Disclaimers: See Part 1.
"It was for her own good, she'll thank me later." The coach sat next to her and looked around for the rest of the group that would be joining them.
Emily smoothed out the linen shirt she had put over her shorts that morning before answering him. She had gotten a call from her mother telling her if she was going to appear on the cover of any more magazines she would be forced to look at in the grocery check out line, the least Emily could do was dress a little nicer. "I'm sure she will, and they are getting some bottles of water so stop looking."
"She's really mad?" asked Gary.
"Let's just say when you called last night, I was one happy camper and you interrupted before I was able to, well you know."
"Return the favor?"
"Keep it up, Coach Gary, and I'll let you foolishly wander into the lion's den down there," Emily pointed toward the locker room area. When she looked to the end of her finger Parker was standing there looking up at them with a muscular looking Della Sanchez standing next to her. "That's a really big girl."
"Yeah, and as powerful I know Parker is, that woman standing next to her scares me. She beat Parker last year in straight sets. That was bad enough but the bitch taunted her throughout the whole match. It made Park so mad that it threw off her whole game including her serve." Gary greeted the rest of the crew that had arrived loaded with drinks and snacks before looking back toward the court.
"What do you mean she taunted her?" asked Emily.
Gray cracked open her water, as she too looked toward her sister's warm up. She answered Emily before Gary had the chance. "You'll see once this match starts. I can't imagine that Della has changed her style that much. She pushed too far last year and was disqualified in England, that's why she didn't play. The bitch's started the shit already telling the papers that's the only reason Parker walked away with the title."
Parker was warming up with some serves trying to ignore the asshole across the net from her. Della smirked at her when the first ball flew by her and just walked to her chair and sat down not giving Parker the satisfaction of trying to hit it back. The ball boy tried not to show any pain from the sting in his hands from catching serve after serve that Parker started shooting over the net as she tried to put her mind where it belonged. Della looked up into the stands looking for Gary and the rest of Parker's family knowing it was where she would find the person she was really looking for.
Emily watched Della as she reached into her bag and pulled out the rag with her picture on it and kissed it before blowing another kiss into the stands. Parker's opponent just laughed when a red faced Emily stood up and put her hands on her hips.
"Gary, get me down there now." The anger in Emily's voice was hard to miss by anyone sitting around them, and the photographers in the audience got ready for anything that came of Della's teasing.
"Calm down, Sparky. She's trying to get to Parker through you, don't let that happen right before the match." Gary dragged Emily back to her seat and tried reason.
"I don't want to see that overgrown adolescent, I want to see Parker before this thing starts."
Parker looked up into the stands for Emily before heading back down the tunnel to change her shirt before the match only to be surprised to find she and Gary waiting for her deep enough into the tunnel that the spectators would see them. "Hey, what're you doing down here?"
"Waiting to wish you luck, and to tell you a few things," answered Emily.
"Hey, Gary would you grab me a fresh shirt?" Gary nodded his head and left to find Parker's stuff. The only one that didn't take the hint was Della, who leaned against the tunnel wall opposite them and just stared.
"Parker, if I asked you to do something for me, would you?"
"Sure, baby, if I can. What'd you want?"
"I want you to go out there and beat the crap out of that asshole over there," Emily pointed to Della and aimed her middle finger at her when the woman blew her a kiss again.
Parker smiled at the little blonde pit bull before pulling her close. "And what do I get if I pull that off. You know she's the one that beat the crap out of me last year?"
Emily could hear Gary coming back so she tugged the shirt Parker had on and peeled it off her body. She took the towel Gary had handed her and mopped off all the sweat Parker had exuded during her warm up before putting the new one on, keeping the old one. When Parker had tucked the new billboard as she called them, Emily dragged her head down and kissed her.
"You want to know what you get?" Parker nodded her head so Emily pulled her back down again and started whispering in her ear. Gary almost fainted when whatever Emily was saying started to make Parker so weak in the knees she had to lean against the wall. When she was done, Emily kissed Parker's ear and looked up at her.
"Really?" asked Parker.
"Yes, and I'll even take the phone off the hook but only if I get to come back here Sunday for the finals to watch you play."
"You should give motivational classes," said Parker, as she and Della watched Emily unbutton the shirt she had on, take it off and hand it to Parker.
"For luck." Emily tucked it into Parker's bag and put on the t-shirt Parker had just taken off. "I have to admit these look a lot better on you." Emily looked down to the loose fitting garment that smelled like Parker.
"I think you look good in my clothes, baby, and as soon as I'm finished kicking Della's ass, you'll look even better out of them."
The opponents had already been introduced and had taken their places by the time Gary and Emily made it back to their seats. Della was serving first and while Parker jumped on every one that came over the net, the level of Della's play held on and she won the game. The first photograph that most of the paparazzi shot of Emily was of her biting her thumbnail when Della broke Parker's serve and went up two games to none.
It was amazing to Parker less than an hour later as she sat toweling off her face that she had lost the first set winning not one game. She looked toward Della watching the last of the water in the bottle she was drinking slide down her throat. The idiot didn't even look all that winded.
"Do you think she'll deliver all the stuff she promised you if I win? Tell her I'm staying at the Hilton if she's only interested in sleeping with the winner. All that delicious looking skin looked mighty inviting." Della was starting the next part of her game plan, which was to mess with Parker's mind destroying what was left of her concentration.
"She's not your type, Della." Parker sounded calm despite the fact all she wanted to do was get up and smash every racquet in her bag over the woman's head.
"Blonde, beautiful and sexy. What about all that isn't my type?"
"She's all that, but she's human, I only thought you were into dogs. Or is that the only kind of bitch you can get to go out with you? You know, you should really be careful about how much you drink when going out for the evening. At closing time everyone seems to look like my girl, but I'm convinced it's the lighting in those places."
"Laugh it up, King. Forty minutes to go before you get to go home to the bitch so she can lick your wounds."
"What Emily licks on me, asshole, is really not any of your business."
"Quiet please." Parker waited for the crowd to follow the man's instructions before she turned around and asked for some balls. It was time to give Della Sanchez a taste of what she loved to dish out.
"Fifteen, love." The score got the crowd into the game and the announcer to scream into every radio headphones in the stadium. Parker King had woken up from the nap she had been taking during the first set.
