lip them grinning. The photographer laughed then turn back as they reached the stairs and started making their descent.

The three women travelled all the way to the ground floor, and headed towards the food halls. Just out side, and guided by the mass of flashing lights and cue of children, Tess spotted Santa’s Grotto. The large man sat in a huge wooden chair, with a young boy standing by his side, and to his left was a board looking woman wearing stripy red and white tights and a skimpy green costume. She had to smile at the poor woman’s plight, knowing just how trying masses of children can be at times. Still kids were ok, as long as they were taken in small doses, and came attached with parents who took them home at the end of the day.

Reaching the entrance, Hyacinth looked inside the semi crowded supermarket and shook her head, “Why do so many people leave things to the last minute?” She muttered.

“It’s a tradition.” Tess grumbled as she too looked into mounting mass of people, “Just like dressing a tree, opening an advent calendar, and making mince pies. You always have that last minute dash to the market in order to fill your cupboards to bursting point with unnecessary food, that will probably be in your cupboard until next year anyway…and then be completely out of date.”

“Well we better get in there and start our own food buying Tessa, because your fridge is less than half full, and we both know how much you hate that.”

They walked into store, trying to dodge a woman who was handing out double-glazing leaflets. Tess stood with Nikki and waited as her mother went off in search of a trolley. She came back minutes later with a scowl on her face, “Since when do you have to put pound coins in these contraptions…” she tapped the little lock on the trolley handle, “Just to use one of the damned things?”

“Probably too many were being stolen.” Nikki offered.

They headed down the first isle, “Hmm, a bit bloody big for car boots though don’t you think?” Hyacinth said as she picked up two loafs of bread and placed them in the trolley.

Nikki shrugged, “Yeah but just imagine using one of those things to go down the ramps leading into the car park.”

Tess looked down at the blonde, “Are you a secret thrill seeking dare devil?”

“Not really, but there was an incident when I was younger involving the hill at the back of the house, Lisa’s pram, and a seriously cool idea.”

“You didn’t!”

“Uh huh.” She held up her free right hand, “See that bend in the middle finger, the way it doesn’t straighten properly?”

“Yeah?”

“That was the result of my little escapade, I broke it when I reached the bottom of the hill and kind of fell out.”

Tess shook her head; “I’m going to have to make sure you don’t start pulling the mattresses of the bed and sticking them at the top of the stairs aren’t I.”

“Hey, well you know…if you’ve never tried it.”

Hyacinth chuckled, “Oh she tried it alright, broke my favourite vase when she reached the bottom of the stairs as well. Cut her hand and got blood everywhere, she was grounded for a whole week after that incident.”

Tess pouted as Nikki laughed, “Hey I guess we are kindred spirits then huh?”

Pulling her hand out the right pocket of her jeans the brunette shrugged, “Maybe but I prefer to keep my feet firmly on the ground now thank you very much.”

Nikki frowned in thought, “Wouldn’t you ever consider riding with me. We could go together on one horse if you wanted, I would really like you to experience the thrill of riding through the countryside, it is quite exhilarating.”

“Well um…” The brunette fiddled with her bottom lip for a moment, “As long as you are with me, I am sure I can make an exception.”

“Great.”

“Tess didn’t tell me you like horses Nikki.”

“Oh yeah I love horses, and have two of my own, Thunder and Jenna. I intend in starting my own stud farm business next year, and hopefully a sanctuary for mistreated horses. I got Thunder after he was abandoned in a barn for quite a while and have since then always wanted to work with horses in anyway possible.”

Hyacinth smiled at Nikki’s enthusiasm, and started long discussion with her on the subject of breeding.

*******

When they left the store, the trolley was laden down with food, a Christmas tree, decorations, and a new bread maker, food processor and electric can opener that Hyacinth insisted she needed. Tess bent to Nikki’s ear and explained about her mothers’ fascination with kitchen gadgets, which in turn gave the blonde an idea about what to get her for Christmas.

It was decided that Hyacinth would take the groceries to the car, as the younger women took a look around the centre. Then Nikki would go off with Hyacinth when Tess went to purchase an item she said she needed to get, Nikki knew it was for her, but said nothing.

They walked around the third floor of the building until Tess spotted the electrical shop and headed towards it. She put her arm around the blonde, “So…enjoying yourself?”

Nikki nodded, “Sure am, so do you think your mother will like my present idea?”

The brunette laughed, “Are you kidding, it is a brilliant idea, hell I didn’t even know they existed, but an ice cream maker will suit her down to the ground. She loves the stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the reason she moved down to Cornwall, their ice creams are heavenly.”

Once Nikki had purchased the product, she gave it to Tess as the women met up with Hyacinth, and the photographer took off to buy Nikki’s present.

Nikki walked with Hyacinth around the second floor of the building, the older woman looking into the wide variety of clothing shops. Not wanting to use her cane with all the people around, Nikki held on to the older woman’s arms with a secure grip. The blonde had grown to trust people since an early age when it came to being guided in public places, especially with never being able to have a dog, so she was comfortable with Hyacinth.

They walked around the second floor for some time until Hyacinth spotted something she was sure would look great on the blonde. Turning towards the shop, she looked down at Nikki. “Do you mind if I ask you um…how do you buy clothes, I mean does somebody choose them for you, or what?”

“I usually get Lisa to do my clothing shopping, she supposedly has good fashion sense, so I have always tended to trust her with what I wear. Apparently my clothing has improved from when my mother chose them. As long as they felt ok I was fine, but Lisa said to me one day that iridescent pink trousers were not my look,” She laughed, “I wasn’t entirely sure what iridescent pink looked like obviously, but got the impression it wasn’t incredibly aesthetically pleasing…Anyway Lisa proclaimed that she would choose my clothes from then on, and I agreed.”

They walked into the store, “Would you mind if I chose you something that I think would look great on you. You can trust me; I used to work in a clothing shop and was renowned for my fashion sense. I will admit that ten-inch heals and bell-bottoms were all the rage at the time, but I know what you youngsters wear these days.”

Nikki chuckled, “Well considering I have no idea what ten inch heals with bell-bottoms looks like, all I can do is trust you.”

“Thanks, I promise it will look great.”

They were in the shop for half an hour as Hyacinth picked out three different outfits that she and the young assistant decided looked good on Nikki. The blonde wondered what was taking Tess so long, she did know what the photographer was up to, but she had been gone for a while, and Nikki was starting to get a little anxious. When it was time to pay and Nikki heard how much the pile of clothes cost, she insisted on paying, but Hyacinth told her she wanted to do so, and said it could be a Christmas gift. Nikki wanted to argue the point but Tess’s mother used her persuasive manner to get her own way, and by the end the older woman had also brought two extra tank tops and a sweater as well.

They left the shop both carrying two light bags in opposite hands. Hyacinth spotted Tess up on the third floor of the centre, entering the doorway to the car parking area, so decided to go and meet with her. She noticed that there was a large increasing group of people moving up and down the stairs, so she decided to take the side staircase in a back corridor.

Walking up the flight of steps slowly, Nikki listened as the older woman told her stories of Tess’s childhood. As they reached the second floor a shadow to the right of Hyacinth made her pause. She looked around to see a tall sandy haired man with short beard and black eye. He was wearing a khaki army jacket, and faded black jeans with holes in both knees; in his right hand she noticed a medium size kitchen knife.

Nikki suddenly sensed the tension in the air and gripped onto the arm she was holding, “What is it Cinthy?”

The old woman pulled Nikki quickly towards the steps, “Nothing lets just keep going shall we?”

Nikki stumbled slightly as she tried to get her bearings with the sudden change in speed, but stopped when she felt a hand on her other arm. “Maybe she was hoping to avoid trouble.” Said an unknown voice.

The blonde felt her heat accelerate with a sudden jolt of fear, as the hand around her arm tightened and pulled her away from Hyacinth. “Nikki!” Hyacinth shouted as she felt the blonde being tugged away.

Nikki dropped the bags she was holding, as she felt herself being dragged roughly into a hard body, and whimpered as she felt the cold edge of a sharp metallic object press against her throat. She tried to move but was held firm by strong arm wrapped around her waist, securely trapping both her arms.

“Let her go!” Hyacinth demanded, “What do you want?” She asked desperately.

The man looked down at Nikki, “Whatever I can get.” He stated with a malicious smile. “But I don’t need you. If you leave now she will live, if you don’t, she dies right here, right now.” He pressed the knife tighter against the throat and Nikki cried out as she felt a sudden pain and slight flow of blood trickle from the wound.

“I can’t leave her.” Hyacinth stated, and circled the man until he was standing with his back to the stairs.

“Your choice.” He stated and lifted the knife to his lips, licking the traces of blood on the sharp edge. “But if you don’t get lost, when she dies, you will be next. Makes sense to me, go now, and you both live.”

Hyacinth looked into Nikki’s frightened eyes.

“Go Cinthy, just go and do as he says…go back to the car.”

Frowning, the woman wondered what she was talking about, and then it hit her…Tess. Still she shook her head, indecision and fear clouding her mind. “I can’t.”

“Your last chance.” He said and pressed the knife harder to Nikki’s neck. Another trickle of blood oozed around the sharp blade.

“Please!” Nikki pleaded. Inside the though of her being left alone with this guy was horrifyingly frightening, but there was no other way. Nobody had entered the rarely used back staircase and somebody had to go for help. She whimpered feeling the blade sting her flesh.

Circling the man again, Hyacinth slowly headed towards the steps, “Ok, I’ll go, I’ll go…but please don’t hurt her.”

He smiled showing a set of stained uneven teeth, “She’ll live.” Was all he said, “Now go.”

Heart in her throat, Hyacinth ran up the stairs as fast as she could, and then disappeared into the car park.

The man looked down at Nikki, pushing the knife against her throat once again, “As for you…come with me.” He pulled her towards the next descending flight of steps and dragged her down.

*******

Jake Ramirez stood by his car, loading the last of the boxes of wine he had brought for the Christmas period. He was more of a spirits drinker, but Jason loved his wine. Pulling the last box from the trolley, he looked up when he heard a sudden and loud shout.

“TESSA!”

Craning his head to the side he noticed Tess Alexander closing the boot of her car, she also looked up at the sound of her name being called. He turned to see what the brunette was looking at, and saw a tall elderly woman running towards the photographer. She looked panic stricken, fear evident on her features, and by her appearance he decided it looked like her mother.

With sudden interest he watched as the woman reached the brunette out of breath and started speaking rapidly, pointing in the direction of the old stairway. He then watched as Tess took off towards the entrance; break neck speed.

“Hmm.” He thought, “Wonder whether they forgot the turkey…that would be a disaster.”

*******

Tess slammed through the stairway access door, feeling the cold fingers of terror grip her hammering heart. Looking around frantically, she took the steps two at a time, until she reached the next level down. On the floor she spotted Nikki’s bags and several drops of blood; her fear increased. Eyes wild, she took the next set of stairs, tripping as her foot slipped on the edge of the tread and she stumbled down the remaining steps of that flight, landing on her side.

Feeling nothing but anxiety, she rolled onto her knees as she heard a slam from a door and the next level down. Stumbling to her feet, Tess took the next set of steps looking in all directions. There wasn’t even an access door to the car park or shopping centre on this landing. Growling in frustration she was about to descend the next set of steps when something caught her eye. In the very corner there was a small ally and as Tess moved towards it, she spotted a metal door at the end of a corridor no more than five feet in length.

She ran towards it but stopped just before entering and listened. Her breathing was frantic but she could just make out a muted male voice.
Grabbing the cold metal handle, she pulled the door open and froze, her eyes taking in the sight.

It was a storeroom, dull but not dark due to a small rectangle window facing the door and near the edge of the ceiling. She saw Nikki, her back against the wall, some unknown man in front of her, holding her still with one hand, and knife to her throat with the other.

“TESS!” Nikki screamed, sensing the woman’s presence.

The man looked around in time to see a large already bruised fist slam into his face.

“FUCK.” He screamed, falling back against the far wall, blood already beginning to pour profusely from his nose.

“AH…Jesus.” Tess cried as pain shot through her already battered hand.

“Tess?”

The photographer looked to Nikki and pulled her into a fierce hug, “It’s ok…it’s me.”

Relief flooded through the blonde as she clung to the brunette, tears stinging her eyes.

“Your ok Nik.” She moved away from the blonde and looked at her closely, “You are ok right?”

Nikki nodded, “Yeah…please just get me out of here.”

Tess put her arm around Nikki and led her back out into the stairwell, just in time to see her mother frantically descending the stairs. Seeing both women she pulled them into a fierce hug. “Oh thank god, are you ok Nikki, Tessa?”

“Yes we will be ok.”

The older woman pulled away, “Good, lets go call the police…quickly.”

“NO!”

Tess and Hyacinth looked shocked at Nikki, “What do you mean ‘no’ why the hell not?” asked Tess.

“Please don’t get the police involved.” She sighed, wiping a trembling hand over her face, “I can’t handle that, not again.”

“Again?” Tess said with alarm.

Nikki nodded, “Yes it was nothing serious, something that happened while I was out with Lisa a few years back. I am sure he has learned his lesson, I just want to leave…Tess please just take me home.” She gripped the brunettes’ coat.

“Nikki.”

“I will explain later, just please take me home.”

Hyacinth looked at Tess, “He can’t get away with whatever his intentions were.” She stated seriously.

Tess nodded, anger still boiling within. “Mum take Nikki up to the car, I will be there in a minute.”

“Why?” Nikki asked

“What are you going to do?” Hyacinth asked.

Tess looked towards the metal door, “Just go…now.”

“Tess?”

“Now.”

Without a word, and only a slight hesitation Hyacinth put her arm around Nikki and led her up the stairs, pausing only briefly to pick up the fallen bags. Once they were out of sight, Tess walked back into the storeroom where the man was still slumped on the floor, nursing a bloody nose. Tess looked at him with a burning contempt, “I think you need a lesson in how to respect a woman.” She said, approaching the guy with barley controlled rage.

*******

Tess returned to the car only a few minutes later, Hyacinth said nothing as she noticed the blood covering her daughters’ fists and jacket. She entered the car without a word, started the engine and headed out the car park. The drive back to the house was one of complete silence, all of the women afraid to speak or ask what had happened. Hyacinth sat at the back of the car, afraid for both women, and wondering how in the hell a good day could have turned so terribly wrong.

*******

The front door opened and Leto bounded towards the welcome sight of the three women loaded down with shopping bags. Tess expected the dogs over enthusiastic greeting and paused at the door, “Leto, don’t even think about it.” She looked at the dog with cold green eyes.

Leto paused in her tracks and looked round-eyed at the quiet women. Sensing the tension in the air, she backed away, not wanting to aggravate her masters’ obvious dangerous mood. She remembered that mood from the time she had decided to use her favourite boots as a toilet. Nope the dog decided, not going there again, she trotted off solemnly.

Tess walked into the kitchen and placed down her bags as Hyacinth did the same. Nikki came in with her two bags and put them down against the wall. The tension was palpable, a heavy presence in the room as the older woman looked between the two younger ones. Tess stood with her hands on the work surface, staring in to space, Nikki by the door, her head lowered.

“Listen…” Hyacinth started, “I…”

“Excuse me, I think I need to go and clean up a bit.” Tess stated and left the kitchen, disappearing up the stairs.

Hyacinth look at Nikki, “Hey are you ok…come here sweetheart.”

Nikki moved to Hyacinth and the woman put her arms round the blonde, tears already forming in sightless blue eyes. Nikki’s body shook as she released her emotions, “What is wrong with Tess, why is she acting like this, is she mad at me?”

