Panic was the first emotion to show in sapphire eyes as the first bit of light sparkled on the windows and streaked down to touch the faces sleeping peacefully on the mat. "What the . . . Oh Shit . . . Samantha -- Wake up!"
"Wake . . . what . . . Alex . . . Oh, Shit!" Emerald orbs took on a similar expression.
"Quick, Honey, we've got to get upstairs." Alex looked around. "Clocks, we need a few clocks in this place. I know it's early, I just hope Kelley isn't up and walking around."
Like the wayward children they had portrayed the evening before, the two women quickly rubbed the sleep from their eyes, put on their robes and headed for the elevator.
As luck was with them, all was clear, no one was in the hall and they were laughing uncontrollably by the time they reached the kitchen. Alex looked at the clock on the microwave and saw that her inner alarm had done its job, waking her up at least by seven. She was just glad that Kelley's hadn't done the same, or at least that they hadn't ventured from their rooms.
Tears of laughter trickled down her face, "Whew -- that was close. What could we have been thinking, falling asleep down there with Mom and Kelley upstairs?"
"I guess it was the release of all the tension of the day." Green twinkling eyes still moist with glee looked up into a smiling face. "At least that's my excuse. What's yours? And . . . good morning, Alex."
"It is now . . . wasn't so sure it was going to be." She pulled the smaller woman close and hugged her good morning. "Well, this is the beginning of an extremely busy day, what better way to start off than with a rush of adrenaline. Wanna take a quick shower with me?"
"Who could resist such an elegant invitation?"
Alex gave her mate a lop-sided grin and they headed off to the bath. "No funny stuff in the shower. Agreed?"
"Funny stuff, whatd'ya mean, funny stuff?"
A mock look of agitation crossed the face of the dark-haired beauty as she turned, picked up the smaller woman and continued to the bathroom. "You know precisely what I mean. We stop acting like children just because my parents are here and get through this day like the adults we are." Kisses roamed the sweet smiling face in her arms as her lips trailed from ear to ear, stopping momentarily to taste the soft, full lips of her lover. "Don't make me act like this during the day! Consider yourself warned. No looking like an angel, no seducing me in front of the clients, no . . . damn, Samantha . . ." They had reached the door to the shower. Alex put Samantha on the floor and they dispensed with their robes. "I don't have time to ravish you right now and for some reason that makes the thought of doing so even more enticing."
Samantha grinned up at her lover, "Always wanting what you can't have, huh Alex?" Small hands traced circles around erect nipples.
"Normally, I would give you three weeks to stop that, but as time would have it, I think a cold shower is in order." It was a stretch, but Alex reached the cold water facet and turned it on. She placed her hands under Samantha's armpits and picked the smaller woman off the ground, carrying her forward into the shower in front of her.
"By the Gods, Alex! That's Cold!"
"Yes Samantha, that's the idea." The hot water facet was turned on after the initial shock and the two began lathering up.
For the first time since they'd been together each of the women washed themselves only while they shared the shower water. Not that there wasn't a glance here or touch there, but the threat of the hot water being extinguished by the other partner was enough to keep their attention continuing on the chore at hand.
After all the activity directly before slumber the evening before, Samantha was absolutely famished and she did not fail to convey this fact to Alex as they were getting dressed. "What are we going to do about breakfast?"
"The caterers will be here around nine and should be all set up and ready to go when the first guests arrive, hopefully around noon," Alex started to explain.
"Wait -- no, no -- just wait. You don't really expect me to not eat until noon, do you?" The look in her emerald eyes was a difficult one to decipher.
Alex wasn't sure whether it was a questioning look, an accusing look or an I'm gonna kill something to eat if I have to look. She decided to go with levity and continued to tease. "You serious, Samantha? You can't wait for the caterers to finish? Well, you know I could distract one of them while you sneak enough to tide you over," she smiled broadly as Samantha stood looking at her in disbelief.
"You're kidding . . . tell me you're kidding . . . I see a smile, that must mean you're kidding."
Not wanting to really frustrate Samantha who was now standing directly in front of her with her hands on her hips, Alex went on, "Listen, Mom's favorite meal is breakfast, there will be no getting around not having it as long as she's here, so no need to worry. Someone will cook while we're getting the caterer's settled I'm sure." Resolving all Samantha's fears of not getting to eat breakfast, she gave the smaller woman a kiss.
Crisis time came next for Sam as she tried to figure out what would be the best outfit to wear. She kept going between casual slacks and summer dress, finally deciding on the dress. Alex, of course, had no problem - everyday casual business suit. Finally satisfied with the way she looked, or at least as satisfied as she was going to get, Samantha was greeted with a long, low whistle.
"I thought I told you not to put temptation in front of me today. Don't you listen to anything I say?" came the affectionate scolding for looking beautiful.
Samantha twirled around in front of Alex, teasing, "I did my best. I'm sorry, want me to take it off?"
"Don't even start to go there!" She pulled the small blonde close and kissed her, then took her by the hand and walked her out of the bedroom into the living room. Just as they started across the room they heard a small knock on the outer door.
"Girls, you up?" came the familiar voice of her Mother.
"Yes, Mom, come on in." Alex turned and gave Sam a quick kiss on the cheek and a smile that said, Okay -- now the fun begins!
"Morning Honey. That was our second knock, one more and we would have been in. I thought maybe you overslept which I know is unusual but . . . then I remembered that we left plenty early last night, early enough for you to get a really good night's sleep." The tone of her Mother's voice had a hint of sarcasm in it.
"So, did you girls have a nice evening after we parted ways last night?" There was a twinkle in Kelley's eyes that was unusual.
"It was okay. Just a quiet rest of the night and an early bed, just like you guys." Alex wrinkled her brow in a puzzling look while answering her second mom.
