All disclaimers may be found in Chapter 1


Sedona Rain

Carole Giorgio: WomynBard@aol.com


Chapter 3

The relaxation of the day before assured that Alex would be up before the sun. Surprisingly, Samantha was up not long after.

Standing in the bathroom holding Rainbow, Alex teased, "See little one, your mommy can get her butt out of bed while the sun is still shining all by herself when she wants to."

"Don't be a smart ass, Alex," Samantha countered, a smile barely visible on her face. "I could always turn right around and go Back to bed, you know; I would have no trouble doing that."

"Okay, truce!" Going nose-to-nose with the black ball of fluff she added, "Sorry Mommy is so grouchy when she does join the land of the living early, Rainbow."

"That does it," Samantha threw a damp rag at the already dressed executive. Of course it was caught and immediately tossed back in the direction from whence it came.

"No more I give up." Alex threw her hands in the air, feigning surrender.

"Yeah, right." The small blonde turned and continued grooming. "You're just lucky my toothbrush wasn't full." She smiled into the mirror, watching out of the corner of her eye as Alex headed toward the kitchen. "First one dressed makes breakfast." She yelled to no one in particular.

"Don't I always?" thundered into the room from the vicinity of the living room.

"Yeah, mostly always," Samantha whispered with a smile as she left the bathroom and finished getting dressed. "You get the easy stuff."

"I heard that!"

"Heard what?"

"Just finish up and get in here. We'll actually have a little free time before opening up, so you want a complete breakfast instead of toast-and-run?"

"Actually, after last night's activity, that sounds scrumptious." She walked into the kitchen and gave Alex a peck on the cheek. "Here let me help, that will get us finished sooner."

"Okay you do the juice, set the table, butter the toast, and I'll do the cooking."

"How butch of you!"

"Hey, watch that you'll talk yourself right out of a breakfast maker, if you're not careful."

"Nah, you love doing it after all it's basically the only thing you can cook. How in Tartarus did you manage before I came along?"

"Ever hear of Cup O'Noodles or pizza? I think I must have been the sole support of at least half the employees at the pizzeria. And of course there was always dining out."

"Alone?"

"Do you really want me to answer that one, Samantha?"

"Subject changing time," the small blonde acknowledged.

"Agreed."

By the time they'd finished the repartee, the meal was completed and the two sat down to an early morning breakfast. The sky was a baby powder blue with soft glowing pink clouds floating above the calm Pacific. The beach was deserted as usual, save for a scattering of sea gulls catching their morning meals. Had they snapped a picture from the penthouse, it could surely have been entitled Paradise'.

Soon it was time to go down and open the Center, but Samantha seemed to be dallying, finding unnecessary chores to do to occupy her time.

"Samantha, I've been ready to go for a half hour now, but every time I suggest we get going you find something else that absolutely has to be done immediately. Do you want me to go on down and you come when the apartment meets your standards?" She sounded a little testy but it was already 9:45; people would be arriving in 15 minutes and she liked opening up before the first employee arrived at the front door.

"You know, that sounds like a good idea. Why don't you go ahead down I'll be along shortly. I don't really have anything pressing to do this early anyway." She avoided meeting the blue eyes, which possessed the gift of seeing into her soul.

Alex walked over to kiss her good bye when she realized that the small blonde was not even attempting to meet her half way.

"Hey, did I do something wrong between the time we ate and now?"

"No." Samantha finally looked her lover in the face. "I'm just a little pre-occupied."

It hit home all at once and she felt like an absolute idiot. She should have realized when Samantha didn't have to be dragged out of bed that something was amiss. Between loving making last night and breakfast this morning the situation completely slipped her mind.

"Okay," the tall executive started. "No more excuses and no more putting the inevitable off." She tilted the shorter woman's head so their eyes could meet. "There is no getting around having to deal with Angel today, Samantha. You're a good diplomat. You're making the situation worse by dwelling on it."

Misty green eyes stared back at her, threatening to spill tears onto the face she adored. "Stop that. You're being silly."

"I've been thinking about it since we finished the dishes," the small blonde started. "I don't want to be angry with her, but on the other hand, what she did wasn't right and even though she was drunk, the feelings must have been there when she was sober, or they wouldn't have surfaced when her inhibitions were diminished. So, it seems that I'm having a harder time coping than I thought I would." She let her chin fall to her chest; a sigh of exasperation escaped her partially closed lips.

"Listen, Samantha, basically the ball is in your court. You're the coach and you're calling the shots. If you don't like the way the star shooter is playing fire her."

"Fire her!?"

"You hear me, fire her."

"Ball, court, coach, shots Alex I'm not a team player, never have been. I don't handle predicaments like this easily."

"Okay, let me put it this way. You're the playwright, and you're also the director. The camera's rolling and the actress, who is playing the town slut, is on stage. If you don't like her rendition of the character fire her." She smiled broadly, pleased with her quick thinking and being able to put the terms into ones Samantha could easily associate with. Alex could see that her desired effect was reached when the smaller woman's look of anguish disappeared.

Samantha smiled up into the face of her hero, stood on her toes and kissed her gently on the cheek. "Thank you for putting that little problem into perspective. I do believe I'm ready to go to work now. I still have a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach knowing that she has a large crush on you, but I think I'll be able to deal with it." She put her arm around her lover's waist as they walked to the elevator. "Especially knowing that I have the power to Fire Her!"

"Please don't wield that power unless it's absolutely necessary, she's the best PTA I've seen in a long time and I would play hell replacing her."

The lift reached the second floor, the four-day weekend was at an end, and Tuesday morning was staring them in the face. Alex gave Samantha one more kiss as the doors opened for the blonde to exit.

"Samantha, when you get to your office, could you call the restaurant and tell them they can pick up the dishes anytime they're ready?"

"Sure, no problem. See ya in a bit; have a good morning." She gave a small wave as she turned and headed in the direction of her office. The elevator and the executive resumed descending to the first floor, and business began as usual.

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

Even though she knew the advantage was in her corner, her stomach still churned every time she thought about her unavoidable meeting with the feisty Italian, which was destined to happen sometime today. She didn't know whether or not Angel would venture up to her office or if she should instigate the meeting by going down to the PT Clinic. Deciding to finish up some paperwork, she merely postponed the inevitable.

Looking up at the clock she was surprised to find that it was almost noon. Sam was caught up on everything she needed accomplished in her office, so now would be as good a time as any to start lunch. She'd just run down to the first floor and see if Alex was going to be free in about a half an hour. She decided to take the stairs for the exercise and as she walked past the gym area she spotted Angel busy treating a patient. Luck is with me, she thought, I don't have to deal just yet. Continuing on to Alex's office, she tapped on the door in case her lover was in the middle of a meeting of some sort. No need looking presumptuous, Samantha.

"Come in, the door's open,"

"Hi." The blonde smiled at her lover who was sitting at her impressive desk the epitome of a successful executive, and why not she was. "Thought I'd ask if it was close to lunchtime for you." Samantha walked over and sat on the edge of the desk.

Alex covered the smaller woman's hand with her own. "Sure . . ." She was about to lean over and give Samantha a kiss, when there was a knock on the door.

"Door's open."

Samantha started to slide off the desk, but Alex put an arm on her leg and stopped her. "You're fine, stay there," she whispered.

