For Disclaimers see Ch. 1

Author's Note: I made a promise to myself to try and post a bit more regularly. I even gave myself a deadline after I posted the last chapter which worked to a large extent. But it seems getting back my writing chops when the characters really can't seem to agree on what they're doing is more difficult than I thought it would be. Still, they are still speaking to me, so that's something at any rate.

And don't let me forget to thank everyone for emailing me about the next chapter. That helped too, lol!

As always, please read, enjoy and review!

Feedback welcome at


A Chance Encounter Ch. 18


Bobbie Halchishak


* * *

The drive back was quiet and tense; a far cry from their happy, adventurous beginning. Luce ended up staring out the window nearly the entire way back, mind whirling, thinking far too much.

Could she have saved him? If she'd forced him to meet with Agent Jenkins the moment he confessed the truth, would it have been enough? Would that have saved his life? What if she'd been paying better attention, caught the signs of his duplicity, would that have helped anyone? Could she have stopped him from selling his soul to save his worthless son?

Question after question rolled through her mind, a million what if scenarios she couldn't even begin to see her way through. None of it helpful and all of it painful and self defeating. And it led her down a path of ugly thought she never thought she'd find herself traveling.

She wanted to hurt someone, make them feel as bad as she did at the moment. Wanted them to doubt and seethe with helpless fury and realize there was almost nothing they could do to stop those terrible feelings or thoughts. Most of all, she wanted to hurt Don; with words or fists, at this point it didn't really matter. Just so long as he could feel the same ugliness and rage she was feeling inside herself at the moment.

With a start, she realized something truly awful about it all. She hated him, in the darkest corner of her heart, she hated him. He'd been weak, a coward, and he'd let himself fall so far without bothering to ask for help. All because he'd been duped into thinking someone he loved was in danger.

That made her wonder, could they have done that to her? Could the cartel have pushed her into that dark space and forced her to make the same decision? Would she sell her soul as easily, as quickly, all to protect those she loved? She thought she'd known the answer to that, now after this she wasn't so sure anymore.

She knew that in life there was often a lot of gray areas of all shades. And learning to compromise on the smaller stuff wasn't really a bad thing per se. It allowed a person to function in a world with very few absolutes without going crazy. Because a person who had room only for the truth of black and white in their lives, wasn't one who would survive long with the rest of society.

But for some things, there was no middle ground, no compromise. You did not allow bad people to hurt good people or any people if there was some way you could stop it. Full stop. Period. For Luce, that was her absolute, her black and white.

She wasn't a crusader, not by any means; she never went hunting for these things. But when life saw fit to toss a problem in her lap, which it seemed to do more often than most, she dealt with it. Swiftly and without thought, doing what she could where she could to stop the bad things in the world from getting worse. Because she knew, that giving them even an inch when you could have stood against them, was the worst thing you could ever do.

And always before it had seemed more than worth the price. So what if the people she busted thought her a cold, heartless bitch. An ice queen with water running through her veins. An unfeeling automaton that could never understand or care about other people's desperation. She'd been called a lot of things over the years of her career. And she'd never given another thought to it the price she'd been asked to pay. Not until this moment when she found herself pondering Don's choices and making them her own.

If the cartel had come to her, what would she have done? Likely told them told them off in at least a dozen different languages. Threats or not.

And if they'd gone beyond threatening her? If they'd threatened her mother? Kylie's family? Kylie? What if they'd done more than threatened, what if they'd followed through and hurt them?

Luce felt her lips pull back in a soft snarl at the thought. If they'd managed to lay their hands on Kylie, there wouldn't have been a rock big enough on the entire planet that would have hidden them from her. She'd have lifted every damn one if she had to. And when she found them, she'd make them pay for everything they ever did. In spades.

That brought a small dark smile to her face. And for a moment, she found herself enjoying the idea. Then, sighed as she shoved it aside to focus again on the problem at hand.

The truth was, she liked to think she'd have chosen differently. But in the light of day those ideals could be all just so much smoke and mirrors. Just like they had been for Don. But at least for her, the choice would have been worth it.

She sighed loudly as the traffic started building around them knowing that in just a few more minutes, they'd be back at the rental place and she still hadn't managed to sort her mind out. Her insides were churning like a sea in a hurricane. And every breath she took seemed to shrink her chest just a fraction more making everything tighter, smaller, harder.

She took a deep breath, trying to force everything back down. Putting it all away until she had a quieter moment to deal with it all. But it was insidious and slippery. Just when she thought she had a better handle on it, it slithered free again.

Looking out the window, she realized that trying to ignore it until a bit of time and distance took the edge off of it probably wouldn't work. She'd be in full blown panic attack mode long before that ever happened. She needed to deal with whatever was at the root of all this now. She didn't have the time or the energy to wait it out.

And a little voice inside her head was pretty adamant it wasn't just about Don's death anyway. She'd learned the hard way to listen to that little voice when it spoke up; it was usually right.

She knew she needed to talk to someone. But who?

Kylie sat next to her, silent, thinking her own thoughts and leaving Luce, thankfully at that moment, in peace. She'd done that the entire drive and Luce had been very grateful for it. Though she didn't miss the occasional searching look Kylie gave her when she thought the taller woman wasn't paying attention.

Luce studied her out of the corner of her eye, feeling herself give a sharp mental shake of her head. She could share anything with Kylie; she knew that, deep in her heart she knew that Kylie would never judge her for any thought or feeling that crossed her mind.

But she didn't think Kylie could help her with this. Because deep inside herself, Kylie was a decent person and a bit naïve. She wanted to believe in the inherent good in everyone. She thought everyone could be saved from themselves if given the right motivation. Admirable as that was, it gave Kylie a positive air that Luce knew would be disastrous for her at this moment..

She needed someone else. Someone who no longer had any blinders about the truth of how the world really worked. Someone who could look at the darkness and smile, before brushing off their hands and going to work. Someone who would take one look at her and slap her up side the head for being an idiot.

At times like these, she found herself wishing her father was still alive. He'd been such a no nonsense person, able to deal with whatever life threw at him without so much as a passing glance. His genial nature often beguiled people into thinking he was a bit simple and naïve himself. But the razor sharp mind hidden behind his pleasant smile soon changed their minds.

He'd have taken on look at her and given her the verbal slap upside the head she needed to step back and take a deeper look at this whole situation. He was good at that kind of thing. She wasn't so sure it would work as well coming from Kylie.

She looked up with a start at the touch of Kylie's hand on her arm. They were back at the rental place and she'd been sitting like a statue in the passenger side of the car completely oblivious. Frustrated, she managed to grab a hold of herself, giving herself a firm mental shake and pushing her mental issues down far enough to let her deal with getting her car back.

A short time later, they pulled up in front of Kylie's house with Luce behind the wheel. Kylie had offered to drive again but Luce had been firm. She'd needed something to keep her distracted from her thoughts.

She stopped the car, turning to the smaller woman. “I need to go talk to the feds. I'm not sure how long I'll be.”