"Early night?" Aurora chimed in, "Alexis you never were very good at telling simple lies. You can match with the best of them on a business venture, but when it comes to a little personal lie -- you just can't do it, at least not and look your Mother in the eyes." Twinkling sapphires matched guilty ones.
Doing her best to keep from breaking into laughter Aurora explained, "Last night after we left here I wasn't feeling that tired. I finally, after another glass of wine, talked Kelley into going for a swim with me in that lovely pool you have downstairs. We could see that you hadn't set the security alarm and I thought it might be fun to initiate your pool with a little skinny dipping."
There was no need for Aurora to continue the conversation, Samantha turned and buried her crimson red face in her lover's chest with an involuntary, "Oh, No!"
"The two of you!" Kelley interrupted. "Aurora, look how you've gone and upset the half-pint."
Furrowed brows above emerald eyes peeked around to snatch a look at Kelley at the reference that could have been made for none other than her.
Kelley continued, "Okay, Aurora, fun's over for a while. Listen girls, she did talk me into going for a swim and we were well on our way to the pool when we heard the splashing. Knowing you have a lot of your Mother in you, Alex, I figured you had the same idea and we didn't go any further. Not that your Mother didn't want to. I told her she had best know Samantha a lot better before making such as assumption, so we quietly turned around and went back upstairs. You had better be happy that the pool has a slight echo when the Center is empty." She grinned broadly at the two young women in front of her.
Placing a hand on either side of her lover's face, Alex lifted it to stare into a still brilliantly red complexion. "Welcome to the Family, Honey."
"Oh Alex, I'm so embarrassed."
"Don't be silly -- you had a great idea and simply beat us to the pool. It could have been the other way around, you know?" Aurora finally changed the subject. "What do you suggest we do for breakfast? I'm starving."
"See, I told you the two of you had a lot in common. She's as obsessed with breakfast as you are." Alex grinned. "Why don't you fix breakfast, Mom? Or talk Kelley into doing it. The caterers and Ray and Sonny are all due here around the same time, which is somewhere close to nine. I'm sure the guys will be hungry when they arrive so if you've made something like waffles and breakfast strips, they will keep until everyone can eat."
Looking over at her lover she got the nod of approval and answered her daughter, "Okay, I think we can manage that. Waffles and breakfast strips sounds good enough to tied us over until the caterers are all set up, the place is swarming and lunch is available."
The older woman walked over to where the two younger women were standing. "Samantha, as Alex said -- Welcome to the Family, honey." She put her arm around Sam and gave her a little squeeze.
"Now, tell me, are you girls going to decorate the Center today?"
"No . . ." Alex started to answer . . .
"Yes" Samantha chimed it at the same time.
Alex looked over at her mate puzzled. "We're decorating?"
"Of course we're decorating. It's an open house."
Alex was totally taken back with the answer from her lover. "When are we going to have time to decorate and what kind of decorating are we doing?"
Knowing Samantha had one up on Alex she beamed over at her lover. "We're not personally doing it, silly. You left me in charge of certain things, remember. Well, I called a little company in town who does decorating for parties. They will be the ones decorating today. What's an open house without balloons? They'll be here about the same time everyone else is expected -- nine o'clock."
"Well, great. Decorating didn't even enter my mind . . . must be the artistic part of yours and Mom's." She looked over at Kelley and winked.
After quickly giving the Moms a tour of the kitchen to acquaint them with where things could be found, the younger women started downstairs to open up and await the arrival of the caterers. Samantha's stomach made a growling sound as they left the kitchen. She smiled up at her lover who merely shook her head and returned the smile with a nod to the kitchen. Samantha ran back in and grabbed a banana.
"This might keep me from embarrassing myself in front of strangers before I get to eat my morning meal."
"Be back up in a half hour," Aurora called after them. "I think you'll have time to eat before the crowd arrives."
On the way down they decided to divide and conquer in opening up the Center. Alex would open the doors and then go turn on the lights to accentuate the climbing wall, while Sam would start the Jacuzzi's. There wasn't a lot to be done other than that.
On her way back from the pool, Samantha heard a familiar voice ringing through the reception area.
"I know someone is here, the door's open," came a loud tenor voice.
"Sonny!" she acknowledged as she sped up to meet her friends.
"Don't you look like the picture of sunshine this morning? Your directions were perfect from the airport. This place looks fantastic on the outside. Love the doors!"
"They are beautiful aren't they," she agreed with her friend. Giving them each a kiss and hug she asked how the flight down had been and the drive from the airport.
Looking around and not seeing anyone, she suggested they go find Alex.
"No need," came a soft contralto voice from the direction of the gym. "Who could help but hear when you arrive, Sonny?" Alex came around the corner wearing a big grin, walked up and gave her friends a welcoming hug and kiss. "Mom and Kelley are upstairs making breakfast. Anyone hungry? I do believe we might have just enough time before the day really gets to rolling along."
"Breakfast, what a marvelous concept," Ray chimed in. "Sonny was in such a hurry to get to the airport we didn't have time for food and then they give us a banana and a cup of coffee on the plane and called it breakfast. I'm starving."
"When did my other favorite girls get here?" Sonny wanted to know.
"They arrived yesterday around noon." Alex filled him in.
Looking at Samantha, he smiled broadly, "How did meeting the in-laws go?"
"Quite well actually," came the answer from the small blonde. "There were a couple embarrassing moments, but I think for the most part they like me okay."
Alex stood there shaking her head and smiling. "They liked her more than just okay, guys. She was a big hit. Even Kelley seems to have taken her to heart." She put her arm around the smaller woman and started walking everyone in the direction of the elevator. "So, shall we go eat," she motioned for all to enter the lift and they proceeded to the third floor.
