Chapter IX

 

"So this is where you stay when youíre in Seattle?" RJ sank down on the bed, taking in her surroundings.

"This is it," Leigh confirmed as she tossed her bag onto her bed at the Piedmont Resident Suite Hotel. She had a standing reservation for the last week of every month. And this was Ďherí suite.

It was small, but well furnished, with one bedroom barely big enough to hold a dresser, standing mirror, and queen-sized bed. The kitchen was painted a stark white and filled with new, apartment-sized appliances. It connected to the living room, which had hard wood floors covered by soft, thick rugs and filled with comfortable furniture. The bathroom was tiny and completely overtaken by its deep, sunken bathtub. The suiteís long, narrow balcony had a view of the Puget Sound, and it housed two side-by-side chaise recliners, one of which always remained empty.

The place suited her needs nicely. It was about the same price sheíd pay for an apartment for the entire month; the view was costing her dearly and she knew it. But Leigh never had to do any cleaning, or pay utilities, or deal with a yard. And the management allowed her to use the laundry, pool, and gym whenever she was back in town, whether she staying at the hotel or simply going to turn around the next day and drive in the opposite direction.

The location was perfect ó within walking distance of East Pine Street where a thriving gay community added color and life to an already eclectic metropolis. It all was convenient and utterly uncomplicated. Just the way Leigh tried to keep her life.

"Itís very nice," RJ allowed, shifting her position to look out the window. Her eyes went a little round at the magnificent view. What seemed to be a legion of sailboats dotted the ocean with splashes of color.

Leigh nodded, parking herself next to RJ and peering out the window along with her. An unconscious smile crossed her face at the sight of a particularly quick boat skimming the waterís sparkling surface along with the breeze. "They look free, donít they? Theyíre floating," she remarked a little wistfully.

RJ frowned. "Youíre free, too."

Leighís head jerked sideways, and she gave RJ an annoyed look. "What are you talking about? I know Iím free." She stood up abruptly and marched toward the door.

RJ followed Leigh out of the room. "Youíre not tied to the road, Leigh. You can float along too if thatís what you really want."

"Sure I can," Leigh snorted sarcastically. "I canít even swim."

"Thatís not what I meant, and you know it." RJ stopped Leighís motion by gently placing her hands on her shoulders. She spun her around. "Whatís your heartís desire, Leigh?" Without warning RJ felt the breath rush from her body. Never before had she wanted to make someoneís dreams come true so badly and yet been completely helpless to do so. It was a slightly sickening feeling, and she laid her hand over her belly in stunned reaction.

"My heartís desire?" Leigh blinked. She was about to make an offhand comment that that involved sex and a hammock in Jamaica when she saw the look on RJís face. "Was that a serious question?"

RJ didnít answer.

Their eyes met and Leigh distantly chided herself for allowing that to happen way too often. It was too easy to lose herself in those soulful emerald depths. "I Ö I can see that it was," she said more to herself than RJ. Her head dropped and she paused so long that RJ thought she wasnít going to answer at all.

The taller woman drew in a breath to change the subject when Leigh finally managed, softly, "I donít know." She looked back up at RJ with such a painfully open expression that the pilot felt her heartbeat increase in response. In an instant the look was gone, replaced instead by a neutral smile.

"Letís get something to eat," RJ heard herself say, sorry sheíd taken the conversation down this path to begin with. She reached down and took Leighís hand.

"I could use a bite." Leighís smile became a little more relaxed as she focused on the reassuring grip of RJís warm hand. God, I need this time off. When did I become such a fucking mess? "I intend to keep you up way past your bedtime tonight, RJ. So weíll need to fortify our reserves." Now a real, full grin appeared.

"Oh, I imagine we do!" RJ patted her flat stomach. "Especially me. Iím used to consuming all that grease at Fitzís. Iím starting to shake from withdrawal. Besides, your not an easy woman to keep up with." Though Iím getting stronger each day.

