Tory came fully awake at the first ring of her bedside phone.
"Tory King," she said tersely, her pulse racing. No matter how many hundreds of times she had received these middle of the night calls, she never became immune to the sudden surge of adrenalin, wondering what challenge awaited her.
"Tory, itís Nelson Parker. Iíve got a situation out here at Race Point, and I need you."
She was already strapping the velcro binders on her leg brace, the phone tucked between her shoulder and her ear.
"What is it?" she asked, reaching for the pair of sweats she had dropped near the bed earlier.
"Canít say on this line," he replied in a voice taut with strain. "Just get here fast."
The line went dead as Tory tossed the receiver down.
In the middle of the night it took her less than five minutes to reach a barricade of cars crowding the parking lot below the rangerís station at Race Point. It took her a few minutes longer to convince an unfamiliar officer that she belonged there. Officers, many of them from neighboring townships, were milling about, walkie talkies blaring. There was also an impressive array of weapons on display. The air crackled with tension. Someone finally directed her toward a clump of people crouched behind a large dune at the crest of a hill. The roar of the Atlantic just beyond was unmuted by the noises of the crowd.
She found Nelson peering down toward the beach below with night binoculars.
"Nelson!" she called, shouldering her way toward him. "Whatís going on?"
He turned to her, handing the glasses to the man next to him. His face was grim.
"A Coast Guard cutter tried to board a craft running without lights a mile off shore. They were fired upon, and ended up in pursuit. They radiod us for back-up on the beach. Before we knew what was happening, the suspect ship ran aground and began firing on my people. Iíve got an officer down out there on the beach."
Tory fought to draw a breath against the crushing fear that gripped her.
"Is it Reese?" she asked in a voice that sounded foreign to her own ears. The shouts, the crowds, the occasional crack of what must be gunfire receded from her consciousness. All of her awareness fixed on his face, awaiting the words that would change her life.
"Itís Smith," he answered tightly. "Conlonís right over there."
She looked where he pointed, almost afraid to believe him. When she recognized Reeseís unmistakable form, the rush of relief was so intense her legs threatened to desert her. Thank you God, she thought as she struggled for calm. Reese turned abruptly from the men she had been talking with, crossing the sand toward them with powerful strides.
"Nelson," Reese snapped, her face rigid with anger, "youíre going to have to back me on this. You have jurisdiction here, not the Coast Guard. Weíre wasting time Smith may not have." As she spoke she pulled her jacket off and began unbuckling her gunbelt.
Tory looked from one to the other in confusion. Nelsonís face was set as he watched Reese, clearly unhappy. As if she sensed his uncertainty, Reese locked eyes with him.
In a surprisingly gentle voice, she said, "You know itís the right thing to do. Even by helicopter, the SWAT team is twenty minutes away. I am a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marine Corp. This is what Iím trained for. Thereís no one here more fit for this action than me."
He stared at her, then nodded his assent. "At least get a vest," he rasped.
"Right," she said as she stripped off her uniform shirt. The tee shirt she was wearing underneath was stretched taut across her chest as she restrapped her revolver into a shoulder holster.
"What the hell is going on?" Tory demanded. She was staring at Reese with the sinking feeling that she wasnít going to like the answer. Nelson looked at her as if he had forgotten he had requested her.
"We need to get Smith off the beach," Reese answered in his stead.
"And youíre going to go?" Tory asked, deathly cold gripping her.
Tory looked into the face of a stranger. What she saw there was something ferocious, something dangerous - an invincible conviction she knew men would follow into battle. Everything about Reese, from the set of her shoulders to the piercing focus in her eyes, radiated a sense of certainty and purpose. Toryís words of protest died on her lips. As much as her mind recoiled from the fear of seeing Reese lying bloodied on that beach, she could not deny the rightness of her going.
"Do not die out there, Conlon," she whispered fiercely to her, stepping close enough that she could have touched her. She didnít; she was too afraid she might not let go. "Donít you dare let that happen."
Reeseís face softened for the briefest moment. "I wonít." Looking at Nelson then, her eyes were like ice, her tone unrelenting. "Give me five minutes to circle around behind that line of scrubbrush, then have the Coast Guard lay down a steady barrage of fire on that boat - and donít quit Ďtil I have him under cover of the dunes."
As Nelson brought the radio to his lips, Reese melted into the night. Tory watched her shape fade into shadow while a part of her prepared for the pain she feared was coming. The simple fact that life as she knew it hung in the balance was as clear to her as any truth she had ever known.
"Give me those glasses, Nelson," she demanded.
Wordlessly he handed them to her, motioning to a man next to him to relinquish his. Together they cautiously crept to the top of the last dune and looked down into a nightmare. A large vessel wallowed in the wake just off shore, illuminated by the lights of half a dozen Coast Guard ships ringing the grounded craft. A body lay in the sand twenty yards from the board stairs that led up from the beach. With the night glasses Tory could make out Smithís features, but she couldnít tell if he was alive. She could also see the officers crouched in the scant shelter of the stairs. Suddenly the night was ablaze with flashes of light as gunfire erupted across the water. Tory flinched involuntarily, but her eyes never stopped scanning the eerie tableau below. From out of the darkness a shadow raced along the sand, crouched low but clearly vulnerable in the merciless light of the moon. Reese dove and rolled, coming to rest beside the body in the sand. In the next instant she was up, Smith balanced across her shoulders as she sprinted toward the protection of the dunes. Tory saw the flickers of fire from the guns on the outlaw ship, she saw Reese falling, she heard Nelsonís groan beside her.