The door opened and in walked Angel. Her dark brown eyes met brilliant green, and even through the dark olive skin, the woman behind the desk and the woman sitting on the desk could see a rush of blood beginning to tint the small woman's cheeks a slight rose color.

"I didn't mean to interrupt, I just needed . . ."

"No interruption, I was just leaving to start lunch," Samantha began as she squeezed Alex's hand and proceeded to stand. "By the way, Angel, would you like to join us for lunch today?" Imitating her lover she arched an eyebrow as she stared intently in the direction of the small Italian.

Angel cleared her throat before answering. "Um . . . why, sure . . . I guess. Ah, yeah . . . sounds great. I can get away in about 25 minutes would that be okay?"

Samantha's smile was saccharine. "Twenty-five minutes would be just fine; you know where to find me. I'll buzz you up when you're ready." She leaned over and gave Alex a passionate kiss then whispered into her ear, "You want to come up or sit this one out?"

Unable to contain her grin the dark-haired executive shook her head slightly, "Think I'll have a late lunch; you girls go ahead without me."

Samantha nodded approval, then turned and walked toward the door, giving Angel a slight nod as she passed. Upon reaching the door she turned and reiterated, "See you in 25 minutes, Angel.

"Sure thing, Samantha." The small dark woman swallowed hard then turned back around to explain to her boss the reason for the intrusion.

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

Exactly 25 minutes to the second later Samantha heard the anticipated buzz of the intercom. At least she's punctual!

Sam walked over to the door and buzzed her up. Leaving the door ajar, she went back into the kitchen to put the finishing touches on her luncheon.

A timid knock was heard on the doorframe, as the olive-skinned woman stood poised at the door. "Hi . . . Samantha."

"Come on in Angel and have a seat at the table. Everything's ready."

"Cool."

Samantha decided to show off her culinary expertise making her own rendition of cob salad, using shrimp, cheese, bacon bits and avocado and of course leaving out the ham. It was definitely eye appealing and she was rather pleased with herself. As she walked toward the table carrying both dishes, Angel rose offering assistance.

"That's okay I can manage." She sat one plate down in front of Angel, the other on her own place mat. "I don't have a large variety of drinks to offer; there's water, herb tea, or juice. I've discouraged soda in the house. The only way I can keep Alex from drinking it is to not buy any."

"Water's fine."

"You sure?"

"Positive! This looks great, Samantha."

"Thanks, I just need to get the drinks and crackers." In less than a minute she was back at the table with the beverages. It was difficult to ascertain which of the two was the more uncomfortable. Neither seemed to want to establish eye contact.

Finally, Samantha spoke, "Mangiare, Angel, mangiare," she coaxed.

"Hey, it almost looks too good to eat. This is really great, Samantha." Nervousness was not a usual state for Angel and she wasn't handling hiding the fact that she was not very comfortable. Damn, I should have told her I had a previous appointment dumb dago! Look sincere, apologize and get it the Hell over with!

"Um, Samantha," Angel began picking at her food. "Did'ya get the plant I sent yesterday?" Fuck! You know damn well she did, it's sitting right there on the counter.

"Yes, it arrived almost before we were out of bed," Go ahead rub it in. "It's sitting over there on the counter. I thought I'd take it down to my office this afternoon. It's rather lovely, thank you Angel." She noted that the small Italian was playing with her food. "Don't you like salad?"

"Yeah, I like salad fine, and this is good. It's just that this situation is a little embarrassing and my appetite is not what it usually is."

"Uh, huh." The blonde mumbled, also beginning to toy with her food, something that Samantha seldom did. That's right, you don't want to make it too easy for her now do you? You're enjoying this too much, Samantha!

"Ya know . . . I could really use a beer right now . . . do ya have one, Samantha?"

"Isn't that what got you into this predicament, Angel?"

"Yeah, an overabundance of it, but I really could use one to get through this luncheon or I could just leave." Don't be stupider than you already sound nice going asking her for a damn beer. Ah, shut up one beer isn't going to hurt anything! "Ya know, I know I was a jerk, and I know you're the boss, but this isn't easy for me . . . and it's not Really work related . . . and I could sure use a crutch so, could you cut me a little slack, Samantha?" she pleaded.

"Sure, I could do that." Not looking at the woman sitting across from her, Samantha got up and went into the kitchen. Well at least you know she's nervous. Stop it Samantha this is not funny. Yeah, I know but it feels good to have her where I was the other night . . . with the control taken out of her hands. Come to think of it, I guess neither one of us was in control.

She got out a Dos Equis for Angel and poured herself a glass of wine. Giving the olive-skinned woman the beer she sat back down across from her. "Have many more patients today?"

"Actually I don't have another until about 5:30 this afternoon, so don't worry about the beer and work."

"I wasn't worried, Alex says you're good at your job."

"I don't know how to start, Samantha. I've never done this before. I guess the easiest way is to just come out and say that I'm really sorry and it will never happen again." Eyes as dark as night searched those as cold as stone, looking for a hint of forgiveness, a sparkle to let her know that things would get better.

Malachite eyes glared at the woman sitting across from her. "You know, I could say that's okay' and make you feel better, but I'd be lying. I don't feel that what happened was okay. I guess my biggest concern is that it Wasn't just the alcohol. I believe there was more to that display than processed hops. So, maybe that's what you need to tell me Angel. Am I going to have to run interference between you and my lover or are you through trying to win Alex over in that respect?"

"Maybe this conversation was not such a good idea." Angel started to push away from the table almost indignantly. "Maybe we should do this some other . . ."

"No, Angel . . . no other time . . . it's now or never. It's here or nowhere. So you better get ready for a bit of discomfort or take the coward's way out and leave. But if you leave . . . if you walk out now . . . keep on walking and don't bother coming back for that 5:30 patient."

"You can't be seri . . ."

"I'm as serious as a heart attack, as the saying goes. We settle this little conversation between the two of us right here and now or it never gets settled, and you can head back to San Diego or wherever it is you would go from here. I'm not about to have an employee trying to put the make on Alex. And, you and I are going to have some kind of working relationship if you intend to continue working here. So do you want to start convincing me or would you like to leave?" Sam sat back and took a sip of her wine, waiting for a response.

Dark eyes looked respectfully in the direction of the small blonde. "You know Samantha, you have a lot of spunk. I took you for a push-over, a wimp; I can see now that I was wrong." She shifted slightly in her seat, taking a large gulp from the bottle in her hand. Straightening her back she inhaled deeply. "I'm truly sorry for what happened Samantha. Truthfully, between you me and the wall, I've had a crush on Alex since the day I met her."

"Truthfully Angel that's been no secret. You're not very discreet in the way you respond to Alex."

"Probably because I always thought there might have been a chance for me."

Samantha was taken back by the honesty of the statement and the surprise showed on her face.

"I'm just trying to get everything out in the open, so we don't have to deal with this again. Listen, Samantha, I didn't know you from Eve when I came to interview for the job. I didn't even know you existed how would I have known? I didn't know Alex was gay, but that didn't stop what I felt. When I first heard Alex's voice over the phone, I practically cream . . . never mind."

Samantha chuckled at the confession that started to slip from the employee's lips. "I know what you mean about her voice," the blonde admitted. "And as for seeing Alex for the first time, I'm sure that reaction is . . . well, since you're being so honest . . . I thought she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen when I first saw her, so I can't blame you for that, either."

"Good . . ."

Samantha interrupted, "What I can fault you for is continuing to pursue her after you knew that we were a couple. Especially with you working for us."