The older woman sighed, “Oh I know exactly what is wrong with my daughter.” She rubbed the blondes back, “She is very shaken and doesn’t know how to handle all this. Tessa’s reaction to emotions is to turn them off, shut them out and pretend that she feels nothing, the only problem being that she shuts others out as well.” She moved away from Nikki, “Why don’t you go and sit in the front room and I will go and get her.”

“Will she be ok?”

“Just as soon as I point a couple of facts out to her, please go and sit down and don’t worry she will be with you in a few minutes.”

“Ok.” Nikki walked into the living room as Hyacinth went up stairs.

She walked straight into the en-suite bathroom knowing that’s were she would find her daughter, and sure enough, Tess stood bent over the sink washing her stained hands.

“Thought I would find you here.”

Tess looked up at her mother, “I just need to be left alone for a while mum.”

“Why?”

“I just need some time.”

Hyacinth changed tactics, “What did you do to that man Tessa?”

Tess turned off the tap and picked up a dark towel, “He’ll live, may have a few broken bones that’ll need healing and setting, but I am sure he will think twice about his actions in the future.”

“So why the silence?”

The brunette sighed, “Look I just need time to think OK”

Her mother walked into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her, “No, it is not ok. You cant keep running away every time you don’t know how to deal with your emotions Tessa, afraid to feel, to express yourself. While you are up here just thinking about what you might have lost, Nikki is down there dealing with what might have happened on her own, and wondering why the hell you are so mad at her.”

Tess dropped her towel, “I am not mad at her.” She whispered.

“I’m not the one you have to reassure.”

Closing her eyes tight against the hurt Tess sighed, “I’ve got to speak with her.”

Hyacinth stopped her daughter as she headed towards the door, “Be honest with her sweetheart, and don’t hide your emotions, you must be open and tell her how you feel. I know how hard you have always found it, especially when your father died, but if you don’t, it could ruin what you have with each other.”

Tess was silent, knowing her mother was right. It was true; she did always hide from emotions that she was afraid to confront. To disregard them and ignore the possible impact they could cause. Sometimes things just hurt too much, and the prospect of losing Nikki was too painful to acknowledge.

When her father became ill she refused to accept that it was anything serious, going so far as to limit her visits with him, believing he would be out of hospital soon. She had only seen him once from the time he was taken in, and had promised to visit on the day that he unexpectedly died, but she had been too late. That had upset her more than she was ever willing to admit, even to herself.

It was painful to lose somebody you loved, Tess was well aware of that, so she had hardened her emotions, and tried to keep away from possible avenues of hurt. Yet deep inside, she knew that pretending she wasn’t affected by emotional pain was causing more harm than good, to herself and those around her. If she wanted Nikki…really wanted her, she would have to face the feelings that she had been avoiding for so long.

Tess nodded, “I know you are right mum, thank you…I can always rely on you for the odd verbal kick up the arse can’t I.”

Shaking her head the older woman frowned, “Butt dear, Kick up the butt, and remember it is what I am here for, I just want to see you happy. So get down there and open up to her before it is too late.”

Grinning Tess hugged her mother, “Yes ma’am.”

*******

Sitting on the sofa, Nikki tapped her index finger against her knee in time with the hall clock. She could hear Tess make her way down stairs, and fidgeted in her seat.

Tess appeared in the door way and found Nikki alone in the room, still wearing her jacket, Leto lying dismally near by. She stood for a while and looked at the blonde, trying to find the courage to go to her, feeling terrible for the way she had acted. Taking a deep breath she walked into the room and stood in front of the blonde, biting her lip. “Nikki?”

Nikki stopped her tapping, but said nothing.

Tess bent down and got to her knees, leaning in front of the smaller woman. She looked at the bowed head and sighed, “I’m a coward.” She stated simply.

Nikki leaned back a little to face the brunette, “Coward, how can you say such a thing after what you did today.”

Tess stalled momentarily, “I um…I’m a coward because I have always run away from things I think will hurt me, things that I am not sure how to handle. All my life it has been the same, if I don’t face the things that I know will hurt me; I can stay in control. That is why. When I was with you earlier, I had no reason to treat you that way; I was just so caught up in the fear of what might have happened that I didn’t want to face it. I’m so sorry.” The last part was said in a slight whisper, but Nikki heard it.

Without a word, Nikki slid off the couch into Tess’s lap, straddling her and wrapping small arms around her neck. She buried her face in the brunette’s neck as Tess pulled her in close, tears clouding both their eyes. There was silence for some minutes, only broken by the sound of quiet shedding of tears. Nikki was first to pull away, and her hand travelled up the photographers shoulder to her face, where she wiped away salty tears. Tess grabbed the hand and kissed the moist fingers. “Are you ok Nik?”

Nikki thought for a while before nodding, “It is strange. Have you ever been really scared, but at the same time calm inside?”

“I was really scared today.” Tess stated seriously.

There was a slight nod, “I was scared, but I also felt safe, like I knew I would be ok that you would find me. And because of that I was able to keep calm…is that weird?”

“I don’t know, maybe intuitive…because you are right, I would have moved heaven and earth to find you.” She suddenly remembered the drops of blood on the cement ground. “Nik, did he hurt you at all?” She asked dreading the answer.

The blonde remembered the knife at her throat and pulled away the collar of her jacket, “Here.”

Tess’s eyes widened at the cut on her neck and trail of dried blood. “Oh god come on, let me get this cleaned up.”

Silently Nikki moved to her feet and Tess did the same, taking her hand and leading her up stairs to the bathroom. She noticed the lack of motherly presence and internally thanked Hyacinth for staying out of the way while she cleared the air with Nikki.

Tess guided Nikki into the bathroom and sat her down on the toilet seat, “There…now wait while I go get some boiled water and stuff, I’ll be back in a minute.”

Nikki waited and Tess was back within three minutes, a bowl of salted hot water, in her hands. She placed the bowl on the floor and got some cotton wool out of the cupboard. Nikki pulled off her jacket.

“Right this will sting but it is the best thing ok?”

The blonde nodded.

Tess dipped some cotton wool in the salty water then started cleaning the surrounding blood away first. Nikki was quiet and deep in though. After a while Tess spoke, “Nik…why didn’t you want the police involved…you said you would explain…can you?”

Nikki nodded, “Sure…but like I said it was nothing really serious. Anyway one day about um…three years ago, Lisa and I went out for a walk around the surrounding countryside. It was a summer’s day, really warm and we didn’t really go far, just down the path, by the hill, and onto the fields at the back of the house. There was a gang of kids out there, you know just hanging around and drinking. Well when they saw us they decided to have a little fun. That was it basically, I had my cane with me, and they proceeded to make fun of us. They wouldn’t let Lisa or I leave for a while, but eventually they did, we went home and Lisa told mother.” She sighed, “That was when all the commotion began. She called the police, had them look for these kids, and when they were found, they were cautioned.”

Tess listened to Nikki as she picked up another piece of cotton wool, dipped it into the salt water and dabbed the open wound. Nikki sucked in a sharp breath and flinched. “I’m sorry, you ok?”

“Yeah just shocked me more than anything.”

Tess continued, “Go on.”

“Um…well after that mum really started getting over protective of us, especially me. I wasn’t allowed out the house unless I was with another adult. Can you imagine what would have happened if she found out about this? I don’t even want to think about it. I guess I was a little scared that she would find some way to blame you for it all.”

Tess paused, “You didn’t want the cops involved because you were worried about me!” She asked incredulously.

Nikki shrugged, “In a way.”

“If I’d have know that I don’t know whether I could have respected your request.”

“That was why I said I would explain later.”

Shaking her head, Tess dried Nikki’s neck, until smaller hands stopped hers, “Tess, what did you do to him, when you told us to leave I mean?”

“I err…I decided to give him a lesson in respecting women.”

“What did you do?” Nikki frowned.

“Lets just say that he will think twice before he even looks in a woman’s direction in the future.” She noticed the concerned expression on the blondes face, “I didn’t do any real damage Nik, mostly just scared him…oh…and maybe broke his arm a little.”

“A little?”

“I’m not sure, I mean I am not usually a violent person, for gods sake, the last thing I hit in a temper was a bloody door.” She received a small smile. “Are you going to be alright Nikki?” Tess pulled out a large plaster from her first aid kit and placed it over the cut.

“Fine…honestly, bit of a headache, but it is over now. Though to be honest I am rather tired.”

“Want to go and lie down for a while?”

“Yeah I think so.”

“Come on then, you get your shoes off, I’ll go turn down the bed ok.” Tess disappeared into the bedroom as Nikki pulled off her shoes, and as a after thought, her outer clothes as well, leaving her in only her underwear. She walked into the bedroom, but found it empty, so got into the large bed. Tess returned a minute later with a glass of water and two pills.

“I brought some ibuprofen for your headache…do you want them?”

Nikki shook her head, “I will see whether I can get to sleep first, but thank you anyway.”

Tess placed the items on the bedside table on Nikki’s side, “If you want them they are right beside you ok?”

“Uh huh.”

“See you later.” Tess bent down and kissed Nikki’s forehead.

Already she was losing consciousness. “Uh huh.” She replied, and closed her eyes.

Tess smiled as she left the room, closing the door behind her.

*******

Hyacinth stood in the kitchen putting away all the shopping. She opened the fridge putting away fresh milk and vegetables when she heard Tess come down the stairs. She looked up as the photographer entered.

“Everything all right?”

“Yes…thank you mum.”

“Any time, that is what us mothers are for remember?” She closed the fridge door, “Is Nikki alright?”

“Yes she will be fine I think. Strange you know…she said that she was scared when it happened, but she knew everything would be ok.”

“And I think it was wasn’t it?”

“I guess so, it all seems to have happened so fast you know? And now we are back at home, trying to get on as though nothing happened.”

“No…not trying to get on as though nothing has happened, just trying to get on.” Hyacinth smiled, “It is all you can do.”

“Maybe so.”

Hyacinth decided a change of subject was in order, “Hey, there is still a load of boxes in the car…Nikki’s present I presume…so are you going to tell me what it is?”

“Nope.” Tess picked up a bag and started helping her mother put away the groceries, “It is a surprise, I don’t want you telling her.”

“I would not!” Hyacinth said offended.

Tess chuckled, “Maybe not intentionally, but you do have a habit of ruining surprises without thinking. Like the time you told dad not to moan about the fact that his socket set had rusted up in the garage as he would have a new one soon!”

She held up her finger, “One time.”

“Uh huh…how about the time you took me shopping with you when I was seven, and while out you just happened to buy some Lactol puppy milk. Kind of ruined my birthday surprise didn’t it.”

“Oh ok miss smarty pants…don’t tell me, I can wait until Saturday.”

“Good, oh and speaking of birthdays, it will be Nikki’s on Christmas day.”

“Yes I haven’t forgotten, you just go and get those boxes out the car before they get stolen or something.”

Tess put down the half empty bag of canned food, “I’m right on it, and I want to get it in the dark room before Nikki wakes up anyway.”

“You have not gone and brought her photographic equipment have you?”

There was a sudden laugh, “No, there is just some storage space in there that I can use until Saturday.”

“Oh…well I had to check.” The older woman shook her head smiling.

Tess grinned and jogged out to the door. She stopped when she spotted Leto sitting in the front room sheepishly. “Oh for Gods sake pooch come here.”

Leto dived into her masters’ lap, as Tess bent down to give the dog some much needed attention.

*******

“Easy money.” The mumbled words echoed round her subconscious again and again. There was a significance to the statement, but she didn’t know what. She felt restricted, unable to move, and then a sharp pain sliced into her neck.

With a jolt Nikki awoke, drenched in sweat, and her breath rasping. As she tried to get her bearings those words echoed in her mind, “Easy money.” What did it mean? Checking the time, she realised it was almost half past eight. She had been asleep for three hours. Pushing the covers off her body, she swung her legs around and sat on the edge of the bed. The cool air hit her heated body, and she shivered slightly. She needed something to wear.

Getting up, she felt around for something to put on, still not knowledgeable with the positioning of the room and its contents. Her hands came across something cottony and she picked up it, it smelled of Tess and she realised it was one of the photographers shirts. Shrugging, she slipped the item on, glad that at least it reached mid thigh, and headed down stairs.

Reaching the ground floor of the house, she heard muted voices coming from the TV in the front room, so headed in that direction.

Tess looked up as the door opened to see Nikki wearing one of her old lumberjack style shirts. She smiled at the sight, taking in the firm shapely legs with an indulgent grin. “Feeling better?” She asked.

“A little, still tired though.”

Tess nodded and moved from the single chair over to the sofa, “Come over here and sit with me.” She twisted her body leaning against the arms rest, and spreading her legs slightly.

“Where is Hyacinth?”

“Oh she went to bed about half an hour ago. So it is just you and I.”

Feeling her hand being tugged, Nikki sat on the sofa and moved into position between the brunettes’ legs. “Comfy?”

A sigh was Tess’s answer.

Putting her chin on the shoulder in front Tess looked over Nikki, noticing the way her shirt had ridden up the blondes’ thighs. She felt her temperature rise several degrees, as her hand started making lazy circles over Nikki’s stomach.

“I like that.” Nikki stated

“Me too.”

Closing her eyes, she lay back against the shoulder behind and tried to relax, but that one phrase kept returning to her. “Easy Money.” She frowned, as a thought entered her head.

“Easy money.” She whispered.

Tess stopped her movement, “Huh?” She frowned.

“That is what that guy said in the stairwell…easy money.”

“Nik, that’s over now, we have to try and forget it.”

“I can’t.”

Tess kissed the blonde head, “Why not?”

There was a pause and Nikki rubbed her fingers over Tess’s hand. “Tess, I think that guy was sent for me on purpose.”

“What do you mean?” Her brow drew together in confusion.

“What he said…that I wasn’t going to get hurt. There was that phrase he muttered, calling me easy money, and also when he took me into that room, he started having a weird conversation with himself.”

“Nikki I don’t get where you are going with this.”

“He was debating what to do, Should he take my money or as he stated, ‘floor me’ and just leave me there.”

Tess wanted to forget about this day, never bring it up again, but it was obvious Nikki needed to get this off her chest. “What are you trying to say Nikki?”

“Do you remember when you said that my mother told you that she knew an awful lot of people?”

Tess pushed herself away from the blonde and clambered out her seat. “Oh no, not even I will think for one moment that your mother would ever want to hurt you. Come on Nikki, this is silly…she is your mother.”

Nikki was silent for a long time as she thought, “I don’t think she wanted to hurt me, I think she wanted to scare the both of us into thinking that I would be better off at home.”

“This is insane.”

“Think about it Tess. I am out with you and I get attacked, not badly but enough to shake me up a little. I feel that you cannot protect me, and lose faith in you. You feel you have failed me and think that I am better off with my family.”

Standing in the centre of the room, the photographer stared at Nikki. It couldn’t be possible…could it? “Do you really think she would be capable of resorting to such an act?”

Nikki lowered her head, as much as she didn’t want to admit it… “Yes.”

Tess nodded, “Ok…then I trust you…so what do you want to do now?”

Nikki got to her feet, “Make her see the truth, once and for all.”

“When?” Tess noticed the angry gleam shining in Nikki’s eyes.

“Now!” She stated, and left in search of her clothes.
Part 10
The sky was dull and gloomy, snow beginning to fall from its ebony expanse as Tess and Nikki left the house. The air was cold, the atmosphere foreboding…signalling the coming of change.