"Seems to me that youíre managing just fine." There was only a secondís hesitation before Leigh blurted out, "I love it when you hold my hand," startling herself in the process.

RJ bent down and brushed her lips across Leighís. "So do I, lass. So do I."

***

 

"Well?" There was a note of uncertainty in RJís voice.

"Oh, my God."

RJ fidgeted a little with her collar. "Is that good blasphemy or bad blasphemy?"

"Oh, my God!" Leigh mumbled again, her eyes going comically round.

"Leigh."

As though in a trance Leigh stepped forward, her arms outstretched in a fair imitation of Frankensteinís monster as she approached RJ. She let her hands land first on the slightly rough linen shirt, then headed downward, skimming them over the smooth, supple leather that was stretched tightly over RJís muscular thighs. She licked dry lips. "Have I said, ĎOh, my Godí?"

RJ laughed, finally confident that Leighís reaction was a good thing. "So the prissy sales clerk was right then?" He said this would drive you wild.

Leigh nodded furiously. "You look Ö" She bit her lower lip. Alan, the clerk, had taken RJ back into the dressing rooms with a few items that he insisted would be perfect. Heíd insisted that the outfit would Ďworkí better as a surprise to Leigh. He was right. "You Ö um Ö you lookÖ" Oh. My. God. I want her right this second! "Letís stay here tonight," she said quickly, already in love with the idea.

"No." RJ crossed her arms over her chest defiantly, but the very corner of her mouth was already beginning to curl upward.

"Yes."

"No."

"Please," Leigh begged a little breathlessly.

RJís stance instantly softened. "Well, maybe."

Leigh smiled.

Green eyes narrowed. "Oh, no. Thatís not going to work." RJ firmed her resolve, though the hands on her thighs were doing their best to undermine her intentions. "You bought me these lovely black leather pants and this nice shirt," RJ squared her shoulders in the pristine white, linen shirt that was cut in the style of a loose-fitting manís dress shirt. "We should at least take them out for a test drive."

"We could stay in and I could take you for a test drive," Leigh growled, allowing her hands to drift back up RJís torso.

The darker woman grabbed Leighís hands, catching a subtle whiff of perfume. "Your perfume," RJ inhaled again, "is lovely."

"What perfume?" Leigh asked with devastating innocence. Iím so busted.

"The perfume that you put here," RJ swooped down and kissed behind Leighís ear, laughing as the smaller woman began to squeal with laughter. Ticklish? Oh, youíre mine, now. "And here." RJís head shot lower and she happily buried her face in Leighís cleavage, licking as well as nipping, as the blonde squirmed, only half-heartedly trying to push RJ away.

Satisfied sheíd made her point, RJ eventually relented. But only because she was getting so horny she started to seriously consider Leighís idea of staying home. "Donít be thinking I donít notice that delicious scent, Ms. Macho Truck Driver. Iím quite aware that itís calculated to drive me mad. Your wicked, feminine wiles are working quite nicely, thank you very much."

Leigh looked up at RJ from behind fair lashes. "Is it really driving you mad?"

"Very." Taking Leighís hand, she placed it over her heart. "Feel."

A charmed smile eased its way across Leighís face as she pressed her hand to RJís chest. The tall womanís intense body heat seeped through thin linen directly into Leighís hand. She long to repeat the process with her other hand, absorbing more of RJís sensual warmth. So she did.

RJís felt her heart skip a beat and she knew that Leigh felt it too.

"Itís beating awfully fast," Leigh said, a touch of wonder coloring her voice.

"It always does when youíre near."

Leigh sighed. "Keep up that sweet talk, RJ, and I wonít be letting you go when this week is over." Her face scrunched up into a happy grin. "Iíll be right back." She headed for the bedroom to pick up a light jacket. A faint drizzle had begun, and it looked like tonight was going to be a little chilly.

RJ watched her companion retreat to the bedroom and whispered quietly, "I wish it were that easy, Leigh Matthews. I wouldnít go."

