Tie Break Part 19

For disclaimers see Part 1

Chapter 24


"You're not sure?"

Anne was clearly baffled and for one second she contemplated laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of it all. Shana of all people would always know who she slept with. As far as she knew, and she had always kept up to date on her friend's doings, she had been practically celibate. Not at all like your lousy self, huh?

The thought stung and before she realized it, she verbally lashed out. "So, what happened? You finally found the joys of anonymous sex? You slept around so much you lost count? What?" She whirled around to look at Shana and suddenly wished that the venom she had just spouted could be sucked back.

The blonde huddled on the bed hugging herself tightly against the onslaught of Anne's words. Her face was contorted in a mask of pain and Anne realized that she had brought that look on with her taunting. God, why is love so fucking complicated? She felt she had every right to be angry deep down in her core. She had wanted to hurt Shana just as much as she herself was hurting right now, but one look at the smaller woman told her that that came with a harsh price.

Instead of feeling better now, she felt worse.

She turned away again, angry at herself for feeling that way. I've got the right to be mad. I have every right to make her feel bad because she made me feel bad.

Yes, but did you have to make her cry?

It was Irene's stern voice she heard and she hung her head in shame at the painfully obvious answer. No. But what am I to do? She looked at the small form on the bed for guidance and received it in the form of a look that was both painful and scared, dejected and full of hope.

It was the hope in the green eyes that made Anne's legs move.

In the blink of an eye she found herself on the bed next to Shana with 150 pounds of quivering blonde in her arms. It was, Anne mused, as if she was watching herself from the outside, and she wasn't entirely sure she liked what she was seeing.

She knew she would never act this way, would she? Being hurt, betrayed, lied to and then comforting the one who had done the hurting, betraying, and lying? That was not her style. She should be out of here, not wrapping herself around as much of the woman as she could without being a contortionist. Not having two small hands clinging to her shirt, crumpling the fabric in tight fists in an attempt to crawl inside. That wasn't like her. Was it?

And yet, that was exactly what was happening and when she looked even closer at herself she realized that she was trembling, almost as much as the small body in her arms. They were both crying, salty drops mingling on the bright blue shirt. I am disgustingly pathetic. She's killing me and I'm holding her tightly while she's wielding the knife.

Anne mentally raised and dropped her hands in a gesture of defeat and just let go. If I ever have to die I want it to be at the hands of this beautiful woman in my arms.

The two women clung together for a while, just holding on, giving and receiving comfort, until they found the strength to talk again. It was Anne who moved first, disentangling herself from the body in her arms and scooting up in the bed to lean against the headboard. Her good hand still held onto her friend and pulled her up as well.

"Can we start over, please?" Anne asked after what seemed like hours, but was only a few minutes.

Shana looked at her, residual tears still lining her eyes. She nodded. "Okay." She cleared her throat and said the words she should have said so much earlier. "Anne, I need to tell you something before we proceed. I'm pregnant and I'm not sure who the father is."

She held up a hand to stop Anne from interrupting her. "But I do have a fairly good idea."

"Who?" Anne's arms tightened around Shana's body.

Shana closed her eyes, not really ready to see Anne's reaction to her next words.

"I think it's Carlos."

"Carlos." Anne's voice was completely toneless. She let go of Shana and moved as far away from her as possible. "How Shea why " She stopped and let the wave of nausea that had been rising at the pure mention of Carlos' name roll over her. She forced herself not to give in to her baser instincts, not to run over to the bathroom to throw up, not to just tear down the bedroom door. You promised her to listen, didn't you? Now, deal with it, Patakis!

"Why aren't you sure if he's the ?" Instead of finishing her question Anne just pointed to Shana's belly. Acting on pure reflex, the blonde folded her hands over her belly before she looked up at her tall friend.

"It's not what you probably think, Anne," the small woman said quietly. Now that the worst part of it all was out in the open she felt considerably calmer. "He wasn't one among many. It's not that I slept with everything that breathed."

"Unlike me, you mean?"

Shana looked up sharply at the hurt tone in Anne's voice, but her voice was deceptively calm. "Did you ever realize how much that hurt me, Anne? How much I was bleeding inside? Seeing the woman I loved with all my heart sleeping with everyone but me?"

