Nelson stood back against the wall watching Caroline Clark tenderly stroke his daughterís swollen cheek. With her free hand Caroline brushed tears from her own face. The look she had given him when she entered the room had warned him he would have to forcibly keep her away. The steel in her gaze rendered him speechless.
"Itís me, Bri. I love you," she whispered over and over. At first Nelson was embarrassed to hear her say such things to his daughter, but after a while he found himself praying that the love of this slight blond girl would be enough to keep his only child holding on. God knows, he hadnít offered her much reason.
Finally Bri opened her eyes as much as she could, trying to smile when she heard Caroline whisper her name.
"Hi, babe," she said through cracked lips.
"Hi, sweetheart," Caroline replied softly. "Tory says youíll be okay."
"You?" Bri croaked.
"Donít worry about me," she said tremulously "Just get well."
Bri squeezed her hand weakly. "I knew he was following me. Thatís why I didnít meet you. I went the other way so he wouldnít find you-"
Caroline was crying in earnest now. "I love you so much, Bri. I just want us to be together."
"Soon, I promise," Bri whispered as her strength began to fade. "Be careful. I love you..."
Nelson cleared his throat.
"Iíll look after her, Bri," he said, thinking he had finally found something he could do for his daughter. Tentatively, he placed a hand on Carolineís shoulder. As Briís eyes closed, Caroline turned unexpectedly into Nelsonís arms.
"Iím so scared," she cried, clinging to him like the child she would never be again. "I donít know what Iíll do if something happens to her!"
"Sheíll be okay, girl. Sheís got her motherís grit." He led her around the table to a stool. "You sit here with her in case she wakes up. Sheíll need you then."
He looked back from the door at the stranger who was his daughter, thinking what a fine, brave thing she had done. He didnít know her, but he swore that that would change.
Tory was standing in the hall, giving a report to the team of paramedics who were there to transport Bri to the trauma center. When she finished, she looked at him coldly.
"Whereís Conlon?" he asked, his voice gruffer than he intended.
"Out looking for the man who assaulted your daughter."
He nodded, intending to step past her. She moved purposely into his path.
"I have several messages for you, Nelson. The first one is from Reese. She wants you to stay with Brianna. She said, and I quote - ĎThatís where youíre needed. Youíll taint the case if youíre involved in any way.í She promises she wonít rest until she gets him. I have no doubt she means that." She paused until she was satisfied that he agreed. "The next message is from me, and you can be sure I mean it. You broke her ribs tonight, Nelson. If you ever lay a hand on her again, youíll never wear a badge in this or any other place as long as you live. Now get out of my clinic - and stay out of my sight."
"Iíll resign tomorrow," Nelson said, his face gray.
"Reese wouldnít want you to do that," Tory said as she turned away. "Iíd rather you face her every day knowing that."
He stared at her retreating back, feeling smaller than he ever had. In the last hour he had seen what love between women was made of, and he knew that he would never discount it again. He only hoped it was in him to love so well. He walked out to the ambulance holding his daughter's hand, praying she would forgive him.
What happened that night was the thing legends were made of, and as this story was told and retold by every cop on the Cape, and every person in Provincetown, the story grew. Only the two young officers who answered Reeseís call for back-up could really say for sure, and even they couldnít agree on what really transpired.
Certain facts were indisputable. Reese waited in the dark, in her patrol car, on the edge of Route six, watching the few vehicles leaving Provincetown in the middle of the night. When a black pickup truck with a single headlight passed her, going five miles over the speed limit, she flicked on her lights and siren and chased him to the outskirts of Truro. He finally pulled over and Reese pulled her car in front of him, angling onto the shoulder so that he could not drive off. She sat in her car, looking at the fresh dent in the right front fender of his truck. She remembered her promise to Tory, and she radiod her position and requested back up. They were five minutes away. She did everything by the book, as she believed they should be done. Then she made a mistake.
She thought about Brianna - of her brave young spirit and her beautiful face, unrecognizable now. She thought about the finger marks on Bri's neck and her breasts, the gouges on her inner thighs. She thought about Bri's terror with him battering for entrance to the places only her lover had ever touched. She thought about Bri out there alone, bleeding into the sand, because some man did not like whom she chose to love.