Angel looked Samantha squarely in the eyes. "Again, all I can say is that I'm sorry. I have a big ass ego and I always felt that people who didn't at least try to go for what they wanted were losers to begin with. How do you know you can't win if you never try? Of course, had I not been sloshed I would have never pulled a stunt like that, especially in front of you. What I didn't think about was that I would lose all the way around my job and any possibility of having the two of you as friends. I can see now how devoted Alex is to you and that's as it should be." She leaned back in her chair and finished off the bottle of beer.

"Maybe what they say about everything turning out for the best is true." There was a pause before Angel continued. "At least now you know that I was attracted to Alex."

"Actually, I already knew that . . ."

"Yeah, but now I've got it out of my system I've been put in my place, so to speak, and know I don't stand a chance in Hell of ever getting to first base with her. By the way, my friends reiterated word-for-word what Alex said to me the other night; believe me when I tell you that makes me feel about six inches tall. Samantha, I love my job, and I want to keep it. I don't want either one of you for an enemy."

Like a cleansing wave, satisfaction rolled over the small blonde as she sat there looking at the woman seated across from her. The final direction of the scene that was now to be played out was in her hands. She could either accept the performance on the player's merits or fire the woman. It was almost scary to have that much power over another human being's life.

Having said all she could think of to rectify the harm that had been done, Angel sat quietly, looking out at the ocean and watching the seagulls play in the waves on the beach below. Her heart was racing wildly as she waited for a response. She had just groveled for the new life she was making for herself here in Laguna and was still kicking herself for allowing the situation to ever get to this point.

"Angel?"

Involuntarily the dark-haired woman jumped, as a hand reached out and touched her arm, bringing her back to the present. Looking into soft emerald eyes, she could understand why Alex found this gentlewoman such a treasure and felt like the fool all over again for not having wanted to be Samantha's friend. She didn't need to be alienating the only people she knew in town.

"Yeah?"

"I confess that the other night I wanted nothing more than to practice my Tai Kwon Doe on you," Samantha began with the trace of a smile lighting up her face. "But Alex, as usual, expertly took care of the situation. I was angry with you for wanting the same thing I wanted. It took quite a bit of self-realization before I could revamp my mind to deal with the fact that I was in love with someone who would be desired probably by a lot more people than you before my lifetime is over. More importantly, I needed to realize that Alex had already chosen me to spend her life with. You see, Angel, I finally concluded that I can't go around getting mad at people simply because they find Alex attractive it's a fact she is. I have a lot of growing to do, and I need to be able to feel confident enough about my relationship with Alex to not let petty crushes eat at me."

She looked Angel directly in the eyes. "I can understand how you felt and maybe even what you did I've already walked that mile in your shoes. I can forgive your indiscretion this time, Angel. But if you want to remain an employee here, like you have implied that you do, and if you want to try to establish some base of friendship between the two of Us, then I need to believe that you will never make a pass at Alex again. I also need to believe that you want to be friends with both of us, not just with Alex. If that's not the case and you feel that the two of us could never be friends, then I've come to the conclusion that friendship isn't a necessity for you to continue working here, I've . . ."

"That's enough Sam, I know what you're trying to say and I promise I won't be making that same mistake again. I knew in my heart how Alex felt about you before I ever pulled that drunken stunt. She makes no bones about the fact that you are her world, and you're right, you do need a little more confidence in your relationship, in yourself, and maybe even in the fact that Alex would never do anything to hurt you. At first I didn't think I wanted to be your friend because I wanted so desperately to be Alex's, but that's changed. I don't usually ask for second chances, it's the Italian pride I guess, but this time I am. So to finalize this I would like to continue working for Alternative Paradise and be a friend to both you and Alex."

The two women sat for a few minutes, each mulling over all that the other just confided in her. The view from the window worked its magic at calming down two quickly beating hearts as they watched the rhythmic ebb and flow of the ocean to the shore. Finally the small blonde broke the silence.

"So I guess that's that. You think now you might be able to put a dent in that gorgeous lunch I slaved over?"

"Yeah, I think maybe my appetite has returned a little." There was a sparkle in the brown eyes that had been missing during the entire conversation up to this point.

Small talk filled the air as the two began to reacquaint with each other, steering clear of topics concerning the absent executive; the sting was still a little too fresh to embark on discussion in that area. They spoke of accomplishments and aspirations, appreciating that each of them possessed high hopes for the future.

In the middle of a sentence, Samantha glanced down at her watch. "By the Gods, it's almost 2:45." She looked back up into smiling brown eyes. "Oh, yeah . . . The Gods . . . my passion is mythology, Greek literature, Sappho . . ."

"I caught the drift."

"Anyway, I have a few phone calls that need to be made this afternoon. I don't mean to cut this short but . . ."

"No problem. You want some help with the clean-up before I go?"

"No I'll just put the stuff in the dishwasher, I cleaned up the majority of the mess before you got here."

"Well," Angel stood and held out her hand to the small blonde.

Samantha stood and came around the table. "I do believe "family" does this instead of a handshake." She put her arms out in the gesture to receive a hug and the other woman reciprocated.

"I'm glad we were able to resolve this difference, Angel."

"I feel the same way Sam. Thanks for being so understanding."

"You're welcome." Please don't make me out to be a fool, she thought to herself.

Just as they were about to release from the friendly embrace a deep clearing of a throat was heard from the vicinity of the doorway.

"Ah ha. Thought I'd come up to see the two of you pulling each other's hair out and what do I see instead the two of you hugging. So . . . do I need to have a talk with someone?"

"As if!" Samantha was the first to answer, meeting her lover halfway across the room and throwing her arms around Alex's waist.

"Well, it looked quite incriminating and . . ."

"Don't go there Alex," Angel chimed in. "It was a family' hug, I was just leaving." Her eyes sparkled, as she looked pleased to be back in everyone's good graces.

"You two took long enough. I assume all's well by the looks of things?" She looked down into twinkling emerald eyes. "I couldn't wait any longer, I'm starving. You said you bring me something down. My stomach thinks my mouth has gone on strike."

"I'm sorry, Alex. Your salad is in the refrigerator, I'll get it." She nodded goodbye to Angel and went to retrieve the overdue lunch.

"I've still got some time before my next patient I'll see ya downstairs, Alex." She started to walk by the executive but stopped and looked up into radiant blue eyes. "Listen, Samantha and I have worked everything out. I know I owe you an apology as well . . ."

"Hey, if you and Samantha are on okay terms with everything, then you can consider me included. I've done the I'm sorry' story from being drunk more times than I'd care to admit. Frankly, I'm just glad my ace employee is still just that." Her eyes danced as she smiled at the small woman in front of her.

"Thanks, Alex." Glancing over to the kitchen Angel waved. "Thanks for lunch, Samantha."

"You're welcome. See you later."

"Yeah, bye."

"Okay you," Samantha addressed her lover. "Here's your lunch."

"Looks great." Alex sat down at the table. "So . . . fill me in."

Samantha plopped down in the chair next to Alex and while the executive ate her late lunch, the smaller woman verbally re-enacted the entire conversation that had preceded her entrance.

