Please see Chapter 1 for disclaimers.
A second plane arrived from Amazonia two weeks later carrying the rest of the team needed for the second part of their training in the Louisiana swamps. Since the day Bebo had gone to take the Paddio sisters to dinner and ended up going out only with Reggie, something had changed. The Amazons would work long hours teaching the Cobra Unit to be better fighters, then Bebo would lock herself away in the house and do additional drills with either Arthur or the other guards.
Although the trio of royal guards was exhausted by their constant sparring session the training did not have the same effect on the princess. While they retired in the late evenings, Bebo spent her time pacing the house and gardens. A few times they had found her asleep on the grass as if she had spent hours gazing at the stars that could be seen through the glass roof. Whatever was wrong, and all three had their suspicions, they were sure it wasnt being rectified by taking calls or visitors. Outside of the soldiers she and her people trained with everyday, Bebo hadnt gone out or spoken to anyone, including her parents.
Bear and Rita arrived an hour before dinner glad the long trip was finally over. Neither asked questions when they sat at the dining room table and the head seat remained vacant. The older woman looked questioningly at her daughter and got only a slight shake of her head in answer.
While everyone was still at dinner, Mara, one of the house servants, had just started up the stairs to turn down beds when the phone rang. She picked up the receiver at the top of the steps and, recognizing the voice, once again felt sorry for the caller. The young woman was persistent even though she had to know by now the princess return call would not be forthcoming.
"Hello, I hate to bother you again, but I was wondering if Princess Bebo was available?"
"No, miss, but Id be happy to take a message."
"Ive already left several, but thank you for offering." Annie drove slowly past the large home knowing that stopping for long periods of time would not be a wise move. Just sitting outside one of the embassies was a quick way to get hauled in by the Districts police. She pressed her cell phone to her chin wanting more than anything to start crying.
The door closing behind Bebo that night had been a catalyst of sorts that had changed Annies outlook on the future. Sadly it seemed to be affecting all the others in her life as well. Reggie had become sullen when Bebo disappeared into a world where none of them could reach her. And Titus blamed the Amazon for changing the order of his life. Annie wasnt acting like a woman getting ready to be his wife and it was pissing him off.
"Im not giving up so easily, highness," she whispered to the empty car. If she couldnt get through to the object of her every waking thought, Annie knew there was one more chance, and the princess would have no choice but to attend.
As tea was poured after dinner, Bear invited Max out for a walk. The weather had been trying to shrug off its winter cold, but the warmer days had been erratic and the nights had remained brisk enough to require a coat. Max watched her mother rub her arm through the heavy garment in a familiar gesture. The old break had healed perfectly, but was still sensitive to cold damp air.
"Where is she?" Bear asked, then as if reconsidering put her hands up stopping Max from answering. "If shes out drinking and picking up women, I dont want to know. If thats what shes doing just lie and tell me you dont know, because then I wont have to lie to Audrey when I call her with an update tomorrow. Shes been gone a month and hasnt picked up the phone once."
The observation was a gentle reprimand to Max for the same thing. "Its complicated, mom, but its not drinking and womanizing so youre safe. In a way I wish she were, then itd be easier to deal with." They had walked six blocks by the time Max finished her story, at least what details she was sure about.
"You werent with her that night?" Bear was starting to get angry with the number of infractions the three guards had accumulated since their assignment had begun. "Max, what would you have told your queen if something had happened to her only child? You were sent here with her for a reason, and it wasnt to enjoy some time off."
"Bebo can take care of herself and you know it," said Max. "This isnt Amazonia where everyone recognizes her face because its printed on the twenty draga bill. For the first time, it was easy to see she felt free to just wander and look like everyone else. There wasnt a room or country full of people bowing and scraping at her every step." Max was just as forceful and she was more than willing to defend her motives. "Im responsible for her safety, but Im also her friend. Shell be in a position of service for the rest of her life, so whats wrong with a few months of just being Bebo?"
"Calm down, cub. Ill deny it if you ever tell anyone, but I did the same thing for Audrey and Bo when it was our turn to come here. Tell me more about this girl."
That discussion ate up another three blocks and Bear was listening so intently she scarcely noticed the buildings they were passing. "Dont look so mad, shes engaged to someone else and didnt make Bebo any promises. You could see it though. The first day in the museum, Bebo was lost in her voice and in the way she moved. But it was later, when they really talked that she saw how special Annie is. The tragedy is the timing. If they had met sooner, who knows?"
"The fates are not always our friend." The duo turned around and started back for the house. Bear wanted to wait until morning to talk to the princess. If there were any chance things could work out with the girl, Bear thought, she would do everything in her power to make it happen. If not, it was time to get back to what they had been asked to do.
In the morning Bebo requested a meeting with Bear in the study. After another sleepless night, she was ready for a change of scenery. The tall future ruler was standing at a large window at the side of the room when her teacher walked in. Bear could tell she had dropped some pounds but Bebo still looked solid and strong.
"Good morning, highness." She bowed her head out of respect and Bebo saw it in the reflection of the glass.
"Youre looking well, old friend. How are my mothers and things at home?"
"Both your parents are well, but they miss hearing your voice," she said trying not to sound chastising. "And the training grounds havent been the same without you."
Still looking out of the window Bebo let out a hollow laugh. "Im glad someone misses me, Im sure the same wouldnt be said by the Cobra soldiers. Theyre probably counting the days until we leave and praying they never lay eyes on us again. I wanted to meet with you before we left this morning to ask you to take over and give me an assessment of how well you think everyone is doing. Theyve done exceedingly well with the weapons we introduced so in my opinion, its time to move into the field." The white cable knit sweater she was wearing gave Bebo a rugged clean look Bear noticed when the young woman finally turned around to face her. "I value your judgment, Bear, so if you think were ready to move out, then well go to phase two."
"Youll have my answer by tonight, and speaking of tonight "
With a tired hand, Bebo waved off any other reminders. "Dont worry, I didnt forget. Ill be there. The exhibit will be in New Orleans for the next month and Im sure mamas counting down the days until it returns to its rightful spot. Well give it a proper send off before they pack it up for travel."
Secretary Moines and Mr. Baxter were hosting a reception for some of Washingtons elite to see the National Galleries exhibit while it was still in town. All of the members of both the House and Senate Security Councils were coming, anxious to make headway with the next generation of Amazonias ruling class.
For Bebo it was just an obligation to fulfill on behalf of her mother but she was going to make it as quickly as possible. The others in attendance that night were the members of Patricks unit. She wanted to avoid another look into Annies intimate life with Titus if she could.
"Until tonight then."
"Thank you, Bear, and feel free to be honest. I think some of them still question why they must learn something they see as primitive, but for the most part they are dedicated and brave men and women. If you think theyre not ready, well keep at it."
The broad back was presented to her again but Bear saw the way Bebo sighed as she looked out at the frozen ground. "Do you want to talk about it? I have time before we have to head out."
"You have been my teacher and confidant as long as I can remember, but there are some things better left unsaid on my part. Not because I dont trust you, but because I really dont want you to think me a fool."
"I would never belittle any of your feelings or troubles, Bebo, you have to know that."
"Its not you Im worried about, Bear, its me. I think of myself as a fool for over reading a situation and nothing had changed from the first time I studied it. That sounds confusing I know, but perhaps if you give me until we get to warmer climates Ill feel more talkative and more clear headed." Bebo never turned around, but lifted her hand in farewell signaling the talk at an end.
When the door closed behind Bear, Bebo lowered her hand and pressed it to one of the windowpanes and studied her fingers as the sunlight outlined them. On her walk the night before she had cursed Emelda for her vision. She just wanted her life back the way it was before she met Reggie with her sweet, always present smile, and her sister Annie with her shining eyes that haunted Bebo every time she closed hers.
One path had proven to be easy. Reggie, the Amazon was sure with very little coaxing on her part, would be willing to pursue a relationship. During the two nights they had shared time over a meal, Bebo found her to be smart and engaging. She was beautiful in a natural and untouched way, but for all that Reggie was, something was still missing. Reggie wasnt the other path; the one Bebo knew in her heart was the one she was meant to walk. That path Bebo was discovering was all uphill, impassible and that was someone elses road to walk.
That first morning in the museum the princess had blindly entered an emotional trap of her own making and lost her heart. Now she felt the cruel irony of the situation. Growing up listening to her mother spin tales of falling in love and finding the other half of your soul had never seemed real to her only daughter. Not that she didnt think that each of her parents werent the perfect mate for the other, but Bebo had always believed she could control when and if she would fall in love. What a joke that was now. She had listened to Annie speak so eloquently about the items her mother had put in the exhibit and the most overwhelming feeling came over her. It wasnt love poems or sonnets that had turned her head but a young woman who spoke with the same passion as her mother for the history of a noble race of women.
