For disclaimers, etc. see Chapter 1

© SRE 2005

bsoiree@comcast.net

________________________________________________

WHEN WE MET

by bsoiree

Chapter 7

Lonnie turned the key in the lock, leaned into the door and pushed it open to see Ruby fly to her feet from the rocking chair.† The chair had been turned in the living room to face the condo entrance.† The blonde was holding the wrapped, sleeping infant in her arms as she rose.

Oh, oh!"Honey?" Lonnie's brow creased as she pulled the door shut.† She dropped her keys in the dish on the stand by the closet and let her purse slip to the floor.†

"No!" Ruby said moving back behind the chair, her frightened green eyes staying on Lonnie.† She had obviously spent her time since the phone call chewing over the information she'd received.† And just as plainly it had frightened her a lot.

Lonnie headed toward her to fold her into an embrace.† "It's all right, honey."

"No!" Ruby said again, stepping away from Lonnie's outstretched arms.† "No!"

Lonnie dropped her arms and paused to consider the situation.† She girded herself, but surprisingly she didn't get the feeling of rejection, though clearly Ruby's words and actions seemed to indicate such.† But the small blonde was not radiating that emotion.†

"Okay," Lonnie said softly.† She backed a few steps away.† "Okay," she held up her hands in an indication of not pressing, but Ruby wasn't really watching her now.† She was staring at the floor.† The tall brunette moved to the couch and sat down, her eyes on her skittish partner.

Slowly Ruby turned pleading, nearly panicked eyes her way.

"Come and sit, honey," Lonnie suggested calmly.† Her voice was even, soft and as non-threatening as she could make it.† She reminded herself that Ruby had spent three quarters of a year having to rely on herself alone under unbelievably difficult circumstances.† It stood to reason that her panic mode would revert to that.

"I can't.....I can't....." Ruby tried to put together what she needed to say.† Her brow furrowed and a look of painful perplexity crossed her face.

"I know," Lonnie said.† "C'mon, just come and sit.† Please."

For a long couple minutes Ruby just stood and stared at Lonnie.† She was both angry and frightened and wanted to lash out.† At the same time she was depressed and frightened, felt terribly impotent and was still fighting sadness.† But mostly she was trying to fathom that mysterious abyss of confusion with its unrelenting grip of foreboding.† A pensive sorrow swept her eyes.† Finally she moved to the couch and sat, leaving a space between them.†

Ignoring Lonnie, the blonde carefully moved the baby from her chest to her lap and tenderly checked her, but the little girl was still asleep with a dry diaper.† Ruby softly wrapped the blanket around her again and brought the infant back to her chest before turning her eyes toward Lonnie.†

"Just one thing?" Lonnie asked softly.† "Do you love me?"

"Wha...What?" Ruby's eyes widened.† "Oh, Lonnie, yes...yes, of course I do.† More than anything.† Yes.† I just...."† She began to chew her lip.

Lonnie's mouth formed a concerned smile, "Are you going to be all right?"† The tall brunette was careful to keep her hands to herself.

Ruby's lip began to quiver and tears filled her eyes.† She shut her eyes forcing the tears out then silently leaned sideways until her head was resting on Lonnie's shoulder.† Slowly, carefully Lonnie brought up her arm and put it around the blonde's shoulders.† She edged closer to close the distance.† "Are you all right, honey?" she asked softly.† "I'm so sorry I frightened you."

"No," Tears streaked down Ruby's cheeks.† But she did not try to pull away, "You didn't frighten me.† He did.† I can't....Lonnie, I can't...."† She squeezed her eyes shut tight.

"Can't what, honey?" Lonnie asked.† "Tell me."

"I can't do this...I can't be a victim any more.† Please, I can't be coddled.† I can't let myself be."† She made a halfhearted attempt to move away, but Lonnie kept her hold firm.† Ruby quit her weak struggling.† She sighed heavily, "I don't want to live being afraid all the time.† I can't... I have to...† I have to fight back."

"You're right," Lonnie agreed.† "You're exactly right."† She felt the pent-up tension of the small blonde as she leaned against her side.†

Large green eyes opened to look up at her.† "He's very smart, and he's evil.† Lonnie, he's evil.† I always felt something wasn't right about him, even before...."

"You're right.† And I won't say controlling fear is easy, Ruby.† I know it isn't.† But don't you think it's our biggest enemy right now?† Bigger than him even."

"He's dangerous, Lonnie.† Don't underestimate him."† Then Ruby looked down and whispered, "I did."

"No, I won't.† We won't.† But like you said, we have to fight back."† She wondered if Ruby would notice how she had rephrased it to include both of them.

"He wants to hurt her.† What if he wants to hurt Bethy?† What if he wants to claim rights and try and take her away?"

"That's ridiculous.† After what he did..."

"Is it ridiculous?† Think about it.† How could we prove he didn't have rights?† We know what he did.† But how could we prove it?† He knows that.† He knows that, Lonnie."

"Well, whatever he has in mind, we won't let him get away with anything.† We can work on this together.† And we can stop him."

"I don't know how," Ruby shook her head forlornly, "I've thought about it and thought about it."† Again she shut her eyes but this time she stopped the tears that threatened to fall.† "No," she said softly, "I'm not going to cry.† No."† Her hands shook as she gently held the baby in a protective hold.† "He can't come near her!† I don't want that beast near our precious baby girl!"

Ruby adjusted the blanket around the baby's face, giving more room for her tiny features to show.

Lonnie kept her voice low so as not to awaken the tiny girl.† "Nor do I, Ruby. †And we won't let him.† Trust me, honey, we won't!† I'd kill him first."† Tumultuous blue eyes gazed steadily at Ruby.

"Would you?"

"Yes, but it won't ever come to that.† There's lots of other things we can do.† We have all kinds of resources."

"Like what?"† Ruby looked sincerely perplexed.

"Well, I was mostly thinking legally.† We have each other, we have Chance and we have Nyri and all Nyri's resources.† She's worked for the FBI, and she knows tons of important people and has lots of influence.† Believe me, she's probably the best person in town to know.† So I think we can put together any legal or any other kind of defense against anything he might try."† For now.† Till I know more about who this asshole is and what he's up to. "Do you understand?† Nyri's very good, honey.† Remember she got your name change put through right away.† She knew a judge or something.† Trust me on this.† We have a lot of help."

"Do you really think so?† Your friend could keep him from trying to do something legal to us?† You're not just saying that to make me feel better?"

"I know it...absolutely...completely."†

The small blonde was quiet for a minute.† "Okay."† Ruby chewed her lip.† At last she replied, "I didn't know what I'd do if he tried to take her away from us.† I didn't want us to have to do something desperate.† But I would, if I had to...I would!"† Tears slipped down Ruby's cheeks again and she fought to stop them.† "I know there's always the choice of running away.† Hiding.† But I don't want...Bethy can't live that way.† Or us, either."† She sniffed, trying to stop the tears.† "I don't know how we could live that way."

"It's all right to cry, honey, if it helps you release the tension.† We aren't going to have to go into hiding.† And he won't have a legal leg to stand on, no matter how clever he is.† I can tell you, I feel† confident about that.† So, let's move on and see what might make you feel physically safer if he's ever around you and for some reason I'm not right there.† Cause believe me, I can handle him physically if I'm there.† I am trained.† But you were the one who already survived an attack by this monster.† And you're not going to let yourself get drugged again.† That seems to be his main control."

"No, I'm not." she agreed.† "I'm not drinking anything away from home that I don't have constant control of.† But he's crazy, Lonnie.† Why else would he do something like this?† What does he want?"

"Personally, I think he just wants to harass you.† Some sickos get off on making women feel afraid.† Probably makes him feel important in some way or something sick like that.† But there's no evidence that it's him, hon."

"It's him," she said with assurance.† "I know it is.† It feels like him."

"Well, I won't insult you and say ‘no it isn't.'† Nor will I say there's no danger.† You know better.† I will say that Nyri has hidden your name change and says people won't be able to find you easily.† She'll track them down, and when she finds him or them, I promise, we'll get those maggots off the streets one way or another."

"I hope you're right," Ruby whispered.

"I am," Lonnie remarked with soft-spoken emphasis.† "I am."† And she meant it sincerely, although she had no idea how at this point.† The brunette turned her attention out the window to the darkening skies outside.† She didn't favor her next idea, but if it made Ruby feel safe..."So, uh, do you want to carry a gun?† We can try and get you a permit..."

Large saucer shaped green eyes looked up at her.† "I don't like guns, Lonnie.† I don't want them around Bethy."

"Good.† Yes.† Okay.† I'm not fond of them myself.† But I thought I should ask, just in case."

"No guns."† Ruby continued leaning into Lonnie.† Her eyes moved to the baby in her arms.† "She's so precious."

Lonnie looked lovingly down at the angelic infant's face.† "She is."

"No matter what happens, I don't want Bethy to know," she gently kissed the hand of the sleeping child in her arms.† "At the very least not until she's old enough to know she has nothing to do with what kind of man he is.† Maybe when she's an adult, maybe...or maybe not at all.† I don't want her living under any kind of cloud or thinking anything bad about herself.† Cause she is so innocent in all this..."† Her hand softly ruffled the light blonde hair of the infant.† Vulnerable green eyes looked up at Lonnie.† "He's smart.† What if he finds me?† What if he finds Bethy?"

"I don't see how he could, honey.† It's highly unlikely that he'd ever find us.† Besides, you're safe here.† Think about it...they check entrants at the desk and the other doors are locked from the outside.† When we know who he is, we can put the front desk on the alert to watch for him.† And any time you feel uncomfortable, you can buzz down and someone will rush up here instantly to help you."

Her nod was almost unnoticeable.† "I do feel pretty safe here," Ruby muttered.† "Safer here than anywhere else I know."

Lonnie listened to Ruby's sweet voice.† "Good.† But I don't want you to feel like you have to hide away here night and day either, honey.† We'll be watchful but, uh, we don't want to be paranoid.† We have our lives to live and we don't need to give that over to him.† Okay?† We can't let him control everything we do.† But so you feel safer, let's save grocery shopping for the weekends when we can go together."

"You mean, take the baby?"