When Samantha finally wound down and brought the discussion to an end, it was with the positive conclusion that she and Angel would be able to work things out and that she didn't have a problem with giving the olive-skinned woman a second chance. Alex already assumed that had been the decision when she walked in and found the two women embracing. She breathed a sigh of relief that Angel's termination would not be forthcoming. Having to hired a new physical therapy assistant was not something she anticipated having to do this soon after getting Angel broken in and having to fire her would surely have messed up Alex's vacation plans. It was a necessity to have someone in the clinic who knew how she liked things handled, someone who knew the patients and who was comfortable working with little to no supervision. If she was nothing else, Angel was efficient and knowledgeable when it came to physical therapy and extremely responsible in her job duties. Alex found, over the short amount of time the Center had been open, that the small Italian was a definite asset to the clinic and she would have hated to have been forced to terminate her because of something stupid the small dark woman had done when she was drunk.

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

The remainder of the week sped by, with Samantha becoming increasingly excited about the trip down to La Jolla. She insisted they make out a schedule so she would have some idea as to what they were going to do and when. Alex loved the way Samantha's face lit up when she thought of someplace new or an activity she wanted to add to the list. The dark-haired woman worried that the small blonde would be upset when she found out that almost none of the La Jolla events would come to fruition on this trip to the southern tip of California. At least it would be easy to plan a second venture south, after all she knew exactly where Samantha wanted to go and some of what she wanted to do.

Secretly, Alex compiled her own agenda, one she diligently worked on finishing when her lover was not around. She needed to have a concrete plan of where they were Really going and what they were actually going to be doing on the 10 days they would be absent from the clinic. Her excitement was growing along with Samantha's and she realized about midweek that this vacation was going to be as much for her as it was for the birthday girl. It had been years since Alex had taken a real vacation, and even though there would be a little business worked into the 10 day trip, it would be minimal compared to the enjoyment of the secret adventure.

By Wednesday morning of the following week, Sam had her lecturers booked, her paperwork caught up and all the telephone communications she absolutely needed to deal with finished. Basically, she spent the last two days walking around the Center looking for things to do or for things for other people to do, and eventually getting on everyone's nerves. After seeing a look of distress on one of the employees faces Alex approached her lover, turned her around and marched her into her office where she all but ordered the small woman to sit and begin work on her Great American Novel, while the free time was available.

Evenings never contained enough hours and went by quickly even for the anxious Samantha. She was progressing nicely in her martial arts lessons and on nights when she wasn't in class she was practicing or climbing on the wall.

By the time Thursday the 16th rolled around, the entire Center was glad Samantha was going on a mini-vacation. They all knew the holiday started Friday and the acronym TGIF quickly changed into TGIT as it neared 10 o'clock on Thursday evening.

Alex talked to Kim in private and gave the substitute head honcho phone numbers where she could be reached over most of the next 10 days. Kim refused to be sworn to secrecy until Alex promised to keep her beeper on while still in state and to having the cell phone handy when they weren't.

Between Kim, Angel and the rent-a-therapist, Alex felt quite secure in leaving for the mini-excursion. Her only worry was that the extra authority might go to Angel's head. She shook off the disconcerting feeling, realizing that she needed to give the woman a loose rein sometime and now was as good a time as any. They called a meeting of each of the crews and discussed who would be left in charge and the chain of command if any problems should arise.

The three friends decided that having Kim spend the night on Thursday would probably be best, so she wouldn't have to get up with the sun to be at the Center when it was time to open on Friday.

Before saying goodbye to Kim, Samantha made the quiet woman promise to allow Rainbow to sleep in bed with her if the kitten missed them too much. Alex simply gave Kim a smile of comradery as she turned to walk out of the room.

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

Finally, the much-awaited morning arrived. With the car having been loaded the night before, morning necessities were limited to dressing and driving. Alex discovered the easiest solution to the getting Samantha out of bed in the a.m. was to promise her the night before that they would do something exciting when they woke up.

According to Samantha, the Goddess of Nature was on their side as they began their short trip down to La Jolla. Not having been in California for very long, this was Sam's first coastline cruise and she was thoroughly enjoying the scenery. The Santa Ana winds were still prevailing and they drove with the top down on the Boxster, taking advantage of the warm summer-like weather. Coast Highway South supplied them with an almost constant view of the ocean, and only occasionally would the watery depths disappear to be replaced by Southern California's green rolling hills.

The excited blonde took in the scenery, constantly comparing each new inlet to Rainbow's End Beach, the name she decided fit their little stretch of sea and sand. Everything else around their beach had already been designated Paradise. In her imagination the pot at the end of the rainbow would have lead to Paradise so it only followed that the beach should be called Rainbow's End.

Suddenly Samantha was pointing out the passenger's side toward the ocean.

"Those are ominous looking, Alex what are they?"

"This is San Onofre and that's the nuclear generating station."

"Oh, that's a little scary. Lovely knowing that we're living this close to a war target."

Alex looked over at the two large concrete domes; "We also live between Los Angeles and San Diego, both important harbors, so we'd be doomed anyway. But the stations also supply a large amount of energy to this entire area."

Samantha frowned up at her lover in disbelief, "You mean to tell me you're For the use of nuclear power?"

"Not exactly, I was just playing the Devil's Advocate there are pros and cons to everything, even nuclear power plants. Perhaps that's not a good subject for a vacation discussion?"

"Perhaps not I don't want to ruin the mood," Samantha agreed.

They hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, in great part due to the younger woman's excitement about the trip.

With a twinkle in her tired baby blues, Alex glanced in Samantha's direction. "You know, we probably should have just left last night after making love. You were so keyed up if we had left then it would have saved you from tossing and turning the rest of the evening, and I could have at least gotten some sleep once we got to Mom's."

"Oh, but then in the darkness I would have missed all this wonderful scenery!" She announced, stretching as high as she could and expanding both her arms up and out. "No Alex, this is the perfect time of day to travel."

"Well, that sarcasm was totally lost on you, now wasn't it? The dark-haired driver pinched the arm closest to her.

"Ouch!" The blonde pulled away from the offending hand. "No, I caught the drift of your statement." She teasingly smiled up at her lover; "I was just ignoring it. Besides, you can play catch-up when we get to our destination. A nap might just be what you need. Aurora and I will have Plenty to talk about I'm sure!"

"If you think I'm going to leave you alone with Mom while she proceeds to tell you everything I ever did wrong in my entire childhood you're . . ."

"Absolutely correct is that what you were going to say Half-pint'?"

"Samantha that's not a good place to go . . . besides the fact that it is totally unfair!"

"Who was it who told me the Fair was in Pomona' or was it Del Mar'?"

"Actually," Alex grinned over at the love of her life, "it was both. You do have a good memory, now don't you?"

"Of course I do, I'm a Bard, remember? I have to take in all the words those that are important as well as those not so special. I need to place them and all the little conversations that went along with them into the secret filing cabinet in my mind. Then when the appropriate time arrives I simply close my eyes, open the cabinet and search through the files until I find the needed information regurgitate it and viola fact/fiction/conversation, etc." She snuggled up to the driver. "But that was a Yes or No' question now wasn't it?"

"There are no Yes or No' answers in that file cabinet of yours, Samantha." Alex kissed her gently on top of the head. "That's part of what makes you unique, and I only love you more for it."