There hadnt been time for Bebo to stop and question why. It just simply was. Without knowing her name or anything about her, the princess heart overpowered her brain and said this was the one, as if finding what had been missing in Bebo all along. She may not have wanted to admit it, but the part of her that believed all those fairytales her mother told was the part that realized this was her path.
"Only thing is, the roads closed." She laughed at the lame attempt at a joke and ran her fingers through her hair as if trying to buy time. Tonight was the last night she was planning on spending in the house since she knew the Cobras were ready, she really didnt need Bear to tell her that, but there was something she wanted to do before departing. Something she wanted to do alone feeling she didnt need an audience to see her at her weakest.
She hugged the back wall and stayed well out of sight. The last class to tour the Amazon treasures from the girls academy was following their docent around like puppies. They had made it through most of the exhibit and had stopped in front of Larissas statue.
"I sing of a brave warrior and good sister " started Annie. She told the story with a combination of Audreys writing and what she remembered of Bebos words. From the time the exhibit had started and she realized who had written the text, she had decided to use the queens unique insight of the Amazons history. "It was her last act, but her bravery allowed the Amazons to live on and defend their land."
When she was done, Annie moved the barricades aside and allowed the girls to come up and touch the stone foot like Bebo had allowed the first day. The museum turned a blind eye whenever one of the curators allowed the visitors to come up because they only did it with the school-aged children.
"Thank you all for coming and I hope you learned something from these brave people. Their queen allowed all these things to travel so far away from home to show you that if you set your mind to it, you can be anything you want to be. Dont you let anyone tell you otherwise." The blonde folded her hands together behind her back and smiled as the kids headed for the exit, then thought she saw some movement toward the back of the room. A quick scan revealed nothing and Annie just thought it was the crew preparing the place ready for the evenings reception.
Hidden within the shadows, Bebo studied the historian as if trying to memorize everything about her. The memories would have to last a lifetime since after that night Bebo never planned to see Annie again. There would be no reason to; their paths would never have reason to cross once the princess left the capital.
When Annie turned to head for her office, Bebo headed for the door intent on walking back to the house. Walking helped to sooth her mind, and had from the time she was a small child. Taking long walks with Audrey had made her realize what the world had to offer from a simple flower to the most complex architecture. The queen had always told her they were the descendants of a wandering bard who found the best stories because she wasnt in a hurry to get to a specific destination.
She looked at the front of the beautiful building and felt a real physical ache in the chest. "I may not understand your choices or why I feel this way about you, Annie, but I hope youre happy and your life is filled with the greatest wonders the fates could bestow upon you."
The uniform was laid out on the bed when Bebo got out of the shower. The dress blues had been pressed and the metals and insignia had been polished until they gleamed in the subdued lighting of her bedroom. She had one more night of pomp and circumstance before she could return to more familiar territory and to what she knew best.
She had put on the shirt and pants and was slipping on the boots when there was a knock on the door. Signaling it was all right to come in, Bebo turned to see Bear standing in the doorway with a chest full of medals. They had returned late, meaning most likely that the trainer had put everyone at the base through the roughest tests she could think of to be able to give Bebo her best impression.
"Theyll be ready to move by the end of the week. General Paddio tells me that in the field is where his soldiers really excel so the second phase wont take as long in his opinion." The second bit of information was said with a huge smile making Bebo wonder what the two old soldiers had been willing to put up on the friendly wager the boast must have prompted.
"Then I hope they brought plenty of paint remover. They know the rules. Once they kill one of us the game is over." Bebo accepted help with her jacket enjoying the sound of Bears laugh.
"Then the game should last a good long time since we decided to play without rules. Anything goes sounded good to him, so much so he jumped at the chance."
"Poor man, doesnt he know what lives in a swamp. Finding something slithering through your undies isnt the most pleasant way to wake up or keep your position a secret when you start screaming."
Bear brushed imaginary lint from Bebos back as the princess buttoned the coat. "Precisely, and you and I know that, but hell figure it out soon enough. Are you ready, highness?"
"Sure, lets go show a little pride in our heritage and dispel a few myths."
"Or make some new ones," joked Bear.
The place was full of people milling around moving from one piece to the next, some leaning over and reading the small plaques put up to give a brief description of what they were looking at. The women and men not in some type of military uniform were wearing tuxedos and formal attire and seemed to know each other as if they always traveled in the same circles. For the most part, the crowd was concentrated in the front rooms of the exhibit leaving the back for perusal after the official welcoming ceremony was over.
Annie found the person she was looking for standing in a familiar pose before the large statue of Larissa. Bebo had a glass of champagne in her hand and she looked amazing in the dark blue uniform.
"How are you, Miss Paddio?"
"How did you know it was me?" Annie stood back and hoped Bebo was in a mood to talk to her now.
"Youre the only one the guards would have let through. Were leaving soon and I wanted to have a moment alone with you to tell you goodbye. I wanted to thank you for the time we spent together and the way you treated all these artifacts with respect. If theres ever an opportunity, Id like for you to meet my mother. Im sure shed enjoy sitting down with you and discussing your take on all that you learned in the past month." Bebo turned around but didnt move any closer.
"Why havent you wanted to see me or called me back?"
"Please dont ask me that." Bebo felt a lump form in her throat and she wanted to just walk away. She had promised herself to be professional and distant so as not to get hurt, and this woman had the ability to hurt her with little effort.
The string quartet had started in the other room and the soft music filtered back to them. Annie moved closer, the sway of her hips making her dress look all that more flattering. She had swept her hair up off her neck and the look was making Bebo sweat. "Im asking and Im not leaving until I get an answer." She reached for Bebos glass and set it on the floor close to the statue.
"I find that Im capable of many things, but I cant find the strength to fight what Im feeling, but its a losing cause. Only an idiot would fight a battle that cant be won." The answer was softly spoken, but Annie was encouraged by the way Bebo seemed to not be able to look away from her.
"That sounds good, but it really doesnt answer my question," said Annie as she reached for one of Bebos hands. Seeing the royal again, she realized if something was going to happen between them, it would be her that would have to make the first move.
"My answer may scare you, so thats the best Im willing to give."
The fingers were chilled from the glass Bebo had been holding, but Annie didnt mind. With the slowness of a woman sure of what she wanted, she slid her palm across Bebos and threaded their fingers together. "You want to know what I think?"
"Does it matter what my answer is?"
"No, because Im going to tell you no matter what. You came here and met someone who seemed to dislike, or at least question everything about what you stood for and where you came from because she didnt understand. Even though you tried to make her see otherwise, she continued with the life she thought would make other people happy, never once trying to stop and think too hard on what would make her happy. You taught me a valuable lesson, Bebo."
"What?" The tall woman stopped and cleared her throat when the one word question came out as almost a squawk.
"That you shouldnt live a lie no matter how much others want you to do so. And, you can come to see something differently when you meet the right person to show you the way. I may not have understood how an island full of women could find fulfillment in just women, but then I met you and I could totally see what the secret was. You just need to find the right woman." She moved closer until their bodies were as close as they could get without touching. "I missed you and Ive been waiting to tell you this since the night you came over."
"Forgive me, but you and Titus seemed to be on the way to hanging the do not disturb sign up when I got there. Im sure you dont need my interference or presence in your life to be happy." Bebo wanted to back up and get a safe distance between them, but Annie smelled so good her feet were frozen in place.
"I dont want to talk about Titus." She held up her hand and showed the naked finger. The engagement ring was gone. "Ive already settled things with Titus, and I want to do the same with you. Tell me you dont care anything about me and Ill walk out of here and leave you to your thoughts." She looked up with the fire of a woman fed up with waiting. "Tell me," Annie demanded.
They both tried to think of a word to describe the feeling when their bodies moved the final inch and came together. Had they voice it, the first thought to come to mind would have been the same home.
"What are you doing to me, Annie? I dont want to be a sideshow while you try to figure out your feelings for Titus. You did after all accept his ring and make promises to him for the future." Involuntarily, Bebos hands went to Annies hair and released it from the clip shed put in to hold it up. It felt like silk running through her fingers.
"I want to make you open your eyes and see me before you leave. Because I have a feeling that once youre gone Ill never see you again if I dont say anything. My heart just found you and I refuse to let you go so easily."
Tears ran down Bebos face and she wasnt embarrassed to let Annie see the show of what others considered a weakness. "Not see you? Are you mad? I dont see anything but you no matter how hard I try to forget you, but think about what youre saying. I wont let go so easily if the world tries to convince you this isnt the best choice for you. If you chose me, Ill do everything in my power to keep you by my side."
