Journeys: China Part 4 by Anne Azel

Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in the Journeys Series are the creation of the author.

My deepest thanks to Lisa, Inga and Susan, my beta readers, who do the really hard work.

Warning: This story is alternative fiction. Please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.


Seasons book 1 & 2 are now in print, and the Encounters

and the Murder Mystery Series will be soon. These books

are being published by Renaissance Alliance Publishing.

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Petra came to the door in time to watch Quin run across to the first of the super cranes. A large, noisy crowd had formed and were looking up and pointing. Petra followed their gaze and froze in horror. Somehow a worker had got snared in the crane's chain and he'd been hoisted off the ground upside down. Blood was dripping from his ripped leg down onto his face and then trickling to the ground below.

Why wasn't the crane driver lowering him back to the ground, Petra wondered. Looking farther up the chain, she could see that the worker's pickaxe, caught in the chain farther up, had jammed in the pulley. Then she saw Quin quickly climbing the five stories up the straight ladder on the inside of the derrick. From where Petra stood in the doorway of the trailer, Quin looked small and vulnerable on the massive piece of equipment. Petra held her breath until Quin was safely inside the crane's cab, surprised to find that her heart was pounding.

Then, as she watched, she saw the front window of the cab open and out crawled Quin onto to the metal framing that formed the crane's arm. She was glad to see that Quin was wearing a safety harness but still her heart was in her mouth as she watched the tiny figure edge along the open piping to the end of the crane's arm.

Quin had ordered her workers to stay back and had climbed up to and out onto the crane's arm. The metal was burning hot on Quin's hands and she could feel the noon day sun burning her shoulders as she crawled along the framework. Looking through the rungs, she could see the man hanging from a bleeding and misshapen leg. His arms hung down and there was no indication that he was conscious. Under the circumstance that was probably a good thing, Quin thought, as she slipped along on her belly.

"Can you hear me?" she called out in Mandarin to the injured man in case he was still conscious. No answer. Quin checked the pulley. It was jammed good and solid. She was hesitant to try and work the axe free from the chain in fear of injuring the man anymore than he was already as the chain swayed. She'd have to get the man free first. There was only one thing to do. She tied off her rope, formed a slip loop and dropped over the side.

Below, a gasp escaped Petra's lips and was echoed back by the crowd as Quin's body dropped from the arm and hung swaying for a second some feet below. Then the engineer slowly lowered herself to where the man was trapped. He was held fast by his pant leg that had wedged between the chain links. His leg was missing chunks of flesh that had been bitten off by the chain as it had tightened.

Quin lowered herself down to the man's chest and gently attached a safety harness to him that she had carried out tucked in her own harness. She attached her own safety rope to it and tied off the slip loop. For a second, she hung there getting up her nerve and strength. Then she took out a jackknife from her pocket, opened the blade and held it in her mouth. She made sure she had her leg twisted tightly around the chain and that her one hand had a good grip of one of the big links. With her other hand, she reached for the knife and used it to cut herself free of the safety line. Now the man hung from both Quin's safety line and the chain.

Petra had run over to the crane and waited with her hand over her mouth as Quin slowly climbed up the chain to where the man's pant leg was caught. Knowing that Quin was without any sort of backup system scared the hell out of her. Quin held onto the pant leg and the chain as best she could as she awkwardly and slowly cut the material free from the chain.

The sudden weight of supporting herself with one arm and part of the man's body with the other almost made her slip. Below she heard gasps. She closed her eyes for a second, and felt her blood beating in her ears as she held on to the chain and the man for dear life. After a second, she wiped her forehead on her sleeve, blinked the remaining sweat from her eyes and slowly lowered the man's leg down.

Petra found the tears were rolling down her face and as she watched the brave engineer risk her own life while step by step she freed the trapped worker. She didn't want to look but she couldn't make herself stop. That was her Quin up there and her Dad's worker, and she should be helping in some way. The thought was barely formed when Petra was running for the ladder.

Quin had slid down to where the man was again and with relief attached herself once more to the life line. Then carefully, she used bandages taken from the first aid kit in the cab to gently wrap the man's damaged leg to his good up. Once the man's leg was braced, she took a few seconds to rest. The next step was going to be the hardest and most dangerous. She was going to have detach herself from the safety line again, climb up the chain and lower the man to the ground from the crane arm. Already her arms ached and her leg throbbed. She wasn't sure she could do it. Fear gripped her heart.

"Grab the rope," ordered a voice from above, and Quin looked up in surprise to see Petra lying on the crane arm as she lowered another safety line to Quin.

"I thought I told you to stay in the trailer," yelled Quin, in anger fueled by fear for Petra's safety.

"I thought I told you to stay off that leg," Petra yelled back cheekily.

Quin grabbed the safety line and hooked it onto her harness with relief. "You do have this attached to something don't you?" she asked grumpily.

"We'll know if you fall," Petra responded. "Be careful, okay?"

Quin looked up into terrified eyes red from crying. "Do you care about me then?" the engineer said smiling.

"For God's sakes, Venizelos! Will you just climb up the damn chain! I'm bloody terrified up here!" snapped Petra, in frustration.

Quin didn't have to be told a second time. Slowly and carefully, she climbed hand over hand up the chain. Near the top, she felt Petra's arm reach to grab her and help her climb back onto the arm of the crane. They lay side by side, holding each other. "Don't you ever do anything like that again!" Petra grumbled.

"Come on, I need you back inside the cab where I know you are safe," Quin responded, shaking now with stress.

"No, I'm stuck out here on this piece of shit until we can both get down." Petra pulled herself up into a sitting position with her feet braced on the rungs of metal below. "Are you going to help me? Or are you just going to lie about all day?"

Quin rolled her eyes and sat up. "You should have come with warning labels," she muttered, as she untied the rope so that they could slowly lower the injured man to the ground. "Here, you feed his safety line out to me and I'll lower. You ready?" she asked, looking up at Petra who sat perched near the end of the crane's arm, white with fear but determined to do her part. The woman had guts and by the look of her muscles as she braced herself and carefully untangled the line, she was in great shape too.

"Yes," Petra responded, and together they worked to gently bring the injured man down to the ground where the construction medics already stood by with an ambulance.

Once they saw the man was safe, Quin slipped past Petra to look over the side again. "What are you doing?" Petra demanded, grabbing Quin's leg.

"I've got to get that axe blade out of there so we can use this crane again," Quin explained.

"Are you nuts?!"

