For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1.
Misplaced People by Devize © 2004 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
* * * * *
Chapter 21: Walk out with me toward the Unknown Region [i]
She became conscious of the warmth at first. Not the sticky, oppressive warmth of high summer, but the silky and caring warmth of adoration. It seeped into her and made her hum with bliss.
Next, she became aware of scent. It was heady, smoky, part arousal, part sandalwood, part rose…. An intense mixture, yet so subtle she found herself burying herself in the cotton-smooth skin beneath her cheek to catch it.
There was a soft-hard length against her. She felt tangled in it, as if it were ivy. But this ivy supported, and held, but didn't ensnare or imprison.
There was a murmur of cloth against cloth, but her hand was resting on flesh: a velvety dale, secret under the canopy of cotton.
A bare back.
She edged her fingers along a lush path and found a gentle slope upwards, both yielding and firm. And a realisation hit her with the tenderness of a late spring breeze. Striker didn't have any underwear on. And if she didn't have any underwear on, that meant that she was mere inches from somewhere hidden and warm and….
She wasn't sure what was more powerful: the rush of desire, or the humbling sense of gratitude at her friend's trust. And laced with that, the sudden fear of the consequences.
That admitted, she wasn't going to move her hand just yet.
Morien remembered that moment, just a few days ago - a lifetime ago - sitting in Striker's kitchen and the surge of jealousy she had felt as Danny caressed his friend's backside. She smiled - the cat who's got the cream.
Striker was in her bed, half-naked, embracing her with the intimacy and confidence of a long-term partner. And Morien was glorifying in the sensation.
Striker shifted slightly, causing Morien's hand to glide against a dimpled buttock. In the depths of sleep there must have been an awareness, because a gentle noise, somewhere between a growl and a moan, radiated from her. And the ivy of limbs moved so that Morien felt an entreating knee pressing for entrance between her thighs. She opened her legs, cradling Striker's own strong, muscular length.
How had they got here? When had they become everything to each other but lovers?
The moment she had looked into those cyanic eyes and lost herself.
But they weren't going to become lovers.
Despite their current position and the rapid dampening between Morien's legs.
Friends can be physical, Morien told herself. Friends can share a bed. Friends can kiss. Friends can cuddle. Friends can make love....
She thought of Danny again... and wished she hadn't with the rush of jealousy that threatened to overwhelm her.
Morien found herself tightening her hold around Striker's body.
And then she opened her eyes.
She was still resting on Striker's shoulder, her lips all but kissing a bare neck, uncovered by the baggy pyjama top. She couldn't see Striker's face above her, but if she looked down….
If she looked down…
The top button of the shirt had worked loose during the night, and as Morien looked down she could see the billows of two large, firm breasts, erect nipples flushed rose-pink….
And she melted.
There was a telling warm stickiness on her thighs. It was a sensation she had actively repressed for months. But now her body rebelled: it gave in to the heat and dissolved. She was liquid. Her mouth watered. She wanted to slide down and make a home in the deep canyon between those breasts. She wanted to nuzzle, she wanted to lick, she wanted to suck….
Suddenly, Striker jolted awake.
Morien swallowed. "You okay?"
Striker's breathing was fast. "Yes, I'm fine. Had a weird dream, that's all."
"Do you want to talk about it?" Morien asked. If only to help me focus on something other than your body. Or my body.
Her dream had been wet and hot. It had been full of guns and fear and thunderstorms, and seizing bodies caked with mud. It had ended with Paully.
And then she became aware of the proximity of Morien's words. She glanced down at wide awake green oceans of eyes, full of light in the curtained room.
She became aware of the slight weight of a hand on her bare backside.
And the position of her leg…. So near and yet so far.
She smiled at her almost lover, her own eyes part teasing part serious. "Do you want me to move?"
In which direction?
Neither of them wanted to move on… or move back. So they remained where they were, wrapped round each other. Losing themselves.
This, they reasoned: if they didn't move, then maybe they wouldn't have to confront what was waiting for them in the big, bad world. If they didn't move, maybe the whole world would disappear, leaving only the two of them. Just the two of them… that's all they needed.
And if they didn't talk about it… if they didn't think about it… they wouldn't have to acknowledge what this intimacy might mean. The ostrich response, Morien thought, burying your head in the softest skin you can find. And she did.
"How are you feeling?" Striker finally murmured into the down on Morien's scalp.
"'Kay." The response felt like a caress against Striker's neck.
"Yes… but good tired."
"We don't have to do anything today."
Morien moved her head slightly, looking up to ask the question. "Idomeneo's coming, isn't he?"
Striker looked down at her. Her eyes twinkled like stars in the morning. "Will he be shocked to find us still in pyjamas?"
Morien smiled as she returned her head to its favourite spot. "I should think that the world will keep turning and the North Wales police will still be able to function."
She felt Striker chuckle against her hair. "I love… I love your accent." She half-wondered what it would be like to hear Morien say her name….