The little group decided that Sonny should go in first and surprise Aurora. The reunion of the two of them was like watching two people who hadn't seen each other in decades. All the hugging and kissing -- the "you look marvelous" -- "you look pretty damn good yourself" -- seemed to be endless. Finally Kelley calmed them both down announcing that only those who could be quiet for a little while could sit down and eat because the meal was ready.
Breakfast was a joyous occasion for all the friends. Kelley made an orange juice toast to friendship and new beginnings and the meal was quickly in progress. They had followed Alex's suggestion and had made Kelley's famous waffles, melted butter and hot maple syrup with breakfast strips, breakfast patties and a pitcher of orange juice. Even Samantha was full by the time the meal was finished.
They were all sitting around just gossiping when the intercom buzzed and Alex went to answer it.
"That's the caterers and the decorators, so it looks like both Samantha and I need to get down and help with directions."
"You girls go right ahead," Aurora looked around at the remaining people at the table, her eyes coming to rest on Sonny. "We'll clean up here and then be down to join you." She gave them a "shoo" with her hands and a nod of her head implying that they had better not keep the people downstairs waiting. "Besides we have a lot of gossip to catch up on that no one else is interested in. You can take Kelley and Ray with you if you'd like."
"Thank you very much, but I think Ray and I can do what we want. We don't need to be farmed off onto anyone's team," came the quick reply from the other side of the table. "As she said, you girls get going. Those people need to get started and finished before your guests arrive. Ray and I can take care of ourselves." She shook her head and smiled at Alex, giving the younger woman one of the looks she had come to know as You Know How Your Mother Is!
Alex smiled back and grabbed Samantha's hand, "Come on, 'second in command' -- time to go face the lions."
Samantha beamed when she saw her wards coming through the door with not only the balloons they had already inflated but a helium tank in case they needed more, which she most surely knew they would. She loved balloons and the festive look they gave an occasion such as this. She planned on having the Center overflowing with them. Her motto was that crepe paper, streamers and balloons could do wonders for any occasion.
Alex took the caterers in tow and led them to the area in the gym where she and Samantha had decided to put the tables of food. They had brought three long tables which were to be set up along the far western wall along the windows.
Occupying the middle spot was an ice swan sitting in the middle of a champagne fountain and surrounded by soft drinks.
Directly to the left of the beverages were cold cuts of every variety imaginable with a larger selection of cheeses than normally would have been supplied, due to the fact that Alex knew there would be many vegetarians at the affair. Of course there was an assortment of breads, rolls and condiments to go along with the cold cuts.
Fruits were abundant in the form of watermelons that had been scooped out and refilled with not only their own fruit but with cantaloupe, grapes and honey dew melon as well.
Of course the usual salads were brought: cole slaw, potato salad and mixed green with a medley of dressings.
Alex had ordered several hot dishes as well, not only the usual Swedish meatballs and little hot dogs but an avocado, cheese and crab dip, shrimp scampi, penne in marinara sauce and a lobster newburg with rice.
The piece de resistance was the two decorated cakes. She knew a baker who was also an artist and made special stencils to be used with colored chocolates to decorate cakes. She had one vanilla cake made and one chocolate; each was decorated with half the building and half the name of the Center. When the two cakes were placed side by side the building was complete. In large lavender letters, Alternative loomed above the building on the cake on the left and Paradise on the right section with the remainder of the cakes being trimmed with lavender flowers.
By eleven o'clock all the caterers and decorators were out of the building. The server staff would be back at 11:45 as contracted. Alternative Paradise was clothed in crepe and balloons awaiting the first real visitor to come through the beautiful stained glass doors. There was a huge Open House sign on the building, as if the lone warehouse could have been missed by anyone who had directions to get there. By the looks of the finished results this was one exquisite affair that had been meticulously planned. Two very proud "partners" stood, arm in arm, looking at the completed project. Samantha smiled up at her lover, "Congratulations Alex, looks like your dream has reached fruition."
Alex bent down and gently kissed the soft lips that eagerly received it. "Congratulations to the both of us -- this will be our dream in the making if you'll share it with me."
"I already am, my darling," was the response she received.
"I saw Kelley showing Ray around a little bit ago, but I haven't seen hide nor hair of the other two. They're probably still upstairs gabbing away. Believe me Samantha, those two will give you a run for you money in the talk category."
Alex, took Samantha by the hand and walked her over to the windows. "I think we ought to taste this champagne and make sure it's what I ordered," she stated as she filled two glasses. The gym was totally empty save for the two lovers and that's the way the tall, dark-haired beauty wanted it to stay for just a little while. Reaching into her pocket she brought out a small black velvet box, opened the lid and showed the contents to the petite blonde who held her heart.
"By the Gods Alex . . . what . . ." tears of joy misted over sparkling Irish eyes as she stared at two small hearts joined at the middle with a single diamond. "It's beautiful, but Alex you shouldn't have."
"Here, give me your hand," Alex said, ignoring the protest and slipping it onto the ring finger of Samantha's left hand. "It's only a token, Samantha, a promise or commitment ring, if you'd rather. I'd like for you to wear it as my commitment to you and I couldn't think of a better time to give it to you than the opening day of the Center.
A single tear ran down the smaller woman's face as she thanked her lover for the ring. "I'll never take it off," she vowed.
Winking at her Alex commented, "You will when I buy you a larger diamond."
Samantha started to counter, but was hushed as fingers gently closed her lips and an ebony head shook from side to side. Alex handed her a filled glass of champagne and lifted her own up to toast. "To my beautiful angel, I thank the Goddess every day for her letting you enter my life."
Samantha lifted her glass to match, "To my champion, the warrior of my dreams. To new beginnings as we continue to walk the same path through this life."
They drank the sparkling liquid and embraced. In the throngs of a passionate kiss they did not hear as company entered the room until the sound of clapping hands reached their ears.