The soft morning haze was beginning to burn off as the pink/blue sky turned cerulean, losing the last of the sunrise serenity. Because it was a weekday morning, Alex suggested the early arrival, in anticipation of missing the majority of the commuter traffic. Of course she had not foreseen that the night before was going to be so lacking in sleep. Never in her life could she remember being as keyed up as Samantha had been for the past few days. Satisfying that excitement and turning it into reality was now her responsibility. Alex was glad she decided not to fill Samantha in on all the birthday plans as nothing filled her heart with more joy than the look of surprise that lit up the small blonde's face whenever she received something she wasn't expecting. The dark-haired woman would gladly have showered Sam with daily surprises just to experience that look, but her mothers forewarned her to slow the pace a little.

Kelley's words still rang in her head during from a conversation on the phone a few weeks back, "Remember Alex, you are going to have to eventually explain to Samantha why you are able to lavish such expensive gifts on her. Don't continue to spoil her so extravagantly, at least not until you're past the sheet-burn stage of your relationship and into the reality of your life together. I'm sure she didn't fall in love with you for your money. As far as I've been able to find out, she had and probably still has absolutely no idea of who you are and what your heritage is. The little vixen you've fallen so hard for seems to be the real McCoy but one day she is going to ask you where you get all the money you spend. Be prepared to give her an honest answer and hope to the Goddess that it doesn't change your relationship!"

Alex was curt with Kelley, almost to the point of furious, when the older woman mentioned that she hired a private detective to check into the background of the new twinkle in her daughter's eye. But then Kelley went into great detail to explain to Alex that she wanted to make sure Samantha was everything she seemed to be. She explained that they needed to do this as a precaution, especially since they knew that Alex had her mind set on eventually bringing the pert little blonde into the business as a full partner.

What bothered Kelley the most was the malevolence of Don Riley, Samantha's father. Even before the Riley's visit, Kelley started the investigation, knowing how much Don hated Marge, Alexis, and Have It All. Even though Alex was not the owner of the business, his hatred for her was known throughout their business competitors. Alex bore the brunt of his dissatisfaction with Have It All and he would have done anything within his power to ruin her financially, if given the chance.

After the fact, when he turned so viciously on his own daughter, Kelley knew for certain that Don had no preconceived idea that Alex and Alexis Dorian were the same person. A hatred such as he harbored would never have allowed him to be civil to her, even before he knew of her relationship with his first born.

"Alex . . . Alex," Samantha poked her gently. "Where are you? You certainly aren't paying attention to me."

"What . . . um . . . what gave you that idea?"

"I've been trying to get you to look over at that view look there are whales out in the ocean."

"I'm sorry, I must have been daydreaming," the dark beauty confessed, looking for a vista point where she could park the car.

"Are you too tired to drive, Alex?"

"No, Honey, I was just thinking about all we plan to do while we're down here," she lied, while continuing to search the side of the road. She quickly changed the subject. "I'm pretty sure there's a vista stop somewhere around here. There . . . there it is." She pulled the car onto the paved out-cropping.

Before the engine was stilled, Samantha was out of the car and leaning against the railing.

"Oh Alex, hurry," she motioned toward her and then pointed out to sea, "Aren't they gorgeous?"

"Yes, those are California Grays they migrate down from Alaska every autumn. The coastline will be spotted with them from now until late Fall."

"Alex, I know what we could do while we're down here. We could take one of those whale-watching boats out and get a really close look at them. Couldn't we?"

"I don't know, Samantha . . ."

"Why not, you said we could do anything I wanted to while we were down here. I would love to go whale watching!"

"Okay, Samantha, we'll see -- I'm not sure if Mom and Kelley have anything planned for the time you haven't already filled in. Mom's a great one for surprises. So, let's wait until we get there to make any definite plans. What do you say?"

Sounding a bit deflated but quickly letting it go, Samantha agreed. Alex placed her arm around Samantha's shoulders and drew her close. They stood watching as the large mammals gracefully continued their southbound journey to warmer waters. The enormity of the creatures compared to the fluidity of their movements never ceased to amaze the native Californian even though she had been exposed to the migration parade since she was a small child.

"Come on, Samantha, we're not far now. Why don't you give Mom a call and tell her we're about 15 minutes away and ask if they want to go out for breakfast or eat at home."

"Okay."

Kelley answered the phone and the consensus at the parental abode was that they wanted to take the girls out for the morning meal and then a tour of the little town.

Within minutes the La Jolla turn off came into view. Entering La Jolla placed them above the small seaport and the view of the ocean as they neared the little town was another breathtaking sight. While still at quite an altitude, they turned off the main road and down a long private drive, something that was almost none existent in Southern California where land was considered black gold'. A sprawling two-story Spanish-style villa sat at the end of the drive, on the top of a cliff, overlooking a distant beach.

"Wow."

Alex glanced over at Samantha and smiled. "It's quite a sight isn't?"

"Did you grow up here?"

"Partially . . . it was my grandmother's house on Mom's side of the family. When she passed on, Mom inherited it I was about 10 at the time. Before that we lived in Hillcrest mostly. But we used to come here quite often. Nannie used to love to throw big parties; she was a very flamboyant person. You would have liked her, Samantha."

"I'll bet I would have. Oh, look, there's Kelley."

Alex pulled further into the drive and parked.

"Welcome to Cielo en Tierra Sammie. Consider this your home away from home." Kelley walked over and hugged the small blonde then welcomed her daughter as well.

"By the Gods, this place is huge! I thought the warehouse was big but warehouses are supposed to be big. This is . . . this is . . ."

"This my darling is a Spanish Villa and it also is supposed to be big. Nannie never did anything small, did she Kelley."

"No, not your Nan never small. Never small or run-of-the-mill or . . . "

"Normal?" Samantha chimed in.

"Well, normal is not usually a term we use around here, but I guess it's as good a word as any," she smiled at the young blonde and motioned everyone into the house. "Your mother has been anxiously awaiting your arrival, as usual." She gave Alex a knowing look. "Actually, she's been anxiously awaiting your arrival for about a month now . . . ever since the Festival . . . so now I'll be able to get a little peace and quiet." As an aside to her daughter she added, "You know Alex, you really shouldn't . . ."

"Come on, Kelley, not now we're here aren't we?"

"Yes. Yes you are."

Aurora was waiting for them in the kitchen area, four glasses of a light brown, creamy looking concoction lined up on the breakfast bar. She greeted her daughters' and motioned to Kelley and Alex to serve.

"No initiation into the Dorian household would be complete without your mother's famous brandy Alexander," Kelley began, "So . . . here's to your first official visit Samantha. And again, welcome to Cielo en Tierra.

"I never took Spanish in school, what does . . . what you just said mean?"

"Good question." Aurora motioned the most recent family member over to the sliding glass doors that led out onto the patio. "I know this view rivals yours." She smiled at the younger woman, "You and Alex may live in an Alternative Paradise but we live in Heaven on Earth."

"Wow! You people sure know how to pick real estate." Samantha laughed at the stupidity of the statement that spewed forth from her lips.

"It wasn't us that bought the land; it was my grandmother who actually picked out this site. We just got to reap the benefits." Aurora hugged her new daughter. "So, how do you like your drink?"

"It's delicious I just hope it doesn't go to my head." Samantha exclaimed. "Alex wouldn't let me eat anything but a banana before we left home." She giggled as she continued to sip on the sweet liquid.

"One Alexander never hurt anyone," Aurora insisted. "So a quick tour now, or after breakfast?"

"Mom, Samantha's really hungry. Why don't we do food first and touring after? I'm sure the house isn't going to go anywhere before we've finished eating."

"Great, whatever you girls want. I'm just happy you're finally here!"

