Please see Chapter 1 for disclaimers.
Audrey looked at Philips face as he gave them the news. It was done and they were coming home. He waited as Boden dropped into the chair behind the desk and wept with relief that their daughter had survived. To see such an open display of emotions from the usually stoic woman was a rarity and he turned away when the queen slipped into her consorts lap and just held her with the quiet strength Audrey was known for.
"Thank you for coming so soon and telling us, Philip. Bo and I appreciate your keeping us informed." The blonde hadnt moved from her partners lap but the tears had stopped and Bo had relaxed.
"There is just one other thing, highness." The amber color of his scotch seemed to mesmerize him when he kept his eyes glued to it and wouldnt look up.
"She isnt hurt is she?" Bodens voice sounded rough and scratchy as she asked the question. "Just spit it out."
"Its Arthur," having no choice Philip looked at the mans sister and watched as what he left unsaid sunk in. He was glad she was still on Bodens lap.
"What happened?" asked Bo. The trembling was starting in Audreys body, she could feel it and before long they would turn into sobs.
"The last message we got from the Lincoln was that he died in the last battle they faced before they made it out. Its still early and none of the team extracted has been debriefed yet so thats all I know. Im so sorry, Audrey."
The queen didnt doubt his sincerity but it didnt ease the pain any. Not being able to ever talk to him again made her regret having so much time go by without seeing him. They had both been so busy with their duties and responsibilities that it had been over six months since they had last seen each other, but at least they had spoken almost every week no matter where hed been stationed over the years. Arthur had been her protector until Boden had come along and taken the job from him, but he still liked to check on her and Sean to make sure they were doing all right.
Audrey nodded at his words and started to cry. She hoped he hadnt suffered and that whatever had happened wouldnt haunt Bebo for the rest of her life. About the time her tears started in earnest, Annie walked into the house from work. The limousine parked out front was one that she recognized as Philips and she increased her pace, walking in on them without being invited, her heart already beating faster.
Seeing Audrey sitting on Bodens lap and both of them crying made her look to Philip as if the answer as to why they were upset was written on his face. The grim set of his mouth made Annie think that he had come to bring bad news of the mission or worse of something happening to Bebo.
Philip saw how pale and frightened she looked so he spoke before she had a chance to. "Shes fine, Miss Paddio, you have to believe me."
"Whats wrong?" Annie leaned against the closed door for support, trying to stay on her feet. The room was starting to spin and she wanted to just run away and not hear any bad news.
"I just had to deliver some bad news about Captain Leon, but Bebos fine and on her way home. She should be here in a couple of days. Youll also be happy to know that your father and his men will be coming with her. Your father sustained some injuries but hell be fine and make a full recovery."
"What happened to Arthur?" Her voice was shaky and she stayed against the door afraid that her knees would still give out if she took a step into the room.
With the shock of the news, Bo and Audrey had forgotten that Annie knew exactly who Arthur was and what he meant to their family. "He was killed as they were getting out, Annie." Bo didnt move as she delivered the news not wanting to disturb Audrey anymore than she had to.
It was a shock, but in a way she almost collapsed from relief. She felt terrible, her heart going out to them while another part of Annies heart felt horrible for the thoughts running through her head. She couldnt help but think that if one had to be sacrificed to get them all out safely, she was glad it wasnt Bebo who had to pay the price. Her greatest pain was for her lover. She wondered how Bebo was holding up and if shed been there when her father had died. With a deep steadying breath she pushed away from the door and went to kneel in front of where Audrey was sitting with Bo.
"Im so sorry, highness, for your loss. I met Arthur on numerous occasions and he seemed like a nice man." As always in all these times, the words sounded hollow and completely inadequate, but Annie was compelled to say them anyway. "Is there anyone youd like me to call for you?"
"Thank you, Annie, but well take care of everything." Boden smiled and patted the soft hand lying on her wifes arm. Once again she thanked the gods that Bebo had found someone so like her mother to love. Like Audrey, Annie was a sensitive, touchy kind of person who didnt hesitate to offer comfort in any situation. "Philip, thank you again for coming. Audrey and I will want to take part in the arrangements as soon as its possible."
"Ill leave you for now and call when I have a definite arrival time. The transport plane that brought them down there was on standby so it shouldnt take too much time." He again expressed his sympathies then bowed to the queen, her consort and finally to Annie before turning to leave.
When it was just the three of them Audrey looked at her wife and saw her jaw was starting to tremble as well. Bo and Arthur had shared a special relationship from the time they were children because of the avenue of service they had chosen for the nation. He was as much Bodens brother as he was hers, in spirit anyway. "Why him?" Audrey asked plaintively.
"Love, please dont torture yourself with questions that have no real answers. If I knew your brother at all, he died doing something he believed in for someone he cared about. We both know how he felt about Bebo, and if she was in danger, Im sure he did what he thought was best."
"But how do you know?"
"Because I would do the same in the same situation for the ones I love. Id gladly lay down my life if it meant keeping you and Bebo whole." Boden cupped her cheek and smiled through her tears.
"Id rather you fight to stay alive for all of us." Audrey said softly, wiping away a tear, then kissing her partner gently. "I could never go on if I lost you."
Annie followed Bo as she carried Audrey to the garden at the back of the house. It was getting close to sunset and they were just planning to sit and enjoy the fading light amongst the trees. They sat in the same spot that Annie and Bebo had enjoyed their picnic the day she had come to visit. She could still remember the chase in the trees between father and daughter, and how much they seemed to enjoy each others company. Perhaps with time she and her own father could come to some understanding so their time together wouldnt always end in some lecture on how she should live her life.
"Ive lived in this city for a long time but I dont ever remember feeling as at peace as I do in this spot," said Annie.
Boden smiled at her and continued to run her fingers through Audreys hair as her wifes head rested in her lap. "Did Bebo tell you about this garden?"
"I came here one day to talk to her after wed had our first fight, I guess you could call it, and she was running around here like a banshee through the trees with Arthur hot on her tail. In all my life I dont ever have a memory like that one with my father. They looked like they were having so much fun, almost like children at play." A sad expression came over her face and then Annie seemed to come back to the present and realize what she was saying. This wasnt the time for her remorse and pain from her past; this was a time to comfort Audrey and Bo for their loss. "Im sorry, that was a long winded way to answer your question. She told me a little bit, but then we moved on to different subjects."
"Dont worry about it, Annie. We all have things in our lives that bring us some bit of sorrow, but then thats why we have families who will listen when its needed. Youre part of our family now and I hope you like to play, because if you dont youll be absolutely miserable living with the sprout."
Audrey finally opened her eyes and looked up at the woman lavishing so much attention on her and snorted. "Just Bebo, oh queen of playtime?"
"I didnt say I didnt like to play, love. The reason I passed that on to my kid is playing keeps you young," teased Bo as she stopped combing the blonde locks and pinched the tip of Audreys nose.
"I love you, every bit of you."
The declaration prompted Bo to lean down and kiss her gently and with as much love as she could put into the gesture. "And I love you, always."
Annie looked on and suddenly couldnt wait for Bebo to be home, if only to be able to look into her eyes and tell her the same thing. "I should leave the two of you alone for awhile."
"Please, Annie, dont go. Its just that every so often I cant hold it inside and I have to tell my big bear how I feel about her. When you live on an island full of women who think shes the sexiest thing going, you have to stake your claim when you can, you know?" Audreys tease got her another pinch to the end of her nose and Annie laughed.
"Lets see if we can get back on track here before I have to put you over my knee," Bo said, the last part meant for Audrey. "Annie, I guess you can say you feel at peace here because in your blood, youre an Amazon and your family has held within our tribe some of the most prominent jobs to be had. Every tree and living thing in this garden was born in the forests of Argase."
"Bebo mentioned that place in the story she told of Larissa. She said thats where the goddess Artemis spends most of her time on earth, or so think the Amazons."