"I love your accent too, stalker. I love your voice. Ever since you read to me… you know?" It felt good to say the 'l' word. I love you, my friend. I love the feel of your body against mine. I love the way you smell. I love how your eyes change colour with your mood. I love the way you look like a million dollars in tatty shorts and old trainers.
I love you, R. S. B.
There was no response. Just a warm smile against her scalp.
The house was silent. Sullivan was long gone. They could hear birdsong outside. The sound of seagulls beyond. And the distant, but constant wash of the sea. They could hear their hearts beating.
"This is nice."
Maybe friends could be physical.
* * * * *
Eventually, they had to get up. The bathroom, the sounds of disagreeing cats, the rumble of stomachs, called them to life.
And they missed the connection immediately.
All they had done was held each other, dozing, occasionally whispering soft, non-committal words. Love wasn't mentioned again.
Time was galloping full-speed towards midday. Morien took advantage of Striker's time in the bathroom to make a phone call. There were questions she still had, that hadn't had a chance to be asked. So she dialled the number. It had barely had time to ring before it was answered; a polite, cultured speaker: "Regeneration Unit."
"Hi, Asha, it's Morien. How's it going?"
"Okay. Danny's out of Intensive Care."
"Already. They're really pleased with him. He's being moved into a different ward this morning."
Morien breathed a sigh of relief. "Striker will be thrilled. Things are going well, then." There was a slight catch at the other end of the line, as if Asha had hitched breathing. "What?"
"Morien, I… I've moved in with my auntie."
"My parents have thrown me out."
Morien's mind raced. "Because of Danny?"
She could hear Asha fighting off tears, but her voice was quiet. She could imagine her, her head down, whispering into the phone, hand to her forehead, avoiding the questioning glances of her gossiping workmates. "Because of Danny. Because I lied to them. Because he's led me astray. Because he's not Hindu. Because he's black…."
"But after everything that's happened…."
"I've brought shame to the family, Morien. I'm just lucky to have a more open-minded auntie."
There was a moment of silence between them: filled with sorrow and understanding and solidarity.
And then Asha spoke again. "It's weird without you here, Morien. No one knows what's going on."
"So what has been going on?"
"Keith's been suspended. Councillor Mrs Keith's been suspended. All work on the Woodhall Estate project's been stopped because there's an investigation into that. The police have come in and cleared Keith's desk…."
"That must have taken them some time…."
"You're telling me. They were here for days. Donna and Sally were having a lovely time chatting up a couple of detectives. Rumour has it that one policeman even got lost in Keith's Pending Tray. They had to go in after him with a safety line."
That broke the tension.
"Do they honestly think Keith was involved?" Morien was finding it hard to imagine mild-mannered, absent-minded Keith becoming embroiled with violent drug dealers. He had young children, for heaven's sake. His dog was called Buttons. Criminals didn't have dogs called Buttons, did they? But then you didn't expect drug dealers to be called Nigel and Bruce.
Asha's voice was low. "Councillor Mrs Keith… Caroline… rumour has it that, at the very least, she knew exactly what was going on and turned a blind eye. The big question is: did she direct Keith?"
Morien was silent. All that time…. Had Keith known? Worse, had he, directly or indirectly, advised the brothers? Keith had watched as she'd walked into hell and done nothing. No word. No warning. All that time….
"Asha," she finally said, "is anything being said about me?"
"All sorts," she could hear Asha's exasperated groan. "You're gossip topic of the month. We've had everything from drug dealers' kidnap victim to gun-toting gangster's moll." Morien didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "Officially, you're still off sick."
"I guess that's as good a lie as any," Morien replied. "Has anyone asked you?"
"You know how it is, Morien. No one notices me. A few - those that remember I'm here and remember that we're friends - they've asked. I just tell them you're one of the good guys."
"Nothing to thank me for. It's the truth, isn't it? Besides, I'm just keeping my head down and getting on with my work. The only thing that matters to me now is getting Danny well and home."
"Sounds like that'll happen soon."
"I hope so." Asha's tone lightened. "How's it going with Striker?" Morien could picture the teasing upturn of her friend's mouth.
She knew her friend's eyes were twinkling.
* * * * *
They were making brunch when the doorbell rang. Morien went to answer it and Striker could hear the rumbling tones from the kitchen. "Check before you open the door, Morien. Did you know it was me?"
Striker came out of the kitchen with a tray of toast and tea, handing Idomeneo a mug. "Still haven't caught up with the bastards then?"
Idomeneo looked her up and down, but didn't reply. He made his own way to the sitting room. Apparently, North Wales Police could still function if Striker West stayed in her pyjamas. At least she'd put the trousers back on.
Idomeneo settled himself in an armchair. The women sat on the sofa. They watched as the policeman took a sip of tea, and made himself comfortable. It was like watching a cliff-face settling in for late elevenses. Finally, he spoke. "I had a little chat with a chap at the Met this morning."
Striker had the feeling that the chat might have taken most of the morning. Idomeneo stared into his tea, as if trying to gauge the future from it. Should they tell him it was made from a teabag?
