Disclaimers: See Chapter One of Storm Surge for all the legal yada, yada.
Damn, why do I let myself get talked into these things? The last thing Alex wanted to do was spend the evening sitting in a bar talking about old times. Most of the old times Alex could remember since the raid were times she would love to forget. She plundered through her closet searching for something to wear. Selecting a pair of tan linen slacks and a white silk shirt, Alex turned to get ready for the evening.
After showering, she almost called and made some excuse not to go, but as the phone was in her hand she placed it back in the cradle deciding that she couldn't put off the inevitable. She had to get out and see people. She at least had to go through the motions of being recovered and ready to face the world again.
Alex pulled on a blue blazer that complimented her eyes, and made them even more alluring. She gave her reflection one last look in the mirror, took a deep breath, and mentally prepared herself for the coming evening. Grabbing her keys, she headed out the door of the house, and got in her jeep. Hesitating only for a moment after putting the key in the ignition, she turned it and started the engine. It came to life with a roar, and only after a few seconds did Alex realize that she had a death grip on the steering wheel.
There was a thin sheen of perspiration on her face, and her hands were damp and clammy. Taking a deep breath, Alex shook off the memories that would forever be frozen in her mind. This driveway. Feryle leaning out the window of her Camaro on a cool Monday morning, smiling and waving goodbye as she left for work, after their weekend together. Then came the blast, the pain, and the knowledge that her life, along with Feryle's body, had just been blown to hell.
Alex sat for a few minutes, letting her heart rate return to a normal pattern. Usually she could control the memories, at least while she was awake. The nights were different. There she had no control, and the ghosts and darkness haunted her on a regular basis. Alex backed out of the drive and headed north into the city.
Alex and Feryle had bought the beach house together for their fifth union anniversary. It was located in a lush area south of Jacksonville on the ocean side of Ponte Vedra Boulevard. It was a gift of love, commitment, and promise. It had also been a contractor's nightmare, most shaking their head in disbelief when they found out that they had paid over $200,000.00 for the house, and were more than willing to throw more money into the vortex.
Several mortgage companies refused to loan them the total funds for the house saying its true value would never come near the asking price. However, they had followed through with the purchase, depleting their savings to make up the difference between the asking price and what they could borrow, and spent countless weekends demolishing, scraping, painting, and hammering, loving every moment they spent together creating their new home. Feryle was an architect and openly drooled over the vaulted ceilings, the sharp angles offset by smooth curves.
Finally, after a year, it was complete, and they had the time to enjoy the home they had created with their blood, sweat, and sometimes tears...especially after bashing a finger with a hammer. It was the happiest times they had spent together. The effort Alex and Feryle had put into the house had not gone unnoticed by the local developers, and soon new homes were appearing on the landscape.
Some of those homes had even been designed by Feryle, and it was almost as if this neighborhood were her creation. They had been fortunate to be one of the first on the scene, for they had managed to purchase the lots on both sides of their home, assuring them the privacy they wanted, a total of three acres of beachfront property. They would spend many nights sitting on the deck, watching the waves, and Feryle would tell Alex about the houses she designed that were visible from where they sat drinking wine and gently caressing each other.
Now those houses only brought an emptiness that Alex knew would never be filled again. Before Alex realized it she was at her exit to JT Boulevard. She was headed to Baymeadows Road, and was running late as it was. Rolling down the window for some fresh air, she focused on the drive to the restaurant. Pulling into the parking lot a few minutes later, Alex spotted the familiar car. A vintage1963 Mustang, that was in mint condition. Smiling at her friend's love for old things, she entered the restaurant.
The bar was dark as she entered, and it took a few seconds for her eyes to adjust to the subdued light. However, it didn't take a lot of light to recognize the voice screaming from across the bar. "Aleeeeeex, over here," the woman yelled as she practically crawled over the table to get out of the booth. Alex looked around rather self-consciously, and began walking in the direction of the screaming woman. Several eyes had found their way to her, and she met those eyes with an apologetic look, stepping a little quicker so as to quickly quiet the woman.
The woman barreled into here and immediately clamped Alex into a bear hug. "My god, you are skinny, woman. If it weren't for all those muscles you'd be nothing but bone." Alex groaned as the woman hugged her again. At the sound of her pain, the woman quickly released Alex. "Oh damn, Alex, I'm sorry, did I hurt you? I'm just so glad to see you I forgot about your injuries."