Still wearing Tess’s shirt, Nikki had pulled on her jeans and coat that were still in the bathroom, and had headed towards the front door, as Tess went to tell her mother where they were going. Hyacinth felt cautious as she noticed the strained expression on her daughters’ face, but accepted her request to wait until they got back before explanations could be given.

Pulling the thick jacket tightly around her small frame, Nikki stood by the Blazer as she waited for Tess to unlock the car. Mixed emotions whirled around in her head, hurt, and anger the most prominent. However much she didn’t want to believe her mother would stoop to such an act, inside she knew it was true. Tess watched Nikki’s countenance as she unlocked the car. She showed nothing, her face blank and expressionless.

Pulling open the door, she slid into the drivers’ seat and started the engine, the vehicle revved into life, breaking the silence of the empty street. Bracing her hand on Nikki’s seat, Tess looked behind as she backed out of the driveway then headed down the street.

With only one eye on the road, Tess switched her vision to the quiet blonde by her side. “Are you sure about this Nik?”

Nikki took in a deep breath; “I don’t want to be.”

Tess nodded, “Neither do I. But what if…”

“Look,” Nikki interrupted, she sighed, “I’m sorry…but I don’t really know what to think. All I know is that man wanted me, and by what he said, he was after me for a reason. Do you know what I mean, like he had an agenda?”

“Yes but…”

“But what? The fact is I know my mother, and I do believe she would stoop to such a level.”

Turning her attention back to the road, the photographer drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. She wondered what was going to happen; never did she think the events of the day would take such an unexpected turn. There seemed little doubt in Nikki’s mind that she believed her mother had something to do with what happened in the stairwell, but she just couldn’t accept any mother being so devious and calculating.

*******

Richard Morris pulled his car into the over size triple garage. He parked beside his wife’s run-around and turned off the engine. Grabbing his briefcase from the passenger seat, he opened the door, bracing himself for the cold gusts of winter weather about to besiege him. Making a quick dash from his car, he excited the garaged and activated the electric doors, closing and sealing the vehicles inside.

When the Mayor had left work earlier that evening, the snow was just beginning to fall; now it was really starting to coming down. Thick and heavy flakes fell to the ground, covering it with an inch of brilliant whiteness. With haste he made his way to the door, but stopped when a distant light caught his attention. He turned in its direction, wrapping his free arm around his rapidly cooling body as he watched the light grow bigger. Then it came into view as a car appeared in his driveway. He squinted through the onslaught of flakes before recognising the rich green Blazer. Waiting by the house, he watched as the car pulled to a halt and Tess get out the drivers’ side. He noticed she wasn’t even wearing a coat, and felt a flutter of concern as to what was going on. Tess jogged round to the passenger side, and pulled open the door escorting Nikki out into the frigid air, they walked towards him swiftly.

“This is an unexpected surprise!” Richard commented as he joined them and walked towards the front door, the dropping temperature forcing them to move with swiftness.

Neither woman said a word as they reached the door, and Richard let them in, taking refuge in the sudden warmth of the house. Tess was relieved more than the other two as she had, in her haste, left the house without even remembering to dress for the weather.

After the two women entered Richard closed the door and put down his briefcase, looking into his daughters pale face. “Are you going to fill me in on this sudden visit…you do realised that your mother is here don’t you sweetheart?”

Nikki nodded, “Yes that is why I am here I want to speak with her…with both of you actually.”

The mayor frowned, “Oh…” He looked at Tess, “What’s going on?”

The photographer shrugged, not wanting to disclose the discussion she and Nikki had on the way over, as to what the blondes plan was. “I think it is best that Nikki tells you this Mr Morris…”

“Richard please…”

“Richard…” Tess amended, “This may concern both you and Mrs Morris.”

The small man nodded, “Ok well let us go and seek out my wife shall we?”

Shrugging out of his overcoat, he placed it untidily on the banister and walked into the living room, Nikki behind her father, hand firmly entwined with the brunettes. Not finding his wife, he turned and headed instead to the library where Tess had taken the Christmas shots, believing that is where his wife would be. Tess noticed the light on and sure enough as they entered, they found Rosalind sitting by a small fireplace reading a leather bound book.

Rosalind looked up at the sound of footsteps entering the room, and was surprised to see that accompanying Richard was her daughter and ‘that woman.’ Her thoughts turned as to the unexpected arrival of the two women. “Richard, Nicole…” She looked at Tess but said nothing in acknowledgement, “I wasn’t expecting you this evening Nicole.”

Richard placed a hand on his daughters back and led her further into the room, Tess’s hand firmly encased around the blondes. It was more than an offer of guidance, as it would outwardly be perceived but a gesture of support of what they were about to do. Nikki had informed Tess on the way over as to what her intentions were, but Tess knew she had no time to plan her objective so would have to improvise.

Putting the book down, Rosalind rose as they approached her “It is rather late for unannounced visits.” She stated, feeling the need to break a sudden and uncomfortable silence, a silence that only seemed bothersome to her.

“Shall we sit?” Richard asked as he reached his chair.

“I prefer to stand.” Nikki stated and moved over to the fireplace, hoping to warm a chilled Tess, whom still had purchase of her hand. She had no inclination to release her as yet, feeling the need for the taller woman’s unconditional support. Plus she hoped it would also serve to stand as a centre focal point for her parents’ attention.

Richard sat down as Rosalind followed suit, both looking at their daughter, one with apprehension, and the other with puzzlement. Nikki bit her lip as her grip increased on the brunettes’ hand, it was now or never, she just hoped she knew what she was doing. Taking a deep breath she began, “Mum, dad, something happened today that I think involves the two of you. I should have gone to the police, but I thought it best to tell you first and see how you want to act upon this.”

Richard frowned, “Go on.”

Nikki nodded, “Well today while Hyacinth, Tess and myself where out shopping today, something happened.”

Tess looked down at her black pullover, covertly trying to see Rosalind’s reaction. The woman seemed to shift ever so slightly in her chair.

“Well…Hyacinth and I were on our way to meet Tess in the car park above Gallowtree Shopping centre, and we took the back stairs as the others were rather crowded.”

Tess released Nikki’s hand and placed her own reassuringly on the blondes back, a motion not un-noticed by the Mayor.

“We were attacked by a guy in the stair way, he grabbed me…and threatened to kill me and Hyacinth if she didn’t leave.”

Richard exploded from her chair, “WHAT…what do you mean he threatened to kill you?” He walked over to his daughter placing his hands firmly on her arms, “Are you alright, what happened?”

Nikki raised her hands, “Yes dad I am fine, thanks to Tess. Please sit down and let me explain what happened because I think this concerns you both as well.”

The Mayor looked quickly at his wife before returning to his seat, “Concerns us…how?”

“Like I said, he said we would both live if Hyacinth left us…so she had no choice…he had a knife at my throat.”

Tess noticed Rosalind’s eyes bulge at this comment. The Mayoress looked briefly at the photographer and they exchanged uncomfortable looks, the older woman was the first to look away. Tess then looked at Richard who seemed to be distraught with what his daughter was telling him. She would admit that although she was sure he held no part in Nikki’s attack, his sudden outburst and over concern, proved how surprised he was by this all.

Nikki continued, “Well obviously Hyacinth did as she was told, not wanting to cause harm to either of us, so she left.” Nikki paused, and Richard leaned forward in his chair, “She left you alone! What happened Nicole…please I cannot take this much longer…how did you escape?”

“I didn’t.” Nikki proclaimed, “Tess rescued me before anything happened.”

Rosalind looked between Tess and her daughter, “What do you mean anything happened, I mean…surely nothing would have happened…I cannot believe that…what are you trying to say Nicole, are you sure it wasn’t just a practical joke, or a youth out to steal your money?” she sighed, “This is why you are safer at home dear, you are not equipped to deal with the outside world.” She looked towards Tess, “And why weren’t you with my daughter when this was happening, you claim to care about her, yet you leave her in the hands of somebody else!”

Tess ground her teeth, “That somebody else happened to by my mother Mrs Morris and Nikki was in completely safe hands with her.” Her eyes locked with the older women’s in a silent duel.

Richard who had watched the scene spoke up, “Ladies, now is not the time for harsh words.” Looking back towards Nikki he frowned, “Nicole dear, explain how you think this has something to do with us.”

Nikki clasped her hands together, “Well he took me into this room, some kind of storeroom and all the time he was saying things. He called me easy money, and made vague references to a second person being involved.”

The Mayor stood suddenly, “What are you saying…that his intention was to get to you for a specific reason?”

“Yes, father look. I am daughter to the Mayor of this city, what if some unscrupulous person wanted to use me as black mail…’easy money’ he said…more than another person involved! I am scared that this will not be the last time we hear from these people…whoever they are, because it seems that they hired him to get me. What if somebody knows about my inheritance, what if they are after the money?”

Pacing the floor, Richard looked between Tess and his daughter; “You don’t think this was just some random thug then?”

Nikki shook her head, as the small mans eyes turned to the photographer, “Well I am very grateful you were around Tess.” He shoved cold hands into his pockets.

“I wanted to speak to you first, because I was afraid. I know it is silly now but I was really shaken at the time…now I have had time to think about it…and I think whoever these people are will strike again.”

Richard nodded, “Well we must not take any chances…we must call the police.”

Rosalind rose suddenly, “Call the police, do we really need to take such drastic measures. Nicole dear you are probably just traumatised by this…although possibly a little scary, still inconsequential event. You should come home and let me take care of you for a while, until you feel better.”

Tess’s arm rose to Nikki’s shoulder as Rosalind’s reactions began to play out just as the blonde had anticipated. She looked between the couple noting the confusion playing across the Mayors face.

“Such drastic measures…Rosa, there are no such thing as drastic measures when our daughter has been attacked like this, who knows what would have happened.”

“Nothing happened.” The older woman retorted.

Suddenly Nikki pulled of her coat, revealing her jeans and very oversize shirt. She moved the collar and pulled off the large band-aid, exposing her neck to her parents. “He did this while holding the knife to my throat mum, that isn’t nothing.”

Rosalind’s face dropped as she saw the large gash across her daughters’ neck, she moved her mouth to speak, but no words came out.

Richard walked up to his daughter and examined her neck. He smoothed his fingers around the cut as a look of anguish shadowed his expression. Moving forward he pulled Nikki into a hug and kissed the blonde head, “This definitely wasn’t nothing, we call the police right now.” Stepping away he pulled a mobile phone from his grey suit jacket pocket.

“Wait…” Rosalind shouted then paused, “Um…are we doing the right thing by calling the police…I mean isn’t this a little drastic…what if getting the police involved just infuriates the situation?”

“Drastic!” Tess stated, “He tried to hurt Nikki, the police can find this guy and get him to confess as to who put him up to this.”

The anxious woman shook her head, “As if he will be found now…whatever his intentions were, I am sure he is long gone. And if there were others involved I am sure they got the message.”

“It would take more than that I am afraid.” Richard told his wife, “Do you really think one failed attempt could stop somebody who appears to have quite nefarious intentions…besides Nicole didn’t you say Tess stopped him in a more forceful kind of way?”

Tess grinned, “Oh I am sure he will be quite easy to find. Not only do both my mother any myself have a visual description, but I would say that all the cops have to do is check the local hospitals. Wont be hard to find any guy who’d recently gone in with a broken nose, broken arm, and the possibility of a couple of fractured ribs…not hard to miss I’d say.”

Richard nodded, “Right the police it is.”

Rosalind moved forward and pulled the phone from her husbands grasp, “I am sure you are blowing this all out of proportion…all of you.”

“Blowing this all out of proportion…what do you mean…you can see the mark on Nikki’s neck, he could have killer her.” Tess shouted.

“He would have done no such thing.” The Mayoress stated.

Tess took a step towards the woman, pulling her hand from the comfort of Nikki’s back as she pointed at Rosalind, “How the hell can you be so sure of that huh?”

“Because I can.”

“That just isn’t possible…you weren’t even there.” Tess seethed, advancing on the smaller woman.

“He would not have killed her.”

“You cannot be sure of that.”

“Yes I can.”

“HOW?”

“Because he was working for me.”

Silence.

Tess’s hand dropped as she took a step away from the woman, she looked at Nikki. Tears were forming in blue eyes and already spilling down her cheeks. She looked up at Richard. The Mayor seemed to be frozen, his face holding a mixture of disbelief and incomprehension. His mouth worked as he tried to speak, but no words came forth. Tess moved towards Nikki and swept her into a strong embrace as she witnessed the last of the blonde strength leave her. Nikki wrapped her arms around the woman, feeling that without her she would surely fall, silent tears leaked from her eyes. Tess tilted her chin upwards and placed several kisses on her forehead.

Coming out of his daze Richard shook his head, “What do you mean working for you Rosa.”

The blonde woman looked towards her daughter and the photographer, “Exactly what I said…he was working for me. Just somebody I came across through a chain of acquaintances. He is…how would you describe it? An odd job man, and will do anything if the price is right, so I called upon his services. He wasn’t going to hurt Nicole in the slightest, and that is how I know you are all overreacting. The mark on your neck was nothing more than an accident…he had his orders…I never wanted you to get hurt Nicole” Rosalind looked disgustedly at her daughter and the photographer. “It was my last resort, I had to do something and do you know why?”

Richard looked at his wife shocked, “Why?”

“Because of that.” She pointed to Nikki, still held in Tess’s arms, “Look at them, this is not how we raised our daughter Richard, she has much more sense than this. I thought if I could convince her what kind of person she was…then Nicole would come home to us.”

“And you though you would convince her by hurting her?”

“He wasn’t supposed to hurt her, that wasn’t part of the agreement.”

Richard voice dropped as he stalked towards his wife, “I wasn’t talking about whatever you paid that man to do, I was talking about your actions.”

Rosalind shook her head, “ACTIONS, I did what any loving mother would do, tried to help my own flesh and blood. People are already beginning to talk. How bad do you think it will be for our reputations when they find out that not only has Nicole left home, but she had moved in with her?” She pointed at the photographer furiously.

Tess was angry, extremely so, and waves of unreleased rage coursed through her entire body like an insistent pulse. Still she kept quiet, and knowing Richard needed to speak she held on to a very quiet Nikki. Bending slightly she kissed Nikki’s head and moved her lips over to her ear, “I love you.” She whispered, and felt a responding squeeze from Nikki.

“I love my daughter, and I am happy that she has found somebody that she loves…somebody that makes her happy. To me that is all that matters.”

“But Richard you are the Lord Mayor of this city, you have a standard to set you are a prominent figure in this town.”

“Where my family is concerned, the only standard I set is acceptance, and the only way I can do that is through unconditional love for my daughters.”

Rosalind, shaking her head, looked at her husband in disgust. “My father was right about you, you are spineless. It is your fault he left all his money to Nicole and Lisa, and not to me. If I hadn’t have married you that money would have been mine.”

Richard shook his head, “Your father left his money to the girls because he admitted to me…and not long before he died that he wanted his life’s work to go to somebody who would appreciate what he had laboured for.” His voice rose higher as his anger soared.

Up until that point Nikki had been quiet, content just to stay in the secure embrace of her lover, but at those words she suddenly pulled away. Facing her mother she frowned, “That is it isn’t it, this is what it has been about the whole time…the money.” Her voice held a strain of disbelief.

“Don’t be ridiculous Nicole.” Rosa scowled.

“NO…that is the only reason you want me to stay here and not leave his house, because if I go, the money I inherit goes with me. The only thing you really care about is having that money, and you think if you keep me here then your poor, blind, naive daughter will need her mother to look after if for her.”