"Yes?" Morien prompted.
Idomeneo finally looked up, glanced from one to the other. "Their names are Nigel and Bruce Toussaint."
"Toussaint? Not Lamprey?"
"Sons of Charles Toussaint."
Striker shook her head. Was that name supposed to mean anything?
"Charlie Toussaint was found guilty of armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and manslaughter. He died in prison last year." He paused. "Natural causes."
"So they got pedigree?" Striker asked
"You could say that. Their mother is Gilbert Lamprey's sister."
Morien became aware of the tap-tap-tap of Striker's impatience as she drummed her fingers on the sofa cushion. She was going to start swearing in a minute. So Morien asked the question. "Idomeneo, who is Gilbert Lamprey?"
Idomeneo took another swig of tea and swilled it round his mouth. "Not sure."
Morien felt rather than heard Striker's silent scream.
"But it seems his name's been bouncing around the Met for years. Drugs, guns, interesting business practices…." He pronounced all four syllables in 'interesting', as if he were hopping on verbal stepping stones. "But they've never been able to pin anything on him. Seems Mr Lamprey's a clever man. Many of his associates have been caught, including Charlie Toussaint, but never him. Never enough evidence, see. Somehow he instils great loyalty in those about him… and never gets his own hands dirty."
"But what about the printout Morien had? Surely that proved he's involved at Tumblety Street?"
Idomeneo grinned like a Cheshire cat. "Exactly. Somebody slipped up. And our Morien caught it before they could clear up the mess."
Morien became aware that both Idomeneo and Striker were looking at her, smiling. Stereo pride. She flushed with it. Discreetly, she reached for her would-be lover's hand only to have Idomeneo catch her eye. The tiniest rise of a slate-grey eyebrow, and she flushed even more.
"Okay, so we now know to address these bastards as 'Mr Toussaint' if we meet them in the street, but do you know where they are?"
Striker almost got up, but was forced to keep sitting by Morien's touch. "What the fuck do you mean 'no'?! This isn't London, Inspector Jones. There's only a limited number of places they could be. This is not a big town…."
"They're not in Lleuadraeth." Idomeneo's face was passive, as if Striker's outburst hadn't even scratched the surface. He gulped down another mouthful of tea. "If they were, we would know about it." Striker opened her mouth to speak, but he carried on. "They have been seen. We have leads. We're working on them."
"So what do we do?"
"You stay here."
"So we're stuck in here like caged fucking animals, and they're out there waiting to blow our heads off?"
"Not quite. There are police out looking for them, and the moment they set a foot in Lleuadraeth they'll be caught."
"But you're saying we can't move 'til they're caught."
"I'm saying don't go out unnecessarily, and don't go out without an officer knowing where you'll be. Don't get any ideas. Don't go off on any wild goose chases, and don't go antagonising the locals." Idomeneo looked her straight in the eye.
So he'd heard about the harbour square.
"Yeah, well some locals need a bit of antagonising." Striker sounded like a sulky teenager.
Idomeneo smiled. "There's a few who need a good kick up the arse. But it's a metaphorical kick, Ms West, and I get to do it, all right?"
Striker couldn't help but smile back. "You're no fun."
Idomeneo finished his tea.
* * * * *
So, they stayed in all day.
They watched a little television - news bulletins still wallowed in the aftermath of the Tumblety Street find. They were falling like dominoes: Caroline Tivison's name was mentioned, but not Keith, Morien was relieved to hear. And a number of other councillors had been questioned.
An interviewee appeared on screen.
"Oh, my God!" said Morien. "What the hell is he supposed to know?"
Wayne Marlow, he was captioned, Security, East Metropolitan Borough Council.
"Well, obviously," he was saying, "there was a suspicion of something going on, unannounced visits, irregular working hours, that kind of thing, and we in the security department had raised our concerns, but nothing could ever be proved."
"Oh, please! That man wouldn't know trouble if she came up to him with 'Bad Girl' tattooed on her tits."
Striker glanced over at Morien, lifting an eyebrow. "Now that's an idea…."
"Don't you dare!" Morien shot back, causing the other eyebrow to lift.
But then Striker was diverted. Police had taken the unusual step of naming two men in connection with the crimes. Bruce and Nigel Toussaint. The search for them had transferred to North Wales. They were considered armed and dangerous.
"So, that's what he looked like before you redesigned his nose," Morien murmured.
And then they named Lil' Paully. There he was, a grin as wide as the TV screen, his gold tooth sparkling as brightly as his eyes.
"He was only trying to protect the people he loved," Striker said quietly. "And those bastards had to…." She turned the television off.
They played Scrabble, finding themselves intriguingly matched until, in what Morien called a "dubious" move, Striker added 'left' to 'field' and the board ended up on the floor.
"It is a perfectly acceptable word."
"It doesn't appear in the dictionary."
"That dictionary knows fuck."
"Yes, it does. But it doesn't know leftfield."