"Yes.† I can carry her around in her pack while you find the groceries.† I'd like doing that." She could see that Ruby was not completely convinced.

"Okay, let's say by some strange coincidence he does show up someplace out there.† If you knew self defense, do you think that would make you feel safer?"

Ruby considered.† "Maybe."† She took a minute to mull over the concept.† "I thought about that.."

"And?"

"And, maybe, yes, maybe, I think I'd feel safer knowing some self defense."† She had stopped crying.† She sniffled then moved a corner of the baby's blanket to wipe away the residue moisture from her eyes.

"I know quite a few self defense moves.† Do you want to practice a couple tonight until you've mastered them.† What do you think?"

"Yes."† Ruby looked up with hope in her eyes.† She leaned harder into this wonderful tall woman.† How was it that Lonnie always seemed to know what to say?†††

Lonnie could feel how much Ruby wanted to be held, but equally how much she would not allow it to happen any more than Lonnie was doing.† Lonnie looked down at her, her gaze filled with concern.

"Oh, Lonnie," Ruby whispered, "I want to be in your arms and let you make me feel safe," she squeezed her eyes shut.† "I want that so much.† But I can't do that.† I can't not do something.† I can't not face it myself.† Not any more.† I can't be afraid any more.† I have to do something.† Please understand."

"Oh, I do understand, love.† I know exactly where you're coming from.† So, if you carried something like pepper spray or something like that to fight back with, do you think you'd feel safer?† You'd have to learn how to use it properly.† There's things you have to take into consideration, like wind direction, being overpowered, that kind of thing.† You wouldn't ever want the baby to be in any position where it could hit her accidentally.† You'd have to think about that."

Ruby looked with a shocked expression at the baby, "No!† She can't be hurt."

"Agreed."† Lonnie reached her free arm out for the baby.† "Let me see our little pumpkin."† Ruby slowly handed her the sleeping baby girl.† Lonnie pulled her arm free and took the infant, cuddling her to herself.† Bethy displayed the cherubic innocence of all sleeping babies and had the unmistakeable smell of baby powder.†

The tall brunette couldn't help smiling at their tiny daughter.† "Hey, Sleeping Beauty," she whispered.† She brought her lips tenderly to the sleeping infant's forehead.† "Mumsy's home with you and your Momma.† But don't wake up yet, okay?"† Lonnie lifted her eyes, "The sooner we get started," she said softly, looking at Ruby, "the sooner you'll feel better.† C'mon.† Let's change into some workout clothes and get started while she's still asleep."†

Lonnie moved to the bassinet and settled the baby into it.† She and Ruby walked beside each other into the bedroom to change clothes.

"I don't want you to do any harm to your surgery, so I'm choosing moves that shouldn't affect that area much.† But you'll have to be mindful."

"It seems to be healing quickly.† But good.† I'll be careful."

Lonnie nodded.† Dinner was totally forgotten.† They moved the furniture in the living room to give them a large enough area to practice and put down Lonnie's exercise mat.† They went over the first move a number of times.† Ruby was surprisingly strong and mastered the move much more quickly than Lonnie had anticipated, even in her state of recovery.† Then they practiced a second move until they were both panting and out of breath.

"If you dump me on the ground one more time, I may never walk again," Lonnie groaned, laying on her back on her workout mat on the living room rug, Ruby standing above her.† She had let the small blonde bring her down to get the feel of how it worked.

"Are you hurt?" Ruby asked with concern.† "Oh, honey, I didn't mean to hurt you."

Lonnie folded one arm over her eyes and placed a smile on her lips, "No, I'm not hurt.† But you've worn me out.† And the neighbors downstairs might complain if we shake the floor again."

Ruby got down on her hands and knees then lay down on her stomach next to Lonnie,† "I'm sorry I acted like I did when you came in..." she said.† Her voice was so soft, Lonnie had to strain to hear her.††† "Sometimes when I'm really frightened and times when I'm angry, too, I need to not be touched for a bit.† I don't mean anything by it.† I've just always sort of been that way."† Should she mention the nightmares she'd begun to have?† No, she felt better after their practice.† She'd wait on that.† One thing at a time.

"No, honey, I'm the one that's sorry because I frightened you.† I should have known better."† You'd already been victimized enough by this wacko.† You haven't even healed from the physical wounds he gave you, not to mention emotional or psychological scars.† Lonnie moved her arm slightly, enough for her blue eyes to peek out under it, "but you won't ever be victimized by him again.† I promise."

Ruby put a finger to Lonnie's lips.† Then she planted a quick kiss.† "Shhh," she said. "Don't make promises.† Just teach me to deal with it myself."

"I will."† Lonnie moved her arm to her side, put her weight on her elbows and pushed up the upper half of her body.† She twisted to look at the small blonde, "But here's the good news..."

Ruby raised her brows in question.

"You'll know how to handle it yourself, but you won't be alone.† You'll always have me to back you up.† Aaaaannnnnnd......"

"Yes?" Ruby rolled onto her side watching Lonnie's every move.

"And I'll always have you to back me up."

A look of pure tenderness swept over Ruby's face.† "Do you have any idea how much I love you?" she mused.†

Lonnie noted the dimple that appeared in Ruby's soft smile.† How she loved seeing that dimple.† "We're partners," Lonnie breathed.† "For life."

"We're partners for life," Ruby agreed running her thumb across her ring.† There was such a radiance in the small blonde's being as she spoke that Lonnie's heart was lost all over again.† She pulled the willing woman into an embrace.† Their lips had just met in tender exploration when the baby began to cry.

"Okay partner," Ruby sighed, "whose turn is it to change her?"† With smirks they each pointed at the other then rose together to see to the small baby they both considered nothing short of a miracle.† It was undisputed as they saw her tiny face crinkled into impassioned tears that as far as any danger went, they would go to any ends to protect their small daughter.†

"Don't cry, baby girl," Lonnie lifted the infant into her arms.† "Yep, she's wet.† And you're hungry, too, aren't you sweetheart."† Looking† at Ruby next to her, she said seriously, "She's hungry, Mommy."

What a big, wonderful galoot my tall beauty is. Ruby returned the smile.† "Yes, it's time."† Lonnie ended up changing baby Beth while Ruby settled in the rocker and prepared to feed their little charmer.

"Did you call Nicole?" Lonnie glanced at the cordless phone that was out of place.† She replaced it in its cradle and went to sit on the couch while Ruby sat in the rocker, settling the baby to her breast.

"Yes.† She said she told no one.† She has my address still hidden and no one on campus has asked her about my whereabouts.† She hasn't seen that creep around town anywhere, he hasn't tried to harass her or make contact with her, but the word is that he's been back again to the cafe on the main highway several more times, still asking about me there."† Green eyes shot to Lonnie, "That's part of what frightens me so much.† The fact that after all this time he's still asking about me.† It was bad enough that he asked right after I left Spokane.† Right after he'd...."† She stopped talking.

"He doesn't live there in town, though?"

"Not as far as I know.† Maybe he really does travel for business..."† Ruby shivered, stared at the wall and snuggled the baby closer to herself.

"Maybe," Lonnie agreed.† Motorcycle shop business, maybe.† "I'll let Nyri know."

"Okay."† Sad green eyes came back to Lonnie, "Nicole also said that this guy she's engaged to, uh, I think his name's David, has a reputation for having a pretty nasty temper, has done some serious boxing and would knock the guy's block off if he came near her.† She thinks that's why the creep's stayed completely away from her."

"She told David what happened, then?"

"No.† I'm sure not.† That's not something Nicole would do.† I know her pretty well.† I think she told him the guy had made a pass at her, or something like that."

"Ah.† Yeah, I remember your mentioning that."

"She was real excited about the baby," Ruby smiled a soft smile and rubbed a finger on the infant's cheek.† "She wants to see her really badly.† She said she wants to see what a daughter of mine would look like."† She raised her face and the first full smile since Lonnie had come home shone across Ruby's features.† "I told her how beautiful little Bethy is.† And, uh, I told her about our joining ceremony and that our girl is the daughter of both of us."

"What'd she say to that?"

"She was impressed.† I mean, she'd publicly deny to her dying breath any inclinations of that kind that she might feel, but she was impressed that I had taken the step."

"Why?† I understand not always telling your folks.† But why deny who you are to a friend like you or to herself?"

Ruby looked at Lonnie with a soft smile.† "You've been ‘out' a long time, don't forget.† Lots of people struggle with it.† You just don't remember."†

"I do remember, but you're right," Lonnie twisted her back, noticing how stiff she was getting just from the workout they'd had.† She needed to get back to jogging every day or at least working out every single day.† She was doing better since their rush orders at work stopped, but she'd been all too willing to skip it on the flimsiest of excuses of late.

"I'm not sure Nicole does deny it to herself.† She did sort of admit it to me more than once.† But she might think of it as an experimental thing.† I don't know.† I don't think she wants it to be true.† She's under a lot of pressure.† Her parents are terribly homophobic, honey, and they're putting her through school.† They're exerting tons of pressure.† And more than anything, she wants their approval."

"Yeah, I suppose.† We all do what we have to do.† And it's no business of mine.† But just between you and me I can't help wondering what happens.† I mean, she could find that one day her folks are gone, and she's left having lived a life that was, for all intents and purposes, all a lie.† What, then?"

Ruby shrugged.†

"Hey," Lonnie said glibly, "You're right.† C'est la vie or que sera sera.† To each his own, I guess.† It's sure not mine to decide."

"Everyone's entitled to their own life.† That's true.† Besides, your folks are very understanding.† That's not always true, you know."† Ruby thought of her own folks.† They would never, ever understand.† And they certainly wouldn't approve.† Not in a million years.

"I know.† My folks're probably the exception, in fact.† I do feel very blessed."

"You are.† You really are.† And I am too, in regards to them."† She changed the baby to the other breast then gently rocked as the infant suckled.† The scene was so movingly maternal that Lonnie considered getting the camera and taking a picture to send by computer to her parents, but she knew Ruby would never let her do so when she was nursing, so she set the idea aside.

"I decided to be who I really knew I was after I moved to Seattle," Ruby continued.† "I didn't have to worry about family either way.† Course I didn't meet anybody gay that I know of.† I wanted to, but I was too busy working long hours and dealing with my pregnancy and....everything.† I just know, I quit fighting it.† But everybody has to make their own decisions, I think."

