Torn To Pieces by T. Stratton

Torn To Pieces
by T. Stratton

Part 1

“I think you should take my advice and call this place. They’ll be able to help you when you need it.” TC Buckner handed the tall brunette a off white card. “Just tell them I sent you.”

“You sure I really need this kind of help?” Cash Dunn asked starting to get scared of what her Father will do when he finds what she has done.

The DA nodded his head. “Yes, your Father won’t know you’re the star witness until just before the trial. So I would use the disguise they have as a car service and driver until you’re ready to leave.”

“I wish I had never over heard that conversation.” Cash closed her eyes and sunk deeper into the chair she was sitting in.

TC stood up and put a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “I know, but what you over heard will save so many people from going bankrupt or even worse. Death.”

“I know.” Cash took in a deep breath and stood up. She offered the DA her hand. “I’ll stop by this place this afternoon and get what I need to set up.”

“Great idea. If you have any trouble just have one of the girls give me a call and I’ll vouch for you.” The DA walked over and opened his office door. “Be careful and see you soon.”

****

THE NEXT MORNING….
“Hey dyke, why don’t you come over here so I can show you what you’re missing,” an overweight man yelled out from his truck window.

“Why don’t you shut your fat face,” Houston yelled back with a flip of her middle finger. “Asshole.”

“You know you want some of this.” He wiggled his tongue around and wiggled his eyebrows.

“No I don’t, and neither does your girlfriend. At least that’s what she told me last night after I showed her what it’s like to be with someone who lasts longer than 2.3 seconds,” the small blonde responded as she pulled on her helmet.

The man opened his door and took one step out. “You fucking bitch. I last a lot longer than that.”

“You’re right and I’m sorry.” Houston started her motorcycle. “It’s 2.5 seconds. I forgot you had to unzip your zipper and drop your pants.” She gunned the engine and laughed as she caught sight of the man tripping over his feet. “Nothing like pissing someone off at the butt crack of dawn.”

****

“Where the hell is she?” Karen asked for the seventh time in two minutes. “She was supposed to be here an hour ago.”

“You know as well as I do how she feels about mornings,” Carol Manning stated as she sipped her coffee. “Why don’t you give her a call and wake her ass up… again.”

“Hell, like I’ve not already tried that. Three times.” The sandy blonde haired woman shook her head. “I’m getting no answer.” Before Karen could say anything else they heard a loud rumble coming from down the street. “Finally.” Karen sighed.

After a few minutes the front door of the office opened and in stepped a whistling Houston. “Morning ladies, how are you this morning?”

“Well it could be better and it could be worse.” Carol smiled after her usual reply to her favorite employee. “Got a job for you.”

“Great, what is it?” Houston dropped into a black leather chair and rested her helmet on her knee.

Karen walked over and handed Houston a brown folder. “All the details are in here. It should be a cushy assignment.”

The two women watched their favorite employee read over the contents of the file. With a nod here and a grunt there they waited for the explosion that was sure to come. They didn’t have to wait long.

“Oh I don’t fucking think so.” The leather-clad blonde tossed the file on top of Carol’s desk. “No way am I going to drive for her.”

“You have no choice,” Karen replied as she sat on the corner of the desk. “She wants the best, and we all know you are the best.”

“I don’t care. No way, no how am I stepping within three feet of the arrogant bitch.” Houston slammed her palm down on top of her helmet. “I can’t believe you two would even consider this.”

“It was a hard decision to make. We considered it for a long while until we got some information that changed our minds.” Karen ran her hands through her hair.

“What could be so damn important that it changed your minds?” the upset blonde asked.

Carol grabbed another folder and held it out to Houston. “This.”

Houston hesitated a second before reaching for the folder and opening it slowly. Staring up at her were two sets of azure blue eyes that reminded her of a love that still made her heart skip a beat, and her soul shatter at the memories. “Her children.”

“Yes, and yours,” Carol softly answered.

Houston stood up and threw her helmet against the wall. “No, they are not my children. As soon as she walked out on me and took them I lost all rights to them.” She looked over at her friends with raging green eyes. “Find someone else. I don’t give a rat’s ass what happens to her or her family.”

****

Houston starred at the golden liquid before bringing it up to her lips and downing it in one gulp. She hissed slightly as the alcohol burned down her throat. “Oh, yeah that feels good.”

“Another?” the bartender asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Just leave the bottle,” Houston mumbled as she grabbed the bottle from the man’s hand. “And when this one is empty get me another.”

“You know he can’t do that H,” an older man in his late seventies said.

Houston blinked several times to clear her vision. “Hello, Erwin.”

“What brings you here Houston?” Erwin reached under the bar and grabbed himself a shot glass. “Share?”

Without thinking Houston poured herself and her friend a shot. “To the past. May it forever stay that way.”

Erwin watched his blonde haired friend swallow her drink and pour herself another one and do the same. He slowly lifted his own drink and sipped it until it was gone.

“So you going to tell me or not?” Erwin scratched his scruffy bearded face and waited.

Houston played with the clear shot glass for a long minute before she looked up at herself in the mirror behind Erwin. “She’s back.”

“Who’s back?” the old man asked.

Houston closed her eyes and fought back the tears that she thought had dried up long ago. “Cash.”

“Oh shit,” Erwin said before he could stop himself.

Houston nodded in agreement and poured herself another drink. “She came into the company and asked to hire someone as her driver for herself and her kids.”

Erwin knew the history between the two women. So he knew that the kids she spoke of were hers just as well as Cash’s. “What are you going to do about it?”

“Not a damn thing,” Houston answered coldly. “I don’t give a rat’s ass about them.”

“Yes you do, whether you want to admit it or not,” the balding man stated honestly. “Cash hurt you beyond belief by walking out with those babies, but I know you and you still love those kids.” He rested a hand on her forearm. “What would you do if something happened to them and you might have been able to stop it?”

Houston’s thoughts went back in time to the moment she first saw the ultrasound and watched the two hearts beat and the instant love she felt. Then the day they were born and how they looked all wet and red and the sound of their cries that filled the hospital room. “I would die.”

“I know, so maybe you should get out of here and go get some sleep and call Carol in the morning and tell her you’ll take the job.” Erwin waved a hand towards the door. “A cab should be out there already.”

Houston stood up and headed to the door, but stopped and turned to her friend. “Thanks Erwin.”

“Anytime short-stuff.” Erwin winked and smiled.

****

“Have you hired a new driver yet?” Joseph Dunn asked his daughter when he sat down for dinner.

“Yes, Father I called an agency yesterday and they had someone,” Cash replied casually as she cut up her son’s steak for dinner.

“Who is it?” Joseph questioned as he sipped his drink of ice tea.

“I don’t have a name yet, but the woman on the phone said it would be their best.” Cash smiled over to her son and then placed his plate in front of him. “Here you go, Trent. Tara, if you want me to cut yours, hand me your plate please.”

“Thanks Mom.” Trent grabbed his fork and quickly started eating his potatoes.

Tara shook her head. “No thanks Mom, I can do it myself.”

“Just be careful.” Cash nodded with a wink towards her daughter.

“You really should do that for her.” She’ll just make a big mess,” Joseph remarked without looking up from his own plate.

“Grandpa, I am a big girl and can do it myself,” Tara stated as she tried to cut off a piece of steak.

Joseph coldly glanced at the light hair child. “Don’t talk to your elders like that.”

Tara laid her knife down on the table. “Sorry Grandpa.”

Cash closed her eyes and counted to ten. She knew she should say something to her father, but years of being pressed under his thumb brought out the small child in her. Silently she promised to make it up to her daughter by reading an extra story and, if she could, let her have seconds on dessert.

****

Houston growled as she turned on her side to hide from the stream of light that snuck its way through her blinds. “Damn.”

Before she could fall back asleep she heard a loud knock at her front door. “Probably some religious group wanting to show me the light,” she mumbled as she tried to fall back into a dreamless sleep.

Carol and Karen looked at the door and then at each other knowing that Houston was home.

“Still got the key?” Karen asked annoyed.

Carol shook her head. “She snatched it from me the last time we woke her up this early.”

“Shit, guess we have to do this the hard way.” Karen stepped down off the porch and around the house with Carol on her heels. She stopped at the back side of the house where a small trellis with small red roses grew. “Now we have to decide who is doing the climbing.”

“Well Spider-woman, I say you go for it.” Carol moved back a few feet. “I promise I won’t look up your dress.”

“No we have to do this diplomatically.” Karen looked back to her friend then up the side of the house. “How about… rock, paper, scissors.”

****

Carol glared at Karen as she pulled a stick out of her hair. “The game is called rock, paper, scissors for a reason. You aren’t supposed to say bulldozer and smash my rock you bitch.”

“Hey, we didn’t have any rules.” Karen grinned back. “And I never promised not to look up your dress.” She wiggled her eyebrows.

“Dawg.” Houston smacked Karen on the back of the head. “Now why the hell are you here so damn early in the morning?”

“Early, hell H it’s a little after one.” Carol tossed the last twig at the short haired blonde.

“Whatever,” Houston mumbled as she took a sip of her coffee.

Karen leaned on the table holding her cup of coffee in between her hands. “We’re here to see if you changed your mind about the job?”

Houston sighed and closed her eyes. “I have been rethinking it, and though I can’t see anything good coming out of it I’ll do it.”

“Great,” the two other women in the room yelled.

“You start tonight.” Carol dug in her purse and pushed a piece of paper across the table. “Here is the address where you are supposed to pick up your passengers.”

Houston looked down and bit her bottom lip. “It’s her father’s address. Guess I should’ve known.”

“Honey listen. That’s not where she has been these past few years. She has been living in New York,” Karen informed her friend.

Houston stood up suddenly and leaned against the counter. “Please don’t tell me any more. I don’t want to know.”

Carol and Karen nodded their heads and stood up. “We need to get going. If you change your mind again let us know so we can get someone else on it.”

“I won’t change my mind. I said I’d do it and I’ll do it, but I won’t be my normal adorable self.” Houston smirked.

****

Houston pulled the black stretched limo up to the front door. She adjusted her black cap and straightened her silk black tie. She was just about ready to get out and knock on the front door when it was opened and two light haired children ran out chasing each other.

“I’ll get you for that,” Trent yelled at his sister.

Tara turned her head and stuck her tongue out. “Have to catch me first.”

Houston watched as the children ran around and in front of her car. She felt her heart tighten with each beat. After so many years of wondering what they looked like, and hiding the fact that she even cared, it brought tears to her eyes.

“Okay you two, knock it off and get back in the house,” Cash ordered as she stood in the doorway. “Mrs. Baker said she has some milk and cookies for you before bath time, and she also said if you are extra good she’ll read you a nice long story.”

“Cool.” Trent ran over to his mom and gave her a hug. “Will you come in and check on us when you get home?”

“You know I will. I can’t even dream of sleeping unless I kiss you two goodnight.” Cash smiled down at her son. “Now promise me you’ll be good.”

“We will Mom,” Tara replied as she stepped up for her own hug.

Houston silently sat in the limo watching the family say their good-byes. She could feel anger and resentment boiling deep within her soul because this used to be her family.

Cash looked into the limo, but with the tinted glass she was unable to see the driver. She hoped that whoever it was, they knew what was really going on and would be able to help her.

“Now remember, I told you that Grandpa and I will be out late and I’ll see you first thing in the morning.” Cash kissed the top of each head and shuffled them inside.

Houston took in a deep breath and went to open her door when the man she hated most in the world stepped up behind his daughter.

“You ready?” Joseph asked Cash. “If not we’ll be late and you know I hate to be late.”

“No, I’m ready.” Cash followed the older man after he passed her towards the back of the car.

Houston watched as Joseph opened the back door and got in without holding the door open for his daughter. The blonde’s eyes watched as the casually dressed woman stopped for a second to look towards her. When the tall brunette’s eyes met hers she thought her heart would melt. But she knew that without rolling the window down her identity was safe.

After waiting for several minutes Houston put the limo in drive and drove down the driveway towards the Hotel Majestic.

The drive to the downtown area was quiet and uneventful. Houston was hoping that the hotel would have someone to open the doors, because she didn’t want her two passengers to know she was the driver.

As luck would have it a doorman was right there waiting and let Joseph and Cash out of the limo. Houston smiled to herself and pulled the vehicle around the back where several other limousines and their drivers waited until their services were needed again.

****

The small blonde leaned against the side of the building watching several servers smoke. She was getting bored, and before she knew it she was walking through the kitchen looking for the doors that would open up and give her a glimpse of the big party.

When she found it, Houston stepped through the double swinging doors and instantly felt out of place. Everyone was dressed to the tee and talking about things that would either make them richer or prettier. Shaking her head she slipped past two older women talking about the latter, and hid behind a big assortment of flowers and plants.

It didn’t take long for her to find what in her heart she was really looking for. Cash stood in a circle with several good looking men. They all talked and laughed, but Houston could tell Cash was putting on a show and was truly bored out of her mind.

“Why in the world did you chose this life over one with me?” Houston mumbled quietly.

After several long minutes the small driver left with her head hung and her heart broken even more then it already was. As she walked through the doors to the kitchen she never saw the two blue eyes following her.

****

Joseph could feel the anger rise as he walked up to a group of gray haired men. He pointed to one and said, “You and me need to talk.” Then turned and headed towards a bare corner.

The other man gave him a curious look but followed.

“What can I do for you?” Douglas Sullivan asked with a raised eyebrow.

Do you remember the project I gave to you a few years back?” Joseph questioned.

Douglas thought for a second. “Which one?”

“The special project I had you do concerning my daughter?” the older man reminded his younger employee.

“Oh yes,” Douglas answered. “Why do you ask?”

“It seems the problem might be back in the picture, and I want information on her and I don’t want her to try and get back into my daughter’s life, or even my grandchildren’s.” Joseph glared before walking away towards his daughter.

****

Cash stood outside the front of the hotel waiting for her father to stop talking with several of his associates. She was hoping the limo would hurry up and pull up because her feet were killing her, and all she wanted to do was kiss her children good-night and go to bed.

Spotting her ride home she sighed. “Thank God.” She didn’t even bother to wait for the driver or the doorman to open the door. She just grabbed the handle and slid on to the soft black leather.

Houston watched in the review mirror as the exhausted woman leaned back and closed her eyes. Not knowing what to do, and before she could think to stop herself, she pushed the button for the intercom. “Is there anything you need while we wait?”

Cash’s eyes snapped open. “Pardon?” she asked, unsure if the voice she heard was the one she dreamt about every night.

Before Houston could ask again Joseph opened the door and slid in next to his daughter. He looked over at her and then towards the front of the car. “Anything I should know about?”

“No, Father,” Cash quickly answered and looked out the window closest to her.

Joseph nodded his head but kept his eyes on Cash.

Cash felt her father’s eyes on her back but didn’t turn around. She was still trying to calm her heart down. She prayed that the voice she had heard belonged to the only person who held her heart.

Before she knew it the limo had stopped and her father stood outside with the door open for her. She slowly dragged her tired body out and up the steps. Before she reached for the door handle she turned and looked towards the driver’s side door.

Joseph slammed the door and quickly moved in front of his daughter. “Come on Cash. You don’t want to catch a cold out in this chilly weather.”

Cash closed her eyes and sighed. “Yes, Father.”

Houston watched the two enter the house and close the door. She sat there staring for several minutes before she put the car in drive and headed down the long driveway. Once again missing a set of watching blue eyes.

****

Cash waited until her Father had left for work before she picked up the phone.

“L’s Limo Service. This is Carol. What can I do for you?” Carol answered in a cheerful voice.

“Hi, this is Cash Dunn and I was wondering if you could give me some information on the driver I hired,” the dark haired woman asked as she sipped her coffee.

“Morning Ms. Dunn, and I am sorry but we cannot give out that kind of information.” Carol tossed a crumpled up piece of paper at Karen. When the other woman looked over at her she motioned her over.

“You know I think that is unfair. I have this person in my employment and in some cases in direct contact with my children. So I think I should be able to get some personal information,” Cash shot back.

Karen raised her eyebrows and with a grin nodded her head.

Carol winked and then asked. “Can you come in sometime this afternoon?”

“Yes, is two okay?” Cash nearly jumped out of her chair.

“Two is good. See you then.” Carol then hung up the phone and looked over at her partner. “So you have a plan in that head of yours?”

“Don’t I always have a plan?” Karen replied casually.

****

Cash sat in her car with the window rolled down watching the people pass by. She still had a few minutes before her appointment with Carol and Karen, and she was trying to calm her nerves before she totally lost it. She knew that if the voice she had heard last night was the love from her past, things could get even more complicated then they were already. “Especially if Father finds out,” Cash mumbled under her breath.

The loud nose of a motorcycle zoomed past Cash only to slow down and do a U-turn, then park a couple of cars behind her on the other side of the street. The woman in the car watched in her side mirror as the driver of the motorcycle kicked down the kickstand and sat there with the helmet blocking all view of the driver’s face.

She continued to watch as the leather clad driver walked across the street and entered the coffee shop next door. Unable to find any other excuse to stay in the car, Cash climbed out of her car and slammed the door shut. “Time to face the music.”

Carol and Karen both looked up when the door opened. They each gave Cash a small smile and Carol gestured towards a chair. “Please have a seat.”

“Thanks,” Cash replied before she sat down.

Karen moved to sit next to Cash as Carol grabbed a folder that was filled with papers.

“Before we start I wanted you to know that your driver will be here at any moment,” Karen informed Cash. “We thought it would be in both of your best interest to meet.”

“We’ve already met,” Houston replied from behind the three women as she set her helmet down on a chair along with her coffee.

Cash couldn’t move. Her heart was beating so fast that her head started to spin and spots appeared before her eyes.

Houston moved before her brain registered what she was doing and grabbed a hold of Cash so she wouldn’t fall to the floor. She carefully held Cash’s upper body in her arms and stared at the face that still filled her dreams. Slowly without thought she traced the tip of her finger over the dark eyebrows and down a soft cheek.

Carol and Karen stood watching the scene with both heartache and smiles. They both knew the story of Cash and Houston, and knew that the next few weeks would either bring them back together for good, or tear through them like lightning would a tree.

Cash felt the soft touch against her skin as she came back into consciousness but she didn’t dare open her eyes.

“I know you are awake,” Houston softly said.

“I don’t want to,” Cash whispered, but blinked her eyes so she could focus on the concerned face above her. “You look just the same.”

“So do you.” Houston played with a strand of long dark hair. “Can you stand?”

Cash nodded her head, “Yeah.”

Carol grabbed a cup of water and handed it to Cash when she was back sitting in the chair. “You okay?”

“I’m good.” the slightly dazed woman sipped at the cold water.

Houston watched as Cash got herself together and tried to keep her heart on a normal beat, but she had so many questions. “Why are you here?”

Cash sighed deeply and sat the cup of water on Carol’s desk. “I need help getting me and my children away from my father.”

Houston blinked several times before her brain actually registered what she was just told. “What the hell do you mean get away from? Did you not leave me to go back to him?”

“Yes,” Cash answered softly.

The now irritated blonde started to pace as she ran her fingers through her short hair. “Then why in the hell did you even leave in the first place? Why did you leave me? Why did you take my family away from me?” Houston stopped and looked directly into watery blue eyes. “And explain to me why I should help you now?”

Carol and Karen looked from Cash to Houston wondering if maybe this conversation shouldn’t have happened in a more appropriate place.

“I can’t tell you,” Cash replied breaking eye contact with the upset woman.

“Bullshit,” Houston yelled out. “You can’t just walk into my life and expect me to help you get away from a life that you sure in the hell ran to pretty fast.” She knelt down so she was within Cash’s personal space and glared. “Do you have any idea what your actions did to me? I barely survived. My heart shattered into hundred if not thousands of pieces.”

Tears started to fall down Cash’s cheeks. In the past that alone would have made Houston stop in her tracks and console the woman until she felt better, but that was a long time ago and it didn’t matter any more.

“Houston why don’t you back up for a minute.” Karen patted the kneeling woman on the back.

“No, not until I find out why she is here and back in my life,” Houston snapped back without looking.

Cash lowered her chin against her chest so her hair would cover her face. She was ashamed of her past actions, but she knew that she would do the exact same thing if it meant the same outcome.

“So you’re going to remain silent?” Houston asked coldly and uncaring.

The silent brunette nodded her head.

“Fine, I won’t help you until I get the answers I want.” Houston stood up, grabbed her helmet and walked out of the building without another word.

No one paid any attention to the spilt coffee as it dripped down off the chair onto the carpet.

****

Houston didn’t pay any attention to the direction she rode in. All she knew was that her past had come back, and it didn’t have any of the answers she was seeking.

“Why now? Why did she have to pop back into my life when everything was going so good?” she tossed out to herself as cars and trucks sped by without notice. “I have a good job that I love, and friends that tell me when I’m getting too annoying or when I’m a big ass.”

Noticing a turn around spot that showed a view of the Pacific ocean she slowed down. She gazed at the water without taking her helmet off and watched as a yacht slowly made its way out of her sight. “What the hell am I supposed to do?”

With a big sigh Houston pushed her helmet off her head and looked up into the sky. “Give me a sign of some sort will ya big guy?” She waited and waited, and nothing happened. “Guess I’m on my own for this one.” She shook her head and pulled her helmet back on her head. Just as she was about to start up her motorcycle, a small SUV pulled in and two kids, one boy and one girl, jumped out of the back seat and stood in awe of the scenic picture before them.

Houston smiled at them and turned the key. Out of the corner of her eye she saw movement and watched as the children’s parents climbed out of the car. The driver held out her right hand so the passenger could take a hold of it. Slowly they made their way to stand behind the kids. Each woman rested a hand on a smaller shoulder as they got lost in a nature’s portrait.

Pushing up the kick-stand Houston nodded her head and headed back the way she had come. “I hope I can handle these next few weeks,” she mumbled to herself before she gunned the engine to full throttle.

****

Carol and Karen looked up at each other when they heard the last sound of Houston’s motorcycle. Cash still sat in the chair, and cried for the choices she had made, and the consequences they produced.

“Well, that was fun,” Karen mumbled as she headed back to her desk. “Guess we better find you a new driver.” She went to grab the folder with their list, but was stopped by Carol.

“No, she will be back once she calms down,” Carol said as she rubbed Cash’s shoulders. “She just needs to get everything in perspective.”

“I don’t blame her.” Cash looked up with tears running down her face. “What I did was so wrong.”

“Can you tell us why you did it?” Karen leaned her elbows on her desk and waited to see if they might get the answers for Houston. “Why did you leave her?”