"Some think so," Quin muttered, as she hung half off the crane to free the twisted metal from the chain links. She could feel Petra wrapped around her legs. It was a nice feeling despite the precarious position that she was in. She trusted Petra. She couldn't say that about many people. The chain freed, Quin awkwardly slid back again with the mangled pickaxe in one hand.



"Thanks for helping out."

Petra nodded and together, the two woman crawled along the metal arm and back through the window.

Quin had barely stepped down onto the floor of the cab when Petra was in her face. "That was about the dumbest thing I have ever seen! It is your job to delegate responsibility, not risk your own life playing Joe Hero! Do you not have a rescue squad on site? Well, do you?"

"Yes, we do," Quin admitted quietly, " but they are certainly not trained in climbing..."

"And neither are you," Petra interjected. "You, who are always going on about the company. Damn it, Venizelos, you are the overseeing director of Vossler's eastern division! Did you ever stop to consider the ramification to the company if we have to replace you?"

Quin paled but she said nothing. There wasn't anything to say. Petra was right. It was Quin's nature to take charge and to act, and in this case, it had been a stupid decision. She should have trusted others to handle the situation no matter how dangerous the rescue. Petra looked at the worried crane operators standing in the corner. She perhaps should have waited to express her anger but it was too late now. "I am going to try to calm down before I climb down the ladder. In the mean time, would you please find out what happened from these men."

"Yes," Quin said through a clenched jaw. They might have developed a teasing friendship but right now this was the next owner and a member of the board speaking and Quin knew she'd better do as she was told. She didn't like that.

The day had been a disaster. Quin had found a driver to take Petra back to the ship. She had spent the rest of the day interviewing people to find out what had gone wrong. Then she'd written up her accident report and sent copies to head office, the Chinese Workers Union and the company's lawyers and insurance company.

On the way back to the ship, she stopped at the hospital to see the injured worker. She was surprised to find out that Petra had already visited him. The doctor assured Quin that although it was a bad break and that skin grafts would be needed, the man would have good use of the leg again once the bones knit.

Relieved, tired and hungry, the engineer made her way back to the ship. Petra found Quin alone in the dining room, picking at a sandwich sometime later. She slipped into the seat across from her and waited for Quin to make eye contact. "I didn't handle that very well. I shouldn't have chewed you out in front of the workers and I should have waited until I was calmer before I addressed the issue. I am sorry, Quin."

Quin swallowed awkwardly and took a few seconds to pull herself together. "You were right. I made a poor decision. The operators thought you were angry with them and wanted them fired because they had not seen the worker dangling from the chain. . I handled it," Quin explained, looking at her sandwich.

"Good. I'm sorry this happened, Quin," Petra said, feeling awkward now with a person she had felt very comfortable with before. She cared what Quin thought about her, and she felt really rotten that she had hurt the engineer so deeply.

"Me too," Quin responded sadly, still not looking up. Petra waited but the engineer did not go on. Sadly, the sociologist said good night and went back to their cabin. Quin did not come to bed that night. Instead, she dozed on and off on the love seat in their salon.

For the next few days, Quin worked on site and Petra filled in her time taking some side tours with some of the other passengers on board. The relationship between her and Quin was formal and polite. Quin looked strained and worried. That bothered Petra more than Quin's stiff manner. She realized that she had a real affection for the tall engineer, and that she didn't enjoy seeing Quin upset. Affection? No, more than that, she had to admit. She had come to love the taller woman. It was not the same love that she'd had with Val. This was a different love, just as deep and caring and intense in its own way.

Over those few days, Petra had a lot of time to think about her feelings about Quin. Val was dead and there was no reclaiming that love. Did she want to spend the rest of her life alone? Quin was a very special woman. Was there a chance that they could have a happy relationship? Or did Quin just want to use her for professional gain? Not that it mattered anyway; it looked like the budding friendship that she and Quin had shared had received a good dose of frostbite. The whole thing upset and depressed Petra.

On the Friday, they packed once more. Quin had hired a car to take them over the pass and down into the flat lands that formed the delta basin of the Yangtze River. They would drive as far as Wuhan and then pick up a commercial flight to Shanghai. As they left, Quin once again took on the role of a tour guide.

"The Yangzte is the third longest river in the world. The lock system we are currently working on will have 23 locks or elevator locks and there will be a turbine station both at the north and south ends with a total of 26 turbines in all. We are also building a smaller dam over there to protect some valuable orange and tangerine orchards. We hope to have the whole dam completed by the year 2009."

Petra nodded but said nothing as they passed the construction site and headed out across a new bridge that spanned the river. Quin tried again to break the tension in the car. " This is considered to be a lucky bridge because it is 1018 meters long. The number one symbolizes self and eight money, so eighteen means, I will get money. There is meaning in everything in China."

Petra smiled and made an effort to shake off her blue mood and meet Quin half way. "This construction is costing a fortune. How will China pay for it?"

"The dam is being financed by the world bank and foreign loans. Each person in China pays a surtax of twenty-three cents a year as well. The local provinces are also taxed on their revenue. Once the first stage of turbines go into use in 2003, the sale of power will also help to cover the cost of the construction. But it is a big investment and risk. Over all the dam will cost 239 billion Chinese dollars. In any currency that is a lot of money."

Petra agreed and some of the tension in the car that morning eased so that they were able to enjoy the scenic ride over the mountain pass and then down onto the plain. For the first time, Petra saw rice paddies and fields being plowed by water buffalo. It was the China of legend, the images of which she had grown up with as a child. They made one stop before lunch at a government run jewellery shop. Reluctantly, Petra made use of the traditional toilet. There were three stalls with half walls behind which you squatted down over a porcelain trough that drained down a hole. Many countries in the far east used these types of toilets but Petra had never got used to them.

By noon, they had reached Wuhan. Quin took them to the local European business hotel that was basic but acceptable. Having had a chance to clean up in the European style washrooms, the women met in the restaurant for lunch. As always, the turning tray in the centre of the table was piled with various tasty courses for them to chose from. They ate in awkward silence, conversation not coming easily without the distraction of the countryside and culture to talk about.

Quin reached over with her chopsticks shyly and placed a particularly good piece of spicy meat on Petra's plate as a Chinese hostess would do with an honoured guest.

Petra smiled, and for the first time since the accident, they actually made eye contact. It only lasted a second, and then Quin looked at her plate again. "Quin, we need to talk," Petra said.

Quin stilled for a second, and then continued to eat, although food had no appeal for her. "About what?" she asked. She could think of all sorts of topics and they were all going to be bad news.

"Us," Petra stated firmly, putting down her chop sticks to look at Quin.

