This story primarily features stories involving women. If it is illegal in the state, province, or country in which you live; or if you are under the age of 18, please find something else to read.The events portrayed in this story are fictional and any resemblance to actual events and/or people is purely coincidental.
Language - Hurt/Comfort: There are elements of strong language as well as emotional hurt and discomfort in this story.
Acknowledgments - Thank you Alice, Tena and Julie for your invaluable help in providing feedback in editing this story. A special thanks to Bill for sharing his knowledge about vehicle restorations.
Dedication: This story is for my good friend Teresa who is the bravest person I know.
The yellow Jeep Wrangler pulled to a stop at what appeared to be an old gas station. A rusted sign proclaiming AJ’s Body Engine, was swinging from an overhang that once protected the now missing gas pumps. Through the opened garage doors, the woman in the Jeep could see one vehicle, a red Caprice, up on a lift and the back end of what she thought was a pick-up truck. Opening the driver’s door, the woman, clad in jeans and a light blue chambray shirt, let her long legs slide out onto the blacktop. The cool breeze that swirled around her made her shiver and pull the collar of her jacket up around her neck. Walking toward the grungy looking building, her wavy chestnut hair continually kissed each shoulder.
When she walked through an open door to what appeared to be an office, she called out, “Hello. Is anyone here?” Not receiving a reply, she spoke louder. “Hello…I’m looking for AJ.” –Nothing– She heard what sounded like a metal object hitting concrete coming from the garage area and moved in that direction.
Standing at the threshold, she saw the bottom half of a body clad in what she surmised was a dark blue coverall laying on a creeper. The person’s bent knees lead to sturdy boots that rested on the garage floor. “Hello, I’m looking for AJ…is he here?”
From under the truck came, “Who wants to know?”
The woman closed her eyes and quietly sighed. “A woman, shit, that’s the last thing I need,” she mumbled. She opened her eyes and spoke louder. “I’m looking for AJ. Corky Donovan said he could help me.”
The knees flexed slightly before the booted feet propelled the rest of the body from under the truck. “I said who wants to know?” The voice asked again as her body moved into a sitting position. The mechanic had seen the jean clad legs that seemed to go on forever from under the vehicle and looked at them in appreciation. Her eyes continued up the body, stopping at the breasts for a moment before resting on a strong featured face with eyes hidden behind sunglasses.
The standing woman softly growled. Grease smudged the woman’s cheeks and her hands were even blacker. The word filthy came to mind. “I do,” she said. A blank stare was her reply. “Look, if you could just point me in AJ’s direction I won’t bother you anymore.”
The woman on the creeper fixed dark eyes on the person standing in the doorway. “And you are?”
“Andie…Andrea McBride,” she said. “Listen, Corky said I should talk to AJ. Will you just let me know where I can find him?” The woman’s bland expression had her begrudgingly adding, “Please.”
“What do you want?”
Andie gnashed her teeth. “I’d like to speak with AJ.”
“You are,” the mechanic said and grinned at the woman’s reaction. “What do you want?”
Great. “I have a ‘55 F-100 that I’d like to restore. Corky said you were the best there was.”
“Do you want a trailer queen or a daily drive?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The mechanic shook her head. “Are you going to drive it or keep in a garage and admire it?”
“I don’t know. I never really thought about it.”
“Doesn’t matter,” the woman said as she returned to her prone position on the creeper. “I don’t do that anymore,” she said before she began to roll back underneath the truck.
“Wait,” Andie cried. “Corky gave me a note for you.” She reached in her pocket, pulled out an envelope, and held it up. “Can you at least read it?”
The woman returned to a sitting position and scowled as she pulled the do-rag off her head. After shaking her short, jet black hair, she got up and moved closer to the other woman who was about the same height. Once she was within arm’s length, she reached over and pulled the woman’s sunglasses off her face.
“Hey,” Andie said as she grabbed at the woman’s hand.
“If I’m gonna talk to someone I want to see their eyes,” AJ said staring into the woman’s blue eyes. Holding out the glasses, she gave them back. She wiped her grimy hand on the coverall leg and took the sealed envelope. She frowned as she tore open the envelope and began to read the message.
AJ this is one hot chick. What she needs is a good restorer. I’ve seen the truck and it’s sweet. Maybe you can help her out and have some fun too. With a mumbled, “Idiot,” she returned her gaze to the other woman. “How do you know Corky?”
“I needed a plumber,” Andie said as she tried to look away from the intense gaze. “Corky was the only plumber I could get to come out to my house.” She shrugged and tried to smile–she failed.
AJ blew out a breath. “Look, Corky was wrong. I can’t help you lady. If you need body or engine work I can help you out. As I said, I don’t do restorations.”
“But, what I need does involve body and engine work.”
“A restoration involves more than that. Like I said, I can’t help you.”
“Whatever he told you lady, no longer applies.”
“Can’t you make an exception?”
AJ closed her eyes briefly and let out a long, low exasperated sigh. “Exactly what part of I won’t do it don’t you understand?”
“Can you at least look at the pictures I brought? You’ll see that she’s in remarkably good condition. I don’t think it will be all that time intensive,” Andie said as she pulled a small manila envelope out of her pocket.
She calls it a ‘she’…why do people give their car a name. Rolling her eyes, she asked the woman, “How many restorations have you done lady?” AJ growled when she saw a look of defiance cross the woman’s face.
“I wouldn’t be here if I did them would I?” The woman was beginning to piss Andie off. “It stands to reason that the better the condition the less time it will take.” Andie took several photographs out of the envelope and extended them toward the mechanic. “Here, see for yourself.”
“I don’t need pictures. I know all about that truck. Wood slates in the bed right?”
“The battery is located in the floor on the passenger side.”
“The gas cap juts out from the left rear fender.”
“Then I don’t need to look at your pictures.”
Andie took a step closer to the woman and held the pictures up. “Take a look. You never know you might see something you don’t remember.”
Grabbing the pictures, AJ glanced at them and flexed her jaw. “I don’t do restorations and I don’t do recommendations–look in the phonebook for someone.” She eyed the woman. “You do know how to use the phonebook right?”
As the grease covered woman turned away, Andie grabbed her arm and knew instantly that it was a bad move. “Sorry,” she said refusing to look into the narrowing eyes. “Can I at least give you my cell number? If you think of anyone that can help me maybe you’d let me know.”
AJ nodded toward a cluttered bench. “Leave it there,” she said and turned away.
Andie watched as the woman reseated herself on the creeper and scooted back under the truck before she took out a business card and scribbled her cell number on the back. “Thanks.” Not expecting a reply, she left the card along with the pictures and exited the garage.
Once she heard an engine start, AJ slid out from under the truck. Standing up, she walked to the bench and picked up the card along with the pictures before going to the open garage door. The yellow Jeep was merging with the traffic and was soon out of sight. She looked at the address on the card and recognized it as one of the pricier areas of the Front Range. “No wonder she couldn’t get anyone but Corky. No one else would be fool enough to drive way out there.”
For several more minutes, AJ stood at the garage opening looking at the pictures of the old truck. “Corky was right about one thing, she is hot.” Sighing, she stuffed the pictures along with the business card in a pocket before sliding back under the truck again.
+ + +
Andie pulled the Jeep into her two car garage. The forty-five minute drive back from the Springs, only added to her agitation. “What an arrogant bitch!” she screamed as she pounded a fist on the steering wheel. “Shit, what am I going to do now?”
She climbed out of the vehicle, walked past her Mercedes then diverted to an oversized garage a hundred yards away. Once inside the building, she touched the old truck and gazed lovingly at it. “I should have told her money was no object. I bet she wouldn’t have refused me then.”
Andie sighed. The day had started out with great hope of getting the truck restored only to have it collapse into shambles. She bit down hard on her lip to prevent the tears that threatened. “Tears won’t solve the problem–action will.”
When she opened the door to her home, she smiled as a leaping ball of energy greeted her. “Hey buddy, sorry I was gone so long.” She scooped up the Schnoodle named Oscar and kissed his head. “I wasted most of the morning. What do you say we go for a walk down by the stream?”
As if he understood the words, Oscar began insistently kissing Andie until she began laughing. “It’s only ten-thirty. We’ll have some lunch when we get back.” Her stomach was in such turmoil that the last thing she wanted to do was eat. “Promise.”
Unlike the front of Andie’s property that was dotted with tall ponderosa pines, the back area that leads down a gentle sloop to a stream below was a mix of hardwoods, which morphed into maples and aspens. Andie walked down a familiar path as the bright sun that shined through the trees warmed the cool late fall day. Dry old aspen, maple, oak, walnut and beech leaves mixed with newer brighter colored ones that crunched and rustled below her feet. The earthy odor of decaying leaves and pine filled the air.
Oscar was up to his favorite outside activity–chasing squirrels and other wild life. When a squirrel scampered up a tree, the dog sat down seemingly waiting for it to come back down and play some more. When he heard Andie whistle, he turned and ran back and leaped up her legs.
“Hey, cut that out,” she said with a laugh. When she reached the stream that ran through her property, she let out a sigh of relief. The sound of the wind rustling through the leaves left on the trees always gave her a sense of peace. After the start to her morning, she needed a place that would calm her frustration.
It wasn’t long after she moved to the property that she discovered the large flat rock that protruded from the side of the stream. She found solace when she sat on the rock and listened to the repetitious sound of the water tripping over smaller rocks in its journey to where she didn’t know. She often fantasized that the water that she touched would eventually end up in some far away country where it would touch another.
She formulated the next story in her series of Charlotte Crawly mysteries on that rock. The peaceful setting allowed her to relax and let her mind drift as she created the scenario for the book. Her forth book, ‘Passions of the Soul’ rose to the top of the NY Times best seller list for fiction. Her character Charlotte, worked for the Los Angeles Police Department as a detective –her edge–she was clairvoyant. Although the scenarios of cases she could use for Charlotte to work on were limitless, she always strove to make them different and unique. She sent her editor the first hundred pages of her new book, Secrets, Lies, and Entanglements’ months earlier. The target date for completion was the end of the month. She was confident she’d easily meet the deadline.
She always could relax in her favorite setting–this time was the exception. Her mind kept drifting back to the old truck in the oversized garage. She felt her anger rise again as she thought about the arrogance of the mechanic who refused to do the restoration. What a bitch. The restoration was far too important for her to settle for anyone but the best. “There has to be a way to convince her–there just has to be.”
Andie stood up, whistled and before she knew it, Oscar was sitting in front of her looking up at her with trusting brown eyes. She laughed at the sight. Leaves were hanging off his whiskers and eyebrows. “You are too much,” she said as she bent down and pulled all the dead leaves off the dog’s face. “Come on Oscie…we need to slay a dragon with grease under her finger nails.”
Oscar ran ahead of her and when she caught up to him, he was sitting by the Jeep waiting for her. “Ok, give me a minute I need the keys,” she said before going inside. All the while she was laughing–Oscar was her tonic.
While making the drive back into the Springs, Andie called her financial advisor. “Keith, I want you to be ready to transfer money into a bank account.”
“Ok, how much?”
“Don’t know…just be ready.”
“Andie, you have almost three hundred thousand in ready cash, if it’s going to be more than that it will take time.”
“I pay you a shit load of money to take care of my finances Keith. Be ready if I call.”
As she closed her cell, Andie gritted her teeth. The day wasn’t working out at all. The thought of meeting and negotiating with the mechanic made her stomach churn. I’m glad I didn’t eat anything. Her truck needed restoration and she was determined that only the best would bring the truck back to life. She would have to do whatever was necessary to see that it happened.
After Corky gave her the name, she did a Google search and found various restoration sites that praised AJ Whittaker as the ultimate restorer. Accolades and awards were attributed to the person some called the Michelangelo of bodywork–hands down AJ Whittaker was the best. Nowhere did she find a picture or see any reference that the renovator was a woman. That surprised her.
When she arrived at the garage, she pulled the Jeep back under the overhang directly in front of the open garage door. She scratched Oscar behind the ears and said, “Wish me luck boy.” Her response was a lick to her hand. “Good to know you’re on my side. I’ll give a whistle if I need back-up,” she said with a smile. She lowered the windows partially then sucked in a breath and got out of her vehicle.
+ + +
The sound of a vehicle pulling up outside the garage had AJ turning her head. From her vantage point under the truck, she could see blue jeans, Nikes, and legs that went on forever–the woman was back.
“What do you want now?” AJ bellowed from under the car. “I told you I don’t do restorations and I don’t know anyone who does so get lost.”
Andie pulled off her sunglasses and said, “I have a proposition for you. Will you at least listen to it?” She watched as the bent knees flexed before the woman’s upper body appeared and she felt relieved.
“Are you stupid or just anal? I thought I made it clear earlier…I’m not interested.”
“Just listen to me please.”
AJ closed her eyes and shook her head before getting up off the creeper. She just can’t take no for an answer. “Say what you came to say then go away and leave me alone?”
With a shrug Andie said, “I don’t think you’ll feel like that when I’m done.”
“Don’t count on it. Just tell me what you have to say…I’ve got work to do.”
Andie gritted her teeth. If getting the truck back to its original condition weren’t so important to her, she’d have flipped the woman the bird and walked out. “What do you make in a year?” she asked.
“That’s none of your business,” AJ growled.
“I figure forty…fifty thousand tops…probably less.” When Andie saw a small change in the woman’s facial features, she knew she’d hit the mark. “What will it take for you restore my truck?”
“Trust me you don’t have that much.”
“You might be surprised. What will it take?”
A sly grin crossed the oil stained face. “Sleep with me.”
Andie couldn’t hide her shock. “Sleep with you? As in have sex?”
“Yep, that about sums it up.”
“And if I do,” she said. “You’ll work on my truck. It’s as easy as that?”
“Ok. Where do you want to do it?” She gestured to the floor. “Here in the garage or in some sleazy motel.”
AJ bellowed. “I was just pulling your leg to see how far you’d go. You aren’t my type. I like my women with more meat on their bones.” She let her eyes rake over the woman’s body and raised her eyes. “You’re too skinny.”
“Look, I’m not here to play childish games. How much money do you want to do the job?”
“I have responsibilities here…customers that I told I’d fix their cars. I won’t leave them in a lurch.”
Andie sucked in a breath of annoyance and said, “Just tell me how much?”
The seriousness in the woman’s tone had AJ squelching a caustic retort. She considered how much money she’d need to refurbish the garage and add another bay. Several months earlier, she looked into remodeling and had a rough idea. “Two hundred thousand with a bonus at the end will do.”
Shocked by the amount, Andie tried to hide her surprise. “If I pay you that amount I’ll expect you to work on the truck and nothing else.”
AJ noticed the woman’s back stiffen when she said how much money it would take. “If, and from your reaction that’s a big if, you come up with the money…sure, I’ll work for you exclusively.” She leered at the woman with a mildly predator gaze.
Andie snorted. “Don’t be so sure.” She returned the leer and rested her eyes on the mechanics hands–she shivered. Thank god, she wasn’t serious about sleeping with her. I can’t imagine those filthy fingers touching me. “I’ll give you one hundred thousand up front and the balance on completion.” She fished in her shoulder bag and found her wallet. “You take Visa?”
The answer was an empathic, “No.”
Andie laughed and shook her head. “Hey, a girl has to try,” she said with a shrug. “That amount would net me lots of frequent flyer miles.” The look on the grease-clad woman told Andie she was not amused. “Check or cash?”
“You’ve got to be kidding! You waltz in here begging me to restore your truck and you think I’d trust your check?”
“Look, I can get you a certified check, will that do?”
“When I see the color of your money I’ll let you know.”
“I’ll need your last name.” When she saw AJ lift an eyebrow she added, “For the check.”
AJ laughed. “Once you scrape together the money I’ll tell you.” The woman began to lie back down on the creeper then stopped. “I’ll need proof that you have the other half before I’ll agree to anything.” Without another word, she retook her position on the creeper and slid back under the car.
Andie snorted as she watched the woman’s face disappear. “You’ll have it. I’ll be back in an hour.”
Watching the legs leave the garage, AJ chuckled. “Yeah right.”
+ + +
“Good thing it isn’t hot today,” Andie said to Oscar as she maneuvered the Jeep into a parking slot on Cascade. She poured some water into a travel bowl and lowered the windows a fraction before giving Oscar a quick pat. “I’ll be right back boy. Guard the car.” She laughed–her dog would lick someone to death before defending her vehicle.
She walked quickly into the building and entered the Charles Schwab suite. A woman with thick glasses and long stringy blonde hair, who was sitting at a highly polished mahogany desk asked, “May I help you?”
“No, I know where to go,” Andie said as she blew past the woman.
Without knocking and schooling her features to business mode, Andie opened the door to Keith Marquette’s office.
Keith’s eyes switched from the client across from him to the door as it opened. He wasn’t surprised to see the woman entering his office but resented the intrusion. “Do we have an appointment?” he asked.
Ignoring the man’s question, Andie said, “I need a certified check.”
Keith shook his balding head and focused on the man across from him. “Sorry about this Ed, will you excuse me for a few minutes.” Once the large older man nodded, Keith stood up and moved toward Andie. “Will you come with me?” Without looking back, the well built man walked out of his office door.
Annoyed, Andie followed him but stopped when she entered the corridor. “I said I need a certified check.”
Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, Keith turned around and looked at the woman. He wanted to blow her off and tell her to make an appointment but she was his wealthiest client. “For what?”
“That’s none of your business…just get me the check.”
“Ok, give me the details and I’ll have the check for you tomorrow morning.”
With eyes narrowed and her jaw set, Andie said, “Unacceptable…I need it immediately.”
Keith shook his head and said, “That’s not possible.”
“You’ll make it happen or I’ll find myself another financial adviser.”
With a nod, Keith said, “Give me thirty minutes.”
“Oh, and I’ll need a notarized letter saying I’m good for another hundred thousand.”
“You know this will put a serious dent in your cash on hand,” Keith said. “With the economy like it is I would advise against doing this.”
Andie nodded. “So advised.” She looked at her wristwatch. “Get with it I haven’t all day.”
While Andie waited for the check, she contemplated her actions with Keith. It wasn’t often that she used strong arm techniques and always would chide herself for her actions afterwards–this was no exception. This is too important. I’ll do whatever I have to with him and that woman to see it to a conclusion–I owe it to my dad.
With check and notarized statement in hand, Andie slipped into the Jeep with a satisfied smile. Oscar greeted her with a rapid fire tongue that insistently kissed her. Laughing, Andie gave the dog a treat. “Look boy,” she said wagging the check in front of Oscar’s eyes. “I’m going to get the truck restored.” She pushed in the clutch, shoved the gear into first, and merged with the traffic–the day was looking up even if it had taken the better part of it.
+ + +
AJ heard the Jeep come to a stop outside the garage and ground her teeth–the pushy woman was actually back. Pushing herself out from under the truck, AJ watched as the woman made her way inside the garage. Again, she appraised the long lean body in appreciation. No doubt about it, the woman is hot. “You’re back,” she said.
“I told you I’d be back,” Andie said as she held out the check.
AJ decided to play along with the woman’s ruse and took the check. She counted the number of zeros, five, and the name on the check. She swallowed hard. “How did you get my name?”
“You don’t seriously think I’d do business with someone and not know their name, do you?”
“You checked me out?”
“Not really. I called Corky and got your name. I needed it for the check and I didn’t have your number.”
AJ looked at the check again. “I’ll need to verify this with my bank.” She rubbed her hand across the back of her neck and stared at the woman.
The intense gaze made Andie take off her sunglasses. When she did, she saw the woman look away. “It’s a certified check. It’s just like cash.” Andie eyed the woman and scrunched up her face. “You didn’t think I’d could do it did you?”
AJ shrugged. “How do I know you can come up with the rest?”
With a smile, Andie held out a piece of paper. “This is a notarized letter from my financial adviser stating that I have the necessary funds to complete our agreement.”
After reading the document, AJ said, “Like I said, I’ll have to verify the check with my bank.”
“Go ahead. You’ll find that it’s legitimate.” Andie fixed her gaze on the woman’s dark eyes. “Then we’ll have a deal…right?” When the woman didn’t reply, she added, “I’ll have my attorney draw up a contract. That should give you more assurance that I’ll live up to my end of the bargain.”
“And that I live up to mine?”
Andie nodded. “I have a place set up already for you to work on the restoration. It’s on my property. All the tools and supplies you need are there. If you need anything else I’ll give you a credit card for those purchases.” Her blue eyes fixed on the mechanic and turned cold. “I’m paying you a lot of money so until the truck is done you’ll only work for me.”
“Like I said lady, I have responsibilities here. I won’t go off and leave my customers until I have fixed their vehicles.”
“That’s not my problem.” She passed the woman another card. “Here’s my address. I’ll expect you there tomorrow morning seven sharp. I’ll have the contract for us both to sign. I’ll expect you to have a detailed work schedule.”
“Are you out of your mind? There’s no way I can be there at seven and I doubt seriously you can get a contract together that fast.”
Andie laughed. “I got the check to you. Trust me, I can have a contract drawn up by this evening.”
Blowing out a breath and shaking her head, AJ held the check and document out. “I can’t do it.”