A scream of protest at the unthinkable exploded from her. Something deep inside of her was shattering, bleeding her soul into the darkness. She hadnít realized she had started to rise until a firm hand pulled her down. "Let me go!" she raged, blindly clawing at his arm. "Goddamn it, let me go!"
"Tory!" Nelson shouted, shaking her hard. "Tory! Sheís up!"
Tory stared back down the slope, unbelieving. Reese crawled toward the cover of the scrubs, dragging Smith with an arm around his waist. Suddenly shapes emerged from the night, surrounding them, shepherding them to safety.
Tory sank to her knees, sobbing softly. The hand on her shoulder shook her again, softly this time. "We need you now, Doctor King."
"Yes," Tory gasped, struggling to stand. "Yes." Squaring her shoulders, she pointed to the emergency vehicles pulled up beside the patrol cars. "Have them brought to me there. Iíll need their equipment."
Smith was the first to arrive, carried on a stretcher by three men and a woman, all in body armor, bristling with weapons Tory scarcely recognized.
"Put him down gently," she cautioned. Looking past them for the other stretcher, she saw no one. "Whereís Conlon?" she asked, her throat painfully tight, her stomach clenching.
"Debriefing the Chief," one of the men grunted.
"Get her over here - no excuses," Tory ordered as she knelt by Smithís side. She didnít look up again until she had two IVís inserted in the large veins just under his collar bones, blood running through both of them, and a compression bandage on the sucking wound in his chest.
"Somebody hand me a number thirty chest tube, on the double," she called. An EMT opened a sterile cut down tray so that Tory could make a one inch incision between Smith's ribs, passing the firm plastic tube into the space around his deflated lung. "Hook this up to a suction pump now," she instructed the woman assisting her. She continued to monitor his pulse and blood pressure as the blood was evacuated through the chest tube. Finally she was satisfied that he was as stable as she could get him.
"Okay, letís transport. Advise them that they have a GSW to the chest, hemopneumothorax, probable lung injury. Heíll need an open thoracotomy ASAP!"
"Right, Doc," the male EMT replied. "Weíre rolling. You want us to send a second squad back for the other one?"
"Whatís her condition?"
"Looks like just a flesh wound. She was walking and talking."
"Have her transported to my clinic. Iíll handle her there."
"Iím not sure sheíll leave," he called as he climbed into his vehicle. "It was a struggle just to get a look at her."
"Get going," Tory shouted, fire in her eyes. "Iíll deal with her."
She found them hunkered down behind the dune where she had left Nelson what seemed like another lifetime ago. They were sketching out some kind of map in the sand. The left side of Reeseís shirt was stained dark with blood. Her face was beaded with sweat.
Tory forced herself between them, taking them both by surprise. "Youíre done here, Reese. You need medical attention, and you need it now."
As Reese started to protest Tory calmly turned her back.
"Nelson, Iíll have your job for reckless endangerment if you donít order her to come with me," she informed her good friend.
Nelsonís eyes widened in shock, then he nodded. "Of course, youíre right. Conlon- get your butt out of here."
"Yes, sir," she conceded. She turned to accompany Tory, wincing involuntarily as she became aware of the pain in her side for the first time. She found she couldnít straighten up, and her legs were a little rubbery. Tory steadied her with an arm around her waist, carefully avoiding the wounded area.
"Thanks," Reese managed.
"Donít thank me," Tory informed her remotely. She steeled herself against the awareness of Reeseís pain. For now she was only a doctor, and Reese just a patient in need.
"Can you get up on the examining table?" Tory asked as she led Reese slowly into the procedure room.
"Get your shirt off then. I need to get the instruments out of the sterilizer."
When she returned Reese was trying hard to sit up straight, but she was obviously in pain. An eight inch gash just below her ribs leaked a steady ribbon of blood down her left side. Tory had never seen her without clothes before, and she noted with clinical detachment the prominent pectoral muscles and etched abdominals of a superbly developed body. Despite her tone and muscle mass, Reese's breasts retained a soft fullness. She embodied the image of a female warrior. Unfortunately, at the moment, she was a wounded warrior.
"Lie down, Reese," Tory murmured as she set up the instrument tray and pulled on sterile gloves. At a glance she could tell the bullet track was tangential to the abdominal cavity, and she automatically relaxed. Although the wound was deep, Reese was not in any serious danger as long as the wound was treated properly and she didnít get infected.
"How did the bullet get through that vest?" Tory questioned as she began to inject the area around the wound with lidocaine.
"I wasnít wearing it," Reese replied, breathing deeply as the burning pain began to subside.
"You took it off?" Tory asked, trying to keep the anger from her voice.
"It was slowing me down."
"And the bullet didnít?" Tory responded acerbically.
"It was a judgement call," Reese answered calmly.
"I see," Tory said, not wanting to admit to herself just how frightened she was by Reeseís willingness to risk her life. She irrigated the wound with Betadiene and saline, cleansing it of clots and debris from Reeseís shirt. The tissues had been separated down into the muscles of her flank, but thankfully there was no deeper penetration. She began to approximate the subcutaneous layers and fascia with absorbable sutures. She concentrated on her work to keep the terrible knowledge of how close Reese had come to death from her mind. If she let that realization sink in, it would incapacitate her.