"I don't know where that came from, but hopefully Parker can keep it up," said the excited radio announcer about the ace Parker had just served up.
Parker was feeling good and looking forward to the next to sets of tennis, because hell if she was losing this. To get Della even madder than she was from swinging and missing the serve, Parker moon walked to the other side of the court to serve again. This time the ball came over the net with the same intensity but Della got a piece of it only to have it skitter off into the stands. The crowd when wild when Parker twirled her racquet and pretended to holster it after the, "Thirty, love," came over the loud speakers.
"She's smoking now, tennis fans, and isn't Della surprised. And Ms. Sanchez should be grateful that the crowd came alive with Parker during those last couple of serves, because her language would have gotten her thrown out had the chair heard that last outburst." The announcer and everyone else watching could read the woman's lips though and he had been right.
The next hour was pinpointed by long blistering volleys that started to show wear on Della's face. The power player wasn't used to the amount of running Parker was making her do, and with each short run from one end of the court to the other, her face was starting to turn red.
In the middle of the third set, Della stopped play for at least five minutes to have an argument with the line judge over what she deemed to be a questionable call. Parker just bounced the ball on her side and looked up into the stands waving back to Emily who had stood and blown her a kiss for the tennis she had seen so far. Most of the reporters in the stands had not missed the change in attire when Emily and Gary got back to the stands. The new couple was making women's tennis even more exciting than it already was.
"Game, set and match, Miss King." The announcement came after Parker had broken Della's serve for the third time in the third match. Parker shook hands with her at the net and tried to ignore the quick 'fuck you' Della said when Parker turned and waved toward the crowd. The win put her that much closer to the only title she didn't have.
Like in all her other matches, Parker stopped at the entrance to the tunnel and took the time to sign autographs. She picked randomly from the pieces of paper that were being held over the side along with pens. In an automatic move she grabbed the one closest to her hand when the item she had just finished signing was handed back to its owner. It wasn't until she had it in her hand that Parker noticed it was an envelope and it had her name on it. There was no way to tell in the sea of faces who it belonged to when she looked back into the crowd. With a quick wave she turned and walked back into the tunnel leaving a hoard of disappointed fans clutching unsigned programs.
"Honey, that was brilliant," yelled Emily when they made it down to the locker room after the match. Parker looked pumped by the win but tired. The heat in New York was starting to become a drain, the clay of the courts only intensifying the heat.
"I aim to please." Parker bent down to kiss her lover before picking up her bag.
"What you did was aim for the baselines and kicked the shit out of Della," said Gary.
"You I'm not talking to, and if you put your fingers anywhere near a phone to call Emily's apartment you will find New York City not big enough for you to hide, you putz."
"Parker, apologize to Gary," chastised Emily.
"I help you win and this's the thanks I get?" Gary tried to sound wounded.
"It's nice to know that you attribute all my skill to sexual frustration, coach."
"If that's the case, you ain't getting any until after next Sunday," teased Emily. She started squealing when Parker picked her up and threw her over a broad shoulder and started walking toward the door. "Parker, my mother has seen me on the cover of the Enquirer once this week, you make it two and there will be hell to pay."
Parker put her down and tried to maintain her good mood. It was hard considering the love note she had been handed before coming down the tunnel. She was kicking herself now for not paying attention to who had handed her the envelope. Whoever it was, was the stalker that had been sending the notes all along. Parker recognized the fanciful handwriting the moment the paper slid open in her hand. The decision not to tell Emily, Parker convinced herself was to protect the pilot from worry.
Later when they got to the apartment, Emily showed her what seemed to be the three hundredth lesson in relationships, centering on an open dialog lecture when Parker let her read the note. It was just one of the many ways Parker figured Emily would change the way she lived her life, but getting to share her days with the pilot made a lecture on anything worthwhile.
"Call him right now."
"Let's go take a shower then I'll call. Come on, Em, it's not like the stalker is going to burst in here and kill us both," Parker tried to reason. The argument had started in the car when she had made the mistake of showing Emily the letter she had gotten.
The nut that was sending them had attached the picture of Emily that had been in the paper with a promise to the blonde to save her from Parker's evil influence. The more Parker looked at it, the more it niggled the back of her mind that she should recognize something about the letters and the way they were written. The old fashioned calligraphy was an odd way for someone who wanted to kill you to pen the death notice. It was almost like an invitation to die at the time they decided.
Emily picked up the phone and handed it to Parker along with the card Detective Sully had given her when he had dropped by her practice. The police officer had left an extra in case Parker needed to call him since Gary had taken the first one he handed out.
"This is serious, Parker. There's some nut case out there that wants to send you to the big tennis court in the sky, and I think that it's time for you to start taking that with some degree of respect." She put the phone down for a moment and walked to where Parker was sitting on the bed and stood in between her legs. "I love you, Kong, and I want you around for years to come. Please do it for me?"
"Ah, come on not that look." Parker got up, picked up the phone and dialed the number. It didn't take a lot of arm-twisting to get Logan to agree to meet them at Emily's apartment.
Emily got Parker to lie down until Logan arrived hoping a short nap would ease the exhaustion from Parker's face. She never heard the knock or the conversation Emily had with the detective when he arrived. He took the letter and envelope with him to be dusted for prints, promising to come back later to question Parker. Logan had watched the match on television and couldn't blame Parker for shutting down for a while. As he stepped back into the heat, Logan Sully never saw the figure leaning against a tree further up the street.
Had he bothered to look, Logan might have questioned the rosary hanging down from clenched fingers. The soldier of God had methodically moved from bead to bead as he prayed for the opportunity to rid the world of Parker King. She would be the first of the King sisters to receive salvation through death.
"The lord will cleanse the evil that runs through you, Parker. I'll see to it myself." With the rosary finished, the slightly bent figure turned and headed in the direction of the lower end hotel where the tools for the job at hand were housed. It was time to do some cleansing of his own soul, so that when the time came his hand would be true and holy.
The man behind the desk never looked in as the renter passed him on the way to the slow elevator toward the back of the entrance hall. There had been no complaints about the lodger that had arrived two weeks before the big tennis tournament, and the maid hadn't been in the room in that long, turned away every day by the do not disturb sign on the door. Had she ventured past it, the police would have been alerted from just the screaming alone.