Fuck. Andie hadn’t expected the turn of events and bowed her head in a gesture of appeasement. “Look,” she said lifting her eyes. “I’m sorry that I am being so heavy handed–this is really important. What do I need to do to make this happen?”
AJ rubbed her free hand across her face smearing her cheeks with more black. It would be so easy to give into the money. But can I? She looked at the two vehicles in the garage and the other one parked outside. “I need to finish the jobs I have before I can start on your truck.”
“OK, what can I do to help you with that?”
A genuine laugh filled the garage. “You’re going to help me?”
Andie frowned. “I might not be able to do the mechanical work but I can answer phones and send out bills.”
“I don’t send out bills,” AJ said dryly. “I trust my customers.”
“But not me?”
When she heard the yelping of a dog, AJ looked at the yellow Jeep. “Is that your dog?”
“Aren’t you worried about leaving him in the car? A man I once knew left his dog in his car and the animal fried.”
“Had it been hot today I would have left him at home. I always leave him with water and the windows are partially opened.” Andie’s eyes searched the woman’s face. “Is coming to my house tomorrow afternoon better for you?”
AJ laughed again. “You don’t give up do you?” The grin on her face left when she saw the woman’s face fill with desperation.
“Not when it’s important,” Andie said softly.
“I’ll be at your place around eight tomorrow morning.”
A bright smile filled Andie’s face. “That will be wonderful. I’ll have breakfast ready for you.” She looked at the woman. “You do eat breakfast don’t you?”
AJ shook her head and smiled. “Yeah, I do but don’t go to any trouble–cereal is good.”
Andie was so relieved that she wanted to hug the woman but when she saw all the black grease, she changed her mind. “Ok then, I’ll see you tomorrow morning and then we can work on a schedule together.”
“I need to get back to work.”
“Right…ok…tomorrow then.” Andie turned around and made her way to the Jeep where she ruffled Oscar’s head. “We did it boy!”
+ + +
Flabbergasted AJ lay under the vehicle and didn’t move. The woman had actually called her bluff. Now what do I do? A part of her wanted nothing to do with the restoration or the brash woman. I should just give her the check back and tell her I’m not for sale.
A picture of her father flashed into her mind and she sighed. The memory of her conversation with her father about plans for a new garage fluttered into her consciousness. I owe it to him to make his dream come true. “Is the cost I’ll have to pay worth it?”
She scooted out from under the truck and went to the desk in the office. She pulled open a drawer and took out a wrinkled, dirty picture. After swallowing hard and wiping away the dust, she let her eyes rest on the picture. Nauseous, AJ closed her eyes and tried to calm both her stomach and racing heart. The picture of the ‘67 Pontiac GTO and the woman crouching in front of it always did that to her.
“I can’t do it Rhonda…I just can’t.”
+ + +
AJ navigated her Chevy Trailblazer off the pavement and onto the county dirt road and kept her eyes peeled for a mailbox with the number 8413. She glanced at the dashboard clock and groaned. Sleep had eluded her the night before as old wounds and memories kept resurfacing. The sting in her eyes was from not only the glare of the morning sun but from the tears she shed only hours earlier. She was going to be late but that really didn’t matter for she would tell the woman ‘no thanks’.
During the early hours of the morning as AJ tossed and turned, she thought back to her first encounter with the woman. Bitchy was the one word that kept repeating in her mind. At that moment, she decided that the pact with the disagreeable woman was something she didn’t want to pursue. She’d find a way to put together enough money to make the necessary improvements to the garage without the disagreeable woman’s money. She was certain that her father wouldn’t want her to compromise herself that way.
When she saw the house number on a large black mailbox, she turned into the dirt and gravel driveway where a stand of Ponderosa pines with trimmed bottom branches to help if there was a fire, stood as bastions against intruders. After several turns in the road, she could see the red roof of a house. As she drew closer, she saw a cedar porch that wrapped around the front and sides of the home. The place was too warm and inviting to belong to the woman who came to her garage.
It was no surprise to AJ when she saw the woman standing on the porch with a scowl on her face. “Great she’s going to bitch at me from the get go. That’s all I need.” She was ready for any confrontation with the woman, her decision made–she wasn’t going to do the restoration.
Andie watched as the car restorer climbed out of her vehicle. With brow furrowed, she looked at the woman and had to catch her breath. All cleaned up, the woman was stunning. The way she walked told Andie that under the coveralls was a well toned body. Her black hair was in disarray and Andie let out a small, silent chuckle. Guess she doesn’t own a brush or comb. “Hi, I see you found the place.”
Stopping in her tracks, AJ looked at the woman. “Yeah, I did,” she said before moving closer.
“Come on in, I’ve made coffee. I don’t know about you but I can’t get my day going until I’ve had that first cup.” Andie pulled open the screen door and waited for the woman. “I decided that you needed a good home cooked meal and since the only thing you mentioned was cereal I went ahead and made everything I could think of,” she said with a slight blush.
With resolve, AJ stood on the porch and faced the woman. “I can’t do the job…sorry.”
The despair Andie felt was instantaneous. “Do you want more money?” she asked. “Did you look me up on the internet and now you think you can get more money? How much…tell me how much more it will take?” Hidden behind her harsh sounding words were tears.
AJ looked in the woman’s light blue eyes and thought she saw the start of tears. Shit. “No, I didn’t look you up…I don’t own a computer.” She looked closer at the woman. Tears were now brimming in her eyes. I can’t do this. “I’m sorry it’s not the money. I just can’t.”
Andie’s shoulders slumped. I can’t let her go, not yet. I need time. She asked, “Can you at least stay long enough to eat breakfast? I have so much food…”
The aroma of coffee mixed with the pungent smell of bacon had AJ’s mouth watering from her first step onto the porch.
“Yeah, I guess I can.”
With a smile that dissolved as soon as it came, Andie opened the screen door wider. “Please, come on in.”
AJ cautiously stepped into the house and let her eyes roam over the interior. The inviting exterior transcended into a warm cozy interior. When a small black and white dog began jumping around her, she couldn’t help but smile. Leaning down she quickly raked her fingers across its head before she looked up when the woman spoke.
“Oscar, leave our guest alone,” Andie said. “Sorry about that he tends to be a pest at times.”
“No, it is ok. I like dogs.”
Andie smiled and said, “The kitchen is this way,” before she moved toward the back of the house.
AJ gave the dog another pet as she eyed the woman suspiciously. Who is she today? Jekyll or Hyde?
When Andie saw the woman standing by the front door, she took some solace in the fact she was still there. “It’s all ready.” When AJ looked directly at her, Andie smiled and said, “It’s getting cold.
Wood floors that were highly polished seemed to go on forever. Exposed timbers lined the ceiling while polished wood adorned the great room floor. A massive window was set into the farthest wall. From her position near the front of the house, AJ could tell the view was spectacular. As she ventured further, she could feel her body relax, as the soft colors and comfortable furniture made her feel calmer than she had in a long time.
“I hope you’re hungry,” Andie said when the woman arrived at the kitchen.
AJ’s attention turned to the woman standing in the kitchen. Her eyes grew wide as she took in the amount of food on the table. “Are others coming?” The lilting laugh from the woman she thought was so brash had AJ looking at her with new eyes.
“I know I went overboard,” Andie said with a shrug. “Please sit and help yourself.”
As she sat down, AJ’s stomach growled and she looked to see if the woman noticed–it didn’t seem so. Once she began eating, AJ couldn’t help sampling everything–it was all delicious.
Oscar sat patiently by his owner hoping for something to drop in his direction. Andie scratched the dog’s ear as she watched fascinated by her guest’s gusto in devouring the food. She silently patted herself on the back for taking a gourmet cooking class. “Sorry I forgot to put the OJ out…can I get you a glass?”
Looking up, AJ finished chewing the last of a pancake before she said, “Yes, that sounds good.” She watched the woman walk to the refrigerator. It was clear that her initial impression of the woman was correct. Man is she hot! “Have you lived here long?”
Once Andie placed a glass of juice in front of AJ she said, “No, I’ve only lived here a few months.”
Not knowing what to say, AJ looked out the large picture window that overlooked the property and had a dramatic view of the distant mountains. Her eyes tracked to the horse ring. “You have horses?”
“No, I bought the house at a foreclosure sale, which included everything down to the rotting food in the refrigerator. Apparently the couple that owned the place took off with their truck loaded down with what they could take along with two horses and the horse trailer.”
AJ looked around the comfortable area. “This isn’t your furniture?”
With a laugh Andie said, “It’s mine. I took all of their stuff and put it in a guest house that’s next to the barn.” She looked out the window and sighed. “That’s how I came to own the F-100.” Turning to face the woman, Andie said, “Since you’re here would you like to see her?”
“Listen, I can’t do the restoration…”
“I understand that. I just thought you might look at it while you’re here and maybe give me some advice about what to look for when I find someone to do the restoration.”
With a fully belly, AJ was feeling agreeable. “Sure I can do that.” She fished in her pocket and took out the check. “Here,” she said.
“Just leave it there. I’ll have to make sure the money is credited back to my account.” Andie smiled. “Come on, the truck is in the big garage.”
+ + +
Andie stood in front of the oversized garage as her dog jumped and twirled in excitement. She laughed at his antics and pressed the code into the pad. When the door lifted, there was an audible gasp from the woman next to her. “From what I can make out, the guy who owed this place did car restorations. I don’t know much about the process but I think everything is here.”
With her mouth open, AJ walked into the building and ran her fingers down the fender of a 1932 Buick Model 96 Victoria Coupe. She saw the truck along with a 1922 Model T truck. Her brow creased as she turned to the woman who was standing next to a truck with her dog in her arms. “Why do you want the ‘55 restored and not the Buick or the Model T? They are much more valuable vehicles and from what I can see are in remarkably good condition.”
Andie gave Oscar a quick kiss on his head, put him down, and fixed her gaze on the other woman. “In 1958 my grandfather bought a used F-100 and when my dad was sixteen he learned how to drive on that truck. When he got his license my grandfather gave him the truck as a reward.” Andie looked away–the pain of the memory was always intense. “I can still see my dad out in the driveway working on the engine. He loved that truck.” Averting the woman’s eyes, Andie squeezed her eyes as she willed the moisture to stop. “Just like he did, my dad taught me to drive on that truck. When I turned sixteen my dad gave me the keys and said, take good care of her. I drove it all over the place,” she said with a small smile. “I even took it with me to college.”
AJ didn’t know what to do when tears ran down the woman’s cheeks. She wanted to leave but the woman’s vulnerability compelled her to stay. “The ’55 Ford is a sweet ride,” she said. When she saw Andie lift her head and look at her, she smiled. “I remember seeing one at a classic automobile show.”
With a trembling voice, Andie said, “When I came home for Christmas I was driving a red Corvair convertible. It was cooler than the truck. At that time, I was into cool. When my dad asked about the truck, I said I traded it for my new car.” Andie swiped at the tears and wiped her nose with a rag she picked up. “I still can see the devastated look on his face. He died three months later.” Through her tears Andie said, “I tried to find the truck and buy it back but the guy who bought it had left the state.” She shrugged and took in a cleansing breath. “Anyway that’s why I choose the truck and not the others.”
It was at that moment that AJ knew she’d restore the truck. “What are you going to do with the other ones?”
“If you’ll reconsider helping me, you can have them. You’ll still get your money–consider it an extra bonus.”
Her eyes took in the entire garage and all the equipment as she moved around between the vehicles. Everything she’d need to restore a car was there including some items that she considered too expensive to buy.
Noticing the interest taken in the equipment, Andie asked, “If I find someone to do the restoration is the equipment ok?”
“More than ok,” AJ said as she inspected the spray painter. “Whoever the guy was, he spared no expense.”
The fact that the woman hadn’t left gave Andie hope that after seeing what she’d work with she would restore the truck. She decided to sweeten the pot. “If you’ll do the restoration I’ll throw in everything in here…except the truck of course.”
With the toe of her boot, AJ kicked at a small piece of gravel and watched as it dribbled under one of the vehicles. Her hand went to her face and covered it as she rubbed it before pinching her nose. “Your offer is tempting…” She now understood why the woman was willing to pay so much for the job. She was even willing to prostitute herself by going to bed with me. Guilt was a powerful motivator–she knew that lesson all too well. She felt bile make its way up to her mouth as the past flashed in her mind. Looking into Andie’s tear filled blue eyes, she shook her head–tears always were my downfall. “I’ll need to honor my previous commitments before I can start.”
“That sounds reasonable. How long do you think it will take?”
AJ ran all the jobs that she’d taken on through her mind and calculated how long it would take. “Two weeks minimum and that’s if I work day and night.”
Nodding, Andie said, “I can live with that. I’ll have my lawyer draw up an agreement that will include the hundred thousand pay out, the two vehicles and the equipment. Is that your understanding of what we’ve agreed on?”
“In return, I’ll expect your exclusive services until the restoration job is complete. Does that sound fair?”
“Yes, as long as I am able to complete my previous commitments.”
“I will have the contract reflect that and make a start date for three weeks from today. Is that agreeable?”
“Yes.” AJ looked at her watch. “I need to go…by the time I get to my garage it will be two hours later then when I normally open. My regulars will wonder what happened to me.”
Andie smiled and let out the deep sigh she’d been holding. “It’s nice that you have people who care about you,” she said. “Would you like to take some of the muffins with you?”
“No, I really need to go.”
“Ok. As soon as the contract is ready, I’ll stop by your garage and give you a copy. When you’re ready, we can both sign it.”
“Sounds good to me,” AJ said as she started for her vehicle.
“Oh, wait a minute, let me get the check.” Without waiting for an answer, Andie ran back into her house for the check. When she returned outside, she handed the mechanic the check. “Have a safe trip. I’ll be in touch with you in a few days.”
Andie watched as the Trailblazer moved away from her home. She ruffled Oscar’s fur. “We did it boy.”
+ + +
It was almost eleven when AJ pulled her vehicle up to the bay door of her auto repair garage. She saw the VW bug that belonged to Eddie Littleton parked to the side and sighed. As she opened the office door, Eddie scowled in her direction. The man in his seventies was on the small side with a gray moustache and thinning gray hair.
“Where have you been?”
AJ’s body stiffened. “I had an appointment out near the Black Forest area and it took longer than I expected.”
“I can set my clock by the time you arrive to work. I promised your dad I’d look after you…I’ve been worried. His ghost will haunt me forever if something ever happens to you.”
“Look, I’m sorry.”
Eddie picked up a Starbucks coffee cup. “This is cold you’ll have to reheat it.” He foisted the cup in AJ’s direction. “My friend Gus needs you to look over his car’s engine…it’s making a ga-thump noise.”
“I can listen to it and tell him what I think but I can’t do the repairs.”
“Why? He’s good for the bill if that’s worrying you.”
AJ shook her head. “I don’t care about that Eddie and you know it. In three weeks I’m starting a job that will take all my time.”
With her dark eyes refusing to look in the man’s direction, AJ said, “A restoration.”
Eddie blinked twice before his eyebrows met. “You’ve got to be kidding me…I thought after Rhon…”
Holding up her hand, AJ said, “Don’t go there Eddie.”
“All you need to know is that the job will take me two or three months tops and when I’m done I’ll have enough money to remodel this place and make it the garage my dad always dreamed of.”
Eddie eyed the woman who he’d known since she was a toddler. “What kind of restoration comes with that kind of money? You’re not into anything illegal are you?”
“No, Eddie it’s all above board.”
“Are you sure that you can do it without the past getting in the way?”
After taking her cup of coffee out of the microwave, AJ took a sip then looked squarely at the man. “With the upfront money I can get started on the remodeling. I still have my dad’s plans.” She shrugged. “How can I pass that up Eddie? Some of my fondest memories of him are right here in this garage especially when his face would light up as he talked about his dream garage.” AJ swiped at her eyes and sighed. “I’ve wasted the whole morning. I need to get to work. You want to help out?”
A smile beamed in AJ’s direction as Eddie patted her on the back. “Sure. Where do we start?
+ + +
That night, AJ didn’t go to her apartment opting instead she went to the small cottage that she shared with her lover Rhonda. She sat in the driveway just looking at the place remembering the last time she was there. With a deep breath, she got out and took hesitant steps toward the front door. Once inside, she flicked on a light and looked around–nothing had changed. She turned back to the door only to turn around again and go further inside.
With a shaking hand, she turned on the television then clicked on the VHS machine and watched as the images came to life. She fell back into the sofa and watched, as the GTO was unveiled with a ‘ta-da’.
“I love it,” a familiar voice said. “I can’t believe you did this all for me.”
“Happy birthday…come closer and look at the inside,” she heard another voice say.
When the video focused on the white leather upholstery, the other voice said, “That back seat looks like it needs breaking in.”
She could hear herself laugh and say, “I like how your mind works.”
That segment ended and soon another video started. “Rhonda,” she said as she looked at the two women embracing and laughing as they posed for the camera. She stopped the forward motion and stared at the screen. “Who is that with her?” she whispered. Shaking her head she said, “What happened to you–why don’t you laugh like that anymore?” She knew the answer–the question then became why.
AJ recalled the day as if it were yesterday. They had made love in the backseat of the GTO that day before taking the car out for a test run. Three days later, her lover, Rhonda was dead after gunning the GTO as she ran a red light. The semi truck driver who was traveling west couldn’t stop his rig in time and crashed into the driver’s side of the GTO–Rhonda never had a chance.
For several hours, AJ sat watching the snow on the television as she tried to reconcile what she was about to do. “If only I hadn’t put that bigger engine in it…if only I had been with her that day…everything would be different.”
She swiped at the tears that flowed freely down her cheeks and got up. “I’m pretty sure that woman won’t be racing the truck.” She took one last look at the television and turned it off. “It’s a means to an end. I’ll be able to fulfill my dad’s dream.” She picked up a folder marked building plans and left without a backward glance. There was nothing left for her there.
+ + +
AJ watched as the last vehicle she repaired drove away. She was a week ahead of schedule and she was itching to start the renovation–the sooner she started the sooner she’d finish. When a courier arrived the week before with a contract for her to sign, her feeling of disappointment puzzled her. Why didn’t Andie bring the documents in person–isn’t that what she said she’d do? True to the woman’s word, there was a listing of every item in the garage. As she ran down the list, she saw equipment she hadn’t seen when she was in the garage. She estimated that with the cash, the two vehicles, and all the equipment her take home for one restoration was close to four hundred thousand dollars.
She dialed Andrea McBride’s number and when she heard the woman’s voice, she suddenly became mute. Finally, she said, “Hey this is AJ Whittaker…I’m the one that’s going to restore the F-100 for you.”
Closing her eyes and sucking in a breath, Andie prepared herself for the words she was sure would come. “Yes.”
“Listen, um…I’ve finished up sooner than I thought I would. I was wondering if you’d mind it if I started tomorrow instead of next week.”
After letting out the breath she’d been holding, Andie said, “That sounds good to me.”
“Great I’ll see you then.”
“I’ll make breakfast. What would you like?”
Chuckling AJ shook her head. “Judging by the last breakfast you made, it was all good.”
“Ok, I’ll surprise you.”
AJ held the phone in her hand and looked at it with a scrunched up face. There had been a smile on her face of that she was sure. The laughter was foreign to her. When was the last time I laughed? She didn’t have an answer.
+ + +
Both AJ and Andie sat silently at the table eating Eggs Benedict. Ever since the woman arrived, Andie studied her and realized that her initial assessment of being nothing more than a greased monkey was wrong. She was without a doubt beautiful. For Andie that revelation was in complete contrast to what the woman did for a living. The black hair that she originally thought was unkempt was combed and longer than she remembered. Her dark eyes appeared to be black, but when she looked deeper, she could see they were a deep, dark blue. An edge to the woman’s face held sadness and that made Andie want to reach out and soothe the woman.
For AJ, she covertly stole glances at the woman across from her. Something about Andie t called to her and that was disconcerting. Whatever it was, it danced around her in a circle that she couldn’t see or join. Every time she saw the woman, the realization of how hot she was, only added to the attraction. The long wavy hair that shined with red highlights when the light hit it just right, framed Andie’s face in a way that emphasized its beauty. Squelching her body’s reaction to the woman, she concentrated on the view out the window.
Breaking the silence, AJ asked, “Have you gone up Pike’s Peak?”
Surprised, Andie cocked her head and smiled. “No, no I haven’t. I hear it is spectacular.”
“Yeah it is. If you get a chance you should go.” AJ’s eyes tracked out the large window again and said, “You can see it from here.”
With eyes that grew wide, Andie said, “Really? Where?”
AJ pointed to a distant mountain. “It’s the one on the left.”
“I had no idea.” Smiling she added, “Now, I’ll have to find it.”
“You won’t be disappointed. You can take a cog railroad to the top. If you drive, it’s a winding dirt road without guard rails. This time of year, you’re likely to find that snow closes the road.”
“Thanks. I guess it can wait until next summer.” Andie looked at AJ’s empty plate. “Can I get you another helping Ms. Whittaker?”
AJ looked up and regarded the woman. “AJ.”
Andie gave the woman a quick nod and said, “Ok, AJ, can I get you another helping…I just need to heat it up.”
“It was delicious but I’ve had enough.”
