England. February 1998.
Jack Farrell sat in the car and watched the rain beat a steady rhythm on the windshield of the Merc.
The cell phone startled him and it played the classical piece twice before he located it in the side pocket of the door and pushed the green button.
“Laurie?” came the female voice.
“No, it’s Jack. Who’s that?”
“It’s Joanna. Where is she?”
Jack looked towards the gate of the cemetery.
“She’s with Toni.”
Laura O`Donnell pulled the collar of her coat higher around her neck. She seemed oblivious to the rain sheeting down, soaking her hair and clothes. She pushed the red-gold hair out of her face, tears mingling with the rain streaking her face.
She read the words on the white stone before her.
Antonia Lawler. Born 1969. Died 1997. Rest in peace.
“It doesn’t tell the whole story, does it, Toni?” She bent and arranged the flowers she had just placed on the grave.
It had been seven months and two weeks.
“It’s hard, Toni. It’s hard staying here without you. They said it would get easier, but it doesn’t. Every day it hurts more.”
She was kneeling now, paying no heed to the water soaking through the expensive trousers she wore. A hand on her shoulder startled her.
“Laurie? Come on, you’re going to catch your death.” Jack felt the shoulder beneath his hand shrug.
Jack cringed at the pain he heard in the girl’s voice. “Joanna just rang; she needs you to sign some stuff.”
“Can’t father do it?”
“Obviously not; she said she needed you.”
Laura allowed the big man to help her to her feet. She looked down at the flowers, gamely standing straight against the rain’s torrent. “I miss her, Jack. I miss her so much it hurts.”
“I know, sweetheart.” He put a big arm across her shoulders and pulled her close. “Come on, let’s get out of this rain.”
He led her back to the car and they sat for a moment while she decided what to do.
“I need a drink,” she said. “We’ll go by the office, then I’m going to a bar. You can go home if you like.”
Jack started the engine and pulled into the flow of traffic. “You should go home and change.”
She gave him a small smile. “I know, but when have I ever done anything I should?”
Jack nodded and handed the cell `phone to Laura.
“Joanna? Laura. I’m on my way, but I won’t be staying. No. I don’t care. Rearrange it. Good. Goodbye.” Laura looked at the cell `phone in her hands. “She wasn’t happy.”
“No, she didn’t sound great when I spoke to her.”
“I’m going to talk to father.” She closed her eyes wearily. “I need a break.”
“That’s a good idea. You’ve been working too hard these last couple of months.” He glanced at the strained profile of the woman beside him, her head bowed, wet hair falling around her shoulders.
She picked up the `phone again. “Dad? Yes, it is. Are you busy? Well, I need a favour, can you go to the office and put your signature to some papers? No, nothing’s wrong, I’m a little tired and I want to go home.” She shot a glance at Jack, who gave her a disapproving look. “That’s great, thanks. And Dad, can you manage without me for a couple of weeks? Yes? Wonderful. I’ll try, can’t promise, and give Mum my love. OK, bye.”
“Home then?” Jack said, knowing the answer already.
“No, I want to go to the club.”
Jack nodded and drove on, knowing that nothing he could say would change his boss’s mind.
Laura took her drink to one of the booths that occupied one wall of the dimly lit club.
There were only a handful of other customers in the bar, it was approaching one in the afternoon. The weather obviously having an effect on the numbers.
Jack had dropped her at the door and told her to ring him if she needed him. He was chauffeur-cum-general-dogsbody. They had grown close in the months following Toni’s death. When she lost her driving license through drink driving, her father asked Jack to be her driver, but he became much more; he became her shoulder to cry on and much needed support.
She swore she’d never love another soul, just in case she lost another love and had to go through the pain of loss again. But then she told herself that she could never possibly love anyone the way she loved Toni. It was a love so all encompassing, so overwhelming. And when she lost her, she almost died of grief.
Laura touched the ring on her finger and remembered. She and Toni had once sat in that very same booth.
“What’s this?” Laura said, looking at the small box that Toni pushed across the table towards her. Laura’s green eyes sparkled with amusement at the embarrassed flush that crossed her dark lover’s face.
“It’s for you; hope it fits.”
Laura ducked her head to look into blue eyes that were fixed on the table in front of her. “For me?”
Toni looked up in exasperation. “Are you going to open it?”
Laura opened the box and found a ring. It was simple, with just a couple of stones, but to Laura it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. She looked at the inside of the band and saw an inscription. It read: ‘You have my heart. Toni.’
Laura handed the ring to Toni and said, “Will you put it on for me?” then waited. She was testing Toni, testing the strength of her love.
Toni took her left hand and slipped the band onto the ring finger. “Marry me?” she said.
Laura answered her with a kiss of such passion that she made it perfectly clear what her answer was. “Of course,” she gasped, “but how?”
“There are ways,” Toni said and held her closely.
Laura smiled at the memory and looked up at the bar. There were a couple more women in the bar now, one or two she knew.
It was a women only bar, one of a few that she and Toni frequented in their short time together.
Three months and one week, that was all they’d had. But in that time she’d known more happiness than in all her twenty-four years put together.
Before Toni, she’d never contemplated the thought of loving another woman. Toni had swept her off her feet and she fell fast and hard for the tall woman with ebony hair and eyes the colour of the summer sky.
But she was snatched from her grasp. She had her and she slipped away from her. Now she lived on memories.
“Hello. Laura, isn’t it?”
Laura looked up into the face of a blonde woman. She hadn’t seen her before in the club. The fact she knew her name surprised her.
“Yes it is. Look, I don’t want to be rude but I really want to be alone for a while. I’m not feeling terribly talkative.”
The woman shrugged and walked away.
Laura sighed and got up, walking over to the bar where the woman had sat on one of the tall stools.
Laura pulled a stool up and sat next to her. “Sorry,” she said.
The woman shook her head and held out her hand. “Don’t be.” She shook Laura’s hand, holding it for a moment longer than necessary. “I’m Augusta; friends call me Gus.”
“Augusta, pleased to meet you.”
“Call me Gus.”
“Ok, Gus. Would you like a drink? I’m about ready for another.” Laura got the attention of the bartender and ordered them both drinks.
After a while they went and sat back in the booth. In the following hours, Gus heard the story of Toni and the love that Laura could never give to another soul.
Laura almost felt relief that she had offloaded some of the pain she felt. Gus seemed genuinely interested and Laura hoped she wasn’t just listening and hoping to bed her later in the evening.
Suddenly Laura noticed a member of the bar staff removing the rope that stopped people going into the cellar. “Jesus, what’s the time?” she said to Gus, who didn’t look the worse for wear after their marathon drinking stint.
“It’s eight o’clock.”
Laura put a shaky hand to her head. “I’ve had too much to drink; I’d better stop.” She looked into the eyes of the woman sitting opposite her. “Thanks for listening, Gus. It helped.”
“Anytime, Laurie. Can you get home ok?”
“I’ll be fine, I’ll call a cab.”
“If you’re sure.” She stood with Laura and put a hand out to steady her when the younger woman swayed.
“Hey, did I drink that much?” Laura said, hanging on to her new acquaintance.
“Yes, you did,” Gus said, smiling. “Come on, I’ll help you.”
Outside the rain, if possible, had got worse. Laura was leaning heavily on Gus and trying to understand why she couldn’t make out the cars and people that were right in front of her. She heard, rather than saw, a car come to a halt in front of her. The door opened and Gus helped her in.
