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A Chance Encounter Ch. 6




Bobbie Halchishak



* * *

Luce pursed her lips as she sat at the boardroom table, buried elbow deep in paperwork once more. A perfect start to a perfectly chaotic Monday morning. She'd finally managed to get a dedicated phone line installed in the room and was at that moment frantically trying to track down the details of a contract deal that appeared to have gone sour a few months before.

Her reports seemed to indicate that the customer had been dissatisfied in some way and that they were the ones to initiate the breech but without any pertinent details she wasn't taking any chances. Something inside the damn company was setting her off and she wasn't going to leave a single stone unturned until she discovered just what it was. Unfortunately it also meant that she was forced to check out a lot of superfluous information which often led to a great many false leads; much like the one she was looking into now.

She sighed as the muzak from the phone continued playing in her ear, resisting the urge to simply hang up. It hadn't helped her the first time she'd done it only to simply call back a few seconds later. And unless the laws of the Universe had changed for the better in the last ten minutes, she doubted it would make much difference now either. All she really needed were answers and for that she needed a human being to actually answer the phone. But so far she was having little to no luck on that front. To make matters worse, her temper was quickly reaching a dangerous threshold and that didn't bode well for the next person to pick up the line.

In all honesty, her temper had been a little short for the past couple of days now; even the grocery clerk had felt the brunt of her ire the other day for doing nothing more than accidentally overcharging her for some peaches. The poor girl had looked close to tears after Luce lit into her, making her feel like a horse's ass. So much so that she immediately apologized profusely to the tear eyed girl, grabbed her purchases and nearly ran out of the store, vowing never to go back there again. Luce liked to pretend that it was an isolated incident but the sad part was the young girl was simply one of many that had felt the lash of her volatile temper in the past few days.

Luce knew perfectly well what the problem was; she wasn't a fool by any stretch of the imagination. And she knew that nothing had been the same since leaving Molly's house on Saturday; ever since the moment she realized she found herself thinking of Kylie as something other than a friend. Ever since the truth of that attraction had hit her right between the eyes.

She sighed trying to push that sticky truth to the back of her mind as once again an automated voice came on to tell her how much they appreciated her business and her patient waiting. If she heard that damn thing one more time, she was going to find the mechanical monstrosity and rip out its artificial voice box with nothing more than a spoon and sheer temper. With a growl she put the call on hold and punched another button.

Colleen's soft southern twang floated over the speaker. “What can Ah do for ya sugah?”

“Get me someone higher up than this nitwit who's had me on hold for the past 5 minutes would ya? I've got better stuff to do with my life than sit here listening to some downplayed instrumental version of the last hit Elton John had in the 90's.” Her acid tone cut through the phone.

Startled a moment by the vehement tone, Colleen hesitated only a moment. “Sure thing hon; hang on.”

Luce sighed as the speaker went dead feeling a slight headache settle in her temples and begin to pound outward. She winced as she began rubbing her forehead gently trying to stem the pain from getting any worse. It didn't seem to help much.

While she sat waiting for the rest of the world to get with program and answer the damn phone, her mind wandered back to her previous problem. Her attraction to Kylie wasn't the real source of her irritation, not really; point of fact with everything else that was going on at the moment it was really only a minor blip on her radar. What bothered her was that she couldn't seem to quiet her libido long enough to have even a minor friendship; that somehow her hormones were keeping her from having a deep and meaningful platonic relationship with another woman without turning it into something else. She'd been completely honest with Kylie when she told the other woman all she was looking for was a friend. Now it seemed that her body was going to make her into a liar.

There was a click as Colleen came back on the line. “Ah've got George on the line.”

Luce smiled slightly, giving a soft whistle. “How'd you manage that one?”

There was soft chuckle from the other end. “Ah dropped your name and told him some lackey had put ya on hold. He 'bout shit a brick apologizin'.”

Luce felt some the tension drain away as she chuckled. “Well put him through; we don't want to waste that brick do we.” She felt her face smooth over, a familiar tightening flowing over it as she let some of her forceful personality free. Even though he couldn't see it over the phone, she knew from experience that the look would seep into her voice and he would be practically jumping through hoops to get her what she needed.

She leaned back into the chair, feeling all her other problems simply fade away as she heard the lines connect and she focused on the issue at hand. It was time to play hardball.

* * *

Kylie sat in her office putting the finishing touch on the final details with the caterers she'd hired for the party. “Great, this all looks really good. Nice and simple and easy to clean up. When will you guys be there to set up?”

The caterer stood up taking the list from Kylie. “Well we'd like to start setting up a couple of hours before the event starts; that way if we run into any problems we have time to fix them.” She stowed the list and other paperwork she and Kylie had just finished going over back in her briefcase. “You said we'd be able to use some facilities on site?”

Kylie nodded. “Yeah; there's a cafe in the bookstore with a small kitchen. If you need fridge space, an oven or a microwave we can accommodate you.”

The other woman nodded. “That should work out fine; we'll see you on Friday Kylie.”

“Great.” She watched the other woman leave her office just as Marie popped in. “We're all set; the caterer is ready for Friday and the band called to confirm last week. What about the other businesses?”

Marie glanced at her list smiling. “Everyone in a two block radius is on board. In fact I was surprised at how easy it was.” She flipped to another page. “The city gave its go ahead for us to close down the street for the night; but we can only go 3 blocks in either direction.” Kylie nodded as Marie went on. “We've also managed to get tie ins with several businesses for the night. I'm picking up the coupons from the printers tonight.”

“Great, I'll want to look at them first thing in the morning.”

Marie nodded. “I figured. Anything else?”

“Did you get the invites for the family members I asked for?”

Marie nodded. “Yeah, I picked those up this morning.” She stepped out and came back in a moment later, a colorful box in her hands. She handed it to Kylie. “They turned out really well.”

Kylie opened it and looked at the invitations they'd designed to personally invite all of their local employees and their families. They were a simple scroll design, tied with colorful ribbons. She unrolled one and scanned it quickly.

Satisfied she tied it back up and set it back in the box. “These look great Marie.”

“Well it was a great idea; I'm just glad the printer was willing to try it.”

“Can we spare someone to deliver these?”

Marie nodded. “Yeah we're slow and if you hop behind the counter when we need you we should be all good.”

Kylie handed her back the box. “Wonderful, send whoever wants to go and make sure they keep track of their mileage so I can pay them for gas.” Then her manager was gone leaving Kylie to her work and emails.

* * *

Luce hung up the phone a slight smirk on her face. Every once in a while she really enjoyed being able to just let go on someone who'd so obviously dropped the ball. Once she'd finished haranguing George about her being put on hold, the man practically fell over trying to answer her questions. It was very rewarding to listen to. Especially since it looked like nothing else was going to go her way that day.