With knitted eyebrows, Andie began to speak but stopped. What the hell, I’ll ask. “What does AJ stand for?”
Without hesitation AJ said, “Alana Jane. I was named after my father who was Alan James.”
“May I ask…is that what your family calls you?” Andie saw a profound sadness cross the woman’s face. “Hey, listen, I’m sorry. I was out of line.”
With a small smile curving her lips, AJ shook her head. “Nothing to be sorry about. My dad was my only family and he died last spring.”
Andie’s heart went out to the profound sadness she saw on the woman’s face. She began to say something when AJ spoke.
“We need to talk about the restoration. I noticed there are several cans of white paint. Is that the color you want?”
Andie blinked at the hundred and eighty degree change of the conversation. In a way, she understood the woman’s reluctance to comment further. “No, I want black. Will that be a problem?”
“No, but that’s going to cost you…a gallon of auto paint starts around eight hundred dollars.”
Andie’s eyes became saucers. “I had no idea…for one gallon? Surely you need more than that for the entire truck.”
“I’ll add some additives but a gallon is all I’ll need.”
“Remarkable,” Andie said shaking her head. “Well, it won’t be a problem.” She pulled a credit card out of her shirt pocket and slid it toward the woman. “You can use this for anything you need.” She smiled when AJ picked up the card. “The distance you have to travel is going to eat up miles on your vehicle. With the price of gas going up and down you’ll need compensation. Use the card for your gas too.”
AJ looked at the credit card and was surprised to find her name stamped on it. “Look, you added the two vehicles and all the equipment so I’ll pay for my own gas.”
“No,” Andie blurted out. “I want you to use it for gas…it’s only right.”
AJ pursed her lips and slowly ground her molars. “I can’t take advantage of you like that. You’re already paying way more than is reasonable.” When she saw Andie’s features tighten, she added, “You’re far too generous, but I won’t argue the point.”
Andie averted the woman’s gaze when she felt her emotions well up. “What you’re doing for me is priceless. When the truck is finished I will be able to think of my dad with a smile instead of the tears of guilt,” she said softly. Once she regained her composure, she let a slight smile wreath her lips. “If it would be easier you can always stay in my guest house. That way you wouldn’t have the hour drive here and back.” She shrugged. “That is if you want.”
AJ shook her head before letting out a long sigh. “Well, I guess I’d better get started.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Andie began collecting the plates then stopped. “I’ve got some work to do. Will you need me to show you around or are you good on your own?”
With a slight laugh, AJ said, “Oh I think I’ve been around garages a time or two so I should be ok.”
Andie gave the woman a bright smile. “I just bet you have. The door code is 9131. I don’t know if you noticed it the last time you were here, but there’s a fridge out there and is stocked with all kinds of drinks.” When she saw AJ nod she continued, “I also started the coffee pot if you’d rather have that.”
With another nod, AJ got up and headed for the door.
“I’ll bring you lunch around noon.”
Without acknowledging the words, AJ walked out the door.
+ + +
Oscar’s jumping and twirling beside her chair took Andie’s attention away from her writing.
“Ok, I’ll take you out as soon as I finish this chapter.” She scratched his head and smiled before turning back to the keyboard.
Charlotte turned out the lights and closed the door to her office . Something about the man had all her senses pinging off the walls of her brain. She needed time to think–time to let her senses tell her what was happening. For twenty minutes, she sat at her desk as visions of the murder played out in her mind. Opening her eyes, she let out a cleansing breath and smiled–she knew the answer.
Pleased with her progress, Andie leaned back and read the final sentence of the chapter. Her eyes bugged when they strayed to the right corner of the screen and she saw it was past noon. “Shit!” Getting up, she hurried to the kitchen with Oscar at her heels. “Just give me a minute boy and we’ll go outside. Shit, I didn’t know it was so late.”
She hurriedly put together two ham and cheese sandwiches, pushed them in plastic sandwich bags, and grabbed a bag of Sun Chips. In a very fast walk, she made her way to the garage. Oscar announced their arrival when he spotted AJ in the building.
“Oscar, come,” she shouted. Once the dog was by her side, she proceeded into the garage. “Hey, I’m sorry I’m late. I got so engrossed in my writing, that I lost all track of time. I’ll set an alarm from now on.”
AJ looked around the engine that was hanging above the truck. “No problem I wasn’t hungry. Sometimes I get so involved in what I’m doing that I lose all track of time too.”
Andie moved closer and held out the sandwiches and chips. “Ham and cheese…hope you like it.”
“Yeah, I do. Thanks.” As she looked at the sandwiches, her stomach rumbled and she looked at Andie. The woman smile on the woman’s face told her that the growl was loud enough for her to hear. “Guess I was hungry after all.”
“Funny how it sneaks up on you.” Andie watched as the woman pulled a sandwich out of a bag and took a bite. She turned her attention to the truck as her old feelings of remorse mingled with hope.
As AJ ate her sandwich, she covertly watched the woman who lovingly rubbed her hand along the truck’s body. She was tall and willowy with chestnut hair curling around her shoulders. For a moment, AJ lost track of where she was. “It’s beautiful isn’t it?” she said then looked around to see who spoke. I must be losing it.
Andie turned, looked at the woman, and hesitated for a moment, before tucking her hair behind an ear. “Yes, it is,” she said softly.
Clearing her throat and shaking her head, AJ said, “What do you write?”
“For a living?”
“Can I buy them at the bookstore?”
Andie smiled and let out a low laugh. “Yeah, I have one or two out there .” She pointed to the engine. “What’s that all about?”
“I tried to start the engine. It started for a moment then stopped. Rather than buy a new engine I’m going to rebuild the old one. The truck will be more valuable if you have the original engine.”
Andie frowned. “I’m not selling the truck.”
“I know,” AJ said, closing her eyes. “I…just want you to get… Look, you’re paying me a lot of money to do this job and you should get your money’s worth. I want it to be right.”
With a quick firm nod, Andie turned away only to turn back around. “I’m making a chicken casserole for dinner. You’re welcome to join me.”
“I think I’ll just head on home.”
Andie shrugged and said, “Suit yourself. I guess I’ll see you in the morning then.”
AJ watched the woman leave and raised an eyebrow. “Guess I was wrong. She’s not a bitch…today anyway. I wonder why she thinks she needs to feed me all the time.” She held a rearview mirror at arm’s length and looked her body up and down. “Nope, I don’t look malnourished. Guess she just likes to cook,” AJ said with a chuckle. “And I like to eat. Sounds like a perfect set up to me.” She shook her head, smiled, and returned to the engine.
+ + +
When Andie got back inside, she went into her office and sat down at the desk. She moved the mouse and waited for the computer to come back to life. Charlotte and her story no longer interested her. With a keystroke, she accessed the monitoring equipment and sighed when the image of the woman taking the engine apart came into view. She concentrated on AJ’s body as the woman’s arms worked a wrench. When AJ stepped toward a work bench and, in a cat-like motion, stretched her back, Andie shivered. The woman was magnificent. She continued to watch until her eyes drifted to the lone picture on her desk. A small girl with chestnut hair captured in time smiled at her. She gently trailed a finger across the girl’s face as a lone tear trickled down her cheek.
+ + +
Oscar’s insistent barking woke Andie from a dreamless sleep. “Oscar, hush” she said as the dog kept attacking the side of the bed. “Ok, ok…let’s go see what it is.” She slid out of the bed, pulled out the drawer to the nightstand and took out her revolver. She slowly crept down the hall toward the main part of the house as Oscar sped ahead to the door then ran full speed back to her. When she heard the dog growl she stopped in her tracks and felt a shiver go down her spine.
When she got to the end of the hall, she snaked her hand around the corner, flicked on the lights, and held the revolver in two hands as she stepped into the room. “Whoever you are I suggest you get out of here or I’ll shoot you.” Nothing.
Venturing further into the great room, her eyes constantly sought something that was out of the ordinary–something that didn’t belong. Oscar was by the door jumping and growling and that made her nervous. The only time the dog growled was when wild animals were close to the house. She slowly made her way to the door with her finger poised on the trigger. Standing by the door, she peeked out the window to the lit up front yard. Letting out a sigh and lowering the gun, Andie closed her eyes when she saw AJ’s Trail Blazer parked next to the garage.
“It is ok boy,” she said as she shuffled back to her bedroom. “AJ is early…damn woman needs to stay in bed longer.”
+ + +
When the radio began blaring a song she didn’t know, Andie rolled over and punched the snooze button. It wasn’t long before Oscar was bouncing on the bed and licking her face. Andie laughed until the radio came on again. When she heard, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, she closed her eyes and fought the urge to cry.
Shaking away the memories, Andie said, “Enough of this pity party,” before she got out of bed and headed for the bathroom and a quick shower.
+ + +
AJ was intent on cleaning parts of the engine and didn’t hear Andie enter the garage. Usually the dog barked and jumped on her announcing the woman’s arrival.
“Good morning AJ. I’ve brought you my version of an Egg Mc Muffin,” she said as her eyes took in the coffee maker that looked like it was full of mud. “I also brought you a thermos of fresh coffee.” She placed the plate on the workbench next to where AJ sat.
Looking up, AJ said, “Thanks. My stomach has been reminding me that I haven’t eaten since yesterday at noon.”
Andie smiled. “Sounds like you should have taken me up on the offer of dinner last night.”
Once she pulled a piston out of a pan of gas, AJ returned her attention to the woman standing close to her. “I didn’t feel much like eating when I got home,” she said with a crooked smile.
“Do you ever sleep?”
Taken aback by the question, AJ frowned. “Why?”
“You were her at three-thirty.”
“I wanted to get an early start.”
“Why not reconsider my offer to stay in the guest house.”
Ignoring the woman, AJ wiped off her hands and picked up the egg sandwich.
Andie cringed as she focused on the woman’s dirty hand.
“This is good,” she said before popping the last bite into her mouth. “The engine is almost ready to be reassembled, but it needs new gaskets. I’ll need to go to town later and pick them up.” She eyed the woman next to her and frowned. “You should know that they’re going to be expensive…they are custom made.”
“The truck is over fifty years old so I don’t suppose parts are readily available. Do you have a source for parts?”
AJ scratched her head. “I have suppliers that I’ve used in the past. They find parts in automobile junk yards and from private sellers. For the most part the truck is in good shape except for the windshield and that won’t be hard to find.”
Andie’s eyes widened. “Wow, I had no idea that the job would be so involved. I figured you’d paint it, put new tires on it and that would be it.”
Shaking her head, AJ said, “That is basically what I do. The preparation takes the most time.
Andie turned her head and looked at the truck. “I can see that now.”
“Once I get the engine back together, I’ll test to see if it will start.”
“You don’t think it will?”
AJ laughed. “It’ll start. I’ve never had one that didn’t but there’s always the chance.” When her eyes connected with Andie’s, she said, “By the way, thanks for the breakfast.”
Andie touched AJ’s shoulder and held it there as a surge of emotion coursed through her body. “I’ve called Robertson’s and they’ll be delivering a bigger space heater for in here later on today. It’s pretty cold at three in the morning.”
Normally, AJ would shake off any type of contact. Now, she hoped that the hand wouldn’t move. When it did, she still felt the warmth left in its wake. “Yeah it was pretty chilly earlier. Thanks.”
In an uncharacteristic gesture, Andie moved closer and felt the heat of AJ’s body. She leaned in and looked at the parts that occupied the bench top. “I had no idea an engine had all that inside.”
“Incredible isn’t it.” AJ could smell the clean scent of soap and water mixed with the hint of a light perfume. When she felt her body tremble, she pushed off her stool and broke the contact. It was a long time since she allowed anyone to make her feel sexual. The woman who was looking at her intently had done just that. “Once I get the engine back together and test it, I’ll start the body work.”
With a smile and a wink, Andie said, “Let me know if you need anything…I’ll be in the house writing.” She walked out of the garage and was sure she could feel AJ’s eyes watching her go.
+ + +
Over the next several weeks, the women fell into a camaraderie laced liberally with flirting from the writer. For her part, Andie took every opportunity to touch AJ, which made her want more. The more she became attracted to AJ the less writing she did. She spent good part of her day either in the garage or at her desk watching as the woman worked.
While sitting at her desk and trying to write more, the phone rang. When she looked at caller ID, she frowned. “Hello Diana.”
“Andie, is the manuscript finished? You told me you’d have the completed manuscript to me by next week. Judging by your silence I’m concerned that you won’t meet the deadline.”
“I will get it to you on time,” she said as she watched AJ bend down for a part. Lost in the sight, she didn’t hear what the woman on the other end of the line said. “What was that?”
“I said, you’ve always been like clockwork in giving me updates. I haven’t heard a word from you in weeks and that is highly unusual. You do realize that the finished manuscript is due in ten days don’t you?”
“Of course I know that. When have I ever missed a deadline? The answer is never so there’s no reason for you to believe I won’t meet it now.” She saw AJ wipe her hands and walk out of the garage. With one keystroke, the screen went back to her story.
Diana sighed. “Look, I know I don’t need to tell you about the importance of keeping on schedule…”
Andie tuned out Diana when she looked up to see AJ standing in the doorway. She took a quick glance at the screen to make sure the garage was no longer showing before she held up one finger and rolled her eyes. “I need to go. Don’t worry you’ll get the completed manuscript on time.”
“Listen, I’ve known you for a long time Andie. I can tell when something isn’t right,” Diana said. “This reminds me of your ordeal with Kiara and that has me concerned. I hope you fix whatever is going on with you and not put your career in jeopardy again.”
Andie gritted her teeth. “That’s not going to happen. Goodbye.” She hung up the phone and smiled at AJ.
Holding up a book, AJ asked, “I thought you said one or two? I found four at Barnes and Noble.”
Andie blushed. “I’m working on number five now.”
AJ moved closer to the desk and pointed to the picture. “She looks like you. Is she your daughter?”
With her eyes focused on the picture, Andie said, “Yes.”
“I haven’t seen her around. Is she away at school?”
“No,” Andie whispered. “She’s with her father.”
“Oh, you’re divorced then?”
Andie nodded. “Yes.”
The woman’s brief answer had AJ’s eyes fixing on Andie. “Sorry, if I’ve upset you.”
Willing her eyes not to tear up, Andie rubbed a hand across her face. “You didn’t. That was my publisher on the phone. She can be a first class bitch when she sets her mind to it.”
AJ didn’t know what to say. “Oh.”
“My daughter isn’t here because the judge said I could only see her if the visits were monitored.”
AJ blinked. “What? I thought the mother always got custody.”
“The judge’s exact words were, “You are an abhorrent deviant that children need to be protected against.”
A multitude of scenarios ran through AJ’s mind. The woman across from her didn’t look like a child molester, but appearances weren’t always fact. As she watched, a pained emotion filled Andie’s face she looked away.
“It isn’t what you’re thinking; I’m not a molester or a child abuser.”
“I didn’t think you were.”
“But it crossed your mind didn’t it?”
AJ, avoiding looking in the woman’s direction, nodded.
“I’m a lesbian and because of that I’m denied seeing Annie unless it’s supervised,” Andie said as she pushed back from the desk and stood up. “Being who I am is a sin in the eyes of the law.”
Without thinking, AJ rounded the desk and hugged Andie. When she did, she could feel her heart beating close to Andie’s and it took her breath away. Letting go and stepping back she said, “They’re idiots.” Shocked by her sudden actions, AJ felt her face heat up. “I need to go into the Springs for the paint. Since it’s already two, I won’t come be back until tomorrow.”
Shocked by the hug and the sudden change in the restorer’s attitude, Andie stepped away from the woman and returned her attention to the computer screen. If she had written the scenario, AJ would be hugging her again instead of running away. What’s wrong with her? Unable to hide her disappointment, Andie said, “Fine, go and get the damn paint.” Andie sat back down, grabbed the mouse, and watched as the screen came to life. She looked up at AJ who was standing with her mouth wide open. “Please close the door on your way out.”
Backing out of the room, AJ shook her head. What a prima donna.
Once she heard AJ’s car start up, Andie called her dog. “Oscie come here.” When the dog stood next to her chair, she patted her lap and he jumped into it. She stroked his fur and allowed her tears to fall.
+ + +
AJ stopped in front of the auto paint store on Monroe and didn’t get out immediately. During the forty-five minute drive, she kept trying to figure out what had happened between her and Andie. The woman had dismissed her and she didn’t understand why. Even more mystifying was her reaction to the woman. She couldn’t deny that holding Andie in her arms felt wonderful, but it was so far out of her comfort zone that it was foreign to her. It had been a long time since she let anyone get that close.
Over the previous weeks, she was certain that Andie was flirting with her. The dismissal made her wonder if she was projecting her own attraction onto the woman. She couldn’t deny that at times, Andie made her forget the past and want to move on. “Now what should I do?” she lamented as she got out of the truck. Rhonda was my sounding board for the emotional stuff. Who can I talk to now? She thought about Eddie and her father’s other friends that watched out for her. Yeah right. Shaking her head and laughing she continued to the store.
Once she placed the paint and other supplies in the back of the Trailblazer, AJ got in and sat there for several minutes before she decided what to do next. She put the key in the ignition and started the engine. Backing out, she went in the direction of the house she had shared with Rhonda. There she would be alone with her memories and the pain they evoked.
+ + +
Over the next week, the two women conveniently avoided each other. When they did see each other they were cordially cool and refrained from any conversations that involved more than a few sentences.
For AJ, she missed the time they had spent over breakfast getting to know each other. Andie still provided the meal, but would bring it out to the garage and leave it on a workbench without saying a word.
Once she tried to engage the woman in small talk, but Andie rebuffed her with, “I haven’t time now. I have a deadline to make.”
Finally, on Friday around noon, AJ decided it was time to resolve the stalemate. She walked to the house and knocked on the door. When Andie came to the door, AJ couldn’t believe her eyes–she looked awful. “Hey,” she said. “Are you ok?”
Andie shook her head and opened the door. “I have to get my manuscript to the editor by next week and I’m burning the candle at both ends.” She pinched her eyes with her thumb and forefinger and let out a sigh. “I’m sorry. Did I miss lunch.”
“No, that’s not why I’m here. I want...no I need to talk to you about what happened last week.”
The writer rubbed her forehead trying to sooth away the pain of a headache. “I was a bitch. I’m sorry. I don’t know what comes over me sometimes. I miss my little girl so much that I tend to take it out on others. That’s why I live way out here. It’s safer for the general population.”
AJ fought the urge to take the woman in her arms, but lost the battle. She pulled Andie close and whispered, “Sometimes life knocks the crap out of us and we don’t know why so we muddle through the best that we can in spite of the pain we feel.”
Andie leaned in and took what AJ was offering. It wasn’t sexual and that was ok. All she needed was the comfort of another human being.
Words weren’t necessary as the two held each other . From out of nowhere, Oscar ran by them and began barking and jumping on the door–the magic ended.
Andie was the first to break the embrace. When she looked out the door, she did a double take when she recognized Diana. “Fuck, what’s she doing here?”
“My editor. Shit, now she’ll know I haven’t finished the manuscript.”
Not knowing what to say or to do, AJ shuffled her feet slightly before she said, “I guess I better get back to work.”
Andie reached out and took AJ’s arm. “I’m sorry. I had no idea she was coming here.”
AJ just shrugged.
“We need to talk...”
“Later. I need to get back to work and you have company.” AJ opened the door just as a small-framed woman with wavy blonde hair wearing a full length mink coat that seemed to engulf her, approached the door.
“Well hello gorgeous. Where’s Andie?”
AJ kept walking.
Annoyed, Andie said, “What are you doing here Diana?”
AJ heard Andie’s angry tone and was surprised when she got to the bottom step, turned around and saw the shorter woman on her tiptoes embracing Andie and shared what appeared to be a passionate kiss. She turned away and walked quickly to the garage. All the while, her forehead wrinkled in question. Are they lovers? That woman doesn’t look like Andie’s type. Shaking the jealous feelings away, AJ entered the garage.
+ + +
Andie pushed Diana away and wiped her lips with the back of her hand. “Don’t ever do that again!” she exclaimed as she moved away from the woman. Once they were inside, Andie’s frown grew deeper. “Why are you here?”
“I came to find out what’s going on with you. I’m wondering who wrote the updates you’ve sent me.” Diana motioned to the door. “I guess I found the answer. Tall, dark, and gorgeous.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. She’s working on one of my vehicles.” Andie saw Diana’s face soften.
“Then what’s up with you? In the last five years, I’ve never known you to miss a deadline. What you’ve sent me recently is full of holes and errors. That isn’t like you.”
“I’m doing my best,” Andie said as she wrung her hands. “I just can’t seem to get into the flow of the story.”
Diana moved closer to the woman and embraced her. “Not to worry. I’m here now. We’ll go over the pages together and see if we can get you past your block.”
“That’s not necessary,” Andie said as she tried to move away. “Surely you have other work that is more important.”
“None of my authors are as important or as popular as you and your stories.” Diana smiled. “You’re my number one.” She hugged Andie again.
Pushing away, Andie said, “Thank you.”
“As your publisher it is my responsibility to make sure you’re fulfilling your contract. You’re the only author I edit and I have a feeling you need me to get you back on track.” She shrugged and moved closer to Andie. “Besides I wanted to see you.”