"Bo and Bebo are right. Im not a warrior but theres something about that place that pulls at your soul and brings you peace. Sort of like an old favorite coat on a cold day. Theres one tree in particular that is my favorite. I was sitting there one day reading a book while waiting for my mother and I looked up and found this big lug." Audrey looked up and smiled at her warrior. The talking and the remembering of good times was helping her put the pain for Arthur away for a little while. She knew it would always be with her but she had her good memories of him and her family to get her through the worst of it. "Bebo told me to ask you about that day. Will you tell me?"
"Love, how many times have you told that story?"
"It doesnt matter how many times Ive told it, I want to hear you tell it."
Boden smiled down at her, her love reflected in her eyes. "Then you shall, my love." She took a deep breath and her eyes seemed to look into the distance as if seeing the past she spoke of. "I sing of the beautiful Princess Audrey " started Boden.
It was a rare day off for them and the three friends were running through the trees blowing off a little steam after their school finals. Their training as warriors required every bit as much classroom time as any other profession a young woman could choose. All that was at an end though, and they were finished with school and ready to start contributing to the nation. The thrill of finally finishing cadet training and going on active duty had them pumped up and full of energy they needed to burn off.
"Do you think theyll let us stay together?" asked Kip. Along with Bear and Boden, she had finished tops in their class and was waiting for their first assignment.
"We just have to ask for the same details down the line, so lets compare lists later," answered Bo. "With my luck theyll post me in the mess hall or something just as stupid."
"Yeah right, like thats going to happen to the greatest thing to come out of this academy since Artemis came down from Mount Olympus and founded it," teased Bear.
"Cut it out, feathers for brains, I get enough of that from the others."
The teasing insult prompted Bear to stand up on the branch and start toward Boden with mischief in her eyes and the chase was on. They moved through the forest at an almost unsafe speed laughing the whole way until Bo moved to the ground to find a good ambush spot. She was running along the grass when she caught sight of something that wasnt supposed to be there and she stopped dead in surprise, the game forgotten. Leaving herself so exposed gave Bear an opportunity most didnt get when it came to Bo. From her perch, Bear shot an arrow well above Bodens head to the tree in front of her not seeing what the tall woman was looking at.
The young blonde woman closed her book and looked up to see what had thumped into the tree above her and felt her heart drop at the thought of it coming any lower. Then her eyes turned to the woman standing there in traditional warrior leathers worn in the summers to help with the heat. She seemed to be frozen in place and just staring at her.
For Boden it was a moment that would change her life. From the first sight of Audrey, all the plans shed just been discussing with her friends and the future she and her family had talked about became meaningless. What she wanted was to stand and fan this woman all day if thats what it took to stand at her side forever.
With a shake of her head Boden moved closer. "Are you all right, miss?"
"Is it illegal to read here or something?" The question was as teasing as the beautiful smile that accompanied it.
"No, its just that my idiotic friend didnt see you standing there. She was actually shooting at me."
"Do you have some effect on people that even though theyre your friends they shoot pointy things at you?"
Boden cocked her head to the side and gave the girl a big smile. She liked the sense of humor she had and loved the sound of her voice. "I dont think so, but you never know. The effect I have on people I mean."
"Whats your name, warrior?"
"Im Boden of Argase, miss. And you?" Boden had moved close enough to see that the girls eyes were green. A shade of green so beautiful she had trouble looking away from the girls face.
Audrey held her hand up in a silent request for Boden to help her up. In a way it was to see if this womans touch affected her as much as just looking at her. Once on her feet, she continued to study the thick dark hair and blue eyes as she continued to hold on to the hand Boden had offered. "Im Audrey of Leon."
"I saw her and my life changed forever. She was beautiful, intelligent and a bit of a smart-ass, but I wouldnt want her any other way," finished Bo.
"You really did change all your plans for me?" Bebo had been right, she should have asked to hear this story from Bo a long time ago.
"Any good strategist will tell you that plans are only good if they are flexible and can be changed. What does it matter now? Ive lived my life with you up to now doing what makes me happy, but more importantly living with the woman I love."
"What was the first choice of assignments on your list?"
"Combat, but then so was Laines before she met your mother."
"Did you ever regret not going with your first choice?" Audrey looked at her and saw nothing close to regret but she had to be sure.
"I have only one regret about that whole day," Boden began as she pressed her palm up against her wifes face. "And it was that I only got to kiss your hand when I figured out who you were."
"Dont forget the part where you dropped to your knees to do the kissing," joked Audrey.
Annie loved watching these people together and hoped that a lot of Boden had rubbed off on her daughter. "I remember that part and when you told me to get up because you never wanted to see me on my knees again, not for anyone."
"Yeah well, Ive changed my mind about that one, but only when it comes to me. I rather enjoy you on your knees now." Audrey sat up and winked at Annie before kissing her wife again. "Thank you for that story, sweetheart. It made me feel good enough to go and do my duty. Want to sit with me while I call mama?"
"You got it, and if you want, Ill break the news to Laine."
"Break what news?" asked Reggie.
"You two go on and Ill tell Reggie and mom. Thank you for everything." Annie stood with them as Audrey and Bo prepared to leave.
Audrey hugged the young woman then stepped aside so Bo could as well. "No need to thank us, princess, its our pleasure to have you here," said Bo before she stepped back to Audreys side.
"What did you call me?" she asked, her voice suddenly sounding as weak as her knees felt.
"Princess Annie. See, along with not having to drop to your knees for anyone, you get a nifty new title when you marry into this family," answered Boden.
"Thats the only perk?" asked Audrey.
"No, love, the best perk is you get the girl." With that Boden swept Audrey into her arms and carried her to the house. Annie stood dumbfounded watching them leave, only turning when they were gone and Reggies snickers had turned to a genuine laugh.
"Are you okay?" Max was sitting next to Bebo on the plane and she was starting to get worried that the princess had hardly spoken after walking out of the jungle.
"Why do you suppose he did that?" She spoke softly, with her head turned toward the window, her eyes not really focused on anything. "He just stepped in front of that damned arrow like there was no other choice."
"Did you see that one like you did the second one she shot at you?"
Bebo turned away from the window and looked at her closest friend. "No," it came out in a harsh whisper and her eyes filled with tears.
During the fight with Niazia and her men there wasnt time to think about what had happened to Arthur, but then it was over and they were free to go. The rain had washed the blood off his chest and he looked like he was sleeping against the tree where shed left him, but he wasnt. Arthur had died for the people he had loved most in his life, especially Bebo. His daughter knew it was more that that though, as much as it would hurt her mothers to hear of his death she couldnt begin to imagine the devastation that they would have gone through if it had been her.
As if reading her mind Max put her hand over Bebos and spoke from the heart. "I know this maybe isnt the time you want to hear this because it sounds like I wished the death of someone else for the life of my friend, but Arthur knew what he was doing. As big and tough as Boden is, and as strong of will and mind as your mother is, they would have died along with you after the news had reached them. Arthur was a brother to them both, but we both know what you mean to the queen and her consort. With that instant selfless act, he saved all three of you. And then think of Annie."
"You dont think its wrong to think that? That its wrong to find something good in his dying?"
"What I think would be wrong would be for you to throw away the opportunity he gave you. Arthur gave both your mothers the means to have a child, buddy, but in the end it was their love and protection that raised you. I think by going home and marrying your girl and giving your mothers plenty of grandchildren to spoil is how you repay him for his gifts all of them."
"Thanks, Max. You know, he said kind of the same thing right before he died. He told me it was his honor to sacrifice the one for the good of his child."
"Then dont let his sacrifice be in vain, my friend."
Junis stepped up and waited to be acknowledged by the young women sitting together. They had just left their first refueling stop and were now really on their way home. "Hey, Junis, you look good," Bebo remarked. They had all had the opportunity to take showers at the base at Jacolla before boarding and it had looked like a pound of jungle dirt had drained off each body when they were done.
"Can I talk to you for just a minute?"
"Sure have a seat. Max, you dont mind do you?" Bebo squeezed the hand in hers in thanks. "Come back when were done if you want." She then looked to the man standing in the aisle of the plane. "What can I do for you, general?"
"Please, you saved my ass and those of my soldiers, you call me Junis." He sat down and unlike Max; Junis took up the whole seat. The officer from Tupelo Mississippi wasnt overweight, he was just big.