"Enough now girls, you have company and more on the way. No PDA (public display of affection) don't you remember the old rule?" Sonny interrupted in his high tenor voice.
"I knew it was too quiet to be true," came the quick remark from his old friend. "What did you do with my Mother?"
"She's walking around looking at Samantha's handy work while in search of our two missing companions."
Unable to contain her enthusiasm Samantha walked toward her friend, "Sonny, look what Alex just surprised me with." She held out her hand to let him examine the sparkling adornment on her finger.
"Will you look at that. Alex, you really are spoiling this child." Sonny smiled over at his old friend while holding Samantha's hand. "It's absolutely you, Sweetie. If I were you I would simply consider that I was definitely worth it." He smiled again and gave the small woman a hug as he whispered into her ear, "You are quite the lucky young woman, my friend."
Samantha whispered back, "I totally agree with you, Sonny."
Time was getting short and the serving staff arrived all decked out in their white shirts, black ties and black pants. Kelley and Ray had finally made their way to the gym, but Aurora was still walking around somewhere when a brilliant flash of light blinded the party of five. Before their eyes had a chance to acclimate, Alex heard a voice from her past, "Can't have an open house without pictures. What kind of a celebration would that be?"
"Goddess bless me! Scoop! If you aren't a sight for sore eyes, and I mean that literally." Alex grabbed her old friend and hugged her tightly. Turning to Samantha she put her arm around Scoop's shoulder and introduced the smiling, auburn-haired Amazon who stood eye-to-eye with Alex. "This is Scoop, La Jolla's own famous freelance photographer. She could always get the high pictures when no one else could!" Scoop, this is Samantha, my better half; Sonny and his better half Ray and you already know that tall drink of water over there, even though you probably don't recognize her with all that distinguished coloring in her hair.
Kelley gave Alex an I'll get you back later look and smiled at the young woman who had been in high school the last time she had laid eyes on her. "You've changed a little yourself there Scoop."
"I have a feeling I'll be seeing a lot of people today who will look a lot different than they did the last time I saw them," Alex added.
Before the conversation got a chance to turn to the present, another voice from the past rang loud and clear into the room, "Hey there, "Little Sarge." Looks like I finally get to look up to you instead of the other way around." Alex turned to look into the face of a stout middle-aged Master Sergeant whose voice prompted her to unconsciously straighten her shoulders. Despite the drastic change in appearance of the owner of the voice, the coarse alto sound was as familiar as it had been when she was ten years old.
Alex's expression took on that of a surprised child, "Sarge! I don't believe it! Did Mom and Kelley send out their own separate announcements to this affair? What a great surprise!"
Open arms invitingly beckoned the younger woman to receive a huge hug. "When Kelley called I couldn't resist the temptation to see what my "Little Sarge" had become. It's really good to see you again, Alex, so grown up and beautiful."
Samantha smiled as she watched her lover blush in the teddy-bear arms of an old family friend.
"Damn, where are my manners?" She broke away from the strong arms and grabbed Samantha's hand. "Sarge this is my lover, Samantha and these are my friends Ray and Sonny -- everyone this is Sar . . . Jude."
"I'm glad to meet all of you. It's been a long time since I've seen this little girl here," She put her arm around Alex's shoulder, "and I can say from the heart that I'm mighty proud of the accomplishments she's made, according to what her parents have told me. I wouldn't have missed being here today for anything." The large woman smiled at the younger and then released her to go over and talk with Kelley.
Aurora finally found her way back to the now more populated area and was surprised at the new faces that had arrived in her absence. People started filing in slowly and soon everyone in the original party was busy showing someone around the new Center or pointing them in the direction of the refreshments. Even Sonny and Ray had become knowledgeable tour guides by the middle of the afternoon.
A few more old friends unexpected by Alex trickled in during the day, a couple of women Kelley used to play softball with, a writer friend of Aurora's, and a few of her favorite clients. Alex's friend
Marcy from San Diego showed up with her new girlfriend and they had a little time to chat while Alex showed them around the Center.
Samantha was otherwise occupied with invited guests, lecturers who wanted to see where they would be speaking, a massage therapist who wanted to see the massage rooms and some of the people she used to work with at Flying Fingers. Suzanne and Danny made a short appearance, looking rather uncomfortable until they spotted Samantha. She proudly gave them the royal tour and then marched them in the direction of the food. Suzanne couldn't believe the spread, and Danny had no problem with helping himself to the extravaganza.
Somewhere between showing people around and talking small talk, Samantha found the time to sneak off by herself and put Alex's paperweight on her desk. It seemed like such a small gift after the surprise Alex had materialized this morning, but it was heartfelt and she knew Alex would appreciate the thought.
She looked down at her dazzling ring and smiled. Since she had met Alex her life had definitely taken a turn for the best. She never dreamed she could be as happy as she was today and the future looked as though it was just going to keep getting better. She had been in a hurry from her own office to get Alex's present in it's place and decided to take a few extra minutes to go back and straighten up the small amount of clutter she had left.
Opening the door to her office she noticed that someone was in the room. "Excuse me, can I help . . ."
The person standing facing her desk quickly turned to face Samantha, "We meet again, Brat."
"You . . . what are you doing here? Who are you? Why do you keep calling me Brat?" Samantha was livid.
Penetrating feral eyes stared back at the small blonde who had been caught off guard, "It's an Open House, isn't it? I do believe that means that anyone walking along spotting the sign is more than welcome to come on in."
"Answer my questions! This is getting ridiculous." Sam's Irish was beginning to boil, churning a little bit of sourness into what had, up to now, been a marvelous day.
"Okay, Little One -- don't go getting yourself so upset." The tall, thin blonde slithered closer to Samantha, closing the door on her way by giving it a quick shove. "We're F-a-m-i-l-y, you and I."
