by Radclyffe

Please see part 1 for all disclaimers and copyright information.

Chapter Sixteen

Caroline reached across Anne in the dark, trying to find the phone. She glanced at the bedside clock as she pulled the receiver toward her.

"Hello," she said thickly, trying to clear the sleep from her throat. It was four o'clock in the morning.

"Caroline?" a deep voice said.


"I have a friend of yours here who needs your help--now. Do you know Divisadero?"

"Yes--but who?" Caroline cried, sitting up in bed and shaking her head at Anne, who was awake now, too.

"The 2000 block. She'll be in a grey Camaro."

The line went dead before Caroline could reply.

She leapt out of bed and fumbled for her clothes.

"Anne!" she cried, searching for the car keys on the bureau. "Get dressed! Dane's in trouble!"

Anne pulled on her jeans and sweatshirt and raced outside behind Caroline. "What happened?" she cried as Caroline maneuvered their jeep through the deserted streets.

"I don't know. Someone called. Said she was in trouble."

"Where?" Anne asked, frightened.

"Up this block somewhere. Do you see Dane's car?" Caroline said frantically.

"Over there! On the left!"

Caroline screeched to a halt beside the familiar car.

"It's empty!" Anne said.

Caroline leapt from the jeep as Anne followed. She pulled on the passenger's door and it opened. She could see by the overhead light a blanket-covered figure in the rear seat.

"Oh god," she moaned, as she pushed the front seat forward. "Dane!"

Anne looked in the window and gasped. "Caroline, there's blood all over the seat!"

Caroline leaned into the rear seat, suddenly calm. "I know." She checked for a heartbeat and sighed with relief. "Can you follow us home? I'll drive Dane's car."

"Shouldn't we go to a hospital?"

"No," Caroline said, straightening up and heading for the driver's side. "Do you know what they'd do to her?"

Anne stared at Caroline, then raced back across the street to the jeep.


Kyle paced her living room, staring at the phone. She had called Dane's number, and the kennel, all day. No one answered. The tape at the kennel said someone would return her call shortly, but no one ever did. She looked at the clock. It showed nine o'clock. Where the hell was she? Or was she just not answering the phone? Goddamn her! It wasn't going to be this easy. She couldn't just race away into the night and expect Kyle to sit at home waiting. Kyle snatched her jacket off the hook and strode angrily to her big Harley. The gravel in her drive spewed out behind her as she pushed the bike toward the highway.

She looked for Dane's car along the crowded street as she pulled in front of the bar. She paid her cover and searched the room furiously. She didn't see Dane.

"Beer," she tersely to the bartender, and pulled a cigarette from her jacket pocket. She fumbled her lighter from her pocket and smiled grimly at the shiny new gold surface. She drew a deep breath and surveyed the bar again. She recognized no one. She was on her third beer when a woman made her way across the room and stopped before her.

"I'm Chris—we met here a few months ago."

Kyle nodded, smiling slightly. "I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking. How are you?"

Chris shrugged and replied, "Okay." She looked at Kyle uncertainly for a second, then continued. "Listen, you're a friend of Dane's, aren't you?"

"I know her."

The woman looked around and lowered her voice unnecessarily in the noisy room. "Some of us were wondering, well--you know how it is. There are always stories, and most of us never believe them. But, still, you never know, sometimes when you go home with someone you don't know--" She stopped and looked at Kyle expectantly.

Kyle felt fear rise in her throat but she stared back calmly. "I don't know what you're getting at."

Chris looked embarrassed. "Some people heard-- there's talk." She cleared her throat. "We heard there was a bad scene. That Dane got mixed up with a heavy top and that there was trouble. The rest of us, we worry, you know. No one knows who it is."

Kyle tried to quiet her racing thoughts. "I don't know who it is."

Chris shrugged and started to turn away.

"Wait!" Kyle called, grasping her arm. "Do you know two women—Anne and Caroline—friends of Dane's?"

Chris frowned. "I've seen them in here."

"Do you know where they live?" Kyle asked, her heart pounding.

Chris shook her head. "I don't know them that well. Wait a minute--I went to a discussion group at their place once. I don't know if they still live there."

She gave Kyle the address and stared after her as Kyle turned and shouldered her way hurriedly toward the door.

Caroline tried to ignore the persistent ringing of the doorbell. She sat at the table in a worn sweater and faded jeans. She looked like she hadn't slept in days.