Bebo looked at the lowered head and the way he had his hands pressed together on his lap and waited to see what was on his mind. Whatever it was, it seemed to be important for him to get his thoughts in order before he started talking. Not being a generally chatty person, the princess sat in a comfortable silence willing to give him whatever time he needed.
"I may be way out of line here, highness " he started, not really knowing how to start his story.
"Junis, I dont mean to interrupt, but I want you to know something before you begin." He looked up at her and she noticed the big green eyes that were so full of life. "What we went through back there made us friends, in my opinion anyway, so you can tell me anything you please and I promise Ill listen. The other thing is friends dont call friends highness, okay?"
"Youre a lot like him you know?"
"Like who?" The air in her lungs felt like it had gotten trapped and Bebo couldnt exhale for a long minute, her words faint, as though she had gotten the wind knocked out of her.
"Thats what I meant by being out of line before. You remind me of Arthur and how he was around people. Not a lot of people know this, but we went through boot camp together, then officers school. After all those years of hearing his jokes and the way he cut up with people, I dont think anyone really knew the real man."
"He was pretty much what you saw. Arthur was never a really complicated man, but dont take that to mean he was simple. He was a great man and a good soldier."
"Im not doing a very good job here," he paused and rubbed the short hair along the top of his head. "What I meant was, these guys are always going on about their girls and their kids but he never did that. It just made me wonder about him is all, and one night when we were still green behind the ears and they put us in a place kinda like we just left, he and I had a long talk. He told me about growing up in a place so beautiful it made him ache from missing it, and he talked about having two sisters and how much he loved them. I listened to him and I thought to myself what a fag this guy was."
"Excuse me?" She bristled, ready to defend Arthurs memory.
"I grew up in Mississippi, Bebo, during the sixties I might add. Guys spouting poetic about where they were born wasnt a common occurrence, and if they did, they werent real highly thought of. Arthur though, he showed me a different way of thinking and made me shed a lot of the ignorance Id carried around with me for a long time. He was like a crusader for opening peoples eyes to seeing why people are the way they are and how sometimes it isnt a choice. He also showed me that it really didnt matter among friends."
Bebo looked back to where Patrick and Brian laid close together with a couple of nurses watching over them. "Sometimes even crusaders fail."
"No ones perfect, youre right. It worked with me and it made me so happy to meet you that first day at the Pentagon."
Blue eyes bore into him wanting Junis to get to the point. "Why is that?"
"This was a guess on my part, but I saw it in his face. The way he looked at you wasnt the look of a man trying to figure out how to get a date or score some time with a pretty girl. It was different, and he looked so happy."
"Youre very observant."
"Nah, Im just a redneck who gets lucky now and again. I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for what you did for us and to tell you Im so sorry for your loss. Arthur was my friend and I wanted you to know, and Im glad to have met the person who I now see was the pride of his heart." He put his hand out not being able to say anything else because of the lump in his throat.
"Thank you, Junis, he was lucky to have someone like you looking out for him all this time, and just for the record, I was really proud of him too."
They sat together in silence for a while longer giving Junis the time he needed to compose himself and finish what he had to say. "You may know this already but he met someone about a year ago that he seemed really fond of. I saw them together a couple of times and he introduced me one day when we ran into each other in a restaurant close to where he lived. I didnt ask and he didnt tell, but that guy was someone special to him I had a feeling. If you dont mind, Id like to give you his name so you could call him. He should hear about what happened from someone who cared about Arthur. Because of where we were and what we were doing the Army will never acknowledge this mission and anyone we lost on it. I dont want him sitting around waiting for a phone call thatll never come, wondering what he did wrong to drive Arthur away."
The shock stunned her into opening and closing her mouth a couple of times before anything came out. In all their talks together, Arthur had never mentioned seeing anyone, not that he had to, but it would have been nice to have seen them together. Now one of his final requests made sense to her. "How long ago did you say this started?"
"The first time I saw them together was about a year ago. Im sorry if Im way out of line here." He didnt know it, but Junis had given her another piece of a puzzle Bebo would soon have to sort out.
"Im sorry, Junis, Im not asking you that because youre out of line, its just that I didnt know, but it makes me happy to know now. Its always a good thing to know the people you love are loved in return." She turned in her seat and hugged him with affection. "Thanks for taking the chance and talking to me, I really appreciate it. Dont take this the wrong way, but youve come along way in the waxing poetic arena yourself."
"Why do you think my wife was so fond of Arthur and all the stuff he talked to me about over the years?" He returned her embrace and smiled. "Im beginning to learn that women really love guys who can show their sensitive side."
"Hey it worked for me," teased Bebo.
"It sure did. You take care of Annie or the guys and Ill kick your butt good, lady. Her father takes some getting used to, but his girls are really sweet. Im just glad she found someone whos going to appreciate just how wonderful she is."
"The appreciation of her is a guarantee, the getting used to her father well thats going to take some time."
Patrick turned his head and wondered what all the laughing was about. The closer they got to Washington, the more strongly he felt that his life as he knew it was coming to an end. Everything hed tried so hard to keep hidden was about to come back to haunt him.
The eastern seaboard came into sight out of the window Bebo had her head resting against and it finally sank in that she would be seeing Annie before too long. A question formed in her heart and she wondered if the blonde would feel the same way about her once she heard all the things she had done to get out of there alive. Most importantly, she wondered if she could still love someone who had failed her own father and caused his death?
That too was starting to sink in, the fact he was gone. Arthur deserved so many more years, especially if he had found someone to love. Blue eyes looked to the paper in her hand and the name Junis had written down for her. Greg Petkus. The first name, though common, had been the same one Arthur had uttered before he died. The last name though, was not a very common one and the princess already doubted it was a coincidence that it happened to be Emeldas last name as well. Maybe it was a way of the priestess letting her know things would eventually be all right and the pain of the last week would fade.
Wisps of clouds and the lights of whatever city they were flying over blurred as Bebo tried to piece together what she knew of Emeldas life outside of what she knew for fact. For as long as she had memory, the wise woman had been the head of the temple close to the palace. Aside from that, the tired royal realized she didnt know much. Thats rather selfish of me, to never have asked about her family, she thought. Whenever they had sat and talked together, the conversations had always been about the princess and her life.
"Max, do you know anything about Emeldas family?"
The guard opened her eyes and rotated her head to the side. "Whered that question come from?"
"It boggles the mind what pops into my head at times, but I just now thought I have no clue how to answer that except for her job description."
"Then youd do a better job than me if anyone asks. My mom said she spends most of her time with her duties at the temple and doesnt really know what she does outside that. If anyone in the kingdom knows anything about her it would be you since mom also said shes never seen her take more time than she does with you, not even with your mother Audrey when she was going through her training. Either youre a slow learner or she really likes you." Max paused a second and punched her friend in her arm. "I go with the slow witted part of that equation."
"Youre such a big help. Keep it up and Ill have you assigned to sifting sand in Grazel when we get home."
Before the two friends could trade anymore barbs, a flight crewmember came through the aisle telling everyone to buckle up and to make sure they had their patients strapped down tight for the landing. They were approaching the base and they were a couple of hours ahead of schedule.
When the man went back to the cabin, Bebo unbuckled her seatbelt and moved to where Patrick and Brian were lying. "You feeling all right, big guy?"
Brian looked like he was resting comfortably after the medics had given him a good dose of painkillers, but his eyes were still warm when they looked up at her. "Ill bet Im flying higher than this bucket."
"Yeah well, its better than feeling like you got hit in the chest by a big tree. I want you to hang in there and I promise Ill come by soon to see you." She put her hand in his and squeezed his fingers not wanting him to move if he didnt have to.
"Thanks for everything, Bebo. You may be a girl who can kick my ass, but I want my daddy to meet you anyway. Hell be glad to shake the hand of the person responsible for bringing me home."
"Anytime, lieutenant. It would be my honor." With one more squeeze she turned and looked down on Patrick.
"I know everyone else is grateful but it still doesnt mean I owe you anything, especially my blessings. You think long and hard about what I said to you about Titus and my daughter." He stopped talking when Brian turned his head and gave him a disgusted look. "Just go back to where you belong, girl, and leave me and my family alone."
