"So, tell me whatís going on with you and our good doctor," Marge said as she lined up her shot. She stroked lightly through the cue ball and slid the nine ball into the side pocket.
"Nice shot," Reese commented as she balanced two fresh beers on the thin shelf that ran along the wall. "What do you mean, whatís going on?"
Marge glanced at her briefly as she slowly circled the table, planning her next salvo. The slightly perplexed look on her young friendís face told her the Deputy Sheriff really didnít know what the rumor mill had been churning out. "Word has it that the two of you are an item."
"Because we had dinner together?" Reese inquired as she carefully chalked the end of her custom cue.
"Romantic dinners. More than once, Iím told," Marge added as she banked in her next shot. "And because she seems to spend a lot of time at your place. And because the two of you have been seen together at the Lavender Lounge the last two Saturday nights."
Reese was impressed with the accuracy of the local reporting.
"Sounds like youíre information central," she commented dryly.
"Itís the tea dance. Everybody trades news there. I keep trying to tell you what youíre missing. And donít avoid the issue!"
Reese approached the table as Marge narrowly missed a tricky combination. Stretching her long form low to get the proper sight along her stick, she neatly deposited the three ball in the corner pocket.
"Weíre not an item. Weíre friends."
Marge waited. When nothing further seemed to be forthcoming, she sighed with exaggerated impatience.
"And? Do you have any intentions?" she asked as she watched Reese move gracefully around the table. It was looking like theyíd need to go four out of seven for a fair match.
"She isnít interested," Reese said flatly. She gently tapped the cue ball the length of the table, angling the seven into the corner.
Marge raised a questioning eyebrow at the vague answer. "I was asking after your plans."
Reese leaned her stick against the edge of the pooltable, regarding her companion seriously as she reached for her beer.
"I canít answer that."
Marge looked peeved. "Well, if you donít want to tell me-"
"Thatís not what I meant. I donít know how to answer your question."
"You like her, right?"
"Of course, sheís terrific."
"And sheís great looking, right?"
"So, at the risk of sounding like the crude old dyke that I am, have you given any thought to taking her to bed?"
Reese studied the foam on her beer. "Arenít there a few steps you left out? Like - well, like courting?"
Marge coughed on the mouthful of beer she was swallowing. "God, you are priceless! Courting! If the girls in this town only knew what you were really like, youíd have to beat them off with a stick!"
Reese asked cautiously, "What do they think Iím like?"
"I think Carol from the Cheese Shop put it best. She said you were an impossibly good-looking, unapproachable butch who probably does the asking. And there's a fair number of women waiting for you to ask. Only I know that youíre an old-fashioned romantic."
Reese smiled ruefully. "No, Marge -Iím not that either. What I am is someone whoís always been happy with my life just the way it is. I never thought to look for anything more. It never occurred to me there was anything more."
Marge started to protest, then grew quiet. At length she voiced what she initially had found inconceivable. "Youíve never been with a woman, have you?"
"Oh, boy," Marge whistled. She looked at her suspiciously. "Youíre not straight are you? Thereíll be hearts breaking all over town."
Reese looked away with a shrug.
"Tell me you donít know," Marge said in disbelief.
"Itís not that simple," Reese stated. "Iíve spent my life with men, many of whom I commanded. The rules are very clear, and very strict. I never had that kind of relationship with anyone. It never seemed to matter to me."
"What about- you know, sex -" Marge persisted.
"Iíve had feelings -" Reese said, remembering with absolute clarity the way Tory had felt in her arms when she had innocently carried Tory into her house. She remembered the warmth of Toryís fingers in hers at dinner, and the rightness of it. "The opportunity just never arose."
Marge simply shook her head. "Unbelievable. But you still havenít answered my question about the doc. Do you have feelings, as you so delicately put it, for her?"
Reese picked up her stick and focused her attention back on her game. "It doesnít matter. Sheís been hurt, she shouldnít be hurt again. Iím the last thing she needs."
"Because she doesnít trust me not to hurt her."
Marge was well aware that Reese had avoided discussing her own feelings, and respected the unspoken barrier. But she still wasnít ready to let her completely off the hook. Left to her own devices, Reeseíd never figure out what she was about - or that sometimes women just needed you to keep trying. She didnít doubt that Tory King was cautious. Marge hadnít known her to date anyone the entire three years sheíd lived there. She also knew that sometimes rumors started because those on the outside looking in saw more than the people who were in the thick of it.
"So how about coming to the tea dance tomorrow? Itís the fourth of July weekend. Youíve never seen anything like it," she pressed.
Reese sighed. "You know Iím working -"
"Right - and I know damn well youíre still working splits with Smith. You can come to the tea and have plenty of time to sleep before the late shift.
Reese had refused thus far to accompany Marge to the popular afternoon event, somehow worried that it would conflict with her official position. To go dancing amidst the people she was supposed to be protecting seemed like the taboo of an officer fraternizing with the enlisted troops. She had to admit that excuse was getting a little thin. She lived in Provincetown - attending the dance wasnít likely to cause any greater stir than simply going out to dinner seemed to. And she did want to be personally familiar with as much of the unique communityís life as possible.
