Violence Warning/Disclaimer: Some during the course of the entire story, but it is taken care of as quickly as possible.

Love/Sex Warning/Disclaimer: This story is about love and an explicit sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age, if lesbian relationships offend you or if this type of story is illegal in the state, province or country in which you live, please do not go any further. Go back to making cookies, go play with your toys or go visit the Disney site but do not read this story.

Standard Disclaimer: I really don't need a disclaimer because these gals belong to me. This is an Uber story so the physical appearance of the main characters will probably be very familiar to the reader. The main setting is still Laguna Beach, California with trips to other localities. The names of some of the places depicted are real, although the actual settings may be embellished and names changed for the reader's enjoyment and to cover the author's behind. It is a present time love story.

Kudos: To my lover (who spent/spends many hours by herself while this was/is being written). Thanks to my friends and editors, Jeanne, Jan, and Stacia for catching little mistakes I otherwise would have let slip onto the pages you will be reading, thus keeping me from embarrassing myself. Thanks to you for reading it and for liking Alex and Samantha enough to want to read a trilogy! And thanks to my webmistress, Midgit, who gives freely of her time and talents to put my words on this site for you to read.

P.S. - For those of you who have already read Sedona Rain - the first four chapters of this book are the former chapters: 16 (the latter half), 17, 18, and 19 of SR <g> (What an easy start for me!). This online version has no introduction to the characters or story and is given without a prologue. I'm going to presume that if you are starting on this story, you already know what's happening <g>, when it is in print there will be a better lead in!

California Gold (tentative title)

Chapter 1

The days turned into weeks, and before the two women knew it the weekend of Halloween was at hand.

True to Alex's prediction, they heard from Sonny on the 20th, reminding them of the party and his excitement at seeing them again, especially on one of his most favorite holidays. He refused to disclose what he had chosen for them to wear when Samantha asked about the costumes, but informed her that she would be pleased with his choice and they would probably win a prize at the party.

Because Alex didn't want to fight traffic on a Friday afternoon going toward Los Angeles, she booked a flight early on the 29th. She figured with a 2 o'clock departure they should have no trouble getting to the John Wayne airport and getting out of San Francisco's as well.

›Sonny would be the one to meet them upon arrival. He threw a hissy fit when Alex mentioned getting a taxi from the airport. After years of dealing with her friend, the brunette knew better than to argue once his mind was made up. Listening to him complain was one of her least favorite pastimes.

The flight was uneventful, and when they walked off the plane and down the corridor after landing in San Francisco, the women were greeted by Sonny, donning a huge feathered masquerade mask and holding a sign that read: Dorian, party of two.

"Gee, did you think those lavender feathers would put us off track as to who was picking us up?" Alex queried.

"Wow, what a beautiful mask," Samantha observed.

Ignoring Alex's sarcasm, Sonny went directly for the compliment, "Why, thank you, sweetness; I wore it for you anyway, not that irritating brunette you travel with." He hugged and kissed Samantha gingerly and then turned a cheek for Alex to give him a kiss, which she dutifully did.

"Come on, you two, let's go get the luggage." Alex nodded her head in the direction of the baggage station, while Sonny and Samantha looked at each other and giggled.

"I'm just so happy to see you girls," Sonny blurted out. "We're going to have such fun tomorrow night!"

"I'm really looking forward to it," Samantha announced. "It's been years since I've been to a masquerade. What are we all going as?"

"No, no, no," Sonny wiggled a finger in Samantha's face. "You're not going to get the surprise out of me that easily. I'm going to let you keep guessing until the final hour . . . "

"Why? So we have no recourse but to wear whatever contraption you've decided to stuff us into?" Alex questioned.

"Alex!" Samantha chided. "Be nice."

"Nice? You've never seen what this freak has worn to the Castro shindig on Halloween in years gone by." The words were harsh, but there was a smile in the tone and an undeniable twinkle in the sapphire eyes of the tall brunette.

"But I never made you wear something you were uncomfortable in," Sonny came to his own defense.

"No," Alex agreed. "I never did mind dressing in a tux to be your second escort when you decided to be Belle of the ball."

Before Sonny could think of a comeback, and before Samantha had a chance to pose a question, they pulled up next to a beautifully embellished Queen Anne Victorian home, sitting royally on a corner lot.

Samantha's eyes and mouth were agape. "Gods, this is gorgeous, Sonny!" the small blonde complimented her friend. The house itself was a pale yellow with dark green shutters. Gables, a veranda, and the bay windows discretely sported dabs of gold, and royal purple, with a gingerbread trim of lavender and white.

"Thanks, Sammie, she's our ŽPainted Lady' alright."