+ + +
Monday morning brought a small dog leaping on the bed and pulling at the covers. Andie groaned and ruffled Oscar’s fur. Although she resented Diana showing up uninvited, she had to admit that the woman did get her back on track. As the dog insistently begged her to let him out, she slid out of bed and went to the patio door in her bedroom.
An icy blast of frigid air greeted her as Oscar scurried out the door. Just as always, she kept her eye on the dog as coyotes roamed the area. Finished, Oscar bounded back to the door and did a twirl before Andie opened the door. “Come on buddy, let’s get something for breakfast.”
Once in the kitchen, Andie poured a cup of coffee and stared out the kitchen window toward the garage. AJ’s car wasn’t there and that made her frown. AJ usually was there by seven. Then she heard the roar of a motorcycle and saw a black Harley pull up in front of the garage. With a smile, she poured another cup of coffee and headed for the garage.
+ + +
“Good morning,” Andie said as she entered the garage. “It must have been brutal riding that thing this morning.”
AJ gratefully accepted the cup of coffee and closed her eyes as she felt the hot liquid warm her insides. “Thanks. Yeah it was cold but I didn’t have a choice. The Trailblazer blew a gasket.”
“I have a feeling that isn’t a good thing. Do you need to take time to get it fixed?”
With her eyebrows knitting, AJ said, “I promised to get your truck done and that is what I’ll do. I can work on my vehicle when I get home.”
Moving closer to the woman, Andie said, “Are you sure? I don’t mind.”
“Yeah, it’s all good.”
“I’ll have breakfast ready in about thirty minutes. I thought we’d have pancakes this morning.”
“With blueberries like before?”
“If that’s what you want that’s what you’ll get.”
AJ lifted her cup and smiled. “I can’t wait. Did I tell you what a great cook you are?”
Andie laughed. “Yes, but I never tire of hearing it.”
Shifting her gaze to the back of the garage, AJ said, “I need to get the heaters going and then I’ll be in.”
+ + +
When Andie returned to the house, Diana greeted her. “Good morning. Isn’t it a fabulous day? I think we’ll nail the story today.”
“I want to thank you for being here. I can finish the story now. You must have more important work to do back in New York.”
“You silly goose,” Diana said with a chuckle. “Like I told you on Friday, right now nothing is more important than helping you.”
Andie just shook her head and turned toward the kitchen. “Before I worry about the book I need to make breakfast.”
“Sounds yummy…need any help?”
“No,” Andie said over her shoulder as she disappeared into the kitchen.
“Suit yourself,” Diana said as she plopped down in a chair and picked up a magazine.
When the front door opened and AJ walked in, Diana smiled. “Well hello again gorgeous. Are you here to eat with Andie?”
AJ felt her face heat up. She didn’t know how to respond to the woman’s crass insinuation “She said she was making breakfast.”
“And that she is,” Diana said as she leered at AJ. “I bet you and she eat a lot more than breakfast together.” The woman moved closer to AJ and tried to run her hand up the jacketed arm only to have it brushed away. “I thought she was cheating on me…”
“Diana! That’s enough! Come on in AJ breakfast is ready.”
Both women turned to see the fuming Andie coming in their direction.
“I was just…”
Andie held up her hand. “Don’t go there.” With her jaw set and anger apparent on her face, Andie turned away from the publisher. “I hope you’re hungry. I’ve made lots of blueberry pancakes.”
“Um, I just came for a coffee refill. I’m not really hungry.”
“But you said… Are you sure? There’s plenty.”
AJ held up her coffee cup. “Yeah.”
“Let me get you a thermos.” After handing AJ the thermos, Andie said, “Want me to give you a doggie bag for later?”
With a slight negative shake of her head, AJ turned and quickly headed for the door. As she was pulling the door behind her, she heard Andie say, “How dare you…” The last thing I want is to be in the middle of a lover’s quarrel.
+ + +
When she thought AJ had left the house, Andie turned toward Diana. “How dare you imply that we’re lovers! Just who the hell do you think you are? You show up uninvited and insult me along with someone who is here at my invitation. I’ve made it perfectly clear to you on numerous occasions that there will never be anything between us other than publisher to author.”
Diana laughed. “We aren’t yet, but I know eventually you will see the light.”
Andie glared at the woman as she pulled a plate out of the cupboard then placed a stack of pancakes on it. “I want you out of my house.” She covered the plate in foil, put some butter in a small bowl, and took out a tin of maple syrup.
“I’m not leaving until I have the manuscript in hand. Your contract says it’ll be in my hands by Thursday,” Diana said as she moved in on Andie. When she attempted to put her arm around the woman’s shoulder, Andie brushed it away. “I’m sorry, but that woman is so delicious I couldn’t help myself.” She eyed Andie. “You must’ve noticed that?”
With the breakfast items on a tray, Andie pushed past Diana. “Get your own breakfast. If I have to work through the night you’ll have the manuscript tomorrow –then I want you out of my home.” Just as she was about to exit the kitchen she added, “And I’ll find myself a new publisher.”
“Don’t forget Andie, we have the right of first refusal.”
+ + +
AJ poured a cup of coffee from the thermos and heard her stomach growl. “Damn, those pancakes looked so good.” From the way the woman had greeted Andie she suspected they were lovers. All weekend she had struggled with the disappointment that Andie had someone else in her bed. “Oh well.” She inserted a CD in the player and with a flick of her finger, her favorite music started.
+ + +
Andie stepped outside and walked toward the garage. She shivered and regretted that her anger toward Diana caused her to leave the house without a coat. Her eyes scanned the sky filled with angry deep blue clouds and she shivered. Opening the door to the garage, loud music and the sight of AJ sitting by the truck greeted her. Once again, she shivered but it wasn’t from the cold.
AJ was sitting next to the front fender of the truck where she was sanding down the mud she’d put there the Friday before. So intent on her task and the music, she didn’t hear the door open.
Placing the tray on a nearby workbench, Andie watched AJ work and wrapped herself in her arms. There was no doubt about it–AJ was slowly stealing her heart. “AJ,” she said as she tentatively touched the woman’s shoulder.
With a slight start, AJ looked up and saw Andie. “Hi, I didn’t hear you come in.” she reached over and decreased the volume and said, “Guess the music was too loud.”
“Who was that singing? I know it’s a blues song, but I don’t recognize the singer.”
With a smile, AJ said, “Irma Thomas and the song is I Need Your Love So Bad.” She averted her eyes and looked back at the truck’s fender.
“I like it.” Andie smiled and said, “Listen, I’m sorry that Diana came on to you. We aren’t lovers never have been and never will.” When she didn’t see any movement from AJ she continued, “She’s been after me ever since we met and even though I tell her there is no chance she keeps it up.”
Without looking up, AJ said, “I don’t want to get in the middle of whatever is going on between the two of you.”
Andie shook her head. “That’s just it, there’s nothing going on.” Reaching out she touched AJ’s arm. “I brought you some pancakes. You’d better eat them before they get cold.”
“Thanks, they sure smelled good.”
“Enjoy,” Andie said. As she left the garage, she said over her shoulder, “Keep an eye out on the weather. They’re calling for snow. I don’t know what they call it in this part of the world, but it looks like a blue norther is coming this way.”
Once the woman had left, AJ stood up and pulled back the foil on the plate. Her mouth watered as she spread the butter and syrup over the fluffy cakes. She took a bite and closed her eyes as her stomach did a happy dance. Was she telling me the truth? The question perplexed her. “Dumb head, you’d know if you bothered to look her in the eyes.”
+ + +
Andie stretched by lifting her arms over her head and rotating her neck. It was almost three in the afternoon. She’d been working on the manuscript for a solid seven hours. Diana poked her head in and a glare greeted her. “I can’t work if you keep coming in here.”
“I just wanted to tell you that it’s snowing,” Diana said.
With a quick glance out the window, Andie saw big snowflakes drift by her window before the wind caught them and blew them away. As her eyes drifted to the ground, she saw the dirt and gravel driveway had a light dusting of snow, but against the barn was the beginnings of a snowdrift.
When she turned back toward the door, Diana was gone. Turning and looking outside again she said, “Dammit Diana,” as she saw the woman tromping through the snow toward the garage.
“Stop,” Andie shouted as she flew out the front door. A gust of wind blew hard against the screen door and she braced herself as she held the door open. Then she saw Diana enter the garage. Pushing against the door, she ran as fast as the slippery snow and wind would let her toward the garage.
When she opened the door, she heard Diana say, “Gorgeous it’s snowing. You’d better leave before you get snowed in here. Andie and I like our privacy at night.”
“Diana, what’s the matter with you?” Andie screamed. “What part of what I told you this morning don’t you understand?
Blustering, Diana said, “I heard there was a big snow storm coming and I just wanted to tell her. She only has that hog out there. I thought she might want to go before the snow gets bad.”
“Get out of here,” Andie screamed pointing to the door. Once Diana had left, Andie closed her eyes before focusing them on AJ. “Since I’ve never lived here during the winter I have no idea what the roads will be like or even if this is a legitimate snowstorm.”
AJ let a small smile curve her lips. “I’ve lived here all my life and still can’t understand what they mean by a snowstorm. It’s my understanding that out here on the Front Range when they call it a blizzard, the snow doesn’t pile up but it blows, which causes the snow to accumulate in big drifts.”
Andie rolled her eyes. “That’s reassuring.” She scratched her forehead and shrugged. “Why don’t you take the Jeep and head home now?” Andie felt her face heat up. “I had no idea it was snowing until Diana told me. The last thing I remember was something that looked like a light rain.”
AJ walked to the door and opened it. “Look at the trees,” she said, as she looked at the ice ladened branches. “Isn’t that an awesome sight?”
Standing close behind AJ, Andie looked over her shoulder. “Yeah it’s beautiful. Somehow I don’t think it is a good sign for you getting home.”
Feeling the woman so close that she could feel her body heat, AJ sucked in a breath. “Probably not. My guess is that the roads have icy patches if not drifted shut in places.”
“You want to stay in the guest house or in the main house?”
“What about your friend?” AJ averted Andie’s eyes. “She said you two like your privacy.”
Andie let a loud audible growl that originated in her throat and filled the silence of the garage. “Look, Diana lives in a fantasy land. I am not now or have ever been her lover.”
AJ allowed her eyes to fall on Andie’s face and raised an eyebrow. “I assume the guest house is vacant.”
“I’ll get it ready. You look like you’re about my size. At least that’s what I think the body under those coveralls looks like. I’ll leave some clothes for you to put on while I wash the ones you’re wearing.”
Moving away from the close contact, AJ smiled. “A pair of old jeans and a t-shirt will be appreciated.” Her smile broadened. “I don’t wear underwear or a bra.”
Andie’s eyes darted around the garage as she felt her face in full blush. “I’ll go turn up the heat and make the bed. Come to the house when you’re ready and I’ll take you on a tour.”
AJ pulled open the snaps that held her coverall together and let it fall to the concrete floor. Once she stepped out of the puddle around her feet, she pulled on her jacket. “I’m ready,” she said while she moved toward Andie.
Andie let her eyes run up and down AJ. “I see I was right,” she said with a grin. “Come on let’s go.”
+ + +
Andie and AJ walked down a slippery walkway to the guest house.
“I can only imagine what the roads are like,” AJ said as she caught Andie’s arm when the writer began to slip on the ice.
“Thanks. I can’t seem to keep myself from slipping.” She pointed to the door of the guest house and said, “Here we are.” After opening the door, she gestured for AJ to enter.
AJ let her eyes take in the area. Cozy was the best word she could come up with for how the guest house made her feel. That feeling was totally in contrast to her apartment, which was in a word, barren. “This is nice,” she said as she slipped out of her jacket.
“After I took ownership I had the kitchen upgraded, the floors refinished, and all the rooms painted. I lived here for a month while the contractor worked on the main house.” She smiled at AJ and moved further into the room. “I’ll crank up the heat and it’ll be warm in no time.” Pointing to two closed doors she said, “There are two bedrooms over there…pick one and I’ll make up the bed.”
+ + +
Their fingers touched as AJ reached for the sheets. “I can do that.”
Andie caught her breath and grinned. “How about we do it together?”
The two women worked in silence while their eyes continually sought out the other. When Andie shook out a blanket the crackle of static electricity it created seemed to surge through them. Andie shivered as her mind filled with a kaleidoscope of red hot colors all centered around AJ. Her eyes focused on the finished bed and she began fanning herself. ”Feels like the furnace has kicked in.”
AJ swallowed hard. “Yeah, it’s getting warm in here.”
Shaking off her desire, she went to the window. “I stayed in this room. It was late summer and I’d leave the window open all night.” She pointed to the area beyond the window. “There’s a creek down there and at night I’d sit right here with my night vision binoculars and watch the wildlife that came for water.”
“What did you see?”
“Mostly deer and elk but I’d see the occasional fox and coyote. I hear there are bears and mountain lions around here too. I think I’d like to see them one day.” When she turned around and smiled. “I’d better get back to the house,” she said before she began to move away.
AJ took hold of Andie’s wrist. “Not yet,” she whispered before pulling the woman close to her. Their first kiss was soft and hesitant. Breaking apart, they gazed into each other’s eyes before their lips met in a kiss that turned to passionate.
Their tongues played hide and seek as they held each other tight. Andie ran her hand along AJ’s back and shivered when she felt no bra strap. “Oh god,” she mumbled as she pulled back slightly. AJ put her hand on the back of Andie’s head and pulled her into another kiss. With a tentative motion, Andie slid her hand under AJ’s t-shirt and heard the woman moan. As she moved her hand toward the front, the kisses became more insistent as they moved closer to the bed.
A knock on the door and the sound of it opening, had them rapidly breaking apart.
“Andie,” Diana called. “Are you here?”
“Shit! What does she want now?” Andie shot a look of regret in AJ’s direction, and then moved out of the bedroom. “Why are you here?”
Diana’s eyes darted to the bedroom and AJ standing near the door. “You had a call from Kiara. She said it was important and that you needed to call her as soon as you can.”
“You answered my phone? Who told you to do that?”
“After the phone rang on six individual occasions I figured it was important.”
“Get out…get out of my house and go back to the hole you slinked out of!”
“That’s the thanks I get for taking care of you?”
“No one ever asked you to do that!”
“I can’t believe you are doing this to me and for what?” she asked nodding in AJ’s direction. “…a piece of ass!” Diana screeched as she glared at AJ.
With her fist clenched, Andie closed in on the woman. “Get out!”
With anger filling her face, Diana said, “You’ll be sorry.”
AJ listened to the exchange and cringed. Man is she a hothead. She touched her lips. What was I thinking?
Once Diana was gone, Andie turned to AJ who was still standing in the bedroom. “I’m sorry that happened.”
AJ stared at the woman with a nonchalant expression. “No problem. Like I said before, I don’t want to get into the middle of whatever is going on between the two of you.”
Andie shook her head and blew out a breath of exasperation. “I told you that there’s nothing going on.” Thanks to Diana, the moment with AJ had passed. “There are jeans and t-shirts in the dresser drawer if you want to clean up. The bathroom is fully stocked with towels, soap, shampoo, and conditioner.”
Still rooted in the bedroom, AJ said, “Thanks. I could use a shower.”
“Come to the house after you’re done. I put together a pot of soup this morning. I have a loaf of fresh bread baking in the bread maker.” She saw AJ close her eyes and said, “That is if you want to. I figured you’d be hungry after sanding all day.”
“Yeah I am. The truck is almost ready for the first coat of paint.”
With her eyes opening wide, Andie furrowed her brow. “Really? I didn’t realize you’d made that much progress.”
“The biggest part was rebuilding the engine. The body was in good condition and I only needed to mud a few places. Once I do the final sanding it’ll be ready for the next step, which is the painting.”
Andie felt her heart sink. With a shrug, she pursued her lips. “I see. I’d better get back to the house and check on the soup and bread.” She walked to the door and placed her hand on the knob before turning around. “I’d really like to get to know you better AJ. If your kisses are anything to go by, I think you feel the same way.” Without waiting for a reply, Andie grasped the doorknob and left the guest house.
Her feet felt like concrete blocks as AJ left the bedroom and stood in front of the door. Although her heart was compelling her to go after the woman, her head was waving red flags.
“Damn, how did I let that happen?”
+ + +
Andie breezed through the house and glared at Diana who was sitting at the kitchen table reading the manuscript. “The book is done. I want you gone from my house.”
“Can’t do that. I just heard that all the roads are shut down and both airports are closed.”
With a skeptical look, an annoyed Andie stirred the soup with large heavy strokes. Her mind was exploding with a litany of unkind words directed at the woman. Finally, she screamed, “Who gave you the right to meddle in my business?”
Diana looked at the author and tilted her head. “I wasn’t meddling I was passing on a message. For all I knew Kiara had something that involved your daughter or ex-husband.”
“None of that is any of your business.”
The woman pushed back her chair and moved toward the stove and Andie. “Shall I remind you that I have a contract for a book that you said you would complete in two days? From what I saw when I got here there was no way you’d finish on time if ever.” Diana waved her hand toward the guest house. “That woman is so far up your pussy that writing is the last thing on your mind!”
Andie set her jaw and glared at the woman. “I would have finished the book on time.”
Diana laughed. “Like hell you would. Your story was in shambles when I got here.” She took Andie by the shoulders and shook her. “Didn’t you learn anything when you let your emotions over Kiara get the better of you? The price of that fiasco was the loss of your daughter?”
The frank words cut Andie to the quick and she felt her shoulders slump and her eyes fill. When she divorced her husband Craig, she had custody of Annie and her life was wonderful. She had her daughter and her lover, what more could she ask for? When Kiara became a shrill banshee who whined about Andie spending too much time with her daughter the relationship ended. A pissed off, Kiara went to Craig and told him that his former wife was a lesbian. That started her on the long road of a legal battle that ended in her losing custody of Annie.
Pushing Diana away, Andie swiped at her cheeks. “Please leave me alone,” she whispered.
“Just remember all you gave up for a romp in the sack.”
“And just how being in your bed would be any different?”
Diana shook her head. “You’ll never know until you try me out.”
“Fat chance of that will ever happen.” Andie looked past Diana and saw AJ standing by the table. Defeated and feeling drained, Andie gave the woman a half smile. “Come on in AJ,” she said as she glared at Diana. “She was just leaving.”
Protesting, Diana said, “Hey, I’m hungry too.”
“You have a choice Diana. You can get yourself a bowl and take it where you’re out of my sight or you can have nothing. It makes no difference to me. Bottom line, I don’t want you sitting at my table.”
Diana grabbed a bowl off the counter and ladled some soup into it. “Have it your way,” she said as he left the kitchen in a huff.
AJ, in a quandary, stood with her hands shoved deep in her pockets. Her heart was telling her to go to the woman and embrace her, but she remained by the table. “Looks like I intruded again.” She scrunched up her face. “Listen, I’m sorry.” She turned away and said, “I’d better go.”
“NO!” With long strides, Andie ate up the distance between them and put her hand on AJ’s arm. “The only thing you interrupted was my getting rid of that bitch. Please don’t go.”
The hand on her arm sent rivulets of shivers throughout her body. “It sure smells good.”
Andie let a genuine smile cross her face as she heard the beep from the bread maker. “Let me get the bread out and then we can have a meal together.”
AJ shrugged. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. I’m pretty good listener.”
+ + +
AJ lifted her spoon to her mouth and blew across the steaming soup before touching it to her lips. She blew on it again before opening her mouth and slurped the vegetable soup. “Hmm this is really good.”
A genuine smile crossed Andie’s face. “Thanks.” The phone rang and she got up, looked at the caller ID, and then sat back down.
Soon the answering machine said leave a message before the caller began to speak. “Andie, I know I’m the last person you want to talk to, but I think if you do you’ll be glad if you’ll just pick up.”
Andie stopped buttering a slice of fresh bread and shook her head. “For the past six months it’s always the same message. She just won’t leave me alone. I’ve changed my number to an unlisted one but she somehow finds out what it is.”
“Why does she keep calling?”
Putting her bread down, Andie looked at the woman across the table. She opened her mouth only to shut it before she finally said, “I knew I was gay from early on, but I was afraid to let anyone know. I knew that my parents expected their kids to get married and have their grandchildren.” Andie blew out a breath. “I meet Craig in college and I let him sweep me off my feet or at least that’s what it seemed like. No upsetting the apple cart for me. I thought if I got married and had kids it would somehow make up for my selling the truck.”
Andie shook her head. “I was stupid to think that some guy who was charming and the life of every party was what I wanted.” She let out a sarcastic laugh. “But, I persevered and got married because that was what society and my mom wanted. Grandchildren were the end product and that was the only thing my mom ever talked about.” Andie fixed her eyes on the woman across from her. “It was the biggest mistake of my life. I tried. I really did want to make it work. I gave my vow to love and cherish and that was what I intended to do. Craig was an egotistical shit who refused to have any conversation about having a family. I thought if I had a baby…a boy…and named him after my dad it would make things right.”
Picking up her wine glass, Andie took a small sip. “Am I boring you yet?”
“No, not at all.”
“Ok but are you sure you want to hear more?”