She looked up as the door opened up and Carl walked in to the boardroom. “Please tell me you're getting somewhere on those damn contracts; I nearly went cross-eyed last week trying to make sense of some of them.”

He chuckled as he sat down next to her. “Sort of.”

“Sort of?” She arched a brow. “Sort of is for questions like 'what do you want for dinner? Well I sort of feel like chicken.' not contracted acquisitions.”

He laughed outright at her aggravated tone. “Well so far there's only been one thing that glares inconsistency at me. Beyond that everything looks perfect, even due diligence.”

She sighed. “Which is beginning to raise a red flag with me. It all seems a little too perfect in the past 6 months. Only a couple of disgruntled clients and a small stack of unpaid bills. We haven't found a single thing to warrant us being here. So why did Jerry send us?”

“Maybe because it was all too perfect. Come on Luce, we both know that with a company this size there's bound to be skimming, inventory adjustments, payroll fudging and those are just the common crimes. The fact that we haven't found anything beyond a few minor offenses should be hitting a dozen panic buttons with anyone even remotely familiar with this business.”

She nodded having thought of that very thing herself just that morning. “True. So what did manage to catch your eye today?”

Carl handed her a piece of paper. She scanned it quickly and then scanned it again unsure of whether she'd read it correctly the first time. “Is this for real?” It was the deed to a warehouse and at face value it looked legit but the report on its expenditures in the last few months made her suspicious.

He nodded. “Yeah bought and paid for in the last 8 months. Someone decided to purchase it to store older furniture and stuff; anything at the office we no longer needed. But a month after it was bought, someone else decided to just sell off a bunch of our surplus and save money on heating and lighting the place. It sat in the dark until about 4 months ago when someone turned all the utilities back on; no one knows exactly why or even what its being used for now.”

Luce shut her computer down and grabbed her briefcase. She was halfway to the door before she remembered he was still there. She kept walking but threw back over her shoulder. “You coming?”

* * *

Luce stopped her car about a block from the warehouse, parking it and turning to Carl. “I want you to wait here while I walk in and take a look.”

He shook his head as what she said penetrated. “No way Luce; Jerry'd have my hide if I let you go in there alone.”

“Look if we pull up and there's some weird shit going on we're going to be caught in the crossfire. But if I go in there alone, I can play stupid, say I got lost. I'm a woman they'll probably buy it; it wouldn't be the first time someone's mistaken me for an airhead.”

Carl grabbed her arm when she tried to leave the car. “You're not seriously going out there by yourself.”

She nodded. “Of course I am.” At the sudden stubborn look on his face, she gave him one of her own. “Don't argue with me Carl; I want one of us able to get away if there's some serious shit going on down here. Besides, you have your baby girl to think of.” He still looked unconvinced. “Look I've got my cell on me, I'll call you and leave it on speaker phone. Will that help?”

He sighed loudly but nodded. “Just be careful please, I really don't want to call Jerry to tell him you're in the hospital or something.”

She chuckled, stepping out of the car. “Don't worry about me, I can seem pretty empty headed when I want to.”

He shook his head. “If they think you're an airhead, they deserve to get caught.”

Luce left him with her car and walked the short distance up to the warehouse. She scanned the exterior of it as she approached and it raised even more questions. It looked just like what it was, a steel wrapped building just beginning to rust, sitting on the edge of town away from even the most die hard foot traffic. Even the paint looked like it'd seen better days. But the parking lot was level and free of weeds and the lights on the outside looked brand new.

It was obvious to her that someone had recently done some maintenance on the building but when and why wasn't forthcoming. She made a beeline for the door, scanning for signs that anyone else was there but the place seemed deserted. There was a large sign on the door warning people of trespassing on private property but she ignored it and reached for the door knob. It turned easily in her hands, obviously unlocked. Puzzled by another minor mystery, she opened the door and stepped inside.

After the bright sunlight outside, it took her eyes a moment or two to adjust to the dim interior of the building. Once they had she glanced around. The place was largely empty; a few scattered crates and pallets here and there but nothing that she saw warranted the expense of heating and lighting the place. No one was doing any obvious business and there was nothing being store there that she could see. She could not understand just what was being done there.

She headed towards the office partitioned off at the far end of the building when all hell broke loose around her. In seconds, she was surrounded on all sides and found herself staring down the barrels of several large caliber guns held by men decked out in SWAT gear; all of them yelling at her to freeze and put her hands on her head. Having expected trouble but not from the cops, she complied readily. Despite her urge to kick some serious ass over this misunderstanding, she had no desire to find out what being shot felt like.

An officer stepped forward and handcuffed her and told her she was under arrest and then proceeded to read her her rights. When he asked her if she understood her rights, she turned her head and gave him a wolfish smile, her humor and desire to cooperate having evaporated the moment the cuffs clicked into place. “Buddy you better hope this is all just a stupid mistake on your part because otherwise I'm going to have your balls for trespassing on private property.”

He ignored her and simply shoved her out the door where a squad car was waiting for them. As she was ignominiously shoved into the backseat, she hoped that Carl had managed to hear everything over her phone. And if she was lucky, maybe he'd be smart enough to follow them to the precinct they were taking her to so someone would know where she was. But then again, knowing her luck she'd be stuck there for a while before anyone figured out she'd even been arrested.

* * *

Luce looked at the two FBI agents sitting across from her and resisted the urge to pull out her hair. They'd been at her for over an hour, having pounced on her the moment she entered the station. Apparently she'd been caught in a sting operation and they wanted to know just why she ended up at the warehouse they were watching. The confidential nature of her job meant she couldn't tell them much if anything; but that didn't stop them from asking and everyone was quickly loosing their tempers.

“Look how many times can I tell you the same thing? I can't tell you anything about why I was at that warehouse, or what I was looking for. Why don't you tell me why you were trespassing on private property in the first place.”

Agent Johnson gave her a wan smile. “Ms. Donovan, we've told you we can't reveal the details of an ongoing investigation.”

She crossed her arms and gave him a sharp look. They were slowly circling back around to the beginning again. “And how the hell do you expect me to cooperate if you're not willing to do the same? Are you investigating the company I work for?”

Again the simpering smile. “We can't tell you that.”

“Then we're finished here.” She threw her hands up in the air.

The second agent, a Mr. Smith oddly enough spoke up from his post near the door. “Ms Donovan...”