"Yeah.† Do you want a toasted cheese sandwich?† I know how to make those, uh, maybe."

"Oh, wait till she's done here, honey, and I'll feed you.† I have a lasagna baked dish in the fridge ready to be heated.† Do you want me to put that in instead?"

"Nope, I'll fix us my famous toasted cheese sandwiches."† The tall brunette rose and headed to the kitchen.† She spoke more loudly to be heard in the living room.† "It's the one thing you can pretty much safely order anywhere when you're traveling and not get food poisoning.† So you don't need to worry about my cooking."† She flashed back a quick grin.

"I didn't know you worried about food poisoning when you traveled."

"Oh, uh, well," Lonnie looked out through the breakfast bar opening into the living room, "I don't usually, but, you know, if you find yourself in a greasy spoon someplace, some ptomaine palace and you're starving and you aren't sure what to order.† It's a pretty safe bet."

"You're a strange person, sometimes, Lonnie," Ruby grinned.

"Yeah," Lonnie grinned back.† "One toasted cheese, hold the mayo.† Comin' up."

~***~

The next evening Ruby placed a call to her old roommates in Seattle as Lonnie sat beside her.† Lonnie punched in some numbers first to make sure their Portland phone number would not be disclosed on the other end of the line.†

As soon as the girl answered Ruby could tell that both ex-roommates were high.† Ruby could hear the boyfriend in the same room behind the girl and knew he was listening and would comment on everything that was said.† They claimed neither had been contacted by anyone asking about her.† Although the girl said she'd heard at work that someone had called in to Personnel to ask about Ruby's new address when she left Seattle.† She had no idea who it was, she said.† They all thought Ruby'd gone to San Francisco and they figured that was what Personnel had told the caller.

"Oh, uh, okay," Ruby stammered.† She didn't really want to talk to her roommates again.† Both their voices had that floating, dreamy sound she'd too often heard when they'd been under the influence of drugs.

"So, how is it in California?" the girl slurred with a chuckle.† Lonnie, who was close by listening to the conversation mouthed a word that Ruby repeated.

"Fine."† Ruby replied,† "Listen, I have to go.† I just wanted to see if everything was okay there."

"We're okay.† Remember Quork?† Bushy hair and beard?† Studded dog collar around his neck?† Always wore that dirty black tee shirt and had big rips in the knees of his jeans?† He played the lead guitar with the Dragon's Grunge Grangers band?"†

"Yeah," Ruby did remember him and the garage "band."† They were other visitors to their small house who always smoked pot and had beers in hand the whole time they were around, which was fairly often.†

"He asked about you the other day when he came by."

"I thought you said no one asked about me."

"Oh, well, I didn't think you meant Quork.† He always thought you were cute, even if you were pregnant.† So, is it hot there?"

Ruby crossed her fingers.† Though she understood the reasoning, it bothered her to be leading them astray with her white lies, "Yes.† Uh, listen, I have to go."

"Granger and the boys missed you, too."† These were the other fellows in the band.† "They always ask exactly where you went and if we've heard anything from you.† They said maybe we could all come and visit you sometime.† Have a big party.† Oh, and Grange got another stud, this time in his tongue.† It's real cool.† Says it helps his singing.† He clicks it against the microphone.† The crowd goes wild."

Yuck.† And No, you can't come and visit."Uh, that's good.† Listen, I've really gotta go.† Take care.† Bye."† Ruby hung up quickly.† If they were as high as she thought they were, they probably wouldn't even remember she'd called.

Ruby chewed her lip and wrung her hands.† "I don't know if that means someone is looking for me or not.† The guys in the band never bothered me much when I was there.† I didn't think they even noticed me to tell you the truth.† I don't know why they'd ask about me at all after I left."

"Probably it's nothing," Lonnie agreed, her face neutral. "But I'll let Nyri know.† Let's practice some other self defense moves."

Ruby clenched her teeth.† "Yes."

~***~

The keys rattled as Nyri finished up on one of her computers, her fingers flying over the keyboard.† Other screens in the large room were also lit.† She'd listened to Lonnie's update and decided the facts were that they needed information on this creep A.S.A.P.† He was far too persistent, far too obsessed with Ruby.† He had found her address and where she'd worked in Seattle.† Nyri had something in the works to identify him, but it would take time.† No, she'd need to crank it up a notch.

The petite blonde sat back and stretched her back, pleased with herself.† She stretched a cowboy booted foot out to rest on the the shelf under the desk.† She had spent a worthwhile few hours searching.† And she'd accumulated a surprising amount of data, though she wasn't sure how helpful it would be in the end.† It had been remarkably easy to get.† And everything she'd been able to find showed this "motorcycle shop" or rather "motorcycle parts shop" had to be up to its ears in illegal activity. "You'd think criminals would know better than to leave this kind of information so readily available," she mused, flipping through her notes.† "Gods, they'd freak if they knew how easy it was!"

She glanced at her screen that was running her own programmed software.† She shook her head at her surprise when she'd come across an outside source that was showing a probing interest in the motorcycle shop as well.†

The world wide web was fairly new.† She'd specialized in computer work for the FBI before she quit, and was pretty sure it wasn't them.† It wasn't their style.† Usually she could tell the organizations by the oddities of their specialists' styles.† There weren't that many experts.† But this time she wasn't entirely sure who it was.† She had a good idea, though.

She rolled her chair over and flipped a different screen to the motorcycle shop's web page with its picture of a ramshackle building on a country road.† The page was nothing too complicated--basic information-name, address, phone number, email address-in standard fonts.† On it were a few hot buttons, one showing the current "Best Buy," a used part for the old Harley Fat Boy.† Another went to an email order form with a place for the customer to list and send credit card information over an unsecured line.

"As if," she snorted in disbelief.† She had no doubt there were some gullible people out there that might use the page, if they could stumble across it.†† Which was not at all easy.† She stared at the building's picture and a corner of her mouth turned up.† "So didn't you think a site with a bumbfuck cycle shop in Off-the-radar, USA would draw any interest?†† Or were you counting on the authorities not having any skilled help to sniff you out?† Crimony, if that's a real picture of the joint, it looks like the movie version of some outlaw motorcycle gang headquarters."†

The way the shop had been listed, it did not come up on any search engine under "motorcycles," "motorcycle parts," "motorcycles new," "motorcycles used," any brand name motorcycle or local shop searches.† In fact, you had to know the actual name of the shop or the address such as had been on the credit report form to find it at all.† So she doubted that building up a list of mail order customers was its purpose.

She glanced at the phone number.† She'd checked that out right away along with the owner of the property.† Both were registered to a dummy corporation.† She'd been able to break that down till she found a woman's name that had some merit to it.† A girlfriend, she was sure.† Or a common-law wife.† She'd found no marriages listed anywhere for her.† The woman's legal record was spotless...no arrests, no charges.† Nyri'd found a couple of her old addresses, a legal form or two, but no marriages or divorces.

"So, is this site to signal patrons when a shipment comes in?"† She was quite sure their product was drugs.† Arching a finger to her lip Nyri considered.† "Maybe you sell used parts, but they couldn't possibly bring in the amounts you're hiding.† And it's doubtful any gang members search you out on the web.† I doubt too many of them are computer competent unless they know exactly what to look for."

She brushed back a lock of hair from her face.† "Besides the fact that you're so hard to find, there's not much here to draw in reputable do-it-yourself parts customers."†† Nyri laughed mirthlessly, "Seeing your site, even if I lived nearby, I sure wouldn't rush out your back road to buy any parts for my hog unless I was aching to be robbed, assaulted or worse.† And I sure wouldn't send you my credit card information.† Gotta be used to signal when drugs are in.† Something nefarious like that."

She put her hands behind her head and stared at the screen, "So, is that what the Best Buy is all about?"† She had called the listed phone number to see about buying the part, but had been told it was already sold.† "Bet your "Best Buy" changes when a new drug shipment is in.† Or has been sent out.† Or maybe you're making your own...like meth.† Something like that.† Well, let's plant a little spy and see what it finds." Again her fingers flew across the keyboard.

"Hey, Nyri," Temple said, moving behind the small blonde.† She jumped at his voice.† "You talking to your machines again?"†

"Honestly, Temple," her hand went to her chest, "give some warning when you sneak up on someone."† Temple was an old friend and new employee who would be the man-in-charge of the office she'd be setting up.† While she planned to work in the field, he would be her contact at home.†† Although he was not quite as computer competent as she, he was skilled enough to qualify as a white hat hacker nearly anywhere and had a full spectrum of other very necessary technical skills.†

"What are you doing here?" she grumbled.

"Wanted to come in to make sure everything was hooked up correctly. †I've already found some things they did wrong."

"Oh.† Okay.† Listen, while you're here, do a search for me, willya?† All law enforcement.† Start with Washington and Idaho.† Local first in the eastern Washington area, for any date rape crimes using knockout drugs.†† Then see what Fed databases you can access for this area.† Or contact our sources.† Go back a few years, say three or four.† I'm sure our Jane Doe isn't the only one attacked by this cretin.† These guys usually have lots of victims, although we'll be lucky if ten percent reported it."

"All right."† He took his suit jacket off and hung it on the back of a chair then turned on a computer system near his director's phone bank.

"And, uh, focus on college campus areas within range.† I've got a hunch that's this felon's target area."

"Got it.† You don't have a name?"

"I wish.† Had one.† Bogus, of course.† I wrote it on that pad."† Temple nodded.† Nyri continued, "Somebody's birddogging the cycle shop, though."

"Oh yeah?† Who?† FBI?"

"No.† Not their signature.† I know everyone in the Bureau and how they operate.† There's law enforcement and there's intelligence.† This has got law enforcement written all over it.† And for good reason, I might add."

"I take it you found signs of illegal activity."

"Oh, yeah.† You'd think criminals would know better than to leave information sitting around that could be so easily gleaned."

"So who's taking a little peekie...DEA?" he asked,† "Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms?† State?† Feds?"