Alex grabbed the suitcase out of the trunk and Sonny took the smaller overnight case. As they approached the house, he continued talking to Samantha. "Some of the more Župpity' neighbors were a bit upset with our choice of colors when we first moved in. But they soon stopped dishing dirt when a few other houses began following suit, and what had been a rather stuffy, drab neighborhood transformed into a land of rainbow colors." His grin was one of pride as he showed Samantha around the front of his castle. "Hell, if I have the money to buy here, I'm going to decorate my house however I wish."

"Well, I think it's beautiful," Samantha complimented, again. "I can't wait to see the inside."

"Wait until you see the view we'll have from the second floor guestroom, Samantha," Alex added, as she gave her old friend a smile and received one in return.

It was one thing to gloat about your own house and quite another when someone else did the bragging for you. Alex's compliment meant more to Sonny than she could have imagined.

"We can look at the back of the house later," Sonny stated, opening the front door for the women to enter.

The inside was definitely a mixture of Žold meets new.' Although Samantha knew from the size of some of the rooms as Sonny showed her around that the inside had been renovated, it still had much of its Ždays gone by' charm. They had kept all the beautiful, deep mahogany wainscoting that graced the dining room from floor to mid-wall. Between the living room and dining room and also between the living room and library there were pocket doors that retracted neatly and totally into the sides of the doublewide doorways separating the rooms.

Windows were abundant in most of the rooms on the first floor, and padded window seats that doubled as storage spaces lined most of the windowed areas.

Samantha marveled at the library, which sported built-in bookcases covering two of the walls and cabinets with beveled glass doors that surrounded the fireplace. The fireplace was rather ornate with a mantle upon which sat a small grandfather clock.

"Would you look at this," Samantha exclaimed as she sat down on the closest of the bench seats that made up part of the brass club fender surrounding the outside of the fireplace. "You can sit here in the winter and enjoy the fire while you read."

"Or you could just as easily be quite comfortable over here in this overstuffed chair," Alex stated as she plopped down on said piece of furniture.

"We used to have an Oriental rug in here," Sonny told his friend. "But I like this room to be cozy and warm when the weather becomes nasty and cold, so I talked Ray into allowing me to carpet this and the living room. We kept the wood floor in the dining room as you saw, and he has his Oriental in there."

"It's beautiful, Sonny," Samantha sighed. "I love the idea of the new and the old existing comfortably side by side. You seem to have kept all the old grace of the house itself, but your furnishings are more 20th century."

"That's because Ray and I had a lot of compromising to do when it came to furnishing the house," Sonny admitted. "I love the old house, but I also like the convenience of today's amenities, so the kitchen has been remodeled and is totally New Age. I have every kitchen gadget imaginable!" His smile was genuine and quite contagious. "I have a Butler's Pantry that I keep well stocked, and half of it is temperature controlled for wine. Gotta put the grape drink somewhere when you don't have a cellar."

"I hope you set us up for dinner at a decent hour tonight," Alex interjected during the house tour. "We had a rather early breakfast and didn't take the time to have lunch."

"Got it covered," the blond man affirmed. "Rather, Ray does. He figured you'd want to eat before the aristocrats tonight and then just kind of kick around, since tomorrow's going to be so hectic. I figured we show Sammie some of the photos from yesteryear and give her a glimpse of what to expect out of a San Francisco Halloween."

"Oh, you're going to frighten her before the party-is that the idea?" Alex grinned and shook her head. "Listen, why don't you continue showing Samantha around, and I'll take these bags up to the room."

"Sounds like a solid idea, Alex. I'll get you out a cold one and put it on the counter for when you come down."

"On second thought, why don't I get that beer first and take it up with me?"

"Suit yourself." Sonny pointed in the direction of the refrigerator. "You know where we keep it." He placed a hand on Samantha's back and maneuvered her toward the rear of the house. "We'll take a look at the yard, and then I'll show you around upstairs."

Because of the hill they were situated on, Ray and Sonny had a superb vista of the Bay, giving them a romantic view at Samantha's favorite time of the day.

"I'll bet the sunsets are spectacular from here," the blonde stated as she took in the landscape. "I love your pool and Jacuzzi! The waterfall and dark bottom transform this yard into a city jungle."

"That was the idea, especially with all the animals that come to play in the water," Sonny joked. "We do like the dark bottom, though, because it tends to keep the water warmer without having to use the heater as much."

"And it gives it that tropical lagoon atmosphere," Samantha added.

"Yeah, that, too. Ready to see the upstairs?"

"Sure!"

The upstairs had been renovated to turn the three medium sized bedrooms into one large bedroom and one master suite. Samantha loved the view from the guestroom, just as Alex had suggested earlier that she would. The panorama of San Francisco's Bay was breathtaking, and beyond the Bay was an exquisite oceanscape.