"I don't think so," came the quick reply from the smaller woman as she tried to back away from the other but found herself cornered against a wall.
Playing with words the transgressor continued, "Oh, but we are, Sammie dear. Let's just say I'm a friend of an old friend."
"You're talking in riddles. I know I don't know you and Alex made no acknowledgment that she knew anything of you, either. So . . . who are you?" Samantha put out her hands to keep the taller woman from coming any closer, to no avail.
Samantha winced as strong, forceful hands grabbed her own outstretched ones, pinning her up against the wall. The taller woman bent down and brought their faces practically nose to nose. "You're a Brat because you get everything you want. We're family because I said so. This is my game and I intend to continue playing it, got that? I like keeping you in the dark; I like keeping everyone in the dark. I'm not finished with you yet Samantha. You'll know when I am. You need to suffer a little more first, get a real taste of the grown up world."
"Why?" Samantha almost cried, unable to stop the tears from forming in her eyes. "What did I ever do to You?" Samantha tried to wiggle away from the taller woman's grasp.
"Stop struggling, it's futile, the stronger woman pushed her entire body against Samantha's. "You don't want to make a scene now do you and ruin your lover's party?" the psychotic blonde sneered. "I'm not going to hurt you . . . Yet."
A sardonic grin crept across the face of the intruder, "You see, Samantha, you are just the means to the end, my ace in the hole! You just happened to get mixed up with the wrong person at the wrong time." She let go of one of Samantha's hands and took hold of her chin pulling her head back and her face up. She brought her own face ever so close to her victim's. "Tell Alex I said hello," she smirked, leaning even closer and planting a kiss on the soft lips of the terrorized woman in front of her. As Samantha tried to pull away the kiss turned into a bite, leaving an immediate bruise in the corner of Samantha's lip.
Smiling broadly the villainess released the fear-struck smaller woman, turned and opened the office door. "Nice place you have here, Samantha! I'd love to stay and play . . . but . . . Gotta Go!"
Samantha stared at the closed office door as she walked around the desk and sat down in her chair. She put her head in her hands and began sobbing uncontrollably. She couldn't imagine anyone being so evil just for the sake of being so. She didn't know the woman and still didn't even know her name. She knew she would have to quickly take advantage of all the lessons available to her at the Center so she would be able to at least protect herself if the woman got close to her again and got any more physical than she already had. She opened the top drawer and took out a small compact with a mirror. Examining her face she could see that the area of the bite was swollen and already of a slight purple color. How am I going to explain this to Alex?
There were almost more visitors than Alex had anticipated as she watched half the town of Laguna come through her doors. Of course the turn out was encouraging and she graciously showed each new group around or relayed them on to someone who was beginning a new tour. Others just milled around on their own admiring the view and the layout of the huge Center.
She had just finished giving a short talk to an excited group of rock climbers who were interested in the climbing wall. They were thrilled that they would be able to climb even during the rainy season and wouldn't have to go all the way to San Diego or one of the larger cities north of them to participate in the sport. Deciding to take a quick recess from the chaos, she slipped quietly into her office to catch her breath before she needed to be charming, smiling and social again. Coming around to the front of her desk she spotted a small silver foil wrapped box with a gold bow strategically placed directly in the middle of the desk. As she looked at the handwriting on the card she knew it was from Samantha. Smiling to herself, she opened the card. She could almost hear Samantha's voice as she read . . .
Yin/yang (My Forever Love)
All My Love Forever ~ Samantha
. . . with eyes misted over and trembling hands she opened the small box to find a yin/yang paperweight. One side of the design was done in a beautiful cream-colored mother of pearl and the other in the darker iridescent colors of an abalone shell. The poem alone was a beautiful gift but this was really special. What a perfect sentiment for the opening day of the Center. The opening of her door brought her quickly back to the present as Aurora walked into the room.
"Alexis, people have been looking all over for you, what are you doing in here alone?"
"I just needed a minute to myself, Mom." She held the paperweight out. "Look what Samantha had sitting on my desk waiting for me to find. She's really something Mom." The younger woman smiled at her Mother.
"Yes, Alex, I think you may have found the pot at the end of the rainbow this time," her Mother agreed. "I get really good vibes from Samantha. Maybe I can stop worrying a little about you now." She walked over and hugged her daughter. "I'm really proud of what you have accomplished. This place is going to be fantastic; I can feel it in my bones. But . . . the reason I came searching for you . . . Marge just arrived. You need to come out now and show her around."
"I will." Alex placed the paperweight back on the desk and put the card into her pocket. "I need to find Samantha first. I haven't seen her for a while."
"Alex, Marge is waiting . . ."
"I'll be there just as soon as I find Samantha, Mom. I'm sure you can keep her occupied until I do." She kissed her Mother on the cheek and escorted her out of the office, closing the door behind them.
Alex started looking over by the pool area, then went back to the climbing wall. She scanned the gym and still found no Samantha. Thinking perhaps that her lover may have also needed a moment of quiet reflection, she headed for the elevator and Samantha's office.
After skirting around several groups of people on the second floor and exchanging pleasantries, Alex finally succeeded in winding her way to Samantha's office. She opened the door and found the small blonde with her head down on the desk. At first glance it seemed as though she might have been napping but slowly the head raised and teary emerald eyes searched the only face she wanted to see. She had tried to cover up the bruise with makeup but could see from the look in her lover's eyes that the job had not been accomplished, most likely because of the swelling.
"What the Hell happened to your lip?" came the almost involuntary question. It was definitely not the way she had intended on greeting Samantha when she found her.
"I . . . ran into a door . . ." came the quiet response that was most certainly not the truth.