She stepped from the car and unsnapped the
strap that secured her gun.
Hospitals in the dark hours of the night were places like no other. Hushed with unnatural silence, punctuated by the moans and murmurs of the ill and dying, they were places to pass through, not to linger. Lives were changed forever here, for the dead as well as the living. Tory walked down the dim hallway toward the ICU carrying her third cup of coffee of a long night that promised to be a longer day. It was just after five a.m., and she welcomed the activity she knew the morning shift would bring. Sheíd had too much time to think the last few hours, sitting with Caroline, waiting for word from Reese.
At the end of the hall, Caroline stared at the closed doors of the intensive care unit, automatically wiping the tears that overflowed her eyes, waiting until seven AM when she could see Bri. Watching her, Tory reflected on the clear and simple passion between the young women. Untainted by disappointments, untarnished by the accumulated experiences of loves gone wrong, their devotion was unrestricted, their commitment complete. They were brave and fearless and so pure in their loving. They trusted in tomorrow, believing nothing could come between them. They were glorious in their innocence.
Sadly, Tory knew there had been a time when she had loved like that. She knew too, as did all those whose first loves withered with change, that she could never love that way again. Some part of her would always be afraid. She wondered if she could ever truly give herself to love again. She wasnít sure she could, or even that she wanted to.
She glanced into a small dark waiting room just down the hall from the harshly lit main sitting area. Reese was standing at the window, her back to the room. She was still in her uniform. The sky beyond was just beginning to lighten with the dawn. The tense stillness in Reese's figure signaled to Tory that something was wrong. She went to her, slipping her arms around Reese's waist from behind, laying her cheek against Reeseís strong back.
"Iím glad youíre here," Tory murmured against her.
"How is she?" Reese asked, folding her arms over Toryís.
"Theyíre still running tests. Her head CT was clear, thank god, so sheís just got a bad concussion. We should know the rest of the results within the hour."
Reese nodded, not turning.
"Did you get him?" Tory asked quietly.
"Are you all right?"
"I donít know," Reese answered hollowly. She took a shaky breath. "I kept thinking about her- lying alone out there in the night, what he had done to her for no other reason than she loved another woman. Jesus! Sheís just a girl!"
Reese pulled away abruptly, sinking into a nearby chair. She stared at her hands, dangling between her knees. Tory went to her, standing between her legs, placing her hands lightly on Reese's shoulders. Reese was trembling.
"Tell me," Tory said gently.
"I got out of my car intending to kill him," Reese admitted in a low voice. "I knew it when I walked up to the vehicle. If it was him, I was going to kill him."
Toryís chest constricted in fear, but her voice was steady. "What happened?"
"It was him," Reese laughed grimly. "His nose was halfway over to his ear, and he had cuts from pulling her through the brush on his face and hands. I asked him to step out of the truck. I could hear my backup coming, and so could he. He didnít put up a fight. As soon as he was out, I spun him down onto the hood. When the other patrol car pulled in I had my gun against the back of his head."
Tory nearly stopped breathing, but she tightened her grip on Reeseís shoulders. She would not leave her alone with this. "Keep talking, sweetheart," she whispered. "Itís all right."
"They just watched me. I knew theyíd never say what happened. This was the Chiefís daughter. I thought about him ripping at her clothes, on top of her - oh, Jesus -" she gasped, her voice breaking. "I could hardly see him any longer. My arm ached from not pulling the trigger. Finally I holstered my weapon, and as I reached for the cuffs, he made his move. He came at me fast, but this wasnít Nelson. I broke his arm. But God, all I wanted was to kill him! I came so close, Tory, so close! What does that say about me?!!"
Without thinking, she reached out in her pain for Tory, wrapping her arms around Toryís waist, burying her face against her. Clutching her, she wept.
"Oh, my darling," Tory whispered, pierced by Reeseís pain. She stroked her hair, ran her hands tenderly over her quivering shoulders, held her fast. Reeseís need was so clear, her emotions so raw. In her own way, Reese was as innocent and vulnerable as those two girls down the hall. If ever there had been a barrier to Tory loving this woman, it was gone now. This was Toryís chance at love again, the simple, fresh, untarnished love of the young. She had likened her frighteningly valiant, frustratingly honorable lover to an innocent, and in the uncompromising way she loved, she was.