AJ nodded her head and Andie continued. “Anyway, I had finished my first manuscript, hired a literary agent, and before I knew it, I had my first book in hand. As my reputation grew, and my book sales increased I knew I could make a living out of writing.” She eyed AJ. “Did you know that very few people make a good living out of writing? I was lucky. Everything just fell into place. I was really lucky.”
“Bookstores are full of books,” AJ said with a scrunched up face.
“I’m not sure what the ratio is, but I’d guess for every successful book there are thousands that don’t make it or have mediocre to poor sales.”
“Wow, I had no idea.”
Silence filled the air as both women looked everywhere but at each other. Finally, Andie said, “By the time I finally gave up on my marriage, I had written two books,” she said with a shrug. “I stopped having sex with Craig. Hell, he didn’t turn me on–he repulsed me. I wanted kids and he didn’t so there wasn’t any reason for me to have sex with him. One night, in a rage because I turned him down, he took what he wanted.”
AJ’s eyes opened wide. “He raped you?”
“Yeah, I guess you could call it that. He was very repentant and I believed him. Instead of sending him packing I forgave him.” She shrugged. “The upside of it all was that I got pregnant.”
“That was good…right?”
“Yeah, it was good for me, but the marriage for all intents and purpose was over. Still, I was determined to keep it intact for our child. I was so happy when Annie was born. She was such a joy. Craig, of course wanted nothing to do with her, which was fine by me. Over the next three years, I had two more books published. Diana set up a book tour for me and a lesser known author to promote my new book and give the other author a leg up. That was Kiara. She writes about vampires, which seems to be all the rage these days,” she said absently.
“Was that the woman on the phone?”
“Yes. She swept me off my feet and we began an affair. When I filed for divorce, Craig went ballistic. No one walks out on me he’d tell me.” Andie swiped at a tear that formed in the corner of her eye. “I lived with Kiara for eight months before I found out that she was cheating on me. So, in less than a year I left someone I was living with again.”
Andie let out a small chuckle. “You’d think I’d learn,” she said shaking her head. “Kiara begged me not to go and when she realized that I was serious she threatened to go to Craig. I told her to go ahead. He was out of my life and I didn’t think there was anything he could do to me.” Andie fixed her eyes on AJ. “I was wrong.”
“I never thought she’d follow through, but she did. Once he found out I was gay it was all he needed. He didn’t care about Annie. He only wanted revenge. All his lawyer had to do was to find a family court judge that was ultra conservative. Kiara testified against me with lies that I had no way of refuting. My life ended when I lost my daughter.” The headline from the time flashed in her mind. Noted author denied access to her child. “My life became a living hell as militant homophobes did all that they could to threaten me. The graffiti that adorned my garage door said a dyke lives here. A religious group publically burned my books. I tried every legal avenue available but the ruling of the judge stood. My reputation became that of a deviant and child abuser. If I want to see Annie, it must be in the company of a chaperone from child protective services.”
With hesitation, AJ reached across the small table and took Andie’s hand. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”
Andie’s eyes rested on the hand over hers and clenched her teeth as she tried to reign in her raw emotions. “I leaned on Diana during the whole ugly mess and she thought it meant more than just support. She’s been after me to have a relationship with her ever since.”
The phone rang again. Andie got up, picked up the receiver, and said, “Leave me alone Kiara.” She listened and rolled her eyes. “I don’t care. What part of that don’t you get?” Andie’s eyes closed as she continued to listen. “I’ve moved on Kiara you should too.”
The sound of a chair scraping back had Andie looking at the table. She watched as the mechanic walked toward her and pulled the receiver out of her hand. When she began to protest, AJ held up her hand.
“Hello, Kiara. You really need to stop calling here. Andie and I are together now and you don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting her back.” AJ shook her head and allowed a smile to curve her lips. “Yeah, I thought you’d see it my way. Goodbye.”
Andie took the receiver and put it back on its cradle. “Why?”
“I figured that if it were me, I’d keep calling you as long as I thought you didn’t have anyone in your life. Now she thinks you do.” AJ shook away the woman’s comment about Andie still loving her.
“You’re welcome. I think the soup has cooled enough to eat, don’t you?”
+ + +
Once the meal was finished, each woman pushed back from the table. Andie stood up and began picking up the dirty dishes. It didn’t take AJ long to join her and they had the dishes done and the kitchen cleaned up in no time.
“All done. My dad always said a job gets done faster if you have someone helping you.” AJ grinned. “Of course he only let someone help him that he knew was experienced.”
“He sounds like a good dad.”
“Yeah he was,” AJ said softly. “Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him.”
They made their way to the great room and sat down on the couch before Andie asked, “How long has he been gone?”
“What about your mom?”
“She ran out on us when I was three. My dad always told me it was his fault. He said he wasn’t easy to live with.” AJ shrugged. “I always thought she left because of me. My dad finally told me the truth about her just before he died.” She sucked in a deep breath and looked out a window at the falling snow. “The snow hasn’t let up,” she said absently. “She committed suicide. He said she suffered from postpartum depression after a miscarriage.”
Andie moved closer and cautiously put her arm around AJ’s shoulders. “Was it easier thinking she ran out on you?”
AJ leaned into Andie’s arm and closed her eyes. It made her feel warm inside and that was something she’d been missing in her life. “Not really–she was gone either way. Life has a way of taking away what you hold dearest and leaving an empty hole in your heart.”
“Is that what losing your dad did to you?”
“In part.” Without looking at Andie she said, “I caused the death of my girlfriend.”
As her eyes opened wide, Andie tugged the woman closer. “Why do you say that?”
“Because it’s true.” She turned to face Andie. “She found a beat up old ‘67 GTO and wanted me to do the restoration. That’s how we met.” AJ laughed. “I was in the middle of restoring an old Model-T and I began to work on her GTO at night.” She shook her head. “Just so I could keep seeing her, I kept calling her asking her to come to the garage and tell me if I was doing what she wanted. That’s when I started seriously flirting with her. A month later, we hooked up and then a month after that she moved in with me. I made sure that the vehicle was faithful to the original including a three eighty-nine engine. It was a perfect representation of the fastest street machine of its time.” She gulped back a tear and said, “Rhonda loved speed…”
“Oh pleeeeeeease,” Diana bellowed. “Isn’t this a tender scene?”
Andie glared at the woman.“What do you want?”
Diana waved some pages and said, “We’ve got editing to do.”
Andie gritted her teeth. “We’ll do it later.”
“I think not. The sooner we get this done the sooner I’m out of here and you can carry on your love fest with the grease monkey.”
AJ felt Andie’s body go rigid before she flew off the couch toward the blonde woman. Standing toe to toe with Diana, Andie growled as she looked down at the woman with clenched fist. “Get out,” she said in a seemingly calm and measured tone. “Now!”
The publisher flinched and took a step backward. “Have it your way. I’m not leaving until we get this manuscript ready for publishing.” With a wave of the sheaf of paper, she turned around and went back into the bedroom she occupied.
Andie turned back to AJ who was on her feet. “I’m sorry. As you can see, she’s out of control.”
“No problem. I really need to go before the snow is so deep I can’t get to the guest house.”
Andie moved closer to AJ and touched her arm. “Please don’t go. I’d like to hear the rest of your story. Besides if you do, I’ll be stuck in here with her,” she said hooking her thumb in the direction of Diana’s room.
AJ knew the easy thing to do would be to stay–she wouldn’t let that happen. There was something happening with Andie and it felt right, but she couldn’t let go of Rhonda. She’d continue holding onto her memories for one more night. “I think you scared her. I doubt she’ll bother you again tonight. If she does,” AJ smiled slightly, “you know where I am.”
Andie leaned in, kissed the woman, and was pleased when AJ responded. “Please spend the night with me,” Andie said after their lips parted.
Leaning her forehead against Andie’s, AJ closed her eyes. “As tempting as that is,” she said. “I can’t. Not yet.”
As much as Andie wanted to object, she felt the truth behind the words. “Some other time then?”
“Count on it.” AJ leaned in and kissed Andie then said, “I’d better go.”
Andie watched the woman reach the guest house and go inside. Once the lights went on, she turned back to the room. She needed to deal with Diana, but that could wait until the next day.
+ + +
Andie heard Oscar barking but kept her eyes closed. They flew open when she heard loud knocking. Getting up and throwing on a robe, she walked across the chilly floor and out into the great room toward the front door. Peeking out the side window, she saw a security officer standing there.
She cautiously opened the door a fraction. “Yes.”
The large man, whose face was scarlet, was dressed in a red snow suit that almost matched his face. When he flapped his arms in what she assumed was an effort to stay warm, Andie grinned–he looked like an enormous red bird.
“Ms. McBride, we are checking to make sure everyone is ok.”
Andie watched as his breath billowed out of his mouth.
“The roads are impassible and the county is telling us they will remain like that for several days. As you may have noticed, the power is sporadic. You might want to get a fire going.”
“Thank you,” Andie said and began to shut the door.
The man said, “Looks like someone got up early and shoveled.”
Andie’s brow creased as she looked at a cleared path leading to the garage. “Yes,” she said as a genuine smile crossed her face. “Thank you again. It’s nice to know someone is looking out for me.” Once she closed the door, she raised her eyebrows and grinned. AJ is looking out for me.
+ + +
It didn’t take Andie long to dress and head for the kitchen. She saw the clock on the stove flashing ‘PW’ and wondered if the power would stay on long enough to make breakfast.
“What’s going on?” a blurry-eyed Diana asked.
“Get your clothes on. If you’re going to stay here you’re going to have to help get firewood.”
“Why can’t the grease monkey get it?”
With speed, Andie moved near the woman as she gripped a wooden spoon tight. “I never want to hear you say that again,” she said as she glared at Diana. “Do I make myself clear?” When she saw Diana take a step back, she relaxed her body. “Now get dressed and earn your keep.”
Diana sneered. “If you think being so rude to me will make me release you from your contract think again,” she said as she stormed out of the kitchen.
A knocking at the back door had Andie smiling as she opened it. “Good morning. I see you’ve been busy shoveling.”
AJ smiled and stepped inside. “When I got up the power was off and I knew there were two generators in the garage along with a shovel. Who was that guy on the snowmobile?”
“Part of belonging to the homeowners association is having a security person. He came to tell me the roads are impassible.”
With a laugh, AJ said, “Doesn’t he think you can look out the window and know that?”
“I think he mainly wanted to make sure everyone here was ok.” Andie went to the cupboard and took out two coffee mugs. “Fortunately, the coffee maker has batteries as a backup. Can I interest you in a cup.”
“Sure can,” AJ said as she reached for the cup. When her hand brushed against Andie’s she heard a sharp intake of breath and didn’t know if it was the woman’s or her own. Either way, it felt good.
Andie felt her heart trembling as she looked into AJ’s eyes. “The security guy said the power will be fluctuating for some time.”
“I figured that would happen.”
“How’d you sleep?” Andie asked as she edged closer to AJ.
“Ok...well I was a little restless. I guess it was because of the new surroundings,” She said with a shrug. She didn’t need to mention her inability to focus on what had eaten into her psyche–Rhonda’s death. She felt her memories of the event slipping away like sand through an hourglass.
The loud thumping of a closing door made Andie close her eyes. “Here she comes,” she whispered.
Diana stood by the table dressed in a full length mink coat and shoes not meant for the snow. Oscar was growling and nipping at the coat as Diana kept trying to shoo him away with her foot. That only made the dog more insistent and he began leaping up the coat and barking.
“Stop!” she shouted as she tried to kick the dog.
“Oscar, come here boy,” AJ said as she squatted down. The dog stopped his assault on the mink.
“You really should have better control of that animal!” Diana scolded. “Ok, I’m ready. Where’s the wood?”
While her eyes took in the mink coat that seemed to engulf the woman, Andie shook her head before she burst out laughing. Finally, gaining control, Andie said, “Considering the way you’ve acted since you got here Diana, I should just let you go out like that. But, it wouldn’t be right.” She took in the woman’s appearance again and chuckled. “In the closet by the front door you should find a jacket, boots, and gloves.”
Blustering, Diana said, “I don’t wear other people’s shoes.”
“Then go out like that. The wood is stacked at the bottom of the deck’s steps. You can get there if you go out the deck slider.” She looked at AJ. “Is the snow cleared there?”
“Fine.” With a flourish, Diana swung around and headed for the door. Once they heard it close, both Andie and AJ began laughing.
“How long do you think she’ll last?” AJ asked.
The door slid back open and Diana came stomping back into the house. “I’m not going out in that to get the wood. I thought she said it was clear. It’s like a skating rink out there. Someone else can get the wood.”
Shaking her head, Andie said, “Sit down Diana, and have some eggs. I really didn’t expect you’d get the wood.” She waved a wooden spoon up and down the woman’s body. “Especially dressed like that.” Turning away, she stifled a laugh that threatened to bubble up.
+ + +
After breakfast, Andie and AJ ventured out and carried wood back into the house. As soon as Andie got the fire going, the electricity went out. AJ, glad that she found several five gallon cans of gas, started the two generators outside on the deck before running several extension cords into the house. She plugged in the refrigerator, the stove, and a radio along with various lights before going to the garage and retrieving the space heater.
“That should do it,” AJ said as she started the heater in the kitchen. “We’ll still need to use the fireplace and if the power doesn’t come back on soon we probably should all sleep next to the fire.”
“Thanks. I’ve got some chili going but it won’t be ready for a little while. Why don’t we get a good supply of wood stacked outside the deck door?”
The two women donned their heavy coats and boots and made their way to the stack of firewood. After the fourth load, AJ trudged through the snow for the next round when she felt something hit her head. Turning around, she saw Andie’s arm go up and throw another snowball.
“Oh, so that’s how you want to play,” AJ said as she scooped up a handful of snow and packed it so it was round. Her aim was spot on.
Andie laughed and attacked AJ with another snowball as she advanced on the woman. When one of the missiles found its way to her face, she stopped and let out a yelp. AJ was at her side in a matter of moments.
“Are you ok? I’m sorry I didn’t mean to hit you in the face.”
After wiping away the melting snow, Andie said, “Want to build a snowwoman?”
“Sounds like fun, but I’ve never built one.”
“Then it is time you learned.” Andie picked up a handful of snow, made it into a ball, and began rolling it along the built up snow. “This snow is perfect. Make yourself a ball and then roll it just like this. We’ll need three…one for the head, body, and bottom.”
Once they had the three balls stacked on top of each other, AJ smiled. “This is fun.”
“Oh it gets better,” Andie said as she sculpted breasts. “Our snowwoman should be voluptuous.”
AJ laughed as she pushed a stick into the creation. “But she’s got really thin arms.”
They worked in companionable silence as they brought their snowwoman to completion.
“I’ll need to get a carrot for her nose,” Andie said.
AJ picked up another handful of snow and quickly sculpted a nose before she added it to their creation. “There she has a nose.”
Andie wrapped her arm around AJ’s shoulders. “We did good.”
With her left arm, AJ pulled Andie close to her. “Thank you. It’s been a long time since I laughed so much.”
“You’re most welcome.” Andie smiled before she took the snowball in her hand and smashed it gently against AJ’s face. “Ha, now we’re even.”
Before either woman knew it, they were laughing as they rolled around in the snow. When Andie was on top of AJ, she stopped and looked deeply into the dark blue eyes before lowering her head so their lips touched. The kiss was soft and warm and she smiled inwardly as AJ wrapped her arms around her.
When they broke apart, AJ said, “The snow is melting below me and I’m getting wet.”
With a lecherous smile and a gleam in her eyes, Andie said, “Are you sure it’s the snow?”
AJ hugged the woman close. “No.” She put her lips close to Andie’s ear. “It’s a warm wet.”
Andie sucked in a breath as she felt a slow wet burn between her legs.
+ + +
Diana watched as the two women frolicked in the snow like two little kids. When she saw them kiss, she let out an audible growl. She looked at the dog standing next to her and wagging its tail. She slid the door open. “Go break it up.”
She smiled in satisfaction as she saw the dog leap on top of the two woman. “What does she see in that woman?” Diana shook her head. “She’s gorgeous for one and sexy as hell. Hmm, wonder what would happen if I made a play for her.”
+ + +
Over the next two days, the women managed to settle into a truce of sorts. At times, there would be tension as both Andie and Diana vied for AJ’s attention, but in the end, it was obvious–AJ preferred the writer. Since the electricity was off on the first night, they all stayed in the great room by the fire. AJ and Andie sat next to each other munching on chips and dip as the three laughed as they watched ‘Blazing Saddles’ that stopped and started on numerous occasions.
Later, Diana, in an effort to separate the two women, suggested they play scrabble. Her objective was to show Andie how ignorant AJ was. After all, she reasoned, the woman repairs cars for a living how good can her vocabulary be. To her surprise, AJ held her own by staying in the game and at times coming up with words that made Diana shake her head in amazement.
The electricity stayed on the next day. Diana sequestered Andie in her study as they did the initial edits for Secrets, Lies, and Entanglements.
“That should do it,” Diana said. “I’ll e-mail this to Maria. She’s assures me that she’ll make it her priority. We should meet the publication date without a problem. Have you cleared your schedule next week so you can go to LA?”
“Shit, I totally forgot about that.”
“I expect you, along with the others, to be there. The only excuse I’ll accept is that you’ve died. We need to start promoting the release of your new book and the interviews I’ve set up for you will do just that.”
“Yeah I know.” Andie eyed Diana. “Will she be there too?”
“Her new book will be released on Monday.”
Andie stood up, walked to the door, and opened it. “When did you tell Kiara about the interviews?”
Diana frowned. “I’ve had this set up for months and I resent you’re implications. If I remember correctly, I sent you and the others an e-mail that included the names of all the attendees.”
“I don’t recall seeing any email like that Diana. After what I’ve seen over the last five days, you setting it up so we’d be together wouldn’t surprise me.” She turned and looked at her publisher. “It said on the radio that all roads should be cleared by this evening. I expect you to leave in the morning after breakfast.”
+ + +
Andie stood on the porch and watched as Diana drove away. Her eyes traveled to the motorcycle now parked in front of the garage. She skipped down the porch stairs with Oscar at her heels and smiled as she closed in on the door.
“Hey, Diana has finally gone.”
AJ looked up and smiled. “She wasn’t that bad. She’s one hell of a scrabble player.” She laughed. “I’ll have to remember never to play with writers and publishers.”
“You held your own. I think you surprised her with some of the words you came up with.”
After putting down a sanding block, AJ stood up. “I was always different than the other kids so I never had many friends. The other girls were into the boys and I was into the cheerleaders and I wanted to fix cars.” She paused then shrugged. “Kids can be cruel–they always made fun of me. I thought the other night must be what it’s like being at a slumber party.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Andie bumped her hip against AJ’s and said, “I’ll let you in on a secret. You didn’t miss out on much. Usually they involved a bunch of catty girls talking about the ones that weren’t there. I never really cared that much for them, but I didn’t want to be the one they talked about so I always went. It was at a slumber party that I first kissed a girl.”
When she saw the questioning look on AJ’s face she said, “We were playing truth or dare and one girl dared me to kiss her. Several other girls had already kissed her so I knew no one would suspect that I really wanted to kiss her. The thought of kissing her really excited me. I kissed her on the lips expecting that would be all there was to it, but hoping for more. She put her hand on the back of my head and kissed me as her tongue pressed my lips to open. They did and I have to say it made me feel things I didn’t know existed until then.
AJ lifted her eyebrows. “You liked it?”
Andie smiled as she remembered the moment. “Oh yeah, I liked it a lot.”
“I always was helping my dad instead of playing with other kids. I grew up in the company of his friends. That’s where I learned to play scrabble.” She laughed. “In fact once he died all his friends took me under their wing and became my surrogate fathers. I’m thirty-three and they still treat me like I am a helpless little girl.”
“You’re lucky to have them,” Andie said. She kicked the toe of her boot against the concrete and sighed before she said, “Listen, if I knew about the GTO I’d never have gone to the lengths I did. I’m sorry.”
Without speaking, AJ picked up the sanding block and began to run it over the truck’s body. “Nothing to be sorry about. Actually, you helped me remember how satisfying restoration is.” She stopped sanding and looked at Andie. “I’m going to start the painting next Monday. While it’s drying, I’ll take the seat to the upholsterer and pick up the headliner. Once the painting is complete, I’ll start to reassemble the truck. You should have the finished product in about two weeks maybe three.”
Andie moved away and ran her hand down the smooth back fender. “I’ve dreamed of this for a long time. I’m planning on getting a vanity license plate…DAD’s 55 Ford.”
“I bet he’d like that. You’ll have to work on it a bit since that’s too many letters.”
“Really? I didn’t know that.” With her hand still on the truck’s body she asked, “How did your girlfriend die?”
A wounded look passed across AJ’s face. “The GTO had a big powerful engine, but it wasn’t big enough to beat a semi going through an intersection.”
“Were you driving?”
“Were you in the car?”
“Why did you tell me the other day that her death was your fault? Sometimes things happen and no one is to blame.”
Her hand holding the sanding block stopped and AJ looked up. “It was my fault. I built the car.”
“How long were you a couple?”
AJ shrugged. “Not long. About five months I guess.”