The older woman stared at her daughter intently before speaking, “And what possible use could you have for it anyway? Start your own business looking after useless horses? Don’t be ridiculous, you have no purpose in this world Nicole…and by rights that money is mine.”

Unable to control herself any longer, Tess stepped forward, her green eyes blazing with rage. “That is not true, and don’t you dare speak to her like that again. Nikki is the single most remarkable woman I have ever met, and I thank every second that I am able to spend with her. It is you who does not deserve a wonderful daughter like her.”

Rosalind looked at Tess her face crimson with rage, “This is all your fault, coming here and corrupting her with such ludicrous notions, I cannot believe it was I who requested you… allowed you into my house.”

The photographer stared down at the smaller woman, “Personally I think that was the best thing you ever did.” She looked disbelievingly at Rosa, “You really have no idea do you, no understanding of how wrong your actions were and still are?”

Rosalind stepped towards the taller woman until they were inches apart, “I am very aware of what I am doing, and it is you who has no understanding of what you are getting into. What I really want to know is, what is it you want from my daughter…I mean really, what possible use is she to you?”

Tess reached her hand back, knowing Nikki was not far behind her, and took hold of the blondes’ left hand. “What I want from Nikki she gives freely and costs nothing…nothing more, nothing less, than I am more than willing to give to her in return.”

“Nothing in this world is free Miss Alexander.”

“My love for your daughter is Mrs Morris.” Tess stated simply.

Nikki felt a strong wave of loving pride wash over her at Tess’s words.

Taking a step back and looking at her husband, daughter and Tess, Rosalind growled with frustration. “From now on I wash my hands with you Nicole…I have no daughter.” She headed towards the door, stopping before she exited, “But you can be sure of this…all of you…this isn’t over, not by a long shot.” And with those words Rosalind left the room.

*******

Standing out in the hallway several feet away from the door, Lisa had been listening to the events unfold in the Library. She was scared, and tears fell from her eyes as she heard what her mother had to say, and when the woman excited the room, she was glad Rosalind had gone in the other direction and hadn’t seen her. Once the woman had left, she moved further towards the library, needing the presence of her father and sister.

*******

Stunned into silence, the three remaining occupants of the room stood in complete surprise. Nikki stood in between her father and Tess as she tried to comprehend what had just taken place. She had certainly gotten the results she had aimed for, but now she felt broken and wondered whether she hadn’t in fact made some big mistake in coming here tonight. Had her anger as a result at the prospect that Rosalind did have something to do with this, clouded her better judgement? Was coming back home with this rather un-formulated plan really such a good idea after all? She had thought so at the time, yet now she just felt numb, inside she had so hoped she would be wrong.

Tess looked at a pale Richard to a quiet Nikki wondering what was to happen now. She could tell by the distraught look in Nikki’s face that the blonde had secretly hoped she was wrong. The two women were pulled out of their contemplation when Richard spoke.

“I really don’t know what is to come about now.” His voice was void of emotion.

Nikki nodded and walked towards her father who took her in his arms. Thinking that she wanted to give father and daughter a little time alone, Tess decided to go and see the figure that she could just make out lurking through the gap of the library door.

“Um…I’ll be back in a moment.” She stated and walked quickly out of the room. There she found Lisa, in her pyjamas standing timidly by the door.

“Hey!”

Lisa looked up that the brunette, “Hi.”

“You heard what happened in there?”

There was a slight nod.

Tess sucked in her bottom lip, “Are you ok?”

Lisa shrugged.

“Do you want to go in there?”

“I didn’t know whether I should.”

Tess put her arm around the teens shoulder, “I think now would be a good time to go to your father and sister…don’t you?”

Lisa nodded as Tess led her into the library, she found the Mayor sitting on the sofa next to his daughter. He looked up when the two entered the room and rose to go to his youngest daughter. Tess moved over towards the blonde perched on the end of the two-seated settee. She bent down to her knees and look at Nikki, “What happens now?” She asked quietly.

Nikki wrung her hands together, “Dad said we should just go home and let him deal with this now, I think he needs time alone.”

“How are you feeling?”

“As long as you’re with me, I will be fine.”

Tess leaned forward and pulled the blonde into a strong embrace, Nikki wrapped her arms around the broad back.

“Always.” The photographer whispered, then pulled back slightly. “Nikki, you do know that all of those things your mother said was complete rubbish don’t you?”

Nikki didn’t respond.

“Nik?” Tess ducked her head, looking into the Nikki’s face.

“I guess.” She sighed, “But why would she say them Tess. I know she wanted to hurt me, and guess what…it worked.”

After a slight shake of her head Tess spoke, “Nikki, I don’t think her intention was to hurt you as such, she was angry…people can say some really nasty things when they are angry. What you have to remember is that none of it is true…NONE of it ok.”

The blonde nodded.

“Tell me you believe it.” Tess pleaded.

“I believe you.”

Tess smiled and let her head fall onto the blondes, “I can accept that.”

They were interrupted by a clearing of throat, “Ahem…um Tess, Lisa has a request.”

The photographer looked up towards the teen that stood by her father timidly, “What’s that Lisa?”

She shuffled her feet nervously, “Um…well I was wondering, I don’t want to spend Christmas here now…and dad said he would be coming round to yours Christmas day anyway, so can I go with you now…I don’t want to stay here at the moment.”

Tess looked at the Mayor, “Are you ok with this.”

Richard nodded, “I think the Christmas spirit has well and truly left the Morris house hold this year. If it is ok with you, I think it would be better if I were left alone with my wife while we sort out a few matters. I will then come around to you on Saturday…is this alright…I mean I know that all of a sudden we seem to be taking such liberties, but well…things have suddenly taken a very unexpected turn and I am unsure as to what to do.”

“Honestly it would be my pleasure to have you over, it has been a long time since I have had a family Christmas, and I know my mother will be in her element. What do you think Nikki?”

The smile on Nikki’s face was blinding, “It sounds like a good idea to me.”

The Mayor nodded, “Good…ok.” He looked at his youngest daughter, “Well Lisa, you better go and collect together everything you will need…in fact I shall go with you.” He looked towards the two women, “Be back in a few minutes.” And he was gone.

While they were gone, Tess was a little anxious that Rosalind would re-appear in the library but she didn’t, and ten minutes later father and daughter were back. Lisa held a packed over night bag over her shoulder, a smaller plastic carrier by her side.

Once ready they all walked into the hallway and towards the exit. Richard opened the door, and they walked out into the snowy night. Hugging both his daughters, he promised to see them at the weekend as they quickly go into the still warm car.

He stood in the heavy fall of snow and watched them leave until the vehicles lights disappeared from view. Then with a heavy heart, and simmering anger, he re-entered the house.

*******

When the group got home, Hyacinth was sound asleep. Tess realised that the spare fold away bed was in her room, so Lisa opted to stay on the sofa tonight so not to wake the sleeping woman. Once Lisa was settled in, Nikki and Tess headed of to bed.

They stood in the bathroom, Tess behind Nikki as they both stood by the sink cleaning their teeth. Nikki had shed her jeans and jacket and was once again clad only in the tall woman’s shirt. Tess looked down at the blonde in front of her and pulled the toothbrush from her mouth “How are you feeling Nik…really?”

“Really…I don’t know, still a little shocked I guess. How about you…you seem to have been inundated with Morris family members.” She smiled and rinsed her own toothbrush under the tap.

“I happily accept anything that comes with you…all part and package of one cute blonde, I can handle…though it does seem that I don’t seem to have any time alone with you at the moment.”

Nikki arched her eyebrows, “And you want time alone with me?”

Tess finished cleaning her teeth then put her brush back in its holder, “Of course I want time alone with you…why don’t you want to spend some quiet time with me?”

“You know we do have time alone together at nights…but you are right it isn’t exactly quiet time…your snoring can break sound barriers and probably be measured on the Richter scale.”

Tess’s mouth dropped, “I do not.”

A light chuckle, “I’m afraid so.” Nikki headed towards the bed, a shocked photographer trailing behind.

“I don’t snore…I have never snored.” Tess tried to sound as insulted as she could, but only just managed to keep the smile from her face.

Pulling the quilt back, Nikki climbed into bed, a sulking brunette following closely behind her, “Tess do you remember when you told me that you think that guy who lives round the corner has a motorbike because he has…on occasions…woke you up at all hours of the night?”

“Yeah?” The light suddenly switched on, “Hey…I am not waking myself up through snoring.” She said in a loud whispered, conscious of the others sleeping in the house. “Cheeky.”

Nikki laughed thankful for the respite from the tension of the evening.

Tess smiled, “However much I don’t think I like being the butt of your jokes,” She grinned, “I am happy to hear you laugh again.” She settled onto her back as Nikki placed her head on the brunettes shoulder.

“It’s been a pretty wearing day.”

Tess kissed the golden locks, “You know I am always here for you right?”

Nikki wrapped her arm around the photographer torso, “I couldn’t get through this if you weren’t.”

Smiling the brunette closed her eyes, “Then you can trust me when I tell you that everything will be fine.”

There was a sleepy sigh, “I trust you.” Nikki muttered as she drifted off to a much-needed sleep.

*******

Hyacinth Alexander left the warmth of her bedroom and headed off down stairs to make herself a cup of tea. The door was closed to her daughters’ room, so she was glad to see they got home all right, though she still found it hard to believe she had fallen asleep before they got home. She had been concerned, lying in bed for some time, wondering what had happened, but it seemed that at some point she had just succumbed to slumber, not waking until the morning came.

As she reached to bottom of the stairs, she heard a shuffling sound coming from the living room, so decided to go and investigate, thinking Leto had spent the night down stairs. Walking into the front room, she did indeed spot Leto, but she was perched upon a blanketed figure on the settee. Not knowing whom it could be, but sure it wasn’t her daughter (the body wasn’t long enough for that) she crept into the room to take a peek.

Leto wagged her tail as she noticed her masters’ mother approaching, but stayed where she was due mainly to the tummy tickling she was receiving from the body she was perched upon. Hyacinth took a step toward the figure and craned her head to see whom it was, Lisa looked up at her with a smile.

“Lisa honey…I wasn’t expecting to find you here.” She paused, “Why…I mean what happened last night, why did you come back with Tess and Nikki?”

Lisa moved to sit up, forcing a suddenly unhappy Leto to vacate her position; she jumped down onto the floor with a huff, and trotted up to the older woman wagging her tail.

Hyacinth secured her robe, and bent down to the golden dog, scratching her behind the ears. Leto moved into the touch with contentment.

“There were arguments last night with mum and everyone, I didn’t want to stay there, so Tess said I could come home with her and Nikki.” She paused, “I…um it looks like I am spending Christmas here this year.”

Hyacinth looked at the saddened expression on the teens face and realised that whatever happened last night, she was going to have to make tomorrow extra special. She knelt down as she continued scratching the dog, “Are you all alright, what happened?”

Lisa shrugged, “I only heard some of the conversation but enough to know that mother has done or said something to hurt Nikki. She was really angry and I was a bit scared, so I said I wanted to come home with Nikki and Tess, and dad said I could. He is coming round tomorrow as well.”

The older woman felt a mixture of surprise and concern at the rapid change in events, “Well don’t you worry Lisa, we will have the best Christmas ever…so…want to help me do something later?”

Lisa smiled, “What’s that?”

Hyacinth looked around the room, “Do you notice something about this room?”

Lisa looked around, “Um…it’s very minimal in appearance?”

The woman smiled, “Yeah, I guess so, but I am thinking more in the way of something being missing.”

“Christmas tree!” The teen stated.

“Exactly…now we brought one yesterday, and have to get it up before the big day…so do you want to help me later?”

“Yeah…I love dressing trees…that would be great.”

Hyacinth nodded and rose to her feet, much to the consternation of the golden dog sprawled out on her back, “So do you want to help me start some breakfast?”

Lisa pulled herself up from the chair, “Sure do…I’m right behind you.”

*******

The smell of cooking bacon and fresh coffee roused Tess from a pleasant sleep. Opening one eye, she looked around the bedroom and noticed the hazy light coming through the curtains. Looking at the clock she realised it was almost ten o’clock. Not bad she though, realising that she expected they would have slept longer due to the time they arrived home last night, but surprisingly enough she wasn’t very tired.

Looking down at the blonde head still firmly attached to her shoulder she smiled and sifted through the golden locks.

“You finally awake then.”

Tess froze then chuckled, “Tell me Nik, do you lie in waiting for me to awake so you can scare the life out of me?”

“Not my fault if I seem to have acquired a human alarm clock.”

“Don’t start with the snoring again woman.” Tess warned with a grin, then her face turned serious, “How are you this morning?”

Nikki rolled over until she was atop the brunette, balancing on both elbows. “Ok…I mean better then last night, but in a way not wholly surprised. Like I said last night, I had a feeling, and although it was a shock to discover it was true, it wasn’t so much a shock to believe…do you know what I mean?”

“You figured as much but hoped you were wrong?” Tess asked simply.

“Yeah…I guess.”

“So what happens now?”

“All that can happen, we go on as before…” She paused, “I mean, this err…this hasn’t changed anything between us has it, it just seems like all of a sudden I come attached with extra baggage, and it is something that you don’t really have to take on.” She lowered her head.

There was a slight shake of the head, “Nikki did I remember right in thinking that you said you loved me?”

“Uh huh.”

“And what did I say to you?”

A slight smile, “That you loved me too.”

Tess wrapped both arms around the blondes back and pulled her close, “Exactly…and it doesn’t matter what happens because that isn’t going to change anything ok?”

Nikki nodded and moved her body up slightly until she was face to face with the brunette, one hand moved to trace the outlines of the photographers features, “Ok.” Searching fingers found waiting lips, and guided her own to the welcome softness.

Strong, yet bruised hands wound themselves into soft strands of golden hair, as Tess deepened the kiss, holding Nikki close. They kissed for some minutes, both luxuriating in the close proximity of their bodies, a slow desire for each other building like an increasing fire.

Nikki pulled away first, her lips trailing across the woman’s jaw. Tess gasped as a hot tongue enveloped her ear lobe, encasing it in a furnace of wet heat. Her hands moved down Nikki’s body cupping the blonde’s backside and pulling her into intimate contact.

Tess cupped flushed cheeks, “Do you have any idea how much I want to make love to you?”

A surge of heat surrounded the blondes’ body at the photographers’ words, “God yes.” She whispered.

“TESS…NIKKI…BREAKFAST!”

Nikki closed her eyes as her head fell to the woman’s tee shirt covered chest, “God no.” She chuckled.

Tess smiled as she rubbed the blonde’s back; “Do you think some higher force is against us?”

“No…just my sisters incredibly bad timing.” Came the muffled response.

“Want something to eat then, by the smell of things I would say they have bacon and god knows what else cooking down there. I know how my mother can be when she is cooking for more than two people, she gets carried away, and that usually means LOTS of food!”

Nikki lifted her head, “Lots of food huh? Well being as though we hardly ate at all yesterday, lots of food sounds wonderful.”

Looking up at the smaller woman Tess grinned, “Let’s get down there then.”

*******

Lisa looked up from her place at the kitchen table that was covered with a variety of foods. She took in the sight of the Nikki, wearing nothing but an over sized shirt, and Tess in black boxers and a red tee shirt. “Morning.” She greeted with a smile.

Tess smirked at the teen as she guided Nikki to a seat, “Lisa…are you always so bright and breezy this early in the morning?”

“When I get to have a crack at cooking yes…I was never allowed to do it at home, but your mum let me help her.” She looked down at the variety of foods on offer; “Do you think we over did it?”