"Not sure.† I have an idea, but I'll call around a little and see what I can find out."†††

She looked at the short list of individual's names she'd found from the cycle shop site.† It was not nearly as complete as she was sure it should be.† She would check them all out, but there was no guarantee that she'd find the man she was looking for among them.† Or that the names would be anything but bogus.† Or that she'd be able to find pictures to go with the names.†

She dropped her foot from the shelf and sighed.† As of now she was facing another pressure.† She'd have to speed up the process before whoever was watching the shop sprung their trap and caught all the participants in a drug raid.† She'd like him to be arrested, but she didn't want this rapist plea bargaining his way out of charges they might have against him by turning in the others.† That happened all too often.† The small fry, if that's what he was, either got off easy with reduced charges or got off Scott free.†

She had to get pictures very soon to send to Ruby to see if she recognized anyone.† But she doubted that the names on her list would be anywhere near to being a full slate of the people involved in this shop's business.

She picked up the phone and dialed a number.† When a female voice answered, Nyri said crisply, "Hey, Shorty.† Any progress yet?"

"No.† Not yet."† A youthful voice teased, "And hello to you, too, Shadow."† Nyri had known this girl since she was a gangly youngster growing up.† She'd always called the kid "Shorty" though now the young college student towered above Nyri.

Nyri chuckled.† The girl's father, her partner in the FBI, had always called Nyri "Shadow" when they worked together because Nyri was so adept at getting into and out of places with her computer.† Most people couldn't halfway comprehend what she was doing.† "Okay, kiddo.† Wait it out, I guess."

"I'm not going anyplace," the young woman laughed, tossing her long hair as she spoke.† "Except to class and then to work.† I work in a cafe now, you know.† Got myself a good waitress job."†

She laughed outright.† Of course, Nyri knew.† It was on her instructions.† "I had no idea people did this domestic goddess stuff for a living.† If Mom knew I was waiting and bussing tables, she'd be thrilled, that is if she didn't faint dead away that I'd voluntarily pick up dishes and wait on people.† She thinks all I do is ride my horse and enter shooting contests.† Dad, on the other hand, would say it was good practice till I got in the Academy."†

She had spent her life preparing to follow in her father's footsteps.† She had his blessings and encouragement.† She knew guns, she knew self-defense, she was an outdoors' woman in excellent physical shape and she knew what kind of potential horrors were out there.† Once she graduated, both she and her boyfriend at the Spokane college expected to directly enter the Academy doors together.† As it was, they shared an apartment just off campus.

"Hey, is your Dad working any big cases out your way that you're aware of?"

"Now Shadow, you know I couldn't tell you if he was.† HE could tell you, but I couldn't.† But I will say he was in D.C. with his team when he called me two nights ago.† And he said I could call him back there for the next few weeks."

"That's what I thought.† So give him my regards when you talk to him next time.† Uh, listen, be extra careful with this guy, Shorty," Nyri warned.† "He's dangerous.† And there's bigger fish out there swimming the waters."

"Uh...." the young woman was puzzled by that.† "Not my father's... ?"

"No.† Not them.† But play it by the book.† No shortcuts.† Big brother's watching.† Not sure if our guy's in their food chain or not."

"Oh.† You know who the bird dog is?"

"I've got a good idea."

"Okay.† No problem.† Wasn't anticipating any shortcuts."

"Let me know at the first sign.† Do NOT put yourself into undo danger.† Understand?† Even if it means you get nothing.† YOU KEEP SAFE!† Under no conditions..."

A laugh.† "All right, all right.† You sound just like my Dad."

"For good reason."† Actually Nyri knew the young woman would be careful.† She did understand how easily a situation could turn bad.† She was not a showboater.† She had a good head on her shoulders or Nyri would never have hired her.

"Remember our talk about the O. J. trial and that double helixed Deoxyribonucleic Acid they talked about?"

"How could anyone forget that trial last year!?† Jeesh.† And yes, I remember your little DNA lesson."

"Remember how to protect evidence?† Mostly, I just want you to keep your eyes open.† Do NOT go to any undo lengths to get information.† Just be aware that people usually have no idea what might give away DNA information on them.† Cigarette butts, chewing gum, hair, used tissues, blood drops, used bandaids, spitting on the pavement, that kind of thing.† Nothing...NOTHING is to be collected till AFTER he leaves.† We don't want him suspicious of you, and we don't want to spook him.† Get the cup or glass.† Fingerprints are what we want first and foremost.† We want that more than a photo, so if you're rushed, don't try to use your hidden camera at all."

"I've been wearing the pocket camera every day.† Fits great.† Doesn't show at all.† Eddie checks it for me every day before I go to work.† Checks the batteries and everything."† She paused, "And I remember exactly what you told me."

"Good girl," Nyri replied.† "Tell Eddie to keep checking it."

"Will do.† Gotta go," the young voice sang.† "Or I'll be late for class.† Bye, you."† The line was disconnected.

Nyri sat back scowling.† She'd hoped there'd be some new information.† "Hey, Temple.† Can you check locations of a cell phone for me?† Are you set up to do something like that?"

He looked at all the technical equipment that was only partially installed.† "How far away are you asking about?"

"Outside Boise."

"Crud, Nyri.† Why don't you make it hard or something?" he asked sarcastically.† "I can locate the nearest transmitter's location.† That's the best I can do.† Why, can't you use a box tracker on the vehicle?"

"Not really.† I think the perp might ultimately steal the cars he uses.† If so, I'm sure he dumps them.† ‘Sides, criminals like this guy just might think to check."

"Um.† Well, that's about the best I can do right now."

"Okay.† If I have a connection to their phone, where can it be sent through on short notice?† I don't want them to know the call's real destination is Portland."

"That's easier.† I can run it through the Seattle location.† Make a double connection and bring it back here.† That help?† It'll ring here but show on the records as Seattle.† I can fix this one up for ya."† He removed a cell phone from his top desk drawer.

"Yeah, that'll work.† Give me the number, will ya?"† Temple nodded and tossed her the phone.† She caught it and looked at the number he had on it before she placed it on her desktop.† Then Nyri looked at the card with Shorty's number that she had just called.† "Watched pot doesn't boil," she grumbled.† Her hand fell to her rolodex.† "Okay, this will be faster."† She picked up the landline phone and walked her fingers through the cards.† "There you are."† She squinted at the card then punched in the number.

"Ajax Detective Agency," a man's gruff voice answered.

"Is Rocky there, please?" Nyri's voice was pleasant.

"This is Rocky.† Who's this?"† The man ran his hand across the stubble on his chin.† He leaned back in his chair and blew cigar smoke rings into the air.† The cracked window by his head was coated with a film of grime from years of cigar smoke.† He never washed it.† His office was in a decidedly bad part of town, and he didn't want anyone looking in the windows anyway.

His worn, scuffed shoes on his feet were crossed on top of his badly beaten wood desk and his old chair creaked in warning as he leaned back.

"Hi, Rocky.† This is Nyri."

There was a long silence.† Nyri wasn't sure if she was hearing the silence of outrage or the silence of forgetfulness.† "Remember me?† Sometimes I was called Shadow," she asked pleasantly when there was no reply.

A scowl remained on his face. †"I remember you.† I'm just wondering why in the fuck you're calling me.† I didn't think you'd revisit the scene of your crime."

Nyri laughed with no conviction.† "The one I spent months on?† The one Big Jim botched up for us?† You didn't buy into all that crap he was shoveling about how the Bureau blew it, did you?"†

Big Jim, whose uncle held a high political position in one of the western mountain states, had been a representative of the local police force in Rocky's western town.† He and other local groups, including Rocky's ‘detective agency' had been working with the FBI on a large sting for a drug-dealing, gun-running paramilitary group operating far outside the law.† At the last minute, Jim's bumbling had let the kingpins get away and they were all left with only small fry in their net.† She had always had serious doubts regarding how "accidental" Big Jim's bumbling had been.†

She heard no answer from Rocky and continued, "Well, think what you want.† You've been misinformed."

"So you say," he grumbled.† "Whaddya want?"

"Simple.† I need to hire you," she said, then added quickly, "if the price is right."

"Hire me?† Why would YOU need to hire ME?"† His feet lowered to the floor and he sat upright.† Of its own accord his hand moved to the cheap bottle of whiskey on his desk.† He remembered her all right.† That little freckled, angelic-faced, smart ass FBI agent who had single-handedly collapsed a scheme two local detective agencies, a full police department, the DEA and the FBI had all worked on.† No big arrests, no big profits and nothing to do but read about the small fry arrests in the papers.† And even then the FBI had been the only one commended.† But the FBI was noted for that, wasn't it?...stealing other agencies' thunder, palming off the losses and taking all the credit for anything that did get done.† "Why does the FBI want to hire me?"

"I'm no longer with the Bureau," she said quickly.† "I have my own company now and I need someone in your area to do some work for me."

"And you thought of me?" he growled incredulously.

"And I thought of you," she said, again making sure her voice remained pleasant.

As he remembered, he'd called her and her cohorts some pretty colorful names while she was in earshot last time.† He cleared his throat loudly, hawked and spit on the floor.† "Whaddya got in mind?"

"If I remember correctly, you had an old Harley FL that you kept in that room in the back of your office.† Used to get out your leather Hell's Angels' get-up and ride it around the area."† Just to see who you could impress.† "You still have that little beauty?"†

She ran a hand through her blonde hair.† Even at that time his bike was hardly a beauty any more and that was a few years back.† He had let it go, but it was hard to defeat those machines.† She hoped his drinking wasn't so bad that it kept him from riding any more.

"How'd you remember that?" he growled, spitting again.

"You're a hard man to forget?† Still got it?"

"Yeah, I've still got it, but I ain't sellin' it, if that's what you're asking.† Not to you, not to nobody."† Sure he was facing hard times, but he'd be damned if he'd let her know how bad they were.† He'd faced hard times before and he would again.† Course this little streak of bad luck had been with him a while.† At least since Gracie left.† And that was what...four, five years ago?

"You still ride?"

"Hell, yes."

"Good.† The job I have requires visiting a motorcycle parts shop and getting some pictures of the people there.† I want photos of every single person connected to the place and a name to match each mug.† I particularly want to know about any traveling salesmen they might have.† Think you can do it?"

