Disclaimers: See Chapter One of Storm Surge for all the legal yada, yada.
Conner woke with a start, looking around confused until she remembered the events of the night before. She lay back down against the soft pillows and listened for sounds that would indicate Alex was awake. A few moments later, the luring aroma of coffee crept into the bedroom, pleading with her to get out of bed. She quickly brushed her teeth, dressed, and headed in the direction of the tantalizing smell, knowing Alex would be waiting at the other end of the journey.
Quietly walking into the kitchen, she could see Alex sitting on the desk, coffee in hand, gazing out at the receding tide. Getting a cup of coffee for herself, she opened the sliding door, and stepped into the cool breeze one could only find near the ocean.
"Good morning, sleepy head."
The sound of Alex speaking startled Conner. She thought the roar of the ocean had drowned out her entrance. "Good morning back. Have you been up long?"
"About an hour. I just couldn't bring myself to wake you. You looked so tired last night, and I thought you needed to sleep." Alex looked at Conner as she sat down next to her. "Actually, you look like you could use a little more. Didn't you sleep well?"
"No, I slept fine," Conner lied.
A knowing looked crossed Alex's face and Conner realized she had been caught in a lie. "Well, I did wake up a few times, here and there, but overall I think I got enough rest."
"Well, I was thinking that after we both shower, you might want to get some breakfast, and then go see about your car. I would cook for us here, but I only returned to town on Tuesday, and I haven't shopped for groceries yet," Alex said sheepishly. "Any way, it gives me a great excuse to expose you to another fine dining establishment that I frequent." Alex had a sneaky gleam in her eyes, as she informed Conner of their tentative plans
"I have a feeling, maybe I should be frightened here...no?"
"If you think you were full last night after dinner, just wait until we finish breakfast. I know I, for one, will be feeling like a beached whale." With that, Alex puffed out her cheeks and made a face at Conner, trying to get her out of the quiet mood she was in.
Conner spilled her coffee, as she laughed so hard at Alex's sudden break from character. "And just where are you taking me this morning?"
"Sal's?" Conner raised an eyebrow, imagining a greasy spoon diner.
"Yes, Sal's, it's...it's...well indescribable, you'll just have to see for yourself. I'm famished just thinking about it, how about you? You hungry yet?"
At the question, Conner's stomach growled, which sent the women into another burst of laughter.
"Well, maybe we had better go get ready, before that thing comes to life," Alex said, rising from the chair. "I'll meet you back here in a few minutes," and turned and went inside.
Alex showered quickly, knowing Conner was hungry. She pulled on a pair of white shorts and a dark blue tank top. The top was very form fitting, accentuating Alex's firm breasts. She spent a little extra time with her hair and make-up. Looking in the mirror, as she smoothed in her blush, Alex wondered why she was being so meticulous about her looks this morning, and snarled at herself in the mirror. "OK, I like her alright. It doesn't mean anything is going to happen. I just want to look good today." She ran a hand through her hair and immediately swore, "Damn now look what you've done."
"Alex?" came a tentative voice from outside the bedroom door.
"Umm, Oh yeah, I'll be right out."
"Are you alright? I heard you talking, and well...ahh..." Conner suddenly realized that Alex had been talking to herself, and smiled. Wonder what that was all about, she thought, heading down the hall to the living room. Maybe Alex wasn't the calm, cool, and collected woman she wants me to think she is. Maybe she's just as nervous and warm as I am. She was contemplating the question when Alex walked into the room.
"What are you smirking about in here?
Rising and walking to the table to get her wallet, Conner snickered. "Oh nothing, just...stuff. Turning for the door Conner looked back over her shoulder. "You coming, or am I going to have to introduce myself to Sal?"
Shaking her head in frustration, Alex followed Conner to the jeep. Sal's it seemed was a local institution that Conner had somehow managed to miss in her years in Jax. The breakfast bar, as it was called to the regular patrons, was situated on a side street in Atlantic Beach, close to the Mayport Naval Station. It was a gathering place for many of the naval and civilian personnel of MNS and the Port Authority, as well as other early morning diners. Although it was close to ten by the time they arrived, Sal's was still packed with people eating huge plates of eggs, bacon, grits, toast, and other things Conner couldn't discern.