Tess looked down at the mass of cereals, toast, homemade croissants, bacon and scrambled eggs. “Well to be honest there does seem to be a lot here, but never fear, whatever gets left behind I am sure will get consumed at some point of the day.”

Just then Hyacinth appeared in the kitchen, “Tess I hope you don’t mind, I set the boiler for constant hot water all day, I figured we would all appreciate a nice hot bath, and you know how I love your bath tub.”

Tess shrugged, “Sure.”

Lisa frowned, “Why what’s with the bath tub?”

“Oh it’s wonderful.” Hyacinth’s eyes lit up, “It came with the house when Tessa brought it, only missy here claims never to have used it.”

“I’m more a shower kind of woman.”

“Well anyway, it is about two and a half times the size of a normal bath and oval in shape. For her birthday I brought Tess one of those Jacuzzi things that you put in the tub…is very relaxing, but she has never even used it.”

“It isn’t like it hasn’t ever been used.” Tess look at her mother, “Makes me wonder who you brought if for anyway.”

“It was supposed to be for you dear of course, but I will not let a thing like that go to waste.” She shrugged “Anyway what are the plans for today?”

The photographer sat beside Nikki; “Well I was going to take Leto outside into the forest after breakfast.”

Leto looked up at the mention of her name and the word ‘outside’, her eyes looked beseechingly at the brunette.

“Do you mind if Lisa and I put the tree up?” Tess’s mother asked.

Picking up a slice of toast Tess bit off the corner, “Be my guest, save me a job.” She muttered and looked at Nikki, “So what do you want to do Nik, come out with me or help put the tree up?”

“Go out with you, I love it out there in the forest.”

“Great you two can put up the tree and Nik and I will take Leto out for her walk.”

At the mention of her favourite word, second only to ‘park’, Leto jumped up from her reclined position beside her bowl, (where she hoped somebody would take notice of an eternally hungry pooch) and trotted over to her masters’ feet. She barked twice vying for attention. Tess looked down at the hound and told her to get back, telling her she would go out later, so the golden dog trudged back to her bowl and continued the vigil.

Tess started to list of the assortment of foods on the table, “…so what would you like then Nik?”

The blonde thought quickly, “One of everything please…I am feeling experimental.”

Hyacinth smiled amused at Nikki’s enthusiasm, but the smile soon faded as a though entered her mind, “So…can I ask what happened last night?”

It was Nikki that spoke first, “Sure, you do have a right to know…and Lisa should know the whole story I guess.”

They started their breakfast as Nikki and Tess filled the others in about what had happened the night before.

*******

The sight was beautiful, picturesque and similar to a Christmas card Tess had seen earlier that month. The forests skeletal trees were white, covered with a thick layer of recently fallen snow. The air was brisk, a chilling wind rustling though the branches intensifying the cold atmosphere. Perched on a low near by branch, the brunette spotted a small Robin, sitting on its tip seemingly oblivious to all around. Lifting the camera that hung around her neck, Tess captured the scene with a smile, then watched as the colourful bird flew away, startled by the sudden sound.

She looked over to Nikki who was walking with Leto up ahead, in one hand she help her cane, in the other a stick that had the golden dog attached to the other end. Tess though it strange that if she were the one holding the stick, Leto would be doing her best to pull it out of her hand, but with Nikki she was not. It was almost as though the dog knew Nikki was sightless and did nothing to hinder her. In fact Tess realised that on many separate occasions Leto had been much more considerate with the blonde. She then watched fascinated as Leto saw a large fallen tree trunk up a head and began to gently steer her to the left, out of its path. Finding the sight endearing, Tess lifted her camera and took a picture of Nikki with the dog.

“What you taking pictures of?” The blonde asked, stopping and turning to face Tess.

“Oh you know this and that…the trees, birds in the trees…you.”

“Me! What could you possibly find interesting about my back?”

“I find everything about you interesting.” She smiled, “But apart from that, I was just taking shots of things that captured me.”

Nikki released the stick allowing Leto to run off deeper into the forest, “How do things capture you?”

Tess thought for a while as Nikki approached her, “Well I guess it’s the way it comes across to me, sometimes when you look at something for long enough you start to see things that you never noticed before…why don’t you have a go?”

Reaching the brunette with a frown Nikki placed a free hand on her hip, “How do you propose I do that?”

Looking around the mass of trees the photographer thought, “Well go and inspect the trees, find one that you think feels interesting…that captures you.”

Nikki pursed her lips, “Ok.” She turned around and headed off into the trees, stopping when she reached a trunk, and stared feeling the textured wood. Tess walked idly behind her, diverting her attention between the blonde and the golden dog that was in the middle of a mad dash around the wooded area. In the distance she could just make out the boundary of the woods and noticed a row of coniferous trees, idly she wondered how Lisa and her mother were getting on dressing the one at home. She was glad she had brought a fake tree though; finding pine needles in strange places was not how she planned on spending the New Year.

“Found one.” The voice echoed around the woodland.

Tess turned towards Nikki to see her standing by a wide tree trunk, she approached, the blonde. “So what have you found then?”

Nikki turned to face the tree, moving around its trunk, “Here…this, come and see this. It feels really interesting, lots of swirls and oval shapes in connecting patterns, I bet this tree is very old; it feels kind of…um…distinguished.

Tess moved around to look at the blondes find. Nikki moved her hands away, and Tess cocked her head to one side, looking at the knot. She realised it really was an interesting looking pattern. “Does this capture you?” She asked.

Sensitive fingers returned to the trunk, “Yes.”

“I can see why.” Tess stepped back two spaces and took a shot of the trunk, “There you have more or less just captured your first picture.”

Nikki beamed, “Hmm, guess so…does this mean, you will frame it and stick it on the wall.” She joked.

“If that’s what you want then sure.”

Standing silently the blonde wandered in thought, Tess frowned wondering why the sudden silence. “Nikki?”

“Yes?”

“Are you ok…I thought you zoned out on me for a moment.”

“I was just thinking.” She leaned back against the trunk.

“About?”

“About…how you have opened up a whole new world for me. You make me see things the way you do, and I never thought that would ever be possible, but in a way it is. Before, when I wanted to know what something looked like, I would use my fingers to get a perception…you make me feel it too, the way a vision moves you emotionally…does that make any sense?”

Tess stepped forward, “Yes, I think so.”

Nikki reached out her hand and Tess met her half way, entwining their fingers together, she pulled the photographer closer and smiled, “You make me feel a lot of things.”

“Really! Well care to show me what you are feeling?”

A dainty hand released the sinewy fingers and travelled up Tess’s arm, until she reached her neck. Pulling the dark head forward she smiled, “My pleasure.”

With nobody around, and her mobile phone left safely back at the house, Tess sunk into the kiss, taking her time with the prospect that there would be no interruptions this time.

*******

They arrived back at the house half an hour later, cheeks flushed from the cold, and full of exhilaration. Opening the back door, Nikki was first to hear the sound of strange Christmas carols coming from the front of the house. With a frown she asked Tess what it was.

The photographer blushed, “Well it’s um…my old Disney Christmas album. My dad brought it me when I was really young and every year, we would play it while putting up the tree.” She laughed, “Seems mum found it…damn, and I had stuck it right at the back of my album collection as well…she must have really searched for it.”

They walked though the house to the sound of squeaky voice mice singing ‘Oh come all ye faithful.’ And Nikki giggled to herself at the thought of Tess owning this album.

They entered the front room to find the tree standing, but only half decorated. Lights were on but the decorations had yet to be placed on the fake branches. Instead Tess found Lisa and her mother going through her collection of old LP’s.

Hyacinth looked up at Nikki and her daughter, “Ah Tessa honey there you are, I was wondering…where’s that ‘Fairy Tale Christmas’ Album we used to own, I know you took it with you when you left?”

The photographer tried to stop her blushed, didn’t she had a reputation to uphold here so something? “Oh I don’t know mum, it is not like I have played it since I was a kid, it could be anywhere.”

Hyacinth continued her perusal; “I know you must have it here somewhere. You know I cannot put up Christmas decorations without the proper background ambiance.”

Nikki pulled off her coat smiling, “What were the songs on it?” she enquired, “I bet if we ask real nice, Tess will sing one for us.” The photographers’ eyes bulged, “Or we all could sing one.”

Tess looked at Nikki, “Err Nik, that isn’t such a good idea.”

“Yeah.” Lisa added, “Nikki’s singing voice is on par with Leto’s howling.”

“Is not!”

Tess laughed, “Oh I am sure you have a lovely voice Nik.”

Nikki grinned sheepishly, “Well I wouldn’t go that far, but it isn’t as bad as Leto’s howling that’s for damn sure.”

Tess took Nikki’s jacket as she left the room, taking off her own in the process and hanging them both up on the coat hooks near the front door. Sudden laughing caught her attention, so she jogged back to see what all the commotion was about. Leto sat stock-still in the centre of the room, as Hyacinth draped tinsel around her neck and golden stars from her ears; the golden mutt did not look impressed.

The photographer smiled, “Leto come here.” The dog trotted over relieved. “What are you trying to do…she has a reputation to uphold you know, Leto here is a savage killer guard dog.” Tess told her mother.

Hyacinth put her hands on hips, “Honey I have seen snails with more bite in them than that doggie.”

With a pout Tess removed the glistening objects, “Don’t you listen to them ‘tow tow’ we both know you are trained in lethal doggie martial arts…with one look alone you could stop an intruder on sight.”

Eyes round with innocence, Leto fell to the floor and rolled onto her back, legs hanging limply in the air. Hyacinth arched an eyebrow and looked sceptically at her daughter.

Tess rose to her feet. “It’s a clever manipulative disguise…designed to fool the sorts of people with criminal intent.” She stated simply.

“Uh huh.” Hyacinth moved back over to the decorations, where Nikki was inspecting each one with curiosity.

“Oh by the way I shall be going to see Ida tonight.”

Tess nodded. “Ok.” Ida was a friend of her mothers, and they had known each other for many years. Whenever Hyacinth would come back up to visit her daughter, she would go and see Ida.

“I’m going too.” Lisa stated.

Nikki turned to her sister, “Why are you going?”

“Because it is Ida Simms, as in Sally’s grandmother…I can’t believe it, small world huh? Anyway Sally told me she was spending Christmas at her grand mothers this year, so I though I would go and see her. I did ring first…while you were out, and it’s ok for me to go as well, Cinthy doesn’t mind either.”

“Oh…ok.” Nikki replied.

A secret smile etched its way onto the photographers face as a sudden idea formulated in her mind.

*******

The bathroom was unusually large, mainly due to the fact that the last occupants of the house had used the adjacent storeroom to increase its size. The two rooms had been knocked into one, making it almost as big as Tess’s kitchen. The walls were tiled a light aqua green, broken only by a blue Celtic knot going around the middle. The tiling however was Tess’s idea, as when she had first brought the house the walls were painted a ‘sickening’ yellow that she had to get rid of immediately.

The large tub was by the far wall, and very similar to the Celtic design in colour. The floor was also tiled, but a simple cream colour that Tess thought complemented the blue and greens of the room. On the opposite wall to the bathtub was an overly large rectangle window. It was lower than most common windows, and provided an excellent view of the forest, that was now bathed in a soft moonlit hue, outlining the snow covered trees.

Standing by the large tub, Tess turned on the water filling it quickly, and then pulled her long dark hair into a roll, keeping it out of the way. Hyacinth and Lisa had left not ten minutes before, leaving Nikki and herself alone, and while Nikki was in the living room, playing with Leto, she had disappeared up stairs.

Moving over to a small cupboard, Tess pulled out a large bottle of unopened, lavender bubble bath and poured a generous amount into the rapidly filling tub. Hyacinth was right, she had never used this room before, but now with the blondes’ presence, she could think of no better reason to start.

*******

Nikki sat on the floor; legs out-stretched with Leto flopped out over her thighs. Idly her hands stroked the golden dog, as her mind wandered. So much had changed, and in such a short space of time. It was Christmas Eve already, and a few weeks ago she would have expected the day to be so much different to how things had actually turned out.

Tomorrow was Christmas, and not just that but her twenty forth birthday as well. It was the day she was looking forward to and dreading just as much, for a long time. Her life was about to make a huge change, and she was unsure how ready she was for this.

Sighing, she let her head fall back on the sofa behind, and closed her eyes, Tess had disappeared some minutes ago and she was beginning to wonder where the photographer was. She smiled thinking of the woman whom had so unexpectedly stolen her heart…or was it unexpectedly? From the first moment she had met the mysterious woman, she had felt an irresistible pull, but even so she would have never expected things to turn out the way they did. Still Tess had been there for her…and had stood by her one hundred percent. Deep down inside, Nikki knew that support was unwavering.

The blonde listened as she heard footsteps pad their way down the carpeted staircase. Moments later, she was aware of Tess’s presence in the room, the brunette standing by the doorway.

“I thought you had up and left me.”

Tess smiled, “Nope just sorting a few things out.”

“Oh…so what were you up to?”

“Hopefully a surprise for you.”

Nikki gently eased a protesting Leto off her legs and stood up, “Really, care to share?”

Walking into the front room, Tess took Nikki by the hand and led her to the stairs, “If ma’am would follow me, all will be revealed.” She walked just in front of Nikki, as they made their way up the stairs and stopped just out side the bathroom. Tess bit her lip as she pushed the door open and allowed Nikki into the steam filled room.

The first thing to hit the blonde was the smell; it was lavender, faint but very relaxing. It was hot as well, suddenly her clothes felt heavy as a mist of steam caressed her face. “What is this?” She asked, not wanting to jump to any conclusions but hoping to god it was what she thought it was.

Tess sucked on her bottom lip, a usual gesture of nervousness as she shuffled from one foot to another. “Um…well you know…being as though we have the place to ourselves, I thought it was time for a little indulgence.”

“Uh huh?”

“So…I thought we could um…soak in the tub together while drinking Champaign…well it is not actually Champaign, more a sparkling wine but you get what I mean…and don’t smirk like that when you know damn well I am nervous as hell here.” Tess whined.

Nikki’s shook her head, “I am not smirking at you. It is just that I find you so endearing, do you think people would be shocked if they saw this side of you?”

“Only you get to see this side of me.”

“Well I think I like it.” She took a step closer reaching out her hand, and found purchase of one cotton-covered arm. “I also like the surprise as well…very much.”

Grinning, Tess pulled Nikki into her body, “I hoped you would.” Leaning down she captured soft lips in a gentle kiss, which finished far too quickly for Nikki. “Of course it does mean loosing a few…well all of these!” she tugged at the smaller woman’s clothes.

“I think that can be arranged.”

Tess lent forward and re-captured the inviting lips, keeping the kiss light as she un-tucked Nikki’s shirt from her jeans and pulled it over her head. Hot, steamy air caressed pale skin, and not being able to resist, Tess looked down at the body in front of her. “You really are beautiful!” She stated.

Nikki smiled shyly, “I will take your word for that.”

“You can.” The photographer pulled Nikki close, “As long as you know it is true.”

Nikki pushed up on her toes, finding Tess’s lips instantly and claimed them in a deep penetrating kiss. Lips parting and hungry tongues connected, stoking a slow burning fire within them both.

Smaller hands moved gracefully up the taller woman’s torso, delicately looking for access to the unfamiliar garment Tess was wearing. A belt was found, tied in a loose knot, and Nikki easily pulled it apart, allowing the fabric of the photographers robe to fall open. Hesitantly her hands moved under the garment and connected with an expanse of naked flesh, she gasped slightly, and pushed her hands to the taller woman’s shoulders, moving the robe off her body, and leaving Tess naked in the humid room.