The door closed and she realised that Gus had got in with her. There was someone else in the back too and she was crushed in the middle.
Someone was pushing up her sleeve, and then she felt a sharp pain. She looked towards the woman she’d spent the afternoon with. “Gus?”
“Sssh, sweetheart, it’ll be fine. Just sleep.”
Gus watched as the blonde woman relaxed and her head slumped forward.
“Well done, Gus. That was easy.”
Gus stroked the honey blonde hair. “Yes it was.” She lifted the face and traced the outline of the full lips. “She’s lovely, does she have to die?”
“`Fraid so, it’s the only way.”
“Shame. Still, plenty more fish in the sea, eh, Tom?”
The man chuckled and put his head back, hoping to sleep for the next few hours of their journey.
They’d been travelling for an hour when the driver said, “We need to stop for fuel. If anyone needs a pee, they’d better do it now.”
Gus had hold of Laura’s wrist, checking her pulse. “I do,” she said. “She probably does too, but she’s gonna be out for a while yet.”
“I’ll be fine,” said Tom, who watched a young woman struggling to open the fuel cap of her car as he was left alone with the young captive.
The driver put the fuel in the car and then went into the shop to pay and get some soft drinks.
The door on Tom’s side of the car suddenly opened, and he turned his head just as a fist made contact with the side of his face. He was dazed, but not unconscious. He looked across to the other side of the car and saw the door open; the girl was dragged out into the rain, the door closing after her. He couldn’t see the driver in the shop, and Gus was still in the rest room.
His last thought was, “Shit, I’m dead.”
Laura O`Donnell put a hand to her head. This wouldn’t be the first time she’d woken and not remembered how she’d got home or who had taken her there.
But this was different. She was sure something had happened, something she should try hard to remember.
She opened her eyes and closed them immediately against the pain that lanced through her forehead.
She was in a bed, she knew that much. She was also naked. She reached out an arm to see if anyone shared the bed with her. She was alone. Furthermore, she was pretty sure it wasn’t her bed. It was soft and the quilt was lighter.
Again she opened her eyes, slower this time. It was reasonably dark in the room, but a small amount of light showed around the edges of the heavy curtains.
There was a small amount of furniture in the room and she guessed she was in a hotel.
A movement in the corner caught her attention but moving her head in that direction caused the pain to return.
She squinted into the darkness, trying to make out the shape. “Who’s there?”
The figure didn’t reply but stood and walked slowly towards her. As the figure emerged into the small amount of light that filtered into the room Laura gasped.
The voice was painfully familiar, the eyes just as beautiful as she remembered.
Laura’s head fell back onto the pillow and she covered her eyes with her hands. “No, it can’t be, it can’t.”
She felt the weight of someone settle on the bed, then gentle hands grasped her own and pulled them away from her face.
“Laurie, look at me. Please.”
Laura’s eyes were filled with tears and the vision in front of her was blurred.
“Yes, love, it’s me.”
Laura reached up and grasped her lover’s neck and pulled her down into a fierce embrace.
Then she suddenly stiffened and pushed the woman away from her. The dark woman stood and took a step away from the near hysterical woman.
“No!” She scooted back in the bed, pulling the quilt up to her chest and wincing against the sharp pain she felt in her head.
“No, it can’t be. Toni died. She died.” She looked down at her arm and remembered the sharp pain. She saw the small puncture mark and the small smudge of blood where it had been allowed to bleed. “I was drugged.” She looked at the tall woman with accusing eyes. “Who are you? You’re not my Toni. What do you want from me?”
“Laurie, calm down.” The tall woman approached the trembling figure on the bed. Laurie O`Donnell was shaking and struggling to breathe. As much as she wanted to believe that this was her lover returned to her she had to consider the facts.
She remembered the `phone ringing. A woman’s voice asking if it was Laura that she was speaking to. There had been an accident. Toni’s car had been found burnt out in a ditch. There was a body inside. Two weeks later it had been confirmed as Toni’s by the dental records. She stood at her grave, alone with only the vicar to watch the coffin being lowered into the cold ground. Later that day she was found in her car by a patrolling police officer. Although not driving she was found to be technically in charge of the vehicle and banned from driving for a year for being intoxicated.
Laura looked into the face of the woman. “Who are you?” She reached out a hand and touched the high cheekbone. “Why are you doing this to me?”
The dark woman took the hand and kissed the palm, watching as the green eyes closed at the achingly familiar gesture.
“Please believe me, Laurie.”
The green eyes narrowed. “Then why?”
This time the blue eyes closed. “Because I love you.”
“You let me think you were dead because you love me?” Laurie snorted her disbelief. “That just doesn’t make sense. D’you realise what I’ve been through?” Her voice rose an octave higher in her anger.
Toni opened her mouth to speak but was cut off.
“D’you realise the pain I’ve been in all these months?”
“Jesus! Don’t talk to me about pain, Laurie!” Toni stood and strode across the room, then, spinning and facing the girl again, she said, “Do you think it’s been easy staying away from you? So, you thought I was dead. Well I knew you where you were. I knew that any time I wanted I could just walk up to your door and knock on it and we’d be together again. D’you know how hard that is?”
“So why didn’t you?” Tears were now streaming freely down both women’s faces.
“Because staying with me could have killed you.” Toni slumped down on the chair and buried her face in her hands.
Laurie looked at the bowed head in disbelief. Pulling the quilt round her she made her way on shaky legs to Toni’s side. Kneeling beside her she reached out and turned her one time love’s face towards her. “I need to understand, Toni. Right now I don’t know whether to love you or kill you. Make me understand.”
Toni nodded and stood, leading Laura back to the bed.
Once they’d both settled against the headboard, Toni began.
“I work for the government, I provide a special service. The work I do is dangerous and it makes me enemies. I began to think that one day one of these enemies would find out about you. I couldn’t allow that to happen.”
“What is this special service?”
Toni closed her eyes; this was the moment she would finally lose the love of the woman beside her, if she hadn’t already. “I’m what is commonly known as a disrupter. I integrate myself into people’s lives and businesses and disrupt them.”
“What sort of people?”
“People the government think are dangerous, either to the security of the country or individuals of importance.”
“Have you ever killed?” Laura looked at her hands, suddenly amazed at the whiteness in them as they clasped the quilt.
She felt Laurie stiffen beside her. She waited as the blonde woman took in the information and then let out a long breath.
“So you didn’t work for Milton`s Antiques?”
Toni almost wanted to laugh. “No. Yes. Well, sort of. Yes, I worked there. Major Milton knew whom I worked for. It was a cover. I enjoyed it.”
Laura nodded. “So, that time you were away `buying` you were…….”
“I was concluding a contract.”
Laura put a hand to her head, which had begun to throb, the drugs she’d been given the night before were still playing havoc with her mind and body.
“So what happened to me last night?” Laura moved sideways so that she could lean on Toni and the agent put her arm around the smaller woman before she realised what she was doing.
Both women held their breath. “Are you ok with this?”
Laura didn’t trust her voice and just nodded.
Toni began her story. “I’ve been working in the States. On loan if you like. While I was there someone recognised me. I knew he’d tell Harden I was alive.”
“Harden?” The voice was sleepy.
“Josh Harden. I took out his gun running son, Matt.”