"Are you angry?" Reese asked quietly into the expressionless green eyes that stared down at her.
"I canít talk about that now, Reese. Just let me do this."
"Tory-" Reese began, disturbed by Toryís distant manner. The last time they were together she had held Tory breathless in her arms. Now Tory wouldnít even meet her eyes. Reese was afraid for the first time that evening.
Silently, ignoring the urgency in Reeseís voice, Tory started on the skin sutures, placing them far enough apart so that the inevitable swelling would not tear them through.
"Please tell me why youíre angry," Reese asked again.
Tory gently taped a compression bandage in place and stripped off her gloves. She threw them at the wastebasket, not caring that she missed. She spun back toward Reese so quickly that Reese jumped. Leaning down, Tory grasped Reeseís shoulders, just managing not to shake her. Her eyes burned into Reeseís, inches away.
"I am angry because you nearly got yourself killed, and willingly at that! Iím angry because it doesnít seem to occur to you that that would have ruined my life. Iím angry, Reese, because -because-" Her fury evaporated as she saw the confusion in Reeseís face. She was so damn beautiful! "Oh, hell," Tory muttered, doing what she had been wanting to do forever. She kissed her, hard, not caring what it meant, because she had to. Because she wanted to more than anything else in the world.
Reese stiffened in shock, then she was lost. She yielded to the pressure against her mouth, closing her eyes, surrendering to the waves of heat that coursed through her. She felt no pain, except an ache that tore at her more than any bullet ever could. She tried to pull Tory closer, knowing that only her touch could satisfy the longing.
"Ah, Jesus -" she gasped as Tory wrenched away. "Tory, please donít stop. I need you to- "
Tory pressed trembling fingers to Reeseís lips, drawing a tremulous breath. "This is insane! God, I want you so much!" She took a step back, groping for Reeseís shirt. "Put this on before I totally lose my mind!"
Reese groaned in frustration. "This is killing me! Iíd rather be shot!"
Tory laughed grimly. "Donít tempt me, Conlon! I swear to God Iím not responsible for my actions! Now get dressed. Weíre going to my place. You need to rest."
Reese slowly rose to a sitting position, fixing Tory with an icy glare. "What I need, Doctor King, is for you not to run from me every time we kiss!"
Tory slumped against the wall, struggling for words as she watched Reese fumble into her bloody shirt. "I donít want to. Itís just - Iíve never felt quite like this! And now is certainly not the time for sex! You may not think anything of it, but youíve just been shot!"
Reese grinned despite herself. "Actually I think quite a lot about it. It hurts like hell. But just now, when you kissed me, all I felt was you." She tried standing, then crossed the distance between them, resting her hands lightly on Toryís waist. "Iíve missed you. You havenít been to the dojo all week. I wanted to call, but I didnít know if you wanted me to. When you touch me - I- it rips holes in my soul."
Tory couldnít look at her any longer. There was too much wanting in Reese's face. She sidestepped out of her grasp, catching her hand as she did. "Come on. Let me get you out of here. Youíre going to crash any minute."
Reese relented, allowing Tory to lead her to the Jeep. As they drove through the night exhaustion finally claimed her. She was asleep by the time Tory pulled into her drive.
"Is she asleep?"
"Closer to unconscious," Tory sighed as she leaned against the deck rail. "Let me have one of your cigarettes."
Catherine raised an eyebrow but handed the pack to her sister while they both waited for another imminent sunrise.
"Is she going to be alright?"
"Yes," Tory murmured as she blew out a soft stream of smoke.
Tory laughed shakily. "I donít think so."
She took another deep drag on her cigarette, enjoying the acrid bite of the harsh fumes. It suited her disquieting unrest. "I donít know what Iím going to do about her."
"You know, Tor, thereís something really spooky about her."
Tory looked at her sister in surprise. "What do you mean?"
Catherine stared out over the harbor, her voice pensive. "I had the strangest experience just now - when I was helping you put her to bed. I have never seen anyone quite so beautiful. I mean, it was like looking at a painting of some ancient goddess-warrior queen or something. I was standing there, staring at this naked woman like an idiot, when she opens her eyes and looks right at me. ĎThank you" was all she said, and I thought my heart would break. She seemed so innocent. She reminded me of my children. Not their helplessness, but their untarnished goodness. But that canít be, can it? There arenít any adults like that! Tell me, Tor, what do you see?"
Tory smiled softly as she reflected on the woman asleep upstairs in her bed. "She is the most infuriatingly noble person I have ever met. She believes in doing the right thing," her voice caught and she brushed impatiently at the tears clinging to her lashes, "even if it kills her."
She stubbed the cigarette out carefully, continuing in a quiet tone, "And that is as near to innocence as you can get."
"It would be hell to be in love with her," Catherine ventured.
"Itís hard not to fall in love with her," Catherine laughed.
"This place canít always be so dangerous, can it? I mean, whatís the chance sheíll ever get shot again?"
Tory shuddered at the thought. "Cath, she is going to ride out on her white charger every day of her life, and if it isnít her body in danger, it will be her heart. She has layers of armor, but one kid in trouble tears her apart."
"Anybody with half a brain would stay away from her," Catherine concluded.
"You know what the real problem is with people like her? The heroes - well, heroines, I guess."
"What?" Tory asked.
"Theyíre so single-minded. Everything is either black or white. Like with love - it has to be this grand passion, you know? Nothing halfway. Mate for life, die in the name of it..."