"Fuck, yes.† Easy.† I've got a good camera."† In fact, he had several.† None of them were the greatest, but they worked well enough.† Lord knows, he had to use them every time in the divorce cases that kept him alive.† "Yeah, even got a telephoto on one of ‘em.† Works great."

"No," she looked at the web site picture, "No easy place to hide near this place.† I think you're going to need to get inside.† I'm going to overnight a camera to you.† It's very small and is easy to hide.† A medallion.† Doesn't look at all like a camera.† I'll send instructions.† Should go well with your outfit.† You'll have to be very careful but you can take surreptitious pictures.† The photos need to be clear and identifiable.† This camera's top of the line.† Oh, and I want names of each and every person."

A job.† Was she for real?† Or was this some trick?† He couldn't think of what kind of trick it might be.† And if it wasn't a trick, it was a job with a little red meat attached, not another crappy divorce case where he peeked in cheap motel windows to see who was boinking whom.† And he got to cruise around on his Harley.† But she'd said if the price was right.† "I ain't cheap," he rumbled.

"How expensive are you?† It makes a difference."

"Two hundred a day plus expenses," he shot back without thought.† He'd never charged such a grand price in his life.† More like fifty a day on his best days, if that.† But this broad owed him.† She'd snatched profits right out from under his nose with the other fiasco.

Nyri paused.† "Hmm," she said, thinking about it.† "Two hundred flat for the job, no additional expenses, no excuses.† I'll supply the camera but I want it back."† Then she added quickly, "And for that amount I want names and pictures of every single person involved with this shop, even those you find just hanging around it.† And remember, I want info on their salesmen.† Shouldn't be more than a one day job, drive there, get the pictures, drive back."

"Where is it?" he asked.

"Outside Boise.† It's not exactly local for you, but close enough.† It won't be all that easy, though.† These guys are real scum and indications are that the business is heavily into illegal activity.† I've gotta believe some of those folks can be real camera shy and not happy at having their pictures taken.† So use the camera I'm sending.† It's silent and easy to use without it showing."

He snorted a macho laugh, "I've dealt with the Hell's Angels before.† They don't exactly leave me shakin' in my boots."† He licked his lips, "Rode with ‘em once, ya know, when I was younger, of course.

"Of course."† She waited.†

"Yeah, okay.† Deal." He took a long draw of his whiskey, belched and put the bottle down.

Nyri heard it but ignored it.† "A couple other things, Rocky," she added.

"What?"

"Get as friendly as you want with them, just don't agree to do any work for them.† And if they find you taking pictures, they're likely to plant you six feet under somewhere.† Oh, also be aware that some organization is out there in surveillance."

"Where?"

"Don't know.† I just know they're there."

"FBI?"

"No.† One of the others."

"Well, fuck.† You saying I could have my ass hauled into jail on some drug sting or something?† I'm not serving time for this gig."

"If you're holding drugs or do something illegal for these guys, yes, you probably will go to jail.† Don't drop off any packages for them or agree to do them any favors.† You do that and you're on your own.† If you're caught in any legal net and you've done nothing but be friendly, nothing illegal, you're safe.† I WILL intercede for you, if you're caught.† I still have lots of contacts.† Just remember that these guys are not likely to be your average law abiding citizens."

"Who is?" he asked disparagingly.† "Sure ain't you or me."

She chuckled mirthlessly, "Speak for yourself, Rocky.† I'll fax you a contract to sign right away and send right back to me.† Part of your fee and the camera will be there by morning.† You do still have a fax machine, don't you...so you can fax me the contract and the photos pronto, too, right?† Or are you using the drugstore?† You sending your communication out of there?† That little redhead, Candy, still letting you use their equipment?"

How in the hell does she remember that I use that place?† And how would she remember Candy? he wondered.† "Yeah.† She's there.† Hold on, I'll give you their fax number."

"Oh, one more thing, Rocky."

"Yeah?† What?"

"There's a man I think might work for this shop.† Mid-twenties to mid-thirties.† Average height, weight.† Nothing that really stands out about him except he might think of himself as something of a Casanova.† He sometimes poses as a salesman.† In any case, there's an extra hundred in it for you if you can get him to loan you his cell phone to place a call to your girlfriend.† Write down the number I give you, memorize it then burn the paper.† Interested?"

"I guess."

"Good."† She picked up the cell Temple had tossed her.† "It's 555-9611.† It's a number I have routed through Seattle.† I'll answer.† His bill will show it as a Seattle number.† I'll pose as your Seattle girl friend."

"What do I have to say to you?"

"Whatever you'd say to any girl friend.† We don't need to talk long.† And don't press it, if he's not willing."

"Yeah.† I can do it.† A hundred bucks extra?"

"That's right."

"You got it."

Nyri finished the conversation and hung up.† He was perfect for the job, if he just didn't drink so much that it created a problem.† He didn't look like an investigator, especially if he dressed like she'd seen him do when he was out riding.† And if he knew someone was watching, he'd be in top disguise and on his best behavior, she hoped.† With any luck, they'd have pictures to show Ruby very soon.

Nyri had heard the printer running.† Now she looked up as Temple dropped a small stack of pages on her desk.† "There ya go," he smiled.† "Something to do in your free time."

"All those are date rapes with the use of drugs?"

"Yes.† Well, some were rapes that involved drugs, not necessarily knockout drugs.† But some of them sound like they could be your guy."

"Thanks...I think," she grimaced.† "Hey, there may be a call for me in the next day or two to the cell you gave me.† So go ahead and route it through Seattle."† She handed him the phone.† "I'll need you to get a lock on the calling phone and do your magic. †I'll want to trace the user as much as possible after that."

"Like I said, I can try but all I'll guarantee right now is the closest routing stations."

"Okay.† That works for me, for the time being.† Try for more, though."

"Always," he answered seriously as he took the phone back to his desk.

She looked at him straight on.† "Yes."† He did always try for more.† She turned to her Rolodex.† She needed to find who was bird dogging this cycle shop.† After all, she never knew when information she'd acquired, useless to her, might need to be passed on anonymously or even traded for good will, depending on what the information comprised.

~***~

Every free evening Ruby and Lonnie worked out, practicing the self defense moves that Lonnie was teaching.† They were hindered somewhat by Ruby's recovery from surgery.† But as that became less of a problem, the variety of moves increased.†

They even had Mrs. Nelson watch the baby for a while one Saturday afternoon as they practiced using Lonnie's purchased pepper spray in the yard in back of the condo.† Ruby saw how it sprayed, how to watch for the wind and how to keep it from easily being wrenched away from her.† She felt more comfortable keeping it in her pocket all the time.† But they decided the rule would be that it was never to be used if the baby was anywhere nearby.

Every other week when they played cards with Mattie and Chase, Lonnie did what she could to direct the conversation to what kinds of legal means might be available to them to protect their position with little Bethy.† She was hoping for general information that might help discourage Ruby's fear.† The problem was that she had to be particularly vague, not wanting to give away too much of their true position.†

The attorney's equally vague replies were not always as confidence building as Lonnie would have liked.† Still, Lonnie persisted, unsure whether she really should, particularly when she caught Ruby's inquisitive glances sent her way.†

Just as she was readying to give up the topic completely, Chase, after giving a few general ideas and recognizing Ruby's discomfort, suggested that it might be a good idea if they had more detailed, concentrated questions to list them and make a private appointment with her to discuss everything.† She was concerned since the topic they were pursuing brought up serious questions not easily answered in any general fashion.†

Lonnie agreed, thanked her and said they fully intended to do just that before long.† They were just gathering general ideas right now.†

Ruby sighed in relief to be away from the scrutiny, although she had paid close attention to the answers.† In some ways everything seemed to be tied into the adoption question, which they knew they could not readily persue until the problem regarding Ruby's "rapist stalker" and any paternity rights he might claim was settled.†

When they discussed it privately, it was Lonnie's firm contention that he had NO rights whatsoever.† Ruby feared it was otherwise.† But they couldn't ask outright.† And, of course, as far as Ruby was concerned, the fewer people who knew ANY details about the whole thing, the better, unless it was on a need to know basis such as Nyri's.

Maddie began to stop by on Tuesday mornings and she and Ruby would take the baby in her car seat down to the exercise room on the bottom floor.† They worked their schedule so that they had the room to themselves.† Ruby enjoyed the security of exercising with someone, and she liked using the variety of machines.† On other mornings she used the exercise mat spread out in the condo living room and did general exercises once Lonnie left for work.†

Their treat on Tuesday mornings was that Ruby took the baby back to the condo and prepared coffee and homemade cinnamon toast, light on the sugar, while Maddie took a quick swim in the condo pool to end their exertions.† Both women were convinced that there were fewer calories in cinnamon toast than any other treat they might want to indulge in.† Ruby came to look forward to her budding friendship with Maddie.† And Maddie was outright gaga about tiny Beth.† That, in itself, made Maddie a favorite in Ruby's eyes.

Ruby began to lose some weight, but not nearly all she'd wanted to.† There hadn't been enough time.† On the whole, she felt pudgy and unattractive.† One evening after practicing self-defense moves, she towel-dried her hair from her shower and stood in the doorway watching Lonnie gurgling and making baby noises back to the delighted infant as she changed the diaper of the kicking child lying on the bed.† She's so good with Bethy.† Her mood improved instantly.† She couldn't help smiling.

Then Lonnie gathered the infant into her arms and began to sing a soft lullaby to the little one as she gently rocked her side to side.† Her voice is so beautiful.† Ruby watched the baby's blue eyes get heavier until they shut and the little one drifted off to sleep.† Lonnie walked out of the bedroom with the baby in her arms, her golden voice echoing off the hallway walls as she softly continued her song.† Lights were turned off behind her as they returned.

When she stepped into the bedroom again, the camera was hanging by its strap from her wrist.† Ruby had climbed into bed.† Lonnie completed the song then gently placed the infant into the bassinet.† Raising the camera she snapped several pictures of the little girl.† I'll send them to the folks in the morning, with a copy to my desk at the office, she told herself.† She's growing so fast.† She stood gazing at the child's angelic face.

"Nighty night, little pumpkin," Lonnie whispered.† "Sleep well, sweet darlin."† Her eyes lifted and met Ruby's as they gazed back at her.† "Bedtime for us, too, beautiful lady," she said softly, adding a wink.

