Without a Doubt by Watcher

Without a Doubt
by Watcher
part 4 in the Intimate Strangers series

“How did I ever let you talk me into trading cars?” Beth complained,exasperated as she tried to fit her staff into the back of the small car. “Justhow in Hades did that woman make it fit?” The author groused, finally fittingthe staff into the hatchback. “I know, I know.” Beth continued to mumbleas her gym bag joined the staff. “It was my idea after all.” Sliding into thedriver’s seat, she couldn’t hold back her laugh. “Right! Casey looked sofunny when she tried to get out of the car last night.” Actually it had beenrelatively easy to convince Casey to trade vehicles while her’s was beingrepaired. The specialist’s tall muscular form did not comfortably fit in thesmall call. Chuckling, the author checked her cell phone, then pulled into themid-afternoon traffic.

“Not time to go to the jewelers.” Beth glanced at her watch forconfirmation, losing her battle to prevent a wide, completely happy grin fromspreading across her face. Deciding to spend the remainder of the timewaiting in the park, Beth headed in the direction opposite of where her heartwas urging her to go. “I can’t believe its been two weeks already!” Theauthor sighed. “If this doesn’t convince Casey that I can’t live without her, Idon’t know what will. Now Beth, think. What am I gonna say? How to askthe question?” Surprisingly the author’s mind drew a blank. Frowning, Bethcomplained. “Now is not the time for words to fail me! Think.” Fallingsilent, Beth concentrated on her lover until a car horn jerked her back to thepresent. “Whoops! Not a good idea Beth.” She chastised herself with asmirk. Her thoughts, instead of focusing on words, had centered around theimage of her lover. Of how the mere sight of her ignited her blood, causedher heart to pound, her palms to sweat.

“Finally,” the author talked aloud, breathing a sigh of relief as she pulledinto the park. Grabbing her phone, she headed towards her favorite bench.”Just how am I gonna ask Casey to marry me?” Drinking in the warmafternoon sun, Beth’s mind worked quietly. “I know WHY I want to ask her.That’s the easy part.” The author had wanted to ask Casey for severalmonths, knowing with upmost certainty that she wanted to spend the rest ofher life joined with her lover. Beth loved Casey completely, withoutreservation. And she knew Casey felt the same way about her. But herlover’s reluctance to believe that Beth would always be there, really believethat she wouldn’t do or say something that would push the author away, hadheld her back. Ironically that had been the deciding factor that pushed Bethforward. Had made Beth commission (from the same family that hergrandparents had make their rings) two identical Italian gold wedding bands insecrete. The two plain, handmade bands were engraved with the word’forever” and their names. It would be impossible for Casey to think Bethwas going to walk away with a constant reminder of her love. At least theauthor hoped so. Exhaling noisily, Beth let her mind drift back to the eventthat had been the deciding factor.

…..”Just what in the hell do you think you’re doing?” Casey yelledcoming into the gym angrily. Glaring at the profusely sweating author, Caseyjerked her head towards the staff in her lover’s hands. “Why do you insist indriving yourself so damn hard?! Are you trying to kill yourself?” The staffwas roughly jerked out of Beth’s hands. “Why do I even bother?” Caseystormed out of the house, slamming every door behind her.

“Casey…wait! What was that about?” Beth stared at Casey as she flewup the stairs, heart pounding painfully. It was another second before hershocked limbs could be forced to move, then she followed her lover. “BreathBeth.” she admonished herself, trying to calm her rapidly beating heart. Aquick check revealed that Casey hadn’t left, at least not with her car. Bethknew that her lover had gone to think. Wanting nothing more than to followCasey, Beth restrained herself. “You know when she gets like this she needsa little space. Gotta do something though or I’ll go crazy with worry.”Muttering to herself, Beth jumped in the shower, knowing it would be a littlebefore Casey was ready to talk. Actually the author needed the time to calmherself. It had been a couple of months since Casey’s last blow up and thattime the specialist hadn’t even made it out of the house before she returnedand apologized. This time, Beth disappointedly reminded herself, was liketheir first couple of months together. Like the specialist had stopped trustingin Beth’s feelings for her. “That will never do. Enough is enough!” Bethfirmly told herself, sitting down to think, plotting how to convince her loveronce and for all that she was here to stay.

A couple of hours later, Beth gave in. “I can’t stand this any more,” sheadmitted to herself, giving into her desire to find her lover. And promptly raninto Casey as she came in from the garage. “Hey.” Beth spoke softly, greeneyes sweeping over the taunt form of her lover. “God, I knew I should offound her.” She cursed herself silently, easily reading the pain and fear in herlover’s eyes.

“Hey.” The defeated, scared tone cut straight to Beth’s heart. “Goingsomewhere?” The words tore the wound further; Casey thought Beth wasleaving.

“To find you. C’mere you.” Beth opened her arms, closing them tightlyaround her lover. “Shh. Its gonna be alright.” The author whisperedreassurances into Casey’s ear, holding the shaking woman tightly. At thesame time, reassuring herself that her love was still here. Still fighting forthem.

“I’m sorry.” Casey finally managed to whisper through her tears. “Ididn’t mean to yell. You didn’t deserve that. I know I don’t act like itsometimes, but I do love you.”

“I love you too.” Beth promptly answered, biting back a sigh. Just onceit would be nice if Casey trusted in them when she was hurt. It was clearCasey thought Beth was leaving. “At least she’s still here…still wants me.”Her mind whispered joyously, reminding the author of how Casey woulddisappear for a couple of hours when they first moved in together. Of howshe would worry and cry, trying to figure out what she’d done wrong. Untilshe came to the conclusion that it wasn’t her, it was her lover’s insecurities,usually triggered by a bad day. Knowing that made the author much moreunderstanding, forgiving and determined. “If I ever find out who hurt you soterribly, I will kill them! Who made you think you aren’t worth fighting for?Damn them to hell!!” The author told herself savagely. “C’mon. Lets godownstairs.” Keeping one arm firmly around her lover (grounding both ofthem to the present, another lesson painfully learned), she led themdownstairs. Pushing Casey onto the sofa, she sat beside her, grabbing bothhands, lacing their fingers together.

“Tell me what’s wrong.” Beth smiled encouragingly at Casey, green eyesglued to blue. Beth firmly pushed her hurt feelings away, sternly remindingherself that Casey did love her as her lover tried to avoid her eyes. Her lovealways had a reason for her wild mood swings. It just took a little time, effortand a lot of love to work through it. “You are definitely worth the effort,”her mind joined with her heart, helping the author control her reactions.

“I don’t know.” Casey admitted, disgusted with herself. She had no ideawhy she’d lost it when she saw Beth practicing. The tiny voice, one she triedto ignore but was only ever partially successful reared its head, telling thespecialist that one day she’d be alone. She’d push to far and Beth would begone.

“Did something happen at the hearing?” The author tried to project everyounce of concern she had in her loving gaze. Beth wanted to go with Caseyto the prison hearing for moral support. Casey had told Beth about thechildren Jackson destroyed with his actions and about his capture. Theauthor knew Casey, knew she still blamed herself for taking so long to catchhim. Blamed herself for the children hurt during the time it took her to solvethe case. But the specialist refused, saying Beth couldn’t be present duringthe meeting. And she’d firmly refused the author’s offer of company on theride to and from the prison, stating there was no reason for Beth to loose aday’s work too.

“No, it went exactly as I thought it would. Jackson failed to convince theboard that the psychiatric counseling had worked and he was no longer athreat to children.” Casey felt herself falling into her author’s gaze. Knowingthere was no safer place to be, she willingly jumped in, finally able to ignorethe tiny voice, unable to deny the love and devotion in her lover’s eyes. “Shutup!” Her mind hissed angrily. “You’ve already hurt Beth enough!”

“So what’s wrong then?” Beth resisted the emotional tug, stubbornlyignoring her heart’s desire to jump in after Casey. They needed to deal withwhatever was bothering the specialist. Each battle drew them one step closer.Beth promised herself that as soon as they had, she’d fall into their lovingbond with abandon.

“You were right. I did need you there.” Casey quietly admitted, staringat their joined hands. “It was tougher than I thought it would be.” She addedafter firmly shutting the door on her churning, guilt riddled emotions. Beth’spresence would have kept her from brooding. From reliving each crime.From hearing the screams of his victims. From feeling the nauseatingsatisfaction when she’d caught him. From her pleasure at finding him aloneand the liberating feeling of smashing his resisting face into the wall. Walkinginto that room, facing Jackson and her response to him, had been one of thehardest things she’d ever done. The ex-FBI agent had been forcefullyreminded of who and what she used to be. Of what she was capable of if shedidn’t keep a tight hold on her temper. Dealing with all of the dark,dangerous emotions had left her drained.

“So next time I go with you.” Beth promised, speaking for both of theirsakes.

“Why would you want to? After the way I reacted? You were onlypracticing.” Casey asked, honestly confused. She knew she’d reacted badly,taken her anger and frustration out on the one person who’d stood by her, nomatter what.

“Silly question.” Beth let go of Casey’s hands and straddled her lover’slap. Her heart joyfully noted the large, steading hands on her waist. Theauthor wanted no misunderstandings. “I love you. That’s why. That’s theway this works.” She brought her hand up to Casey’s chin, lightly forcing herlover to meet and hold her gaze. “I need you and you’re there. Always.You’ve never let me down.” Beth grinned, daring Casey to object. Shewasn’t disappointed.

“Let me see…who was there when I needed a friend after the ‘goodnatured’ public roasting I received for Warrior Woman: Tale From AncientGreece? Who was there, holding my hand through that dreaded buildingdedication and confrontation with my parents? Who was there, nevercomplaining, at my horrid college reunion? Who was there when I fell apart,dealing with my cousin’s death?” Beth paused, swallowing painfully. Butimmediately smiled when large hands rubbed her back soothingly,supportively. The author was sure Casey wasn’t even aware of her actions.That just strengthened her resolve…Casey would believe in herself enough tobelieve in them. It was up to her to convince her lover, that was all. “Whoputs up with my moodiness…my weird schedule…my incessant need topractice…my insecurities? Hmm? Any idea who my support system is?”

“But I want to!” Came Casey’s heated response. “I love you.”

“And you don’t think I want to do the same for you?” Beth waitedpatiently while Casey’s agile mind struggled with the words, her surprisehonest. Casey hadn’t thought about it that way. The flow of the specialist’sthoughts easy to follow. Beth watched pleased, as Casey remembered all thetimes Beth had been there for her. From dealing with her awkwardness andconfusion with her newly acknowledged emotions to her moodiness withtough cases to her being there after ever fight. Pushing the advantage, hopingto get the idea through Casey’s thick scull once and for all, Beth spokeforcefully, once again daring her lover to object. “When you need me, I’ll behere. Always. Got it?”

“Got it.” The intense, burning look the specialist was receiving convincedher to say anything other than agreeing was a serious mistake. “I don’tdeserve you.” Casey couldn’t help herself from speaking. But her heartsoared, Beth’s words freeing her.

“Yes you do.” Lightly Beth kissed Casey, happy to see the effect of herwords. “Oh yes you do.” Green eyes sparkled lovingly, lips slowly pressedtogether…..

The ringing of her phone drew the author back to the present. “Hello?”Beth didn’t think it would be Casey; she was paying back part of a favor,giving an informal class to three of her former boss’s best new profilers. Theonly reason she wasn’t waiting for her lover was Casey’s obvious delight intalking to “the kids,” as she referred to them. To the author’s surprise, Caseyactually looked forward to today’s meeting.

“Beth? Its Tomas.”

“What’s wrong Tomas? You sound scared.” Beth reacted to the boy’sscared tone, heading for her car. “Is everything alright?”

“I can’t explain on the phone. Can you come over?” The boy whisperedinto the phone.

“Sure. I’ll be right over.” Beth frowned at the phone, listening as Tomasquietly asked her to come to the back of the restaurant, that he’d meet heroutside.

“Wonder what’s up?” Beth worried after she called the jeweler’s and toldhim she’d be by tomorrow as she headed for Eduardo’s Restaurant and someanswers.

“Ok Tomas. What’s wrong?” Beth stared at the teenager striding quietlybeside her. “I think we’re far enough away now. Your parents won’t hearus.” The author correctly interpreted the boy’s reluctance to talk in front ofhis parents.

“I need to borrow $300.” The boy’s quiet, sure voice shocked Beth. “Ihave no job now, but if I don’t find one by the end of school, I will work foryou over the summer. I’ll pay you back, with interest.”

“Why do you need the money Tomas?” Beth watched him closely,wondering why the boy needed the money. “You know I will lend it to you,but I need to know why.”

“Its for my parents.” Tomas’s brown eyes met the author’s, very serious.”They are $300 short for this month’s payment. We must pay.”

“I’ll gladly lend your parents money. They know that. Why didn’t theyask me?” Beth was confused. She’d loaned the Delgado’s money when theyexpanded and the bank wouldn’t. They’d repaid her on time, with interestover the author’s objections. That was one reason she’d given the three boysa computer last year, telling them they were doing her a favor by taking it offher hands. They didn’t know she’d gone out and specifically bought a newone to replace her old one. And they didn’t know she was the source of themysterious scholarship that let the boys attend prep school, letting themescape the dangers of public schooling.

“I think they are ashamed. I’m,” Tomas poked his chest angrily. “Notsupposed to know that they’ve been paying ‘protection money’ to avoid therestaurant being destroyed or us being hurt. I think they think I am too youngto understand!”

“What?” Beth stared at the boy, shocked and confused. “Let me get thisstraight. Your parents are paying money each month to a gang? So you’ll allbe safe?” Beth increased her pace, suddenly angry. “Why didn’t they tell us?Damn, Casey could have,” the author interrupted herself It wasn’t Tomas’fault. “Ok Tomas,” Beth wrapped an arm around his shoulders, hiding hersmile as the boy blushed slightly, then returned hug briefly. “When is the next’payment’ due?”

“This afternoon. They usually come right before we open for dinner.”Tomas sighed, very relieved. “I promise I’ll pay you back.”

“Tomas!” Beth steered the boy back towards her car. “We will worksomething out.” The author smiled, hiding her intention of not letting the boypay her back. But she didn’t want to offend him, she’d come up with analternative plan. “C’mon then. We need to go get the money. There’s a cashmachine a couple of blocks north of here. Don’t worry Tomas, this will bethe last payment your family makes. We’ll stop it. So tell me, how’schemistry coming?” Beth changed the subject, ignoring the boy’s surprisedglance at her car.

“Oh no, we’re to late!” Tomas cried softly when they returned. “They’reearly.”

“So that’s them, huh?” Beth watched the four men walk into therestaurant. “Well, we’ll just have to think of some way for me to walk inthere and give your Dad the money.” The author thought quickly, a smilesoon appearing. Reaching over the back seat, Beth pulled her oversizedsweatshirt out of the bag and exchanged it for what she was wearing, Casey’sold FBI sweatshirt “This is what we’ll do.” Whispering the plan to Tomas asshe tied her hair back in a ponytail, Beth exited the car, heart thumbing.

“Get a grip Beth!” She admonished herself, frowning at her excitement.”There is no reason to get so excited. You’re just walking in there. Now getto it!” Taking a calming breath, Beth altered her walk and pushed open thedoor.

“Eduardo! Sorry its been so long, oh excuse me! I didn’t mean tointerrupt.” Beth’s voice was much higher than normal, less confident. “I justcame to repay you. But I guess this isn’t a good time.” Green eyes flickeredbriefly to the four men, all Mexicans in their early twenties. In that briefglance, as Casey taught her, she saw that they all wore shoulder holsters andwere dangerous. A fight while she was unarmed would be a mistake,probably a deadly one. “I can come back later.” Consciously the author lether voice wavier a little.

“No, no. Eduardo where are your manners?” The man in the middle,supposedly the leader Beth figured, turned a predatory eye her way. “Ourbusiness can wait for a moment. Speak to the young lady.”

“Sorry its taken me so long to pay you back. Here’s the $500 you loanedme.” Beth babbled, trying to appear like a scared young woman. The authordecided it would look too much like a set up if she came in with exactly theamount Eduardo was short. “I can’t thank you enough for trusting me.” Thegentle words rebuked her friend, subtly implying he should of asked for help.”Is Alberta around? I haven’t seen her for ages.”

“There is no need to run young lady.” The man advanced, extending ahand. “My name is Roberto and your’s is?” He tried to flirt, pushing hisshoulders back, standing up a little straighter. Still he only was Beth’s height.

“Alex,” the author replied using a shortened form of her middle name,making herself shake his hand. Hiding a frown when her hand wasn’treleased, she tried to pull away. And was promptly stopped by his other handon her wrist. “Now what?” Beth thought angrily, struggling to mask heranger as fear and worry as Roberto squeezed harshly. “I can take him, butnot the others without someone getting hurt.” Then a thought occurred asshe realized her wrist started to throb; it would be bruised. “Oh Hades,” Bethcursed using her favorite ancient Greek curse. “Casey is gonna flip out whenshe sees that!”

“Well Alex, it was nice to meet you.” Roberto read the emotion in Beth’seyes as fear and released her, having made his point. “Come Eduardo, letsfinish.”

Beth watched, fascinated in spite of the danger, as Roberto tried to playthe gentleman visitor. A full fledged grin spread across her face the momentthe door closed. “That was different. You ok Eduardo?” The author sternlytold herself to behave, chastising herself for her stray thoughts of excitementand fun. It certainly wasn’t fun for the Delgado’s.
“What are you doing here Beth?” Eduardo stared confused at the womansitting across from him. “And how did you know that,” he broke off as hiswife entered the room. “Did you call Beth?”

“No dear.” Alberta came straight over to them and sat beside herhusband. “That was a very dangerous thing to do Beth.” The rapidly bruisingflesh on the author’s wrist drew her attention. “Madre! Let me get some icefor that.”

“Its alright Alberta.” Beth stopped Alberta from leaving the table.Roberto hadn’t meant to seriously hurt, merely make a point of who was incontrol. Her wrist was more bruised than painful. “How long has this beengoing on and why didn’t you say anything?” Green eyes froze her friends inplace. “You know Casey and I would help.”

“Really Beth, its too dangerous for two women,” Eduardo broke off,realizing what and who he was talking about. “I guess we’re just used tothinking of Casey as a friend.”

“She’ll love to hear that.” Beth smiled reassuringly at her friends.”Speaking of 99, let me get her over here. That way you only have to explainonce. Hey,” Beth glanced at Alberta, suddenly hungry. “Can I get some ofyour famous chips and salsa?”

“Of course Beth.” Alberta laughed, patting Beth’s arm. The author’sappetite was legendry as was her fondness for Alberta’s mexican cooking.”I’ll go get it. C’mon Eduardo, you can take out the old oil.”

Beth punched in Casey’s office phone, surprised when her assistant, Susananswered the phone. “Hmm,” the author stared at her phone curiously, tellingherself to not be upset that Casey wasn’t right there. Another thoughtoccurred, one that brought a smile to her face. “You must really be having agood time my love. I can’t believe you’ve been with them all day. Guess theycan tell me and then we’ll come back together.”

“Let me make sure I’ve got this straight.” Beth paused to crunch anotherchip after listening to Eduardo’s story. “Three months ago, Roberto and crewcame around, threatening to destroy everything if you didn’t pay for theirprotective services. You saw what they did to your friend’s business, so youpaid. Eduardo took a second job to help make the payments. But this month,since you’d been sick and unable to work the other job, you were short.Tomas called me, because he’d seen what Roberto and crew did to the baker.He was just protecting his family.”

“That’s right. Until today, when we didn’t have the money, Roberto’snever done anything other than threaten violence if we didn’t pay.” Eduardowas unable to meet Beth’s concerned look. The author had made it perfectlyclear what she thought about them not asking for help. “I’m sorry you gothurt.”

“Its not your fault.” Beth reached out for Alberta’s hand, knowing thatEduardo would be embarrassed by any physical touch. “Its gonna be alrightnow. We’ll get through this together.” Beth waited until they both met herconfident gaze. “They have their money, so they won’t be back for awhile,right? You said they wait a few days before they come back and order dinner.That will give us time to come up with a plan.” Beth nodded at the clock.”Its almost time for dinner, so I’ll get out of your way. I’ll talk to Caseytonight and we’ll be back tomorrow.” The author rose, stretching tiredmuscles. Walking with her friends through the kitchen, Beth hugged the othertwo children and nodded at Tomas. “Try not to worry, before you know it,everything will be back to normal.” Waving goodbye, she started the rentalcar and headed for home.

“Well damn! There’s that brown Nova again. I think I’ve got a tail!”Beth forced a wave of uneasiness firmly down, while smiling slightly. Bethcould hear her lover’s low voice repeating the instructions. After beingkidnaped by Davidson, Casey had given Beth thorough lessons on spottingand losing a tail. “Should I call Casey?” Beth wondered quickly. “She’ll justworry and this could be used to our advantage. I don’t want Robertoknowing where we live or that I went straight to a Private Investigator’soffice. Lets see if I can take care of this myself. But I did promise to becareful.” Beth talked to the absent Casey and placed her phone within easyreach, just in case. “I promise I’ll stick to busy streets and not make any stopswhere there aren’t a lot of people around.”

“When you think you have a tail, note the description of the car, driverand license plate of your follower.” Beth couldn’t stop the slight grin thatappeared as her lover’s voice floated with purpose through her mind.

Dutifully Beth pulled out her tape recorder at the next stop light. “Guessit’s a good thing I carry this around with me.” It was a habit she’d retainedfrom her college years, never sure when an idea would pop into her head.After checking the tape, Beth spoke, a nervous excitement in her voice as shefollowed the traffic. “Its 4:36pm on Friday, April 23. I’m being followed by alight brown hatchback Chevy Nova. I’m guessing it to be an 1986 or so. Ihaven’t been able to read the license plate yet. But the driver is one ofRoberto’s crew.” That made her nervous, flirting was one thing, but havingher followed was another matter all together. Beth called Susan, hopingCasey was finished with her meeting. “Guess its up to me then.” Beth spokealoud unhappily, starting to get a little afraid. “How can I be afraid andexcited at the same time?”

“Change lanes a couple of times, change streets, but don’t be obvious.See if you’re still being followed.” Casey’s voice continued the repeat lesson,like she was sitting next to Beth.

“Hmm.” Beth growled softly, letting her rising excitement fill her. It wasmuch better than being afraid. “This is almost as much fun as your lessons,my love. Although I do miss the rewards for successfully executing eachlesson. Oh, I can stop at the cleaners, since I’m in the area.” The authorchanged lanes and turned a few blocks down the street, eyes widening whenthe brown Nova followed. Pulling into the dry cleaners, Beth went to thedrive up window, not wanting to risk getting out of her car. “Now what?”She asked herself softly, laying the clothes in the back seat. Cursing herselffor reaching for the phone, Casey’s voice stopped her.

“Don’t forget the license plate.” Casey advised her adapt student.

“Of course!” Beth chuckled, silently sending her lover a heartfelt thanksfor the advise and confidence boost. She easily read the numbers as she pastthe stopped car.

“See if you can loose your tail without alerting him as to your realintention.”

“Easier said than done, 99.” Beth’s voice shook with restrained laughter,getting into the spirit of things, despite being afraid. “But I’ll see what I cando. I don’t want to let this guy know I’m on to him.” Speeding up, Bethmerged with the rush hour traffic, sighing. Heading across town, in thegeneral direction of Davies, Beth made several stops, picking up variousitems. Two additional calls to Casey yielded the same answer; she was stillbusy with her meeting. So Beth kept at it. There was no pattern to hermovements. After about an hour and a half of rather aimless wandering, whileher tail stuck with her, the perfect opportunity arose. She zipped through theyellow light, which she’d done several times during the course of the lasthour, making it across the railroad before the arms lowered. “Yes!” Bethcrooned triumphantly, imagining the indignant look on her follower’s face.

“When you think you’ve lost your tail, make sure of it. Leave the area,immediately. Don’t give him the chance to hook up with you again.”

“Yes Casey, I’m leaving the area.” Beth answered her lover’s voice, eventhough she wasn’t present. Increasing her speed, she headed for Davies,taking the fastest, most direct route available.

Pulling into the parking lot, Beth suddenly started to shake, as therealization that what she’d just done hadn’t been a game sank in. Quakingfingers hit the redial button, wanting, needing to hear Casey’s voice. WhenSusan answered, Beth asked to speak to Casey for the first time. And wasastonished when Susan said she’d give Casey a message, that she’d asked notto be interrupted unless it was an emergency. Cursing as she hung up thephone, Beth stormed into Davies, irrationally mad at Casey for not being therewhen she needed her. “What’s the use of having phones to stay in contactwith each other if you won’t take my call?” Beth complained under herbreath, waiting for her dessert.