Eventually they dressed, and watched the world go by from the perspective of the back garden, playing with the cats.
It led to a question. "I thought you said you had three cats?"
"Do," Morien replied, tickling Heriell's tummy. "There's Snowflower as well."
"Her name makes sense when you see her. She's almost wild. We barely see her during the summer."
"And in the winter?"
"She behaves like visiting royalty. Woe betide any of us if we put a toe wrong."
Sullivan found them lying on their backs on the lawn - Easey using Striker's chest as a pillow, Heriell curled up against Morien's side - watching clouds, high up and indistinct in the blue.
"Good day, daddy?" Morien asked of her upside-down father.
"Well, a little busier than yours," he replied, kneeling down to give his daughter a kiss on the forehead.
"Yeah, well we got an excuse," Striker replied, lighting a cigarette, trying to avoid burning Easey's nose.
"There's police everywhere," Sullivan informed. "There's been police cars parading round town all day."
"Holding a cops' convention, huh?"
"Hey, dad." Morien rolled onto her stomach and looked up at him. "Do you think it would be okay for us to go for a walk later?"
"With all those policemen around? I'd be surprised if you couldn't walk to Cardiff in safety."
"Hey, Striker, do you want to go for a walk after supper?"
Striker blew smoke away from Easey, as the little cat stretched on her chest. "We get to eat first?"
* * * * *
Morien prepared chicken pasta and salad. With extra tomatoes.
Striker worshipped her from afar.
Sullivan talked about teaching poetry to fifteen-year-olds as they sat round the kitchen table. "I don't know," he bewailed. "They'll quite happily spend hours discussing pop lyrics of the boy-meets-girl-have-sex kind, but provide them with something half-way meaningful by Dylan Thomas or Ted Hughes or Sylvia Plath and it's all you can do to keep them awake."
"Oh come on, dad. Everyone always loved your classes when I was there, that can't have changed. And I always stayed awake," Morien said.
"True," said Sullivan, his mouth half-turned in a smile, "but you're my daughter and therefore didn't have a choice."
"Besides, you weren't interested in the boy-meets-girl-have-sex stuff," Striker added. Her eyes twinkled as Morien coloured.
Damn she looks cute when she blushes.
"Anyway, you have more intelligence and meaning in your little toe than most kids have in their entire bodies… ever." She took another mouthful of food, and looked up to find Morien staring at her. "What?"
"That's a lovely thing to say."
Striker swallowed, and lost herself in green. There were words tripping in her head. And in her heart. She wanted to say them. The admission to Sullivan the night before…. Was now the right time? Did she dare?
Eventually, she stumbled on a sentence. "You're a great cook, too."
The green glowed. "This from the queen of bacon sandwiches."
What was being said here?
Sullivan glanced from one to the other. He stood up, plate in hand. "I think I might take this into the dining room," he said. "Make a start on some lesson plans."
No one heard him.
* * * * *
They went out not long after, leaving the plates to soak, and Sullivan conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra with his pen.
There was a police car at the end of the road. Inside, Constable Smith was fast asleep.
Striker knocked on the window. "We're feeling mighty safe here."
Smith jumped and wound down the window. "Good," he said, blinking in the evening light. "Where are you two going?"
"We're claiming our right to freedom as citizens of the human race and going for a walk. Is that okay with the North Wales police?"
Smith glowered at her. "You're not free, you're on bail. Get in." He jerked his head in the direction of the back seat.
"What the fuck do you mean 'get in'?"
"I mean, tell me where you'd like to walk and I'll take you there."
"Well that kinda fucking negates the point of walking, doesn't it?"
"Striker, just get in the car," Morien said, opening the door. "John, how about Clogwyn Bae?"
"Just as long as I don't have to climb it," Smith retorted, and started the engine.
"So, you guys been doing much else other than sitting in your cars all day?" Striker asked as they drew out into the High Street. "Or does everyone want in on the gangsters?"
"Nothin' much else going on," the young constable answered. "Couple of muggings in Penygroes. Kids, by the sound of it. Someone stole a Post Office van in Llithfaen. Nothing much on it, postman had all but finished his deliveries. Car got stolen from the supermarket car park on Heol Coed…."
"So we're the most interesting thing out there, huh?"
"Well, the Toussaints are," Smith replied. He pulled the car into a lay-by. "I'll wait here for you. You know where I am if you need me."
Striker got out of the car. "Yeah, sure, sorry we interrupted your sleep with some work." She turned round.
And looked up.
"It's a fucking mountain!"
"No it isn't, it's barely a hill. Come on," Morien encouraged. "Besides, I want to show you something." Striker grinned at her. "You're incorrigible."
They started up the path that wound its way between grass and rocks. Seabirds wheeled above them, crying into the deep blue.
After a while, Striker spoke. "Can I ask you a personal question?"
Morien stopped to let her long-legged companion catch up. "Another one?" she said, smiling.
Striker seemed to pause to find the words. "You know you said that before you came out you 'experimented'? What did you mean?"