"I'm fine, really. Just a little stiff still, but I'll get all the kinks worked out soon. Lets go have a seat and quit making a spectacle of ourselves, alright?"
The woman led Alex to the table. Alex stopped dead in her tracks when she spotted the woman sitting in the booth. "Alex, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine. Alex Montgomery, Conner Harris." The two women didn't speak, only stared at one other for what seemed like an eternity, then they both turned to looked at Sam, who was looking very confused at the moment, and once again back at each other.
"Um, hey guys everything OK here? Did I say something wrong?"
Alex was the first to recover, and stretched her hand towards Conner. "Hello, Conner it's nice to meet you."
Sam was watching the exchange with a gaping mouth, totally speechless, and unaware that the two had ever laid eyes on one another before this moment.
"Nice to meet you too Alex," Conner said with a shaky voice and grasped the warm hand that was extended towards her.
Seeing the reaction from Sam, Alex couldn't pass up the chance for one more surprise. As she slid into the booth next to Conner she flashed her brilliant smile and asked, "How did your date turn out, Conner? Did you get all the goodnight kisses you could stand for the day?"
Totally confused now Sam sat back a watched the interaction between the two women. Finally, she shook the confusion out of her head and said, "OK you two, someone has some explaining to do, so who wants to start?"
Alex leaned back and smiled at Conner. "Seems like Mom wants some answers Conner, and since I was the one who bounded into your territory, maybe you would rather explain." Conner knew Alex was giving her an out for the embarrassing moments they had shared that morning, and silently thanked her with a return smile.
"Oh Sam, it's not that mysterious, Alex came into the precinct this morning and we sort of met in passing, but didn't get a chance to make any formal introductions."
Alex hid the smile on her face fairly well, but Sam could see the smile escaping from the blue eyes. Hmm, she thought, there's more to this than they're letting on, but I won't push it for now. "OK, well that explains that. Now to more pressing matters...I'm going for refills what are you having Alex?"
"I'll take a Miller draft, with the coldest mug in the house. Looking at Conner, Alex's eyes sparkled. "Conner what are you having?"
"Umm, beer's fine, Sam whatever is easy."
"Well just make it a pitcher, then, and two frozen mugs," Alex called out over her shoulder.
Alex turned back towards Conner, who was visibly nervous. "So Conner, you never did answer my question. How was the good night kiss?"
Conner wanted to crawl under the table, but somehow knew Alex would only drag her back up for an answer. Garnering all her strength and courage, Conner looked Alex in the eye and held her gaze for a moment before responding in a low breathless whisper. "Actually, Alex, it was beyond anything I ever imagined. I couldn't believe how satisfied I was when it was over. All that struggling and sweating can really tire a girl out."
Conner knew she had caught Alex off guard, and was relishing in the satisfaction as she watched Alex's lips part just slightly, and saw her swallow hard. Her eyes turned the deepest blue as she returned Conner's look from under hooded lids, and Conner lifted a brow and smiled at Alex, "Well, Ms. Montgomery, seems you're the speechless one now."
Alex took a deep breath to reply. However, her response was interrupted by Sam's return to the booth with their drinks.
"Well, did you two get acquainted while I was gone? Sorry it took so long but Mike is really backed up at the bar tonight." Sam had always retrieved her own drinks at Mike's. They had been friends since Sam had sold him the bar five years ago. She felt like part of the family here and never allowed Mike or the staff to waste their time catering to her needs.
"Actually, Conner was telling me about her day and how satisfying her work is to her," I can only hope mine will be as fulfilling."
Conner felt the heat rise in her face, and knew if the lights were brighter both women could see the blush creeping into her face. Conner gave Alex a pleading look silently begging for a truce. Alex only smirked, and lifted one of her brows not committing to anything.
The rest of the evening went smoothly with Sam bringing Alex up on all the latest gossip. During the evening, Alex had figured out that Sam and Conner had once been lovers. Neither expanded on the subject and Alex didn't ask any questions. It did surprise her a bit that they had never met. Sam, Feryle, Alex, and Kelly had become friends after Sam had sold them the beach house. They had spent a lot of time together over the last couple of years, but she couldn't remember Sam ever mentioning Conner before.