"Can I ask you something first? I promise to leave you alone after that." Patrick expelled a long breath and nodded his head. "What happened to you to make you this way? Im just curious since thats a whole lot of hate you carry around with you all the time. Doesnt it make you tired?"
"Fuck off, highness. You and your kind think youre so much better than men, well you arent."
There was no use in trying to reach him, she saw that and hoped Annie was willing to see that as well and accept it. "Good luck to you, general. Ill leave you to your rest."
"Youll leave a lot more than that before Im done."
Philip was standing next to his car when the plane came to a stop. The crew started unloading equipment right away as the stairs were brought along side for the passengers. He was anxious to get a full report of what had happened so he could get back to his boss with the news of a successful mission. The Amazons came off first and relief washed through him when he saw Bebo safe and moving toward him. That much he knew already but it never hurt to see living proof instead of just reading it in some report.
"More like welcome back. My home is still a little bit further away and if youll excuse me thats where Im headed." She kept walking to the hanger where they had left their vehicles.
"We have to debrief you before you can go, Bebo, you know that."
She stopped and slowly turned around. "What I know is, you asked me for a favor, and even though it cost me more than Id ever be willing to pay, I did it. Im done and Im going home."
"Im sorry about what happened, but you know procedure as well as I do. We have to get the information while its still fresh in you head."
"I say this with the greatest of respect, Philip, but fuck you and fuck procedure." Behind the Secretary they were unloading Patricks gurney. "Take the information from him since Im sure his story will vary from mine anyway and your people will take it for the truth." The grieving receded a little and the anger came pouring out. "If you want to keep me youre going to have to arrest me, and good luck to you ever getting me to do another thing for you if thats the way you decide to play it."
"Bebo, were friends, theres no reason for this."
"Youre right, and as my friend you shouldve known better." The guards followed her without saying a word and threw their gear in the back of the SUV glad they were getting out of there.
The house was dark downstairs when they pulled in, but Denise was waiting for them in the foyer when Bebo opened the door and stepped in. "Welcome back, highness."
"Its good to be here," said Bebo accepting the hug the woman offered.
"Would you like me to go up and wake the Lady Paddio for you?"
"Id rather do that myself thank you, since thats all Ive thought about for days now." Bebo left them all smiling as she took the steps two at a time up to her bedroom.
"Annie and the queen may never forgive Philip for not telling them you all were coming home tonight." Denise went out with a few other staff members to help unload all the gear from the vehicles.
"I think he thought he would be forgiven for the good surprise or he figured wed be another day or so telling them what happened. Ill give him the benefit of the doubt and go with the surprise choice," said Bear.
Upstairs, the door opened silently and Bebo slipped in and closed it just as quietly behind her. Annie was sleeping curled up on her side with her hands under her chin. The tall woman wanted nothing more than to go over there and kiss her but she was glued in place just studying the beautiful relaxed features. All of the ugliness shed faced in the days before that moment receded to the back of her mind as she looked at the woman she loved.
With careful steps she finally moved closer and started to strip away her clothes. Seeing that Annie was wearing a nightgown, Bebo got out a pair of pajama bottoms and a fresh t-shirt. Dressed, she got in bed and pressed herself to Annies back then buried her face in the blonde hair that smelled like mint. It was the nicest reward she could have hoped for, to come home to Annie and feel her at last.
"Oh God, Bebo," whispered Annie, in the grip of another dream of her missing partner.
"Im right here, love." Bebo pulled her closer and kissed the back of her neck. She could tell the woman was still sleeping but it pleased her to no end that the dream she was having was of her. "You dream away and Ill be here to look over you for the rest of time."
The soft voice at the edges of her consciousness didnt match the seductive words from her dream lover and Annie struggled to get her eyes open. When she did, she was again disappointed when her first thoughts were that Reggie had come back to keep her company. "Could you back it up and give me some room here," she said in a gruff voice. She didnt mind her sister sleeping with her but the bed was more than big enough.
"Okay, but I thought youd be happy to see me." Bebo watched the shoulders hitch together in surprise before Annie rolled over and looked at her. "Does this mean the honeymoons over before it really got started?"
"Youre home!" She got partly tangled in the sheet and her gown but she threw herself into the tall womans arms and started crying.
"Its okay, love, Im here and Im not going anywhere for awhile to come." She pulled back the blonde head and kissed Annie hello, tasting the salt of her tears as she did.
There would be time later to talk about everything but the princess wanted to savor this moment for all that it was. She pulled Annie closer until the petite woman was lying on top of her so that she could enjoy every inch of her. For her part, Annie pulled her closer by sinking her hands into the sides of Bebos hair not wanting her to break the kiss.
When breathing became necessary, the blonde pulled away and looked down on the subject of her longing. "I love you and Ive missed you so much."
"Its good to be missed, but its so much nicer to be home. I just thank the goddess youre here."
Annie pulled up further and started to run her hands over Bebos body looking for any type of injuries. "Are you all right?"
"I promised you in one piece and thats what I delivered. Tomorrow, after Ive kissed you as many times as Ive thought about it since I left, you can go visit my second promise to you. Your fathers been transferred to Bethesda for his injuries, but dont worry, hell be fine after some time to heal." She pulled Annie back down and rolled them over. "I love you so much, Annie," the low voice whispered before Bebos lips reclaimed Annies.
Big hands did their own mapping and Bebo tried to tamp down her excitement wanting to slowly reacquaint herself with the body she was sure shed never get enough of. "Wait," said Annie. Thinking her advances werent what Annie wanted, Bebo rolled over and moved away from her. "No, honey, I just want to take this off." She sat up and drew the nightgown up and over her head. "Did you lock the door?" The question got her a nod of the dark head and a smile. "Good."
Annie moved and knelt next to Bebo on the bed and pulled the blankets back. With sure fingers she pulled the drawstring of the royals pants and loosened them. "I know we have plenty to talk about, but tonight can we make it just about you and me?"
A quick pull and Bebos shirt hit the floor and she lifted her butt to get the pants off. "I didnt want you to think I just want you for your body."
The laugh sounded sultry even to Annies own ears as she moved to reclaim her spot on Bebo. "Right this second I want you to want me for whatever reason you want, just as long as you want me." She lowered her head and licked the puckered nipple with a slow wet tongue liking the moan it garnered in return. "Ive been dreaming of you ever since you left this bed all those lonely nights ago." Annie pushed her thigh between Bebos and felt the first stirrings of passion building in her body when the hard muscled appendage pressed against her center as Bebo mirrored her actions.
"What did you dream about?" asked Bebo. She rolled them over again but held most of her weight up so she could look down into the green eyes.
"I dreamed of you over me like this making love to me, taking me places only you know how to find." It was getting harder to string words together as Bebo pressed into her with more pressure. The dream had already made her wet, and she was now starting to paint Bebos thigh. With one hand pressed flat on the bed next to the blonde head, Bebo lowered the other one until her fingers found the core of Annies passion. "Right there, baby."
The bundle seemed to grow under Bebos fingers and she took her time wetting her fingers before she dipped into Annies center. Two small hands grabbed her butt and pulled her closer as Bebo started to go in. "I love you," the princess whispered before she surrendered to Annies body. With her fingers buried inside of her lover, and her thumb applying the right pressure to the hard bundle of want, Bebo ground into the thigh between her legs and followed Annie to the release they both needed.
It came sooner than they both planned but neither of them could help it. As the tremors took over Annie moved her hands to Bebos back and tried to push her down so she could feel all of her. The moaning in her ear and the way their bodies moved so in tune with each other intensified the feeling at the end as the orgasm made the walls of her sex clamp together trying to hold the fingers in place.
When they were both spent, Bebo leaned down and kissed her long and soft, as Annie held her hand by the wrist to keep it in place. "No, I dont want you to move it yet. Let me just enjoy the fact youre home."
"Im glad to be here, especially with you."
The talk shed had with Boden that day in the garden came back to Annie when she heard the want in Bebos voice. It wasnt a need for more sex, but for the intimacy that can only be found with the person you loved. She allowed Bebo to roll onto her back and reclaim her hand, wanting to be able to cuddle up next to her.