Morien giggled. "Is that all? I meant that when I was fifteen, I went out for a while with Hugh Maddocks. We were quite the item. And he was sweet and respectful and we held hands and cuddled, and he was a very nice kisser as well." She smiled at Striker's surprise. "But that was it. Never wanted to do anything more. I'm a virgin as far as that is concerned. Isn't that what you want to know?"
Striker didn't answer. She looked down at her boots.
They started walking again.
"I still hear from Hughie from time to time. He lives in Manchester now. With Davey Miles."
Striker looked round in surprise. "Davey Miles? The kid who proposed to you?"
"I know how to pick them, don't I?"
"Sounds like you have the perfect taste in men… for you. Wish I had been so lucky."
"But you have Danny."
Striker shook her head. "I never had Danny, and he never had me. I guess that's why it worked."
They fell into a breathless silence, continuing their march uphill. Striker glanced back. The police car was still parked in the lay-by. She could imagine Constable Smith, his seat back, his eyes closed, the metal framework vibrating with his snoring. A question came to her unannounced. "Why do you like it so much round here when the people can be so…."
"Rude?" Morien smiled, wondering if Striker was the pot or the kettle. "Let me tell you something. When my mam was ill, when she knew she was dying, she wanted to be at home, not in some hospital. So, my dad took unpaid leave for five months to be with her… and us. There was no money coming in. The little they had saved up just went on her care. They got a little in benefits, and our grandparents gave us all they could, but there was a mortgage to pay, bills to pay… there would be days when dad could barely afford to feed us."
She paused for a moment as they continued to make their way up the steep slope. She reached out a hand, pulling Striker up over a rocky incline. As fleet as a fairy in a flower meadow, Striker thought as she reluctantly let Morien's hand slip from her grasp.
Fairies? If you believe in fairies clap your hands.
Right on Tinkerbell, gimme five.
"Anyway, there'd be days like that when there'd be a knock on the door and it would be Mrs Probert from up the road. She'd made far too much casserole and would we like some? Then there'd be Mrs Price from round the corner who'd turn up with a loaf of freshly-baked bread. Mrs Jenkins from next door would bake us cakes. Mr Maguire would give us vegetables from his allotment. We never asked for it… they just came. And more… there was always someone to see us to school, pick us up, take Drake to his music lessons, take me to my art class - even pay for them if need be… or to stay with mam when dad took us out. Old Mrs Morgan even took us to the cinema in Pwllheli a couple of times, paid the bus fare and everything - though I think she just wanted an excuse to go and see some Disney films."
They were almost at the top of the hill. Morien looked back at Striker, just a few steps behind her. "So, they may be damn rude, they may be a little too jingoistic at times and like any section of society you have your prejudiced, arsehole minority, but the majority are good-hearted, caring people. And we look out for each other. Then, of course, there's this…."
And Striker reached the top of the hill. "Oh my God!"
Before her stretched the world.
On one side, Lleuadraeth stretched at her feet like a cat in the sun - its head in the cool shadow of the hills, its tail gently brushing the white sands of the beach. All around, the setting sun danced across the land, teasing cloud shadows across green uplands, bathing grazing flocks in the glow of evening. On the other - and the other left her stunned - was the sea. They were at the top of a cliff, short, wind-stunted grass prickled their ankles. The beach lay below them, the tide tickling the shore with a feather-white touch, and beyond that the deep, blue-green of the Irish Sea. The sun turned each wave crest into burning gold, so from the cliff-top it looked as if the sky was trying to net the mysteries in the ocean's depths. And the sky itself melted from the velvet blue of oncoming night into the soft peach of day's end, as the sun lowered itself into the water.
They stood without a sound, listening to the wind telling stories, listening to the little town purr beneath them, the waves caressing the long curve of beach, and the sky sing with seagulls above. And throughout everything, they heard the timeless rush of tide, both inside and out, as if their blood was ocean.
But more and more, Striker found her attention drawn not to the sea or the sky or the land, but the face of the woman in front of her. Morien stood near the edge of the cliff, her skin glowing with the colours of evening, the breeze blowing the short lengths of auburn hair back from her face, against the blue of her headscarf. She stood as if she was a queen surveying her realm, familiar and comfortable with everything she regarded. This was her land, her ocean, her life - and she was alive with it.
"I wanted to show you this," she said, her voice lilting above the wind and the waves. She turned slightly, gifting Striker with the perfect profile.
"You're so beautiful." Striker said it so quietly she thought only the wind would hear, but slowly Morien turned her face towards her.
"What did you say?" Her voice was as quiet as Striker's had been, but suddenly it was if the sounds of words didn't matter any more… only their meaning. She caught Striker's gaze, becoming lost in their intensity. The blue was shining so brightly it was like silver… or the Welsh gold of the waves.
There was magic here. All her life Striker had wanted to believe in it: had read about it, dreamed about it, but had always inhabited a world that was made up of harsh, emotional, sometimes violent reality. But now, here at the top of this hillside, with the incantations of the wind and the waves in her ears, she was suddenly able of truly believing.