After a short discussion of where to go for brunch, a majority decision settled on going to one of the more elegant restaurants on Prospect Street, that way they could take a short walking tour after eating and take in the local culture and art.

It seemed to Samantha that there was not a section of the small village that did not possess its own marvelous ocean view. The restaurant itself was perched on top of yet another cliff with a terraced dining area. Kelley turned over the car to the valet as they were greeted like royalty at the front of the building by the matr' de.

"Ah, Ms' Dorian, how enchanting to see you once again. I see we brought the young one along for dining this beautiful day." He smiled over in Alex's direction and received in return a slight nod and smile as she put her arm around Samantha's waist and escorted her in.

"Good morning, or is it almost afternoon, Troy. Yes, we finally got the prodigal to return home for a visit, but as usual she'll be off again before she even gets a chance to get on our nerves." Kelley conversed with the distinguished gentleman as he personally saw to it that they received the best table on the veranda. "Troy would you please send over a bottle of Riedel Sommeliers White Bordeaux?"

"Right away Ms. Dorian." He snapped his fingers on the way back to his podium and then whispered the order into the rushing waiter's ear.

Meanwhile, Samantha was doing some whispering of her own. "He keeps referring to Kelley as a Ms. Dorian' Alex, why does he do that?

"Because she is Ms. Dorian," Alex grinned as she answered the question, her left eyebrow arching.

"I don't understand," Samantha protested. "Your last name is Dorian and your mother's last name is Dorian and . . ."

"Kelley's last name is Dorian," Alex finished the sentence for Samantha. "Guess you could call us a precedent setting family. Mom legally changed her name to Dorian before I was born. It's Kelley's family name. Mom convinced her mother it was the best name for her writing career, and because Nan loved Kelley almost as much as she loved Mom, she didn't pose any objections. It did cause an initial raucous with the changing of all the legal documents having to do with Mom's inheritance, but finally the family treated it as though it was a married name change and everything went smoothly thereafter."

"So when you came along," Samantha interjected . . .

"When I came along, naturally my last name was Dorian. We are all legally the same family."

"It's a shame you couldn't have all been blood related, too."

Alex caught the twinkle in her mother's eye and smiled back at her then turned and offered her lover a glass of wine, as Kelley was about to make one of her infamous toasts.

"To my girls'," the elder Dorian began, may they prosper and grow old gracefully together. And to Samantha, a very happy 27th birthday . . . would that I could remember back that far." Aurora jabbed her playfully in the ribs. She lifted her glass high then touched each of the other glasses reaching out to hers. The matr' de awaited her approval of the vintage then sent a waiter to the table to begin explaining the brunch specials.

Aurora and Samantha sat talking while Alex and Kelley debated over who would order what. When they finally agreed on the selections the rest of the brunch went smoothly. Samantha ended up sampling a portion of everyone's meal and the vacation was off to a marvelous beginning.

Aurora suggested taking a sidebar to the little gallery around the corner. She insisted it would be a good way to walk off the copious amount food they had just finished consuming.

"I want to familiarize Samantha with a few of my favorite shops." Aurora turned and whispered to the small blonde, "You'll just love the little rare map store we have here."

Trying to look interested Samantha responded, "Map store?" Wow, just what I wanted to look at, Maps! "Gee, that sounds like fun, Aurora." Samantha put on her most sincere smile and looked in Alex's direction for help.

"You think I'm crazy don't you?" the older woman grinned. "They aren't regular maps wait until you see them. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but I know you'll fall in love with the place like I did."

"Okay you two," Kelley interrupted, "everything's taken care of, so let's get started. We have a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time."

"I don't think I'd consider 10 days a short period of time, Kelley. We should be able to do quite a few things while we're here. In fact, I made Alex write almost everything down."

Kelley gave Alex a questioning look when Samantha mentioned spending 10 days in the area and Alex tried to graciously deter her parent from asking any questions until she could get the woman alone and away from Samantha. She found that it was a feat that would not be too difficult to accomplish, as Aurora had taken the young woman under her wing and was determined to show her a marvelous day.

Slowing traveling Prospect Street the quartet stopped in or at almost every little shop along the way. It was truly an artist's utopia and there were crafts of every persuasion from fragrant soap and candle shops to pottery stores, stained glass stores and an array of jewelry boutiques. Aurora pointed out the rainbow flags and stickers on the outside of many of the shops and mentioned to Alex that she needed to take Sam up to Hillcrest while they were down visiting.

Samantha had gotten separated from the rest of the group when she found herself drawn to a small shop that specialized in gay and lesbian merchandise. All the books, magazines, cards, flags, stickers and trinkets in the exclusively gay establishment, awed her.

Lost in her own thoughts, the small blonde jumped when a hand suddenly touched her shoulder.

"Calm down, girl." The soft contralto voice carried a hint of laughter. "What's so enchanting that you can't hear your name being called?"

Samantha looked into Alex's clear blue eyes; "I was just carried away with all the variety in this place. Gods Alex, they have gay and lesbian themes on everything from coffee mugs to toilet paper.

"Yeah, this is a great little shop, but I think it's time to pull you away. Knowing you, we could be here for hours."

Reluctantly Samantha allowed herself to be led from the store. When they reached the sidewalk, Alex waved a small bag in front of the petite blonde.

"What's that?" Samantha asked, her eyes lighting up.

"An early birthday present," the tall beauty answered as she handed over the gift.

Opening the bag she pulled out a small box and opened it. "Oh Alex they're beautiful." She dangled one sterling silver, double female sign earring proudly for Aurora to see.

"Those are very nice. I think I have a set similar to that." Aurora commented. "Why don't you put them on?"

"I think I just might." She took off the earrings she was wearing and put them in the box, exchanging them for the new ones.

"I think there's something else in there," Alex mentioned, pointing to the bag.

Opening the package again Sam pulled out one of the rainbow bracelets she had been admiring; it consisted of a thin looped metal strung with a double row of staggered beads. The top row consisted of small glass beads in rainbow colors while the other row was of slightly larger beads made of hematite.

"Oh Alex. I love it." She hugged her lover then held out her arm for Alex to fasten the new bauble. When Alex went to fasten it, Samantha spotted a new adornment that Alex was sporting.

"You got yourself one, too. Let me see." She grabbed the taller woman's arm to examine the new purchase. It was similar to hers but there was only one row and it was of the sparkling rainbow beads; they were slightly larger than the ones Samantha was now wearing.

"Twins," the smaller woman smiled.

"Not exactly they're similar but different." Alex smiled down at the woman she loved.

"Come on you two, time to break this up and get to the map shop." Aurora walked between the lovers and grabbed Samantha's hand, leaving Alex to walk with Kelly.

The shop wasn't far and within minutes the little group was transported back in time to an era when astronomy was in vogue. The walls were covered with masterpieces of intricacies. Aurora watched as Samantha took in the entire room.

"By the Gods, it's overwhelming!" Sam smiled over at Aurora.

"Come here let me show you one of my favorites," the older woman led Samantha to the back of the store and stood her in front of one the star charts. "I think you will really appreciate this one, Samantha."

Verdant eyes grew wide and distant as the young woman stared at the lesson in patience before her. "Aurora this is absolutely the most marvelous . . ."

"Isn't it though."