"Do you promise?" Annie looked up without moving out of the strong embrace. It wasnt a balcony but it would have to do and she wanted Bebo to see how right this was. "Dance with me?"
There under the shadow of Larissas likeness they shared their first dance. Annie melted into her and felt like the fairy princess in some far off land who had been swept away by her brave warrior. But it wasnt enough; she wanted to get closer to Bebo and show her that what she was feeling was real. She looked up at the damp blue eyes and asked for the final missing piece.
Annie didnt need to ask with words, Bebo could see what she wanted since she wanted the same thing. For the petite blonde, it was as if her body had come alive for the first time as the princess lowered her head and pressed her lips to Annies. There was no turning back now as the most sensual of feelings ran from Annies lips throughout her body.
Her pale, slightly powdered cheeks blushed when Annie moaned into Bebos mouth. It wasnt her usual response to being kissed but she couldnt have held it in if shed tried. It embarrassed her enough to bury her face in Bebos neck as if trying to hide how she was feeling.
"Dont," said Bebo, so close to her Annie could feel her lips moving against her ear. She could feel the heat of the young womans blush and could only guess what was wrong. "I want to always hear and see how good you feel."
"I want to leave now and tell you just how good I feel without a building full of people breathing down my neck. Theyre just waiting to steal you away from me." Her hands locked around Bebos back trying to prevent the inevitable. "Is it wrong to want all the things you talked to me about that day in your garden?"
"What would be wrong is to not want them, Annie. A woman like you deserves the royal treatment when it comes to everything life has to offer."
A carefree laugh bubbled up from her gut and Annie enjoyed the ability to find humor in anything after the two weeks of hell shed endured. "Its a good thing I caught the eye of a princess then, huh?"
"Youve done more than that, Lady Paddio." Bebo took hold of one of Annies hands so she could bring the fingers up to her lips to deliver a kiss. "How about we attend to my guests first then go for a walk alone?"
"Id love to, highness."
They were about to enjoy their second kiss when someone cleared their throat before they turned the corner. "A thousand pardons, highness," said Bear as she bowed. "Miss Paddio," she lowered her head again. "Im Bear Blackard, part of Queen Audreys military forces. I dont mean to intrude, but Secretary Moines needs to have a word with you, Princess Bebo. He said it was rather urgent."
"Send him back, Captain. This is as private as its going to get in here tonight." During the short exchange Bebo never let go of Annies hand, but now it was time to put pleasure aside and concentrate on duty. "Bear, could I ask you to escort Miss Paddio wherever she wishes to go."
"Miss Paddio wishes to stay," Annie smiled up at her and pressed her free hand to Bebos mouth to stop the protest. "But I know I cant. Dont forget about our walk."
"Im looking forward to it. We have so many monuments left to talk about."
One of the guards escorted Philip back and just as quickly returned to her post. He looked tired but still good in his tuxedo. "I see you inherited Bos love of big parties. The reception held in their honor years ago comes to mind. A million people wanted to meet the great Amazon warrior of legend and shes strolling through the rose garden."
"Laughing her head off at her consort when she clipped a bloom and put it between her teeth. Good times but thats not why Im here."
"Whats wrong, Philip?"
"We have a situation brewing in Conger, so theres going to be a change in our schedule. I want to finish the training we stared but Ive got no choice except to pull the Cobras and send them in. Trust between us isnt an issue, Bebo, but thats all I can tell you now." He reached out and put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed it affectionately. "You wouldnt want to tag along, would you?"
"You know we cant do that, but thanks for asking. Especially since you shouldve pulled your agent out of Africa about two months ago. The rebels have been on the move steadily for three and have left nothing but destruction in their path. Ethnic cleansing is never a pretty thing and definitely something you dont want to get caught on the wrong side of."
He hesitated and thought of asking a question then just laughed. There was no way she would divulge her sources any quicker than he would his. "I take it your agent is already basking on the beaches at home? Our intelligence reports said nothing of Amazonian personnel in the area."
"Philip, theyre torturing people trying to find foreigners the rebels believe helped keep Kimbu and his men in power. Of course we evacuated our people. As for your agents not finding them, our people were there after different information than yours." She stooped down and retrieved her glass. "Im almost sorry we werent able to finish with the Cobras. The best way in and out of there is through the jungle. Be sure to warn Patrick about the creepy crawlies. I was planning on surprising his troops with some down in Louisiana, but nothing like hell find in Conger. That area is ripe with green mambas and its getting close to mating season."
"Is there anything you dont know?"
"When the Cubs will finally win a pennant. Aside from that, the rest can be found in some report or another. You just have to like to read."
"Will you stick around for awhile until they get back? The spooks tell me this shouldnt take more than two weeks." He walked around her and got close to the statue.
Her hand shot out and encircled his wrists before he touched the worn boot. "Ah ah; shes a woman only kinda gal. As for sticking around, Ill be happy to. Its seems Ive found something to keep me here after all."
The Defense Secretary looked in the direction toward which Annie had been escorted. "Ill just bet." Philip shook his head and almost felt sorry for Titus. The soldiers salvation would be that the Army didnt deliver Dear John letters in the middle of the jungle. Though he already looked so despondent that perhaps Annie had broken the news to him. "Keep in touch and Ill keep you informed as to their progress."
"Could I speak to Patrick before they deploy, or would that be inappropriate?"
"It depends. Is it personal or business? He really needs to have his head in the game if he wants to carry it back out of the bush on his shoulders." He pressed his hands together as if in prayer and tilted his head a little to the side. "Im not saying anything against you, Bebo, but I gather that the general isnt aware that his little girl has had a sudden change of heart. Could you wait until he gets back to enlighten him?"
"I have some gifts for him and his men that might prove useful, especially if silence is important on their mission."
The Cobras assembled in the room in a wide circle around Bebo. Once the meeting was over they would return to the base for their packs and weapons. Air transport was already being fueled.
"Were not done but I thought these might come in handy if you run into any bad guys and you want to conserve ammo." She handed Patrick a green leather sheath that would strap to his leg. From inside she pulled the modern version of the Amazon chobos so she could review their features with him and his unit. "The handles are specially treated so they wont slip in any weather and the ends are lightly weighted for maximum damage. Dont let their total weight fool you." She handed them over and his eyebrows went up.
"They dont weigh anything," he said as he took hold of them.
"Theyre a light weight metal so they wont add to the burden youll already have to carry, but these are designed to inflict maximum damage with even a light hearted hit." Bear removed hers from the dark blue sheath that was part of her uniform. She swung and stopped just before Patricks throat with one hand and his heart with the other.
"If youre close enough to your opponent swing the weapon just like Bear is demonstrating. The blow to the throat will make screaming impossible, and the one to the chest will drive the ribs into the heart. Death is almost instantaneous if done correctly," explained Bebo. "If not, it doesnt take long for them to drown in their own blood from the throat wound." She motioned for her guards to hand out the gifts. "Well be waiting for you to get back. Im confident youll be successful, considering youre the best soldiers the United States has on the payroll, but we wish you all the best of luck for a quick and safe return."
"Thank you, Bebo." Patrick shook her hand before calling his men to attention. In a show of respect they saluted their teachers before leaving.
Arthur waited until the room had cleared before saying anything. He was sure this would be his last mission in the field since he had long been considering retirement. The only reason hed postponed taking a desk job was when hed heard whod be doing their training.
Bebo put her hands on his shoulders and looked him in the eye. "Keep your head down and your eyes open, you hear me? I want you around for a long time to come."
"Dont worry, sprout, I got the spirits of hundreds of warriors looking out for me, or so my mama used to tell me. Tell your parents hi for me and Ill see you in a couple of weeks, I promise." He pulled her into a hug and didnt let go right away. "I love you, Bebo."
"I love you too, dad. Please be careful." Bebo kissed his forehead before releasing him.
She walked him to Larissas statue before he left. Arthur put his hand on the boot first. "The acts of the one," he said.
"For the good of the many." Bebo finished for him covering his hand with hers. "May the goddess speed your return."
"Why is my father leaving?" demanded Annie when she was allowed back in.
"Im sorry, Annie. Hopefully therell come a time when therell be no secrets between us, but at this point in time, I cant tell you. Philip didnt go into enough detail anyway for me to give you a proper answer."
"Please just tell me he isnt going into the field?" She stood with her hands on her hips then just as quickly moved them as if trying to hold herself. "He isnt in any condition to do that."