Ray called just as Sonny was finishing up the tour to check and see that they all made it back to the house in one piece. He hadn't liked the idea of sending Sonny to the airport alone to pick up the girls, but he had a scheduled appointment with a valued client, and his lover had promised not to get agitated in the Friday afternoon traffic. Ray stated that he would be home within the hour and had made reservations for dinner at 7 o'clock at one of Alex's favorite restaurants.

No matter how Samantha tried to skirt around, trying to get Sonny to tell them about their costumes for tomorrow evening, he always avoided the subject or would simply stare at her and smile, shaking his head.

When they got back from dinner, Ray pulled out the cognac, and he and Alex went outside to sit by the pool. The more excitable duo opened a bottle of Merlot and perched on the couch with the masquerade album from years gone by opened wide and straddling their laps. The tittering coming from the two as they sat and looked at fairies, queens, mimes, slave boys, and many, many near-naked men became loud enough to elicit grins on the faces of Alex and Ray as they sat trying to discuss business.

Finally, coming to the end of the visual entertainment, Samantha, again tried to pry out of Sonny what they would be wearing Saturday night for the party.

"Let me ask you this first," Sonny began, "Have you ever watched Hercules on television?"

"Can't say that I have," Samantha confessed.

"Did you tell me that you were told about the spin off show?"

"Yes, but we haven't really had the time to watch it yet. I haven't even played the game I got for my birthday very much. Alex has played it a few times but . . . "

"Well, before we go to bed tonight, you are going to be indoctrinated into the clan. I taped a Herc episode, and Xena followed right after, so I taped that, also. You have nothing better to do, and I think it's about time you and that lover of yours caught up with the television obsession of the decade."

"Really?"

"Really! Go get Alex and Ray while I find the tape . . . wait! Want to make some popcorn first?"

"Always!"

"Come on then." He led her into the kitchen and grabbed a package of microwavable double butter popcorn from the pantry. "Here, put this on for five minutes and . . . "

"Hey, gourmet, I can cook . . . especially popcorn. You go on ahead and find your video."

Five minutes later and under duress, they dragged the two missing partners in from outside, and all four of them were sitting in the living room preparing to watch fictional people fighting mythical creatures.

"Ah, isn't that cute," Alex exclaimed of the relationship of the two male leads. "Is that how you feel following Ray around, Sonny?"

She promptly received a knuckled fist in her upper arm and feigned pain and anguish at the thought that Sonny would think of reacting violently to a mere observation.

"Very funny, Alex. Just wait until the next show comes on, you'll be laughing out of the other side of your mouth."

"Yeah, right!" was the only comeback until she thought to ask just why they were sitting up watching these television icons anyway.

Shoulder shrugs and an impish grin, as well as a deep breath preceded Sonny's answer to the question. "Finish watching the second episode with the female leads, and then I will satisfy everyone's curiosity, okay?"

It was agreed all around that they would sit and enjoy the rest of the shows, finish off both the popcorn and the Merlot, and then attain a satisfactory answer to tonight's charade.

Samantha commented that Alex resembled the female lead in the next series, and Alex retaliated with the fact that Samantha could almost pass as a double for the "half-pint" co-star. Sonny and Ray both sat with large grins on their faces as they watched their friends watch the number one syndicated show of the year for the very first time.

Alex made a comment during one of the commercials that Sonny hadn't taken the time to remove from the tape, that she had seen the star on a late night talk show a while back, over a year ago. She continued to relate that she sounded absolutely nothing like the character she portrayed on the small screen.

"Hello?" Sonny chimed in, "Could that be because she is an Žactress,' and that's what actresses do? She's from New Zealand, and that's why she doesn't really sound like her character. They try to give all the cast a California accent . . . we Californians are very popular you know?" He smiled and continued, "Most of the people, especially the extras, are all Kiwis on both the shows, and if you listen really carefully, you can hear certain words that retain the native accent."

"Mostly, they all do a great job," Ray interjected.

The ending credits began flashing across the screen, the evening was getting late, and Alex wanted an answer to her questions. Samantha also wanted the finale to the evening that Sonny had promised.

"Okay, okay, I can see I'm not going to get away with not showing you your costumes before we go to bed." The blond walked out of the room and returned carrying four hangers draped over his shoulder. He walked over to each person in the room and handed them one of the costumes.

Alex was the first to have hers out of the plastic wrapping. "You want me to be a Warrior Princess?" she roared.

"Most definitely," came the response. "You fit her to a tee, Alex. Right down to the ebony hair, the height, and the temper. She's a very formidable character."

"Yeah, and who are you going to be?" Deep blue eyes stared at her friend, but not a trace of a smile showed upon the dark-haired beauty's face.

"Come on, Alex, be a sport," Samantha pleaded. "Actually, you look very much like the actress, and you most certainly have the physique and demeanor to carry the character off."

"And who are you going as?" Alex turned her stare to her lover.