After two pieces of apple pie a la mode, Beth felt better. “Glad I didn’tleave the blistering message I was tempted to. Casey had no idea that I’d runinto trouble today.” Thought guiltily as she paid for her snack and steppedout into the early evening dusk. She’d known all along that all she had to dowas tell Susan she was being followed and Casey would of been there. “Butoh no Beth, you had to try and do it yourself. No brown Nova!” Beththought gratefully as she cautiously made her way to her car. The blinkingon her purposefully forgotten cell phone intensified her guilt. “Immature!”Beth slapped her head, punching in the number to retrieve her voice mail, notneeding to hear the message to know it was from Casey.

“Beth what’s wrong? Susan said you were upset when you called. Callme back. I love you.”

Each word struck deep, recognizing the controlled worry in Casey’svoice. “Oh Hades! I did it again.” Beth sighed disgustedly, dialing Casey’scell phone directly, her need of hearing her lover’s voice overriding herconcern for interrupting. The brief message Casey left fueled Beth’s desireand need to actually talk with her lover. She promised herself to apologizelater as she joined the evening traffic, heading for home.

“Bennett.” Casey’s cool response alerted Beth to the fact that Caseywasn’t alone. The noise in the background confirmed Beth’s suspicion.

“Hi Casey. Sorry for interrupting.” Beth spoke softly, trying to controlher instant response to her lover’s voice. She gave up as she smiled, drawingcomfort from her tone. The author wanted nothing more than to crawl intoCasey’s warm arms and let her handle everything. “Get a grip Beth!” Shetold herself reprovingly, noting with disdain her shaking hands. The dangerwas past, there was no logical reason to be so upset.

“Its ok. Hang on a second, please? Don’t go anywhere.” Beth heardCasey excuse herself and then shut a door. “Now tell me what’s wrongSweetheart.” Casey leaned against the door of her office, picturing her loverand what could of upset her.

“It’s a long story. What time will you be home?” Beth didn’t want to pullCasey away from her meeting. Just hearing her confident, soothing voicehelped settle the author’s nerves.

“I can be there in under an hour. Where are you? Are you sure you’realright?” Casey’s voice had dropped in concern.

“Just had some pie at Davies. I’m fine and on my way home right now.”Beth fibbed a little, knowing she’d be fine the moment Casey joined her.”Don’t hurry home on my account. This can wait.” “Really, I just needed tohear your voice,” Beth’s mind whispered and her heart relaxed, her lover’svoice wrapping her in a protective cocoon.

“Elizabeth Alexandra Jamieson you are the most important person or thingin my life. So don’t give me any of that crap.” Casey’s voice was firm,warning the author not to argue. “I’ll be home soon.”

“Ok. I love you Casey.” Beth gave in, slapping herself mentally with thespeed of her retreat. What ever happened to fighting her own battles? Totaking care of her own problems? “I’ll see you there.”

“I love you too Beth. And don’t think we aren’t going to talk about howmany times you called and didn’t leave any messages.” Casey admonishedand hung up, laughing softly at her stuttering lover.

“Now what?” Beth continued her conversation aloud before she realizedwhat she was doing. “Oh, you’d really get a kick out of this love.” Bethturned the corner, heading for home. “I’ve been talking to myself allafternoon! Do you know, outside of my grandparents, you are the only onewho’s ever accepted my compulsive need to talk aloud? Doesn’t matter if I’mworking or happy,” Beth paused, made a rude hand gesture and cursed thedriver who cut her off. “Damn fools!”

“Where was I?” Beth breathed a sigh of relief as the unsafe driver turned.”Talking aloud.” The author chuckled, remembering Casey’s face the firsttime she came home from work and found Beth arguing with herself. And herlover’s dry comment of “who’s winning?” still set the author off. Giggling,Beth made it the rest of the way home without incident.

“Lets see,” Beth glanced at the wall clock as she went straight to checkthe machine for messages. “Casey will be home in about twenty minutes.Four messages. Bet I know what they’re about!” Beth listened to them,frowning. “Oh Hades! I never even thought of that.”
Growling her anger, Beth returned the calls, getting more depressed witheach one as she canceled her plans. She had planned on whisking Casey awayon a romantic weekend and proposing then. But she knew her lover; Caseywould not leave until the Delgado’s problem was solved. Especially sinceBeth had involved herself in it. “Quit complaining!” Beth paced aggravated.”It was your choice to get involved.” Then. “Don’t be so selfish! You’ll justhave to think of something else.” Sinking into her thoughts, Beth fell silent,plotting. With each increasingly silent step, her frown grew.

“Whatever it is, I didn’t do it.” Casey’s low voice cut across the room,disrupting Beth’s pacing and thoughts.

“Hey!” Beth flew across the room, jumping into her lover’s arms. “Ohyes you did, but you don’t know it yet.” Her mind answered. “How wasyour day?” Beth spoke softly, drawing warmth and comfort from her lover’sembrace.

“Hey yourself.” Casey pulled Beth more tightly against her. Leaningdown, she buried her nose in her lover’s hair, inhaling deeply. “We’ll play thisyour way love, but you’re not going to avoid it forever.” Casey promisedherself. “They’re young, idealistic, bursting with confidence. Luckily forJohnson, they’re also extremely intelligent and eager to learn. They’ll be thebest if they can keep it together.”

“So you drilled them pretty hard, huh 99?” Beth squeezed Casey, feelingthe tension beneath the surface. Since leaving the FBI, Casey had onlycompleted two profiles. And only because her author was in danger. “I takeit you had fun running mental circles around the kids?”

“Well,” Casey smirked at herself, admitting for the first time that she’denjoyed it. “I had a good time. Hey!” Casey pulled back several momentslater, after forgetting something was wrong. Blue eyes darkened, daringBeth to deny the statement. “You’re not going to get me to forget.”

“Who me?” Green twinkled back. “Would I do something like that?”Beth had no intention of not telling Casey about the Delgado’s problem.

“Yes. You.” Casey mock glared, gently pushing Beth towards the sofa.”What’s wrong?”

“The Delgado’s have a serious problem.” Beth turned so she was facingCasey. “It seems they’re in need of your services love.”

“What’s the problem?” Casey stared questioningly at Beth. “You knowI’ll help if I can.”
“I know love. The past three months they’ve been paying $700 a monthin ‘protection’ money. Roberto is the guy that comes to collect.” Bethlooked sincerely at Casey. “They can’t afford that! Eduardo’s been workinganother full time job so the family wouldn’t suffer from the loss of income.”

“No one should have to pay money to be safe. Especially nice people likethe Delgado’s.” Casey agreed with her author. “And you know about thisbecause they told you?” Casey frowned at Beth, mind racing. The specialistdidn’t even want to think about Beth coming into contact with these people.”That doesn’t seem likely, knowing Eduardo. He’s very proud.” Herfrowned deepened, suddenly suspicious. “Unless he was scared for his family.Then he’d turn to you. Or,” blue eyes darkened with the thought. “Youwalked in on something.”

“Well actually,” Beth rubbed the back of Casey’s hand with her thumb,having felt her lover’s pulse jump. “Tomas called me today, saying he reallyneeded to see me. So I went and he asked to borrow $300. After hearingwhy he wanted it, of course I gave it to them. What?” Beth interruptedherself, glancing at Casey innocently. “Whoops!” The author grimacedmentally, having a good idea what her lover was thinking.

“And of course you just walked in and handed it to Eduardo in front ofthese guys, right?” Casey took a guess, correctly reading Beth’s bodylanguage. Concentrating on not overreacting, Casey reached for Beth’s otherhand, not looking down.

“Well, that is what happened. But I didn’t have a choice!” Beth hurriedlyadded, cutting off Casey’s reply. “I was going to give it to Eduardo beforethey arrived, but they were early. I had to do something. I couldn’t let themhurt Eduardo.”

“Breath Casey. Breath.” The specialist spoke lowly, eyes closing as hermind painted a vivid picture of her lover marching up and throwing the moneyin their faces.

“Hey, I’m not totally inept.” Beth’s soft, slightly hurt tone broke throughher lover’s thoughts. “I just didn’t walk in there and loose it.” The authorcorrectly interpreted Casey’s growing fear.

“I’m sorry.” The quiet, hesitant apology started Beth’s heart beatingagain. “I can’t help worrying, even if its after the fact.” Worried blue eyesnoticed the bruises on Beth’s wrist, but she kept quiet, giving Beth theopportunity to tell her.

“I know love.” Beth waited until Casey raised her head and met herloving, understanding gaze. “I did go in and give Eduardo the money, but Isaid I was repaying a loan.”

“You pulled your hair back and turned your sweatshirt inside out becauseyou wanted to look younger.” Casey guessed, smiling softly at Beth. “Thatwas good thinking Sweetheart.”

“Thanks.” Beth had forgotten what she had on. “I pretended to be a lotyounger, changing my speech and walk. Plus I gave Eduardo $500 instead of$300 because I thought that would be just a little fishy if I had exactly theright amount. Then I had the pleasure of meeting Roberto.” Beth glanced ather wrist then back up, knowing she couldn’t put it off any longer. “He gaveme these when I tried to take my hand back.” She raised the object inquestion for Casey to see. To do any less would hurt Casey.

“Ouch. Those look painful.” Casey bent and kissed the tender flesh,hiding her pained eyes from Beth. Holding on to her temper by a thin thread,the specialist took a deep breath, promising herself Roberto would pay forevery bruise. Then met Beth’s worried eyes. “Anything else?”

“After Roberto and crew left, I had a long talk with Eduardo. The guyswill be back in four or five days for dinner. Then periodically through themonth they reappear, making sure they’re not forgotten. I told Eduardo thatwe’d probably be by tomorrow so you could talk to them Oh!” Bethchuckled as she remembered something. “The reason he didn’t ask for helpwas because he thought it was too dangerous for two nice ladies.” Greeneyes twinkled merrily, waiting for what was coming.

“You can’t be serious!” Casey snorted, the idea was ludicrously. “Youare!” Added when Beth nodded solemnly. “Let me guess, your first call wasright after Roberto left.” Casey sighed, angry with herself and Susan. Thespecialist made a mental note to talk to her assistant in the morning. Bethnever called unless there was a problem. “I want to know whenever shecalls,” thought guiltily, blue eyes flickering to the bruised flesh.

“Yup. Move.” Beth pushed Casey into the corner of the sofa, thensettled between her legs. Wrapping her lover’s arms around her body, theauthor sighed, contented.

“Comfortable?” Casey asked wryly when Beth sighed happily, herauthor’s head on her shoulder.

“Always. Got a problem with that?” Beth snapped back saucily, knowingthere wasn’t a problem.

“Just checking.” Casey leaned forward and whispered in Beth’s ear,nipping the tender flesh playfully. “So what were the other four calls about?”

“Hmm…that feels good.” Beth thought briefly about avoiding thequestion for the time being. “Answer it. You know how you’d react if thesituation was reversed.” There wasn’t any way to avoid answering withoutworrying Casey. “Best to just tell it and get it over with.”

“A couple of blocks from Eduardo’s, I noticed I was being followed. So Idid what you said. First I made sure he was following me, then I led him on amerry wandering drive all over town as I did errands. Oh, that reminds me.”Beth paused, leaning her head back so she could watch her love’s reactions.Green eyes widened slightly; Casey appeared to be taking this quite well.”Your white blouse is history. The cleaners couldn’t get the stain out. Sorry.I’ll…”

“Beth!” Casey growled at her lover, control slipping momentarily,impatient to here the rest of the story. “I don’t give a damn about thatblouse.”

“Sorry.” Lips brushed against Casey’s neck in apology. “Anyway, thelonger he followed, the more nervous I got. When the opportunity arose toloose him, I did. I didn’t want to head right home, just in case, so I went toDavies. Then I came home.”

“Did you get a look at the driver? What type of car was it?” Casey’scalmness scared Beth. The specialist battled with herself, holding onto hercontrol with grim determination. “Beth is safe. That’s all that matters.” Herheart tried to reassure her head.

“Hey.” Beth reached up and ran a finger across Casey’s cheek then pulledher closer. “I’m fine.” Whispered lips against lips. Gently, tenderly Bethkissed Casey. Green flickered to blue, seeing a hint of Casey’s internal battle.”I love you.” Beth brought their lips together again, teasingly. Lightly shenipped until her lover groaned softly. Taking the slightly parted lips as aninvitation, Beth kissed Casey deeply.

“I love you too.” Casey smiled softly, drinking in her lover’s sparklingpassion. Quirking a eyebrow questioningly, the specialist waited.

“It was a brown Chevy Nova hatchback from the mid to late 1980’s. Irecorded the license plate number and a description of the driver.” Bethwatched the play of emotions on her lover’s face. “Yes, I was payingattention during your lessons.” Beth grinned sheepishly, not sure if she shouldadmit how she remembered..
“Good thinking.” Casey grinned teasingly at Beth, hiding her uneasinessat the potentially dangerous situation. “Bet you talked to yourself through theentire ride, huh?” Long fingers wandered threateningly up Beth’s ribs,”change the subject Casey,” she thought as her fingers wandered. “Hmm??”

“Actually I talked to you.” Beth shot back, loving the startled yet pleasedlook that flew across her lover’s face. “And I’ve got to tell you, it was one ofour best conversations! You agreed with everything I had to say.”

“Very funny!” Casey couldn’t stop herself from laughing. “What do youknow…some of my best conversations happen that way too.” Wrapping herlong arms around her author’s waist again, Casey snuggled closer. A naggingquestion remained, one that the specialist didn’t want to let go. “So whydidn’t you tell Susan you needed to talk to me?”

“That’s a good question…now how do I answer?” Beth mused silently,resting her head against Casey’s neck. “I didn’t want to bother you while youwere busy. As long as he was staying back, doing nothing other thanfollowing me, it seemed safe enough.”

“Beth.” Casey spoke softly, very serious. “When you need me, forwhatever reason, you’re not bothering me. Doesn’t matter if you just need torant a little or you actually have a problem, like today. Aren’t you the onethat told me that was how this,” she held up their entwined hands, as Beth didearlier, “works?”

“I know.” Beth’s eyes narrowed as she considered that thought. Thenshe realized how she’d feel if the situation was reversed. Damn. “I screwedup. You’re right. I should of interrupted your meeting. Forgive me?” Greeneyes stared pleadingly at Casey.

“Always, my love.” Casey breathed a silent sigh of relief. Listening toBeth, she’d grown afraid that the author wouldn’t agree. “Guess I better feedyou, huh?” A large hand patted Beth’s growling stomach.

Beth stood up, pulling Casey to her feet, squinting at the clock. “Poop!Its too late for Italian. Hmm, what to eat.” Leading Casey by the hand, theywent into the kitchen.

Casey waited where she was left, an amused smile on her face as shewatched items be pulled out and then discarded. “Enough!” Casey reachedover and shut the refrigerator door. “Lets go out.” Grabbing her complaininglover, Casey kissed her soundly. Because Beth moaned when she pulledaway, she kissed her again and again, until they both were clinging together,breathless.
“Wow,” Green eyes blinked dazed at blue, loving their instant response toeach other. “That was…” Words failed the author.

“Yeah.” Casey sighed softly, agreeing wholeheartedly, leaning againstBeth. Giving herself a mental shake, Casey removed her hands from underher lover’s shirt, grinning as she realized exactly where her hands had been.”Better feed the growling beast,” blue quirked teasingly as Beth blushed.

“Right 99, better feed me.” Beth sassed back, opening the garage door.”So where are you taking me?”

“Oh, it’ll be a surprise.” Casey opened Beth’s door, stealing a kiss beforeshe went to her side. “Tell me again about Eduardo’s problem.” Thespecialist asked, pulling out of the drive.

“Well, I’ll get started on it tomorrow.” Casey smiled reassuringly at Bethas they waited for the garage door to open again. “First I’ll need to checkwith the police to make sure they don’t have a current investigation going. Idon’t want to take the chance of blowing someone’s cover and maybe getthem killed. Then I need to do some serious research, ask a few questions.You know, start building background information.” Casey glanced at Bethinnocently, trying to gauge her reaction, motioning her into the house. “Sowhat are you going to do tomorrow?”

“I have an 11:00 am class at the dojo and then I need to do some groceryshopping.” Beth replied, mentally adding a stop at the jeweler’s to her list.”And of course I need to finish editing the final version of Warrior 2.”

“Promise me you’ll be careful tomorrow. If anything strikes you assuspicious, call me.” Casey paused, turning a pleading eye to her lover.”Please? I know I can’t stand it if something happens to you.”

“I promise.” Beth moved quickly into Casey’s embrace, painful memoriesassaulting them both. The author knew her lover was remembering the frantictime while she was held hostage by Elaine Davidson. Casey hadn’t told hertoo much about her feelings during that time, but Phil had filled the author inone afternoon when he fixed her computer. She’d been surprised by howtotally different her gentle lover sounded, until she realized that Casey hadbeen hanging on by a thread. And she was the cause of her lover’s pain, yetthe only thing that held her tied to the present. “Stupid Beth!” She cursedherself mentally. “You didn’t even think of that when you went driving allover town.”

“I promise.” Beth repeated, hugging Casey tight. “Be careful yourself. Icouldn’t stand it if something happened to you either.” That cheerful thoughtbrought tears to Beth’s eyes. Nuzzling Casey’s neck, she asked for her ownpromise.

“I’ll be careful.” Casey whispered in Beth’s ear, teeth grazing the tenderlobe. At one time, pleas from her family to be careful annoyed or angered thespecialist. Now Beth’s plea warmed her heart; she was loved. “What areyour plans for tonight, Ms Jamieson?” Lips caressed the sensitive flesh,waiting for an answer.

“Follow me, Ms Bennett and I’ll show you.” Beth husked, pulling awayfrom Casey’s tempting lips. Throwing a heated, sexy look over her shoulder,the author oozed down the hall.

“God give me strength!” Casey mumbled under her breath, momentarilyfrozen in place by Beth’s possessive, passionate look. Breathing deeply,Casey followed her lover, loving every step.

“You are so beautiful.” Casey spoke softly, playing with the ends ofBeth’s hair as she slept peacefully beside her. “Do you know how much Ilove you? How glad I am that you came into my life?” She chuckled softlywithout fear; Beth could sleep through a roaring tornado. “I was so empty,so dead inside before I met you. And it just wasn’t because of Hamilton. I’vealways been controlled, not able to express my emotions. Hell, I didn’t evenacknowledge I had them, at least most of the time. The only thing thatmattered to me was being the best. Didn’t matter what it was, I just had to bethe best. So I did whatever it took, studying…practicing…working out. I’mashamed to say, I even took advantage of certain situations. Did things I’mnot proud of. Ignored others if that helped me reach my goal.” The specialistshuddered, leaning down to brush her lips across Beth’s shoulder, takingcomfort from her lover’s presence.

“You’ve taught me so damn much. Taught me what it means to live.That emotions can be experienced without showing signs of weakness. Andmy life is just so incredible now, I exist in a state of perpetual joy. When Ithink about how I was, I shudder. Yet I smile, for now I am alive. Becauseof you.” Whispered against the smooth skin under her lips, not able to resisttasting it.

“You’ve told me that I’m the only one in your life that’s accepted you forwho you are. You, my sweet Beth,” Casey swallowed emotionally, blue eyesmisting, lips nuzzling Beth’s neck. “You’ve done the same for me. You’veaccepted me, put up with my moods, my temper, my obsessions. What getsme is that you wouldn’t change anything about me, except maybe myreluctance to share my emotions. You tell me time and time again, that youlove me for me.” Casey continued her nuzzling, reveling in the sweetness ofcontact until the urge to talk overcame her again. “Do you know that Iwouldn’t survive without you…without your love?” She thought a second,then continued, finding comfort in talking, in expressing herself. Thespecialist silently acknowledged that this too was another debt she owed herauthor. A year ago she would of laughed if anyone had dared to tell her thatshe’d find comfort in talking.

“I really don’t understand how you do it. I am not an easy person to livewith. Not an easy person to love.” Casey paused, blue eyes sweepingprotectively over Beth. “Yet every step of the way, you are there. Doesn’tmatter how badly I behave, how loudly I yell, how strongly I doubt. You arethere.” Casey broke off as Beth shifted, turning on her side, reaching back forCasey. A wide grin accompanied Casey’s movements as she slid in behind herpartner, wrapping an arm around her waist, pulling her firmly against herlarger body.

“You awake love?” Casey whispered when Beth laced their fingerstogether. “Guess not,” she answered herself when her lover didn’t. “Sleepwell love.” Another whisper in Beth’s ear.

“Thank you for being here Beth.” Casey returned to her thoughts, smilinggently as Beth shifted again, snuggling even closer. “I know I don’t deservesomeone like you, but I will do anything in my power to make you happy.Even,” the specialist exhaled quietly, deciding if she wanted to actually saythe words aloud. To admit her greatest fear, so she could start losing it.”Even if that means believing in us. Believing you will be here no matterwhat. Believing that you will always love me. How can I do otherwise? Iknow that is the one thing you want that I haven’t given you.” Blue eyesdrifted shut momentarily, then opened, bright with passion, unwilling to denyher lover or herself.

“I, Casey Michelle Bennett, promise you, Elizabeth Alexandra Jamieson,that I will start believing in us…forever.” Casey leaned forward and rested herhead on Beth’s shoulder, breathing deeply.

A sudden anger filled her soul, blinding Casey with its intensity. Suckingin her breath, the specialist willed her limbs to release Beth, not wanting towaken her. “Damn! I could of lost you today.” Casey sat up, staring at Bethfor a long time with growing desperation. “How I am gonna keep you safewithout smothering you?” She reached out a shaking hand, touching Bethcautiously. “I know how you hate being protected.” A vivid memory flashedthrough her mind. Their most serious fight had been after Beth was kidnaped.Casey wanted Beth to remain secluded, sheltered, afraid to let her out of hersight. The specialist had gone as far as to start having meeting in their officeupstairs, making her associates come to her. And Beth had rebelled, notloudly or angrily, but with silence. It had taken a lot of heartfelt talkingbefore they worked through their hurt feelings. Beth felt smothered, nottrusted and Casey felt misunderstood, not wanted. “I made you a promisethen, to never treat you that way again. When I cried, begged you to stay, tonot leave me, you told me you’d never leave me, no matter what. Thattogether we could work through anything. I think right then, after what I’ddone to you and you still stayed, I really started believing in us. But now…OhGod,” Casey shut her eyes, battling her internal desires. “I want nothing morethan to do it now. To lock you up, protect you. To send you up to yourGrandma’s house until this current danger is past. But I won’t…Because Ipromised…God.” Unnoticed, tears streamed down Casey’s face as thespecialist fought with herself.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Beth’s sleepy voice wormed its way into Casey’smind, pulling her back from the darkness. “You’re crying!” Beth woke upquickly, sitting up to face her lover. Tentatively she reached out, wiping theslowly falling tears away, worried green eyes locked on blue.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you.” Casey’s teary voice tugged forcefullyon Beth’s heart.

“Hey, remember? Whenever you need me, I’ll be here.” Green eyessearched Casey’s taunt, tension filled form. “C’mere you.” The author pulledher lover into her arms, whispering words of comfort and love.

“Thanks.” Casey husked emotionally several minutes later. Scootingdown, she draped Beth over her larger body, sighing happily when skin slidsensually together. “There.”

“Comfortable?” Beth chuckled softly, remembering doing the same thingto her earlier.

“Oh yeah. Great.” Casey smiled, not sure how much she could tell Beth.Not because her lover wouldn’t understand, but because Casey wasn’t readyto actually talk to Beth, at least not when she was awake.

“Hey, don’t worry about it. I trust you.” Beth answered the unspokenquestions that quickly flew across her lover’s face.

“What?” Casey asked confused, not sure what Beth was saying.

“You wanted to tell me to go to the country for awhile, but you didn’t.”The author gently forced Casey to meet her loving, understanding gaze. “Butyou didn’t,” she repeated, making sure her appreciation of this was evident.”I know you’re battling every protective instinct you have. You just want meto be safe. I can’t tell you how much that it means to me that you’re trying.”Beth caressed Casey’s cheek, staring intently into her eyes. “I promise you ifit gets too dangerous, I will do whatever you feel is necessary.”

“Sweetheart?” Casey ran a hand up Beth’s back and under her hair,lightly rubbing her neck. “Why? Are you ok?”

“Where did that come from?” Casey thought furiously, watching herpartner’s eyes closely. It wasn’t like her author to make such a blanketstatement.

“Because I love you.” Beth smiled softly. “Because I trust you.” Shewatched blue eyes clear and lighten, delighted. “Because as hard as you’retrying, I need to too. And that means admitting you do know best aboutcertain situations. You trust me and I trust you.” Green darkened seriously,meaning every word. “Because that is the way ‘this’ works.” Beth broughtone hand between their bodies, resting above Casey’s heart, as she finishedspeaking.

“It is, huh?” Casey smiled at her lover. “Guess it’s a good thing I haveyou around to teach me these things.” Although her tone was light andjoking, the specialist meant every word.

“Just don’t forget that, 99.” Beth leaned down, bringing her lips almost toCasey’s. “I love you Casey.”