Cash wiped the palm of her hand across her face as she took in a deep breath. “I had no choice. It was either leave, or watch as my father destroyed her.”

“How could your father destroy her?” Carol asked “Why didn’t you just talk to Houston?”

“You have to understand, my father is a very powerful man. Hell, one of his best friends is the President of the United States. He could gather information on someone and have them lost and buried in the desert with the snap of his fingers.” The tall brunette leaned back in her chair and looked up to the ceiling. “He has never liked my lifestyle. He had scared off every single woman I ever had a relationship with. I couldn’t handle it any more, so I took off. I knew at some point he would find me, but I had to try.”

“Is that when you met Houston?” Karen questioned softly.

Cash grinned. “Yes. Never in my life had I felt such freedom. I gave her everything, told her my deepest fears and most sacred secrets.” She slapped her hands on her thighs. “Then it was over. He contacted me.”

“What did he want?” Carol asked.

“He wanted me and the children to come move in with him. He didn’t want everyone to find out that his one daughter was living in sin.” Cash rubbed her hands up and down her thighs. “Especially his grandchildren. He wants to rase them to be the spitting image of himself.” She started to laugh softly.

Karen glanced over to Carol, then back to Cash with raised eyebrows. “Why are you laughing?”

“Trent and Tara are so not going to go for that. I think they have too much of Houston in them.” Cash smiled with that statement. “I always hoped that would be the case. She has no fear of anything.”

“You’re wrong about that,” Carol whispered.

Cash tilted her head to look the woman in the eyes. “What is she afraid of?”

“Right now she is scared that she still loves you.”

“I think she has made it perfectly clear that she doesn’t,” Cash replied quietly.

Karen shook her head. “No, I think that she showed all of us that you still affect her, and that she is just fighting it until she gets the answers to the question she has.” She glanced out the office window. “Are you going to tell her?”

Cash didn’t answer right away. She knew that she should, but the fear of her father was winning the internal battle. “I’m not sure.”

“Well, I think you need to in order to get everything straightened out. Houston isn’t our only driver, but she is the best,” Carol stated.

“How did she come to work for you? She was a successful business woman who was about to become one of the first woman presidents of a well known corporation,” Cash inquired out of the blue.

Carol and Karen nodded to each other in a silent agreement.

“Who says she works for us?” Karen crossed her arms over her chest.

“What? I thought…” Cash watched as both woman shook their heads.

“We work for her, but no one knows that. She is the silent owner, and no one knows about it but Carol and I and the lawyers,” Karen informed Cash, “So please don’t say anything to anyone.”

“Why did you tell me?” Cash wondered.

Carol stood up and walked around her desk to stand next to Cash. “Because we have seen what Houston is like without you in her life, and we know it’s not who she really is.”

“Who is she?” Cash blinked her eyes trying to stop the fresh tears.

Karen stood up and knelt down next to Cash. “Half of a person.”

****

When Houston walked into the office and stood in the doorway with the door open, Carol and Karen both looked up from their paperwork.

“Well?” Carol stood up to get Houston a glass of water. “Do you feel better?”

Houston nodded and went to sit in the chair Cash had sat in earlier. “Sorry for acting like a jerk.”

“No need to apologize. Your reaction is totally understandable.” Karen smiled letting their friend know all was okay.

Carol handed Houston the cup before she wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “What are you going to do?”

Houston lowered her head and took a very deep breath. “I’m going to do the only thing I can do. There is no way I could live with myself if something happened to them. So I will do my job and try not to get too involved.”

Carol looked into the seated woman’s eyes. “Do you think you will be able to do that? Keep everything at arm’s length?”

Houston shrugged her shoulders.

****

Cash pulled her car into the garage and just sat there trying to get her emotions in order before she walked into the house. She knew that if her father saw her now he would know something had happened and try to get it out of her. Her kids would get all concerned and worried, and that was the very last thing she ever wanted.

The knock on her window scared her so much she jumped and hit her head on the top of the car. “Ouch.”

“Oh, I am so sorry Ms,” Maxwell said after opening the door. “I did not mean to scare you. I was just concerned something might be the matter.”

Cash waved her hands in front of her. “It’s alright Max. I didn’t know anyone saw me pull in.”

Max nodded his head in understanding. He had always had a soft spot for this young woman, and hated his employer for the way he treated her. “Why don’t you go in through the front Ms. Mrs. Baker has the children in the kitchen making cookies for dessert.”

Cash smiled over to one of the only persons in her life that treated her like a person and not a thing. “Thanks Max, you are the best.”

“Only do what I get paid to do Ms.” Maxwell held out his hand to assist Cash out of the car.

Cash stood and didn’t hesitate to wrap her arms around the tall skinny man dressed in a black suit. “You do so much, more than anyone else has.”

Maxwell fought the tears that threatened to fall. He had wished all his life that he could have had a daughter like the woman hugging him now. “Thank you Ms.”

“I’ll see you inside.” Cash gave him one last squeeze before she headed into the house.

****

Joseph watched his daughter from the window of his bedroom with coldness. He knew in his gut that she was up to something, but what it was he had no clue. “I think it’s time my daughter found the perfect man to marry and settle her down some.”

With strong fingers he picked up his phone. “This is Joseph, I was wondering if you were busy tomorrow night?”

He listened to the answer and smiled. “Good, you’ll be taking my daughter out, and need to make a good impression. Who knows, this may be your way to get into my good graces again.” He hung up and continued to watch his tall daughter until she was in the house. “Time to make you see who you really should be.”

****

The next night Cash stood in front of her mirror brushing her hair. “I can’t believe that man would order me to go out with Patrick.” She thought of the last time she was in the same room with the man, and it made her skin crawl. “I’ll just go out and try my best to be polite so I won’t piss off Father, but the first chance I get to leave, I’m taking it.” She sighed when she heard a loud knock and her father’s voice. “I should have stayed in New York.”

She set her brush on the sink and opened her door. “I’m ready Father.”

“Good, and you best make sure you have a good time. This young man could be the successor to my business.”

“Then why do I have to go out with him?” Cash asked.

Joseph glared at his daughter. “Because I said so.” He started to walk to the stairs, but stopped and turned around to look Cash in the eyes. “He would also make a great father figure for your children.”

“Bullshit,” Cash thought to herself.

“Now hurry up. You don’t want to keep him waiting,” the arrogant man stated.

“Yes, Father,” Cash replied, and followed the man down the steps to what was sure to be a very boring evening.

****

Houston walked along the beach front, listening to the water crash against the sandy beach. This was always her favorite time to come out here and just watch and try not to think. It was proving to be hard not thinking of a tall brunette with eyes the same shade as the ocean waters. “I need to set my feelings aside and do my job. I need to get her to safety and make sure her father does not find her.”

She slouched down to sit in the sand. Her toes wiggled around until they were covered. “Have to get my heart to listen to my head, and not get emotional about it.” The sounds of laughter from behind made her look at a couple holding hands and running towards the water.

Unable to stop staring Houston felt tears form in her eyes. She remembered what it was like to be that in love, and not have a care in the world. Her only thoughts were of holding and loving Cash. “And to make her smile,” Houston mumbled as she wiped a fallen tear off her cheek.

Unable to stand being that close to the couple, Houston stood up and walked back to the parking lot where her car was parked. “I need to finish this and take a long vacation.” She unlocked her door and grabbed her shoes and put them back on before she climbed in. She rolled her window down and she started the engine.

The smell of a restaurant floated on the breeze, and as soon as Houston nose caught the aroma her stomach growled. “Guess I better go eat.”

****

Cash sat in the dimly lit restaurant and listened as Patrick droned on and on about himself, and what he wanted out of his future. She closed her eyes and cringed when he started in on what family life would be like for them.

“Excuse me, but this is only our first date,” Cash stated calmly. “I suggest you slow things down a little bit.”

“Oh come on babe, I know you feel the spark just as much as I do. We’re going to be the best looking couple around,” Patrick replied arrogantly.

Unable to listen to him talk any more, Cash tossed her napkin on the table and stood. “Excuse me, I need to visit the ladies room.”

Patrick stood up. “No problem. I’ll order dessert for us while you’re gone.”

“You do that.” Cash turned and made her way through the sea of tables to where the restrooms were located.

Houston entered the Enchanted Sea and looked around. She had never been here, but thought she’d give it a try since it was the first place she had come upon after leaving the beach.

“Hello, my name is Sandy, can I help you?” a perky looking teenager asked as she pulled out a menu.

Houston smiled. “Yes, do you have a table for one?”

“Sure do, follow me.” Sandy practically skipped as she made her way towards a small table with two empty chairs. “Here you go. Marcus will be your server.”

“Thank you, Sandy.” Houston sat down and started to look over the extensive menu. “What do I feel like?”

Cash studied Houston as she decided what she was going to eat. Unable to stop watching a battle was going on with her emotions on whether she should walk over and talk with her ex-lover. Deciding that she really needed to see a sort of friendly face, she headed towards the table.

“Hi,” Cash said softly, standing behind the seated woman.

Houston laid the menu down and turned. “Hi.”

Neither woman said a thing for several long seconds until the silence was broken by Sandy rushing over with an extra menu. “Are you going to join her?”

“I wish I could, but I have to get back to my table. I just wanted to say hello.” Cash smiled.

“You can sit for a few minutes. Can’t you?” Houston stood up and gestured towards the empty chair across from her. “Please.”

Cash nodded her head and made her way to take a seat. “You know I could never say no when you say please.” She smiled up at Sandy who had left and was back with a glass of ice water. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” The waitress grinned and then looked to Houston. “Marcus will be right here in just a second to take your order.”

Houston nodded her head without taking her eyes off of Cash. Her heartbeat increased as she watched the tall woman sip her drink. The blue cotton dress she had on brought out the color of her eyes, and the contrast of her long dark hair surrounding her face made her look like a goddess.

“So what are you doing here?” Cash asked.

Houston swallowed the lump in her throat. “Eating dinner.”

“Funny,” Cash laughed.

“What about you?” Houston leaned against the top of the table with her elbows. “What brings you out tonight?”

Cash looked over the smaller woman’s shoulder to the man seated quietly looking out the window. Houston followed her gaze and sighed. “You’re on a date.” It was not a question, it was a statement.

“Unfortunately, yes.” Cash slouched in her seat. “My father set it up.”

“Lovely,” Houston mumbled. “You think you should get back to him?”

Cash gave her a disgusted look. “Not really.” Just as she said that, Patrick looked over and saw her. He gave her a look of confusion before he stood up and started to make his way over. “Great, here he comes.”

Houston rolled her eyes. “So much for a quiet evening.”

“Friend of yours?” Patrick asked sarcastically.

Cash stood up. “Yes, Houston Mckinney, this is Patrick Ross.”

“Hi.” Houston gave him a small wave. “Well it looks like you two are having a nice evening, so you should go sit back down and enjoy it.”

“Please Houston,” Cash pleaded.

Patrick reached for his date’s arm and tugged her towards their table. “Let’s go.”

Cash tried to tug her arm free, but he was too strong. “I’ll head back to the table when I’m ready.”

“No, you will go when I say,” Patrick ordered in a cool tone.

Houston stood up and grabbed the big man’s shirt collar. “I suggest you take your hands off her now.”

The irate man let go of Cash’s arm so he could get a hold of the small blonde who had dared touch him. “Get your hands off me before you regret it.”

“No, you will be the one who will regret it. I may be small, but I could kick your ass.” Houston made her point by flipping the man over her shoulder so he came crashing down on the small table she had just been sitting at. “Stay down before I really embarrass you.”

Cash stood with her mouth wide open. She had never seen anything like it, and as she noticed the shocked expression on Patrick’s face she couldn’t help but laugh. “I wish I could have done that.”

Houston grabbed her hand and led her towards the front door. “Who knows, maybe I’ll teach you how.”

“I like that idea,” Cash replied as she followed the smaller woman without question or thought about the consequences.
Part 2
Cash watched as Houston drove the car through the fast food restaurant drive through. She smiled after hearing the large order, and shook her head when asked if she wanted something.

With sure hands Houston steered the car back onto the road while she dug into the bag for her fries. “So what do you want to do?”

“I have no clue,” Cash replied as she watched the road ahead of them. “I should go home and wait for the fallout of what happened. But…”

“But what?” Houston asked with her mouth full.

The tall passenger laughed. “Your manners sure have diminished since I last spent any time with you.”

“Hey, I’m hungry.” Houston tried to sound hurt, but failed miserably.

The only sounds in the car for a few minutes were Houston eating and the passing cars.

“So are you going to tell me what the but was?” Houston glanced over at her passenger.

“Yeah, I was going to say, ‘But I don’t want to’.” Cash sighed. “I need to get out of there and get Tara and Trent away from my father.”

“Well, that’s why you hired me, remember?” Houston answered. “If you want we could go in tonight and get the children. I can take you to a safe house.”She thought of the small apartment that Carol, Karen and herself have used to many times to count, in order to keep beaten and frighten woman safe from people that were suppose to love and cherish them.

“I think that would be better than going home and waiting to see what happens. He’s up to something, and I don’t want us to be around when it happens,” the suddenly scared woman stated. “We need to go now. I can sneak us in the back way. It shouldn’t take us more than 15 minutes to be ready.”

“What about your father? Won’t he be waiting up for you to see how your big date went?” Houston made a quick u-turn so they were heading in the right direction.

“He might be, but usually he waits until breakfast to give me the third-degree.” Cash rubbed her hands together to warm them up. “I know I owe you a big explanation of why I did what I did, and I promise when we get to safety I will tell you everything.”

“Okay,” Houston nodded as she reached back into the fast food bag for her cheeseburger.

It took the women twenty minutes to get to Cash’s father’s house. They stopped before the turn in and parked.

“I think we should walk up. That way no one will hear the car and come see,” Houston stated as she undid her seatbelt. “Do you want me to come with, or wait here?”

“I think just in case I do get stopped you should stay here. That way I can do my best to bluff my way out of it.” Cash opened her door but stopped before she got out. “Thanks.”

“Not a problem. It’s what I do.” Houston shrugged her shoulders. “Now get going so we can get out of here. I’m going to call Karen and Carol so they can get the safe house ready.”

Cash nodded her head and quickly climbed out of the car and headed up the driveway to the side of the house and around to the back door. Slowly she opened the door and looked into the dark kitchen. Not seeing or hearing anything, she slipped in and made her way around the table to the door. Cash cringed slightly when the door creaked. “Damn it.”

Houston watched the tall woman make her way into the dark before she reached into her pocket and grabbed her cell phone. She hit speed dial and waited for it to be answered. “It’s me. How soon can you and Carol have the house ready?” She waited and listened to the reply. “Okay, get started. I’m waiting for her to get the kids, and then we’ll be on our way.”

Cash snuck up the steps towards her daughter’s room. Before she could even open the door she heard movement downstairs and someone walking up the same steps she had just walked up. “Just one break is all I have ever asked for. But do I get it when I really need it? Nope.”

She turned to head to her room and wait for whoever it was to go to bed, but was stopped by a soft cough.

“Excuse me Ms, but are you okay?” Maxwell asked as he reached the top step. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

“No, Max I was just checking on the kids and heading to bed.” Cash smiled as she walked to her door. When she reached her doorknob a soft hand touched her shoulder. “Is there something else Max?”

Max nodded before he waved for her to follow him to the closet. He opened the door and grabbed three duffle bags and set them by her feet.

With a curious look Cash bent over and unzipped one. “Clothes?”

“Yes, Ms. One is for you and the others are for the children.” Max waited for Cash to stand. “If you get Tara I’ll get Trent ready.”

“How did you know?” the stunned woman asked as she reached for his hand.

Max squeezed the soft fingers that were holding on to him. “I saw you walk by a window downstairs and figured it was time. Otherwise you wouldn’t have tried to sneak into the house.”

“Busted. Promise you won’t tell my father. Please,” Cash begged with tears running down her face.

Max dropped her hand but quickly wrapped his arms around the woman’s body. “I swear as your friend I won’t say a word. Plus, if there is anything else you need of me, all you have to do is call and I will come.” He leaned back and let his own tears fall. “On my honor.”

“Thank you so much Max.” Cash placed a loving kiss on his cheek.

Max cupped Cash’s face and returned the gesture. “You are like my own daughter, and I would do anything for you.”

The two stood in the hallway for several minutes before Max leaned down and grabbed the bags. “Lets go get the children ready and you out of here.”

****

Houston sat on the top of her car’s hood and watched the stars blinking above her head. Every minute or so, she would look over her shoulder for any sight of Cash and the children. Her insides were doing jumping jacks. “How will I act towards the kids? Will I freeze, or maybe let slip that I was suppose to be part of their lives? God I’m so freaking nervous.”

A snap of a twig broke her thoughts and she slid down to the cement. She saw Cash and someone else each holding a child coming towards her at a fast pace. Without being asked she opened the rear door and waited for the two to load the sleeping kids in.

“Houston, I want you to meet Maxwell. He has been working for my family since forever.” Cash quietly introduced the two people beside her.

“Your Houston?” Maxwell looked to Cash as he stuck his hand out. “It’s a great pleasure to meet you.”

Houston gave Cash a raised eyebrow as she shook Max’s hand. “Nice to meet you as well.”

“Well, we’d best get going,” Cash whispered as she looked back to the house. “I want to be as far away as we can get before morning.”

“You remember what I said, and when you can, somehow let me know you are safe.” Max hugged Cash one more time before turning around and making his way through the night back to the house.

****

Carol and Karen both stood in the small apartment looking to make sure everything was covered. Enough groceries in the refrigerator to last over a week, and new linens covered each of the beds. A few new toys put on shelves for Trent and Tara, and some books for Cash to read if she didn’t want to watch TV. They both knew that this would be the hardest part of hiding their charges. The waiting and anxiety of being found in a place that is unknown and sort of like a prison.

“I hope it doesn’t take long for this to end.” Carol sat down on the couch. “The children will be driving Cash crazy in three days.”

“I know, but not much we can do about it. We just have to wait for the DA’s office to get the case finished and they can prosecute Dunn and his cronies,” Karen stated as she finished off her bottled water. “They should be here anytime now. Do you want to wait?”

“Might as well.” Carol closed her eyes and the two sat in silence until they heard a key sliding into the lock.

“We can put them in the bedroom to the right. Yours will be right across the hall on the left,” they heard Houston say.

Carol stood up and walked into the kitchen. She poured everyone a glass of ice water, and set up a small try of already made sandwiches. “Karen, could you please come in here and help me carry this in.”

“Sure,” Karen replied as she walked into the room. “I just checked on them and they are getting the kids settled in the beds.

Carol nodded her head and followed her friend.

Houston stood back and watched Cash carefully take off Tara’s and then Trent’s shoes before pulling the covers back so each child could be covered by the soft blanket and cotton comforter. She smiled at each one before placing a gentle kiss on the tops of each head. Suddenly her heart lurched. This is what had been taken away from her. The sight and pleasure of her children growing up and turning into the people they are supposed to be. The nightly rituals of bedtime stories, and glasses of water. Hugs and kisses and love that can only come from a child’s innocent heart. Unable to stand watching any longer she walked out of the room.

Cash saw the look on the blonde woman’s face as she left. She knew that no matter what her excuse was, it would never bring back the time she had taken away from Houston and the two precious babies she looked at now. “May God watch over you,” she whispered, and left the room to face the music.

****

Carol and Karen watched Houston stomp into the living room and slouch into the chair.

“Problem?” Karen asked with a raised eyebrow.

Houston shook her head. “Oh no, everything is just fine and dandy.”

“Bullshit.” Karen stood up to walk in front of the seated blonde. “Spill it.”

Houston leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “I just realized once again what I have been missing these last few years, and I had to walk away from the scene before I truly lost it.”

“Maybe now would be a good time for me to explain,” Cash said as she walked into the room. She looked at Carol then Karen. “Could you two please give us some time alone?”

“Sure.” Carol stood up and grabbed her purse. “If you need anything just call. You have our cell numbers.

Karen followed Carol down the hallway to the front door. And made sure to lock the door before she closed it shut.

****

Cash stood in the doorway and took a deep breath. She knew the next few minutes were going to be harsh. “I deserve what I get,” she whispered, and walked in.

Houston knew the second the tall woman stepped into the room. Without looking up she asked, “Why?”

“I thought I had no choice. My father found out about the kids. He threatened me, and I had to go with him,” Cash stated.

Houston stood up and stared to pace. “Frankly, if you don’t get into more details I will really blow my top.” She stopped right in front of Cash and looked her straight in the eyes.

Cash lowered her head and nodded. “I have told you how my father is. You know he has ruled over my entire life.” She looked back up and met green eyes. “Until you popped in, and it was unlike any way I have ever lived.”

“Then why did you leave? We had everything.” Houston waved her arms at her side.

The tears started to fall down Cash’s cheeks. “He said he’d kill you.”

Houston was speechless for several seconds. “Well I wasn’t expecting that, but that still doesn’t explain why you didn’t come to me and tell me. We could have figured it out. We could have fought this instead of you taking off and not confiding in me. You took my children away from me. I have never been so hurt in all my life. I swear I hated you for so long.” She glared at the now crying woman. “Now I just feel sorry for you.”

“What?” Cash asked, shocked by that last statement. “Sorry for me?”

“Yes, because you had something that could have beaten anything in our path, but you chose to run.” Houston moved back to the chair she had been sitting in. “You tossed away the love I had for you and those two in the other room.” She pointed in the direction where Tara and Trent were sleeping.

“I didn’t toss anything away. I thought I was keeping you safe. I thought I was saving your life over my own welfare and my children.”

“Bullshit, you took the easy way out,” Houston snapped back. “The easiest thing you could have done, you did.”

“You think it was easy to leave you and take away our children?” Cash started to pace. “That is so far from the truth.”

“Truth, I’ll tell you the truth.” Houston stood back up with anger seeping from every pore. “Was it easier for you to think how I would react to an empty house after getting off of work? Was it easier for you to take my heart and tear it into thousands, if not millions of pieces?”

“How do you think it felt to me, knowing I was doing something that would hurt you?” Cash yelled back. “Never in my life did I want to do that. I know my father. He will and has done things so that he gets his way. No matter the price.” The upset woman covered her face. “You didn’t hear how he described what he would do to you,” Cash gasped. “It was unthinkable.”

“I think he accomplished just what he set out to do,” Houston replied. “He got you and the kids, and he almost destroyed me.” Houston made her way to Cash. “He won just like he always has, and you walked right into it.”

“No,” Cash cried.