Quin put down her own chop sticks with a shaky hand. She hated these sorts of conversations. People never seemed to say what they meant. It really bothered her. "We are not an "us". You are the future owner and a member of the board of directors of the company I work for. I don't think for a minute that you are here to see China. You are far too bright and competent a woman to need a nursemaid. You and maybe Vossler have some secret agenda. I am not stupid, Petra. And I guess I have pretty well messed up my evaluation badly. Let's just eat and get out of here."

"No. We need to talk," Petra said. "You are right, I was sent here by my father. There are some issues..."

"I know about your father's illness," Quin revealed. She saw no reason to pull her punches here.

Petra looked at Quin in disbelief. "How do you know this?"

"I just do. You don't need to worry. Word has not got out. It is part of my job to know. Power is in knowing more than anyone else," Quin stated, pouring Chinese tea for the two of them.

"We are not your enemies! We are on the same team!" snapped Petra. She knew, of course, that Quin was right; knowledge was power. Her own father had people he used for information. What upset her was that this was her father Quin was talking about.

"For the time being we are anyway. I realize that it would do none of us good for this information to become public yet. If it got out before Vossler picks a successor it could hurt the stock," Quin stated coldly, taking a sip of the tea. If Petra wanted to play hard ball, Quin knew how to play that game really well.

"Who do you think should replace my father?" Petra asked cautiously. She had got Quin talking even if it was aggressively. They might be able to work things out yet.

Quin shrugged. "It should be you. You know your stuff and you'd be a natural leader. But I guess you are not interested. You've made quite a name for yourself in your own field. There are a few men who have the experience and knowledge to do an adequate job. They won't make the company grow but they will bring stable leadership. It doesn't matter to me. My loyalty is to Vossler. He gave me my start in life, and trusted me to get the job done. When he goes, I go."

Petra studied the pattern on the small tea cup she held in her hand. "What if Vossler's choice was you?" she asked, looking up to catch Quin's reaction.

The engineer laughed. "I don't think Vossler would be comfortable with that. I'm too young and I'm not known for my diplomatic ways."

"You are known for getting the job done, however, and your sector has consistently shown the most growth. Your academic profile is excellent and you have always turned a profit no matter how big the job you have taken on," Petra responded.

Quin looked at Petra now with interest. "Was this a possibility?" she asked.

"Yes. That's why I'm here," Petra stated honestly. Quin said nothing. There wasn't much to say. Since her evaluation had started, she's made a pass for the boss's daughter, got herself stabbed, and handled a major accident at the site badly.

Petra, seeing that Quin was not going to respond, went on. "I need to talk about us...where we are going."

Now Quin looked up in shock. Through the conversation, she had felt nothing. Her career with Vossler was over and she was prepared to move on. Face was everything and she felt that she had lost it with the company. But now they were going to talk about where THEY were going, as if they had a future. That made Quin's mouth go dry and her stomach knot. "What do you mean?"

Petra shrugged, trying to think of how to express herself. This was really hard because she knew she had taken Quin's face the other day. For all that Quin was a European and comfortable in Canadian society, her world view was influenced by her upbringing. And Petra had been very insensitive to that the day of the accident. She was about to put her heart on her sleeve here and it might be that Quin would not be able to forgive her. Quin was her own master and very proud.

"I mean that I have been thinking over a lot of things on this trip, and realizing that I need to move on now. Quin," Petra said, looking up to make eye contact with the woman sitting next to her, "I find you to be a truly amazing person. You have done wonders for the company out here, and you risked your life to save one of your workers. That had to be the bravest things I have ever witnessed."

"I thought it was the stupidest," snapped Quin, and then softened the retort by adding, "Besides you were right out there with me."

Petra bit her lip in stress and then tried again. "Yeah, it was stupid by western standards. But your action gained great respect from the workers didn't it?"

"In oriental cultures, you are expected to take responsibility for the successes and the failures in your leadership. Yes, I gained respect. You were right though, I could have still taken responsibility and leadership and let the rescue squad do the job they are paid for," Quin admitted, playing nervously with her tea cup. "I was lucky you were there to help me, or I could have really been in trouble."

"Maybe, but I shouldn't have lost my temper. It was not out of anger for your actions, but out of real fear for your safety...I...I.... find that I for you...very much," Petra managed to get out.

There was a long silence. Petra was too afraid to look up and see what emotions might be crossing Quin's face. Finally, Quin asked hesitantly, "I am not sure I understand what you are saying. Are you saying that I am no longer bound by the promise I made to you?"

Petra ran her fingers through her hair nervously and looked at Quin. Sky blue eyes looked deep into her own. "Yes, that is what I am saying. I....Quin, I am the daughter of a wealthy and powerful man. I know what it is like to be used for professional advancement. I want you to know before we go any farther that before I came out here, I had already advised my father to groom you to become president when he steps down. Coming out here has not changed my view, in fact, it has strengthened it. Whatever happens between us will not be connected in anyway to your career. So if that is what your passes were all about then let's let this conversation drop."

Quin sat very still, trying to digest all the information that Petra had given her. Vaguely, she was aware that there was a good chance that she could become president of a successful and growing company. But what was foremost on her mind was that Petra was saying to her that she had a chance with her. She swallowed, twice, then tried to get her voice back. "I find myself very attracted to you," she cautiously said. "I'll admit that the thought of a casual relationship to develop ties with Vossler crossed my mind more than once." Quin saw Petra cringe and hurried on. "But that did not turn out to be my motivation. I....I attracted to you also."

Petra showed her relief. "Well, let's just take it from there then. Quin, I...I ...need time...I..."

"I understand," Quin abruptly cut in. She knew that she could never replace Val. She didn't need to hear it. She hoped that she could make Petra love her and that they could find a love that was theirs alone. Was that possible? "We should be going now."

Petra nodded, realizing that she had probably pushed Quin to the edge of her tolerance for sensitive chats. They left the hotel a few minutes later, Quin hesitantly taking Petra's arm as they walked to the car.

They drove from the hotel to the airport and Quin left the company car there to be picked up at a later date. They boarded a local flight an hour later that flew them to Shanghai. On the plane, Quin caught up on paper work and Petra read a book. Neither one of them was very focused on what they were doing but now that they were talking about taking a step into a deeper relationship, both found themselves nervous and feeling awkward.

At Shanghai, Petra saw yet another side of Quin and of China. A chauffeur waited for them with a porter. They were led to a Mercedes Benz limo and driven swiftly and quietly to The Peace Hotel. Quin was barely in the car before she was on the phone contacting local business people and arranging meetings. This Quin was all business. She was no longer the engineer but the developer, hard, aggressive and focused.