"Donít, Cath," Tory warned.
"Why not, big sister? Are you scared that you might love her?"
"Yes," Tory shouted, the terror and strain of the last six hours finally erupting. "Yes Iím scared! Because Iíve known her three months, and Iíve kissed her exactly twice, and sheís claimed some essential place in me. I cannot imagine what life would be like without her. The last four years - even the time with K.T.- seem like pale imitations compared to what she stirs in me! Now tell me I havenít lost my mind!!"
Catherine slipped an arm around Toryís shoulders, hugging her in the chill morning air. "You have lost your mind. Thatís what happens when you fall in love."
"Iíve been in love - I loved K.T. with all my heart. But this! This is too much. She is too goddamned much! This isnít my heart weíre talking about, this is my soul! I could lose myself here, Cath. When I saw her go down tonight, I thought she was dead. I felt something inside of me begin to die, too. That terrifies me, Cath. I canít let this happen."
"Yes, I know," Catherine rejoined softly. "But whatís your alternative?"
"I donít know."
As a brilliant sun broke through the cloud cover,
the two sisters stood in silence, wearily awaiting the new day.
Reese lay with her eyes closed, listening to Tory breathe. She took cautious stock of her body. Her side throbbed, but when she carefully stretched, it didnít feel any worse. She continued to ease her long limbs out until she turned onto her side. She opened her eyes, and studied the woman beside her. Tory was wearing a light tee shirt and loose green scrub pants. The tanned flesh of her smooth abdomen was exposed where the shirt had rolled up. One hand rested on her thigh, the other on the bed between them. Her breasts stretched the front of the thin cotton, rising gently with each breath. Her wavy hair was spread out over the pillow, a few wisps clinging to her cheek. Reese caught the loose strands with one finger, lightly brushing Toryís cheek as she did. Tory smiled slightly in her sleep. Reese couldnít remember ever being this close to another human being. She laid her hand against the bare skin of Toryís abdomen, rewarded by a flicker of muscle and a soft sigh from the sleeping woman. Warmth spread up her arm, and she tightened deep within. Leaning on her uninjured side, she watched Toryís face in wonder as she gently stroked the curve of her rib. Toryís lips parted as Reese reached the swell of her breast, and when Reeseís hand closed around the sensitive mound, Tory gasped. Her delicate lids fluttered, then opened as insistent fingers caught her nipple in a teasing caress.
"Oh!" Tory moaned, searching the face so near hers. Hazy blue eyes swallowed her whole. "Reese," she murmured brokenly as the hand slid to her other breast. Her back arched in response to this new sensation. "Oh god, wait -"
"No," Reese stated, her breath quickening with Toryís, "I wonít." She lowered her lips to the taut nipple her exploring hand exposed, catching it lightly in her teeth. Toryís hands came into Reese's hair, holding her there, as the breath fled from Toryís chest.
Reeseís fingers stroked the quivering flesh of Toryís abdomen as her mouth moved from one breast to the other. Blood rushed in her head, and the inner tension coiled tighter with each groan from Toryís throat.
"Oh please, Reese - stop," Tory moaned, knowing she could no more push her away than she could stop breathing. Her control was shattered, and her need so powerful! Her legs twisted against the sheets, wetness soaking through the light cotton of her scrub pants.
"Never," Reese rasped, raising her head, capturing Toryís emerald gaze with her own. "Not this time. Not ever."
Tory stared back into eyes full of fire and promise, unable to look away as her body became not hers, but something Reese commanded with the slightest of caresses. Her vision grew cloudy as a long-fingered hand stole beneath the ties of her pants. She whimpered, aching, when fingers brushed over the fine hair at the base of her belly. For a second she couldnít breathe at all. She clenched her jaws to keep from crying out. Her hips rose of their own accord, seeking that elusive stroke.
Gasping, she turned her face away. "Reese, if you touch me Iíll explode-" oh god, you're going to make me come
"Look at me, Tory," Reese demanded softly, her fingers caressing the velvet inner thighs, allowing her fingertips to stray into the heat. She parted the soft folds, teasing the delicate moist lips surrounding the distended clit.
"Oh, god," Tory sobbed, surrendering to those eyes. Her pelvis lifted, the muscles in her thighs tightening. When finally Reese stroked the length of her clitoris, pressing the stiff shaft, she came instantly. She could no more stop the scream than she could halt the eruption that rocketed through her. Her last conscious sensation was of Reeseís mouth claiming hers as her body convulsed.
An insistent tapping at the door roused her. Tory reached for a sheet to cover Reeseís nakedness. She was still in her clothes, although the scrub pants pushed down on her hips reminded her guiltily of her earlier abandon. Reese slept soundly beside her, one arm encircling her waist possessively. Tory quickly scanned the gauze taped to Reeseís side, noting with relief that there was no sign of fresh bleeding
"Tory?" Catherine called softly.
"Come in, Cath," Tory answered, straightening her clothes hastily.
If Catherine was surprised by the sight of her sister holding the woman she had only hours before claimed was "too much" for her, she didnít show it. She simply crossed the room to stand by the bed, whispering urgently, "Thereís a horde of people downstairs threatening to come up here if they donít get a progress report on your, uh, Ďpatient'." She couldnít hide her grin. "This might strike them as unorthodox treatment."
"It strikes me that way, too," Tory said with real concern.