She held up her hand cutting him off. She'd learned very quickly that it seemed to piss him off and she was taking an obscene amount of pleasure in jerking his chain. “Please call me Luce; I insist that if you're interrogating me, you should at least use the name my mother gave me.” She watched in satisfaction as his jaw tightened visibly, having to fight the urge to smile.

Sensing his partner's distress, Agent Johnson took over. “Ms Donovan, all we need is some information.”

“Can you at least tell us if you're part of an internal investigation or not?” Agent Smith snapped at her a bit, ignoring his partner's interference.

She sighed. “Gentlemen, and at the moment I use the term loosely, all I can tell you is what you obviously already know. The company I work for owns that warehouse and I was at that location in the normal course of my duties.

Agent Johnson sighed loudly leaning back in his seat. “You're being awfully uncooperative.” His tone was a bit pleading, a bit placating as if trying to entice her to cooperate.

She almost snorted aloud at the attempt. If these two thought they had any hope of intimidating her, they had another thing coming. They had no idea just who or what they were messing with. She'd learned her boardroom face on the fly while playing with the big boys of multibillion dollar corporations. The feds had nothing on that in her opinion.

She smiled pleasantly at Agent Smith just to egg him on. “And you're being a right pain in the ass. But you're a fed so I won't hold it against you.”

Agent Smith flushed red and took a step towards her but Agent Johnson held up his hand, stopping his partner in midstep. “Ms Donovan all we want to know is what you were looking for.”

She gave Agent Johnson a piercing look as she laid it out one last time. “Look, I can't tell you anything without express orders from my supervisor. If I did so, it would not only violate the confidentiality contract I signed with my company and open me up to prosecution, it would also cost me my job. So unless you plan on slapping me with a warrant or arresting me, I suggest you let me go. Either way we look at it, you'll be talking with my lawyer.”

The two agents looked at each other, sighing loudly just as the door opened and another agent that she hadn't been introduced to walked in. It was obvious that he'd been watching the proceedings from behind the infamous one way mirror.

He waved the two other agents away from the table before turning to look at her. “Speaking of your lawyer, it seems your company has provided counsel for you.”

She glared right back at him and gave him a sicky sweet smile. “Then I suggest you bring him in here so we can finally lay this damn thing to rest.” He seemed affronted by her tone but she was way past caring. “If you want answers, he's the one that's going to get them for you.”

* * *

A moment later, the company lawyer appeared at the door. “Gentlemen, I really wished you'd informed us of your intentions sooner; we could have avoided all this confusion if I'd been allowed to inform Ms. Donovan that you were staking out certain buildings before you arrested her.”

The new agent refused to balk at the scolding tone in the lawyers voice. “We told you what we felt you needed to know; the stakeout was on a need to know basis as well. We just didn't think you needed to know.”

Luce snorted softly, annoyed by the damn posturing. “In other words, you thought someone would tip them off.”

The third agent nodded. “There was that concern yes.”

“Wasn't my client cleared prior to this stakeout?”

He nodded reluctantly. “Yes we cleared her.”

“Then she should have been on the top of the need to know list don't you think?” His question was met by silence. “Now if you don't mind, I need to speak with Ms Donovan in private.” He waited until the door closed and turned to Luce, sitting down at the table even as he pulled out a cellphone and began dialing. “I told Jerry not to keep you in the dark on this. I should wring his neck. I'm sure you've got a lot of questions.”

“That's putting it mildly. Ok Lyle, spill it. What the hell is going on here?”

“Why not talk to the boss about that.” He finished dialing and put the phone on the table between them.

Jerry picked up immediately and began to apologize profusely. “Luce, I think I owe you an apology.”

Despite the situation, Luce laughed. “And that's just for starters. You want to tell me why I've just been arrested by a bunch of fed goons who seem to think I'm the ringleader in some sort of conspiracy?”

There was a sigh from the other end. “A couple of months ago, I got a phone call from Special Agent Roger Jenkins. According to him they had received information about a money laundering ring operating somehow through our company. They said the witness was not only reliable but part of the damn operation. So I agreed to cooperate.”

Luce nodded things staring to make sense. “That's why you sent in the audit team.”

“Yeah, I was hoping they'd find something we could hand over to the feds to get them out of our hair. But they came up mostly empty handed. So I called you in hoping you could find what they'd missed.”

Luce shook her head even thought she knew he couldn't see it. “Why didn't you tell me about this at the beginning?”

“Because they wouldn't let me; they said the less people that knew, the less likely they were to tip their hands.”

Lyle spoke up from his side of the table. “And there was the fact that they thought you were involved.”

“Me?” She couldn't hide her surprise at that statement.

“Yeah. Come on Luce they thought we all were involved in some way but they suspected you at first simply because you seemed the most likely to be able to pull off this kind of scheme.”

“So I give the impression of having criminal tendencies?” Her voice was dry and heavily laced with sarcasm.

Jerry chuckled at her tone. “Hardly, they just figured that of all the suspects, you would be the only one with the smarts to make it work and keep it quiet.”

“God you make it sound like I should be flattered.”

This time he was a bit sarcastic. “I wouldn't go that far.”

“Ok so now I know, why not tell me when they arrested me?”

Jerry sighed. “I think their investigation has stalled and they're hoping we might give them the info that their informant didn't seem to know or was unwilling to tell them.”

Something about the way Jerry said the word informant made Luce think. “They've got a mole inside the company don't they?”

Jerry paused a moment before simply answering. “Yeah.”

“Dammit, I thought those security checks came back too clean.” Annoyed, Luce stood up angrily and began pacing around the interrogation room. “So what given a stellar opportunity, they scoop me up and try to bully me into doing their dirty work for them?” She knew that none of this was Jerry's fault but she couldn't hide the anger in her voice.

“Possibly, it wouldn't be the first time.”

Lyle gave her a searching look. “What do you plan on doing now?”

She paused in her pacing and gave him a strange smile. “I think we should invite them back in and lay all the cards on the table. I've had enough of playing poker in the dark.”

Lyle chuckled even as he hung up his phone and went to the door.

* * *

She was sitting in the chair facing the door with Lyle on her left and gave each of them a piercing look as they walked into the room. “All right gentlemen, the rat's out of the bag.”

The agent she assumed was Agent Jenkins sat down in front of her. “So it would seem.”

She crossed her arms, focusing all of her attention and powerful personality on the man. “Good so why don't we cut the shit and get down to the real reason you hauled my innocent ass in here.”

Agent Jenkins shot Lyle a look searching for some sympathy. “A bit blunt isn't she?”