“I love you too Beth.” Casey stretched, pressing her lips against herlove’s. Slowly, deeply, Casey poured every ounce of love she had into thekiss. “Better get some sleep. You’ve had a long day.” Blue eyes searchedher lover’s still tired face.

“You too, 99.” Beth slipped off of Casey, ignoring her protest. Theauthor laid her head on Casey’s broad shoulder, wrapped an arm around hermiddle and slid a muscular thigh over the ones beneath her’s. Shiftingslightly, she sighed contented, mumbling sleepily, patting her pillow.”Comfortable.”

“I aim to please.” Casey whispered back, no longer amazed by howrapidly Beth could fall asleep. Pulling Beth a little closer, Casey told herselfto stop worrying, closed her eyes and joined Beth in sleep.

“Make sure you don’t forget!” Beth was busy pulling the cinnamon rollsout of the oven, so she missed Casey’s exasperated look.

“I’ll remember! That’s the third time you’ve reminded me this morning.”Casey silently moved behind Beth and tugged on the strawberry blond locks.”You’re never going to let me forget, are you?” Meaning the one and onlytime she visited Eduardo’s and forgot to bring home salsa and chips.

“Sorry.” Beth answered insincerely, shooting an annoyed look at herlover. Who now just happened to be back across the room, lookinginnocently at her.

“And don’t even think of calling and asking Alberta to remind me.” Caseywarned Beth, eyes twinkling playfully. “Don’t you forget the Jacks pizzas atthe store.”

“I won’t. I really can’t believe you messed the Tombstone pizza up!”Beth shook her head in disbelief. When they first moved in together, Beththought Casey was teasing about her inability to cook because she didn’t liketo. Now she knew better. “Can’t believe you didn’t even check the time!”Referring to the last pizza Casey heated up and how smoky the kitchenbecame.

“Not my fault.” Casey came right back at Beth, loving the familiarbantering. “Why do you think I always buy the same kind?” A long armreached over and snagged the lone roll off of Beth’s plate, quickly shoving itinto her mouth.

“Hey! You ate the last of Mrs A’s rolls!” Beth pouted, bringing her rollsover to the table. “Don’t you think mine will be any good?”

“I’m sure they’re great.” Casey looked at the mis-shaped rollsquestioningly. She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “Let mehave one.”

“Don’t sound like I’m making you eat liver or something!” Beth snappedback, somewhat hurt by Casey’s reaction. “I know they don’t look as nice asMrs A’s…hey!”

“I was just teasing.” Casey interrupted Beth by taking her hand andkissing her fingers. “C’mon Beth.” Nothing. “Please smile at me.” Thespecialist pleaded softly, not sure why her familiar teasing was unwelcome.She needed Beth to smile at her, to make her world worth living again.

“Sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me today.” Beth guiltily lookedup, kicking herself for reacting badly, seeing the confusion and tension inCasey’s face. “They do look kind of funny.” She smiled tentatively,wondering what was wrong with her. Her smile turned questioning as Caseyprevented her from picking up a roll.

“Wait a second.” Casey came around the small table, never letting go ofBeth’s hand. One tug had Beth on her feet, another had her sitting in thespecialist’s lap. Releasing Beth’s hand, Casey broke off a piece of Beth’s roll,taking a big bite. Eyes glued to Beth’s, she chewed slowly. “Its delicious,”she smacked her lips, taking another bite.

“You’d say that even if it was terrible, after the way I reacted.” Bethintercepted Casey’s hand, bringing it to her own mouth. Taking the icingcovered fingers, she industriously licked them clean. And tried to ignore thegrowing warm in her center. “Icing tastes right.” Meaning it tasted like MrsA’s.

“Just like.” Casey confirmed, picking up another piece of roll (taking careto liberally coat her fingers with icing), bringing it to Beth’s lips. “Here.”Hoping that her fingers would be cleaned again. “See for yourself.”

“Not too bad. Needs more cinnamon.” Beth swallowed then broughtCasey’s fingers back to her mouth. Smiling innocently, she sucked oneabruptly into her mouth, tongue thoroughly cleaning the surface. When she’dfinished cleaning all of Casey’s fingers, she glanced at the clock then started toget up.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Casey held Beth back, groaning asher movements suddenly seemed erotic against her jean covered thighs. “Sitstill a second.” Blue eyes drifted shut, burying her face into Beth’s neck.After regaining control of her raging emotions, she met Beth’s concernedgaze. “What’s wrong?”

“Be careful today. Roberto’s guys all had guns.” Beth knew her lovercould take care of herself, but ever since she’d woken up first this morningshe’d been worried sick. “I know,” Beth rushed forward, laying a fingeragainst Casey’s lips. “I know you are more than capable of taking care ofyourself and everyone around you.” Green eyes closed so Casey wouldn’t seeher inner struggle. Beth had woken up shaken and scared, expecting to see ablood covered, shot Casey laying dead in her arms. “Breath Beth. Breath.”She whispered silently. “Just please be careful.”

“Beth? Talk to me Sweetheart.” Casey rubbed Beth’s back and waited.And waited. “Tell me what’s wrong.” Added when she couldn’t interpret thelook she was receiving. It was as if Beth didn’t expect to see her again.”Damn!” Casey thought hastily, suddenly understanding what her formermarried colleagues went through every time they got a dangerous assignment.

“Beth I’ll be careful. I won’t take any chances, I promise.” Blue metgreen reassuringly. “I never expected to feel this way,” Casey admitted,smiling shyly at Beth.

“What way?” Beth tried to force her fears down deep. She didn’t want togive Casey something else to worry about.

“I never thought someone would love me enough to worry if I got hurt.”Casey caught Beth’s hand, lacing their fingers together. “And it never evenoccurred to me how special that would make me feel. Its like, I’m…” Caseytrailed off, shrugging her shoulders. “I can’t describe it. Promise mesomething?”

“Anything.” Beth meant exactly that, searching her face intently.Whatever Casey wanted, she would move heaven and earth to see that herwish was fulfilled. “What?” Added when Casey didn’t say anything else.

“You have incredible eyes.” Casey blushed, pulling her thoughts awayfrom the promises she’d seen in Beth’s eyes. “Anyway,” she cleared herthroat, trying to concentrate on what she was saying. “Always look at me likethat.” Meaning the adoring, loving look. The one that said she was herauthor’s. The specialist knew, without a doubt, how Beth felt about her. “Isee so much.”

“I promise.” Beth leaned forward, kissing Casey tenderly, thinkingquickly about the rings. “If you have any intention of getting out of the houseby noon, you better go.” Reluctantly Beth got up. “What time do you thinkyou’ll be home?”

“I’m not sure; it depends on what I find out. I’ll call you later to let youknow.” Casey stood behind Beth at the sink, wrapping her arms around herwaist. “Have a good day love.” Lips grazed Beth’s neck. “Be carefulyourself.” Casey nuzzled the beckoning earlobe. “I love you.”

“I love you too. I’ll call when I get home from the store.” Bethpromised, knowing Casey would worry if she didn’t. “Stop that!” Beth halfheartedly complained when Casey’s lips didn’t stop.

“C’mon, then. Give me a goodbye kiss.”

Beth turned around, running her hands up muscled arms and into jet blackhair. An unnecessary, gentle tug brought Casey’s lips to her’s. Softly,chastely, Beth kissed her. Pulling back slightly, she tasted Casey’s lips withher tongue. When they parted, she couldn’t resist the invitation. Thrustingdeeply, Beth swallowed Casey’s groan. Then groaned herself when Caseysucked forcefully on her tongue.

“I need to kiss you goodbye.” Casey husked when they took a break tobreath. Pulling Beth to her again, Casey took possession of her lover’smouth. Hungrily she explored, loving the wet heat that surrounded her. Itwasn’t until she realized that her hands were on her author’s bare flesh thatshe drew back, nipping Beth’s lips as she retreated. “If I don’t leave rightnow, I won’t.” Casey waited, not having the strength to break Beth’sembrace.

“I know.” Beth sternly told her arms to release Casey. Frowning sheglared at her disobedient limbs until they reluctantly retreated. “Sorry aboutthat.” Beth tried to look innocent, glancing at her limbs like it was all theirfault.

“Stay there.” Casey cautioned when Beth started to follow her to thedoor. “I’ll never leave if I touch you again.” Casey grabbed her briefcase andkeys before meeting Beth’s gaze. “Bye love. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Bye Casey.” Beth waited until the door was almost shut before adding,”don’t forget the salsa!” She grinned when the door opened again and blueeyes pinned her in place before shutting it completely.

Not trusting Casey’s incredible hearing, Beth waited until she heard therental car start. After what happened yesterday, Casey insisted on driving it,wanting Beth to have her own more powerful vehicle in case of trouble. “Andchips.” Laughing, Beth headed for their office, planning on doing a couple ofhours of editing before heading to the jeweler’s.

“I can’t take this any more!” Beth complained about an hour and a halflater. She’d been working on the same page for more than fifteen minutes,unable to concentrate on anything other than what she was about to do.”Just go get them Beth.” She told herself happily. Grabbing her bag, sheheaded out, smiling in anticipation.


“Susan, we need to talk.” Casey addressed her assistant on her waythrough the outer office. “Come on back in a few minutes.” The specialistdidn’t wait for a reply as she hurried into her own office. Sitting down behindher large oak desk, she quickly scanned her messages, sighing in relief. Allexcept one were from the FBI visitors and Johnson, thanking her for her timeyesterday. Sliding over to her computer, she started the long process ofaccessing the Bureau’s database on Mexican-American gangs who were intoextortion. Casey looked up when Susan entered.
“Susan, I need you to call the Chief and find out if Eric Masters is still incharge of gang related activities. See if he’ll call Masters and let him knowI’ll be calling. The Delgado family has a problem.” Ever since Beth cameinto Casey’s life and introduced her staff to Eduardo’s, it had become apopular choice for take out lunch. “See who wants lunch. Phil and I’ll berunning over there around 1:30pm. But first,” Casey’s serious tone stoppedSusan from getting up. “We need to talk about yesterday.” Blue eyesregarded her suddenly nervous assistant. “In the future, I want to know whenBeth calls. She’ll leave a message from now on and will tell you if it can waitor if she needs to talk to me right away. Yesterday she was being followedwhen she called.” Deciding that was enough, Casey changed the subject.”Send Phil in here when he comes in please. Oh, tell everyone lunch is on me.What??” Casey added at her assistant’s surprised look. “Its not like I’venever bought lunch before!”

“Hmm, no comment.” Susan headed for the door, relieved Casey hadn’tyelled. Her boss’s temper was legendary and when Beth was concerned, itwas a force unto nature. That had been why she decided to tell Caseyyesterday after the last phone call. “I’ll call the order in so it’ll be ready whenyou get there. What?”

“Tell Eduardo that I’m picking it up. He’ll understand.” Casey turnedpreoccupied as her computer beeped. “Oh!” A thought occurred. “Alsoorder salsa and chips for Beth.” She ignored her assistant’s chuckle as sheshoed her out the door.

“Lets see what I can come up with.” Casey unconsciously mumbled,starting a search. She needed general background information; gangs werenot something she had a lot of experience with.

“Hey Boss, what’s up?” Phil started talking as soon as he entered theroom. “Did you hear the news? John actually asked someone to marry him?And she actually said yes. I can’t believe any female would be stupid enoughto marry him! What?”

“Phil!” Casey mock growled, rolling her eyes. Sometimes Phil could talkmore than Beth. But he set himself up so nicely, she couldn’t resist. “Well,that’s great! I bet you are ecstatic!” Blue eyes twinkled innocently, alertingPhil who was staring at her in wary confusion. “That mean’s there’s hope foryou. Told ya there’s someone out there just waiting for you to come along.”

“Ha. Ha. Very funny.” Phil complained right back. “But I guess youwould know about that, huh?” He was the only one of Casey’s employeesthat could get away with a remark like that. He’d been friends with Caseysince before their FBI days. “If I find someone half as nice as Beth, I’ll beelated. She really is special.”

From anyone else, that comment would of upset Casey, made her jealous.But from Phil, it only made her smile. “Yes Beth is really special.” Shepaused, then continued. “And you’re right. I thank whomever’s listeningevery day that she chooses to spend her life with me. She’s out there Phil,just keep looking.”

“So what’s up?” Phil changed the subject, knowing Casey didn’t call himin to talk about his love life. “What’s that?” He got up, moving to hercomputer, the FBI search program easily recognizable.

“What I wanted to talk to you about.” Casey chuckled as he paused thesearch and entered a few new commands. “What did you just do?” Althoughproficient with computers, she was not an expert. “Did I forget something?”

“No, I just made it more efficient.” Phil grinned self-mockingly; he’dhelped modify the currently used program. “Gangs, huh? New case Ipresume?” He glanced curiously at Casey, he’d heard nothing about a newcase. And this was way out of their normal realm.

“Kind of.” Casey took a deep breath, trying to project a calm presence.Just saying the words bothered her more than she cared to admit. “TheDelgado’s are being hit for protection money and of course Beth gotinvolved.” Blue eyes noted Phil’s flinch. He treated her lover like a youngersister. “She was followed when she left their restaurant yesterday. Here’sthe…Phil?” Casey broke off concerned by her friend’s paleness.

“She was followed? That’s why she called yesterday, wasn’t it?” Philjumped up and started pacing, growing madder with each step. “Why didn’tshe just say that? Doesn’t she realize that its dangerous to play that game?Why I could…”

“PHIL!” Casey moved to intercept Phil, preventing him from leaving theroom. “She’s ok. Beth did exactly like I taught her.” She waited until hisbrown eyes focused on her. “Believe me, I know how you feel.” Caseyguided him back to the chair in front of her desk. “Now I need for you totrace the car and its owner, then on getting as much data together about thelocal gangs into running extortion rackets.”

“Right.” Phil took the paper from Casey’s hand, reading it quickly. “I getstarted on it. I’ll know what type of technical sweeps I want to do on therestaurant when I’ve done a little research.”

“Sounds good Phil.” Casey glanced at Phil’s rigid back and sighed softly.He was taking this almost as hard as she was. “Phil?” He turned back aroundquestioningly. “You know I’ll do anything to keep her safe.”

“I know Casey. Just keep yourself safe. You are what she needs.” Phildebated with himself, deciding not to add that he needed his adopted familytoo. He didn’t want to turn into an emotional nag. “Don’t forget the salsa.”Phil added as he left, not seeing Casey’s exasperated look. He did choose toignore her growl, though.

Casey fingered the note on her desk before putting it aside. “Better finishthe surveillance report.” The specialist knew there was nothing she could dowithout more information.

The ringing of her phone jerked her back to the present. Blinking wearily,Casey noted the time (11:30am) when she answered. Thanking Susan, shewaited until Eric Masters came on line. Quickly, concisely she explained theproblem and then asked if she’d be putting anyone undercover in jeopardy.Then she listened and took notes as he filled her in on the three likely suspectgangs. Starting to thank him, she was interrupted by him thanking her,profusely. Rolling her eyes, Casey shook her head, hanging up gratefullywhen he was interrupted. Frowning, Casey completed her notes then went tosee Phil.


“So you’re sure there’s nothing else you can tell me?” Casey was sittingwith Eduardo in the back of the restaurant. Her staff had taken her up on heroffer of lunch, but they had sent someone over earlier because they didn’twant to wait.

“No Casey, that is all I know.” Eduardo rolled his eyes as his wifebrought another plate over to the table. Waiting until she retreated to kitchen,he continued. “I think she has us confused with Beth! Oh, don’t worry aboutthe salsa for Beth; Alberta is taking some over this afternoon.”

“What? Why does everyone assume I won’t remember it!” Caseycomplained good naturedly, before turning serious. “In a couple of days, Ishould have a better angle on Roberto. Don’t hesitate to call if you noticeanything out of the ordinary. Phil will be by tomorrow to do an electronicsweep in the morning. He’ll also install a couple of video cameras and showyou how to activate them. Preliminary indications are that electronicsurveillance is beyond Roberto’s level of skill and means, but I don’t want totake any chances.”

“I’d better not tell Tomas that Phil is coming by. The boy will want tomiss school to see him.” Eduardo stood up when Alberta approached,looking at him pointedly. “I think that’s my cue to get back to the kitchen.So you’ll be back when you have some information?”

“As soon as I know anything concrete.” Casey rose as well, smiling as heleft the room. “Something I can do for you Alberta? Thanks for the lunch. Itwas great.” Given what Casey and Beth were doing for them, the Delgado’shad refused to let Casey pay for her own lunch.

“Eduardo is a proud man. I am glad his son shows more sense that hisfather. I can’t thank you enough for helping us.” Alberta looked over hershoulder then back to Casey. “Tomorrow morning I take the GED. Would itbe possible for Phil to come in the afternoon?”

“Sure. That’s not a problem.” Casey smiled at her friend. “Why didn’tEduardo just tell me that? Oh wait, doesn’t he know?”

“No. He will think its foolish for someone my age to take the test. Theonly reason he agreed to the classes was that Beth convinced him it wouldhelp the business and our children in the long run. Wait Casey.” She held upa hand, stopping Casey from following after her husband. “I can just imaginewhat is going through your head. He’s so old school, yet he’s a good man.Give me time, I’m working on him.”

“Well, he’s your husband. We’ll do it your way. I’ll call this afternoonand tell him that Phil can’t come until after lunch.” Casey surprised herself byhugging Alberta. “Good luck tomorrow!” She waved at them as she left,promising herself that she would get to the bottom of things quickly. Drivingacross town, Casey frowned, realizing how much she had to accomplishbefore bed tonight.


“So what do you think?” Beth showed Mrs A the rings, lookingexpectantly at her. Beth thought they were perfect. Simple, yet elegant.Understated yet powerful.

“They are exquisite.” The older woman smiled happily at Beth. “Whenare you going to ask her? And how?” Mrs A leaned forward, clearly wantingthe whole story.

“Well I had planned a romantic weekend at the lake. But then thisproblem came up with the Delgado’s.” Beth sighed, still disappointed that shehad to cancel her plans. “You know as well as I do that Casey won’t goanywhere until the problem is solved.”
“I know dear.” Mrs A patted her hand soothingly. “She’s so determinedand focused when she sinks her teeth into something.” She offered, chucklingat the mental image of Casey with her teeth sunk into something. “You couldjust wait.”

“Mrs A!” Beth blushed, imagining Casey sinking her teeth into her. “Forshame!” The author got up, turning around fanning her face as shesupposedly checked the oven. When she had her blush under control, sheturned around and returned to the table by way of the ice cream and cookies.”I don’t want to wait.” She continued their conversation, ignoring Mrs A’sknowing smirk.

“So what are you going to do then?” Mrs A picked up her spoon, shakingher head. “Good lord child, you certainly can eat!”

“I think its from nervous energy.” Beth mumbled around a mouthful. “Iguess I’ll just see what happens; I’ll know when the time is right.”

“You have good instincts dear. You’ll know when.” Mrs A finished hermuch smaller portion, watching her young friend. “You know you both meanthe world to me. It warmed my old heart when Casey met you. She was solost and alone until you came along. You’ve changed her whole life.”

“She’s changed mine.” Beth replied seriously, green eyes blazing withemotion. “If I’ve saved her, its because she already saved me first.”

“Enough mushy talk!” The old woman chuckled, patting Beth’s arm.”Now fill me in on what’s happening with your latest book.”

“Not to much actually. I need to finish editing Warrior 2 and get it backto my editor.” Beth picked up both now empty bowls and carried them to thesink. She sniffed appreciatively. “That smells great.”

“I thought you’d like the recipe. I haven’t made homemade noodles inages. My word,” Mrs A surveyed the messy kitchen. “We certainly made amess. Lets get it cleaned up.” The old woman rose, looking sternly at heryoung friend. “And you will behave this time.”

“Who me?” Beth grinned innocently, knowing better than to suggest herfriend rest. Mrs A did not take kindly to people treating her like an oldwoman. “I swear, I slipped with the flour.”

“Stir the noodles, Missy.” Mrs A started the water, keeping one eye onBeth. “What will you write next?” Mrs A kept up a steady line of questionsas they cleaned the kitchen.
“Shoot! It can’t be time for Casey to be home yet.” Beth learned a longtime ago not to swear in front of Mrs A. Her ear still hurt whenever shethought about the tugging she received. Grabbing the jewelry box from thetable, Beth quickly placed it in her purse. “Are you sure you don’t want morechicken and noodles than that?” Beth frowned at the small container herfriend held. Grabbing a larger container, she filled it up, ignoring her friend’sprotests.

“Hey what smells so good?” Casey bound into the kitchen a huge grin onher face. “Hi Mrs A. How are you?”

“Chicken and noodles.” Mrs A answered, thinking it was sweet the wayCasey’s eyes kept drifting to Beth. “C’mon dear. Walk an old lady to thedoor, would you.”

“Oh no! You won’t get me to agree to that.” Casey held up her hands,shooting a fearful look at the kitchen’s occupants. “But I will walk you home,Mrs A.”

“Don’t forget Beth. Tomorrow at noon.” Mrs A smiled as Beth followedthem to the door, telling herself not to look down at their entwined hands.

“I won’t. The malls won’t know what hit them.” Beth promised, sayinggoodbye and watching her lover walk slowly beside their neighbor. A softsmile lit he face as she watched Casey race back to her. “Hey!” Bethlaughed, flinging her arms around Casey as she was picked up.

“God I missed you today.” Casey paused long enough to kick the doorshut and lock it. Lowing her head, the specialist kissed Beth deeply. “Whatwas that about tomorrow?” Casey asked, leading Beth back to the kitchen.

“We’re going shopping. Want to come with us?” Beth teased, knowinghow much Casey hated shopping.

“Tomorrow at noon. I’m busy. Sorry.” Casey grinned, knowing she’d bebusy even if she wasn’t. And she knew Beth knew this too. “So what’s withthe chicken and noodles? I haven’t had homemade ones since I was a kid.”

“Just experimenting. Hungry?” Beth laughed at the look on Casey’s face.”It will be about a half hour until they are ready. Why don’t you go dowhatever it is you brought home in that briefcase.”

“Sure you don’t want me to help?” Casey tugged Beth around, needingto see her face.

“I want you to finish your work. I have plans for you later.” Beth shotCasey a look that left no doubt as to what her plans were.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do tonight Sweetheart.” Casey apologized,keeping a careful eye on Beth. “I don’t know what time I’ll be finished.”

“I’ll give a yell when dinner’s ready.” Beth kissed Casey’s hand, then lether go. When Casey didn’t answer her yell a little later, Beth filled a plate forher and took it to her. Setting in on the desk beside Casey, Beth kissed thetop of her head smiling when Casey jumped.

“I didn’t hear you love. Sorry.” Casey then noticed what Beth broughther. “Hey, you didn’t have to do that.” Casey looked at Beth guiltily.

“None of that now.” Beth smiled softly at her lover. “No, stay here andeat. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” The author fibbed, knowing Casey wouldbecome involved in her work the moment she left the room.

“Thanks Beth.” Casey wanted to say more, but Beth’s lips stopped her.

“You are most welcome. Eat before it gets cold.” Beth waited untilCasey started to eat before she left.

After eating and cleaning up the kitchen, Beth rejoined her lover in theiroffice. Seeing Casey was still engrossed in her work, the author exhaledslowly, not wanting to disturb her lover. “Guess this means I’m workingtoo.” Beth told herself before sitting down to her editing.

Several hours later, Beth looked up, frowning when she saw how late itwas. Turning in her chair, she saw that Casey was almost asleep. “Casey? Ithink that’s enough for tonight. You are exhausted.”

“You’re right.” Casey stretched as she stood. “C’mon lets go to bed.”Extending her hand, she smiled tiredly when Beth took it. Following her loverdownstairs, she realized with a frown that she was too tired for anything otherthan sleep.

“Into bed with you.” Beth gently pushed Casey to their bed, mentallyworrying about how tired her lover was. “You aren’t getting sick are you?”

“No, I’m just tired.. Spent a lot of time in front of the computer today.”Casey crawled into bed, holding the covers for Beth to climb in after her. “Ifinished that training manual for Johnson. Can you check it tomorrow beforeI have the test copy printed?”

“Sure. Want me to do it here or at your office?” Beth snuggled up toCasey, using her shoulder for a pillow. When Casey had started the manual,she’d asked Beth to help, to be her editor.

“The office.” Casey yawned sleepily, already half asleep. “I love youBeth.”

“I love you too 99. Now go to sleep. Pleasant dreams, love.” Bethsighed contentedly, the warmth of her lover’s body, the evenness of herbreathing lulling her into sleep as well.


The ringing of her cell phone elicited a huge, disappointed sigh from thefussing author. Stomping over to the now offending piece of equipment, Bethbarked a greeting.

“Did I catch you at a bad time Sweetheart?”