Kylie gave her a soft smile, kissing her softly. “Just text me. I'll be here waiting when you get back.”

The soft spoken statement did wonders for the taller woman. She leaned into Kylie, their foreheads touching as she closed her eyes and soaked up the love between them like a person dying of thirst. She gave Kylie another kiss and then, watched her get out of the car shutting the door gently.

She never took her eyes off Kylie the entire time she walked up to the house. Then Kylie put a bit of swagger in her step and it made her smile a bit, knowing that the other woman was doing it in an effort to cheer her up.

She reached the door, turning to give a smile and a wave before she disappeared into the depths of the house. It made Luce smile even brighter. The effort seemed to have worked, the dark cloud that was hanging over her didn't seem nearly so threatening now.

Luce shifted, intending to pull out her cell phone and started slightly when she realized it was already in her hand with the contacts page open and glaring on the screen. Mac's name and number stared at her in silence and she felt her smile evaporating as her mind was drawn back to her earlier thoughts of who to talk to.

And now she had her phone in hand just ready to be dialed. It seemed like divine intervention to her.

So before she could think better of it, she hit dial and waited for him to answer.

* * *

Luce walked into the bar, surprised and grateful that Mac had agreed so readily to meet with her that she hadn't really examined where he'd asked to meet her too closely. Until she'd pulled into the parking lot of an Irish pub.

Now, she stood in the doorway, letting her eyes adjust to the dim interior for a moment before spotting Mac's familiar face sitting at the bar. She made a beeline for him. She sank onto the bar stool next to him, grabbing the shot in front of him and downing the contents without a second thought. She winced at the sharp burn of the alcohol as it coursed down her throat.

She held up the empty glass, giving him a wry look. “Do you always drink like this at lunch?”

He shrugged as the the bartender set a beer down in front of him. “From the sound of your voice, I figured it was that kind of day.”

She nodded as she set the glass down and signaled the bartender for another one. “Yeah, it is. Don's dead.”

That stopped him. “What happened?”

The bartender set down another shot in front of Luce. “The feds think he killed himself.” She downed that one in a single gulp as well, resting the glass against her head as the alcohol coursed it's way down into her stomach. She felt Mac's eyes on her, studying her as she set the glass down.

"You feel responsible." He didn't sound surprised.

The flippant remark pissed her off. "Shouldn't I?" She snapped, slamming the empty shot glass down on the bar, ignoring the piercing look from the bartender. She signaled him for a beer, whatever Mac was drinking.

This time he snorted not bothering to hide his contempt. "Why? Because you should have seen this coming? You should have saved him somehow? Done something? Made him go to the feds even if you had to drag him there kicking and screaming? What were you going to do, put him in protective custody yourself? We both know you can't save people who don't want to be saved.”

She stiffened next to him, silent but listening.

He gave a small shrug seeing her reaction. "And this really isn't about not being able to save him anyway. Not when you get right down to it, not really. You wouldn't have called me for that, not me.”

He took another sip of his beer and studied his glass a moment before setting it down. "No, questions like that are only good for changing the flavor of guilt.” He gave her a sharp look when she opened her mouth to speak. "Oh, I think you feel guilty alright, just not for the reasons you want me to think you do."

His sneering tone pissed her off even more. But she hadn't spent the last decade in boardrooms browbeating people into doing what she wanted without learning a thing or two. So, she swallowed the anger and gave him her best, bored executive face. "Enlighten me."

He ignored the look. "Tell me, when they told you he was dead, that he'd probably killed himself, what was the first thought you had. Knee jerk reaction kind of thing. Forget human sensibilities, what was the very first thought that flew through your head?"

“Thought? I didn't think anything beyond the fact that I was pissed he was dead.” Her normally stoic facade, a mask she wore well enough for it to be like a second skin cracked a little. Something about his needling was really getting to her and she found herself taking an angry sip of her beer and having to resist the urge to slam the glass back down on the bar.

Mac snorted at her. “You want to try that again with someone who doesn't recognize the look on your face for what it really is? See, I don't really need you to tell me what your first thought was. I already know. I knew it the minute you walked through the door and told me he was dead.” He took a relaxed sip of his beer and opened up his menu, perusing his choices slowly and calmly; as if he had all the time in the world.

“Then why ask me about it?” Her louder than normal question drew a few looks from the people around them but she ignored them.

Mac ignored her raised voice also, continuing to leaf through his menu slowly. “Because you're angry. No, you're not just angry, you're so pissed off you can't even see straight. And anger like that doesn't just happen to a person like you. There's a reason behind it. A feeling, a thought, a random mental twitch; doesn't really matter what, but something sparked it. And until you admit what it was, you're gonna stay angry.” Mac put his menu down, giving her his full attention. “So I want to know, what was the first thought you had when you found he was dead?”

Luce's temper snapped the leash, letting his verbal jabbing get the better of her. “I hated him, all right? I thought he was a coward. That he took the easy way out. That he'd left us all behind to clean up the damn mess he made and he didn't even have the guts to face the music.” Her angered snarl didn't travel past the two of them.

This time Mac gave her a warm smile, not at all surprised at her admission. “Now we're getting somewhere.”

She looked at him in shock and surprise. Both at his words and her loss of temper.

He arched a brow wryly at her. “What, you think just because you liked the guy, that you admired him means you can't find a way to hate him too? Sometimes hating someone you once admired is all you end up having to work with.”

Luce heard the matter of fact tone but found herself looking closer at him and what she saw surprised her. There was a light of understanding and sympathy there that she had never expected to see. And just like she realized he did understand how she was feeling; because he had been there himself. Warring with the same inner turmoil she herself was now wrestling with. And from the look on his face, it had ended badly for him.

She could feel a new facet forming in their friendship; a kinship of a rather morbid sort, but a tangible one. And just like that, she felt her anger slipping away, fading in the light of the fact that she wasn't the first person to ever end up disappointed by someone close to her.

She found herself reaching out and taking his hand. “When did it happen to you?”

He was quiet for several moments, starring into his beer glass as if reliving the event. He was quiet for so long, she began to wonder if he would answer her at all. Then he took a deep breath. “It doesn't really matter. Suffice it to say, it involved someone turning their back on me when I really needed them and a lot of people ended up dead, including them.

“The human soul is a dark, dark place, Donovan. Full of such terrible potential and yet still be capable of profound acts of beauty.; all of it rolling in a sickening twisted mass that hurts your eyes to look at it. But its still a gift that needs protecting and nurturing; because even one lost soul is one too many.

“You and I, Donovan, people like us? We have a special burden. Almost like a curse, really. Because we do what so many other people can't and put our souls at risk every day of our lives in order to make the decisions they can't and save as many as we can. Sometimes we get lucky and we pull it off, saving someone. But a lot of times, more times than we'd like, it back fires and they end up lost. Either way, because of the choices we make, we end up a bit darker for it.