"Looks like I'm going as the blonde who shows more of her body than I have ever shown at one time, barring the wearing of a swimsuit." Samantha held up the two-piece leather outfit and then reached down into the plastic bag that accompanied it to reveal two sharp objects that were definitely supposed to be weapons. "Hey, I remember seeing some of these in one of the martial arts books we have at the Center. They're called sais, right? That blonde actress looked like she really knew how to use these."

"Yeah, well, that's her job, like Sonny said." Alex reached into the bag she was holding and pulled out a sword, sheath, and round thing that looked like a Frisbee with the center cut out. "Ah ha, the weapons of choice of the brunette?"

"Most definitely," Sonny acknowledged. He smiled as he nodded to Ray, prompting him to open the plastic bag containing his costume. "You see, we're all going as old friends. Ray will be Hercules, and I will be his sidekick. Alex will go as the fictional Xena, and Sammie here will be Gabrielle. I think it'll be a hoot!"

Even Alex had to admit that the idea was novel, and the four of them might very well come off with a prize during the contest.

"Now that the big secret has been revealed, what does everyone say to getting a decent night's sleep before we have to contend with the excitement of tomorrow evening?" Ray looked at his guests and then at his lover.

"I'm in total agreement." Alex seconded the motion for retirement.

Since no one objected, the television was turned off, the dishes put into the kitchen sink, and the four friends retired to their respective bedrooms.

With the lights out, the women lay side-by-side in bed, looking out at the stars glimmering in the early morning sky. The feeling of peace that always came over them when they were locked in each other's arms seemed to find no strange landscape in which to perpetuate itself.

"I don't think your being a warrior is a stretch of anyone's imagination," Samantha murmured without lifting her head from her lover's chest. "You've been my warrior and champion, almost since the day I met you."

"Hey!" Alex countered, squeezing the smaller woman, jovially. "I thought I was your ŽPrincess Charming.'"

"That, too," Samantha agreed. This time she lifted her head and repositioned her body just enough to receive a warm goodnight kiss. "You are all those women rolled into one. What a lucky bard I am."

"Ah, getting into the mood already are we? Just remember, that little blonde seems as feisty with her weapons as she is with her quill and parchment." She kissed the golden hair on her lover's crown. "Sweet dreams, my bard and my Destiny."

"Same to you, my love."

********************

To the surprise and elation of all, the next day dawned bright and balmy, with unseasonably warm weather. Even though Halloween was not until Sunday, the Castro area decided that Saturday was by far the best day and night to celebrate. Sonny insisted that they start the day out at a restaurant in that very area, as the festivities had begun the evening before.

Since the weather was willing, they decided to eat at an establishment that had sidewalk seating, and that way they could observe the party atmosphere. Their waiter was a young man who was painted from head to toe in metallic gold. When he wasn't busy running from table to table taking or delivering orders, he would stop and pose for anyone who wanted to take a picture. Since the extent of his costume, other than the paint, was nothing more than a thong, he was extremely busy posing.

The morning and afternoon disappeared quickly in anticipation of the evening's activities, and before anyone knew it, it was time to don the costumes and become fictionalized characters.

"At least we won't freeze in these costumes with the weather being as warm as it is," Alex observed as she picked up the leather outfit and cringed at the thought of traipsing around in public in it. "The things I do for love," she voiced, loud enough for Samantha to hear.

Ž"Methinks thou doth protest too much,'" Samantha answered with a smile. "You know you're going to have a fabulous time; why don't you just admit it?"

"I would have a Žfabulous time' simply watching all the Žfreaks' running around in costumes. I don't have to become one of them." The reply was antisocial, but there was laughter in the tone.

When the two women finished dressing they stood looking into the faces of women from a different time, a different place.

"Gods, Alex, if I had known you'd look this good as a Žreal warrior,' I would have purchased a costume for you months ago," Samantha kidded her mate.

"Oh, you would have, would you?" Alex kidded back. "And you think a simple request would have been sufficient to get me into an outfit such as this?"

"Maybe not a Žsimple request,' perhaps a bribe . . . "

"Ah, a bribe . . . that most definitely might have done it!" Alex agreed. "But you're not the only one who's impressed with the barbarian look." She narrowed the distance between them and put her arms around Samantha's neck.

"You look extremely provocative," Alex whispered into her lover's ear. "You're quite attractive with your navel showing." With a crooked grin and raised eyebrow she continued, "But I'm not entirely sure I want to see you marching around the Castro half-naked."

"That's why you have the warrior costume," Samantha joked. "It's to keep people from taking advantage of the little innocent walking beside you."

"Hey, she didn't look like such an innocent to me."›

"I'm getting there," Samantha pouted. "You can't expect me to turn into a full-blown sidekick in just a few short lessons when you've had practically a lifetime of experience."

"Yeah, well you're catching on pretty quickly," the taller woman confessed as she took the smaller into her arms. "Are you ready to go join the two heroes downstairs?"