After a twenty-minute wait, they were finally seated near the window looking out over the St. John's River. They women ordered coffee first, wanting to take their time and look over the menu. Conner looked around and saw that some of the people eating breakfast had undoubtedly not been home yet, but were nourishing their bodies after a night out partying. The place seemed like an unusual place for Alex to frequent. Maybe this is Alex's way of letting me know she isn't the prim and proper woman she appears to be, Conner thought.
"There you go again. Am I going to have to push bamboo shoots under your nails to get you to tell me what you've been smirking about all morning, or are you going to fess up?" Alex asked in a raw husky voice that sent tantalizing shivers all through Conner's body
"Well...right now I was thinking about how this place doesn't quite fit your personality." Looking around she could tell these people were definitely not in Alex's circle of friends.
"Well, I do have several personalities." Alex smiled, and sat back in her seat.
"Oh...OK...well just make sure the nice ones are out and about when I'm around."
"I'll try Conner, but sometimes I just can't control one of them. She is always trying to get into some kind of trouble." Alex gave Conner a sly smile and lifted her eyebrow in a teasing gesture."
Conner could feel the heat surge through her body, and knew Alex could see it as well. Taking a moment to regain her composure, she took a sip of her coffee. Determined not to let Alex get away with the tease, Conner leaned back in her seat, draped her arm out and over the back of the booth. "Well, then, Agent Montgomery, I wonder what would happen if both our alter egos surfaced at the same time? There might be a lot of trouble, lurking in the shadows, for us to find."
Giving Alex a dark, sultry look, Conner slowly licked her lips, and spoke the words in an equally raw voice.
Alex knew she had been called on her tease and decided to play it out a little further, just to see where Conner's interests lay. "Well, when my alter ego comes out, it's sometimes hard to get her to go away. She isn't allowed out very much and sometimes..."
"Oh...well that's great." Conner broke in, "I've never been one who really enjoyed one night reviews." She hoped Alex couldn't see the half-truth in her eyes. Conner had certainly had her share of one-night stands the past couple of years, but she had never really enjoyed them. To her they were more of a purging in pent up anger and tension.
Their eyes locked and held as each woman tried to read the hidden message in the other's words. Alex knew she was playing with fire here, but couldn't stop. There was something about this woman that forced her to shed the protective shield around her. A fire stormed through Alex's body as Conner bit her bottom lip, and smiled a knowing smile.
"Alex, sweetheart, where the hell have you been?" Unlocking their eyes from one another, Alex beamed as she recognized the man waddling towards them.
"Sally, how ya doin'? Been on an extended vacation, if you get my drift." Alex rose and threw her arms around the large man.
Conner sat in a shocked silence, as Alex totally transformed into another being before her eyes. Where the hell did the Jersey accent come from? she asked herself. Trying to read the scene, she felt more than heard the two talking and looking at her.
"Sally, meet my new girl here, Connie."
Working undercover had taught Conner how to play a scene at a moment's notice, so she stuck her hand out to shake Sal's hand.
"Nice to meet ya, Sal." Although it wasn't as good a Jersey accent as Alex's, it passed. Glancing at the other woman, Conner could see a slight nod of appreciation, and admiration for playing the unexpected role.
Alex, and Sal talked about old times for a while and during the conversation Conner figured out that this was one of Alex's undercover hang outs. Conner was a little miffed that she hadn't at least warned her that she might have to role-play here.
Although, when she thought about it, she decided to give Alex the benefit of the doubt. There had been many times that Conner had found herself in situations where she had to go under at a moments notice, not affording her companions the luxury of a warning. Maybe this was one of those times for Alex. Either way, she intended to find out.
If Alex had meant for this meeting to take place, then she would damn well have to clue me in, and I expect to know what she is looking for in a place like this. It couldn't be a case, Conner thought; she just got back into town this week. Unless, she pursed her lips trying to figure all the angles, unless it had something to do with Feryle's murder.
"Now, that doesn't look like a happy thought. What are you thinking about so seriously?" Alex asked as she sat back down at the table.
"Maybe we had better talk about it after we leave. Don't want to make the natives nervous." Conner hinted to Alex that she knew this was a covert outing, and let it go at that.
Feeling relief at Conner's response, and guilt that she had unwittingly drug Conner into the scene, Alex picked up the menu and began studying the various choices. They placed their order and continued talking as if the conversation with Sal had never happened.
They ate quickly and efficiently in their haste to get moving, and on with their plans for the day. Full of nervous energy from all the caffeine they had swallowed, they headed towards the parking garage to tend to Conner's car. Conner had called the police garage before they left the house, and asked that they send someone over to replace the tires. Technically, they police department was responsible for the repair and maintenance since they owned the vehicle.