"Look at that unicorn and the delicate colors." She stepped closer to the piece. "Look how they've outlined the stars with the figures. There's Canis Major and Canis Minor, and look up there is Orion. You know I've always like astrology, the zodiac, and the constellations, but this . . ."

"Do you like it enough to own it, Samantha?" Kelley asked as she walked up and put her arm around Aurora's waist.

"Do I!" Samantha answered then looked at the price tag and shook her head. "Maybe someday."

"No, I think perhaps today. If we buy this for you then maybe I can talk Aurora into calling it a day. Alex and I are not big on shopping."

"Buy it for me no Kelley, it's far too expensive." The small blonde shook her head.

"Nonsense," Aurora chimed in. "It's your birthday present from us. We didn't know what to get you and then I remember having seen this particular chart with the unicorn. I knew you had a fascination for them so . . ."

"I appreciate the thought, but really, it's just a little too much. Thanks anyway."

"Let them get it for you," Alex whispered in her ear.

She turned and looked up into sky blue eyes and shook her head. "I couldn't let them spend this much money on me, Alex it's over $200."

"Honey, they have money to burn. It would make them happy."

"But Alex . . ."

"I heard that. Don't argue Sammie," Aurora interrupted. "I thought Alex said you read some of my books?"

"I have." Samantha answered.

"Well then, you should know that give and take' is a Universal law." She smiled sweetly at the younger woman, "Besides, it's rude to refuse a gift, and Kelley already told the owner we were taking it. Wait til we get home, I'll show you the one we have in the library. They're both 19th Century and by the same artist."

Knowing that refusal was futile, Samantha blushed slightly, nodded acceptance and smiled back at Alex's mother.

Aurora quickly changed the subject. "If you think the one we just bought is expensive, come here, little girl, let me show you another."

Taking Samantha's hand she walked her over to another wall and pointed to a decorative map of the Southern Sky. It was the product of a Dutch Cartographer and was an extremely busy piece. The tag on the frame caused Samantha's heart to skip a beat the price was almost $7,000.00.

"I guess the one you're getting for me is a steal along side this one. I don't know what to say."

"Thank you will do just fine," the older woman suggested.

"Thank you Aurora, and I'll make sure to thank Kelley, too."

"Come on, looks like they have it all wrapped and ready to go. Kelley is a lot like Alex, it's hard to keep her away from her home."

"Ah, so she gets that trait from Kelley. I didn't think it was from you, you're too much of a people person and touring is such a big part of your career. Come to think of it, Alex did a lot of traveling before she opened the Center."

"She traveled and she mingled, so does Kelley, but it's all part of the job. Given a choice, they would never leave home. Come on, Hon, they're waiting."

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

It was almost 3 o'clock by the time they pulled into the driveway. Alex was dragging ass from exhaustion and even Samantha was beginning to feel a little fatigued. Aurora suggested that they take a quick tour of the villa and then a siesta. She mentioned that a full evening was planned and she didn't expect to be dealing with cranky people.

Alex agreed immediately and Samantha reluctantly. While Alex and Kelley were getting the luggage, Aurora showed Samantha around.

The house was huge. It looked to be built around a large courtyard, affording absolute privacy to the owners. Obviously designed for large parties there was a dance floor in the middle of the courtyard. Close to the northern wall there was a sunken Jacuzzi, and on the opposite side of the room a full sized bar, and barbecue pit. Many of the bedrooms and mini-suites opened out onto the courtyard, and those that didn't possessed balconies, which overlooked the ocean. A few of the larger bedroom suites on the second floor were equipped with private Jacuzzi tubs and access to both the courtyard and the ocean view. All together Samantha counted eight bedrooms, eight full and two half baths, a library, family room, movie room, and kitchen. There were both informal and formal dining rooms, and informal and formal living rooms. A second large Jacuzzi and a pool were situated on the west side of the villa and enclosed so they could still be used in the cooler months. The enclosure was screened during the warmer seasons and glassed in during the winter. For the guests who preferred direct sunlight there was an enormous deck jetting out from the swimming area. This deck, similar to the courtyard, sported a liquor bar and a grill.

Sam realized that with Kelley being a California realtor and Aurora an accomplished author that they probably were quite wealthy; she simply had never imagined what that kind of wealth could buy. At least she never took the time to think about it. This villa was unbelievable. It was like walking onto the filming of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,' she was flabbergasted. It never occurred to her that Alex came from such a distinguished family. Alex always seemed so down-to-life, not snotty or above anyone. The materiality of their lifestyle made her feel a little small and unworthy. She didn't know why but there was a minute nagging feeling, buried deep in her subconscious, one which actually wished that visiting La Jolla had been relegated to remaining in her dreams the reality of the situation was larger than life.

The last stop on the tour was the celestial map that Aurora had hanging in the library. It was similar to Samantha's in that it was by the same artist, but it was of the constellations Scorpio and Libra. Aurora explained to Samantha that her zodiac sign was Libra and Kelley's was Scorpio; she fell in love with the work of art as soon as she spotted it. To Aurora, finding the ancient creation in the little off-the-beaten-track shop was an omen that they were meant to purchase the piece. Of course, Kelley never tried to dissuade her from buying it. From what Samantha observed so far, whatever Aurora wanted, Aurora got. It seemed as though Alex got a lot of her personality characteristics from her second mom. The star chart fit perfectly into the decorum of the library, along with the overstuffed chairs and love seat, the old globe and the wall-to-wall built in oak bookcases.

The two women walked back into the family room where they had left Kelley and Alex to discuss whatever it was they wanted, while Sam was being given the royal tour. Alex was sitting drinking a beer, but got up and offered to get them each a glass of wine. Aurora accepted the invitation, while the younger woman quickly declined.

"You know I think Aurora's idea of a short nap all the way around is an excellent idea." Samantha confided as Alex poured her mother a drink. "I think not sleeping, and then walking around all afternoon is finally catching up to me. Alex, you must be exhausted."

"Not too bad," the tall woman lied as she walked over to join her lover. "Ready to go bed?"

"Sure am. Your mother just pointed out your room, but we didn't even look in. I guess she figured I'd get to see enough of it during our visit. But before we go . . ." Sam walked over to Kelley and gave her a kiss on the cheek, thanking her for the lovely celestial map.

She joined her lover and offered her an arm. "Lead the way." Samantha looked up into eyes that matched two other sets in the room. "I feel like I'm odd womyn out," she laughed. "No matter where I turn in this room, I look into unbelievably blue eyes."

"Blue eyes are true eyes," Aurora offered. "And right now I can see at least one set that is having a difficult time staying open. You had best get her off to bed."

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

It was a spacious room with a balcony that afforded the viewer in one direction a view of the city below and the ocean beyond that and in the other merely cliff, beach, and water.

"Was this your room when you were younger?"

"Yes, actually it was."

"I thought so, it looks like you."

"Is that good or bad."

"Neither. It's just an observation." The small blonde began to undress.

"Come here, you," the dark beauty ordered. "You look like you could use a little help getting out of those clothes."

"Oh no! I'm doing this myself no funny stuff while we're here in your parent's house."

"What?! You've got to be kidding."

"No I'm as serious as can be. I wouldn't feel comfortable knowing that your parents might hear us."

"Samantha, their bedroom is at the Other end of the Villa. They would never hear us."

"I don't care, Alex. It's a matter of respect."

"For the Goddess' sake, this is ridiculous."

"Whatever, that's how I feel."

"We'll see if you still feel that way Days from now."