“But you keep doing it, because it's in the name of the greater good, because it needs to be done and because we can't help ourselves. In the end, that's what makes the risk worth it; as long as you can keep walking the razor's edged tight rope across the abyss in your own soul.”

He sighed loudly, taking a long sip of his beer before setting his glass down again on the bar softly.

“You know what the worst part of someone like Don falling like he did? It makes you realize how close to the edge you actually are. Knowing that you're really just one step from falling into your own pit of darkness. And for some people that's truly terrifying.

“Because there's no way of knowing how far you'll fall or what'll happen when you finally do. Are you going to hit bottom and shatter on the rocks? Or are you going to spend the rest of your life falling, sinking deeper and deeper into the darkness inside yourself?

“Because once you start down that slippery slope, what's there to stop you from sliding further? If you cross one line, why not the next? Or the one after that? Until one day you find that you're so far down inside that trench of yourself that you can't see daylight, can't even remember what it felt like on your face anymore. And there's nothing about you or your life that you recognize, understand or even like.

“Maybe in that moment you go a little nuts, maybe even take that final inevitable slide into madness. Maybe you take a look around you and try to put the brakes on, change things back to the way they were. Either way, it's too damn late; the damage's been done. And as far as everyone around you is concerned, you're tainted goods, a lost cause, a horrifying disappointment. As fucked up as the world is, that would be a terrible way for a good person to go.

“Don, now Don was kind of lucky. He was, in all likelihood, just beginning a lifetime of falling. But he somehow found a way to pull himself over just enough to catch himself on the rocks. Was it cowardly? No question. But he's dead now and he doesn't have to face up to the consequences of the choices he's made. In the end, he's the lucky one in this whole mess.” He slugged the rest of his beer in several large, noisy swallows before signaling for a refill.

Luce sat there in shock as she listened to his soft spoken words; each sentence resonating with the darkest corners of her soul. It was without a doubt the most words he'd ever spoken to her at any given time. And every one of them terrified her. Because there'd been a ring of truth she wasn't able to easily brush aside.

She took a mechanical drink of her beer pondering what he'd just said to her.

Whatever she'd expected, even hoped to hear from him, this hadn't been it. She'd expected him to yell, maybe even tell she was being a damned fool. But she hadn't expected not only an easy acceptance of what she was feeling, but a great deal of understanding as well. That surprised her almost enough for her to ignore the implication he'd just finished making.


Some kind of hero? Her? She snorted softly to herself. Not bloody likely. And if that's what he really thought about her, he was way off. She was no more a hero than Kylie was a man.

That thought made her chuckle softly to herself.

The humor of it lifted her spirits somewhat and cleared the gloom and doom from her mind that had settled over since the feds had called her such a short time ago. It let her focus on the truth; a truth she knew in the depths of her soul.

No, she wasn't the hero type. She was more the type of person who stepped in when things needed doing and nothing more. Because when it came right down to it, and the shit hit the fan, somehow she was one of the few in it's general vicinity that ever seemed to know what to do.

She'd never asked for it, never looked for it, never expected to have that sort of life. But she also couldn't ignore it either. It was just something more that fell into her lap. She'd done her best over the years to live up to those expectations, to do the right thing whenever she could. But that didn't make her a hero, not by any means.

And the implication that someone in her life saw her that way, bothered her a great deal. There was a reason heroes seemed to be few and far between in this day and age. And she had no desire to get burned by the sun just because those around her pushed her too high.

She shuddered slightly at the thought.

As if sensing her turbulent thoughts, Mac reached up and gave her shoulder a firm squeeze, before letting his hand fall back down and abruptly changed the subject.

“I'm sure you have some idea about the people I work for. Seems they've been watching you and they're very interested in you.”

It seemed that he was finished giving her something to think about; and she was very glad of the subject change. But his words only chilled her in a completely different way. If half of what she suspected about his bosses was true, she didn't want them looking in her direction too closely for any length of time. But if she'd somehow managed to catch their attention, she had no idea how to turn it away.

She pushed that thought aside, snorting into her beer to make it seem like she wasn't concerned in the least. “If they find me that interesting, it must be a slow day at the office.”

He chuckled with her but it didn't seem to reach his eyes and she understood that this was his way of warning her about them. She gave a small, almost imperceptible nod. Warning received.

He shrugged, acknowledging the almost nonexistent nod, going on in a genial voice. “You were quite hard to ignore after you brought that damn European blackmailing scheme crashing down. A lot of heads rolled over that one.”

Luce chuckled again, the expression genuine this time. “Yeah, that was quite a nightmare. I had no idea how many people were part of that until the house of cards started tumbling down around me.”

“With that and now this money laundering scheme being busted up, you'd have some serious pull with them. They always like it when a major cartel is brought down a bit. Reminds all the others how easily it could all just disappear.”

Luce shrugged before reaching into her wallet to pull out a few bills to cover their drinks. “As much as I admire you, we'd be at each other's throats inside of a month.” She stood. “I have no intention of working for them now or ever. You be sure to tell them that.” She turned to walk away and then, turned back one last time. “Thanks, Mac. It helped. I'm not sure how much. But it helped.”

He gave her a salute with his now refilled beer glass and turned back to bar and his refreshment.

She walked out of the bar, feeling a great deal lighter than she did when she first walked in. There was one final thing to do before she went back to Kylie's

* * *

“I wish we'd met under better circumstances, Ms. Donovan. I think I would have liked you a great deal; so long as I wasn't in your cross-hairs, as it were.” Agent Jenkins held his door open for her, waving her to the chair directly in front of his desk.

She slipped inside the room, sliding her long frame into the seat with ease. She gave the agent a wry smile. “I think we've reached a point where you can call me Luce, Agent Jenkins.”

The Agent nodded. “Luce, then.” He touched his own chest lightly. “Roger.”

She smiled softly. “I think I would have liked you too, Roger.”

He sat down in the chair behind his desk, his face puzzled. “If you stopped by to find out more about Don's death, I'm afraid we don't know anything yet. The M.E. is still doing the autopsy.”

She shook her head. “I actually came to tell you that Don was the front man for the cartel. He admitted to giving them access. They were threatening to kill his son. Only, it turns out the son may have been part of it all along.”

Andrew blinked stupidly absorbing what she'd just said.. Whatever the agent had been expecting it hadn't been that. He sighed and then leaned back in his chair. “I assume you have proof of all this.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I was sitting on it, hoping to get Don come forward on his own and ask for your help. I thought if he came to you willingly, before you found out how he was involved, you'd find a way to protect him.” She sighed softly, her tone a bit withdrawn. “Looks like that was too much to hope for.”

He regarded her for several quiet moments before obviously collecting his thoughts. “Why tell me now? Why not before? Or, if you were looking to save his reputation, why not keep quiet? We might never have figured it out. I've been talking to some of the guys going over the evidence you gave us and they seemed really doubtful they'd ever figure out who was behind the whole thing. The man was smart enough to cover his tracks and point us all in at least half dozen different directions. So I have to ask, why?”