"Oh, Reese," she murmured, her throat aching with emotion. "I love you. I love you so much."
She looked over Reeseís bowed head to see Nelson standing in the shadows of the door, watching them. She wondered how much he had heard. She motioned him away, not caring what he thought. Reese would not have wanted him to see her this way.
He turned away from the image of Tory cradling the sobbing woman. He had foolishly thought once that Reese had no more needs than a man. Now he understood what bravery it took to let the woman who loved you offer comfort. He walked back to join the young woman who loved his daughter, wondering if he had the guts to love like that.
"Iím sorry," Reese mumbled at last, her cheek against Toryís breast.
Tory laughed shakily, lifting Reeseís face, gently brushing away the tears. "Donít you dare say that. I so needed for you to need me."
Reese looked perplexed. "Didnít you know that I do?"
Tory softly kissed her forehead, shaking her head. "You do give the impression of self-sufficiency, my love."
"Tory," Reese said, anxiously, "I seem like I donít need any help because I never had anyone to ask! How I feel about you - what I feel since weíve been together-" She stood, pulling Tory close. "God, how I need you. You mean everything to me!"
Tory ached with feeling. "I love you, Reese. I love your strength, and your integrity, and your beautiful sense of certainty. I need that - it scares me how much I need that. But you donít have to be strong all the time - especially not for me. When you share yourself with me, I only love you more, although god knows how thatís possible." She kissed her soundly, then stepped back, running her hands down Reeseís arms. "I want to get you home. Iím not even going to ask about your ribs."
Reese smiled, slipping an arm around her. "They hurt like hell, and Iím beat. I just want to check on the kids."
"I know. Me, too."
After a few hours sleep, Tory got up to go the clinic. Reese stirred as Tory slipped from the bed. Reese grabbed her hand, pulling Tory down beside her.
"Iíll miss you," Reese said softly.
"I donít want to go, but there are a few patients who canít wait. I wonít be long." She kissed Reese, all too aware of her nakedness. "Besides, since you always seem to be recovering from some injury or another, itís just as well I stay away from you. I canít trust myself to have any restraint."
Reese guided Toryís hand down over her taut stomach to the spot that ached to be touched. "Too late," Reese whispered unevenly as Tory's fingers brushed over her clit.
Tory groaned, ambushed by the wet warmth of Reeseís desire. "You canít know what you do to me or you wouldnít torture me this way- " Helpless to stop, Tory caressed her, gently sliding her fingers up and down the distended shaft.
Reese rose against her hand, gasping. "Just for a minute-" she pleaded, feeling the pressure mushrooming in her belly.
Tory stared into Reeseís eyes as she milked the length of her rhythmically, watching the eclipse of color reflect her touch. Reeseís blue gaze grew hazy, her lips parting with a groan, as she blossomed into ripe fruition under Toryís fingers.
"Tory," Reese sighed as release rippled through her. Eyelids fluttering, then closing, her neck arched with the final spasm. She smiled softly as the tension slowly subsided. "Ahh Ė god. Thank you."
Tory buried her face in Reeseís neck, still holding her fast. "You break my heart, youíre so beautiful," Tory murmured brokenly.
Reese languidly slipped her fingers into Toryís hair, turning her face to breath a kiss against her cheek.
"May you always think so," she said drowsily.
Tory laughed shakily with the aftermath of passion still gripping her. "Donít worry about that. Now unhand me or Iíll never leave."
Reese smiled contentedly. "Hurry home."
When next Reese awoke most of the day had passed. Tory was moving quietly around the room as she undressed. Reese watched her in silence, her pleasure so acute it was almost pain.
"I always want to wake up and see you," Reese said into the still room.
Tory halted, catching her breath. "And I always want to be there when you do."
"Come here," Reese commanded gently, sitting up against the pillows, reaching out to her. When Tory neared, Reese placed both hands on her waist, guiding Tory up over her, one leg on either side of her body. With Tory gazing down at her, lips parted in anticipation, Reese lifted her head to lick her. She held Tory firmly to her mouth, dimly aware of the soft whimpers that grew to a crescendo of throaty cries. She took her time, despite the insistent rhythm of Toryís pulsing hips. She lifted her lips away far enough to alternate light kisses on the tip of Tory's clit with circling caresses of her tongue under it. As Tory's movements became more frantic, Reese pushed her tongue into her, fucking her, until Tory dug her fingers into Reeseís forearms with a cry.