And she stepped into the unknown region.
"You're beautiful… so beautiful," she repeated, incapable now of saying anything but what was in her heart.
The words stole Morien's breath away.
Striker moved closer. It was as if she no longer had a choice of what she could say, what she shouldn't. She raised her hand, almost despite herself, and rested it on Morien's cheek. "Do you know what you are to me?"
Morien looked puzzled, almost scared. She looked up into Striker's eyes, eyes that reflected the sky and the sea. "You think I'm beautiful?"
"I think you're more beautiful than anything."
"Don't be silly…." She looked away.
"Hey, I mean it." She brushed her thumb against soft skin, revelling in the way it made her own skin tingle; in the art of the sunset, like stained glass on Morien's face; in the play of the wind. "All the things that have happened to you. All the torment we've been through over the last few days. Sweetheart, I wish… I wish I could take it all away."
"But you do," Morien broke in. It seemed a time for confessions. Forgive me, mother, for I am about to sin. "Striker… when I'm with you, I forget everything. The pain, the fear of it all." Now she reached up to brush a lock of hair from Striker's face. She ran her fingers through Striker's long, loose hair, loving the way the light shimmered blues and coppers across the dark mane. "I forget myself… I forget my name… I forget to breathe…."
"Don't do that," Striker whispered, and kissed her.
They lingered, warm and soft.
It was a simple question asked by caress, which was answered with another question. Neither of them tried to deepen the kiss, needing simply the feel of satin beneath their mouths, and the lazy, silken flow of blood through their veins. It was enough for Striker to rest her hand on Morien's cheek and for Morien to keep her fingers tangled in Striker's hair. It was enough to acknowledge that this was something more than simple friendship. It was enough… for this moment. So they lingered.
Slowly, slowly, Striker peeled her lips away, the loss of connection almost painful, opening her eyes to the sight of Morien, heavy-lidded and blinking in the sunset. A lovely smile dawned on her face and her eyes sparkled like the waves behind them.
Striker moved to kiss her again, but Morien looked down and then glanced at Striker sideways. She looked shy. "Can I ask you something?"
"Why did you tell me you didn't want to... sleep with me?"
Striker looked puzzled for a moment. "When did I say that?"
"At the Boom Shack...."
Striker's forehead smoothed and she grinned - a sweet, shy, one-sided grin that made Morien's knees go weak. "Oh, then," she said. She ran her finger down Morien's peach-skin cheek, coming to rest on her chin. She looked into those ocean eyes, the eyes that had captured her from the start. "If I recall, my exact words were that I didn't want to fuck you," she said, with a smile. "I don't want to fuck you. I could never fuck you, of all people." She watched a tear follow the path her finger had just taken, then gently wiped it away with her thumb. "Morien, I want to make beautiful, sweet love with you... slow, sensual, beautiful love until… there's condensation dripping down the windows and... and the neighbours are calling the police."
"Striker West...," Morien breathed the name. Then: "You do have a way with words, don't you?"
Striker ran her hands down Morien's body, dallying as her palms brushed the sides of Morien's breasts, and then down, settling on a pert backside. She squeezed, gently, and whispered at a shell-like ear, "I gotta way with more than words, baby."
Morien threw her head back and laughed, only to stifle herself with a groan as a hot mouth found an earlobe and nipped. She curled her arms round Striker's neck, encouraging the contact as the American's tongue kissed then licked skin, a growl vibrating. Words rose like music. "Striker," she said, whispering into her hair. "Oh, Striker…."
Striker stopped, her eyes closed, her mouth still resting against Morien's neck. The sound of her name, spoken in rippling Welsh cadence, rushed through her body, feeling for one incredible moment, like the first swell of orgasm.
She lifted up, off Morien, her hands resting on the smaller woman's shoulders, needing the support as she felt her legs weaken. Morien's eyes were wide, a deep, dizzying moss that threatened to swallow her whole.
"God help me," she murmured, her heart pounding. And then she couldn't wait any more. She dived, claiming Morien's mouth with her own. Her tongue, still tingling with the taste of skin, ran against the curve of lips with pious desperation.
And Morien let her in.
The first, slick tangle of tongue against tongue caused both of them to moan. Morien felt herself sinking into the kiss. Sinking and floating at the same time. This was a sensuous heaven. She could taste smoke and the lingering tang of chicken pasta and something indefinably Striker that made her want to plunge deeper for more. And something else, as if… as if love had a taste. Slowly, she traced her tongue along Striker's, relishing it - hard and soft at the same time. A little hum of delight emanated from the taller woman pressed against her and translated itself into liquid below. So she snaked her tongue the other way, which elicited the same reaction.
A dialogue was emerging between them of little whimpers of arousal, narrated by the sleek caress of hands. Morien once again found her fingers in Striker's hair wanting to draw her in closer. Her other hand slipped downwards, feeling the strong muscles of Striker's shoulders and back shifting beneath the material of her t-shirt. She found herself involuntarily tracing patterns along the flow of muscle, little circles and waves, her fingers mimicking the movement of her tongue.