Lonnie moved to the other side of the bed, put the camera on the chest, turned out the light, crawled into bed, and reached for the small blonde in the eerie green glow of the night light.† Ruby smelled fresh and clean like the out-of-doors.† Her skin was impossibly soft where it emerged from her cotton shirt and panties. Her breasts were very full, round and warm pressed against the tall brunette and her body was surprisingly firm.† Her lips, once they met Lonnie's, had the delicious tang of sweetness, a hint of toothpaste and the tantalizing heat of unfulfilled promises.†

Before she knew it, Lonnie had increased the urgency of the kiss, the roaming of her caressing hands, the pressure of her body against the blonde's.† Ruby's response was a confusing mixture of eagerness and reluctance.† Finally the blonde eased her lips away, breathless.† Suppressing a shiver, she ran the back of her hand across Lonnie's cheek, "I swear, honey," she whispered, "not much longer.† Please be patient with me.† I...I just need my body to be completely healed and my normal rhythms..."

"Shhh," Lonnie cautioned, gently sweeping a slightly damp lock of hair from Ruby's forehead.† "It's no problem, babe.† I shouldn't have pressed.† There's no hurry.† I just find you so enticing, I can't always stop myself I guess."† It felt like heaven just to hold the small woman in her arms.††

Ruby snuggled into the warmth that was Lonnie.† "I'm sorry to make you wait."†

"Pshaw."

Of course, Lonnie would try her best to be patient.† Ruby trusted her completely.† They were in love, but they were also best friends.† And friends above all other relationships were respectful of each other.

To Lonnie there was no question.† Ruby and Bethy were her family.† They were the greatest blessings in her life.† They were the miracle she'd always awaited.† The miracle that everyone prays they'll find and all too often they don't.† She knew how lucky she had been.† "I can wait.† No problem."† I don't want to wait, but I CAN do it, can't I?

"Oh Lonnie, honey, your nose is going to grow like Pinnochio's."† Ruby gently gripped Lonnie's nose with her thumb and forefinger and gave it a playful, soft wiggle.† Her actions had created a slight distance between them.† She wasn't sure she didn't feel moisture at the bust line of her night shirt.† "Oops.† This nursing business..† They're, uh, just so big and huge and leaky sometimes."† She could feel herself beginning to blush and was glad the light was dimmed.† "And the rest of me has stretch lines and is fat and ugly..."

"You most assuredly are not, Ruby.† You're the most gorgeous woman I've ever seen!† And I love the feel of you next to me, full breasts and all, though I shall certainly be careful not to, uh, disturb, uh, them."† Lonnie closed the short distance between them again, and nestled into Ruby.† "We have a lifetime to get to know each other.† There's no rush."

"I don't think I can wait anywhere near that long," Ruby giggled nervously, bringing her hands under the covers to wrap around the tall beauty.† I've waited too long already.† But my body seems to have its own schedule.† She pressed her lips back to Lonnie's for a brief kiss.† Then she moved them to Lonnie's neck, burying her face in the brunette's silky hair and teasingly nibbled an earlobe.†

A very warm, moist breath directed into the brunette's ear sent immediate jolts throughout the tall body, leaving sensations of desire and caused Lonnie to shrink her ear away from the stimulating assault.†

"Hey," a sultry voice warned, "Best not be doing that if you want me to behave."

A surprisingly shy Ruby pulled back.† "Sorry," she said, but it was obvious from the quirky grin that then spread across her face that she wasn't all that sorry.† Not in the least.† "I'll be good."

For a moment Lonnie was quiet.† "What if I want you to be bad, as Mae West might suggest?"† She touched a finger to Ruby's nose.

"That can be arranged, too,"† Ruby snuggled back against Lonnie's frame, her arms wrapping tightly around the tall woman.† She buried her face in Lonnie's chest.† Then she backed her own bosom away a little.† "Sorry.† Dang it!† I don't want to leak on you," she blushed.† She noted that Lonnie was trying to calm her increased breathing.† She thought she heard a soft growl uttered from the tall beauty.† "Soon, honey," Ruby added quickly, turning around and backing into the tall woman in spoon fashion,† "I'll be as good and as bad as I possibly can be."†

Ruby didn't want to think about any doubts regarding intimacy that she might have from the rape.† She wanted to keep it playful, till it finally went beyond playful.

The rape was like the elephant in the room, the event that could hold horrible sway for a good long time over their sex life.† Neither knew how it would play out.† But they were both ignoring it for now.

"Promises, promises," Lonnie teased with fake revolt as she threaded her arms around the blonde's waist, taking care to leave her hands below Ruby's bust.† She shut her eyes.† Ruby.† Beloved, vexing, tantalizing, warm, soft, clean-scented Ruby.† She gave a short prayer of thanks to the powers that be for the gift of love.† She placed a quick kiss on the top of the blonde's still damp head.† She knew Ruby felt the love, too.†

"G'night, honey," Ruby sighed, forcing her eyes shut.† The baby would be up in three hours for another feeding.† But her thoughts were on the gorgeous woman behind her.† She noticed how she couldn't seem to quit thinking about her.† It was happening more and more often.†

How much she wanted to take that next step in their relationship, to give herself completely.† And yet, it terrified her in so many ways.† She wasn't sure why she couldn't quit desiring.† She guessed her thoughts had to do with the fact that she was healing and feeling better and better each and every day.†††††

A few days later an envelope of pictures was delivered by courier to Lonnie's desk at work.† She pulled them out.† There was a note from Nyri.† These were the people from the motorcycle shop.† She scanned each face, looking at the names and committing the faces all to memory.† Is one of these the man...the monster that attacked Ruby?† She did not look forward to showing them to the small blonde.

That night after dinner she brought out the envelope as they sat on the couch.† "Nyri sent these," Lonnie explained.† "She wants to know if you recognize any of them."† She placed the envelope on the coffee table.

Saucer shaped green eyes looked over at Lonnie.† Ruby said nothing as she slowly pulled the pictures out of the envelope and laid them out before them.† Lonnie noticed that Ruby's hands were again trembling.† The blonde ran her eyes over the pictures.† Her jaw clenched.† "This one.† That's him."

She picked up the picture and handed it to Lonnie.† Then she rose silently to change into her exercise clothes.† Lonnie was left looking at the picture of two men talking to each other, one with his back to the camera.† The one facing out had his lips twisted into a nocuous grin, which blended with the sinister frown of his eyes.† Under the picture was written "Peter Jarsien."

Lonnie followed Ruby into the bedroom.† Without a word she moved behind the small blonde but waited to put her arms around her until Ruby had pressed her body back into Lonnie's.† She could feel Ruby's body trembling as the tall brunette folded her arms protectively around her.† "It's all right, baby.† We'll get him.† He'll never hurt you again.† We're together on this, remember.† Um, did you recognize any of the others?" Her words were gentle.†

"No.† The other man I saw at the dance wasn't there."

"You're not alone, honey.† We'll stop him.† I swear.† Now that we know who he is, we'll find a way to put him behind bars."

"Yes."† Ruby shut her eyes.† She gave Lonnie's arms a squeeze then stepped away to turn and face the tall woman.† "Teach me some more moves, Lonnie.† I want to know all the self-defense I can."

"All right.† Let me call Nyri first, then we'll get right to it."

"Yes, all right.† I'm going to warm up a little bit on the mat while you place the call."

"Okay.† I'll be right there."† Lonnie picked up the extension phone in the bedroom and watched the small blonde walk back to the living room.† She dialed and briefly told Nyri which picture was the rapist.† Again she briefly mentioned the need to get the man behind bars for a good long time.† Nyri agreed and said she was looking into every angle.† They hung up and Lonnie moved to the sliding glass door leading to the bedroom's patio.

Lonnie pressed her forehead against the cold glass and stared blankly out into the night.† She thought of the half-smirking, half-grimacing man's face in the picture.† It became imbedded in her mind.† All right, asshole, you've drawn us into your vortex.† Only you don't know that, do you?† You think you're just going to terrorize Ruby after you already hurt her beyond belief.† Well, it's not going to be the way you think.

She shut her eyes as she considered that this most likely was Bethy's birth father, and it made her stomach roil.† Our innocent darling baby girl.† She'll never know about this monster.† She shook her head to force the dark mood away and moved toward the living room† We'll be ready for you, you sick sorry sonuvabitch!† You won't know what hit you when we're done with you.† She had no real idea, however, of exactly how to stop him and put him behind bars.†††

Ruby sat on the mat, doing rapid sit-ups.† Saucer-shaped green eyes looked over into Lonnie's.† There was something there that hadn't been there before.† Lonnie wasn't sure what exactly.† Determination maybe.†

"Are you okay with seeing him again?"† Lonnie asked.

The small blonde stood.† Her eyes went to the bassinet where Beth was kicking at her blanket and letting her large blue eyes wander the confines of her basket.† For a minute Ruby didn't answer.† Then she turned her eyes back to Lonnie.† "One has to make something out of adversity," she muttered.† "Yes.† I feel like I have a better chance now."

"Yeah, I think so, too.† Just remember, the first rule is what?"

"Get away, if it's at all feasible.† Barring that, yell ‘fire' as loud as you can."† It was pretty generally understood that bystanders who would not respond to a call for help no matter what reason would generally respond to one for "fire!"

"Right."

More than anything Lonnie wanted Ruby to feel confident, but she knew she also had to make sure that the small blonde didn't end up with a false sense of confidence because this man was real, and so was the threat he posed.† The best defense is always getting away, and Lonnie continued to emphasize that at the beginning of each practice.† Men were by nature physically stronger.† A woman could not hope to match strength for strength.† And with someone who was crafty as well, getting away was definitely the best defense.

"Show me another move, Lonnie." The look in Ruby's green eyes showed a hunger to match her abundance of will to learn.

"Yes, but first let's practice the old moves."† She looked at the determination on Ruby's face.† Lonnie stood a good chance of being thrown, she could see that.† But she'd make it as hard for Ruby to do as she could.† When Lonnie did her best to oppose the small blonde, and Ruby was still able to use her repertoire to toss her, then she'd know for sure that Ruby had mastered the work.† "Get ready to give it your best shot, little tiger."† She grinned.† "Because I'll show no mercy."