Looking up into blue velvet eyes, Samantha smiled and nodded her head. For an instant she was taken back to that fateful night on the beach when she first laid eyes on Alex. It seemed like a lifetime ago, and the person standing in front of her no longer carried the look of melancholy on her beautiful face.

"What do you see when you stare at me so intensely?" Alex questioned, raising an eyebrow.

"With that long, black wig on, it reminds me of the first time I saw you." She leaned into Alex's chest and hugged her tightly. "I hope I never see that lost expression on your face again."

A strong hand lifted the smaller woman's chin and their eyes locked again. "As long as you're by my side, I'll never have cause to retrieve that look." She bent down slightly and kissed the already parted lips of her lover. Passions stirred and were immediately squelched by a sharp rap on the bedroom door.

"I think we've waited long enough," Sonny's tenor rang through the wooden door. "Come on, girls, you must be ready by now. If you take any longer Ray's gonna cop out on me and change back into his dull old self."

Opening the door, Alex found herself stifling a laugh as she looked at her friend sporting a full blond wig. "That look ought to take you back a few years," she chortled, patting Sonny on the head.

"Don't get smart, Alex," Sonny warned. "I could mention some things about you that have changed over the years as well." He started to say more, but his eyes wandered beyond the brunette to take in the blonde beauty standing behind her. "I'll be damned if you don't look like you could be her twin." Grabbing Samantha's hand he slowly had her turn so he could take in the entire costume. "I don't know which of you looks more like the real McCoy. I did a really good job in picking out this year's costumes."

"Would you like an arm extension, or are you doing just fine in the back patting department?" Alex asked.

"Seriously," Sonny turned back to Alex. "You have to admit you both look like the television characters."

"I know Alex does," Samantha chimed in. "You're a pretty good imitation of Herc's sidekick yourself, Sonny."

"Yeah, well wait until you see Ray all decked out in his super hero's outfit. Please don't laugh at him, Alex. One crooked smile from you and my escort will be donning his jeans and tee-shirt, and my Halloween will be ruined." He looked so pitiful standing there pleading that Alex couldn't help but smile.

"I wouldn't think of ruining the most important night of your year, and I must admit that if I have to dress up for this silly occasion, this is definitely the warrior to be this year."

Sonny thanked Alex and then led the way back downstairs where Ray was sitting drinking a beer.

"Don't you think you should have put that in a mug or something?" Alex asked. "I don't think they had aluminum cans back in the times of the Greek gods."

"Wow!" Ray almost choked on his drink when he saw Alex and Samantha in the costumes. "I knew you two would look terrific in those outfits, but this is phenomenal. You could be stand-ins for the actresses."

"Thank you very much, I'm quite happy with my station in life," Alex asserted.

"But it would be fun to be on the set while they are filming something like that," Samantha spoke up as she entered the room. "Hey, you look really buff in that outfit. Looks like I'm the only one who doesn't have to wear a wig."

"That's only because they cut Gabrielle's hair at the end of last season," Sonny told her.

"You really are hooked on this show!" Samantha stated.

"It's something to watch on Saturday afternoon, and it comes on after Hercules. Besides it's the theme of tonight's masquerade-television and movie personalities."

"Okay, let's stop the idle chatter and get this group moving," Ray interjected. "If we don't leave soon, we'll never find a decent place to watch the parade.

"Watch? I thought we were going to march this year," Sonny whined.

"Don't press your luck, side-kick boy," Alex warned.

"Ditto," Ray agreed. "Besides," he looked out the window, "here's the cab; I decided I didn't want to play try to park the car tonight."

Samantha smiled and shook her head as she hugged her friend in sympathy. "Come on, let's go see if anyone can top your inspiration."

********************

There was already a crowd when they stepped out of the yellow cab and onto the sidewalk. Unbeknownst to Sonny, Ray had made reservations at one of the few restaurants in town that specialized in second story veranda dining. It was a unique atmosphere, a patio far above the street that was closed in during the cold winter months but left open to the air during this time of year. He had reserved a railing table, so they could watch the parade without being elbowed by the multitude below. There would be no stretching to see over people's heads tonight, at least not during the parade.

An elaborate dinner came with the reservation, and the menu was offered to the seated guests, sans the price of a hundred dollars a plate.

"You have a choice of soup or salad, any entr»e, veggie of the day, and dessert. Everything is included so, bon appetite." Ray beamed as he saw the looks on Sonny and Samantha's faces. Alex gave him a knowing smile and nodded her head in approval.

"Nice spot," she acknowledged, knowing full well that the idea to dine outdoors was Ray's, but the choice of establishments had been hers. This was his night to shine and there was no way she was going to burst his bubble by letting Samantha know that she was the one who had suggested this particular restaurant.