They talked about Alex's return, but only in a superficial way. Sam didn't know if Alex was ready to talk about what had happened to Feryle, and the raid that had followed, and Alex almost getting killed. Sam decided to let Alex set the pace, and Alex was grateful for her friend's perceptiveness. It was good to see Sam again, but she just wasn't ready to face the demons yet. The conversation drifted to Conner and her work in the JPD. Alex learned that Conner had quiet a reputation as a good undercover cop, and was impressed with her humble attitude about her work.
"I just do my job, and get the collars. Then hopefully if the suits do theirs, we get a solid conviction and get one more piece of dirt is off the street." Conner had quietly responded after Sam had boasted of Conner's conviction percentage. During the conversation, Sam had shone a new light on Conner that Alex hadn't witnessed that morning. She knew what it felt to be out of her usual environment, and dismissed the flighty impression Conner had presented in the precinct.
Sam's pager went off a little after eleven. She returned the page to find out Kelly had returned a few days early and was waiting at home for her. By listening to Sam's end of the conversation, Alex and Conner both knew exactly why Kelly wanted Sam home in such a hurry. Sam's bright red blush was apparent even in the subdued lighting of the bar. Kelly had been out of town for two weeks on business, and Sam couldn't hide her excitement about seeing her again.
"You're making me nauseous, for god's sake go, get out of here," Conner said in a teasing growl. "We're big girls we can take care of ourselves."
To Sam's relief, Alex agreed, and off she went. Looking out the window they watched as the Mustang sped out of the parking lot.
Alex sat back in the booth and sighed heavily. "Well, she still drives like a maniac--some day one of us will have to arrest her just for the hell of it. Maybe that will slow her down a bit"
"I doubt it, It would probably just piss her off and make her drive that much faster," Conner replied.
Smiling, and shaking her head, Alex said, "Well, you do know her better that I do. Maybe you're right, I guess we should leave well enough alone."
"How long were the two of you together?" Alex asked as she refilled their mugs with the last drops of their second pitcher of beer.
"About two years. My work was the reason we broke up. She couldn't deal with what I did on a daily basis, not knowing when or if I would come home, and I was too stubborn to ask for a transfer to something a little less risky."
"Do you really think that would have saved the relationship?" Alex asked cautiously, not knowing if she had over stepped the boundary here.
"No, not really, one of us would have eventually ended up resenting the other and it would have come apart anyway," Conner said sadly. "I love her and I always will, but thankfully our friendship has reached a level that I can be happy for her and Kel. We have a great friendship, all three of us. Kel knows how I feel, but she also knows that I would never do anything to hurt Sam again, and she respects that. I'm really lucky, when you think about it, not many people are fortunate enough to remain in contact with old lovers, much less become best friends. What about you, do you have a partner waiting patiently at home?"
When Alex didn't answer immediately, Conner turned towards her, and saw the pain in Alex's eyes. "Oooookay, Here I go again, putting my foot in my mouth. Sorry if I'm being nosy."
"No, you didn't upset me, it's just that...well...umm...no, I'm not with anyone," Alex said in a whisper so low, Conner almost couldn't hear her.
"Damn, I always seem to say the wrong things around you," Conner ran a hand through her hair and was openly flustered.
Alex reached out and grabbed Conner's arm. Conner turned and looked into Alex's eyes as she told Conner of Feryle's death, the raid on the drug lab, and her resulting injuries. At some part during the story Conner had reached out and placed her hand on Alex's, gently caressing her hand and fingers as she relived the hell that that had consumed her last year. The pain in Alex's eyes was so raw it hurt Conner to see it, and all she wanted to do at that moment was take the woman in her arms and help soothe the pain away.
When Alex finished the story, there was a moment of uncomfortable silence between the two women. Conner had lost people she had loved in her life, but never had she experienced a loss such as the one Alex had lived. Gently, she squeezed Alex's hand. "I am so sorry for your loss Alex. I can't even imagine how you feel. We have all lost people in our lives that we have loved, but each loss in unique in it's own way, so I won't even pretend to understand what you're going through. But, I will say you have a new friend, and if you ever need to talk, you know where to find me."