“You killed him?”
“I killed him.”
“Was it when you were with me?”
“About a month after my death. I’m sorry”
“So what’s this got to do with me?”
Toni sighed. “Josh did his homework. He found out about you. He wanted me dead, but he wanted to hurt you first.”
Toni felt the girl slump slightly and lean into her heavily. “This is all a bit much for you, isn’t it?”
“Just a bit. Yesterday I knew you were dead, today it seems you’re alive and someone completely different to the person I loved.”
“Loved?” Toni removed her arm from the shoulders of the woman beside her. The gesture wasn’t lost on Laura.
Toni got up from the bed and crossed to the window.
Laura could see the pain Toni was in. “I don’t know what to think at the moment, Toni. I’m tired, really tired. I don’t know where we are, I don’t even know what time of day it is.”
Toni looked at her watch. “It’s just after two, you slept all night and all morning. The drug they gave you was pretty potent.”
“So what happens now?”
Toni was looking out of the window, she frowned when she saw it was still raining. “I’m going to have to kill Harden.” She looked back at her former lover. “It’s the only way.”
“But why me? Why does Harden want me?”
“Because you’re all I have. Had,” she corrected. “I don’t have any family, that’s why I was perfect for the sort of work I was doing. No ties. No one to ask questions. Our, um, relationship didn’t go unnoticed by the top brass. My `death` wasn’t entirely my idea.”
“But you went along with it?”
“I was assured it was the only way. They can be very persuasive.”
She crossed the room and sat on the bed again, taking Laura’s hands in her own. “I thought you’d forget me. I thought you’d find someone else and be happy.”
“I nearly followed you,” Laura said, her composure finally cracking.
Toni pulled her into her arms. “Oh Laurie, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise…..” She held her love tight as she sobbed in her arms. “Try to get some sleep, we’re going to have to make a move when it gets dark.”
She felt the blonde head nod against her chest and lowered Laura onto the pillows again.
“You’ll be here when I wake up?”
“I’ll be here. I won’t leave you this time.”
Toni held her hand until she fell asleep. It would start getting dark in a few hours and she wanted to make the most of the long English winter’s night to get Laura as far away from Harden as possible.
Then she’d find him and kill him.
Toni watched Laurie as she slept. It was an old habit. She tried to remember when she had last slept and shook her head, two days ago.
Toni had been grateful for the British passport after her plane had touched down in London. She was through passport control and out into the airport while her fellow passengers were still waiting to get through immigration. She had been one of only a handful of Brits on the flight. A quick stop at the car-hire desk and she was running out to the car park to find the car allotted to her. Somewhere in the back of her mind she registered the fact that the British weather hadn’t changed since she’d been away. `Welcome home,` she said to herself, pulling the thin jacket closer around herself. She’d also picked up a cell `phone from the desk; she still had contacts that could help her. She punched in a number. Laura’s number.
The familiar voice caused a lump in her throat, which she swallowed back quickly. “Farrell,” the voice said.
“Jack?” She knew him from her time with Laura.
“Jesus! Who the hell’s that?”
“You know who it is Jack. Where is she?”
“Toni?” Silence. “Who is this?”
“Jack, it’s Toni. I can’t explain now. Please, I need to find Laurie.”
“You almost killed her.”
“Jack, please, it’s important. Tell me where she is. Why hasn’t she got her `phone?”
“She likes to be alone more now; she’s at the club.”
Toni pushed the red button on the `phone and threw it on the seat beside her.
She got to the club and cursed when she saw there was nowhere near to park the car, there wasn’t even enough room to double park.
Then she saw her.
She recognised the red/gold hair immediately, even though it was slicked down in the rain.
Toni was unprepared for the rush of emotion that accompanied the sight of her former lover and for the briefest moment she was frozen, her fingers digging hard into the steering wheel.
Laura was leaning heavily on a blonde woman. A car stopped in the road and the woman pushed her forward into the open back door.
Toni shifted the car into gear and followed.
She’d been following for just over an hour when the car pulled into a petrol station. It had a large forecourt and she pulled her car into an area put aside for people who wanted to use the shop rather than fuel their vehicles.
The blonde woman got out and ran in the rain to a small building which housed the wash rooms. The driver was already fuelling the car. He finished and replaced the fuel cap. She saw a dull flash of metal as he reached into his inside pocket for his wallet as he walked toward the shop.
That left just the one man with Laura.
She was out of the car and opening the rear passenger door before she had time to think about it. A quick punch to the man’s face and she was round the back of the car, opening the other door and pulling the unconscious woman towards her.
Laura’s bulky coat caused her to nearly drop the blonde woman, then she ducked her shoulder into Laura’s stomach and stood, taking her weight.
She opened the back door of the hire car and pushed Laura across the back seats. Jumping into the front she hauled on the steering wheel and, wheels spinning, turned right across the road and away into the rain lashed night.
No one noticed a thing.
Toni had been driving for a half-hour when she found she had to stop at traffic lights. It was the first time she had stopped since the petrol station. She had made a complicated set of turns and backtracking to make sure she wasn’t being followed.
So she sat, watching the windscreen wipers doing their thing. And she started to shake.
The driver of the car behind flashed his lights. She looked up at the lights, which were green and forced her hand to the gear stick. Putting the car in gear she sped away.
A signpost caught her eye. It was a picnic site. She pulled into the carpark, which was, of course, deserted.
Fumbling with shaking hands she managed to get the door open and she stepped out into the rain. She opened the back door and managed to squeeze into the back with Laura. With something approaching desperation she pulled the small woman into her arms and held on like a drowning woman to a small plank of wood.
She didn’t know how long she cried into the soft golden hair. But when she pulled back and looked into the face of her love she cursed herself.
“Close, too close,” she said to the face she loved. She held her for a while longer then settled her back down on the seat.
Composing herself she returned to the driver’s seat and started the engine. After a quick glance back at the sleeping woman she headed out of the car park.
Some time later she saw the lights of a small hotel.
The desk clerk looked up from his magazine as she entered. “Hi,” she said. “My friend and I were making our way south but the weather’s just got too bad. D’you have a room for the night?”
“We have a single and a double,” he said, looking at the keys hanging behind him.
“The double then,” she said, handing over a credit card.
She signed the register. “My friend’s not too well; can I park outside while I take her up to the room?”
“Give me the keys and I’ll park your car and bring up your luggage.”
“No luggage; like I said, we weren’t expecting to stop.” Handing him back his pen, she said, “I’ll meet you out front.”
Toni saw the young man waiting outside in the rain as she pulled the car to a halt in front of the hotel. He opened the door, giving her beaming smile. She thanked him and walked round to the back.
“What’s the matter with her?” he asked as she pulled the small woman out and cradled her in her arms.
“She’s just tired, she’ll be fine. Maybe a couple of drinks too many.”
“Oh, I’ll bring the keys up; anything else you want?”
“I’ll let you know. Thanks.”
The room was adequate. A double bed, a wardrobe, a dressing table and an armchair was the only furniture. A door led to a small room with a toilet, shower and sink.
Toni carefully laid the blonde on the bed. Then, putting an arm behind Laura’s back, she lifted her to a sitting position. She pulled her arms from the heavy coat and then laid her ex-lover back down.