"Okay," she finally relented, "for a little while."
"Excellent," Marge enthused. "And Reese? Lose the uniform or youíll have every woman in the place hanging on you."
Marge looked her over with satisfaction when Reese met her at the gym at four-thirty the next afternoon. The white tank top displayed her impressive shoulders nicely; the tight faded jeans hung low on her slim hips. Not for the first time she felt the stirring of desire. Her new friend was all the more attractive because she obviously didnít know it. Marge was certain that Reese never noticed the open stares she received - in uniform or out. For her part, Marge simply enjoyed looking at her, knowing she would never act on it.
Reese regarded her quizzically. "What? Am I late?"
"Youíre never late," Marge asserted dryly. "Come on, Sheriff. Letís go to the dance."
They could hear the music from two blocks away, and already the small dance floor was crowded. For two hours at the end of the day, after the beach and before the nightís activities began, most of the townís inhabitants would make the pilgrimage to the Boatslip for the tea dance. There was a huge outdoor deck with tables overlooking the harbor, several bars, and a dance floor that never seemed big enough but somehow always managed to accommodate the crowds. The ratio was probably four to one men to women, and unlike in many other bars, everyone got along. The atmosphere was usually one of unrestrained enthusiasm.
"Whatíre you drinking?" Marge asked as they threaded their way through the throngs to the outside bar.
"Just a diet coke," Reese said, heading toward the end of the deck that overlooked the beach while Marge joined the long line at the bar. She leaned against the rail, one booted foot up on the lower rung. She watched the couples strolling along the water's edge, some of them running playfully in and out of the froth. Two women stopped to share a kiss. The sight stirred her unexpectedly, and she had to look away. She was unsettled enough that she wasnít aware of the woman beside her until she spoke.
"I thought I saw you come in," Tory said, one hand shielding her eyes in the sun. Reese had a strangely distant look in her eyes. "You all right?"
Reese shook her head, smiling. "Just daydreaming."
Tory smiled back. "Glad to hear it. Listen - thereís someone here I want you to meet. Have you got a second?"
Reese looked around and saw Marge deep in conversation with someone in the bar line. "Sure."
"Great - Catherine just got here and _"
Reese recoiled with an involuntary gasp, stepping back a pace in surprise. "No, I - I donít want to intrude," she managed to say as an unfamiliar tightening in her throat threatened her voice. Whatever was causing the icy ache in her chest was enough to force her to turn away, searching frantically for Margeís familiar back and the offer of escape.
Tory reached for the tanned forearm, shocked at Reeseís reaction. She had never before seen Reese lose her composure. Her entire body was stiff with tension.
"Reese!" Tory cried in alarm. "Whatís the matter?"
Reese couldnít explain to Tory what she didnít have words for herself. She only knew that if Tory was here with her former lover, she didnít want to see them together. She struggled for an excuse. "Itís late - I should go-"
Tory continued to study her intently. There was no mistaking the turmoil in those deep blue eyes. What she didnít understand was the fleeting look of something close to pain that had marred Reeseís usually implacable features. And she wasnít about to let her away before she did understand it.
"Reese! Damn it! Tell me whatís wrong!"
"Nothing -really," Reese responded evenly, her feelings now firmly in hand. "Iím sorry - it isnít you. I really canít stay."
Tory didnít believe her, but she knew by now how stubborn Reese was. She wouldnít talk until she was ready. "At least stop and meet my sister?" Tory asked.
"Your sister?!" Reese couldnít keep the confusion from her voice. "But I thought-"
"Yes," Tory replied, just as surprised. "Who did you -" She stopped in midsentence, staring, trying not to blush. "You thought I meant Kathrine - my lover, Kathrine."
It was Reeseís turn to blush. "Yes," was finally all that she said.
They stared at each other as the air around them grew dense with feelings neither of them dared put words to. Tory finally broke the silence, her hand still grasping Reeseís arm.
"It wouldnít be her," she said softly, "for a number of reasons. We havenít kept in touch, and I donít want to see her. There is nothing between us now." As she spoke, her fingers slid slowly down to lightly clasp Reeseís. It was important that Reese understand that Kathrine held no claim on her.
"You donít need to explain," Reese responded quietly.
"No?" Tory queried just as gently, feeling Reeseís fingers intertwine with hers, trying to ignore the quick thrill of excitement that small closeness produced. "Perhaps not, but I wanted to."
Reese smiled slowly, giving Toryís hand a tug, breaking the tension. "Come on then. Introduce me to your sister!"
Marge joined them eventually at the small table they had commandeered. Toryís younger sister was as extroverted and gregarious as Tory was solitary, and in no time she had talked Marge into taking her off to the dance floor.
"Thatís the last weíll see of them for a while," Tory remarked as she glanced after her sister fondly. "Cath loves to party."
Reese stretched her long legs out to the side of the table and settled back with a sigh. "At least sheís in good company. Marge has enough energy for two or three people!"