She shrugged, not really sure why she felt the need herself. “I thought about all that. Thought about keeping it to myself. I'm not completely sure I would have figured it out either; hell I stumbled onto it completely by accident. And I knew the man, knew him and would have sworn, to the depths of my soul that he wasn't capable of doing what he did. But I would have been very wrong about that.”

She paused for a moment, struggling to come up with the right words to explain what he did in a way that someone like Jenkins would not only understand but maybe even empathize with. It seemed that even his betrayal and death couldn't stop her from finding a way to protect him.

“He did a horrible thing for a very, very good reason. He did it thinking he was protecting someone he loved. And even though it turns out that he was being played, that's probably the only reason someone like him would have been willing to sell their soul. But in the end, what he did was still wrong. And as much as I admired him, as much as I liked him and wanted to help him, I can't lie about what he did and risk someone else taking the fall.”

Andrew gave her a slight nod. “I admire your honesty. I wish more of my agents were this forthcoming.” He paused, giving her an appraising look. “You know, we really could use someone like you.”

Luce snorted softly as she thought back to Mac's words in the bar just a short time ago. “Is it recruiting week for the government and no one told me? You guys must be pretty hard up for bodies if you're willing to put up with me.”

He chuckled and she went on. “You could hire me, but I can guarantee you that you'd more than rue that choice inside of a week. I don't do well in this kind of rigid command structure. I'd end up being fired for telling the higher ups off the first time no one listened to my suggestions”

This time he laughed. “There's a pretty good chance you'd end up promoted out of it.” The laugh faded as he gave her a very serious look. “The offer still stands. If you ever feel like a change of careers, look me up. I know some people who could use your skills and my superiors were impressed with how you handled this whole thing. We could work it so that you weren't actually part of the FBI, more of an independent consultant type thing, but you'd do some good.”

She was a bit honored by the offer, but still shook her head. “Thanks, but no. If you ever need help again, just pick up the phone. I'm more than willing to do what I can. But being at the beck and call of the feds, any of them, seems more than I want to deal with right now.”

He gave her a slight nod of understanding. “I expected that, but I still had to ask.”

“So where do we go from here?”

He shrugged, fatigue showing clearly on his face. “Now, we take what we have to a judge and we start herding up as many of these bastards we can find and make charges stick if we can. This is going to get really messy, really quickly. And I doubt we'll manage to get everyone; to be honest, I doubt we nail even most of them. But I'm hoping we'll get lucky and nail enough key players to more than topple this thing.”

She nodded, understanding. Sometimes, catching enough people to dissuade others was all you could hope for. “And the hit?”

Andrew sighed. “It hasn't been called off. So, you'll still have a couple of tails for the time being. As soon as we have word that the cartel isn't after your blood, I'll call them off. Which means, I need you to cooperate; don't go off doing anything stupid that will make our job harder than it has to be.”

She gave her own sigh. “I can't promise anything; I have to live my life after all. But I'll do my best.”

* * *


Luce left Agent Jenkins's office feeling a great deal better than when she'd received his phone call. And she knew she'd have to find a way to thank Mac later for it. If she could think of something. Something besides a lifetime supply of tacos at any rate.

But for now, she headed back to Kylie's house deciding to ignore the rest of the world of the remainder of the day; after all they had some planning to do. They had a house to build and decorate. Not to mention a few minor details to square away. And for some reason, she couldn't shake the feeling that it was high time they got started.

She pulled up to Kylie's house, cutting the engine and practically bounding up the walk, the spring in her step something she just couldn't ignore. Even if she wasn't really sure why it was there.

She let herself into the house, suddenly mindful of Agent Jenkins warning and made sure to lock the door securely behind her. As she turned, she found her arms suddenly full of sun warmed skin and cotton as Kylie practically threw herself at the taller woman and wrapped herself around her.

Luce smiled as she reached down to give Kylie a soft, heartfelt kiss. She could feel her toes curling a bit at the sensation and hearing Kylie's sudden change in breathing, knew the other woman was greatly enjoying it as well.

Kylie pulled back, giving Luce an appraising look for several quiet seconds. Then she smiled as she let Luce step away from the door.

“You look better.” She said quietly. The tone in her voice said she'd been worried and trying to hide it.

That touched Luce a bit and she reached out to cup Kylie's face in her hands as she smiled and nodded.

Kylie's smile grew. “I'm glad.” She took Luce's hand in her own and led her into the kitchen where she'd been working when Luce let herself in. “I decided after you left, to cook a magnificent dinner for the two of us; I had to improvise just a bit but I think we're going to like it.”

The kitchen looked like a bit of a small disaster had hit, what with food and clean and dirty dishes scattered about. But if the smell was any indication, they were in for a real treat tonight. Luce felt her mouth watering as a faint odor of decadent deliciousness hit her.

“We've got to smell that cooking for how long?” The plaintive tone in her voice made her sound like a spoiled teenager.

It made Kylie laugh. “Sadly, a bit longer. But it'll be worth it.” She went back to tidying up to prepare the dessert she had in mind.

Luce came into the kitchen, wrapping her long arms around the shorter woman from behind, nestling her head on Kylie's shoulder and kissing her neck softly. “Whatever you cook is worth it.”

That made Kylie snort slightly even as she relished the contact. “You might not say that 20 years from now; who knows what I can come up with to try out on you.”

Luce felt her heart stop at the comment. It always seemed to catch her out of left field, the casual remarks both of them made about their future. And how easy it was to see the two of them together so many years in the future. She'd never had that with any of her other relationships and it still surprised her with this one. She decided she really, really liked it.

“What did the feds have to say?” Kylie's question broke into her pleasant thoughts.

She sighed a bit, shrugging as she stepped into the kitchen. She really needed another beer. “Not much. At least not a lot more than I expected.”

Kylie stood at the stove stirring a pot. “Is it over then?”

Another shrug from Luce as she took a sip from her beer. “For the most part. Although the shit might hit the fan again when they start arresting people.” She offered the bottle to Kylie.

She shook her head a bit at the offer, “It'll make the paper interesting again for a while.”

“Hmmm.” The answer was very noncommittal

Despite Luce's earlier good mood, something about her face drew Kylie's attention. “Are you sure you're ok?”

That same shrug. “I think so.” She looked down at her hands holding the beer bottle knowing it was truth time and wondering what would happen once she let this one fly. “I talked to Mac today.”

That surprised her a bit. “Oh? Did you run into him somewhere?”

“No, I sort of called him after I dropped you off.” She looked at Kylie, meeting her gaze steadily. “I needed to talk to someone and I...” she broke off, not sure what else she could say that would convince the other woman it'd been the best idea she could come up.

A light of understanding appeared in Kylie's face. “Wait, are you worried I might be upset you couldn't talk to me?”

Luce let out a frustrated breath. “You're my girlfriend, we're practically living together. I should be able to talk to you about things that bother me.”

She nodded. “Very true. But then again, none of this falls under the realm of normal relationship issues.”

