Restaurant owner, Claire Connolly, initially believes Jennifer Cartwright collapses on purpose to see how she will cope with the situation. But it soon comes to light that someone is behind it all and is not going to stop until he exacts his revenge on the dark haired food critic.

Bring in Fiona Houghton - smart and willing to go the extra mile. It isn't long before she is on the trail of a man intent on destruction, and he doesn't care who he destroys along the way.

A tale of murder, kidnapping, and devastating obsession. How on earth can something as fragile as blossoming love come from this? Simple. Love is stronger than everything. Isn't it?

Disclaimers: Yes. There are a few. Isn't there always?

Sex: This is a tale of women falling in love, and if that includes scenes of a delicate, and hopefully a sexually fulfilling nature between consenting adults, then they have to be in here. If you are too young to read stories of this ilk, then just wait a wee while. If you are in a country that 'forbids' you to read about the female connection and the bucking beasts, then either move or close this now.

Violence: Unfortunately, yes. I'm usually too much of a pussy to do it, but hey ... I've taken the plunge. There are a few disturbing scenes here, but you should get satisfaction out of knowing I was cringing when writing them. Seriously, though. This is a warning.

Thank yous: To Nige. Thank you for all your research - well, knowledge really. Without your input Fi wouldn't be the smart assed copper she is. Thank you also to my muse and inspiration. Without you this would never have been finished. And also my beta reader - you are a star of the highest variety. But I think you know that already.

I hope you enjoy this tale, and you like the style. It is in the third person for a change, hence it taking me so bloody long to write it. Oops ... missed off a disclaimer.

Language: I can't help it. I have an illness - honestly. It is called being English. And the swearing ... yeah ... sorry about that too.

Dedication:To family. My family.

If you want to check out my published work, then here you go.

L T Smith

There are many gifted writers at PD Publishing, so don't forget to check them out too.


By fingersmith

Chapter One

Considering CC's was the new place on the block, it certainly was packed. Maybe it was because it was a Saturday night, or maybe it was because everyone wanted to have a good look at what the new owner had done to the place formerly known as 'The Pit'. Its name hadn't really been 'The Pit', but it will give you a good idea of how shit it really was. By the end of its stint as a place where people from all walks of life would congregate, the building had great difficulty stopping its name appearing in the local paper. Arrests were frequent, as le plait du jour was dealing, prostitution, with a side order of porn. All in all, this place needed a face lift of the Andrew Lloyd Webber variety, and that's no mean feat.

Solid oak doors replaced the paint chipped MDF from the seventies, and after stepping inside, the smell had transformed from stale smoke and bodily fluids, to the distinctly aromatic scent of mouth watering food. A welcome change and one that rapidly spread through the area faster than the news of a politician being caught with his pants around his ankles. Like before - when it was 'The Pit'. Although Norwich loved nothing more than a bit of a scandal, CC's was no longer the place.

Let's not stop there. We need to go fully inside the restaurant to experience the friendly atmosphere charged with an assured sense of purpose and professionalism. Guests, as the new owner liked to term her clients, were priority. Every detail had been evaluated and catered for, even the price of the menu. It wasn't cheap, but it certainly didn't bag a hole in a person's pocket. Tables huddled in corners to create a setting of privacy, and lights fought to create the perfect ambience. Romantic, classic, and painstakingly thought through - almost cliché. For the less secretive clientele, tables were sprinkled around the medium sized room.

Seated at one of these tables was Jenny Cartwright; a half-empty wine glass dangling from long slender fingers. Half- empty until - lift - tip - drained. Then bring out a faceless waiter from the darkness to tilt the dripping wine bottle in attempt to refill the glass thrust out in annoyance.

'For fuck's sake! Wipe the goddamn bottle, you prick!' Shooting back from the chair, Jenny staggered, and it was apparent she had consumed one too many drinks. 'You trying to fucking drown me?' The waiter mumbled an apology, but this only incited her further. 'What's the matter? Can't you speak our fucking language?' Everyone in the restaurant stopped eating, and conversation ceased. Silence was trying to take centre stage, but was failing miserably. Jenny Cartwright was not the kind of woman, as people believed, even when sober, that noticed when it was time to shut up.

'What are you staring at?' As she stepped forward, pointing randomly at the open-mouthed guests, the table decided to assist and twirled its lithe legs around hers, or so she thought. The sound of smashing crockery and glasses pierced the room, shortly followed by more swearing and the clanking metallic sound of cutlery hitting the tiled floor. Two more waiters came to help the distraught customer only to be greeted with 'Get your fucking hands off me! Don't you know who I am? Get ... the fuck ... away!'

Claire Connolly looked on. The small blonde knew it was time for her to step in; knew she should make her presence known, but part of her was afraid. Jennifer Cartwright was a big wig in the world of restaurants, a critic, to use the proper term, and Claire also knew that however she handled this situation would be written up in a scathing review the next day. Every restaurant owner, or manager, knew that Ms Cartwright made you work for a good review, and it wasn't uncommon for her to act like a royal pain in the arse - pretending to be pissed; being abusive; insulting customers; just to watch how the proprietor dealt with it. Strange thing was this didn't seem like the normal twattish behaviour known to come from the Queen of Spleen. For one thing, her speech wasn't slurred, and by what other people had told her, when Cartwright went in for her Oscar winning performance, she nailed it.

More waiters were at the table now, more ready hands to help the inebriated woman get back on her feet. But by the shouting, swearing and thrashing, it appeared they were still unsuccessful.

'Come on, Connolly. Time to act.' Swallowing audibly, Claire moved forward whilst trying to compose herself into some kind of authority role. This was shit or bust for her business - one false move and it would be goodnight Vienna, back to 'The Pit', and hope the door didn't hit her on the arse as she left her budding business behind.

Arriving at the table, Claire had made sure she had spoken to all the people who had been in her path. There was no point in alienating her bread and butter, and maybe - just maybe Cartwright had seen her take control.

Pushing aside two of the waiters, Claire saw the woman sprawled out on her back, her underwear on display and vomit dangling in her hair. 'Maybe not.' James, the head waiter, looked at her as if to ask what she meant, but she held her hand up to him to stop the question. Cartwright was unconscious, deep snores emanating from an open mouth - heaven only knew when she had found the time to throw up from when she stood up to when she fell on the floor. 'You two,' Claire pinned two of the waiters with her eyes, 'Serve free drinks to all the customers. Apologise for the disturbance.' A pause. 'Tell them someone has taken ill.' Quickly, she looked down at the figure hoping to see a twitch come from closed eyes. Nothing. 'James. Call an ambulance.' The head waiter's face showed surprise, but she wasn't going to tell him until later that she didn't give a rat's ass about the bitch on the floor - but it would help with the illness rumour she had sent around the place. It wouldn't hurt her either, if she gave the impression that she did, in fact, give the aforementioned rat's ass about the woman who was turning over and hugging her ankle. Fleetingly, she allowed the urge to give her a swift kick race through her head, but stopped herself as she felt the energy start to tingle down her thighs and collect at her toe. 'Maybe I could step on her fingers?' A snort left her mouth, which she quickly changed into throat clearing cough.

Waiting for the ambulance to arrive seemed to take forever. Claire made sure she visited each and every table to ask if everything was ok, if more wine was needed, and if it was, it came as a gift from the establishment. Customers seemed happy, well, as happy as people can be when there was a snoring person lying on the floor mere feet away from them. She also made sure she went back intermittently to the prostrate woman, containing the urge to grab the black jacket lapels and shake the life out of the one who could make or break her.

'Here you go, Ms Connolly.' Looking up, Claire saw a young waitress holding out a damp cloth. 'Maybe a wipe, you know, refresh ...' Why hadn't she thought of that? That would fit in with her trying to give a shit, wouldn't it?

'Thank you, Debbie.'

Taking the cloth, Claire turned her attention back on the woman lying on the floor. A bead of sweat had coated Cartwright's face and, if Claire wasn't mistaken, her lips held a bluish hue. Strange. Being pissed didn't usually cause that, did it? Sweating, yes. But blue lips? Fuck! She hadn't got alcoholic poisoning had she? Or overdosed? Come to think of it, she had become drunk excessively swiftly.

'Get James, Debbie. Quickly.' Claire struggled to keep her voice low and even, but with the final word her voice had broken. Debbie stood there. 'Quick ... ly.' Ushering her with her hand, Claire let out the breath she'd been holding when she saw her scurrying towards the kitchen. Turning her concentration back to a possible court case, she began to gently wipe Cartwright's face. Slow strokes along the flesh made the pale skin pink momentarily before becoming wan and ashen again. Gently she turned the cloth over to get the coolness back before wiping a half open mouth. A deep snort eked out. Did over- dosers snore?