Houston knew she shouldn’t, but couldn’t help herself. She wrapped her arms around the sobbing woman and held her tight.
“I just wish you had come to me.”

“I’ve wished that since the day I left.” Cash laid her head on the shorter woman’s strong shoulders.

Houston closed her eyes and held the woman that she had loved without question. After a long while Cash straightened and moved away from Houston. “I don’t deserve that.”

“Deserve what?” Houston asked softly.

“Your compassion.” Cash took a few more steps away from the blonde. “I’m going to go take a shower,” she mumbled, and quickly made her way to the bedroom where her bag was, and then headed to the bathroom.

Houston watched the woman hastily leave, and then she heard the click of the bathroom door as it closed and locked. “I never could stand it when she cried.” She hit the back of the couch with her palm. “Damn it.”

****

Cash stepped out of the shower and dried herself off. When she was done she looked at her reflection in the mirror. She could only see parts of her face because of the condensation from her hot shower. Seeing nothing but a shell of who she really was, she tossed the damp towel at the mirror and started to get dressed in her pajamas.

She unlocked the door and stepped out; the soft sound of music could be heard from the living room. Wondering what the lyrics were, she slowly made her way down the carpeted hallway, but stopped just shy of the entrance.

I open my eyes I try to see but I’m blinded by the white lightI can’t remember how I can’t remember why I’m lying here tonight
Cash watched as Houston closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the chair’s back and listened.

And I can’t stand the pain And I can’t make it go awayNo I can’t stand the painHow could this happen to meI made my mistakes I’ve got nowhere to runThe night goes onAs I’m fading awayI’m sick of this lifeI just wanna screamHow could this happen to me

Everybody’s screamingI try to make a sound but no one hears me I’m slipping off the edgeI’m hanging by a thread I wanna start this over again So I try to hold onto a time when nothing mattered

And I can’t explain what happened

And I can’t erase the things that I’ve done No I can’t How could this happen to me I made my mistakes I’ve got nowhere to run The night goes on As I’m fading awayI’m sick of this life I just wanna scream How could this happen to me I made my mistakes I’ve got nowhere to runThe night goes on As I’m fading away I’m sick of this life I just wanna scream How could this happen to me

The hidden woman watched as the silent woman slapped at the stop button and sighed. Wondering what the song meant to the other woman, she decided that it wasn’t any of her business anymore, and quietly walked to her room and closed the door.

Houston knew the instant Cash had opened the bathroom door, but didn’t care if she heard the song. When she had first heard it a few months ago it had hit a sensitive spot in her, and ever since then she had played it over and over again until she had the whole thing memorized down to the last note.

She figured it could mean different things to different people. She was still uncertain what it meant to her, but that didn’t bother her too much; she just felt something as the music played softly to her.

****

“Who is she?” Trent asked his sister as they stared at the sleeping woman.

Tara shrugged her shoulders. “I have no idea.”

“Hey you two, leave her alone and come over here and get breakfast,” Cash whispered softly while she opened a box of cereal, “Or you won’t get to watch cartoons.”

“Okay Mom,” both children replied before shuffling their feet to the table.

“Hey I want the blue spoon.” Trent reached across the table and snatched the utensil. “You can have the green one.”

Tara shook her head. “No, give the blue one back or I’m telling Mom you took it from me.”

“Hush you two,” Cash scolded. “A spoon is a spoon.”

“Not so Mom,” the bed-head boy stated. “The blue one gives you super powers.”

Cash raised an eyebrow. “You don’t say.” She opened the milk and started to pour it over the sugary breakfast. “Where did you hear this?”

Trent thought for a minute before he answered. “It’s just a known fact. Everyone knows that.”

The three at the table looked over when they heard a soft laugh. Cash gave Houston a small smile before she went to start the coffee.

Houston stretched before she sat up with a loud yawn.

“Who are you?” Tara asked with a mouth full of food.

Cash turned around and scolded her daughter. “You know better than to be rude.”

“But Mom,” the young girl whined, “How am I suppose to find out things if I don’t ask?”

Trent nodded his head as a drip of milk slid down his chin.

“She does have a point,” Houston replied as she stood up and made her way down the hall to the bathroom. It took her a few minutes before she made her way back into the other room. She walked up to the seated children and held out her hand first to Tara. “Hi, I’m Houston.” She repeated the same action with Trent before walking around to grab a cup for some coffee.

“Why are you named after a city in Texas?” Trent asked curiously. “Do you have a brother named Dallas? Is that your first name or last name?”

Houston laughed, “no I don’t have any siblings and McKinney is my last name.”

“What’s your middle name?” Tara jumped in with her own question.

Houston looked at Cash who shrugged her shoulders as she sipped her own drink. “Sorry, but they have always been inquisitive.”

“No problem,” the blonde stated. “I really dislike my middle name.”

Trent started to bounce in his seat. “Is it Bertha or Bulla or something like that?”

Cash nearly spit out the coffee she had just drunk. Houston had to make a quick dash to the sink to spit out her own mouth full.

Trent looked from one woman to the other, then to his sister. “What did I say?”

“Who knows?” Tara replied.

****

“Where are the children?” Joseph asked as he sat down for his breakfast.

Mrs. Baker set a cup of steaming coffee to the man’s right side. “They are not down yet.”

“Well, I suggest you go get them,” Joseph stated coldly.

Mrs. Baker bowed slightly. “Yes, Sir.” She quickly left the room and headed up the stairs to Cash’s room. She knocked softly, and when she didn’t hear anything she opened the door and stuck her head in. “Miss Cash?” When she spotted the bed, she closed the door and walked to first Trent’s room then Tara’s. “Oh my.”

Joseph looked up when Mrs. Barker came back in. “Well?”

“I’m sorry Sir, but they are not up there.” The old woman’s voice quivered in fear.

Joseph slammed his hand on the table. “What do you mean they aren’t up there? Where in the hell are they?” He stormed past the shaking woman and headed up the stairs to see for himself.

“Cash?” he yelled out before he opened the bedroom door and looked in. “When I get my hands on you…” The outraged man slammed the door closed. “Maxwell,” he shouted.

Max made his way out of the kitchen and up the stairs. “Yes, Sir.”

“Do you happen to know where my daughter is?” Joseph eyed the skinny man.

The nicely dressed man shook his head. “No Sir. Isn’t she in her room?”

Not bothering to answer the question Joseph stepped up to the man and grabbed his shoulders. “Did she come home last night?”

“I’m sorry Sir. I went to bed early,” Max replied calmly.

Mrs. Baker looked from one man to the other, knowing Maxwell had just lied. She knew now that Cash and the children were somewhere safe.

“Call the police and get them here.” Joseph ran down the stairs towards his office. As soon as he entered he called Patrick.
“My daughter better not be with you. I swear if you have tarnished her reputation any worse then it already is, I’ll kill you.”

“Excuse me?” Patrick answered still half asleep.

“Patrick wake your ass up,” Dunn ordered loudly.

“Mr. Dunn. Sorry, I was sleeping and I didn’t expect your call.” Patrick quickly sat up.

Joseph growled. “Where is my daughter?”

“Sir, the last time I saw her she was at the restaurant leaving with some woman friend of hers,” Patrick informed the outraged man.

“What?” Joseph bellowed. “What woman?”

“Some blonde woman who was having dinner there. Cash got up to go to the bathroom, and next thing I know I’m being tossed over a table by her friend,” Patrick said hoping to get some sympathy from the powerful man.

Joseph didn’t respond; he hung up the phone only to dial another number. “She’s gone. Get all the information you have on the blonde and get over here. NOW.” He hung up the phone, but didn’t let the receiver go. His knuckles started to turn white as the grip tightened. “I’ll kill them both.”

****

Trent and Tara sat in front of the TV watching some cartoon. They didn’t pay any attention to the woman watching them with wondering green eyes.

“Want more coffee?” Cash asked as she stood behind Houston. “What are the plans for today?”

Houston shook her head. “No thanks, and as for plans, I will be going to the DA this afternoon to let him know that you are in protective custody.”

“Will he want to talk to me?” the tall brunette asked as she finished off her own morning drink.

Houston shrugged her shoulders. “He may, but it will be under my rules. Your father has too many friends in high places, and your safety couldn’t be guaranteed. Doing it my way, you and the kids will be.”

“I have no doubt.” Cash went to rub her hand down Houston’s arm but stopped herself. “I trust you.”

“Thanks,” Houston grinned. “Well I better go get dressed.”

“Okay.” Cash moved back to let the woman by.

****

“She’s in a safe and secure location?” the DA asked as he shuffled through papers and folders that covered his desk.

Houston pointed to the top of the balding man’s head. “They’re on top of your head.”

“Thanks,” the man replied as he grabbed his glasses and set them on his nose. “I have the numbers I need to get a hold of you or your two friends. Right?” He looked up over the top of his bifocals.

“Yes, all the numbers are the same. Just call us when you have a day set, and I will make sure she is here and ready to do what needs to be done.” Intense green eyes met TC’s tired old ones.

TC nodded his head. “Okay, I’m guessing two, maybe three weeks.”

“See you then.” Houston stood up and held her hand out.

The DA stood up and gently took the offered hand. “Be careful Houston. Joseph Dunn is an evil man, and he will try to do anything he can once he finds out who the star witness is.” He glanced down at his watch. “Which should be any time now.”

“Trust me. I’ve learned first hand what kind of power this man has.” Houston gave a small wave and walked out the door right into Joseph’s path.

“Well look who we have here,” Dunn growled. “What have you done with my daughter?”

“Who?” Houston answered with a puzzled look. “Do I know you?”

Joseph grabbed the front of Houston’s shirt and slammed her against the wall. “I suggest you tell me and back off from this.” He got within a hair’s breadth. “You will regret everything.”

TC opened his door and looked out. “Is there a problem? Because if there is I’ll call security.”

Joseph moved back and smiled at the DA. “Just having a talk is all.”

“Sure.” TC glared at the man he knew was nothing more than a snake with legs. “Houston?”

Houston straightened her shirt. “Don’t worry TC.” She stepped away from the wall and started down the steps to the outside.

Joseph went to follow her but was stopped by a hand on his arm “What?” he asked the man next to him.

“Guess we’ll see you in court soon.” TC smiled with delight.

“You never know what the future holds Mr. Buckner,” Dunn snapped.

“That’s right. Are you prepared to pay for your past?” TC leaned against the doorjamb with a satisfied grin.

Joseph didn’t respond at all before he walked away down the stairs. As he made his way down he grabbed his cell phone.

****

Cash dozed on the couch. The boredom of sitting around the small apartment with nothing to do was getting to her. “Hell, it’s only been one day and I’m already going stir crazy.” She glanced over to her children and smiled. She was thankful that they seemed content, and not bored out of their minds like she was. “I need to find something to do, or I’m going to totally lose it.”

About thirty minutes went by as Cash watched TV and flipped through a book before Houston walked in with her hands full of bags. “Hi.”

“Hi. How did it go, and what do you have there?” Cash went to stand and help but the smaller woman shook her head.

“Stay,” Houston said as she set the bags down on the floor. “I bought some stuff for you because I know you hate to be cooped up inside.” She reached in and pulled out a handful of paintbrushes. “Thought you would like to paint some.”

Cash felt her heart soar with excitement. “Oh my God. Thank you so much.” She jumped up and started to empty all the bags. “You’ve thought of everything.”

“You’re welcome.” Houston smiled as she watched the brunette run the tip of a paintbrush across her palm. “I’ve got more stuff in the trunk of the car.”

“Really?” Cash practically bounced.

“Let me go get it, and you can set it up wherever you want.” Houston turned around and headed back outside to her car. When she walked back in, her hands were once again full, this time with a painter’s easel and several small canvases. “Hope this can get you started.”

“It’s more than enough.” Cash let a tear fall down her cheek. “It’s been forever since I painted.”

“Why did you stop?” Houston asked as she set the stuff down.

The tall woman shrugged. “My father thought it was stupid and childish.” She looked up to meet understanding green eyes.
“I didn’t want the hassle.”

“Fighting for what you dream is never a hassle.” Green eyes never left the other woman’s gaze.

****

“You need to find out where she is. If you don’t, everything will come crashing down.” Joseph poked the man in the chest.

“What does she know?” the other man questioned. “She can’t know too much.”

“Apparently she must know a lot, since she is their star witness,” Dunn replied sarcastically. “You need to find the blonde, and then you’ll find Cash.” He lit up a cigar and blew smoke up into the air. “If you have to, take the blonde out.”

“I’m not going to be part of a murder.” Andy Locke stood up and looked at his business partner.

Joseph shrugged his shoulders. “What’s the difference? We’ve been embezzling money from our employees’ retirement funds. That will kill more people slowly. What I have in mind for that bitch is so much worse.”

****

Karen and Carol stepped out of their office and started to walk towards where they had their cars parked. They didn’t pay any attention to the casually dressed man following thirty feet behind them.

“Should we stop by and see how our charges are doing?” Carol asked as she pulled her keys out of her purse.

Karen stopped at her silver Corolla and looked at her friend. “No, I think we should stay away for a few days. If Houston needed us, she’d have gotten in contact with us.”

“True,” Carol mumbled. “I just want to know how things are.”

“I do too,” her more patient friend smiled, “But we should give them time to get used to each other. Who knows, maybe the spark is still there and they can work things out.”

Carol sighed. “Do you think Houston will put herself out there again?”

Karen thought for a few seconds. “Honestly, I don’t think she ever stopped loving Cash, and taking this job over her broken heart proves that.”

“I know, but will they get back together?” The woman had a twinkle in her eyes.

“You are a hopeless romantic aren’t you?” Karen laughed when she saw her business partner shrug her shoulders. “I think anything is possible.”

“Hot damn_” Carol bounced up and down. “So can we run by tomorrow?”

“Ok, we can run over before we open up.” Karen pushed Carol towards her own car and waved. “See you then.”

“Bye.” Carol waved back as she opened her driver’s side door.

The man hidden by the corner of the building grinned to himself and opened his cell phone. “I should have the place tomorrow.” He waited for the reply, then closed the phone back up and quickly made his way to his car.

****

Houston sat at the table eating her dinner as she watched the other three people picking up around her.

“You want some more milk?” Tara asked as she held up the gallon of milk.

Houston nodded her head and spoke around a mouth full of food. “That would be great.”

“You really shouldn’t talk with your mouth full,” Trent stated as he put a glass in the dishwasher.

Cash turned quickly. “Trent, you shouldn’t talk like that to an adult.”

“But Mom she shouldn’t,” Trent whined. “Grandpa says so.”

The dark haired mom froze.

Houston noticed this and stood up. “Hey Trent, you’re right, I shouldn’t talk with my mouth stuffed with food.” She waved him off to the living room. “Why don’t you and your sister go watch TV? I’ll finish up in here.”

The two children looked to their mom to make sure it was okay. When they saw the small smile, they took off and yelled, “Thanks Houston.”

“No problem.” Houston grabbed Cash by her elbow and had her sit down. She took the towel out of her hand and tossed it on the counter. “You okay?”

“Yes,” Cash sighed. “For some reason it just hit me wrong.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s going to take some time for you to feel you’re living your own life now, not the one your father wants you to lead” Houston knelt down and looked at Cash’s face. “They are smart kids, and once they have been away from him for a while they will lose some of what he has pounded into their brains. Sure some of it isn’t good, but good manners are always a nice thing to know.”

Cash started to laugh. “True. It’s kind of gross.”

“It sure is.” Houston reached up and grabbed her fork which had a piece of steak on it, and started to chew. With a childish grin she stuck out her tongue. “See?”

“You are still a big kid at heart.” Cash ran her hands through the short blonde locks. “I always loved that about you.”

“Just not enough to stay,” Houston stated flatly.

Cash closed her eyes and sighed. “Wrong. Enough that I didn’t want my father to get into your life and ruin it.”

Houston stood up. “He did just that anyway. Didn’t he?”

****

It was around two in the morning when Cash put the paintbrush down and left her bedroom. The only sounds she heard were the soft voices from the television. In bare feet she made her way to Tara and Trent’s room and opened the door. She was surprised when she saw the two beds still made, and the kids nowhere to be seen.

“I bet they fell asleep watching TV,” she whispered to herself as she turned and stepped into the living room. The sight that met her eyes made her smile. On the couch, Houston was softly snoring with Tara sleeping on her chest, and Trent under her legs with his head resting on a pillow.

“Wish I had a camera.” Cash felt tears form, and didn’t try to stop them from falling. She knew that if she had stayed with Houston she’d have hundreds upon thousands of pictures of these three. “Why did I have to be such a coward?”

After burning the moment into her memory, Cash first picked up Trent and took him to bed, then she did the same with Tara. She kissed both on the tops of their heads and wished them sweet dreams.

She headed back into the living room and grabbed the blanket that rested over a chair to cover up the sleeping blonde. As she was about to lay the cover over the sleeping form, something caught her attention from under the low collar of Houston’s shirt.

“What’s that?” Not worrying that she would wake up the sleeping woman, she pushed the fabric down so she could see.
“Oh God,” she gasped and leaned back, as the image of the tattoo of a broken heart with her name written in it made her cry.
Part 3
Cash sat in the kitchen, slowly sipping her lukewarm coffee, trying to get the image of the tattoo out of her head. Yet it stayed right there every time she blinked her eyes. “I need to make things right.”

“What are you mumbling about, so late at night?” Houston asked as she shuffled her way into the kitchen rubbing her eyes.

Cash gasped in surprise. “Damn, you scared me.”

Houston dropped her hands and smiled. “Sorry, thought you’d heard me.”

Cash pushed her coffee cup towards the middle of the table and stood up. “Why are you awake?” she asked, trying not to stare at the half asleep woman. She had always loved how she looked when she first woke up.

Houston waved a finger at her and sat down. “I asked a question first.” She motioned for the other woman to take her seat again. “So?”

“What was the question again?” Cash sat back down and folded her arms on the table top.

The blonde haired woman yawned before she asked again. “What are you mumbling about?”

Cash shook her head. “Just mindless rambling of someone who needs to get in bed.”

Houston just stared at her and nodded her head. “If you say so, but I think you’re pulling my leg.”

“Funny,” Cash smiled. “I think I’m going to get my butt in bed. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Okay, sleep well.” Houston watched as the taller woman headed out of the kitchen to her bedroom. “Sweet dreams.” She said to the empty room before she got up and went back to sleep on the couch.

****

Carol and Karen knocked on the front door and waited. They knew it was early, but they figured, since two children now stayed in the small apartment, the other occupants would be up and about. When no one answered, they decided that they should use the key they had and slowly opened the door.

“Do you see anything?” Carol whispered as she glanced over her friend’s shoulder.

“Not yet.” Karen looked back. “I think they’re sleeping still.”

The two quietly made their way into the apartment. They looked in each room and nodded when all the beds were full of sleeping people.

“Guess we can wake Houston up, so she can make us some coffee.” Carol wiggled her eyebrows and grinned.

Karen quickly nodded in agreement and followed her friend into the living room.

****

“Sir, I believe I have found where your daughter is staying.” The man who followed the two women, since one of them had left her apartment that morning stated as he continued to watch the door Carol and Karen had entered.

“Give me the address and stay there!” Joseph ordered, looking for a pen and paper. “I’ll be there in less than an hour. If you see them leave, contact me.”

“Yes Sir.” The man closed his phone and waited.

****

“More coffee?” Houston asked as she held up the glass coffee pot.

Carol nodded her head and raised her cup. Karen covered the top of her’s and shook her head.

As Houston poured Carol another cup, Cash walked in with Tara and Trent in tow. “Morning.”

“Morning,” the three women responded.

“What do you want for breakfast?” Cash asked her children.

The two kids sat down in the empty seats and answered, “Cereal, please.”

“Okay coming right up.” Their mother smiled as she went about getting bowls and spoons. She looked over at their two visitors. “What are you two up too?”

“We just thought we’d stop over for a visit,” Karen replied. “Plus,we wanted to see if you two needed anything.”

“Some more groceries would be good.” Houston went to the refrigerator and looked in. “I’ll get a list started.” She reached in and grabbed the milk and orange juice for the kids. “What are you two up to today? How’s things at the office?”

Both Carol and Karen knew what Houston meant by the questions.

“Things are fine. Everything is running smoothly and no problems have arisen as of yet.” Karen stood up and offered Cash her chair.

“We’ll run to the store after we close the office and drop the stuff off, when we’re done.”

“Thanks.” Houston patted her friend on the back. “I’m going to go jump in the shower, so the two monsters here can get in after they eat.”

“Hey! We’re not monsters!” Trent yelled out with a mouth full of food.

“Yes you are.” Houston ruffled his already spiked hair. “You two knocked me down and made me watch a cartoon movie last night.” She acted all horrified. “Just the thought of a movie about two fishes… scary.” She shivered all over.

“Please.” Tara laughed. “You are the one who held us down and said watch this. This part is funny. Oh, I would love to be one of those turtles.”

Houston moved quickly and covered the young girl’s mouth. “Shhh.”

Everyone else in the room laughed at the antics of the two.

*****

The man in the car watched as a black BMW pulled in behind him. He waited to make sure that it was his boss before he opened his door and stepped out.

“Do you know what apartment they are in?” Joseph asked as he eyed the building.

The man pointed to the side entrance. “No, I watched them go in that way.”

Joseph started toward the doors, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. “What do you think you’re doing, Ivan? ”

“Do you think it’s a good idea to go in there and try and find her?” Ivan quickly moved his hand from his boss’ shoulder. “It could turn out to be bad for you.”

“The only thing it will do is scare the crap out of her, so she will come cowering back with me.” Joseph made his way across the street and opened the door.

******

Houston stepped out of the bathroom just as she heard a loud knock at the front door. She quickly looked down the hallway in the direction that Carol and Karen were heading, when they’d heard the loud banging.

“Let me get it,” Karen said as she moved past Houston. “Get the kids and Cash into a bedroom.”

Carol was already a step ahead of her as she guided the three people into the room Cash was using.

“I think you should go into the living room and out of sight,” Carol said as she pointed to the still wet haired blonde. “It could be nothing, but just in case. It would be better if no one sees you.”

“Fine, but I will be ready just in case.” Houston moved down the hallway and around the corner.

They waited until they saw Houston step out of sight before Karen reached for the door handle. When she opened it, she was not too surprised to see the man standing there. “Yes?” she asked with a smile. “Can I help you?”

“I want to see my daughter,” Joseph demanded as he tried to step into the apartment, but was stopped as both women moved in front of him.

Carol held up a hand. “Excuse me, but we don’t know who your daughter is.”