"Yes," Ray agreed. "This place came highly recommended." He smiled at Alex, knowing that she was too much of a good friend to mention that she had anything to do with tonight's choice.

Dinner was superb, and watching Samantha and Sonny was almost as much fun as watching the parade. The two giggled and pointed throughout dinner and were oblivious to the stares they were getting from customers in the restaurant as people recognized the foursome as characters from a popular television series. Alex heard arguments as the buzz went around the patio that perhaps she and Samantha were really the actresses who played the warrior and her bard. Positive hopes were dashed when others in the various groups pointed out that their male counterparts were definitely not the real-life actors, and they chided their friends for presuming that the stars would be seen in public in their costumes. The brunette made a mental note to tell her lover all about the conversations when she got her alone, but for right now she was content to sit and watch as Sonny and Samantha enjoyed themselves on this special evening. Occasionally, the two blondes would try to engage Alex and Ray in their excitement, but the moment would pass and they would once again immerge themselves in the celebration flowing by them on the street below.

Dinner and the parade ended almost simultaneously. Next on the agenda was a private masquerade at the home of one of their clients from the gym. It was over on the other side of town, so Ray called for a cab while the rest of his party ordered after dinner drinks.

Samantha couldn't believe the neighborhood they drove through to get to the party, and when they pulled into the gated driveway she turned to Sonny with a questioning look.

"Did I forget to tell you that these people are close to being as filthy rich as your lover?" He grinned at his friend. "Not too close, but they sure know how to throw one helluva a masquerade ball." He reached behind him and pulled out the canvas bag he had been carrying around all evening. It contained four half-masks, two with feathers and peacock plumes and two more plain for the less flamboyant members of the group. "What's a masked ball without the masks?"

"Oh, Sonny," Samantha exclaimed. "These are beautiful! I'm not sure it goes with my outfit," she giggled.

"Sure it does, lavender goes with everything!"

He handed Alex and Ray their face coverings and received a shaking head from each of them.

"Do we really have to put these on?" Alex queried. "No one knows who we are, and we're already dressed for the party."

"Some of these people might recognize you from years past, Alex," Sonny countered. "Besides, Ray and I do know quite a few of the guests and the hosts. Masks on until the stroke of midnight." With a flick of his wrist he instructed everyone to cover their faces before they entered the house.

Sonny looked to Ray to present the invitations to the butler at the door, and the four friends entered the elegantly decorated home.

The foursome received the anticipated stares as they slowly made their way through the crowd to the banquet table and bar on the other side of the room. Sonny smiled and nudged Samantha each time he heard a comment about how much they looked like the stars of the television show. Of course, Sonny was not a fool. He realized that most of the comments were focused on the girls, but since it was he who had picked out the costumes, he still took pride in the statements.

"Do you really think we have a chance at winning the competition?" Samantha asked as her gaze covered the rest of the room. "The expense some of these people went to for their costumes is obvious." She pointed to the couple standing in one of the corners, "Look at Antony and Cleopatra; those jewels around her neck look real."

"They probably are, Sweetie, and she's a he."

"No!"

"Yes," Sonny answered with a nod and a knowing smile. "They're your hosts. Isn't Cleo beautiful?"

"Gorgeous! Could have fooled me," Samantha confessed.

"Sounds like he did," Alex interjected as she handed her lover a glass of champagne. "But, you'll be seeing a lot of mixing and matching tonight. After all, it is All Hallow's Eve, and the queens are out in force!"

They mingled among pirates, slaves, queens, kings, aliens, and a multitude of celebrity look alikes. Alex heard her character's war cry more than once throughout the evening as she walked among the costumed guests.

"Seems like these two characters are extremely popular," Alex mumbled into Samantha's ear after they had excused themselves from a conversation that centered on the warrior and the bard.

"Sonny sure knew what he was doing when he picked these costumes," Samantha concluded.

Samantha somehow managed to get Alex to dance to a few slow songs, and Sonny became her escort when the faster tempos came over the speakers.

Alex did meet up with a few old acquaintances. She managed to introduce them to Samantha between dances.

As the midnight hour approached, there was the quiver of electricity in the air.

Finally, the magic moment arrived. The music was hushed and all masks turned toward the podium where a beautiful Cleopatra, aka Terry, one of the evening's hosts, stood ready to make the announcement the crowd had been waiting for.

›"I must confess that the judges had a very difficult time this year choosing just three winners. Before I announce the lucky couples, it's time to take off your masks and let the world see who you really are." A drum roll followed as masks were dropped and faces revealed. Exclamations of surprise filled the room; friends who thought they would know each other anywhere were surprised at the faces under the masks.

"Okay, with no further ado, let's get to the prizes. I'll start by acknowledging the third place trophy, which goes to Seven of Nine and her companion Captain Janeway. Along with their trophy, they also receive brunch for four at Angel's Hook on Fisherman's Wharf."