"And I have a bridge to sell you over the ocean in Arizona," Alex countered. "Seriously, Samantha," she walked over and lifted the smaller woman's chin to take a closer look at the bruise.
Samantha stood and threw her arms around her lover's waist, burying her head in Alex's chest. "That woman was here, Alex."
"What woman . . . the tall blonde who's been stalking you?"
"Yes," came the soft reply.
Alex's temper started to get the best of her as she took Samantha by the shoulders and looked her in the face, steel blue eyes shooting daggers at the wrong victim. "Why in Hell didn't you scream, or try to call for help? How did she get close enough to do this to you? How did she do this to you?" Unintentionally she was shaking Samantha as she vented emotions on her lover that were meant for the blonde enigma.
"Alex, you're hurting me," Samantha pleaded with her. She lifted her arms to break the hold the taller woman had on her. "I just walked into the office and she was standing at the desk. I asked her a couple questions but she refused to answer most of them. Then she was at me . . . she told me not to make noise and ruin the open house . . . it sounded logical . . ."
"Logical -- it sounded logical to let her do whatever she wanted to you without making a sound so as to not disturb a PARTY? Samantha what were you thinking?" Alex practically screamed at her.
"I guess I wasn't," Samantha yelled back.
"What did she hit you with that made a bruise only on your mouth? She could have knocked out a tooth!"
Samantha's eyes lowered as did her voice, "She didn't hit me, she bit me."
Alex looked puzzled. "Excuse, me . . . I don't think I heard you correctly." She lifted Samantha's chin to make eye contact which the smaller woman again avoided. "Samantha, did you say she bit you?"
"Yes," came the soft murmur.
At this point Alex was fuming, she grabbed Samantha by the shoulders. "How the HELL did she get close enough to bite you?" Just trying to imagine the scene made her blood pressure rise.
Samantha looked up into angry blue eyes, as her own began to tear again, "She had me pinned up against the wall. She's a lot stronger than I am, Alex. I felt totally helpless. She said, 'Tell Alex I said hello," then she began to kiss me . . . I struggled and tried to get away and she bit me." Tears were flowing freely by the time she finished the explanation and she tried to turn away from the almost skeptical stare of her irate lover.
"You don't Believe me! I can see it in your eyes! You don't Believe Me!" Samantha pulled away and started out of the room.
"No, Samantha," Alex quickly grabbed the smaller woman and turned her back around to face her. "Of course I believe you. It's just . . ." she shook her head and pulled Samantha close. "Of course I believe you . . . wait 'til I get my hands on that bitch, she'll learn to leave people alone."
"I'm so sorry, Alex. This has ruined an absolutely wonderful day for you," Samantha sobbed into her lover's chest.
"Don't be ridiculous, Honey. I'm sorry it had to happen to you. I'm sorry I wasn't around to stop her. But I'm here now, Samantha, I've got you and your safe now." She gently kissed the top of her lover's head and held her close. "I came to say thank you for the beautiful poem and paperweight."
Samantha looked up at Alex, a smile glistening through her tears, "Do you really like it?"
"Of course I do, silly. And the poem . . . I have no words to describe the way the poem made me feel except that you definitely can put my feelings into words. Come on now, let's go get you freshened up a little. We still have people to meet. A few more hours and we can kick back and relax. Marge just arrived and I can't wait for her to meet you." She smiled at Samantha and wiped away the last of the tears with her fingers. "A little makeup and the mark will be hardly noticeable to someone who doesn't love you." Bending down she kissed the abused corner of her lover's mouth. "I love you more than life, Samantha. I promise I will avenge this violation."
"Oh, Alex, I would rather that we never set eyes on her again, but I know that isn't to be the case. She said she wasn't finished with me yet. I think I need to start taking some self-defense lessons as soon as possible."
Totally agreeing with the small blonde Alex suggested she enroll in the first class the Center had to offer and promised to work with her in the evenings when they had time. In her mind's eye she played her version of what would happen the next time the blonde stranger appeared. She would be there to protect Samantha. She would make sure it was the last time the interloper had a chance to upset her, or anyone else for that matter.
The crowd was beginning to thin and the day was finally coming to a close. They stopped to let Samantha wash her face and apply some makeup to the bruise then proceeded back downstairs to the gym area.
Everyone in their little group was gathered over by the buffet tables, finally getting a chance to stop entertaining visitors and indulge themselves in some of the delicacies everyone else had been enjoying all day. Aurora was standing with a glass of champagne in one hand and a plate in the other when the two younger women walked into the room. She handed her plate to Kelley, who gave her a, "What do you want me to do with this?" look, and marched over to the prodigal duo.
"Where have you girls been? I was just about to send out a rescue party." Looking first at Alex and then at Samantha, a small frown appeared on her face. "Samantha, is something wrong? You look as though you've been crying . . . what happened to your mouth?"
"Mom," Alex chided.
"What?" Aurora countered.
"Aurora, it's okay," Samantha began, "I'm a bit of a klutz at times and walked into an open cabinet, nothing big, just annoying and ugly to look at." She touched the offended area and gave the older woman a half-hearted smile.
Aurora walked over and gave her a hug. "Well, it doesn't look all that bad. Once the swelling goes down you won't even notice it. Here, have some champagne, that will take away the sting of it at least." Turning she gave Alex a raised eyebrow that expressly told her daughter that she didn't believe a word of what the small blonde had just said and that she expected to be told the truth at a later time.
"Well, you're here now," Aurora continued, "Come on Samantha, I want you to meet one of my oldest friends," she smiled and whispered into the younger woman's ear, "And I do mean that exactly as it sounds." She marched Samantha away from Alex and started across the room.