Anne's defenses jumped up at the questions. "It's not like you ever did something about it. You were the one who didn't want me, remember? I was prepared to give you my heart, forever, and you pushed me away." Her voice had grown louder with every word, but when she continued it was in a very small voice. "You never gave me a reason, Shea, never. Why didn't you want me? Why do you want me now?"

"God, there's so much we need to talk about." Shana realized that now that the dams were open they had to clear a lot of things between them. "Can we stay on one thing at a time, please?"

The brunette looked up, still hurt, and Shana realized that her words must have sounded callous. She touched Anne's arm tenderly and whispered. "I always wanted you, Anne, even back then. I loved you then and I love you now, but there was a reason that kept me from you that night."

Her fingers trailed up Anne's arm, across her shoulder and up to her chin. She lifted the chin so that Anne was forced to look into her eyes. "I nearly died that night, Anne, because all I wanted was to make love to you and curl up in your arms for the rest of my life. I will explain later what happened, but now I would just like to talk about why I'm pregnant. That's hard enough." Her voice broke at the last words and she let go of Anne's face.

The tall woman pulled herself together at the raw tone in Shana's voice. Okay, first things first. "What happened, Shea?"

When Shana didn't answer right away, worry took over. An idea hit Anne and she swallowed. "Did he did he rape you?" She knew without a doubt that he was capable of it. The hairs at the base of her neck raised as if a cold wind blew over them. Memories started twirling in her mind and she clenched her fists, hissing at the pain that brought. She shook her head to concentrate on Shana, trying hard not to erupt into a million questions.

"I can't remember what happened," Shana began quietly, "but I'm going to tell you what I know." She got up from the bed and started pacing, unconsciously emulating Anne's way of calming down. "About two months ago, my parents asked me to attend a charity dinner with them. It was supposed to be a small affair, and mother said she wanted to see me anyway. She said I might like it because all the other players would be there as well since it was for charity. She led me to believe you would be there, since the charity she named was the one you do so much for."

Anne couldn't remember an invitation for a charity dinner in the past three months and she was just about to say so, when Shana continued. "Of course you weren't there and neither was any other player I knew. It was indeed a very small affair since the only people who were there were my parents, me and Carlos."

The pacing got faster, edgier, until finally Anne walked up behind the smaller woman and wrapped her in her long arms. Shana leaned back gratefully and closed her eyes. "I was pretty angry at my mother for the deception, but she just calmly stated that it was obviously the only way to see me and so she had used it to get me there. She also knew that I wasn't going to make a scene in the middle of a crowded restaurant. We sat down to have a drink before dinner arrived and I told them that I would leave afterwards because I was in no mood to talk to either of them. Things get a little fuzzy from there. Or should I say, a lot fuzzy."

Shana stopped and Anne reflexively tightened her hold on the smaller woman. Finally, the taller woman couldn't stand the silence any longer. "That sounds like you were drunk, but you don't drink usually. I've only seen you slightly tipsy once and that was -"

"The night we danced after the US Open. Eight years ago. I'll never forget that dance. I wanted you so much that night."

"God, and I wanted you, so much. I was so in love with you." Anne smiled, lost in happy memories for a second. "Remind me to show you something later," she added with a devastatingly sexy grin that was audible as well as visible.

"Oh, I will," Shana grinned in reply, but sobered up quickly. "Anyway, I still don't drink, but that night everyone insisted on a glass of champagne and I didn't refuse. Shortly after the drinks arrived, my parents said a toast to my wonderful future and then excused themselves. I was extremely irritated, but I don't remember what happened then."

She turned around in Anne's embrace and looked up into the stormy blue eyes that watched her with concern. "I woke up the next morning in my own apartment, alone and naked, and with no idea what I had been doing the last 12 hours or so. Then, I just assumed I had gone home at one point and just gone to bed." She laughed bitterly. "That changed when I realized I was pregnant." She shivered and Anne held her tighter. "I felt so violated because I didn't even know what was going on during the night."