The couple stepped up and stood beside Cleo after receiving their prize.

"Second place was a tie between Hercules and Iolaus and Beauty and the Beast. We weren't expecting the judges to be so fixed on giving double awards, so a second trophy and certificate for dinner for four at the Four Seasons will be mailed to the second winning couple. Sonny and Ray come on up here; Klancy and JayJay stop trying to hide in the corner. You must stand beside me to receive your prize." Terry motioned the four winners forward, and they were all encouraged with a round of applause.

"And finally, first place. It seems like the television personalities are walking away with all the prizes this year. Exactly what kind of social life do you people have?"

A murmur of laughter from the crowd prompted the speaker to continue. "The judges told me that this was the easiest of decisions. These two women had heads turning all evening. Congratulations to the Warrior Princess and her bard! I know we have more than one couple dressed like the Grecian duo, but the winners happen to be standing . . ." He pointed to Alex and Samantha and motioned them toward him. "Come on, ladies, don't be shy, you're among friends." The host smiled, "Alex, I never expected to see you in such a revealing costume. Nice surprise and welcome back!" Terry turned to the crowd and announced that, as well as receiving a trophy, the first place couple would be his and Jason's guests at the opening of Victor, Victoria when it came back into town in January. "Nothing like a good reason to return to the City by the Bay, right, Alex and . . ."

"Samantha," Alex reminded their host.

"That's right, Samantha," he beamed at his new acquaintance.

After congratulating all the contestants and the winners, Terry graciously thanked everyone for making the party a success for another year. He insisted that they keep on enjoying themselves, but after the unmasking and giving of prizes, the room visibly thinned.

"So, do we stay a little longer or get home at a decent hour?" Alex asked the rest of her entourage.

"I think we should mingle for a little while. After all, we did take first and second place. It would only be good manners to not take the gifts and run." Sonny had a point, and Samantha nodded affirmatively, stating that she agreed with Sonny.

"I'll go along with that consensus," Ray contributed.

Alex knew she was out voted. "Okay, another drink, a dance or two, and then home, agreed?"

"Agreed," the other three answered simultaneously.

The early morning hours sped by and it was after two when Alex finally got Samantha alone enough to talk her into leaving. "Okay, Miss Belle of the Ball, are you about ready to turn in your dance card? I'm exhausted, and this costume is not the most comfortable . . ."

"I'm sorry, Alex," Samantha crooned. "I was having such a good time, I› . . .

"It's okay, you were supposed to have a good time. It's just that it's late and we have a full day tomorrow before we have to leave. Besides, look at Ray there in the corner. He's been nodding off for nearly an hour now."

"Why didn't you say something earlier?" the blonde questioned.

"For the simple fact that you were having such a good time," Alex confessed.

"Let me go get Sonny and meet you over by Ray."

"Good idea. You sure you don't want me to go along?"

"No, Alex, if you come with me, Sonny will think that you are just trying to stop him from having fun. He'll listen to me a lot easier."

"Yeah, I've noticed," the taller woman chuckled. "I'll call a cab," she informed her lover, then walked away from her and toward their sleeping friend.

Samantha had no trouble prying Sonny from the clutches of an overbearing queen, dressed as a lady of the evening, and soon the four friends were on their way home.

Sleep came quickly, practically as soon as their heads hit the pillows.

Sonny dreamed of winning first place next year at the costume ball, while Ray dreamed of not having to go at all.

Alex, unexpectedly, continued the masquerade into her dreams, as she protected her bard from the dangers of living in a barbaric world. Samantha smiled in her sleep, while visions of her warrior, dressed in leather and protecting her from a world of warlords, set her mind to imagining.

When the four friends awoke in the morning, Halloween had been banished to the realm of memories, and the world was back to normal, or as normal as it ever could be in San Francisco.

********************

Sleep had made use of the early morning hours and before they knew it afternoon had arrived, and the hour for departure closed in on the little group. Although Samantha and Sonny tried to keep the clock from ticking, they were unsuccessful. A late lunch on the way to the airport was the final meal for the friends during this particular long weekend.

Standing at the departure door, tears flowed freely from the eyes of the Samantha and Sonny as they said their farewells. Even though they knew they would be spending time together again within the next few months, it was difficult to leave without emotion. The realization that they would be seeing a lot more of each other from now on came to Alex and Ray concurrently, as they watched the mournful scene their partners were putting on for observing passengers.

"Change of environment for a weekend is always a plus," Alex said, patting her old friend on the shoulder. "I do believe we will be doing this on a fairly regular basis, so you had best find some business reasons to meet with me or get stock in the airlines."

"Yes, I'm afraid our status as workaholics will definitely be destroyed by this relationship between our better halves." Ray grinned at his friend.