The man looked at no one as he moved down the hall. The hotel still used keys and he had to jiggle it in the lock to get the mechanism to work before it allowed him to enter. On one bed there was a collection of knives that could have been used as mirrors the shine was so great. Only one of them was wrapped in a piece of heavy linen material, which could've easily been the nicest thing found in the room. This one was special because it had the blood of the beast on it from his first attempt outside the restaurant.
He fell to his knees in front of a small children's inflatable pool with a wire mesh over it and started his purification ritual. "I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end. He who believes in me shall know the kingdom of heaven." The lord didn't care if he remembered the words exactly as the nuns had taught him years ago, what mattered was he believed.
"Lord, I need your help in defeating the beast. She is loved by the crowds who know no better." He lifted the mesh from the pool slowly and reached inside. The movement of his hand caused the warning rattles to sound, but it didn't stop him from continuing. God was on his side and would protect him from the serpents.
"Show me a sign, Lord." The thick strong body of the rattler coiled around his right arm leaving itself enough room to still be able to sound his death rattle. Instead of instilling fear, he reached for another one and it too wrapped around his other arm. He lifted both agitated snakes into the air and looked at the viper's eyes. They were unblinking as both heads were poised for a strike. Their handler had given them enough room to do that if that was their choice.
His life had been spent on trying to serve the god he believed existed. A god that struck down those who went against his word by using holy soldiers carefully chosen to do his bidding, this god had no compassion for those who lived their lives outside of the norm. The faithful servant holding the snakes had spun off from his church and formed his own religion along with the type of Supreme Being he followed. There was no room for decent.
He watched in amazement as a drop of venom dripped from the larger one's mouth but he didn't strike. "I shall do your bidding, Lord God." His arm still tingled where the venom had come to rest as he put his tests of faith back in their lair. The time was at hand.
"Why does your hair always smell so good?"
"I saw the brand of shampoo you wear on your right sleeve and decided to try it out," answered Emily. She was curled up on the bed with Parker pressed against her running her fingers through the blonde hair.
"Keep this up and I may have to spank you."
"As lovely as that thought might be, Logan's due back any minute and I want to be dressed when he arrives."
"Where's your sense of adventure, baby? Wouldn't Mother Parish love to read about her little girl's wild and sexy ways?"
"Keep it up and my mother will have a field day with you. She already thinks you're a bad influence on me."
"I can't be that bad since I can't talk you out of these shorts." Emily turned around at the tease and ran her finger along Parker's lips.
"Would you come with me to meet my mother?" The question sounded almost tentative to Parker who put two fingers under Emily's chin and lifted her head.
"I'd go anywhere with you, baby, never fear that."
The knock on the door was what ended the kiss they were sharing. Parker was starting to think it was some conspiracy to keep her from touching Emily. She looked at the front door of the apartment with the same sentiment she held for the phone next to Emily's bed.
"Logan, how goes the manhunt?" asked Parker.
"I'd offer you a place to sit but Emily hasn't gone furniture shopping yet. How about the three of us go and grab an early dinner? When you're finished telling me about the psycho chasing after me, I'll give you some tennis pointers."
They took Logan's police sedan to a small family owned Italian restaurant the detective was partial to before the talk of stalkers began. The results the FBI crime lab had come up with were still baffling not only them but the New York police staff as well. The Fed boys had run an analysis on the ink that proved to shed some more light on the perpetrator, but exactly what the spotlight showed was unknown.
"We gave them all the letters that have been sent so far, and they all came back with no prints but with one thing in common," explained Logan.
"What's that?" asked Emily. She reached over and took the fifth bread stick headed toward Parker's mouth away from her.
"What? I'm hungry."
"It's going to spoil your appetite for the tremendous amount of food you ordered so be quiet and pay attention." Emily turned her head back to Logan and nodded for him to continue.
"The ink this guy used is mixed with a toxin. My contacts at the FBI thought that if he was using some sort of different ink we could trace it to were he or she bought it and get a bead on them that way. Turns out the ink is fairly common, but what makes it unique is that the prep mixes it with rattle snake venom."
Emily sat and stared at the salad the waiter had put down while Logan was talking. Next to her Parker picked up her fork and started to twirl the fettuccini she had ordered as an appetizer getting ready to take a bite. It was as if Logan had complimented her on her shoe selection Emily thought, the tennis player acted so unaffected.
"Where does one buy rattle snake venom?" asked Parker. "I mean, I've never been to the grocery when an announcement was made for a price check on register two for rattle snake venom." The joke made Emily get up and run toward the bathroom. "Excuse me a minute, will you?" Parker put her fork down and followed the upset woman.
The last stall in the tiny restroom was closed and Parker could hear sniffling coming from the other side. "Can I come in?" asked Parker. When she didn't get an answer, Parker stepped into the middle stall and stepped up on the toilet. "Please don't shut me out, Em."
"I don't know what it's going to take for you to start treating this like a threat? It doesn't seem fair that I just found you and someone's trying their damnedest to kill you, and you treat it like it's fan mail."
"Open the door for me a second, please?"
Emily reached over and unlatched the door. The size of Parker's body seemed to fill the opening when the door swung back and hit the wall. Not caring for how clean the floor was, Parker kneeled in front of the upset woman and cradled her face in her hands.
"I can't live in fear, Em, it's not who I am. While nothing of this magnitude has happened before, I won't let it change the person I am inside. To do that would mean that I'd have to walk away from you, and no one can ask me to do that. As long as they're intent is set on me, I don't have to worry about you, and I want to keep it that way. I love you, and I know you worry, but this is not going to beat us or me."
"You can't promise that." Emily looked at her like she wanted to believe what Parker was saying, but the tears won out.
"I can and I will. I promise you, baby, this creep with the snake ink is not going to get near me. The right to get in and stay in my personal space is reserved only for you."
"Is it wrong to want you to be careful?" asked Emily.
"No, and I promise I'll start to check our my surroundings more carefully. If this idiot went through all the trouble of milking some deadly snake to pen me a letter, I'm thinking they bare a little more caution on my end. Come on before your salad gets cold."
"It's a salad, Parker, it's supposed to be cold." Emily accepted the hand up, but appreciated the hug she got more when she was on her feet.