"Do your worst." Ruby replied without a touch of a smile.† There'd be no mercy on the smaller woman's part because she loved the tall brunette either.† Oh, no.† This was serious business.† She'd give it her all.

Minutes later Lonnie's firm grip held Ruby tight.† Before she knew it, the blonde had dropped from her grip, had twisted and was making her own grab.† "Take that!" Ruby used her lower center of balance to instantly flip Lonnie till the tall brunette was on her back looking up at the scowling form of the small blonde.

"Hot damn, woman!" Lonnie groaned.† "I'd say you can put your name on that move."

Ruby continued scowling.† Slowly the smallest twitch of a smile caught the corner of her mouth until she was proudly smiling ear to ear.†

In the following days they fell into a routine.† Lonnie made sure Ruby never went out alone if she could possibly be with her.† Because the baby was so young, it was not as much of a restriction as it might have been otherwise.† Ruby didn't mind staying in the condo.† Maddie came by on Tuesdays and Ruby was happy to put off grocery shopping till Lonnie could be there to carry the baby on weekends.†

In the evenings they continued to work on self-defense moves, calls, stances.† When Lonnie got home they ate then changed into workout clothing.† They always practiced in the living room.

Ruby was small, but she rehearsed a growing number of moves.† Besides throws, there were maneuvers that involved poking or jamming with one's hands in exactly the right places in an opponent's face or using her car keys as a weapon or using pressure points to advantage.† They practiced until Ruby's confidence overtook the terror she all too often had tried to hide in her eyes.

The more moves she learned, the fewer times Ruby awoke in the night with her heart racing and a phantom monster close behind her.† Lonnie was so used to Ruby getting up to feed the baby during the night, that she didn't really notice when the blonde sat up in a sweat.† Lonnie knew she had to go to work most mornings, so she had done her best to override her instinct to awaken each time Ruby did.

Ruby learned to perfect some surprise blows in vulnerable spots.† Over and over she practiced.† "Crotch shots are the least likely to land," Lonnie explained as they discussed the various areas.† "Cause guys spend a lifetime learning to protect themselves.† That's why other weak spots like toes, eyes, nose are often better targets.† But if you have a brother and you've ever seen him get hit in the privates accidentally, you know how debilitating a blow that can be."

"I remember," Ruby said, letting her thoughts drift to her brothers.† She felt the closest to Bobby Lee.† He had been supportive of her right up till the end.† She gave a melancholy smile.† She couldn't help wishing them all well, all her family, so long as they kept her parents' vitriol away from her, little Beth and Lonnie.

She went back to the review of throws and escape moves Lonnie was having her do.† Many throws involved arm movements and hip thrusts that required balance as opposed to strength while escape moves required knowing where to place surprise stress.† Her body now felt healed but still Lonnie worked with care with the small blonde.† She decided as they worked that the greatest benefit to Ruby would be the confidence she gained.† She prayed she'd never really need to use any move.† But if necessary, Ruby could defend herself.

One day at work Lonnie received a call from Nyri.† The name Peter Jarsien turned out to be another bogus name.† She was having local mug shots checked against her photo, but it was a slow process that had shown no progress so far.

"What now?" Lonnie asked.

"I'm working on getting a positive ID on this guy.† Having his picture is a big help.† Unfortunately we had a brownout here.† Why I don't know yet.† We haven't even officially opened for business, and this happens.† Course, better now than then, I guess.† Anyway, all our databases and connections aren't back up and running at the moment because of this electrical snafu.† We don't even know what harm the shut down might have done to our data.† Temple's running around like a crazy man trying to figure it out, and I've got electricians in here today, in fact."

"Sorry to hear it."

"Those things happen.† Listen, uh, the expenses on your case are going to run over your retainer, I'm afraid."† She quickly added, "And no, before you ask, it isn't to pay for the electricians.† That's the startup fund.† Your charges could end up running into a few thousand by the time it's all done.† I just can't tell right now.† I'm trying to keep all costs down.† And I will give you a discount because you're having to put up with this slowdown."

"Uh, thanks, Nyri.† Ruby's safety is what's important.† Uh, send a bill for what we owe so far here to me at the office, if you would."

"Fine.† No problem."

Lonnie thought about that for a minute.† She didn't want the small blonde to know how expensive this was becoming, especially since their finances were so strained at the moment.† Still, keeping information from Ruby was hardly the way to weave a lasting relationship.† "No, wait.† Go ahead and send it to the condo."

"Whatever.† I'll try real hard to keep the expense down, Lonnie.† I really will.† Having a new kid and all, I understand..."

"Thanks.† We really appreciate it.† But our number one objective is keeping Ruby safe.† I'd be happy to help in any way you might be able to use me.† I want him put away, Nyri.† Everything he does is threatening to Ruby.† She's even frightened that he might try and get some legal hold on Bethy."

"Well, that's not out of the realm of the impossible.† He's gutsy enough to try.† And that's a fact."

That answer surprised Lonnie.† She had expected her friend to pooh pooh the thought.† "Ruby says he's very smart.† It terrifies her."

"His objective, I'm sure.† And he is smart, the s.o.b..† Those kind of fellows always know what angles to take.† They're sociopaths whose main pleasure is to find whatever torture they can exert over the situation."

"Like what, exactly?"

"I don't know.† Maybe, like learning of your situation then finding the most homophobic judge he can to try and wrench your daughter away, claiming paternity rights.† Don't get me wrong.† I'm sure he has no real interest in your baby.† He's just the type that would take great pleasure in putting you both through that kind of torture.† I agree with Ruby in this case.† I wouldn't put anything past this guy.† He is very, very dangerous."

"Gods!"

"Hey, that's not to say you couldn't fight him legally.† You could.†† I have lots of great contacts you could use.† Oh, and, of course, there's Chase.† She's no slouch, either.† Anyway, I'm working on how he might be incarcerated for the lion's share of his life aside from his having any contact with Ruby."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm not sure yet.† The thing I am sure of is that this was not a stand-alone crime.† I'm checking into similar cases, and there do appear to be some."

"Good.† Well, not really good, of course.† But...you know what I mean.† So Ruby would be left out of it...completely?"

"That's my plan.† I am very concerned about how much attention he's showing Ruby.† The attack was long enough ago that he shouldn't still be looking for her."†

The word that came to Nyri's mind was ‘obsessed.'† He seemed obsessed with Ruby.† But the bigger question was whether he was the same way with all his victims.† She needed to see how he behaved with the others, and that meant making contact with the police jurisdictions involved or, preferably, with the victims themselves, if at all allowed.† All of which had its own protocols and obviously took a great deal of time.

"Do you think he followed Ruby to Seattle?† She didn't see him there, if he did."

"No.† I'd guess not.† He's pretty consistently asked about her in the cafe in Spokane.† I don't think he found where she'd gone until at least after she'd moved in with her roommates.† Maybe even after that.† I have no doubt he would have harassed her, if he'd found her.† I think he'd have done everything he could to terrify her.† From what you've said, she was virtually alone until she moved in with the girl from work and her boyfriend.† Her being alone would have been a perfect setup for his kind of evil.† No, I don't think his ego would have let him just watch her from afar even if she had roommates.† He'd have made himself known to her, I'm sure."

"But he did locate her last place in Seattle, right?"

"The evidence indicates he did.† He had that address on the credit check that was filed.† Finding him at that shop all but proves that he's the one that ran the credit check.† It wasn't because of her purse being stolen.† He's out there, and he's looking for her."

"He's been searching all this time?† That's a long time.† And he's still searching?"† A shiver ran down Lonnie's back followed by her fist clenching tightly around the phone.

"Yeah, that's the creepy part.† Although he did have to spend time earning money and who knows how many other women he was busy attacking and harassing.† From what I'm finding, his salary is likely to have been by illegal means...dealing drugs or possibly even guns.† But I think drugs.† I think he might be a courier.† Who knows?† It's my guess after Ruby left Spokane for Seattle, he was told she went home.† And that would be where, Utah did you say?"

"Yes."

"Is her family Mormon?† Do you know?† That might have been one way he could have tried tracking her down...through her church."

"No.† I think she said her family belongs to a church that's completely separate from most known sects.† She mentioned they use the Bible, so that would make it Christian.† From what I understand, it used to be a standard group but now it's something much more radical, started by a new group that moved into her town.† It wouldn't be a group you'd recognize."

"Okay.† So maybe he spent a chunk of his time checking her whereabouts in Utah.† By the time he found out she went to Seattle instead, she'd most likely already moved in with her roommates or even left town."

"Her family didn't know she'd moved to Seattle, I don't think."

"Hmm, well, I can't be sure how he found out about Seattle then.† It's my guess somebody mentioned it.† Although there are other ways.† We might never know.† But I'm almost positive he didn't find her second location there until much later.† He could have found her address and been scared away by the fellow that lived in the house, but, like I said, I don't think his ego would let him leave her alone.† No, the more I think about it, I don't think he found that place till she'd already left town to go south."

"That's good.† But how did he find her first address in Seattle?"

"Well, that wouldn't have been that hard.† Once you know the city, there are a number of ways to search even if you don't have a computer.† If she had a phone, that could have been one way.† Or he could have canvassed low cost housing by phone from where he is.† She did use her real name when she rented her apartment.† Once he found that address, he could have followed up with the hotel management to find who her employer was.† Who knows what kind of cock and bull story he'd have fed them.† Then you said some man actually asked the Personnel Department where she'd worked in Seattle about her.† Had to be him or someone he sent to get the information."

"If he knew her places in Seattle, why would he still be asking about her at the cafe in Spokane?"

"He doesn't know where she is now.† He'd be hoping she'd written someone maybe and said where she moved.† After all, she didn't really tell anyone about the attack, so no one would have thought she was in any danger from him.† It would just seem like one friend asking about another."

Lonnie snorted, "Hardly!"

"Yeah, I know.† But they don't know what kind of a monster he is."

"Right.† But it's been about a year since the attack, Nyri.† Doesn't that sound like an inordinate amount of time and effort that he's putting out?"

"Yes.† It seems like much more than most criminals would have gone through.† I don't know.† I don't like it at all."