Once her eyes connected with AJ’s, Andie said, “When I lived with Kiara I was so happy. Why wouldn’t I be? Compared to my life with Craig, I was in heaven. I soon realized that I cared about her, but never was in love with her.” Encouraged that AJ didn’t break the eye contact, Andie smiled. “When she testified against me I was angry. At the same time, I thought if only I had loved her more she never would have done that to me. In reality, Kiara was going to cheat on me no matter how much I loved her.” Andie reached out and patted AJ’s back. “It’s who she is.”
“Are you saying that I didn’t love Rhonda?”
“No, no that’s not what I’m saying. It didn’t matter what I did, Kiara was going to do what she does best–cheat.”
“What about your dad? Does that apply to him too?”
Andie closed her eyes. “No. He didn’t do anything. It was all on me. I broke my dad’s heart and he died because of what I did,” she said softly.
“Then I guess we are both on the same page,” AJ said as she moved closer to the woman.
“I’ll be gone until Wednesday next week. Diana arranged for me and a few others to make the rounds promoting our upcoming books.” She shoved her hands in the pockets of her jacket. “I’ll give you a key so you can use the bathroom or fix yourself something to eat. If you want you can stay here.”
“What about Oscar?” AJ asked as she bent down and scratched the dog’s head.
“Oh, I’ll take him to the kennel.”
“Does he like it there?”
Andie laughed. “He never eats when he’s there.”
“Why not let me take care of him,” she said as she picked Oscar up. “I didn’t think he’d like the kennel.”
“Are you sure?” When Andie saw AJ nod, she said, “Thanks, he’ll appreciate that.”
AJ gave one last pat and let the dog down. “Good that’s settled.”
“I’ll give you a key and show you where his food is and the code for the alarm when you come to the house for lunch.”
+ + +
Andie looked out the window to the ground thirty thousand feet below. She was trying to reconcile her feelings about seeing Kiara again. Her mind kept going over the custody hearing and the veiled innuendoes the woman made. After the judge and the courtroom heard Kiara’s words, they arrived at the exact conclusion Craig and his lawyers wanted. Andie was an abusive mother.
That happened a little over a year earlier, but the pain and betrayal she felt then still stung. She could still hear Annie crying for her as the nanny Craig hired wrenched her out of Andie’s arms. I’ll hate Kiara forever.
Her attention drew back to the airplane’s cabin when the man next to her left his seat. The woman across the aisle lifted a pet carrier into her lap and opened the door. Andie smiled as she recalled Oscar hanging out the car window as AJ left from the passenger drop off. In contrast to her feelings about Kiara, she felt a sense of happiness when she thought about AJ. Their fledgling relationship had definite possibilities but she knew she needed to resolve her issues with Kiara before she could move on.
Once she disembarked from the plane, Andie made her way to the baggage area and was relieved to see a driver with her name on a placard waiting for her. As the limousine made its way through the heavy traffic of Los Angeles, she remembered why she disliked the city. Too many people–all in a hurry.
After sliding the card through the scanner, she opened the door to her suite and sighed when she saw the large basket of fruit. She didn’t need to look at the card–it was from Diana. “How much fruit does she think I’ll eat?” Her stomach was in knots in anticipation of seeing Kiara again. She scrunched up her face as she tried to dream up a reason for not attending the get together Diana scheduled for later that afternoon.
Pulling her cell phone out, she dialed a number and waited.
“This is AJ,” the voice barked.
“Hi, it’s Andie.”
“Hey, did you make it ok?” AJ asked.
Andie smiled at the softening of the woman’s voice once she knew who was calling. “Yeah, about an hour ago. With the all the traffic it took forever to get here from the airport.”
“I’ve never been to LA, but I hear the traffic is horrible.”
“It is. How’s Oscar?”
“He’s curled up at my feet while I do the last of the sanding.”
A knock on the door made her frown. “Hey listen, I have to go. Thanks for everything AJ I really appreciate it.” The knocking became more insistent and she gritted her teeth as she opened the door. “You,” she growled.
Concerned by the change of Andie’s tone, AJ asked, “Are you ok?”
Andie tried to squelch the turmoil in her stomach–it didn’t work. “Yeah, I need to go. I’ll call you later…ok?”
“Sure, if you have time. Bye.”
“Bye.” Closing her phone, Andie glared at the woman standing in the hallway. “What do you want?”
“I want to talk to you.”
“I have nothing to say to you,” she growled before shutting the door in the woman’s face.
+ + +
AJ closed her phone and looked down at the dog that was sitting by her wagging its tail. “Something isn’t right with your mom,” she said as she bent down and picked up the dog. “It sounded like she didn’t care for whoever was at her door.”
She was certain that the person was Diana. She witnessed the contentious interaction between the two women and the extreme anger Diana brought out in Andie. AJ gnashed her teeth for she didn’t like the idea of Diana being in Los Angeles with Andie. As she stroked Oscar’s fur she tried to figure out when she began feeling protective toward the woman.
The time they spent building a snowman filled her mind and she smiled. “Yeah, it’s been a long time since I had that much fun.” Closing her eyes, she remembered the kisses they shared and how warm and happy they made her feel.
Once she put Oscar back on the concrete garage floor, AJ shrugged. “When she gets back… No, I can’t go there.”
Andie moved away from the door trying to ignore the constant knocking. She picked up the phone, pressed ‘0’, and waited for someone to answer. “Hello, someone keeps knocking on my door. Can you send security to take care of the matter?”
Hanging up the receiver, Andie slid down a wall and sat on the floor as tears began to cascade down her cheeks. Closing her eyes, she once again saw and heard Annie screaming and holding out her hand. She remembered how she spent most of her days in bed once Annie was lost to her. She remembered how the phone would ring incessantly until she finally just left it off the hook. Diana persuaded the building super to open the door when two weeks passed without any contact. Andie remembered the day as if it happened the day before…
+ + +
“Andie, look at you,” Diana said as she approached the woman.
“How did you get in here?” Andie said without much conviction.
Diana took in the pale woman whose hair was matted and the smell emanating from her was nothing less than disgusting. She pulled back the sheets. “Come on, get up. How long has it been since you had a shower?”
Belligerently, Andie pulled the sheet back over her and said, “Go away Diana.”
“I’m not leaving until you get up, get showered, and have something to eat. Just because you lost custody of your daughter doesn’t mean you can’t see her.”
“Only with a chaperone,” Andie cried.
“That’s better than not at all. Now get up and get yourself together and we’ll go see her. If need be, I’ll be the chaperone.”
+ + +
After that, Andie began writing again and eventually moved to Colorado and finding a place as far away from civilization as she could. The upside of the move was finding the Ford truck and her focus changed from grief to a search for someone to restore the vehicle.
She managed to smile when she thought of the first time she saw AJ slide out from under that vehicle. At first, the woman infuriated her, but it didn’t take long for her to warm to the mechanic. AJ had turned her world around. For the first time since the trial, Andie began to feel again.
The telephone in the room rang and she sucked in a breath as she got up from the floor. “Hello.”
“Andie, what’s going on? I saw hotel security escorting Kiara off the elevator,” Diana said.
“I can’t stay here. I’m going home.”
“No, you can’t do that! There is too much at stake.”
“Maybe for you, but not me,” she said. “I’m catching the earliest flight home.”
“Look, I’ll keep Kiara under control or anything you want. I need you to stay.”
“I don’t want her anywhere near me. If she is, I’ll leave immediately. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes. Kiara won’t bother you again. That’s a promise.”
+ + +
Andie came back to her room after the dinner that Diana held for various literary critics. As promised, Kiara kept her distance and for that, she was grateful. She crawled into bed and yawned–it had been a long day. Just as she nodded off, the phone rang.
“Hi,” AJ said.
“Hey, is everything ok? Is something wrong with Oscar?”
AJ relaxed when she heard Andie’s voice. “No, he’s good. In fact, he’s lying next to me. He keeps looking for you though.”
Andie laughed and it felt good. “I bet you’re spoiling him.”
“Who me? Never” AJ chuckled. “Oh, did I mention he’s gained ten pounds.”
“No,” Andie said before she let out a chuckle. “So if everything is good why are you calling?”
For a minute, AJ asked herself the same question. “When we spoke earlier…um…whoever came to your door seemed to upset you and I wanted to make sure Diana wasn’t up to her old tricks,” she blurted. Suddenly, she felt embarrassed that she called. She must think I’m a dope. When Andie didn’t speak she said, “Hey, I’m sorry it’s none of my business.
“No, it’s ok. I’m glad you called. I haven’t heard a friendly voice since we hung up earlier.” Andie sucked in a breath and blew it out. “It wasn’t Diana. It was Kiara,” Andie whispered.
Shocked by the quietly spoken words, AJ felt her heartbeat quicken. “She’s there? Did you know she would be there too?”
“It’s complicated.” Andie rubbed her eyes. “I thought I could get past it. I thought that I had moved on and could let the hatred and anger go.”
As the time stretched, AJ didn’t know what to do. It was clear that Andie was crying and she chided herself for calling in the first place.
“It still hurts,” Andie sobbed.
Without thinking, AJ said, “Do you want me to come and get you?”
Andie’s tears stopped and her eyes flew open. “You would do that?”
Would I? Hell, what have I gotten myself into?
Not hearing an immediate reply, Andie felt her momentary excitement disappear. “Listen, it’s been a long day and tomorrow will be an all day meet and greet.”
“If you want me to, I’ll be there Andie. Just say the word.”
“That’s sweet of you AJ, but it won’t be necessary. Diana has put her on restriction. If her actions of tonight are anything to go by, Kiara won’t be bothering me again.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, thanks for the offer though.” Andie wanted to say more, but her emotions were too scattered to think clearly much less express what she was feeling. “Thanks for calling and caring.”
“Anytime. When do you arrive on Wednesday?”
“Late. Diana has arranged for a limo to take me home.”
“Ok, I guess Oscar and I will see you when you get home.”
“Will you be at the house?”
“Yeah, I didn’t want to upset my little buddy by changing his environment so I decided to take you up on your offer of staying here. I hope that’s ok.”
“I’m glad you did. I don’t like the idea of you driving all that distance especially now that it gets dark so early and the roads can be icy.”
“Our snowwoman lost her nose so I gave her a carrot one.” AJ laughed. “As soon as I got back in the house today, I looked out at it and a deer was munching on her nose.”
A genuine smile crossed Andie’s face as she remembered showing AJ how to build a snowwoman. “Good to know you’re keeping an eye on things. When I get back we’ll have to give her a girlfriend.”
Laughing again, AJ said, “Hey that’s a great idea.”
“Were you serious that you never built one before?”
“Yeah, I was always busy in the garage working on cars.” AJ sighed. “I guess there are a lot of things I’ve missed out on.”
Hearing the whimsical tone in AJ’s voice, Andie felt her heart sigh. “Tell you what, if you want, I can teach you about snowwomen, snowball fights and sliding down the side of a hill on a sled or even a piece of cardboard. Winter is a wonderful time for all kinds of activities.”
“I’d like that,” AJ said. “I’d better let you go so you can get rested up for…what was it…oh yeah, a meet and greet.”
AJ scratched Oscar’s ears as a smile filled her face. She liked the way Andie made her feel. “She’ll be back in two days boy.” A warm safe feeling encompassed her entire body as she closed her eyes and fell into a deep sleep.
+ + +
The loud song that suddenly blared out at her caused Andie to open her eyes and stretched out her fingers to stab at the buttons on the radio until the music ceased. She felt remarkably refreshed and she knew it was all due to AJ being in her life. She closed her eyes, and smiled. She recalled how AJ took the phone and told Kiara to get lost. “She came to my rescue last night too.”
The radio began playing loudly again and she sat up and found the off button. She was looking forward to the day. Meet and greets were her favorite part of promoting books. Various members of the print media along with talk radio and television personalities gathered in a large room. Each had a specific area where they would interview authors of upcoming books.
Diana had advised her that she would meet with a larger variety of interviewers and not just the usual ones. Because of the editing they did during the snowstorm, Diana was able to move the release date of Secrets, Lies, and Entanglements forward. Having her own in-house printer allowed her to provide advanced copies to all the participants of the day’s event.
She entered the bathroom smiling as she felt a sense of happiness bubbling up. She couldn’t keep her mind off AJ and the prospect of getting to know her better. The day was certainly off to a good start.
+ + +
Diana sat at a table in the hotel’s restaurant going over the day’s agenda.
“Mind if I join you?” a familiar voice asked.
“You can’t be here Kiara. I’m waiting for Andie.”
Kiara sat down anyway. “Good it will be a chance for me to speak to her.” She looked around the packed dining area. “She won’t throw a fit with all these people around.”
“If you stay here Kiara you run the risk of my company not publishing anymore of your books. And, I will make sure that no other company picks you up.” Diana fixed her eyes on the woman. “You need to leave now.” When she saw Kiara stay seated she said, “If you want me to hold up the release of your book and not allow you to participate today just keep sitting there.”
Kiara reluctantly pushed back her chair. “All I want to do is talk to her and explain.”
“I think she’s heard all she needs to know when you testified in court.”
Diana held up her hand. “Just go Kiara.”
No sooner had Kiara disappeared from Diana’s view than Andie enter the restaurant and make her way to the table. “Good morning.”
Diana felt her face heat up as she looked at Andie. “Did you sleep well?”
“Like a baby.” Andie noticed a strange expression on the publisher’s face and looked at her in question. “What’s going on?”
With a shake of her head, she sighed. “Kiara was just here. She said she wants to speak to you.” When she saw that Andie’s face remained neutral she added, “Maybe it is time to talk to her so you can move on.”
Just then, the waiter came and poured Diana more coffee and motioned at Andie’s cup. She nodded and once the man left the table she fixed the publisher with her gaze. “I have moved on and have nothing to say to her, end of story.”
+ + +
Andie moved to the last interview and was glad that the day was nearly over. She knew many of the people she spoke to and they all greeted her with respect and enthusiasm. One woman that she’d never met before gushed over her and her stories. For Andie, it was embarrassing, but she managed to remain in control.
As she sat down, she appraised the young man seated opposite her. In sharp contrast to the immaculate and well dressed previous interviewers, the man looked as though he hadn’t bathed much less shaved in weeks. His clothes were rumpled and clearly dirty. A foul smell wafted in her direction and she had to gulp down the need to retch.
“Hi, I’m Andrea McBride author of ‘Secrets, Lies, and Entanglements’. I don’t believe I’ve met you before.”
“Jerrod Dunleavy.” He held out his hand.
Noticing the dirt caked under the young man’s nails, she hesitantly took his hand. “Who do you work for?”
The man ignored her question. “Is it true that because of your lesbian affair with Kiara Daniels you lost custody of your daughter Annie?”
Andie swallowed the lump that lodged in her throat and attempted to calm her emotions. “Who are you again? Who do you work for?”
“I told you, I’m Jerrod. I work for the Tattler.”
Andie’s eyes grew wide, her heart began beating harder, and she balled her fingers as she glared at the man. “You’re not supposed to be here!” She was out of her seat and grabbed the lanyard that held the man’s credentials. “Security.”
The man squeezed her hand hard before pushing her backward. Andie screamed, “Security…where’s security?”
The man tried to walk away, but she grabbed his arm as her wild eyes searched for Diana or anyone that could help. She held on tight as the man began pulling her along with him. The whole incident seemed surreal until she felt Diana’s arms go around her shoulders and watched as a security guard detained the man.
“Andie it’s ok,” the publisher whispered as she guided Andie away from the man.
Trembling, Andie said, “The Tattler! You let someone from that rag in here. Are you crazy?”
“No, I don’t know who he is or how he got in here. When I came by this area ten minutes ago, no one was sitting at that table. I figured it was an extra one that the hotel set up.”
Diana looked at the hotel security guard and said, “Please escort this man out of the hotel.” She turned her attention back to Andie who was shaking. “Come with me.” She began walking out of the conference room and noticed Kiara standing by the door with a broad grin across her face.
Once they were out in the lobby, Diana said, “Was that your last interview?” Andie nodded and she said, “Good. Why don’t you go up to your room and I’ll see if I can find out about that guy.”
Trembling, Andie said, “He knew about Annie.”
Diana showed no outward sign that she had the answer to why the man was there–Kiara. I know it was Kiara. “He’s gone now and it’s over.” She patted Andie’s back and closed her eyes. I need to get a handle on this before she finds out who is responsible. “Go to your room and I’ll be up as soon as I make sure everyone is ok.”
“If the man wasn’t there ten minutes ago, why did he target me?”
“That’s what I’m going to find out. Please go to your room and let me figure this all out.”
After she watched as Andie enter the elevator and the doors close, Diana went back into the meeting room in search of Kiara.
+ + +
Once Diana put out the fire that the man from the Tattler caused, Kiara wasn’t hard to find. The hotel bar was dark a smelled of stale beer as Diana sat down next to the woman sitting at the bar. “All I want to know is why?”
Kiara took a swallow of her drink then said, “Why what?”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about Kiara. Give me a reason why I should keep publishing your books.”
“We have a contract for one.”
“Not on future books,” Diana countered. “Why did you do that to her?”
“I’ve tried to talk with her and explain,” Kiara protested. “She won’t even look at me.”
“So you set her up? What did you think you’d accomplish?”
“I thought she’d come to me since he was asking about our relationship. I hoped she’d want to…”
“Do you have any idea the damage you did to her with your testimony?” Diana saw Kiara turn away. “Don’t turn away from me! You insinuated that she was a child abuser and that destroyed her,” Diana growled. “Your lies caused her to lose her child. What part of that don’t you get Kiara?”
“That’s why I want to talk to her. I want to tell her I didn’t have a choice.” The woman took a big gulp of her drink. “She needs to know her husband didn’t give me a choice,” Kiara whispered.
“Please, don’t try to pin the blame on someone else and expect me to believe you.”
“You’ve got to listen. You need to tell her what really happened. She needs to understand.”
“No, you need to understand. Andie almost didn’t make it after that judge took Annie away from her. And, as always, you’re concerned only about yourself and getting forgiveness for your betrayal. Well, it isn’t going to happen. Andie will never forgive you so give it up.”
Kiara swiped at the freely flowing tears that coursed down her cheeks. “Don’t you think I know what I did to her?”
“You should have thought about that before you testified.”
Reaching out and taking Diana’s arm, Kiara said, “Please, have dinner with me tonight. I need to tell you what really happened. Then you can judge whether Andie should know or not.”
The vibrating of her phone pulled Diana’s attention away from the woman. “Hello.” Her eyes narrowed as she listened to what the caller had to say. “I’ll be there in a minute.” With a deep sigh, Diana said, “I need to go.”
“What about dinner…or even breakfast?”
“I don’t know. Call me later.” Diana stood up and without another word rushed out of the bar.
+ + +
Andie opened her hotel room door and watched as Diana brushed past her.
“There is no need for you to leave. I’ve taken care of the situation and I assure you the man won’t bother you again.”
“I guess you didn’t hear me. I’m leaving. I already have my reservation,” Andie said as she resumed packing her suitcase.
“I have you scheduled for three television interviews tomorrow. You can’t go.”
“Sure I can and I will. Why don’t you have Rick Rodgers do the shows? He has more books than me and he’s always popular with the women readers.”
Diana shook her head. “They don’t want him. They want you.”
Andie dropped down onto the bed and sighed. “I can’t do this anymore Diana. I’m constantly looking over my shoulder wondering if Craig has someone following me trying to get something so he can deny me any visitation.” She shook her head and closed her eyes. “I just want to go home and live my life out of the limelight,” she whispered.
Diana inched closer to Andie and gently touched her shoulder. When Andie looked up, she said, “If you are going to do that, you need to make peace with Kiara. Until you do that you will always be stuck in the past.”
“I’ve already done that.”
Crouching down and looking directly into Andie’s eyes, Diana took her hand. “No you haven’t.” She saw the blue eyes narrow. “If that was the case you never would have let her upset you the way you did yesterday. And, that intruder never would have gotten to you.”
“My flight leaves in three hours and I need to make arrangements to get home from the airport.” Andie eyed Diana who was still crouched next to the bed. “I’ll order a limo and send you the bill. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go.”
+ + +
Diana Ridgeway and her authors sat together for dinner. Other than the problem with Andie, she was pleased with the outcome. She was still miffed that Andie left her hanging with television interviews that she had to scramble to make good. As she looked around the table, her eyes rested on Kiara who seemed out of the loop. The woman didn’t attempt to join in on the conversation and she only picked at her food. When the woman looked up, Diana smiled and was pleased when Kiara returned the smile.
Once the meal was finished, the attendees began leaving the table for the bar. Soon only Diana and Kiara remained.
“Why?” Kiara asked.
Diana got up and moved to sit next to the woman. “Your little stunt pushed her over the edge.”
“God, that’s not what I wanted. I just wanted to tell her what happened.”
“Why not tell me.”
Kiara sucked in a breath and blew it out. “I had always dreamed of being a bestselling author and when I met Andie that dream was in its infancy. She had already achieved that status and when you let me go with her for book signings, I was elated. And when I met her, I instantly fell head over heels for her. It wasn’t long before it became evident that her marriage was on the skids. Once she divorced him, we moved in together.”