Breaking the kiss Tess pulled away, and gently turned the blonde around. Placing soft kisses on her shoulders, she moved her hands around to the front of the body and undid her jeans, snapping each button as a kiss was placed across Nikki’s back. Once all were unclasped, she pushed her hands into waist of the rough fabric, feeling her fingers burn on contact with the desired skin as she pushed the jeans down. She took all other garments with her, pulling off shoes and socks when she reached small feet. Tess could hear Nikki’s breathing, deep and ragged; yet she stopped herself from looking up at the body in front of her. Her desire was high already and she wanted this night to last. Pushing up quickly, Tess undid Nikki’s final item of clothing, her bra, then led her over to the bathtub. Nikki felt the increase in heat as she approached the steaming tub.

“You first.” Tess said, and held Nikki’s hand as the blonde climbed into the bath, getting a feel of her surroundings. Hyacinth was right, it was large and she realised that she could probably sit down in any direction and be able to stretch her legs out straight.

Tess climbed in behind her and moved to the side of the tub, leaning against the back as she too stretched out her legs. Naturally they came together, and Nikki moved in between the long legs, leaning back against the body behind. She felt soft breasts and hardened nipples flush against her back, and sighed at the increasingly arousing contact.

They lay together for some minutes, Tess behind the blonde, her hands around the slim waist, fingers clasped firmly together. She was holding off her desire to explore the body stretched out before her, already feeling liquid heat surge through her. She looked down at the smaller body, willing her fingers to keep still for the time being.

Nikki was first to break the silence, “Did you say something about sparkling wine?”

Tess blinked out of her haze, “Oh yeah.” She twisted slightly to the bottle and two already half filled glasses on the side. Picking one up she held it in front of the blonde and guided her hand towards the flute. “I know it is a little cliché but I guess I was just trying for romantic.”

Nikki accepted the glass and smiled, taking a sip of the sweet, fizzy liquid, “Well you are succeeding.”

Picking up her own glass, she took a drink, “Thank you…you don’t watch enough sappy romantic films as a child without learning a thing or two.”

“You watched romantic movies?” Nikki asked with an amused frown.

“No my mum did, and I used to get lumbered with watching them as well.”

“Ah yeah, just like I used to get lumbered with watching history documentaries with my dad…he said it would benefit me. Personally I think he just wanted some company…but I tell you this, you name any event in history and I bet I can tell you when it happened. For some reasons I seemed to have a memory for dates and things, probably due to over exposing to the history channel.”

Tess chuckled, “The history channel would have been more entertaining than all that romantic rubbish I am sure.”

Nikki arched her brows, “Oh so now it is rubbish!”

The photographer took another drink, and then put down her glass, “Watching that crap yes…being here with you…absolutely not.”

“Uh hmm.” Nikki sighed deeply, sinking into the taller woman’s embrace. Draining the last of her glass, she passed it back to Tess who placed it by her own.

There was a sudden and comfortable silence, broken only by the rustling of branches as they moved about in the wind outside. Looking out the window, Tess could make out snow falling once again, the white flakes shining in the moonlight, and gentle beam of a distant security light.

Laying her head back onto the rim of the tub, Tess closed her eyes and concentrated on only thought and feelings. Almost independently her fingers began to move, making small lazy circles on the blondes stomach. She felt her body temperature rise, making her feel light headed but still fully conscious of her surroundings.

Sensing the sudden increase in the brunettes’ desire, Nikki right hand came up and lay onto of Tess’s, as her left travelled down the firm thigh against her own. She explored the soft flesh, slowly running up and down the contours of Tess’s leg, delighting in the sinewy mouldings. Her other hand, lying limply on top of the larger one, followed Tess’s uncertain movements. The hand moved over hot skin, up along ribs but stopping before reaching the breasts and moving back down again and over her stomach.

“Tess?” Nikki asked desperately, her voice an octave deeper.

The photographer opened her eyes and looked down along the body in front, taking in the soft pink flush of aroused flesh. “Hmm?”

Feeling self-conscious about voicing her desires but needing a more intimate touch, Nikki hesitated only briefly before pulling the hand underneath her own, up to cover her breast. She sighed as the hand cupped the soft mound, then gasped as her nipple was captured between finger and thumb. Tess groaned as the nipple hardened under her touch, and the aching desire within her increased.

Nikki’s head fell back, moving to the side and tilting so she was facing the brunette. Tess looked down into glazed blue eyes, and bent her head, capturing the blondes’ lips with her own. The kiss was long and deep, increasingly passionate and broken only by sporadic gasps as Tess’s other hand covered the smaller woman’s neglected breast. Moving slowly against each other their kisses persisted for some minutes, hands gently exploring exposed warm flesh.

Feeling an intense need for air Tess pulled away, her breathing ragged and shallow. Mounting desire burned within, and the need to feel more of Nikki overpowered her senses. She pushed herself to a sitting position; forcing the blonde to do the same, “Turn around.” She stated in a breathless whisper.

With slight trepidation Nikki did as requested, lifting herself slightly in order to face the brunette; she wrapped her shorter legs around Tess’s waist.

The larger woman looked down, “Are you ok?” She asked, running her hands over soaked skin.

“Yeah, but…I’m a little unsure of…well I want to…you know …please you, but what if I…”

“Shh.” Tess placed her finger on swollen lips, “Nikki I love you, you make me feel wonderful just by holding my hand; do you understand what I am getting at?”

She nodded, “I think so.”

Tess took both hands and placed them on her sides, “I am yours; all you have to do is touch me.” She smiled at the sudden surge of confidence in the blondes’ features. Lips merged again in escalating arousal, and Nikki moved her hands over Tess, investigating, perceiving and memorising every nuance of the larger body. Finding pliant breasts, the blonde couldn’t resist the craving to taste the soft flesh, and she pulled away from the kiss, capturing a rapidly swelling nipple in her mouth and moaning in delight.

Tess groaned and placed her hand on the back of Nikki’s head, assuring the contact, as her other hand moved down to pull them both into an intimate touch. They both gasped at the feel of hot, silken and swollen flesh connecting for the first time.

Nikki pulled away, wrapping her arms around Tess’s neck and leaning her forehead against the brunettes. An aching need was rapidly building inside of her, one so unfamiliar in its intensity.

They moved together, building speed as the water moved in waves around them, occasionally spilling over the side of the tub, onto the tiled floor below. Tess gripped the blonde firmly, moving her harder, feeling their swollen desires rub deliciously against one another. She was close.

Gripping firm shoulders Nikki sucked hard on the photographers’ neck, and then gasped pulling away as feelings of electricity, throbbing in intensity coiled within her. “Tess?” She groaned into the woman’s neck.

Tess whimpered, “Just…let go.” She growled, every nerve alive and beginning to spiral out of control.

Nikki cried out as it began, her orgasm shooting through her, limbs taught, and body trembling with release.

“Oh…God.” Tess shouted as her body succumbed to its ultimate pleasure, overpowering her senses and leaving her helpless in its onslaught.

They rode out the waves together, milking their release and prolonging the sensations for as long as possible, until both women went limp in each other’s arms. They sat leaning against each other, after shocks still rolling through both bodies; heavy breathing filled the air. It was minutes before either woman moved away, both too content to stay in the comfort of each other’s arms. Tess pulled away slightly, placing tiny kisses on Nikki’s forehead, eyes, nose, chin, and then finally her lips. “You ok?” She asked still breathless.

Nikki nodded.

“I take it that was a yes?”

She nodded again, still breathing heavily.

Tess smirked, “You not talking to me now?”

The blonde grinned before clearing her throat, “I wasn’t sure I still had my…voice.”

“Sounds fine to me…beautiful in fact.”

“Good.” Nikki blushed, “I um…I have never…um…wow.” She whispered.

Tess chuckled and pushed her hands through the blonde hair, noticing how it appeared more golden when wet. “Uh huh.”

“When can we do that again?” She asked shyly.

A toothy smile spread across the photographers face, as desire reasserted its self. Looking down and seeing Nikki’s legs still firmly wrapped around her waist, she pushed herself up to a standing position. Water cascaded down both bodies, splashing into the tub below. “How long will it take us to get dried?”

Nikki leaned forward, pressing her lips against Tess’s collarbone and swiping her tongue along the protrusion, “The bed sheets are pretty absorbent.” She mumbled into the succulent neck.

Tess stepped out the bath, careful not to stand in the wet puddles they had created earlier, “I agree.” With Nikki firmly encased in her arms, Tess carried her to the bedroom, leaving a soppy wet trail of footprints along the hallway carpet as she did so. Entering the room, Tess kicked the door firmly shut after ordering one golden mutt out of the room. Nikki smiled as she heard the answering huff from the dog.

Placing her precious cargo on the bed, Tess lay beside the woman, “Strange that I don’t feel cold.” She stated absentmindedly, “I mean considering we are pretty much still wet.”

“Maybe we are keeping each other warm.” Nikki remarked, her fingers finding Tess as they sunk into dark silken locks. “And you are right, because I for one know that I’m still very wet.” Shocked at her unexpected admission, Nikki fell silent, a coy grin on her lips.

Tess couldn’t help but chuckle silently at the remark, “Well far be it from me not to take care of my lovers needs.” She growled and rolled on top of Nikki attaching her lips to a succulent neck…much to the blondes delight.

“And what are you planning on doing?” She asked breathlessly.

“I plan on spending the rest of this evening fulfilling your every whim and desire.”

Nikki gasped as a nipple was captured in the brunettes’ mouth, “I have…a lot of whims that need…Oh…satisfying.”

Tess pulled away, “I hope so.” She replied and then returned to her pleasurable task.
Part 11
It’s half past five in the bloody morning, Tess thought as she lifted her head, looking at the digital clock on the side. With a sigh her head fell back to the pillow and she closed her eyes willing sleep to return. She and Nikki had spent the night and early hours of the morning together, not even conscious of when mother and sister had returned home. Tess smiled and opened her eyes, thinking back to the earlier hours. Three hours sleep, that was all she had been able to get, at least Nikki is still out of it. Tess grinned realising it must have been the first time that she had woken up before the blonde.

She looked down at the woman spooned against her, their warm flesh melding together, and sighed. Last night Tess had realised that she had been Nikki’s first lover, and although that didn’t surprise her, she was definitely humbled. Wrapping her arm around the woman in front, Tess pulled her in closer and kissed the exposed shoulder.

“How am I supposed to get any sleep when you keep fidgeting and sighing like that?”

Tess rolled her eyes and snickered, “And here was I thinking you were still fast asleep.”

“Nope…could do with a few more hours though, I am still really tired.”

“Me to.” She smiled then yawned, “So anyway…Happy Christmas…Birthday girl”

Nikki rolled onto her back, “Happy Christmas to you too.”

“Are you excited…isn’t today some big day for you?”

The blonde snorted, “Not really…I am now twenty four and have a suddenly large bank account…well I have to sign a few documents in a few days but you get me.”

“Yeah…well this is for you.” Tess leaned down and kissed soft lips, “Twenty-four huh? You will be catching me up soon.”

“Tess you will always be a whole two and a half years older than me.”

“Yeah, yeah…quit the quibbling.” Tess sighed again and placed her head on the blondes shoulder, closing her eyes. “I need more sleep.”

Nikki yawned, “Me too.”

Within ten minutes both women were once again fast asleep.

*******

Lisa stood in the kitchen wondering why Leto was looking at her in such a strange manner. She sat by her bowl, exchanging looks between the teen, her bowl and the kettle. Every now and then she would nudge the bowl with her muzzle and look back to Lisa with near desperation. The girl thought that maybe Leto needed a drink so filled her bowl with water from the tap. She placed the bowl back down where the golden dog took one sniff of the beverage and snorted in disgust.

“I think she wants her tea.” Hyacinth said as she entered the kitchen.

Lisa looked up surprised, “Really…she wants tea?” She looked down at the dog, “Sorry Leto, so do you want some tea?”

The dog barked uncontrollably finally glad that she and the girl were on the same wavelength. Lisa filled the kettle and plugged it in with a smile. “Are Tess and Nikki up yet?”

Hyacinth laughed, “Oh I doubt it, it’s a wonder you and I are up so early considering that in one way or another, none of us managed to get much sleep last night.”

Lisa giggled, “Yeah, I wanted to go and wake Nikki up because we always used to get up around six Christmas day, but I dared not go in there for fear of what I would find. It was bad enough that when I went into the bathroom last night I skidded from the doorway to the sink on slippery tiles.” She smiled, “I kind of feel like I am intruding a little you know?”

The older woman nodded, “Yes but I know Tess wouldn’t have it any other way, just as much as I am sure Nikki wouldn’t either.”

“Nikki likes to be alone at times, but she is much happier with others present.”

Hyacinth went to the cupboard and pulled out the necessities for making breakfast, “What time is your father getting here?”

The teen shrugged, “I bet some time between eleven and twelve, being the Lord Mayor, he as to be present at the Christmas Morning mass at church.” She pulled a face.

“I take it you are not a fan?” She smiled.

“Neither is my dad or Nikki, we just had to make appearances like it is some civic duty.”

“I guess that is what comes with being the Lord Mayor.” Hyacinth looked at her watch, “Hmm, half past seven, it is rather early still…how about we start cooking some breakfast and see whether we can entice those two down with aromatic delights?”

“Can we make some more of your croissants? They were lovely.”

Hyacinth opened the fridge; “Well I do have a little time before I begin dinner…so I’ll start the baking if you grind the coffee beans.”

*******

It was Leto’s barking that finally pulled the two sleeping women from their much-needed rest. Tess groaned as she puller head from the blondes shoulder and let it fall back onto the pillows. She checked the clock again, half seven…well I suppose that is an extra hours or so sleep. Propping hands behind her head, Tess gazed up at the ceiling.

“So how long have you been awake for this time?”

Nikki chuckled, “How did you know I was awake?”

“Because you always are.”

Rolling onto her side, Nikki popped her head up on her left hand, “Not long really, I was just thinking about things.” Her hand reached out and found purchase of Tess’s arms, where it slid down to clasp the larger hand. “I would usually be up by now…if I were at home. Lisa would have dived into my room about two hours ago, claiming that she had just seen Santa fly past her window in excitement, and claim that it was time to get up.”

Tess smirked, “She has been told the truth about the jolly old guy right…I mean I’m not going to go down there and say something insensitive that will kill her hopes and dreams for the season?”

A light laugh, “Yeah I am pretty sure she knows the truth, I had to explain a few things to her years ago now. She came running up to my bedroom in hysterics on Christmas eve claiming that she had just discovered Santa’s secret identity…our father!”

There was a deep chuckle, “How so?”

“They thought it would be fun at the council offices if they could get one of the counsellors to dress as Father Christmas for some party, and my dad got the job. He was driven home a little worse for ware and sill in costume, Lisa had snuck down to see who was at the door when she came across the sight.” The blonde smiled, “She came to me asking that if he was Santa, would that mean we were elves…because none of us are overly tall, obviously. It was a pretty distraught time for her, but she got over it well enough.”

“What, with her sisters loving guidance?”

“No she got her first bicycle that year, kind of lessened the blow.” Nikki laughed.

Rolling onto her side so she was facing the blonde, Tess used her free hand to move Nikki’s unruly blonde locks from her eyes, “So, want to go down and get this day started, I do have a little present down there for you.”

“I can think of something you could give me up here.” She waggled her eyebrows suggestively.

Tess gasped, “Nicole Morris are you trying to corrupt me…today of all days?”