The lawyer chuckled ignoring the agent's attempt at creating some camaraderie between them. “She's earned the right to be; she's damn good at her job. And if you have any hopes of catching these guys, it'll be because of her. So why don't we all just play nice and figure this out. ”

Clearly annoyed at being outmaneuvered, Agent Jenkins let some of his own temper free. “Fine. What do you want to know?”

Luce crossed her arms, firing her first shot. “First off, who's the mole?”

Jenkins shook his head. “Can't tell you; against procedure. We have to protect him after all.”

Luce looked at him in silence for several moments, mentally going over a list of employees who might fit the profile of easily becoming FBI stool pigeons. It was a rather short list based on the little she knew. “Ok fine, I'll find out who it is with or without you. So why don't you start telling us what you've got and what exactly you need from us.”

Jenkins sighed loudly, signaling for one of the agents behind him. The man came forward and held out a folder. “At the moment, not much. We know there's a lot of money switching hands, most of it coming out of South America but where it ends up after that or how it gets clean, we're still not sure about.”

Luce took the folder held out to her and began perusing it. “But the informant fingered our company.”

Jenkins nodded. “Yeah he did but he seems to hit a wall. He's not real high up on the totem pole and no one in charge is telling him anything they don't think he needs to know. All he's being used for is access into the company.”

Luce sighed realizing just how much of a mess this was really turning into. “Then that means there's several other people in this group's pockets. Or at the very least they've managed to somehow infiltrate our network and they're pulling the strings from the inside. Because someone has to be keeping all this off radar.”

Agent Johnson spoke up from behind them. “That's what we thought as well. But our informant can't seem to nail anyone down.”

Jenkins nodded even as he elaborated. “So when he told us about the warehouse and we saw Ms Donovan arrive, we figured that we'd managed to finally figure out who was pulling the strings; despite the fact that your boss and your profile came back clean.”

Luce gave them all a piercing look. “Looks like you figured wrong.” Agent Jenkins didn't squirm but neither did he apologize. She closed the folder with a snap. “What's your next step?”

He shook his head. “Pull back and see if they screw up or we find something.”

“Unless of course you plan on cooperating with us.” Again Agent Johnson spoke up from behind Jenkins.

Luce gave them both a sarcastic look, a truly annoyed smile on her face. “Oh believe me, I'd planned on doing that; I would never want anyone to think I couldn't be an upstanding citizen. I just wanted to make you sweat a bit.” She handed the folder to Lyle who made it disappear into his briefcase. She never took her eyes off of any of the agents in front of her. “But I'm going to need some more time because I don't have much of anything to give you beyond my suspicions. Now that I know what I'm looking for, well that should help a lot.”

Agent Jenkins nodded in understanding. “We'll be in touch then.”

Lyle gave them all a smile as he leaned forward. “Good now that that's cleared up, would you mind releasing my client?”


* * *

Luce dragged herself into her condo, throwing her briefcase onto the counter before reaching into the fridge, grabbing a can of pepsi and sinking onto a couch cushion with a huge sigh of relief. She reached over to grab the remote, feeling an overpowering urge to just simply veg out for the night when the buzzer for the security desk went off.

She swore softly, dragged herself off the couch and walked over to the speaker set discretely into the wall. She gave the button a angered jab to open the speaker. “What?” She didn't even attempt at being polite; after the day she'd just had, there was really no longer any point.

“Ms. Donovan, we have a guest down here to see you.” The voice was polite as the young woman on staff that night ignored Luce's harshly barked question.

Surprised, Luce's mind raced as she wondered just who it could possibly be. “Who is it?”

“A Ms. Kylie Rogers.”

Surprised at the unexpected visit, Luce found herself smiling at the mention of her friend's name and the annoyance of the day seemed to simply drain away. She reached out to press the button one last time. “Send her up.” She let the button go and then raced to her room to change out of her suit and run a brush through her hair.

A few moments later there was a quiet knock on her door and she opened it to find Kylie standing there, a smile on her face and a large bag over her shoulder.

Kylie gave a small wave. “Hi.”

“Hi. Come on in.” Luce waved her in. “What're you doing here?” She led her friend into the kitchen, watching as Kylie set down the bag and began unpacking it.

“Well I had something to deliver for you and your mom and I thought maybe I'd hang out for awhile. I had a really good day and just felt like sharing.” She pulled out some beer and several bags of munchies, setting them on the counter. She reached into the bag, pulling out a roll of paper and handed it to Luce.

Luce took it, unrolling it to see that it was an invitation for the gala Kylie had mentioned. “These turned out really well; very unique.” She set the invitation down and made a mental note to be sure to call her mother about the grand opening.

“Yeah I'm happy with them. I am a little surprised that this hasn't turned out to be more of a pain in the ass than it has been.” She put the beer in the fridge and threw a bag of reese's peanut butter cups at Luce. “You look like you could use these.”

Luce chuckled ruefully and opened the chocolate treat before answering. “Oh yeah; speaking of being a pain in the ass, I was arrested by the FBI today.” She grabbed one of the bags of chips and reached out to snag a bowl before pouring them into it.

Kylie paused, a chip mere inches from its demise as what Luce had said penetrated. “Now that's a new one. Seems like you've got one up on me now.” She popped the chip into her mouth, handing Luce one of the beers she'd kept out of the fridge. “Seems like you could use this too.”

She smiled, taking a long slug before sighing and giving a loud belch. “Oh yeah, that helped.” She arched a brow at Kylie who sat on her stool chuckling. “What?”

“You know, I know you're telling me the truth about the FBI and all but I'm having a really hard time wrapping my mind around it. They arrested you? Like mugshot, fingerprinted, take you in for questioning type arrested?”

Luce nodded. “Yeah, my lawyer just sprung me.” She took another hit off the beer bottle.

Kylie paused again. “Huh, I know a felon.”

She snorted as she snagged all the snacks and led the way into the living room. “I'm hardly a felon; besides they just arrested me, they didn't actually charge me with anything. Kind of hard to make a trespassing charge stick when you actually work for the company that owns the building you were supposedly trespassing in.” She threw everything down onto the coffee table.

Kylie sat next to her chuckling. “So what did they arrest you for?”

Luce shrugged, snagging another chocolate cup. “Unfortunately I can't tell you; ongoing investigation and all.”

Kylie chuckled. “Why am I not surprised.”

Luce leaned back into the couch, slouching a bit as she eyed her friend closely. “So you just stopped by to say hi?”

She shrugged even as she made herself comfortable on the couch and sipped her beer. “Yeah; well that and this little voice kept whispering that you could use some company; glad I listened to it.”

Luce smiled again, saluting her with both her beer and her peanut butter cup. “Me too.” She swallowed the chocolate treat before washing it down with a swig of beer. “So what do you want to do?”