“Oh no. I’m just in the kitchen.” Beth replied sweetly, biting her tongue.”What’s up?” She began clearing the table, putting clean dishes away, alreadyknowing why Casey was calling. “I’m sorry Beth, but I’ll be late again. I’llgrab something here.” Her mind sarcastically added.

“Sorry Sweetheart, but I’ll be late again tonight.” Casey said, not noticingthe loud amount of noise in the background.

“Ok.” Beth’s soft reply was in direct contrast to her rapidly growinganger. Slamming the slowly warming casserole into the sink, the authordidn’t even flinch as it shattered, unlike her growing despair. “So I’ll see youlater then.”

“Yeah, I don’t know how late I’ll be.” Casey was oblivious to the changein Beth’s speech and tone of voice. “Just a second.”

Beth exhaled slowly, trying to focus while Casey talked to whomever hadwalked in. When Casey came back on, Beth stopped her before she could sayanything, not trusting herself to not say something hurtful. “I can hear you’rebusy. I’ll see you when you get home.”

“I’ll be late.” Casey warned, then told Beth she loved her and hung up.

“Damn, damn DAMN!” Beth slammed around the kitchen, theuncomfortably familiar actions fueling her anger. The author knew her hurtfeelings were irrational and not fair, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself. “Ican’t take this any more.” The author mumbled, drying her hands. A quicksurvey of the room reveled no trace of her romantic intentions. For the fourthevening in a row, Beth’s plans of a special dinner and asking her lover tomarry her were interrupted before they began.

No trace of her intentions remained, except the ring box on the table.That stopped Beth. “I do love you Casey.” She whispered, opening the box,running a finger over the smooth surface. “I guess I’ll just have to figuresomething else out. I can’t wait to give this to you any longer. I don’t knowwhich one of us needs it more. Stop thinking Beth. Go watch tv orsomething.” Closing the box lovingly, she slid it into her purse.

About an hour and a half later, Beth gave up trying to watch tv. “I can’tsit here any longer, worrying and waiting.”

“You aren’t gonna like this love, but I gotta do something. I’m goingcrazy just sitting around and waiting for you to come home.” Beth mutteredto herself, heading downstairs. A few minutes later she ran back up, dressedin her running clothes. “Guess I should leave a note. Don’t want Casey toworry about me if she does get home before me.” She had debated withherself while she changed, deciding a note was a good idea. Sternly shereminded herself that Casey’s worry was not the attention she wanted fromher lover.

Taping the note to the inner garage door, Beth grabbed her fanny packand cell phone. Double checking to make sure she had her keys, Beth pickedup her pressure expanding staff, staring at the small compact piece of metal.”Sometimes your gifts are so you its funny, love.” Chuckling Bethremembered Casey’s face as she presented the wrapped box. It looked somuch like a necklace box that Beth was floored when she opened it, revealingnot the expected piece of jewelry, but a black two inch piece of metal. “Youwere so excited when you showed me how it worked, you never even caughtmy hastily hidden surprise.” The author sighed guiltily, running a hand overthe cool, smooth surface. “I am eternally grateful you missed it.” Green eyesdeepened, studying the staff as a slight twist expanded it to three times itsnormal length. “I know you shopped longer for this than any piece of jewelry.You chose this for me,” Beth emphasized the word, feeling the emotionsbehind the gift. “Because you worry about me…because you love me. That isall that matters to me. I wish you were here right now. I really miss you.”Decompressing the staff Beth rose and slammed the door, stopping herdepressing train of thought.

“Its your fault you know.” Beth addressed Casey silently as she startedrunning. “I never did like running until I met you. But you got me started.You are right; this is a great way to clear your mind.” Beth fell silent as sheconcentrated on evening out her pace. Soon, the nighttime sounds faded tothe background and Beth ran, mind peacefully quiet.

“Beth is going to kill me! Its even later than I thought.” Casey moanedtiredly, waiting for the garage door to open. The dark house a heated slap inthe face; tonight Beth hadn’t even waited up for her. “I must have reallymade her mad.” The noises from their earlier phone conversation filteredthrough her mind. “Damn! What did I mess up now love?” She didn’t seethe note until she was almost to the door. Heart pounding painfully in fear,she scanned it quickly twice.

“Running at this hour?” Casey scowled, lost in thought. The sound ofsomeone running up the drive jerked her back to the present. Away from therelief that coursed through her body that Beth was safe. Away from theinstant fear that she’d pushed Beth away…finally. Spinning around, blue eyesdarkened, flying over her author’s soaked form. “Are you alright?” Sheasked, frowning when Beth waved her away.

“Yeah.” Beth panted, taking the offered towel, ignoring the pointed lookshe was receiving. “Just get home?”

“Yes.” Casey lost the debate with herself. “Why were you out running?What happened to upset you? What did I do now?” Added guiltily, hearingthe slamming dishes in her mind. “And sit down before you fall down. Whydo you do this to yourself?” Casey couldn’t help herself, falling into hernormal gruff pattern of overacting.

“I’ll be fine.” Beth leaned wearily against the kitchen counter, her lover’sgruff tone not phasing her at all, silently taking the bottle of water thrust intoher hands. Luckily her mind had thought of appropriate answers on her lastcircle around the neighborhood.

“I was just missing you and practicing wouldn’t work because I’d justmiss my sparring partner.” Beth smiled softly, knowing each word was true.As their relationship deepened, the author found herself unable to looseherself in her staff if the problems were of a personal nature. “So I decided anice hard run, where I had to concentrate on my pace and my surroundingswould do the trick.” It wasn’t the best response, but Beth knew now wasn’tthe time or place. Plus it was partially her fault that Casey was so busy.

“I miss you too.” Casey ignored Beth’s protests, pulling her sweatyauthor to her tightly. “More than you know.”
Casey tried to hide her yawn, but failed miserably. “Its time for you to goto bed.” Beth stepped back, looking sternly at Casey. “You’ve hardly hadany sleep in four days. Get your butt into bed, Ms Bennett.”

“Not without you.” Casey’s heart was hurting; her author’s wordsechoing in her soul. Once again feeling like she’d let her lover down. “Ican’t. I need you with me.”

“As soon as I shower, I’ll be there.” Beth gently pushed Casey to thestairs, following on her heels. “I’ll hurry.” Beth added, seeing the quietexhaustion, open longing and stark need in her lover’s face. A light shovesent the specialist towards their bed, while she went into the bathroom.

Ten minutes later, Beth emerged silently. “You look totally wiped mylove.” She whispered, sitting on the edge of the bed. Green eyes swept overher lover’s body, before concentrating on her face and the tiny lines of fatigue.”You need more rest. You are already past the point of exhaustion. Startingtomorrow you WILL take better care of yourself. Or else you’ll have me todeal with.” Leaning over, she kissed Casey’s forehead, whispering “I loveyou.”

“Hey.” Blue eyes drifted half open, struggling to focus. “Whatcya doin’over there?” The words were sleepily slurred together.

“What are you doing awake?” Beth countered, turning off the light andcrawling over Casey. “C’mere you.” Beth opened her arms, sighing softlywhen Casey snuggled against her, resting her head on her shoulder. “Now goback to sleep.”

“Don’t wanna.” Casey complained, struggling to wake up. Mentally shetried to chastise her body for being weak, for betraying her, but it didn’trespond. “Wanna talk to you.”

“Shh. We can talk tomorrow.” The author smiled, stroking the jet blackhair soothingly. “I love you Casey. Good night.” Said very firmly, notwanting any arguments.

“Love you too.” The tired specialist’s brain gave in as she gave up thebattle and drifted back to sleep.

“Just what am I going to do with you?” Beth closed her eyes, still stokingCasey’s hair. “Tomorrow we are having a long talk my friend. And you tellme I don’t take care of myself. But tonight you sleep.” Telling her brain toshut up, the author joined her lover in sleep.

“Beth?” Casey lightly ran her fingers up and down Beth’s arm. “Are youawake?” She spoke moderately loud, wanting to wake Beth up. “C’monSweetheart, wake up. I need to hear your voice.” Changing tactics, she slid ahand up under her lover’s night shirt, lightly tickling the sensitive skin overBeth’s ribs. As soon as Beth started to move, Casey withdrew her hand.”Good morning!” The specialist looked innocently at her lover, faking a yawnas she propped herself up on her elbow.

“Morning.” Beth blinked suspiciously at Casey, who’s innocent look wasa dead give away that she’d done something, not quite sure what was goingon. Then grinned as she realized she didn’t care who or what woke her up.Not when those incredible blue eyes were joined with her own. “You’re in agood mood.” The author commented, bringing a hand up to touch her lover’ssmiling face.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Casey placed her hand over Beth’s, holding it toher face. “I woke up with you.” Leaning down, Casey nipped Beth’s lipsplayfully. “I love you.” More serious this time, their lips met again.

“You look exhausted love.” Green eyes studied her lover’s face, making adecision. Pressing against Casey’s shoulder, she tried to push her backagainst the bed. “You need more sleep.”

“No.” Casey growled, resisting Beth’s urging. “What I need,” warm lipstasted the nearest available skin. “What I want,” lips journeyed up, teasing aquivering earlobe. “Is You. I love you.” The specialist pulled back slightly,blue burning into green.

“I love you too.” Beth sank her hands in Casey’s hair and brought theirlips together with crushing force. Casey could rest later, the author decided.Groaning when her lover’s body moved sensuously against her own, Bethresponded more passionately, wrapping her legs around Casey’s.

“Ignore it.” Beth advised huskily when they both became aware of theringing of the phone.

“What if its…” Casey forgot what she was saying when Beth ran a handover her breast. “God,” she groaned, pressing against Beth’s hand. “Feelsgood.” The phone continued to ring.

“Damn it!” Casey complained, pulling away from her rapidly breathinglover. “What?” Barked into the phone with much force. “Are you sure?Now?” Added after she listened for a moment. Sitting up, the specialiststarted concentrating on what was being said, not Beth’s breathing.

“Damn it is right!” Beth growled under her breath when she saw Caseygo into her “professional” mode. “So much for it being a good morning.”Telling her throbbing, aching body to behave, she got out of bed and wentinto the other room. She missed the blue eyes that followed her longingly asshe left.

After throwing on her workout clothes, Beth stuck her head in theirbedroom, not surprised to see Casey still on the phone. “Need to beatsomething!” She thought heatedly, heading for her staff and the padded polesin the gym. Pausing only to briefly stretch, the author threw herselfimmediately into high power, hard hitting moves.

“Its ok Phil. I’ll be in shortly.” Casey hung up, thinking it wasn’t ok.Not by a long shot. The look of disappointment on Beth’s face cut straight tothe specialist’s heart. The muffled sounds of staff hitting pads intensified thespecialist’s guilt. “I’m doing it again. Hurting Beth.” Casey thought selfdisgustedly, getting ready for work. Quietly, with a pained frown on her face,she thought about all the times she had to leave, had to interrupt or canceltheir plans. And of the surprises she missed or messed up with her crazyschedule. “All I want is to be with Beth, but I keep messing that up. Wecan’t seem to get a break.” Tying her shoes, Casey went to apologize onceagain to Beth. “Seems like I’m always doing that too.”

Watching, Casey leaned against the door frame, eyes flickering lovinglyover her lover’s form. “God she’s beautiful.” Pushing off, Casey picked upher staff, meeting Beth’s powerful thrust with a blocking one of her own. Itwas the fastest, safest way to interrupt. “Take a break for a minute?”

“Gotta go, huh?” Beth planted her staff, leaning against it, breathing hard.”Everything ok?” Having worked out part of her frustration on the paddedpoles, Beth was in a much better frame of mind.

“Can I,” Casey held a hand out, not sure if her touch would be welcome.”Guess so.” She sighed happily, wrapping both arms around Beth, huggingher fiercely.

“Stupid question.” Beth mumbled against Casey’s shoulder. The tensionin her lover’s body worried her. “You didn’t really think I’d object, did you?”Green eyes looked up, concerned. “Today. No excuses.” Beth promisedherself.

“Not really.” Casey smiled softly, telling her body to calm down. “Thatwas Phil. Two current cases are coming to a close, a third one is heating upand he’s making some real progress on Roberto and company. After today,I’ll be able to concentrate on Roberto.” A gentle hand lifted Beth’s chin,making eye contact. “First though, I need to tell you something. I’m sorryfor the way I’ve been acting lately.” Blue darkened with emotion, searchingBeth’s face intently. “I know I’ve been obsessing even more than normal.No, don’t say anything. You know its true.” A finger on Beth’s lips haltedher protests.

“When you told me about being followed by Roberto’s guy, I lost it alittle. My priority became clearing my schedule so I could deal with him.”Casey stared seriously at Beth. “Because I don’t know what I’d do ifanything happened to you. So what did I do?” She frowned, angry withherself. “I ignore you. Push you way. All so I could protect you. Doesn’tmake sense, does it?” It was clear how Casey felt about herself and heractions.

“Hey. Take it easy there, love. You’re picking on my favorite person.”Beth finally managed to get a word in. “You’re much harder on yourself thanI could ever be. I. Love. You.” The words were spoken slowly,deliberately.

“I know. Sometimes I don’t know why, but I do know.” Casey answeredhonestly, unable to look away. She groaned when the phone rang again. “Ibetter get that.” Reaching down, Casey laced her fingers with Beth, leadingher back to the phone. Sitting down, she pulled Beth into her lap, exhalingsoftly when Beth pressed against her. “I need this…need you,” she whisperedmentally, reaching for the phone.

“You need to get going.” Beth forced a light, happy smile on her facewhen Casey hung up the phone. “You know she has to go. Make it a littleeasier.” She sternly told herself, trying to ignore her disappointed heart.

“Yes. In just a moment.” Casey wrapped her other arm around Beth,burying her face in strawberry blond hair. “I miss you. Miss this.” Meaningmore than the physical contact.

“Run away with me for a little while when this is all over?” Beth strokedCasey’s hair, loving it. “You don’t know it, but it can be our unofficialhoneymoon!” The author smiled, thinking quietly.

“I’ll hurry.” Was Casey’s mumbled answer. Inhaling deeply, the specialiststeeled herself, then met Beth’s eyes. “I love you.”

“Me too.” Green twinkled brightly. “If you don’t get going, we’re nevergoing to get out of here.”

“Come by and see me later.” Casey lifted Beth up and stood beside her.”Maybe bring me dinner?” Asked hopefully, wanting and needing the contactwith her lover.

“It’s a date.” Beth grinned; this fit her plans perfectly. “See you around7:00 unless I hear from you.” The author followed Casey upstairs, brainalready hard at work on her plans. This was going to work!

“See you later then.” Casey made it all the way to her car before she spunand walked purposefully back to Beth. Without a word, the specialist pulledBeth into her arms and kissed the daylights out of her. Leaving her slightlydazed lover, Casey jumped in her car, a wide happy grin on her face.


“Sure Susan. I’ll be there in a little while.” Beth hung up, suddenly alittle nervous. “Get a grip Beth!” The author told herself firmly as she raceddownstairs to change into jeans and a sweatshirt. “Its not like you haven’tbeen thinking about this for months now!” A quick check in her purse reveledthe jewelry box.

“Now what am I gonna say?” Beth fretted, pulling out of the driveway.”Do I just slip it on her finger without saying anything?” She thought amoment, picturing Casey’s annoyed face if just she walked up and took herhand, sliding the ring on. Then discarded that idea.

“Nah, that doesn’t work. I never thought I’d be the one doing theproposing!” A vivid scene came into focus as she remembered her elaborateplans. Of how she’d planned an evening of soft music, flickering candlelight,a roaring fire, intimate talk, tender touches, passionate kisses. “But that’sreally not Casey.” Beth admitted softly, grinning at the thought that herlover’s favorite part of the evening would be the kissing and touching.Absently running a nervous hand through her hair, she looked at the questionfrom a different angle.

“So what is Casey?” The very question had been haunting Beth for days.Her lover was wild and impetuous, loving to do anything with her author,when it was just the two of them. In public, she was strong and often silent,keeping watch. But, when it came to feelings and emotions, she wasincredibly shy and private. Even fearful of them. “Casey would do anythingfor me, without a moment’s hesitation.” The author grinned, rememberingCasey kissing the daylights out of her at her grandparent’s building dedication.”All because I said I needed her to kiss me.” The blush on Casey’s face whenshe leaned back, touched Beth deeply. “Even when its not ‘her’, she does itfor me.”

“I want this to be special.” A pause. “Something she’ll remember.”Beth puffed perplexed, until she focused on why she was doing this. “Butwhat I want most is for her to be comfortable. To know how much she’swanted, needed, loved.” Falling silent, Beth concentrated on her love forCasey, confident that she’d know the answer when the time was right.

“Hi Susan. How are you this afternoon?” Beth smiled at Casey’sassistant, hiding her laugh at the hastily hidden relieved look on her face.”She’s being a holy terror?” A thumb jerked in the direction of Casey’soffice.

“Hi Beth. I’m glad you’re here.” Susan reached into her desk, pulling outthe bound manual. “Well, lets just say difficult is a better word.”

“What’s difficult?” Casey surprised Susan, appearing from around thecorner without warning. Kissing Beth distractedly, the specialist exchangedfiles on Susan’s desk then walked back into her office. Not once saying aword to Beth.

“I see what you mean.” Beth chuckled, sure Casey would be mostembarrassed when she realized what she’d done. “Kind of funny tho.” Theauthor took the manual, grinning widely. “So I’ll…”

“Beth!” Casey stuck her head around the door, startling both women,mock glaring at her lover. “What are you still doing out there? Get in here,will you?”

“I’ll bring this back out when I’m done.” Beth couldn’t wipe the grin offher face, chuckling quietly as she waved to Susan and followed Casey. Andwas promptly wrapped in strong arms when she cleared the office door.”Hey. Glad to see me, huh?”

“Very.” Casey confirmed, picking her lover up and headed into herprivate office. “Nothing’s wrong, is it? You’re here kind of, oh.” Blue eyesfocused on the manual Beth held.

“So I take it you want me to finish this in here?” Green eyes twinkledseriously. “Are you sure?” Beth fought to keep the grin from her face whenCasey nodded enthusiastically. “Because I don’t want to distract or disturbyou. You know how loud I can, hmmp.” The author’s words were abruptlyterminated by Casey’s lips smothering her own.

“Sit.” Casey husked, pulling herself reluctantly away from her lover. “I’mglad you’re here.” She added from her desk, watching Beth settle down onthe sofa. Picking up the report she retrieved from Susan’s desk, blue eyeslovingly caressed her author’s relaxed form. “Stop staring Casey.” Shemumbled under her breath a couple of minutes later. “Galking like ahormonal teenager!” Reining in her growing desire, blue eyes dropped to thethick report, trying to concentrate.

“I give up!” The specialist groaned silently after her fifth look in as manyminutes and grabbed her papers, moving silently to join her lover. “Hey.”Casey spoke softly, sitting as soon as Beth looked up. “I’m not botheringyou?”

“That’s two stupid questions in one day Casey.” Beth frowned, taking thereport from her lover’s hands. “Lay down.” Green glared at blue until Caseymeekly gave in. The author knew what her lover wanted, but was too shy toask.

“Better?” Casey tried to look put upon, but failed miserably. She lookedentirely too comfortable snuggled in her lover’s lap.

“Yes.” Beth handed Casey her report. “Better get that read 99. Youhave plans for dinner. Remember?”

“I’m not moving.” Casey sighed happily, drinking in the pleasurablesensations pouring over her. “You too.” Added a moment later when she feltgreen eyes studying her. “And Beth? Thanks.”

“Yes Boss.” Beth snapped back teasingly, picking up her own reading.She wanted desperately to comment, to tell Casey that all she had to do wasask, but she restrained herself. Casey was slowly getting there on her own;commenting on it would only embarrass her or make her feel like she wasletting Beth down.

“Fall asleep on me, will you?” Beth glanced at her watch, surprised it wasalmost 6:00pm. “You’ve been holding out on me love.” Curious eyesflickered to the recently re-edited finished manual. “I never knew you couldbe so wordy!” It was safe to tease Casey now; she was asleep. The specialisthad very reluctantly asked Beth to proof her training manual, wanting aprofessional opinion, but not sure how honest her author would be. “Youshould of seen your face the first time I sent you back your work.” Bethshook silently, Casey’s amazed, somewhat chagrined look was permanentlyengraved in her mind. “You thought I’d take it easy on you. You were suresurprised! I…”

“Finished yet Beth?” Susan spoke quietly, eyebrow arched at her sleepingboss. “Mr Johnson wanted it returned as quickly as possible so it could beprinted and distributed to the next class of incoming agents.” Deciding nocomment on Casey’s sleeping position was most definitely the safest choice;her ears still burned from the verbal lashing she received the last time hermouth operated faster than her brain. Everyone in the office knew Beth wasCasey’s defender; her command of the English language had left manyringing, embarrassed ears.

“Yes its fine. They made all the changes we wanted. If we keep it anylonger, 99 here will keep adding things.” Beth handed it back, careful to notdisturb her sleeping partner. “Taking off for the night?”

“I’ll get this in the mail first. Have a nice evening.” Susan escaped,pulling the door most of the way shut behind her.

“I’m glad I could take a little of the pressure off you. You’re stillexhausted love.” Beth’s eyes returned to their visual quest, somewhat shakenby her lover’s condition. “You never are this tired. You didn’t even wakeup! Just what in Hades did you do to yourself?” Gently she brushed the hairaway from Casey’s face, losing her train of thought as her fingers strokedsoothingly.

“Do you have any idea how much I love you? How much you mean tome? I don’t think so.” A calm peace descended, wrapping Beth in itscomforting embrace. “Its time you do.” Picking up the jewelry box from herpurse, the author opened it slowly. Removing the larger ring, Beth reachedfor Casey’s left hand. Ever so gently, she eased the band on her ring finger,tears slowly running down her face. “You are everything to me. I love youCasey Michelle Bennett. Now and forever.”

“What’s wrong? You’re crying!” Casey sleepily forced her eyes open.Bringing her hand up to touch her lover’s tears, a flash of gold caught her eye.”What the?” Thought quickly as she focused on her hand. “Oh my God!” Asthe significance of the ring sank in, Casey bolted upright, turning to face Bethin one fluid motion.

“I…what…is this…does it mean…are you sure?” Casey finally managed toget the words out, eyes torn between her lover’s and the ring gracing herfinger. “Don’t tell me if you’re not.” Casey threw herself at Beth, wrappingboth arms around her and hugged her tight.

“That’s three, silly.” Beth buried her face against Casey’s neck. “Ofcourse I’m sure.” Sitting up a few minutes later, Beth smiled softly, lovingthe stunned, incredibly happy look on Casey’s face. “I love you CaseyMichelle Bennett. You are my life. Now and forever.”

“Where’s your’s?” Casey held out a shaking hand for the second ring,eyes never leaving Beth’s. By instinct alone, she took her lover’s hand andslid the band on. “I love you, Elizabeth Alexandra Jamieson.” Thespecialist’s heart beat erratically. “Without you I have no life, no hope, noemotions, no love.” Voice quivering, Casey finished quietly. “You are mylife.” Ever so slowly, she brought their linked hands to her lips, tenderlykissing Beth’s finger. And watched, almost thinking it was a dream, as Bethrepeated her actions. Blue journeyed to green and the outside world fadedaway.

“Hey Casey!” Phil ‘s excited voice reached them, bringing the world backinto focus once again. “Its time! Whoops!!” He interrupted himself as hesaw the intimate position of his friends. “I’ll just…”

“Its ok Phil.” Beth answered, surprised they had this much time alone.Her lover had been incredibly busy the last few days. “I guess you needCasey.”

“Sure isn’t a dream.” Casey thought darkly, scowling at Phil. “What is it?Can’t whatever it is wait?” Barked grumpily over her shoulder, wanting,needing more time with Beth.

“Sorry, I don’t think it should.” Phil leaned on Casey’s desk, eyesnarrowing as he thought he detected a hint of gold on his friend’s finger.”Oh,” he pulled himself back to business at Casey’s warning growl. “Robertoand two of his men just walked in to Eduardo’s. According to what we’velearned,” Phil reminded Casey. “They’ll take anywhere from an hour to anhour and a half to eat their meal. So…”

“So we have to get going.” Casey finished glumly, refusing to look atBeth. “I’ll be just a second.” Getting up to get her coat, she was stopped byBeth’s arms around her middle. “I don’t want to go.” Casey admitted softly.
“I want to stay with you.”

“I don’t want you to either, but you have to go.” Beth hugged Casey hardthen released her. “I’ll see you at home.”

“Wait!” Casey spun around, pulling Beth back against her. “I love you.”Capturing Beth’s lips with her own, she kissed her deeply. “I’ll be home assoon as I can.”

“I love you too. Now quit stalling.” Beth hugged Casey again thenpushed her towards the door. “Be careful, love.”