Anne's eyes had changed from a stormy gray to almost silver with rage. The muscles that held Shana were tense and the smaller woman had the feeling of being surrounded by live wire. Anne was boiling inside. She had a pretty good idea what had happened to Shana and how Carlos had achieved his goal. What made the whole thing worse was that it was clear to her that Shana's parents had been involved at some point. How could they do that to their daughter? How can they think that being raped by a slimy asshole is better than being loved by me? The worst thing of all was, however, that she could do nothing about her rage. She couldn't let it out on Shana, not anymore, because she was a victim of betrayal too. God, all the things I said to her, but how could I know?

"Anne?" The worried voice of the small form in her arms pulled Anne out of her turmoil.

"Yes, baby?" The endearment slipped out without her consent, but this time Shea didn't seem to mind.

"Can you forgive me? I just didn't know how to tell you. It was so difficult, because you hate Carlos so much." Tears started to fall again. "And I felt like I had betrayed you, even if I didn't know what had happened. I always wanted it to be you."

The last bit was whispered so quietly that Anne almost missed it. Oh my God, did she just say what I think she said? "Oh, Shea, I'm so sorry." She kissed the blonde head, not knowing what to do or say. I've always wanted it to be you, too. "There's nothing to forgive, baby, it wasn't your fault at all." She needed to tell her smaller friend all about things like Rohypnol and what it could do and they still needed to talk about the baby, but forgiveness had never come so easy as right now.

While Shana cried in her arms, Anne let her thoughts wander. She came up with hundreds of ways to torture, maim, and kill Carlos and the older Wilsons in a couple of seconds. I'm going to hunt you down, Carlos, and you're going to pay. Then her thoughts turned to more immediate problems. What about the baby? Did Shana want to keep it? Everything about her behavior screamed yes, and Anne didn't really want to ask her yet. She didn't want to appear insensitive.

That brought on another question. Could she accept the child if she and Shana lived together? She tried to imagine what the baby would look like and she found herself smiling at the picture of a blonde, green-eyed toddler.

She found herself smiling and while her mind shouted 'no', her heart yelled 'yes'.

The worst-case scenario was, she mused, that with the close physical resemblance between her and Carlos, the kid would like her.


They lay in each other's arms for a while after that, both lost in their own thoughts, trying to work things through. There wasn't really much to say, not right now anyway, when the important thing was to hold onto each other and get through this.

Anne's thoughts turned to the past, the knowledge that she should have prevented what happened to Shana wearing heavily on her mind. She remembered a night seven years ago where she tried to warn Shana of the danger that was Carlos and the pure evil he represented. Why didn't you listen to me, little one? I told you to stay away from him!

Shana's suddenly tense muscles and her startled face told her that she had spoken her thoughts out loud. Oh, shit. I didn't mean to .

Anne tightened her arms around the smaller woman and pressed a kiss on the blonde head. "I'm sorry, Shea. I didn't mean to say that aloud, but I think that's something I'd really like to know." She tried to look into the green eyes that kept avoiding her. "I'm not angry at you Shana, I'd just like to know."

That got her a direct look of blazing green. "How noble of you not to be angry at me. Tell me, Anne, what makes you think you have the right to be angry with me."

She tried to move away from Anne's embrace, but the older woman held on tight. "No, Shea, please don't go. I know we have to talk about this, but I need to feel you close to me." She waited until she felt Shana slowly sinking back into her arms. "Thank you." She smiled. Then her thoughts wandered back to the past and she swallowed reflexively at the pain that memory brought.

After Shana had stormed out of that bathroom, she had stayed behind for a couple of minutes, beating herself up for her inability to make Shana see that Carlos meant danger. When she had left, she had taken another look around the ballroom, but she hadn't been able to spot the smaller woman. She had, however, seen Carlos, and the dark man had given her a smile that had haunted her for months. She's mine, that smile said, I'll always take away what you love.

Shana's voice brought her back to the present. "I know you tried to warn me back then, and now I know I should have just believed you, but you never gave me a reason, Anne. I just couldn't let you tell me who to see and speak to; I needed a reason and I begged you to give me one, but you said you couldn't."

She had wanted a reason, because Carlos had been a bit creepy even back then, but Anne's refusal to give her one had turned his transgressions on the dance floor into a mild annoyance. The more Anne pleaded with her to stay away from Carlos, the more she was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

"Why couldn't you just give me a reason, Anne?" Shana's voice was small and tear-stained. "Just one tiny reason. I wanted to believe you, but you sounded so much like my father back then that I couldn't accept your word for the truth." She raised her hand to Anne's face, capturing a single tear that was trailing down the tan face. "Can you tell me now?" she whispered.