Toni stood for a moment, then reached shaking hands towards the buttons of the white silk blouse. Once that was off, things seemed to become easier. The familiar body was slowly revealed to her as she stripped the clothing and with it came the familiar desire.
“My god, Laura, it’s still there,” she whispered to the unconscious woman in front of her.
Once Laura was naked, Toni quickly covered her with the quilt. She sank wearily into the chair and for many hours watched the sleeping woman and cursed her decision to leave her.
Toni sat with Laura for some time after she’d fallen asleep. She’d expected many types of reaction from the woman, anger being one of them. She’d filled the endless hours on the `plane with rehearsals of how she’d deal with the questions she knew she’d have to answer, and answer truthfully.
So she thought the worst was over. Laura knew she was alive, she knew what she was, and she knew why she was here. `So, maybe now things will start getting easier,` she said to herself. But even as the thought formed in her mind she knew nothing would ever be as it was again. No, she’d do this thing and leave. Laura wouldn’t want her after this. The one good thing to come out of it was the fact that Laura would know what she was and would be able to continue with her life.
Toni looked at her watch; it was nearly three in the afternoon. It was mid winter and the evenings started drawing in early at that time of year. She decided that they would make their move at six, which left her a few hours.
She slipped out of her jeans and, leaving on her underwear and white tee shirt, slipped under the quilt, being sure to stay out of contact with the sleeping woman. Closing her eyes for the first time in two days she said to herself, “Just half an hour,” and was quickly asleep.
In her dream Laura was running. She didn’t know what she was running from but she knew she had to keep going. It was a recurring dream, one she’d had repeatedly since Toni’s death. As usual, the dream woke her.
It took a while for her to work out where she was. Toni had left the small light on the bedside cabinet on, and Laura was surprised to find her ex-lover sound asleep beside her.
In their brief time together Laura had discovered that Toni was a light sleeper and had rarely been awake before her. The fact that Toni had slept through her twisting and turning during her latest nightmare attested to the woman’s exhaustion.
Toni was lying on her side facing Laura. Her right hand was lying on the pillow close to her face, her hair partly obscuring one cheek.
Laura reached out a cautious hand and pushed the hair back.
She lay for a while just watching and remembering.
She didn’t know when her hand reached Toni’s hip, but the feeling of soft skin melted her heart. All the anger and pain melted at that moment as her hand moved upwards across skin that felt like velvet.
Pushing the loose fitting tee shirt up she watched her own hand trace a line from hip to just below the lace covered breast. She reached behind Toni and carefully undid the bra. Not being able to take it off without removing the tee shirt she gently pushed it up.
She suddenly wondered how she had lived without this for those eight months. She wanted badly to hold those perfect breasts, caress them, take them in her mouth, but she still didn’t know if Toni was willing to give herself to her.
Laura held her breath as Toni shifted in her sleep. Her view of Toni’s breasts was taken from her as the tall woman turned onto her stomach. But that, in turn, gave her a lot more flesh to feast her eyes upon.
She ran her hand down from shoulder to the base of Toni’s spine. The agent wore a very brief pair of briefs. Laura eased her hand under the waistband and onto a firm globe. She felt Toni’s breathing increase slightly and looked into the face of her lover. `Lover?` she thought. `Yes, she’s still mine.` And confirmed it by dipping down and finding the wetness of passion. “Is this for me, sweetheart?” she whispered into the sleeping woman’s ear.
Using both hands she pulled the briefs down the long legs and threw them into a corner. Then she spread the legs apart and knelt between. With long strokes she eased Toni out of her slumber.
“Come on sweetheart, wake up for me,” she said gently. Then, pushing her thumb between the swollen folds, she felt the first shudder as Toni woke.
“What?” Toni began to raise herself on her arms.
“It’s me, it’s just me. Lie back down.”
Keeping her thumb in place Laura found the hardened nub of Toni’s desire with her fingers.
“Remember this?” Laura asked.
Toni didn’t trust her voice and nodded tightly.
Laura bent and kissed Toni’s back at the base of her spine, her free hand creating patterns across the silky skin.
Laura’s thrusts became more insistent when she felt the body beneath her begin to tremble.
She positioned her body alongside the length of Toni and watched her lover’s face. Toni’s eyes were closed, tears struggling from beneath the long lashes.
“Let go, love, come on, just let go.”
She felt Toni tighten around her thumb and her body push down onto Laura’s hand, crushing it into the bed.
Gently removing her hand Laura pulled the larger woman into her arms. There was no resistance from Toni who buried her face into the golden hair, her body convulsing in tremors as the aftershocks gave way to heaving sobs.
“What? What is it?” Laura ducked her head to look into the blue eyes, but they were tightly shut against her.
“Toni, look at me. Tell me what’s wrong.”
Laura’s heart tightened at the pain she saw in the blue pools. She pushed the ebony tresses back from the damp face and leaned in for a kiss. Toni latched onto the soft lips like a drowning woman needing air. She pulled the smaller body into her own and held on for dear life itself.
Laura managed to pull herself away and took Toni’s face roughly in her hands.
“Tell me what it is.”
Toni pulled her love down into her arms, tucking the blonde’s head beneath her chin.
“I thought I could live without this,” she placed a feather light kiss on top of the golden head, “without you.”
Laura felt the arms tighten around her. Toni continued, “Now I know I’m never going to let you go again.” Silence for a moment. Then, “Can you forgive me?”
“For loving me so much you felt you had to leave me?” Laura held on tighter. “I’ll let you know in a couple of years.”
Toni chuckled, cried and kissed Laura all at the same time.
Laura took the left wrist of her lover and looked at her watch. ” Seven thirty, what time did you want to go?”
Toni was up and putting her jeans on, leaving a bemused blonde staring at her from the bed. “Six,” was all she said.
Laura got up and started searching for her clothes.
“Guess we’d better get a move on then. C`mere.” She pushed the agent round so Toni had her back towards her. Reaching under her tee shirt she refastened the bra.
Toni turned and took her naked lover in her arms again. “Whatever happens, know I do love you. More than life, more than anything. I’ll give my life to keep you safe, and if that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do.”
“Don’t start thinking like that. I’ve just been given another chance at something I thought I’d lost forever. I won’t lose you again; it nearly killed me last time, and it surely would a second time. Just bear that in mind.”
Toni nodded and dipped her head for another kiss. “Get some clothes on and meet me out front; I’ll go and get the car.”
Laura sat in the car next to Toni and watched the world speed by in the darkness.
“So what now?” she said to the dark profile.
“I’m taking you somewhere safe.”
“Why? I want to stay with you.”
“There are things I have to do and it’ll be easier if I’m not worrying about you.”
“So where are you taking me?”
“To an old friend, Kieron. We’ve worked together on a number of jobs. I trust him.”
Laura held a hand to her own forehead and grimaced. Toni reached out and smoothed the golden hair. “Headache?”
“It’s the drugs, they’re still in your system. Try and get some sleep; we’ve a way to go yet.”
Laura kissed Toni’s palm and then made herself comfortable in the seat for the long journey.
“………..in about twenty minutes.”
Laura just caught the end of the conversation. “Mmm?” she said looking sleepily around her. The illuminated clock in the car said 9.45pm.
“Nearly there,” Toni said, squeezing Laura’s thigh.
“Kieron’s. He knows we’re on our way, I want you to stay with him.”
“So who is Kieron?”
“I worked with him a few times. The last job went bad, I nearly died. Kieron got me out.”