"Besides that, Marge is a great dancer, and Cath could dance all night," Tory added. "Itís so great to have her here. Sheís got two kids, a demanding job - even with a husband whoís willing to help, itís hard for her to take time away. Sheís between jobs now, so Iíve finally got her to myself. I was worried about showing her a good time."
Reese saw Tory glance down at the brace protruding below the cuff of her white cotton slacks. In some part of her mind, Reese was always aware of it, too. When she and Tory worked out without it, Reese was careful to temper the force of her throws and takedowns. She would never risk further injury to someone who had already suffered so much. Even when they walked through town in the evenings after a dinner out, Reese was aware of their pace, the surface of the pavement, the surge of the crowds around them. Although she never thought of Tory as disabled, or less than totally capable in any way, she felt an instinctive protectiveness she would never admit to her. Knowing that Tory felt inhibited by her injury made her long to change it.
"You know something," Reese said. "Iíve never learned to dance. I always managed to avoid those insufferable military affairs by volunteering to take the duty."
Tory stared at her. How could it be that someone so accomplished could have missed so many of the simple pleasures of life? And why did it not seem to bother her? Could she really be so self-sufficient that she didnít need what most people spent their lives seeking - some connection with another human being? That thought saddened Tory unaccountably.
"Well that has to change." Tory stated emphatically. "As soon as Cath gets back Iím assigning her the task of teaching you."
"If I have to learn, Iíd rather it be with you."
Reeseís tone was so gentle, Tory found herself struggling with tears. "Iíd love to," she managed finally. "But I donít think I can."
Reese pushed back her chair and held out her hand. "Letís find out."
There was something about the compassionate insistence in her voice, and the comfort of that outstretched hand, that Tory couldnít resist. Without wanting to think what it might mean, she stood, grasping the strong fingers.
"All right - but we have to at least wait for a slow song."
Reese nodded and led the way through the crowd to the edge of the dance floor. When the pulsing music slowed, they stepped to a corner of the small space and faced one another.
Tory looked up into Reeseís smile and stepped into her arms. "You lead," she said quietly.
"As long as you keep me on track," Reese rejoined as she slipped one arm around Toryís waist. Tory fit effortlessly against her, and despite the frequent physical contact they had on nearly a daily basis in the dojo, this felt vastly different. Reese was aware of the press of Tory's breasts against her chest, and the length of firm thigh just touching her own. Toryís head rested lightly on her shoulder, her hair rich with the scent of sunshine and sea. For a second Reese was breathless from the assault of sensation.
"Youíre shaking," Tory whispered, hoping that Reese couldnít feel the trembling in her own body.
"Nervous," Reese murmured, closing her eyes, unconsciously tightening her hold as they moved together, tentatively at first, then with a growing confidence as each sensed the otherís rhythm.
Tory couldnít remember the last time anyone had held her, and she could no more control her response than she could stop her heartbeat. It was as if her skin was opening, allowing the heat from Reeseís body to penetrate to her core, and the fire that flared within had a life all its own. Unconsciously she pressed closer, cleaving to the strong frame, her fingers on Reeseís back tightening as waves of heat threatened to eclipse her senses. When Reeseís hips shifted naturally forward into her, she couldnít prevent a soft moan.
"Okay?" Reese questioned softly, her breath warm against Toryís cheek.
Tory tried to steady her voice as she replied, "Just out of practice. Donít let go, I may topple over." She fervently hoped Reese couldnít feel just how true her words were.
"Donít worry about that," Reese answered. She scarcely recognized her own body. It seemed to have developed new senses in just a few scant moments. Her skin was tingling, her pulse pounded in her ears, and she swore she could feel Toryís heart beat in time with her own. Whatever was happening, she had no desire for it to stop. In fact, when the music changed to a faster beat she didnít even notice. The heady mixture of physical stimulation and emotional confusion muted her awareness of anything beyond Tory and herself.
"I have to sit this one out, Reese - itís going to get very fast in a minute," Tory said as she leaned back to look up into her taller partnersí face. Reese was staring at her in the strangest way, her grip about Toryís waist tightening instinctively as the contact between them lessened. Tory tilted her head questioningly as she relaxed against Reeseís body. "What is it?" she asked. She had to raise her voice as the music pounded and more people crowded onto the floor.
Reese looked around, fully cognizant of her surroundings for the first time in what seemed like hours. Her loss of connection with external events was enough to frighten her; that coupled with the apparent mutiny of her senses left her totally baffled. She leaned close, her lips against Toryís ear.
"Iím ready to sit down, too, but my legs seem to have acquired a mind of their own. And theyíre saying stay."
Tory laughed, slipping her hand down Reeseís arm and grasping her hand.
"Come on! Iíll lead the way."
As she turned to guide them through the crowd, she was acutely aware of Reese pressed against her. She told herself it was because of the throng of people close around them, and not due to any intent on Reeseís part. Regardless of the reason, she couldnít deny the surge of pleasure the contact provoked.