“So you're not upset I ran off to talk to someone else about Don?” Luce looked at her earnestly searching for any sign that Kylie was hiding her true feelings, trying to protect her.

Kylie laughed. “Sweetheart, you could have gone off to talk to a random stranger about him and I'd have been OK with it. Provided you came back feeling better about it all; which I will point out, you obviously do.” She paused a moment at a new thought. “However, if you do this kind of thing with something about our relationship, you might be in some trouble.” They both laughed at the possessive tone in her voice. Sobering, Kylie reached out to wrap her arms loosely around Luce's shoulders “So what did he say?”

So Luce told her, as much as she could remember anyway.

“That makes a lot of sense. And he's right, you know. You do find a way to help people if you can.”

Luce shook her head. “Don't.” She couldn't have Kylie buying into this damn nonsense too; it was bad enough with Mac.

Kylie wasn't fazed at the rebuking tone in the taller woman's voice. “Don't what? Make you into something you're not? How could I when you manage to make yourself into exactly what you are without any help from me?” That last bit was said in complete seriousness but with a slight smile on her lips to give a bit of playfulness and lighten the mood. It didn't completely work.

She looked down at her feet shaking her head. “I'm no hero.” Her voice was quiet but firm brooking no argument. Under no circumstances was she going to allow Kylie to see her as anything but what she really was. And last time she checked, she didn't wear a damn cape.

Kylie wasn't swayed a single bit. She snorted softly. “I think that depends on what your definition of a hero is.” She reached out and took Luce's hands in her own, forcing the taller woman to look up and into her eyes as she went on.

“To me, a hero is someone who stops to help a total stranger after she's fallen off her bike and cut her leg up. A hero is someone who takes that same person to the hospital and then sits with her for hours to keep her from going bat shit crazy until her family arrives. A hero is someone who drops everything she's doing in an afternoon to help someone get home. Someone who cuts stitches out of the legs of a neurotic, terrified woman who called her out of desperation.

“A hero to me is someone who puts her own life on hold because someone she respects and admires calls her up and says, 'I need your help'. Need I go on? Or do I have to mention the emergency response kit in your car that includes not only granola and cereal bars and bottles of water, but also little stuffed bears for the kids of the families I know you stop and help?”

That little discovery had been quite an eye opener and a complete accident. Luce had sent her out to the car to get something she'd forgotten. And she'd discovered the case that Luce kept for emergencies had fallen open, a few minor things spilling out. Kylie had grabbed it intending to fix it when she'd seen the little stuffed bears poking out. It hadn't been that much of a surprise to her once she thought about it. But it also gave her a bit of insight into her rather tight lipped lover that she relished over the next few days.

Luce blushed a bit, not saying a word.

No, Luce might not think she was a hero but Kylie knew differently. Because to Kylie, she just was.

Kylie dropped her hands, encircling the taller woman in her arms and kissing the top of her head gently as she cradled the dark head against her chest. “Whether you believe it or not, you are a hero. And I'm your biggest fan.”

“You know what the scariest thing about heroes is?” Luce's mumble was almost lost in Kylie's shirt. “How hard they fall.”

The statement made Kylie's heart clench in her chest but she pushed it aside to gaze into troubled blue eyes. “Then, it looks like I'll just always have to be there to catch you.” She gave Luce a soft kiss.

The touch of the smaller woman's lips did a great deal to soothe the ragged edges of her soul. And she felt the last of the tension from her hectic day just simply drain away.

She answered the soft kiss with one of her own, her hands reaching up to cup Kylie's face gently between them. Then, she deepened the contact, sending Kylie's senses into a tailspin of sensation that made both of them shudder.

“Dinner's going to burn.” Kylie's protest was weak and she did nothing to stop Luce's gentle explorations.

She shrugged. “I have a feeling it won't take long.”

There was a wry chuckle from the shorter woman and then she felt Kylie's hands reach out, trailing up her sides to gently cup her breasts through her shirt. All her attention was swept away by the passion that built between them. And for awhile, all they knew was each other.

* * *

Luce knew she was dreaming almost as surely as she knew they'd fallen asleep on the couch while watching a movie. For a moment, she pondered the strangeness of that realization; to know you were dreaming but still being unable to control it. She'd always thought that being aware of the dream gave one a certain measure of control over it.

It seemed she was greatly mistaken. Because no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't seem to shift herself out of the strange dreamworld she found herself in. Even when she firmly closed her eyes and repeatedly told herself it wasn't real, nothing changed when she opened them.

The woods were still there, the campfire still roared nearby. And she was still lying on the ground, holding Kylie as she slept draped across her chest.

It was all too strange for words.

Even trying to untangle herself from Kylie and stand up was useless; she simply didn't move, no matter how much she willed herself to. It seemed she was well and truly stuck where she was at.

Resigned to it, she relaxed and decided there were a lot worse things she could be dreaming of then lying in a forest somewhere with Kylie wrapped around her; at least there were no bugs.

And just like that, once she accepted it, she sank into and began to relish it. Noticing for the first time the sound of the birds, the feel of the dwindling sunlight flitting through the trees to touch her cheek. The smell of woodsmoke and the heat from the fire caressing both her nose and skin with sensation.

She smiled in contentment, wrapped her arm tighter around the shorter woman and relaxed into the dream even further. She felt Kylie sigh slightly and burrow closer, giving her own sigh of contentment.

For a moment, there was peace.

But the moment was short lived.

It was soft at first, rising at the very edge of her senses to tease and tickle at her. A strange, almost subvocal buzzing that began slowly filling her skull even as it spread across her skin.

For a moment, she thought she was laying on a stone or something. That maybe it was slowly cutting off feeling in her arms and legs. But even as she thought it, the buzzing increased almost violently making her feel as if her skull was vibrating.

She touched a hand to it, wincing as the buzzing spread even faster across her skin. She lifted her head and looked around. The buzzing grew louder as she scanned the forest. There was nothing there that she could see, but the buzzing persisted.

Swearing softly, she decided enough was enough and willed herself awake, pulling herself up and out of sleep with a sudden heave. And found herself awake on the couch in Kylie's house where they'd fallen asleep earlier.

The buzzing followed her out of the dream and with a sudden jolt of alarm, she realized they were no longer alone in the house. There was a man standing in front of the couch, quietly watching them in the soft light of the lamp they'd left on.

He was a short, almost nondescript man with almost nothing about him that made him stand out. If she'd seen him on a busy street filled with people, she knew she would have been hard pressed to hold onto his face. More than likely she would have passed over him without a thought. And that fact raised the hair on the back of her neck a bit. It made her take a closer look.

The moment her eyes met his in the dim light, she felt her blood freeze in her veins. However harmless this man appeared to be, the eyes told a far, far different story. And it was a terrifying tale. His eyes were cold, dead, almost alien in their remoteness. If she had to describe them to someone, she would have said they were like what she would expect to see in a serial killer. Intelligent but unfeeling and so damned deadly.

The minute that her eyes met his, she knew without having seen a single picture just who had broken into Kylie's house.