“He saved your life?” Laura already liked this man very much.
“He did.” The conversation was cut short as Toni pulled the car into the long driveway of a house.
A security light came on, blinding Laura as they neared the front of the house. The door opened and a man walked out. Laura squinted into the light, trying to see the man’s face. He walked around the front of the car as Toni lowered her window.
“Toni, the reports of your death…….”
“….are greatly exaggerated, I know.” She reached out a hand to the man. “Kieron, it’s good to see you.”
Kieron took the offered hand and kissed it. “Even better to see you. It’s been tough.”
Toni nodded her understanding.
Kieron stood back and let Toni open the door. She stepped out and walked into a warm embrace. She then ducked down and peered into the car where Laura waited.
“Laura, come out here.” She reached out a hand and grasped Laura’s firmly when it was offered. “Laura O`Donnell, Kieron Waite.”
Laura looked into the face of what she decided, there and then, was the most gorgeous man she’d ever seen in her life.
He was slightly taller than Toni, with a shock of curly blonde hair. His blue eyes shone as he bent and kissed a hand that Laura suddenly realised was her own. He smiled showing perfect teeth. “Pleased to meet you.”
Toni looked at her love and reached across, shutting the small blonde’s mouth with a gentle pressure to her jaw. “Pull yourself together,” Toni whispered as Kieron walked towards his house. “Don’t worry, he has that effect on most women.”
“Even me,” she smiled. “Once.”
Kieron led the two women into his home.
“So what’s happening?” he said as he sat the two women down on a comfortable sofa.
Kieron nodded. “So what do you want me to do?”
Toni held Laura’s hand tightly. “I want you to keep her safe. Harden’s people have already tried to get to her. I want her safe so I can concentrate on taking him out.”
She felt the small hand in hers flinch, and squeezed it reassuringly.
“I can do that, when are you leaving?”
Beside her Laura jumped. “What, now?”
Toni nodded. “It’s better I get it over with; the sooner I go, the sooner I’ll be back.” She looked up at Kieron who nodded.
“I have to get the guest room ready; I’ll be back in a mo.”
Toni took Laura in her arms and held her close. She felt the smaller woman trembling and reached down to put a finger under her chin. “Hey, no tears, not now. Please?”
“I’m sorry, I just feel…….. I’m scared, Toni.”
“Me too. But once this is over we’ll be together. Nothing will stop that.”
“Promise me you’ll come back.”
“I’ll come back. As long as I know you’re waiting for me, I’ll come back.”
She pulled Laura back into an embrace and lowered her head capturing the soft lips.
A noise behind them forced an end to the kiss. Kieron looked on apologetically.
Toni looked into the green eyes. “It’s time.”
Laura watched her get into the car. Kieron had provided Toni with a gun with a full clip. He stood with an arm draped across Laura’s shoulders and watched the car’s lights disappear down the driveway. Then he went back into the house.
Laura watched the empty driveway for a moment, then the security light went off leaving the drive in darkness. She turned back into the light and warmth of the house.
As she walked into the hallway she turned her head to the left, just in time to see the fist that collided with the side of her head.
Bright colours exploded in her head as her body flew sideways into a small table which collapsed beneath her.
Laura tried to get to her feet but another strike to her side took her to the ground again. She looked up into the blue eyes, which had been warm and laughing only moments before, to see two chips of blue ice, his handsome features twisted in anger.
Suddenly her head was pulled up by her hair. Kieron`s face was only inches from her own.
“She loves you!” he spat. “You don’t deserve her love. I do. She’ll pay, so will you.”
He drew his hand back and backhanded her, releasing her hair so that she fell heavily onto the thick carpet.
As the edges of her vision closed in, Laura thought of her Toni. “We only had a few hours,” she thought, and then the darkness won.
Toni shuddered. She was on the main motorway north. It would take a good three hours to get to the edges of the town she knew Harden lived in.
She punched in a number on her cell `phone.
“Grace? Toni. I know, I know. Of course it’s me, who else knows this number? No. NO! I’ll call you some other time and explain. Are you crying? Grace? GRACE! I need an address. Josh Harden. And a `phone number. Land line or cell `phone. Both if you have them. Stop crying. It’s not official. That’s the land line right? Ok. Grace I’ll call you in a few days. Thanks, it’s good to hear you too.”
Toni punched in the number Grace had given her. It rang a couple of times before it was picked up; a man’s voice answered.
Toni pushed the red button to cancel the call. The end was in sight. She would be free to live her life again, a life she’d started one night in a smoke filled cellar bar in London months earlier.
It was a regular haunt. Toni liked this bar. It wasn’t an all women bar; she didn’t come here looking for conquests, just a quiet drink with a few friends she’d made since becoming a regular. She even had her favourite place, a high stool at the end of the bar.
The woman caught her eye as soon as she entered. It was late, nearly closing time, and unusual for anyone to come into the cellar at that time. On a Saturday night, most people were heading for the clubs. Toni, being a regular, was one of the few people the landlord would allow to stay after hours for a few more drinks.
The short woman with honey blonde hair was with three men. They sat at a small round table while one of the men went to the bar for drinks. He stood close to Toni and waited to be served.
“`Evening,” he said cordially. Toni nodded, taking another sip of her drink.
The bartender arrived and the man turned towards him. Toni’s gaze turned back to the table to see the other two men talking animatedly, the girl between them looking bored. Toni couldn’t help but smile. `Men.` She looked from the two men back to the woman, to find herself being scrutinised by a pair of green eyes. Green eyes, even from that distance she knew the colour.
Then the girl was on her feet and crossing the room towards her.
“Can I help you?” the girl was saying. Toni was about to speak when she realised the girl wasn’t talking to her but to her companion who was buying the drinks.
Toni shook her head and smiled. What was she thinking? She turned her back on the rest of the room and leaned her elbows on the bar.
“Hi,” said the soft voice beside her.
Toni looked into the green eyes again.
“Is this stool taken?”
Toni looked around in an exaggerated manner. “Doesn’t look like it.” Nodding towards the three men, “Are your friends boring you?”
“Is it that obvious?” She held onto the bar as she climbed onto the tall stool, pulling down the short skirt that threatened to pull right up around her waist. Then she started to topple backwards, until Toni shot out an arm and steadied her in a vice-like grip.
The smile she gave Toni was disarming. “Sorry, I’ve had a few tonight, we’ve been all over the place. They,” she nodded towards the three men, “just want to talk shop. I’ve had enough; I like to leave work at work, especially on a Saturday night.”
“What is work?” Toni said, signalling to the bartender that she needed a refill.
“I work for my father. You may have heard of him, Henry O`Donnell.”
“I have. It’s a huge business he’s built up. Shopping centres, isn’t it?”
“Mostly. It’s the latest craze, people love to shop.” Another smile. “What do you do?”
“I deal in antiques.”
“Really? Father has a few, most of them he keeps locked away; I think it’s such a shame, there are some beautiful pieces.”
“He’s got the right idea; there’s a big business in stolen antiques nowadays. Pieces are stolen to order. You can’t be too careful.”
The green eyes opened wider. “I’m sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Laura, Laura O`Donnell.” She held out her hand.
Toni took it. “Toni Lawler, pleased to meet you.”
The bell ringing caused Laura to jump releasing the hand she didn’t realise she was still holding.