"Hon," Anne asked tentatively as she poured more coffee, "shouldn't I answer that?"

"I guess," Caroline answered. She looked over at Anne and realized that the younger woman was as exhausted as she. "Never mind, babe, I'll get it."

When she opened the door, Kyle took a step toward her, then stopped abruptly.

"Is Dane here?" she asked quietly, instantly aware of Caroline's state.

"Yes." Caroline said tonelessly.

"Is she all right?"

Caroline looked at Kyle, considering her answer. Finally, she sighed and opened the door. "No. Come upstairs."

Kyle followed her upstairs and into the kitchen. She saw Anne cast a frightened glance in Caroline's direction.

Caroline saw it too. "It's all right. Is there more coffee?"

Anne nodded and moved silently to pour Kyle a cup.

Kyle sat down at an empty chair and pushed some of the clutter aside. She thanked Anne for the coffee and looked pointedly at Caroline.

"Can I see her?"

"She won't know you're here."

Kyle shook her head. Fear twisted in her guts. "I don't care, I want to see her."

"Caroline, no!" Anne cried.

Caroline continued to look at Kyle. "It's not pretty. Are you sure you want to?"

"I'm sure," Kyle said, needing to know.

"I'll come with you."

"I'm all right," Kyle answered tightly.

Caroline shook her head. "I'll come with you." She led Kyle down the hall to the rear bedroom. There were no lights coming from the partially closed door.

"Just a minute," Caroline said as she entered the room and lit a small dim light off to one side. The room was mostly in shadow. Caroline called to Kyle and slipped tiredly into a chair in the darkness along the wall.

Kyle pushed the door all the way open and approached the bed. She looked down at Dane for a long time. She sank slowly down on the floor beside the bed. She pushed her back up against the wall and reached her hand up into the golden hair framing Dane's face. She closed her eyes and gently let the strands fall through her fingers. She thought about Dane's satin-soft skin in the firelight and how it had glowed with perspiration as they made love. She thought about the sharply etched muscles in her back and hips as she rose above Kyle in ecstasy. She traced the fine lines of Dane's face and remembered how she looked just before orgasm. She sat still for a long time, listening to Dane's quiet breathing. When she felt the strength return to her limbs and the anger flood her heart, she stood up and stared down again at Dane, burning the image into her soul.

Dane was lying on her stomach, her face on the pillow, her arms curved upwards. A sheet covered her, stopping just above her buttocks. A raw, open wound extended from the base of her spine to the top of her shoulders. Kyle could make out the pattern of crosshatches from what must have been a thick whip, even as the single lash marks blended into one. The bleeding had stopped, leaving behind patches of crusted coagulation between islands of swollen flesh. The sinewy planes of her perfect body were obscured by fluid pooled in the layers of injured tissue.

Kyle turned and walked into the kitchen. She looked at Anne, her grey eyes as cold as a winter sky.

"Do you have any scotch?"

Anne nodded and got up. "I think so."

Kyle sat back down at the table and lit a cigarette, turning the small gold lighter aimlessly between her fingers.

Caroline switched off the hall light behind her and sagged into a chair, pushing her graying hair out of her eyes.

"Are you sure you can take care of her?" Kyle asked tonelessly.

Caroline nodded. "I have before. Never like this, but I can manage."

Kyle took the scotch from Anne and swallowed what was in the glass. She closed her eyes for a second. "Who did this to her?" Her voice was harsh, her pain unconcealed. I’m going to find her. I’m going to kill her!

Caroline looked at Kyle, her eyes bright with sympathy. "Dane did it, Kyle. I don't know whose hand held the whip. She's never told me. But she sought it; she allowed it."

Kyle swallowed. "She's done this before? I never saw a scar—her body, it's—" her voice broke, "her body is perfect."

"It's never been like this before. She always knew when to stop. Something must have happened. There's a track mark on her arm."

"Drugs?" Kyle asked, wanting to scream but knowing she must finally understand. "Is that what this is?"

"No!" Caroline cried. "Not for years. Before, with Brad—oh god, if you knew how hard Dane has struggled, how far she has come."