"Well, ease your conscience, Doctor," Reese said, opening her eyes. "It wasnít your idea." She flashed Catherine a smile, who grinned back. "Who are they?"
"Your boss, two kids who look like punk rockers, and your family."
"My family?" Reese repeated uncertainly.
"Your mother and her lover."
Reese started to rise. "I better get down there."
"Not so fast," Tory ordered, swinging out from under the sheets. "I need to check you over first." She tossed her sister a stern look. "Tell them Iíll be with them in a minute."
Reese started to protest, then thought better of it when she saw the look on Toryís face. She lay back quietly with a sigh. Catherine decided her sister was not in the mood for levity and made a hasty retreat.
"This looks fine," Tory said as she inspected the wound. "How do you feel?"
"Like a million bucks," Reese responded, unable to contain a grin. Tory glared at her. "Okay, it stings like hell, but I donít feel too bad." She grasped Toryís hand, suddenly serious, "Tory-"
Tory extracted her hand to reach for new bandages, determinedly avoiding eye contact. "You ambushed me this morning, Conlon." She bent her head to work on the dressings.
Reese slipped a hand into Toryís hair, stroking it back from her face, running her palm along the edge of her jaw. "I didnít mean to," Reese whispered, tracing one finger down the side of Toryís neck. "You are so beautiful. I had to touch you, and then nothing could have stopped me."
"Youíre doing it again," Tory choked, finally looking at Reese. Her eyes were hazy, almost wounded with desire.
"Canít help myself," Reese murmured, her hand behind Toryís neck, pulling her near for a kiss.
Tory placed both arms straight against the bed on either side of Reese, stopping her forward descent. "Neither can I, it seems," she groaned, "but one of us has to. Please stop."
"I canít look at you without wanting you," Reese confessed, not loosening her hold. Every fiber of her body was taut with nearly unbearable tension.
Tory laughed shakily, "God, Iím glad. But if you donít take your hands off me this minute I will not be responsible for my actions, and youíre in no condition for what I want to do to you. Besides that, weíre likely to have an audience if weíre not downstairs soon."
"Tory," Reese implored, her breath constricting in her chest, "just kiss meóplease."
Tory couldnít have resisted the plea in her eyes if twenty men trooped into the room. She took Reese's mouth with bruising authority, shocked by her own possessiveness. Reese opened to her, her whole body pressing urgently upward. When Toryís hand claimed her breast, fingers squeezing hard on the erect nipple, Reese groaned, shuddering convulsively. Unbelievingly, Tory felt a rolling tide of tremors rage through the woman in her arms. She raised her head, stunned, as Reese clung to her, shaking.
"Ah, god-" Reese gasped, collapsing against the pillows. "One kiss and Iím wasted."
"Did what I think just happened really happen?" Tory asked in wonder.
Reese smiled shyly. "It seems to be happening every time we touch."
Toryís mouth was dry, her head pounding. "Every time?"
"This morning, with you- "
"Oh my god," Tory said, shocked. "Youíre incredible - in fact, youíre dangerous. You are definitely not safe on the streets of Provincetown." She brushed her fingertips over Reeseís face in awe, amazed by the feelings just looking at her inspired. "Iím getting up, because if I donít Iím going to make love to you for the rest of the day."
"Donít think Iím going to let you forget that!" Reese warned.
Conversation stopped, every eye in the room on Reese when she walked out onto the deck. She was wearing a pair of Toryís jeans and a frayed cotton shirt, both of which were a little snug. Tory hoped no one was looking her way, because she was afraid what she was feeling might show on her face. Reese had to be the most captivating woman she had ever seen, and the most desirable. The urge to touch her was physically painful. To her great consternation, when Reese smiled at her, she blushed.
"Are you all right, darling?" Kate asked anxiously.
"I am, Mother. Just fine."
Kate looked to Tory, uncertain whether to believe her daughter. She was in time to catch the look that passed between the two of them. She was first surprised, then immensely pleased. She relaxed perceptibly, as she added, "Jean and I just had to be sure."
"Doctor King is taking very good care of me."
Tory blushed a deeper crimson as Reese grinned rakishly at her. Iím going to kill her for this! Tory thought.
Mercifully, Nelson spoke, dispelling the silence and drawing Reeseís eyes from her. "The doctors say Smith is going to be okay, too. Thanks to the both of you. You sure youíre okay?"
"Yes, sir. Iím fine."
"Thereís been a lot of calls from reporters. This is big news. Theyíre camping out over at your place. IĎd stay clear of there for a few days."
"She can stay here," Tory responded.
"Good," Nelson rejoined. "So Iíll see you in five or six days."
"Excuse me?" Reese asked in confusion.
"The Doc said youíd be okay for desk duty next week."
"Desk duty?" She turned to Tory in astonishment. "Desk duty!!"
"What I actually said was that you might be ready for desk duty next week," Tory replied stonily. Her expression suggested any further discussion from either of them would be extremely unwise.
"Right," Reese conceded, deciding to fight this particular battle another day. Nelson seemed satisfied that his irreplaceable second in command was in good hands. "You coming, Bri?" he asked as he turned to leave.
"I want to talk to Reese. Iíve got my motorbike."
"Well, be careful with that damn thing if youíre carrying a passenger," he admonished with a nod toward Caroline.
Bri gave her father a look which suggested he had just insulted her. The stiffening of her shoulders and the tilt of her chin reminded Tory of Reese. Oh Lord, not another bull-headed baby butch!