Before long James was standing over her, his mouth close to her ear. 'What's the matter, Boss?'

Claire stopped wiping and pulled the head waiter closer to her. 'How much did she have? Drink, I mean.'

'Two glasses of wine, I think. Well, that's how many glasses I served her.' Two glasses? There was no way anyone would be like this unless they were half cut already.

'Did she appear drunk before you served her?' He shook his head, but before he had a chance to speak, Claire butted in. 'Did anyone else give her anything?'

James squinted his eyes in contemplation whilst gauging whether he could speak now without interruption. Tentatively he said, 'She seemed perfectly normal - asked to see you when you had a minute.' Claire remembered him asking her to go over, but she thought she would make her wait. She opened her mouth as if to speak and then decided to let her head waiter continue. When he didn't she nodded her head impatiently. James tried to hold back a smile, as he knew his boss wasn't the type to sit quietly and wait for someone else to take the initiative. Swallowing deeply, he spoke. 'As for someone else giving her alcohol - not that I'm aware of. All she had was water. I didn't give her that though.' Why on earth he had thought he should mention he didn't give her the water was beyond him - funnily enough, that was the exact thought circling around inside Claire's head when he brought it up. Nah. No one here would spike her water would they? Then came the next thought.

Ms High and Mighty Cartwright had taken drugs in her restaurant, taken drugs with her water. Popped those little pills of oblivion in front of all her guests - shown everybody that even though Claire had spent all her hard earned savings - all her bank loans - on making 'The Pit' into a respectable establishment, old habits die hard. This was the last thing she needed. Imagine this getting out. 'Critic ODs in New Restaurant: Staff Help.' Fuck. Fuck. And fuck again. Whatever happened, this had to be kept quiet, although hiding a death would be tricky. And if Cartwright didn't die from the drugs, Claire would make sure she would finish her off in the most painful way possible. 'Jesus! I've only been open a matter of weeks. Why me?' A surge of anger raced through her, and she was finding it increasingly difficult to keep her hands off the woman and shake the living crap out of her whilst screaming, 'You fuckster!'

Fortunately, for everyone, just as the thought went through her head, two paramedics appeared at the front of house waiting, as it appeared, to be seated. After telling James to go and get them, her concentration rested on the prone woman. The anger seemed to drain from her. What was the point in losing it? All that would do would be to slam in the final nail in her business. Gripping the cloth once again, the restaurant owner administered another gentle wipe, albeit unconsciously. The material was warm now, but the motion prompted Jennifer Cartwright's eyes to flicker and then bud open. In that instant, Claire felt something spark and gurgle up from her gut and hover in the vicinity of her throat. It was the weirdest sensation she had ever experienced - almost like a wanting, a needing, a clawing commotion. Blue eyes seemed to capture her in that instant of vulnerability, and Claire attempted to close herself off, attempted to close the shutters and erect an impenetrable shield between the two women. But those eyes, those blue eyes. They seemed to slip through the barrier and absorb her in one omniscient look. These weren't the eyes of someone who was drunk or out to wreak havoc. They were the eyes of someone who was suffering.

'Thank you.' It was so soft, so gentle that if Claire hadn't had been so close she would have missed it. Then the eyes fluttered closed and leaving Claire once again alone.


Chapter Two

Claire was relieved the evening was over. After Jennifer Cartwright had been taken away by the paramedics, the evening had whirled by in a blur. Making sure her customers went away happy was priority, as there was no way she wanted them to leave with the horror story of 'The Inebriated Woman '. The restaurant owner even deducted ten per cent from people's bills to make up for any 'inconvenience suffered'. Every time a client needed to pay, she made sure she was the one who took it over, chatted good-humouredly, joked, and then surreptitiously told the payee there was a discount for valued customers for one night only. Although it would cost her a fortune - probably the majority of her profit for the evening - it was worth it.

The weird thing was that every time she did this a flash of Cartwright's face would appear in front of her. Initially, the small blonde wanted to tell it exactly what she thought about its actions - but swearing and punching mere air would not do her any favours. Even weirder was that as the evening progressed, the anger and bitterness began to fizzle and fade. The memories of Ms Cartwright changed from the swearing swaying lush to something decidedly more delicate and fragile. Instead of the snoring and vomit covered woman, Claire began to remember the vulnerable blue eyes and the whispered, 'Thank you.'

'You ok, Boss?' James' voice broke through her reverie, and she jumped slightly before taking in her half lifted hand with a credit card poised within its grip.

'Ye ...ah. Fine. Thanks.' Turning to look at him, she felt the telltale flush of heat race up her throat and climb, unceremoniously, up to her cheeks. James smiled and nodded, and for all the world Claire believed he knew what she had been thinking.

'That one is the last.' Claire looked at him vacantly, so he nodded to the card. 'The last of the people here when Cartwright was doing her Bette Davis in Baby Jane.' The blonde still looked at him as if she thought he had been smacked senseless. 'Baby Jane?' Her face told him to get on with it. 'Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The end scene?' In reality, Claire should have known what he was talking about considering she had seen the film countless times. But the truth of the matter was - she wasn't really listening. 'Forget it. It was a bad joke anyway.' However, it didn't escape the head waiter's notice that the longer he stood there trying to get his boss to understand, the more scarlet she became. It could have been that she felt flushed from all the activity and stress from the circus earlier; it could have been the huge monetary loss she had taken; or it could have been something far more instinctual.

Hormones. To put not too fine a point on it. And if what James knew about women meant anything at all, then Ms Claire Connelly had shown some attraction to the renowned critic. How many people would have swabbed the head of the person who was attempting to break their business? And not just a quick swipe either. Continuous wipes, almost like mini-caresses at the end. Another thing to add to the mix: why did she look so disappointed when Cartwright was being stretchered away? Why the distracted stares into nothing? James held down a snigger. As if? There was no way Claire would be interested in the inebriated abusive guest, would there? His boss was too good a person to be swayed by classic good looks and a sexy smile - well, if Cartwright could've smiled or didn't look anything but half dead by the time Claire had seen her from up close that is. Although he hadn't known her for very long, he believed he had the 'eye' for what made a person tick A sigh hit the air. James Donahue, not to put too fine a point on it, had the hots for his boss, and anyone else she seemed to take an interest in made his insides stir like crazy - and not in a good way. Furthermore, he thought, a smile creeping over his handsome features, considering Cartwright had single handedly put Claire's business in jeopardy, he doubted Claire would give her the time of day after the evening's fiasco. His initial thoughts of sexual attraction between the two women slipped away only to be replaced by his own longing.

Claire didn't answer - just gently pushed him to the side and made her way to the waiting guest, leaving the man to run his fingers over the spot she had touched.

By the time to night had come to an end, Claire thought her nerves had too. Time and time again she had resisted the urge to call the hospital and ask how Jennifer Cartwright was doing. The only thing that stopped her was the part of her that was still angry with what had transpired earlier in the evening. Ms Cartwright had very nearly broken apart all the hard work Claire had done. However, it also was apparent that something inside Claire told her that the critic hadn't done all she had done out of malice, or for any fault of her own. And that little something also sparked a seed of intrigue within her that said 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark'. James had said the older woman had only two glasses of wine, maybe some water - and didn't appear to be smashed beforehand. So why had she acted the way she had? Extremely abusive? Thrown up? Passed out? It would take more than a couple of drinks to make anybody act that way, and Claire seriously doubted that Ms Cartwright would be the type to drug herself up when she was working, whatever she had thought earlier.

Still that rotten smell of deceit and foul play. But where did the stink come from? Did someone actually spike the water? The wine? Deep down Claire knew her staff wouldn't have done that - not one of them had anything to gain but everything to lose if the truth came out. And they were decent people, too. She had handpicked them herself. So, if the drink had been spiked - who was it? Had anyone gone over to the table? Did someone have it in for Claire? Did someone not want CC's to be successful? Or, was it aimed directly at Cartwright herself? She must've pissed a lot of people off in her years as a reviewer - as everyone knows a bad write up can break a business.

And that lead on to another thought. If Cartwright's drink had been spiked it had been on her premises. What would that tell the public when the stricken woman got out of hospital and blazed her pen in wrath at a place where drugs could be administered without the victim's nod of approval? At least when it used to be 'The Pit', people wanted to get smacked off their faces.