"Don't you think I want to know?" Kyle shouted, her voice breaking at last. "Caroline, I have to know. For a moment she lets me close and then she's gone. I can't even hold her now! She's lying in there, her body is battered beyond knowing. What must her heart be like? Don't you realize I have to know?" Kyle closed her eyes then, the tears she had held back for hours burning hot trails down her cheeks. She saw Dane again in her mind and sobbed. "Oh god, Caroline. Please help me!"

Caroline wrapped her arms around Kyle's shoulders, rocking her like a child. "Come on, Kyle, come into the den. We'll talk."

Chapter Seventeen

Caroline spoke softly, taking Kyle back in time. "Dane first began to explore sexual alternatives—S/M relationships—about ten years ago. It wasn't nearly as easy to do then as it is now. It was mostly the men who were into it. Most lesbians were very prejudiced against any woman who wanted to redefine her sexual boundaries and polarize roles. I don't have to tell you the arguments that any role is oppressive to women and an extension of the male-power structure. None of that stopped Dane. She did a lot of experimenting with heavy roles in the early days—there wasn't much else to do. She met Brad because of the dogs. Dane had some experience with show dogs because her family had been into it. Brad owned a small kennel and Dane started working there. That's how she and Brad finally got together. I was teaching at Brewster, and I saw Dane fairly infrequently."

Caroline noted Kyle's surprise. "English literature. I don't miss it a bit." She poured them both some more scotch. "Anyhow, Dane and I would get together every few weeks or so, and she would talk to me about S/M, what it meant to her. I have to admit I was pretty opposed at first. I felt the way most people did—that one of the best things about being a lesbian was that we could redefine ourselves as equals. No more role designations, divisions or limitations. I saw any sort of polarization as a threat to our new-found freedom. We argued, I from an intellectual point of view—Dane from an emotional, gut level." Caroline laughed sadly. "That's always been one of the big differences between Dane and me. I can keep the world at a distance. Sometimes I can hide behind my own rationalizations. Dane just lets everything bounce into her and tries to take it all. She said she could feel something inside of her that wanted to get out, some need to get more in touch with her inner self through physical experiences. She thought that S/M would do that for her. She was into the pretty stereotypical thing at first—heavy leather, straight top or bottom roles, not much beyond limited sexual encounters. Even though her ideas weren't very defined in the beginning, talking with her got me to look at my own feelings a little differently. I at least became a bit more supportive. Around this time she started seeing Brad pretty seriously. Brad was--well, she wasn't much different than she is now. She's a user of people. People to her are just tools for her amusement. I can't figure her out, really, but I don't think she feels, or cares about, anything. Of course, sadomasochism was a perfect outlet for Brad, especially when things were still so secretive --subterranean almost. She could play any game she designed, be completely in control. And Dane became her pawn."

She paused and looked at Kyle. "Do you happen to have a cigarette? This is harder than I realized it would be."

Kyle handed her one. "I'm grateful to you for telling me."

Caroline shrugged. "Something's got to be done about Dane. Maybe this will help." She drew on the cigarette and coughed. "Just don't tell Anne about this. She'll kill me. I quit two years ago. Well, Dane and Brad got into a very heavy S/M relationship. Brad was the top, of course. I think the sex was pretty rough—Dane would never tell me much. She laughed grimly. "As often as I tried to get the details. Brad really controlled Dane's life--their whole relationship was very role-directed. Brad delighted in having Dane at her total command—her own personal toy. She also had ways of keeping her control over Dane. Brad had a sideline in selling drugs. Made a big point of being clean herself, but she'd sell anything to anyone. She liked Dane to get high because it made her even more compliant. It strengthened Brad's hold on her. It was infrequent at first, but in the last year they were together, it was pretty heavy. Dane was using regularly, and Brad kept her supplied."

Kyle stood up in disgust and began to pace around the room. "I'm sorry, Caroline, I just don't understand it. How could Dane do that to herself. How could she let someone do that to her? Maybe it is true what everyone says about S/M! Maybe we are all sick!"

Caroline shook her head. "You don't have to be into power to do drugs, and you don't need drugs to like S/M either. There are plenty of people who like S/M in bed, and who are just like everyone else the rest of the time. Sometimes fucked up, sometimes not. Certainly Dane can be self-destructive. It's there in all of us really--maybe in some people more than others. I don't know. I'd never call Dane weak, but sometimes it seems as if she just can't bear her own feelings. I know she's trying to block some kind of pain when she does this to herself. She's trading the emotional pain for a physical pain she can live with--until this time."