“Bullshit, you two do know her. In fact I know you are hiding her out here and I want to see her.” He balled up his fists. “NOW!”

“Sir, I would suggest you leave before we call the police and have you arrested for trespassing,” Karen stated as she got herself ready for the man to charge at her.

“Go ahead and call. I don’t care,” the outraged man yelled.

“Fine.” Carol looked down to grab her cell phone, but never got the chance as the man tried to push past her. “Hey.”

Houston quickly rushed from her hiding spot. She couldn’t stand by when one of her friends was in trouble. Even if she knew the two could handle the situation on their own. “You heard them. Get the hell out of here or you’ll be sorry.”

Joseph growled as he was manhandled to the ground by Karen. “I knew it. You’re behind my daughter turning her back on me.”

Houston knelt down and looked directly into the man’s eyes. “No, you’re so wrong.” She gestured for Carol to call the police. “You did that all on your own and now you just made it so much worse. Just wait until the news media gets a hold of this little altercation.”

“Fuck you.” He spat not caring that drops of spit ran down his chin. “I’ll make your life so bad, you won’t be able to walk outside without someone wanting to do you in.”

“Your threats never hurt me. Your actions though have and I won’t allow you that power any more.” Houston patted his cheek. “You’re going down big man and your daughter is the one, who will give you the final push.”

Cash stood on the other side of the closed door. Her whole body shook with fear as she heard the loud sounds of wrestling and the bodies crashing to the floor. She was tempted to open the door and finally face her father, but years of being afraid kept her planted where she was.

*****

After two hours of talking to the police and getting things straightened out, Cash and the kids were in Houston’s car heading toward the blonde’s house. The group had decided that it was now the best place to stay, since the house wasn’t under her name and no one could get through the door, without being buzzed through the community security gate.

“This is nice.” Cash said softly as they pulled up the driveway.

Houston looked up at her blue gray colored house with a big picture window and a large porch that wrapped around from one side of the house to the back. “Thanks.” She opened her door and stepped out of the car. “Trent and Tara can each have a bedroom up the stairs and to the left. You can have the one on the right. It’s right next to the bathroom.”

“Okay.” Cash handed the kids each of their bags and followed them up the front steps. “You two make sure you behave. I don’t want you to break anything.”

“Don’t worry about that. There isn’t anything in there that is worth much.” Houston used her house key and opened the door. “Go on and get settled and I’ll make us some lunch.”

“Can we have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?” Trent asked as he walked up the stairs.

Tara stopped and turned to look at Houston. “If we do, can we have that marshmallow fluff stuff with it?”

Houston raised an eyebrow and slowly looked up to meet blue eyes smiling at her. “Can’t help it if a culinary masterpiece like that is hard to forget.”

****

“Go on. I know you want it.” Houston eyed the kid sitting across from her.

Trent looked from his plate to the last sandwich. “How about we share it?”

Houston smiled and stood up to get a knife. “What do you and your sister want to do this afternoon?”

Trent thought for a moment before he replied. “Not sure. What’s there to do?”

Houston cut the sandwich and offered one half to the boy. “Well, we could watch movies?”

“Naw, how about something outside?” Trent asked. “We’ve been stuck inside for days now and I’m getting pretty bored.”

The small blonde sat there and ate her half and thought. She knew that taking the kid outside was risky, even with top-notch security surrounding her and the neighboring houses. Then an idea popped into her mind. “Give me a second to make a call.” She stood up and grabbed the phone.

Trent watched her as he finished his lunch. She paced back and forth talking softly and nodding her head.

“You two done with lunch yet?” Cash asked as she stepped into the kitchen.

Trent waved at his mom to be quiet, that Houston was on the phone.

“What’s up?” the brunette asked her son. “Who’s she talking to?”

Trent shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know.”

The two silently watched Houston say good-bye and hang up the phone. She turned around with a grin. “What do you say to an afternoon of swimming?”

“AWESOME!” Trent shouted, which made his sister run into the room.

Tara jumped up and down. “What did I miss?”

“We’re going swimming.” Trent answered back as he pounded his fist in the air.

Tara clapped her hands with excitement. “Where are we going?”

Houston leaned against the kitchen counter and crossed her arms in front of her. “My neighbor has a pool and she’s always told me to use it whenever I wanted.”

“That’s great Houston.” Cash smiled and then looked at the two kids. “Why don’t you two go find some shorts and a t-shirt in your bags.”

“Okay Mom.” Trent ran past his sister. “Come on slowpoke.”

Tara quickly followed and the two grown-ups that were left in the kitchen heard two sets of feet running up the stairs and down the hallway and then, two doors slamming closed.

“Guess they liked the idea?” Houston asked with a laugh.

Cash nodded her head. “Yes, I think they do.”

****

The four quietly walked to the neighbor’s house with towels and a bag of drinks and snacks. When they reached the side gate, a loud bark was heard and someone telling the dog to be quiet.

“Is that you Gale?” Houston shouted as she unlocked the gate.

“Who else would it be?” Gale answered back. “Come on in. I’ve got the beast in his pen. The backyard is all yours.”

Houston waved her companions in and then shut the wooden gate’s door. She smiled at the older woman as she walked into her open arms for a hug. “Thanks again! For the use of your pool.”

“Not a problem.” Gale stepped back and waited for introductions.

“I’d like you to meet my guests. This young lady is Tara and the young man standing next to her is her brother, Trent.” Houston then stepped next to Cash and put her hand on her back. “And this is their mother, Cash.”

“It is nice to meet you three.” Gale shook each of their hands. “Please feel free to come over, whenever you’d like to use our pool.”

“Thank you, that’s very kind of you.” Cash replied to the kind woman.

“Can we go in now?” Trent asked as he not so patiently waited.

Houston took each of the kid’s towels and tossed them over her shoulder. “Sure, go ahead. Just be careful.”

“We will!” Tara called back as she ran to jump in the cool water just before her brother.

****

The afternoon went by slowly, which was just fine by the two sunning woman and the two swimming children. They talked Houston into playing, but after about a couple of hours, she swam over to the edge and pulled herself out of the water.

Cash couldn’t take her eyes off the glistening tan skin as water made it’s way down the strong legs to the deck.

Houston knew she was being watched. The spark that they used to have long ago, hadn’t gone out and her thoughts were jumping for joy, but her heart was running scared. She didn’t know if she could put herself out there, could put her heart out there, only to have it shattered into more pieces.

“You all seem to be having a blast,” Gale said as she stepped outside with a tray of lemonade and cookies.

Houston turned and reached for the tray of goodies. “We are.”

“Thanks.” Gale smiled at the blonde. “Would you like to stay for dinner? I have some steaks defrosting and have all the fixings for potato salad.”

“What do you say?” Houston asked Cash as she set the tray down and poured each of them a drink.

Cash nodded. “That would be nice. Thanks.”

“When will Neil get home?” Houston asked before she took a long drink.

Gale glanced at her wrist watch. “He should be home in a few hours.”

“Great, how about I run to the store to get something for dessert?” Houston stood up and grabbed her towel. “You should be okay here.” She looked at Cash.

“You sure?” Cash asked, suddenly feeling scared.

Gale leaned forward and patted the tall woman’s knee. “Trust me, you’re safe here. No one can reach you here.”

Houston knelt down and took Cash’s hand. “Gale and her husband know what I do. Carol is their daughter.”

“You know what? How about I call Carol and Karen to see if they want to stop by too.” Gale stood up and headed towards the house to grab the phone.

Cash looked from the retreating woman back down to green eyes. “You’ll hurry back?”

“I’ll break land speed records.” Houston smiled as she stood back up. “I’m going to go change into something a little less wet.”

****

“So these three get stuck in the storage unit all night with no bathroom.” Neil stated as he finished the story.

Cash nearly fell out of her chair from laughing so hard at the images of Houston and her friends being stuck with no way out, until the morning manager came by. “What happened after they were let out?”

“We fought for the right to use the bathroom.” Karen grinned. “Needless to say, one of us didn’t win.” She gave a slight glance towards Houston, whose face was a soft pink color.

“No way?” Trent spoke around a mouth full of potato salad. “You pissed in your pants?”

“It wasn’t my fault.” Houston defended herself. “Those two cheat big time.”

“No, you tripped over that box and lost it when your ass hit the ground,” Carol informed the rest of the group. “I never laughed so hard in my life.”

“Me either.” Carol giggled. “The next week we made sure that never happened again.”

“What did you do?” Cash asked as she leaned forward with her elbows on the table.

Carol looked at Karen and then to Houston.

“They bought me a whole case of Depends.” Houston shrugged her shoulders. “But they were paid back when they least expected it.”

“What did you do?” Tara asked curiously.

“I slapped maxi pads all over their cars and dyed them bright red.” Houston sat up with a smug smile on her face.

Trent looked at all the grown-ups as they started to laugh. “I don’t get it. What are maxi pads used for?”

That made the group laugh harder.

“I’ll explain it to you, when you are a little older.” Cash said in between breaths.

******

Later that night, Houston sat down on her couch and listened to the noises her house guests were making.

Trent was upset that he had to take a bath. “But Mom, I was swimming all day in a big tub. Why do I need to take one now?”

“Because I’m your mom and I said so. That’s why,” Cash responded softly. “Now get going, so your sister can take one after you.”

“She can use my shower. That way, she doesn’t have to wait,” Houston yelled up.

Cash walked to the edge of the steps. “You sure? She may be in there a while. She loves showers.”

“Sure, no problem. I’m going to be up for a while,” the seated woman answered back. “Tara, get your things. Houston said you can use her shower.” Cash told her daughter.

Tara ran up beside her mom and screamed down, “Thanks Houston!”

“You’re welcome!” Houston yelled back. Cash helped Tara get her things ready and the shower started. The only thing that she couldn’t find in the bathroom was a towel. “Hey Houston, where do you keep your towels for your bathroom?”

Houston stood up and walked up the stairs. “I’ll show you.” She walked into her bedroom towards a closet. “They’re in here.” She opened the door and pulled out a soft, light blue cotton towel.

“Thanks.” Cash reached for the towel and slowly took it from the blonde woman.

“No problem.” Houston nodded. “Would you like something to drink?”

“Sure, I’ll have whatever you’re going to have,” the tall brunette answered before she turned back to the bathroom, where Tara was waiting for her.

Houston slowly made her way out of the room and back down the stairs to the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator and pulled out two bottles of beer. Sitting on down she twisted the cap off the one in her hand and took a slow drink. “Yum, that hit the spot.”

Upstairs, Cash had gone to get another towel for Tara’s hair, when she noticed a box on the top shelf. Curiosity hit her and she reached up for it. Holding the box in her hands, she went and sat down on the edge of the bed. She took a deep breath and slipped the lid off and set it down next to her. “Ohh God.” Inside she saw hundreds of pieces of pictures. She picked up a small bunch and sifted through them. Tears started to fall as she realized they were of her and Houston, when they were together.

“Mom you got that towel for me?” Tara yelled from the bathroom shower.

Cash coughed to clear her throat. “Be right there.”

Putting the torn pictures back in the box, she noticed one picture that wasn’t torn. With shaky fingers she picked it up. It was one of her and Houston, each one holding a baby. She remembered when it was taken. One of the nurses at the hospital had grabbed the camera and taken the picture before they left to bring the twins home.

****

Houston sat back down on the couch with her drink and Cash’s. She set the unopened beer on the coffee table and waited for her house guest to come down. She could hear the sounds of the shower running and she thought that maybe Tara would like the new shampoo that she’d bought a few days ago. She set her bottle down and headed for the stairs.

She heard Tara yell out to her Mom and wondered where the taller woman had gone off too, but she didn’t have to wait long when she heard Cash answer from inside her room. Taking several steps she found Cash sitting on her bed with a box on her lap.
“What’cha doing?”

Cash nearly jumped out of her skin. “I’m.. I was getting Tara another towel for her hair.”

“Okay?” Houston responded as she walked past the threshold.

Cash held up the picture of all of them. “I found these.”

“Oh.” Houston reached for the picture and brought it up to take a better look. It had been years, since she had even opened the box and it brought a small grin to her face. “That was the second best day of my life.”

“Second?” Cash asked as she watched the woman looking at the picture.

Houston nodded her head. “The day I met you was the first.”

Cash set the box on the bed and stood up to leave. She couldn’t take the admission of Houston’s statement. The anguish she felt, had never hurt more, than at that very moment. A strong hand on her arm stopped her retreat.

“You need to stop running and face this,” Houston said softly.

Cash couldn’t turn around, so she stood there with her eyes closed.

“It’s easier to run and hide, but in the long run facing stuff that you’re afraid of gets easier and the outcome is far better.” Houston loosened her grip. “Trust me.”

“I do trust you. It’s me I don’t.” Cash started to cry. “All my life people have told me who I should be, how I should live.” She turned to face Houston. “Everyone except you and for that, I hurt you beyond words.”

“True, you tore my heart to pieces.” Houston stated honestly. “I thought my world had ended, when you left with the kids. I shut myself off from the world and just existed. In a way, I’m still just existing in a world that should hold promise and a future. My whole future was you and those two babies, but you took all that from me because of a fear, that I honestly think we could have beaten.”

“No, he would have hurt you in order to get me to come back.” Cash looked into green eyes. “I couldn’t chance that.”

“But he accomplished that anyway.” Houston took Cash’s shaking hands in hers. “But now I think you are strong enough to do what is right for you.”

“I’m not so sure of that.” Cash replied softly.

Houston stepped a few inches closer to the trembling woman. “I am. Because you’re willing to stand up to your father for the things that he’s doing to his employees.”

Cash lowered her head and let her long dark tresses cover her face. She felt one of her hands being set free, only to feel the strong fingers brush strands of hair behind her ear.

“Don’t hide any more. Be who you are and not what someone else wants you to be.” The small blonde slowly traced a path down the crying woman’s cheek. “I’ll help you any way I can.”

Cash’s head slowly straightened. “How can you be this nice? How can you act like you still care after what I did to you?”

Houston guided Cash towards the bed and sat her down. She reached for the box full of torn pictures and handed it to her.
“Inside this box is the past. A past that I wish, I could have had forever.” She reached in and pulled out the picture of the four of them and looked at it. “My whole life was for you and the kids and although, I couldn’t be there for you and them these last years, I still want to. My heart may be still torn, but with the right help it could be put back together and become whole again.”

“How can you trust me not to hurt you again?” Cash moved the box off her lap and went to stand. “I can’t even trust myself.”

“Well, I’ve heard that it all starts with someone who does trust you.” Houston placed her hands on Cash’s thigh to keep her seated. “I know most people would yell, scream and make you feel bad for what you did. And I’ll admit, I did that when I first saw you, but all it did was make things worse. My head is telling me now that is what I should be doing to be totally truthful, but my heart is aching for what was lost.” She leaned back on her heels. “Time is a precious thing and the time we have left may be a great deal, but in fact, it may not. And I want to have you and the kids for the time I have left.”

Cash couldn’t stop the strong sobs as they finally overcame her. Tears tracked down her cheeks in rivers as she grasped the hands on her legs.

“Mom what’s wrong?” Trent’s voice sounded scared and unsure.

Houston turned to the still wet headed boy. “Nothing’s wrong, Trent. We’ve just been talking and your mom is upset and,” she looked back to Cash, “I hope those tears are happy ones. Am I right in saying that?” she asked.

Cash nodded her head as she tried to wipe the tears off her face. “Why don’t you go downstairs and get a small snack before you head for bed,” she told her son as she tried to get her emotions under control.

“You sure?” Trent asked as he looked from his mom to Houston, then back to his mom. “I’ll stay with you if you need me too.”

“I’m sure.” Cash smiled at her son’s thoughtfulness. “Your sister should be done in a few minutes and she’ll be down to join you.”

“Okay.” Trent turned and headed down to the kitchen.

Houston waited for several seconds before she turned to look back into Cash’s eyes. “We still have things to talk about, but now isn’t the time. Maybe after the kids go to bed, or tomorrow?”

“Thank-you.” Cash entwined her fingers with the ones on her thighs. “I know I don’t deserve what you are offering, but I want to try again.”

“Always knew you were a smart woman.” Houston stood up and let go of Cash’s hands. “Let me get you that towel for Tara and I’ll go down with Trent to help him find something to eat.”

Cash watched the other woman put the top back on the box as she put it back up on the top shelf and then reach for a soft cotton towel. “Houston?”

“Yes?” the blonde replied as she handed the seated woman the towel.

“I’ll make things right.” The brunette stated softly and with conviction.
Part 4
Houston watched Trent eat the peanut butter and banana sandwich. She couldn’t help, but smile at the way to boy ate with abandon. She knew where he got that and it made her heart beat fast with joy.

“Want a bite?” He held up the last bit.

Houston shook her head as she scrunched up her face and held up her beer. “No thanks, the three of those don’t go together.”

“I wouldn’t know that. I’m not old enough to drink yet.” Trent said as he shoved the last bite into his mouth.

“You’re right, but you are just the right age for a glass of milk.” The blonde woman stood up and reached into the cupboard for a glass.

“Hoothan?” Trent looked down at the table as he worked the sandwhich around in his mouth. “Can I ask you a question?”

As she poured the milk Houston responded. “Yes?” She put the milk away and grinned, when she sat the liquid filled glass in front of the young man.

Trent took a drink and waited a few seconds before looking Houston straight in the eyes. “Will my Mom and sister and me be okay?”

“Of course you will. Why do you ask?” Houston scooted her chair closer to Trent and rested a hand on his shoulder. “You guys will be fine.”

“I just want to make sure. You see, my Grandfather is not the nicest man.” He wiped the tear off his cheek that fell as he listened to Houston. “But you saw that, when he tried to come into the apartment you had us hid at.”

“I promise that I won’t let your Grandfather get that close to you, or your Mom and sister ever again.” Houston wrapped her arm around Trent’s slumped shoulders and gave him a hug. “You are a pretty cool kid you know that? But do me a favor will ya?”

“Sure!” Trent said without waiting.

“Let us grown-ups, worry about your Grandfather. You just continue to have fun and be a kid.” Houston placed a kiss on the top of the boy’s head. “Now I wonder where your sister and Mom are?”

“Oh, you know how it is. They are girls and they take forever when showering.” Trent leaned back and smiled. “They have to smell all pretty and primp their hair.”

Houston couldn’t help but giggle at that statement from Trent and as soon as she started Trent joined in with his own small laugh.

****

Tara stood on front of her Mom as she dried her hair. She always loved this time of day, when she had her Mother’s attention all to herself. “Mom, I love you.”

“I love you too Baby.” Cash smiled as she helped dry off the tangled mess of hair.

After a few more minutes of silence, Tara looked up into her Mother’s loving eyes. “We’re safe from Grandpa aren’t we?”

“Yes. Houston, will keep us safe.” Cash replied. “Do you feel safe?”

Tara thought for a minute. “I do, but he scares me.” She sighed.

Cash knelt down, so she was face to face with the small girl. “He scares me too, but you have to trust me about that. I won’t let anything happen to you, or your brother. You two are my highest priority.”

“I know, but he found us at the apartment and what’s stopping him from coming here?” Tara grabbed her nightgown and slipped it on.

Cash grabbed the brush and started to slowly run it through her daughter’s hair. “I have no clue how he found us, but where we’re at now, is the safest place on earth. No one can come up to the house without going through the security gates and with the security system Houston has, not even a bug could enter the house without setting off all sorts of alarms.”

“That’s good. You know how much I hate bugs!” Tara looked at herself in the mirror and smiled. “Thanks Mom for helping.”

“Your welcome dear. Now how about we go down stairs and get you a snack before bedtime?” Cash followed the girl out of the bathroom and down the stairs into the kitchen. All the while, she hoped what she’d told her daughter was true, that her Father wouldn’t find them here, or even get to them and they could go on with their lives. “But returning to living my life after he is in jail…” She mumbled to herself as both fear and joy ran rampantly through her mind, she trotted down the stairs.

****

Houston moved to the living room after the kids were done eating and Cash led them up the stairs for bed. She leaned her head against the back of the couch and watched out the window at the sudden rain shower that started several minutes ago. The night lit up from a streak of lightning that shot across the sky. It gave off the aura of an old horror show, where she would be waiting for the killer to come out from the corner.

The only other sound was the crackling of the fire that cast an orange glow over the tan furniture in the living room. Houston turned her head to watch the flames shoot up and around the log that sat in the middle. This was one of her favorite times of the day, black as pitch outside and the only sources of light and comfort were the burning flames that she’d built. It was safe and controlled by only her and if she wanted more heat, she just had to add another log. If she decided that it was too quiet and the snapping of the fire wasn’t enough noise for her, she would turn on the radio just high enough to lull her into a doze.

Cash began to quietly make her way back down the stairs after she had put the children to bed. They were both a little scared about sleeping in a different house with a storm going on outside. So being the good Mom that she is, she said that they could stay in the same room for the night. After reading a story and staying with them until she was sure they were asleep, she walked out and closed the door. Not hearing any noises, she made her way down the stairs, but stopped at the sight of Houston with her eyes closed and the shadows from the flames dancing across her body.

Her eyes moved down her neck to her chest. Not wanting to linger with those kind of thoughts just yet, she looked down to the strong fingers that were folded on the small, sleeping woman’s lap. There was always something about Houston’s fingers that drove her to distraction. The way they moved as she talked, or the way that they were strong when she was working on something around the house. Or the way they made her body come alive with the touch of a single finger tip.

Not ready to go to bed, she made her way down the rest of the steps and sat in the chair watching the fire. Before she knew it she was lulled to sleep too.

****

Houston rolled her head and squinted her eyes open to see where the bright light was coming from. “Guess sleeping in front of a big picture window is not a good thing to wake up too.” She scooted up and as she stretched her arms over her head, she noticed Cash sleeping in the chair; her legs straight out in front with one foot over the other and her arms crossed over her chest.

Her dark hair cascaded down her shoulders and covered up most of her face. Houston leaned over and rested her elbows on her bent knees and just watched the woman breathe. She always found that just the sound of the beautiful woman, each time she took in air and let it out slowly, would hit her in the heart.

Houston heard an upstairs door opening, so she quickly stood up and headed for the kitchen. She figured that it was Tara, since it seemed that Trent liked to sleep in as late as he could. As soon as she saw the still waking girl, she smiled and sat down a cup of orange juice for her. “Good morning.” Houston said while pouring some for herself

“Morning Houston.” Tara replied with a small yawn. “What are we going to do today?”

“Well I need to run into the office and the stop and do some other things.” Houston sat down next to Tara and drank her own juice. “Do you want anything specific for dinner tonight?”