She sat up, feeling a slice of fear skitter down her spine as she shook Kylie awake roughly. The smaller woman grumbled a bit at the sudden intrusion of her slumber. But she too, froze as she realized there was a stranger in the house with them. She sat up in silence, Luce feeling the sudden tension humming through her body as she came fully awake.

The small man gave a slight bow of his head. “Based upon your reaction, Ms. Donovan, I assume you know who I am.” It wasn't quite a question and the words were softly spoken in a cultured voice that belied the terror of the eyes.

Luce began to wonder if his eyes were always like that or if he managed to shield them in his day to day life when he needed to. Much like he'd done with his appearance and voice.

“Yes, I know who you are, though I'm not quite sure of your name.” She kept her voice soft and respectful, her instincts telling her this was not a man she wanted to anger.

He gave a soft smile. “Then perhaps some introductions would be in order. My mother would be very disappointed if she thought for a moment I had forgotten my manners.”

Luce shivered slightly. To think this man had a mother much like everyone else was a bit terrifying. Despite the gravity of the situation, she wondered if his mother knew the truth of what she'd birthed in this man. Although the truth of it would probably break any sane woman's heart.

He touched a hand to his chest softly. “My given name is Rodrigo. But most of my associates simply refer to me as Delgado. And of course you are Luce Donovan and your lovely companion is Kylie Rogers. My associate has been very helpful in providing a great deal of information on both of you.”

He nodded to the dining room behind them were Luce became aware of a second presence a moment before a second man appeared, carrying a chair for the man in charge. She watched in stunned silence as Jace's face came into view.

The situation had just gone from simply bad to a level of worse she couldn't even begin to calculate.

Next to her, she felt Kylie stiffen further, a small gasp escaping her lips. Luce reached down, taking the smaller woman's hand in her own, squeezing it reassuringly as she turned her full attention back to the far more dangerous man in front of them.

The obvious awkwardness of the whole situation made Rodrigo smile a bit. “I see you remember my associate. I must say, Ms. Donovan, that he certainly remembers you, and not at all fondly. I would do my best not anger him further if I were you. It took a great deal of persuasion on my part to keep him from killing you the moment we entered the house.” He waited for Jace to place the chair and settled into it with a sigh, his gaze never leaving the two women in front of him.

Jace disappeared back into the kitchen. He never even looked at them as he passed but his stoney face spoke volumes. They were in a great deal of trouble.

“How'd you get past the Feds?” Luce asked quietly. She dreaded the answer, but she had to know. If there was a chance that her shadows had remained undetected, maybe she could find a way to warn them. And if not, that changed a few things.

He gave a small smile, the gesture at such odds with his eyes. “They are currently otherwise occupied.”

Luce swore softly to herself, finding herself praying the agents had only been incapacitated and not killed. But not real hopeful in either case.

Luce sat there in the awkward silence that filled the room, studying him for several moments, trying to see something, anything she could use to find her way out of this situation alive. Calling upon all her years of reading people, hoping her experience would give her some insight into this man, she watched him, even as she knew he was watching her.

But there was nothing there, the man was a complete blank slate. If it weren't for her own instincts screaming at her that this man was dangerous, that he was someone she needed to watch closely and tread carefully around, she might never have even known he was there at all. If he put a bit more effort into it, she knew he could hide even that basic thing from her; shielding himself and his presence from her senses until she even doubted the truth of her own eyes.

That thought terrified her even more than starring into his eyes. This was not someone she was going to be able to intimidate or even manipulate. This was not someone who would be easily cowed by her rather strong personality. No, this was a man who dominated everyone around him by his mere presence.

And if she couldn't read him, couldn't get a sense of what he was feeling or thinking, she had no idea just how in the world she was going to talk her way out of this. For the second time that night, she felt a twitch of fear skitter down her spine.

Jace reappeared from the kitchen, carrying a cup of tea. He handed it to his boss and then, took up a stance to the left of him, his eyes silently boring holes into Luce as he did so.

Rodrigo lifted the cup, blowing on it slightly as he gave them a bit of chagrined look. “Forgive me, but the flight here was very crowded and I am very parched from it. I do not wish to lose my voice while speaking with you.” He took several sips of the hot beverage before clearing his throat and setting the cup aside. Then, he turned the full weight of his gaze back to the two women sitting on the couch before him. “Now, I am sure you are both wondering why exactly I am here.”

“I think I have a pretty good idea.” The tone of Luce's voice was respectful and steady. But there was an undercurrent of expectation to it and none of it was good.

He flinched slightly at it and Luce half expected him to put a hand to his chest in mock despair. “You wound me most dear, Ms Donovan, to assume the worst of me so quickly. However, I know my own reputation well and can easily understand your jump to such an obvious conclusion.” He finished his tea and with a soft clink, set the cup aside. Then he turned his full attention to her and studied her again for several moments, silent and watchful.

Luce sat on the sofa, trying to stay still and relaxed as that icy dead gaze bored into her. She knew he was trying to do; it was something she did often herself, trying to unnerve the person she was staring at, knowing that silence and the intensity of her own eyes was often enough to make even the most mildly guilty of people break down and start confessing their sins.

But she wasn't about to start confessing her deepest darkest sins to this man. She had no intention of revealing a single thing to him if she could help it. And for several long moments there was a tense silence in the room. It was so thick, it was a wonder that anyone could breathe.

He broke the heavy silence with a loud sigh. “I find myself in quite a predicament, Ms. Donovan.” He shifted in his chair a bit to lean forward, almost as if he were passing on a terribly important secret. “You have destroyed something it took me a great deal of effort and time to put together, meddled in my affairs and lost me the use of some rather valuable individuals. In normal circumstances, I would have killed you weeks ago.” He gives the impression that doing so would have been nothing more to him than reaching up to swat a fly. “But then again, you are truly far from ordinary.”

Luce was stone silent in front of him sensing the undercurrents of violence and blood lust in him And she had no desire to test his self control.

Rodrigo went on as if her silence wasn't important. “You intrigue me, Ms. Donovan. You intrigue me more than any individual I have come across in a very long time. And as my associate will tell you, it takes a great deal to grab my attention these days.” He paused, pondering her again, that dead gaze suddenly weighing on her.

It was almost like a heavy writhing mass and it moved over her skin like a colony of maggots. It made her skin crawl and took everything she had not to shiver, not to show fear. She clamped her jaw shut tight and pushed the sensation to the furthest corner of her mind, willing it away.

He seemed almost pleased by her lack of reaction; as if he'd expected it or even hoped for it. His soft chuckle felt like a bomb in the too quiet room and it grated on her nerves even as the grating sound made her skin crawl even more.

He went on sounding suddenly very pleased for some reason. “You continue to astound, Ms. Donovan. You feel fear yet refuse to show it and even more importantly, you refuse to back down from it. Even threats of violence did nothing to dissuade you from doing your duty.”