Kyle ached just thinking about what Dane must have suffered. "Go on," she said hoarsely.

Caroline took a deep breath and studied Kyle carefully. "It must have been five years ago now, Brad began to get tired of her game with Dane. It had gotten too easy. Brad was bored. She became more cruel to Dane just for a little pleasure. This is not something Dane would ever tell you herself. She wouldn't want you to know this. I don't know if you understand enough about power roles yet, but Dane would feel that this knowledge of her would make her powerless in your eyes. In order to express our power needs, physically or emotionally, there has to be an understanding between two people. Power is given, not assumed. There can be no top without the consent, the belief in her, by the bottom. If the top doesn't feel that the bottom believes in her dominance --in her power--then there can be none. It's a fluctuating balance which is created by the two people who have agreed to participate. That's why the roles are anything but rigid. Reversal is easy, if consent is mutual. Dane would never feel that you could believe in her, that you could grant her the power that she needs to express, if you knew the truth. Do you understand?"

Kyle nodded. "The very first time with Dane I knew that if I weren't a part of what was happening, with her, that it couldn't happen. But there's more to her than just her sexuality! She's also strong, tender, honest, and -- vulnerable! I care about her for a lot more reasons than just sex."

Caroline nodded, "I think you probably do. But you've got to remember that Dane needs to feel a certain way, especially with a lover. She may not always want to be actively involved in a power role, but she's got to believe she can if she needs to. It's part of who she is--and most importantly, it's who she wants to be. If she feels she has lost that power with you, she'll never let you close to her."

"Tell me the rest," Kyle said quietly.

"Brad took Dane to the 'Encounters'—it's a place—"

Kyle interrupted, "I've been there."

"Dane was pretty drugged up, and things had been going badly with Brad for a long time. I think Dane was desperate to keep from losing Brad. I don't know if she feared losing her drug connection or her connection to herself. At any rate, Brad decided that Dane needed to be punished. She didn't really need a reason. 'Encounters' was the perfect showplace for Brad. It provided her with all the entertainment she required. It was crowded; people were ready for a scene. Everyone was interested in Brad and Dane. They were such an intriguing couple. At any rate, Brad strung her up naked on the center stage. She did it herself. No assistants. Chains, handcuffs, neck collar, the whole thing. She wanted to display her power and she did. She used a thin cat on Dane, one that inflicts a lot of pain but leaves very little mark. Dane wanted to please her, and I guess the drugs made it easier for Dane to take a lot of punishment. Brad beat her to her knees, and then she made her crawl. She told Dane she was done with her, that Dane wasn't woman enough for her, that Dane couldn't take it. Dane pleaded with her, humiliated herself in front of everyone. And Brad walked out. I don't know who took Dane home, but someone finally had the sense to call me. I brought her to my place. I wasn't very experienced. I didn't know what to do for her. I made a mistake. I took her to the hospital. They put her in the drug de-tox center. It was bad. I'm surprised she ever forgave me for that."

Caroline finished her drink and got up to search for another bottle. Kyle sat staring out the windows, noticing for the first time that the sky was beginning to lighten with the predawn glow. She lit another cigarette and stretched her cramped muscles.

She didn’t look up when Caroline returned.

"When she got out she finally called me. She was hollow. She seemed to echo with emptiness. She didn't see anyone; she didn't go out. She got a job working for a small-time breeder out in the valley— a small operation, but Dane was bright and she made contacts. Eventually she moved up and started her own line. By then, I was spending more time with her and had started handling. I found out I loved it. We started fantasizing about having our own business. Dane was consumed by the work. It was all she had to keep her straight. After a year or so, when we were just getting the kennel off the ground, Dane started to go out again. She never got involved; she never let anyone top her. But she was never like Brad. She never abused anyone or tried to humiliate them. She met Anne when Anne was just starting to come out. She was a gentle teacher. She was everything to Anne that Brad had never been to her. But she remained aloof. She never let Anne close to her. Anne spent a lot of time with us. I fell in love with her." Caroline looked at Kyle, her eyes troubled. "Dane always said she didn't mind--when Anne turned to me for the affection Dane couldn't give her. I'll never know for sure. I only knew I wanted Anne. Dane's had other women, but never anyone more than a few weeks. She's afraid. Afraid that if she loves someone she'll lose herself again, like with Brad."