Anne sent a thought to her dead brother. Forgive me, Pete, but I need to break my promise. I made this mistake once before, I can't make it again. Then she nodded. "It's a long story and I need to tell you from the beginning. I promised Peter that I would never tell anybody this, but I need to tell you, I know that now. Forgive for not telling you back then." She closed her eyes. "I don't even think he would have minded if it had meant you would stay away from Carlos, but it was too soon after his death I couldn't break my promise then. It was his last wish " Her voice broke.

"Sweetheart," Shana whispered, "you don't need to tell me if it's too hard for you. I don't need you to break your promise to Pete. Now I know what kind of man Carlos is -"

"No, Shea, no," the brunette insisted, "I need to tell you. There's so much you don't know." She paused and looked at Shana pleadingly.

The blonde woman read the insecurity in the blue eyes. "What?" Then she had an inkling of what Anne wanted. "Would you like me to hold you?"

Anne nodded and released her hold on the smaller woman. Shana scooted to the far side of the bed and leaned back against the headboard. She pulled the dark head into her lap and laid one arm across Anne's chest. With the other she softly stroked the silky black hair, realizing that what she was about to hear was very hard for her friend.

The tall woman had never looked more like a child to her. I hope this child looks like her. The thought startled Shana for an instant before she realized the truth of it. I've never thought of the child as Carlos'. This is our child if Anne accepts it as such. She was extremely happy she didn't remember anything about that night and she hoped it would stay like that forever.

The soft hand that glided through her calmed Anne down. She took a couple of minutes to order her thoughts and just feel the love that came from Shana. When she started to talk, her voice was almost casual and devoid of any emotion.

"Carlos came into our life when I was twelve. He was 22 or 23, I never knew exactly. He started out as my father's protégé. I think my father wanted to coach 'a real man'. I certainly didn't qualify for that and Pete was still too young. He had just turned eight. My parents more or less adopted him into the family. He was alone in a strange land and so Mom naturally came to care for him. He was always polite to Mom and did most of what my father told him. The problem was, he was never a really good player. His talents lay elsewhere. He was a born manipulator and he loved playing other people to achieve his goals."

She looked up when she heard Shana snort and murmur, "Yeah, I know." Anne laid her good arm over Shana's and interlaced their fingers. The smaller digits squeezed hers instantly and reassuringly.

Anne cleared her throat. "After about two years, Carlos gave up his tennis career and got into managing, which suited him much better. He became my father's business partner and my manager. He also started chasing after me." Anne swallowed and closed her eyes. She felt Shana's breath on her face and then the touch of soft lips on her forehead.

"One day he showed up when I was alone. Mom and Pete were out somewhere and my father was conspicuously absent as well, even though we were supposed to work out together that afternoon. As soon as he was inside he pressed me against a wall and tried to kiss me. I fought him, but I wasn't as strong then as I am now. It was so hard trying to keep him away from me. He pushed up my t-shirt and grabbed my breast. God, it hurt so much. He was brutal. He had both my arms pinned to the wall above my head and was rubbing himself against me. Then he started to push up my tennis skirt and put his hands there. I tried so hard to keep my legs together, to keep him away, but he was so strong and I was so scared.

He let go of me for a second to fumble with his pants and I thought that was the only chance I had. I raised my knee and kicked him in his balls and he let go of me completely. Then I ran, but I really had nowhere to go. I couldn't get out of the house because he was blocking the door, so I ran into the backyard. He followed me and chased me down, tackling me on the grass. And then he started talking to me, explaining what he was going to do to me and why. You know what he told me? He said my father had asked him to do this, to initiate me into the ways of the world." Anne's voice was harsh and icy and Shana curled her upper body to protect Anne as much as possible from the outside world.

"My own father. I think the worst thing was that I believed Carlos. I knew that my father could be a hard man and I had started to realize shortly before that my father was hurting little Pete because he was a bit slow and Father called him a sissy. Pete didn't even know what that was. I got so angry and I started fighting harder and harder and then I just grabbed his thing and squeezed as hard as I could. He stopped after that. The last thing he said to me was that he would tell my father how uncooperative I had been and that he would try someone else." She paused and exhaled slowly. "I never ever thought he could mean Pete."