***

The women sat in one of Leighís favorite Seattle haunts, The Doll House, a womenís club and definitely a local hotspot. Despite the predominantly lesbian clientele, nearly a quarter of the Doll Houseís patrons were straight couples, who came to enjoy the wonderful dance floor, or Ďgirlís night outí groups, who used the club as a refuge from the intoxicated men who tended to intrude on their private gatherings.

RJ looked at another couple, openly kissing on the dance floor. Good Lord! "Interesting place you chose for us tonight." RJ held Leighís hand just a little tighter. The last thing she wanted to do was lose her friend in the crowd. That would be bad, she decided the moment she saw the woman dressed all in black with purple hair and things sticking out of her face that looked very painful. "You donít intend to try to talk me into anything like that, do you?"

"Not hardly," Leigh laughed. "Dance with me?"

"But Ė"

"Iíll take that as a yes."

It was a relatively slow song, much to RJís relief. But she soon realized she didnít need to worry about all this new music or how to dance to it. Leigh had wrapped her arms around her neck and was pressed tightly against her as they swayed to the beat of whatever played. The silk of Leighís rust-colored blouse felt cool against RJís hands.

"Not so bad, right?" Leigh whispered a few moments later, lacing her hands behind RJís head. She had no intention of letting RJ flounder around on the dance floor, feeling uncomfortable. "Let me guess, they donít have clubs like these in Glory?"

RJ chuckled at the gentle tease. "No, they donít. But after being in this place, I think thatís something we need to change."

"Good." Leigh leaned forward and kissed RJís cheek and growing slightly bolder, moved a bit away from RJ for the next, only slightly faster dance. She placed RJís hands on her swaying hips, smiling when RJís movements easily began to mirror her own.

It was nearly an hour later that they strolled off the dance floor, lightly perspiring and both in desperate need of drinks.

"Iím really starting to feel the need to march across the room and poke her eyes out!" Leigh fumed as she all but snarled at the tall, stacked blonde who seemed to be fixated on her dance partner. The woman had been staring at and drooling over RJ all night. Leigh had seen her in the Doll House before, and even those brief visual encounters from afar were enough to set off the warning bells in Leighís head tonight. The woman was a predator. Not that Leigh or RJ were shy. But this woman was different.

RJ looked up from her companion for the first time that evening, trying to see who Leigh was glaring at. "Has she done something to you?"

"No." Leighís jaw worked. "But sheíd like to do something to you."

RJís eyebrows popped up. "Who would like to do what to me?"

Leigh smiled as the woman headed toward the door. "Never mind, RJ." She patted the pilotís arm. "Thirsty?"

"In the worst way."

"Whew." She fanned herself. "Same here." Leigh pushed herself up on tiptoes and softly bussed RJís chin. As the evening progressed, the club had grown more and more crowded. The temperature began to rise, and Leigh felt a trickle of perspiration disappear down the center of her back. Mercifully, a slow song began and she leaned close to RJ, feeling the heat of her skin through her clothes. "Iím going for more drinks." She pointed to the throng of women, interspersed with a few men, around the bar. "Beer?" she asked, already planning her strategic route through the crowd.

"Absolutely. Never turn down beer," RJ paused and winked, "or the beautiful woman youíre with." She wiggled her brows and allowed a roguish grin to appear.

 

"God," Leigh laughed, rolling her eyes as she headed toward the bar. "There is no way I should find someone so obnoxious so completely attractive in every way." But I donít think I have a choice.

The woman near the door waited until Leigh disappeared from sight before making her way over to RJ, who was watching the writhing bodies on the dance floor with interest. "Hello."

RJ looked up at the woman and quirked a brow. "Good evening to you." She tilted her head and gave her a friendly smile before going back to watching the dancing couples. In my day that would have gotten them arrested!

 

"Iím Ali." She had to raise her voice above the pulsing music. "I havenít seen you here before."

"Never been here before." RJ tore her eyes from the dance floor and refocused on the tall, curly haired blonde, taking note for the first time of her considerable attributes. How in the hell does a skinny woman like this get those? "Iím RJ Fitzgerald. Nice to meet you."