"And what about this other thing—this punishment she inflicts on herself?" Kyle asked numbly.

Caroline shook her head. "It happens every so often. Usually when something really gets through to her. She's generally so damned controlled! When she's unable to deal with someone getting too close, or she wants someone to be close, she drives the feelings away with physical pain. I guess it's easier for her that way."

"And you think that's healthy?" Kyle exclaimed. "My god, I could never do that to her. I can't imagine how anyone could. If that's the bottom line in this kind of relationship, there's no way I could do it. I might enjoy possessing her, controlling her, even pushing her limits physically—but I could never do that to her."

Caroline held up her hand. "Wait a minute, Kyle. What happens between Dane and this top is not the usual thing! There are always extremists, no matter what issue you're dealing with. Some women enjoy physical punishment--usually within safe limits. For some, it heightens erotic pleasure, intensifies sexual experiences, but there are only a few who really like to get heavy about it. And they're usually involved with someone they trust very much--someone who is experienced enough to know their own limitations and the needs of their partner. What goes on between Dane and this other woman is not ordinary. Whoever she is, she's a true sadist. She must truly find pleasure in dominating Dane in such a brutal way. Until this time she's been very careful. The punishment has been severe, but Dane has never been injured. Something went wrong this time. Someone lost control. I suspect it was Dane. If I only knew what happened," Caroline said in frustration.

Kyle got up slowly and crossed to the windows. She watched the waves on the bay sparkle in the early morning sun.

"I know what happened," she said, her eyes still fixed on the bay. "We were at the bar. Dane had set a scene. We were both very into it. Brad must have been watching us for a while. I never saw her until she came up to us. Suddenly, it was like I wasn't there anymore. Something was happening, but it was between Brad and Dane. Dane told Brad to leave and Brad challenged her. She told Dane that Dane couldn't stand up to her. She said --she said that Dane still wanted Brad to control her. Dane seemed to really freak out when Brad grabbed her arm. She turned pale, and suddenly she was gone! I didn't know what the hell was going on."

Caroline shuddered. "I do. It's symbolic, I guess, but I'm sure Brad knew how much it would affect Dane. Dane never likes Brad to touch her. Dane never shot up herself. Brad always did it for her."

Kyle felt sick. "God, how can anyone be that cruel? How can she do it to her?"

"She does it because she knows she still can. Don't you see? It's still the same dynamic. Dane lets her do it. And then she hates herself for what she sees as her own weakness. She must have gone to—to whomever it is she goes to—because she wanted to forget her own powerlessness. Having you see it happen must have made it much worse for her."

"But I went after her!" Kyle cried, "She didn't have to run from me!"

"But how could she stay?" Caroline persisted. "She must have felt humiliated in your eyes."

"That's crazy!" Kyle protested. "Sex is one thing—love, feelings—that's something else."

"Not for Dane," Caroline said.

"So now what am I supposed to do?" Kyle said, slumping into a chair. "How do I reach her now?"

Caroline shook her head. "I don't know. I guess you'll have to wait for Dane to realize that she's still worth loving."

"I can't just sit around while she tortures herself! She may never let me in!"

"What else can you do?"

Kyle got up, her face set. "When she's well, tell her I was here. Tell her you talked to me. Tell her I know. And tell her that I want her—that I'm waiting for her. Will you do that?"

Caroline nodded as she watched Kyle walk determinedly from the room.

Chapter Eighteen

Kyle worked in her shop from first light until well into the night, day after day. She burned with an inextinguishable anger, even as her heart ached with despair. She didn't go out. She couldn't stand the thought of going to the bars and being surrounded by women when she felt so alone. When she couldn't sleep at night she rode for miles on her Harley, sometimes parking on an overlook, staring out at the ocean until the sun came up. Nancy came to the shop most days, but never questioned her about her silence. If Kyle had been more aware of Nancy's presence, she would have found it odd.

Thoughts of Dane were never far from her mind. She watched the days on the calendar turn into weeks, and still no word from her. She called Anne at the kennel several times to ask how Dane was doing. The last time she called, Anne sounded especially harried.

"Caroline and Dane are at our cabin in the mountains. I haven't heard a thing from them in three days. There's a show coming up next week, and if I don't hear something soon, I'll have to cancel our entries. I can't possibly handle everything myself."