“Nope just make it a little more interesting.”

“Well however tempting that offer may be, we have people waiting on us and before somebody decides to come and route us out…I think we better get down there.”

The blonde sighed dramatically, “Suppose so.” She lifted to a sitting position, “I think I better get some clothes on though, don’t want to go down looking like this…actually I think it is best if we have a shower before we go down! Care to join me?”

“You wont give in will you!”

She grinned lasciviously, “Not as long as there is breath in my body and a very tasty woman by my side…no way, I’m not a fool.”

Forcing forced air through pursed lips Tess rolled onto her back, “Do I have any choice or say in the matter myself?” She whined with faux sincerity.

With a demure smile, Nikki let the cover fall from her body and turn to straddle the brunette, “Of course you have a choice.”

Tess looked up at the body before her, “Shower.” She stated and pulled herself up, Nikki still in her arms as she made her way to the en-suite cubical.

*******

Typical, as it so often was with British weather that rain had started not long after midnight. It fell as a light drizzle throughout the darkest hours and successfully cleared all the snow by early morning.

Tess stared out her bedroom window overlooking the forest. The beautiful sights of snow covered branches and frosted trees tops had disappeared leaving a naked mass of sodden wood. Ok Tess admitted, it looked much better than that, but she was immensely disappointed that it had snowed all through the run up to Christmas, but on the actual day, it had all but disappeared. All that remained were the odd patches of grey slush, mixed with dead leaves. A less than visually pleasing sight from what she had been hoping for.

Pushing hands into her pockets, the photographer smiled. Still it wasn’t that bad, as she had decided that today would be the beginning of the rest of her life…Nikki’s as well she hoped. A lot had happened, in such a small amount of time, and in a way the woman saw it as a test of their commitment to one another. She hoped that being here together now, meant that they had passed, she also hoped things would be better from now on. Yes Rosalind had made some attempt at an intimidating threat, but Tess hoped that Richard could, if nothing else calm the woman down. Make her see the futility of any actions she tried to undertake.

A slight creaking brought Tess out of her reverie and she turned to see Nikki emerging from the bathroom. Her hair just towel dried, it looked more like she had neatened it out with her hands than tried to do anything specific.

“Interesting look…what statement are you going for with that?”

Nikki thought, “If you are talking about my hair, it is the can’t be arsed to bother look, and if you are talking about the clothes…well these are what you mother brought for me the other day.”

Tess nodded taking in the tight cream trousers and light blue shirt that matched her eye colour, “It certainly isn’t something I would have expected mum to pick that’s for sure.”

“Well she was working with the shop assistant. Deb her name was, she had both her nipples pierced!”

There was a sudden laugh, “How do you know that…and do I want to know?”

“Your mother took quite an interest in the amount of facial piercings she had, you could hear some of them jingling, and asked her what other parts of her body had she ‘mutilated’!”

“Figures…and?”

“Lets just say she had rings and bolts through places I didn’t even knew existed.” Nikki walked towards Tess, stopping when she felt the close proximity of her presence. “So, do you think we should get down stairs now, what time is it?”

“Just gone half past eight.”

“Yep sounds like it’s time to make an appearance.” Taking the larger hand within her own, Nikki lead Tess out of the bedroom.

*******

They arrived downstairs to find Hyacinth at the oven and Lisa peeling potatoes with a happy grin. It was then and there that Tess declared that anyone who seemed to enjoy cooking in any shape or form must have a screw loose. Lisa retorted, stating that lack of sleep could be the cause to loosening of mental screws, so in fact it was both she and Nikki’s fault. Tess was surprised into silence, and Hyacinth re-emerged from the oven with a laugh, and patted the teen on her back for flummoxing her daughter. Apparently it was a feat not often achieved.

Nikki decided to help with the food preparation, and Lisa gave her a knife asking her to cut the potatoes. Tess was a little taken aback by this and watched on cautiously as Nikki picked up the sharp instrument and began. The photographer was surprised as she watched the blonde handle the object with careful yet practised ease, cutting up the vegetables with neat accuracy. Nikki informed Tess that James had taught her how to use a knife with efficiency at times when her parents were away at whatever official function or gathering they were expected to attend at the time.

Tess sat atop the kitchen table munching on a croissant and watching the other women work. “I want to know when we get to open the presents.” She was getting too excited about the prospect of giving Nikki hers, and just hoped she liked it. Not having anybody to bounce the idea off left her with a slight feeling of uncertainty.

Hyacinth shook her head as she put down the oven gloves, “When Richard gets here is when…now don’t just sit there, this is your house and we are not your slaves…you could do something to help us out.”

“I will do anything that doesn’t involve cooking or food preparation of any kind, and if you all want to eat an edible dinner today you will be wise to remember that.”

“Fine.” The older woman said, “Make yourself useful and go and set the table in the dining room, and make sure it is neat and tidy, I know you don’t use that room much…I am surprised there are no cobwebs in there.”

Tess slid off the table, “There were but I hovered them up when I heard you were coming.” Tess grabbed the necessary items and disappeared from the kitchen before her mother could reply.

*******

Once dinner was prepared and everything was set, the four women retired to the front room. It had passed eleven and they were expecting Richard to arrive very soon. Hyacinth sat on a single chair, Lisa on the sofa with Nikki on the other side and Tess on the floor by her feet, a reassuring hand in hers. They flicked through the mid morning offerings of entertainment on the TV, not impressed with anything they found. Hyacinth and Lisa chatted amiably with each other, while Tess chose to stay quiet, mirroring Nikki, who at that moment was deep in reflection.

Thinking of her father, Nikki was feeling a little nervous, Lisa too she was sure, the teen always got overly chatty when she was anxious. Neither sister had heard word from him since they had seen him the day before yesterday; he hadn’t even called Christmas Eve. And as a result, they had no idea as to what had gone on between him and their mother. Nikki smiled wryly to herself, should she even call Rosalind ‘mother’ anymore. The woman had clearly stated she wanted noting to do with her…and the reason for all this change? Nikki held the larger hand in hers. Tess wasn’t the cause, she may have been the catalyst; but what happened had to happen, was going to happen, with that she was certain and it had only been a matter of time.

All her life the blonde had been trapped within the confines of her mothers overbearing and in some way uncaring nature. It had become almost natural, like a way of life, and she hadn’t felt the need for a means of escape until Tess. So unexpectedly the brunette had turned up, had befriended her, intrigued her and from the get-go…captured her heart. There was little doubt in her mind about her place in this world, because she knew that as long as it was beside this woman’s side she would be content.

Tess looked up at the sound of a deep sigh; she spotted the slight smile of Nikki’s face, “What are you thinking?”

The blonde shrugged, “Nothing much, just random thoughts.”

“Happy ones?”

“Of course.”

The easy mood was interrupted with the sound of the doorbell, and Lisa jumped up with an excited shriek, knowing whom it would be. She made a mad dash to the front door, Tess following behind. Lisa was the first there and opened up, immediately diving into her fathers’ arms.

The Mayor staggered back slightly “Well I am glad you are pleased to see me…I hope you will be happy to see whom I brought with me.”

Tess smiled at the man in welcome, as Lisa pulled away half expecting it would be her mother, but standing behind the small man was James Abbot. Lisa shrieked again and quickly hugged the butler. “I can’t believe you’re here too.”

“Seems I was at a sudden loss for Christmas, and Mr Morris asked me to accompany him…I think he knew you would be pleased to see me…I just hope it will be ok with everyone else.” He looked towards Tess.

“Of course it will be,” Tess offered, moving out of the doorway to let the men out of the drizzling rain, “We made enough food to feed ‘The Five Thousand’…come in before you get soaked.”

“We?” Hyacinth asked approaching the hallway as her daughter shut the front door. “Where did all this we come from?”

“You know what I mean.” Tess pouted.

“Uh huh.” She looked towards the Mayor, “Nice to see you Richard, how are you?”

He shrugged, “As well as can be expected under the circumstances.”

Nikki appeared in the doorway, “What does that mean?”

“Oh none of that now, I will explain later.” Richard said as he engulfed his daughter in a hug. “Happy Birthday sweetheart.”

“So am I going to get introduced?” Hyacinth asked looking at the ‘dashing’ man with Richard.

Lisa was the first to speak, “Cinthy meet James Abbot our butler, James this is Hyacinth Alexander…Tess’s mother.”

They shook hands and smiled warmly at each other, neither Lisa nor Tess missed the looks that passed between them.

*******

Not long after arriving, Richard had asked for a moment alone with his daughters, needing time to speak with them. So while Tess, Hyacinth and James had disappeared into the kitchen, Richard took his two daughters into the front room.

Nikki and Lisa sat beside each other on the sofa and Richard opposite them, he wondered how to handle this discussion. What was he to say, and how to word it, realising that he wished he’d practiced what to say before hand. Maybe his wife was right, he was spineless…shaking his head, Richard released those thoughts from his mind, they were fruitless now. Looking over at his waiting daughters the Mayor took in the twin looks of apprehension, and cursed the fact that such things had happened at this time of year.

Unable to take the quiet anymore Nikki was the first to speak, she hesitated briefly wondering what to say. “Um…what’s going to happen dad?”

“Yeah.” Lisa squirmed in her seat, “What happened with mum?”

Richard looked briefly at his daughters before looking down, “Well.” He raised his head again, “She err…she’s left for the moment.”

“Left?” It was said in unison.

“Yes, gone to her brothers over the holidays.”

Lisa frowned, “Why?”

“I think she just needs time to think sweetheart.” Though inside he was sure it was more serious than that, “I know you hoped she would have come around by now and have accompanied me today, but it seems she needs time away to think.”

“What did she say when we left?” The teen asked.

The Mayor sighed, “Well she didn’t say anything to me that evening, refused to speak with me in fact. But yesterday she was in a little more of a talkative mood.” He was understating the situation and knew it too. Rosalind had been more than a little ready to talk and for hours she did nothing else, in a not too quiet voice either.

Lisa looked at him with hopeful eyes, “What did she say?”

He sighed, “Well…” He thought of how to best word things, “She said that she wasn’t happy with the choices Nicole had made, and stated that she would never be able to accept them.” That was as tactful as he could put it.

“That was it?”

“Well she thinks that Tess is only interested in you Nicole, because of your standing and impending…well not so impending anymore I guess, wealth. I am sorry, but she just doesn’t seem to be able to see past her own, I am sorry to say…narrow minded thinking.”

“So she left?” Lisa asked again, feeling the need to clarify what her father was saying.

“Not left…just went away for a couple of days in order to think things over. She will be back, I am sure.” But he wasn’t.

Up until that moment Nikki had been relatively quiet, but she suddenly spoke, “It’s my fault.”

“What do you mean sweetheart?” Richard frowned.

“Mother left you and it is my fault.”

The small man shook his head, “No…absolutely not, it isn’t your fault. Look like I told you before, things weren’t perfect between your mother and I for a long time, I guess we reached the end of our tethers. Maybe they needed to, because the way things are going, and as sad as this may sound, I am feeling a hell of a lot better about this.”

“You are glad she has left?” The blonde asked.

“No…not glad, not at all.” He sighed, “How can I put this…things were coming to a head, and one way or another I think the results would have been the same. I will admit that I have no idea what is to happen now, but I don’t think I can forgive her for what she tried to do.”

“You mean with that guy at the shopping centre…he must have been following us for some time.”

“I don’t know what she was thinking; how she could have even considered such an act.”

“Is she sorry?” Lisa asked.

Richard smiled at his youngest daughter, “I am sure she is now sweetheart, knowing what could have happened…if anything, I am sure of that.”

The teen nodded, “I think so too.”

Pushing himself to his feet the man walked over to his daughters and situated his small frame in between them. He put an arm around both shoulders, “Now listen to me ok?”

“Ok.” Nikki replied.

Lisa nodded.

“Trust me when I say that things will work themselves out in the end, and this is not to spoil the day. Everything will be fine.” He hoped it was true, “Ok?”

“Uh huh.”

“Yep.”

“Good.” He pulled both daughters in and placed a kiss on each head.

Nikki moved away slightly, “Dad?”

“Yes?”

“How are my horses?” She asked with a smile.

“Ah, you will be pleased to know both Thunder and Jenna are doing great. I got up very early this morning, and cleaned them out, gave them fresh food, water and blankets. I even gave them some exercise in the fields being as though all the snow had gone. They are fine.”

“Good, I miss them.”

He smiled, “I bet they miss you too. Why don’t you come up to the house for the day tomorrow, Tess and Hyacinth as well and you can spend some time with them.” He frowned, “Have you made any decisions about the stables and surrounding land you were considering buying?”

“I have the means now.” Nikki answered, “I did think I would have more time to think about it, but it is a great spot so I think I will go ahead with the purchase, just as soon as it is made available.”

“What about the house situated in its boundaries?”

Nikki shrugged, “I think I will have to talk with Tess first, I have no idea what I am going to do about that…but it is close to the stables, the area is easy to navigate and I would love to live there. The only problem is what Tess is going to say about it.”

“You haven’t mentioned it?”

“What was I supposed to say, ‘oh and by the way, would you consider moving out of your home and coming to live with me in the country’?”

Richard chuckled, “Well not exactly like that, but you must talk to her about this, Thunder and Jenna will be proud parents soon, and it would be a good idea to get them comfortable in their new home as soon as possible.”

The blonde nodded, “Ok…then I guess I shall ask her later, maybe tonight.”

“Good idea.” Richard rose to his feet once again, “So shall we join Tess, Hyacinth and James before they start to think I have whisked you both away?” Putting an arm around both daughters he led them out of the living room.

*******

Father and daughters returned to the kitchen to find Hyacinth and James talking at the table. Tess had nipped up stairs, so while Richard filled Hyacinth in on recent events, Nikki went up stairs to find her lover.

Tess looked up from her task of pushing three large and one small, wrapping covered box’s out of the dark room. She joined Nikki at the banister, where the blonde told her about the talk with her father.

“How do you feel?” The photographer asked.

Nikki pursed her lips, “I don’t know, happy that my dad is ok I guess, like he said, things will right themselves in the end and this isn’t to spoil the day.”

“I’m glad.” Tess looked over to the boxes, “So I don’t suppose you want to help me carry these boxes down stairs huh?”

“What are they?”

A mischievous smile, “Ah ha, that would be telling.”

“Well being as though I would probably fall flat on my face, I think I will let you do it on the pretence of being sulky that you wont tell me what they are.” She frowned, “Or is that the other way around…anyway I’ll go back down and see how the others are.”

“Ok.” Tess grinned, “Will you make me a drink while you are in the kitchen?”

Nikki forced a sigh, “Well I suppose if I have no other choice.”

“Not unless you want me to dehydrate from all this heavy lifting and exertion I’m doing.”

The smaller woman shook her head as she headed back down the stairs, “Fine, but only because I am just too kind for my own good.”

*******

Presents had started their rounds not long after everyone had moved into the living room. It took an hour for everything to be given out, ending when there were just two remaining Nikki’s to Tess and vise versa.

Nikki sat in front of a large size box, and beside that stood two more boxes; all were of a similar size. Sitting just on top of the largest container laid a long thin box, and it was that she picked up first.

“All of these are for me?” She asked Tess.

The photographer fidgeted as she sat down next to the blonde, holding the photo frame Richard had given her for the picture of Nikki and herself taken at the Charity Function, “Yep, it is kind of a birthday/Christmas present, all one thing, but I had to wrap them separately.”

Lisa who was sitting on the floor by her fathers feet leaned forward, “Oh come on Nikki, don’t keep us waiting, she didn’t tell anybody what she got you and I am dying to find out.”