Bebo moved closer and held Annie against her chest. "Steph, could you bring the car around? Max, if you would please call Philip. Let him know well be making a trip out to the base this evening." Two fingers under Annies jaw encouraged her to look up. "I cant tell you wheres hes going and I dont understand why you think he shouldnt go, but I can take you to see him before he leaves."
"You dont know the Army, Bebo, they wont let us near him."
"Warriors have to be reminded from time to time what it is theyre fighting for. If you want to see him, Ill get you there."
Reggie and Doris alternated from looking out the window of the limo to the couple sitting in the seat facing them. Annie was sitting plastered to Bebos side with a death grip on her hand. Although her family knew Annie was upset, they could sense something else had changed. She looked at peace sitting next the tall imposing woman.
"Is this why you werent interested?" Reggie asked of Bebo in a tone that conveyed a bit of hurt and anger. "Or why you never called me back?"
"Regina, apologize right now," said Doris.
"Its all right, Mrs. Paddio, I owe her an explanation." Bebo gave Reggie her full attention and searched for the right words. "Theres nothing I can say thatll make you not be angry with me, but I want you to know it had nothing to do with you. Youre a bright and beautiful woman, Reggie, but were destined only to be friends. Im sorry and Ill understand if you dont even want that, but for the sake of the future I hope we can be friends I mean," rambled Bebo.
The youngest of the Paddio sisters held her ire for a moment more, then realized the new developments meant no more Titus. It also meant Annie would truly be happy if she just allowed herself to be. "Now her," she pointed a finger at Bebo, "I wouldnt mind watching drinking juice out of the carton in the morning light." With their mother in the car there was no way she was going to elaborate any further.
"Drinking out of the carton? Wouldnt that be rude?" asked Bebo.
The two sisters dissolved into giggles leaving the two other passengers at a loss. "Dont worry about it, highness. Once youve been around her more, youll start to understand Regs idea of humor." Annie wiped her eyes with her free hand praying Bebo would forget the conversation all together.
From her seat, Doris watched the interaction between her children and the handsome royal. There was something about Bebo that made her want to smile and spend hours talking to her. It was as if the young woman called to something in her that shed tried to bury and forget. With each passing minute in her company she could see why her daughters were powerless to fight the pull of Bebos charm.
"Are you enjoying your time away from Amazonia, highness?"
"Immensely, Mrs. Paddio. Your capital is one of my favorite places to visit. You are a young nation compared to many, but you value many of the same things we do."
"I see Queen Audrey and Boden have done a wonderful job with you."
The mention of her mothers so causally was reason to investigate further in Bebos mind but they had arrived at their destination. To avoid missing the general, the car proceeded to the hangar where the last of the equipment was being loaded onto a transport plane.
"Wait here and Ill go get him," said Bebo.
When Bebo found him Patrick was just short of being rude and handing her the gift shed given them just hours before back. He wasnt thrilled with her being there and he really wasnt thrilled shed brought his family along, but Patrick climbed into the back of the car with his wife and daughters. After Titus refused to pack Bebos gift, the old soldier asked why and the captain had spoken freely. What Annie had done was both an embarrassment and a disappointment to him, but he thought this might be a good time to set things back on course before it was too late.
"So your being here with her means he was telling me the truth, wasnt he?" Annie didnt lower her head to avoid her fathers glare. It was so like him, not a greeting or any kind of acknowledgement that he was happy to see any of them.
"I didnt come here to fight with you, daddy, but if youre talking about Titus, then yes, he was telling you the truth. I gave him his ring back."
"Think about this before its too late, girl, and he isnt willing to forgive you. I talked to him and hes willing to forget and act like the last couple of weeks never happened. You can go on with your plans if you apologize."
The reality of how her life had gotten so out of her control smacked Annie across the face with his words just as effectively as if hed raised his hand to her. She had never wanted to disappoint her father so shed been what he considered a good soldier and done what she thought would make him proud of her. She wondered now when she had last taken inventory of what made her truly happy aside from her job?
"I think you love Titus more than I do, and have since the day he first showed an interest in me. Do you want me to live out a lie just so you can be happy? The reason you like him so much is because Titus is just like you. The problem is though, Im not mom." It hurt her to admit her feelings in front to her mother, but she knew she couldnt survive a life of one-sided sacrifice the way Doris had done.
"Dont you dare belittle your mother like that, young lady," Patrick warned. "She at least realized what was important and what was good for her. I dont have time for this now, but well settle this when I get home. Better yet, I fully expect you to settle it before I get back. No daughter of mine is going to drag my name through the dirt on a whim of fancy. Theres no way in hell Ill ever accept this, Annie. You remember that while Im gone. If youre smart, youll tell that woman to get lost." He fell back to guilt when anger didnt work.
Reggie started to defend her sister but Annie shook her head to stop her. This was her battle to fight. "Then youll never accept it because Im going to do everything in my power to make Bebo want me in her life. She makes me feel alive. What I want matters to her. I never got that from you or Titus, and this is my decision to make, daddy, not yours."
The gauntlet was thrown and both father and daughter knew the stakes. "So be it, Annie. There isnt room or a place for me in your life anymore. I hope shes enough because she comes at the cost of your family." He opened the door and stepped out not bothering to ask Doris or Reggie if they agreed with him. As he walked past her, he ignored Bebo as he headed straight for the transport.
On the ride back to the city the only sound in the car was Annies crying as Bebo held her. She hadnt heard what transpired in the car when the family had met, but from the grim faces of all the Paddio women, the Amazon had a good idea.
They stopped to drop Doris off first and Bebo walked her to the door leaving Reggie to comfort her sister. The older blonde put her hand on Bebos forearm before she went inside wanting to say something before they parted. "Promise me youll take care of her so her choice wont be in vain. My husband is a proud man, and this might take some time to resolve, but please dont think that I agree with what he told her tonight. Im sure you want to get back to Annie but Id like to talk to you when you have the time. There are some things about both my girls you should know, and I think with you beside me I can finally admit the truth. For now, could you keep this between the two of us?"
"You have my word, Mrs. Paddio, on everything you want. Whenever youd like to talk to me you just call me and Ill meet you wherever youd like."
"Thats good enough for me."
The cars next stop was the brownstone in Arlington. Annie seemed numb as Bebo guided her and Reggie inside. The younger of the two blondes had been silent ever since theyd left the base. "Are you all right?" Her question got only a weak shake of Annies head. "Annie, is this too hard? It isnt too late to go back to where you feel safe."
"No!" She flung herself at Bebo and buried her face in the blue jacket. "This is where I feel safe and he cant take that away from me. Please dont go. I want you to stay and hold me."
"Calm down, Im not going anywhere if you dont want me to, but I do want to go slowly with you, Annie. If we decide to be together itll be because we want the same things."
There was a part of her brain that was relieved because she wouldnt have the first clue as to how to go about being intimate with Bebo, but the other part was disappointed the princess didnt want her like that. Annie spoke just above a whisper as if she were too tired to put forth any more effort. "Im just asking you to hold me. Tomorrow well talk about the rest."
The answer sounded too bland for something else not to be wrong so Bebo pushed a little. "Did I say something wrong? I know this isnt the best of nights, and I certainly dont want to add to your burdens."
"I just thought youd want me is all."
"Wait, you think I dont want you?" Bebo cupped the blondes face and kissed the tip of her nose. "Annie, nothing could be further from the truth, but your father is leaving for a mission and you obviously had words. Besides that, this is all new to you. I dont want you to feel pressured in any way. What I mean by waiting is I want you to feel comfortable with every step we take. If we do, well find ourselves sixty years down the road as sure of ourselves as we are now."
"You say the nicest things, I swear." She took the Amazon by the hand and pulled her up the stairs to her room. If it had been some romance novel, Annie would have come out of the bathroom in some sexy silk number, but she was too tired to think about it and chose flannel instead. Her new bedmate had stripped off her jacket, shoes and socks, but kept on her pants and shirt. "You can take off the pants if you want."
"Im comfortable dont worry. Come here," offered Bebo as she sat on the bed. "Do you feel up to telling me what happened tonight?"
"I want you to know, but can it wait until morning? This day feels like its lasted a week."
They settled down and Annie shifted over until her head was resting on Bebos shoulder. Under her ear she could hear the steady slow heartbeat. Annie relaxed with the equally slow movement of Bebos chest with each breath she took. Annie knew she wasnt asleep from the hand moving methodically up and down her back and as much as she wanted to stay awake to enjoy it, she drifted off with the princess watching over her. In her dreams she found herself in a deep green forest surrounded by silence. She thought she was alone until someone pressed up behind her and helped her into the high branches. From there she could see the blue green waters and a pristine beach in the distance. Annie didnt know where it was but it felt like home to her.