"Can I help?" Kyle asked. She knew Anne must be having a hard time through all of this herself.

"What do you know about handling dogs?"

Kyle laughed. "Not a thing. But I suppose I could walk them around or something."

"Give me a few days," Anne replied. "If they don't show up, I'll call you."

Kyle had said fine. She immersed herself again in her lonely routine. Late one morning Nancy came in and stared at the amount of work waiting for her to finish.

"God, Kyle. How did you get so far ahead of me? There must be a dozen pieces here."

Kyle glanced up absently, then gaped at her.

"Nancy! You look awful. What's wrong?" Kyle couldn't believe how thin and drawn Nancy looked. She was stylishly attired as usual, but it didn't hide her worn appearance.

"Nothing," Nancy said, looking away uncomfortably. When she reached for her coveralls, Kyle detected a fine tremor in her hands.

"Bullshit!" Kyle exploded. "What's going on?"

"I said it was nothing!" Nancy snapped. "You haven't been looking so great yourself."

Kyle dropped her sander and walked over to Nancy. "I know. I've been a bitch to be around. Come on, let's go up to the house and talk."

Nancy stared at Kyle, her eyes angry.

"I don't want to talk. I came here to get some work done, all right?"

"No, it's not all right," Kyle insisted. "Have you been seeing Brad?" she asked harshly.

Nancy looked away. "Once in a while," she said sullenly.

Kyle's heart began to pound and she felt almost ill. "What is she giving you?"

"Oh, come off it, Kyle. Don't be so uptight! I've known you to try a few things now and then!"

Kyle shook her head. "Try a few things, sure--who hasn't. But we're not talking about that, are we? How often are you seeing her?"

Nancy looked uncomfortable. "A few times a week."

"Nancy!" Kyle said in alarm. "Do you have any idea what that woman is capable of?"

"She's a hell of a lot more interesting than any of the men I've met in the last few years! So what if I have a little fun! No one's getting hurt. Roger hardly knows I'm gone. Besides, I still put out for him when the thought crosses his mind--which isn't all that often."

Kyle couldn't believe that Nancy could be so blind. She wanted to tell her what she knew about Brad, but she couldn't bear to reveal Dane's past.

"Nancy, listen to me. Brad doesn't care about anyone. Don't you realize she's just using you? If you let her control you, she'll use you until she's tired of you, and then toss you aside!"

Nancy tossed her head in defiance. "You're wrong, Kyle. I'm not your precious Dane—I'm not as easy as she was to beat!"

Kyle took a step toward her, very nearly out of control. If it had been anyone other than Nancy, she would have struck her.

"Whatever Brad told you about Dane, she was wrong. She doesn't know her. She never has. She never cared to." Kyle stared at Nancy, knowing that she should try again to reach her old friend, but her anger overpowered her. "Go home, Nance. Go home before we say things we'll never forgive."

Nancy left without another word.


Anne was about to hang up when Kyle finally answered the phone.

"Yes," Kyle said.

"Kyle? It's Anne. I've been trying to reach you all week. Did you mean it when you offered to help at the show?"


"Can you come to the kennel in the morning—around six? I've decided to go to the show without them. We might as well try."

"Where is it? I'll be there." Anne gave her directions and said good night. Kyle wondered at herself as she got ready for bed. Dogs! What did she know about dogs!

Anne was loading the crates into the van with another young woman when Kyle arrived.

"Hi!" Anne called. "Kyle, this is Lynn. She's going to watch the shop while we're gone."

Kyle nodded to the young woman. "Any word from Caroline?" She wanted to ask about Dane, but she couldn't bring herself to. Dane obviously didn't want to contact her. She wouldn't humble herself further by continuing to ask about her.

"No," Anne said worriedly. "It's not like her, either. Come on, I'll introduce you to your charges."

Kyle followed Anne into the roar of the kennel, almost expecting to see Dane at any moment. Pictures of dogs covered the walls, and Dane and Caroline were in many of them. Kyle's heart lurched just from seeing Dane's face in a photo. She looked away and hurried after Anne.

"This is Troy, and that's Arno, and this is Falon," Anne said, standing before three monstrous-looking animals.

"Do I shake hands?" Kyle asked, wondering what she had gotten herself into.

Anne laughed. "They're really very gentle. Except Troy hates all other males, of any size, so you have to be firm with him. The other two won't give you any trouble at all. Come on, I'll tell you all you need to know while we drive."