With a switch of partners, Samantha bid Ray adieu and Sonny did the same to Alex. The two women then boarded the plane and headed back to their quieter life on the edge of the ocean in Laguna.

********************

"Last stop for the evening . . . the garage," Alex announced as she maneuvered the Boxster next to the VW. "As much as I enjoy cavorting around the big city with Sonny and Ray, I'm always happy to arrive safely home."

"Ditto," Samantha agreed, opening the car door and getting out. "Do we have to bring the luggage up tonight?"

"It's only the one large suitcase and the carryon, I can manage . . ."

"No, no. I'll help." Samantha reached for the smaller bag and then followed Alex into the building. "I just don't feel like unpacking tonight."

"You don't have to. I simply like to get the stuff all up into the house when I first get home, that way it's not hanging over me in the morning."

"I don't know why I feel so tired," Samantha whined.

"Couldn't be that we didn't get much sleep the entire weekend, and then you had to cry before leaving the airport, now could it?" The brunette put her arm around the smaller woman's shoulder as they walked to the elevator. "That really was a cute outfit on you, Samantha. Might make for some interesting play."

"Alex!" Samantha squealed. "Such thoughts!"

"I didn't say how we would play," Alex smiled at the blonde. "Why, Samantha, I do believe you're blushing." She tilted her lover's face toward her own and gently placed a kiss on crimson cheeks.

"Yeah, well, I can only imagine. I'll bet you have me beat by a long shot when it comes to kinky stuff."

The only answer the blonde received was a sigh, a shake of ebony locks, a raised eyebrow, and a crooked smile.

Changing the subject, Alex opened the door to the apartment. "Your castle awaits, my love." The sweet smell of vanilla still permeated the front rooms, welcoming them home, along with a long m-e-o-w as Rainbow ran to her people and stretched her body up Samantha's leg, begging to be held.

"Aren't you the best welcome wagon in town?" the blonde cooed, picking the small animal up and cuddling her. "That little engine of yours certainly is a purring machine, Rainbow." She nuzzled her face into the cat's, giving the small creature the affection she had missed while they were away.

"I can't imagine who called," Alex announced pushing the play button on the answering machine. "I thought we informed everyone we knew that we'd be out of town for the weekend."

"Maybe telemarketers," Samantha conjectured, as she walked into the pantry to get Rainbow a treat.

The voice coming from the machine stopped the blonde dead in her tracks.

"Hi Sammie; it's Shawn. I know it's been ages and you probably thought I'd fallen off the face of the Earth, but I talked to your dad a few months ago and he told me you had moved to Laguna. I'm going to be there on business next week and was wondering if we might be able to have dinner together? I'll assume you're gone for the evening and will give you a call on Monday. It would really be great to be able to see you again."

The machine clicked off, and Alex stood staring at her lover who was standing in the middle of the kitchen with her mouth hanging open. "And Shawn is who?"

"Just some guy I dated for a little while a few years back," came the quiet answer. "Do you think he's going to call back?"

"I'd bet my life on it." The reply had a twinge of sarcasm scattered around the edges.

"He's no threat, Alex."

"I should hope not," the brunette replied, but her tone of voice had a hint of uncertainty.

"Truly, Alex," Samantha insisted. "His father was some big shot in one of the businesses my father was wining and dining. Daddy insisted we meet and date and so we did, but just a few times." She didn't like the intense look on her lover's face. "Honestly, Alex, you're getting upset over a voice on the telephone. All he wants to do is have dinner. The three of us can go together . . ."

"No!" The answer was emphatic. "If you want to have dinner with him, that's fine. We don't need to make it a threesome."

"Don't be ridiculous, honey, of course we'll make it a threesome."

"No. I'll just feel out of place." Her tone of voice softened as she realized how she must sound. "Really, Samantha, you go ahead and meet up with this friend of yours. I'm sure I can entertain myself for one evening." She tried her damnedest to swallow the lump that had suddenly developed in her throat. Is this how you're going to react every time one of her old acquaintances shows up? You need to give her the respect and trust she's given you. "I think the call just took me by surprise. You go and have a good time." Thank the Goddess my words sound more sincere than I feel. Stepping in front of Samantha, Alex placed both arms around the smaller woman's shoulders. "I love you, Samantha, and I trust you. Come on, it's been a long day. What do you say we call it an early night?"

Standing on her tiptoes, Samantha kissed the love of her life. "I love you, too, Alex, more than you'll ever know. Turning in early sounds great. Let me get Rainbow her treat; she's being extremely patient with me."

"I'll meet you in the bedroom. Don't be long."

"I won't," Samantha promised.

When Alex reached the bedroom door she heard Samantha mumble something under her breath, and the ebony-haired beauty smiled. Shaking her head from side-to-side, she mentally answered the unasked question from the other room. Of course we don't have to go directly to sleep!

The End of Chapter 1

Chapter 2

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