 

"Itís nice to meet you too. May I sit down?" Not waiting for an answer, Ali slid into the chair next to RJ that was saved for Leigh. She scooted it so close to RJ that their arms touched. "I knew you hadnít been here before," Ali admitted. "I would have remembered a beautiful woman like you." And you would have remembered me. I promise you that.

RJ shifted her body to put as much space as possible between them, though she couldnít manage much. "Oh, Iím not that memorable, lass." She smiled politely, then glanced over Aliís head, trying to find Leigh in the crowd at the bar. But her much shorter companion had simply been swallowed up by the masses.

 

"Let me see your hand."

RJ looked blankly at Ali. "My hand? Why do you want to see my hand?"

 

"Your hand," Ali repeated impatiently, holding hers out so she could take RJís. "Iím not going to hurt you." She made a show of assuring RJ her hand was empty.

RJ offered the woman her hand slowly, palm up. Her eyes glinted with curiosity. "Are you gonna tell my fortune?" I can see it now. ĎYouíre already dead!í And my gypsy has a heart attack on the spot.

"Not at all." Ali carefully turned over RJís hand, gently trailing her fingertips over RJís third finger. "No gold band in sight. So you really donít need to feel guilty and can stop looking toward the bar for the short blonde." Aliís voice was filled with confidence. "Would you like to dance?"

 

The pilot pulled her hand back. "Iím flattered. I really am. But you see, Iím here with someone very special and I wouldnít want to be doing something that might upset her." RJ held her left hand in front of Aliís face and wiggled her fingers. "Golden band or no, makes no difference."

Ali gently ran her palm over the butter-soft leather of RJís pants. "I donít think thatís true." She gestured lightly with her chin toward the dance floor. "When you look out there thatís lust I see on your face. Not domestic bliss." She leaned close, catching a whiff of RJís perspiration and shampoo despite the cloud of thick cloud of smoke that hovered in the room like a heavy fog. "Dance with me. You wonít be sorry."

 

RJ felt an increase in her heart rate. She really wished Leigh would come back. She briefly considered going to look for her, but quickly dismissed that thought, knowing sheíd just get lost and then theyíd be separated for even longer. "Like I said, lass, Iím flattered but Iím here tonight with someone Iím very fond of."

"I heard you the first time, RJ Fitzgerald." Ali placed her other hand on RJís leg, alongside her first. "Youíre beautiful." She looked genuinely curious. "But you donít find me attractive?"

"Now I never said that," RJ corrected gently, again wishing that Leigh was back. "Youíre very attractive. And I can see that you know it. You could have nearly any woman in here; you donít need me." She grinned tentatively, hoping that the woman would take the hint.

"Youíre right." Ali leaned forward, her long, curly blonde hair brushing across RJís forearm like a whisper. "Itís not a point of needing. Itís a point of wanting. I want you," she said bluntly, her blood red fingernails tracing a swirling pattern on RJís leg. "And I think you want me." Ever so slowly her hands inched upward, pausing when she heard RJís sharp intake of breath.

RJ jumped a bit, quickly grasping the wandering hands. "Now play nice. I donít remember inviting you to touch me like that." She cleared her throat and let out a long slow breath. Youíre outclassed tonight. Move on, girl. "Iím pretty sure that my friend wouldnít find this conversation weíre having the least bit amusing. I have a feeling sheís a bit overprotective."

Ali didnít move a muscle.

RJ was beginning to wonder if this Ali person understood what the word Ďnoí meant. The club was too crowded and with Aliís close presence she felt like the place was closing in on her, growing louder and louder with each moment. "Youíre a very attractive woman. And if I werenít with someone Iíd be more than happy to spend some time with you, but I donít play games with the feelings of the person Iím with."

"But with games thereís always a winner." Ali shamelessly thrust her best assets forward. "Think of all you could win, RJ," she purred.