“Well, we have a nearly perfect junk food spread going here, what's say we order a pizza and watch a couple of stupid movies.”

Luce nodded, her mind having arrived at nearly that same plan mere seconds after Kylie walked into her home. “After today, that sounds like a perfect plan. Are we going loaded this time or not?” She reached out to grab the phone and place their order.

“I've had my ride today; bring on the calories.”

Luce chuckled at her enthusiastic tone. “One deluxe coming up. We need anything else?”

She shook her head. “Not if you have the movies?”

Luce waved her hand at the DVD rack next to the TV. “I've got a couple; I just picked up Hot Fuzz and The Love Guru . How's that?”

“Works for me.” She waited patiently for Luce to finish ordering their dinner before she pelted her with a new and pressing question. “So what's it like being arrested?”

Luce set the phone down and laughed ruefully. “Honestly, I can't remember; I was a bit pissed off at the time.”

“I can imagine.”

“So how are things going on your end?”

This time Kylie groaned. “I'll let you know after we finish moving and the gala is over with.”

“That bad?”

“Worse.” Kylie set her beer down, nearly empty and gave the junkfood spread before them one last appraising look. “I've opened ten stores before this and I don't ever remember it being this hectic.”

“Well you're not just opening a new store, you're opening a new store and moving another one all at the same time. It probably adds something to the chaos.”

The shorter woman shrugged. “I guess.”

Luce tried for the optimistic approach. “Look at it this way, in another week it'll all be over and you'll have your new store all nice and pretty for everyone.”

Kylie snorted. “Yeah but I most likely won't have any hair left.”

She snorted, mulling over that thought. “Now there's a great image for you. Of course if you were bald, you'd know if you had a strangely shaped skull.” She sat there a moment eyeing Kylie's head closely, giving the idea some serious thought, wondering if she had a hidden dent or flat spot or something.

Kylie chuckled. “Like if my mom dropped me on my head or something?”

Luce shook her head. “No, I think we'd know if she'd done that without seeing your skull first hand.”

“I don't know whether to take that as a compliment or an insult.” Her dry tone made Luce chuckle.

She held up her hands, in a neutral, placating gesture. “Hey I just call 'em like I see 'em.”

Kylie wasn't buying it. “Oh really? Well that explains the whole delusion about the loch ness monster.”

Luce tried to come with the proper insulted tone required for the grave insult but could only muster an annoyed whine. “I thought we reached an agreement to never discuss that one again?”

“We did, but only because you refused to see reason.”

She scoffed openly at her friend. “Oh and I suppose you don't believe in anything way outside the realm of possibility.”

“Not really no.” This was said very quickly, a bit too quickly.

Luce looked her not believing a word of it. “Nothing? There's nothing at all?”


This time Luce openly laughed. “You are so lying.”

“I am not.”

There was true indignation at the accusation but something in it struck Luce as being forced. Luce looked at her closely, studying her like she often did with board members she knew were being dishonest. “You are too; I can see it all over your face.”

Kylie went still next to her. “You cannot.”

She nodded. “Yes I can; you won't look me in the eye and you keep touching your face, like you're trying to wipe the expression off it to keep me from seeing it. Spill it.”

“You're so sure that I'm lying.”

Luce stood up and pulled both movies out of the rack. “I'd bet my pension on it.”

Behind her Kylie snorted. “That's some bet.”

“Yeah well its a sure thing so spill it already” She came back with the two she'd just purchased and set them on the coffee table.

“Fine.” She took a deep breath. “If you must know...”

Luce couldn't resist rubbing it in just a little. “Yes I must.”

“Yeah since you're dragging it out of me.” But she didn't sound really annoyed, just a bit embarassed. “If you must know, I believe in psychics.”

That threw Luce for a moment. “Psychics?”

“Psychics.” At Luce's surprised and dumbfounded look, Kylie did get a bit annoyed. “Oh come on, you can believe in the loch ness monster, something that's never been documented or proven but I can't believe in psychics?”

“No, I just find it hard to believe that someone who believes in psychics can deny the existence of old nessy.” She picked up her beer, taking a sip of it while she watched Kylie defend herself.

“Look, I honestly do think that they exist. I mean yeah I know there are tons of frauds out there but I also know that hiding among those imposters are those rare people who actually have some kind of extraordinary mental gift.”

“And you know this from personal experience?”

She shook her head. “I wish I did but its not like you're basing your stoic belief in Nessy on an actual personal siting.”

“Touche.” There was a buzz from the front door that interrupted them both. “Hey the pizza's finally here. Why don't you pick out a movie and we'll pig out for a while.” She stood up to go grab the pie and pay the delivery man.

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

Luce turned back to look at her friend. “I wanted to thank you for dropping by; I really needed it tonight.” The words were out of her mouth before she really even thought about them. But they were true and heartfelt. And despite her misgivings about the sudden attraction she was feeling towards her friend, she was really glad to see her.

Kylie gave her a warm smile. “You're welcome. Now go on, pay the man so we can watch the cop movie first. I could do with some dry British humor.”

* * *

Luce did as ordered, paying for the pizza and coming back to find Kylie browsing through the menu of the DVD. They slapped slices of hot gooey pizza onto paper plates and sat back to enjoy the exploits of the all too serious and slightly earnest Nicholas Angel, police sergeant. That was quickly followed by the second movie where Luce laughed herself hoarse at the quip about the lollipop guild.

They plowed through the snacks and beer Kylie brought and nearly finished the pizza between them. And despite the horrific amount of calories she knew she was consuming, Luce was having a grand old time. In fact it wasn't long before she had a very good buzz from the beer. Which proved slightly dangerous when she tried to make popcorn on the stove and ended up burning it completely black, nearly setting the stove on fire and setting off the smoke alarm off in the process.

But despite the harrowing kitchen episode, she had a good time. And the warm glow of the evening lasted long beyond her tucking Kylie into a cab and far into the next few days. For a few hours she was able to relax around her friend and forget how she really and truly felt. And she was also able to forget about the chaos of being arrested which stood her in good steed when she had to explain everything to Carl the next day.

He met her as the elevator doors opened, his normally peaceful face set in lines of panic and worry. “Luce, thank god Jerry found you. Are you all right?”

She gave him a beaming smile as she stepped off the elevator. “Fine, just fine.” She made a beeline for the boardroom.

He followed behind her earnestly. “What the hell happened yesterday?”

She paused a moment, looking at him for a moment. Despite what the Feds had told her about keeping it quiet, she knew she had little choice but to tell him. She needed his help and the only way she was going to get that was to tell him the truth.