“Ok…ok.” She slid her fingers through a break in the wrapping and pulled the paper off.

Every one watched wondering what was inside, but when the paper was removed there was just a dark brown box. Feeling around the edges, Nikki found the flap and opened the long lid, finding the object inside. It felt slightly familiar.

She frowned, “Dad has one of these…a keyboard?”

Richard lifted of his chair slightly to look in the box, “A computer keyboard?”

Nikki’s face was a mix of confusion and surprise, “You brought me a computer?”

Tess sucked in her bottom lip nervously, “Well yes…but it is a different kind of computer. Feel the keys.”

Doing as asked the blondes face lit up, “Braille!”

The photographer nodded, “Uh huh. It comes complete with audio activated software. I mean you have to input all data on the keyboard, but it can follow vocal directives as well. I though you could use it for when you write and or you know…when you start your stud farm, you would be able use the computer. It comes with business packages and it all can be controlled by specific voice commands.” Tess bit her lip, “There is a printer as well, and it prints with ink, Braille or both at the same time.”

The room was quiet and Tess looked around at the mass of shocked faces. She turned to Nikki with uncertainty, “Do…you like it?”

Fingers absently flowing over the dotted keys, Nikki was at a loss for what to say, “I…I don’t…”

The brunettes face dropped, “You don’t like it.”

Nikki was quick to jump in, “NO…I love it, it’s fantastic…I am just so surprised, I…um…” Placing the keyboard on the floor, she turned around, and finding Tess, pulled her into a loving embrace. “It’s wonderful.” She whispered, “The best present ever…I love you.”

Smiling into Nikki’s neck, the photographers kissed the soft skin discreetly, “I’m glad.” She whispered back.

Pulling away Nikki reached down and picked up the box for Tess that was sitting by her feet. “This is for you…your kind of hard to get for, and not having the best of opportunities, I had to improvise a little, but I hope you like it.” She handed the box over.

Looking down at the wrapped package the tall woman began pulling off the paper. Lisa and Richard both knew what was inside, as Nikki had informed her father before hand. It was an item that belonged to his father after all. The Mayor was fine about Nikki giving it to Tess, and couldn’t wait to see the expression on the woman’s face when she removed the wrapping.

Once the paper was removed, Tess looked down at the leather box as her eyes began to take in the form. She opened it up and her mouth literally dropped, “Oh my god…this is…it’s a…a Wilkin-Welsh!”

Hyacinth moved from her place beside James to get a better look at the camera, “Oh my!”

Tess looked up at Nikki then back down at the camera, her fingers moving over the pleated bellows. “This is antique…and so rare…it’s beautiful!”

The blondes smile was blinding, “I hoped you would like it.”

Eyes wide Tess looked up at her lover, “Like it…I love it, this is so amazing. I have only ever seem a picture of one in a book before, I never thought I would get to see and hold one…”

“Own one.” The blonde corrected.

Tess shook her head, “This is just amazing.”

“It works too.” Richard stated.

“Really?” She asked.

“Well so we were told, that has never been tested. Still I am sure you will know how to work it.”

The photographer smiled, “Yes, but I think I would be afraid to use it…it’s in such brilliant condition…I dare not even leave a finger print.”

Nikki laughed, “Well it’s entirely up to you I guess…it’s yours after all.”

Tess placed the antique camera on the coffee table beside her and stood up, “Nikki could you come with me a moment please, I need to ask your opinion on something.” Her voice was calm and even.

The blonde nodded, “Um…sure.” She got up and followed Tess out the room, careful of the boxes lying by her feet.

The remaining occupants of the room watched them leave with varying degrees of intrigue. “Wonder what that was about.” Lisa said.

James Abbot twisted slightly in his chair, “Miss Tess probably needed help with something.” He looked towards the woman sitting beside him, “So Hyacinth, Lisa tells me you now live in Cornwall, which part?”

*******

Tess led Nikki into the kitchen, finding a drooling Leto sitting beside the oven; the appliance was emitting aromas she had never smelt before. Especially in this house, Tess wasn’t the most diligent of cooks. Nikki stopped by the door, with a frown, “What is it Tess?”

“This.” Tess reached out placing her hand on the blondes’ cheek and gently moved forward to make clear her intent. She didn’t just want to grab the woman and kiss her, though that is exactly what she desired to do. The kiss was firm and rapidly deepening as the photographer tried to show Nikki just how much that gift meant to her. Eventually she pulled away, “Just in case you didn’t get it…that was a thank you.”

“Is that what it was?” Nikki asked breathlessly, “I think I could get used to that.” There was an impish grin; “You know I made you that drink earlier!”

Tess smirked as she leaned down and kissed the blonde, “Thank you.”

Nikki searched her mind in thought, “I let you use the remains of my favourite apple scented shampoo.”

A Kiss, “Thank you.”

“I didn’t moan when you were cutting your finger nails, and that one flew off and hit me in the face.”

“Hey that was an accident, and I did say sorry!”

“I know, I know…give me a break I am grasping here ok!”

The photographer chuckled and sealed her lips once again with the blondes. “Is that it?”

“For the moment.” Nikki replied, “But I am going to enjoy being at your beckon call from now on. I like the rewards.”

*******

For the six people in the house, the remainder of the day seemed to pass much too quickly. The dinner was perfect and the two men praised the women’s triumphant success. However Tess was quick to point out that she unfortunately had nothing to do with the culinary delights, and if so, she was positive their responses would have been much different.

Being banished from the dining room, Leto sat by the door watching the humans with a great deal of envy. Still the golden dog was happy, when she was given the leftovers at the end of the meal.

The afternoon saw them congregating in the living room, all talking apart in rather animated conversations, apart from Lisa who wanted to watch the Christmas day movie, and was happy that nobody else minded. Tess watched covertly as her mother conversed with James Abbot, clearly spotting the veiled looks that were being dished out both ways. She looked towards Richard and spotted the amused grin he wore, and realised he had noticed as well. Choosing to ignore it, as she didn’t know what to think Tess decided she would question her mother about it at a later date.

Late into the evening, when Richard and James had left for home, including Lisa who decided to go home with her father, Tess and Nikki sat in their bedroom. The photographer on the floor and Nikki cross-legged on the bed, they were both reading through the mass of booklets that came with Nikki’s new computer.

A medium size box of chocolates sat beside the blonde, half empty as she munched through them while reading. Tess had joked that she had better not smudge chocolate into the pages of the instruction booklet, to which Nikki replied that as long as she could feel the bumps on the pages she didn’t care what it looked like.

It was half an hour or so later before Tess lightly chucked the book that she was reading onto the floor. Closing her eyes, she massaged her temple with a groan.

“What’s wrong?”

The photographer sighed, “Too much reading and thinking at the same time…I must not be used to it.” She joked

“I have the cure for that.”

“Oh do tell.”

“Chocolate.”

“Huh?”

“It is the feel good cure for everything.” Nikki took another out the box and held it in Tess’s general direction, “Come on.”

“Ok.” Tess rolled onto her knees and shuffled towards her. Leaning forward she took a small bite into the tasty offering, making sure to brush her lips and tongue against Nikki’s fingers as she did so. “Hmmm…I see what you mean.”

“Uh huh.” The smaller woman answered feeling her temperature rise several degrees…and counting.

With a wicked smirk, and knowing how her actions were affecting Nikki she grabbed the hand and ate the remaining half, sucking the blondes fingers as she did so, “Don’t want to leave any chocolate smudges.”

Nikki shook her head, “Uh ugh.”

Still holding the hand, Tess trailed kisses up the small arm, and then cupped Nikki’s face, informing her of where her lips were about to travel next. Nikki leaned forwards and waited until their lips connected, in a deepening kiss that lasted endless minutes. When eventually they pulled back the blonde smiled, “Hmm, chocolate kisses…I like.”

Tess pouted, “You like them better than my chocolate free ones?”

“No way…as long as you are on the end of these.” She reached up, moving her sensitive fingers over the swollen lips, “Then I don’t care one way or the other.”

“I can live with that.” Tess moved from the floor and climbed onto the bed beside her lover. She crossed her legs, mirroring the blondes’ position and thought for a while. “You know…my mum seemed awfully comfortable with James today.”

“How do you mean?”

The brunette shrugged, “Just that they looked comfortable together…a little too comfortable. They kept giving each other coy looks when one thought the other wasn’t watching.”

Blondes’ brows arched over blue eyes, “You mean they seem to like each other…in that way?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

Tess sighed, “No, not a bad thing, and I may be reading too much into all this but I noticed and it made me think. Ok, to be honest I guess I felt a little uncomfortable by it all and I know that’s irrational. I mean my dad has been dead for some years now, and mum does live down south all by her own, maybe she does get a little lonely at times.” She sighed again, “I don’t know, I guess when it comes to parents you don’t really want to think about that kind of thing…relationships and such.” She smiled, “I am quite happy thinking I was an immaculate conception.”

Nikki laughed and uncrossed her legs rolling onto her back and crossing her arms behind her head, “I think I can understand what you mean, but she is human, and a woman alone, maybe she does want some company at times…and besides I could think of nobody better than James if she wishes to spend time with him, but I am bias.”

Following suit, Tess uncoiled her legs but rolled onto her stomach, chin in her hands, “Guess so…James is cool…as long as he stops calling me ‘Miss Tess’.”

A light laugh, “It’s the way he has always been, I’ve tried to get him to call me Nikki occasionally but he said that as long as he was in my families employment he couldn’t…I guess it makes sense him thinking like that, his father was the same.”

“Hmm.” Tess reached over and picked out another chocolate from Nikki’s box. As she bit into the treat, she immediately regretted it as she realised it’s inner content. “Ugh…orange!” Grimacing she held her breath as she forcefully swallowed the chocolate.

“Not a favourite?” The blonde asked grinning.

“How did you guess.” Tess replied in disgust.

“Well if you don’t like it.” Nikki opened her mouth, and Tess leaned over popping the remains of the chocolate inside. Nikki munch away happily.

Leaning over Tess kissed the flavoured lips; “So birthday girl, did you have a good day?”

“Wonderful day.”

“Are you officially twenty-four yet?”

“Half eight in the evening…so yep, about two hours now.”

There was silence as both women drifted in thought, and sudden nerves invaded the smaller woman’s mind. She thought of the farmland she had been thinking of buying for some months. Although she hadn’t considered living there before, now it was a possibility. Still there was Tess to think about. However much she wanted to buy the land, if Tess didn’t want to move, she didn’t think she would either. And if push came to shove she would look for closer stables for Thunder and Jenna, even if that meant paying to house them in rented space. Getting them away from Rosalind’s house was her main concern; they were just too far away. The ideal land she required would come along eventually, and Nikki was patient.

Rolling onto her stomach, Nikki folded her arms out in front and placed her head on top, facing the photographer. “Tess?”

“Hmm?” She turned to look at the blonde, noticing the apprehensive expression on her face. “What is it Nik?”

She took in a deep breath, “Remember when I was talking about buying land, you know stables for my horses, enough room to start my stud farm?”

“Of course.”

“Well what I never actually said was there was a place that was offered to me for consideration.”

“Ok?”

“I told my dad about what I wanted to do some time ago and he said he would look into things for me, and find out what was out there in the way of land for purchase. Well a month or so ago, we were told about this piece of land that was coming up for sale. Twenty acres, stables with planning permission for more, bordering the national forest, small brick wall boundaries…”

“Sounds perfect.” Tess interrupted.

“…Well yes, but there is also a five bedroom farm house on the outskirts. It is about thirty miles away from here.”

“A house?”

Nikki bit her lip and pushed up to a sitting position. Keeping her head lowered she continued speaking, “I haven’t been there yet, but I have been given first refusal, it isn’t coming on the market until the middle of January. I was told about it because the owners found out that I would be willing to pay the asking price. Apparently it is a beautiful place.”

“Nikki what are you trying to say?” Tess was a little confused.

Hearing the tone in the brunettes’ voice, Nikki wondered whether consideration was already too late. “I don’t know. Um…have you ever considered living out in the countryside, on a farm? I mean it was just a thought and if you don’t want to then I would forget about it.”

“Nikki…?”

“It is something I was considering, I mean if you don’t like the idea that would…be ok.” She frowned, “I could still buy the land and rent out the house, or offer it as housing to a site manager. The distance is the main problem with that idea though I guess. I just need to move Thunder and Jenna as soon as I can.”

Pushing herself up onto her knees, Tess cocked her head as she stared at the blonde, “Are you asking me whether I would consider moving to the countryside…with you…I mean…?”

There was silence as Nikki paused; wondered whether she was making a big mistake in even thinking Tess would consider such a sudden request. “If you don’t want to, then you don’t have to. I um…it was just a suggestion.”

“A suggestion…you and me, living in the country?”

“Um…it doesn’t matter.” Nikki felt her heart sink deep within her chest.

“NO…no, no, no are you serious? I mean of course you are.” Moving forward Tess sat in front of her lover, “Nik, I will admit that I have never been a true lover of the country side, but the idea of moving out there with you, the two of us alone, and with all that peace and quiet…it’s very appealing.”

“You like the idea?” She asked with uncertainty.

“Sounds wonderful.” Tess smiled, as she took in the look of disbelief on the blonde’s face. She leaned forward, taking a smaller hand within her own, “If you are asking me whether I would consider moving with you onto the farm, then without a doubt the answer would be yes. Nik, I know this is your dream to work with horses, I would never want to stand in your way, and if it involves moving then I would do it in a heartbeat. Even if it means I have to commute longer distances to work every day, I would do it.” She paused, “It wouldn’t involve me giving up work would it?”

“Absolutely not!” An excited smile was forming on Nikki’s face.

Lifting the hand, Tess kissed perceptive fingers one by one, “Then I think it is a wonderful idea.”

Rising to her knees, Nikki pulled Tess towards her until they were body to body, “Are you serious?”

“Absolutely.”

A thrill of excitement shot through the blonde and she leaned forward taking familiar lips in a passionate kiss. “Do you know how much I love you?”

“No, you may have to remind me of that every day.”

Nikki smirked, “If that’s what it takes…then that is what I will do.” They kissed again. “We are really going to do this aren’t we?” She said with a slight feeling of disbelief.

“You and me…building a life together…it sounds wonderful.” Tess wound her hands through golden hair.

“You know there was a time when I never thought I would find a way to gain my independence, and be able to live the life I wanted. It was hard you know, always having to rely on people, and in a way I always will have to I suppose. But I would never think about what I really wanted out of life, because I didn’t think it was worth even considering something that I could never have.”

“What is it that you wanted?” asked Tess.

“Just the normal things that I am sure everybody has. And now I have them…I have it all in you.”

Tess smiled and kissed the button nose, “And I have you.”

“So I guess I do get the happy ending I always wanted.”

Shaking her head, the photographers’ smile widened, “No…” She kissed the tempting lips once again, knowing she could never tire of the feelings the blonde produced within her, “No, this is just the beginning.” She stated with certainty as she gently pushed her lover to the cushioned surface of their bed.
The End?

Well there you go guys…so do you want to see Rosalind get her comeuppance once and for all, Jenna have her baby, our couple move into their new home, find out some hidden facts about Nikki’s blindness, see the return of Rosalind’s hired man from the shopping centre, Tess face the pressure of increasing fame, and make a big decision about her and Nikki’s future…and much more. Let me know because the sequel, imaginatively titled, ‘SNAP SHOTS PART 2‘ is well under way and I hope to be coming in the next couple of weeks.

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