"Yeah, but I'm thinking Alfredo's turning over in his grave when he sees what a congealed mess my fettuccini has turned into."
"Sorry, Logan," said Emily when she made it back to the table.
"I understand what you're going through, Emily, don't worry about it. This case is confusing in that there are plenty of gay athletes out there, I don't understand why this guy is so fixated on Parker. The only explanation is that she maybe makes the papers a little more than the others with her life off the court."
Emily stabbed into her salad and looked up at Parker with an arched blonde brow. "Those days are over, detective, I can promise you that. Otherwise she'll be making the papers for another set of reasons."
"It was bound to happen," said Parker.
"What's that, honey?" Emily asked reaching over for Parker's hand.
"I've gone from being the Hugh Hefner of the courts, to henpecked so fast I'm having a case of whiplash."
Logan laughed at the confession, but the lovesick look on Parker's face let him know she wasn't too torn up over the development. "To bring you two up to date on our investigation, besides the venom laced ink, the letters contained no fingerprints and the stationary can be found in thousands of stores across the country. The guys over at the FBI did agree to work up a profile on our stalker and see where exactly we should be concentrating our efforts. I keep saying he, but in reality this could be a woman."
"Well if part of the profile turns out to be throwing drinks on Parker for any reason, you may have your work cut out for you," said Emily. Logan looked at her like he didn't understand and Parker was looking at her through blue slits.
"Happens that often, does it?" asked Logan with the same teasing tone Emily had used.
"You can count me out now since I'll let you know my whereabouts when the notes where sent since I'm guilty of doing it myself once. There's that and the fact I'm terrified of snakes." Emily leaned over and kissed Parker's cheek trying to get of the pout that she had helped put there.
The group spent the rest of the meal talking about Logan's tennis game. Emily decided to go out and buy a racket and try to learn the basics. With any luck she would be able to talk Parker into playing a slow game with her on that great court she had at home. Their new friend gave them a ride home with a promise to keep them informed on what both the NYPD and FBI discovered in the investigation.
One of Emily's neighbors shook her head at the pilot who was teasing Parker unmercifully as she tried to unlock the front door. The fear that had prevailed earlier in the evening had vanished as Parker had done everything she could to clear Emily's mind of the current threat.
"Hurry up, honey, I have a promise to keep," said Emily as her hands went under Parker's shirt.
Parker jumped a little when the small hands hit a ticklish spot causing her to drop the keys again. "If you don't behave you're going to have to get naked out here in the hall."
The lock finally relented and Parker picked Emily up and felt the strong legs wrap around her waist as Emily hung on for the ride to the bedroom. Emily was biting Parker's bottom lip softly trying to rile her up for what was to come. It felt good to feel the bed under her and Parker on top of her when they reached the end of their walk through the apartment. Then one little sound stopped them both cold.
"Emily, don't move, honey." Parker looked up slowly and saw the lump right next to Emily's head under the sheet. Neither of them had noticed it when they walked in so caught up in each other, and even if they had studied the bed the spot that was now moving looked like a fold in the sheet.
"Parker, what is that?" The rattling got louder and Emily felt like if her heart beat any faster it was going to start shaking the bed.
"It's either a really big vibrator that's motion controlled," started Parker.
"I don't own a vibrator," whispered Emily trying to control her laughter at Parker's pitiful attempt to cheer her up right then.
"Then my second guess is it's a rattle snake."
"What're we going to do?"
"Lock your legs around my waist and slowly bring your arms around my neck," instructed Parker.
"Baby, I love talking to you, you know that, but having long conversations in a bed with a pit viper is not my idea of a hot time." Parker watched as the snake uncoiled and slithered closer and the rattling got louder.
They moved as a unit off the bed and toward the door with Emily hanging on for dear life. The last thing Parker saw was the fangs that had broken through the sheet inches from where Emily's head had been. Whoever had done this had gone too far now, and she hoped she was armed with her tennis rackets when the bozo finally did decide to come out of hiding.
"Wait here," ordered Parker when they had reached the living room. She had to get rid of the snake before the damn thing crawled off somewhere in the apartment and laid eggs or something. It was a long shot, but she had seen too many movies in hotel rooms around the world not to want to take the chance. Parker unzipped her bag and pulled out one of her practice rackets.
"You can't leave me here all by myself, I'm coming with you. Can I borrow a racket?" asked Emily. Parker pulled another one out of the bag and handed it to her shadow. "This is the first time you've let me touch these things," said Emily grasping it with two hands.
"Make a mental note for the future. If there's any type of dangerous critter in the room, please don't hesitate to come out swinging."
The rattle was visible when they got back into the room, but thankfully the dangerous end was still caught up in the bedding. Parker didn't have a lot of experience with reptiles, but whoever this one belonged to must have fed it well it was so thick. The first swing Parker took made the rattle stand almost ridged before it started in over time again. She kept at it until there was a visible bloodstain and the damn thing wasn't moving any more.
"I bet that guy Steve Irwin would have me beaten if he had witnessed this," said Parker.
Emily shivered thinking about the whole thing as she clutched Parker's racket to her chest. "How do you think it got in here?"
"Aren't rattle snakes indigenous to New York City?" asked Parker.
"Only on Wall Street, honey."
"Touché, pretty lady. Are you ok?"
"I have to admit that I should be more freaked out with the fact there was a snake in my bed, but having you here made it all right. You make me feel safe, Parker." Emily dropped her racket and ran to Parker for a hug. "It's kinda creepy that someone we don't know was in here though."
"Yeah, cause that puppy was too chunky to slither under the door. Let's call Logan to come and do whatever needs to be done and then check ourselves into the Plaza. Maybe I can have the thing skinned and made into a headband for the finals."
"Are you going to buy us a new bed?" asked Emily.
"Not just that but a couple of chairs so I can put my socks on in the morning." The siren outside signaled Logan's return along with another couple of units to dust the apartment and interview the neighbors who might have seen something.
The two women left as soon as the police were through with their questions getting a promise from Logan to lock up when he was done. Gray, Kimmie and Gary were waiting for them at the Plaza when their cab arrived wanting to see in person they were all right. When they were finally alone, Parker held onto to Emily as the shock of what happened leaked out in a jag of hysterical crying.