In the morning she opened her eyes and found they were in the same position they had gone to sleep in. The hand had stopped and come to rest on her lower back but the heartbeat and breathing were just as slow as she remembered from the night before. On Bebos stomach their hands had come together in a human knot and she wanted nothing more than to close her eyes and go back to sleep.
"How are you doing this morning?" The voice was like a low bur under her ear and it made Annie smile.
"I feel like Id go another round with my father if it meant waking up like this every morning. Thank you for staying with me."
Bebo kissed her forehead and then brought the small hand up to her lips for the same treatment. "You can take all the time you need, but you do realize you dont have to fight alone? Whatever your fathers problem is with this, its our problem not just yours."
"You know what I want?" The dark head shook when Annie lifted herself up a little so she could claim a good morning kiss. "I want to not talk about my father until he gets home. Then I want you to kiss me some more to make up for all the time we lost last night. After that Im going to make us breakfast. Perhaps youre being here will finally get Reggie to smile before nine in the morning."
"Are you sure you dont want to talk about it?" The fact that Annie was avoiding the huge elephant in the room didnt make it go away.
"My father is career military, honey." For once in a relationship the endearment slipped from Annies lips without thought. "When his wife gave him two girls, he figured he would continue the family tradition through marriage since he thinks the Army is no place for a woman." She put her hand up. "I know its not very progressive, but thats his mentality. Its the way he was raised and hes not going to change now, not for Reggie or me and certainly not for you. I was well on the way to giving him what he wanted just because he wanted it, and I didnt realize it until you showed up. In a very short time youve turned my world upside down but, instead of upsetting me, I feel invigorated. I told him that last night and he didnt like it. I guess I should have waited until he got back since his head really needs to be in the game so to speak, but I wanted him to hear it from me. Only thing is, Titus beat me to it and told him he was willing to be big about it and take me back."
"Hell get that by walking over my dead body."
"Ooh, somehow possessive coming from you is sexy as hell. With Titus it was just annoying. In the end though, the decision is mine and I chose you. My father coming back or never speaking to me again wont change that. Only you can change that." She finished by leaning down and kissing Bebo again. "So, my fairy princess, do you want to change that? This is your last chance before my heart runs away with yours never to be found again."
"Ive been waiting for you to say that from the first day I saw you in that museum flying on your imagination. There were a million thoughts that ran through my head ending with the fact that my mother is going to love you."
Annie ran her finger along Bebos eyebrow and thought how her life would change if this relationship really took root. She wasnt lying next to some Army grunt who would be transferred a couple of times then retire to some small house in Virginia. The woman holding her would someday rule a nation and have all the responsibilities that came with that.
"I thought we were taking this slow."
As if reading Annies mind, Bebo looked up at her before pulling her down so she could rest her head back on her shoulder. "To be with me, I mean really be with me comes with a price, Annie, Im not going to lie to you and say otherwise. If you cant see yourself leaving here and building a life away from what youve known, this wont work. I dont mean to be blunt, but sometimes I have to put the welfare of everyone else Ill one day be responsible for above my own happiness. My greatest dream is that I wont have to and I can find someone to share my life with. My mothers found they could balance responsibility with deep and everlasting love."
"Do you think you could feel that way about me?"
"If you give me the opportunity, youll never doubt how I feel about you." Bebo rolled them over so that she covered Annies body and started to place kisses on her face. They were soft and she didnt linger too long in any one place. When the tall woman was done, Annies hands had wandered to every spot on Bebos back she could reach. Her only thought, despite the very serious talk that had taken place, was how the journey would feel if Bebo werent wearing a shirt.
"I think Im going to absolutely love being at the center of your attention, highness. For the rest we have plenty of time before you have to go back. Please tell me Im right about that part and youre not catching a plane this afternoon or something?"
"Im all yours until the Cobras get back from their little play date."
"You might just regret having said that."
Annie rolled out of bed and headed into the bathroom to take care of her morning rituals with two blue eyes pinned to her every move. The flannel nightgown looked adorable on her and although her blonde hair was scattered on her head like shed been caught in a strong wind, Bebo thought it was the most beautiful sight shed ever seen.
"I doubt that very seriously, Lady Paddio."
Bebo laughed at how quickly they had become almost domestic. From that first morning together they had sat down to a breakfast meal Annie had prepared then they had taken the car to the museum to drop the blonde off for work. Annie had dressed casually since they were going to spend the day packing all of Amazonias artifacts for shipment to the New Orleans Museum of Art for its second stop before returning home.
"Will you call me later?" Annie asked as she saw the museum come into sight.
"I was actually planning on coming in with you. I promised Mr. Baxter a cup of coffee awhile back and havent been able to come before now. If you want I can arrange it for some other time. I wouldnt want to intrude on your domain while youre working."
The driver had brought Bebo a change of clothes when shed arrived and Annie was enjoying the feel of the cashmere sweater under her cheek as they rode. "Only if you promise to make sweet eyes at me every chance you get," she teased.
When the door opened, Annie felt bold and confident as she walked to the employee entrance holding Bebos hand. The relationship was in its infancy but she didnt want to let go of her strong partner before she had to. Her two co-workers stood in the employee lounge having coffee when they entered and it was like watching a tennis match as their eyes went from their faces to the linked hands.
"Highness, I dont think youve had the opportunity to meet Terry and Eris." She walked closer to the two gawking women and let go of Bebos hand so she could introduce them. "This is Terry Olsen and Eris Omni," she pointed to the two. "Guys, this is Princess Bebo of Leon on the island of Amazonia."
"Pleasure," purred Bebo causing all three of them to shiver as if they had gotten caught in a draft. "You girls take care of Annie for me and Ill see you in just a bit."
"Oh My God!" said Terry and Eris together when Bebo left to follow the directions Annie had given her on how to find Carl Baxter.
"Details," demanded Terry. "You look like a woman who has found total satisfaction."
Stan found them thirty minutes later sitting close together and hanging on Annies every word. "You three coming or should I just tell them youre too busy gossiping?"
"Stan, our little one has had great developments in her life, that should always take precedence over work dont you think? Lead on, good man," said Eris.
The wing that had housed the Amazonian exhibit had been shut down for the week so they could bring back some of the art warehoused for the month. All of the workers had been diligent in packing most of the pieces in the crates used to transport them. They had stopped for a break and thats how Bebo found them when she walked in.
"Stan, how are you?"
"Im working hard, Bebo, but thats what I get paid to do. You decided to come out of the shadows huh? What you finally found a line that worked on the girl?"
A light blush colored Bebos cheeks but she laughed at his joke. "I was just studying her technique of history giving, Stanley, theres no hidden motive in my being here." Annie moved closer, smiling at the open look on Stans face.
"And the reason your eyes were glued the young womans behind the whole time?"
"Well you got me there, buddy, but can you blame me?"
Bebo smiled at her as Annie got closer and in that one instant the blonde fell in love like an arrow had pierced her heart and Bebo claimed it. Here before her was a person who could isolate herself from the people who some considered the forgotten or the unimportant, but the one person Bebo seemed most familiar with in the museum was the person who by station, was the lowest man on the preverbal totem pole. Annie understood now the power of someone like Bebo and those who came before her. This was someone you would follow into battle even though you thought it was a losing cause.
"Blame you for what?" asked Annie as she pressed herself to Bebo and reached up and kissed her chin.
"For wanting to take you out to lunch. All of you as a matter of fact since I already checked with the boss." Bebo couldnt resist and lowered her head for a quick kiss. "I missed you."
Stan looked on and his heart felt good. This was how he imagined Annie being treated by the person she chose to spend her life with. He just hoped his old friend figured out soon how in love Bebo was with her. In all her covert visits to the museum when Annie was working, he could see it in the way the blue eyes drank her in.
They shared lunch that day and every day after that for the rest of the week. On the weekend the new couple spent time at the Embassy so Annie could see the house. Bebo had spent time on the phone with her parents and tried her best to describe the young woman she was now seeing on a daily basis. She didnt want to get ahead of herself, but it was hard not to tell them how she felt about Annie.
Their next week went fairly like the first only there was more sexual tension between them as their nightly goodnight kissing sessions stretched into something more along the lines of trying to drive each other insane. More than once each of them stopped short of expressing their true feelings, thinking it was too soon in the relationship to be taken seriously.
On Friday, Bebo sat having coffee and reading the paper in the girls home when two arms snaked around her neck from behind. "Reggie, Ive told you a million times already I wont strip naked for you and drink milk out of the carton. If I do I think Annie will throw us both out of here."
"Very funny," said Annie right before she bit into Bebos neck. "You got dressed and left before I got out of the shower," she said in an accusatory tone.