Striker was finding she couldn't get enough. She hugged Morien closer to her body, feeling the smaller woman's breasts pressing sweetly-hard against her abdomen. She moved a hand down to tease the side of the right mound, gently kneading it with a thumb. Her other hand ventured lower, sliding gently but firmly over Morien's bottom. Here it stayed, massaging a buttock which, in turn, pressed its enthusiasm into her palm.
She wanted to say something, but she couldn't tear her mouth away. So she poured everything into the kiss, telling Morien how amazing she tasted, how incredible she was, how aroused she was making her. Her centre was molten, yet she could feel her clitoris unbearably hard, a swollen island in the flood of heat.
Striker moved a leg, insinuating it between two smaller thighs. The motion caused her to rub against the hard seam of her jeans and she groaned again into Morien's mouth. Morien was hot. She could feel the heat through the denim. She shifted her leg again, barely a rub against Morien's inner thigh and then the small woman pushed forward, rubbing herself, her own dampening centre, against Striker's leg. The move was accompanied by a sweet, sighing groan that Striker breathed in like oxygen.
Some still-functioning part of Striker's brain wondered. Was she going to come just from a kiss?
Again a push, again that groan, a breathy gasp in her mouth….
And then Morien stopped.
Morien felt "Wh...?" tickle against her lips.
She put her hands on Striker's shoulders and pushed her back. "I'm sorry," she said, trying to still her heart, trying to sound calm, controlled, trying to find the breath to say the words, "we can't do this." She started to move away although it felt as if she was tearing her skin apart.
Striker stared at her, her breath coming in short gasps. Every nerve ending was tingling in frustration. She couldn't speak, simply taking in the woman in front of her: those bruised, full lips, her flushed skin, the green eyes, now so dark with dilation they looked almost black. But there was fear there. Morien shut her eyes. Striker spun away, reeling, trying to get her bearings.
She stopped barely a safe distance from the cliff edge, taking great gulps of sea air. The sea gulls cried. The sound ripped her inside to shreds. She took another breath.
Of course they couldn't do this. What the hell had she been thinking?
She turned round.
Morien was standing a few steps away, looking away. One arm wrapped round her body, the other to her face.
"You're right," Striker said, but even to herself her voice sounded half-hearted.
Morien took her hand away from her face, looking round at Striker. She was crying. She needed an out, they both needed an out, and Striker loved Morien enough to give her one. But it was going to hurt like hell.
Striker smiled encouragingly, but it didn't reach her eyes. "Morien, I'm a lot of things: a smoker, a drinker, I've taken a few illegal substances... I'm not exactly celibate... I'm a stalker...," a grim laugh reached Morien's ears, "I've fucked up a lot of things in my life, but I'm not about to let you fuck up your life. I've broken up people's relationships in the past, but I can't let you do the same. You're a good, beautiful person. You have a girlfriend, and you love her, and, you're right, we can't do this."
Yes, that was a good excuse.
And, suddenly, Morien closed her eyes again, her stomach lurching from the weight of guilt at what she'd been thinking. Sophie wasn't an excuse. She was her girlfriend.
But, the world she was now inhabiting had no place for Sophie. It was a world of fantasy and intrigue and danger that started and ended with Striker, and all others had become supporting players. But this was no fantasy world, and those bit-players were real people, living, breathing and feeling, and suddenly it was as if Sophie was there, her presence as tangible as if she had materialised in front of them.
"I'm sorry," Morien said, unsure of whether she was apologising to Sophie or Striker. She couldn't have met the eyes of either one.
"So am I," Striker said.
"You know, for a bad girl, you're doing a really bad job."
"I told you, I don't like being labelled." Striker's voice was heavy with melancholy. "Maybe we ought to go home, huh?"
Striker wanted to hold her hand out, but instead, shoved it into her pocket.
She took one look back at the sunset. The sun was almost touching the waves. Would it fizzle out and die in a cloud of smoke? She turned back and followed Morien down the hill in silence.
* * * * *
"Have you two had an argument?" Sullivan asked his daughter, discreetly, as she sat staring at the television. She had no idea what she was watching. The action was taking place in her head, on a cliff top, with the sea as background.
Morien looked up, barely aware that Sullivan had spoken. "Not exactly," she finally said, her voice dull.
Sullivan looked at her, concerned. "Are you all right, cariad?"
Morien shrugged. She could smell Striker's cigarette smoke entwined with night-scented stock, drifting in on the slight breeze through the open patio doors. It was as heady as her kisses and it made Morien feel giddy and frustrated. She had been sitting on her hands all evening. "I'm just tired," she said. "It's been a weird few days." Sullivan gave a hollow laugh. "I think I might go up to bed."