Licking her lips, RJ tried hard not to notice the spectacular cleavage being presented for her inspection. "Actually, Iím thinking about what I might lose and thatís far more important than what I might win. My answer once again has to be no."

"Good answer, RJ." Leigh slammed two sweating mugs of beer on the table, causing the foamy contents to slosh over the sides and onto the floor. Blue eyes flashed angrily, boring into Aliís hands, which were once again resting comfortably, intimately, on RJís leg. Had she herself not heard her lover trying to ditch Ali, the womanís current positioning so close to RJ, and her hands moving sensually over the lanky RJís form would have convinced her they were lovers. As it was, she was an annoyance. "Who the hell are you and how many times does someone have to say Ďnoí before you catch a clue?" Leigh reached down and unceremoniously yanked Aliís hands off RJís leg.

"This is Ali," RJ said, answering for Ali who was wearing a smug grin that she could tell Leigh was about ready to wipe away. Forcefully.

Ali pushed her chair back and stood. She towered over the trucker and it was clear by the irritated, challenging look on her face that she wasnít used to being turned down. By anyone. "Beat it, short stuff."

The nerve! "Iíll beat Ė"

"Now wait just a minute." RJ stood and wrapped her arms around Leighís waist from behind, resting her chin on her shoulder. "Thereís no need for a problem." She gave Leigh a little kiss on the ear. "Iím not going anywhere, lass. Let it go," she whispered, feeling the blondeís muscles tighten and her hands ball into fists.

RJís senses were on overload. Leighís body was pressed tightly against hers, people were squeezing by each other just to move, just to breath, and she could sense the energy in the place increasing and expanding as the alcohol flowed and the women danced. The entire club felt like a powder keg in search of a spark.

Leigh spun around in RJís arms, temporarily tuning out the scrawny slut behind her. Her eyes burned two holes into RJ with the precision and intensity of a laser. Sheíd seen the blonde coming on to RJ across the room but had to wade through the hideous crowd to make it back to their table. Why hadnít she noticed how impossible this place was before? "I donít recall asking Ė" She stopped and let out a shuddering breath. With effort, she rephrased what she was going to say. "Iím handling this, RJ."

The pilot nodded and raised her hands, acknowledging what Leigh was saying. She understood better than anyone the right to be upset and the need to deal with it in your own way. "All right, love, all right. I trust you." She winked, but her voice was serious. "Iím here if you need me."

Love? "Youíd better be." The heat behind Leighís words, at least the ones directed at RJ, however, had gone from scalding to merely hot. Ali, however, wasnít so lucky. Leigh turned around and did her best to look bored. "Are you still here?"

"You asked who the hell I was," Ali reminded Leigh tartly. "And since I have no intention of going anyplace Ö alone," she emphasized her last word and winked at RJ. "I thought Iíd at least stay to tell you."

"Jesus!" Leigh threw her hands in the air. "Youíre the type of woman who gives blondes a bad name!" Her eyes flicked upwards and she wrinkled her nose. "Well, tacky bleached blondes, that is."

RJ snorted and reached for her beer. It looked as though Leigh had things well in hand for the moment. She had discovered a lifetime ago that busted lips and bruises hurt a hell of a lot less when you had a few beers in you first. She had a feeling if Ali didnít back off, and fast, they were going to be nursing a few of each later. Leighís voice was calm, but her flushed cheeks and slightly trembling body convinced RJ that she was about to blow like a hand grenade.

Ali looked over Leighís head at RJ and licked her full lips provocatively. "Given any more thought to that dance?"

"Yeah," the pilot straightened and pulled Leigh closer to her. "Actually I have. Leigh, would you like to dance with me?"

Leigh reached behind her without looking at, RJ. "In a minute, hon," she murmured distractedly. "Did you just proposition her in front of me?" Leigh asked incredulously. "In case youíre actually mentally handicapped and not just stupid, I should remind you that sheís here with me tonight and that sheís said several times that sheís not interested."