"Sweetheart, I cant take another morning of your playing with my libido while only wearing a towel, so cut me some slack, Im trying to be good." The museum was back to normal and so was Annies wardrobe. She slid into Bebos lap wearing her skirt and silk blouse not bothering with the jacket until it was time to go. "Want to go out on a date with me tonight?"
"Ill go anywhere with you, but what do you have in mind? If youre thinking something dressy Ill bring something and change at your place if you dont mind."
"The Mikado is opening tonight at the Ford Theater and I thought you might like to go. I should warn you though, it might also be a good time for the paparazzi to get hold of you."
"Considering some of the women youve been seen with in the past, Im sure theyll think Im your assistant or something. Besides, between you and the traveling guards you travel with Im sure well be fine. Id love to go." Annie wasnt a gossip rag type of reader but she remembered seeing Bebo over the past couple of years while she was waiting to check out.
The princess kissed her and put her palm against Annies cheek. "Are you kidding? Theyll take a good look at this face and hearts will break around the world because they didnt find you first."
As they left the theater that night a transmission came over the wire in Secretary Moines office. It was the last act of the Cobras in the field and the distress signal only gave a last location and nothing more. Up to then they had sent back coded messages that they had acquired their target and were moving in through the bush to take possession. If caught and discovered to be a highly trained special ops unit in Conger, it would be a political embarrassment to the Administration. He had two choices on how to proceed, but his gut told him to go with the more farfetched of the two. All he had to do now was convince Bebo to go along with it.
Annies laughter could be heard throughout the first floor of the embassy when they made it through the door at the end of the night. The play had been good and the dinner afterward even better. It was a new experience for her to be courted as Bebo had put it to her early on. On every date they went on she could tell the princess had made all the arrangements herself and had put a tremendous amount of thought into how they would spend their time, wanting more than anything for Annie to be pleased.
"Im telling you its true," said Bebo as she took Annies coat. "Max hit my arm as I released my first arrow and it came about two inches from piercing Bears leg. My mom thought I had inherited her height and looks, but my mothers sense of coordination."
"Queen Audrey isnt coordinated?"
"When it comes to anything but wielding any type of weapon. Mama loves telling people shes a lover not a fighter. Of course if you have a problem with that, you can take it up with the walking attitude problem most often found pressed up against her back."
"Thats good to know. Then they wont be too disappointed when you show up with me and Im not some black belt in anything."
Bebo turned her around and put her hands on the shorter womans hips. "Soon, my little storyteller, Ill take you home and they are going to love you. I promise."
"Can I tell you something without and not have you think Im a total nutcase?"
The princess laughed at the innocent question, loving how Annie had a way of putting things. "You can tell or ask me anything and I will never think that of you."
Her mouth opened and Annie was about to utter the words I love you, when the door to the study opened and Philip walked out. "I hope Im not interrupting but I really need to talk to you, highness. We have a priority situation that I need your input on."
"Philip, you remember Miss Paddio," said Bebo, clearly not happy with the intrusion.
"Of course. Im sorry for interrupting. Miss Paddio, its nice to see you again. Would you mind terribly if I borrowed the princess for a little while?"
Having grown up in a military family, Annie was keenly aware of what ramifications a late night visit from someone as high up in the government as Philip Moines could be. "Is there anyway I can convince you to let me stay?"
"Im sorry, miss, but what I have to say is of a highly classified nature and you dont have the proper clearance. It wont take long."
"Annie, if you want go on up and get comfortable. Ill join you as soon as I can."
The good mood from all of Bebos funny stories evaporated and Annie was getting angry. "Im not a child, Bebo, and I dont like being sent to my room as if I were."
"My apologies, you may go wherever in the house you please."
The hurt was as evident in Bebos voice as it was in her eyes. "No, Im sorry. I hate these kinds of meetings. They never bring anything remotely resembling good news and its not fair to take that out on you."
"If I could, you know Id let you stay. The day will come when no one will be able to send you away if you dont want to go, thats my promise."
A feeling of foreboding came over Annie as the door closed behind Bebo. She was sure that whatever Philip was there to say would bring them nothing but pain. Steph and Max took up positions by the study door, as Bear and Beth escorted her to Bebos room.
"This couldnt wait till morning?" asked Bebo, pouring them both a drink from the bar.
"By morning I need to have an answer in case I have to deploy other options. I wont play games here, Bebo. We got a transmission from the Cobras earlier this evening. It was a distress signal. After trying to raise them since the initial call, weve come to believe the SOS was real. I have a location and thats all. Theres no way to know if theyre still alive or what exactly happened."
"And you are here because?"
He took his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose. It had been a long night already and it was nowhere near being over. His first call had been to his boss, and if the team had indeed been captured they would be written off as if they had never existed. It was never said out loud, and it sounded harsh but people like Patrick and his team knew the risks involved when they were in places the government couldnt acknowledge.
"I want you to take your people in and find them. When I told you about the mission that night, I didnt have clearance to tell you who they were going in to get, but now I have no choice. Their target was Michael York." He didnt say anything else wanting to see just how good her intelligence was.
"The same Dr. York who has supposedly found a cure for the Ebola virus?"
Philip nodded. "The same."
"With the antidote, the virus can be used as it was first intended."
The man in charge of the most powerful force on the planet sighed and leaned forward. "Yes it can. Ebola was designed as a chemical weapon to destroy soft targets without touching landscape."
Bebo let out a humorless laugh and stood up to refill their glasses. "Gods, Philip, just tell the truth. It was made to kill people, period, the end, unless you add that it kills people in the most painful and inhuman ways conceivable in the darkest of human minds. What in Hades was York doing in Conger in the first place?" She turned and looked stricken. "Dont tell me he was looking for human guinea pigs? Because if he was, he can rot there along with the Cobras."
"He was there looking for human subjects, but not for what you think. The man is not Josef Mengela after all. The rebels released the virus in the mountain country to wipe out the population without having to actually hunt them down. York was working at a remote jungle hospice testing his antidote. We wanted to get to him before the butchers who are now in charge of the government figured out who they had in their grasp. With both parts of the equation they have the means to destroy thousands of lives, not to mention selling it to every other idiot with an agenda to kill people."
The glass of scotch was like a lifeline when she handed it back to him. "Why us? You and I both know you have dozens of other units like Patricks at your disposal."
"Tell me that they are better equipped to move in that jungle than you are and Ill send them. Our guys are the best in the world, Bebo, and I have every faith in them but Im asking you and I know you have every right to refuse. You know as well as I do how strapped we are at the moment around the world. To pull the type of unit I need to go in there and get the job done would take more time than Patrick and his guys have. If you do turn me down therell be no hard feelings, but I figured with who was involved here, youd want to go."
The laugh returned. She was smart enough to know when she was being played. "What? Annies father is who were talking about here, so Im supposed to jump on my charging steed and ride to the rescue? Make the little woman proud of me?"
"Something like that."
"I need at least ten hours to get the equipment well need. The transportation to get there will be up to you, and just so were clear, if you arent there when Im ready to leave I will personally walk back here and beat the shit out of you myself."
"Now get out of here so the young lady upstairs can scream at me, because I have a gut feeling she isnt going to take this at all well."
She took the steps like she had weights attached to her feet. This was not how she wanted to start their life together but she had no choice. From the moment Philip had mentioned Patrick was missing she knew shed go and get him out if she could. The reason was simple. As much as Reggie and Annie complained about his attitude, they loved him and wouldnt want the last words between them to be ones of anger. Bebo also knew that she wouldnt be able to live with herself knowing she could have helped him and chose not to.
"Youre leaving arent you?" asked Annie when she walked in and leaned against the closed door.
The blonde had changed and there was no flannel in sight tonight. The pale green short nightgown hugged her curves in all the right places. Soldiers and warriors did need to be reminded of why they fought sometimes, and here standing in her room was Bebos reason, not just for fighting, but for everything.
"Will you think it cowardly of me to ask for an indulgence before we have this particular conversation?"
"It depends," said Annie taking a seat on the bed.
"What the indulgence is," she answered with her hands up in the air, as if Bebo should have known the obvious.
"I want to have another conversation with you instead. One that Philips timing managed to steal from me." Bebo moved further into the room until she was standing before Annie. For the first time in her life she dropped to her knees for someone other than her mothers. "It doesnt though make it any less important or heartfelt."
"Baby, you can tell me anything just like you said of me." She went to pull off Bebos coat but the princess stopped her.