The stalker had gotten so close that Parker made no more promises. Keeping Emily safe had been paramount in her mind from the moment she had heard that rattle, and now would be no different. She was going to accept the police protection that Logan had offered initially, if only to keep the blonde in her arms whole.
"Good morning, do you need help finding your seats?" The usher at the Open looked eager to escort Emily and her companions to the box near the court. He had recognized her from the picture in the paper a week before along with the two other brunettes that were with her.
"Thanks, we can find it. Any of you seen Bobbie?" asked Emily. The finals were set to begin in an hour and their friend was nowhere to be seen. The one that did make an out of place picture was Logan, who was wearing a jacket to conceal his weapon. He was supposed to be guarding Parker, but the tennis pro had told him if he wouldn't sit in the stands with Emily he couldn't come. Emily's only concern now was that he'd be so engrossed in the match, a rapid gorilla could join them and he wouldn't notice.
"She's parking the car. The sweetheart dropped us off at the gate saying she didn't want us out in the open too long," answered Kimmie. Behind her Gray and Natasha sat holding hands and sharing a bagel.
Downstairs, Parker thought about all the games it had taken to get her to this point. A position she had found herself in on numerous occasions only to fall short of the goal. On the other side of the locker room sat Lee Darnell, the underdog that had fought her way through the ranks to become the hero of the tournament. All the seeded players that had underestimated the up and comer from Texas had gone home scratching their heads at her level of play.
In a change of pace, Parker let her mind wander to other things besides the up coming match trying to get her stomach to settle down. It never failed and pre play jitters had scared Emily that morning. Finding Parker puking in the bathroom was not on her list of things to expect and it had taken a while for the pilot to believe her it happened before every final she played in.
Their friend the snake charmer had been quiet since their scare at the apartment and Parker hoped it stayed that way until play was over. Having a police officer watching over Emily was one less thing to worry about so she turned her attention to Lee Darnell to see what she was doing.
The young woman was sitting with her head back and her eyes closed like she was bored and waiting for a bus. It wasn't until they were called out for practice that she stirred at all. The sound of cameras going off started as soon as the two emerged from the tunnel. Parker took time to look up into the stands and smile at Emily. She felt warm inside as she unzipped her bag and got out a racket. The tension melted away and Parker was ready to play.
"I do this to please you, Lord."
"I'm sorry did you say something?" asked the older woman sitting a row up from the court. The gentleman sitting next to her had been mumbling to himself since the time she had sat down.
"I said, may the Lord be with you."
"Thank you." She smiled at him before going back to talking with her husband about the condition Parker was in and her chances at winning this year. On the court Parker had walked back to her chair and fished out a towel to wipe her eyes. Something in the wind had irritated them enough that she was blinking furiously.
It was the old lady's cry that made her turn around and see what had upset her. The voice was the same from the night in front of the restaurant. "Death to those who go against God." The pain and blooming red stain on her tennis whites happened almost simultaneously.
Parker wasted no time and used the towel to keep the end of the knife away from her when the guy pulled back for another swipe until she could pick up her racket. She swung and the sharp blade cut right through the gut. "What is it with you people and my rackets?" Parker was so intent on looking at where he was swinging the knife she never got the chance to look up at his face.
Ignoring the pain she swung again and connected with his jaw sending him back a few paces shaking his head as if to clear the blow away. The man staggered forward again not wanting to fail in his mission to kill Parker. She was ready though, bouncing on the balls of her feet like she was waiting for a serve to come over the net. The racket flew forward again and knocked the knife out of his hand making him turn around.
From the stands, Logan flew down the stairs before the attacker had another chance to cut into Parker. All four of the women that had been sitting with him weren't too far behind the policeman.
"All right, asshole, here's for having to make me go out and buy my girl a new bed." The blow made the man's head snap backward sending him toward the net. "And this one's for the worry you caused my girlfriend. That's right girlfriend, you son of a bitch." With a great deal of satisfaction Parker watched him fall into a non-moving heap. Logan had no problem cuffing him when he jumped down to the court. Parker's last hit had knocked the guy unconscious.
Security personnel arrived to help the detective remove the stalker from the court, and when they rolled him over it was Parker who felt like someone had hit her. He had aged since the last time she had seen him, but the woozy man that was starting to come to didn't resemble the man that had made her hot chocolate all those mornings ago. But that's who it was, Daniel King, her father.
Everyone sat in silence as Parker dropped her racket and walked off the court. An official announcement came over the loudspeakers that there would be a delay in play until everything was sorted out.
The women that had been sitting in Parker's box watched her walk out without looking back at the man the police were now carting away. Kimmie and Gray had recognized him the minute he fell into the net but were paralyzed with disbelief that the man that was their father would want to murder one of his own children. Gary and Nick had gone down to the locker room to see about Parker's injuries and now that the show was over, they all walked up the stairs to join them. Parker's sisters had come close to breaking their promise to keep Emily safe no matter the costs when they saw the blood on the stark white shirt. Now they were more worried about their little sister's mind than the cut.
The medic sprayed a deadening agent on Parker's side so he could stitch the cut that was still bleeding. Parker looked at her coach and his partner with a look that could only be described as sorrowful. "It was him, guys, my father was the person that sent all those letters." She remembered then why the handwriting looked so familiar. Every Christmas Parker would watch him pull out that special pen and methodically dip it into the inkwell on his desk and address the card envelopes.
"Parker, you have to believe that he's sick and didn't know what he was doing," said Nick.
"He used that same scrolling fancy writing to fill out cards at the holidays. It was the only time he took the time to make sure every letter in every name was perfect. I guess it was useful to send death notices as well."
"Try and not think about it now, Park. We can just walk out of here and try to put this behind us, grateful for the fact we know he can't hurt you anymore." Gary kneeled next to her and wanted nothing more than to get her on a plane back home. The one place he knew she would heal.
"I've got a match to play, coach, and I have every intention of playing. That righteous bigot will not take this away too. He put that damn snake in Emily's bed yesterday and I will not forgive him for what could've happened to her. He and mother can rot for all I care, there's no going back from this."
"Parker, are you ok?" Emily stood back not sure if Parker was ready to see anyone including a new girlfriend. She didn't hesitate to take the hand Parker held up in invitation.