Marge and Catherine, sandwiched against the narrow rail enclosing the dance floor watched them go. Marge had just replenished their drinks and they were catching their breath before the next round on the dance floor.
"I canít believe my eyes," Catherine muttered. "I havenít seen her on a dance floor in ten years. That friend of yours must be a magician."
Marge grunted. "The likes of her Iíve not seen before."
Catherine looked alarmed. "Donít tell me sheís some kind of playboy - playgirl rather, - or something worse! My sister had her heart broken once already by someone like that!"
"Thatís not what I meant," Marge soothed. "Sheís about as honorable as they come - maybe too honorable. Sheíll protect your sister to the point of holding back what the doc might like offered."
"Sheís not straight is she?"
"Havenít seen any signs of it," Marge said with a grin. "But then you donít exactly shriek married mother of two."
"Yes, well, I donít look like a combination of k.d.Lang and Gregory Peck either!"
"True enough -" Marge conceded. "Iíve known Doc King for three years, and I know damn well she can take of herself. Reese Conlon is a tough one to figure, but I get nothing but good feelings from her. And I can tell she thinks a lot of your sister. And Iíd bet my last dime that sheís gay. I know youíre going to worry, but it wonít change anything."
"I know. Itís just that Tory's had so many lousy breaks. She deserves so much more."
Marge nodded. "Whatever happens between them, you donít have to worry about Reese Conlon. She believes that Marine Corp stuff - including the semper fi."
God, I hope so, Cath thought. She had seen the way her sister looked at the woman.
"I canít believe how crowded this place has gotten!" Reese exclaimed as she maneuvered the Cape Codder in its tall frosted glass onto the small table in front of Tory. She slid into the seat beside her, nearly draining her own seltzer and lime in one deep draft. "Dancing is quite the experience," she commented. "Thank you for the lesson."
Tory searched for a hint of sarcasm, but found none. "My pleasure," she said, knowing only too well how dangerously true those words were. "Youíre a natural. I didnít do anything except follow your lead. Youíll have to ask my sister to fast dance with you - sheís great."
"No thanks," Reese said emphatically. "Youíre more than enough for me. Let her wear Marge out if she can."
Tory couldnít help but blush, even though she knew perfectly well that Reese wasnít flirting. She wouldnít know how to flirt if she wanted to, Tory thought to herself with disgust. You have got to get over yourself with this woman!
"How would you like to have an early dinner?" Reese asked.
Tory hesitated, still searching for calm after the way she had felt dancing. Reese looked so damn handsome with the sun highlighting her blue-black hair and her tanned, golden skin. The fact that she was watching Tory intently didnít help. If she didnít know better, sheíd swear the woman was asking her out. Her body refused to behave. Her pulse skipped, her stomach fluttered, and there was no denying the wet warmth that pounded insistently between her thighs. Reese excited her, and that was impossible. That way lay disaster. She saw Marge and her sister approaching with relief.
"I canít," she said, beckoning her head toward the women. "I need to spend some time with my sister."
Reese felt a quick stab of rejection, which made no sense at all! Of course Tory needed to see her sister. Her acute disappointment was embarrassing. She stood abruptly, needing suddenly the comfortable familiarity of her work.
"Of course - I should be going anyway." She looked about to say more, but she simply turned and disappeared into the crowd.
Marge looked after her retreating back in surprise. "Whereís she off to?"
Tory sighed. "To work, would be my guess. Where else?"
Now Marge stared at her in astonishment. What was it with these two? They both looked as if they had lost their last friend.
"Your sister and I were just discussing dinner. You ready for that?"
Tory pushed herself up, reaching for her cane from the back of the chair. "Iím not really hungry. Why donít you two go? Iíll be at the clinic. You can pick me up later."
She didnít wait for their reply. She was too
preoccupied with the memory of Reese Conlonís face when she walked away.
Despite an attempt to hide it, Reese had looked hurt, and that upset Tory more
than she wanted to admit.
It was close to two a.m. Reese was parked on the pier, facing Commercial Street, watching the last of the visitors straggle out of town. She was looking for anyone who wasnít fit to drive.
"Reese? You copy?" the disembodied voice of the night dispatcher called over the car radio.
"Iím here," Reese responded. "Go ahead."
"We just got a request for you to call the East End Health Clinic..."
Reese gunned the engine, flipping on her lights with one hand as she wheeled out into the street. "Whatís the situation?" she questioned, her voice tight. "Is it another break-in?" She was two minutes away, and it seemed like an eternity.
"Unknown. Handle as routine."
A call from the clinic at this hour could hardly be routine, and Reese knew it. No one should even be there. It had to be Tory. Reese slammed into the lot, half-way out the door before she even had the car in park. Toryís Jeep was the only vehicle in sight. She scanned the entire area as she raced toward the door, looking for signs of an intruder. The front door swung open just as she reached the porch. Suddenly Tory was there.
"Reese -" she began.
Reese grasped her shoulders, searching her face intently. "Are you all right?" she questioned hoarsely. She pulled Tory out of the backlit doorway as she peered into the interior of the building, automatically shielding her with her own body.