Ali was growing weary of the chatterbox between her and the brunette she sought. She had hoped that when RJ saw how determined she was to have her, it would tip the scales in her favor. But she was finally starting to think that RJ might have actually been sincere when she said she wouldnít dance with her. Though the prospect seemed highly unlikely to Ali.

Ali finally glanced down at Leigh. "Itís not who sheís with now that matters. Itís who she goes home with at the end of the evening."

Leighís face went deadly serious. "That person would be me. Now, and for the very last time, please leave us alone." I wonít ask again.

 

RJ wondered as she watched the tall blonde stare at Leigh, why Ali didnít seem to understand that she wasnít interested in being with her. Had things changed that much? She remembered briefly their encounter with the waitress at the truck stop. Apparently it wasnít uncommon to have more than one partner these days. It wasnít uncommon in my day either, just a hell of a lot harder. She put a little space between her and Leigh, crossing her arms and waiting to see what Ali was going to do.

Ali didnít say a word. Instead, she started to move ...

Leigh began to gladly step aside, breathing a sigh of relief that this little incident was over. She froze, however, when she caught Ali eyeing her RJ like she was a piece of meat and someone had just rung the dinner bell. The light bulb popped on in Leighís head and her voice cracked with agitation. "Youíre moving past me to get to her?" I cannot believe this woman! I should have known those leather pants on RJ would send these women into a feeding frenzy.

"For all your talk, RJ is still standing here," Ali smiled, showing off two neat rows of pearly whites, "looking at me. Step aside, Tom Cat." Oh, yes, I know who you are. I know all the regulars in my playground. Even if they donít know me. Yet.

Leighís eyes widened at the use of her much-despised nickname and her brain officially began to short-circuit.

Uh oh. The pilot stiffened and put her hands on Leighís shoulders. "Come on, lass, letís go have that dance," she said a little urgently. "By the time weíre done she will have moved on to the next person whoís breathing."

Every muscle in Leighís body twitched with anticipation as adrenaline sang through her blood. RJ was right, of course. But it felt utterly wrong to leave any doubt as to who would be taking her home tonight. Sheís mine, bitch! At least for now, Leighís mind begrudgingly admitted.

Ali had moved around the table, effectively doing an end run around Leigh without the trucker being able to stop her. This put her directly in behind RJ, who automatically turned around at Aliís advance. She leaned forward and whispered something that made RJ blush furiously. "No answer for that I see," Ali said smugly.

Leigh grabbed hold of the table between them and violently shoved it out of her way, knocking over a chair in the process. Then she simply launched herself at Ali, taking RJ down in the process.

Ali screamed and knocked into the woman behind her, who landed on the feet of the next woman over and so on. "Fuck! Watch it!" someone in the crowd shouted.

"You watch it, cow!" was the disembodied shout heard over the loud music.

Then all hell broke loose.

RJ did her best to stop the barrage of hands that were flying around her head. With a loud grunt she managed to get herself turned around and make a grab for Leighís fists. This only served to piss her companion off even more, and she heard a loud growl as Leigh jerked her hands away and made another lunge for Ali, catching the screaming woman right in the nose.

Ali tried to scramble out from under RJ, digging her high heels into RJís legs in the process and going a long way toward making her deaf from the screams leveled right into her ear. "Wait!" RJ barked. She turned again, facing Ali and knocking away several of her flailing punches. In a quick change of tactics, Ali decided to use RJ as a human shield.

"Jesus," RJ mumbled, wide eyed, as the blows came even closer to her head. "LeighĖ" She turned as she said the word, stopping Leighís flying fist. With her eye.

"Oh, God!" Leigh stared at RJ in horror and scrambled off her friend.

Ali used the momentary distraction to push her way out from under RJ and vanish among the fighting, yelling, and cursing women.

Sirens sounded in the distance.

Leighís hands moved shakily to RJís face. She cupped her cheeks gently and began examining RJís tightly shut eye. "I am so sorry." Her voice cracked a little as she spoke, all thoughts of Ali forgotten. "I didnít mean to do that."