She looked over at Colleen at her desk. “Can we get some coffee Colleen?” The other woman nodded and Luce gave Carl a wry look. “We're going to need it.”

Luce laid it out for Carl while they waited for coffee, telling him about the arrest, the FBI showing up and the interrogation that followed. When she got to the real reason for the stakeout and her arrest, Carl sat their dumbfounded.

“Someone's laundering money through this damn place?” He broke off as Colleen came in with their coffee.

Luce reached for a cup, pouring cream and sugar in it as she sighed. “Yeah.”

He shook his head, taking a sip. “What the hell are we gonna do?”

“What we were doing before but now we know what we're looking for. We can't allow the Feds in here to look themselves; there are too many classified government contracts at stake. So we've got to find it. I think the warehouse is the starting point.”

He looked confused. “Why?”

“Because someone turned the utilities back on for a reason. Despite the damn thing being empty, I agree with the Feds that its being used for something. We just need to figure out what.”

“So what do you need me to do?” He grabbed a nearby notebook and pen.

“For starters, trace that warehouse purchase. I want to know who owned it before we did, who made the decision to purchase it, who signed the chit and I want to know if its part of the core company or one of our satellites. That should take you the better part of the day.” She ticked each point off on a finger.

He scribbled her requests down and grabbed his coffee before heading to the door. “I'm on it. What'll you be up to?'

“I've got some phone calls to make.” He nodded and then left. She picked up the phone, dialing for an outside line before dialing a number from memory. It rang a couple of times before someone answered, grunting into the phone. “Mack, its Luce.”

There was a slight pause from the other end. “Well I'll be damned. What's up Donovan?”

She smiled at the gruff greeting. “I need a favor. Feel up to some hacking today?”

He laughed. “You got a challenge for me today?”

“I might.” She told him what she needed, laying out the whole sordid mess in a just a couple of sentences. She could hear him scribbling on a sheet of paper and knew she'd intrigued him.

“When do you need all this by?”

“As soon as you can get it. I'm in a real mess here and I need some leverage.”

“You think this'll work?”

She snorted. “It'd better; I'm out of options cause someone's covering their asses.”

“I'll call you in a week or so.” Then he was gone, hanging up the phone without saying goodbye.

Luce set the phone down and began her daily round of digging.

* * *

With a new found goal in front of her, Luce poured herself into work looking for anything and everything that might lead her to some more in depth answers. But the going was slow. Both she and Carl were having problems digging up the previous owners of the warehouse. So much so that Luce made a mental note to ask Mack for a hand in that area when he called her back with the information she'd requested.

Before Luce realized it, the week had passed and it was the night of the grand opening gala at Kylie's new store. Luce made arrangements to pick up her mother and the two of them headed downtown to the new store.

Her mother was thrilled at being invited and Luce had to talk her out of bringing a bottle of wine or other type of warming gift to the gala. “But it is tradition lighteyes. When you are invited to something important, you bring a gift.”

Luce smiled. “And normally I'd agree with you wholeheartedly Ina but this is different; this is simply a party to celebrate Kylie's new store. There's no need to bring a gift.”

Her mother snorted. “If you say so my bright one.”

Luce laughed at the annoyed and exasperated expression on her mother's face and turned her attention to parking the car. A few moments later, they strode up the sidewalk to Kylie's new storefront and were met by the hostess herself when she stepped out the front door.

Kylie caught sight of them and came forward to hug them both. “Hey guys, glad you could make it!”

Luce looked around and further down the street to see it bustling with people, food and activities. There was even a band playing nearby and she had a pretty good idea who Kylie had hired for the night. “Wow Kylie, this is really great.”

The shorter woman beamed. “Glad you like it.” She waved them into the store to get a look around.

“How'd you manage to plan this so fast?” Grace looked around in amazement at the beautiful store and the crowd of people inside.

Kylie scoffed as she hurried off towards the cafe. “Oh no, don't blame me for this, all I did was pay for it. It was Marie who did all the planning; I gave her a list, some ideas and just pointed her in the right direction. She was like a force of nature; those bureaucrats downtown never stood a chance.”

Luce chuckled at the mental image of Marie brandishing a club at some desk jockey that wouldn't approve her permit. “Sounds kind of savage.”

Kylie held a hand up, giving a conspirator whisper. “You have no idea; speak of the devil and here she is.” Marie walked up the group as Kylie spoke. “I was just telling Luce and her mother Grace that you are the woman behind the hour.”

Marie sighed dramatically. “Yeah and if I'm not careful, later I'll be the woman hiding under the table.” Everyone laughed at the tired tone in her voice. “Are you two enjoying yourselves?”

Luce shrugged. “Well we jut got here; we're gonna just take a gander around and see what's here.”

“Well before you wander out, let me give you the tour.” Kylie led the way, showing them around her new store with an obvious sense of pride. When she finished, the three women were by the entrance and both Luce and her mother were impressed by what Kylie had accomplished in so short a time.

“There you have it ladies; feel free to browse around inside and out. There's plenty more to see besides this store.”

Luce's mother gave Kylie a smile. “Oh I plan to. Bright eyes, why don't you visit with your friend awhile; I'm going to wander.”

Luce nodded and watched as her mother slowly walked off; soon she was swallowed by the crowd. “I like what you've done with the place; it looks great, a lot bigger than your last location.”

Kylie smiled at the praise. “We needed it; now I can hire a couple of extra hands to handle the rush of people we almost couldn't at the last store.” She waved Luce out the store as another mass of people walked in.

“I can see that.” She watched the crowd of people as they perused their way through the store feeling a bit inspired by what her friend had managed to do. “I think I might follow my mother's example and wander a bit myself.”

Kylie smiled. “I'll join you.” The two of them began walking slowly down the block together.

Luce marveled at the number of people around them; some of them window shopping, some of them using the gala as an excuse to simply meet and have a good time. Everyone on the block seemed to have gotten into the spirit of the somewhat spontaneous street festival. “Looks like you managed to get quite a few of the businesses involved.”

The blonde woman snorted. “They just about jumped at the chance actually. I don't think Marie had to convince a single one. She even convinced them to do tie ins with each other for this; specials that only run tonight to draw in even more business.”

Luce nodded in approval. “Clever; it looks like its working well.”

Kylie smiled as she looked around at what she'd helped to create “Yeah everyone seems to be having a good time.”

They walked on for several moments in silence; neither of them feeling the urge or need to speak. It was a novelty of her friendship with the shorter woman that Luce was still getting used to. She heard the band start up again and looked at Kylie, smiling slightly. “I thought I heard The Nightgrass when I came in.”

She nodded. “I asked Marie to book them; I really liked them that night in the bar.”