Tory was momentarily off balance and pressed both hands against Reeseís chest to steady herself. Reeseís body was tightly coiled, shimmering with tension. "Whoa! Slow down," Tory gasped. "Iím fine." There was a fierceness in Reeseís eyes she had never seen before - a feral intensity that should have been frightening, it looked so dangerous. What Tory felt instead was closer to excitement. The powerful force of Reeseís emotional fervor was stirring.
"Reese," Tory began again, "Iím fine." As she spoke, she grasped Reeseís arms, shaking her lightly to get her attention. "I called you about a patient. Everything is all right."
Reese looked at her then, not yet accepting that she was safe. What she had felt in those few minutes when she thought Tory was in danger was completely foreign to her. Her entire life had been spent preparing for defense - in the military, in the police force, in the dojo. She was trained to confront any threat with the cold calm of a soldier. The gut wrenching near-panic she had just experienced rocked her to the core. For the first time in her life she had felt the iron grip of fear. Without conscious thought she pulled Tory to her. "Jesus," she whispered, "I thought something had happened to you."
The intensity of her embrace was more than Tory could resist, and she yielded to it. She pressed into Reese, her arms slipping around Reeseís waist.
"Iím sorry," Tory murmured, holding Reese tightly. "I only asked that they have you call me." She couldnít seem to manage any other explanation. It was all she could do to control her own trembling. And it wasnít from fear, but from shear overwhelming desire. With a soft moan she pressed her lips against Reeseís neck, aching with need. She clung to her while her senses raged, her mind clouded with the escalating physical arousal she couldn't contain. Oh, god, I want you so much. Her nipples stiffened, aching to be touched, and her clit expanded, screaming for contact. Her hips rocked against Reese's hard thigh, desperatelyseeking release.
"Hey, hey," Reese soothed, stroking her back gently. "I didnít mean to scare you - ." Her own sense of relief was so intense she was shaking.
God almighty, Tory, you can't do this now!! Tory struggled for composure. With more restraint than she thought possible, she pushed away from Reese, breaking the exquisitely agonizing contact .
"Let me catch my breath," Tory said as lightly as she could manage, turning away with effort. She was on fire, and she was seconds away from touching Reese in a way that could leave no doubt about her desire. She was going to make a fool of herself.
"Tory?" Reese questioned, confused by Tory's abrupt withdrawal. She stared after her as Tory moved resolutely down the hall, putting distance between them. Reese felt the separation as more than physical. As close as they had been an instant before, a chasm stretched between them now. The pain of an old wound flickered to the surface for a searing instant, the deeply buried agony of loss. Reese automatically pushed it away. That stoicism had protected her for years and it was second nature to her now. Whatever vulnerable place Tory had unwittingly touched was safely defended once again. By the time Reese followed Tory into her office she felt nothing.
"What happened?" Reese asked.
Tory sat behind her desk, needing to get as far away as possible. She prayed she would be able to look at Reese without revealing her turmoil. Even now she was trembling with the urge to touch her. She took a deep, slightly shaky breath and pulled forth her own defenses. She had called Reese as a doctor, and thatís how she would deal with her. On that level she was safe.
"I just finished suturing a young boyís forehead," she began, her voice sounding flat to her own ears. "He and his boyfriend were walking back to town along Route six, out near Herring Cove. Apparently they had been up in the dunes -"
"Damn," Reese muttered, intent on Toryís story. She gave no sign of her own lingering agitation.
"They said a group of men in a truck tried to run them off the road. Someone threw a bottle at them. It struck one boy in the head. He had a nasty scalp laceration. I didnít think I should wait until morning to tell you, in case the men in the truck are still cruising around looking for trouble." She was finally calm enough to look at Reese, and she caught her breath at the undisguised fury in Reeseís face.
"Where are the boys now?" Reese questioned in a voice taut with anger.
Tory shook her head apologetically. "I couldnít get them to wait, Reese. I tried. Theyíre local kids, and theyíre scared. They donít want their parents to know about them."
"God damn it! How am I supposed to protect these kids? They wonít let me!"
Tory had a feeling that some of Reeseís frustration was motivated by her increasing concern for Brianna Parker. She knew that Reese was fond of her, and that their bond was growing as a result of their nearly daily contact in the dojo. And she also had a feeling that the outwardly tough, inwardly sensitive young girl reminded Reese of herself at that age.
"Reese, I know how hard it is for you. Iím sorry. Itís not that they donít trust you -"
"I know you tried, Tory. You did exactly right in calling me now. Did they give you any details?" She knew better than to ask for their names. She knew Tory couldnít breach her bond of confidentiality, and she wouldnít put her in that position. But she felt so powerless!
"It was a pickup truck - dark blue or black. They didnít get the make. There were at least a couple of men inside. One boy thought the truck had Massachusetts plates. Itís not much to go on."