"Not yet, Ill take it off in a minute, but not yet." With the tenderness she always showed Annie, Bebo took her hands in her own and looked at the difference in their sizes. "The first Amazons lived in the forests of Greece. Through the years, and eventually the centuries, they blended some Greek traditions with their own and kept them even after their first home had accepted some European customs. So, in the beginning when someone wanted to state their intentions it was not done with the giving of a ring."
"It was done with the giving of a betrothal bracelet," finished Annie. If this talk led to where she thought, there was no way she was letting Bebo go anywhere.
"With the giving of a betrothal bracelet," Bebo repeated, stopping to pinch the tip of Annies nose in jest. "Thats what I get for wanting to marry a historian." It slipped out before she could take it back so she plowed on. "Maybe Im getting ahead of myself here."
"So you didnt mean it?"
"What I mean is, there was plenty to say before that part so just be patient with me. A little over a month ago I came here not to collide with fate, but to do something my mother had asked of me, but collide with fate I did. I found mine in a place of art and history, and I found that the most fitting place since I think she is as beautiful as any woman ever painted and I want to sit years from now and remember the history we have made together. There was only one problem." Bebo looked to their hands again and in her minds eye she could still see Titus ring on Annies finger.
"She belonged to someone else."
"Whos telling this story, Lady Paddio?" The princess joked. "Until two weeks ago she belonged to someone else but the goddess smiled on this humble servant and her heart finally found itself in a place to see how much I loved her. And I do. I love you, Annie, with everything I am. That sounds so trite I know, but "
Annie pressed her fingers over Bebos mouth and shook her head with tears in her eyes. "No, it doesnt. To me it sounds like the answer to every prayer Ive said since I fell in love with you. I just thought two weeks was too short a time to admit that to you."
"Its custom for me to speak to your parents about my intentions for our future, but right at this moment that isnt possible so I wanted to share them with you first." From her jacket pocket she pulled a bracelet made of gold that was a unique design of some of the things that held meaning only to them. A jeweler, one of the house staff was familiar with, had put a rush job on it and gotten it done in a couple of days.
Near the latch was a small likeness of Larissa to commemorate how they first met. Next was the White House, followed by the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, at the center was Bebos crest. It was a medallion sectioned into four equal parts. In one corner were the trees of Argase, the mountains of Curasso, the fields of Selenta and the beaches of Leon. Overlapping all of the scenes was Artemis with her bow in hand. On the other side was a scroll for Annies work, a sword that stood for Bebos promise of protection followed by the palace in Leon. That symbolism was for the home they would build together if Annie accepted.
"Annie, I want to share and build a life with you, and this bracelet is the first step of my everlasting commitment to you. This is more than a piece of jewelry," she held it up so Annie could see part of the makeup. "There is and never will be another like it. For every Amazon who finds their life partner, they must make a ring of love that defines who they are together. On one half you will find our beginning," Bebo laid it flat in her hand and showed her the American landmarks. "On the other who we will be together."
"Its beautiful." Annie was having a hard time seeing through the tears so she picked it up out of Bebos hand and held it closer.
"Not as beautiful as the girl I hope will wear it. Annie, will you join with me?" The dark head lowered in a sign of humbleness.
"Yes." She put the bracelet aside and ran her fingers through Bebos hair to get her to look up. "I would be honored to be your wife."
"Its me whos honored, love." For a long moment those were the last words they exchanged as their lips came together and they kissed to seal the vow. As happy as she was, Bebo felt she had to tell Annie everything. "This wont be official until I speak to your parents but I think you have a right to know what happened tonight when you came up here."
In as straightforward terms as she could, Bebo told Annie what Philip had said and what shed committed to doing about it. When she was finished Annie stood up and paced around the room for a few minutes before saying anything. Bebo could tell she was angry so she waited to see exactly what she was angry about.
"Hes missing?" The man she had known growing up had been like a superhero. He left on missions and always came back. There wasnt a single time she remembered having to sweat out a mission because of news like this.
"Your father and all of his unit, yes."
"And they want you to go in there and get him out?"
"Its a matter of personnel and time, Annie, thats why I said yes. Tell me you would look at me the same if I refused to go when I know in my heart I could save him?"
"That isnt fair."
Bebo stood up and intercepted her as she went for another round of pacing. "Life is sometimes the most unfair game in town, my love, but theres one more thing I have to tell you."
"Theres more?" she dropped back on the bed and suddenly felt bone tired. "What?"
"There are only a few people alive today that know this, but for as long as your country has been in existence, your government has had a pact with Amazonia." Bebo sat next to her and held her hand for the courage to finish. "Not all the children born to us are girls, Annie, but the way of the Amazons is the way of women."
"If we have children, Id have to give up our sons?"
"Science is a wonderful thing, so if you didnt want to, wed have no sons, only daughters. But when Queen Bekka and her wife Laine ruled the island that option was not available to them. To them three children were born. My mother is the oldest, and because of that, she inherited the throne. Next though, came a son followed by another daughter, the Princess Sean."
"What happened to the boy?"
"Until he was twelve, he resided with his family then it was time to go off to school. When a male is born to one of our household, he is given the chance to follow whatever path he will find the most fulfilling. For those who wish to follow in the steps of our ancestors and become a warrior he is free to come here and serve in the US military where, because of our intensive training starting at an early age, they are given special assignments."
"Why are you wasting time telling me all this? When are you leaving?"
"Please, Annie, I wouldnt spend a minute talking to you when I could be holding you if it wasnt important."
"Im sorry," she leaned over and tried to bury herself in Bebos arms.
"Its okay and I dont mean to be longwinded but Im almost finished. My grandmothers son chose such a life of service. He came back to his family twenty five years ago to perform another service when his sister asked it of him."
"Audrey, Queen of the Amazons. She was joined and ready to start a family but she chose to carry an egg retrieved from Boden her Consort and fertilized by her brother. That little science project turned out to be me."
"Princess Bebo of Leon, daughter of Audrey and Boden, but also daughter of Arthur Leon. God, why didnt I put it together before now? Thats right, isnt it?"
"Yes, Captain Leon is my biological father and hes been a part of my life since I can remember. I cant leave him to die out there anymore than I could your father, so please dont ask me to." Bebo kissed the top of Annies head and felt better for being able to share that with her. "Philip tried to guilt me into going because of your father. He doesnt know the rest."
"Thank you, honey, for sharing it with me. I dont want you to go for selfish reasons but I understand why you have to." She moved closer until she was sitting in the taller womans lap. "Promise me youll come back to me."
"Annie, part of my asking you to join with me tonight is so youll have a place in my world no matter what happens to me. But please dont take that to mean I asked only for that reason. I love you and I couldnt go another minute without telling you."
The answer made her break out in sobs and Annie grabbed two fistfuls of hair. "No dammit, I want you to promise me youll come back to me. I dont give a damn about having a place to go if you die. If youre not there I wont ever feel that Ill fit in anywhere."
It was a risk since she didnt want to lie or give false hope, but Bebo looked her in the eye and said the words with as much conviction as she could. "I promise you Ill come back for you, love."
Three more hours of the remaining ten went by with Bebo meeting with her people and asking them to join her. Since this wasnt an official mission for the crown, she couldnt demand they follow her into the jungles of Conger Africa. That part had only taken ten minutes of explanation with Annie sitting in the back of the room dressed in her jeans and one of Bebos sweaters. The rest of the time the blonde had watched them pull out and pack the equipment and weapons theyd be bringing with them. She was a little concerned by the amount of what she considered to be rudimentary weapons, though she had never seen a more high tech or beautiful bow than the one Bebo placed on the top of her pack.
She stayed in the room but out of sight of the video monitor when Bebo called Amazonia and asked to conference with her parents. As important as the call was, Annie couldnt help but want them to come to the conclusion that she didnt want the princess to go. It was selfish and she didnt want to lose her father, but this was the happiest night of her life, but also the most painful. For a brief moment she thought of calling her own mother and asking if it was this hard to watch her father leave all those times hed gone off on missions.
"Mama, Im old enough to accept or reject offers as they are presented to me. Arthur is with them and Im not going to leave him out there for some asshole to crack his head open like a melon with a machete. I dont mean to be graphic but youve seen the reports just as well as I have. These idiots arent playing around."
"What about Annie? Doesnt she have a say in all this? Or did you not bother to tell her where youre going?" asked Audrey. She felt helpless being so far away.
"I asked her to join with me tonight and gave her a commitment bracelet. Im as sorry that you have to find out like this. Im just as sorry to have to share that kind of happy moment with this madness."
"Bebo, what about her parents?" asked Boden.
"As soon as I catch up with the general, mom, Ill make sure and follow protocol. Until then its between Annie and I, and I want you to be happy for us." The night already felt like a long nightmare except for the love in Annies eyes when shed asked her to marry her, so Bebo didnt appreciate the added stress from her parents.