The only word that seemed to swirl around Claire's mind was 'Shit'. Other thoughts and words sneaked in, but 'Shit' was the one that kept on reappearing. There was only one thing for it. She would have to call the hospital and see if Jennifer Cartwright was all right. Firstly, it would give the impression that CC's was the caring kind of establishment Claire had strived for. And secondly she would find out if the woman was still alive.

However, for some strange reason, Claire decided to wait until everyone had gone home for the night before she dallied a little longer over actually pressing the numbers on the phone. Just as she pressed the first digit, James' voice boomed a good night inside her office making her drop the phone with an audible 'Fuck'. Why am I so nervous? It is only courtesy call. It was a pity that thought didn't reach her hands, as she could feel the vibrations of anxiety ripple along her arms and down to the tips to her waiting fingers.

As the phone was ringing, Claire fought the urge to hang up. The reason why she didn't wasn't solely because she wanted to save her back; it was more personal than that. If she had to put her hand on her heart and swear, she would have to have admitted that the reason why she continuously licked her lips, continuously swallowed audibly was because she wanted to make sure the fragile, blue eyed woman was in fact ok.

'I'm calling to check on the status of Ms Jennifer Cartwright.' A pause. 'She was brought in about eight thirty this evening.'

'Are you immediate family?' Part of Claire thought the worst had happened. Didn't they only ask a person that if the patient was dead or dying? Had her restaurant killed her? Or someone, or something in it, she should say?

'No.' Why did she say no? Why couldn't she just have lied and said 'Yes. I'm her sister.'

'I'm sorry ma'am. We can't give out information about patients other than to immediate family.' Before Claire could respond, the female voice at the end of the line said sorry one more time before hanging up.

'You didn't sound sorry.' Slam. The phone hit the cradle with a clank, and then let out the tone that showed it hadn't hit the holder properly. Slam, once again. Then again. 'Just go into your bloody slot, for fuck's sake!' Another failed attempt before Claire lifted the phone as if to throw it through the side window. 'And that's going to help, how?' Slowly, Claire placed the receiver onto the holder and wiggled it in place, a part of her wishing that technology wouldn't make things so bloody difficult. Slumping down on her chair, Claire Connolly knew she was in for a sleepless night.


But not as sleepless as Jenny Cartwright's. Not by a long shot. One minute she was enjoying a glass of wine, the next she remembered lying on the floor in a place she didn't recognise, having a person she didn't know wipe what appeared to be vomit from her head. She couldn't remember much else, just a sense of confusion and fear. But the one thing she did recall was the colour green. Why? She didn't remember that either. All she knew was that green was kind. That green was soft and caring. That particular shade of green felt safe - a feeling Jenny hadn't felt in a long long time - even before all the disorientation and the nausea.

Voices were all around her, but she didn't recognise anyone. Where am I? Am I still lying on the floor? She wanted to speak, to ask the disembodied voices where she was, but the effort for her to actually open her mouth seemed too hard a task. Jenny could feel the heat of lights warming her skin, but even though she didn't have her eyes open she knew she was inside a building, although fuck only knew which building it was.

'We can't say.' Part of her believed they were talking to her, that the questions she had wanted to ask had telekinetically made their way to the people around her. 'She's been like that ever since they brought her in.' In where? But her own questioning was interrupted by a high female voice asking how long the patient had been unresponsive. What patient? 'The paramedics told us she was unconscious when they arrived on the scene. That takes it to ...' the male voice paused as he worked out the time elapsed, '... getting on for six hours.'

Jenny wanted to turn over and see who they were talking about, but her body felt heavy. Tentatively, she licked her lips, which were dry and rough, before opening her mouth to speak. But nothing came out. It appeared as if her voice box had packed up, although her brain was inching up a notch and struggling to get the rest of her body up and working.

'When Ms Cartwright wakes up, get a urine sample, ok?' Even if Jenny had the ability to actually speak at that moment, there was no way those words could have come out. It was if she had suffered another slap in her face, albeit a slap that she couldn't physically feel. The words hadn't taken long to sink in, and the prostrate woman came to the conclusion all too quickly that the unresponsive woman the voices had been discussing was in fact herself. She was the patient. The patient who had been unconscious for six fucking hours.

Slam. The sound of a door nearly being thumped off its hinges made her legs jerk, but still she lay there. A strong hand grabbed her leg and pulled her over and images of being attacked charged through her mind. She knew she couldn't move; knew she couldn't do anything to stop the person doing whatever he or she wanted with her. Helpless wasn't just a word, it was a state of being. And in this state of being, the woman knew she was at the mercy of the person standing to the left of her. Mumbling words scattered around her, and Jenny felt a slight reprieve as she realised the person was in fact female.

'Bloody druggies. Get smacked out of their heads and then let us do all the cleaning up.' Although Jenny still couldn't see the woman's face, she knew the comments were directed at her. Jenny had never taken what the press term 'recreational drugs' in her life, and it had always been a battle of wills to take even a painkiller. Therefore, the reference to being a druggie was ungrounded, and if she could only find the ability to give the 'grabber' a piece of her mind. But she didn't get the opportunity to do, or say, anything. The hand released its hold, and the sound of footsteps shortly followed. Slam. Once again she was alone.

Lying on the bed, Jenny's mind began to whirl. What had happened? Where had six hours of her life gone? Here she was, slumped, and feeling like shit, in what appeared to be a hospital. Nothing made sense. The female voice had indicated the reason being she had taken some form of drug. But that was impossible. Jennifer Cartwright may be a lot of things, but a drug user wasn't one of them. It would help if she could remember something - anything, but all that came coming back was the colour green.

Opening her eyes, Jenny tried to focus on the room around her. A cabinet. A basin of some description. A half closed curtain. Inhaling deeply, she was greeted by the overwhelming odour of disinfectant, the sharp smell making her stomach clench. Lifting her hand, she half covered her eyes and allowed herself to adjust to the sudden brightness after what appeared to be a lifetime of black. Tentatively, she moved as if to sit up, but stopped as both her head and gut whirled in defiance.

'Come on, Cartwright. Get a grip.' Her voice seemed hollow, echoey, as it bounced off the white-washed walls of the hospital room. Another move, this time even more carefully than previously. All her muscles ached and each throb seemed to direct itself inside her head. Have I been hit by a truck? The shooting pains all over her body seemed to back up her thought, but that wouldn't fit in with drug accusation from the voices from earlier.

'I see you're awake.' A voice from behind her made her jump before she gripped her head in pain. 'No need to be nervous.' The female voice wasn't the same as before. It was kinder - more understanding. Turning towards the door, Jenny saw a brown haired nurse waiting to move closer to her. 'And now you're awake, we can get started on the tests.' Slowly, Jenny began to shake her head, giving the impression she didn't understand what the nurse was asking from her. But in reality, she was suddenly nervous - and then even more nervous because she couldn't grasp why she should be concerned. 'Just a urine sample to start with.' The nurse paused before adding, 'And maybe a cervical smear ...'

'Smear? What the fuck!' But the bombardment of drums inside her skull made her grip her head in her hands. Quietness pervaded the air - well, until Jenny spoke again, softer this time. 'Why would I need a smear, Miss ... Miss ...'


As the nurse said her name, Jenny once again braved the light. Laura smiled gently and poked her chin out, as if to ask if it was ok if she came closer. Gritting her teeth, Jenny nodded. Things were beginning to make sense - well, as best as they could. Being out of it for six hours; urine test - smear test - all the ingredients to a spiked drink. A huge lump formed at the back of her throat, and it was agony keeping all the emotion inside. Moving her hands to her lap, Jenny noticed the slight shaking culminating from the tips of her fingers and edging its way up her arms. Threading one hand's digits through the other, she attempted to reel in the burgeoning panic. Lifting her face back up to Laura's waiting gaze, Jennifer Cartwright decided it was time to find out some answers.

'Do you think I've been raped?' Jenny was always one for getting straight to the point, however terrified she was of the reply.

'Well ...' Laura fidgeted with the clip board.


The nurse placed the board onto the side of the bed and faced the patient full on. 'There is reason to believe you have been the victim of a spiked drink. But ...' Laura attempted to take Jenny's hand, paused, thought about it, and then slipped her hand over the grasping hands of the older woman. Deep blue eyes showed concern, and emotion glimmered as tears appeared. 'But it doesn't mean anything untoward happened.'

Looking down at the hand over her own, Jenny should have felt some semblance of peace by the nurse's words. However, the word 'but' the nurse had used stopped her thinking anything than someone had purposefully spiked her drink. A thought popped in her head, and it wasn't long before that thought hit the air.

'I heard someone before saying I was a druggie. What suddenly makes you believe that maybe my drink was spiked?'