Petra listened with one ear as she watched out the window. Shanghai was mind boggling. On almost every block new buildings were going up. Nor was it low budget, quick construction one usually associated with a developing nation growing quickly. These were beautiful designer buildings put up by huge international corporations. The skyline of Shanghai was not of a modern city of the twentieth century but a futuristic backdrop of where the twenty-first century would be taking the world. It was breathtaking and totally shocking to find this world of wealthy capitalism in the heart of communist China.

The porter ran forward to open their door and welcomed Quin by her name. To Petra's surprise, Quin did not sign in at the desk but led Petra to the elevators. "I keep a suite here," she explained as they rode the elevator up. "Most of Vossler Eastern Division business deals are made here. The Peace Hotel is considered to be a classic example of art deco. We will be staying in the same room as Noel Coward used. He did some of his writing here. The hotel is old but I find it very beautiful. It is on the Bund, which was the old British sector of Shanghai."

Petra found their suite large and beautiful. The bathroom was massive and the floors, walls and huge bathtub were a soft shade of pinkish grey marble. The view looked across the Bund and the

busy Yangtze River harbour to a cityscape from the space age. The salon had a high ceiling and a cut glass chandelier illuminated the room softly. The furniture was dark green leather, soft and warm, and the carpet Persian. The bedroom was equally beautiful, the king size bed and dresser a deep, rich cherry wood.

Quin went right to the phone and continued making her contacts. She watched Petra, however, as she looked around noting pieces of art and a computer that were obviously Quin's and not the hotel's. Hanging up she walked over to the smaller woman. "This is my apartment," Quin stated. "No one else uses it."

Petra's eyes immediately went to the bed. "I don't bring people here," Quin added, realizing what Petra was thinking. "Until now," the engineer stated almost as a whisper as she moved to fold Petra in her arms. "I will not push you, Petra. But I do want you. I want you very much," she said softly as she gently nuzzled Petra's temple. Slowly, gently, she ran her hands over Petra's back. She pulled back to look deeply into those soft green eyes and then lowered her head to claim Petra's lips.

The kiss was first the softest touch, then deepened and grew hungry as they each reacted to an explosive need that spread like wild fire through them. With a moan, Quin broke the kiss and buried her face into Petra's golden hair. It was going to take a massive amount of will to go slow with this woman that she loved and wanted so desperately. For a long time, they stood there just holding on to each other in wonder at the feeling of deep pleasure it gave them.

On Petra's part, the kiss had released feelings of passion that she had thought herself incapable of achieving in her life again. But it had also opened a door to guilt and sorrow too. She found tears rolling down her face as she clung to Quin desperately. This was so hard, yet wonderful too.

They went out to dinner at a night market, Quin greeting and shaking hands with people in the various stalls that she knew and introducing Petra as her friend. They sat under trees hanging with yellow lights inside red paper lanterns. Petra watched in amazement as the cook prepared the thin rice noodles as they watched. He twirled and twisted the dough in the air, cut it quickly when it landed on the wooden cutting table and whipped it back up so that it separated into hundreds of prefect strands. It seemed to Petra that the whole quick process was just one graceful movement. The noodles were formed into a bird's nest and dropped into boiling water. They were then sent down a stream of cold water that ran in a channel across the tables past the patrons, who would reach in with chopsticks and pull out a fresh noodle nest when they needed one. On each table sat an array of sauces with which to cover the fresh noodles. Petra favoured the honey mustard with the pieces of pigeon while Quin liked the lemon-orange glaze over bits of shark fin.

After their meal, they walked through the market, looking at the various stalls and holding hands.

Petra bought a beautiful jacket with a delicate peacock pattern in deep rich colours on a weave of gold silk. She could tell by the look in Quin's eyes that she looked good in it. And that knowledge pleased her very much. It was late when they finally took a taxi back to the hotel.

Now in their suite, Petra felt both awkward and embarrassed. She wanted this to happen but she wanted it to happen naturally. Having given Quin the green light, she was now getting cold feet about the engineer's predator instinct.

Quin checked her email and then walked over to where Petra stood, sorting through things in her suitcase and delaying the inevitable. "No clothes tonight," Quin whispered into her neck as she held Petra gently and dropped soft kisses on her flesh. "No sex either. Let's just get used to holding each other close and being a couple."

Petra snuggled deeply into Quin's arms. "This isn't really fair to you is it?" she said.

Quin swallowed. She knew she needed to say this but it was as hard as hell. "This is new territory for me. Petra, I am not looking for a fling here, nor am I looking for business sex. I...I think...I think I am in love with you."

Petra pulled back in surprise and opened her mouth to speak but Quin placed her finger quickly across the soft lips. "No, don't say it. I know, and I don't want to hear about her now. I just needed you to know because it is important to me that I do this right." Quin held Petra tight and then, feeling the smaller woman relax in her arms, she started again to nuzzle and kiss the woman she loved. Slowly, she removed Petra's clothes until she held the woman naked against her. Petra was beautiful, her body fit and silk to touch. Quin growled softly and swung Petra up into her arms to gently carry her to their bed.

Eyes locked and Quin's lips claimed Petra's in a long, deep, needy kiss. Then, straightening, Quin undressed in front of Petra, relieved to see that Petra seemed to like what she saw. Quin slipped in beside the smaller woman and supported on one arm that she had placed to Petra's other side, she leaned over the petite body to claim another kiss.

The kiss once again deepened and Quin let her body lower so that their naked forms touched. The rush was incredible and Petra wrapped her arms around Quin and kissed her with a hungry need. Their tongues tasted each other's being and entered into each other in a ritual exchange that was just the beginning of what they needed to do to each other.

Quin forced herself to slow down, to pull back. It was the hardest thing she had ever had to do. Pulling Petra to her, she curled her taller body around the woman she loved, wanting to protect her even in sleep. The feel of Petra's breasts nestled by her arm, excited Quin to the depth of her soul. How many times had she bedded a woman? Yet it had never felt like this. This was wonderful. This was special. This was Petra. Doing it right for Petra was just about the most important thing to Quin at the moment.

Quin thought that it would take forever to fall asleep with the feel of Petra so close but she felt so at peace, so complete, that sleep came quickly. Petra enjoyed the feeling of being held by the strong woman so tenderly. She felt that she belonged after wandering aimlessly. She kissed the big, capable hand that curled around her. Quin had brought warmth back to her soul. For far too long, her heart had been frozen in a painful winter of sorrow. She snuggled closer to Quin and let sleep take her.