Annie draped her leg over the lower part of Bebos body and looked at the beautiful face that looked tired. "Can I tell you something?"
"Anything but goodbye."
"Goodbye will never be a word thatll exist between us, love, dont worry about that. I just wanted you to know that I realize what a tough time you had out there and you maybe faced things you werent prepared for up here," she tapped her finger to the tall womans temple. "Or in here," she moved her hand and placed it over Bebos heart. "If you want to talk about it and need help trying to find peace, Im here. Ill listen, Ill hold you, and Ill love you until you feel better."
She pressed a kiss to the top of Bebos head and tried to fight back the tears. "I know, love, and Im so sorry. I was looking forward to getting to know him better."
"He died to save me," the sobs came and Bebo could do nothing to stop them. "He he said that I had a girl waiting at home for me."
Annie was sure this show of emotions was the first Bebo had allowed herself since it happened and she just held her as tight as she could and rocked her. "He was right, and I owe him my own life for the price he paid. Its a debt I can never repay, because if Id lost you, I dont know what I would have done."
"I shouldve seen it coming though. I shouldve been able to save him."
"Honey, look at me." She moved her hands to cup Bebos cheeks and held her face so that shed have to focus on her. "Sometimes things happen for their own set of reasons and we can question them until we are old and gray but it doesnt make the answers come any easier. If you want to know what I think, I think you did save him."
"Hes dead, didnt you hear me?"
"If whatever he saved you from had killed you, how do you think that wouldve affected him? How do you think he wouldve gone on knowing he did nothing?" The question wasnt fair but Annie wanted her to see the truth and let go of the guilt before it became a burden too great for even Bebos shoulders to bear. "He loved you and he wanted you to have a life. A life that Im so glad is still here so I can share it. Grieve for the man he was, love, but dont step into the grave with him when he gave you the opportunity to go on."
"Bear told me the same thing on the way back."
The tears were still falling but they had slowed and Annie smiled. "Then youre lucky to have such wise women at your side. I wont lie to you and tell you the pain will be easy to get over, but Ill be here with you to help you see that it will eventually fade. Tomorrow well even light a candle in his honor to Artemis, at the small altar in the garden."
"Who told you about that?" They both relaxed and enjoyed the feel of skin touching skin when Annie lowered her head and rested it on Bebos shoulder. "Did the girls in the house give you a couple of Amazon lessons when I left?"
"Actually your mothers and mine did a really good job of showing Reggie and me the ropes."
The warm glow from their lovemaking dissipated and Bebo looked at Annies face to see if she was kidding. "My mothers are here?"
"Is that a problem? I thought you liked them?" Annie ran her hand over Bebos chest trying to get her to relax again.
"I love them both but Boden would kick my ass if she found me in here with you. Laine and Bekka made her suffer through months of chaperones before she got to even see my mothers navel, so shes a stickler for the rules of courtship."
"That was then, honey, and this is now. I bet your mom knows the worlds a different place."
"You dont understand. She figures if she made it through, then so can everyone else."
"Well you can forget it, you arent going anywhere tonight or any other night as long as were in the same house."
"Annie, its not a matter of not wanting you, the way I want you should be more than apparent by now. Its that I dont want other people thinking less of you because I cant control myself. Though their not being here before wasnt an excuse, I shouldve known better."
The blonde moved so that she was lying over Bebo again and started to run her fingers along the strong jaw. "Then why did you?" Without stopping the movement of her fingers, Annie moved her thigh between Bebos again.
"Because I could no more resist you than I could stop breathing." The urge to make love to the petite woman was starting again. "I dont think the day will ever come that I could."
"Good answer, warrior mine."
The moonlight streamed through the window and the young love grew stronger as the bond between Bebo and Annie strengthened through their passion. As Emelda had foretold, the princess had found her path and her strength for the future. Now it was time to face what needed to be done to fulfill the rest of the vision.
Bebo kissed Annies hand and left her at the door of the dining room. The audience shed requested with Doris had been granted and the woman was waiting for her in the garden. They had enjoyed their reunion well into the morning, stopping to talk about what had happened while they were apart. It came as a shock to Bebo that Dothan Cyr, a woman she had heard mentioned before, was actually Doris Paddio. In the end it was a pleasant surprise that would make her life much easier.
Before she got two feet away from her, Annie pulled her back by her belt and pressed up against her back. "No matter what, youre marrying me right?"
"Theyll have to club me over the head and lock me away somewhere for that not to happen. Dont worry, sweetheart. Like I told you last night, I have to do this, but because your mother is an Amazon by birth, its her permission I have to get." Bebo turned around and kissed the woman as further assurance. "I love you."
"Ahem," Kip cleared her throat to pull them apart. "Highness, Lady Dothan is waiting." Without discussion the royal guard had been assigned to Annie that morning after they had stepped out of the bedroom. The fact it was her mothers personal guard assured Bebo that it was lucky they had shared the night they had and Kip hadnt drug her out by the hair before she got anywhere near her betrothed.
"Thank you, captain." Bebo moved back a respectable distance and kissed Annies hand again before walking away.
The forlorn looking blonde sat looking up at the sky as Bebo approached. It had surprised her that Doris hadnt rushed to Patricks side, but then she had asked to speak with Bebo before she left. "Good morning, Mrs. Paddio."
"Highness, Im sorry I didnt hear you coming," Doris jumped up and bowed.
"Please sit and please call me Bebo. I know we have a few things to discuss between us but Id like for us to be friends." The brunette waved to Doris chair and smiled. "Can I pour you more tea?"
Doris nodded her head and took a seat. "Im sorry we didnt get to talk before you left. In a way Ive been dreading the truth of my past, not because I was ashamed of it, but because there was no real reason for having kept it from my girls. When I saw Annie with you I thought you could make it easier for me."
There was nothing like skipping the preliminaries that would have just taken up valuable time. Her forthrightness made Bebo comfortable. "Im sorry I wasnt here when you needed me, but hopefully my mothers were a good substitution." Audrey had given her daughter the brief version of what had happened after welcoming her home earlier that morning.
"Audrey was a good friend then and she has grown to be a very forgiving woman. I dont know too many people whod be so kind to someone who has turned her back on her family." The woman lowered her head to keep from looking Bebo in the eye and stared at the tea in the cup in her hand looked like it held the mysteries of the universe.
"You know what Ive found just recently?" Bebo moved from her chair and went to kneel in front of Doris, putting her fingers under the womans chin in an effort to make her look up. With eyes shiny from unshed tears Doris shook her head. "Love makes us do things we thought we never would think ourselves capable of. If Annie asked me to stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue in my underwear, I think Id have a hard time saying no."
A laugh bubbled up from Doris chest without too much effort and she felt better knowing Bebo wasnt going to hold her decision against her. "Youre being kind."
"No, Im being honest. You love Patrick and no one is going to hold that against you. Sometimes we do the best we can and the rest of the world just has to accept that."
The comment was incredibly simple but it made sense to her. As a reward, Doris leaned forward and kissed the young womans cheek. "My daughter is a lucky woman to have found you."
"At the risk of sounding like a greeting card, Im the lucky one. I want to ask you for your blessing, Dothan. In Annie Ive found the person I want to spend my life with and I want more than anything to join with her."
"I know " Bebo pressed her fingers to Doris mouth before the woman could say another word.
"I also want to be honest. When I found your husband I asked him that very same question and he said no. His wish is to see Annie go through with her original plans and marry Captain Walker."
"And if I tell you the same thing?"
"If that happens and you decide to stand with him, then Ill ask Annie to follow her heart because I value her happiness above my own. I know what my family means to me, and what it would mean to my life for me to be without them. Theres no way I could ask her to make that sacrifice for me no matter how much I love her." Bebo leaned back and sat on her feet. Patrick had been right and his wife wasnt going to go against him on this.
"You have my blessings, highness. I couldnt ask for a better partner for my child than someone whos willing to put my daughters welfare ahead of everything else. Perhaps if Id listened to my mother long ago I wouldve saved all of us a lot of pain."