A small laugh shot out of Laura's mouth before a mumbled apology. Jenny waited.

'Sorry.' Jenny still waited. 'It's just ... you just don't seem the type.' Was there a specific type of druggie? 'I know there isn't a text book definition to what kind of person would take drugs, but ... you just ... I feel you are not the type, if you know what I mean?'

A sigh escaped from Jenny. One of those sighs that can't decide why it is there. Was it because her drink might have been spiked? Or was it because she still might need a smear test? Wracking her brain, she tried to remember what had happened, or even what was the last thing she remembered? There was a commotion, then quietness, then that bloody green. Jesus.

A cough alerted her that Laura was waiting for her response to something. Looking blankly at the nurse, she suddenly noticed a small cup in her hand. 'Shall we begin?'

It was now of never, Jenny supposed. Whatever happened after she would have to deal with, although it didn't mean she would have to forgive. Whoever was responsible for her being in this situation would pay. One way or another.


Chapter Three

David Foster was almost joyful. It had been so easy getting even with the woman who had haunted his every waking thought, and if truth be known, his sleeping ones too. He hated her with a passion, that kind of passion that deludes the thinker into believing that what he has done was just. Cartwright had ruined him. Taken everything he had worked hard for and screwed both him and his business over. She had poisoned his customers with vitriolic untruths about his restaurant, and sent him into bankruptcy. Or so he believed.

The reason why he was almost joyful and not ecstatic was because his plan had not fully blossomed into the faultless revenge he had envisioned. Foster had wanted a little more humiliation for Cartwright, and not for her to be stretchered away from the trendy new restaurant with people believing she had 'taken ill'. No. What he had wanted was to make her feel lost, isolated, used, insecure, and many other emotions. Unsure about whom she had slept with, or what she had done being a couple of those. Using Rohypnol was the way. One little dash of the crushed tablet in her coffee in the pub a hundred yards from CC's should have been enough to create all these, and enable him to create the uncertainty, but he didn't plan on her scooping her papers and leaving the bar so quickly.

Planting the drug had been easy - too easy, in fact. He had been sitting in the cubicle behind her for nearly twenty minutes trying to think of a way to get his plan into gear. Obtaining the drug was a piece of cake. Crushing it, mere seconds. Knowing where she was going to be was a little more difficult, and had taken a well-timed phone call to the editing office proclaiming he was the reviewer's brother and he needed to give her some important documents. Secretaries were so stupid. He sniggered before taking another swig of his whiskey. She even gave me Cartwright's mobile number.

It was still hard to believe she had left her coffee at all and even harder to think it was because the stupid temp, if she was a temp, had decided to call to tell Cartwright her bloody brother had called the office and was on his way over. This wasn't the reason she left that cappuccino unguarded. Once again, no. The reason why she stood up, moved over to the side of the bar and turned her back on her drink momentarily was because she couldn't hear the other woman's whining voice. Foster knew it was her because of Cartwright's response.

'Don't be stupid, Sally. Ian is in Germany.' And by the time she had hung up her mobile, the crushed white powder was already seeping through the froth of her coffee. All David Foster was waiting for now was for her to drink it. Most people wouldn't have, that's true. All the messages about leaving a drink unattended seem to fizzle as Cartwright brought the cup to her mouth, paused, pulled the cup away and looked at the froth of the drink. He could still remember praying for her to go for it, put that cup back to her lips and drain the contents. Foster also knew that for all her sins, Cartwright had the taste buds of the true professional. If there was any taste at all, she would be the one to pick up on it. Slyly, he watched her tilt her head to one side, shrug, and then down the drink all in one mouthful. It was the next thing that worried him. She gathered her papers and left.

'Fuck!' He remembered the word shooting out of his mouth unbidden and the two people on the next table turning to look at him. That wasn't what fazed him, though. It was because he wasn't too sure what to do next. What had supposed to happen was he was to wait about fifteen minutes, or thereabouts, and then sidle over and strike up a conversation. If what he had researched was right, Cartwright should have been feeling the effects of the drug by that time. Then, obviously, he would be the gentleman and suggest that a breath of fresh air might help her feel better, maybe using the line 'It is awfully stuffy in here.' Once outside he would guide her around the corner and there would be his faithful car. Bingo. In she would go, whether she liked it or not, and then he was going to take her to a hotel he had already arranged. There she would be stripped, flung on to the bed, photographed, and left. When she woke, all she would know is that she was naked and in a room she didn't recognise - not forgetting the discarded condom packets he would casually leave about, sans condoms of course. A brilliant plan, even though he only thought so himself. Alas, all he had managed to get were a few videos on his mobile phone from his place at the bar.

Sitting there on his computer, he pressed the play button once again. Images of Cartwright swaying and shouting abuse made him snigger, but it was when she threw up as she was falling that moved him into an all out laugh. Again and again he replayed the footage, and repeatedly paused the film so the images slowed to a jarring jagged animation. He didn't even feel remorse when he saw the distraught face of the small blonde who knelt down beside Cartwright, her skin pale and her eyes furtively glancing around the packed restaurant as she wiped the vomit from the comatose critic. Part of him knew how she would be feeling, as he too had felt desperate when Cartwright had turned up at his old place. But unlike that time, the woman lying on the floor couldn't print a story that blatantly lied about health and hygiene, or that the service was slow. Cartwright couldn't even say that the food was cold, undercooked, or even bland. He felt his lip sneer as he remembered the article. But that wouldn't happen to the blonde. The sneer changed into an almost vampiric grin as he remembered why Cartwright wouldn't be doing any of the above.

She wouldn't even remember she had been there. Well, until he sent her his clips.

More laughter. More replays of the video. More whiskey. And then he leaned over, picked up the phone, dialled, and then waited.

'Oh ... hello. I'm calling about Jennifer Cartwright. She was brought in earlier this evening.' He listened to the mind numbingly stupid person on the other end before responding with a concerned voice. 'Yes. I'm her brother.'


Humiliated. That's how she felt. Not about the urine sample, that was nothing. It was the smear test that made her feel like a prize one twat. Obviously the sample had come back positive to Rohypnol, and that lead onto one of the most frightening times of the woman's life. Waiting for the diagnosis was agony. Waiting to see if she had had sex without her knowledge was the main reason. All the stories she had ever heard in her life about the 'Date Rape Drug' flashed through her mind, and, like most people, Jenny had never thought it would happen to her. But at that specific tortuous moment, she wasn't too sure. And that's what scared her the most.

'There doesn't seem to be any evidence of intercourse.' The voice wasn't directed at her, but this statement allowed her to stop staring at the bright light hanging above her head and move her gaze to the vicinity of the vee of her knees. Laura was standing beside the middle aged female doctor who was administering the swab. The nurse nodded and gave Jenny a weak smile as if to reassure her. 'But we won't be a hundred percent positive until we get the results back.'

Click. Jenny closed her eyes once again. 'When will this nightmare be over?' flashed through her head.

'Right. Let's get this to the lab.' And with that, Jenny felt the speculum slip from inside her. Tears began to well, and for once the woman couldn't fight them off. Slowly, they bulged over her eyelids and slipped down the sides of her face.

Minutes passed, and the room was silent. She didn't know whether the two people had left her alone to sob out her sorrow, or they were standing staring at her. One thing she did know is that she didn't give a fuck.

'Jennifer?' Laura's voice slipped into her head, and she wanted to ignore it. 'Ms Cartwright?' Why can't she leave me alone? 'I need ... erm ... to check for bruising or other marks.' Once again Jennifer Cartwright asked herself when this all would be over. And once again, there was no reply.


Claire stared at her coffee cup and then back at the clock hanging in her kitchen. It was six forty seven, and if the blonde had slept for two hours, it certainly didn't feel like it. All she wanted to do was call the hospital and see if Jennifer Cartwright was awake, or, better still, alive. But that wasn't going to happen anytime soon, as she knew that she couldn't go through with telling a lie - even one of those little white ones that roll so easily off the tongue.

A thought struck. Maybe she could call the newspaper office and ask if they had heard anything. It would only seem as if she was interested in the woman's welfare, especially considering it had been on her premises where the incident had occurred. Then the next thought overrode the first. It isn't even seven am on a Sunday morning. Who the fuck would be up at this time? Well, apart from me? Two counterproductive thoughts and a cold coffee. Could life get any worse? At least she had the power to do something about the latter.

Standing up, Claire grabbed her cup and made her way to the coffee pot. Pity the rest of her life couldn't be as easy as getting a hot refill. All she could do was wait - although waiting wasn't her strong point. Deciding that she had to keep herself occupied, Claire decided to shower. There was no point going back to bed, as she knew there was no way she would be able to sleep.