“Time!” the bartender called.
“Oh, what a shame,” said Laura.
“Look, I usually stay on for a few drinks after closing time. If you want……..”
“Oh I couldn’t; John’s giving me a lift home……”
Toni shook her head. “That’s fine, no problems, Maybe another time.”
“Hey, Laurie, come on. If we’re going to get into Marco’s we’ve got to go.” The three men were stood, pulling on their jackets.
Laura finished her drink and put her glass on the bar. “It was nice meeting you.”
Then she was gone.
Toni reached over and held the glass Laura had deposited on the bar, her thumb rubbing against the lipstick on the rim.
Most of the other customers had left and tonight it was only Toni and two others who were staying on. The two men and the bartender sat at a table and broke out a pack of cards.
“You want us to deal you in, Toni?”
“Not tonight. I’ll just sit quietly for a while. I’m not staying long.”
Toni moved from her place at the bar to one of the padded benches in a dark corner and put her feet up on a chair.
All the occupants of the bar jumped at the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. Whoever it was must have been let in through the bar upstairs. Thinking it might be the police on the lookout for after hours drinking, the bartender started to walk towards the stairs, stopping whoever it was half way down.
“Toni?” he said after a moment.
Toni peered round from her corner to see Laura walking towards her.
“Hi again,” she said sitting next to Toni.
“Hi. I thought you were going to a club.”
“I was, but suddenly it didn’t seem so appealing.”
“D’you want a drink?”
Toni stood. “Terry?” she said nodding towards the bar. “Is it ok?”
“Sure, go ahead,” said the bartender, engrossed in his game.
“What do you want?”
“I’ll have a rum and coke, thanks.”
Toni helped herself to the drink and got another for herself before returning to the table.
“So you didn’t fancy the club, or was it the company?” she said, sitting down beside the girl.
“Both I think. I don’t know why I accepted the invitation. Being the boss’s daughter makes me feel a little isolated sometimes. I feel I need to mix with them. I tried really hard tonight, but all they wanted to talk about was how much money they could make.”
Toni smiled. “So that’s why you came back down here?” `You could have gone home,` she thought to herself.
“I could have gone home I suppose,” she said. “But the night is young; I wanted to stay out a bit longer.”
“How will you get home?”
“I can get a cab, no problem.”
Toni took a sip of her drink, watching the girl over the rim of her glass. “I know a club we could go to. If you want, that is.”
“OK, what is it?”
“Never heard of it.”
“That’s not surprising; it’s a gay club.”
Toni saw the shock in the girl’s face. “OK, bad idea, I’m sorry.”
“No.” She came to a decision. “No, not at all, I’d like to go.”
“You’re sure? Have you ever been to a gay club before?”
“Never.” She gave the tall woman her most disarming smile. “But tonight I want to go with you. Is that ok?”
Toni stood and took her hand. “That’s fine.”
It was a short walk from the cellar bar to Firefly’s. Toni flashed her membership and signed Laura in. She took her by the hand and led her through the packed club towards the bar. A number of women called out to her as she passed, and Toni had a smile for each of them.
“So, what do you want to drink? Rum and coke again?” She looked down at her small companion whose eyes were wide, scanning the interior of the club. “Hey there,” she said, waving a hand in front of the girl’s eyes.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Um, yes please. I’ve never been in a place like this. It’s different.”
Toni smiled, looking over the girl’s head at the heaving mass of female bodies. She said, “Yes, I guess it is.”
They managed to get a seat in one of the booths that made up one wall of the main bar and talked for the next hour. Well, Laura talked, about her childhood, her latest holiday in Egypt, her father. Toni listened, slowly relaxing to the melodic sound of the young girl’s voice.
“Hey listen,” said Laura. “I love this song.”
It was, indeed, a beautiful song and one of Toni’s favourites. She stood and reached out her hand to Laura. “Come on, let’s dance.”
For a brief moment she thought Laura was going to turn her down. She stood, her hand extended for what seemed like forever. Then Laura reached up and allowed herself to be pulled to her feet.
Toni led her to the middle of the dancefloor, which was already crowded. She turned towards Laura and took both of her wrists in her large hands. Then she placed the smaller woman’s hands on her own shoulders and put her hands on Laura’s hips.
The two women swayed slowly to the music, letting it wash over them. Slowly Laura relaxed into the large body in her arms and Toni moved her hands round to the girl’s back, pulling her in even closer.
The song finished, but the two women stayed where they were, swaying gently. The next song started, just as slow, just as seductive.
Toni had rested her head on top of Laura’s. Her eyes were closed; suddenly they shot open.
“What did you say?” said the dark woman.
“I asked you if you’d kiss me.”
Toni looked down into the green eyes, green eyes that smouldered. “Laura, are you sure…….?”
Toni bent her head, brushing her lips softly against those of the beautiful woman in her arms.
When she’d first walked into the bar, Toni noticed her, thinking how cute she was. When she’d stood next to her waiting for her drink, she thought `not cute, lovely.` Then when she’d seen her walking down the stairs after leaving her three companions, she thought, `gorgeous.`
Now as she held her, gazing into her face, she decided she was holding the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen.
Again Toni bent her head, this time claiming the full lips as her own. Laura’s lips parted, allowing Toni to explore, then beginning an exploration of her own.
“Is this what you were planning when you came back into the cellar?” Toni asked as they parted.
“I didn’t know what I was doing.” Laura said, laying her head against Toni’s heaving chest. “I’ve never…….I mean, I…….”
Toni gave her a squeeze and held her tight. “Sshh, it’s ok, no need to explain.” She disengaged herself from the smaller woman and held her by the shoulders at arm’s length.
“D’you want to go and talk about this somewhere?”
Toni got their coats from the cloakroom and guided Laura out of the club into the chill night.
It was quiet in that part of London, after the pubs had closed but before the clubs turned out.
She took Laura’s hand. “Where do you want to go?”
Laura shrugged. “Somewhere quiet. Where do you live?”
Toni was surprised twice in one night, some sort of record had been broken.
Laura took in the shocked look on the taller woman’s face and blushed. “I didn’t mean…., oh god, you must think I’m such a tart.”
Toni gave the small hand a squeeze. “Don’t be daft. I live close by, we can go there, have a coffee. You’ll leave with your life.”
Laura laughed, let go of the hand she held and snuggled into the woman, snaking her arm around the trim waist.
Toni was right. It was a short walk to her flat, which was in the basement of a three storey Georgian building.
“This is nice,” said Laura as she took off her coat and threw it across a chair.
“I like it,” Toni said from the kitchen, where she was filling a kettle. “A lot of people don’t like basement flats, but I feel hidden away and snug. I could disappear down here and no-one would ever find me.”
Toni returned to the lounge to find Laura had made herself comfortable on the sofa, curling her feet under her.
Toni sat on the chair with Laura’s coat and regarded her companion thoughtfully.
“What?” said the blonde.
“Why did you come back?”
Laura shook her head. “Don’t know. I was happy to go with the boys. Though, saying that, I was thinking up excuses to leave the club early.
Suddenly I just had to come back. I can’t explain it. I wanted to tell you something, but now I don’t have the faintest idea what it was.”
Toni chuckled. She heard the kettle click off in the kitchen but wanted to continue the conversation.
“I’ve never been to a club like that before.” Laura blushed beautifully.