Reese smiled thinly. "Itís a start. At least I can keep an eye out for similar vehicles, drive through that area a little more often. Maybe my presence will be a deterrent." She sighed. "Itís more than I knew an hour ago. I just hope this isnít related to the other incidents up the Cape."
Reese studied Toryís face in the dim light of the desktop reading light. The doctor looked drawn in a way that seemed more than simply fatigue. There was stress lines etched into the fine skin around her mouth and eyes. Her hands were shaking. Reese was aware of the long clinic hours Tory had been keeping since the summer began, but she had never seen her look quite so strained.
"What were you doing here at two oíclock in the morning?" Reese asked.
"I wasnít here. They called the number I leave posted on the door for emergencies."
Reese stood. "You look worn out. Let me drive you home."
"Iíve got my Jeep. Iím fine."
"Iíd feel better if youíd let me drive you - please," Reese said softly. She couldnít explain it any better to herself. She simply wanted the peace of mind of knowing that Tory was safe at home.
Tory inclined her head in agreement, too exhausted emotionally and physically to argue. "Catherine can drive me to work in the morning," she conceded.
They were silent on the short ride to Toryís home. Reese pulled up the drive beside the darkened house, flicking off her lights and killing the engine. She turned to face Tory where she sat framed in moonlight. Reese found her both beautiful and unusually vulnerable. Something instinctual stirred in her, a response at once protective and possessive.
"Something happened to me tonight when I thought you were in danger. I wasóafraid," Reese confessed quietly. "All I could think was that I had to get to you. Nothing ever mattered so much-" She reached a hand tentatively to touch Toryís hair.
Tory flinched. "Donít Reese," she choked. "Donít touch me right now."
Reese moved closer, her voice husky with concern. "Why? What is it?"
Tory tried unsuccessfully to contain a sob, her own conflicting feelings overpowering her defenses. "Because I want you so much it hurts, and I wonít be able to stand it if you touch me," she said in a strangled whisper. She tried to focus out the window into the darkness, searching for the familiar, anything to keep her from coming apart.
"And you think I donít want you?" Reese rasped, her breath constricting in her chest. She was leaning so close her words ruffled Toryís hair. Her stomach churned with emotions so powerful she ached.
"God, Reese, donít play games with me!" Tory cried, turning to face her at last.
Reese cupped her face gently with both hands, her eyes burning into Toryís. "I have never been more serious in my life," she breathed softly as her lips found Toryís.
It was a kiss like none Tory had ever experienced. Questioning at first, tentatively seeking, then bolder as Reese pulled her deep into a swirling vortex of sensation, finally ending in something as tender as a prayer. Tory didnít feel as if she had been simply kissed; she felt as if she had been worshipped. When Reese lifted her lips away, Tory cried out at the loss. Her hands were twisted in Reeseís shirtfront, and Tory clung to her, gasping.
"Whereíd you learn to kiss like that?" Tory said unevenly when she could draw breath again.
Reese laughed shakily, pulling Tory against her chest, burying her face in her hair. "I have no idea where that came from. But I can tell you this. I want to do it again, and I donít ever want to stop."
"God, youíre beautiful," Tory whispered. "And youíre scaring me to death."
"Why?" Reese questioned gently, pressing her lips to Toryís forehead. She wrapped her arms around her, wanting to feel all of her near. Reese groaned softly, closing her eyes.
Tory trembled. "I want you to make love to me, Reese - so much I feel as if Iíll come apart if you donít. And Iím terrified of wanting you so much. You donít know how you make me feel-"
"I know how you make me feel," Reese said hoarsely, her hands stroking Tory's neck, her collar bones, moving closer to the full curve of her breasts with each caress. "And I know with absolute certainty that I want you."
Tory pushed away from her, although it took every ounce of her will power to do it. She was shaking with the effort of not touching her. Her lips felt bruised, and she was swollen to the point of pain with desire. But for the sake of what little sanity she had left, she needed time. She knew instinctively that if this woman made love to her, her life would never be the same. "Reese Conlon," she whispered softly, "I do not intend to sleep with you in your patrol car."
Reese laughed unsteadily, grasping Toryís hands to keep her near, but accepting her unspoken request for time. Every instinct in her body urged her to kiss her again, every cell cried out to touch her, but she would not unless welcomed. She brushed a kiss against Toryís palm.
"Tell me when I can see you again," she asked frantically.
Tory tenderly brushed the dark locks back off Reese's brow, loath to let her go. "Iíll see you in the dojo, just like always," she said softly as she slipped from the car. "Now go back to work."
She watched until the red taillights
disappeared around the bend toward town, fearing that Reese had just left with
a piece of her heart.
"Are you just getting up, or havenít you been to bed yet?" Catherine asked as she walked out onto the rear deck. Tory was hunched over in a canvas deck chair, her feet curled up under her. Jed lay beside her, asleep. The dawn was moments old; the tentative shafts of sunlight had yet to dispel the clouds that hung over the harbor. Catherine placed a cup of coffee in her sisterís hand and pulled a chair up beside her. She stretched her legs up to the rail and waited.