A beer mug crashed against the wall behind RJ, sending shards of glass and droplets of brew showering down on them.

Leigh closed her eyes as the warm liquid splashed against her back.

RJ tried to shake her head a little to clear the stars. "Damn, lass! Thatís a hell of a right hook you got there. You should be a boxer!" She tried to grin. But it hurt to move her face at all. And she couldnít keep stop her eye from tearing up.

Leighís heart clenched painfully. Sheís crying? Aww, shit. "Please donít cry." Tears welled in Leighís own eyes as she peppered RJís face with soft kisses. "Iím so, so sorry."

"Ahh, come on, darliní." RJ gave her friend a quick peck on the cheek. "Iím not crying; itís just watering. Iím tougher than that." She leaned up, feeling decidedly lightheaded. The air was knocked from her lungs, when Leigh crashed into her as they both ducked a flying chair. Instinctively, her arms tightened around Leigh as she tried to protect her from flying furniture and bits of wood. "I think we need to get the hell out of here. Itís like London during the Blitz!"

"But I hit you!" Leigh continued kissing her face. "I swear, Iíll never touch you again."

RJ pushed them to their feet, looking for the exit. She kissed Leigh back soundly, right in the middle of the melee. "Donít be saying things like that, Leigh Matthews. I intend to take you home right now and let you touch me all you want." She tugged on Leighís arm. "Címon."

***

"Hold still."

"Ouch!"

"God, RJ, if you donít hold still, I canít look at it!"

RJ continued to jerk away from Leighís fingers. Her touch wasnít as gentle as it had been before the fight in the bar. The taller woman could tell Leigh was angry, though she couldnít tell if it was at her. "You donít need to look at it. Itís just my eye!"

"I know that," Leigh ground out, trying her best to be patient. Especially since she was the one who hit RJ. That thought froze her hands mid-motion.

RJ stopped her squirming. "Whatís the matter?"

Leigh shook her head quickly and bolted from the room.

RJ blinked. "Why does this keep happening?"

A loud crash sounded from the kitchen, causing RJ to jump at the sound. Then there was another and another. Oh, Lord. There wonít be a glass left in the house by morning. The lass has to be Irish! Mother has a standing order of replacement glasses every month at Bedfordís Hardware store. She stood to go to Leigh, then abruptly sat back down. Better those glasses than me.

A few moments later Leigh barreled back into the living room, holding two tumblers filled generously with ice and an amber-colored liquid. "Well Ö that was fast," RJ teased gently.

Leigh closed her eyes and held her bruised knuckles against the cold glass, sighing in relief as the dull throb lessened. She drained half her glass, then passed a heavy tumbler to JR. "My emergency ice pack is in my truck," she informed her bluntly. "Iíll have to go out to the store and buy another one."

"Iím fine."

"Your eye is completely swollen shut."

RJ shrugged. "Iím not surprised." She hissed a little as the whiskey slid down her throat, burning a hot trail to her belly. "You have a wicked right hook."

And though Leigh tried to stop it, RJís praise caused a small smile to appear. "Is that supposed to be a compliment?"

"From an Irishman, love, thatís a tremendous compliment." RJ picked up Leighís hand and gave the back of it a little kiss, the wet, cool skin chilling her lips. "You should be proud of that punch."

"Well, Iím not," Leigh countered harshly. "Not at all." She roughly pulled her hand away. "And Iím mad at you!" The pent-up anger and frustration at RJ that had been banked since leaving the bar came roaring back to life.

"Me?" RJís eyes widened. "What did I do!"

"What do you mean, Ďwhat did I do?í" Leigh poked RJís chest just as she stood up, placing them toe to toe. "You grabbed my hands. Not once, but ... well ... more than once!"

"Yeah?" RJ still wasnít clear on what the problem but was already getting annoyed. "So?"

Leigh nodded her head furiously. "So Iím mad!"