"Iím always careful, especially when Iím carrying Caroline," Bri replied as if her father should know better than to suggest otherwise.
It was his turn to look confused. He was rescued by Toryís suggestion that they all go inside and have some lunch. Nelson declined, but Reeseís mother and Jean offered to lend a hand. They followed Tory inside.
"Iíll be right there," Reese said. Turning to the two young women she asked, "Whatís up?"
The instant her father started down the path to his car, Bri clasped Carolineís hand. Her eyes were smoldering with anger. "Someoneís been bothering Caroline," she seethed.
Reese nodded seriously. "Sit down. Start at the beginning."
"At first I didnít pay much attention," Caroline informed her. "There were some notes pushed into my locker - the usual stupid stuff."
"What did they say?" Reese asked.
Caroline glanced at Bri, uncomfortable. Reese waited. With a sigh, Caroline recounted, "They just called me names. You know, like dyke and queer. Then last weekó" She hesitated again, and Bri stared at her suspiciously.
"What? Is there something you didnít tell me?" Bri asked.
Caroline nodded, looking miserable. "Someone wrote if I knew what was good for me Iíd get rid of Brianna and find a man. Otherwise theyíd show me what I was missing. And now I think someone is following me."
"Motherfuckers," Bri swore, dropping Carolineís hand as she stormed across the deck. She grasped the railing with all her strength to hide the trembling. Caroline started to follow, close to tears. Reese motioned for her to wait.
"Your anger is just," Reese said when she joined Bri at the rail. "But if you let it, it will make you weak. If you don't control it, it will strike anyone in its path. You will hurt those who love you."
"I want to kill them!" Bri choked, struggling for air.
"I know," Reese said.
"When I think about someone hurting her," Bri said, "I canít stand it! I think Iíll go crazy!"
"Yes," Reese agreed. "But you canít. You cannot afford to be defeated by words, or threats, or your own undisciplined emotions. You are being tested, Brianna. Itís not fair, and itís not just, but that is beside the point. Iím going to need your help, but more importantly, Caroline needs you."
Bri glanced over at her girlfriend, who was watching them anxiously. Just the sight of her made her heart catch, the joy almost like pain. She wanted so much to deserve Caroline's love. Bri straightened her shoulders, drew a deep breath, and crossed the deck to her.
"Iím sorry," Bri whispered, as she sat beside Caroline, slipping an arm about her waist. Caroline kissed her neck, murmuring reassurances against her skin.
"Okay, letís have the rest of it," Reese directed.
As Caroline was finishing her story, Tory reappeared from the house. She looked at the two young women, both of whom were looking scared. At first glance they looked tough enough in their leather pants, silver arm bracelets, ear cuffs, and punk hair cuts. She thought that Bri had a tattoo on her upper arm that hadnít been there before as well. But she could tell from the way Caroline pressed against Briís side and the cold set to Reeseís features that something was wrong.
"Whatís going on?" Tory asked.
Reese said a few more words that Tory couldnít hear as Bri and Caroline rose to leave. Tory waited until they were out of ear shot before she asked again, "Trouble?"
Reese nodded as she joined Tory. "I think so. Iíll tell you when weíre alone."
Tory noted Reeseís uncharacteristically slow approach. "Youíre in pain, arenít you?"
"Some," Reese admitted reluctantly. "Is my mother still here?"
"Theyíre in the kitchen. I really think she just wanted to see that you were all right, but come have something to eat. Then youíre going back to bed."
Reese followed her, wondering how she was going to tell her that she needed to go to work. Just as they entered the dining area, Catherine turned to them with the phone in her outstretched hand.
"Somebody wants to talk to Colonel Conlon --- wonít take Ďnoí for an answer," she announced with an edge to her voice.
Reese took the phone. "This is Colonel Conlon." She straightened unconsciously as she listened, her face unreadable. "Yes, sir - thatís correct sir. ... In my opinion it was the best course of action, yes sir.... Heís going to live, sir. ... Iím fine, sir, just a scratch."
She looked over at her mother, who was watching her intently. "Sheís here, yes sir. ... No sir, Iím staying at the doctorís.... Victoria King, yes sir."
Her fingers tightened on the phone, her blue eyes darkening. "Are you sure you want me to answer that, General? It seems to me itís specifically against regulations to ask questions of that nature." Her eyes met Toryís, and held them fiercely. "I wonít deny it. I wonít deny her, sir."
After a moment, she slowly replaced the receiver. Every face looked at her questionly. She spoke into the silent room.
"That was my father. Apparently he has very good intelligence sources." She looked at her mother sympathetically. "I appreciate what you must have gone through. He just threatened to have me court-martialled if I admitted to a relationship with Victoria."
"Can he do that?" Catherine exclaimed, clearly shocked.
Reese shrugged. "If he wants a very messy, very public trial. Iím an attorney, and he knows me well enough to know I would never give up my commission without a fight. I think he was just testing."
Despite her calm tone, Tory could see the conversation had taken a toll. Reese was pale and her forehead was dotted with perspiration. There was a fine tremor visible in her hands. Tory went to her, taking Reese's hand. "You need to be in bed. I never should have let you up as it is. Come upstairs."
"Iím afraid Tory is going to have her work cut out for her," Kate observed as she watched her daughter reluctantly follow Tory upstairs. "Reese has very few of her fatherís bad qualities, but she does get her stubbornness from him." She pointedly ignored the snort of disbelief from her lover.