It sounded simple enough as Anne outlined it. All Kyle had to do was get the correct dog to the correct ring at the correct time so that Anne could show it. Then Kyle could take the one that had finished showing back to the van. When she saw the morass of people and dogs milling about the show grounds, she felt her confidence disappear.

"It'll be fine," Anne reassured her as she maneuvered the van into a relatively shady corner. She rummaged around and handed Kyle a show schedule. "I've outlined where you have to be and when. Don't worry. The dogs are pros—they'll know what to do."

"Right," Kyle said without conviction. Nevertheless, she was soon seduced by the excitement of the show. The first time she led Troy over to the show ring she felt as proud as if he were her own.

"Okay Troy, old boy—go get 'em!"

She watched Anne carefully and thought Troy looked splendid. She couldn't believe it when the judge, who had carefully compared Troy with another dog for several minutes, chose Troy's competitor.

Anne laughed at Kyle's outrage. "Oh, him! I knew that would happen. He likes them long in the back and Troy's not. Troy happens to be a perfect standard, but judges aren't always objective. But we know we won, don't we, boy?"

Kyle was still grumbling to herself as she exchanged Troy for Falon. This time she was not disappointed.

Anne was jubilant. "God, will Dane be happy! These are Falon's first points, and it's only her second show!" She stopped when she saw Kyle's face. "I'm sorry, Kyle. I haven't even asked you how you're doing." They sat down in the shade near the van since they had a few minutes before the next event.

Kyle shrugged. "I'm not sure what I'm doing, really. I had hoped Dane would call, but I guess that was stupid." Her voice betrayed her bitterness.

Anne nodded sympathetically. "It's not stupid. There's just not much you can do, really. I've never seen Dane like this before. She started back to work a couple of weeks ago, and she hardly talks at all. She spends all her time with the dogs. Sometimes she even stays at the kennel all night. Caroline was getting frantic. Finally she got Dane to agree to go to the mountains for a while. That was almost a week ago."

"Is Dane okay physically?" Kyle asked.

Anne was silent for a moment. "She's not doing any drugs. If that's what you mean." She sighed. "She's healed on the outside, I guess. Who can tell with her what's happening on the inside."

They got the last animal and headed back for the final entry. They were almost there when Caroline rushed up to them.

"Oh, babe!" she cried, hugging Anne fiercely, "I'm so sorry! We left early this morning, and the damn jeep broke down. What a mess!"

Anne kissed her quickly, her face glowing. "It's okay. Kyle saved the day!"

Caroline turned quickly to thank her. She stopped when she realized Dane had joined them. Kyle was staring at Dane, her face pale. Anne tugged Caroline away toward the ring.

Kyle searched Dane's face. She looked thinner. There were lines about her eyes that hadn't been there before. Her gaze were clear, but so distant! There was no trace of warmth in the blue eyes that glanced over her, no tenderness in her smile.

Finally Kyle found her voice. "Hello, Dane."

Dane shifted her gaze, unable to bear the sadness she saw in Kyle's face.

"Thank you for helping Anne. I'm afraid she's had to do too much alone these past few weeks," she said finally.

"She seems to have managed very well," Kyle replied. "She's really quite good at all this."

"I know," Dane said quietly. She cleared her throat and forced herself to face Kyle again.

"Kyle," she began with difficulty, "about the last time we met. I'm sorry about what happened. I'm afraid I blew our scene."

"My god, Dane," Kyle gasped in amazement, "do you think I care a damn about that? Do I have to tell you how much more than that you mean to me?" Her voice pleaded for Dane to hear her, her eyes searching the rigid planes of Dane's handsome face for some sign that she felt anything for her.

Dane shook her head, her expression betraying none of her inner turmoil. How much she wanted to say she was sorry she had failed her. And how ashamed she was.

"I got your message," she said woodenly. "You must know you deserve better. I'm sorry you had to find it out quite like that." She hated to think that Kyle had seen her like that, so pitifully weak. She looked away.

"Damn it, Dane!" Kyle started to protest. This was ridiculous. She needed to make Dane understand how much she cared about her.

Dane interrupted her. "Tell Caroline and Anne I'm taking the jeep back to the kennel." As she turned away she said, "Good-bye, Kyle."

Continue to Part 8

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