Samantha knew the person Aurora was talking about had to be Marge. From the direction they were headed it could only be the woman standing over by the buffet chatting with Sonny, Ray and Kelley, looking like she was waiting for someone. She kept glancing at her watch as if she had an appointment and was running late. She did not match what Samantha had imagined. In her mind's eye she had visualized a bigger than life personality, strong enough to mold a willful personality like Alex's into a successful business tycoon. The woman before her could not have been more than 5'1" tall, but she did have an aura about her, the way she stood perhaps, that did seem to carry an air of authority.
As they approached the frown on the woman's face disappeared and a smile took its place. She reached out a hand. "This must be my Alex's Samantha." Her handshake was warm and firm. "I've hear a lot about you, girl," she smiled at the younger woman. "So, you are going to be the second in command in this little venture of ours?"
"Samantha," Aurora interjected, "This -- if you haven't already guessed, is Marge Silkton. She just wanted to make an appearance today to see the finished Center and to meet you." Aurora grinned at Samantha, knowing the last statement would probably cause the small blonde to blush.
"It's great to meet you Ms. Silkton . . ."
"Marge, call me Marge, Samantha," the older woman interrupted.
"Marge then . . . Alex has told me so much about you. She thinks the world of you," Samantha admitted for her lover.
"The feeling is mutual, my dear. Alex is very close to my heart, she's the daughter I never had. And . . . she was My second in command until this little Center of ours came into fruition. Now, I can't even stay for dinner because I have to go tend to a client in Santa Fe who would have originally been taken care of by someone who is now otherwise occupied." She smiled broadly to let Samantha know she was only kidding.
"Speaking of my nonexistent second in command . . . Where is my little entrepreneur? She needs to give me a tour around this place." Looking around she spotted Alex talking to a small group of people who were getting ready to leave. She caught the younger woman's eye and motioned at her watch. Alex nodded and walked the group to the front door, hurrying the goodbyes as diplomatically as was possible.
It wasn't long before the rest of the visitors trickled out of the building leaving just "the family" and the wait staff. Once they were told the party was over the staff had everything packed up and ready to leave within the hour. It felt a little strange to see the left over balloons, crepe paper and streamers hanging around in the now empty gym that had been bustling with people just a bit ago. Kelley, Aurora, Ray and Sonny went upstairs, leaving Alex and Samantha to do the locking up.
The two women stood looking out at the dusk colored sky in silence. The day had not turned out exactly as planned with the little interruption that had taken place near the end of the day but the beginning had been joyous and hopefully the ending would be the same.
"You certainly got your share of pleasant surprises today, 'Little Sarge,' Samantha broke the silence with a giggle.
"Oh, yeah. But don't think you can go using that old nickname on me."
"I'll bet you had a lot of other nicknames, too, didn't you." Samantha prompted.
"Yes, but you don't need to know them all! Some are quite embarrassing. I'm sure as time goes by Mom will make sure you know all of them and the little stories that went along with them." Alex put her arm around Samantha's shoulder and drew her close.
"Your friends seem very interesting, Alex, especially the photographer. I think she got some really good shots of the Center and of us. I can't wait to see the proofs. It was nice of her to come and surprise you like she did. It's a shame they all couldn't stay longer. We'll have to have another party soon and make sure to invite them all back."
"Scoop and I had been pretty close in high school but with all the traveling we've been doing lately we lost touch like a lot of friends do. Leave it to Mom to bring everyone back into the fold on a special occasion like today. She's really good at stuff like that, it's one of her best traits, and I love her for it. A party sounds great as soon as we get over all this initial opening stuff and get settled a little."
Samantha sighed, "Both your parents seem to be very attentive to your needs, Alex. Maybe it's because you're an only child. You really are a very lucky daughter to have people who love you so deeply. Watching them interact is very interesting, they seem like night and day . . . kind of like the two of us . . . I hope that's a good sign that we will last as long as a couple as they have. There's a quiet tenderness in the way they still look at each other. It's like a smoldering kind of love that continues to burn long after the intense heat of the bonfire is extinguished." She looked down at the ring on her finger and smiled, then looked back up at Alex and kissed her. "We had best get back upstairs with family and friends before someone comes searching for us."
"Yes, but first let me properly thank you for the lovely gift you left for me today. The mood was spoiled the first time I tried." The taller woman drew the small blonde closer to her, looking deep into green pools that reflected back the love that glowed in her own eyes. "I love you Samantha."
Gently she tilted the face she adored closer to her as she leaned down to tenderly kiss the soft full lips. Samantha's half opened mouth accepted the tongue that flicked softly around the inside of her mouth. She moaned as Alex's tongue intertwined with her own. Samantha's tongue in return ventured to find an eagerly awaiting open mouth. The sweetness of the kiss elicited love bumps over her entire body. She pulled her tongue back, and broke the kiss, her knees buckling beneath her.
"By the Gods Alex, we have to go upstairs and face you parents and our friends. All I want to do is stay down here and be engulfed by your love. You are making a nymphomaniac out of me, do you realize that?" she giggled.
A huge grin was her answer as Alex picked her up and carried her over to the mat that they had awakened on this morning. She laid her down and placed her own body on top of her lover's.
"No you don't, Alex Dorian." Samantha protested, pulling her dress back down over her thighs. "I will Not have family or friends innocently coming down in that elevator and happening upon a sight I do not wish to share with anyone!"
"What a party pooper you are!" Alex pouted.
"You wouldn't continue with what you started any more than I would let you," Samantha responded. "You're just being a big tease."
"Bet me," came the response as a hand slipped back up Samantha's leg and into the elastic of her panties. Quick fingers found the soft wet area beneath the golden curls.
"Alex!" Samantha yelled and then lowered her voice, "If you don't stop that this instant, I won't let you continue later."
"But . . . that was almost a dare, and I never pass up a dare." The dark-haired beauty teased, not moving her hand from its destination.