From the back of the house, Annie watched the two share a long hug and pumped her fist in the air in relief. She knew her father would probably never come around but it would have hurt if her mother had voiced the same objections. Doris spotted her and waved Annie over to join them.
"Congratulations, Annie," said Doris pulling her daughter into the hug she was sharing with Bebo.
"Thanks, mom, and thanks for your blessing."
"Youll always have that, sweetheart, but theres a few other things we have to discuss."
Sitting together holding hands, Annie and Bebo faced Doris to finish the talk that had started days before between mother and daughter. Before they could get to why Doris had made the decisions she had, there was one thing she wanted to know.
"How is he?" The one thing she knew for sure was that her husband was most probably furious because she had yet to make an appearance.
"The men that captured them broke both his legs right above the knees. As horrible as that sounds it was better than them smashing a little lower. If it had been the knees hed never walk again. With his injuries hell be in pain for awhile but hell make a full recovery." Bebo put her arm around Annie as if to shield her from the pain of hearing the truth. "What he wont recover from is his hatred of me."
"I cant speak for Patrick but I want you to hold your judgment of him until I talk to him." With her daughter studying her, Doris seemed to be gathering strength. "There are a few things we have to get straight between he and I, and then with you and Reggie. I want to see him to give him the choice of telling you himself or me doing it for him. Either way you all deserve the truth."
"Mom, what are you talking about?"
"When I sat with you and Reggie the other day, I told you Id share with you my part in what happened. Your father also shares some of the responsibility in this but I want to give him the chance to tell you for himself." Doris stood up and put her hand up to keep Bebo in her seat. "You two have a good morning together and celebrate your good news. Annie, could you tell your sister what we talked about when she comes home from school? Im off to see your father so Id like for all of you to make time for me later on tonight."
"Whatever you want, mom." They watched her go and then looked at each other. "Do you have any idea what shes talking about?"
"Not a clue, but I bet I know who does."
"Your mother?" Annie asked referring to Audrey.
"The one and only. If Audrey doesnt know, then well have to wait your mother out."
There was a pigeon on the windowsill and it was more interesting to look at than the television mounted on the wall. Not for the first time in his life, Patrick Paddio felt alone. He exhaled a long sigh and wondered why now, as he was coming to the end of his career, this would happen to him? He had worked long and hard to run from so many things but now it looked like he hadnt run far or fast enough.
Her voice pulled his attention away from the bird and to what faced him. Years of being together gave him some idea of why she had stayed away so he wanted to hurt her before Doris got the opportunity to inflict any pain on him. "I arrived last night and this is the first time you had an opportunity to come and see me? Your concern is touching."
"If my being here is bothering you Ill be happy to leave." She walked in and closed the door behind her glad to see he was the only one in the room. They didnt need an audience for their talk. "But before I go I want to let you know I told the girls everything about my family." She sat in the lime green chair close to the bed and folded her hands over her lap.
"Why? I though wed both agreed it was best to keep that from them. What purpose is it going to serve having them know now, except to warp their way of thinking about things they shouldnt even be considering?" His hands clutched at the blanket covering him as if to keep him from lashing out and hitting her. "What good is it to make decisions together if you break them without talking to me about it first?"
"Because we didnt decide, did we? You decided and I was expected to go along with it, but thats not how were going to spend the rest of our lives together. Im not one of your men, Patrick, and Im tired of just following orders."
"Theyre my children, Doris," he said the name with a bit of sarcasm.
"Theyre our children, and its about time their mother started acting like the woman her parents raised her to be."
The laugh was equally sarcastic and he threw his head back in disgust. "That wasnt raising a family, it was a perversion those bitches cooked up as normal. I wont have it happen to my daughter." He was screaming by the time he was done and Doris didnt recognize the man hed become.
"Whats wrong with you?" Her face was a mask of horror as if shed just woken from a bad dream and found that most of her life was a waste. "Annies happy for once. You should see them together; it reminds me of when we first met. What happened to the young man who thought I was someone worthy of his time and attention?"
"I dont want to see them together, and I made myself clear in that jungle. I dont want that unnatural beast anywhere near Annie."
"Does it matter at all what Annie wants?"
"The one thing Im sure of is that Bebo wont go through with this without my blessing so I guess this is a mute argument. Well be fine when all this is over and she goes back to that island and the rest of her kind." He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, a small smile playing on his lips.
"In Amazon society, the birth mother of any child is the parent who holds the ultimate decision on matters such as this." She stood up and walked to the side of his bed. "That would be me," she pointed to her chest, "And I gave Bebo my blessing when she asked. Im sure her asking you was just a courtesy on her part."
He grabbed her hand when she let it drop to her side and squeezed her wrist uncomfortably. "Dont you go against me on this, Doris. You go back there and tell them you spoke hastily and without authority. You have the right to take back your blessing. Just tell them you spoke without discussing it with me first."
"My name is Dothan, and I wont. Shes happy and Bebo is the one who makes her that way. Im not going to deny Annie the chance of living a good life."
He squeezed harder and tried to pull her closer. "You remember what I told you when we started this. Its either them or me. You choose."
"This time I pick my children and my family. I love you, and a part of me always will, but I wont live a lie anymore." She pulled free of his hold and started for the door then remembering the other reason she had come. "One more thing," he looked at her and she saw nothing of the man she once loved. Something had changed in the weeks since the Amazons had arrived to train with his unit, but he hadnt wanted to say what it was. "I promised them Id tell them the whole truth."
"You wouldnt dare," he threatened.
"I just want to know if you want to tell them or should I?"
He was stuck on the bed. If he hadnt been he would have gone after her so all he could do was throw the plastic cup by his bed at her head. "Neither one of us will tell them, you hear me. I strictly forbid it."
"You wont tell them?"
"No, and Im telling you now that I forbid you to open your mouth about it."
"Then its up to me," she started for the door again and this time she didnt stop until she was in the hallway. "Goodbye, Patrick."
"Doris, you come back here, now!" His screaming brought one of the male nurses with a shot of sedative. "Get away from me and go and get my wife back here," Patrick demanded. A moment later all his protests died away as the darkness overtook him.
With Audrey and Bos blessing, the girls went out in search of the man whose name Junis had written down. Surprisingly, Greg Petkus lived not too far from Annie and Reggie in Arlington. Both Annie and Bebo noticed the look the queen and her consort exchanged when she told them about her talk with the general on the flight home. The queens eyes had closed at the mention of Gregs name but she said nothing. Something about the set of her mothers shoulders made Bebo not want to press the issue.
"Is it just me, or do you feel like weve stepped into a great big mystery with no end in sight?" Annie leaned back against her lover and ran her fingers over the arm holding her in place.
"Its actually starting to aggravate the patience right out of me. I know both my moms know whats going on with your mother, and now this guy makes mama give off some weird vibes."
"Well if we dont find any answers with Mr. Petkus, then I say we sit them all down and demand answers tonight." With a turn of her head Annie studied the two women riding in the front seat. Kip had given them their privacy for the ride but that was about it. "Do you think we can ditch my shadow any time soon?"
"Whats the matter, love? Feeling a bit hemmed in already?"
"What Im feeling is like I want you to kiss me and I dont want an audience." She turned and put her hand at the center of Bebos chest. "Its not fair. We just got together and I dont like having someone else dictate to us when we can see each other."
"You can kiss me now," said Bebo with a smile. She pressed her hand to the side of Annies face and lowered her head. No sooner had their lips met than the car stopped.
"Highness, the address you requested," said Kip.
Annie kept her lips pressed to Bebos for one second longer. "You were saying about now, highness."
The princess laughed and put their foreheads together. "Im sure Ill think of something before the situation gets desperate."
They stepped out of the car and looked at the modest home with an incredible garden. Bebo could tell even though most of the plants had no foliage because of the weather. In the spring and summer she could just imagine how beautiful the place must look. Her second thought was of her father. Did he have the opportunity to spend time out here cutting grass and pruning with Greg?