Tory sipped the hot brew gratefully, shifting from her cramped position. She must have been there for hours, but she couldnít recall now what she had been thinking. "What time is it?" Tory asked at length.
"A little after five."
Tory groaned. "So soon?"
"I take it youíve been out here all night?"
"Not all of it. I had a call about one."
Catherine studied her in silence. The dark circles under her eyes werenít just from a few hours lost sleep. She had sensed something amiss with her sister since the moment she arrived.
"Whatís going on, Tor?" she asked gently.
Toryís instinctive reaction was to deny any problem. She was horrified to feel her eyes brim with tears. She was just so damn tired - of sleeping alone, of waking alone, of being alone! She passed a trembling hand across her face, desperately searching for composure.
"Talk to me, Tory. Please!" Catherine implored.
"I donít know where to start," Tory managed.
"Is it work? You know you could use some help here -"
Tory shook her head. "No. I wish it were. That I know how to handle."
"Youíre starting to scare me, Sis," Catherine said softly. "Youíre not sick, are you?"
"No! No, Iím fine." She laughed a little shakily. "Actually, Iím a mess, but Iím not sick. Itís -oh, God- how can I explain this? Itís a woman. I mean, Iíve met this woman, and -and I have absolutely no idea what Iím going to do!"
Catherine regarded her intently. "How long has it been, Tor? Since thereís been someone?"
Tory fought back tears again. She fixed her gaze on the harbor, willing away the memories. "Four years - since K.T. left me."
"I still want to kill her!" Catherine muttered.
"God, I donít want to do this again!" Tory cried.
"How serious is it?"
"I donít know! I donít know anything! Iím not even positive sheís gay!"
Catherine blew out a breath. "That tall, gorgeous cop."
Tory looked at her in surprise. "How did you know?"
Her sister shrugged. "Because for a minute there she made me wish I were gay. Sheís charming, and sexy as hell. And because I saw the two of you dancing. She held you like you meant something to her. She held you like she cared."
"Oh, Jesus," Tory sobbed, "now you have made me cry!"
Catherine got up to search for tissues, and returned with the entire pot of coffee. "Here," she said, handing Tory the box of Kleenex. She poured them both more coffee, letting Tory shed the tears she needed to.
"Have you slept with her?" Catherine asked when Tory regained her composure.
"No," Tory admitted softly.
"I hurt, I want her so badly."
"Jesus, god, Tor - does she know?"
Tory shrugged. "Not exactly. I didnít want to admit it to myself, and then last night -" Her voice faltered as the memory of Reeseís touch stirred her like a caress.
"What!? Last night what?"
"She kissed me. I mean, we kissed - "
Catherine expelled another long sigh. "That ought to be some indicationís sheís gay, donít you think?" she queried with just a hint of laughter in her voice. Her laughter died as a haunted look flickered across her sisterís face.
"Tory," she said gently, "tell me whatís really happening here."
Toryís hands clenched around the clay mug while she struggled for words. Haltingly she gave voice to her fears.
"I havenít wanted anyone in so long. I donít mean sex." She looked away, blushing. "Although come to think of it, I havenít wanted that either. Iíve made a good life for myself here. Iíve been happy. Now all I can think about is her. I canít look at her without wanting to touch her. Itís like Iím another person. I donít even recognize myself! Then, when she kissed me! Itís as if I was suddenly living someone elseís life! All Iíve been able to think about was how she made me feel, how her breath brushed against my neck, how her hands seemed to reach inside of me. Iím losing my mind!"
She stared at her sister, her expression agonized. "What if it doesnít mean anything to her, Cath? What if itís all a mistake? How will I bury all these feelings again?"
Catherine slid her chair closer, removing the cup from her sisterís unconscious grasp. She took Toryís hands in hers.
"Tory - honey, youíve been sleep walking the last four years. You think youíve been happy, but itís more like youíve been numb. Those of us who love you know that. I donít know a thing about this woman, but for her to move you like this - there has got to be something there. I donít know if she deserves someone as wonderful as you, or even if she has the good sense to know how lucky she is that you want her. But I could kiss her myself for making you feel this way. God knows, I never want to see you hurt again, but Tory! Youíre not in someone elseís life. Youíve just come back to your own!"
"I donít know if I want these feelings, Cath," Tory whispered. "Iím afraid to trust her, afraid that Iíll be wrong again. I trusted K.T. completely, and I was so wrong!"
Catherine smiled sadly. "Some things we canít chose,Tory. Sometimes our life just finds us."
Tory was silent a long time. At last she gave her sister a tremulous smile. "I sound like a lunatic, donít I?"
Catherine laughed. "You sound like a woman mad with lust! What are you going to do?"
Tory grimaced. "I wish I knew. Iím almost afraid to see her again. Iím afraid I might have imagined last night. And Iím just as terrified that I didnít!"
Catherine chose her next words carefully. "Are you in love with her?"
"I canít think about that, Cath, I really canít."
"You might want to before you sleep with her."
"I know," Tory whispered softly.
"Brianna! Wait a minute after class, will you," Reese asked when she and the teenager finished their training.