Grabbing the steaming beverage, Claire made her way upstairs. Thoughts of Jennifer Cartwright flitted inside her head - thoughts of the blueness of her eyes - the whispered thanks - the feeling that she wanted to protect the woman who had been lying on the floor of her restaurant less than ten hours previously. It wasn't until the hot liquid plopped onto her fingers did she realise she had been standing outside the bathroom door gripping the handle.

'Shit!' Hurriedly, she placed the cup onto the floor before sucking her fingers. Why do I keep thinking of her? I don't even know anything about the woman.

However, that didn't stop the flashing thoughts entering her brain - thoughts of wanting to know the blue eyed critic.

Turning to face the mirror, Claire looked intensely into her own green eyes. Inhaling deeply, she straightened her back before uttering, 'You don't have a chance in hell, Connolly. Get over it.' She didn't even know why she had said it. It wasn't as if she actually knew anything at all about the critic. With that, she began to get undressed in the hope that the water hitting her head from the power shower would knock some sense into her.


Although Claire didn't know it, many people where in fact up and facing the world at nearly seven o'clock on a Sunday morning. One of these people was Jennifer Cartwright.

After a thorough examination by Laura, and a return of the lab results, Jenny had been told there was no evidence of sexual intercourse. The relief was cathartic, as it felt as if every emotion she had ever had in her life washed through her upon hearing the news. This rollercoaster of emotions finally settled on relief, anger, and humiliation; and each sat there vying for dominance.

'We've had to call the police.' A sentence that filled the older woman with both fear and hope. The reason why she felt fear was because if the story came out, then everyone would know what had happened to her. It was like failure, wasn't it? Jenny didn't like talking about her private life - didn't like people knowing what was going on behind the scenes - and this would expose her, wouldn't it? Expose her failings; expose the fact that she hadn't been on her guard - hadn't protected herself against the attack. And she would have to spill her guts to a bloke. A sigh left her mouth. Didn't she owe this to all the other people who had gone through exactly the same thing? Or it could act as a warning to other people - other vulnerable people. She didn't know whether involving the boys in blue would amount to anything, but wasn't it worth a shot? Two counterproductive thoughts, just like Claire Connolly's, and like the blonde, there was only one right one to follow.

'Are they here?' Decision made, Jenny began to arrange herself on the bed in readiness for the policeman to make his entrance.

It came as a surprise to her when Laura smiled, turned and opened the door. Well, not the action of opening the door, as such, more so the person standing on the other side. A woman. An attractive brown haired woman in uniform.

Laura ushered her inside, and the policewoman grinned at the nurse before turning her attention to Jenny. 'Sergeant Houghton,' the name accompanied an extended arm. The voice was deep, husky, but also soft. 'Sorry to come so quickly ... erm.' The policewoman chuckled quietly, but it didn't seem out of place somehow. 'I meant to say sorry for not giving you time to get yourself sorted ... you know ... This is the last thing you need after all you've been through.' From behind her, Laura made her excuses and left. 'Thank God she's gone.' Jenny just stared at the policewoman, who was by this time a deep shade of scarlet. 'Laura makes me edgy. In a nice way of course.' The penny dropped. The policewoman was one of 'the family'. With this titbit of information, Jenny felt the fear begin to lessen. Knowing the woman could relate to her and her lifestyle made her feel she could open up more. Funny, but this was the first time Jenny had thought this exact thought. Throughout her life, she had believed that her own sexual preference was in fact just that. Her own. Telling people as soon as she met them had never entered her mind, and the only people who actually knew she was a lesbian were people she loved and trusted.

'So.' Sergeant Houghton broke through the blue eyed woman's reverie. 'What do you remember?' As she said this, she pointed to the chair a little distance away from the bed, indicating it would be better if she got herself comfortable. Jenny nodded, and the policewoman turned slightly and dragged it over. In the time it took the officer to get the chair and sit, Jenny had already come to the conclusion that she couldn't remember anything from when she left her house until she woke up. There was a commotion, then quietness, but these seemed like they were part of a dream now, or had happened to someone else. However, there was one thought that kept on pressing to the front of her brain - one thing that made her believe she had been the one to actually experience it. Green. The colour green.

'The only thing I can remember is a colour, and I doubt that could be of any help.' She felt her face flush at her own inadequacy. Lifting her hand, she swiped nervously across her face.

'A colour could be useful.' Even though Sergeant Houghton tried to be upbeat, Jenny knew the information was useless. 'It could be the colour of the perp's clothing. A room - car - his or her eye colour.' As the last item came from the policewoman's lips, an image of green eyes flashed in Jenny's head. 'What? Have you remembered something else?' Although the patient wanted to say yes, something held her back. The green, or the green eyed image, didn't feel threatening. There was no way that green could've done what it had. It couldn't - it was too ... too ... 'Ms Cartwright. Let me be frank with you.' The officer leaned closer, as if she was taking her into her confidence. 'What you think you remember could be completely different to what actually happened.' Jenny looked at her, confused. 'I've known people to believe the complete opposite after a dose of Rohypnol.'

'What do you mean?' Jenny scrunched up her face giving the impression she didn't understand what the policewoman was trying to say. She knew damned well what was being implied, but once again - there was no way that green could've hurt her in any way. Considering she was unsure about the last ten hours of her life, this was one thing she was sure about.

'Forget it. Let's just get down what you definitely know. I don't want to lead you into saying anything.'

Momentarily, a small smile edged the corners of the reviewer's mouth. Should she state that she definitely knew green eyes were the only thing that had allowed any form of safety pervade her life in a long time? Even before the previous night? Or should she just get down to what the policewoman wanted to hear? The smile disappeared.

Swallowing deeply, Jenny sat up slightly, scratched her head, and then began to relive her limited memories.

'I remember leaving the office about five o'clock. I had to prepare something for a review I was supposed to be writing later in the evening.' As she said this, an image of a room raced through her head. She didn't recognise it, although that could've been because the image didn't last long enough. A movement at the side of the bed alerted her that Sergeant Houghton had stopped writing and had leaned closer. 'I ... erm ... I went home straight away - I think.' Why was it so difficult to remember even the slightest detail like 'Did I fucking go home straight away or not?' Rubbing her eyes, Jenny gave the appearance she was trying to think, but in reality she was attempting to push the tears of anger and frustration back inside.

'Hey, come on, love.' The soothing caring tone of the officer made all her attempts to be in control redundant. Hot, thick tears barged their way past and fought for freedom, and there was nothing she could do about it. Wracking sobs raced through her body, and the momentum of the action made the top half of her convulse. 'It will be ok. It will be ok. I promise.' Before Jenny could answer, the policewoman slipped her arms around the distraught woman's shoulders and pulled her into a hug. The smell of the uniform conjured images of protection, and the warmth coming from the younger woman was more than body heat. And in the arms of the startled policewoman, Jennifer Cartwright let go of all those emotions - not just the relief, anger and humiliation. These three were joined by other emotions - fear, foreboding, a sense of loss, inadequacy, and too many others to put a label to.

It seemed like she cried for hours, but in fact it was only the matter of minutes. In all that time the policewoman held her, comforted her, reassured her that everything would be ok. When Jenny finally stopped crying, she was still cradled in the woman's arms. Even when the door to the room opened and the familiar voice of Laura asked if they needed anything, Sergeant Houghton took control.

'Tea would be great.' As the door closed, the policewoman whispered into Jenny's ear, 'Now that looked great. Me trying to get a date with the gorgeous nurse and her catching me gripping a hold of you.' The critic let out a small chuckle, shortly following it with a huge sniff. 'Never mind. I'll have to get my charm working overtime.'

Lifting her head, Jenny looked into the compassionate brown eyes of the woman holding her. If that nurse ever gets the opportunity to look into those eyes from where I'm sitting, she's a goner, that's for sure. And although the thought should have made her happy, it just made her feel even lonelier than she already was.

'Let's have a cuppa first. We can try again after. Ok?' Jenny nodded. Slowly, the policewoman slipped her arms from about Jenny's shoulders and sat back on her chair. 'And don't forget to put a good word in for me. I can't have her believing I hug all my interviewees like that.' As she said this, she delved into her pocket and brought out a tissue, holding it out to the woman on the bed. 'I have a reputation to live up to, you know?' Straightening her shoulders, she gave the impression she was a hard-hitting copper, but under that cool exterior was the heart of a kitten. And with the same rigidness, Sergeant Houghton patted her hand before giving her a wink, which completely counteracted her attempt at toughness.