Alex listened to Conner, and was amazed at her compassion. For the first few days after Feryle's death, she had been bombarded with friends and colleagues expressing their condolences. They all said the same thing, in somewhat different ways. "I know just how you feel." Alex had heard it so many times she wanted to scream. No one knew how she felt, no one. How could they, not one of them had set the scene that placed their loved one in harm's way, and then had to stand there and watch them die. None of them had been so careless as to allow the darkness into their home.
Alex looked into Conner's eyes, and said, "Thank you Conner. Thank you for not making this just another death. So many people kept telling me that they knew how I felt, but they didn't. You're the first person that has ever recognized that, and I appreciate your thoughtfulness."
Conner gently squeezed Alex's hand once again and then released it. By that time the bar was closing down and both women knew that they were outstaying their welcome.
Conner picked up her wallet, pulled out a few bills, and laid them on the table. "Well, I guess I had better get going, I have quite a drive, but thank goodness tomorrow's my day off and I can sleep in." Alex searched for her wallet to do the same but was stopped by Conner's firm grip on her arm. "No way, lady, tonight's on me. Consider it a welcome back, here's to new friends, evening." Conner said lightly.
Slightly embarrassed, and a little surprised, Alex nodded, and smiled, "OK, Conner, but only on one condition...you allow me to treat next time...got it?"
Conner chuckled at the compromising attitude from Alex, and agreed. "OK, OK, you win. Next time's on you." Sliding from the booth, both women were contemplating the last few comments, and the expectation of the next time.
As they made their way to the parking lot, and their respective cars, neither woman wanted the evening to end just yet, but knew it had to. The evening had turned out to be very entertaining, and uplifting for both women, something unusual for each of them.
On impulse, Alex turned to Conner. "You know, I was just thinking, It's been a while since I've had a good meal, and...well...umm...I was wondering if you aren't doing anything Friday night...umm...maybe you would...umm...like to get something to eat, and...ahh...maybe catch a movie, or something?
Conner's voice was once again swimming around in her stomach, and she could only manage a garbled "Sure, sounds like fun. Follow me to my car and I'll give you my number."
Alex followed Conner to the Jag and looked at it with envious eyes. "Wow, maybe I should apply to the JPD; they sure seem to pay better that the FBI."
Conner only snorted and explained that the Jag was part of her cover, and that it was really an asset of the JPD. Her only privilege was getting to drive it off hours to keep up appearance, and more importantly have it close by in case she had a meeting somewhere during her official off-hours.
She reached in the sleek Jag and pulled out one of her cards. Alex looked at it, and back at Conner, who was smiling. "Another part of my cover, I'm afraid."
The card advertised a personal courier service. Alex smiled and shook her head in acceptance of the double lives they both had to live in order to do their jobs. Welcome home, Alex, she silently said to her self.
Conner wrote her personal cell phone number on the back of the card, just in case Alex needed to get in touch with her when she wasn't at home, she told herself, and handed it back to Alex. Their hands brushed lightly as the exchange was made, and each woman unconsciously jumped as the heat radiated between them. Alex noticed the trembling in Conner's hand, and wondered what it meant.
Alex recovered first, and asked Conner if she was okay to drive. They had consumed two pitchers of beer between them during the evening. Although that wasn't much alcohol for either over the course of the six hours they had been in the bar, neither of the women drank a lot. It concerned Alex that Conner had such a long drive. "Just how far of a drive do you have tonight?" Alex asked in a slightly nervous voice.
"Not that far, maybe 45 minutes. I live on Amelia Island," Conner replied.
"Well if you don't feel like driving all the way home tonight, you're welcome to the spare room at my house. I don't live very far from here, may 20 minutes." Geez, Alex, what are you thinking, asking this woman home. You only met her today, and although she probably isn't a serial killer...
Conner interrupted her thoughts, explaining that she was keeping her partner's fur-ball for the week and needed to get home to check on him, or more importantly her house. There was no telling what the little creature had gotten into.
For some reason Alex felt a little disappointed, but hid the feeling well. "OK, then I wouldn't want to be the reason for starving your partners cat, so I guess, I'll see you on Friday." They said their good-byes, and drove off in opposite directions, with small smiles forming on their lips. As they drove into the night each wondered just what to make of the evening and the mysterious women they had met.
Continue to Part Four of Storm Surge
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