A small smile tried to appear on her face, but quickly disappeared. “My dream for a bestselling book came true and I had Andie in my bed. Life was good.”
“So good that you felt the need to sleep around on her?”
Kiara shook her head. “That didn’t mean anything. I have my needs and I need variety. Andie had my heart.”
“What a crock of shit that is Kiara. You don’t treat someone you say you love like that.”
“Don’t you think I know that now?” Kiara reached up and wiped away the tears that fell. “I never dreamed she would kick me out.”
“Then you were living a fantasy Kiara.”
“No, I wasn’t! She had no right to toss me out like yesterday’s garbage. She didn’t even give me a chance to explain.”
“So you got back at her by telling those lies in court?”
Kiara shook her head. “No, it was her ex-husband. Apparently, he knew that Andie and I were lovers, but that wasn’t enough to get sole custody. Somehow he found out something about me that would destroy my life and dreams.”
“What was that?”
Fixing Diana with a watery gaze, Kiara said, “I won’t tell you. Suffice it to say, I had no choice but to go along with what he wanted me to do.” When she saw Diana frown she added, “I’ll only tell Andie. If she thinks that by divulging that information I will redeem myself for what I did, then I will.”
“Whatever the reason is, the bottom line is that you sold her out.”
Bowing her head, Kiara said, “You have to understand that I didn’t have a choice.”
“There’s always a choice.”
“Not for me.”
Diana felt her heart go out to the woman who was clearly distressed. “Come on.”
“I can’t go in the bar and join the others. I just can’t.”
“I know.” Diana held out her hand and smiled. “Let’s go to your room.”
+ + +
As the two women walked across the lobby of the hotel, one of the other authors, Rachel Underwood, said, “Hey Diana, are you going to join us?”
Diana looked at the rotund older woman and smiled. “Yeah, I’ll be there shortly. Save me a seat ok?”
After the two women went inside Kiara’s room, Diana embraced the woman. Once they pulled apart Diana said, “I need to go back and join the others for a little while. Want me to come back when I’m done?”
Kiara laid a shaky hand on Diana’s arm. “I’d like that.”
Diana patted the hand on her arm and said, “I won’t be long…promise.” As she walked toward the elevators, Diana smiled. Kiara certainly was proving to be a very interesting woman.
+ + +
Andie felt her whole body relax when the limo pulled into her driveway. As it drew nearer the house, she smiled when she saw the lights still on. She had called AJ before her plane took off. AJ offered to pick her up, but she declined since the arrangement was already in place for a limo to take her home.
As the vehicle came to a stop, Andie saw AJ and Oscar come out to greet her. She smiled at the woman who came off the porch and opened her door. “Hi. How was your flight?”
Taking an offered hand, Andie slid out of the limo. “It’s good to be home.”
The older man, who drove the limo popped the trunk open and took out her bags. “I’ll put these on the porch,” he said.
Andie smiled at the man who walked with a slight limp. “You can just leave them here.” She handed the man a twenty and said, “Thank you. Have a safe drive home.”
Once the man tipped his hat, got into the vehicle, and drove away, AJ said, “I’m glad you’re back…and early too.” She smiled and picked up the bags as they walked into the house.
Andie looked around and sighed. “I never really appreciated this place until now.”
“I take it since you came home a day early the trip didn’t go well?”
“That’s an understatement. Want a glass of wine with me?” When she saw AJ hesitate, she said, “I’m sorry. It’s late and you probably want to get home.”
Confused, AJ furrowed her brow. “I’ve been staying here. I told you that didn’t I?”
Andie shook her head. “I don’t think I said that right,” she said laughing. “It’s been a rough few days. What I meant to say is I’m going to have a drink would you like one too?”
AJ smiled “Sure. Why don’t I get you a glass of wine and get myself a beer.”
“Good idea. I’ll just put my bags in my room.” When she looked at AJ before she picked up her suitcase she noticed she was blushing. “Is something the matter?” she asked as she opened her bedroom door. When she saw the unkempt bed, she turned and looked at AJ. “You slept in here?”
Feeling awkward, AJ’s eyes darted everywhere but at Andie. “Yeah, Oscar wanted me to keep him company. Sorry I didn’t get the sheets changed. I can do that now.”
Andie waved her hand. “Not necessary. It’ll be nice to sleep in a bed with familiar smells.” It was her turn to blush for she didn’t mean to verbalize her thoughts.
AJ laughed. “That’s one of the reasons I was glad Oscar was so insistent. The pillows smelled like you.” For a long moment the two women were silent until AJ said, “I’ll get those drinks and meet you back here.”
+ + +
Andie went into her bedroom and sighed. For the first time since she’d moved to the house, she felt like it was her home. She dropped her suitcase and carryon and stood by the bed before she picked up a pillow and held it to her face. The smell that was AJ permeated the pillow and she breathed it in deeply. I’m home.
AJ stood in the doorway with the drinks in her hands and watched Andie. She couldn’t stop the smile that crossed her face. “I did the same thing the first night I slept there.”
Taking the pillow away from her face, Andie looked at AJ and smiled. “Is that my drink?” She moved toward the woman and took the glass of wine. “Come sit with me on the couch and tell me what’s been happening around here. How’s the truck coming along?”
Sitting together but not close, AJ took a swig of her beer. “The truck has its first coat of primer. I should have the painting all done by Friday. I can start putting it all back together after that.”
“I’ve waited so long,” Andie said. “I can’t believe it’s finally going to happen. If only my dad were here to see it.”
AJ inched a little closer to Andie and extended her arm along the top of the sofa. “The one thing I learned from my dad’s passing is that I can always feel him near me.”
“You can feel that way too. All you need to do is to be willing to let him in.”
“Did you do that with Rhonda too?”
She wasn’t ready for that question so AJ stalled by taking several gulps of her beer. “At first no…it was too painful. But recently, I’ve been letting her in more.” She shrugged and took another gulp. “What happened in LA that made you come home early?”
Andie scratched her face before rubbing her forehead and unconsciously moving closer to AJ. “In a word, setup.”
“I was making my rounds doing the interviews and I came to the last one and sat down opposite a man. I should have known by his appearance that he didn’t belong there. He was filthy, unkempt. Anyway, I introduced myself and he told me his name and I settled in for his questions.” Andie sucked in a deep breath and moved so her thigh was touching AJ’s. The first question out of his mouth was about my affair with Kiara and how I lost Annie.”
“Who was he?”
Andie shrugged. “He said he was from the Tattler. When Diana checked his credentials, she found that they were forged. The Tattler never heard of the guy.”
“Do you know who set you up?”
“No, but I suspect it was my ex-husband. He loves stirring things up so he can get something on me. I’m pretty sure he hopes to see that I’m denied all access to Annie.”
AJ let her arm move from the top of the couch to around Andie’s shoulders and pulled her closer. They sat like that for a long time before AJ heard the soft sounds of sleep coming from the woman next to her. She kissed the chestnut hair before gently shaking Andie’s shoulder and saying, “Come on sleepyhead it’s time for you to go to bed.”
Complying, Andie stood up with AJ’s help. Walking into her bedroom, she took off her clothes, and crawled under the covers. Before she was completely asleep, she said, “Hold me.”
AJ bent down and kissed her cheek before undressing, crawling in next to Andie, and engulfing the woman in her arms.
+ + +
Andie opened her eyes and breathed in the scent of AJ. She had slept better than she had in a long time. Looking around, she didn’t see AJ or Oscar. When she looked at the clock radio, she couldn’t believe her eyes. It was almost ten o’clock. “Damn,” she said as she got up and went to the bathroom. Smiling, she picked up AJ’s toothbrush that was resting on the sink. “It’s good to be home.”
Once her shower was over and she was dressed, Andie went in search of Oscar. If she found him, she’d find AJ. The air was crisp and cold as she walked toward the oversized garage. A cold blast of air sent a fine mist of snow swirling around her and she dug her bare hands deep into jacket pockets. A sign on the door said, painting. She reached for the doorknob then took her hand away. Disappointed, she turned around and headed back for the house. Just as she was climbing the stairs to the porch she said, “Oscar…where’s Oscar? He surely isn’t in the garage with her. Not while she’s painting.”
Perplexed, she opened the door and saw Oscar sitting and wagging his stub of a tail before he launched himself into the air. “Hey there buddy. Where were you hiding?” She ruffled his fur before picking him up and carrying him into her office.
After putting the dog down, Andie switched on her computer then clicked to watch the security monitor. She smiled as she watched as AJ sprayed the paint in a rhythmic pattern across the truck’s hood. Her eyes took in the woman’s body that seemed to move in sync as the paint fell in microscopic drops across the truck. Each time she watched AJ at work, it had the same effect on her–sensual and erotic. It seemed as though AJ was making love to the vehicle.
Feeling her body react, she shook her head and reluctantly switched off the monitor. She whistled for Oscar and he came running through the door before bouncing up on her legs. “Hey buddy, what do you say we make something for lunch? I think I have beef barley soup in the freezer.”
+ + +
AJ took a step back and inspected the paint job. As she moved around the vehicle, her eyes took in every painted surface. Satisfied with her work, she smiled and gave herself a mental high five. As she began to take apart the spray gun for cleaning, her stomach growled. She looked at the clock on the wall and saw it was well past noon. “Wonder what’s for lunch?”
Her mind drifted to early morning when she awoke next to Andie. The feel of the body next to hers caused AJ to gulp down a breath in an attempt to curb her raising passions. Holding the woman in her arms all night felt so right and that scared her. She had worn the mantle of the one that provided the instrument that caused Rhonda’s death so well that it was entrenched into her heart and mind.
As she set up four ultraviolet lights around the truck, her heart cried for what was and what could be. “I can’t let that happen again,” she whispered. “I just can’t.”
Knowing what she had to do, she left the garage for the house.
+ + +
Andie was pulling rolls out of the oven when she heard the front door open. A smile wreathed her lips as she hastily put the hot pan on the stove top. Just as she started for the other room, AJ rounded the corner.
When Andie looked at AJ’s somber face, it was clear by her expression that she wasn’t as happy to see her. “Hi, how’s the painting going? By the look on your face I’m guessing there’s a problem?”
With her heart thumping hard, AJ closed her eyes in an attempt to reign in her desire to take Andie in her arms and never let her go. “The painting is all done for today. Now, I need to let it cure for a few days then I can start reassembling everything.”
Ignoring the sinking feeling in her stomach, Andie forced a smile. “I’ve made beef barley soup along with some fresh yeast rolls.” She let her smile broaden and said, “Come on, I’ve got everything ready.”
The aroma of the soup blending with the bread made AJ’s stomach grumble even more as her mouth began to water. Swallowing deeply, she said, “I can’t stay. I need to get back to my apartment. I’ve been gone for so long that I’m afraid the houseplants that I’ve nurtured along will die if I don’t water them.” AJ knew it was a lame excuse, but it was all she could come up with on short notice. When she saw Andie’s smile disappear, she was certain that she didn’t buy the story.
Not bothering to hide her disappointment, Andie said, “Please–give me a break. You have houseplants?”
“Yeah I do. I’ve had this one plant since my dad died.” AJ avoided looking at Andie. She knew she would see disappointment on her face. “Anyway, until the paint is dry there’s no reason for me to be here.”
“I see.” Andie turned to a cupboard and pulled out a plastic covered bowl. “No sense in this soup going to waste. I’ll send some home with you.” She ladled the soup into the container as she willed her tears not to flow.
“It sure smells good. Thanks for giving me some to take home,” AJ said as Andie handed her the container along with a paper bag containing several rolls.
“Sure, it’s no problem. I promised you meals when you started to work on the truck and I always keep my promises.” Gnashing her teeth and narrowing her eyes, Andie said, “You’d better get going, I wouldn’t want you to neglect those plants any longer. Thanks for taking care of my dog. I really appreciate your doing that.”
“It wasn’t any trouble.” When Andie turned away, AJ hesitated before she walked away.
Andie continued stirring the soup until she heard the distinctive sound of AJ’s boots on the wooden floor. Letting go of the spoon she went after the woman.
Just as AJ got to the front door, she turned around and stared at Andie who was standing by the table. As their eyes locked, she half-heartedly fought the urge to go back and take Andie in her arms. When the phone rang and Andie picked up the receiver, the spell was broken.
“Hi Diana, it’s good to hear your voice too.”
AJ closed her eyes as a surge of jealousy tore through her body. She gazed at Andie one last time before she shrugged and went out the door.
+ + +
Diana Ridgeway closed her cell phone and looked at the woman sitting across from her. “She still isn’t interested,” she said. “She said she doesn’t want to see you or talk to you and doesn’t want me to call her again about you..”
Kiara reached out and touched Diana’s hand. “I have to see her. I have to make things right.”
With a sigh, Diana placed her hand over Kiara’s and squeezed it lightly. “I wish there was some way to make that happen.” She shrugged. “I just don’t see how.”
For two days, the two women played a game of touch and look, but didn’t go any farther. Kiara felt the stirrings that had been smoldering ignite into an all out flame when Diana took her hand. Her eyes drifted to the hand holding hers and said, “That feels good.”
Diana reacted by gently stroking Kiara’s middle finger. “It does, does it? What are you going to do about it?”
Keeping contact with Diana’s hand, Kiara stood up and looked down at Diana. “We’ve been dancing around this for too long now.” She nodded her head toward the bank of elevators. “Let’s go where it will be more private.”
Diana winked. “And then what?”
“You can do more than just play with my finger.”
+ + +
Once Kiara’s room door closed behind them, the two women kissed and tore at each other’s clothes until they were both naked. Hands and mouths tasted and felt as they moved to the bed.
“Oh god,” Diana grunted as she felt Kiara’s lips and teeth capture a nipple.
Not to be outdone, Diana began circling her tongue in Kiara’s ear as her fingers squeezed a protruding nipple.
Soon, both women were lost in their lovemaking that they didn’t hear the knock on the door or the female voice that said, “Housekeeping,” as someone entered the room.
The small, dark haired woman pushed a vacuum into the room and just as she moved from the sitting room to the bedroom, she gasped. Horrified by what she saw, she said, “Oh, I’m sorry,” then made a hasty retreat.
Neither Diana nor Kiara heard the woman for they were too engrossed in making the other’s body sing with the crescendo of an orgasm. Then, lying in each other’s arms, they tried to squelch their labored breathing.
“God, that was intense,” Kiara said. She ran a finger down Diana’s neck, through the valley of breast to rest just below the mound of hair. When she heard Diana suck in a breath, she let her finger go through the curly hair to glide through the copious amount of moisture.
It didn’t take long for them to begin again.
+ + +
Diana was the first to awake the next morning. She smiled when she saw Kiara’s long brown hair draped over a breast. She smiled as she recalled the night they shared. The woman surprised her with the intensity of her lovemaking and she wondered why she hadn’t approached the woman before. Then she answered her own question. “Andie,” she whispered as she slid off the bed.
“Where are you going?” a groggy voice asked.
“Don’t be long.”
Diana bent down and kissed Kiara’s lips. “That’s a preview of what’s to come.”
“Hmm, I like that,” she said as she too left the bed. “I think it is time for a shower don’t you?”
Diana’s hands ran over the tall slender body as she lathered Kiara. She paid particular attention to the breast area and once she washed the soap away, she licked both nipples before sucking one into her mouth.
Kiara moaned and slid her fingers inside herself. “Don’t stop,” she said as her fingers penetrated deeper.
Diana stopped and took a small step backward as she watched Kiara pleasure herself. Soon one of Diana’s fingers joined Kiara’s as they both brought her to an orgasm.
+ + +
Later, Kiara lay curled up in Diana’s arms and sighed. “I had no idea I’d react that way to you, but I’m glad.”
Kissing the brown hair, Diana said, “Me too. You are a remarkable person Kiara. I’d like to get to know you much better.”
Kiara laughed. “What’s more intimate than making love?”
Tightening her arms, Diana pulled Kiara closer. “I meant getting to know you the person. I already know you’re a fantastic lover and writer, but I want to know more.
“I can’t let that happen until I’m done with Andie.”
“What do you mean?”
“I need to square things with her before I can move on.” Kiara swiped at her eyes. “What I did to her was horrible and I’m ashamed. I don’t expect her to forgive me. I know I wouldn’t but I still need her to understand.”
“Look, I can’t leave here until I meet with a potential author early tomorrow. I’ll book seats on the earliest flight after that and then we’ll fly to Denver and go to Andie’s home together.”
“You’d do that?”
“She’ll be pissed and probably find another publisher.”
Diana nuzzled Kiara’s neck. “She won’t do that.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Just know that I am.” Diana’s lips found their way to Kiara’s and soon they were lost in each other again.
+ + +
AJ pulled her vehicle up onto the shoulder of Aeroplaza Drive where it intersected with East Fountain Boulevard. As she watched a semi rig go through the intersection, she let out a small yelp before she pounded the steering wheel. “Dammit Rhonda, why were you always in such a big hurry?”
She opened the door, slid out of her vehicle, and walked closer to the corner. Her eyes took in the surroundings as she heard the roar of a jet coming from the airport. AJ shook her head as she remembered sitting in the passenger’s seat as Rhonda’s vehicle roared down Powers Boulevard.
“I love to see if I can go as fast as those planes,” she said as the car sped down the road. “Can you feel the power AJ?”
“Yeah, I felt the power–you scared me shitless. Why were you always taking chances?”
AJ sat down on a snowy covered path and held her head in her hands. When she looked up, she saw that a police squad car pulled up behind her truck. Getting up off the ground, she moved toward a woman in a police uniform.
“Are you having engine trouble?”
Shaking her head, AJ tried to smile but failed. “No officer. I was just visiting.”
The police officer looked at AJ with skepticism. “Visiting?”
“A friend of mine died at this intersection.”
“It’s dangerous to be sitting like that. You need to move on.”
AJ rubbed her eyes. “Yeah, I’m sorry Officer. I’ll go now.”
The woman, who was tall and muscular, touched AJ’s arm and said, “I know how hard it is to lose a friend or family member. Going back to the scene and reliving what happened isn’t healthy.”
With a shake of her head, AJ said, “I know. I just needed to see it one last time.” To AJ, it was like hearing someone else speaking. The truth of the words reverberated in her head. She knew that she would never visit the intersection again. She smiled at the officer and said, “Thanks.” Once she got back in the truck, she knew what she needed to do.
+ + +
The blue Chevy truck that AJ was driving moved slowly along a narrow meandering roadway. When she got to the house she had shared with Rhonda, she sat for a long time along the curb before turning off the ignition. She opened the vehicle’s door, got out, trudged up the snow filled driveway, and pulled up the garage door.
With each shovelful of snow that she scooped off the driveway, the events of the night she spent holding Andie bubbled to the top of her consciousness. Distracted, she didn’t notice that the whipping wind blew the snow back on the black surface of the driveway. A crooked smile filled her face. She knew that she was attracted to Andie from the first moment she saw her. “Man did I think she was hot.”
Her eyes rested on the house and she sighed. “You’re never coming back.” Once she threw the last shovelful of snow onto the yard, she went into the garage and pulled the door down.
Opening the interior door, an icy blast hit her and she shivered in reaction. The house was quiet which wasn’t new, but this time AJ felt an overwhelming sense of sadness envelope her. It was more powerful than the day she came home after learning of Rhonda’s death. The kitchen was just as she left it the day after the funeral–neat and tidy. In the past, when she entered the house, she always expected to smell whatever Rhonda was cooking. This time it was different–the house just felt empty. She returned to the garage, found a large cardboard box, and returned inside.
Venturing into the bedroom they shared, she walked to the closet and slid the door open. All of Rhonda’s clothes hung just as she left them. With hesitation, and a shaking hand she took hold of several hangers. Soon, she had all of Rhonda’s clothes laid out on the bed. Removing the hangers, she took each item and neatly folded it before putting it in the cardboard box.
At the dresser they shared, she opened drawers and removed all of her lover’s belongings. Some, like underwear, she threw away while anything she thought might be useful she placed in the box. Her fingers brushed across a picture of them at the Pike’s Peak summit. She remembered Rhonda was driving as they descended the mountain on the winding dirt roads without guardrails. How she laughed when I told her keep away from the side. She took too many chances. She said she’d keep me safe and we didn’t roll down the side of the mountain.
AJ swiped at the tear that rolled down her cheek. “She always had that reckless streak.” She nodded and said, “That was her undoing.”
Picking up the box full of Rhonda’s belongings, she carried it out to the garage. Once she opened the door, she took the box to her truck, placed it in the bed, and covered it with a tarp. As she moved back toward the house, she knew what she was doing was right–she needed to leave the past behind.
Back in the house, AJ put the video into the player and sat down on the couch. She watched as a happy Rhonda pose for the camera in one of her campier poses. She thought their time together would never end, but it did. Now, her lover was dead because of her.
She remembered the words of the police officer. It’s dangerous to be sitting like that. You need to move on. She wondered if the woman knew how prophetic here words were. She closed her eyes and the vision of Andie appeared. She remembered the hurt look on the woman’s face when she said there was no reason for her to stay. “She’s the reason I needed to go and she is why I wanted to stay.”