"It wasn't a dare Alex and if you don't stop, I'll be forced to . . ."
Simultaneously they heard the clank of the elevator as it stopped on the silent first floor. Alex jumped up, pulling Samantha with her.
"See," the smaller woman whispered, "I told you we'd get caught this time."
Alex just smiled and started toward the elevator, reaching a hand out behind her back for Samantha to grab on to.
As usual, Kelley had been chosen to come and get the girls and find out what was taking them so long. She made sure to make a lot of noise with the elevator doors and getting out of the elevator as she could still remember what it was like when love was new and didn't really want to walk in on anything. "Okay, kids . . . time to join the rest of the crowd," she called ahead as she walked toward the gym only to be quickly met by Alex trailing a slightly blushing Samantha behind her.
"We've all decided that there wasn't enough food at the party to tide us all over til morning so we're going for a late dinner. It's come as you are or you can dress down, whatever you want," the older woman informed the two younger smiling. "Sonny's talking your Mother's head off, telling her all about your trip to San Francisco and the new addition to their gym. Ray is watching TV and I got to come and get you two."
"Well, weren't you the lucky one," came the sarcastic reply from her daughter, "I know you would have just loved to have stayed and listened to Sonny go on and on and on . . ."
"Don't be a smart ass, Alex. By the way you two really pulled off an amazing Open House. I think everything went smoothly and everybody seemed to enjoy themselves. I do believe you will have a huge turnout when you open up for business. So, next week you're having orientation for your employees, right?"
"Yes," Alex answered. "I've asked everyone who is going to be working with us, including some of the instructors to come by Tuesday morning to get acquainted with the areas where they will be working. We have a few regular employees and then a clean up crew that will come nightly. Between Samantha and I we should be able to have everyone situated by the end of the week and be able to open up the following Monday."
"Looks like it's going to be another busy week ahead then." Kelley turned to the newest addition to her family. "Didn't you say your parents were coming in on Friday, Samantha?"
"Yeah, they're coming for the Pageant of the Masters so we will be making a double trip to the program."
Kelley looked over at her daughter with a half-grin, "You ought to be full of culture by the end of next week."
"Stop gloating," Alex mock commanded. "Or I'll find something that only Mom would like and buy tickets for the both of you."
"Okay, okay -- truce. We had better be getting back upstairs before they send Ray down to find me as well as you two," the older woman suggested.
The rest of the evening seemed to speed by. Dinner was casual and fun, the conversation flitted between a variety of topics including the Open House, the San Francisco trip, the business, Sonny and Ray's business, Kelley's brokerage and how California real estate kept escalating. There was never a dull moment and never a pause in the conversation. They closed the restaurant and headed back to the house to continue visiting.
It was almost three when Kelley finally called it an evening for all. Ray was sound asleep on the couch, she and Alex had just finished going over some of the financial aspects of the business and the other three were still sitting on the floor in the living room, pillows propped up all around them, drinking their wine and talking.
"Okay, "girls" -- we all have a busy day and night tomorrow. What do you say we get some shut eye before the sun comes back up?"
After a few whines and whimpers, everyone got themselves together and headed off to their various bedrooms. Samantha had gone into the bathroom and Aurora pulled Alex out into the hall, telling her to walk with her to their rooms.
"Okay, what gives?" her Mother questioned.
"What do you mean?" came the evasive response from her daughter.
"Alexis, don't play me for a fool! What happened to Samantha's mouth. You didn't think I'd forget that quickly did you? I know she didn't run into an open cabinet. I'm not that stupid. You two didn't . . ."
"Don't even start to go there, Mom! Samantha and I Don't have that kind of relationship. This is not Nikki all over again. I won't be in that ever again!" The vehement look on her daughter's face rang true to what Aurora felt in her heart, but she had to ask the question that had been burning in her since she first saw the bruise on the young blonde's mouth.
"Well, I'm certainly glad to hear that. I thought as much, but . . . never mind . . . so what did happen to her?"
Alex filled her Mother in on most of what the problem was, explaining that they really didn't know what the problem was and that she was sure there would soon be a climax to the entire situation. She intended to be with Samantha the next time something happened and end the escapade once and for all. Aurora warned Alex not to get too physical and not to go beyond the law when it came to taking care of the culprit. Alex explained as calmly as she could that she had every intention of getting even with the stranger for hurting Samantha but that she had no intentions of landing in jail over the situation. With her mind put at rest Aurora kissed Alex good night and told her that she and Kelley were proud of the way everything had been handled so far in the Center. Alex said good night to her Mother at the door and yelled in a good night to Kelley who yelled back. She shut the door and hurried back to Samantha to spend a few minutes alone before the evening was entirely over.
Samantha was standing in her favorite spot, in front of the middle window in the living room, looking out over the ocean. She heard soft footsteps enter the room and without turning around knew her lover was near. The sweet fragrance of Obsession permeated the air around Alex and as she drew near the odor intensified, filling Samantha with a soft, glowing feeling. "I love Laguna Nights, here alone with you. I look out at the ocean and the beach and feel like we are kin to those two parcels of Mother Earth. Look how the ocean cannot keep from touching the shore, that's how I feel whenever you are near. If two such miracles can respond in this way to each other, there can be nothing wrong with us, as mere mortals, following suit and doing the same toward one of our own.
A slight touch on her shoulder created a tingling sensation that moved quickly down her back. She turned to look up into the face of her dark angel who leaned down to receive a kiss.
"It's been a busy day, My Destiny," Alex whispered, "tomorrow will prove to be no less. I think we should turn in and get some sleep while we can."
The two lovers took one last look at the view they both loved before turning in. They each caught sight of the falling star that the heavens had sent as a good night gesture. Two identical wishes were made as they clasped hands and walked toward the bedroom.
Go on to Chapter Sixteen