"Its going to be fine, honey. Im sure hell really appreciate your coming and telling him." Annie took her hand and pulled her to the front door. From the time Bebo had gotten back shed been really good about being upbeat except for the breakdown the night before. "Im sure Arthur would appreciate it too, having it come from you, I mean, and not some stranger."
"I am a stranger to him," said Bebo pointing to the house.
"But you wont be when we leave. You better than anyone can understand his feelings for Arthur."
Kip did turn away this time as Bebo kissed Annie not wanting to intrude on the intimate moment. "Thank you for coming with me, Annie."
"I know youre bigger than I am and can fight like no one Ive ever seen, but its my job to protect and stand by you too. You arent alone anymore, ever." The declaration caused Bebo to grin and nod before ringing the bell.
"Can I help you?" The man who answered the door looked at them and focused on the taller of the two.
Annie couldnt take her eyes off him and wondered if Bebo saw the resemblance. "Were sorry to bother you, but wed like to talk to you a minute if we could. Im Bebo of Leon and this is Annie Paddio," said Bebo. She felt the blonde standing next to her sort of slump against her and wanted to get her inside before Annie fell on her face. "You okay, love?" Bebo asked softly when the man waved them in and led them to the den.
"Im fine, just tired I guess." Her tone was normal but she had a death grip on Bebos hand and wasnt about to let go. Doesnt she see it? The thought almost made it out of the blondes mouth but she was in too much shock to verbalize anything.
When they arrived in the bright room the man stood at its center and looked to the ceiling as if they werent there. He had his hands on his hips and he was blinking furiously. "Is he all right?" Greg finally looked at them and wasnt ashamed to hide his tears. "Thats why youre here isnt it?"
"You dont want to know who we are?" asked Bebo.
"I know who you are, highness. Who you both are, but I need to know about Arthur before we get into anything else."
Something caught Bebos eye before she answered. The frame on the mantle sat along side a lot of other ones with smiling faces, but it was out of place in her opinion because there was no reason for him to have it. She walked over and picked it up and looked at it so long Annie walked over and took it from her hand to see what it was. The little girl smiling at the camera was wearing ceremonial Amazon garb. If it was who Annie thought it was, she had never seen a more adorable child.
"Is this you?"
"It was taken at the ceremony the day she was inducted into the tribe," answered Greg for Annie. "Please, all that can wait. Could you tell me about Arthur?"
"Mr. Petkus, Im sorry that you have to find out this way, but Arthur was killed in the line of duty two days ago." Annie pushed Bebo forward when it looked like the man was going to fall after listening to the princess words. "Im so sorry but he did make me promise to come and see you to deliver a message." Bebo put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed it gently. "He wanted me to tell you how much he loved you. His words were that he hadnt loved another person so much outside his family."
"Thank you, highness, that means so much to me and Im glad you were there when it happened. Im grateful he wasnt alone." He took a deep breath and tried to get his tears to stop. "You must think Im a real piece of work," he laughed wryly but didnt let go of her. "I know what he was to you and here you are comforting me. It should be me offering comfort not the other way around."
"Mr. Petkus, we also know what Arthur meant to you so please dont think yourself weak because youre not taking this news well. I love Bebo and if something had happened to her I would lose my mind. Were here for you no matter what," said Annie. The mans shaking hadnt escaped her and she felt terrible that he felt he had to keep himself together because of their presence.
Her words made him fall into Bebos arms and he just sobbed. Every time Arthur had gone out he knew this could be the outcome but it didnt matter, Greg would have never walked away from him. They were going to go to the embassy together to meet Bebo when he got back; it was all Arthur had talked about from the time he had heard she was coming. Greg was getting to meet her now, but this wasnt what he had planned.
"He talked about you all the time." He allowed himself to be led to the sofa where he sat between them. "The pride in his voice was hard to miss." The crying was starting to slow but it was still hard for them to understand what he was trying to say. "He even told me about you, Miss Paddio. Ive actually waited so long to finally meet you as well, that it was funny Arthur was the one who told me about you."
"What do you mean? Bebo and I just met, so whyd you want to meet me before now?"
"You dont know do you?" He looked at her and started crying again for a different reason. "Im sorry, forget I said anything."
"Wheres your kitchen, Mr. Petkus? Ill go and get you a glass of water," offered Bebo. She stood and left in the indicated direction thinking that maybe he would open up if it was just Annie. All these unfinished conversations were starting to get on her nerves.
Annie could see the frustration in Bebo from the way her shoulders looked tight. "Mr. Petkus, could I call you Greg?"
"I know this is a difficult time for you, but could you please tell me what you meant? Bebo and I are going through our own troubles, and Im sure you know what Arthur was to her. If theres anything you could add to help me ease her pain, Id sure appreciate it." She put her hands over his and cocked her head slightly to the side. "Please?"
"Annie, have you ever made a promise to someone you cared about?"
"I made the most important promise I could make just recently. Bebo and I are to be married."
"Im sorry, I should be using your title. I didnt know."
She patted his hands and smiled. "It was like I said just recently. Arthur wouldnt have had time to tell you before he left." Not wanting to be steered away from their earlier topic she tried her best to guide him back to answering her questions. "Why do you think we should have met long ago?"
Gregs mouth opened, but before he could answer Kip stepped into the room and bowed slightly. "Im sorry for the intrusion, highness, but theres a call for either you or Princess Bebo." Kip held up the phone to her.
"Excuse me, Greg." She took the call and just kept answering yes and okay. "Thanks, Kip," she handed the phone back to the guard. "If youre up to it, youve been summoned by the Queen of Amazonia and her Consort for a visit," she told Greg, but looking at Bebo standing behind him with a glass in her hand. The raised eyebrow over the expressive blue eyes meant that her partner was as surprised by the invitation as she was.
"That might be for the best," he said. "If youll give me a few minutes Ill clean my face and grab my coat."
"What do you think, honey?" asked Annie.
"That Im about to take a staff to anyone that doesnt start answering questions when we get home. I feel like theres a great story everyone but us has been privy to and I dont like it."
"I think youre right, and if that doesnt work, well sick Reggie on them."
When they arrived back home, the staff informed them that the queen and her other guests were waiting in the great hall. Bebo led them to the south wing of the house that Annie had yet to visit, but Greg seemed to know the way. The blonde stopped and looked around before following Bebo to where they were going to sit.
The walls were made of oak paneling and the floor was covered with large comfortable cushions and rugs. Along the only wall made of stone, there was a great fireplace that had several large logs ablaze in it heating up the room quite nicely. The only decorations hanging along the walls were different types of masks that probably held some meaning to the people in the room who had worn them Annie guessed.
She followed Bebo to where the queen sat and kissed the womans cheek before sitting against her lovers sturdy frame. Close to them were Reggie and Dothan along with Bear and Kip. What shocked her a little was when Greg dropped to his knees before Audrey and kissed her hand.
"My queen, thank you for inviting me." He clasped arms with Boden next. "Warrior Boden, its great to see you again." And his last stop before picking a seat was Dothan. "Its been a while, but you are as lovely as ever, Dothan. Your Annie is a delightful girl."
"Wait a minute," said Annie putting her hands up. "You two know each other?"
"Annie, if youre patient with us we promise to answer whatever questions you have before we leave here," said Audrey.
Denise and a few of the others came in with wine and snacks and the three youngest people there wanted to scream. "Ill pour, Denise, thank you," said Bebo in an attempt to hurry the proceedings along.
"Okay if thats true, my first question is, why do you look just like my father?" Reggie asked Greg. "Because Im sure as hell not the only one in the room who sees it." She looked to her sister and Annie nodded. It had been the reason for her almost passing out when he had first opened his door to them.
"He looks like your father because hes his older brother," said Dothan. The fact her children knew nothing of their familys past made her sad because of all that was stolen from them. The Amazons were a noble people who cherished family and honor, and she had done everything possible to make sure they knew nothing of that. "I promised you earlier there was more to this story but it wasnt mine to tell. The rest of the tale was your fathers to tell but he made it clear to me today he had no intention of ever opening his mouth."
Greg had taken the space next to his sister-in-law and put his hand over hers to offer comfort and strength as she faced the consequences of what shed done in the name of love. "Would you like me to tell them?"