Just as Jenny was about to say she would do all she could, the door opened again, shortly followed by the clinking of cups on saucers. The officer shot to her feet and raced to hold the door back for Laura, who semi glared at her making the officer shuffle her feet in a childlike way.

As they all sipped their tea, Jenny's thoughts were undecided. She couldn't choose whether to try and remember what had happened last night; think about the officer trying to woo the nurse; or focus on the calming greenness that kept on popping into her head.

Obviously, she chose the latter.


Chapter Four

It was a long day for David Foster. He had spent most of it gloating at the fall of the mighty. But as everyone knows, basking in the demise of someone you hate is tiring work. All night he had been awake - making video clips, taking stills, replaying his loot, making phone calls pretending to be the brother of the woman he hated. Then when he had entered her place, he had felt an omnipotence like he had never experienced before.

Knowing that Cartwright was still in the hospital was like a balm to his burning eyes. At least he had known it would be safe to get in, plant his 'evidence', and get out again without being noticed. It hadn't been as difficult to get in as he had first thought. Just a small pane of glass around the back of the house had been damaged, and then he had been able to slip his hand through, unclip the latch to the larger window before climbing inside. Making sure he didn't leave any finger prints, he had been attentive enough to wear gloves. One photograph had been placed on the fridge door with the help of a magnet, and a second one was left on her bed - right in the middle of the dark red duvet. Both photos showed different shots of the critic at her worst. Perfect pictures and perfect positioning, he thought.

Although he knew he should leave as quickly as he had arrived, Foster couldn't resist the urge to have a look around Cartwright's home. To give the woman credit, it was classy, though not very secure. He laughed to himself. However, the laugh jammed in his throat, as he found himself in the woman's office.

Flicking on his torch, he kept the beam low as not to alert the neighbours. All around the wood panelled room were cuttings from her previous reviews, and it didn't take him long before he spotted the one that made his blood boil. Her picture was in the top of the right hand column looking smug alongside the article's heading: Don't Waste Your Money. A surge of anger welled and spilled, as he snatched the paper from the wall. Before he realised what he had done, the article was in pieces and scattered all over the floor. 'For fuck's sake!' he hissed. Bending over, he began to scoop the bits into his hand muttering curses as he did so.

Stuffing the remnants of his anger into his pocket, he stood, swiped the torch beam across the floor to check he had collected them all, then turned and left. As he walked casually through the back door, he had only one wish - that was to witness the look of absolute terror on Cartwright's face when she realised someone had been into her home and left evidence of her social faux pas.

Now it was time to see the woman for himself. Get some more dirt on her. Make her life even more miserable than it was already - just as miserable as she had made his. And knowing that she was being interrogated by the police was like all his ships had come in at once. He had been told by the night nurse that the police were waiting to speak to her when he had called in the early hours of the morning. In his head, they were there to see why she had made such a nuisance of herself in the trendy new restaurant. Another slam to the woman's ego, he thought, before releasing a tired chuckle into the cold air of the hospital car park. It never occurred to him that they might be still there; might be believing she had been the victim of a hate crime; could even be telling her that someone had been spotted entering and leaving her house an hour before, although he doubted it. David Foster was far too arrogant for that.

Looking around, he was pleased to see the place was quite busy for just turning eight thirty on a Sunday morning. He couldn't afford to be recognised by anyone, and if he was walking down deserted corridors he was bound to be stopped and asked why he was there. 'No point in making myself stand out.' Then he laughed louder, before sucking it back inside.

Pushing the door open to the reception, he breathed a sigh of relief as he noted the desk was unmanned. At least he knew where to find her. All he was hoping for was that she would be in camera shot. He didn't want to have to steal a porter's uniform like they did in the movies to get a good close up.

Shops and cafes were beginning to open, whilst out patients were sitting at tables waiting for appointments. Cleaners were buffing the tiled floors adorned with headphones to drown out the noise. He was just another bloke on his way to see someone he cared about.

Just as he was about to push open another set of doors, he spotted a policewoman walking quickly in his direction. 'Fuck!' The expletive hissed through his tightening lips, and he turned sharply and plucked a magazine from the shelf. All the hairs on his arms stood up when the copper came and stood right next to him. Foster could feel her eyes on him, and although he knew it was impossible that she should know why he was here, it didn't stop him nearly jumping out of his skin when she spoke.

'Robbers.' Furtively, he looked at the policewoman's expectant face honestly believing he had guilty written all over his own. It was a surprise to see the woman smiling and not holding a set of handcuffs. 'I'm sure they think of a price then double it.'

'Excuse ...' he didn't get the chance to finish, as the woman chuckled and held aloft a box of chocolates. Thankfully for him, the penny dropped before he tried to make a run for it. 'Yes. It is expensive.'

The policewoman leaned closer to him, as if bringing him into her confidence. 'Do you know you can get these nearly half the price at Tesco? And get Club card points, too?' Foster tried to giggle, but to his ears it came out strained with a touch of guilty. He knew she had picked up on it, because she stopped waving the chocolates around and looked at him squarely in the face. 'Who are you here to see?' Although the tone tried to be polite, it didn't disguise the authority lurking there. Did she suspect? David Foster felt a bead of sweat coating his top lip, and he had to fight the urge to lick it clean.

'My mother.' Urging his brain to kick in, he continued with his lie. He hadn't spoken to his mother for nearly eleven years - mainly because of the prick she had married after his father left. 'She's ... They're running some tests for ...' Come on brain - think! ' ... for ... erm ...' Vaguely, he gestured to his chest, allowing the hand to hover before moving to his genitals. Maybe if he made the tests appear to be more of a delicate subject, she would leave him alone. Looking back at her face, she still appeared to be reading him. A slight shake of the head, and then a small smile emerged.

'I doubt she would like a copy of Muscle and Fitness.' Foster looked down and noticed he was holding a copy of a body building magazine. 'Unless she wants to check out the abs on that one.' Glancing down, a man in a small pair of briefs was straining his muscles for the camera. Shit. She'll know I'm lying. There was no way he would ever pick up this kind of magazine, and by the burning on his face, she must have guessed he was embarrassed. He was no body builder, by any stretch of the imagination.

'I ... erm ... this is for me.' Just as he expected, the woman's eyes flitted over his torso. 'I like to ... erm ... look at the ... men.' A huge grin spread across the policewoman's face and she began to shake her head.

'Rather you than me. I prefer something a little less male.' Foster breathed a sigh of relief as the copper turned her attention to the chocolates again. 'Chicks dig chocolates, right?' David Foster, as well as being an evil little fucker, hated gay people. Hated their twisted little lives full of gay drama; full of dirty sex; full of camp little queers who minced about in tight dick showing clothes hoping to find a likeminded high pitched Queen who would take them in a back alley - or public toilet - to spread their filth before moving on and doing it with another pervert. And here he was, pretending to be one of those degenerates - one of those debauched mistakes of human kind. Furthermore, by the looks of things, so was the woman he was holding a stuttered conversation with. Hatred bubbled inside him, and he wanted to tell her exactly what he thought of her and people like her - wanted to scream in her face that he was not an arse bandit, shirt lifter, fudge packer, or a fruit. He was normal. Clean. Moral. 'Or should I go for flowers?'

The effort it took him to squeeze the word chocolates from his constricting throat was agony. Foster knew if he tried to continue talking there was no way he would be able to leave without telling her exactly what he had been thinking the whole time she had been waiting for his response. Gripping the pages of the magazine, he felt it begin to wrinkle, and then a tear. Glancing up, he noticed the elderly shop assistant look over at him before noting the state of the magazine.

'I'd better go. I have a nurse I have to apologise to.' With that, the policewoman handed over a ten pound note to the cashier, took her change and turned to leave. 'If I were you, I'd get your Mum a magazine, too. It'll take her mind off the waiting.' Then she was gone. Foster didn't even see which way; he was too boiled up to notice little things like that.

'That'll be three pounds sixty, please.' A woman's voice broke through his anger, and he turned to see the same elderly woman waiting for his hard earned cash, her hand extended. A sneer crept across his lips and he slapped the magazine on the counter before turning to leave. 'Excuse me. Three pounds sixty. You've messed up the pages so you have to buy it.'

Inside, he knew he should have just coughed up the money, but he was still brimming with unspent rage. 'Make me.' With that, he was gone. He vaguely heard the woman calling after him, her voice shaking with fear. Knowing he had scared the woman, he began to feel a little happier. And he would be happier still when he had sent his booty to the local papers. With this in mind, the grin spread across his face. Touching his pocket, he reassured himself that he had his camera close.