“Always Sweetheart.” Casey closed the door behind them. “I have thebest reason to come home…you.” Seeing Phil waiting, the specialist refrainedfrom adding anything else. “Drive safely!” Casey yelled, watching Beth walkto her car. Pulling out behind Beth, Casey turned the other direction andfloored the car, wanting this to be over with as quickly as possible. She hadsomething much more important to do this evening. “I’ll be damned if I keepher waiting too long.” The specialist promised herself, ignoring Phil’sconcerned looks, she put her speed driving training to excellent use.

“I don’t want Roberto to see me just yet.” Casey glanced at Phil, carefulto keep her expression neutral. Her poor friend was white. “Don’t you feelwell Phil?” Casey put the right amount of concern in her voice. “You canstay in the car if you don’t feel well. I’ll do the surveillance.”

“I’ll be fine.” Phil groaned and gritted his teeth as Casey took the nextcorner on two wheels. “Once we get there or you stop driving like apossessed demon.” He turned, scowling at her. ” I swear you do this to meon purpose! You get a perverse pleasure out of watching me turn green.”

“Me?” Casey asked innocently. “Would I do something like that?”Taking pity on Phil, she slowed to a more sedate pace. Slightly. “We’ll do adrive by then enter through the back. We won’t make contact unless it turnsugly.”

“Thanks.” Phil meant for slowing down. “I know you’re right.” Heagreed to the brief plan, bowing to Casey’s greater experience. “New ring?”Phil bit his lip, aware he was taking a chance. He better than any of heremployees knew how private she liked to keep personal matters.

“Yeah. Pretty isn’t it?” Casey rubbed the ring with her thumb, loving thesmooth texture. And was totally unaware of the soft, goofy look on her face.”What?”

“Its very nice.” Phil replied seriously. “Looks good on you.” Meaningfar more than just the ring. The happy, contented glow in Casey’s eyes wasimpossible to not see. Or ignore. “I’m happy for you.”

“Thanks. Me too.” Casey slowed down again, turning to approach therestaurant from the side. Seeing no one waiting in a parked car, the specialistpulled into the alley. “Ready?” Casey waited for his nod before disappearinginto the shadows. Watching until he was safely inside, the specialist slippedthrough the early night, making sure no one else was watching. A thoroughsearch revealed all was quiet. Slipping inside, Casey stood behind Phil for amoment then cleared her throat, grinning widely. She loved this part.

“Damn Casey! You do that to me on purpose!” Phil complained,frowning at her. “Its pretty quiet. They’re just eating peacefully. Not evenharassing the waitresses.”

“Looks like they’re about finished.” Casey fell silent, studying themonitors closely. “Phil was right,” the specialist thought slowly, trying to pickup any clue that might help her. Talking to herself as if she was instructing ayounger partner helped focus the specialist…and it was something she’dalways done. “He is polite and mannered, almost like he’s stating to the worldthat he’s a gentleman. Look at how he’s eating his fried ice cream…slowly,carefully, wiping his mouth after every bite or drink.”

Eyes narrowed, she studied his companions too. “Amateurs. Their suitsdon’t hide their shoulder harnesses.” Skilled blue eyes took in their muscledforms and ill fitting suits. “They look like well developed kids, playing atbeing ‘bad guys’. The way they keep shifting, they’re either not comfortablein this situation OR their hardware is bothering them.”

How hard Roberto was trying to ‘enlighten’ his companions triggered amemory in the specialist, the beginning of a plan. “They’re not as wellmannered as he is. I bet they were chosen because they make him feelsuperior. There he goes again, correcting the way they’re eating. Clearlyplaying the role of older brother or mentor. Its obvious he doesn’t see himselfas anything other than a gentleman. Trying to mold his companions into realmen.”

“Look at the way he signaled for the check, raising his hand to catchEduardo’s attention. Nothing in his manner at all that suggests he’s a punkcriminal who uses force to get what he wants. That’s good. Real good.” Awicked thought crossed her mind, suddenly knowing how to deal withRoberto. “He’ll fall for it without any doubt.” Her laughter startled Phil.

“What’s funny?” Computers and electronics were his specialities. He’donly seen three men eating quietly.

“Oh, I think I know just how we’re going to put the punk out of business.We should be finished with this next week.” Watching Roberto make contactwith the others in the restaurant as he left, she laughed again. “This mighteven be fun!”

“You gonna let me in on the secret? What will be fun?” Phil stared at herperturbed. “You know I hate it when you do that!”

“Tomorrow.” Casey grinned evilly. “Better keep watching just to besafe.” The specialist didn’t want to take a chance with Eduardo’s family if shemisjudged the situation. It wasn’t likely, but it was remotely possible thatRoberto had a ‘big brother’ himself. Someone that was teaching him theropes. “I’ll push Eric Masters to get the extended search for possible gangassociates finished. After all, we’re doing the city a public service by puttingthese kids out of business.”

Eduardo came into the kitchen after escorting Roberto to the door,fuming. “Well? What do you think? I can’t believe they come in here andsteal our money, then have the nerve to order dinner!”

“Calm down Eduardo. Everything will be alright.” Casey debated withherself quickly, deciding for now to keep the plan to herself. She didn’t wantto raise false hopes if she was wrong. “I’ve got a couple of ideas on how dohandle the situation.”

“You seem awfully confident.” Alberta interjected, turning from thestoves. “Beth was right, everything will be ok.”

Casey heard the fear, the uncertainty in her voice. “Yes, you’ll see.” Thespecialist firmly reminded herself that thankfully everyone didn’t have herexperience with the worst members of society. For someone with noexperience in how cruel, how mean people could be, punks like Roberto werescary. For the ex-FBI agent, they were nothing more than undisciplined kids.Ones she was going to teach a valuable lesson.

“I better get back out front. Thanks Casey.” Eduardo nodded his thanks,leaving the room.

“Anytime. You’re welcome.” Casey turned to Alberta, motioning her tothe side. “How did your test go?”

“Well, I think.” Alberta smiled shyly, meeting Casey’s supportive gaze.”Without Beth’s help and support, I never would of attempted it.”

“She’s good at that, isn’t she?” Casey smiled, thinking how much shedepended on her author for support. “I know she’s proud of you. I’m sureyou passed with flying colors!”

“Enough of that!” Alberta caught Casey’s hand, examining the ring. “Isthis what I think it is? Its beautiful.”

“Yeah it is.” Casey couldn’t wipe the smile off her face. “I was totallysurprised.” That was an understatement. “Try floored or thrown into cardiacarrest!” Her mind teased her.

“I’m happy for you both. I…excuse me.” Alberta went and took theorder, eyebrows widening at the familiar, seldom requested combination. “Ididn’t think Beth was out there.” She looked questioningly at Casey; Bethwas the only one not related to them that ever placed this order.

“She better not be!” Casey growled, slipping into her protective loverrole. Stomping to the swinging door, blue eyes searched intently for herauthor. “Nope, no Beth.” She sighed, relieved. The specialist wouldn’t putit past her lover to show up unexpectedly, no doubt with a good excuse.

“Coincidence then.” Alberta shrugged and started to prepare the food,not giving it another thought.

“All set Phil?” Casey nodded when he replied, pleased they were finishedfor the evening. Turning back to Alberta, the specialist grinned happily. “Bethand I will be by tomorrow before dinner to talk about Roberto. Try not toworry any more. We’ll get everything taken care of, you’ll see. Trust me.”

“We do Casey.” Alberta returned her grin. She trusted Beth and Bethtrusted Casey. They’d be fine. “And thanks for the warning. I’ll make extrasalsa.”

“Smart idea. See you tomorrow.” A look had Phil heading for the door.Waving goodbye, Casey opened the door, heading home.


“I can’t believe I did it!” Beth giggled, giddy. “That was the right way todo it, too. The look in her eyes, the absolute love and trust, was incredible!It was the right thing to do. Now she knows, without a doubt how I feel.And how she feels about me! She actually shook when she put on my ring.”Laughing again, Beth drove home in a mild state of arousal. Casey’s instant,heartfelt reaction warmed her soul, not to mention her blood.

“Who’s that?” Beth frowned, not liking how quickly her heart startedracing. “The car seems familiar though.” Pulling into the drive, past theempty car parked in front of their house, Beth locked the doors while shewaited for the garage door to open. Grabbing her pressure expanding staff,Beth warily got out of her 4Runner and closed the garage door, eyes scanningthe drive suspiciously.

“God Beth, get a grip!” The author laughed nervously at herself once thedoor was closed and she stood alone in the garage. Casey was a fanatic aboutkeeping the garage open, there was no place for an intruder to hide if the carsweren’t inside. “Its probably just someone visiting a neighbor. You’regetting as bad as Casey. Not everyone is a potential threat.” Not seeing herphone in the front seat, the author glanced down and laughed again. “Guessyou are rubbing off on me love.” Her phone was clipped on her pocket.”Must have done that when I got out.” Opening the door, Beth headed fortheir office, intending to write down the license plate number of the empty carand check their messages.

Punching the answering machine, Beth wrote down the pertinentinformation while waiting for the lone message to play. Mrs A’s firm voicecaused her eyebrow to raise, then lower thoughtfully as she contemplated herwords. “That’s all Casey needs right now.” Beth sighed in concern. “MaybeI can deal with this before she gets home. She doesn’t need any morepressure.” Beth grabbed her keys and headed back through the garage,picking up the garage door opener on the way out.

Walking very slowly across the street, Beth ran a apprehensive handthrough her hair, brushing it back over her shoulder. “What does she want?And why now?” The author thought frantically, trying to remember anythingher lover had said about her mother. “Casey talks about her two brothers andsister, but never about her parents. The few times we’ve been together, theynever talk about their parents. Casey doesn’t even avoid conversations abouther parents, she just gets that funny “leave me alone” look of her’s and walksaway if I push it.” The author frowned, remembering the first and last timethat happened. She’d tried to push Casey and spent the next eight hoursalone, worrying, wondering if she’d pushed Casey to far, if this time Caseywas gone for good. Feeling her heart speed up as the remembered emotionsthreatened to wash her away, the warm, gentle pressure on her finger pulledher back into the light. “Its ok…we’re ok.” Beth reminded herselfemotionally. “I’ll be damned if I let her hurt you.” Jogging up the stairs, Bethplastered a smile on her face, intending to end this as quickly as possible.

“Hi Mrs A.” Beth hugged the older woman when she opened the door.”How are you today?” No matter what else she said or felt about her parents,they did raise a polite child.

“Just fine dear.” The old woman noticed the ring and leaned close again.”I’ll want all the details later. For now, come in.” She pointed unnecessarilyto the parlor.

“Mark!” Beth crossed the room and hugged Casey’s younger brother.They’d met a few months after Beth moved in. Early one evening, she’dopened the front door to get the paper and this smiling young man hadbounced out of the bushes, startling the author. Who’d promptly ended up onhis behind as Beth swept his legs out from under him, demonstrating hergrowing proficiency with non weapons related martial arts. Her focusing yellhad attracted her lover, who skidded to a stop at the sight. “Guess that willteach you, little brother.” The specialist had teased, wrapping both armsaround Beth, introducing her lover and brother.

“Why didn’t you let us know you were coming? I would of beenhome…and not in the bushes either!” She chastised and teased the young manat the same time; although Casey wouldn’t admit it, she did like Mark best.”How’s your internship going?”

“Nice to see you too Beth.” Mark grinned, mentally crossing his fingers.He’d given up hoping his sister or her lover would forget about theirembarrassing meeting. “I’m loving every minute of it.” Stepping back, heturned and drew a deep breath. Getting past his big sister’s over protectivelover would be difficult. “Beth, I’d like you to meet my mother, DianeBennett. Mom, this is Beth Jamieson.”

“Nice to meet you Beth. May I call you that?” An older version of herlover rose and extended a hand.

“Nice to meet you too Mrs Bennett. And yes, Beth is fine.” Beth shookher hand, noticing the slight tremors than ran just beneath the surface. “So,she’s nervous too.” Beth thought rapidly, watching Mark watch them out ofthe corner of her eye. “Just what game are you playing, little brother? Youknow I won’t let you hurt her.”

“Thanks Mrs A.” Beth couldn’t help but smile at the woman who’dbecome a second grandma to her. Taking a cup of tea and a cookie, theauthor sat back. And waited while Mrs A and Casey’s mom finished theirconversation about flowers. Once Mrs A excused herself, Diane turned toBeth.

“I guess I should explain why I roped Mark into bringing me down here. Iwas cleaning out the basement when I came across Casey’s college stuff. Ithought she might want it.” Diane looked at the young woman sitting acrossfrom her, seeing nothing but politeness in her closed face. “I knew Caseywould refuse to see me if I came alone, but I thought she might if Mark askedher.” Still seeing nothing but polite interest on the young woman’s face,Diane sighed. “I don’t know how much you know about my relationship withmy daughter, but I would like to see her again. Be part of her life again.”

“I’m sorry you came all the way down here for nothing.” Beth made herdecision while watching Mark react to his mother’s words. Something wasn’tright. She definitely did not like how they tried to corner her lover. “Casey’sworking and won’t be home until extremely late tonight. You’re more thanwelcome to leave her stuff with me. I’ll tell her you stopped by and what yousaid. If she wants to get in touch with you she will.” Standing Beth shookher partner’s mother’s hand.
“We’re staying in town tonight.” Diane handed Beth the hotel’s card withtheir room numbers on it. “Please ask Casey to call.”

“I’ll pass the information along, but I can’t promise anything.” Bethwaited until Diane left the room with Mrs A, supposedly to get the recipe forthe cookies. She suspected however, that Diane simply wanted to give Marka chance to press their case. “Alright. What’s going on?” The author staredsuspiciously at her partner’s younger brother.

“Just what it seems, Beth.” Mark sighed, unhappily. “I didn’t figureCasey would see Mom, but I was hoping. Its been such a long time, sinceDavid’s wedding three years ago, since they even were in the same room, letalone talk. Is she really working or just avoiding us?”

“Casey’s working.” Beth shook her head disapprovingly at the youngman. “Casey’s not a coward or a liar. She’d tell you to your face that shedidn’t want to see your mother. And she certainly wouldn’t let Mrs A get inthe middle of this.” The author exhaled slowly, trying to calm down. Gettingmadder wouldn’t help anything. One thing bothered Beth, something shecouldn’t let pass without comment. “You know Mark, this wasn’t very smart.Casey trusts you. Trust me,” green eyes darkened with anger; a battle lineclearly drawn. “You don’t want to hurt her.” Consciously softening herexpression at his sickened look, she continued. “You should of called her,given her the chance to make her mind up without any pressure. If youseriously want them to reconcile, you need to give Casey a little warning. Notto mention waiting until she’s not up to her eyebrows in work. You’re inroom 305, right?” Her eyes told him he better not even think of lying.

“Yes, 305. You’re right, I was just hoping.” Mark broke off as he heardhis mother coming back from the kitchen. “You really do love her, don’tyou? Guess we better unload the car and get out of your hair.”

“Yes Mark, I really do. She is everything to me.” Beth sighed, this wasan impossible situation. “If it was just you, you’d be staying with us. Youknow that.” Beth spoke quietly. “You’re more than welcome any time.”

“I know.” Mark grinned as he saw all the cookies. “Thanks Mrs A!”

“Don’t eat them all tonight, young man.” Mrs A’s eyes twinkled, sheliked Casey’s brother. “Stop by any time you’re in town.” The older womansmiled at her leaving guests.

“Thanks for letting them wait here.” Beth hugged her adopted grandmagratefully. “Don’t worry, I’ll fill you in on all the details later.” Wavinggoodbye, she hurried across the street to join her partner’s family.
“Well, that’s the last of it. My sis, the pack rat!” Mark huffed, setting thelast box in the garage. “You sure you want them left out here?” He was wellaware of his sister’s habits.

“Yeah, I have no idea where she will want them inside.” Beth eyed thepile of boxes and suitcases, sighing mentally, hoping this didn’t upset herpartner too badly.

“We better get going. Its been a long day for Mom.” Mark lookedthrough the back door, seeing his mother sitting under the tree. Waving toher, he told her it was time to go.

“Drive safely.” Beth waved as her partner’s family pulled out of the drive.”So much for the perfect ending, huh?” Glancing down, the author felt awave of emotion rush through her. Casey would not go through this alone.”Don’t you worry, love. You’ll get through this just fine.” Closing the doorbehind her, a thought occurred. “It is the perfect ending. We’re together andthat is all that matters.” She didn’t even make it through the kitchen beforethe garage door started opening. “That was good timing!” Beth sent a silentthank you upward, relieved Casey hadn’t come home five minutes earlier.Changing direction, she returned to the garage, not wanting Casey to find theboxes alone.

“Hey you.” Beth spoke as soon as Casey’s door opened. “That didn’ttake long.”

“Nope. He’s just a punk kid who needs to be taught lesson..” Caseyanswered, eyeing the pile of boxes curiously. “C’mere you.” The specialistpulled her lover against her, burying her nose in her sweet smelling hair. Allthe way home, Casey had thought about Beth and how much she loved her.And how she was going to make it up to her. Casey was sure her lover hadplanned some elaborate, romantic evening and that her frantic schedule thelast few weeks had made those plans impossible. “I love you,” she husked,nipping Beth’s sensitive earlobe. Hands wandering teasingly, Casey delightedin her lover’s instant response.

“I love you too.” Beth replied breathlessly, her own traitorous handswandering. “Stop that!” Said firmly to herself. “She needs to know.”

“What’s wrong?” Casey felt Beth stiffen slightly. She pulled back,needing to see her eyes. “See? I’m alright.” The specialist misinterpreted theemotions in Beth’s eyes thinking her lover was worried about her safety.

“You had a visitor this evening. Actually two of them.” Beth tookCasey’s left hand in her’s lacing their fingers together. “Your Mom and Markbrought that stuff by.” The author watched her partner start to pull back intoherself. “They were waiting at Mrs A’s when I got home. You just missedthem.” “Damn!” Beth cursed silently, frowning in worry when Casey didn’tanswer. “I’m glad I ran interference.”

“Your Mom wanted you to call her. Said she wanted to be part of yourlife again. She and Mark are staying at a hotel here in town tonight. Theywanted to wait, but I told them you’d be late and would call them if youwanted.” She stressed the last words, making it clear to her lover that hermother understood it was all Casey’s choice. Knowing she had to dosomething, Beth brought their linked hands to her mouth, kissing Casey’sring. And had the satisfaction of watching her partner come back to her, bodyrelaxing against her’s, blue eyes focusing on green.

“You did, huh?” Casey concentrated on the woman in her arms, not theswirling emotions churning at the thought of her mother. “Thanks. Iappreciate you running interference for me.”

“You’re welcome. C’mon, lets go inside. You eat yet?” Casey’semotional turmoil was easy to see. A gentle tug had the specialist followingBeth.

“No I didn’t.” Casey sighed, casting a quick look at the pile of junk fromher past, before shutting the door firmly. “I’m sorry.”

Beth turned around and bumped into Casey. “What for?” The author metCasey’s anguished eyes, heart aching with her love’s pain. “I love you.” Thewords came out without thought, the author’s heart reacting to her lover’sneed. Wrapping her arms around Casey, Beth pulled her lover against her,offering comfort, support and love.

“I…I…” Casey gave up her attempt at speaking, taking what was sowillingly offered. “You know,” Casey spoke softly a few minutes later. “Youmade me the happiest woman alive today. All I wanted was to come homeand be with you. Having to deal with my Mother never even entered mymind.”

“Hmm. Sounds fantastic.” Beth answered Casey, ignoring her lastcomment, not wanting there to be any doubts in her lover’s mind. “Wannasnuggle?” Offered as much for her partner as herself.

“I’d love to.” Casey started to pick Beth up, but stopped when she heardBeth’s stomach growling. “But I think I’d better feed the beast.” Teasinglyshe patted the complaining area. “And,” the specialist turned serious. “Weneed to talk about my mother.”
“Only if you want to.” Beth smiled reassuringly. “No pressure from me.Although I will admit that food sounds good.” The author rubbed Casey’sstomach. “Bet you’re hungry too.”

“I could eat. Where do you want to go?” Casey knew better than to sayshe wasn’t hungry. Beth already knew she’d skipped lunch, skipping dinnerwasn’t an option. Not with Beth. In spite of herself, the specialist grinned,remembering the last time she tried to skip both meals. Her ears still burnedwith her protector’s harsh words.

“Good answer, 99.” Beth grinned back, imagining what Casey thinking.Despite her words, Beth knew Casey didn’t really want to eat “The kitchensilly. How about a salad and french bread?”

“Sounds good to me.” Casey gently steered Beth to the kitchen. “Whatcan I do to help?”

“Turn on the oven.” Beth grinned at her lover’s outraged look. “I know.You’re an expert chopper. But the salad’s already made. We just need towarm the bread. How about you find us something to drink?” Casey was nota cook, but she could pick out the right wine for any occasion. Not tomention the fact that the author was well aware of her partner’s inner turmoil.She needed a few minutes alone to regroup.

“Wine I can handle. Be right back.” Casey went to get the wine, thinkingabout her Mother. “Damn!” The specialist thought rapidly, her steps in timewith her thoughts. “Why now?” Rounding the corner, she opened the door,absently searching for something to drink. Closing her eyes as childhoodmemories started surfacing, Casey firmly shut the door to her thoughts andthe wine. Spinning around, Casey fled from her memories, heading for theone person who’d understand, no matter what.

Beth glanced up when Casey entered the room empty handed. “What?Oh.” The author returned her partner’s embrace, having a good idea whatwas troubling her. A loud beeping drew them apart.

“Better get that. Gotta feed me.” Casey teased, stepping back, trying toregain her balance. “You do that on purpose, don’t you?” She sighedaggravated, sure Beth was being a tease. Normally her hips didn’t sway likethat. Nor tempt her so thoroughly when she bent over.

“Do what?” Beth brought the bread to the table, smiling innocently. “Tellme what happened tonight.” The author changed the subject again.

“Ok Sweetheart, but I won’t forget.” Casey frowned when she reachedfor her absent glass. “I’m getting forgetful in my old age.” Sighingdramatically, she picked up two glasses and a pitcher of tea, filling Beth’sglass before she sat back down.

“You’re still cute.” Beth shot back, eyes raking over Casey’s muscularbody possessively.

“Like I said,” the specialist’s eyes twinkled. “Roberto is just a punk. He’splaying at being a ‘tough guy.’ We’ll teach him a lesson he’ll never forget.”

“Really? Just how did you deduce this, 99.” Beth looked curiously atCasey. Roberto didn’t seem like a punk kid to her. “He seemed real enoughto me.”

“You forget who I was, love.” Blue eyes flickered over Beth, trying tosee if she was serious. Casey wouldn’t put it past her lover to ask questionsjust to make her feel better, feel more in control.

“What I saw was a young man putting on a show.” Casey decided Bethwas serious, so she gave her a serious answer. “Every action, every reaction,screamed his intentions. Everything, from the way he held his silverware tocorrecting his companions to leaving the restaurant was learned, controlled.Clearly he was putting on a show, trying to convince the world he was agentleman, protecting his own.” Casey snorted, snagging the last of the breadbefore Beth. Grinning innocently, she broke off a piece and offered it to herpouting author.

“Then you have his supposed companions.” Here Casey couldn’t restrainher chuckle. “They looked more like overgrown kids who were playing atbeing bodyguards. Like they stole their fathers’ clothes and accessories. Youwouldn’t of spotted a professional’s gun.”

“Really? I can tell when you wear your shoulder holster.” Beth smiled,trying to take the sting out of the implied criticism. Green eyes staredadoringly at her partner. “This is fascinating.” The author filed awayCasey’s comments, they might come in useful later.

“God Beth.” Casey swallowed, reaching for Beth’s hand. “When youlook at me like that, I feel…” Lacing her fingers through Beth’s, she triedagain. “I feel so special, so loved.” “Try invincible. There’s nothing youcan’t do.” The specialist’s mind completed the thought.

“Good.” Beth’s eyes sparkled, showing her intense devotion, faith andlove. “When you look at me…”

“So,” Casey talked over Beth, wanting to finish the conversation, knowingshe couldn’t take much more. “Soon,” she promised her throbbing body.

“You can tell when I wear my shoulder holster?” Casey paused, waitingfor Beth to agree. “How can you tell? Do you see a bulge or a strap? Maybesee my 9mm poking through my jacket? Or do you not know until you hugme or make some body contact?”

“Body contact.” Beth repeated, eyes glazing over for a moment, thinkingabout doing a complete weapons search on her lover. “Behave Beth!” Shetold herself sternly, blushing when Casey’s amused, knowing eyes caught herown. “Nope. I know before I ever touch you. You always wear either asweatshirt or thick sweater under a loose fitting jacket so there isn’t a bulge.When its warm and you don’t want people to see it, you wear it either clippedto the inside of your waistband at the back or on your side.” Beth promptlyanswered, not sure what Casey was looking for.

“So how do you know?” Casey questioned gently, enjoying how closelyher lover watched her. The specialist curiously watched Beth, thinkingquietly. “This is definitely not the conversation I planned on having. But I dolove talking with you. Watching your cute devious mind at work.”