"I'm just fine, baby. Want to sit with me while I get patched up?"
"Is your life always this action packed?" It was Emily's turn to try and lighten Parker's mood.
"Only in big cities. At home Abby and I usually just sit and howl at the moon for entertainment."
"That sounds oddly blissful. You ready to go home?"
"I promised you joint custody of this trophy and I try never to renege on my promises. Look over there and tell me if the Texas Tarantula's looking confident of victory."
Emily looked over Parker's shoulder and saw the blonde sitting with her eyes closed with a smile on her face. "She looks like you don't even have to play since she has it all sewn up."
"All done, Miss King." The medic tied off five neat stitches and put a pressure bandage to keep them from popping if she chose to play.
"Are you sure about this? I don't want you getting hurt anymore than you already are," said Emily looking at Parker's side.
"Em, those people out there paid to see good tennis, not the acting out of my family problems, so that's what I plan to give them. Or at least I'll deliver a full match. It might not be my usual finesse game."
"Finesse game?" asked Emily almost laughing out loud. "Not that you don't possess finesse in other aspects of your life, honey, but playing tennis wouldn't fall into that arena."
"All right I'm the WWF smash mouth player of women's tennis, sue me."
"I'd much rather," Emily finished the rest of her statement in a whisper into Parker's ear. The dark tan couldn't hide the blush that ran up her face and she shot a glare toward Lee.
"Come on, Darnell, it's time to kick some ass."
"I'm glad you're willing to go along so graciously, sugar, cause that's exactly what I'm planning on doing to ya." When Lee was finished talking it took Kimmie, Gray and Natasha to carry Emily out of the locker room.
"Well, sports fans, barring any other crazies running out of the stands wielding sharp implements I think we're ready to play tennis," said the announcer as the camera panned to Parker sitting on the sideline sipping from a bottle of water. What the camera didn't show was the turmoil happening inside her head.
Gray King stood up and glared into the booth cutting off any other smart comments the guy had in mind. She turned to Emily next and offered her some peanuts. "Try these, they taste a lot better than nails."
"I can't help it, I'm nervous for her."
"Trust me on this one, kiddo, she's nervous enough for the both of you. This is Park's year, Em, I can just feel it."
"Service, Miss King." Parker walked to the base line and waited for the balls to be thrown to her. She took a deep breath and let it out with a slump in her shoulders in an effort to relax.
Gary and Nick held their breath as she threw it into the air in preparation in sending it over the net. This serve would be an indication of the power Parker still had left considering she now had two healing cuts on her torso. She must have used every meditative tool she had learned in her short life because both men swore they saw pieces of fuzz come off the ball when it made contact with her racket.
"Fifteen, love." The chair pointed toward Parker's side of the net and waited for the next serve to come over the net. The players had to wait for a couple of minutes until the crowd calmed down. As much as they appreciated Lee for her struggle to get to the final, now that the match was being played their loyalties were firmly ensconced on Parker's side of the net.
The third game of the first set was being battled out when Logan returned to his seat. He had removed his jacket and looked like every other fan there to enjoy the tennis. After loading Mr. King up into a police cruiser, he had placed uniformed officers around the stands to keep on eye on any other problem fan.
"How's she doing?" he asked.
"She won the fist game and came close to breaking in the second, but Lee hung on." Emily stopped talking as soon as Parker put the ball back in play. She stood on the baseline and sent Lee for quick sprints around the court with her ball placement.
"Forty, love." Again the chair pointed toward Parker's side of the net. That service was followed by an ace winning the game. The first set was finished in less than fifty minutes and Parker looked good to the people watching that loved her. Gary studied her face for any signs of weakness or pain but had been surprised to just see Parker's usual game face.
It happened in the third game of the second set. Parker had won the first two and Lee was starting to get fatigued from the running and from the heat. In a desperate chase to get a ball Parker had sent in a direction she wasn't expecting, Lee hit back a high lob. When Parker reached up to smash it over the net she almost could hear the stitches popping and the pain was instant. The ball fell inside the baseline as a point for Lee followed by Parker's racket.
"Miss Parker?" The sideline judge asked when she grimaced when bending to pick up her racket.
"Thirty, fifteen," was the score announced giving Parker the advantage but now Lee had found her weakness.
The lobs began with more frequency and Parker was having more and more difficulty getting the ball to go over the net no matter what angle she hit them from losing her the second set quicker than Lee had lost the first.
They were tied at six games apiece in the third when Parker finally had to call time. The constant stretches had taken their toll and the bandage could no longer hold back the blood. The only good thing about the whole situation was the medic who had put the stitches in was waiting for her just inside the tunnel like she had asked. Parker stripped her shirt off and grimaced from just that movement.
"Fix it so it'll last through at least ten more serves."
"Call me Parker, and I don't want to hear about how bad it looks, fix it. You have thirteen minutes before I have to forfeit the game."
The man got to work, admiring how Parker just sat in the tunnel not flinching no matter what he did. Before putting another pressure bandage he sprayed the area with a massive amount of deadening agent. It wouldn't last long but it might give just enough relief for Parker to go after some of the cheap shots Lee had sent her way. The medic figured one more lob and the Texan should fear for her life from the crowd.
"Miss King, are you ready to resume play?"
"Yes, sir." The man in the chair adjusted the microphone back into place and signaled the time out period was over.
"Tie break for the match, Miss King will serve first."
Parker looked up into the stands and looked for Emily before she made any move to serve. The blonde stood up making herself easier to find and smiled when their eyes met. Emily put her hands over her heart and nodded her head getting Parker to smile as well. Parker tapped over her own heart with her fingertips and swore she heard a collective sigh come out of the crowd.
The first serve went over the net and Parker was surprised how pain free her side was all of a sudden. Lee hit a backhand and the volley began. It was hard-hitting and fairly straightforward back and forth without a lot of flare for about twelve strokes. At her first opportunity, Lee sent a high lob over the net. Parker gauged it and stood waiting for the right moment.
"Point, Miss King." Parker had sent it over the net almost directly at Lee Darnell. If the kid was going to win it would be playing tennis, not by way of playing to Parker's injuries.
For fifteen minutes the audience in attendance and at home got the kind of tennis they had come for as both women battled for dominance. The trophy and title was just a shot away.