“You mean you’ve never been to a gay club.” It was a statement, not a question. “And I suppose you’ve never kissed a woman before.”
“No,” a very small voice, “not like that anyway.”
“Look,” Toni stood, suddenly uncomfortable. “I’ll call a taxi if you like. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have……..”
“No.” Laura was on her feet and closed the distance between her and the taller woman in a couple of strides. She said it again. “No. You didn’t do anything I didn’t want to happen. I came back down to the cellar hoping that something would happen.”
She took Toni’s hands in her own and pulled her back towards the sofa. When she was certain the dark woman was going to stay, she sat too, against the opposite arm.
Laura looked at her hands, then back up into the blue gaze that pinned her in place.
“Can I just stay here tonight? I really don’t want to go home right now.”
“Sure. Is there a problem?”
“Nothing important. My father’s away on business, I don’t like being home on my own.”
Toni stood. “I’ll make that coffee.”
“Actually, I’d prefer something a little stronger, if you have it.” She blushed when she saw a dark eyebrow rise.
“Ok. I have a bottle of wine I’ve been saving for a special occasion, how d’you fancy that?”
“I’d like that.”
Toni disappeared into the kitchen and returned with an opened bottle and two glasses … two large glasses. She poured them both a drink and put the bottle on the low table between the sofa and the tv. Reaching for the remote, she turned the tv on and pulled her feet under her, mirroring Laura’s relaxed pose.
They watched the film, talked and drank, relaxing in each other’s company. When Toni didn’t receive a reply to one of her questions she looked across at the blonde.
Laura was asleep, one hand still curled around a cushion, an empty wineglass hanging precariously from the other.
Toni leaned over and retrieved the glass from the small hand and placed it carefully on the table next to the empty bottle. She looked at the clock on the VCR. 03.37. Shaking her head she reached over and shook Laura’s shoulder gently.
“Hey there.” No response. She stood, scratching her head for a moment, then went to her bedroom, returning a moment later with a blanket, which she settled over the sleeping woman. She went to the kitchen to make sure the heating would stay on all night then went to her bedroom. Pulling out a long tee shirt, she quickly changed into it and got into bed.
Sleep took her quickly, her last thought of the blonde woman, and the puzzle of why she was familiar.
Toni took a moment to work out what had woken her. She lay quietly listening, then looked at the digital alarm on the small bedside cabinet – she been asleep just over an hour
Then she heard it, a muffled sob from the lounge.
Switching on the bedside light she made her way quietly towards the door. A strangled “No!” propelled her the rest of the way to the side of the sleeping girl.
“Hey there,” she whispered to the still sleeping form. “Wake up, Laura.” She gently took the slim shoulders of the blonde girl in her hands and shook them.
Green eyes opened and scanned the unfamiliar face in front of them. For a moment confusion was written across Laura’s face until she remembered the events of the evening and how she came to be there.
“Oh God, I’m sorry.” She buried her face in her hands and wept.
“Nothing to be sorry for.” Toni eased herself onto the sofa next to the sobbing girl and pulled her into a soft embrace. “Does this happen often?”
Laura nodded, “Just recently almost every night. In my dream I’m cold, it’s snowy and I have to get somewhere. But I’m so tired.” Laura broke down again, unable to continue with her explanation of the dream.
“Come on, come with me.” Toni stood and held out her hand. “Let’s see if we can’t find a way to help you sleep.”
Toni smiled at the embarrassed look. “I said sleep.”
Laura smiled and nodded and let herself be pulled to her feet.
And sleep she did. Wrapped in the strong arms of the taller woman, she slept ’til morning and beyond, a feeling of being safe and protected keeping the nightmares at bay.
Toni smiled at the memory. They hadn’t made love that night. She woke up the next morning with the small blonde woman in her arms. And then it was Laura who made the first moves towards their first encounter, but that memory was pushed to the back of her mind, for now.
She was getting close to the address Grace had given her. The houses were all pretty much the same. She drove down the road slowly, looking at the numbers on the gates. There it was, number 11. Parking the hire car on the street, she vaulted over the low wall and made her way across the beautifully manicured lawns towards the house.
There was a light above the front door, the door itself slightly ajar.
Pulling the gun from the waistband of her jeans, she pushed the door open.
The woman startled her. She was sitting on the bottom stair, her hands pulled round her legs.
“Josh said you’d be here. He says you killed my Matt.”
Toni stared at the woman, recognising her from pictures as Josh Harden’s wife.
“Where is he?”
The woman extended an arm, offering a piece of paper to Toni.
“Now go,” she said, standing and walking towards the tall woman.
Toni looked at the scrawl on the piece of paper. It was an address. A business.
She knew that Harden had a number of legitimate businesses, and guessed this was one of them.
Tucking the small piece of paper into the back pocket of her jeans, she made her way back to the car.
She drove for about half an hour, constantly looking at the piece of paper. She wasn’t familiar with the town, but would drive around in circles all night until she found it.
It was nearing 11pm when she spotted the road sign that announced Coronation Avenue. She passed it, and parked a few streets away, after turning off her cell phone and checking the clip that Kieron had loaded the gun with was full.
She didn’t lock the car, not knowing whether it would be needed for a fast getaway. But the way she was planning things, no-one would be following her.
The building with the address that matched the one on the piece of paper appeared to be some kind of car repair shop. A couple of cars stood on the forecourt in front of large double doors. Doors which were slightly ajar.
Beyond the doors was darkness, and she approached carefully, knowing that Harden had given his wife the address knowing full well that Toni was on her way. He wanted her here, wanted this last confrontation with the woman that almost brought his business down around his ears. The woman who had killed his first born son.
She eased up to the doors, immediately suspicious that they were open and unguarded. Holding her gun close to her face, she edged up to the entrance. Taking a deep breath she launched herself into the interior, her gun ready, and was confronted by a nightmare.
On the floor, unmoving, was the body of her lover.
Laura was lying curled up in a ball. Her hands appeared to be free, but there was blood around her head, pooling slightly on the filthy ground beneath her.
Toni tore her eyes from the woman and surveyed the darkness.
“She’s a pretty little thing.”
Toni spun, in time to see Harden appear from the shadows, behind him Kieron Waite.
Her reaction was immediate, she fired a volley of shots at the two men. The sound of gunfire echoed around the small area, assaulting her ears.
As the last bullet left the gun, she watched as the two men approached her unharmed.
“You really should take care who you let load your weapon, my dear.” He took the gun from nerveless fingers, handing it to Waite behind him. “You don’t change, Toni. But then I have thought of little else for the last year or so.” He walked around her, coming to a stop in front of the crumpled form of Laura. “Another innocent, another life sacrificed to your desire to atone for past misdeeds.”
Toni turned to face him, managing to drag her gaze from Waite, who barely managed to conceal his glee. “Bastard.” Her voice was flat, emotionless. Nothing surprised her anymore, so she dismissed the appearance of Waite almost immediately as irrelevant.
She took a step and crouched beside her lover, gently turning her onto her back. Cupping a warm cheek, she breathed a sigh of relief realising that warmth meant life. The blood came from a cut, which disappeared into her hairline, and was already slowing.
Toni stood quickly, causing Harden to take a step backwards. “Okay, here I am. Now what?”
Harden looked past her at Waite and nodded.