"My sister can handle her, Iím sure," Catherine stated as she accompanied Reeseís mother and her lover out to their car. "Iím glad Iím going to be here to see it. My kids will be with their grandparents until school starts, and my husband is on retreat at Kripalu."
"It should help that Reese appears to be in love with her. Is Tory aware of that?" Kate asked.
Catherine hesitated, not sure just how to discuss this with Reeseís mother.
"Oh, I donít want you to betray any confidences," Kate assured her. "I couldnít be happier."
"I think cautious would be the word to describe my sister at the moment," Catherine responded, hoping fervently that Kate was right about Reeseís feelings. Because it was painfully clear that Tory was hopelessly in love with the handsome, hardheaded cop, regardless of how she tried to deny it.
"I have no doubt that given time Reese will prove herself to her."
"Will her father really make trouble for Reese?" Catherine asked in concern.
"I doubt it, not after Reese made it clear she would fight it. Roger was always too ready to use his power for personal gain, unlike Reese, who is inherently valiant. She does what she does because she believes service is the highest form of honor. He would not want his own reputation tarnished. He could pass off a lesbian wife as some acquired perversion on my part, but a daughter?" She laughed, "How fate has conspired against the man!"
"Obviously, Reese got her good parts from you."
For a moment Kate looked pained. "I wish I could take the credit, but I believe Reese has simply taken what was once commendable about the military to heart. She is proud to be a soldier." She looked away for a moment, then smiled faintly. "And Iím proud she is, too."
"Call me if you need us for anything," Kate called as she pulled away.
Catherine hoped that they had had all the
excitement they were going to see for one summer, but a nagging voice told her
that August was going to be a long month.
"Are they all gone?" Tory asked cautiously as she ventured out onto the deck. She found Catherine stirring a pitcher of margaritas and nearly wept at the sight. "God, am I ready for one of those!"
"We are alone at last," Cath informed her, handing her a drink. "And how is the famous patient?"
Tory blushed. "Out like a light. I canít get her to take any narcotics, and I think the pain is wearing her out." She sank into the canvas deck chair with a sigh. "Iím wondering if I shouldnít send her to Boston for follow-up."
Catherine looked at her in surprise. "I thought you said she was going to be fine?"
"She is - but Iím sleeping with her for Godís sake!"
"I was meaning to ask you about that," Catherine said teasingly. "Just how did that come about? I got the sense this morning - or was it last night - that you werenít quite ready for that."
"Who says Iím ready? It just happened. Well, actually she seduced me. Oh, hell. Iíve been wanting her for weeks."
"Is she as good as she looks like sheíd be?"
"Well, you said sheíd never been with a woman. Naturally Iím curious!"
"Naturally." Tory remarked sarcastically. "She is far better than she looks, if you can imagine that! Itís got nothing to do with how she makes love-" She stopped, blushing as she remembered their brief interlude just an hour before. "Well, of course, thereís that-"
"I just meant thereís so much more to it than that. Oh, I canít explain it! She just has to look at me and Iím ready. So you can obviously see my judgement is impaired. Now you can see why I shouldnít be treating her."
Catherine laughed. "Tor, your brain is still functioning, even if the rest of your circuitry is shorted out. Donít worry about it - youíre not doing anything wrong. If you two had been together for years and this had happened, youíd feel perfectly comfortable looking after her."
"Itís not the medical issue Iím worried about," Tory confessed. "Iím afraid to send her back to work. Iím afraid of her work. Last night I saw her get shot. I thought I had seen her killed. I didnít realize until that moment how much she means to me. Now weíve made love, Cath. Sheís opened the door to places Iím not even sure I wanted to know about. God, I donít even know if she loves me, and Iím terrified of losing her!"
"Tor," Catherine said gently, "I canít imagine how horrible last night was for you. The woman youíre crazy over almost got herself killed. Everything must seem shaky right now. Youíre exhausted. Go upstairs, lie down beside her, and try to sleep. I just want to remind you of one thing. Ten years ago when you were lying in a hospital bed, none of us ever wanted to see you in a scull again - because we had almost lost you. Now every day I pray that you will someday row again, because you love it and you need it. If Reese werenít the woman she is- the cop, the soldier - you wouldnít love her. I donít imagine loving her will be easy, but I can see that you do. You canít change that, any more than you can change her."
Tory brushed tears of fatigue and fear from her face, offering her sister a tremulous smile. "Iíll admit sheís captivated my attention, but Iím going to try to look at this as a momentary loss of reason. Iím not ready for love, especially with someone as dangerous as Reese Conlon! If she doesnít get herself killed, sheís bound to have every woman on the Cape chasing her after this!" she proclaimed.
"Go!" Catherine ordered, thinking that the woman upstairs was just what her sister needed. She knew instinctively what her sister fought to accept. They were already inextricably involved.
"Iím awake," Reese said as she lay watching Tory undress in the late afternoon sunlight. A cool ocean breeze wafted through the thin blinds on the open window, streaming across her own nakedness.
"Youíre not supposed to be," Tory commented as she reached for a tee shirt, her back to the bed.
"You donít need that," Reese called softly. Her voice was husky, and unmistakably seductive.
Tory hesitated for a second as heat rushed into her belly, making her legs weak. Then, resolutely, she pulled the thin cotton over her head as she crossed to the bed. This was ridiculous! Reese needed to rest, not get twenty years of sexual experience in a single day!