Quin woke to find herself on her back with Petra curled around her. She'd noticed that Petra liked to tuck her head under Quin's chin. Quin liked that feeling. She liked it a lot. She liked it so much that she decided not to get up as she normally would but just lie there holding Petra as close as she could. I love you, she whispered softly and kissed the golden head beside her.

Petra woke sometime later, warm and content at Quin's side. It was different, so different from the way it had been with Val. It was Val who needed holding, who needed protecting, her energetic and happy public face gone in the privacy of their room and replaced with the insecurity and inadequacy that she was always trying to live down.

Quin wasn't like that. She handled her fears and insecurities privately, talked about them only when necessary, and used her amazing skills and intelligence to make things happen. Val was the perpetual sidekick, fun, supportive, and happy not to have the responsibility of leadership. Quin was a natural leader, aloof, controlled and confident.

She knew in her heart that she had loved Val deeply. But Quin had captured her heart and she knew that with Quin she could love again, live again, be happy again. Was that fair to Quin? It bothered Quin, Petra knew, that Val had been her partner. How did she let Quin know that there was no competition? That they were two very different people that belonged in two different regions of her heart. Quin, for all her talent and strength, had a very fragile soul that needed nurturing.

She sat up and leaned over to kiss Quin's lips, feeling the strong arms drawing her closer. "I think I love you too, Quin. I am going to make love to you now, slowly at first so that you can feel every sensation of my love making, then with the hunger that consumes me when I am close to you." They kissed, and the kiss was a portal to a world of sensation, their love making hot, needy and long. Each taking turns to bring the gasps and moans of delight from the other's lips.

Completely exhausted, they lay amongst crumpled sheets. Petra kissed again the wet, warm hairs of Quin's sex, then leaned her head on her lover's abdomen. "That was wonderful. You are wonderful. I am so glad you have come into my life, Quin."

Strong arms reached around her and pulled her up on top of a body hard as steel and as smooth as silk. It felt so good to be laying there on Quin. Quin kissed her gently. "That was....great. Petra, I love you. I don't want this to end. I don't know..."

Petra touched Quin's lips with her own. "Hey, this is a first day as lovers. Let's just enjoy this moment and worry about the fall-out later. Okay?"

"Okay," Quin agreed although not without reservations. She wasn't sure she could happily live without Petra now. And the fear that Petra would leave her ate at her insides. "You hungry?"

"Starved," admitted the sociologist, "Come on," she said, pulling on Quin's hand, "shower with me." Lunch proved to be very late that day. For Quin used the water and her lips and hands to do things to Petra's body that made her come with a cry of ecstasy, and cling to Quin as the after shocks waved through both their bodies.

They ate, when they finally emerged, at a small restaurant, on the edge of the old Chinese sector of Shanghai. They lunched on shish kebabs of roasted duck in a honey glaze over a bed of rice. In this area of China, food was sweeter rather than spicy. With it they drank tea, aware that their love making had made them very thirsty. Then Quin showed Petra another side of her world.

They wandered through the streets of old China, surrounded by thousands of bikes and hundreds of dialects and absorbing all the sights and sounds of China. Down many of the older streets laundry hung across the thoroughfare from one window to another, as if the street was decked with colourful flags. Down another alleyway, Petra saw a women cooking in an open kitchen. Several beat up kitchen tables with their chairs sitting at the side of the street formed the eating area. Two men, grimy and grim, sat hunched over bowls of fried rice at one table and at another a group played cards intensely. Along the street they walked, rows and rows of bikes stood waiting for their owners to return. A woman dressed in a business suit peddled past wearing one of the familiar cotton shawls that covered her arms and shoulders from the burning rays of the sun. She skillfully swerved around a man pulling a two wheeled handcart loaded with cantaloupes. Deeper and deeper they wove their way into the heart of China.

They ended up at the Yu Yuan garden, which had been built many years before by an official of the emperor. The official had fallen out of favour and had retired to this garden paradise in the heart of the Chinese sector.

"Everything in Chinese culture has meaning," Quin stated and Petra joined in having been told this by Quin on several occasions. The two of them laughed and Quin went on. "This garden is a good place to show you that."

They walked from the crowded narrow streets into the cool of the now public gardens. Despite the fact that the house and garden were surrounded by the crowded city, the gardens created the illusion of the country. Stone walls, a man-made mountain and trees formed natural barriers sealing the huge garden off from the noise and crowds of the city around it.

They sauntered along a red zigzag bridge to a pagoda in the centre of a small lake and fed scraps of bread that Quin had saved from their lunch to the golden carp. "The bridge is made this way so the owners of the house could walk safely at night. Ghosts can only move in a straight line, so if one was following you in the dark you would be able to escape once you crossed the bridge."

They ambled on, Petra's arm linked over Quin's, walking beside a stone wall over which tree blossoms hung in colourful profusion, filling the air with soft sweet perfume. They walked on a multi coloured carpet of fallen petals. Quin stopped to point to a series of lattice scenes that had been inserted over the open windows in the wall. "This one, Petra, is of a plum tree and cranes. It symbolizes the life of a famous ancient poet who fell out of favour with the court and spent the rest of his remaining days raising plums and cranes. That in turn reflects the life of Yu Yuan."

"Symbolism," remarked Petra, looking up at Quin.

"Yes, everything has meaning, often meaning within meaning. In a society that had to guard every word in order to survive, symbolism becomes a way to communicate safely. But it is not all so complex, many symbols are there just to bring joss...luck. The Chinese are great believers in joss."

"Are you?" asked Petra, probing to find out more about her complex lover. Quin smiled and bent down and kissed Petra on the head lightly. "Well, you came into my life and I consider that great joss."

They walked on, holding hands, to the first of three beautiful teak pavilions each on its own island in a series of interconnected lakes. At the gate was the usual raised step to keep demons out and on either side were huge stone Chinese lions. "This is the male lion. Under his foot is a round ball showing his mastery over the world. But you will note that the stone ball is carved to look like a ball of thread. It represents the thread balls that young girls throw to the boys they like. It is a symbol of the dominance of the male over his household but also it is a symbol of devotion and love. The female lion, over here, has a cub under her paw, symbolizing discipline and nurturing. Only noble families had the right to have these sorts of lions at their doors."

Quin pointed out the various small bronze figures that stood along the roof line of each of the pavilions. On one roof peak were water dragons to help put out fires and on another the disgraced official had placed figures of the leading generals of the time, hoping to have their support and protection from the anger of the emperor. On the third building, was the typical row of mystical animals, each one symbolically representing a characteristic of the emperor's rule.