Luce mentally shivered slightly, feeling him temper his gaze a bit until she no longer felt like her skin was trying to crawl off her bones. And shrugged slightly. “Threats come with the job. They always amount to a lot of hot air. How was I supposed to know this time would be any different?”

He chuckled, obviously pleased that this time, he was able to draw her into the discussion. “Reputation, Ms. Donovan. Surely mine should have made you pause. I am not exactly known for being a patient and understanding man.”

She gave a slight nod in acknowledgment. “Reputations are only as good as the person backing them. They can be faked, they can be wrong. In my line of work, they're usually both. You'll have to forgive me for making that assumption with you as well.”

He gave a slight nod of his head. “Perhaps.” He paused once more, his eyes drifting to where Jace stood waiting in stony silence next to him. “My colleague did not want me coming here. He did not see the need for me to dirty my hands with this, as it were. But then, he does not really understand my fascination with you either. All he sees is a target.”

“And what do you see?”


There was a great deal of eagerness wrapped around that single word and it make Luce's blood turn to ice in her veins.

Cautiously, she asked. “What do you mean by potential?”

He smiled and it wasn't a good smile. There was a feral edge to it that made a whole new wave of fear and panic skitter down her spine to pool in her stomach. For all his effort to appear normal, that smile made him look like a Halloween skull with the skin stretched too tight, too thin across it.

And she was directly in his line of site.

“I came here for a specific purpose, Ms. Donovan. To take your measure myself, in person, to see if you would be as valuable to me as I suspected. To see with my own eyes if what fascinated me was in fact real.”

“And now?” She held her breath.

He shrugged. “And now, having sat in your presence, I find that you are indeed, in the right circumstances, an asset I very much need.”

That made her angry. “So you came all this way, to what? Use me? Try to buy me? Turn me to your twisted purposes?” Despite her fear, she threw the words at him; insulted that he would think he could manage to do any of those things.

He went still in the chair; so still that she wondered if he was even still breathing. And for the first time that night, his eyes flashed with something other than emptiness. They burned in his face like coals as he regarded her. “Tread carefully, Ms. Donovan. My fascination with you stretches only so far. You would do well to remember that I am a dangerously violent man. One who would not hesitate to hurt you in this moment should I feel insulted.” His voice was low but hard as granite.

She ignored the warning in his voice. “I don't take too well to them either.”

He was quiet for a moment and then nodded slightly in apology. “That was not my intention. It seems there has been a bit of a misunderstanding. I did not come here to bully you or try to force you to my will; I came here to offer you a place in my organization.”

Her world twisted violently as she tried to process what he'd just said. “You came up here to recruit me?”

He shrugged, his tone completely reasonable and understanding; as if he were quite used to shocking the people around him on a daily basis with his strange leaps of logic.“Surely you cannot be all that surprised, Ms. Donovan. I have not survived as long as I have without learning to recognize usable skills and talents when I see them.”

Luce took a short breath, clamping a firm hold on the pithy and somewhat catty response that came to mind at the thought of him wanting to use her “skills and talents” to further his violent and bloody empire.

She swallowed softly. “You can't seriously believe I could have anything of value to offer your organization. Especially when you seem to surround yourself with such,” she waved her hand at Jace glowering beside his boss, his hatred still clearly written in his eyes, searching for a way to describe how different they were without offending anyone. “Uniquely skilled individuals.” She finished diplomatically.

He shook his head slowly. “As skilled as my people often are, they are still thugs and villains at heart. And as useful as such people are, there are some situations where sending them in would be akin to using a sledgehammer and dynamite to kill a fly. Effective, true. But far too destructive for the outcome.”

He sighed softly, shifting in his chair. “Age has taught me the value of subtly, Ms. Donovan. And there are times when a much more...gentle touch is needed to accomplish my goals. I can think of no better person to use to accomplish this than you.”

“You do realize this is completely insane, right?” Luce's mind whirled; of all the ways she expected tonight to play out, this hadn't been among them.

He smiled slightly. “Yes, quite. And yet, here we are.”

She sat there for what seemed like an eternity, studying him, her mind racing as the world slowed down around her. It seemed strange that earlier that day she was pondering what she would have done in Don's shoes if she'd been given a similar choice. And to find herself suddenly given one; it was a bit surreal.

She was no fool; she knew just what this was even if Rodrigo hadn't come right out and said it. If she turned him down, he was going to kill her, kill them both. He couldn't risk having her as an enemy again in the future. And the death of not only her but Kylie as well would send a very hard message to the rest of the criminal world he dealt with. One very few people could afford to ignore.

She resisted the urge to look at Kylie sitting next to her, terrified that she would see nothing but a desperate hope on the other woman's face to save them both. She knew if she saw that, she was lost; she would give anything to save Kylie from that fate, even her own soul.

She felt Kylie squeeze her hand and then relax and just like that she knew what Kylie was thinking. She looked at her from the corner of her eye and felt a surge of pride swell in her heart when she saw nothing but a grim acceptance in that elfin face.

For a moment she could hear a soft echo in her mind, words spoken across the depths of it as if whispered there by Kylie's own voice. I've earned my place; where you go, I go.

Luce squeezed her hand back and turned her full attention back to Rodrigo and his henchman.

He sat there in the chair patiently waiting for Luce to sell her soul to him; to save Kylie, to save them both. He thought it was pretty much a non-choice; that he'd backed her into enough of a corner to cow her and force her to choose the path he wanted. If he thought that, he didn't really know her at all.

And that thought made her wonder.

“When you found out I was looking into your money laundering scheme, did you do any research on me?”

He gave a slight nod. “Of course.” He sounded as if someone would be a fool not to.

“And everything you've read about me told you I was a person of principle, of honor.”

“Yes.” He said slowly, still puzzled.

She nodded as if pleased. “Then surely you must realize that as a person of such principle, working for you would go against everything I stand for. And destroy exactly what it is about me you find so fascinating.”

He paused for several seconds, deep in thought. Apparently, that had not occurred to him.

“There is a reason, a very good reason, why I've never been bought, or bribed or bullied.” She said quietly, her hand tightening on Kylie's.

He looked at her a long silent moment, his eyes cold and dead once more. His heavy gaze never leaving her face. “Perhaps the right leverage was never found.” His gaze slid over to Kylie sitting silently next to Luce, the weight of it threatening and vile and oppressive in the quiet room.

Luce felt the her hackles rise at the obvious threat. She let her own personality slip the leash a bit as her protective instincts took over. It roared to the surface without hesitation. Turning her eyes to chips of ice. “If you'd have threatened even so much as a hair on her head, there'd be no place on this Earth where you could have hid. I would have found you and made you pay.” Waves of nervous, feral energy rolled off her, filling the room, enveloping the four of them. And she sat at the epicenter of it, watching, waiting, measuring.

There was silence for a long moment. But she knew when Rodrigo saw the truth of her personality; a light of understanding and even sympathy touched his face for the briefest of moments. And then, like a puff of smoke, it was gone. That terrible empty, cold gaze was back, staring out at her from his face once more.

He gave a soft sigh studying her and then quietly shook his head.