"Oh, God," the sound coming from Shana was as raw as Anne's voice had become. The blonde woman was crying now and slowly rocking back and forth, trying to calm Anne as much as she could.

Anne reached up to wipe away Shana's tears. "Don't cry, little one, please don't cry." She lightly kissed the soft lips above her. Shana only cried harder for the little girl her lover had once been and an innocent little boy.

Anne settled herself again for the rest of the story. She knew she had to get this out now before she was unable to talk anymore. She felt the hurt in every cell of her body and she wanted nothing more than to curl herself up in Shana's arms to wait out the end of the world.

"For a long while nothing happened after that. Carlos kept away from me. I never knew why, but maybe he realized that I was too strong for him. Or he just found an easier victim. My father got progressively colder to me and to Pete as well. He started to taunt Pete in front of me and we got in a lot of fights about that. Over the years, living with my father became hell for Pete and me. I never understood why Mom didn't do anything about it, but later I realized that she didn't know what was going on. Father was on his best behavior when she was there and Pete and I never told her what was going on. And Carlos wasn't around so much anymore.

"Pete withdrew into himself more and more, as did I. My life changed when I met you. You brought the light back and life didn't look so miserable any longer. I fell in love with you the minute I saw you, but of course I didn't realize it until years later when Mom asked me some questions about you and how I felt for you. All I knew back then was that you made me feel good and whole. And Pete loved you, that was a big bonus." She smiled. "He knew before me that I loved you. He just saw right through me. He wanted so much to see us together, and he was so unhappy the day of his party

"As I said, I was happy when I was around you, but back home things only got worse. Father got more and more abusive of Pete, and Carlos showed up more again. I noticed that Pete was scared of Carlos and did behave strangely when that bastard was near, but he never said anything to me.

"I always thought he would tell me anything," Anne suddenly sobbed, "but he didn't. I could have helped him. If he had only told me. Oh, God, Pete, forgive me. I didn't know." Anne started crying hard in big convulsing sobs, clinging to Shana with everything she had.

Shana held onto her as if her life depended on it, determined to make the taller woman feel all her love and compassion. "I'm here, Anne, you're safe in my arms," she repeated over and over again. Anne calmed down after a few minutes and drew back a bit, showing Shana she needed to go on.

"You know what happened at that birthday party. It was one of the worst evenings we had had in a while, and with all the shit that had happened to us before the party I wasn't really there to help Pete. Oh sure, I got him out of Father's clutches, but then I just disappeared." She took another deep breath, expelling the air forcefully.

"I never saw Pete again and I'll never forgive myself for that. I wasn't there when he needed me. I just vanished from his life as if he didn't mean anything to me. I vanished into thin air and nobody knew where to find me. I wanted it that way. And then I read the headline in the paper one morning. 'Brother of tennis star kills himself'. I was nursing a major hangover and thought I was hallucinating, but later the headline was still there. I felt like dying. I knew I had to get back home.

"After the funeral, I wanted to run again. I couldn't stand seeing you there, it still hurt too much, and looking my father in the eye was plain torture. I knew he had a big part in Pete's death, but I couldn't do anything about it that time. Before I left, Mom gave me a letter that had been found next to Pete. He had addressed it to 'My big sister Anne'. I took it and walked away without saying goodbye. I didn't read the letter until a few weeks later, after Father's funeral. And what I read shocked me to the core and if Father hadn't been already dead, I would have killed him. Now, I only had Carlos to hate and I did that with a vengeance. I still do."

Anne stopped there and just looked into blank space. The empty look in the blue eyes scared Shana and she turned Anne's head so that the haunted eyes had to focus on her face instead. "I'm so sorry, sweetheart," she whispered and kissed a black brow. "I just should have believed you back then. I'm so sorry you had to go through this, so sorry."

"It's not your fault, Shea," Anne whispered, "you couldn't know any of this. This family has always been able to keep its secrets." It didn't sound like she thought it was a good thing. "I should have told you all of this, but I couldn't -"

"I understand, sweetheart, I understand. We don't have to talk about this anymore." Shana's wish was not entirely motivated by her fear for Anne's well-being. She simply didn't know if she could take any more. If hearing all this makes me want to kill Carlos and upchuck my guts over his dead body, what must Anne go through right now? She kissed Anne lightly and gathered the tall body in her arms again.