"Oh god! Reese - make me come, please, please do it now!"
With a knowing brush of her lips, sucking the length of Tory's clit into her mouth, Reese ended the sweet torture. Even as Tory bucked against her, Reese held fast, slowing her strokes until Tory curled down around her, exhausted. Reese settled Tory beside her, then pressed her face to Toryís breasts. She rested surrounded by the softness of her, listening to her soft murmurs of satisfaction.
After long moments, Tory said brokenly, "If you ever leave me, Iíll be lost."
Reese lifted her head, still faintly flushed
from their passion. "Not as long as I live." She wrapped her arms
tighter around her love, and they slept.
It was a clear Provincetown morning in August, a bright blue sky punctuated by scattered wisps of clouds. The waves on the bay broke gently against the sands at Herring Cove. Reese sat in her patrol car sipping her coffee, waiting. She smiled as a flicker of color far off to her left caught her eye. Her heart stirred as she followed the course of the red kayak, cutting swiftly through the early morning sea. Toryís rhythm was so steady the craft seemed barely to touch the water as she paddled toward the lighthouse at Race Point. When she could no longer imagine she saw her, Reese drove away, filled with peace.
Nelson glanced up when Reese entered the station, then shied his glance away uncomfortably.
"Morning Chief," Reese said, tossing her cap on her desk and heading for the coffeepot. She grimaced in disgust, emptying the contents into the sink.
"Good to have you back," Parker said gruffly. "Did the Doc clear you for duty?"
"You think Iíd be here if she didnít?" Reese laughed.
Just a few hours ago, Tory had inspected Reese's side, and poked and probed her rib cage before reluctantly approving Reeseís return to work. Tory watched her get dressed, loving her precision and the care with which she assembled each part of her uniform. Standing in front of Reese, Tory had straightened a tie that was already perfectly knotted. Running her hands over the razor-edge creases in Reeseís shirtsleeves, she smoothed down the collar of her shirt. With her hands pressed lightly against Reeseís chest, she had whispered, "I love the way you look in this uniform. You wonít do anything to get any holes in it, will you?" Reese had pulled her close, promising her that she wouldnít.
Nelson Parker watched Reeseís face turn inward to some thought he couldnít fathom, but he knew it held her powerfully. Something about her had changed in the two weeks she had been gone, and he figured he knew who had been the cause of it. Remembering the night he wished with all his being he could have to do over, he remembered too the look on Tory Kingís face as she stared him down. He knew damn well that if he had struck Reese, Tory would have taken him apart. He cleared his throat, ready to say what he had been preparing himself to say since that night.
"Electionís are coming up in the fall, Conlon. I think you should run for Sheriff."
Reese poured two cups of fresh coffee, placing one on his desk as she passed.
"We already have a Sheriff," she said with finality, reaching for the stacks of paperwork that had accumulated during her absence.
"Youíre qualified, the people of this town already think youíre a hero, and every law man in the state respects you for how you handled Briannaís - assault. Youíre a shoe-in."
He swiveled in his chair to stare out the front window, but he forced himself to look at her when he spoke again. "You handled the police part of it as well as anybody could, and you handled the personal part better than I could. If it hadnít been for Bri and Caroline trusting you, Brianna would have died out there. I failed her, and I repaid you by busting you up. I donít deserve my own daughterís trust and I certainly donít deserve to be Sheriff. Take the damn job, Conlon, you deserve it."
"Iím not interested," Reese stated again. "Thereís too much paperwork and too much politics. I like patrol, I like being out on the streets, I like community interaction. I plan on teaching more martial arts classes in the fall. Iím too busy."
When she had stopped to check on Brianna the previous night, she had found her polishing the new dirtbike Nelson had gotten her to replace the one destroyed in the accident. Caroline, who had barely left Bri's side since her release from the hospital, was there with several of their friends. Bri was chaffing at the bit to resume her martial arts classes, but her doctors had declared no contact sports for six weeks due to her concussion. Two other young women and a boy had expressed interest in taking self-defense classes. She knew it was a reaction to Briís assault, and after talking with them, she had agreed to teach several evening classes a week. Tory endorsed the idea, and planned to teach as well. This was the kind of cop Reese wanted to be - one who was part of the community, responding to the needs of the community in a personal way.