"Damn, I never thought about it that way. I don't want to go Days without making love to you or having you make love to me." She finished undressing and with just her panties left on, hopped into the bed. "But right now I'm still a little shy.

"A little shy are you?"

"Yeah."

"Then you should put a nightshirt on. You expect me to lay in bed with you half naked and behave myself?"

"Are you tired Alexis Dorian." The petite blonde asked sarcastically.

"Yes, Samantha Riley I'm exhausted." The tall brunette answered in like tone.

"Then you should be able to sleep next to me if I'm completely naked and still go to sleep."

"Okay, you win this time." Alex quickly undressed and joined her lover under the covers.

They lay in bed with Samantha snuggled up to the warm muscular body of her lover, her arm around Alex's waist.

"What's planned for this evening, do you know?"

"I think Mom picked the place for dinner tonight. She hasn't even filled Kelley in on it. She wanted it to be special seeing how this is your first visit. Kind of a Welcome to the Family' affair. So let's get some shuteye. I think Mom expects to be up most of the evening and probably a good part of the morning."

Alex lifted the head on her shoulder, tilting it so she could lean down and kiss her lover for the first time in hours.

Soft malachite eyes looked up. "I love you Alex. Thanks for bringing me here."

"I love you, too, Samantha. To reiterate what Mom and Kelley said earlier, welcome to Cielo en Tierra." She gently kissed the golden crown as she embraced the body that clung so tenderly to her own.

Within minutes the two lovers were fast asleep in each other's arms.

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

A knock on the door and the familiar voice of her mother brought Alex out of a deep slumber. She looked around the comforting room, her eyes searching for the clock that had always been set but rarely went off during her high school years.

"Come on sleepyhead, time to get up. It's almost seven. Your time of day the moon's coming out." Warmth was what she felt whenever she held the small woman close to her and it was always an inner struggle to disentangle herself from the comfort of her lover's embrace. "Samantha, it's time to get ready for dinner." Another smile as she thought of the key words used in awakening her princess.

"You're just saying that to get me up," Samantha mumbled softly from the vicinity of Alex's chest.

"No. No I'm not. Open your eyes you'll see that the sun has done a vanishing act while you were conversing in dreams.

"Oh no!" Samantha bolted upright, blinking her eyes awake. "I missed my first La Jolla sunset. I didn't want to sleep through it."

"Samantha, it's very similar to the one we view at home, believe me."

"It's just that sunset is our special time and I wanted to start a tradition."

"Huh?"

"I thought it would be unique if we made it a tradition to watch the sunset on the first night whenever we were in a new place. I went and missed our first sunset in La Jolla."

"If it makes you feel any better, I missed it, too." Alex teased the disappointed woman now sitting upright beside her. "We can catch it tomorrow night, it really doesn't change all that much from day to day. I'll remember from now on and not let you nap during sunset time, okay?"

"Only on the first night in a new place." Samantha turned and gave her lover a hug.

"Let me go ask Mom how we should dress for dinner," Alex said as she threw her legs over the side of the bed and stood up. "I'll be right back." She grabbed a nightshirt and scurried out the door and down the hall.

Samantha lay back on the bed, her eyes searching the far distant waters, watching as white caps mounted the waves and rode them to shore. Thank you, Powers That Be. I wouldn't trade my life with anyone in the world.

She got up and looked around, finding Alex in all the memorabilia scattered throughout the room. One wall held a small trophy case holding small bronze and gold statues of girls in various sport positions, throwing, kicking, and hitting different sized balls. There was a softball that looked to have been signed by the entire team. Several montages graced the north wall. She wondered who instigated the mini works of art and who the photographer was in the family. Samantha noticed several others hanging throughout the house. What a nice way of presenting the past and integrating it into the present she thought as she stood closer to examine the two that hung on either side of the mirror.

On the right you could watch the young Alex grow from a small child to a teenager in the time it took to look over 20 or so pictures. Samantha smiled to herself, as she looked into the eyes of a toothless Alex, poising in her softball uniform. She loved the one of Alex caught in motion as she was throwing a martial art's punch at an unseen victim. Directly in the middle was professional photograph of Alex in her high school cap and gown, smiling proudly, holding her diploma in her hand, and being flanked by the two women in her life who loved her the most.

The second montage took up where the first left off. The main picture on this side of the mirror was also professionally taken at graduation, but Alex now held her college sheepskin, as she was again standing in the middle of her proud parents.

Her inspection was cut short by Alex's return.

"Mom said semi-casual which just means no shorts or jeans." She looked at Sam who was still staring intently at the final montage. "Mom refuses to take those down . . ."

"I would, too, if I were her. Alex this is the life of her baby . . ."

"Samantha . . ."

"No, you look you may be all grown up but in your parent's eyes you're still their little girl. Look at this room." She spun around her arms wide open encompassing the entire area. This room is a shrine your mother has kept so she can come in and watch you grow all over again anytime she misses the sound of your voice or the sight of your pretty little face." Her green eyes began to mist as she empathized with a mother whose only child had grown up and moved away.

"You're reading way too much into this room, Sam . . ."

"No. I'm not. I can see it in the way your folks look at you Alex. I don't think you realize how much they love you."

"Sure I do. They're great."

The small blonde shook her head. "I don't think you really understand, but that's okay, I do. Your parents will be seeing a lot more of you now that I'm around."

"Okay, you win but sentimental time is over. You can look at these later. Kelley has made 8:30 reservations at the restaurant so we have not quite an hour and a half to get ready. Want to shower?"

"Yeah, I should think so. You want to go first?"

"No. We're showering together."

"But . . ."

"Samantha, don't be ridiculous. We did more than that when they visited us."

"But this is different."

"We're only going to shower I promise I won't ravish you," sapphire eyes twinkled joyously, "I don't have time."

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

Cutting it exceeding close to the 8:30 time limit, the foursome found themselves standing outside the front door of yet another of La Jolla's exquisite restaurants. Again the Dorians were greeted by name by both the valet and the matr' de.

"I could get used to this kind of treatment," Samantha joked.

She was not expecting the response she received as Alex countered with, "And so you should, this is but the beginning, Samantha." The look in her lover's eyes was unreadable, but there was a glimmer of mischief hidden within the realms of her deep blue orbs. Samantha was about to take the conversation to the next level when Kelley held out a hand to the two of them letting them know they were about to be seated.

The group traveled through the entire restaurant, as they were being lead out onto what looked like a private patio. It was decorated with festive lighting and enclosed in glass with a retractable ceiling that could be closed during inclement weather. The thought of it being a private room was fleeting for as they approached the double doors leading into the room Samantha could see that there were already people seated at a large table.

She was so busy taking in the scenery and decorations that she hadn't focused any of her attention on the people, who were already in the room. Finally, concentrating on what was happening around her, she noticed that she had been correct the first time, there was only one huge table in the room and this was definitely a private affair. She searched the faces of the people seated at the table and her eyes, getting as big as saucers, filled with tears. Directly in front of her were Sonny, Ray, Suz, Danny and Sally. With her mouth agape she looked up at Alex, into eyes reflecting oceans of love and then back to the small gathering before her. The matr' de positioned himself on the opposite side of the room and quickly snapped a picture of the entire group. One word, spoken simultaneously by eight of the people she loved most in the world, filled her ears as her heart overflowed with joy.

"SURPRISE!!"


End of Chapter 3


Chapter 4


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