“Sushi.” Tara answered.

The older woman blinked her eyes several times. “Huh?”

Tara looked over at the stunned woman. “You know, sushi. It’s really good and it’s been a while, since I’ve had any and I would really like some.”

“Um, how do you cook sushi?” Houston stammered. Then waved her hands in front of herself. “I don’t mean cook. I meant, prepare it? You know, put it together?”

“You order it from some place dowtown. I’ll get you the number and you can let them worry about how it all goes together.” Cash said from the hallway with a grin. “I take it, you still don’t like fish of any kind?”

“True, like I always said, ‘if it lives in the water, let it stay in the water.'” Houston stated and stood up to get Cash something to drink. “So what about you? What do you want?”

“I don’t care. If Tara wants sushi, that’s fine with me and it won’t matter with Trent. He’ll eat whatever is put in front of his face.” Cash leaned over and placed a kiss on her daughter’s head. “Morning Honey.”

“Morning Mom.” Tara looked up at Cash with love in her eyes.

“Well, I guess, I’d better get ready to head out. I would suggest that you all just stayed in today.” Houston placed a glass down where Cash was sitting. “Call my cell phone if you find we need anything else.”

“Where are you going?” Cash asked as she sipped her drink.

Houston stopped in the hallway and turned back around. “Just need to go to the office and then the court house. I have to meet with the DA and fill him in on, what happened with your Father.”

“Okay,” Cash nodded. “Be careful out there. I have no clue what he has up his sleeve for next.”

“No worries. I can handle anything he tosses at me.” Houston replied before making her way down the hall and up the stairs.

****

“Morning Houston, how are things today?” DA Buckner asked from behind his desk.

“Things are okay.” Houston sat down. “A lot better than they were a few days ago.”

“Yes, I heard about that and you’ll be glad to know that I’ve had charges brought up against Mr. Dunn. Although, you do need to know, that he got out on bail last night.”

“I figured, he wouldn’t be in long. I just hope that he stays away and the trial date gets here fast.” Houston leaned her elbow on the chair’s arm and rested her chin in the palm of her hand.

“Then you’ll be glad to hear that the date has been moved to next Monday, at nine in the morning.” Buckner stated as he looked on his desk for some papers. “I have some things here that Ms. Dunn needs to look over and sign. Also, I’ll need you to bring her in here around seven that morning, so I can talk with her.”

“Okay I can do that.” The small blonde replied. “What do you think his chances of getting convicted are?”

“With her testimony and other evidence we gathered, we have a really good shot, but no one knows what the total sentence, or out come will be with these kinds of cases.” Buckner slipped off his glasses and looked Houston straight in the eyes. “But I’ll put my career on the line and say, that he’ll be going to jail for a very very long time.”

“That’s great!” Houston stood up and reached for the papers the DA held up. “See you Monday.”

****

Joseph Dunn, paced around his attorney’s office with a sour look on his face. “I cannot believe this. All my life I have built up my company and suddenly I have the IRS and FBI and who knows what other agencies coming in and telling me, I’m doing something illegal.” He loosened his tie. “They don’t seem to understand that this is my company, NOT THEIRS and they need to keep their fat asses OUT of my business.”

“Well Joseph, stealing from your employees is illegal and considered a felony.” The attorney sat back in his black leather chair and puffed on his cigar. “I still cannot believe, you would even try something like that and think you could get away with it.”

“I didn’t hear you complaining about it, when you got your share of it.” Joseph turned to glare at the man. “Or was that big ass grin you had on your face just a ruse of some sort.”

Mario Lopez nodded his head. “No, it wasn’t a ruse. You just never told me the whole truth on where, you’d received the money from.”

“Like it mattered to you. As long as it was a large amount, you didn’t give a rat’s ass, where it came from.” Dunn spat out. “No! I suggest you figure a way out of this mess by Monday, or I swear you’ll go down with me.”

“Don’t threaten me Dunn! I have things on you, that would make this case look like a walk in the park.” Lopez stood up and stormed toward his client. “I’ve done nothing, but watch your back for years.”

“A lot of good it’s done me, considering that next week we go to trial.” Joseph poked the smaller, Mexican man in the chest. “Now do, what you are getting paid for and find a way out of this!”

“I’ve been trying, but nothing I do to postpone this, or try to push it under the rug is working.” Lopez stated as he grabbed the man’s hand to stop him. “Then you go and get a trespassing, with assault charges against you! How do you think that looks?”

“It looks, like I am trying to get my daughter away from heathens.” Joseph said. “I could use that, as a way to show that she is not in her right mind. That whatever she heard was false and put into her head by those bitches!”

“Wrong. She wasn’t even around them, when she heard it. So try again.” Mario moved to pour himself a drink. “Just stay out of trouble and maybe, I can come up with something this weekend. Otherwise, make sure you are prepared for Monday.”

Joseph stormed to the door and pulled it open. “Just remember, if I go down, you’re coming with me.” He slammed the door behind him.

****

Carol sat behind her desk and looked up from what she was doing when the door opened. “Well hello there.”

“Hi. What’cha doing?” Houston waved, as she went to sit down on the corner of the other woman’s desk.

Carol held up some papers. “Oh you know, paper work, paper work and more paper work.”

Houston nodded and laughed. “It is never ending.” She looked over to the empty desk and raised an eyebrow. “Where is your partner in crime?”

“She had to go get something notarized for court on Monday and talk with the DA about the charges being brought against Dunn.”

“Yeah, I heard about that. I just left from there. I guess, I just missed Karen.” Houston said casually.

Carol looked Houston over and she knew by the way she was acting, that the blonde needed to talk about something. Knowing she would have to take the first step to get her usually quiet and private friend to start talking, she asked. “So what’s on your mind?”

“Nothing.” Houston stated as she picked up a pen and twirled it around in her fingers.

“You never were a good liar.” Carol snatched the pen and stood up. “So spill it.”

“Would you think I was totally insane if I tried to get back together with Cash?” Houston finally said after a few seconds of looking at her shoes.

“Honestly, I would think you were insane if you didn’t try.” Carol walked around her desk to stand in front of Houston. She placed her hands on the woman’s shoulders. “You’ve never loved anyone the way you do her. Sure, she ripped your heart out and didn’t give you a chance to help her, when her Father started his shit, but maybe now she’s strong enough to believe in what you two had together.”

“I don’t know. I’m scared that he will some how get to her and she will run back and I’ll be thrown into limbo again.” She reached up and held on to one of Carol’s hands. “I don’t think I can do that again. Once it nearly killed me.”

Houston’s mind drifted as she was assailed by the memories of her drunken nights, with faceless women she didn’t know. The fights that she’d started, using them to get her anger out, when the sex wasn’t working. She cringed at the memories of the pain; the cuts and bruises that she used to wake up with, or the two broken bones she’d gotten, when she missed the person she wanted to punch and hit a wall instead. Plus, the long nights she’d spent in jail for public intoxication and worse than that, the almost total alienation of her friends and family.

“Oh honey.” Carol wrapped her arms around the teary eyed woman. “Everything will be okay. Just take your time and go slow.”

“I know.” Houston wiped her face with her hand as she came back to the present. She pulled back from her friend. “She found that box I had with all the torn up pictures.”

“She did?” Carol rubbed up and down Houston’s arms. “What did you do?”

“We talked about them a little.” Houston took in a deep breath and I told her that I would be there for her.”

“How did she react?”

“Guilty and ashamed by her actions.” The short blonde haired woman sighed. “In a way it felt kind of good, seeing her that way.” She looked at her friend. “I should feel bad about that, but I don’t.”

Carol brushed several strands of hair behind Houston’s ear. “You have a right to feel the way you do. Especially with the history you two have and what all happened.”

“Yeah I know, but I feel really bad for her and what she’s had to live with all her life.” Houston sighed again and stood up. She wrapped her arms around her friend and gave her a hug. “Thanks for the small chat, but I should get back home and check on them.”

“Okay. And remember that Karen and I, are always here for you.” Carol returned the hug and squeezed Houston tight. “We love you.”

“I love you guys too. Why don’t you two, stop over for dinner. I’ll order out for something.” Houston said as she walked to the door. “Plus, if something is going to happen, which I don’t think will. It should go down this weekend. I know her Father is not going to just go to court, without trying one last time to get to Cash.”

“Okay, we’ll be at your house around six?” Carol stepped back around her desk and sat down. “See you later.”

“Bye.” Houston waved.

****

Cash and the children sat around and watched some TV, but after a while the tall brunette was getting bored, so she decided that she would go paint. Now she stood in front of a blank canvas without a clue as to what to paint.

“Okay, I need an idea. What is the first thing that comes into my head?” Cash closed her eyes and the first image that popped into her mind was Houston’s tattoo. “No, I don’t think I can do that.” Then she remembered the way Houston’s hands rested on her lap as she slept last night. “That will work.”

Within minutes, two hands suddenly appeared on the canvas. As the time ticked by, the hands being painted were entwined with each other along with a red rose. Before she knew it the painting was done and Cash stepped back. She smiled to herself. “Pretty good, if I do say so myself.”

“I’d have to agree.” Houston said from behind her. “I always knew you had talent.”

“Oh stop.” Cash’s face turned a slight shade of pink.

Houston stepped into the room and really got a close up look at the painting. She raised an eyebrow and then looked down at her own hands. “Damn, you should think about doing this for a living.”

“No, it’s just a hobby. Something I want to do just for me and no one else.” Cash stated as she wiped some paint from her hands.

Houston nodded. “Good.”

The silence filled the room as the two women stood and looked over the still wet painting. Cash wondered what the small woman was thinking. She finally decided that the only way to find out was to ask. “Give you a penny for your thoughts.”

Houston held out her hand. “Give me a penny first.”

Cash laughed and reached into her pocket. Only finding a quarter, she laid it on the other woman’s palm. “Guess you owe me twenty-four, more thoughts.” She gasped when she felt the tips of her fingers tingle from the shock she’d received from the small touch of Houston’s skin.

“I could just say inflation has made the price jump.” Houston smiled.

Cash rubbed her hands together to get her mind off the sensation she got from Houston. “Can’t do that. The deal is struck. So spill it.”

“Well I’ve been thinking about out talk we had last night and it’s really scared me.” Houston turned to look at Cash. “I said, I would be there for you and I will, but I have to be perfectly sure that you won’t run again.” She heard Tara and Trent laugh at something they were watching. “Those two in there have stolen my heart again and I don’t want to get in any deeper, unless you are absolutely sure that you can be your own person.”

Cash set down the towel, she had in her hands and stepped closer to Houston. She was afraid of what she was about to do, but given that the woman before her has always held her heart and needed the reassurance, she couldn’t refuse. She had to prove that she was strong enough to be, the woman she’s always wanted to be. Not just for herself, or her children, but for the love Houston still had for her. She leaned down and placed a tender kiss against the trembling lips of the slightly shaking smaller woman. She moved not a hairs breath away from her and said, “You said, you believed in me last night. Please don’t loose that now.”

Houston opened her eyes to see strength in the blue eyes before her. “I’ll try.”

“That’s all I can ask for.” Cash replied and stepped away. “I promise you, with every ounce of my being. You won’t regret giving me a second chance.” With that said, Cash moved around Houston and left the room.

Houston stood there in the silence and let a tear run down her cheek. “I hope you’re right.” She mumbled.
Part 5
Houston sat around at her dinner table and watched her friends talking and laughing. The two children were laughing at something silly, that Karen said about some cartoon character that she’d watched with the kids before dinner. Carol and Cash, were in a deep discussion about some TV show that she had no clue about. She couldn’t believe how in the matter of only a few days, her life was changing.

No matter where she looked around the table, she saw a future and a family. The family part would need a lot of work to regain the trust, but given time and patience, it would grow into something strong and unbreakable. Tara and Trent, with their antics and them just being the lovable kids that they are already had Houston wrapped around their little fingers.

That thought brought a smile to Houston’s face and a twinkle to her eyes. She had her children back in her life and she’d be damned if anyone would take them away again. Then she looked over at Carol and Karen and the smile grew. Sure, they had been friends, but the friendship was growing and getting more emotional between the three women.

Houston shook her head and smiled to herself because she knew that given the right situation and time, Carol could slowly get Houston to open up and share what was going on deep inside her mind and heart. Normally, she would just bury her feelings deep inside herself and hoped, it would stay that way. In her own way, Carol let the confused woman say the words out loud, so she could hear how it sounded. Carol had become her therapist, just without the huge bill.

Karen, was like her buddy in crime. No matter what the idea was, she was all for it and would dive in head first and think about the consequences later. The trouble they had gotten each other in was both funny as hell and scary as shit all rolled into one. Houston trusted her with her life and she was the first one that she’d trusted with her friendship after she lost all trust in everyone else, including herself. Now Houston knew, that she would never get away from hiding her feelings, or get away with becoming the untrusting, mean, big bitch of a person, that she’d been after Cash had left.

She turned her head and looked over at Cash, when she heard her laugh. The sound made her heart beat faster and she couldn’t help, but smile at the tall brunette. She remembered the first time they had met and how they connected with just talking and getting to know one another. She knew that Cash was and would always be imbedded in her heart and knew that this time if things worked out, it would be a deeper kind of love and her soul glowed with that thought.

Cash glanced up, when she felt like she was being watched. Her eyes met Houston’s and they shared a small grin.

After a few more minutes, Houston noticed the time. “Tara, Trent, I think it’s time for you two to get ready for bed.”

“Aww! Come on Houston. We are having fun and want to stay up later.” Tara whined.

Trent nodded his head. “Yeah. Please.” He said as the pout formed, even though his eye lids were drooping.

“Sorry guys. It’s time for the adults to talk and it is already way past your bed time.” Cash stood up and rounded her two children up. “Say good night to everyone.”

“But… but…” Tara mumbled as she tried to think of a good reason to stay up later.

Cash shook her head and pointed towards the stairs. “No buts. Just get your butts up those stairs.”

The four women watched as the two children slowly began to make their way out of the room. Trent stopped and looked at Houston. “Would you read to us tonight?”

“Umm, sure.” Houston looked at Cash to make sure it was okay with her.

Cash nodded, with a big smile on her face. “I’ll be right up after I help in cleaning up the dishes. Make sure that you both brush your teeth and wash your faces.”

“Yes Mom.” The two said as they made their way up the stairs.

After the dishes were done and Carol and Karen went to sit in the living room and start a fire. Cash headed up the stairs to check on how Houston was doing with her kids. As she reached the top she could hear Houston’s voice as she read from one of the children’s favorite books. She stopped in the threshold of the doorway and watched them with interest.

Houston was laying in the middle of the bed with one child on each side, they were totally captivated by the voices and entertaining quirks the small woman made as she read each word.

Cash felt her heart swell with love. No one had been able to capture Tara and Trent’s hearts the way Houston had done. She could tell that this woman would be of great importance in their lives from now on.

Several visions filled Cash’s mind all of a sudden. They were of a future, that she hoped with all her heart, would transpire. Doing homework and sitting around a table, with just the four of them talking about their day and what they wanted to do on the weekends. Watching TV, with all of them sitting on the couch wrapped up in a blanket, laughing and giggling at some characters actions. But more importantly, the love they had as a family and how it would grow each day.

Tara caught the movement, out of the corner of her eye and a huge grin appeared on her face. “Mom, come here and listen to the story with us.”

The other two people in the bed turned to the doorway.

“Yeah Mom, come on and join us. Houston is great at reading and making funny noises for the characters in the book.” Trent wiggled in excitement. “You can sit by me and share my pillow.”

“That’s the best offer I’ve had all day.” Cash smiled, as she made her way around the bed and waited for the trio to shift and make room for her. “Thanks.”

Houston waited until everyone was settled before continuing the story. Everyone snuggled closer, with each word spoken and before they knew it, the story was over with and Tara and Trent were nodding off.

With unspoken words, the two adults carefully extracted themselves from the bed and covered the children up. With Houston on one side and Cash on the other, they looked into each other’s eyes and then, back down to the sleeping little angels.

“They are so cute when they’re sleeping.” Houston whispered as she ran her finger’s through Tara’s sandy hair.

Cash nodded and copied Houston’s movements with her son’s hair. “Yes they are.”

****

Carol and Karen, were seated on the couch, talking about what court might be like, when they both turned to watch Houston and Cash make their way down the staircase.

“Get the rug rats in bed?” Karen smiled as she stood up to pour the two women a glass of wine each. “Here you go.”

“Thanks.” Houston said as she reached for both glasses and handed Cash’s to her. “Now are we ready for Monday? Have all the precautions being taken care of? Any last minute details, that we need to cover?”

“Yes. I have the normal plan.” Carol stated, as she reached down to grab her briefcase. She’d put it next to the couch, when she’d first arrived at the house that evening. “Okay, here’s the map, so we can go over it and make any changes to the routes.”

“Is all this really necessary?” Cash asked. “They way things are being planned out, you would think that I was the president of the United States.”

“You’re more important.” Houston stated as she looked over the map.

The breath caught in Cash’s throat as she stared at Houston. She couldn’t think of anything to say as her mind was twirling around.

Karen set her glass down on the coffee table, not having heard what Houston had said, or seen Cash’s reaction to it. She continued on, with her train of thought, completely oblivious to what had just occurred. “You know that old saying. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.”

“And that is how we do things.” Houston responded casually looking up at Cash, seeing the emotions in the deep blue eyes. “We haven’t lost a single client and I’ll be damned if we start now.”

After a few second of silence, Houston looked around the room. “Does anyone know how Dunn found out where the apartment was?”

“We have no clue.” Carol shook her head. “No one knew about that place, but us.”

“Yeah.” Karen agreed, then started to think things over. “Shit! Shit! Shit!” She stood up and began to pace, repeatedly, clenching and unclenching her hands into fists.

“What?” Houston asked as she watched her friend with interest.

Karen stopped in front of the seated blonde. “I can’t believe we were so careless.”

“What are you talking about?” Cash moved to the edge of her seat with her elbows resting on her knees, her glass of wine held between her hands as she rubbed the stem of the glass back and forth between her palms. The motion making the red wine swirl, inside the clear glass and almost sloshing over the edge.

“Do you think that your father would hire someone to follow us?” Karen asked as she turned to look at Cash, then back to Houston, when she saw the brunette’s nod. “It’s because of mine and Carol’s big mouths.”

“Huh?” Carol sat straighter in her chair. “What the hell are you talking about.”

Karen closed her eyes and clenched her fists, until her knuckles turned white. “We talked about coming by the apartment on several occasions outside of the office. Hell, we didn’t even think that someone would be tailing us.”

“You think someone over heard you and they went back and told my Father?” Cash questioned before she gulped down her drink. “Aren’t you two supposed to be professionals?” She then pointed at Houston. “This is partially your fault too. You should have known that my Father would do anything to get me back.”

“You’re right. I should have known.” Houston agreed looking up at Cash with guilt in her eyes.

“”We had no clue. It’s never happened before.” Carol quickly stated. “This is the first time, since we opened, that this kind of situation has come up.”

“Am I some sort of special situation?” Cash stood up with fire in her eyes. “Your actions put my children in danger. You put me in danger along with Houston. How could you two be so damn careless?” She turned her anger away from Houston and back at the two other women.

“Yes, you are a special situation.” Houston stood up and walked over next to Cash. Trying to calm her down and deal with her own feelings of guilt, she began to rub her hands up and down the shaking woman’s arms. “They have never seen me react to someone, like I’ve done with you. They were curious, seeing if by some chance, we would get back together.”

“So curious that they didn’t do their jobs.” Cash pointed at the two woman that stood behind the small blonde. “I swear if anything would have happened to Tara, or Trent because of your actions,” She stopped talking before she said something, that she couldn’t take back.

“You’re right and we are so sorry.” Carol replied softly feeling like an idiot for not taking the precautions they should’ve taken.

“Yeah.” Karen nodded. “If we even thought that we were being followed we would have taken action and taken care of the person.”

“I would think that it was mandatory to think that someone would be following you.” Cash snapped as she fought back her anger and the tears.

“Okay, let’s all calm down a bit. Nothing we can do about it now.” Houston turned, so she could wrap an arm around the trembling woman’s body. “You’re safe now and there is no way someone can get close to this house.”

Cash closed her eyes and let the heat that she felt radiating off of the smaller woman next to her quiet her nerves. She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “She’s right.”

“Yeah.” Carol and Karen nodded their heads.

Houston guided Cash to sit back down and reached for her empty glass. As she walked though the room, she took everyone else’s glass as well and went to refill them. When she came back in the room with a tray that held the now full wine glasses and a plate of cookies, she stopped at the silence. The tension in the room was almost visual.

“Let’s talk about what will happen on Monday.” She set the tray down on the coffee table and went back to her seat.

For the rest of the night, the four women went over the game plan several times, with several different scenarios. When each thought they had everything covered, Karen and Carol took their leave. The two women left alone decided to retire for the night.

Slowly they made their way up the stairs and stopped next to the doorway that would bring Houston to her room.

“Good night Cash.” Houston said as she went to open her door. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Cash nodded and smiled. “Night.” She stood in front of Houston for a few seconds wanting desperately to have a kiss good night, but decided against it since Houston hadn’t done anything, or said anything about the earlier kiss. So she moved to her own door.

Houston watched the emotions play in the blue eyes that stared at her. She remembered that look from seeing it thousands of times in the past and in her dreams. She decided it was time to make sure that Cash knew, that she did have fears, but they weren’t going to stop her from a future she really wanted.

Slowly, she caught the retreating woman’s arm. “Wait.”

Cash turned around, so her back was pressed up against her closed door. Her breath caught in her throat when she watched Houston’s hand reaching up to cup her face.

“You know you’ve never left my heart.” Houston whispered as she began to run her fingers through the silky dark tresses, caressing what covered a perfect ear.

“I just broke it.” Cash reached up and unbuttoned Houston’s shirt, so she could see the tattoo.

Houston nodded as she traced a finger across Cash’s lips.

Cash opened her mouth and slowly ran the tip of her tongue against the blonde’s finger tip. She watched as Houston closed her eyes.

Houston moved in closer, so her body was pressed up against the taller woman’s. She could feel the firm, full breasts and the hardening nipples push against the fabric of her shirt. When white teeth bite down on her finger she shuddered in excitement.
“I want you so badly right now.”

Cash let the finger in her mouth slide out as she leaned her head lower and kissed along Houston’s jaw line. “I want you just as much.”

Houston tightened her hold on the other woman’s hips as the soft wet lips met hers. She pressed as close as she could, up against the warm body in her arms.