They entered the beautifully carved and lacquered building, passing into a living area. Quin pointed to a side table where a large rectangle slab of marble sat on an ornately carved base. The grain in the marble looked like a stylized landscape of mountains and trees. "To draw evil spirits away and trap them inside," Petra said and Quin looked pleased that Petra had remembered. Petra was glad that Quin had suggested that she buy a similar marble landscape for her father. It was the perfect gift.

Perched on the other end of the side table was a large, beautifully glazed vase. "The word vase in Chinese sounds the same as the word peace," Quin explained. "So the large vase symbolizes the tranquillity within the home."

"We will have to get one," Petra said, squeezing Quin's arm. The simple words made Quin's heart beat erratically. Was Petra thinking of making a life with her? That would be wonderful.

"I have several in my home," Quin stated, smiling down at Petra.

"I thought your home was the suite here in Shanghai," the sociologist responded in surprise.

"No, it is just my base because most business deals now are made in Shanghai. My home is on the hill in Hong Kong." Quin said this with a hint of pride in her voice.

Petra put her head to one side and looked at her complex lover. "Symbolism, right?"

Quin blushed, having been caught out. "To live on the hill is to have money and power," Quin explained. Petra laughed and shook her head as they walked on through the garden.

Petra stopped to look at the top of the wall that encircled the huge garden. From one side to the other, a huge stone dragon lay. Here, close to the main gate, the dragon's head reared up and watched those that came and left with interest. "The dragon guards the garden. You remember, it is a lucky symbol and is associated with rain. Do you see the stone toads between the paws of the dragon? Dragons eat toads and toads live on the saliva of dragons. Yin and Yang. It is the way of life."

Just outside the garden gates a covered walkway led to the busy, narrow streets of the Chinese sector again. Here the old had gathered to sing, tell stories and drink tea from jars. They stopped to watch as several people played traditional instruments and an old woman and man sang and acted out the parts of a famous opera. "In China, people must make their space. Unlike North America, the old are visible and part of the community. You will see them lawn bowling in the parks, playing card and domino games along the promenade, sitting outside stores at night, or they find a place like this where they can make music and tell stories."

Do you see your stepmother?" Petra asked, as they moved on.

Quin looked surprised by the question and a bit insulted. "Of course! You will meet Huang Qui in Hong Kong. She stays in my house there when I am not in North America. She is very wise and I listen to her advice. She bullies me."

Petra laughed. "Now that I have to see! ....Aaah, Quin, does she know about your orientation?"

Quin nodded. "She tried her best to marry me off but has resigned herself to the fact that I am gay. It does not please her. She says it is because the ancestors were not pleased with my father who was not a very good man until he met my mother. That is why they sent the typhoon too, that killed my parents."

"Do you believe that?" Petra asked as she watched Quin flag a taxi.

"I believe that my father was a rogue and my mother a woman of belief and spirit. No one, not even a god, controls my fate," responded Quin arrogantly.

They got into the cab and Quin gave directions. Then Petra teased, "Except your stepmother."

Quin laughed. "Yes, gods I do not fear but Huang Qui...well, around her I behave."

"Quin, will taking me home be a problem, because if it is..." Petra started, needing to hold Quin's hand because she was feeling insecure.

"No, it won't. She will be pleased that I have found someone at last that I love," Quin reassured her, giving the small hand within her own a gentle squeeze. "Of course she will not say so, but the symbols will be there." Petra laughed and the two women relaxed once more.

They had afternoon tea in the restaurant of the Shanghai Museum. Then they spent hours walking around the stunning modern building looking at a magnificent collection of artefacts. There were areas dealing with the ancient ink paintings and poems, coins, armor, bronze work and ceramics. Petra wanted to read and take everything in around her. She realized that she was just getting a small taste of what was China, only enough, really, to appreciate the enormity of China's history and culture. She suspected that you could study this country for an entire lifetime and still feel a stranger to its complex overlays.

Tired and happy, they made their way back to the hotel, the night skyline of Shanghai looking like a back drop from some futuristic movie. A quick shower together and they were once again back in bed. They kissed softly and just enjoyed sleeping in each other's arms.

Petra woke first in the early evening and carefully slipped from bed. She washed and dressed and then called room service to send up a dinner for the two of them. Quin was still sleeping soundly, and knowing that it would be a while before their meals arrived, Petra decided to email her dad. She had not done so for several days now, and she had much to tell him of her adventures. She wondered if her intelligent father would be able to read between the lines and realize that his daughter had fallen in love.

How would he take that, she wondered. He'd had a stormy relationship at first with Val, not being willing to accept his daughter's orientation in the beginning. Over time, he had come to like Val but Petra suspected that he never thought that Val was good enough for his daughter. How would he react if Quin was part of her life?

She did not want to go down to the business centre to use the internet connections there in case room service came before she got back. Quin's computer sat on the table, still on from when the engineer had logged in to check her business email before they showered. Petra did not think the engineer would mind if she used it.

She moved Quin's open disc folder aside and sat down to connect to her server. To her shock, she noticed two of the discs in the leather folder were labeled Kurt Vossler and Petra Vossler. Petra took out the disc which bore her name and slipped it into the a drive. A massive file down loaded onto the screen. Petra skimmed through the data, documents and pictures that were there. Everything was there. It was clear that Quin had known about her relationship with Val long before her father had. There were even her medical and school records. She clicked out and checked her father's file. It was just as detailed. Quin hadn't just been casually gathering information where she could as Petra had presumed, she had been actively spying on them. Looking at the other discs, she could see that there was a good deal of information on each of the regional directors too. How did she get this information? And how did she use it?

Petra felt a cold anger building inside. Quin had played her for a fool. Here she had let herself love again only to discover that she was just a part of Quin's master planning and manipulation. She had been vulnerable because of her loneliness, and Quin had used that weakness to her own advantage.

She stormed into the other room shaking with anger. Needing to let her pain out physically, she picked up the glass of water from the bedside table and splashed it into Quin's face. Quin came up spluttering and furious. "What the hell!"

"What the hell? Let me tell you. You spy on us! You have damn great big files on us. You know more about me than I know about myself! God damn you, Quin. This was just a nasty, sneaky game of conquest wasn't it? I'm just another of your many."

"What? Petra, that's not..."

"I don't want to hear anymore of your lies. I am out of here!" Petra snarled, her voice shaky with emotion. She turned and stormed off. Quin chased after her to the door but other than running naked after her down the hall there was little that she could do to stop Petra from leaving. She ran quickly back to the room and threw some clothes on and started out in search of the woman she loved.