“I’m not sure.” Beth closed her eyes, picturing the times she’d seen herlover armed. “I think its how you carry yourself. Somehow you seem tostand taller, appear more solid.” The author pictured her lover striding acrossthe shooting range, having been convinced she needed to learn how to handlea gun since they were a part of their lives. Gaining confidence, Beth openedher eyes, pinning Casey in place.

“You also move differently. More carefully almost. Sometimes I see avery slight hesitation when you extend your arms fully or bend in a differentdirection.”

“So you’re saying that someone who spends a great deal of time watchinghow I move could tell if I was carrying my gun?” Blue eyes narrowed inthought. “Hmmm. Guess that means you spend a lot of time watching me.”
It was all the specialist could do to not laugh, her delight in her lover’sattention quite apparent.

“Casey!” Beth blushed again, suddenly feeling shy and not knowing why.
“Its not like its something new, Beth.” Her mind tried to rationalize herreactions. “You both know how much you love watching her.”

“Hey.” Casey rose and tugged her unresisting author to her. Wrappingher arms around Beth, she kissed the top of her head. “I love it when youwatch me. It gives me a great deal of pleasure knowing you want me…thatyou like what you see.”

“I do.” Beth whispered, lips grazing the smooth skin of Casey’s neck.”Very much so.”

“Good observations love.” Casey slipped her hands under Beth’s shirt,rubbing the skin soothingly. “Now how did you know Roberto and his menwere armed?”

“You could see the holsters under their suits.” Beth thought about that.”And with a professional you wouldn’t of seen that, right? Because theywouldn’t want to advertise the fact they were armed.”

“Right. That’s just another clue that points to this guys being amateurs.”The ringing of the phone interrupted Casey.

“I’ll get it. Do you want to talk to anyone?” Beth asked, walking over tothe phone.

“Anyone but my Mother or a salesman.” Casey answered, absentlyturning her ring on her finger.

“Its Mark. Why don’t you take it in the other room?” Beth offered, notwanting Casey to feel like she was pushing her.

“Thanks I will. Wait for me and I’ll clean up.” Casey kissed Beth lightlybefore leaving the room.

Beth sighed loudly once she hung up the phone. “I suppose she won’tfinish eating.” Scowling, Beth cleared the table and washed the dishes, tryingto stay busy. “Now what?” She asked a short time later. “Maybe I should…”

“Kiss me.” Casey supplied helpfully from the doorway. “Thought I toldyou to wait for me.” Frowning, blue eyes scanned the clean room.

“You want to help, huh?” Beth turned around, raising an eyebrow at herfrowning lover. “Well, I do need you for something.” Lifting herself up onthe cabinet counter, green eyes noted where blue was focused…namely herbreasts which were thrust forward when she pulled herself up on the counter.”C’mere.” A finger beckoned the specialist forward, legs separating toaccommodate her lover.

“You need something?” Casey’s low, seductive voice hit the author hard.”Because I’ll be happy to help.” As she spoke, her hands slowly caressedmuscular jean covered thighs, coming to rest lightly on her waist.

“I take it you’re staying in this evening?” Beth asked, just to be safe,fingers running through black silk. She didn’t want to start something if theycouldn’t finish.

“I was planning on it.” Casey grinned sexily, blue sparkling. “Unless youtell me differently.” Totally confident in her lover’s response.

“Good.” Beth slid her hands behind Casey’s neck, gently urging herforward. Tilting her head to the side, the author returned Casey’s grin,wattage for wattage. “I like this,” Beth husked. Leaning down from the rareposition, Beth tasted the softness of Casey’s lips. “Not enough,” her mindcried, craving deeper contact. Deepening the kiss, Beth slid her tongue gentlyinside, not wanting to rush, wanting to savor each and every sensation. “Sohot,” thought as her tongue danced slowly with Casey’s. “So sweet,” heartswelling with slowly rising passion.

“I love you.” Casey half whispered half groaned when their lips separated.Eyes clouded with love and desire pinned Beth in place. Igniting her blood.

“Love you too.” Beth growled, possessively kissing Casey. Time andtime again lips met, each kiss growing in intensity. Hands no longer contentcaressed heatedly, fueling the escalating fire burning between them. It wasn’tuntil Beth realized they’d have to stop kissing to remove sweatshirts that shepulled back, hands prepared to rip the offending clothing off.

“Wait.” Casey’s breathless voice stopped her. “Downstairs. Now.” Sheanswered the unasked question in Beth’s eyes. Hands on a now coveredwaist lifted the author off of the cabinet. Pulling her unresisting lover afterher, the specialist hurried downstairs. “Watch it!” Laughing, Casey shot alook over her shoulder at her innocently smiling author, almost missing thenext step. “No pinching!”

“Not my fault your butt is so cute.” Beth countered, eyeing the jeancovered flesh in question with hungry eyes. Without thought, her free handreached out again.

“Beth!” Blushing, Casey refused to look at her lover, insteadconcentrating on navigating the stairs. A tug and a step later, Beth foundherself in front of Casey, wrapped in strong arms. “Lets see how well you cannavigate,” Casey’s lips tortured the edge of Beth’s ear. “When I’m in back.”

“I can handle anything you dish out.” The author shot back, turningslightly to increase the pressure of lips against her ear. Sighing softly, sheurged the wandering hands higher, leaning back against her lover.

“Beth.” Casey’s low voice rumbled gently. Unable to help herself, thespecialist pressed herself against Beth’s back, moaning softly as the pressureagainst her breasts sent waves of pleasure coursing through her craving body.

“Hmm?” Contented, Beth arching slightly into caressing touches.

“You’re not moving.” Hands closed lightly over lace covered breasts.Sucking in a deep breath, Casey sternly told herself to be patient, to ignore thehardening nipples under her palms.

“Oh yes I am.” Beth laughed gently, hands pressing against Casey’s.

“Beth!” The specialist groaned, squeezing convulsively, the throbbingbetween her legs growing in strength. “Move now or I’ll take you against thewall.” Casey growled, firmly clamping down on her desire, eyes squeezedtightly shut, trying to not see Beth moving seductively against her…against thewall.

Swallowing a smart reply, Beth found her body moving of its own accord.A few steps later and a shaking hand pushed open their bedroom door.Large impatient hands beat her’s to the bottom of her sweatshirt.

“Just a second love.” Withing seconds, the author had been stripped.”Don’t move.” The specialist’s clothes joined her lover’s rapidly. “You areso beautiful.” Casey spoke softly, eyes shimmering as they lovingly traced herlover’s body. Tentatively a barely shaking hand touched the smooth skin.

“God, you trying to kill me?” Beth groaned, loving every torturous slowcaress.

“In a hurry love?” Casey teased, fingers and lips teasing the soft skin.

“Yes.” Beth moved, turning and pushing Casey on their bed. Before shecould react, Beth slid on top, groaning as heated flesh touched.

“Guess so.” Casey’s next words were cut off by Beth’s conqueringtongue. Tangling one hand in strawberry blond locks, Casey pulled her lovercloser, sucking forcefully on Beth’s tongue. Moaning, she pushed herself upinto her lover, her other hand cupping a rounded cheek.

Gasping, Beth tore her lips from Casey’s. Eyes darkened with desireswept over her lover’s flushed face. “More.” Beth wasn’t even aware she’dspoken, the smooth skin of her love’s neck beckoned. Lips and teeth movedhotly over the slick flesh, sucking…licking…bitting, driving both womenhigher.

“Beth, please.” Casey groaned, her hands now pushed gently on herlover’s shoulders. “Yesss,” hissed as hot lips seized a rock hard nipple. “OhGod,” Casey stuttered, arching her back, trying to shove more of her breastinto Beth’s mouth. Groaning again when Beth switched sides, Casey spreadher legs and dropped her lover between them. Her head snapped back and adeep groan was torn from her when Beth unconsciously pressed against her.

The feeling of wetness on her heated flesh caused Beth to lightly biteCasey’s nipple. Slowly working her way down, hands, lips and tongue tracedintricate, erotic patterns. Every touch, every caress brought a different soundto Beth’s ears. “I love the way you sound.”

“Beth.” Casey begged, once again letting go with an intensity that attimes still scared her. Before Beth, she never gave herself completely. WithBeth, she could do nothing less. “Beth…Please…” Casey moaned repeatedly,writhering under her lover’s hot, passionate caresses.

Casey’s last whispered please tore through Beth’s consciousness, steamrolling over the author’s desire to take things slow. In one fluid movement,Beth drove two fingers into her lover, rising up to swallow her moan.Increasing the depth and speed of her thrusts to match her lover’s, Bethgrowled promises of forever mixed with passionate kisses and little bites.

All Casey could do was to concentrate on the intense pleasure, soaking upevery touch, every word of love and devotion. The addition of a third fingerhad her screaming Beth’s name, body joined her soaring heart. Slowly shebecame aware that Beth had changed positions and was now holding her,keeping her safe in her remarkably strong arms.

“I love you.” Casey enunciated each word slowly, carefully, happilyexhausted. Blue eyes focused on her lover’s face, a shaking hand lightlystroking the smooth skin of Beth’s neck.

“I love you too.” Beth mumbled sleepily; the past several days exhaustedher, both physically and mentally.

“You’re not falling asleep on me, are you?” Casey rose up on one elbow,noting the lines of fatigue on her lover’s face. “Just what in the Hell were youthinking? Look how exhausted she is. Sometimes Casey you just don’tthink!” The specialist smacked herself mentally for not noticing her lover’sexhaustion earlier. “That was most sneaky, woman.” Casey teased gently,seeing Beth fight to stay awake.
“What?” Green finally fastened on Casey’s face.

“Can’t pull that on me.” Casey touched the tip of Beth’s nose, not beingfooled by her lover’s innocent looks. “Just you wait. I owe you an ambush.”Delighting in her lover’s unconscious shiver at her promise, Casey settledback, gathering Beth close. “Now go to sleep.”

“Goodnight wife.” Beth spoke softly, lips touching her lover’s neck witheach word. Unable to stay awake any longer, green eyes closed, contented.The author missed the startled yet joyous look that crossed her lover’s face.

“Wife, huh?” Casey thought happily, not wanting to chance waking Bethup by speaking. “Got a lot to do tomorrow.” Blue eyes narrowed inconcentration. ” So what would you prefer? Going of somewhere byourselves or just staying here? That’s of course after having the mostromantic evening I can come up with.” The specialist shifted, accommodatingher moving lover. “I don’t want any interruptions, yet I need to know we’resafe.” The specialist didn’t expect there to be any fallout from the Delgado’sproblem, but she wasn’t taking any chances. “Guess that means Grandma’shouse.” The specialist wished she’d known Beth’s grandparents, theysounded wonderful. “I’ll call and have them start preparing tomorrow.Everything must be perfect.” Experience taught that Beth couldn’t relax if thehouse wasn’t clean and the refrigerator fully stocked. It would take thehousekeeper and handyman about a week to ready the house; she had severaladditions to their normal duties. Plus Phil would have to visit, checking theintegrity of the security system. But he couldn’t do that until he completedher background identity. “No distractions, just you and me.”

“You’re so beautiful.” Adoring blue eyes drifted over her sleeping lover.”Don’t think I don’t know how lucky I am. You are incredible. Kind andcaring,” the specialist thought briefly about the Delgado family, now part ofher own growing adopted family. “More people care about me now, than everbefore in my life…all because of you.” The specialist smiled softly, kissing thetop of Beth’s head., admitting the affection was returned. “I never knew Iwas capable of returning those feelings or how much they’d mean to me.”

“You’re more intelligent that people give you credit for.” Casey grinned,thinking about her brother’s face when he foolishly boosted that anyone withhalf a brain could write a mystery. Casey knew better than anyone how hardBeth worked. “Do you know, it was all I could do to sit there and notthrottle him?” Blue eyes studied her squirming partner. Deciding Beth wascold, Casey tucked the blanket snugly around her back. “But with one gentlelook, you told me you could handle Mark. The look on his face when hecompared what he’d written in one hour to what you had in half of that time,God that was priceless!” Mark had read Beth’s off the cuff words, jawdropping after the first sentence. After finishing, sheepishly he’d admitted hewas wrong. “But being you, you gently reminded him that everyone hadtalents, his just lied in a different area. Its not in you to let someone feel badabout themselves.”

“I thought I was protective and defensive until I met you.” The specialistblinked, fighting off her own tiredness. “But I have nothing on you myfriend!” Chuckling, Casey remembered coming down the hall at her parents’house after her cousin’s funeral and being stopped by Beth’s cold tone as shetold her mother that her comments and opinions weren’t welcome. The firsttime in four hectic, painful days, her voice was focused, intense. “Rememberwhat you said?” Breathing deeply Casey sighed and leaned her head againstBeth’s. “You said,” lips brushed the soft hair. “That if she ever wanted tohave a relationship with you, she had to accept me.” Casey thought aboutBeth’s other comments, that she’d gotten lazy and relied a little on herinheritance, but she’d give up every penny her grandparent’s left her to bewith her specialist. The author had advanced on her mother, stating that shemade it through college without any family money, she could and would livewithout it again if the price of it was leaving Casey. The family could keepher share of the Jamieson fortune. “Then you walked out on her and ran intome. The look on my face must have been something else, because you justthrew your arms around me and told me you loved me. You don’t knowthis,” Casey tightened her grip on Beth. “But your mother followed youdown the hall. She heard what I told you, that I didn’t want you to give upyour family for me and that I would sign anything they wanted that said Iwouldn’t touch your money. But you told me no, that being together meantsharing everything. I..” Casey broke off, feeling lips against her neck. “Youawake?” Whispered so if Beth was dreaming Casey wouldn’t wake her.

“What’s wrong? Why are you awake?” Beth blinked sleepily, wordsslurred slightly.

“Shh. Nothing wrong. Go back to sleep.” Casey patted her shoulder,invitingly.

Beth forced her eyes fully open, studying her lover. “You haven’t slept atall!” Beth accused, reaching for Casey’s hand, lacing their fingers together.

“Alright!” Casey laughed softly, tugging gently until Beth laid down. “Ifyou must know, I was thinking about how much I love you. Satisfied?”

“Hmm.” Beth nuzzled Casey’s neck. “For now.” Sternly she told herselfto behave, they both needed to sleep. “Everything ok up there?” Added afew moments later. “I can feel you thinking.”

“Sorry.” Casey rubbed Beth’s back, willing her muscles to relax. “Backto sleep with you, love. We can talk in the morning.”

“You too.” Beth sighed, breathing in her lover’s fresh scent. Withinmoments, she was back asleep.

“How do you do that? Fall asleep within moments?” Casey thought,lightly twirling Beth’s hair in her fingers. “I think dinner here. That way itwill be a total surprise.” The specialist returned to her earlier musings,smiling softly. Yawning, blue eyes drifted shut as the specialist plotted.

Sitting up with a gasp, green eyes blinked disbelievingly at the body layingbeside her. “No blood…chest moving…no holes…breath Beth, breath.” Theauthor moaned silently, willing her rapidly beating heart to slow. Slowly,almost fearfully, eyes followed shaking hands as they removed the lightblanket covering her lover. “It was just a dream.” Beth sighed raggedly,relieved, eyes sweeping frantically over the whole, perfect flesh. “Just aterrible dream.”

“That was a mistake.” Beth groaned, eyes flying open again. Variousimages assaulted the author, causing her heart to start pounding again. Inslow motion, Beth saw Roberto shove Casey, knocking her down. Pulling agun, he fired repeatedly. Helplessly, the author screamed, unable to move,watching the life slowly pour out of her lover. Then another flash, anotherimage. Casey on the floor, a knife sticking out of her stomach. “She’s ok.”Beth’s mind cried repeatedly as she wrapped her shaking body around hersleeping lover. Burying her face in her lover’s hair, Beth tried to fight theterrifying images, ones that signified the end of her world.

Blinking awake, Casey immediately became aware of what woke her. Itwas impossible to ignore the tight hold of her lover. “Beth? Sweetheart?”The specialist ran a hand down her lover’s shaking back, confusion turning toworry then to fear when Beth didn’t answer her. “C’mon Sweetheart, you’rescaring me.”

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you.” Beth finally whispered, not trustingherself to speak louder. Willing her limbs to loosen their stranglehold grip,reluctantly Beth retreated a little.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Casey nudged Beth, not being fooled by herlover’s retreat. After asking two more times, she changed tactics, loweringher voice. She wasn’t even sure that Beth had heard her. “Beth.”

“Oh God, what do I say?” Beth thought frantically, trying to avoidCasey’s questions. “Tell her that I keep seeing her broken, bleeding body?That I can’t get to her? I don’t think so.” The author forced her mind toconcentrate on the present. Her head knew she was being silly, that Caseycould handle Roberto and whatever he threw at her, but her heart wasn’tlistening. “Casey knows how to take care of herself. She doesn’t need toworry about me too. I’ll just have to deal with this myself.” The low,commanding tone broke through her thoughts, pulling her back to the present.Away from her raw, bruised emotions.

“Sorry. I’m fine.” Hesitantly, Beth raised her head, meeting her lover’sconcerned gaze.

“Liar.” Blue drilled into green un-relentlessly. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“You’ll think its silly.” Beth tried to scoot back down, but large handsprevented it. “Its nothing. Really.”

“Its not ‘nothing’ if it bothers you.” Casey shot back, a little annoyed andhurt. “Why won’t you tell me?” The specialist looked down, catching sightof their entwined fingers, gold touching gold.

“Hey.” Casey lifted their linked hands up for inspection. “Looks prettygood together, huh?” Spoken softly, letting the sight speak for itself.

Guilty green eyes lighted on gold. “Oh…Damn…Sharing works bothways, remember?” Beth chastised herself letting love and joy replace fear.”Looks fantastic. Feels indescribable.” Staring into blue, Beth apologized.

“I’m sorry love. Truly I am.” Lips brushed their fingers, green neverleaving blue. “I had a terrible dream.” Beth continued, ashamed of herself forneeding reminding that loving also meant sharing…the good and the bad. “Ikept seeing you hurt and bleeding.” A painful sob escaped. “All alone, dying.And I couldn’t get to you.” Tears ran unchecked down Beth’s cheeks as shethrew herself at her lover.

“Shh…shh…its ok…I”m right here.” Casey kept repeating herself, armstightly wrapped around Beth until her sobs finally stopped.. “What can I sayto her to make her feel better?” The specialist worried, heart aching with eachtear. As her lover’s sobs slowed, the answer came.

“Sweetheart?” Casey nuzzled her way to Beth’s ear, speaking calmly,soothingly. “I’ve got the best reason in the world to be careful.” Lips andteeth nibbled the sensitive flesh. “You.” Another nibble. “I’ll be fine, you’llsee.”

“You better be.” Beth tilted her head, sighing softly when Casey took thebait and started working her way down her neck. “I love you Casey.” Theauthor firmly pushed her worries and fears away, cloaking herself in her love’swhispered promises. “Please make me forget,” she begged silently.

“I love you too.” Casey kissed Beth deeply. “I’ll be careful.” Lips tracedthe curve of Beth’s cheek. “Ok now?” The specialist searched Beth’s face,looking for any sign of fear. “Good.” The change in tone was dramatic; Bethshivered in anticipation, Casey’s desire evident. “Cause I believe,” a calloushand cupped her lover’s breast, kneading the soft flesh. “It was my turn toambush you.” A quick roll and Casey was on top. Growling softly, thespecialist moved suggestively, rubbing skin seductively together. “If thisdoesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. I need you.” Casey thoughtbefore the pull of naked, heated skin was too much to ignore.

“I think I need convincing.” Beth stuttered, moving in reflex, trying tobring more of her skin in contact with her lover’s.

“Really.” Casey pulled back, trying to see if Beth was serious. “I’ll seewhat I can do.” The specialist groaned, blue burning into passionate green. Aslight nudge parted her author’s thighs. “God, you’re already so wet,”moaned lowly into Beth’s ear.

“Do you know,” lips nipped the tender flesh under Beth’s ear. “Howmuch I love that?” Moving to the side, Casey pressed her thigh against Bethwhile kissing her deeply. “I love how you respond to me.” Swallowing herown moan as Beth pushed against her, Casey sank her teeth slightly into herlover’s neck, sucking the raised flesh sensually.

“Me too.” Beth replied breathlessly, arching into her lover’s touch.Sinking her hands into her lover’s hair, the author pulled Casey up and closedthe gap between them, tongue thrusting deeply.

“Oh no.” Casey pulled back, tilting her head, angling her lips back downBeth’s neck. “Its my turn.” Pushing the point, she increased the pressure ofher thigh against Beth, swallowing her own moan at the increased flow of herlover’s desire.

Lips slowly made their way down Beth’s chest, making sure not to neglectone single inch. Licking the valley between Beth’s breasts, Casey teasedplayfully, hair tickling the soft mounds as eyes devoured the wanted flesh.”Decisions, decisions. Which one first?” Exhaling over one hardened nipple,Casey delighted in Beth’s trembling.

“Casey, please!” Beth thrust her breasts forward, desperately needing herlover’s touch. “I need you…need to know you need me too.” The straythought brought another groan, loving her lover’s playful, erotic teasing.

A quick lick and Casey retreated, treating the other breast to the sametreatment. “Looking up was a mistake Casey,” she told herself, unable toresist the pleading in Beth’s eyes. Warm lips covered the nearest nipple,tongue lightly caressing the nipple.

“Yes,” Beth sighed, loving the feelings racing through her body.”Harder.” Beth growled, pressing Casey against her firmly. “I need you,” hermind chanted, focusing on the intense emotions being exchanged.

Obligingly, Casey sucked forcefully while pinching the neglected nipplebetween her fingers. “Whatever you want, I’ll give you.” Casey promisedsilently, teeth gently nipping. “I love you.” The specialist thought, Beth’scries of pleasure igniting her own blood. “There’s nothing I won’t do foryou.”

“Casey…love you…God…” Beth moaned incoherently, eyes riveted onher lover’s head, floating in a passionate haze. Beth loved watching Casey,who’s pleasure was evident in each loving touch. “You need me too,” unableto remain silent, despite her body’s pleasure, the author’s mind soared…herCasey needed her.

After showering the same attention on Beth’s semi-neglected breast, thespecialist started to slid down but was stopped by two surprisingly stronghands on her arms. Confused blue eyes met green. “You ok?”

“Great. C’mere.” Beth tugged, conveying her wishes. The author didn’tknow why, but she desperately wanted, no needed, to feel Casey’s lips on herown. Now.

Hiding her surprise, Casey eased back up, taking care to maintain as muchskin on skin contact as was possible. “Better?” Her knee returned to itsprevious position.

In answer, Beth licked Casey’s bottom lip. “Take me my love. I needyou…need you inside of me.”

“I love you too.” Casey’s heart picked up the pace, thundering withBeth’s words. Leaning forward, she kissed Beth passionately while movingslightly to the side so she could honor Beth’s wishes. Pulling back, blue neverleft green as her hand slowly worked its way inside Beth.

“So wet…so hot…incredible.” Casey spoke lowly, reining in her growingdesire to take Beth immediately. Long fingers teased the swollen flesh, eyesdrinking in her lover’s passionate responses. “Like this?” Casey teased, twofingers sinking in just up to the first knuckle.

“Casey!” Beth growled, hips thrusting, trying to pull more of Caseyinside. “Please…I need you….Take me.”

Those words washed over Casey, freeing her own desires. Thrustingdeeply, Casey possessively kissed Beth, tongue keeping perfect time with herthrusts. Feeling Beth start to tremble, Casey pulled back, eyes glued to herlover’s face, loving how Beth looked and sounded as she climaxed.

“Love you!” Beth cried, body shaking with the intensity of her release.

“Love you too.” Casey replied softly, eyes drinking in her lover’s joy.The pulsing flesh around her fingers pushed her over the edge, the suddenincrease in her own desire too much to ignore. Giving Beth no time torecover, Casey straddled her author’s firm thigh, sighing as her heated fleshtouched her lover’s. Rocking her hips, Casey moved deeply in Beth,rekindling her passion.

“Oh God.” Beth cried, back arching off the bed, reacting to her lover’stouch. Forcing her eyes to focus, Beth brought her hands up to her lover’sgently swaying breasts, rolling the swollen nipples between her fingers.

“Yesss.” Casey moaned softly, increasing the pace and pressure of herrocking hips. “Beth.” Crying her lover’s name, blood quickly reaching theboiling point as her nipples were pinched with more force.

Casey held on for as long as she could, the delightful friction sweet in itsintensity. Unfortunately, her limits had been severely stretched by Beth’sreactions. Unable to fight any longer, Casey growled Beth’s name as Bethcried her’s, collapsing against her lover’s convulsing body.

Slowly becoming aware of her surrounding, Casey wasn’t surprised tofind herself on her side with Beth tightly wrapped around her. “Wow. Thatwas incredible. You’re incredible.” Casey whispered in her author’s ear, awide, happy grin on her face.