The flat of Audreys hand could be seen on the screen as if she were trying to reach across the miles and touch her daughters face. "Of course were happy for you, sweetheart. Tell her we look forward to meeting her and welcoming her into our family."
Bebo looked to the sofa and smiled. Her girl was curled up and smiling back at her with the sweetest expression on her face. "Shes looking forward to meeting the two of you as well. Now, as much as I love talking to you, I have a girl to kiss and make promises to before I have to go."
"Remember your promise to me, Bebo," said Audrey with a sense of urgency.
"I remember, mama, and I made one even more important tonight. I promised Annie Id come back in one piece and ready to get married. I love you both." Bebo held up her hand in the sign of love, which was returned by the two older women on the screen.
"Be safe, sprout," finished Boden around the lump in her throat.
"They love you almost as much as I do," said Annie as she stood and stretched. "And please dont tell your mother I said that." She pointed a finger at Bebo and tried to look menacing. "Are you finished now?"
"Im all yours for the next five hours." Bebo stood as well and followed the woman leading her back upstairs. With the look on Annies face not one person had the courage to stop and ask or request anything of Bebo.
The petite blonde stripped off her sweater as soon as shed locked the door and removed her bra before turning and facing Bebo. "Before you go I want you to know why I want you to come back. I want to show you what you have to come home to." The jeans slid down her legs as Annie spoke in a low sexy voice her nervousness disappearing, replaced by a growing need to put her hands and mouth on Bebo.
With an extra sway in her hips, she moved closer to Bebo and started on the top button of her shirt. It was hard to ignore the hand moving slowly through her hair down to her neck, but Annie managed to get the garment on the floor. The belt was next and she didnt bother pulling it out of the loops, she just unfastened it and moved to the button. With a slow drop to the floor, Annie pulled both the pants and Bebos underwear down with her. Sitting on her feet she looked up at the most perfect body she had ever laid eyes on.
"Youre perfect," she said in awe.
"Hardly," Bebo reached down for her hand and pulled her up until their naked bodies came into contact for the first time. "You, on the other hand, are true perfection."
Before Bebo could take control of the situation, Annie pushed her back on the bed and started a slow crawl up the long body. Whenever she got to an interesting spot, the blonde would stop and drop a little kiss causing Bebo to really groan when she pulled up and straddled her middle. The royal could feel her soon to be lovers passion as it painted her abdomen. Annie was as beautiful as she had imagined as she sat there and moved her hands up to sweep her hair out of the way. Bebo enjoyed that Annie was a woman confident in her nakedness as her hands moved from her hair down to her chest.
Like offering a gift Annie cupped her hands under each of her breasts and looked into the deep blue eyes. "I want you to make love to me, honey." Annie then lowered her body until their breasts were pressed together. "I want you to teach me how to please you." She hoped Bebo didnt mind how soaked she was or that she was using the flat stomach to try and find some relief.
Bebos hands flattened on Annies back and moved down to her butt when Annie kissed her, coaxing the taller womans tongue into her mouth. As she went, Bebo had to remember that Annie had never done this before, but the rocking hips were eating into her calm reserve and she was fighting the urge to flip them over and ravish her smaller partner. "I dont have to teach you anything, love, you please me just by being here."
There was a fire burning in Annies groin and she wondered if Bebo was as excited. It was true she had never been with a woman but there were certain things she had wanted to experience and thought she would try them on Bebo. She moved her face down until she was eye level with a dark and puckered nipple. A little hesitant, Annie let her tongue drag across the tip, liking the sound she produced deep in Bebos chest. She realized the power she had over the tall and strong woman laying beneath her and Annie was enthralled as she continued her exploration. Her experiences in the arena of intimate matters had been to let Titus take control of what they did.
The hands that had been massaging her back moved to the blonde head as if to keep her in place but Annie wanted to see more of what made Bebo feel good. Pulling up a little, she was able to see the contours of Bebos body as she kept going down until she was nestled between her legs. Any nervousness disappeared as she looked at the glistening dark hair of Bebos sex. She ran her fingers through it slowly feeling the texture, liking the way the smooth lips felt and the fact that she was responsible for Bebos current and obvious state of arousal. Oral sex had not been something the petite woman had ever had an interest in or tried until right then. She could smell Bebos excitement and she wanted to quench it with her mouth.
For the whole time it took Annie to get to her final destination, Bebo had watched with a great amount of curiosity to see what she was going to do. From the first swipe of Annies tongue any questions were quickly answered and just as quickly Bebo lost control. It was slow and tentative at first as if Annie were tasting a fine wine, but when she found the hard bundle of desire she sucked it in and kept at it until Bebos hand tightened its grip on the blonde hair.
"Sweet goddess, Annie, please dont stop." If she had to narrow the feeling down to one word, Bebo could only come up with exquisite. Annie alternated the flat of her tongue with sucking the bundle, driving Bebo mad. The tall woman felt like this was the first time she had ever experience real pleasure.
The princess could feel the distinct tingling that turned the inside of her eyelids to a kaleidoscope of color and her heels dug into the mattress. Liking the response, Annie sucked harder and tried to stay in place as Bebos hips moved with her. The blonde felt like a woman knowledgeable in the arts of pleasure when Bebos body pulled as taunt as the bow Annie had seen earlier and just as quickly melted back into the soft sheets.
Knowing her advances werent going to be turned down, she straddled Bebo again and picked up one of the limp hands. "I want you to make me yours." She brought the long fingers to her lips and kissed every one of them before wrapping her hand around Bebos wrist so she could control its movement. "I want you to take a little of me with you so you remember what youre coming home to." With a desire she didnt know she possessed, Annie moved the hand to one breast then the other, liking the way Bebo squeezed when Annie stopped. "I want you to know that no matter what, I belong to you and no one else." She put Bebos hand on her hip and moved its twin to the other side. The blue eyes watched as Annie then took her own hand and ran it through her sex several times making sure that her fingers were coated in the wetness that being so close to Bebo and making love to her had produced.
Annie had her now, Bebo would have given her anything at that point, but there was only one thing she did want. She leaned forward again and painted Bebos mouth with her scent, offering the wet fingers for her to suck clean when she was finished. When the princess accepted the gift, Annie moved Bebos hand between her legs. "Take whats yours, lover."
Two long fingers slid in without difficulty and Annie started to rock and claim her pleasure feeling that Bebo wasnt in a hurry. When she started to feel the beginning of the orgasm, the walls around Bebos fingers clamped down trying to prolong the pleasure as much as possible. Annie kept her eyes open and looking into Bebos as long as she could.
"Let go for me, baby, Ive got you," said Bebo before she lost Annie to the sexual haze she was in and she shut her eyes. When the green orbs closed, Bebo flexed and raised her body just a little so she could suck in one of the pink nipples that had been driving her mad from the time Annie had taken her clothes off. She was sure the hands squeezing her shoulders were going to leave bruises, but she wanted Annie to do whatever felt good.
The spasms began and Bebo curled her fingers upward and sat up until their bodies were touching again and Annie was straddling her lap. To muffle the final scream, Annie moved one of her hands and bit down on Bebos shoulder. It felt like nothing she had ever experienced or could put into words. Just as the arousal started to fade, Bebo ran her thumb along her throbbing point of desire and it started all over again.
Lying draped over Bebo a short time later, tears mixed with laughter and Annie couldnt stop either one. Because she was laughing as well, Bebo let her get whatever she was going through out of her system before she bothered her with questions.
"Those were the best two orgasms of my life. Of course, I now see they are the only two orgasms of my life, but when I reached the promised land Im glad it was you who got me there," she told Bebo without lifting her head.
"Youll be visiting this promised land so much in the future, you may get bored with the trip." Bebo swept aside a bit of blonde hair and kissed Annies forehead.
"Maybe when Im about a hundred and fifteen and moving my hips like that becomes a problem. Until then Im expecting plenty of bedroom action once were married."
"Technically were not supposed to be getting any bedroom action until after our ceremony, but I wont tell if you dont." Even though Bebo said it in a teasing tone, it was technically true. To lie with Annie before joining with her would be seen by some as a sullying of her reputation, but there was no way Bebo wouldve denied either of them this connection. "Ill really have to marry you now."
Somewhere in the house a couple of doors closed bringing reality back into their haven. Annies tears started again and this time there was no laughter. "Please come back to me. Ill be lost without you now."
"On my word as a warrior, my love. There will never be another day that youll feel lost because well guide each other out of any darkness." Bebo held her tight and tried to be of comfort. "I love you."
Continued in Chapter 4
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