The memory made Luce smile slightly. “At least now you can listen to them without being hit on by anyone.”

“Except maybe by present company.” She tried but was unable to hide the teasing note in her voice.

“Funny, real funny.” Luce's wry tone made her friend chuckle. “The only thing that really saved you from some of the more aggressive ones that night was the fact they all thought you were my date.”

Kylie looked at her in surprise. “Really?”

“Yeah I have a well known possessive streak; no one poaches on any girl I bring in.” Luce arched her brow at her friend.

For some reason this struck Kylie as funny and she laughed out loud at that as they continued walking along. “Smart women.”

This time Luce snorted. “Smart nothing, survival of the fittest and all.” They both cracked up laughing as they continued wandering the neighborhood.

* * *

Sometime later, Kylie begged off her wandering to go back to the store and see how things were going. Luce shooed her off with a promise to go back later before she or her mother left just as her mother found her again.

Her mother walked up to her as she watched Kylie walk away. She thought she'd managed to keep her face neutral; she should have known better than to try to keep her feelings from her mother. “You like her lighteyes.” Luce said nothing. “You should tell her.”

Luce sighed, shaking her head. “That's not a good idea.”

Her mother paused a moment, giving her daughter a strange look. “Are you sure?”

Annoyed at the question, Luce refused to meet her mother's gaze. “She's straight Ina and my friend; telling her that I'm attracted to her won't do anything but freak her out. I care too much about her friendship to risk that.” The matter was, as far as she was concerned, settled.

But her mother seemed unable to drop the subject completely without having the last word on it. “Are you so sure of that? Or are you more afraid that she might like you too?”

Luce glanced at her mother in surprise, wondering what she could have seen from Kylie that would make her ask that. But her mother's face was as unreadable as ever to her. Unable to think of anything to say, Luce changed the subject. “Why don't we grab something to eat and go listen to the band for a while?”

Her mother paused for a long moment, searching her daughter's face. After a moment she simply nodded. “As you wish my bright one.” And she followed in silence as they headed towards a nearby cafe.

* * *

A couple of hours later, having had their fill of the festivities and with things beginning to wind down anyway, Luce and her mother headed back to Kylie's store to say goodnight. When she caught sight of the blonde woman in the store window helping a customer, she felt a stupid smile cross her face. Annoyed at how easily she was giving away her feelings, Luce wiped the grin from her face seconds before Kylie caught sight of them herself.

They walked into the bookstore to see that even there things were beginning to wan off. The staff looked a bit harried but pleased and the customers were beginning to thin as the night wore down. Kylie met them near the door.

“Did you guys enjoy yourselves?”

Luce's mother nodded. “It was very delightful; I had forgotten how much this area had to offer. I shall have to come down here to peruse some more at another time.”

Kylie smiled, pleased that her location seemed to be going over so well. “Glad to hear it. Are you guys on your way out then?”

Grace spoke up again. “I am. But I am sure that the two of you, young as you are, are still quite wired. Perhaps you should go blow off some steam before calling it a night.”

Luce, completely floored by her mother's words could only stand there in silence as Kylie turned to her. “I was just thinking that myself. Marie is kicking me out to go enjoy the rest of the evening. And I think I should take her up on that.”

Luce looked at her mother. “Will you be all right getting home?”

Her mother chuckled, patting her child indulgently. “Of course my bright one; I can simply call a cab. Now go, enjoy your youth and go out with your friend.”

Luce gave her mother a searching look, both confused and thrilled at the idea of yet another night with Kylie. She wondered if her mother would deliberately meddle in one of her friendships. But there was nothing more forthcoming so she simply shrugged. “What'd you have in mind?” She asked her friend.

“Feel like hitting a club with me?”

“A club?” Her voice held a touch of skepticism.

Luce laughed. “Yeah I feel like dancing a bit before I go home. Come on it'll be fun. We can pretend you're my date so you don't get hit on.”

Next to her, Luce heard her mother chuckle and she wondered if maybe she'd landed in an episode of The Twilight Zone when she hadn't been looking. “My date?”

“Yeah come on Luce, lets go shake a rug, bust a move, get jiggy with it.” She started dancing a bit, her body moving to music only she could hear.

Despite feeling a touch of misgivings, Luce couldn't help herself and started laughing. “Ok, ok just stop the cliches.”

* * *

They called a cab for Luce's mother, sending her home before they themselves wandered away from the store and the slowly dying party. There was a club nearby that Kylie knew of and with it being Friday it was very likely to still be open and just getting started.

“So did you have a good time tonight?” Kylie asked her as they walked towards the club.

She thought about it a moment and then nodded. “I did actually.”

Kylie chuckled. “You sound surprised by that.”

She shrugged. “A bit yeah; I normally don't do crowds well.”

“You seemed ok at that festival.”

“Yeah but I was distracted by the booths.”

“Ah. Well your mom looked like she was enjoying herself.”

Luce nodded not surprised by that; her mother was a much more social person than she'd ever been. “Ina always was a bit of people person; she loves parties. My folks used to throw the biggest bashes when I was kid, involve the whole neighborhood.”

“Does she still do that?”

She shrugged. “On occasion but she said its not as much fun throwing them without my dad.”

“So she lives vicariously through you.”

Luce smiled, shaking her head slightly. “She tries. But I'm not exactly a people person so its kind of hard. More of a half life.”

“Well give me time, I'll drag you out of your shell.”

She looked skeptical. “Really.”

“If I don't the rest of my family will; look at as a preemptive defensive strike.”

“You make it sound like you need to be a battlefield tactician around them.”

“You've been around them, does it seem that surprising?”

Luce thought on that one and realized Kylie was probably right. “Good point. Well lead on general, I do believe this was all your idea.”

* * *

Despite her claims to the contrary, Kylie only managed to dance for a short time before the stress of the previous weeks and the party itself dragged her down. They spent just over an hour in the club before she told Luce she needed to leave. Not really surprised, Luce offered to drive her home, an offer Kylie jumped on when she realized that she wouldn't have to negotiate her way home.

Once back at Kylie's house, they sat around relaxing, talking and letting the TV blare in the background as they both wound down. Despite her fatigue, Kylie really didn't want the evening to end and before she realized it, they'd both had far too much to drink for Luce to drive home. Luce of course insisted on calling a cab. But Kylie overrode her, telling her friend that she had a spare room that never seemed to get used, she was more than welcome to crash for the night.

Luce found herself agreeing to it in her rather buzzed state before she had time to really think about it. Kylie got her settled and went down to her own room to turn in. Luce was asleep in a matter of minutes. It seemed that she'd been asleep only a short time when a strange sound woke her up.