Brianna looked uneasy, but nodded her assent. She followed Reese through the breeze way to the house.
"Sit down," Reese said, gesturing to the stool by the counter. She poured them both orange juice and took a seat next to her student.
"Bri," she began, "has anyone been hassling you, or any of your friends?"
"What do you mean?" Bri mumbled, uncertain of the conversation, still uncertain of any adult. And as fair as Reese had been, she still worked with her father!
"Is anybody giving you a hard time about being gay?"
Bri snorted in disgust. "Shouldnít you be asking who hasnít hassled us?"
"How? What are they doing?"
She wasnít yet ready to believe that Reese was really on her side, as much as she wanted her to be. She tried so hard to be strong, especially when Caroline was with her. She had to be able to stand up for them, didnít she? Deep inside she feared that if Caroline saw her uncertainty, and her vulnerability, she would leave her. Bri looked at Reese directly for the first time. Reese just looked back at her with eyes filled with concern. Bri took a deep breath, and took a chance. Sometimes it was just too hard to be alone.
"Most of the kids at school who know about us just avoid us. All of a sudden we donít get invited any where any more. Some of them make noises when we walk by, or call us names under their breath. Nothing you can really call them on. They just make it real clear that we donít belong. Thereís not that many of us - at least not that I know about. Some of the guys are pretty obvious. You know, kind of faggoty. A couple of them have been beat up."
"Who beat them up?" Reese asked, her voice like flint.
Bri shrugged. "Some of the jocks. They were mostly showing off, I think."
"Has anyone bothered you?"
Bri looked away, shaking her head noncommittally.
"Bri?" Reese persisted gently.
"Not exactly. Thereís a guy who had the hots for my girlfriend. He tried to push me around once."
Reese forced down the surge of anger. "What happened?"
"I kicked him in the balls."
Reese would have smiled if the situation werenít so serious, and so intolerable.
"And that was that?"
Bri shrugged again, her expression nonchalant. "So far."
"Have you heard of anyone being followed, or threatened by a bunch of guys in a truck?"
"No." Bri stared at her suspiciously. "Whatís going on?"
"Iím not sure anything is going on," Reese admitted. "Two boys were bothered last night by some men in a drive by thing. Iím not sure it was because the kids were gay. But it worries me. Ask around among your friends. If thereís gay bashing going on, I want to know."
"Why?" Bri asked bitterly.
"Because I wonít have it in my town," Reese said darkly.
"Yeah, wells, youíre the only one then."
"I donít think so, Bri. There are plenty of people who wouldnít tolerate it, your father included."
"Heís said the only reason the gays and lesbians are welcome here is because itís so good for business!" Brianna exclaimed.
"Maybe he did say that, Bri, but that doesnít mean he feels that way himself!"
Reese could tell the young woman remained unconvinced, but she needed to get her message across. "Bri, I want you and your friends to be careful. And I need you all to help me out. If you see or hear of anything happening, please tell me. And youíve all got to stay out of the dunes at night."
Briannaís face set in defiance. "Right."
The teenager stood suddenly, her dark eyes flashing. "You donít get it, do you? You act like you do, but you donít. I want to be able to kiss my girlfriend, okay? Thatís what itís about -out there in the dunes - itís about making love with the person you love. Do you think my father would understand that? What I want to do with my girlfriend? Do you understand?" She turned away, a cry escaping. "If I canít make a place for us, I donít deserve to have her!"
Reese laid her hand on the young womanís shoulder, meaning only to offer some comfort. She was shocked when Brianna turned to her, burying her face against Reeseís chest. Bri was sobbing like a child, but Reese knew she wasnít. She didnít need to have experienced it herself to believe that Bri and Caroline were in love. And she had an idea what that meant for a girl like Bri. Bri would need to feel that she deserved Carolineís devotion, and she would need to feel that she could protect her. Reese hesitated for only a second, then she gently folded the trembling youth in her arms.
"I do understand, Bri," she whispered, rocking her softly. "I understand exactly how you feel." She had only to think of Tory to know how true her words were. Would she do anything differently were she in Briís place? "Just give me a chance to keep you safe - please. Just give me a little time."
Bri drew a shaky breath, then stepped away self-consciously. "Iíll talk to my friends. Tell them what you said. Okay?"
Reese nodded, "Itís a start. I appreciate it, Bri. Thanks."
Bri studied her shyly. "I guess you wonít tell me if youíre gay, huh? Some kind of teacher thing."
Reese recalled Marge asking her the same thing, and her inability to give an honest answer. She thought she had a clearer answer now.
"Think of it as a cop thing," she responded lightly. "But you can believe me when I tell you I know what youíre feeling about Caroline, okay?"
Bri grinned. "I guess thatís answer enough."
Reese grinned back. "Get out of here. Iíve got to go to work."
Bri glanced at the clock as she headed for the door. "I guess Toryís not coming today, huh?"
Reese knew without looking that it was well past the time for Tory to have arrived. She had known for some time now, she just didnít know what it meant.