When they broke for air, Cash’s hands had pulled up the back of Houston’s shirt and her finger nail’s, scratched up and down the bare back, causing Houston to tremble.

“Take me to bed Baby.” Cash nipped the shaking woman’s ear. “Make me yours forever.”

Houston stepped back and grasped one of Cash’s hands as it slid down to her waist. “You always were. It just took some time for it to really happen.” She replied as she guided the woman she loved towards her bedroom.

****
Tara woke Trent up with a shake of his shoulder. “Hey wake up.”

“Stop it, Tara. I’m sleeping.” Trent smacked at his sister’s hand.

“I can’t find Mom.” Tara said sounding scared.

Trent sat up and rubbed his eyes. “What do you mean, you can’t find her? Did you look in her room, or in the kitchen?” He stopped rubbing his eyes and opened them to see his sister nod her head. “Okay. I’ll help you look.”

Trent tossed off his blankets and followed his sister out of the bedroom towards where their Mom was suppose to sleep. “What time is it anyways?”

“About seven.” Tara answered as she opened the closed door.

Trent shook his head. “Why do you get up so early, when you don’t have to?”

“Shut up and look.” She pointed to the bed. “It has not been slept in at all.”

Trent scratched his head. “You said you looked everywhere?”

The young girl again nodded her head. “The only room, I didn’t look in was Houston’s.”

The two children looked at the closed door then, back at each other, then back at the door again.

“Why would she stay in there?” The still tired boy asked.

“You don’t think they had a sleep over, or something and didn’t invite us?” Tara tip toed over to Houston’s door and put her ear up against the wood. “I don’t hear anything.”

“Duh! You idiot. Only freaks get up this early. If Mom is in there, she is sleeping, like a normal person should be at this hour.” Trent grabbed for the door knob.

“Stop.” Tara grabbed his hand. “You should knock first.”

“And wake them up? Are you crazy?” Trent removed his sister’s hand and opened the door a few inches. His eyes grew big, when he saw his Mom sleeping with Houston’s arm wrapped around her. “We can’t go in there. See.” He pointed to the bed and the sleeping occupants.

“Why is Mom sleeping in there?” Tara asked confused. She looked at her brother and watched him shrug his shoulders.

“I don’t know. Maybe she got scared or something.” Trent replied never taking his eyes off of the two woman.

“Let’s just close the door and leave them alone. We can ask when they get up.” Tara decided as she went to close the door.
“But I thought you wanted Mom?” Trent questioned as he stepped out of the way.

Tara sighed. “I did, but it will wait. You coming down for breakfast?”

“You are nuts. I’m going back to bed.” Trent mumbled before he went back down the hall to bed, away from his weird sister who woke up before it was light outside.

“Lazy brother.” Tara called out. “I have a lazy brother.” She repeated to herself as she watched him open the bedroom door.

Trent just waved his hand behind his back and closed the door.

Tara stood in the quiet hallway and wondered what she should do now. Not wanting to eat alone, she decided that watching some TV would do, until everyone else woke up. Looking one more time at Houston’s now closed bedroom door, she sighed. “Whenever they do get up, I have some questions.”

****

Cash heard the door close and opened her eyes. She stared at the door and wondered what her kids thought of what they had seen. They had never talked about the birds and the bees. So, what if they couldn’t handle the way she loved Houston? Would she have to choose between them? How could she chose between them if she did have to make that kind of decision?

Houston could feel the woman in her arms tense and her breathing deepened. “What’s wrong?”

“Sorry, did I wake you?” Cash didn’t turn around. She didn’t want Houston to see the fear in her eyes.

“You didn’t.” Houston tightened her hold. “I heard the kids outside the door before they opened it.”

Cash didn’t say anything, she just closed her eyes and let the warmth of the love they had shared last night cover her up. If this was the only night that they shared, then she wanted to remember the feelings and smells for the rest of her life.

“You’re scared.” Houston said, not as a question, but as a statement because she could tell by the way Cash was acting, what was going on.

Cash nodded her head and fought back the tears. “I don’t want to have to choose. I can’t give up my children and I don’t want to give you up either.” She finally turned around, so she had her head resting on Houston’s chest. “What we shared last night was nothing like we’ve had before. It was more intense more connecting.”

“I agree. So please don’t think about leaving. We will work together and talk with the kids.” Houston kissed the top of Cash’s dark, sleep tossed hair. “Take it one step at a time. Not three or four. Just one at a time.” She moved her head, so she could see her face. “Okay?”

“Okay, I can do that.” Cash leaned up on her elbows, so her face was inches from the prone woman under her.

“You going to kiss me good morning?” Houston smiled up at Cash as she ran her hands up and down the tall woman’s back.

Cash arched forward when the blunt nails scratched down her spine. “God, I love it when you do that.”

“I know.” Houston bent forward and sucked a nipple into her mouth. Her hands grasped Cash’s butt and squeezed the soft globes.

Cash’s body had a mind of it’s own as she started to rock up and down on Houston’s body. She pressed her still wet and slightly aching center down on the rock hard thigh below her. Cash knew that it wouldn’t take much more for her to be able to come, so she didn’t stop.

Houston nipped the harden nub in her mouth before she dropped her head back down to her pillow, so she could watch the reaction above her. She loved how Cash’s mouth was slightly open and the tip of her tongue poked out. Then when the orgasm started to ride through her lover’s body, she would bite her bottom lip to keep from screaming out.

“What you do to me with just one touch.” Cash gasped out as she collapsed on top of Houston.

Houston wrapped her arms around the panting woman’s body and held her tightly. “Cash?” She whispered.

“Yeah?” Cash turned her head, so she could see Houston’s face.

“I love you.” Houston couldn’t help it as she spoke those words a tear fell down the side of her face to land on her blue pillow case.

Cash reached up and wiped the trail of wetness away. “I love you too.”

No other words were needed as two separate souls were joined once again.
Part 6
Holding hands, Cash and Houston slowly made their way down the staircase. When they reached the bottom step the smaller of the two stopped and waited for the other women to step off the last step. She smiled when she gave the other woman a small tug to stop.

Cash turned around and raised an eyebrow at the smirk on Houston’s face. “Yes?” She stepped closer so that they were an inch apart.

Without letting the hand go Houston brought it up to her lips. “Tara and Trent are smart kids. I doubt that they’ll have a problem with this.” She placed several small kisses on the back of Cash’s hand.

“I hope you’re right.” Cash closed her eyes and sighed deeply as tingles shot up her arm and through her body. “Do you have any idea what you are doing to me?”

“Hmmmm.” Houston wiggled her eyebrows. “Why yes, yes I do.”

“You are incorrigible.” Cash lean forward and placed a butterfly kiss against Houston’s grinning lips.

The sounds of two children arguing over who would put the milk away broke the calm of the moment.
“Guess we need to go in there?” Houston gestured towards the kitchen with her head.

“Yeah we do.” Cash started towards the kitchen, but stopped and turned to look questioning into the green eyes. “Unless you want me to handle it?”

Houston shook her head, while she wrapped her arms around the taller woman. “Together. Remember?”

“Yeah, I remember.” Cash rolled her eyes when she heard her perfect angels calling each other names. “We should hurry. Before they start tossing cereal everywhere.”

“Lead the way.” Houston bowed and gestured with her arm.

****

“You’re a booger head!” Tara yelled out as she sat her bowl down on the table.

Trent stuck his tongue out at his sister. “Snot for brains.”

Tara was about to reply back, when she was interrupted by her Mom’s voice.

“Okay, you two. That’s about enough name calling.” Cash stated in a motherly tone.

“She started it.” Trent pointed at his now seated twin. “You should ground her.”

“Shut up.” Tara snapped as she took a bite of her crunchy cereal.

Cash put her hands on her hips. “I said that was enough and I meant it.”

“Yes, Mom.” The two said at the same time.

Houston had to hide her face, or the three would see the grin on her face she couldn’t get rid of. “Would you like some coffee?” She asked Cash, walking over to the coffee pot.

“That would be nice. Thanks.” The tall brunette went to sit in an empty seat between her children. “Listen guys. Houston and I would like to talk to you about something important.”

“You’re gonna get us a dog?” Trent shouted out as milk dripped down his chin.

His sister piped up and shook her head. “No you idiot. We want a cat.”

“Cats are for girls.” Trent made a face of disgust. “A boy needs a dog.”

Houston, with a cup in each hand walked to the table. She handed Cash’s to her and then sat down next to Trent.

Cash smiled her thanks and took a sip. “No we are not getting a pet of any kind.” She looked over to Houston and sighed. “What I want to talk to you two about, is about Houston and myself.”

“What about you two?” Tara asked taking the last bite of her breakfast. “Is this why you were sleeping in her bed?” She asked as she raised the bowl of slightly colored milk and drank it down.

“Yeah isth it?” Trent ask with his mouth full of food.

Tara set her now empty bowl, down on the table. “You know it’s not nice, not to invite everyone if you’re going to have a sleep over.”

At that statement Houston sprayed coffee out of her mouth and down her chest. “Oh shit that’s hot.” She pulled her t-shirt away from her burning skin.

“She swore.” The small boy pointed. “She needs to have her mouth washed out with soap.”

“Huh?” Houston looked from Trent’s face to Cash. “Wash my mouth out?” She shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

“Well you did swear.” Cash raised an eyebrow and smirked. “But I think we can let you slide this one time.”

“Gee thanks.” Houston winked.

“So what do you want to talk about?” Trent asked as he finished off the last bit of his cereal.

“Well,” Cash hesitated a second. “When a person… When you..” She covered her face with the palms of her hands when the right words wouldn’t form. “What I mean to say is…”

Houston interrupted Cash. “What your Mom is trying to say is that we love each other and want to spend the rest of out lives together.”

“What about us?” Tara leaned back in her chair and pouted. Her bottom lip began to tremble.

“You mean about you and your brother?” Houston asked softly reaching over the table top. Her fingers grasped onto a small cold hand watching the small head nod.

“What are you going to do about us? Grandfather always said, that we’d have to go to a boarding school, when Mom finally found someone she loved. That way we could grow up and become decent people.” Tara wiped a tear that had fallen. “I don’t want to be sent away.”

“Oh Baby.” Cash hugged her daughter. “You are staying right here.” She looked over to her son and looked him straight in the eyes. “No one is going anywhere.”

After a few minutes, Houston cleared her throat. “Do you two have a problem with your Mom and me?” She questioned before she sipped more of her coffee. “And you do understand what we mean by I love her and she loves me? Right?”

“Sure we do.” Trent leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. “We don’t live in the dark ages. And we aren’t narrow minded dimwits.”

Tara nodded, “plus we both had classes in school about tolerance and acceptance.” She sat up in her Mom’s arms and looked at Houston, then back at her Mom. “You don’t know this, but Tracy has two Moms and it’s pretty cool. They can talk about their hair, make up and just girl stuff without the boys getting in the way.”

“Hey, nothing wrong with the boys stuff.” Trent shifted in his seat. “It sucks though.”

Houston looked with wide eyes and tilted her head slightly. “Why does it suck? Do you have a problem with your Mom being with me?”

“Well, yeah I do.” The fidgeting boy replied as he chewed one of his finger nails.

Cash reached for her son and ran a hand through his still sleep tossed hair. “Why?”

He hesitated a minute before he shrugged his shoulders and sighed. “I’ll be the only man in the house.” He cringed at the thought. “I don’t want to grow up talking about girl stuff.”

Houston and Cash both started to laugh. The look on his face was priceless.

“Trust me, Trent.” Houston patted the young boy on the back. “I doubt that I will be in on those conversations. I don’t do, those kind of talks.”

Tara tilted her head and asked in childlike curiosity. “So you’re the ‘butch’ of the relationship?”

The room was silent for about three seconds before Houston nodded her head and grinned. “I guess you could say that.”

“Ohh good.” The young girl stated with relief. “Mom so does not fit that type.”

“What?” Cash stared at her daughter, stunned. “I could be if I wanted to.”

“No you couldn’t. You scream like a baby if you see a spider.” Tara smirked. “Do you do that Houston?”

“Umm, depends on if it’s a big spider.” The small blonde acknowledged shyly. “The big hairy ones make my skin crawl.” She shivered at the thought of seeing one.

“Guess that means I’m the spider killer of the family.” Trent slapped his hand down on the table for show. “Squash them like the bugs they are.”

“You do know that they aren’t a real bug?” Tara said while she played with her Mom’s fingers, that covered one of her hands.

“Oh, be quiet. Smarty pants.” Trent kicked at his sister’s legs from under the table. He accidently hit his Mother’s leg instead.

“Ouch,” Cash leaned down and rubbed her sore shin. “Trent, you don’t do that.”

“Sorry Mom, but I meant to hit Tara.” He picked up his bowl and spoon to take them to the sink. “She thinks, she knows it all. Just because she knows that spiders aren’t a bug. But I say if they crawl on the ground and can crawl up a wall. They are a bug. Who cares how many legs it has.”

Cash stopped him. “That doesn’t make it right. You don’t hit any one.”

“Yes ma’am.” Trent mumbled with a pout as he put his bowl in the sink. As he made his way back to the table he shuffled his feet and stopped at Houston’s side, laying his head down on her shoulder. “You really don’t like girly stuff?”

Houston wrapped her arm around the young boy’s body and squeezed. “If it has to do with hair, or nails I’m gone, but not all girl stuff is bad.”

Trent blinked a few times and bit his lower lip. “Well if that’s all I can get, it’s better then nothing.” He wrapped his arms around her neck and kissed her cheek. “I’m glad my Mom loves you. Even if you are afraid of spiders.”

“Thanks buddy.” Houston laughed as her eyes met the smiling blue eyes from across the table.

“So you two are a couple?” Tara asked looking up at her Mom. “Are you going to get married?”

“Well Honey, we still have things to talk over and work out.” Cash folded her hands on the table top. “Right now, we’re just taking it one day at a time.”

“But if you love each other?” The young girl turned to look right at Houston. “You’re not going to let Grandfather scare you off are you?”

Houston shook her head. “No, Tara. He won’t scare me off.”

“Promise?” The fair-haired girl leaned forward and whispered. “Because I like you and don’t want you to leave.”

“I promise.” Houston made a motion of crossing her heart. “Cross my heart.”

“Can we get a dog?” Trent jumped up and down, still hugging onto Houston’s neck.

****

Joseph Dunn sat in his study with a glass of scotch and a cigar lit up sitting in an ashtray. He fiddled with a steel object in his hands. Twisting it one way and then the other. “No way will you win and get my daughter again.” He mumbled as he popped open the bullet chamber and spun the wheel. “All I have left, is her and my Grandchildren.”

“Excuse me, Sir. Is there anything else you need tonight?” Maxwell asked from just inside the doorway.

Joseph quickly dropped the gun on his lap and turned towards Max. “No.” He waved the man away. “Just leave me in peace.”

“Yes sir.” Maxwell gave a small nod and shut the door. He knew his employer was acting stranger than usual and would make it a point to call Houston’s office in the morning and leave a message. “If what I saw in his hand, was what I think it was. Someone needs to know.” He thought as he made his way down the hallway away.

Joseph picked the gun back up and reached into one of his drawers of his desk. He reached in and grabbed a hand full of bullets. Slowly he opened his hand and let them drop on the top of the table, next to his drink. “Tomorrow is your last day you will ever have with them. Come Monday all will be right again.” One by one her loaded the gun with the deadly objects. When he put the last bullet in he shut the cylinder and gave it another spin. “Cash will say she made the whole thing up and the charges will be dropped. The kids will get ready for boarding school and I’ll find Cash a suitable man to marry.”

He grabbed his glass and drank what was left. He cringed as it burned its way down to his empty stomach. “My world will be right again and nobody will ever try to burn me again.” He slammed the now empty glass on the desk top with such force, that it shattered in his hand.

Slowly he brought his hand up to and watched as drops of blood fell. One large drop formed and he watched it slide it’s way down his palm to drop on his crystal white shirt. “I wonder of she’ll wear white on Monday? Will it look like this as her blood seeps out of her body?”

Suddenly he started to laugh as he wiped his hand down the front of his body. “God, I hope so.”
Part 7
Houston opened her eyes and blinked away dark tresses of hair that covered her face and tickled her nose. With a soft breath, she blew away a few strands that were becoming more annoying than the rest.

“You okay?” Cash asked in a sleepy voice as she moved lower to place a kiss on Houston’s stomach.

“Yeah.” Houston replied as a shiver ran through her body from the contact of the warm, wet lips.

The dark haired woman grinned to herself as she watched goose bumps form over the softness. “Like that do you?” She asked before she ran her tongue over the small bumps that covered the exposed stomach.

“Oh yeah.” Houston groaned as she felt a hand run down her thigh to her knee and then back up again. “You’re driving me crazy.”

“Good.” Cash moved down lower. She could smell what she was doing to the smaller woman with just a few touches. “I love how you react to me.”

“Mmmmm.” Houston shifted as the fingers slid easily through her wetness. “One touch and I’m gonna loose it.”

Cash leaned up and watched the expression on Houston’s face. When she saw the green eyes flutter until they closed, she sucked on an exposed nipple and after nipping it between her teeth she let it go. “Open your eyes for me?”

It took Houston a few seconds for her to understand what Cash wanted her to do. She blinked several times to clear the haze then her green eyes met soft blue. “God I love you.”

“I can tell by how wet you are.” Cash’s passion filled voice whispered as she moved under the covers and in between the outstretched legs that were soon attempting to wrap themselves around her shoulders. “So very wet.” She licked across her partner’s swollen lips.

“That’s it.” Houston grabbed a hand full of hair to make sure her lover didn’t move from her clit.

“MOM!” Trent’s voice rang out from the other side of the door. “Where’s my shirt, the one you wanted me to wear today?”

A small sigh and all movement under the covers stopped.

Houston’s tense body stilled, as her brain processed the unwanted child’s voice. “Damn.” She mumbled out.

“Sorry.” Cash said as she tossed the blanket off her head.

Houston waved a hand at her and smiled. “No, don’t be.” She lifted her head up and gave Cash a loving smile. She reached up and tucked a few strands of hair back behind the woman’s ear. “It’s a part of having kids.”

“Yeah.” Cash sat up exposing her bare breasts. “I guess, I’d better go see where that shirt went off too.”

Houston only nodded her head as her hands went up to cup each breast. “We will continue this tonight.” She twisted each nipple between her thumb and index fingers.

“You bet your sweet ass we will.” Houston leaned over the prone body and planted a hard kiss on Houston’s lips before she slowly slipped off the still trembling body and headed for the bathroom.

“That woman is gonna kill me.” Houston breathed out in shorts breaths as she licked her lips. Her eyes closed as she tasted herself. “I am so, horny.”

****

Carol and Karen walked around the office, double checking to make sure they had everything they needed.

“You ready to head out?” Karen asked as she closed her brief case. “I think we have everything.”

“Yeah, I think we do.” Carol looked over at her friend. “Let’s head out to Houston’s and get this thing over with.”

The two women grabbed their bags and headed for the door. Taking one last look, they walked through the door and closed it up, making sure it was securely locked behind them. As they walked away, the phone rang and rang, until it was picked up by the answering machine. The message plays, with Carol’s recorded voice, “You have reached the Sanctuary, please leave a message after the tone. Unless this is an emergency, then you should call 911, immediately.” The tone sounds, there is a pause and then…

“Hello? This is Maxwell, Cash’s friend. I work for her Father. I wanted to let you know that I saw him with a gun last night and the look he had in his eyes, he was like some sort of lunatic. Please be careful.”

Then all was silent in the office.

****

Houston made her way down the stairs, but was stopped by the ringing of the door bell. Turning towards the door, she opened it and waved at the two women that stood on the doorstep to come inside. “Morning you two.”

“Morning.” Carol said as she gave Houston a hug. “How are you this morning?”

“I’m good. Ready to get this started and finished.” Houston stepped back and closed the door. “Go on into the kitchen. That’s where the others are.”

“I guess, that I’m gonna be the babysitter for the day. I don’t suppose you have any ideas on what would be good way to keep them occupied while you guys are at court?” Karen raised an eyebrow in question.

“Sure, just pop in a movie, or let them run around the house. Just make sure that they stay in the house. I’ve let the guard at the front gate know that no one is expected and so, no one should be allowed in.” Houston informed her friend with a pat on the back. “If worse comes to worse, install the new game station I bought. It’s in the front closet. I was saving it for a present, but if you need it, go ahead and use it.”

“Great! Thanks.” Karen followed Houston into the kitchen and leaned against the counter. “You ready for today?” She asked Cash with compassion in her voice.

Cash looked up from pouring Tara’s milk. “Yes. I am more than ready.”

“Great! We should be going in about ten minutes.” Carol said as she looked at her watched. “I have no clue what the traffic will be like.”

“I’m betting it will be a madhouse.” Houston said, while she poured herself a cup of coffee. “We should go in through the back and miss the reporters.”

“No.” Cash shook her head. “I want to go in the front. I don’t care about the reporters.” She walked up and wrapped her arms around Houston’s shoulders. “Thank you for wanting to protect me from that.”

“It’s my job.” Houston stood taller and placed a soft kiss on the woman’s cheek. “But we’ll do what you want and go in the front door.”

“Okay. Now, with having settled that, let’s hit the road.” Carol clapped her hands together.

Cash walked around the room to where Trent and Tara sat eating their breakfast. She leaned over and placed a kiss on each of their heads. “You two be extra good for Karen.”

“Don’t worry Mom. We will be perfect angels.” Tara smiled up into her Mom’s blue eyes.

Trent nodded his head and smiled as a small trickle of milk slipped out of his mouth.

Houston grabbed her keys off the kitchen counter before she walked over to stand next to Cash. “Bye guys. We’ll see you later on tonight.”

“Bye Houston.” The two said as they gave the blonde woman a wave. “See you tonight.”

Houston reached for Cash’s hand, guiding her out of the kitchen and to the front door. They stopped just before opening the door.

Cash gave her lover a questioning look and asked. “Did you forget something?”

Houston nodded her head and ran a finger across Cash’s cheek. “I love you.” Then she lowered her other hand to run down the front of Cash’s shirt.

A big smile formed on Cash’s face as she grabbed a hold of the smaller hand next to her face. “Love you too. And don’t worry, you checked the vest enough times already.” As she said that, she patted Houston’s chest feeling the hard protective bullet proof vest under the small blonde’s own shirt.

“I know it maybe overkill, but I would rather we wear them and have nothing happen, then go in without them if something does.” Houston covered Cash’s hand with her own to entwine their fingers over her heart.