She stood to go, but hesitated, wondering whether she dared stick her head around the door to wish Striker a good night. But that would involve looking her in the eyes while trying to stop her knees from buckling. She started to move but was stopped by a noise behind her. Looking round she caught Striker's arctic sky gaze as the tall woman appeared at the door. She shivered imperceptibly, despite her body flushing with sudden heat. Both women looked away.
"Mr Llewelyn, would it be all right if I made a phone call?" Striker said, concentrating her attention on Sullivan.
"Of course you can," Sullivan replied. "And please call me…."
"…Sullivan," Striker finished and smiled at him.
Morien sighed deeply, and moved to the hallway, aware that Striker was following her. She started up the stairs.
"Morien…," the voice caught her. Morien turned, attempting to keep her expression calm. She could see Striker swallow, the muscles working in her throat. There was a pause. "Good night," Striker said, at last.
"Good night," Morien replied, managing a smile. She turned back up the stairs, resisting the urge to run, sensing Striker fall onto the chair by the telephone. She shut her bedroom door behind her.
Striker heard the door click shut, and put a hand to her face, massaging her forehead. This is a fucking mess.
She needed familiarity. She needed reassurance. She needed Danny.
She unfolded the piece of paper that Morien had pressed into her hand, with a grin and sparkling green, after her own call to Asha. Striker didn't take in the number immediately, merely running her gaze over the rich handwriting and Morien's doodling. She'd illuminated the D of Danny with carefully penned dreadlocks.
This is a fucking mess.
They'd been driven home, PC Smith apparently oblivious to the uncomfortable silence between them. Striker had headed straight for the shower. Standing in the lukewarm water until the need for release became to great. She'd come hard, leaning against the tiled wall, biting her bottom lip to mute her cry.
And it hadn't made the slightest bit of difference.
Striker sighed heavily, and picked up the phone, dialling the number. It rang for a while, and Striker was becoming painfully aware of just how late it was in the world of St Vincent's, when a sleepy voice answered.
She smiled the moment she heard it. "So, you busy chatting up the nurses, bro?"
"Nah, sis, Asha won't let me."
There was a pause. The sheer joy of hearing Danny's voice made Striker's throat burn with tears. He sounded slow and tired, but it was aural cinnamon. "Shit, bro I was so scared."
"I'm okay, sis. Had to shave me dreads off, though."
"Oh Dan…." Striker almost choked. "How're you doin'?"
"My head hurts like fuck sometimes. Other than that, the drugs are cool, the nurses are pretty, and me girl is sweet."
Striker laughed. Typical Danny: have his life threatened, undergo emergency surgery and still be so laid back he's almost upside down.
"Do you remember what happened?"
She could hear Danny sigh. "Nah. Just remember something big and white came through the door and had me down on my knees before I could see anything. They were asking me questions about you and your friend and some bag and I didn't understand a fucking thing they were saying."
Striker slumped. "I'm sorry this has happened to you, Danny."
"Not your fault, sis." There was a long pause, then: "Striker, have you heard about Paully?"
Not the time, or the phone bill. "Yeah, I heard about him. You seen Thomas?"
"Yeah. He came to see me."
"How is he?"
"Sad. Lotta bad things in the world, Strike."
"I know, bro, I know."
There was a long silence. Striker wrestled to keep her voice under control. To keep herself from sinking into slough of guilt. "Is Asha looking after you?"
She could sense Danny's smile - contagious, as always. "Yeah, she's great. Her parents don't like me."
"What the fuck do they know?"
Danny chuckled. "I miss having my big, bad sister around. Asha said you were in Wales." He said it as if it was down a byroad from nowhere.
"Yeah. I'm with… Morien." She was aware of the catch in her voice, but Danny didn't seem to notice.
"That was the plan."
"How's it going?"
"Okay. It's quiet." Apart from the gangsters. "Beer's good. Cats everywhere. Her dad's cool."
"How's it going with Morien?"
"You're not a fuck-up, sis."
"No, but I'm going to be. One way or other."
"Wanna talk about it?"
"You got your own problems, bro. You don't need mine too."
"Yeah, but I'll feel better if you do."
Striker could almost feel the words crawling out of her mouth. "Danny… I want her so badly it hurts."
"You still haven't...?"
"The most we've done is kissed." A pause. Striker's voice became breathless and deep. "Fuck, can she kiss."
"Doesn't she want more than that?"
"I don't know. Dan, she's got a girlfriend already…."
"Well, that hasn't stopped you before." A pause. Danny obviously realised that wasn't what Striker needed to hear. This time it was different. He tried again. "She's made a commitment to this other woman?"
"I hope not."
"But that's what's holding her back?"
"Yes… No. No, it's not just Morien. It's me. I'm holding us back."
"Cos I'm scared." She took a deep breath. "Dan... bro... if I love her… I'll lose her."
[i] From Walt Whitman's "Darest Thou Now, O Soul"
[ii] Buwch sanctaidd! = Holy cow!
[i] From Walt Whitman's "Darest Thou Now, O Soul"
Continued in Chapter 22...
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