"No, baby," Anne pleaded as if sensing that Shana was close to her limit, "I need to let go of all of it now. I might never be able to again and talking about this helps." She kissed Shana in an attempt to fortify her for the next bit. "You are the first person I ever told all this, and you will be the last. So, please, let me finish."

"Okay," Shana agreed, ignoring the churning in her guts and the anguish in the blue eyes that looked up at her. "I'm here for you, sweetheart. I'll always be here for you."

Anne nodded and then moved away from Shana, preparing to get up.

"Where are you going?"

"I don't want to tell you the next bit," Anne answered. "I want you to read Pete's letter. He would have wanted it that way." She got up and walked over to a drawer. On top of it was a box that contained only a few things that were very important to the tall woman. Pete's letter, a photograph, and a velvet box with a ring inside. She took out the letter and closed the box again, caressing its lid before turning around to walk to the bed. She sat down across from Shana and handed her the letter. The blonde accepted it with a trembling hand, expecting the worst from the words on the page.

Before she started to read she mirrored Anne's position on the bed, needing the contact. Their knees touched and Shana put her free hand on Anne's thigh. Instantly, her hand was covered by a warm, larger hand that squeezed hers. Shana gave Anne a shaky smile and began to read. Anne followed Shana's eye movement across the page, knowing the letter by heart.

I can't do this any longer. I'm so alone. Mommy is not here and Daddy is so mean to me. Carlos is here all the time now. I hate him. He hurt me and he always says bad things about you. He always says that Daddy doesn't love me. I know that. But he also says that you don't love me. That is not true. You do love, don't you? He says that he came to me because you did not want him and told him to come to me instead. I did not believe him, but you are my big sister and maybe he was right and you thought it would be good for me. But I was so small and he was so mean. He made me do all those things with him and I hate him. It hurt so much when he put his thing in me. He says I should be happy that he does that, because that way he will not do it to you. He says that if I tell you he will come to you and he will not be so nice to you. After the first time I said I would tell Daddy and Mommy, but he said that they knew and that they wanted him to do it. I could not tell anyone, but I was okay if he left you alone. I did not believe you sent him to me, but now you left me all alone with them and I don't know what to do.
Last night, they both came to me. Carlos was right, Daddy knew about this. I tried to run away, but they caught me and said all those bad things again like I'm stupid and a sissy. I looked up sissy and I know now that a sissy is someone who is with men, so they must be right. Daddy beat me, but that wasn't so bad, I'm used to that. Then he said I'm worthless and that nobody loves me anyway, not even you. They said that if you loved me you wouldn't have gone away and you would have helped me. They said you knew what they were doing with me, but I don't believe them. Then they said I'm just a burden to everyone because I can't play tennis like you do. I guess they are right and that's why I'm saying goodbye now. Please don't cry, Annie, it's better where I'm going. Shana told me a story of heaven and all the angels and if I'm going there I'll be happy. I miss you, Annie, and I wish you could help me now. I just hope it doesn't hurt.
Promise me you never tell anyone about all this. Carlos said he'd do the same to Mommy and you and Shana and I don't want that.
I love you

Shana put the letter down, trembling too much to hold it. She was crying hard, shedding tears for the young man she had come to love like her own brother and who had been so terribly abused both mentally and physically. She couldn't say anything, because there was nothing to say. Her mind drew a total blank at the brutality that became so clear in Pete's simple words. He must have been so alone. And Anne must have felt so guilty all those years.

She looked up at Anne's face and was shocked to see the beautiful face contorted by pain that bordered on agony. She touched the face before her and cupped it between her hands. Anne's eyes slowly opened to reveal a dark blue gaze that cried out 'hold me'. Shana moved forward and pushed Anne onto her back, enveloping her in her arms. Long arms gripped her tightly until she had trouble breathing, but she didn't care.

"Do you hate me now?" Anne searched the green eyes above her for an answer.