“You two, ready?” Carol stopped next to the pair.

The two women nodded before the door was opened and they stepped out into the morning sun.

****

Joseph carefully stepped out of his car as he grabbed his light brown trench coat and looked around. Not spotting anyone, he opened his back seat and uncovered the gun he’d hidden there, when he first went to his car that morning. Slowly running his hands over the cold steel an evil grin formed on his face. “Today is the day I get my life back.”

“Mr. Dunn?” Mario Lopez called out from his car, as he pulled it to a stop next to his client. “Are you going to go in, or do you want to wait for me here?”

Joseph quickly turned and hid the gun behind his back. “Go park your car. I’ll wait for you here.”

Lopez rolled his window up and pulled his car forward until he found a spot. He thought as he’d put the car in park, that he’d seen something resembling a gun in the larger man’s hand as he pulled up. He just shook his head at the thought. Joseph wouldn’t try anything that stupid in a court room full of people.

Joseph tucked the gun in between his back and the back brace he used to wear after his surgery for having a couple of slipped discs. He grinned evilly as he thought of the great idea that had popped into his head last night about wearing the back brace to conceal his weapon. It was even better that he’d gotten a hold of his doctor and had him fax an excuse that he shouldn’t take it off for any reason at all. Joseph shifted his body until the gun rested at the center of his back comfortably before he pulled his coat on over his shoulders. He hoped no one would pay too much attention and that it wasn’t too snug against his body. After making sure the gun wouldn’t slip he turned and watched Mario walk over to him, with a briefcase in one hand, along with several brown folders in the other.

“Are you ready?” Lopez asked as he drew closer to the unusually quiet man not noticing the brace, or the ramrod straight way, Joseph was standing.

Joseph nodded as he slipped his hands into his pockets. “I’m ready to do what I have to do to get my life back.”

Lopez stopped with a curious look on his face. “I’m not sure how to take that.”

“Take it however you want.” Dunn quickly turned and started walking stiffly towards the courthouse. “Let’s go.”

****

Houston stopped the car and turned to look over at Cash. She wasn’t sure what kind of reaction the taller woman would have at seeing her father again. It would be the first time she’d seen him, since finding out that she was the reason he was going to spend a long time in jail. “You okay?”

Cash took in a deep breath as she watched her Father make his way up the courthouse steps, not stopping to talk with the reporters that surrounded him like vultures with a fresh kill. “Yeah, just fine.”

It took them a few minutes to find a suitable parking space that met Houston’s satisfaction. The two waited in the car, until Carol found a place to park and walked over to them.

“Ready Freddy?” Houston opened her door and stepped out. She caught Cash’s eyes as the other woman stood up and looked at her over the car. “When this is all over with how about you and me take a nice trip somewhere?”

“With, or without the kids?” Cash smiled at her lover’s question.

Houston pretended to think by tapping her finger on her chin. “That depends.”

“On what?” Cash closed her door and walked to the back of the car.

Houston copied the woman’s actions and met her near the trunk. “If they interrupt us again.”

Cash laughed softly as she wrapped her lover in her arms. “Are you feeling a tad bit frustrated?”

Houston stepped back and grinned. “I was, until my shower. Then I took care of it.”

The tall brunette slapped Houston on the shoulder. “How can you say that? Do you have any idea what kind of images are running around in my head right now?”

“Ouch that hurt.” Houston smiled, while rubbing her shoulder. “And yeah, I do.”

“What are you two talking about?” Carol looked from one woman to the other.

“Sex.” Her small friend answered quickly.

Carol’s face froze in shock. “You’re talking about sex? Now?”

Houston glanced over to Carol and then back at Cash. “It took your mind off walking up those stairs and facing those reporters didn’t it?” She offered her elbow and waited for it to be accepted.

“Damn, I love you.” Cash laughed and gladly accepted the offer of the arm. “Even though you are a lunatic.”

“Yeah, but I’m your lunatic.” Houston grinned from ear to ear.

****

As Joseph went through the metal detector the siren went off and everyone around stopped and looked.

“Excuse me sir, could you step over here.” A guard said as he pointed to a space next to him.

Joseph huffed and walked over. “It’s the brace, I’m wearing. It has metal brackets in it to help my back.”

“Okay, but I still need to pat you down and make sure.” The guard stated as he started to run his hands up and down Joseph’s legs.

“Just watch my back, it hurts enough as it is.” Joseph barked as he stood praying to himself that the gun he had wouldn’t be found. He closed his eyes and tensed even more as the security guard ran his hand up is back. To try and distract the guard, he reached into his pocket. “Look here, I have a statement from my doctor.”

The security guard stopped moving and reached for the note and glanced over it. “If you don’t mind waiting, sir. While I call his office, to verify this. It should only take a minute, or two.”

“Sure, do what ever you need to do. I need to get to court real quick.” Joseph crossed his arms over his chest acting as if he were annoyed. “So hurry up will you. Damn it feels like they are calling my Mother to check up on me.” He looked over at Lopez when he walked up.

Lopez watched what was happening and raised his eyebrow at his client. “What’s going on? When did your back start hurting you?”

“Just go get ready.” Joseph glared at his attorney. “I’ll be along in a few minutes. They’re checking to make sure I’m not some terrorist and lying about my back. ”

Lopez nodded his head after watching his client for a few seconds before walking towards the stairs that would take him to the court rooms.

After several long minutes, the guard stepped back to Joseph. “Everything checks out. Sorry for the delay.” He handed the angry man back the piece of paper.

“Whatever.” Joseph snatched the paper back from the man’s hand, shoved it into his pocket and stormed off towards the bathroom. Pushing the door open he quicky walked to the handicapped stall. Making sure no one was inside he stepped in and locked the door. He took off his coat and hung it on the hook on the door. Stopping his movements when he heard someone entering he waited until the other man was finished and left before he reached behind his back and pulled the gun out.

“I can feel it. Today, everything will be as it should.” He brought the gun up to his lips and placed a kiss on the steel barrel. He stared at the gun for a few more seconds before he slipped it into his coat pocket and then put the coat back on over his shoulders. He settled the coat until it laid just right and opened the stall. One hand casually hanging by his side and the other deep inside a pocket caressing the cold steel of a gun.

****

The sound of the gavel as it hit the block on the judge’s platform, stopped all the talking in the court room. “I said quiet Mr. Lopez, I would suggest you keep your client quiet, or I’ll cite him with contempt of court and he can cool his heels off in a jail cell over night. Then we can start this whole thing over again tomorrow.”

“Sorry. Your Honor, it won’t happen again.” Lopez sat down and glared at Joseph. “What do you think you are doing? You need to keep your mouth shut and keep quiet.”

“I won’t sit here and listen to this crap.” Joseph growled as he shifted in his chair.

Lopez glared at his client. “Well that’s too damn bad. You’re going to have to.”

“Are we ready to proceed?” The judge asked in a deep voice.

“Yes, your honor.” Lopez replied, while trying to keep his cool and not go ballistic on his client.

He nodded at Lopez and turned to the district attorney who happily nodded his head. “Good, lets get on with this then.”

District Attorney Buckner stood up and looked around the room. He spotted Houston and Cash sitting close to one another in the front row. He nodded his head slightly to them before he looked at several people behind them. The DA knew if he didn’t win this case, they’d be losing a chance to get everything they’d worked all their lives for. Slowly closing his eyes he let out a deep breath before he opened his eyes and started his opening statements.

For the next three hours, Buckner stated the case against Joseph Dunn and his company. He started by saying they had documents upon documents of proof that showed the defendant knew not only what was going on, but he was the main conspirator of the crime. Buckner also stated, that he had evidence that the materials he had, were ordered to be destroyed, but someone within the companies’ ranks didn’t follow those orders and kept the information safe from harm. He went on to say that the person who had the documents was too frightened to come forward sooner. And would only be willing to do so, if they were promised anonymity, so no harm could come to them, or their family.

Then he went on about how he also had a witness that has given a sworn statement. This wittness was going to testify that she’d overheard, Joseph Dunn and some of his cronies talking about what they were doing with the employee funds. And that the testimony would be so damaging by this person because of her relationship with the defendant.

He looked over at Cash and then over to Joseph to see the reaction. It wasn’t the kind he had hoped for, since the older man just leaned back in his chair and smiled. Buckner turned back around as a shiver ran up his spine, this man showed no remorse, whatsoever. He kind of wished that Lopez had asked for a jury trail, since he knew that most of the time the jurors looked at the defendant to see the reaction they would get. Instead, the judge was leaning back in his chair watching him pace back and forth in front of the tables.

****

Houston and Cash sat in the front row watching the DA walk back and forth stating Joseph’s alleged illegal activities. They listened as he stated he had proof that Dunn had swindled his employee’s out of both their savings and retirement funds.

Both women would occasionally glance over to where Dunn was sitting to see what kind of reaction they would see, but each time they were saddened that he only looked smug and uncaring. Houston didn’t expect much from him, but perhaps it would be better for Cash, if he’d have at least made an attempt to look somewhat sorry for what he’d done.

At one o’clock, the judge called a recess for lunch and stated that court would reconvene in one hour.

Houston put her hand on the small of Cash’s back and guided her out of the court room. “You hungry?”

“Not really, but I should eat something.” Cash answered without any emotion.

The realization of what her Father had really done hit Cash right in her core. The same man, who she had looked up to when she was just a child, really did swindle hundreds of people out of their hard earned money. Sure he became a controlling overbearing son of a bitch to her when she was an adult, but deep in her heart, the man was still her Father. She looked over at the man who was supposed to love and cherish her talking with his lawyer. This was not the same man who used to color and play games with her. Long ago that man had disappeared and turned into an unknown being. Cash took a deep breath and turned to Houston. “Let’s go.”

Joseph stepped out into the hallway and stopped when he spotted his daughter. He ignored his lawyer’s questions and comments as he started to walk towards the tall women, when his eyes caught Houston moving her away from him. “You fucking bitch!” He moved around the people that blocked his path. “You took her away from me for the last time!” He yelled out, as he tightened the grip he had on the gun.

Houston turned to look at the screaming man. It took her mind several long seconds to realize he was pulling something out of his pocket. When it finally hit her what it was she pushed Cash aside and screamed out. “He’s got a gun!”

Cash felt herself falling to the floor and heard people yelling in fear. Quickly moving to the side of the hallway, she watched as Houston fought her Father’s quickly moving arms. She saw the glint of the gun from the sunlight that shown through the windows of the building. “Houston!” She screamed in fear as she stood up and fought her way through the crowd of terrified people.

It was like watching a movie in slow motion as she watched her lover fight for the gun. She flinched when Joseph struck Houston with an elbow to the side of her face. But all it did was fuel the furious blonde to fight harder to gain control. She covered her mouth with her shaking hands as Houston got her footing just right to trip Joseph up and they both crashed to the floor. Not thinking, she started to move towards the thrashing bodies on the ground.

Carol tried to get to Cash, but the stampede of people kept pushing her further away. “Cash, stay away! Don’t go near him! Let Houston handle him!” She screamed out when she noticed Cash trying to move closer to the two fighting on the floor.

Suddenly the earth shattering sound of two gunshots filled the hallway. Cash stopped and watched in fear, as the movement between Houston and her Father ceased. Her heart pounded in total and absolute fear. “Oh, God. No!” She whispered as tears slipped from her eyes to trail down her cheeks. “Houston?”

Carol quickly dodged the last person in her way and ran towards Cash. She stepped in front of the tall brunette and brought trembling hands up to her friends shoulders to stop the crying woman from moving. “Stay here. You need to stay here.” She looked over at Houston’s body. “Please Cash. Stay right here. I’ll go check on her, but promise me you’ll stay right here.” She looked up into the unfocused eyes hoping for a response. She patted Cash on the shoulders when she received a small nod. Taking a deep breath Carol turned around and blinked her own eyes to stay focused from unshed tears.

The two women didn’t hear the running footsteps of the police officers, who were coming closer to see what was going on. They were too intent on the two forms lying on the floor.

Carol moved as fast as her brain would allow her. She was in shock that Dunn had enough balls to bring a gun into the courthouse and then pull it out to use against his daughter.

When she got close enough, she could see a pool of blood growing under the crumpled bodies. Not caring for her own safety, she pulled at Houston’s shoulders to get her off the evil madman below her.

A cough caught her attention and she looked up into Joseph Dunn’s wild eyes. Blood dripped from his mouth to make a trail down his cheek to the floor below his head. “I did it.” He held up the gun in his hand and grinned.

“Bastard.” Carol’s hand moved before she could think and grabbed the still smoking gun out of the dying man’s hands. “Hope you go to hell.”

Carol knelt over Houston’s body and pulled open her shirt and fought with the restraints of the protective vest to try and get a look at the wound. She gasped at the site where the bullet had entered. It was right next to her left breast. “Houston? Can you hear me?”

Four police officers dashed past Cash, with their guns drawn.

“What happened?” One stopped and looked at Cash. “Ma’am, I need to know what happened.” He said again to the silent woman. “Are you hurt?” He stepped in Cash’s line of view, but was quickly shoved away.

“Get out of my way.” Cash growled before she took her first uneasy steps. She couldn’t take being so close, yet, so far away from the woman she loved.

The police officer tried to stop her. “Ma’am, I can’t let you get any closer.” He tried to stop her from moving.

“Bullshit.” She grabbed the man’s hand that had landed on her arm. “I’ll talk after I know how my partner is. Not before.”

The police officer followed behind Cash as he watched the scene before him. One of his fellow officers was talking into his walkie-talkie, demanding ambulances and any medical personal in the building to get there quick.

The two others were each next to one of the fallen victims. He could see an older man, well dressed and bleeding profusely from a gun shot wound to the neck. The other was a small blonde woman with blood covering the upper half of her body. What he noticed most about both of them was that their skin was a pale shade of white.

Carol took off her top shirt and used it as a bandage to try and stop the bleeding. She couldn’t help the tears that had begun to fall. “Come on Houston. You can’t die! Cash needs you! Your kids need you! Hell, Karen and I need you!”

“Ca.. Carol?” Cash dropped to her knees next to her friend and lover. “Is she…” The distraught woman couldn’t finish the sentence after seeing the blood soaked shirt being held by blood covered hands.

“She’s still with us, but where she was hit isn’t good.” Carol stated honestly. “See if you can get her to wake up. Try to get the vest off her if you can. It isn’t doing any good now.”

Cash ran her shaky hands through her hair before she dropped them to Houston’s face. With a tender touch, she ran them over Houston’s closed eyes and slightly parted lips. “Baby, can you hear me? I need you to open your eyes for me.” When nothing happened, she leaned over and placed a soft kiss against the quiet woman’s pale cheek. “Come on sweetheart. I need to see those gorgeous green eyes of yours.” She grabbed a hold of the black vest and with tender care she pulled it over Houston’s head. Her finger went to the small hole where the bullet had entered. “How could this happen? It was supposed to protect her.”

Carol looked to where Cash’s finger were. “She was too close to the gun when it fired.” She shook her head hoping Cash didn’t want any more explanations. It was too hard to go into detail on what would have happened if Houston wasn’t wearing the vest.

“Ma’am, we have medical personnel coming.” A police officer said as he walked up. “Do you think one of you could tell me what happened?”

Before Carol, or Cash could say anything a groan and a cough, brought their attention back to the woman on the floor.

“Baby?” Cash cried as she watched the eyelids flutter and open.

“It hurts.” Houston groaned out when she tried to take in a deep breath.

Carol gripped the woman’s shoulders. “Don’t move. You’ve been shot.”

“Joseph?” Houston turned her head and looked around. “He’s got a gun. Have to protect Cash.”

“Oh Baby, you did.” Cash wept bring her hands around to cup Houston’s face. “You stopped him from hurting me.”

Houston calmed down and looked into watery blue eyes. “I stopped him?”

Cash and Carol both nodded.

“Good.” Houston breathed out and closed her eyes.

Cash immediately leaned closer, so her face was hovering right over Houston’s. “Don’t leave me. Stay awake.”

“I’m so tired.” Houston didn’t open her eyes. “And cold.” She just laid there and let the darkness reclaim her.
Part 8
“Any news?” Carol asked, as she stepped back into the waiting room after going to get herself and Cash some coffee.

Cash just shook her head without taking her eyes off the double swinging doors that kept her from seeing what was going on with Houston.

“She’s strong.” Carol handed Cash her white styrofoam cup.

Cash turned her head slowly and looked deep into Carol’s eyes. “Is she strong enough to survive that kind of wound?”

“I believe she is. Plus, with the kind of future she has with you and the kids how could she leave?” Carol smiled over at her friend. “Which reminds me, I called the house and Trent and Tara are fine. They know what happened and send their love and prayers for Houston.”

“I feel guilty for not being there with them, but I can’t leave.” She started to cry for the hundredth time that day. “I just can’t, until I know she’s going to be okay.”

“They know that and they understand.” Carol wrapped her arms around the trembling woman.

Suddenly the double doors swung open and out stepped a tired looking doctor. He glanced around until he spotted Carol and Cash huddled together.

“Excuse me, are you here for Houston McKinney?”

“Yes!” Cash jumped up and suddenly felt light-headed. Her hand went out to Carol for her help.

The Doctor moved over to help steady the tilting woman. “Are you okay?”

Cash nodded her head and closed her eyes. “Sorry, I stood up too fast.”

“How about you come on back and we get you checked out.” The Doctor wrapped an arm around Cash’s waist and with Carol’s help they headed towards the double doors.

“I need to know about Houston.” Cash tried to fight-off the arms wrapped around her body. “Please tell me.”

“Let’s get you seated on a gurney first, then I’ll explain everything that’s happening with your friend.” He waited until Cash was seated and steady before he started. “First, my name is Dr. Brawn and…” Before he could go any further Cash stopped him.

“She is not ‘just’ my friend, she is my life.” Cash blinked back the tears.

“Okay, good to know.” He smiled. “Houston has been sent up to surgery. The bullet entered her chest cavity and nicked one of the main arteries to her heart. That’s why there was so much blood.” He grabbed the blood pressure cuff off the table next to the bed and handed it to a nurse. “The graze was small enough that she didn’t bleed out too fast. But it was large enough, that it’s caused her body to go into shock.”

“What are her chances of surviving?” Carol asked with concern, as she watched the nurse take Cash’s blood pressure.

“At this point, I would say she has a fifty-fifty chance.” Dr. Brawn stated in a professional tone. “But she’s young and was in excellent health before receiving her injury. So, that’s going to work in her favor, during her recovery.”

“How long will the surgery last?” Cash questioned as she felt the cuff attached to her arm tighten snugly.

“That would be anyone’s guess, but I will say over two hours.” Dr. Brawn answered honestly. He looked at the nurse, who nodded her head that Cash’s blood pressure was okay. “When was the last time you ate?”

“Umm, I wasn’t too hungry this morning, so I only ate a few bites of cereal.” Cash confessed as she watched the nurse hang the blood pressure cuff up on its holder.

“I’m betting if you eat something that it’ll help you feel a bit better.” The doctor looked at Cash with sympathy in his eyes. ” How about I take you up to a room, where you can wait without being disturbed and maybe get something to eat.”

“That would be great. I started to notice some reporters running around.” Carol smiled at the generosity the doctor had for their well being. “Thank you.”

Just as Carol finished speaking several reporters rushed in through the double doors and headed straight for them, firing rapid questions at Cash.

“Ms. Dunn can you tell us what happened?”

“Who was hurt?”

“What about your Father?”

“What will happen to all those people your Father cheated out of their money? Will you step up and make things right?”

Cash pushed away the microphones that were shoved in her face. “Do you mind? I don’t have any answers to your questions.” She leaned back on the gurney. “Just leave me alone.”

Carol quickly shoved her way in between Cash and the small group of reporters. “Step back people.” She grabbed one microphone that came close to hitting her in the face. “You have no right to be back here.”

The doctor and nurse stepped in front of Cash and blocked the camera’s view.

“If you don’t leave this area now, I’ll have security remove you from the premises.” Dr. Brawn called out as he motioned for an orderly to help out.

“You can’t do that.” One reporter stated as he tried to get closer. “We have a right to be here. The public has a right to know.”

“No, you don’t.” The nurse replied glaring at the man.

Between the four of them, they managed to get the group of reporters back behind the double doors as they continued to shout out question after question.

Cash listened without opening her eyes. She didn’t have the answers they were asking for and she wasn’t sure she would at this point. Right now her mind was in a whirlwind and the only solid thought was making sure Houston was going to be okay. Everything else would fall into its place, when she decided to deal with it.

“You okay?” Carol asked when she walked up to her friend.

Cash opened her eyes and looked up at the ceiling. “Not really.” She answered honestly as tears started to fall.

Carol leaned down and placed a kiss on Cash’s forehead and whispered. “Everything is going to be okay.”

Dr. Brawn stood at the foot of the gurney not wanting to interrupt, but knowing that the sooner they got her into the privacy of a room, the better it would be. “Are you two, ready to head up?”

“Yes.” Cash pushed herself up in a seated position with Carol’s help. As she swung her feet over the side to stand up she looked at the doctor. “What is the news on my Father.”

“Sorry, but he didn’t survive.” The gray haired man said softly.

Cash raised her hand to stop the doctor from saying any more. “Don’t be sorry that man is dead. He is in hell, where he belongs.” She stood up on shaky legs and followed Dr. Brawn with Carol at her side.

****

A calm filled the room, as Carol and Cash sat in silence. When the door opened they both jumped up, but Cash sat back down when she saw it was Gale and Neil.

“Any news yet?” Gale asked as she hugged her daughter.

Carol shook her head. “No, nothing yet Mom.” She turned to her Dad. “Hi Dad.”

“Hi Pumpkin. We thought we’d come down and see if we could get you two anything?” Neil hugged his daughter to him as soon as his wife stepped over to sit next to Cash.

“Cash, do you want anything?” Carol turned in her Dad’s arms. “After all, you haven’t eaten anything, since this morning.”

“I’m fine.” Cash replied looking up at the two, who remained standing. She knew the doctor wouldn’t be happy with her, but her stomach was in knots. She was afraid that if she were to put anything in there being jumpy as she was it wouldn’t stay down. So, she opted for a change of subject. She knew the couple that were neighbors of Houston’s had stopped by the house and checked on the children before coming to see her.

She smiled to herself as she remembered the day they’d spent at their house playing in the pool. Tara and Trent had done what most kids would do. They were extremely sweet and playful, winning over another set of hearts. Gale and Neil would be great stand-in grandparents for her children.