“You’re the incredible one.” Beth shot back, snuggling even closeragainst her lover. “Its not time to get up, is it?” The author was comfortableand wasn’t ready to move. Not afraid to close her eyes, her dreamvanquished by her love’s passionate loving, green fluttered shut.

“Not yet.” Casey didn’t even look at the clock. Whatever they had to dotoday could wait. Closing her eyes, she drifted off, knowing Beth would joinher shortly. It was a tossup as to who fell asleep first.


“Think you could sneak out without me knowing, huh?” Beth playfullysqueezed her lover’s so tempting jean covered butt, rubbing suggestivelyagainst her back.

“Beth!” Casey complained, sternly commanding her body to not react toher lover’s touch. Happily the specialist froze her muscles, loving her instantresponse to Beth.

“What? No touching?” Beth pouted, retreating to a respectable distance.One across the room. “And here I thought…”

“Beth.” Casey interrupted her, not trusting herself if Beth continued hercurrent line of thinking. Turning from the sink, Casey forcefully told herselfshe had to go to work. Ravishing Beth would have to wait until later.

“Ok!” Beth relented, green eyes flashing with laughter. “I’ll behave.What time will you be home?”

“Not too late.” Swallowing convulsively at the loving look she wasreceiving, Casey crossed the room. “Call me later?”

“Sure.” Beth smiled, hiding her sigh. Casey meant call her after she gothome from her publisher’s and the dojo. The author needed to sign the finalapproved contract for Warrior 2.

“Thanks, I appreciate it.” The words surprised Beth; Casey simply spokeher own need, not hiding behind blustery words. “You gonna finish editingtoday?”

“If possible.” Beth took the offered hand, allowing herself to be pulledagainst her lover. “I’ve got to start writing before Jill drives me crazy.”

“So your pesky PI’s at it again?” Casey buried her face in Beth’s sweetsmelling hair, grinning. Set in the future, Jill was an old fashioned PI whodealt with the steamier side of life, finding lost souls in a technical worldwhich ignored anyone who was too far outside of the mainstream. Jill wasone of Casey’s favorite characters. “I’m glad. Let her kick some butt for me,please?”

“I think you’ll be surprised.” Beth chuckled, already imagining howCasey would hound her for daily updates. “You be careful yourself today.”Beth released Casey from her embrace, stepping back. “No another wordBeth!” She chastised herself, locking her lips tightly together.

“Hey. I’m always careful.” Tenderly Casey ran a finger down Beth’scheek. “I’ve got the best reason to come home in one piece.” Seeing Beth’sdelighted, sparkling grin elicited one from her. “Love you Sweetheart.”

“Love you too.” Beth kissed the finger that drifted too close to hermouth. Stepping back, green eyes swept over Casey, stopping at her shoelessfeet. “Forget something Casey?”

“Nope.” Casey grinned innocently, arching an eyebrow, daring Beth tosay anything.

“Casey.” Beth frowned, trying to look stern. Casey loved egging her onin the morning. One of her favorite ways was to say she was ready for workwhen she really wasn’t. “Just another reason for me to look at her,” Bethsighed happily, wishing that Casey had forgotten something else this morning.

“Whoops!” Blue eyes followed green, resting on her feet. “Guess I didforget.” Snaking a hand out, Casey tugged Beth’s hair as she past. Slippingon the shoes which miraculously were behind her briefcase, the specialist rose,a serious look on her face. “Be careful today. Please, for me?” Casey spokequietly, quickly, not giving Beth the chance to interrupt.

“I will be.” Beth didn’t hesitate, moving into her lover’s arms. “Fair isfair,” she told herself, kissing Casey’s neck.

“See you later then. Good luck with your editing.” Casey tore herselfaway, stepping into the garage. Waving goodbye, the specialist backed out,the weight around her finger comforting.

“Be careful.” Beth couldn’t help saying one more time as the garage doorshut. Exhaling sharply, the author headed for their office, calling up heremotional walls to finish dealing with the Warrior Princess and bard.


“Get Warrior 2 off without any problems?” Casey tried changing thesubject, watching Beth pace nervously in front of the entertainment system inher work office. “Hard to believe its been six days since Beth changed mylife. God how I love her.” The specialist watched Beth, sighing softly as shebrushed her fingers lovingly over her ring. “Damn, she’s doing it again!Don’t worry, Roberto’s just a punk.” Casey kept the thought to herself, notwanting a repeat of last night’s fight.
“She had a good point, oh cocky one!” The specialist reminded herself,sighing as her words went ignored. “Just because Roberto’s a punk doesn’tmean he might get a lucky shot in if you’re not on top of things from the start.You don’t want today to be his lucky break. You promised Beth you’d befine.” Another circuit of the entertainment center and Casey was on her feet.Enough was enough.

“You’re gonna drive yourself crazy.” Casey spoke softly from behindBeth. Although Casey hadn’t said anything last night, Beth’s lack ofconfidence in her abilities had hurt.

“Casey!” Beth squealed, jumping slightly. She hadn’t heard her loverapproach. “Trying to scare me?” Turning, green eyes involuntarily sweptover Casey, the seldom worn loose fitting, stylish business suit anotherreminder of the upcoming confrontation. Casey had explained her choice lastnight, saying the suit allowed for maximum mobility while placing her stepsabove Roberto and company. The suit oozed money, confidence and power.Not to mention it had been made to hide her shoulder holster. When askedwhy that was important, the specialist responded with “its just anotherdifference between the amateur thugs and me” and that Roberto wouldrecognize the sign for what it was…he was outclassed in all areas.

“Nope. If I was trying to scare you, I’d show you my old high schoolpictures.” The specialist joked, closing the distance between them. “Stopworrying Sweetheart. Everything will be fine, I promise.” Casey refused torelease Beth from her gaze until Beth nodded, accepting her word. “No twobit punk is going to take me away from you.”

“You look fantastic.” Beth played with the edge of the jacket’s collar,pleased her hand remained steady, avoiding her partner’s comment. “At leastmy body’s not betraying me!” Thought sadly, quickly before the authorforced her thoughts and fears down deep. Beth decided last night, watchingCasey sleep that she’d be damned if Casey went into this worrying about her.”So tell me again how this is going to work?” Stepping away, Beth picked upa pad and pen. The author wanted to make sure she kept the detailsstraight…this would work perfectly in a future novel. “Plus,” she told herselfwryly watching Casey remove her jacket. “It will help keep my mind fromworrying.” Green eyes tracked Casey as she flowed confidently across theoffice to answer a quick question and sign a report. “Damn she looksincredible. Eyes sparkling, hair perfect, and that body…”

“What?” The softly amused tone jerked the author back to the present.
“Like what you see, hmm?” Casey teased gently, loving the resulting blush onher lover’s face. Gladly she followed her lover, welcoming the change insubject.
“You know I do.” Beth answered honestly, eyes moving slowly over hersitting lover. It was hard to worry when her lover’s beautiful body beckoned.

“Don’t look at me like that. We’ll never get out of here if you keep thatup, love.” It was Casey’s turn to blush, feeling naked in her lover’sexcruciatingly passionate eyes. “Ready?” The specialist changed the subject,knowing if Beth kept looking at her like that, Roberto would wait untilanother day.

“Remember the goal is to get Roberto to admit on tape that he’s beendemanding money for ‘protective services’. Phil’s covered the entirerestaurant with surveillance equipment. Oh, that reminds me.” Casey glancedat Beth, pleased that her lover looked interested, not worried.

“Did I tell you that the police are most envious of Phil’s equipment? Ithink the city is going to hire us to update their surveillance equipment…atleast tell them what they need. They actually wanted to wire me and the guys!Can you imagine that?” Seeing that Beth didn’t follow, Casey tugged gentlyon Beth’s hair. “Mistake!” The specialist swallowed her groan silently.”Stop that or you’ll never let go.” Frowning, blue eyes stared at her waywardappendages which showed no signs of retreating.

“Casey?” Amused green eyes sparkled, watching her own hand reach upand remove Casey’s, lacing their fingers together. “What’s so weird aboutwanting you to wear a wire?” Beth asked confused.

“Whoops! Sorry about that.” Clearing her throat, Casey met Beth’s gaze,knowing Beth would understand. “Right, the wire.” Added a second later asshe forced herself to break the hypnotic allure of her lover’s eyes.

“Wiring someone is dangerous and a good way to get them killed,especially in a situation like this. Roberto will want me frisked, searching notfor a weapon which he knows I’ll have, but a wire. In certain cases actuallyhaving a wire on your person is necessary. It mainly has to do with locationand possible sources of interference. Not to mention time. It took Phil andhis two assistants the entire two night’s to totally cover the place withelectronic surveillance. But there are other alternatives to wearing a physicalwire, such as….” Casey warmed up to the subject, slipping into her’instructional mode’, not realizing that Beth was tunning her out.

“Damn! She said that so blithely, so confidently…like everyone wouldknow something like that!” Beth shook herself mentally. “Why doesn’t thatinspire confidence? How could she just say ‘wearing a wire could get mekilled’ and then slip into a detailed explanation of the hardware? Doesn’t sheknow how worried I am? I know what she’d say if the situation wasreversed!” Listening to Casey briefly, the author sighed. She had no intentionof using such a detailed description of surveillance equipment. “I neverthought that…that scumbag,” Beth couldn’t hide her shutter, but Casey wasstill talking and didn’t notice. “Would touch you. Why didn’t I think of that?I don’t want his hands anywhere near you…you’re mine! No one touches youlike that without going through me first. I should of figured…of course itcould be fun if I was doing it. Or if she did it to me.” Beth’s activeimagination kicked in…Casey showing her firmly, yet gently against thewall…her large hands placing her own smaller ones against the wall…ever soslowly they worked down her extended arms, caressing…her partner’s hardmuscular thigh slipping between her own…the hot breath teasing her ear…Belatedly Beth realized Casey had stopped talking and was staring at her inconcern.

“Sorry,” Beth fibbed, trying to look innocent and not betray her eroticthoughts. Now if her breathing would cooperate and her blood stop boiling,she’d be fine. “You were saying?”

“Right.” Casey wasn’t fooled by that look. “What were you thinkingabout?” The specialist figured she’d slipped back into brooding, worryingabout her safety. “Don’t know what else I can say to convince her thateverything will be ok.” Casey thought quickly, mistakenly reading Beth’savoidance for worry. “I wish she’d trust me on this. I do know what I’mdoing.” The thought that Beth didn’t trust her professionally hurt.

“Well,” the author gulped looking away. “No Beth, tell her.” Her heartfought with her head, winning this battle. “Actually its not what you think.””Coward!” Her mind kicked in. “Anyway,” Beth blushed, squeezing Casey’shand. “Who will be doing the frisking?” “You better not enjoy it, lover.”Her mind wouldn’t shut up.

“Sweetheart!” Casey chuckled, that was the farthest thing from her mind.Leave it to Beth to be worried about who would frisk her. “Wait a second,”the possibilities flew around Casey’s mind, triggering her own fantasy. “Shewouldn’t of blushed if she wasn’t thinking…don’t go there just yet, Casey.”

“One of his bodyguards, probably the older one, Manny. He won’t wantto show any weakness and bosses don’t get their hands dirty.” Casey pulledthe conversation back on track.

“Oh…ok.” Beth breathed easier, shoving her jealousy into a corner, atleast Roberto wouldn’t be touching her lover. “Later, will you show me howto ‘properly’ frisk someone?” The author couldn’t help asking. If the’lesson’ was half as intense as her fantasy, it would make one interestingevening.
“Sure. How about tonight?” Casey fought to control her breathing,picturing her hands searching… “Stop that Casey!” Grinning at Beth’senthusiastic nod, she couldn’t resist adding. “It’s a date then.”

“Right. So,” Beth released Casey’s hand and picked up her pen. “Whywill Roberto believe you’re moving in on his territory?”

“You’re starting to sound like me love.” Casey smiled, thinking shecouldn’t use any term without her author’s impressive mind storing it awayfor future use. “Anyway, with Eric Master’s help, the cops have been talking,spreading the word that an old player is returning to town. Namely me. Or Ishould say namely one Janet Johnson or JJ for short. I’ve just come back intothe country after an extended absence. I’m hungry, looking to expand myforeign ‘businesses’ and see the neglected mexican-american community theperfect place to start.”

“And you know I’ve been hanging out in Eduardo’s neighborhood.Talking to the kids, handing out treats, gathering a following of some of themore aggressive teens, beating up a few stray punks, intimidating everyone,including the cops.” Casey shifted, missing the worried expression that wasunsuccessfully hidden on Beth’s face.

“Two days ago I beat up a couple of Roberto’s gang and sent them backwith a message that I wanted a meeting. Then I had Eduardo call Roberto,saying I was demanding money and that he was scared, he didn’t know whatto do. That’s why we’re meeting at Eduardo’s. Roberto needs to save faceand what better way than trying to humiliate and then destroy the competitionin front of a scared witness? Not only would he be getting rid of me, he’d besending a strong message of what happens to those who resist. The look onhis face will be priceless.” Casey grinned ferally, enjoying herself immensely.To Casey, Roberto was a third class punk, not a danger of all. Setting him uphad been easy and fun.

“You’re enjoying this!” Beth accused, rising angrily to her feet. “I can’tbelieve I’m worried sick that something will happen to you and you’retreating this like a game, having FUN!” Beth yelled, stomping to the window.

Casey sat there, stunned. Never before had their differences seem sopronounced. “Put like that, I guess I can see her point.” The specialistthought guiltily, remembering how cavalier she approached the situation. How the only reassurances she’d offered were “trust me” or “you’ll see”.Never once had she explained why the plan would work, why the danger wasminimal. “You’ve joked and laughed your way through the entire problem.No wonder she’s worried about you! You’d be too if you were watchingsomeone else behave like you, you jackass.” Although she told herself noteveryone had her experience, Casey was forced to admit she really hadn’tconsidered Beth’s worry. “You just loved the fact that she was worrying.Get up you miserable excuse for a lover and go comfort her.”

“Beth? Sweetheart?” Uncharacteristically timid, Casey touched Beth’sshoulder, urging her to turn around. Not knowing what to say, Casey blurtedthe first thing that came to mind, anything to get Beth to turn around and lookat her. “I’ll wear the vest if it will make you feel better.”

“What? I thought you said it would blow your cover?” Beth spunaround, confused and in pain. Teary green eyes searched solemn blue. Thathad been a big part of their argument last night. The author couldn’t believewhat she was hearing. She’d even offered to give up her hard fought for frontrow seat in the surveillance van with Phil and Lt. Masters if Casey would wearthe bullet proof vest. Casey hadn’t been able to refuse Beth’s claim if itwasn’t dangerous enough for her to wear a bullet proof vest, then it wasn’ttoo dangerous to be in the surveillance van.

“I’ll wear it if you want.” Casey sucked in her breath, wiping off herlover’s tears with a shaking hand. “I’ll think of something.”

“Tell me the truth.” Beth’s eyes darkened, deadly serious. “Will you bein more danger wearing it?” Casey had stressed the actual chance of physicaldanger was very slim. But she hadn’t explained why.

“Yes.” Casey answered truthfully, not wanting any moremisunderstandings between them. “For exactly the reasons I said last night.If I wear it I’ll be trading one set of unimaginative problems for another, onesthat won’t be so easy to predict or manipulate. I need to know something.”Casey dropped her hand to Beth’s shoulder, playing with her soft hair.”C’mon Beth,” her mind cried, watching the emotions flow across Beth’s facerapidly. “Do you trust me…believe in me?” The specialist needed to hear thewords, to believe in them. Taking a deep breath, she forced the words out.She hadn’t had the courage to ask last night. “Do you trust me?”

“Yes.” Beth answered firmly, as soon as Casey stopped speaking. “Howcan you think that I don’t? What kind of question is that? I…” She broke offas Susan’s warning voice reached them.

“Just a minute. We’ll be right out.” Casey raised her voice, never takingher eyes off of Beth. When she heard the inner door shut, Casey continued.”You trust me as a professional? Someone who knows what she’s talkingabout?” Casey pressed, desperately needing Beth’s answer to still be yes.

“Yes I do.” Swallowing emotionally, Beth realized how her constantworrying must look to Casey…like she didn’t trust her or her abilities. “Yes Ido,” she repeated, slipping her arms carefully around Casey’s waist,remembering earlier being told no prolonged touching. It might wrinkle thesilk shirt. “I believe in YOU, love.”

“Thank you.” Heedless of her shirt, the specialist pulled Beth to herroughly. “I love you.” Casey husked emotionally. “I can’t explain why now,but I will, as soon as this is over. Please trust me when I say everything willbe ok. I’ve got plenty of backup help, not to mention that the twoundercover cops are skilled in street fighting. I’ll be in less danger than youwere when you met Roberto.”

“Ok, I believe you.” Beth smiled at Casey, turning her back on her nervesand concerns, putting every ounce of her faith in that smile. Believing in herlover. “And I love you too, partner.”

“Partner, huh?” Casey chuckled softly. “I really like the sound of that,”glancing down, Casey laced her left fingers with Beth’s. “Partner.” Hearingthe increase of noise in the outer office, the specialist sighed. “Its time.C’mon love. Lets go finish this. I just need my jacket.”

“Wait.” Beth held up a hand, motioning for Casey to turn around beforeshe opened the door. Green eyes swept coolly, appraisingly over her lover.”C’mere. Your collar isn’t straight.”

“Better?” Casey waited patiently while Beth fussed straightening hercollar.

“Next time let me choose the blouse. That collar is too wide for thisjacket. Not to mention what your shoulder holster is doing to the blouse.”Beth narrowed her eyes, reaching again for the uneven neckline.

“Next time, huh?” Those simple words filled Casey with unexpectedwarmth. “Lets go kick some punk butt.” Casey grinned wickedly, leering ather lover at the same time.

“Alright, 99. Lets go.” Swallowing her plea for being careful, Bethopened the door, bowing for her lover to exit first.

“Hi Phil.” Beth addressed the technological wizard in the back of the van.”Where do you want me?”

“Hi Beth. Up front with Casey for right now. You can help me laterwhen we stop.” Looking up, Phil saw he made the right choice when Caseysat beside Beth, taking her hand absently as she continued to talk to Lt.Masters in the front seat.

Leaning her head against the back of the seat, Beth tried to ignore hergrowing fears. Despite what she’d told Casey, she still was worried. Listening to the light banter between the team members, Beth allowed herselfto be pulled into the conversation and away from her emotions.

“Ok guys.” Casey interrupted the banter, turning serious. “Anyone haveany questions?” They’d gone over the plan, practiced different scenariosyesterday until the specialist was certain everyone knew their roles. Unlikeher former FBI colleagues, the cops returned immediately to their bantering,granting Casey and Beth a little privacy in the crowded van.

“You ok?” Casey faced Beth, blue eyes searching intently.

“I’m fine.” Beth had made her mind up, watching Casey interact with hercolleagues, determined to put on a brave front. Casey had enough to worryabout without worrying her. “Just filing everything away for future use, 99.”

“Do me a favor?”

“Anything.” Beth whispered back, meaning the word with her entirebeing.

“Don’t play cards with Phil. He’s a shark.” Casey teased, bumping herarm playfully. “I wanted to ask not to worry, but I know you will anyway.”The specialist thought quietly, laughing softly as Phil snorted from behindthem.

“I’ll promise if you promise.” Beth bumped Casey back, not fooled by herlover’s question.

“Deal.” Casey held out her hand, grinning. “Teach me to try to pullsomething past you, partner.”

“Deal.” Solemnly Beth shook Casey’s hand. Sighing mentally as the vanpulled into the parking lot, Beth reluctantly released Casey’s hand and sat upstraight.

“Hey.” Blue eyes watched with concern as Beth pulled back into herself.”I promise I’ll be careful.” Casey ignored the men getting out of the van.”I’ll explain everything tonight. Please, don’t worry so much.”

“I’ll try.” Green eyes lightened, remembering an even earlier promise.Arching an eyebrow, Beth offered an alternative plan for the evening. “Somuch for our date then, Ms Bennett.” Smiling evilly at her lover’s confusion,the author spoke even more quietly, saying two words. “Frisking…Date.”

“That’s right!” Casey sat up straight, grinning sexily. “C’mere you.”Continuing to ignore the waiting men, Casey leaned forward, kissing Bethdeeply. “Just so you continue to remember!” The specialist glanced back ather slightly dazed lover and waved before she got into the back seat of theMercedes.

“Beth?” Phil’s voice broke through the author’s thoughts. “How about ahand with the computer?” Grateful for the interruption, Beth forced her mindon the computer in front of her and not her absent lover.

“Time for an audio and visual check.” Phil addressed Lt. Masters after hedouble checked things from inside the van. Seeing his nod, Phil signaled hisassistant inside. A moment later, much to Beth’s relief, they could clearly seeand hear Eduardo as he went into the deserted dinning room.

Beth silently watched Lt. Masters check in with his people on the street.Forcing herself to calm down, Beth started doing what she told Casey,recording the activities with her author’s eye for detail. She was so into thetask that she jumped, surprised when Phil announced the arrival of Robertoand his three body guards. “Show time.” He called Casey, telling her it wastime.

“Roberto, come in.” Eduardo’s nervousness was apparent as he enteredthe dinning room, motioning the men towards a table. “Can I get yousomething to drink or eat?”

“Where is she, Eduardo?” Roberto ignored his offerings, motioning hismen to search the room.

“You know women, Roberto. Maybe the puta realized how stupid shewas being and took off. She’s probably running for the kitchen scared out ofher little mind.” The burliest of Roberto’s men answered for Eduardo,looking right at one of the sophisticated cameras unknowingly.

“You wish.” Beth’s growled answer was strangely echoed by her lover’slow, amused voice. Beth stared at the monitor, feeling her heart pick up thepace just a little as Casey strode into the room like she already owned it.Breathless, Beth leaned forward, watching.

“Gentlemen I’m Janet Johnson. Eduardo, like all my business associates,calls me JJ. You may call me Ms Johnson.” Arrogant blue eyes swept overthe young punks, her tone leaving no doubt her opinion of them. About tenyears her junior, they were about to be taught a lesson they’d never forget.

Letting a chuckle escape, Casey oozed farther into the room, confidentand proud. Standing straight, she allowed, yes allowed Roberto and his mento look. But only for a minute. “I’ll give you once chance to walk out of herelike men. If you’re still here by the time I turn around, you’ll be sorry.”Shaking her head at the pitiful sight, she arrogantly turned around.

“What’s she doing?” Lt. Masters shot a look at Phil, very concerned withthe deviation in plans.

“Just watch.” Phil grinned at Beth; both could clearly see that Casey wasright. These guys were just punks begging to be taught a lesson.

“Why you…” Enraged Roberto motioned two of his men forward, whowere abruptly stopped by two powerful swings of John’s pressure expandingstaff.

“I wouldn’t recommend doing that again.” Coolly Casey spun on herexpensive booted heel, raising a rebuking eyebrow at the dumbfoundedRoberto. “You never even saw him move, did you? Pathetic. Just pathetic.”Shaking her head in reproach, long free flowing back hair settled delicatelyover her shoulders.

“Sit down and learn.” Pointing to the chair directly behind Roberto,Casey sighed and snapped her arm, taking out Roberto’s remaining bodyguardwith a swift jab to the neck. Stepping over the shaking man, blue eyesordered Roberto to the chair.

“See? That wasn’t so hard now, was it?” Smiling gently, belaying thepower behind her actions, blue eyes bore into the slightly trembling Roberto’s.”God, this is fun.” Casey thought guiltily as she circled Roberto, inspectinghim with “tsking” sounds. “Beth is probably scared to death and I’m actuallyenjoying this.”

“So tell me,” Casey’s voice was deceptively friendly. “Just what youthought you were doing.” Sitting across from the now outwardly shakingman, she crossed her legs, the picture of feminine beauty. “And I’ll tell youhow a professional would do it.”

“I’m waiting.” Casey’s voice dropped in agitation. Clearly she was awoman who wasn’t used to repeating herself.

“Why should I?” Stupidly Roberto rebelled. “You’re just gonna kill meanyway. HEY!” He never saw her move. One minute, Casey was sittingbefore him, the next, she was leaning over him, blue eyes drilling dangerouslyinto his own. “Ok! I’ll talk!” Gulping nervously, Roberto waited until shesat down.

“That wasn’t so hard now, was it?” Remaining seated through Roberto’shalf hour confession, Casey had trouble keeping from laughing as the scaredman confessed to every crime he’d ever committed. “Hope you’re enjoyingthis Beth, I certainly am!” Casey sent a silent message her lover’s way.

Chuckling softly, Casey uncrossed her legs, rising. The relaxed positionof John told her everything was under control behind her. Giving in to herimpulse, Casey shredded the man’s confession, pointing out each and everymistake and missed opportunity.