Since it was a Saturday, Conner hadn't really expected them to be there when she and Alex arrived, much less there and gone already.
The women drove up to the pleasant surprise, both happy that they had just gained a couple of more hours of playtime. Conner quickly drew directions to her condo, just in case they were separated during the drive to the island. Closing the jeep door, Conner turned back and looked at Alex, a very contented smile on her face.
"I'm really glad you thought of the idea to see the 'Shady Lady' Alex. I have a feeling we're going to have a fun day." Conner strolled over towards her car. Looking back over her shoulder, she yelled at Alex, "Wanna race?"
"I wouldn't stand a chance against that hot machine of yours. I think I'll pass and be a law abiding senior citizen...just for today."
Conner got in the car and leaned out the window. "Party pooper," she pouted, and stuck her tongue out at Alex and laughed. She started the car and they headed for what both women felt would be a day filled with fun and a lot of sexual tension.
Conner headed back towards the direction of Sal's. It took Alex a few minutes to realize that Conner intended to take the ferry over to the island. It was about a fifteen-minute wait before they could drive onto the ferry, and Conner walked back to the jeep, while they waited in line.
"Conner, this is great. As long as I have lived here, I've never taken the ferry." Alex's happiness was evident. The twin dimples on each side of her face popped in as she let out a glowing smile.
The two women leaned against the jeep and Conner told Alex about the history of the ferry. It ran less than a mile across the mouth of the St. John's River from Mayport to St. George Island. Until the state had built better roads, the ferry had been a major vessel of transportation to and from the island. Alex listened with interest at Conner's historical commentary, but soon the line began to move and forced the two women to part and head towards their separate cars. After they drove onto the ferry, they once again got out of their cars, and leaned against the railing, as the ferry made it's way across the St. John's River. It was only about a ten-minute voyage, but it had left Alex invigorated, and anxiously eager for their day trip to continue.
Returning to their cars, Conner led the way. They passed trough breathtaking scenery, as they traveled over both Big and Little Talbot Islands. Soon they were on the island and headed towards Conner's condo.
The island was one of the most naturally preserved islands Alex had ever seen. Although there had been a major influx of tourist and residents over the years, she could tell great care had been taken to preserve the natural landscape as much as possible. They turned onto Ocean Avenue, and Alex could see the beach a few hundred feet to her right as the waves fell gently on the shore in a lazy ebb tide.
Conner pulled into a wide drive and stopped in front of a large structure. Conner stopped momentarily as she pushed the button for the garage. The doors slide up exposing a wide double garage. Conner pulled in on the left side, and waved Alex into the right parking space. They got out of their cars, and Conner led the way into the condo.
Alex walked in and was struck by the beautiful space that Conner called home. Looking a little bewildered, Alex turned to Conner. "I thought you said you had a small condo on the island. Conner, this is...absolutely breathtaking."
Alex walked over to the floor to ceiling windows that spanned the entire room and looked out at a private walkway leading to the beach below. Turning around and facing Conner, Alex saw a hint of pride and embarrassment on Conner's face.
"Well it is small compared to some of the other places on the island...sort of...ya know?" Conner replied sheepishly. She saw Alex eyeing the expensive artwork and furnishing in the condo, and decided she had better confess before Alex got the idea that she was on the take or something.
"OK, I'll confess the whole story, but you have to promise not to hold it against me, OK?
Alex's eyes narrowed, and she knew this was going to be interesting. Deciding to tease her a little more this morning, Alex smiled and smirked. "Well, I'm not sure I can promise that I won't hold anything against you...I ummm...kinda liked...ahh...holding me against you last night."
Conner took a ragged breath and involuntarily took a step towards Alex. With dark, penetrating eyes, Conner growled, "You'll get yourself in a lot of trouble if you don't watch that teasing, Agent Montgomery...or is your alter ego trying to come out and play"?
Alex felt the rush of heat course through her body as Conner's eyes melted her soul. Deciding it was too early to start 'playing', Alex decided to redirect the conversation. "Well that depends if you're going to tell me the story about your mini-mansion, and then take me sailing."
"Oh, we're definitely going sailing, but I need a drink if you're going to make me spill my guts. What so you want, I have sodas, beer, wine...?"
"Beer is fine with me, if that's what you're having."