By dawn, Quin was frantic. Generally, street crime in China was very low, but a young European woman out late at night would be a target in any city. In the hours that Quin had searched, she had imaged unspeakable things. She was shaky and near tears as the hours went on. Finally early that morning, she got a lead. Petra's name had shown up on the passenger list of a plane heading for Guilin. Quin hired a small plane, registered her flight with the authorities, and made a dash to the airport.

Petra had taken a taxi straight to the airport to head home and then realized that she didn't have her passport with her. She was damned if she was going back to Quin's suite while the engineer was there. Instead, she went over to a travel desk and made arrangements to take a tour of Guilin and the Li River. She hoped by the time she got back, Quin would have gone and she could pick up her things and leave without ever having to see the woman again.

The plane left early in the morning, and Petra bought a chocolate bar and found a bench in a quiet corner of the airport and tried to rest. She drifted in and out of sleep, a nightmare of her fight with Quin repeating over and over again in her mind. By dawn, she was crumpled, and miserable. She freshened up in a ladies room and then rushed to catch her flight out.

Guilin, the guide who had picked Petra up at the airport explained, got its name from a yellow flowering tree called Gui. The suffix lin means forest. The blossoms are well know in China because yellow is the imperial colour. After they bloom, they are made into yellow cakes or a wine. He left Petra at the new hotel to register and went to pick up the other guests who would be doing the tour that day. Petra booked her room and then crossed the street to walk along the wide promenade and look over the stone railing to the Li river below. Petra was in a state of shock and hurt inside. She was only vaguely aware of the beauty around her.

Guilin was a pleasant city with a wonderful promenade and park land that ran along the edge of the river. Small stalls sold crafts, water and food from early in the morning to late at night. In the early morning, many people gathered along the shore to do their exercise, as Petra had observed in many of the places they had visited.

One woman sold soup from a small hand cart and Petra smiled sadly as she saw the ingenious woman slip her one bowl into a plastic bag, fill the bowl with soup and give it to a man who drank it down directly from the sanitized bowl. Once he had finished, the plastic bag was placed in a container to be washed later and a new plastic bag was put on the bowl for the next costumer. Petra took in the sights and sounds and yet she felt numb and strangely detached, isolated from the world be her emotional pain.

Her guide returned with a van load of tourists and Petra climbed in. Introductions were made and Petra smiled pleasantly and made the necessary small talk even though she was feeling depressed and hurt. The van took them past rice fields flooded and ready for new crops and new fields being turned over by farmers in wide brimmed reed hats holding single blade plows pulled by water buffalo. Misty blue in the distance were the tall cone shaped mountains that this area was famous for. A half hour's drive brought them to where they would meet the large river boats that would take the lazy two hour trip down through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.

Petra knew that the area had been the subject of hundreds of paintings and poems over thousands of years. She knew she should be excited about seeing this wonderland but her heart ached and she just wished that she could be with Quin. Petra realized that she had been really stupid. She should have known that Quin would try to play her for a fool. She had been well aware of the engineer's reputation both in business and in bed. Why did she think she would be any different?

As quickly as she could, she left the others to eat their meal below deck while they waited for the boat to leave and went to stand on the upper deck where she could be alone to think things over. She just wasn't very good company at the moment. She was deep in thought when she heard a commotion on shore. Looking up to the promenade above, she saw Quin running full tilt down the street, people scattering in all directions as she darted through the crowds. Angry voices followed her as she leaped over the guide rail with one hand and loped down the stairs.

Petra felt the rumble of the engines change, and the river boat slowly started to edge away from the dock. Quin had been too late. Petra was not sure if she was relieved or upset by that.

Quin saw the boat starting to pull away. She didn't stop to think, she increased her speed and with a superhuman effort jumped. Her flight was cut short as she hit the hull of the ship and, grabbing for the rails of the stern deck, she managed to hold on, her feet trailing in the water. The kitchen staff, who used the stern deck for cooking, yelled angrily at her as they hauled her aboard the ship.

Quin yelled back, pushing her way through to the main salon and handing an infuriated first mate her ticket was she sloshed through the crowd of startled tourists in the dining area looking for Petra. She wasn't there. Quin stood on the front deck now, not knowing what to do. She was exhausted, dirty, hungry, wet, and frantic with worry.

Petra had started to her feet as she saw Quin make a mad dive for the stern of the ship. Leaning over the rail, heart in her mouth, she saw the engineer clinging to the stern of the ship and being hauled up by angry crew members. She went rushing down the stairway but was blocked by the crush of crew in the small area from getting to Quin. She could hear Quin's voice yelling over the angry voices in Chinese.

Petra backtracked, cutting across the top deck and going down the stairwell at the bow of the boat. There she found Quin, leaning on a bulkhead, wet and dirty, her face buried in her hands.

"Quin?" Petra asked, feeling compassion well up inside her despite her anger at the woman.

Quin looked up in relief. Tears overflowed her eyes and she wrapped Petra into her arms and shook with tears of strain. Petra held on to the woman and said nothing. It would embarrass Quin to draw attention to her emotional display.

Finally, Quin pulled herself together. "You scared the hell out of me. I love you," she got out between sniffs, her voice tight with stress.

Petra pulled back and looked at the engineer. "Quin, you spied on me. You spy on everyone," Petra stated with sorrow.

Quin leaned against the bulkhead and looked at her feet. "I work and live on the other side of the earth from the parent company. To stay on top of things, I pay a lot of money for information," Quin admitted, bluntly. Better to be shot for the wolf she was than a lamb. Petra deserved the truth.

Petra looked at Quin in disbelief. "Quin, that is really despicable. It is one thing to gather information where you can, that's just good business sense, it is quite another to investigate people's backgrounds in depth."

"It is part of business at this level. Look, Petra, I am not saying it is right, I am just saying that it is what I have to do to stay on top. I could have used the information over the years to do a lot of blackmailing to get what I want. I didn't." Quin said, trying to justify her actions.

"What do you use it for then?" Petra asked. She was no fool; knowledge was power and Quin was powerful.

"To stay one step ahead of everyone else. If the other regional managers need to know, they have to come to me. That puts them at a disadvantage," Quin explained, trying to scrape a bit of river weed off her one running shoe with the toe of the other.

"And did you tell them about my father to gain points?" Petra asked sharply.

Quin looked up, her eyes blazing with sudden anger. "Of course not! I told you that already. I don't play those sort of games."

"But you were prepared to wine, dine and bed me to improve your position with the company, weren't you?" snapped the sociologist.

"At first, yes. I told you that too. I haven't been lying to you, Petra. I was annoyed at first that I was going to have to take time from the site to show you around and then I thought I could use the visit to my advantage. When I realized you were here to evaluate me, I tried to back off, but I couldn't. I'd fallen in love with you," Quin ended almost in a whisper.