Head bowed, Roberto asked what was next. “What are you gonna dowith us?” He held no illusions. The professional in front of him had him fromthe moment she walked into the door. Maybe he could work with that. “I’mwilling to learn, do whatever it is you want. Most of your old contacts havedisappeared long ago. I could help with that, show you around, introduceyou to the right people,” the young man puffed his chest, gaining confidenceby the woman’s silence, his brain thinking as rapidly as it was able. “Mannywas right…women are easy to manipulate!”

“Little man,” Casey sneered, suddenly invading Roberto’s personal space.”In your dreams. The day I need a puke like you to ‘introduce me’ is the dayI retire. You’ve been had, punk.” Laughing, Casey stepped back. “C’mon inguys. He’s all your’s.” Turning her back to Roberto, Casey took one stepbefore her senses screamed…and she spun around taking the foolish youngman out with a full powered roundhouse kick. “I thought I told you to sit.”Growling lowly, two incredibly strong hands wrapped themselves around hischeap collar and lifted the surprised, squirming man and deposited him on thechair. “Stay this time.” Leaning down, she growled in his ear. “Its not politeto touch a lady uninvited. You ever even think about Alex again, it’ll be yourlast thought.” Straightening up, her point make, Casey stepped back.

“C’mon in guys.” Casey addressed the air, her exceptional hearingpicking up the sounds of the back door being opened. And big surprise, herlover’s voice. Not wanting to chance Roberto getting to close to Beth, shejerked him to his feet and cuffed him. “You won’t be needing this,” pullinghis gun from his shoulder holster, quickly removing the clip and bullet fromthe chamber.

“All clear?” Lt. Masters stuck his head around the door, wanting to see inperson that it was safe.

“All clear.” The detective Casey handed Roberto to answered afterchecking to make sure the bodyguards were cuffed and weaponless.

Watching Beth out of the corner of her eye as she impatiently listened toMasters rattle on his thanks, Casey bit back a grin. Finally finished withMasters, Casey crept up behind Beth as she talked to Eduardo.

“I wouldn’t if I were you.” Beth warned, grinning as Eduardo excusedhimself for a minute.

“How’d you know I was there?” Casey ignored the warning, wrappingher arms around Beth’s waist, hugging her tightly. “See, safe and sound aspromised.” Whispered in Beth’s ear when she didn’t respond.

“Lucky for you, 99.” Beth swallowed, shaking slightly. “You wouldn’twant to deal with a mad author.”

“Hey, I’m fine. See for yourself.” Once again mistaking the shaking forfear, Casey turned the author around gently. The lack of fear and tearsbaffled the specialist. “What?”

“You were awesome, 99.” Grinning widely, Beth lightly punched Casey’sshoulder. “And you look utterly fantastic! It’s a good thing you’re on ourside. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

“Beth?” Blue eyes searched her partner’s face, not knowing what to makeof this sudden change in behavior. If she didn’t know any better, the specialistwould guess Beth totally enjoyed the performance.

“You were right. You just steam rolled over those punks. They stilldon’t know what hit them!” Laughing, Beth brushed Casey’s hair off hershoulder. “Guess I was silly to be worried.” Now that the danger was overand the author had seen her lover in action, Beth felt foolish.

“Not silly. Don’t stop worrying about me.” Casey blinked, astonished atwhat came out of her mouth.

“You feeling alright Casey?” Feeling her forehead, Beth shook her headquestioningly. “Nice and cool. What gives?”

“I like knowing you worry about me. Means you care.” Casey admitted,tugging Beth against her once again.

“Always.” Beth promised, snuggling closer.

“We should make sure Eduardo’s ok. I think he’s a little dazed by whathappened.” Reluctantly Casey straightened, taking Beth’s hand and headinginto the kitchen.

*****Epilog, 3 days later

“Sure you don’t want to come with us?” Beth teased, shooting a mockannoyed look at her reclining, resting lover. “You look entirely toocomfortable!”

“Shoot me,” Casey replied lazily, eyes inconspicuously tracking herteasing partner. “I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. You know Mrs A wouldrather go shopping with you.”

“C’mon Beth, leave! I have things to do.” The specialist thought rapidly;she had exactly 15 minutes before the decorators arrived.

“I know you have love.” Beth dropped the teasing, coming to kneelbeside Casey. “I’m sorry.” Meaning more than the teasing. “Didn’t mean todump another problem in your lap.”

“Hey, you did the right thing.” Casey sat up, suddenly serious. “You doknow that, right?”

“I know, I just wish I had waited another month.” The author cursedherself for not waiting until her lover was less busy. Money wasn’t an object,but her lover’s health was. Green eyes mutely apologized, every line on herexhausted lover’s face a slap in the face. “Just what the Hades was Ithinking?” Beth yelled at herself.

“No you shouldn’t of!” Casey gently rebuked her. “There’s nothingwrong with me that a couple of lazy days with you won’t cure.” Thespecialist shot a hidden look at the clock. Her lover had to leave. “Youbetter get going. Don’t want to keep Mrs A waiting.” Casey grasped herlover’s elbow and rose, pulling Beth up with her. “And don’t forget thatwe’re going to the Delgado’s at 2:00pm.”

“Trying to get rid of me?” Beth couldn’t believe what she was seeing andhearing. Casey was practically pushing her out the door. Frowning, she tookthe purse thrust in her hands. “If you want me to leave, just say so Casey.”Feeling her heart race out of the control, the author turned to look at herlover, not sure what Casey was saying. The fact that Casey opened the doordidn’t help matters.

“Not in this life!” Casey swore heatedly, kissing Beth lovingly. “Its justthe sooner this day is over, we can get on with our vacation. Remember?”Playfully, the specialist tugged on Beth’s hair. “So I’ll see you at 1:30pm,right?”

“Ok.” Beth glanced at her lover, trying to read her mood. Much to theauthor’s dismay, her lover’s face reflected nothing…not one single hint ofemotion. Nodding distractedly, Beth got in her 4Runner trying to figure outwhat was going on.

“Hey!” Casey stopped Beth from leaving the drive. “God, I can’t let youleave looking like that!” The forlorn, confused look on Beth’s face, cutdeeply. When Beth rolled down the window, Casey leaned in, kissing hersoundly again. “Be careful. I love you.”

“I love you too. Have a good rest, love.” Studying her lover, Beth readnothing but love in her partner’s eyes now. “What’s going on?” She musedsilently, watching as Casey pulled back and then went to meet Mrs A who wascoming across the street. “You’re really acting strangely, lover. What areyou plotting now? You better not be planning on working!”
“See you ladies at 1:30pm,” the specialist reminded her lover with apointed look. Casey was well aware of how easily Beth lost track of timewhen she shopped.

“We’ll be back.” Mrs A assured Casey, hiding her smile. “My son’scoming at 3:00pm and I need to ice a cake first.” Casey had instructed her tobring Beth home not a minute before 1:45pm. That way they’d have to leavefrom her house.

Standing back, Casey waved as they pulled away. “Thank God!” Thespecialist didn’t make it to the garage before the decorator’s truck pulled intothe drive. “That was close!” After talking to the head decorator, Casey ledthem to the back yard. As soon as Susan and Phil arrived to oversee thework, the specialist left. She had a lot to do before 1:45pm.

“There, that should do it.” The specialist stepped back, running a criticaleye over the guest bedroom’s recent additions. Mentally she checked off eachitem: makeup (although she swore Beth didn’t need it, she was beautifulwithout any help), favorite jewelry (her grandma’s diamond earrings and thegold Figaro bracelet she’d given Beth for Christmas), lacy unmentionables(Casey grinned hotly, imagining removing said items later) and the incredibleblue dress and matching heels Beth wore to her grandparent’s dedicationceremony.

“All with 10 minutes to spare.” Leaving the room, Casey headed for MrsA’s kitchen and a cold drink. “Hope you like this love.” Fretting, thespecialist went out on the porch to wait. “Never in my life have I tried to pullsomething off like this. I just want everything to be perfect.” Falling silent,Casey watched her assistant have the decorators move their truck, close thegarage door and leave. Phil would let the caterers in while she got ready. Inthe mean time, he was keeping an eye on the decorators and watching movies.

“Ok Mrs A, where are you?” Five minutes later, Casey was pacing on theporch, every thirty seconds scowling at her watch. Five more minutes ofworried pacing and the specialist had her phone out. “What if we missedsomething? Didn’t get all of Roberto’s flunkies in the raid?” Roberto’s threebodyguards fell over each other talking, none wanted to spend more time inprison than necessary. It didn’t seem likely, but she wasn’t taking anychances.

Punching in Beth’s number, Casey hit the send button just as she lookedup, seeing Beth’s 4Runner turn onto their street. Wiping the relieved smileoff her face, she sat down, stretching her long legs out, looking incrediblybored. “Behave Casey! What happened to your famed calm?” The specialistchastised herself, forcing herself to remain still. “Even though I feel likejumping! Who’d ever think that I’d be looking forward to tonight?” Grinningmentally, Casey couldn’t believe herself. The elaborate evening she’d plannedwas definitely not her style. “But here I sit, so excited I can hardly wait!”Thankful for her ability to mask her emotions, bored blue lazily followedBeth’s progress as she pulled into Mrs A’s drive. “Its about time. We’regonna be late.” Casey bounced to her feet, unable to stay still any longer,masking her bubbling energy as impatience.

“Calm down young lady.” Mrs A swatted the bouncing specialist. “Ifyou’re in such a hurry, help Beth get the packages.” Under her breath, sheapologized. “Sorry about being late. We got stuck in traffic.”

“No problem. I was just a little worried.” Casey whispered back, movingto help Beth. “Did you guys buy out the store?” Blue eyes widened when shesaw all the bags.

“No,” Beth laughed softly, relieved Casey was in a better mood now.”Don’t worry, most of these are Mrs A’s.” Quickly, Beth pulled her threebags to the side. “C’mon then, if you’re in such a hurry.”

“I’ve got them.” Casey grabbed the bags and ran up the stairs before Bethcould object. “Thanks for keeping her busy this morning!” The specialistwinked at the older woman. “See you in a couple of hours. What?” Thelook Mrs A was giving her was indescribable.

“I’m very happy for you both dear.” Mrs A patted her friend’s arm.”You’re a totally different person with Beth in your life.” The old womansmiled at Casey’s blush. “Now wipe that look off your face and get going.Beth will be wondering what we’re doing in here.”

Surprising herself and Mrs A, Casey hugged the older woman. “Thanks.I…”

“Hey, everything ok?” Beth interrupted Casey, raising a curious, worriedeyebrow at them.

“Everything’s perfect.” Casey grinned, stepping back. “C’mon you.We’re late as it is.” Wrapping an arm around Beth’s shoulder, the specialistwalked around to passenger side of the vehicle. “Since we’re already late, Ibetter drive.” Loping back to the driver’s side, Casey waved at Mrs A andjumped in, pulling out rapidly.

“I’m surprised you wanted to do this.” Beth prodded gently, expecting tobe politely ignored or to hear more about baseball. Every question orpersonal comment on the twenty minute drive Casey had ignored or changedthe subject. “Why won’t you tell me what’s going on with you?” Bethgroaned silently, nervous and worried.

“Didn’t see a way out of it.” Casey flashed a quick appraising look atBeth. Frowning slightly at the nervous tension in her lover’s face, thespecialist reached over and snagged Beth’s hand, placing it on her thigh,mentally adding. “Sorry for worrying you love. I promise tonight will beworth it though.” Unable to hold back her grin, Casey dropped her hand tocover her lover’s. “They started talking about paying us for stoppingRoberto.”

“So you suggested a neighborhood party instead.” Beth finished forCasey, smiling brightly. “Better be careful lover.” The author smirked,raising an eyebrow suggestively. “People are going to start thinking youactually like being around kids.” The Delgado’s neighborhood was full ofkids of all ages.

“Well, I’ll scowl a lot!” Stopping at a light, Casey demonstrated her “I’mmad don’t mess with me look”. “Hey! You’re not helping, Elizabeth!”

“Sorry!” Beth laughed even louder when Casey pouted.

“Sure you are!” A moment later, Casey turned serious. “We won’t stayto long. I’m still kind of tired. And you need your rest too. We’re leavingearly tomorrow morning and we still have to pack this evening.” Caseystretched the truth a bit. The only thing on the agenda this evening was Beth;she’d already taken care of everything else.

“You let me know when you’re ready to leave, Casey.” The authordecided if Casey was admitting to still being tired, she must be exhausted.”And if I think you’re too tired, we’ll leave even sooner.” She promisedherself silently, removing her hand from Casey’s leg to pull her hair back.

“Ready?” Casey turned off the vehicle, picking up her cell phone.

“I think they were waiting for us!” Beth cocked an eyebrow at Casey,indicating the Delgado children who came out of the front of the restaurantwhen they parked.

“Lets go then.” Laughing for no reason, Casey grabbed her lover’s hand,following her into the crowd.

“Is everything set for tonight?” Alberta spoke quietly to Casey, bothwatching Beth head for fresh drinks.

“Yeah. Mrs A should be calling any minute.” Casey paused, graciouslyaccepting thanks from the grocer. Hiding her growing annoyance at being ina crowd, the specialist reminded herself this was her idea. She could ofthought of another way to keep Beth occupied while the decorators finished.Smiling as Beth returned, Casey slipped her arm around her shoulders.

Beth reached her ringing cell phone first. Frowning, Casey excusedherself. Mrs A was expecting her, not Beth. But Beth refused to relinquishthe phone, growing pale. The specialist quirked an eyebrow as her loverassured Mrs A everything would be ok; they’d be right over. “Somethingwrong Beth? Mrs A’s ok?”

“Mrs A’s son is trying to force her to move into a ‘retirement home’.”Beth scowled at the phone. “Damn man! Doesn’t care enough to visit hismother! How does he know what’s best for her? He’s got another thingcoming if he thinks he can railroad her out of her home. No one messes withMrs A!” Beth growled over her shoulder, navigating the crowded street.

“Calm down love.” Casey pulled abreast of Beth, taking her hand. “Wewon’t let him.” The specialist wasn’t sure if Mrs A deserved an acting awardor if there really was trouble. “Go grab the stuff Alberta prepared for Mrs Aand I’ll pick you up in back.” At Beth’s glare she added. “It will only take asecond. You know how much Mrs A likes Alberta’s cooking.”
“You’re right.” Beth sighed heavily, extremely worried. “I’ll be rightout.”

As soon as Beth entered the building, Casey pulled out her phone anddialed Mrs A. A look had the kids away from the 4Runner. Beth exited thebuilding just as Casey closed her phone. “My friend, you definitely should ofbeen an actress.” Wiping the grin off her face, Casey reached over andopened the door for Beth. “I called Mrs A back and she’s ok. Told her we’dgo to my lawyer’s in the morning.” “What’s one more little fib?” Thoughtquietly, not liking lying to Beth for any reason.

“We’ll just leave a little later then.” Beth confirmed, buckling up. Fallingsilent, Beth studied the road, battling her rising anger. “How dare anyonemess with my adopted grandma?” That thought kept slamming around herhead, hands clenching and unclinching unconsciously.

“Maybe you should say something.” Casey stared at her fuming lover,feeling guilty. “How can she enjoy tonight if I put her through this? Its notright. Of course when she finds out its all a ploy, she’s gonna be mad.”Taking the changing light as a sigh, Casey reached over and touched Beth’scheek. “Sweetheart,” Casey swallowed, seeing the unshed tears in Beth’spained eyes. “Its gonna be alright. I promise.”

“Coward!” She screamed at herself, Beth’s torment hitting her with bothfists. “Your lover’s in pain and your still playing games. Tell her!”

“I know, we won’t let anyone hurt her.” Beth tried to smile, readingCasey’s worry accurately.

“That’s a fact.” Casey took a breath, pulling to the side of the road whenthe light changed. Turning to face Beth, she took both of her hands in herown.


“Shh, let me explain.” Glancing at their linked hands, Casey drew herstrength and courage from her fierce, unending love for Beth. “There’snothing to worry about. Mrs A is fine. There’s no emergency.”

“What?” Beth shook her head, thoroughly confused. “You’re sayingthere’s nothing wrong?” Her anger found a new target as Casey noddedhesitantly. Trying to jerk her hands away, Beth settled for words spitten outin anger since her hands were firmly held. “That’s a really TERRIBLE thingto do to me. I was really worried about her! I suppose you really did wantme out of the house this morning too. If you wanted to leave, why didn’t yousay so? I can’t believe you did that to me.” The author fell silent again.

“Considering my grandparents.” The specialist’s mind supplied easily. “Ican’t either.” The words were spoken quietly, and seemed to have no affecton her author. “You’ve got one chance to make it right. Don’t blow it!” Foronce, the specialist’s heart and head were in agreement.

“Please listen to me. I love you with everything that I am. I would neverintentionally hurt you, never send you away. I need you, need us. It neveroccurred to me that this would happen. I just wanted to surprise you.” Thespecialist blinked back her own tears. “I just wanted to do something nice forher. Why does it always back fire?” Feeling like she was fighting for theirrelationship, Casey opened her mouth to continue.

“I love you too Casey.” Beth answered softly, regretting her poor choiceof words, the intense guilt on Casey’s face triggering her own. “I’m sorry.”Releasing her seatbelt, the author reached for Casey who mirrored heractions.

“You didn’t do anything.” Casey whispered, hugging Beth tightly. “Thiswas all my fault. Mrs A just improvised when you answered my phone.”

“So you’re planning a surprise, 99?” Beth mumbled against her tremblinglover’s neck. The author felt the hesitant nod. “Well then, hadn’t we betterget going?”

“I’m sorry. I never meant to scare or hurt you.” Casey released Bethwhen she sat up.

“I know you didn’t Casey.” Beth grinned, relieved. “Change the subject,Beth. You both need to calm down.” The author thought, studying her lover.”So what’s my surprise? What have you planned? C’mon, tell me. Please?”

“After going through all that, I’m not telling.” Casey slapped herselfmentally while she spoke, telling her heart to ignore Beth’s pleading. Muchto Casey’s surprise, she kept her mouth shut all the way home. Pulling ontotheir street, Casey shot a wry look at her lover. “Take it easy on her, please?”

“Ok, I promise.” Beth sighed dramatically. “Sure I can’t convince you totell me?”

“Nope.” Grinning mischievously, the specialist pulled into Mrs A’sdriveway. Leaning over, she nuzzled Beth’s cheek, not able to part without atouch of some kind. “See you at home in a few minutes.” She fibbed,trusting the older woman to get Beth into the guest bedroom. Then her planswould be obvious. Casey figured Beth was thinking she wanted a fewminutes to light some candles. “Little does she know!” Casey chuckled,watching Beth run up the porch stairs.

Pulling into the garage, Casey met Phil as he came out of the house.”Looks beautiful Casey.” Phil pulled her to the back of the garage. “See?”

Gulping loudly at the sight, blue eyes widened; their backyard looked likea garden paradise. “Yes it is. Beth will love it.”

“Better get ready.” Phil pushed her towards the house. “The caterers willbe back with the food in 15 minutes. As soon as they’re done, I’m outtahere.” When his friend stopped, he pushed her a little harder. “Enjoy yourvacation. I don’t want to see or hear from you for ten days, got it?” Heglowered at her, trying to look fierce.

“Getting bossy there, Phil.” Casey glared back, then laughed. “Thanksfor everything.” Turning, Casey ran downstairs, missing Phil’s envious look.

“Whatever it is, can’t it wait?” Beth whined, miserably following Mrs Adown the hall. It had already been five minutes since she ran up the stairs andthe suspense was killing her.

“This will just take a moment.” Mrs A bit back a grin. “Surely you canspare a moment to help me straighten the curtains in the guest bedroom? Butif you’re too busy, I’ll try and do it myself. Just give me your phone in case Ifall off the chair.”

“No, no. I have time. Lead the way.” Beth sighed, following the olderwoman, never once suspecting she was being set up.

“Right in here dear.” Opening the door, Mrs A stepped to the side, lettingBeth see the contents of the room. “Close your mouth, dear. Gotcha!” Theolder woman laughed merrily, delighting in her friend’s surprise.

“You two!” Beth stared open mouthed, eyes sparkling. “Just what areyou planning, love?” She giggled with the thought.

“Get ready, Casey’s waiting.” Mrs A took Beth’s hands in her own.”You both are very lucky. A love like yours is very rare and very special.Hold on to what you have with both hands. Don’t ever take each other forgranted or let anything drive you apart. You’re both strong separately, buttogether you’re complete.”

“Thanks Mrs A.” Beth sniffled, the words touching her deeply. “She’swaiting, huh?”

“That she is.” Mrs A quietly left the room, shutting the door behind her.

“Mrs A?” Beth yelled a little over an hour later. She’d been mostefficient, using the time to the most of her advantage. “How do I look?”

“Oh my!” Mrs A exclaimed, eyes sparkling. “You look gorgeous, dear.”Walking to Beth, she carefully hugged her, then surveyed the messy roomwith delighted eyes.

“I’ll clean it up before I leave.” Beth promised, noticing Mrs A’swandering eyes.

“No, no!” Mrs A replied forcefully. “You don’t want to keep Caseywaiting.” The older woman led Beth downstairs into the parlor. “Nothing ismore important than the love you share with Casey. Everything else can wait.Now,” she sniffled, reaching for the phone. “I’ll tell Casey you’re ready.”

“I’ll be right over. Thanks Mrs A.” Hanging up the phone, Casey took adeep breath. Stepping out on the patio, the specialist started the music, eyeswidening in surprise, the entire yard gently throbbing. “You devil!”Chuckling as how Phil spent his afternoon became apparent, blue eyes flewacross the carefully decorated yard. Seeing nothing out of place, Caseychecked her appearance one final time before walking across the street.

The front door opened as she walked up the stairs. “Good evening Casey.Beth is in the parlor, waiting.” The old woman refrained from commentingon how delightful Casey looked, reading the anxious worry in her eyes.”Have a wonderful evening dear. I don’t know of two people who deserve itmore.” Grinning, the old woman sank into the background, watching heryoung friends.

“Thanks Mrs A. Couldn’t have done this without you.” Casey smiled,shaking her head as her nervousness. “C’mon Casey!” She told herselfsternly, following. “Its just Beth!”

Clearing the door, she froze, eyes sweeping over her lover. “You’rebeautiful.” When the words left her mouth, the specialist groaned softly,totally stunned.

“Thanks.” Beth spoke softly, shyly. “You look absolutely stunning.”Green eyes slid down her lover’s tuxedo clad body possessively. Extendingher left hand, the author spoke one word. “Mine.” It wasn’t a question or asimple statement. It was a declaration of intent. The author had theimmediate satisfaction of watching Casey nod instantly.

“Your’s.” The specialist was released from her temporary paralysis,instinctively answering her question. Taking Beth’s hand in her own, Caseysmiled sensually. “Ms Jamieson, will you do me the honor of accompanyingme this evening?”

“With pleasure.” Beth returned her lover’s smile, following her willingly.:
“Close your eyes.” Casey instructed gently, smiling widely, when Bethnodded, closing her eyes. Leading her to the back door, Casey opened itsilently. “Open your eyes Sweetheart.”

Green eyes fluttered open curiously. Gasping in pleasant surprise, Bethtook one hesitant step forward. “What?” Green landed on the fresh flowertrellises, creating stunning walls of color. “I…” The music washed over theauthor, the gentle breeze moving the flowers in rhythm. Unconsciously herheart picked up the beat. Eyes wide, Beth drank in the riot of color, vividlyintense red and yellow, accented with shades of green. Carefully placed,hidden lights cast an alluring glow. Secluded on the far corner of the petalstrewn patio sat a formally decorated, lace covered dinning table. “Casey, itsbeautiful.” Finally Beth managed to find her voice.

“You like it?” Casey asked needlessly; her lover’s sparkling eyes told herall she needed to know.

“Thank you. I love it.” The author knew Casey was trying to show herlove in a way she would appreciate. Beth confirmed, smiling softly. “I’venever felt so special, so loved. I love you, Casey Bennett.”

“I love you too, Beth.” Drawing a deep breath, sparkling blue met andheld dazzling green. “Now and forever.” Heart beating strongly, surely, shecontinued, never speaking truer words. “You complete my life. Withoutyou, your faith, your belief, your love, I’m an empty shell. Lost. Alone.Afraid.” Brining Beth’s hand to her lips, Casey kissed the symbol of her love,her promise. “With you,” the specialist lovingly caressed her lover’s hand,then released her, turning to indicate the now beautiful backyard. “I’m happy,satisfied, fulfilled.” Casey stepped back, quirking an eyebrow. “Dance withme.” Meaning for all time.

Wordlessly, Beth took Casey’s outstretched hand, being led farther ontothe carpet of flowers. Molding herself to her lover’s larger frame, Beth kissedthe soft flesh under Casey’s ear. Swaying gently with the music, Casey ledand Beth willingly followed, exchanging softly spoken promises of love mixed with tender, heartfelt kisses.

The End
Continued in Forever, Remember?

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