"Make yourself at home, I'll be right back," Conner said heading to the kitchen.
Alex looked around the room, and learned a surprising amount about Conner. She was an ardent collector of Ansel Adams photographs. She liked a variety of music. Her collection ranged from light country to bach to New Age. There were personal pictures sitting discreetly among the collections of valuable art works, indicating the things that Conner treasured were not only inanimate objects, but also the people around her. Alex was intently looking at a photograph hanging on the wall near the fireplace. The man looked vaguely familiar to Alex, but she couldn't place him. Maybe he just looks like someone I know, she was thinking.
"Ahh, I see you've met Pops."
"Yes. He is the reason for all of this." Conner looked around the room and spread her arms to indicate the house, as well as the contents.
Knowing she had to explain, Conner let go of a deep sigh. "Geez, I can see you're not going to let me get out of this, so have a seat, and I'll explain the whole outrageous story." Conner sat down and propped her feet up on what had to be a Chippendale coffee table worth several thousand dollars. She stole a look at Alex, noticing her surprise.
"Prop'm up there. I'm sure if we scratch this one, I have a few more just like it in the warehouse somewhere."
Alex's eyes widened, in disbelief. "Conner, are you mad? This furniture is worth a mint. I suppose 'Pops' has something to do with your disrespectful attitude for fine furniture." Although she was shocked, she couldn't hide her smile from Conner.
"Actually, yes and no. See, Pops was my paternal grandfather."
Alex listened intently, as Conner sat back and expounded on her grandfather's heritage.
"In the early 20th century, Amelia Island became the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry as innovators replaced rowboats and cast nets with power-driven seines and trawls. My grandfather was one of the pioneers of this new industry. He worked hard and began to buy land here on the island. Several years later, he along with a few other men, began developing the land that is now known as 'The Plantation'."
Conner pointed to an aerial photograph hanging on the wall close to her grandfather's photograph.
"Anyway, after that, he moved on to other projects, and finally, in the early '60s, moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina. He was obsessed with developing new areas while preserving the natural environment. He was one of the old timers, like Frank Lloyd Wright, that built around the natural landscape."
Alex immediately remembered why the man looked so familiar. "George Washington Harris," Alex said to Conners amused surprised.
"Now, Alex you and I are almost the same age. How could you possibly know my grandfather? His peak was way before either of us even knew or cared about the environment, or good architecture."
"Well, if you remember, Feryle was an architect. She loved the challenge of designing around the landscape, as did your grandfather. I remember seeing his books in her office. She was an ardent fan of his work."
Conner beamed with pride that someone in this modern age would respect and refer to 'Pops's work. She immediately removed her feet from the table, in a subtle display of respect.
"Do you remember the houses close to mine at the beach?" Alex asked
"Yes, very well. I remember commenting on them. Although I didn't say anything at the time, they reminded me a lot of 'Pops's work."
"Well you should be pleased to know that Feryle had a hand in creating those homes. She was the architect for many of them, and used your grandfathers ideals and philosophy for her designs."
Conner was almost speechless. This woman, who had until now been just a figment of her imagination, was now brought to life with Alex's portrayal of her beliefs, and ideology.
"Wow." was the only word Conner could think of to say in response to Alex's comment.
"OK, finish your story, I didn't mean to interrupt."
"Hmm, well, OK. Anyway, 'Pops' spent the rest of his life in Hilton Head and Savannah, developing the area, and making obscene amounts of money. My father followed in his footsteps, and is a good developer like my grandfather. When 'Pops died twenty-something years ago, Dad decided to put all of his assets in a trust for me, and when I turned twenty-one, I got it all."
Conner looked a little embarrassed with the entire story, and Alex decided not to tease her any longer about it. It seemed almost a burden that Conner had to bear this heavy weight of her inheritance. She was obviously not a woman to flaunt her wealth, and Alex admired her even more as a police officer. Some women in Conner's position would sit on the sun deck all day, drinking coolers and spending money. Conner was definitely not a materialistic person, although she begrudgingly lived well.
"Well, you sure haven't let the wealth go to your head. Most people would, but I could already tell, before this story, that you're not like most people," Alex remarked.
"Thank you. OK, you've heard the whole gruesome story, can we go sailing now?" Conner asked sheepishly, getting up from her chair, ready to move on to other more important things.
"Yes, dear. Let's go see if you can do an encore chin slide."
Continue to Part Nine of Storm Surge
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