The tall blond man walked forward and bent, picking up Laura. As soon as he laid hands on her, Toni launched herself at him. But he was expecting the assault and raised an elbow, catching Toni on the side of the face and propelling her to the ground.
When she regained her senses, Harden had a gun trained on her and Waite was arranging Laura’s limp form on an office chair. He pulled her arms behind her back and bound them, more to keep her on the chair than to restrain her. Then he crouched in front of her, slapping her face lightly until she began to come round.
Toni staggered to her feet and watched as the green eyes fluttered open. Harden was a small distance from her watching for any movement from the tall woman, the hand concealed in his pocket most probably curled around a gun.
“No,” said Laura, shaking her head slowly. Then her head rose tentatively, the pain evident on her face. Her eyes found the blue of her lover’s and saw the anguish in them. “Toni,” she whispered.
“Ssshh. It’s alright.” Toni’s eyes filled with tears, matching Laura’s.
Waite moved around behind the blonde, and placed both hands on her shoulders.
Toni kept her eyes fastened on Laura’s until Harden placed himself between the two women.
“Now then, Toni, we have some decisions to make. Either I kill this pretty little girl, or you do.”
Toni took a step towards him, but Waite took Laura’s head in his hands and wrenched it painfully to one side. “I could snap her neck in a heartbeat,” he said.
Toni stopped, her gaze returning to Harden. “Let her go.”
Harden shook his head and sighed deeply. “I can’t do that I’m afraid, my dear. She is my release. The release of the grief that has been with me since you killed my boy. I want you to feel what I felt.” He pushed Waite away and wound his hand in Laura’s hair. “When Kieron called me this evening, I didn’t believe him.” He yanked on the blonde hair. “People like you don’t love, don’t feel.” Letting go of her hair he caressed a tear stained cheek. “You should have stayed dead, Toni.”
Waite had walked up beside Toni and handed her a gun. She stared at it for a long moment.
“It’s not loaded,” said the blond man; he walked to the back wall, standing behind her. The gun was an old revolver. In front of her Harden held one bullet.
“If I have to kill her, it’ll be in the gut. She could take hours to die. You do it and it could be as quick as you like. Straight between the eyes, just like my Matt.
Toni’s arm fell to the side, the gun hanging loosely from her fingertips.
“So there you have it. A slow death or quick and painless.” Harden smiled as Toni slowly closed her eyes.
“Come now, my dear. Death is no stranger to you. How many have you despatched? This is just another job, but one that you will not be paid for.”
Laura followed the interaction between the two, her terror slowly building. She could see the turmoil behind the blue eyes, and the hand that was holding the revolver had begun to shake. She found Waite’s face beyond Toni, and could see the satisfaction that he felt.
“Toni,” said Laura.
The sound of her lover’s voice seemed to pull her from the dark place she had descended into. She shook her head briefly at the blonde and then returned her attention to Harden.
She held her hand out for the bullet.
He smiled and threw it towards her.
Behind her Waite pulled a gun and trained it on the bound figure of Laura. He moved a few steps to Toni’s right so as to get a good view of what was about to happen.
Harden moved away too, watching carefully as Toni loaded the bullet into the gun and snapped it closed.
“If that gun moves even one centimetre in my direction, the girl takes a bullet in the gut.” Harden pulled his hand out of his pocket, the expected gun grasped securely within it.
Toni walked towards Laura. Her eyes found the blonde’s, her face showed no emotion. She raised her right hand, the barrel of the gun resting lightly against the forehead of her lover.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. Her foot touched the base of the office chair, and she felt it move slightly.
Toni’s eyes lifted from the green of her lover’s which regarded her with fear. Harden had moved slightly forward, better to see the drama which was unfolding at his bidding.
Toni did two things almost simultaneously. She shoved the office chair back savagely, the jolt causing Laura to shriek as she was propelled back into Harden.
The dark woman spun at the same time, firing as she did so.
Waite took the bullet in the forehead, his own gun discharging harmlessly as he fell. Then she turned back to Harden who was pushing the chair and Laura aside and raising his gun.
Toni leapt at the man, sweeping the arm that held the gun aside as she did so, her right forearm pushing into his throat.
He fell backwards, Toni coming to rest astride his chest. She reached across with both hands, grabbing the wrist of the hand that held the gun. It went off, the bullet lodging somewhere in the wall. Toni vaguely wondered whether anyone had heard any of the shots, but the idea skittered away as she grappled with Harden.
He backhanded her with his free hand, and her head snapped back.
She heard her lover, and the sound of the fear in Laura’s voice spurred her on. She slammed Harden’s hand against the ground over and over, until eventually the gun was dislodged and it slid away across the oily floor.
Harden raised his knee, catching Toni in the back, and sent her sailing over his head. He scrambled to his feet and across to the body of Waite, tearing the gun from the man’s lifeless fingers.
He turned, a triumphant smile on his face as he raised the gun in the direction of the woman who was on her knees.
The bullet caught his bottom teeth, which then propelled it upwards into his brain. His final memory would be the eyes of the woman who killed him, eyes as cold as the creeping death which was winding its way around his heart.
He was dead before he hit the ground.
Toni threw the gun away, and crawled across the filthy floor to the trembling, bound figure of her lover.
She knelt before her, burying her face in her chest, winding her arms about the slim waist.
“I’m so sorry,” she wept into Laura’s bloodstained shirt.
Laura bent her head and kissed the dark hair. “Toni, untie my hands,” she whispered to the distraught woman.
Toni stood and went behind her; finding a blade on a workbench, she cut through the rough rope.
Laura stood and threw herself into Toni’s arms. She looked across at Harden; his face was a mess, the blood pooling beneath his body.
Toni felt Laura start to shake, and realised she needed to get them both out of there quickly. She started to drag the blonde towards the entrance when she saw a can of fuel in the corner. Keeping one arm around the blonde, she bent and took the lid off of the can and then kicked it over. A small blowtorch was sitting by the entrance, a box of matches beside it.
Toni took Laura outside and leaned her against the wall, then stepped back in. She lit a match and threw it into the shop, the fumes from the fuel igniting immediately. She felt the hair on her face singe as she recoiled from the blaze. And then she was gathering Laura against her and hurrying her along the road.
Behind her gas tanks exploded as she turned the corner towards her car.
She deposited Laura in the passenger seat and rushed around the car to the driver’s door. She looked back to see flames reaching into the night sky. In the distance she heard sirens. So, gunfire could be ignored in this part of the city, but a fire would be reported.
The car started easily, and Toni quickly exited the street, passing the speeding fire engine as she did so.
It was over half an hour later that she stopped in a small layby, reaching across and pulling the dazed blonde into her arms.
Laura was groggy, and grasped weakly the strong arms that held her.
“I was so scared.” Her voice cracked and was little more than a whisper.
Toni switched on the interior light and pulled Laura’s hair back, examining the cut. “You’re safe now,” said Toni, satisfied that the bleeding had stopped.
“He said he was going to make you pay.” Green eyes found hers.
“I know.” Her voice was small, far away.
“I love you. Don’t leave me again.”
“Never, never again.” She bent her head and captured soft, trembling lips. “I have another chance, I won’t walk away again.”
They sat there like that for an hour, or maybe two, until Laura fell asleep in the taller woman’s arms.
Eventually she eased her back into her seat and snapped the seatbelt securely around her. Then she drove into the night, and into a future certain in the knowledge that she was loved.