Luce felt her heart sink as he stood. She knew it was right decision, the only one she could have made. But it didn't make it any easier to bear the consequences of it.

He looked at Jace standing quietly next to him, perched like a vulture next to a dying animal that refused to believe it was going to be a corpse soon. “I will wait to hear from you when you are finished.” He turned to look at the the two of them on sofa. “It has been a true pleasure meeting you, Ms. Donovan. Perhaps if circumstances had been different...” he let the thought trail off as he walked to the door.

Luce never took her eyes off Jace but the sound of the door clicking shut was like a gun shot in the too quiet room. Kylie flinched next to her.

There was silence in the room once more as Jace listened for a car to start and drive off. As the sound faded into the distance, he stared back at the two of them, his face set in stoney resolution.

Luce stared back unflinchingly, refusing to give him even that small satisfaction. The man had been the consummate professional during the entire exchange giving nothing away. But she knew it was an act. Put on for a boss who placed great stock in discipline and self control.

But she knew the truth; knew that there was a great deal more going on behind that stone mask than anyone knew. She'd seen it the day that he'd walked in on the two of them. He'd come home to pop the question to Kylie and instead had been nearly driven to violence, however subtly threatened, at the idea of her in the arms of another woman.

They'd even talked about his reaction; how it might have been better, in his mind at least, if Kylie had left him for another man. At least then he would have felt comfortable decking the guy and moving on. Or so it had seemed at the time.

Now she wondered if even that was too complicated an explanation. Maybe it wasn't about Kylie jumping the lesbian fence; maybe it just about her being with someone else period. If that were the case, he likely couldn't handle the idea of her being with anyone . Gender wouldn't even be an issue; sheer blind jealousy would.

And just like that, Luce knew what she had to do. It would be nasty and cruel and even a touch psychotic but if it worked, Jace would lose it, make a mistake and she could take him out. The thought of what she was about to do curdled in her belly and made her sick to her stomach but if it saved the two of them, it'd be worth it.

She just hoped she didn't end up pissing Kylie off in the process.

Jace, unaware of Luce's startling epiphany, stared at them in complete silence for a several long moments, a nasty pleased smile slowly growing on his face. Then he gave a sharp bark of laughter as he sat down in the chair his boss had just vacated. He gave Luce a long hard look, letting his mask slip a little more, showing her the wolf he'd kept hidden for so long.

Showtime . She thought to herself before she lifted her chin, refusing to be cowed and snorted. “Finally showing your true colors? So, what's it going to be? Shoot us? Stab us? Tie us up like dogs?” She threw each word at him like a hammer, the first barrage in what she hoped would be a very short exchange.

He smiled at her, showing a little more teeth than was necessary, refusing to take the bait. “The boss likes you; he said to make it clean and quick. Good thing too because if it were up to me, I'd spend hours here; just on you.” The venom in his voice was unmistakeable.

Luce felt Kylie squeeze her hand, hard and she squeezed back, silently willing the other woman to be strong, to let her speak without interference. She had to dig at him, make him angry, make him snap. He'd stop seeing reason then, do something stupid, make a mistake. And then they could get away. But only if Kylie was still, quiet, patient.

It was time to take off the gloves.

She sneered at Jace. “Why, because you think I took your girlfriend from you? A bit petty, don't you think?” She felt Kylie's hand tighten alarmingly but she ignored it, pushing her thoughts at the other woman not daring to take her eyes off the pyscho in front of them.

Trust me, stay quiet, stay still. She thought firmly at the other woman and felt the smaller woman's hand relax ever so slightly.

His eye twitched, slightly, ever so slightly, almost imperceptibly.

But Luce was looking for it. And seeing it, she nearly started dancing a jig in her seat. She gave Jace her own evil smile, as she gave Kylie a heated sidelong look, pulling their joined hands into her lap, stroking the smaller woman's hand as she did so.

Jace's eyes were glued to her face, unable maybe even unwilling to look away. His jaw suddenly tight at the sight of Luce's hands on his ex-girlfriend.

Luce's voice purred into the quiet room each word like a nail pounding into the side of his head. “But then, I didn't just steal her from you, did I? No, I seduced her, turned her gay, twisted her up inside until she had no idea who you were anymore. I made her forget about you, completely. She never gave you another thought once I had my way with her.” Her long fingers stroked up Kylie's arm, toying with the shorter woman's hair.

She leaned forward a bit, twisting the screws deeper into him, trying to make the crack bigger. “She threw you away, didn't she? Tossed you out like yesterday's garbage. Why do you think that is, Jace? Were you a bad boyfriend? Inconsiderate? Did you leave the toilet seat up? Leave hair in the sink? Forget to take the garbage out maybe?” Her voice was like steel spiked velvet.

He stiffened slightly at each question but said nothing, his pale eyes like ice chips in his face. She knew from experience that she was getting to him and decided to hit him with the proverbial sledgehammer.

“Or were you just that bad in bed?” Her words were a sweet, honey covered cloud of acid floating into the room, each one slicing into him like a razor.

He was like a rock sitting in the chair, still and stiff and silent. Never taking those ice chip eyes off of her.

She gave him a sweet smile, her eyes full of malice. “It's true what they say, you know. No one knows better how to please a woman than another woman. And me, well let's just say I've had a lot of practice.” She turned and gave Kylie a steamy, knowing look. “And Kylie is a very apt pupil.”

Again, his face tightened and the twitch was bigger this time. Luce could almost hear his teeth grinding in his mouth as the muscles in his jaw tightened. Her smile grew. “And you know what? She loved every minute of it. Especially when I had my head buried between her legs!”

The words were barely out of her mouth when Jace snapped, lunging at her in silence, with murder clear in his eyes. Luce surged from the couch, meeting him halfway, grabbing a hold of him as he came at her.

She managed to throw him away from her, watching in satisfaction as he slammed into the entertainment center, losing his feet and sliding to the floor. But he bounced back to his feet and came at her with renewed purpose and anger.

Luce met him again, ready for the blow she could see coming from a mile away. She blocked it and followed through with one of her own. He staggered a bit from it, stumbling away from her as he tried to recover.

The exchange was over quickly but it told her something very important. Despite his reputation as a hardcore assassin, he was an inexperienced fighter. Or maybe he was the type of person who relied too much on his other skills. Either way, he was no match for her. And looking at his face, she knew he was well aware of it.

He came at her again, this time slamming into her and getting in a lucky shot before she got her bearings and punched him hard in the face. He stumbled back, falling to the floor, laying there panting a bit as she stood over him.

“What's wrong? Can't handle someone who can fight back?” She sneered.

He shifted a bit, trying to push himself to his feet, his movements slow and painful. When he turned, he had a taser in his hand.

She froze.

He sneered a bit at her. “Just biding my time, bitch. I'm going to enjoy watching you burn.” He fired.

The darts hit home and Luce convulsed before crashing to the ground. She heard Kylie give a sharp cry and then, everything went black

* * *

To be continued...

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