"Iím beat, and I have no idea why youíre still able to form sentences. So, please, just - meditate or something, but for Godís sake get some sleep."
She lay down and purposefully faced away from Reese.
"I will," Reese assured her, turning so the length of her body pressed against Toryís back. She slipped her hand under the tee shirt to clasp the soft swell of breast. She slowly pressed her lips along the bare skin from Toryís shoulder up the side of her neck. "In just a minute," she whispered into Toryís ear. With one hand she raised Toryís head enough to catch the corner of her mouth with an exploring tongue. Tory hadnít moved but she couldnít resist opening her lips to admit Reeseís tongue. Reese groaned, cleaving harder to Tory as she tried to get even deeper into the woman whose very presence kindled a twisting fire in her.
Tory felt Reese surge against her, even as her own body began to pound in response. She didnít have the strength to resist her, but this time she would set the tempo. Reese was already moving on the razorís edge of excitement. Oh, no - you're not coming yet. You need to learn a little patience. She pushed away, turning until she was facing Reese, who stared at her in innocent confusion.
"Whatís wrong?" Reese managed. She had been soaring, her entire body sensitized by Tory's nearness.
"Donít think youíre getting off that easy this time, Conlon," Tory warned. She pushed Reese gently but commandingly onto her back. "Donít move, donít talk, donít do anything. This time Iím in charge."
As she spoke she rose to her knees, pulling the tee shirt over her head, tossing it into the corner. Reeseís eyes widened as she surveyed the woman above her, following the soft curves fusing into firm muscle, the sweeping planes and angles, the interplay of strength and grace that she had sensed these many weeks. Seeing Tory now, Reese could not have imagined the beauty.
"Oh, god, Tory- let me touch you," she whispered, her throat dry.
"Quiet," Tory said softly, smiling at Reeseís response. She had never felt so powerful, or quite so sensual. Reeseís obvious desire fueled her own. She wanted to take her time, she wanted to explore every fiber of Reeseís being. She wanted Reese to feel her in every inch of her body. Tory leaned to touch her, her breasts just out of reach of Reeseís lips. Her fingers lingered on the full brows, tracing each bold arch. She followed the sharp ridge of cheekbone and strong angle of jaw with her hands. She lowered herself until her hardened nipples, achingly taut, brushed across Reeseís lips, then pulled back just as Reese touched them with her tongue. She gasped at the swift shiver of arousal, smiling as Reese groaned in frustration at her withdrawal.
"Youíre killing me," Reese pleaded.
"Youíll live," she answered throatily.
Bending once again, Tory licked the sweet sheen of sweat in the hollow of Reeseís throat, and tasted the mist of moisture that ran down the center of her elegantly muscled chest. With the flat of her hand she stroked the hard planes of Reeseís abdomen, exulting in the quivering response to her touch. She brought her face close to the damp hair between Reese's thighs, breathing her scent, feeling the heat rising from her. As Tory indulged her senses, Reese moaned, lifting her pelvis, her leg muscles straining, urging Tory wordlessly to touch her. Tory held her there, feeling her tremble with urgency, as she breathed a kiss across her clitoris, barely touching the reddened tip. Reese whimpered at the fleeting contact. Tory kissed it again Ė then drew away.
"Oh, lick me, please - oh god, please Tory," Reese begged.
Her own answering surge of excitement nearly pushed her to orgasm. She had to fight to keep from pressing her aching clit against Reeseís tight thigh. "Not yet, baby, not yet," she whispered, ignoring the warning twitches from her distended clit, running her tongue over the soft skin of Reeseís inner thigh.
Only when Reese sobbed her name again, almost incoherent, did she take Reese into her mouth. She sucked her lips, her stiff clit. Tory expected it to be fast, but she wasnít prepared for the force of the contractions that exploded under her tongue. She grasped Reeseís hips, clinging to her as she accepted each forceful thrust like a gift, absorbing the essence of Reese's passion with all of her senses. For long moments she knew nothing but the strangled cries, the taste of love, the quivering flesh. Only when she felt the tension ebb did the awareness of anything other than the pounding of her own heart penetrate her consciousness. She hadn't even been aware of her own orgasm until she felt the lingering spasms in her clit.
"Reese?" she questioned gently as she moved along side her. Reese was so still, one arm flung over her face, that Tory was frightened. "What is it?"
The breath caught in her throat when Reese turned to her, her expression so wounded Tory thought she had hurt her. She gathered her into her arms, cradling Reese's face against her breasts. "Oh god, sweetheart, whatís wrong?"
"I never imagined this," Reese murmured, her voice breaking. "I never imagined anyone touching me this way. Now I canít imagine you not touching me." She turned away, afraid of what need might show in her face. For the first time in her life, she felt exposed and uncertain.
Tory pressed her face against Reeseís hair, holding her firmly. She could feel her tremble and it nearly broke her heart. This warrior woman who would face death without a qualm was suddenly so vulnerable that Tory was overwhelmed with the terrible power of their passion. It frightened her more than anything she had ever known. "Itís all right, Reese," she whispered, stroking her softly. "I wonít hurt you."
Reese lay silent, knowing that Tory was the one person on earth with the power to destroy her. All she need do was send Reese away, and she would be lost. Tory had given life to needs that could never be met by another. As clearly as she knew this, Reese knew that she wanted her, regardless of the cost. Placing her fate in Toryís hands, she slept.