"Advantage, Miss King, match point." Parker had waited a lifetime to hear that one line. The crowd was just as pumped, standing and starting their chant of 'Kong.' Before them was a true champion who had clawed her way back into the game. There was blood on her shirt, she was covered in sweat and up in the stands Emily provided the tears.
Parker set and let one fly over the net sending Lee scrambling to try and get it. Her one salvation was the line sensor went off and the ball was called out. All Lee had to do now was jump all over the second more traditionally slower serve and bring the game back to deuce.
"Out," yelled the line judge followed by, "second serve," from the chair.
The only thought in Parker's mind before she served again was that it was time to go home. She could hear the waves hitting the pilings under her court at home and longed for an afternoon game that didn't have so much riding on the outcome.
There was no one more shocked than Lee Darnell when the second serve flew passed her faster than the first one did. She almost wanted to say she wasn't ready and wanted to play the point again, but it was too late, it was Parker's year to deliver the slam.
"Game, set and match, Miss King."
The center court stadium came alive with camera flashes as Parker lifted the trophy over her head and walked the complete circuit around. She stopped when she got to Emily and her family so they could share in the victory. Parker knew she hadn't accomplished this alone, and the people smiling down at her deserved a great deal of credit and their own time in the spotlight.
"Long month, huh?" asked Gary as they sat in the airport waiting for their plane.
"Turned out ok, so it was worth the hassles." Parker scratched around the first cut that was for the most part healed. The emotions of who had done it and why would take longer, but time would resolve that as well.
Daniel King had been placed in a state hospital until he was competent to stand trial for both assaults on Parker. Over Gary and her sisters' objections, Parker had given Gail's attorney a statement for her part in the melodrama the tournament had turned into. Parker just hoped Gail would crawl out of the bottle long enough to get the help she needed.
"Miss King, if you'd like you and your friends can board early." The Virgin employee smiled at the only two people sitting in their VIP lounge and offered to take their bags. Nick had gone to buy some magazines for the flight to Miami and was just as anxious to get back to Press Cove. "Congratulations on your win this afternoon."
"Thank you." Parker followed the small brunette through the door thinking that Emily must have called ahead to assure the special treatment. The pilot was meeting her in Florida in a few days so they could decide their future.
A sense of déjà vu came over Parker as they turned the corner and the crew was standing there waiting to greet them. "Welcome aboard, Miss King, I hope you enjoy your flight, and congratulations on your win." It was the same line Emily had ever told her the day they met.
"Yeah, yeah, but if you really loved me," started Parker.
Emily narrowed her eyes and tried to look mad. "I'd do what?"
"This." Parker dropped her bag and moved toward the pilot. The crew and Gary looked on as they kissed and held each other, neither willing to let go first. When air became an issue Parker did pull back and looked down at her favorite face. "Though a chicken salad sandwich and some hot chocolate might just hit the spot."
"Go sit down, smart ass, I'm taking us home.
Almost a year later, Emily's apartment had been furnished and kept for the occasions they were in the city, but the pilot had chosen to move and live with Parker in Florida. Living with the tennis player was the easiest decision she had ever made, never looking back at the life she was leaving in New York. Virgin had made the transition easy by allowing her to change her departure hub to Miami.
Parker liked to cook, read and take walks on the beach with her. If she were any more perfect, Emily would swear Parker was like a living personal ad. She watched from the kitchen window as Gary and Natasha put her lover through her workout in preparation for Wimbledon.
Emily turned the oven off and took out the roast she'd been basting before heading out the door. "If you go back in there and go anywhere near that pan, I'll drive you to the pound myself, mister, and come back with a cat," she threatened Abby.
The dog put his paw over his eyes and whined giving her his best innocent routine. "Don't give me that 'who me' act, Abby King. You're just like your mom in that respect so I'm not buying it."
He followed Emily out to the court; tail wagging at the prospect of chasing tennis balls. Parker shot one over the fence in their direction sending Abby into doggie heaven.
"Go home, people, the boss has arrived for a tennis lesson," said Parker to Gary and Natasha.
"Can we tell her good bye first?" asked Gary.
"Make it quick. She's cuter than you and I missed her being out here all day with the two of you."
Emily laughed and waved to their two departing friends. Knowing they would be there to take care of Parker until she could get to England was a comfort. The discomfort was thinking about the nights she would have to sleep alone when Parker left.
"You aren't' too tired?"
"Nah, I'm never too tired for you, Em. How about an incentive game as our lesson for today?"
"An incentive game of tennis?"
"Yeah, you lose a piece of clothing for every point you lose." Parker wiggled her eyebrows along with her suggestion.
"You want me to play strip tennis with the number one player in the world?"
"Um, yeah. Come on it'll be fun and I'll give you first serve."
"Oh, I'm sure that'll do it for me." Emily took the racket Parker was holding out and walked to the baseline. When Parker was ready Emily tried to remember everything she'd learned about serving. Abby barked from behind Emily making the ball fly off at an odd angle when she did try to hit it. "Enough from the peanut gallery. It's not like I'm holding any cards here."
Emily tried again and Parker, true to her word, slowed her game down a lot. Even with that Parker won the first point. With exaggerated slowness Emily stripped her shirt off and threw it behind her. It barely had hit the ground when Abby took off with it. The pilot bounced the next ball longer than normal when Parker's eyes stayed glued to the dark green silk bra she was wearing.
On the next shot Parker forgot herself and hit the ball back so hard Emily didn't even try to hit it and just took off her shorts. "Could you come over here please?" asked Parker standing at the net. The matching panties had proved to be too much for her to even think about concentrating on the game.
"Do you give up?"
"I surrender, baby." Parker lifted Emily over the net and kissed her. Emily wrapped her legs around the slim waist as Parker walked them off he court and to the water's edge. She put Emily down long enough to get all their clothes off before heading out into the surf. The water was still on the cold side but being pressed together made Emily feel just fine.
"I love you," said Emily. The words were so easy to say to Parker.
"I love you too. You like it here?"
"I love it here. I get to be with you, and I get my clothes buried on a regular basis by our dog. What's not to love?"
"He buries your stuff to keep it safe, it means he likes you," said Parker before kissing Emily's neck.
"How about you, do you like me?"