'Not long now, Cartwright.'


Jennifer Cartwright decided enough was enough. She was going home. If the police wanted to come and speak to her, then they knew where to find her. It was eight thirty five, and by all accounts she had been in the hospital for nearly twelve hours, although she couldn't remember the first six. Sergeant Houghton had been excellent, there was no doubt about it, but all Jenny wanted to do now was go to the safety of her own home. Images of her closing the door behind her filled her with an overwhelming sense of peace - something she craved at that moment in time. The rest of the world couldn't get to her once she shut it out. And it would allow her to try to remember what had happened to her the previous evening without feeling as if she had to conjure memories from thin air.

As soon as the policewoman had said she had to nip to the hospital shop to get the first stage of her 'charm' up and running, Jenny was up and off the bed searching for her stuff. Thankfully, no one came close to the room as she hurriedly threw on the clothes she'd been wearing last night. Once outside the door of the hospital room, she seemed momentarily disorientated. Considering she had been brought in unconscious, this should have been no surprise. But it did concern her. She felt nervous about being alone in the corridor - vulnerable, even.

Stealthily, she slipped along what she believed to be the right direction, constantly on the lookout for either Laura or Sergeant Houghton. As she walked hastily down the echoing halls, it became more apparent that she was actually heading further into the labyrinth of the hospital instead of finding the nearest exit.

'Shit.' Looking up, she spotted signs pointing, as it appeared, in all directions at the same time. 'What the fuck?' Why couldn't the people who designed these bloody things make them clearer? Voices came from just ahead and Jenny deliberated whether to hide in a doorway. Even if she had decided to become the next Kim Possible, she had dallied too long. Two orderlies were turning the corner apparently supporting someone who looked liked he needed restraining rather than holding up.

'Come on ... Clarke.' She could hear the restrained laughter in the porter's voice. 'You have to have the antidote for Kryptonite.' It was obvious the patient was drunk, but, momentarily, she couldn't grasp why he was wearing bright red underpants outside his trousers. It wasn't until she saw the huge 'S' drawn onto the bloke's blue Lycra t-shirt did the penny drop.

Stepping forward, Jenny swallowed hard. 'Excuse me.'

'LOIS!' The drunk lurched forward and Jenny felt fear shoot through her, something she wasn't used to feeling. Well, until she had woken up in hospital, that is. It seemed the events of last night were still hanging around her, and she fleetingly wondered if she would ever feel safe again.

'Don't mind him, luv. He's just had a few too many.' The porter leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, 'He thinks he really is Superman. Was found climbing the Guild Hall.' Jenny smiled weakly.

'LOIS! Where've ya been?' The smell of stale beer made her stomach roil, but she knew she had to get out of the rabbit warren before she was missed.

'Could you tell me the way to the exit?' Her voice sounded normal, controlled, and not as high pitched as she thought it would. 'I ... this place ...'Jenny gestured with her hands to indicate she didn't have a clue where she was going.

The older of the two men laughed. 'No worries, luv. Everyone gets lost here, don't they James?' James? Why did that name sound familiar? A flash of green before her eyes left a molecule of safety to pervade her body - it seemed to give her a little more confidence, for some unexplainable reason. It was the same shade she had experienced when she had been talking to the Sergeant. Why do I keep thinking of green?

Before she knew it, the man had given her directions to the exit at the back of the hospital, but indicated the Taxi rank and bus stops were at the front. 'All you have to do is follow the building itself once you are outside. You can't get lost then.'

Thanking the men, she turned to leave. The voice of the drunk filtered down the hallways, announcing he could take out both the porters if he wanted to but he didn't because he thought they were ok. At any other time Jenny would've laughed at the drunk's antics, but not today. Today was a day of feeling vulnerable; feeling edgy; feeling as if she didn't know whom to trust. Well, apart from the policewoman, Laura, and the mystery person with green eyes.

As soon as she pushed open the exit door and breathed in the smell of the crisp Sunday morning air, she knew what she had to do. Firstly, go home, shower, and get changed out of the vomit splattered clothes. Secondly, find out where she had been the night before when she had been taken ill. And finally - find out who the hell the green eyed person was. On this thought, Jenny also knew that when she had the answer to the latter, the rest of her worries were in the past.

Another deep breath, then she turned and readied herself for the day ahead. As she began to trudge around the building, she tried to push the negative thoughts from her head. Images of a rabid person waiting on every turn, or following her, made her want to increase her pace. Moving from the side of the building, she began to stumble over the uneven surface of the garden area, believing it would give her a better visual chance. If someone was following her, she might be able to see them easier. What she didn't consider was that if anyone was looking out of the window, she was so much easier to spot.


David Foster was just the person Jennifer Cartwright should've been avoiding. The disappointment he felt when he had arrived at the ward and overheard the nurse telling the policewoman that Ms Cartwright had gone was overbearing. He wanted to hit something, hit someone, or scream out his frustration in the face of anyone that was near. But he didn't. Obviously. Because if he did, then the copper would see him and know he had been lying about visiting his mother, mainly because he was in the wrong ward for a start. This ward dealt with admissions - Accidents and Emergencies - not tests. Trust the police to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If it hadn't been for spotting the pig coming when he had first come in, he would have been here in plenty of time.

Backing up, he turned sharply and nipped back around the corner so he wasn't seen. Standing with his back against the wall, he allowed a few deep breaths to soothe the ire he felt trying to consume him. Abruptly, the anger subsided. Not because of the breathing; more because of the view he had as he looked directly out of the window. There, like an oasis, was the woman he had been looking for, staggering and stumbling over the uneven surface of the hospital grounds.

Slipping his hand into his pocket, there was only one thing left to decide.

'Photo or video, Foster?' An evil laugh shot out, and he clamped his mouth shut. 'Video it is.'

By the time he had changed the settings on his camera, he only had Cartwright in shot for a few seconds. But it wouldn't be so difficult to find out where she would be. Foster felt gleeful as he almost skipped along the corridor to head to the exit. Unfortunately for him, he was so consumed by his own schemes, he failed to realise that he had dropped a couple of bits of paper from his pocket. A couple of bits of paper he had collected from Cartwright's house after he had ripped up the damning article.

He also failed to notice a thoughtful policewoman watching him almost running, before she bent over and scooped up the bits of paper in a tissue before slipping it carefully under her body armour and into the top left hand pocket of her shirt.


Claire was showered, dressed, fed, and back at work. It was only nine thirty, and even for her that was early to be getting to work on a Sunday. Claude, the Head Chef, would have the Sunday lunch menu fully under control, and in reality she didn't have a purpose until just before the restaurant opened. However, this would be a perfect time to try and track the events from the previous night. The majority of the staff who had been working last night were in today, and Claire intended to get them all together to get a broader view of what had happened. She wanted to believe it was because it was for the sake of her business why she wanted to get to the bottom of it. But, if truth be known, that was the least of her concerns.

In retrospect, it would have been better if she had called in everyone who had been working the night before, although even so, no one seemed to be able to agree on anything. All in all, the most information she got was that Cartwright had seemed perfectly sober when she had come in. She had refused a drink from the bar and wanted to be seated immediately. Although she had been cool with James, she hadn't been rude. Everyone knew who she was - even the customers. As she had made her way to the table, people had muttered that it was Jennifer Cartwright. The next thing they all remembered was the floor show.

'It's a pity we didn't keep her glasses.' Claire spoke to the group, and the reaction was of amazement shortly followed by a collective mumbling.

'Why?' One of the waitresses stepped forward looking surprised that she had vocalised her question. Nervously, she looked behind her, as if asking for support from her colleagues. She tried to continue with her questioning, but stood there with her mouth opening and closing.

'Why what?' Claire's voice seemed quiet and in control, but it didn't reflect the growing uneasiness she felt fluttering around her gut. The last thing she wanted her staff to do was to believe she didn't trust them.

'Do you think one of us spiked her drinks?' It was a different person now - one of the waiters who had been there when Cartwright had hit the floor.

Before Claire had the opportunity to answer, James stepped forward, a smile slipping across his clean shaven face. 'I doubt that thought had crossed Ms Connolly's mind. But ...' he paused, 'that doesn't mean that any of us didn't see the person who spiked Jennifer Cartwright's drink does it?' A feeling of smugness washed over him. He liked to take control, liked to show her how much she really needed him. But the feeling didn't last long. Claire looked at him opened mouthed. Part of her wanted to bollock her Head Waiter for stepping in when she'd semi froze, whilst another part wanted to thank him.