"I know.† He has to be taken off the street, he and the others."

"Agreed.† And we'll find a way, trust me."†

"Do you have any information on who the other guys might be yet?† Ruby said the other man from the dance wasn't in the photos you sent."

"He wasn't?† Shoot!† Okay.† My source did give me the names of a couple young guys that used to hang around the shop, but he said they've moved on.† They've gone back to Texas, was what he said.† I'll check them out.† Oh, and I did find out that there's an outside organization that's taken a decided interest in these guys.† I know who it is, and I'm making sure they have this guy firmly in their cross hairs.† What worries me, though, is that these organizations tend to plead out what they consider to be the small fry to get the top guys.† I don't want him being cut loose on some deal.† So I want a lot more in his case."

"Like what?"

"Serial rape is what I'm working on right now."

"Serial rape?† But you'll keep Ruby out of it, right?"

"That's my plan."

"Okay.† Keep me informed, will you?"

"Always.† Oh, oh.† Here comes Temple and he's tearing his hair.† Looks like more problems.† I'd better go.† See ya later, Lonnie."

"Thanks, Nyri.† Don't forget, I'm willing to help in any way you think I can.† You know, I've had some training."

"A black belt.† I was there when you got it, remember?† And I'll keep it in mind."

"Thanks, pal.† Tell Temple ‘hi.'† And Simone, too."

"Will do."

~***~†††††

By the end of January Ruby had made astonishing improvement.† She was skilled at some evasive moves, some defensive moves, some aggressive moves, some moves to get out of various holds and some throws.† Physically she was getting back into good shape, although losing all the weight she'd gained was purposely going more slowly so as not to compromise the integrity of her breast milk.†

One evening Lonnie demonstrated a new throw and Ruby tried it.† Before they knew it, they both ended up in a pile together on the mat.† Lonnie's leg slid between Ruby's and she pulled the blonde to her in an instant embrace, one hand cupping the small blonde's behind.† What had been training suddenly became something much more personal.†

Lonnie caught herself in time.† "Oh. †Sorry."† She hastily backed away and they both scrambled to get up.† The six weeks the doctor had told Ruby to remain abstinent was past.† Ruby felt completely healed, physically at least.† Yet their situation on the mat felt very awkward and they both rushed to different bathrooms to shower and get ready for bed.

Ruby fed little Bethy and Lonnie changed her and put her into her night wear.† Then she walked the floor with the infant for a short while until the baby was fast asleep.† She put the little one into the bassinet, turned out the light and crawled in bed with Ruby.

Once in bed the awkwardness ceased.† This was familiar territory.† Lonnie's soft fingertips traced Ruby's forehead, brows, cheeks.† Ruby.† My beloved Ruby.† Searching green eyes held blue with a force that made them both shiver.† Gently Lonnie moved her fingers to just under Ruby's chin.† Tilting the blonde's face upward, she slowly lowered her lips as blonde lashes fluttered shut.

Oh, gods Lonnie.† I've thought about you all day.††

So soft! Lonnie thought.She pressed her lips to the delightfully familiar taste and pushed her tongue between the parted lips.† Gods!† So hot!† An inferno!† And so sweet!† She could feel the beat of her heart picking up its rhythm.† She pressed her leg between the blonde's, but she wasn't sure what she dared do.

The contact set Ruby's body afire and heat began to spread throughout her eager body.† There was a momentary hesitation on Lonnie's part but this time it was Ruby who gently pressed forward.† Their tongues danced together until the exploration left their breathing ragged and their hearts aflutter.† Ruby knew this was the time and she trembled in anticipation.† She wrapped her arms around the brunette's neck and felt dizzy and ravenous at the same time as she pulled Lonnie onto her.† Is the earth moving?† I'd swear it is.

Lonnie moved down between Ruby's legs to keep her weight off the smaller blonde.† She leaned back a touch to catch a quick breath.† She paused to make sure it was all right.† Getting no opposition, she pressed forward again into a heated, hungry, passionate kiss that left their bodies hot, moist and yearning for more.† Ruby whimpered, wrapped her leg around Lonnie and the intensity of their renewed kiss increased till their lips were crushed, twisting, their bodies pressing, rubbing against the other starting a telling rhythm, both aching to feel skin against skin.

"Gods, how I want you!" Lonnie said in a husky voice.

It was like striking a match, freeing the flame and fury of their desires.† The blonde ran her trembling hands into the long, dark hair as they embraced in the ecstasy of their kiss, their lips twisting furiously again against each other, their needs at a fever pitch, their hearts rushing, their desire overpowering.†

The baby was asleep.† If things held to normal, they'd have at least two hours, probably three, to finally live a part of their dreams before she awoke.

"Take this off, honey," Ruby moved her hands between their bodies and frantically began unbuttoning Lonnie's blouse.† The tall brunette rolled to the side, grabbed Ruby's top and wrenched it over her head.† Ruby helped her then kicked off her panties before she went back to feverishly unbuttoning Lonnie's top as Lonnie shed her bottoms.† Once nude a raging thrill rushed through them both as they passionately moved together again, finally releasing them to their desires.† It surprised Ruby that everything seemed to come so naturally to her.

~***~

Last night, Ruby smiled the next morning after Lonnie had left for work.† How things change.† I'm yours, and you're mine, at last.† And there was no holding back, no buried fears. †That had worried her the most but she knew now that those fears thankfully had been in vain.†

She sat at the table in the dining room in her robe and sipped her coffee through kiss-bruised lips.† She couldn't remember what time they'd finally fallen asleep.† It was very late.† She'd fed the baby at least once and gone back to Lonnie.† She remembered that much.

She glanced at the infant in the bassinet beside her.† She was making soft gurgling baby noises.† Her large blue eyes were looking around, though Ruby wasn't sure what all she could see.† "Hello, sweet angel," Ruby dangled one hand over the side to entertain the little one, her coffee cup in the other.† "You are your Momma's sweet miracle child.† We both adore you, sweet baby girl.† Both Mumsy and me."

She took a sip of her coffee.† †Last night Lonnie and I fully consummated our joining.† Finally.† She pulled her arm back and wrapped both hands around her cup, tilted her head and a soft blush filled her cheeks.† A number of times.

After all their waiting, their timing had been perfect.† It still amazed her how at first they found themselves pulling clothes off each other in a desperate hunger to fulfill their bodies' needs.† She thought that only happened in romance novels.

Before Ruby knew what was happening, Lonnie was drawing her to heights she didn't know she could reach.† Not once during the evening, but several times.† And she was able to use what she had learned on Lonnie.† Now she knew she could satisfy the tall beauty.† She had done it!† It had been wonderful!† She was glad she'd read the book although in the end the majority of the process seemed as natural as anything she had ever done.

Her body'd been healed enough and ready.† Ready, she chuckled.† That's an understatement!† I didn't think anyone could be so ready, so intense, so often!† It had embarrassed her, but Lonnie said it pleased her to know that she had that effect on her.† After the first foray they went more slowly, more gently and she had climaxed again and then again!† That was almost mind boggling.† She had feared she wouldn't ever be able to feel that way.† Particularly after...† No, I'm not thinking about that!

Lonnie had been so patient.† She had tenderly held her when Ruby'd cried after the first time.† She'd let her take her time explaining that she wasn't crying tears of pain or tears of fright.† They were tears of relief, tears of joy, that the horrible event had not robbed her of her ability to be intimate with the one she truly loved.† No one would ever know how much that meant to Ruby.

She felt very joined now.†† They made it through.† In so short a time they'd made it through so many things.† They would stand by each other forever.† She intended for that to be true.† Friends and lovers.† Forever.† Her thumb went to her ring.† But last night...last night had lit up the skies with fireworks and shaken the earth beneath them.† She found her body readying just thinking about it.†

She decided it was because she was so very much in love with Lonnie.† Whatever the reason, last night had been wonderful!† Just thinking about those blazing blue eyes kindled a passionate fire within her.† She used a hand to fan her reddening face.† Whew!† Better not think too much about that!† After all, I have work to do.† And she needed to get it done before Lonnie came home early to take them to the clinic.† She and Bethy were going in for their standard check up this afternoon.

One hand dropped to the soft swell of her stomach then swept to her hips.† She still felt very pudgy and not nearly as provocative as the women Lonnie was used to.† She remembered what Cheryl looked like.† Her smile faded.† That woman had a flat-out gorgeous body.† Sexy.†

Lonnie said she liked Ruby as she was, but Ruby wasn't going to chance it.† "Exercises, here I come," she muttered, getting up and putting her coffee cup in the dishwasher.† All her self defense efforts had helped her trim up, but she would work very hard to get completely back into shape, not just for Lonnie but for herself as well.†

"I'll be right back, darlin'," she placed a quick kiss on the infant's forehead then moved the colorful, plastic bassinet mobile into place for the infant to see.† "Mommy needs to change into her exercise clothes."††

She hurried into the bedroom and quickly assembled her clothes.† She wondered if others could see the change in her by looking at her today.† Would the doctor know?† She felt herself blushing.† She looked in the mirror as she pulled on her exercise shorts and tee shirt.† She couldn't tell if she looked different or not.† It didn't matter.† She knew.† She felt different.† She kissed her ring.† Lonnie's ring.† It was getting loose.†

Then she heard the beginning fussing of the little one.† "Mommy's coming, dumpling," she called.††† Her happiness felt unbelievably complete.† She was twenty-one, she had a beautiful, healthy baby girl, a wonderful, loving partner, a new life, and a bright future that for the most part now seemed full and marvelous.† She would not let any other thoughts interfere.†

The song inside her throbbed in her heart and the melody warmed her soul.† She hadn't realized how much worry she had buried regarding her ability to be intimate.† She had been in love with Lonnie from the first, but now she was relieved and indescribably happy, even if the threats posed by the monsters of the past were waiting in the wings, as indeed they were.†

This morning, though, he and the shadowy others were pushed out of her awareness.† She had waited a lifetime to feel the complete mystery of love as she did now.† She was loved and in love, a love in which she was able to fully participate.† This was one dream she had nurtured forever it seemed.† And she was going to enjoy it completely.

It was then that the telephone rang.

~***~

Continued in Chapter Eight

bsoiree@comcast.net

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