"There's no reason to hate you, sweetheart." Shana kissed her lover. "What Carlos did to Pete wasn't your fault. You didn't know he would go after him. Oh, Anne, you are an incredibly strong human being, surviving all that without going mad or turning into a ruthless killer. I'm so sorry I wasn't by your side all the time, but now that I am you'll never have to face this alone. I love you with all that I am." She looked into Anne's eyes until she saw the first glimmer of understanding dawning in them. The dark blue lightened, and the anguish was replaced by acceptance, if not of past mistakes than of the love she shared with the woman in her arms. She would let nothing come between them, and she knew from the look in the deep green eyes that Shana wanted the same.

"I love you, Shana," the dark-haired woman whispered, her throat constricted by emotion. She felt totally exhausted, as if all energy had been sucked out of her along with the story of her family's sordid past. Only Shana could give her power and sustenance now, and she needed the smaller woman like she had never needed anyone before. She needed to feel her love to feel alive. She needed her touch to forget the images in her mind. She needed Shana to soothe her soul. "I love you," she repeated, "and I want to feel you. I need to feel you."

Shana heard the urgency in Anne's voice, heard the rawness of the need and knew what Anne wanted, needed from her. She leaned down and kissed Anne hard, deepening the kiss passionately when Anne responded with all the energy her burnt-out body could muster. There was no battle of control in this kiss, just an exchange of energy and love that both women needed more than air at the moment.

They broke away breathlessly when the need to breathe couldn't be ignored any longer. "I want you," Anne growled into Shana's ear before she bit gently into the earlobe. Shana gasped with pleasure and arousal and reciprocated with a little nibble on Anne's sensitive neck. The taller woman groaned deep in her throat and thrust her body upward against Shana's. "I need you now, baby."

"I want you too," the blonde woman gasped in between licks and nibbles, "but we can't, Anne." She moaned when Anne cupped her behind and squeezed. Then a groan of another kind worked itself from Anne's throat, followed by a string of curses.

Both women stopped their movement and looked at each other. Their faces were flushed and Anne knew that if they were to continue they would probably come hard and fast without getting out of their clothes. It would be powerful, but did she really want their first time to be a frantic coupling that was prompted by grief?

She lightly kissed Shana and smiled up at her. "You're right, we have to stop." Even if I'm going to implode sooner or later with all this pent-up sexual energy running through my body. "I don't want our first time to be like this." She grimaced when Shana rolled to her side and hit her damaged hand while doing so. "I also don't want to stop in the middle because I can't stand the pain in my hand any longer." She held up the bandaged appendage. "I'll get some pain medication from Fritz and a brace from Mike and then we're going to make the first time special."

Shana smiled at her. "I want our first time to be in our room."

"Our room?"

"Next to the library, the one with the wonderful four-poster bed?"

"Oh, the one where you threw up on me? Okay, our room it is."

Shana became serious again. "Are you okay, sweetheart?"

"I don't know, Shea," Anne replied honestly. "It'll probably be never completely okay, but I've lived with it for eight years now, and now with you by my side, it should only get easier. Pete would love to see us together. I bet he's merrily skipping along one of those clouds right now."

"We should go visit him and tell him the good news." Shana grinned at the image of a happy Pete with angel wings.

"Yes, we should. Let's do it this afternoon. After I kill Kevin for locking us up in here."

Shana laughed. "God, he must be so scared by now. But I think you should let him live. He was right, you know you would have run before we had a chance to talk."

"Yes, I would," the brunette conceded, "but I still want to torture him a bit." She grinned evilly.

"I can live with that," Shana joined in her grinning, "but first we have to get out of here."

"Is it okay I mean if we get out of here now? Are we going to be okay out there?" Anne suddenly felt insecure.

"Yes, it's going to be okay." Shana got up from the bed. "I know we still have a lot to talk about, but we can do that anywhere now, can we? Without having to be locked up."

"We can talk about anything you like, baby." Anne got up as well. "Although you might have to tie me down sometimes." Anne's eyebrows wiggled suggestively.

Shana's eyes went wide when the implication of what Anne just said hit her. Oh yeah, I can live with that arrangement. Images of a naked, tied and blindfolded Anne writhing on that big bed in their room came to her mind. She swallowed hard. Oh yeah.

When Shana moved over to the door to start calling for Kevin, Anne went over to her box on the drawer and got out the ring. She put it in the pocket of her khakis and smiled.

TBC in Part 20

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