There was a long silence and Quin thought her heart was going to burst with pain. Then Petra stepped into her arms and Quin held her close. "I'm sorry," the taller woman said.

Petra nodded, not trusting her voice to speak. They stood for a long time just holding on to each other. Then they found a quiet spot to sit at the bow of the ship to watch the magnificent scenery of the Li valley together.

The trip down the Li River was spectacular. The pinnacle mountains rose on each side in lush, green like magical islands on the fertile plains. Along the way were small, quaint villages, children swimming, water buffalo soaking or grazing on the tender grass growing on river deltas, farmers working in the fields in their wide brimmed hats, and people fishing with small hand nets or diving for snails from narrow bamboo rafts.

One of the serving crew came by and offered them the local snake wine. Petra looked slightly pale as she looked into the big jug that the smiling waitress held up, filled with a golden liquid and with the dead remains of several snakes floating around in the bottom. Quin laughed and declined on their behalf. "Do people really drink that?" Petra asked.

Quin shrugged. "Some of the old still do but mostly it is made for the tourists."

Quin pointed out an old man on the shore who had two cormorants sitting on each end of a pole he carried over his shoulders. "He is a fisherman. The birds have a band around their necks to stop them from swallowing fish. They catch the fish and bring them back to the fisherman and then at the end of the day the fisherman takes the band off and feeds the birds."

It was a picturesque world and one belonging to another era. Petra soaked in all the sights and sounds in wonder as she sat close to Quin. There were a lot of issues yet that she and Quin needed to work out and that was not going to be easy. Petra had known, however, when she had seen the despair in Quin's face when she thought Petra was not on the ship, that the engineer did indeed love her. Somehow they would find a way to make this work.

They shopped in Guilin, before heading back to their hotel, buying fresh clothes as neither woman had brought any in their mad dashes. Then they took turns showering, Quin smelling rather bad after her night of searching, her dunk in the river and sitting in the sun all day on the ship.

The engineer emerged from her hot shower stark naked as she dried her hair with a towel. Petra, sitting in a hotel robe, let her eyes drift over the figure with hunger. Quin saw the look and dropped the towel on the floor. She walked over to Petra and knelt before her. "I want you. More than that I love you," she said in her serious way.

Petra leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Quin's neck. Quin scooped her easily up into her arms and carried her to their bed. With passion tempered by love, Quin moved her hands over her lover's body, as she teased Petra's breasts with her lips. She gave Petra as much pleasure as she could and then, as she felt the smaller woman nearing the brink, she entered her and moved with her need until the sudden climax made them both moan with pleasure and seek each other's lips. It was a night of love, each trying to wash away the hurt and fear that they had both shared at being separated from one and another.

The next morning, they talked. It was a hard and often emotionally charged session but in the end they were able to find some common ground to build a relationship on. Quin knew that she was going to have to change her ways for Petra to be able to respect and love her. This she was very willing to do realizing that Petra had brought to her life meaning beyond material wealth. On Petra's part, she realized that she was going to have to let go of Val's ghost. Quin was here and loved her, and Petra very much loved Quin. It would not be an easy relationship. Their cultural realities and lives had been so different. Yet she knew that this was what she wanted.

In the afternoon, they visited the Reed Flute Cave. The cave, Quin explained, had been found by a farmer looking for interesting shaped rocks that he could sell for garden ornamentation. It was called the Reed Flute Cave because at one time they grew in this area. The reeds were wooden and hollow inside and a simple flute could be made from them.

The cave was cavernous and ran for miles, although only a small section was open to the public. The stalactites and stalagmites were truly breath taking. In sections of the cave, shallow sand bottom pools to each side of the path they took reflected the fairyland above them, making it look like they were on a narrow rock bridge with open, carved space all around. The cave had been discreetly flood lit with coloured lights to add to the beauty. Petra was in her element, pointing out interesting shapes and imagining herself in a magical fantasy land. Quin grinned and carried on stoically only truly happy when she was back out in the open again. She did not like closed-in space.

Returning to their hotel, they checked out and flew back to Shanghai. Then, after a night of love, they flew by commercial airline to Hong Kong. Quin arranged for their baggage to be sent on to her house and then hailed a taxi for them. Quin took Petra first to a shopping area near Repulse Bay. It was crammed with the most fabulous array of clothes and furniture, all packed into small stores along narrow streets. Soon poor Quin was weighed down with parcels as Petra moved from one store to another with a truly predatory gleam in her eye.

At noon, they headed back to Hong Kong harbour and took a water taxi around the harbour to see the sampans, the huge teak fishing boats that people lived on all their lives. Petra and Quin ate freshly grilled tuna aboard the famous Jumbo floating restaurant in Hong Kong harbour and then they packed Petra's shopping into a taxi and headed up to Victoria Peak. They got out at the viewing area and the cab was sent on to deliver the parcels at Quin's house nearby.

The view from the top was simply breath taking. All of Hong Kong's skyscrapers spread out around the bay far below them and the water of the bay sparkled like diamonds. They stood against the stone wall and looked down on the old British colony and now a free trade zone of China. "I have always wanted to come to Hong Kong," Petra admitted, from inside the circle of Quin's arms as the taller woman stood behind her. "It is a city of legend."

"I remember my first trip here years ago as a young girl. It was a booming city then, the centre of trade and commerce on the very hem of the bamboo curtain. Today, it has lost that edge. It is Shanghai that is the centre of growth now. Hong Kong is still the port of entry to China for most Europeans and it is an area of great wealth, power and deep history. I love it here."

Petra turned to look up at Quin. "I have a good job at the university," Petra stated. "What are we going to do about us, Quin?"

"I will ask your father for a transfer back to Canada when a position becomes available. Hopefully that position will be as first vice president to the company until your father retires, but if that is not the case, then I will look for another job in the area." Quin smiled, confidently.

"But Quin, if you love this place..." Petra protested but was stopped by Quin kissing her fingers and placing them on Petra's lips.

"Yes, I do love the east but I am not Chinese, I am Canadian. Canada is my home. We can keep my home here and still live in Ontario. Huang Qui would like that. She misses her Chinese friends in Toronto."

"Are you sure, Quin?" Petra asked.

"I have never been more sure about anything in my life. I want to work with you to make a life together. Is that what you want, Petra?" Quin asked, a slight nervousness in her voice.

"More than anything in this world," Petra stated honestly.

Quin smiled and together they walked hand in hand down to their eastern home, all of China a backdrop to their dreams.

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