Something that Andie had said kept trying to gain her attention until it finally screamed. I soon realized that I cared about her, but never was in love with her. AJ frowned as the clarity of her relationship with Rhonda surfaced. She remembered the day of the accident and how irritated she was with Rhonda. “I remember thinking she only cared about the car when she drove away.” She stood in stunned silence as the memory turned into realization. “I’ve spent all this time mourning her and our love. She never said she loved me. I remember asking her why. She would always kiss me, and say she proved it every day and didn’t need to say it. Her death wasn’t my fault. It never was my fault.”
Switching off the VCR and the television, AJ made her way to the kitchen and out the door to the garage. Before she closed the interior door, she looked back into the house as a sense of wellbeing filled her heart.
In the past, whenever she left the house she would have a feeling of sadness that would linger for days. Now, in the solitude of her truck, where the air was vacant of any sound she shivered. “Goodbye,” she whispered.
Firing up the engine, she pulled away from the house. AJ knew where she wanted to be–she headed toward the east and Andie.
+ + +
Andie spent the morning trying to write, but each time she started the words wouldn’t come. AJ’s words, there’s no reason for me to be here, had stabbed her in the heart. She felt there was a genuine connection developing between them, but now she wondered if she imagined a relationship that wasn’t there.
Going out to the garage and seeing the truck filled her with a deep sense of sadness. She had broken her father’s heart because of her desire to be like everyone else. “The truck he passed on to me was his way of sharing his past and his values.” Her eyes followed the line of the truck. “Why didn’t I see that then?”
Oscar barked and Andie turned her attention toward the sound of a vehicle outside the garage. “AJ,” she said as she rushed to the door. When she saw the limo and Diana exiting it, her heart sank.
“What now?” she asked as she glared at the woman.
“We need to talk,” Diana said as she took hold of Andie’s arm. “Inside where it’s warm.”
Once inside, Andie said, “Ok we’re here, now let me know what was so important that you had to come uninvited to my home again.”
“That’s quite a mean streak you’ve acquired Andie.” Diana looked around the room. “Where’s AJ?”
“That’s none of your business. What do you want Diana?”
“I have some information that you need to hear.”
Andie felt her knees go weak. “You can’t know anything about her unless you got it from Kiara.” When she saw Diana’s face redden, she had her answer. “You’ve slept with her.”
Diana averted Andie’s gaze. “You need to speak with her.”
“No I don’t.” She watched as Diana’s eyes moved toward the door. “You didn’t bring her here did you?”
“She’s out in the limo. You need to hear what she has to say. It can help you get Annie back.”
“Get out! Get out of my house now!”
The front door opened and Andie saw Kiara standing in the threshold.
“How could you do this to me Diana?”
Kiara moved further inside the house until she was standing next to Diana. “It wasn’t Diana’s idea. I need to tell you why I testified the way I did.”
Andie, feeling like her life was falling apart felt her body shake. “Say your piece then get out of my life.”
Diana patted Kiara’s hand. “I’ll be outside in the car.”
+ + +
Andie rubbed her eyes after she sat down and saw Kiara sit opposite her. “I’m not interested in rehashing the past.”
“Neither am I. Back when you told me to get out I was upset, but I didn’t go to Craig for revenge. He came to me. Somehow he found out something about me and threatened to expose me if I didn’t testify against you.”
“Poor Kiara couldn’t say no.”
Bowing her head, Kiara said, “No I couldn’t. What he had on me would ruin my career and my life. I had no choice Andie.”
“You always have choices Kiara–if you do the right thing you have only one. Now, if that’s all you have to say, please leave.”
“No,” Kiara said as she stood up then kneeled in front of Andie. “I’m going to make this right. I have proof.”
“If you have proof why didn’t you use it then? Why wait until now?”
“I wanted to tell you first. I need you to understand.”
“Excuse me if I don’t believe you. Please go.”
“Not until I tell you everything.”
+ + +
Diana heard the truck before she saw it coming toward the limo. When she saw who it was, she got out. “AJ, it’s good to see you again.”
Frowning with her eyes darting toward the house, AJ said, “Why are you out here? Is something wrong with Andie?”
“No. She and Kiara are inside.”
AJ grabbed her stomach–it felt like a knife impaled her. “It was your doing wasn’t it?”
“No, Kiara had to talk with her and this was the only way to have that happen.”
“A sneak attack. Why doesn’t it surprise me that you would sink that low,” AJ said over her shoulder as she walked quickly to the house.
Opening the door, she saw the two women in an embrace.
When Andie saw her, she pushed Kiara away and said, “You came back.”
With her heart racing as she felt her rage intensify AJ snarled, “Obviously that was a mistake,” before she turned and went back out the door.
“AJ, you don’t understand,” Andie said as she ran to the door. “AJ come back,” she screamed as she saw the woman get in her truck and begin to move down the driveway. “No,” she cried as she began running after the truck.
When Andie stopped and watched the truck disappear, Kiara caught up to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders–Andie pushed it away. “Get out of my life. All you’ve accomplished was to make a mess out of everything.”
Diana joined the two and said, “Come on.”
Nodding her head, Kiara started to leave with the publisher, but stopped and turned around. “I’ll make everything right.”
“The damage is already done,” Andie muttered as she walked back inside her house before closing and locking the door.
+ + +
Andie paced the floor in an attempt to understand all that occurred since she woke up two days before. AJ, in so many words, said that there was nothing keeping her there. “Aren’t I something?”
Diana again showed up uninvited with Kiara in tow. “Can’t she stay out of my life?”
The biggest surprise of all was Kiara’s tale of why she testified against her. “What does she want?”
What troubled her most was AJ returning only to disappear again. “Why?”
Making a decision, Andie grabbed the keys to the Jeep and left the house with Oscar following close behind. She was half way to Colorado Springs when she realized she didn’t know where AJ lived. The snowstorm that the weather forecaster said would start after midnight had begun.
“What am I doing?” Pulling off onto the shoulder, she pulled her cell out of her pocket and punched in AJ’s number. The sound of the ringing sounded hollow and vacant until she heard AJ’s voice. “Hi,” was all she could say.
It took AJ a few seconds before she replied, “Hi,” in a voice laced with ice.
“Listen, I don’t know what you thought you saw earlier but you’re wrong.”
“I know what I saw Andie.”
“And what was that?”
Just hearing Andie’s voice made the anger AJ felt begin to dissipate. “You were back together,” she whispered.
“That will never happen.”
“I know what I saw.”
Andie blew out a breath and sighed. “No you don’t,” she said softly. “I’ve moved on and I hoped it would be with you.” As the silence stretched, Andie could hear AJ breathing. “We need to talk. Can we do that face to face?” She heard nothing. “I’m sitting on the side of the road with snowing piling on my Jeep.”
AJ frowned. “Why?”
“I wanted to find you so I started toward the Springs, only to realize I didn’t have a clue about where you lived.” The hearty laugh from AJ made Andie let go of the breath she was holding.
“How familiar are you with the area?”
“I can get to your garage. Unfortunately, I don’t have navigation in the Jeep.”
AJ laughed again and it felt good. “Go to the garage and I’ll meet you there.”
+ + +
Andie smiled when she saw AJ’s Trailblazer parked in front of AJ’s Body Engine. As she closed in on the vehicle, she watched as AJ exited her vehicle and waited for her. When she came to a stop, AJ opened the passenger door and got in. Oscar, wagging his stubby tail, was on AJ the minute she sat down, insistently licking her face.
“Hey,” she said. “I see you brought reinforcements.” She laughed and held the dog on her lap and scratched his head.
Andie smiled. “I figured I needed all the help I could get.” She chuckled when Oscar kept nudging AJ’s hand. “We need to talk.”
“Yeah, we do.” AJ’s heart was thumping so hard that she was certain Andie could hear it. “My apartment isn’t far.”
Andie nodded as she shifted into first gear and pressed the gas pedal. “Which way?”
Andie was surprised when she entered the apartment. Her eyes immediately fell on several house plants that were flourishing. “Looks like your plants are thriving,” she said as she moved further inside.
“When I got here the peace plant’s leaves were drooping,” AJ offered.
Turning around, Andie found herself face to face with the woman and that took her breath away. She thought we need to talk first and took a step backward. “I need to tell you about Kiara,” she said and saw AJ immediately stiffen. “Please, it’s not what you think.”
“Ok,” AJ said.
“Apparently my ex-husband blackmailed Kiara into testifying against me.”
“Blackmailed her? How?”
“When Kiara was in high school another student wrote a story that she passed off as her own.”
“That story was the basis of her first novel and Kiara was paying the original author to keep quiet.” She saw what she took as doubt on AJ’s face. “If that was made public, her career would be over.”
“Wasn’t her name on the story when she handed it in?”
“Then I don’t understand.”
“The guy that wrote the story used it a year earlier.”
AJ nodded. “Lying seems to be a trait of hers.”
Andie nodded before she fixed AJ with an intense gaze. “Have you ever thought about having kids?”
The question that seemed to come out of left field stunned AJ. “We talked about it, but it never seemed to be the right time. I think my dad would have enjoyed having grandkids.” She shrugged. “I wish I could have done that for him.”
“Was he disappointed when he learned you preferred girls?”
AJ let out a soft snort as a tiny smiled played at the corners of her mouth. “At first he blamed himself for not having a woman around. He said he never taught me enough about the girl stuff. It wasn’t that and I think in time he knew it was about who I was and nothing he did would change that.”
“He sounds like a great dad. I wish I could have met him.”
“What about your family? “
Andie laughed. “I was perfectly happy keeping them in the dark, but once the custody trial became fodder for the newspapers…well let’s say they were less than enthusiastic. My mom came to my house to see Annie while I was living with Kiara. It was difficult to hide that we were a couple. In a way, I didn’t want to. She hugged me and said she loved the person I was.” Andie looked down at her hands. “She was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months later. My brother made some crude comments about watching some girl on girl action, which wasn’t surprising since he always was a jerk.”
“That’s all the family you have?”
“Pretty much. Oh, there are some aunts, uncles, and cousins, but I wouldn’t know them if I fell over them.” Andie returned her gaze on her hands as she said, “Kiara said she had proof of Craig’s blackmail and she was going to make things right.” She shrugged. “I might get Annie back.”
Moving so she was crouching in front of Andie, AJ said, “Do you believe her?”
Andie closed her eyes and sighed. “I don’t have a choice,” she said as her eyes began to well with tears. “Right now my life is such a mess.” She locked eyes with AJ. “If I do get Annie back will you stay around?”
AJ caressed Andie’s cheek as her thumb tried to erase the tears. Standing up, she offered the woman her hand before she pulled her up and embraced her. “I’m not going anywhere,” she whispered into Andie’s ear.
Pulling away, Andie slowly leaned in and pressed her lips to AJ’s moist ones. Their kisses were soft and sweet before they ignited into hot passion.
+ + +
AJ woke the next morning and smiled. The body entwined in hers felt wonderful. Oscar, curled up at the bottom of the bed, lifted his head, and looked at her before he yawned and jumped down.
Small kisses along Andie’s back made the woman say, “Hmm, good morning.”
Snuggling closer, AJ kissed a bare shoulder. “Good morning.”
“This is nice,” Andie said. “I love the feel of your body close to mine.”
In a single fluid motion, Andie turned to face AJ and found her lips. Their passion rose as they began to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh once more. Nothing was off limits as they explored every inch of each other until they found satisfaction. Sated they snuggled close and fell back to sleep.
It was almost ten o’clock when Oscar bounded onto the bed.
“Not now, go away,” Andie grunted.
Ignoring Andie’s words, the dog tried to insert himself between the two women. Repeatedly he would try to nuzzle his way in only to jump off the bed, do a twirl, and bark. Finally, Andie gave up and moved away from her lover.
“Oscie you have horrible timing. I wanted to stay in bed longer,” she said as she swung her feet off the bed.
AJ grabbed Andie by the waist and pulled her closer. “I’ll take him out.” She rubbed her eyes and said, “What time is it?”
Andie looked at the clock and shook her head. “Ten.”
AJ laughed. “I can’t remember the last time I slept this late.”
“Well I can,” Andie said with a wink. “It was a few days ago when I got back from my LA trip.”
Once she stole another kiss, AJ pulled on her jeans and a t-shirt. “Be right back.”
Once AJ returned after walking the dog and feeding him, they languished in bed and made love until both their stomachs started to grumble.
“Love might be food for the soul, but not my tummy.” Andie laughed. “I’ll see what you have on hand and make us something.”
AJ held up her hand. “Don’t bother unless all you want is cereal. Captain Crunch to be exact.”
“You’re kidding right?”
“No. Why don’t I take you out to dinner? There’s a place a few blocks away that has the best Greek food around.”
Andie caressed AJ’s face as she softly kissed her lips. “I guess the time has come to get up and face the world.” She wrapped her arms around the woman and pulled her closer. “I had no idea that it could be this good.”
“What?” AJ asked as she pulled back.
“Loving someone. With Kiara, I always felt I wasn’t living up to expectations. She would always tell me what I was doing wrong.” Andie closed her eyes and sighed. “Most of the time, she made me watch while she masturbated. She told me I never satisfied her.” Her eyes sought AJ’s in question.
Before Andie could say more, AJ said, “That isn’t how I feel.” She hugged the woman. “You are a wonderful lover. Do you think I would have spent the last,” she looked at the clock, “twenty hours making love with you if you weren’t?”
Nuzzling into AJ’s neck Andie sighed just as her stomach growled loudly. “Greek you said?”
“We need a shower first,” AJ said as she wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.
“I like how your mind works,” Andie said with a laugh. “I’ll scrub your back if you scrub mine.”
It didn’t take either of them long to get out of bed and into the bathroom–dinner would have to wait.
+ + +
A day later, they arrived back at Andie’s house with AJ’s suitcase in tow. Until the truck was finished, she would stay there.
“Home at last,” Andie said. She didn’t resist when AJ pulled her into her arms.
“Have you ever made love with anyone in this house?”
After kissing AJ’s lips, Andie said, “Nope. Are you going to do anything about that?”
“Oh I have an idea or two.”
“I’m intrigued. Do you want to show me?”
Their kisses were long and passionate and soon they found their way to the bed. Then in total surrender, both women gave their hearts and body’s to each other.
+ + +
AJ wouldn’t let Andie come into the garage as she worked on the truck’s completion. “I want it to be a surprise for you,” AJ said. Then with a grin she added, “And no peeking with that camera of yours.”
Andie threw her arms around AJ and kissed her soundly. “I didn’t think you knew about the camera.”
AJ laughed heartily. “How could I miss it? I could hear it as it came to life.”
“So why didn’t you say anything?”
Once she had kissed Andie again, AJ said, “It was a turn on to think of you sitting in your study watching me. I sometimes fantasized that I’d look at the camera, crook my finger, and before I knew it, you were standing in the garage naked.”
“Hmm, I could make that fantasy come true.”
“When I’m done I’d like that.”
Andie snaked her fingers under AJ’s shirt and found a pliant nipple. “You sure you want to wait until then?”
AJ groaned and lifted Andie’s shirt over her head. “I’d like to see you naked right now,” she said feeling her body react to Andie’s touch. “The fantasy can wait.”
Making love with AJ was like flying above the world on a cloud. The woman always made her feel special. The part of her that was missing she found in AJ. With the woman, she found happiness, love and a peace that was all encompassing. She knew that she would never be alone again as she held onto AJ as she soared high above the clouds in ecstasy.
+ + +
Covering Andie’s eyes, AJ lead her into the oversized garage. “Keep your eyes closed until I take away my hand ok?”
“Ok, but hurry I can’t stand the suspense.”
When Andie opened her eyes, she stood motionless with her mouth opened wide. “I…I can’t believe it.” She turned and threw her arms around AJ. “It’s just as I remember it!” She slowly walked over to the truck running her hand along the smooth shiny surface before she opened the door and held her hand over her mouth.
“Oh AJ,” she said as tears filled her eyes. “It’s just like the day my dad gave it to me.” She slipped behind the steering wheel, ran her fingers over the upholstery before eyeing the key in the ignition. “Will you open the garage door?”
Pleased with Andie’s reaction, AJ pushed a button and the door began its upward journey. She walked back to the truck and opened the passenger door.
“No,” Andie said. “I need to go alone.”
AJ frowned. “Why.”
“I just do…please,” she said. “You said I had to be open to letting my dad in.”
Sucking in a breath and closing her eyes, AJ said, “Keep it under thirty.”
The truck backed out of the garage and headed toward the road. Andie pressed the horn and it tooted two times before the vehicle disappeared.
AJ stood watching with her heart pounding as beads of sweat began to accumulate under her armpits. She heard the melodic sound of her cell phone and took it out of her pocket before opening it up–nothing. The skin on her forehead creased before she heard the voice she thought she had buried.
“Hey, I’m on my way home,” Rhonda said. “I’m on Aeroplaza now.”
“Ok, where do you want to for dinner?”
“Let me think about it and I’ll let you know when I get there.”
Rhonda never arrived.
Panic filled her mind and her body began to tremble. She raced inside the house and grabbed the Jeep keys. Ignoring all else, AJ raced the Jeep to the end of the driveway before she had to decide which direction to go. She looked left then right then left again before she looked at the tread marks left in the dirt and snow.
Heading east, the Jeep sped up the slight incline. She saw the snow that kicked up behind the black truck and pressed the gas pedal. She pushed the vehicle to its limit as it closed in on the old truck.
Andie heard the steady sound of a horn and looked in the rearview mirror. Puzzled when she saw the yellow Jeep, she slowed to a stop. When the Jeep pulled behind her, she saw AJ jump out and run to the truck.
Through an open window, Andie saw the panicked look on AJ’s face “What’s wrong?” she said.
Suddenly, AJ felt foolish. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I…I…”
Andie opened the door, got out, and wrapped her arms around the woman. “Hey, I’m ok and I’m not going anywhere.” She kissed AJ’s hair and whispered, “I’m not going to get into an accident. I won’t die that way.”
Openly weeping, AJ’s body shook. “I don’t want to lose you too.”
Andie held AJ tighter. “You won’t. Let’s go home.”
Pulling away, AJ wiped her tears and let her lips curve in a small smile. “I’d like the sound of that.”
+ + +
Andie approached AJ as she got out of the Jeep after parking it in the garage. She took her lover’s hand and walked with her to the front porch. Once the door opened, Oscar came charging out and began jumping up on them.
Both women laughed as they went inside with the dog still doing his dance for them.
“Want a treat boy?” AJ asked. When Oscar sat down and rolled over she laughed. “I’ll take that as a yes.” Her eyes traced to Andie. “How did the truck drive?”
“Like a dream.” She smiled and said, “Thank you.” When she saw AJ nod, she continued. “I could feel my dad with me while I was driving.” She sucked in a breath. “I think I can put that to rest now.” She engulfed AJ in her arms. “Thank you for giving me that gift.”
With a shaky voice, AJ said, “When you drove away I remembered the call Rhonda made to me just before the accident.” Tears welled in her eyes. “She told me she’d let me know where we’d have dinner when she got home.” Sniffling, she tried to compose her emotions. “I panicked.”
Andie pulled back slightly and gazed into AJ’s face before she kissed her lips. “That isn’t going to happen to me. You’re stuck with me. That’s if you want that,” she said as panic suddenly overtook her emotions.
With a tenderness that she had never felt before, AJ kissed Andie’s lips. When she pulled away, she traced a finger along Andie’s face. “Today we both made peace with the past. I for one am ready to start living my life again. That life includes you, Oscar, and when you get her back, Annie.”
With her arms wrapped around AJ’s shoulders, Andie pulled the woman close. “I love you AJ. I will always love you.”
“I love you too,” AJ said before their lips met briefly.
Hesitantly, Andie let go of AJ.
“You can’t stand it can you?” AJ said with a laugh.
Red faced, Andie shook her head. “The beeping is driving me crazy.”
“It’s probably just a hang up or a wrong number.”
“Remember I have an unlisted number.”
“Doesn’t mean someone can’t call it by mistake,” AJ said as she watched Andie’s eyes focus on the answering machine. “You’d better find out if it is important. Then,” she said as she traced the outline of the woman’s breast. “I have something I need to show you.”
Andie laughed and held up a finger. “Hold that thought. I’ll only be a minute.” She pressed a button on the machine and heard; you have one new message and two old messages. First message…
“Ms. McBride, this is Doug Kaiser. I took Ms. Daniels’s affidavit then spoke with Mr. McBride’s attorney about witness intimidation and took the information to the judge. Tomorrow I am having a meeting with Judge Margate and I’m cautiously optimistic that the result will be positive. I’ll keep you informed.”
Andie stood rigidly as she pushed a button to play the message again.
AJ went to her side and placed a comforting arm around the woman. When the message finished for the third time, she gently squeezed Andie’s shoulder. “Sounds like Kiara lived up to her word.”
All Andie could do was stand there. She finally said, “Did it sound to you like he thinks I might get Annie back?”
Engulfing Andie in her arms, AJ said, “I think you better start getting her room ready.”
With tears of happiness, Andie melted into AJ’s body. Her life had finally righted itself–she was at peace with her father, found love and her child would be with her again. “Everything is perfect now,” she said before AJ kissed her.
If you liked this story please let me know Erin O'Reilly
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