It saddened Cash to think that Houston’s parents would never except Tara and Trent as their grandchildren just because of who Houston chose to love. “Maybe one day they’ll come around.” She thought to the one time she’d met the couple and shook her head. “It’s a nice thought, but doubtful with all the harsh words that were said that day.”

Cash’s thoughts went to her Father. Her feelings were torn between feeling real freedom for the first time and the loss of a man she had once cherished and loved. “He ruined that love though.”

She sighed at that thought and before she could get upset again she asked. “How are Tara and Trent?”

“They were quiet.” Neil moved to sit down next to his wife. “Karen was trying to get them to eat some supper.”

“How about we give them a call. Maybe you could get them to eat and then maybe you’ll have something too?” Carol suggested with a small smile.

Cash tilted her head at her friend and after a second, nodded in agreement. She picked up the courtesy phone on the small table next to her chair and dialed the number for Houston’s house.

The three other people in the room listened to the one-sided conversation as Cash first talked with Karen, then her children. Each one smiled as the Mom in Cash came out, when she told Tara and then Trent to at least eat something, so they wouldn’t fall asleep hungry.

“Okay, now that you’ve made sure Trent and Tara were taken care of, you need to see to your own needs. Let’s go down to the cafeteria and get something for you to eat.” Gale said while standing up and offering her hand to Cash.

Cash just looked at the hand and shook her head. “They should be in here any time now to give us the news about Houston. I don’t want to leave and maybe miss them coming in.”

“Okay, how about we go get you something and bring it back to you.” Neil suggested as he stood up next to Gale. “That way you can eat something while you wait. And if they do come back while we’re gone, you won’t miss them.”

“Thank you.” Cash smiled up at the couple. “I would appreciate something to eat.” She’d said this, although her stomach turned at the thought of food.

Carol gave her Mom and Dad a loving smile as they walked out the door. She moved back over, so she was sitting next to the sullen woman. “I’m glad you decided to eat something.”

“To be honest, I’m not sure I can eat anything. But if I don’t eat, then I’ll probably get sick.” The dark haired woman confessed softly. “Plus I need to be strong for Houston as she recovers.”

“Good thinking.” Carol rubbed Cash’s tense back.

****

Max quietly made his way down the hospital’s sterile, white hallway. He was looking from one room to another in hopes of catching a glimpse of Cash. His heart was breaking that he couldn’t get to the courthouse in time to make sure, they knew about Dunn and the possibility of a gun.

“Why didn’t I just call the police?” He mumbled as he held his hat in his hands twisting the end in his fists. “I could’ve prevented all of this.”

He watched as a couple walked out of a room, but before the door closed, he caught site of long black hair. “Please be her.” He made his way to the now closed door and knocked softly.

Carol stood up and opened the door. She looked the man over curiously, not knowing who he was. “Yes?”

“Can I speak with Cash Dunn?” Max asked as he looked back down the hallway, then back to the woman in the doorway.

Cash looked past Carol to see Max standing there with a worried look on his face. “Max?” She stood up and opened the door all the way. “Come on in.”

Carol moved out of the way to let the man enter as she looked up at Cash.

Cash smiled as she hugged the nervous looking man before she stepped back and introduced the two. “Carol, I’d like you to meet, Maxwell. He’s worked for my family for years. Max, this is Carol. She’s a friend of Houston’s and mine.”

“Hello Miss.” Max nodded as he shook Carol’s hand.

Carol smiled at the well-mannered man. “Hello. It’s nice to meet you.”

Cash reached up over and guided Maxwell to take a seat. “How are you?”

“I should be the one asking that.” Max turned, so he could face Cash and hold her hand. “I tried to warn you.”

“Warn me about what?” Cash asked holding onto the cold hand.

Max closed his eyes and took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly before he spoke. “I called and left a message where Houston works. But I guess, I should’ve called the police, or whoever was in charge at the courthouse.” He opened his eyes. “If I had tried harder, maybe I could’ve stopped all of this.”

“I don’t understand?” Carol said moving to sit on the other side of Cash. “What did you know? And how could you have stopped this?”

Max glanced over to Carol. “Last night, I interrupted Mr. Dunn in his office. He was acting really strange. Before he sent me out of the room, I thought I saw a gun, but I wasn’t sure.” He shook his head. “I guess, I was right.”

“Max?” Cash cupped his unshaven face, realizing that this is the first time she’d ever seen him looking so ragged. “Under the circumstances, you did what you could. No one thought my Father would flip out like he did.” She leaned over and hugged the man.

Max rested his head against Cash’s shoulder. “What’s going to happen? What do you need me to do? What about your Father?” He didn’t really want to ask the last question, since he was the reason for all the pain Cash was now feeling.

“Father is dead.” Cash tightened her hold on his hand. “He was shot. While Houston and he were struggling for control of the gun.”

“How’s Houston?” Max looked over and saw Carol’s expression fall.

Cash started to cry. “We’re not sure yet. She’s still in surgery.” Now she held onto Max for support.

Max wrapped his arm around Cash and held her as she cried. “I only met her once and she seemed like the kind of person that won’t be taken away from you without a fight.”

Carol rubbed small circles on the crying woman’s back. “You got that right. She’s stubborn as hell.”

Cash couldn’t help it, but that statement hit her as being funny and she started to laugh. “That is so true.”

After several moments of soft laughing and silence Max stood up and straightened his clothes. “Is there anything I can do for you? What about the children?”

“Tara and Trent are okay. They’re being well cared for.” She went to stand, but Max waved her to sit back down.

“What should I do if anyone calls the house, or anything like that?” Max asked looking from one woman to the other.

“Just for now don’t worry about it. When things calm down, I’ll make sure everything at the house is taken care of. And that you and Mrs. Baker are well taken care of, since you two had to put up with my Father all this time.” Cash stated with conviction. “Then I’ll deal with making sure, that everyone who was swindled out of their money, will get it all back. Plus, a little extra for the trouble my Father caused them.”

Max nodded his head, knowing that all would be set right by the woman before him. “Miss. Don’t worry about Mrs. Baker and myself.” He rested his hands on Cash’s shoulders. “You just worry about yourself and those babies of yours.” He tilted his head and grinned. “Along with that woman of yours. Because I have a feeling that she’s a hand full.”

****

Gale watched the others in the room as she leaned back in the uncomfortable plastic chair. She crossed her ankles while she stretched out her arms over her head. “Man this waiting is really taking its toll on Cash. I’m glad she’s at least eating the sandwich we brought her.” Taking a look over at her daughter who was leaning against her father taking in the silent support and strength. Yet she could tell that her little girl was being torn apart.

Silently she moved from her seat to sit next to Carol. “Hey honey. How are you doing?”

“I’m okay, Mom.” Carol didn’t move from Neil’s embrace.

Gale rubbed her daughter’s arm. “No you’re not. Talk to me.”

“I was to far away to do anything. I should have stuck next to them like glue.” Carol answered with tears in her eyes. “Maybe I could’ve stopped it somehow.”

“Oh Baby.” Gale grabbed a hold of the trembling arm. “You did enough. You got to Houston as fast as you could.”

“But…” Carol started to say, when her Father stopped her.

“No buts.” Neil hugged her closer. “You can’t go back and change anything. Just be thankful that Houston is still with us and Cash is safe.” He kissed the top of her head. “And you’re safe.”

Cash watched quietly, as the interaction of their friend’s family went on across from her. “I wish I had that. To have a family that not matter what was always there for you. Total and unwavering love. ” She watched for a few more seconds. “Unconditional love.”

Carol used the back of her hand to wipe the tears off her face, when she noticed Cash’s forlorn look and nudged her Mom that she should go over and sit with Cash.

“How’s your sandwich?” Gale asked, when she was seated by the tall brunette.

“It’s okay.” Cash replied taking another bite not really tasting the meat, or cheese that made up the snack.

“She’s a strong woman and has everything to live for.” The older woman reached over and grabbed her water that was sitting on a table.

Cash nodded taking a drink of her own water, not really sure she could comment without losing it totally. The waiting and waiting was horrendous and killing her slowly.

Just as Cash took the last bite of her sandwich, the door opened and Dr. Brawn and another man in a white coat walked in.

“Ms. Dunn, this is the surgeon who operated on Houston, Dr. Epstein. ” Dr. Brawn introduced the other doctor and moved out of the way, so he could inform the small group about their patient.

“Hello doctor. How is Houston?” Cash immediately stood up and shook the man’s hand.

Taking a deep breath the man started talking about what had happened during the surgery. He kept running his hands through his hair and down his face shaking his head.

Tears started to fall down Cash’s face as she listened. She didn’t even notice the soft sobs from Carol, when she’d started crying, as she was being held by her Dad.

Gale didn’t try to stop her own tears as she wrapped a supporting arm around Cash’s trembling body. She knew that she had to be strong for her and help her in any way that she could.

Cash buried her face in the palms of her hands as loud sobs racked her body.

Dr. Epstein knelt down on the floor and rested a hand on Cash’s knee. “Would you like to see her?”

Cash looked up with a tear streaked face. “Yes.”

“Okay. Give me about thirty-minutes to make sure she is settled in recovery and I’ll send a nurse for you.” The doctor stood up and shook Neil’s hand.

“Thank you for what you did.” Neil stated with relief.

The doctor smiled. “I just did my job. Houston, is the star of the day.”

“God was watching over her, that’s for sure.” Gale whispered against Cash’s shoulder as she held the still crying woman.

“Amen.” Carol and Cash said at the same time.

For some reason they seemed to find that funny and the two woman started to laugh, which got the others in the room laughing as well. They all laughed so hard that fresh tears of relief and joy fell down their faces.

****

With a supporting hand on her elbow, Cash was led into the sterile environment of the recovery room. She looked back and forth from one open door to another wondering which one held her lover.

“This way, Ms. Dunn.” The nurse pointed towards the furthest door.

“Remember that all the machines there are to help her and that the doctor has said that she has a great chance of pulling through this.”

Cash nodded her head as she stopped at the threshold of the room. She could hear the beeping of the heart monitor and the swishing sound of the respirator that was helping Houston breathe.

“Go on. She is still pretty sedated, but she may hear you and wake up for a small amount of time.” The nurse smiled patting the tall woman’s back. “If you need anything, I’ll be at the nurses desk.”

“Thanks.” Cash answered without taking her eyes off the still figure on the small bed.

Unable to keep herself away any longer, Cash made her way to the bed. Her hand softly touching a covered foot, then making it’s way up the leg to a hand that laid still on top of the covers. With a delicate touch she picked up the cold hand and held it in between her warm hands.

“Hi Baby.” Cash had to clear her throat to keep her voice from cracking. “You look so much better than the last time I saw you.” She let go of Houston with one of her hands and let her fingers brush a few blonde strands off of the sleeping woman’s forehead. She made sure that she didn’t bump the tube that was taped in Houston’s mouth.

Seeing a stark white bandage peeking out from under the covers, Cash couldn’t keep the tears at bay any longer. She felt responsible for what had happened. “You were trying to protect me and look where it got you. Hurt once again because of me and this time you could have really lost your life.”

The heart monitor beeped faster as the hand Cash held squeezed gently.

“Houston?” Cash sighed as she looked down at the still closed eyes. “Can you hear me?”

When nothing happened the tired woman rested her head against the bare shoulder below her. Within minutes, she was sleeping knowing that if anything went wrong, she would be right where she was most needed.

****

Not sure how long she had been asleep, Cash lifted her head and looked around the room. She eyed all the machines once again and tried to understand the readouts that ran across them. She turned her head when she heard someone enter the room. “Hi.”

“Hi.” The nurse from before smiled. “Have a nice nap?”

“Yeah.” Cash ran her hands through her hair. “How long was I asleep?”

“A little over an hour.” The nurse replied double checking the machines. “They will be moving her to her own room in a little while. Why don’t you go find your friends and tell them how she’s doing.”

“Crap.” Cash stood up suddenly. “They must be going nuts.”

“Calm down. I went and talked with them and told them that you’d fallen asleep.” The nurse caressed Cash’s arm. “That seemed to have settled them down some.”

“Yeah.” Cash grinned. “Do you know which room she will be in?”

The nurse looked down at the chart in her hand. “Room 211.”

“Thank you.” Cash leaned down and placed a kiss on Houston’s cheek. “I’ll be right back.” She said and left the room quietly.

****

Carol leaned against the snack machine as she waited for Karen to pick out what she wanted from the soda machine.

“Damn, I’m tired.” Carol yawned as she looked at her watch. “Shit. It’s only seven o’clock. Feels like, it should be three in the morning.”

“Been a long day all-around.” Karen pushed the button and waited for her soda to fall to the bottom.

“Hi guys.” Cash said, waving as she made her way down the hallway. “Got an extra one of those?” She pointed to the soda in Karen’s hand.

Karen handed her the fresh soda without thought. “Here you can have it.”

“Thanks.” Cash opened it and drank half of it down. “Where’s Gale and Neil?”

“They went to Houston’s to stay with the kids for the night.” Karen replied as she got herself a new drink. “I’ll head back there in the morning.”

“You guys don’t have to stay all night.” Cash stretched her arms over her head.

The two women just gave her a look.

“Okay, okay I get it.” Cash wrapped her two friends in a hug. “No one could ask for better friends.”

“You don’t know us that well yet.” Karen spoke as she stepped back with a funny smirk on her face. “Just wait, until we start the practical jokes.”

“Can’t wait.” Cash hugged her arms around her body.

Carol watched the dark haired woman and began to rub her back. “What’s the news on Houston?”

Taking in a deep breath Cash closed her eyes. “She will be moved into her own room shortly.” She opened her eyes and glanced from one woman to the other. “She looked so small laying there. Not moving and all the machines surrounding her monitoring her body. It was scary.”

“I bet so.” Karen brushed a hand over Cash’s shoulder to rub her back. “But she’s going to be alright.”

“Yeah and I plan on making it up to her.” Cash cried as she laid her head on Karen chest.

“Make up for what?” Carol asked softly moving forward to embrace the two women.

Cash mumbled, but neither of the two women could understand what she had said.

Karen moved back and cupped the crying woman’s face. “We didn’t catch that.”

“I’ve caused her so much pain. First I break her heart and then my Father shoots her, almost killing her.” Cash tried to step away, but four strong hands held her in place. “How can you two even stand to be near me?”

“I’m only going to say this once.” Karen titled Cash’s head, so she could look her straight in the eyes. “Let the past go. It can only do more harm than good. Think of the future you have with Houston and the kids.”

“What kind of future can we have if I only bring pain?” Cash fought the hands on her body and broke free. “Look where we’re at and why.”

“You need to chill a bit babe.” Carol tried to move closer, but each step she took, Cash took two back. “You aren’t the reason, Houston is in here. Your Father is and only your Father.”

“That’s just it. MY Father is the reason. My Father brought a gun. My Father went nuts and thought he could take everyone down.” Cash jabbed her own chest with her finger as she spoke every word. “MY FATHER!” She yelled out.

“That’s right. Your Father did it.” Karen moved next to Carol. “Not you. You can’t take responsibility for someone else’s actions.”

“Listen to her Cash.” Carol took a tentative step towards her friend. “It’s part of life to own up to what you have done. Not to take on anyone else’s mistakes.” She walked closer. “Just your own.”

Karen pointed a finger at Cash and gave her a glare. “Don’t you even bring up what happened all those years ago. That’s in the past and forgiven.”

Cash’s shoulders slumped as the wind was knocked out of her argument. Lowering her head against her chest, she sighed deeply.

Carol and Karen took that as a good sign and once again engulfed their friend in a hug.

“How about we head up to Houston’s room?” Carol whispered next to Cash’s ear.

Cash only nodded and allowed the two to guide her back down the hall and to an elevator.

****

The three women waited for what seemed like hours, but it was in fact, only less than twenty-minutes. Two orderlies and a nurse, entered the room pushing Houston’s still form on a gurney. One of the orderlies was using one of those handheld apparatuses that helped Houston breathe, while the other guided the bed closer to the one already in the room.

“If you three can please wait outside while we put her into bed.” The nurse smiled as she held the door open. “It should only take a few minutes.”

“Sure not a problem.” Carol grinned back at the nurse and walked out with Karen following close behind.

Cash stood there for a few more seconds looking at Houston’s peacefully quiet form.

“Ma’am?” The nurse gestured to the hallway with her head.

Cash nodded, looking up at the woman and then back down to Houston. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” The nurse replied as she waited for Cash to leave before she closed the door.

As soon as Cash stepped out of the room, Carol was by her side. “She doesn’t look as bad as I had imagined.”

“She does look a little better than she did a little while ago.” Cash admitted turning around not taking her eyes off the closed door.

Karen leaned against the off-white hallway walls. “”How about after they get her settled. Carol and I go and get some real food? Not what they say is food in the cafeteria.”

Carol turned around with a hand still on Cash’s back. “That’s a great idea. It will give you some time alone with Houston and something healthy in your stomach.”

“It seems like everyone is trying to feed me today.” Cash laughed out.

“See that’s our job now, until all things are back to normal.” Carol winked.

“Yep, so deal with it.” Karen was about to say more, when the door opened and the two orderlies moved out and down the hallway.

“I guess we can go in now.” Cash grabbed the door handle and stepped into the room. “How is she?” She asked the nurse when she stepped up to the end of the bed.

“Not too bad.” The nurse answered as she wrote on Houston’s chart. “The doctor should be taking her off the respirator tomorrow.” She glanced up at Cash. “Hopefully, she will be waking up soon.”

“I hope so.” Cash whispered as she made her way around the bed, so she could take the small woman’s hand. “I’ve never wished for something so hard in my life.”

The nurse patted Cash’s shoulder. “Try talking to her.”

“I will thanks.” Cash didn’t know when the nurse left, or Carol and Karen. Her only thoughts were on the person in the bed.

****

After eating some of the take-out Carol and Karen had brought, Cash made them head over to Houston’s house to get some rest and check on the kids for her. She’d called home before it had gotten too late and talked to each of her kids.

Tara had wanted to make sure her Mom told Houston that she was loved and that she should hurry up and come home. Trent basically said the same thing, but added that they had an appointment to keep at the dog pound to find a pet for the newly formed family.

“I tell you that boy of ours has a one-track mind.” Cash said as she fidgeted with the blanket that covered Houston. “He won’t let up until we get him that dog.”

She was quiet for a few minutes, just watching Houston’s sleep before sitting back down in the chair, that she’d grabbed earlier from across the room.

“I hope you know that I love you and I hope this doesn’t stop you from wanting me and the kids in your life. You know how they worship the ground you walk on, don’t you?” Cash wiped a tear that had fallen down her cheek. “Hell, I worship the ground you walk on.”

A small squeeze on her hand made her look up and her breath was taken away by the love she saw in the sleepy green eyes. “Oh baby, you’re awake.” She stood up and brushed the hair off Houston’s forehead. “Don’t try to move or talk. You have a respirator helping you breathe, but the doctors said you should be just fine.”

Green eyes closed for a second before opening up again.

“I’m rambling.” Cash smiled as more tears of joy ran down her face when she noticed the small smile Houston gave her. “I love you so very much.”

Houston squeezed her hand again only this time a little harder.

“I know. You love me too.” Cash leaned over and placed a kiss on Houston’s cheek. “Go back to sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Houston waited for a few seconds until she couldn’t fight the pull of sleep any longer. Before sleep took her totally, she moved their hands over her heart.

“All will be just fine.” Cash whispered as she placed one more kiss on the cheek next to her lips before she sat back down and waited for the new day to begin.

****

“How are you doing?” Gale asked as she sat on the lounge chair next to the quiet woman.

Houston turned her attention away from her family to the older woman who had been nothing, but a pillar of strength over the last few weeks. “I’m good.” A squeal of laughter caught her attention and she looked back to the two children who were playing with their newest family members. “That’s not true. I’ve never been this happy in all my life.”

“I’m so happy for you and your new family.” Gale smiled as she watched the scene along with Houston. “You sure do have your hands full.”

“Yes, she does.” Cash walked up with a glass of iced-tea in each hand. “Why she had to get them each, a dog is beyond me.”

“I couldn’t leave the last one there to be all alone.” Houston reached for her drink and gave her lover a grin. “Besides, they get along great with the kids and haven’t caused too much trouble.”

“You are such a liar.” Cash laughed as she waved at Houston to bend her legs, so she could sit down on the same lounge chair. “How many shoes have you had to throw away?” She sipped at her cold drink before looking over at Gale. “I won’t even mention the time they tried to dig a whole under the bedroom door. Which caused us to have to get whole new carpeting upstairs.”

“I was tired of that look anyway.” Houston shrugged her shoulders trying to blow off, the ribbing she was getting from the woman next to her.

Gale laughed at the way the two women in front of her were, each one playing off the other. “You two are so good for each other.” She stood up and gestured toward the house. “I’d better go see what my husband is up to. He has been eyeing that strawberry pie I have in the refrigerator. I threatened him with great bodily harm, but who knows how long that will work, since he has the biggest sweet tooth in the world.”

“Yell if you need any help.” Cash said, as she scooted over to sit on the lounge chair that Gale had just emptied.

“I will.” Gale replied as she made her way up to the house.

Just as Cash was about to ask Houston how she was feeling, she was stopped by a set of green eyes. “What?”

“I’m fine.” Houston stated as she continued to gaze into Cash’s eyes. “I’m not in any pain.”

Cash lowered her head and sighed. “I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

Houston carefully swung her legs off the lounge chair. The movement had hurt a tiny bit, but she wasn’t about to show it. Since she knew that every time she did, the painful look she would get from Cash, hurt more than the actual wound. “Honey. I’m more than okay. I’m alive and getting better and better every day.” She reached over and entwined her fingers with the long slender ones of the woman before her. “How could I not? With your love and care I’ll soon be back one-hundred-percent.”

Cash looked back up and smiled. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too.” Houston leaned over and tenderly placed several small kisses against the corner of Cash’s lips.

A sound of pure delight interrupted the two women from deepening the kisses. They both looked at Tara and Trent. The two kids had on the biggest smiles and their eyes shined with joy at being chased by their four legged friends until they were both tripped up and landed in a pile of legs and fur.

“Our happy family.” Cash whispered as she turned to see Carol and Karen walking out of the house with Neil and Gale following behind.

Houston nodded. “One big happy family.” She tugged the hand she still held, so that Cash landed sprawled on top of her. “Thank you.” She whispered before she captured the lips above her.

Cash wanted to ask why she was being thanked but all she could do was surrender to the love that surrounded her in Houston’s arms.

THE END

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