"Look I dont care who tells me as long as someone tells me," said Reggie in exasperation.
"Reggie, this cant be easy for anyone so lets give them a chance, okay?" Annie lifted her hand in invitation for Reggie to come and sit next to them. The younger blonde accepted and leaned against Bebos other side. "Shes right though, it doesnt matter who tells us but Id really like to know."
The only man amongst them took a deep breath and tried to calm his nerves so he could start talking. "How about I start at the beginning and Ill let your mother finish?"
"And Ill fill in the blanks between the two. From that Im sure youll understand all thats happened to bring us to this day," added Audrey.
"As you know, my name is Gregory Petkus. Im the son of the high priestess, Emelda, of the Temple of Artemis, or I should say Im her first born son. My brother Patrick was born a few years after me, the same year of the Consort Bodens birth. Until we were both twelve we studied on Amazonia and began our training in the warrior arts, but one of us excelled more than the other. I wouldve been a good fighter I guess, but my heart wasnt in it like Patricks, and he thought it was a waste, or I should say he thought I was a waste for not wanting the same things he did. Overall Ive never been the brother he wanted, or anyone he ever wanted to associate with."
His eyes, Bebo realized now when she thought back to that day in the tree with the general. It was her friends Emeldas eyes she saw that day. Patrick had tried to hide from who he was but he still had much of the woman who gave him life in his features. "Emelda was joined?" asked the princess.
"My second mother died in an accident in the Argase Forest when we were still young. Mama never wanted to join again and devoted her life to the temple and us after her wife died. Right before I left was when it began. Patrick was starting to work with weapons and he felt ridiculed every time he had to face Boden in the arena. He didnt understand that some people have a better aptitude or different talents than others, and he started to grow angry." The memories seemed to take him for a long moment when he stopped talking and ran his hand through his hair. As much as he looked like their father, the sisters thought he was much more handsome because his face was more open and expressive. "He was angry at us, at the fact he was born to a society of women who he thought were better and stronger than him, and he was angry at me for not wanting to prove him right."
"About what?" asked Bebo.
"That a man is superior to women in the area of fighting. He tried to do that for years on the island and he was knocked down at every given chance by your mother."
"That might explain why he doesnt care for me too much. Had I known that, I might have gone about that first day of training a little differently," said Bebo almost to herself. The look on his face as she took Titus down with some well placed slaps wasnt admiration, it had been shock. His past humiliations must have come back to the forefront of his mind in a rush to see her fighting and beating those hed trained to be the best.
"Yeah, its almost funny looking at you now." Greg smiled at her and looked between Bebo and Boden.
"Whats funny?" Annie asked him as she felt the arm around her tighten.
"Arthur may have provided the means for Bebos conception but once again Boden cleared the field and won out on the final product didnt she?" He waved his hand between the two women. "The straight hair is the only difference."
"I didnt get a chance to ask you, but what is it you do?" Annie asked with a smile. She was starting to like this guy more and more.
"Like my mother Emelda, Im a teacher. Im a professor of Greek History at George Washington."
"No wonder you have such a good delivery of the facts," teased Reggie.
"Well thank you, but the fact I chose to follow my heart, as all Amazon children are encouraged to do, was another thing Patrick held against me. I not only didnt want to fight but I shared something in common with my mothers."
"Youre gay," said Annie.
He nodded and fought back the feeling of hopelessness at having lost Arthur. "I had a fairly good life but when Arthur got transferred back here a couple of years ago, we met up one night by chance. It was the best thing that couldve happened to me and I thought wed be together forever, and in a way we will be. Hell be in my heart until I can see him again."
Bebo pressed the sisters closer to her and kissed the top of each blonde head. "You may have lost him, but you have gained the whole of your family back."
"Shes right, you have," said Annie, as Reggie nodded.
Encouraged that they werent angry, Dothan started on her part. "When I was working here I also by chance ran into someone from my past. The young dashing officer was so charming and polite that I fell in love and decided to give up my dreams for a life with your father. In the beginning I thought it was sweet that he didnt want me to work, or that he took up so much of my time that I had none left for my family, but then it became clear. Hed said hed changed his name because of something for the service, and he didnt want to contact Greg because it would hurt his career all the clues were there, I just didnt want to see them."
"As a way to punish those he thought had humiliated and wronged him, your fathers anger made him remove all those things about his life he saw as inferior or wrong. Boden and I want to apologize for our part in all this and for keeping it from you, Bebo. Who could have guessed though that youd bring us all back full circle so effortlessly?"
"Her comment makes sense now," said Bebo with a laugh.
"Whats that, love?" asked Annie.
"She told me she was born too early to be the woman who would melt my heart. She was born to early all right, but shes responsible for the woman who would."
"My grandmothers got a crush on you?"
"Along with about half the island, sweetheart," added Audrey. "But I dont think you have a thing to worry about. Theyre big and they own more pointy things than I think is necessary, but these warriors of ours are loyal to the bone."
They talked long into the night reminiscing of earlier times and of the man who was no longer with them. When Bebo opened another bottle of wine and refilled everyones glasses, Boden raised hers and offered a toast.
"To Arthur, a great warrior, a great Amazon and a beloved friend. You shall be missed but you shall be forever loved."
After they drank Greg raised his glass and offered another. "To Bebo and Annie. Your love brought us back together, and I hope its a shining example to all our people for years to come."
"I love you, Annie." Bebo whispered in her ear and let go of Reggie so she could kiss her girl. It was just the beginning of their story, but she had never felt happier and more at peace. "May our path be long and winding because Im looking forward to the trip."
"It will be, warrior mine, because I love you as well."
"Then what happened, mama?"
Annie brushed back an unruly lock of black hair from the childs eyes and smiled. Shane was their oldest and a bundle of energy from the moment shed been born. She was so unlike the baby who had finished suckling by the middle of her story, and the other blonde little girl asleep on her lap, but very much like the big kid she had married.
From behind her Bebo stepped in and scooped the four-year-old into her arms and threw her in the air as Annie closed her eyes when the squealing began. "Then they lived happily ever after, sprout, and if youre good tomorrow and go to bed right now, mama will tell you all about it."
"But Im not tired." The big blue eyes were drooping but Shane would fight sleep for as long as she could.
"Well then lie in bed and count chobos until you are, but its bed time," joked Bebo. She followed Annie and one of the nannies to the childrens rooms, saving Shane for the last to be tucked in. "Sweet dreams, sprout, and Ill see you in the morning."
Annie had put the baby in her crib and had arranged the blankets around their two-year-old before joining her wife. This was one of her favorite times of day as she kissed them good night then stepped back to watch her little ones sleep. It was then Annie realized how quickly time passed and how big they got whether she was ready for it or not. "Good night, sweetheart," she said then delivered her last kiss.
"I love you, mama and mom."
"We love you too," they both said together with Bebo adding, "Now go to sleep."
They walked hand in hand to the balcony Bebo had told Annie about years before, and the blonde smiled when she heard the soft music playing. Her life had long ago become a fairytale, and if it was a dream, she prayed she never woke. Willingly she went into Bebos arms as they started to sway to the music.
"I love you so much," she whispered up to her partner.
Bebo kissed her without missing a beat and ran her hand from her hip along the swollen breast to Annies cheek. "I love you, highness, and all that youve given me."
Their path was going to be long, but it was a blessing Annie would savor every day they got to walk it. "Do you think Shane will get tired of me telling her that story?"
"My mother is still telling me her and moms story and Im not bored yet, so I dont think so."
"Then tomorrow Ill tell her the rest, and thank the goddess Ill have so many more chapters to add through the years thanks to you. But tonight "
"What page do you want to add tonight, love?" Bebos voice was teasing as it sounded softly in her ear before the lips moved down to kiss Annies neck.
"Tonight I want to add to the parts I save for your ears only."
"Ah, those bedtime tales Ill definitely never get bored hearing."
From her window, Shane looked down and smiled at her two mothers. When Bebo scooped Annie up and carried her inside she heard the sounds of happiness as her mother Annies laugh echoed through the palace. There was no doubt in her young mind, their story would continue.
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