"I more than like you, baby. How about I take you inside and show you just how much?"
Emily's feet never touched the sand as Parker walked to the backdoor. Parker had checked the closest house to make sure it was still tenant free that morning not wanting Emily upset by peeping neighbors.
The house décor had changed a little over the months Emily spent making it a home for both of them. Mixed in with the tournament pictures were shots of Emily's family her mother had given them on one of her numerous visits. Lucia Parish and Parker shared a great relationship much to Emily's relief. Her mom had confessed the night she met Parker, she'd never cared for the way Emily and Gail had acted around each other. With Parker, the world could see how she felt about Emily.
It was the look Emily was getting now as she was set on the bed by the gentle soul that had carried her inside. Parker touched her with such want that Emily never felt it was done out of obligation, only love, and the more Parker touched the more she wanted.
"You're so beautiful," said Parker. She lay next to Emily and ran her hand from Emily's hip to cup a breast. The nipple instantly puckered under her palm and Parker loved the moan that accompanied the motion. Parker replaced her hand with her lips and sucked on the light pink bud.
"I love when you do that." Emily's hands kept Parker's head in place in case she didn't know what she was talking about. The suction increased as Parker's hands went back down her body. "Let me feel you, baby," requested Emily.
Parker moved so she was covering Emily holding most of her weight up by leaning on her elbows. She loved this position since it allowed every inch of skin to touch. Emily just lay still for a moment and enjoyed the same thing before moving her hands to Parker's hair to drag her down for a kiss.
"Make love to me," said Emily as she moved her legs further apart to mold the larger body more closely to her. Parker could feel Emily's hands along her back as her own hand made its way to Emily's center. She had to lift her hips up a little to reach the spot Emily wanted her, and by doing so, opened enough space for Emily to touch her in return.
Both centers were wet and both women were ready so it didn't take much. Emily felt the crescendo coming fueled by the grunting Parker was doing in her ear. It never failed to amaze Emily that with Parker, making love was as exciting for her as the first time. Even on days like this when the end snuck up on them sooner than they'd like, Emily felt cherished as Parker went rigid over her before turning into a giant marshmallow.
"If this is how you learned to play tennis, don't tell me ok?"
"You don't care for my teaching techniques?"
"I didn't say that, honey, I just don't want to know where you learned your technique, Romeo. Especially from whom you learned them, got me?"
"Are you hungry?"
"You cooked so I'll get it and bring it back here, how's that sound?" asked Parker.
"Like you'll be in there eating roast directly from the pan while I'm back here starving."
Emily kissed Parker's forehead before rolling out of bed and holding a hand out to help the lump up.
Emily was still laughing at Parker's antics when they walked into the kitchen to eat when she noticed two things. Abby sitting there looking like if he could whistle he'd be doing it, and half the roast was gone. He opened his eyes wider and shook his head when Emily shot a glare his way.
"What happened to my dinner?" demanded Emily. It was hard to keep a straight face when Abby lifted a paw and pointed at Parker.
"No way, buddy, she's done a detailed search of my mouth." Having learned from his master's mistakes when it came to upsetting Emily, Abby put his paw down and backed toward the door slowly. He made a break for it when was sure she couldn't catch him before he cleared the doggie door.
"I swear you two were separated at birth. What am I going to do with you?" Emily turned around and put her arms around Parker's waist. She'd let Abby know later their dinner was still in the oven. The extra roast on the stove was for him all along.
"You could keep us."
"Oh, I'm keeping you and Abby all right, don't worry about that. I want to sit by a fire, eat roast and listen to you read me a poem."
The smile was hard to tame as Parker pulled Emily closer. "You sure are easy to please." Parker carried Emily into the library and sat her on one of the comfortable couches while she prepared a tray to take in.
The fire was burning nicely by the time Parker made it back and found Emily staring into it so profoundly that she hated to disturb her. "We have fire, wine and a nice spread," said Parker.
"All I need is you."
"That you have, sweetheart."
"Read me something." Emily watched Parker roll the ladder to a section at the end and climb so she could reach the top shelf. Parker pulled down an old leather bound edition with faded gold lettering on the cover and when she opened it, the pages looked almost translucent.
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed;
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest,
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest;
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."
Parker's voice faded away to nothing on the word thee, and Emily sat with food forgotten listening to what she had selected. For some reason the sonnet brought tears to her eyes and Parker wiped them away.
"If it's going to make you cry, I won't read you any other love sonnets."
"I'm crying because you love me enough to kneel here and do it for me." Emily wiped away the tears that had escaped from her eyes.
"Actually I'm kneeling for another reason," said Parker.
"Abby wanted to come and apologize about the roast, and I thought I'd butter you up for him."
Emily leaned forward and ran her finger along Parker's top lip. "It'll take a lot more reading out of this book to accomplish that, Shakespeare."
With a snap of Parker's fingers Abby came running through the door coming to a stop next to his master. He had a basket in his mouth and he put a paw up for Emily to shake.
"Emily, Abby and I love you, and we wanted to give you something that'd show you how much you mean to us. If I were a poet this would be much more eloquent, but I'll try my best. Will you give me the chance to make you happy for the rest of your life? I promise that if you say yes there'll never be another moment in your life that'll pass where you don't feel like the center of my universe. I love you and I will do so until there's no breath left in my body." The dog put his basket down on Emily's lap, put his paw next to it so she would look inside and let out a soft woof for his part of the proposal.
Emily cried again when she saw the ring box lying on the straw inside. "Yes."
"Is that yes to me, or the dog?"
"To both of you, goofy, I happen to know you come as a pair." Emily leaned forward for a kiss to seal the deal before Parker thought of changing her mind. She felt like she was home for the first time since being out on her own and Parker gave her the freedom to hope for the future.
"Shall we have a toast?" offered Parker. Emily laughed when Parker picked up two mugs from the tray she'd brought in. Hot chocolate was the one memory Parker had chosen to keep of her father.
They didn't need any other words as they tipped the mugs against each other and took sips of the hot, almost velvety, drink. Emily leaned on a strong shoulder and gave thanks that Parker lived her life by choosing the road less travel by. In the end it had led the tennis player to her doorstep, and there, Parker would always find the love she deserved Emily vowed. This was only their beginning.
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