She lay there in the strange bed trying to discern what she was hearing when she realized that it was the sound of someone crying nearby. Knowing that only she and Kylie were in the house, she got out of bed quickly and made her way down the hall to Kylie's room.

Her suspicions were confirmed when she reached the door and heard Kylie cry out softly in her sleep. Concerned, she went to the bed. “Kylie?” She reached out to touch her friend gently, noticing that she was stiff as a board. At her gentle touch, Kylie snapped awake, jerking upright. “Hey, you ok?”

Kylie looked at her for several moments before she recognized where she was and who was in the room with her. She sighed, rubbing her face. “Yeah, sorry nightmare.”

Luce sat down on the edge of the bed, rubbing Kylie's arm in sympathy. “Bad one huh?”

She nodded. “Yeah.” She glanced at the clock and groaned. “Sorry to wake you.”

Luce brushed off her apology more concerned about her than a lack of sleep. “Can I ask what it was about?”

She took a deep breath, releasing it in a rush. “Yeah it was the accident.”

That made Luce pause. “I thought you didn't remember anything about it.”

“Not consciously no; the doctor's told me its a self defense mechanism the brain uses to protect itself. The only downside is that it sometimes comes out when I sleep, causing nightmares.”

“You gonna be ok?” She noticed that she was still rubbing Kylie's arm.

Kylie nodded. “Yeah I don't ever remember much when I wake up, I'm just shaken up is all.” She reached up to rub her face with her free hand again.

“Can I get you something?”

She shook her head. “No, I'm fine now.”

“Then I'm gonna head back to bed.” She gave Kylie's arm a final pat and stood up.

Kylie grabbed her arm before she could walk out. “Wait, Luce.” She pulled Luce back to the edge of the bed a touch of panic on her face. “I can't sleep alone now; would you mind crashing in here with me? I'll understand if it makes you uncomfortable.”

Luce didn't even think twice, unable to ignore the pain on the other woman's face. “Scoot over, lord knows I've had enough nights like this when I was a kid; I couldn't sleep without someone than either.”

“Thanks Luce.”

Luce smiled at her, making herself comfortable. “Don't worry about it, just get some sleep; you'll feel better in the morning.” She felt Kylie sigh and do as she was told and in moments, she drifted back off a smile still on her face.

But for Kylie, sleep was anything but peaceful. Luce's presence in her bed did not manage to drive all her nocturnal demons away and as she drifted off to sleep, she fell into a dream that had become far too familiar for her liking in the past few weeks.

For weeks she'd been dreaming of standing on a sea side cliff, waiting for someone or something to find her. Each night filled with such anticipation and longing she often woke on the verge of tears as she fought surging emotions the likes of which she couldn't explain and only barely understood. For weeks she'd endured these dreams hoping each night that she fell asleep that somehow, something about them would change and the longing, the need they invoked in her would somehow lessen or come to an end. That night, for the first time since she started having the dream, something finally changed.

She was still on the cliff, still facing the sea as she waited for whatever it was that her sleeping mind believed she so desperately needed as to drive her to the emotional brink every night. But this time she heard more than the crash of the sea below her; this time, just over the din of the waves she heard the distant thunder of a horse in full gallop.

The strangely familiar sound made her smile, excitement surging inside her as she listened to it growing louder and louder as the rider drew closer. She tried to turn, to still the sheer joy the sound elicited in her but the dream still held her prisoner and it demanded that she play the part meant for her. And she was forced to simply wait for the rider to arrive.

Moments later, the horse thundered to a halt behind her, kicking up a cloud of dust that swirled around her and still she could not turn. Then she heard the unmistakeable sound of someone swinging down from the saddle. The comforting creak of leather and soft clink of armor reached her ears and her heart sped up in response. Those soft sounds stopped suddenly behind her as the rider stopped and reached out to touch her shoulder. There was a soft sudden inhalation as the unseen hand made contact and she felt the spell of the dream release her enough to finally turn and face the unseen stranger behind her.

She felt her smile broaden, reaching up to touch that hand even as she finally, finally turned to see what she had been waiting for in the dream. “You found me.” There were tears in her eyes as something in her heart and soul was finally freed from a prison she wasn't even aware of.

Pale blue eyes met her jade ones and a smile lit the familiar face as Luce smiled back at her. “Yeah I did.” She reached up to touch Kylie's face, tears forming her eyes as well.

Kylie smiled again, touched by the tears from the normally stoic woman and leaned into the achingly familiar caress. “I knew you would.” Then she was swept up into the dream once more, leaning towards Luce even as the taller woman leaned to meet her. Her heartbeat surged at the imminent contact, relishing in the mere thought of her lips touching the other woman's after so very long.

With a sickening surge, she felt the dream give way as her mind fought its way free. Her heart breaking at the denial of the kiss, she surged awake, a soft sob on her lips. She'd felt as if someone had just ripped out her heart, her soul screaming that it had been so long and she was sick with the pain of it. It was all she could do to simply keep herself from bursting into tears and she didn't understand any of it.

But those feelings faded in the sudden surge of fear she felt when she opened her eyes and found herself entangled with Luce, her head resting on the taller woman's chest, her long arms holding Kylie in close. Fighting panic, Kylie resisted the urge to simply pull free, not wanting to awaken her friend. Slowly, she untangled herself from Luce's embrace, her heart breaking all over again at the loss of the contact.

It took some time but she finally managed to get out of the bed without waking the other woman. She stood by the bed for a moment looking down at her friend, still sleeping and oblivious to the inner turmoil going on in her mind pondering what had just run through her mind. The dream had been so vivid, much more so than any of the ones before it; she could still feel the shadow of it clinging to her. Standing there now, she could feel her heart and soul crying out to simply climb back into bed, let the other woman draw her in close and hold her tight while the world went on its way around them.

But the intensity of it, the sheer feeling of need behind it scared her beyond reason. She had no wish to act on a simple dream, no matter how good it might make her feel. There was no shame in her at how she felt but Luce was her friend and she had been adamant when she told Kylie that she was simply looking for a friend and she herself was very confused. This was simply a dream and as she was the dreamer it was in her control; so she would find a way to forget it or control it.

She ran her hands through her hair, sighing softly as she turned her back on the bed and her sleeping companion and went to take a shower. Each step she took away from Luce made her heart ache inside her chest as if someone were slowly squeezing it. But the pain helped the last of the dream begin to fade. By the time she reached the bathroom, she found herself writing it all off as nothing more than having too much to drink the night before. And when she stepped under the stinging spray of the shower, she'd nearly convinced herself of that.

To be continued...

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