"You didnít fail Bri either," Reese continued. "Sure, she was afraid to talk to you, but some of that fear came from what others had done to her or her friends. As it turns out, her fear was unwarranted. Jesus, Caroline is practically living at your place since her father threatened her."
Nelson looked pained as he remembered Caroline calling Bri in tears when her father swore he would beat this Ďqueer bullshit' out of her. "Yeah, well that might have been me saying something as stupid as that if Bri hadnít almost been killed. It took almost losing her to put things into perspective. Iím donít know that Iíd be trying as hard as I am to understand it. Still, I look at those two girls and all I see is a hard road ahead."
Reese nodded. "That may be, but having you on their side will go a long way toward making their life easier. And believe me, Nelson, you couldnít keep them apart without hurting them more than any prejudice ever could."
He grinned self-consciously. "The reason Caroline spends most of her time with us is because that hard-headed kid of mine tried to get up out of her sickbed to go after Carolineís old man. Jesus, sheís tough to handle. Kinda reminds me of you."
"Thank you. Iíll take that as a compliment," Reese grinned back.
"You and Tory give them something to look up to," he said to Reeseís surprise.
"We both care about them, Nelson, but itís you they need."
"I donít know how to ask you to forgive me for that night. What I said about it being your fault, that was bad enough. But what I did, thereís no way to make that right," he said quietly.
"Thereís nothing to forgive, Chief. If anything ever happened to Tory, Iídó" her voice cracked and she looked away for a second. "Iíd be no different than you. Forget it."
He shook his head, disbelieving. "I appreciate your saying that, but I know better. I know Tory King wonít forget it."
"She was worried about Bri, and scared for me-"
"She was protecting you, Conlon. I can see what you mean to her. Youíre a lucky woman to have that."
"Yes, I know."
"Well, I guess Iíll just have to prove to her that I know what youíre worth, too." He cleared his throat, busying himself with the papers on his desk. "So why donít you get out of here. Tonightís Carnival night, so expect it to be crazy."
Reese sighed with relief, more than ready to get back out on the streets. "Yes, sir! You want anything while Iím out?"
Reese smiled happily. "Roger that."
An hour later she pulled into the crowded parking lot of the East End Health Clinic. Randy as usual looked on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
"Please, please donít tell me you want to see her!!" he exclaimed.
Reese smiled. "No good, huh?"
"If she agrees to see one more walk-in without an appointment, Iíll have to cancel the hottest date of my life," he wailed.
"Tell her I stopped by," Reese laughed. Then, she lowered her voice, "and Randy - try to get her to take a break once in a while."
Randyís face softened for an instant, then he said in a martyred tone, "Like she wouldnít kill me if I sent you away! Go on back!!"
As Reese passed he inquired seriously, "Are you all mended?"
"Good as new," Reese responded.
"Thatís good, Captain Marvel - a lot of people around here need you." He touched her shoulder lightly, then fixed her with a frown. "If it takes more than five minutes I canít guarantee your safety."
Reese waited as she always did, studying the pictures of Toryís Olympic days, warmed by the images. Tory stood in the doorway, chart in hand, watching Reese. The very sight of her stirred her, causing her breath to catch for an instant.
"Hello, darling," Tory said, her voice husky, as she pulled her office door closed behind her.
Reese turned with a smile, "Hi, love." She went to her, sweeping off her cap as she leaned to pull Tory close. "I just stopped for a second. I missed you. Randy says itís a rough day."
Tory slipped her arms around Reeseís waist, loving her solid strength. "Not any more," she sighed. "Youíre just the kind of interruption I needed." Tory indulged herself with the feel of her for an instant longer, then stepped back to straighten Reeseís tie and brush a stray lock of dark hair from her forehead. "Happy to be back at work?"
"Just happy," Reese said softly, smiling tenderly. She settled her hat low over her brows, kissed her swiftly on the lips, and stepped toward the door. "See you at home, Doctor King."
Tory called after her, the kiss still tingling on her lips. "You can count on it, Sheriff!"
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