RJ wanted to stick her hands into her pockets, but the leather fit too snugly to make it comfortable. She frowned irritably. "And what was so bad about that, lass? I only wanted to get us out of there without either of us getting hurt."

"Arghh! Are you being all calm and reasonable just to piss me off?"

RJ straightened and rested her fists on her hips. "No! Iím staying calm and reasonable because itís my nature." The angry undertone of her voice contradicted her words and she knew it, which made her even more agitated. "But if you want me to get mad I can."

Leigh threw back the last of her drink and snorted, "That Iíd like to see."

"All right, fine!" RJís voice was hard and loud as she nearly let the frustration of the moment begin to overtake her. She tried to step back, grinding her teeth together for what had to be a full minute before she shook an angry finger at Leigh. "Now youíre trying to piss me off! What is it that you want, Leigh Matthews? Do you want me to get mad enough so that Iíll hit you back? Is that what youíre after?" RJ challenged, her words somewhere between a yell and a dull roar. "Because if it is, youíre not gonna get it." She downed nearly the rest of her drink in one quick swallow and threw the glass hard against the wall, shattering it and denting the wallpapered plaster. "There! Are you happy?"

Leigh looked at the large stain on the wall and wordlessly handed RJ her own glass, lifting a pale eyebrow in challenge.

Without thinking, the pilot slammed Leighís glass against the wall, throwing it even harder than sheíd thrown hers and placing another small dent in the wall. RJ exhaled shakily and sank to the couch, running a hand through her hair. "Are you happy now? Now that Iíve made a mess and an ass of myself?"

"Actually," Leigh dropped down onto the sofa next to RJ, "I do feel a little better, mainly for the Ďassí part."

"Well, good," RJ said sighed sarcastically, glancing sideways at her friend. "Are you still mad at me?"

Leigh mulled that over.

"I wouldnít have done it except I didnít want to see you hurt. I swear. Oops Ö and Iím sorry."

Apparently, those were the magic words because Leighís face seemed to lighten. "Thanks for looking out for me. It wasnít necessary. But I guess it was sort of nice Ö in a weird, annoying, if-you-ever-do-it-again-Iíll-murder-you sort of way."

The one of RJís eyes that could narrow did. "Are you sure thereís no Irish in your system?"

Leigh exhaled slowly. "Nope. None that Iím aware of." She nudged RJís shoulder with her own. "Címon, admit it. It felt good to blow off a little steam. I mean, Iím sure the quilting bees in Glory are great venting spots, but this was the best we had available at the moment."

"I donít attend those particular social events, thank you very much. I prefer to get drunk with my brother and talk about women, if you must know." RJ gave Leigh a little smirk.

"Thank God. If youíd said you were a member of a quilting bee I donít know what I would have done." Leigh turned sideways and crossed her legs under herself. "Iím sorry about your eye," she whispered. "I would never hurt you on purpose."

RJ sighed. "Donít take it so hard, Leigh. Iím truly fine and I know it was an accident."

Leigh fiddled with the throw pillow, using any excuse not to look up at RJís bruised face. "Thatís easy for you to say. How would you feel if youíd punched me, hurt me?"

RJ dropped her head and nodded. "I see what you mean. Iíd feel awful if I hurt you. Iíd never want to see you hurt either." RJ shuddered inwardly, thankful that the situation wasnít reversed. That would truly suck. She smiled a little, trying to lighten her friendís mood. "But, umm, according to the women in the bar tonight ó I talked to a couple in the bathroom ó I think Iím supposed to be the Ďbutchí one in this relationship, right? So itís okay for me to get a shiner." RJ tugged on Leighís hand, trying to play with her a little, but it wasnít working.

Leighís face remained impassive so RJ tried again. "It could be worse." She made a show of opening her mouth as wide as humanly possible, making it nearly impossible to speak. "You could have knocked out one of my good chewing teeth."

Leigh chuckled and grabbed for RJís tongue. "Thereís always tomorrow, RJ."

Chapter 10

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