'Hold on, James.' Time to regain control. 'We don't even know her drink was spiked yet.' She knew the next point was coming, even before it hit the air.

'So, why pity the fact we didn't keep her glasses?'

This was going to be a long day.


Slamming the taxi door, Jennifer Cartwright sighed her relief into the quiet street where she lived. She already had her keys in her hand, and was half way to the entrance when she heard a familiar voice.

'Thought I might find you here.' Jumping back, Jenny saw Sergeant Houghton appearing from the passage that led to the rear of her property and her back door.

With her heart hammering in her chest, she gurgled out, 'Why are you here?' And how had she gotten here so bloody fast?

The policewoman smiled widely before stepping tentatively closer. It was apparent that Cartwright was edgy, and any quick moves could undo all the work she had done at the hospital. 'Just wanted to make sure you got back ok.' Jenny opened her mouth to reply, but Sergeant Houghton stopped her short. 'It looks like it was a good thing I came.'

'Look, Sergeant. I ...'

'Less of the formalities. Call me Fiona.' Fiona scrunched up her face and shook her head. 'Or Fi. My mates call me other things, but they're no words for a lady.' Jenny knew it was an attempt to make her feel better, but she wasn't in the mood to continue the interrogation about what she could and couldn't remember from her night from hell.

'Look, Fiona. I am fine. There is nothing you can do to find out who drugged me, so it would be for the best if ...'

'I think you'd better follow me.' There was no joviality in the policewoman's tone now. Her facial features were stoic. Fiona held out her hand to the reticent critic, before lowering it again after the gesture was ignored. 'Come. If you still want me to leave after I show you this, I will bugger off.' No movement. 'I promise.' Still nothing. 'Scout's honour.' The woman stood there with her hand raised as in pledge and Jenny knew that she had to go and see what she wanted her to see if only to get rid of her.

Stepping forward, she nodded. Fiona began to move to the passage once again, babbling about why she had decided to follow her from the hospital. Jenny wasn't paying much attention to what was being said. She just wanted to get this last ordeal out of the way so she could be left in peace. It wasn't until she spotted the broken window pane that she wanted to retract her thoughts.

'I don't know if anyone has been inside, as I had only just spotted it before I heard the taxi pull up.'

All the blood seemed to seep from Jennifer Cartwright's face, and for a fleeting moment she believed she was going to faint. Staggering, she gripped the brickwork of her house feeling the roughness graze against the skin of her palms. Someone has been inside my house. My haven. My safe place. Someone has taken away my refuge. Tears welled in her eyes and a sob fought for freedom, but Jenny felt too stunned to release either. Like her, they were jammed to their respective spots.

'I think we should wait for the police to get here before we go inside.' Jennifer stared at the woman standing in front of her, glancing over the dark uniform, her expression screaming 'You are the fucking police!' But Sergeant Houghton was already radioing the station informing them of what she had discovered. 'Broken window at the rear of the property, larger window closed to, but unlocked.'

The rest of the conversation was lost, as Jenny once again retracted into her own world. Why am I waiting outside? Why am I not inside checking if the bastard who has broken into my home is still there? She knew deep down that the person who had smashed her window and entered her property was the same person who had drugged her the previous evening. It had to be. It was too coincidental otherwise. A surge of anger washed through her, and an overwhelming need to find answers followed. Gripping the keys firmly in her hand, she had the lock undone before the startled policewoman could stop her. Words like 'evidence', 'crime scene' and 'wait the fuck up' followed her into her kitchen.

Glancing around, she spotted the broken glass on the kitchen counter. An obvious observation. Sweeping her gaze around the oak panelled kitchen units, she mentally checked for anything amiss. It wasn't until she flicked her eyes over her fridge did she see something that initially she didn't recognise. It was sitting in the spot where she usually kept her shopping list. It was colourful; attached by a magnet; 5 x 7, and centred on someone lying on the floor of what appeared to be a restaurant.

Snatching the photograph from the fridge door, she brought it close to her face. It was her. A picture of her sprawled out on the floor surrounded by waiters and someone else who was just off camera. Jenny felt the energy seep from her and her knees buckle. The next thing she knew she was on the ground, the pain of the contact ripping through her legs, the photograph fluttering alongside her.

Fiona had stopped her journey ending in a full out sprawl over the tiles, as she had caught the critic deftly under the armpits. 'Hey. I've got you.' The voice was soft and reassuring, and once again Jenny felt the protectiveness of the female officer. 'Come. Lean back. Bring your legs out straight. There we go.' It was almost like being spoken to as a child, but at that moment in time, Jennifer Cartwright felt as vulnerable. Arms circled her waist and held on, and Jenny wanted to lean into the secure body of the woman behind her. However, she just couldn't seem to relinquish the last bit of control she had over to the policewoman.

It was less than five minutes before she heard footsteps crunching their way around the passage at the side of her house. Four uniformed officers appeared in the doorway of her kitchen and waited for Fiona to give them the heads up on entering.

'What's going on here, Nige?' Jenny looked at the older male officer and wondered who he was speaking to. He was looking past her and at the female who was still holding her close. Nige? As in Nigel? Turning her head slightly, she caught the last vestiges of the policewoman shaking her head, her face luminous.

'Erm ...' Fiona coughed. 'I think we have had someone inside this property who might be connected with the Rohypnol incident from CC's last night.' CC's? That name rings a bell. 'Here.' The policewoman leaned around Jenny and lifted the photograph from the floor and waved it in the direction of the man. 'Evidence.' As the men scrutinised the photo, Fiona turned her attention back to Jenny. 'How're you feeling? Do you think you can move?' Slowly, the reviewer nodded her head. 'How about if we move into the lounge? A sofa would be more comfortable than this.' Jen heard a snigger from behind her, but when she turned to look, all men were gazing intently at the photograph, their faces serious. Looking back at the policewoman's face, she noticed the glare at the men. 'Ignore them, Jen. They're immature wankers. Come with me.'

Before long, Jenny was sitting on the sofa in her lounge. Nothing seemed out of place in here. Everything seemed exactly as she had left it on Saturday night, or so she thought. However, it didn't stop her scrutinising every surface from where she was to check whether any more evidence had been left. Initially, Fiona had popped back into the kitchen, and she had heard her bollocking the male officers in a loud whisper.

'What do you expect, Nige. We come in and you're cuddling the woman and talking about getting more comfy on the sofa.' Stifled laughter was heard, before loud hushing.

'Nigel Havers. The Charmer.' More laughter, louder this time.

'For fuck's sake you lot. Can't you understand? This woman is feeling vulnerable. Some bastard has drugged her and then been inside her house, and all you can do is take cheap pops at me.' Jenny heard mumbled apologies, and then movement towards the front room.

'Would you like me to make you a cup of tea, luv?' The youngest of the bunch was peering around the door, his face remorseful.

'Don't be a dickhead, Charlie. Ms Cartwright was drugged. The bloke has been in here. Get it?' Fiona pushed past him. 'If you want to make yourself useful, you could begin by checking through the rest of the house. See if our perp has left any other presents like this.' As she said it, she held up the photograph. 'And for God's sake! Wear gloves! CSI and the SOCOs should be along shortly.' Jenny was quite surprised at how the men ran around at everything the female officer had said, and then shook her head. This is not the bloody nineteen fifties, Cartwright.

Just as Fiona was about the sit back down on the sofa, the voice of one of the others rang through the house.

'Sarge! Look at this!'

Jenny was up and out of the door before the stunned policewoman could react. The voice had come from upstairs, so that's exactly where she headed. To her bedroom. Her room. Hers. And there, smack bang on the middle of her bed sat another print. Reaching over to grab it, Sergeant Houghton stopped her.

'Don't touch it. Let CSI handle it when they get here.' Jenny wanted to ignore the reasonable request, as she wanted to see what the photo showed. However, the grip the officer had on her arm made it impossible to move closer. 'Charlie ... Greg. Go wait at the gate for the team. Steve ... Alan ... Wait downstairs in the kitchen.' Without argument, the four men left the room leaving Fiona and Jenny alone. 'Now, Jen. We have to have a quick look around to see if anything is missing. Can you see anything in here?'

Jenny couldn't concentrate. Nothing was making sense to her. Why would anyone want to do this to her? What had she ever done to make someone purposefully set out to make her feel so vulnerable? So defenceless?

'No. Nothing.' Even though she said this, Jenny wasn't sure whether anything was missing or not - especially with not being able to touch anything.

'Shall we move on to another room?' The grip Fiona had on her seemed to lessen, and all she seemed to feel now was a guiding hand on her elbow. 'Come. Let's see.'

The spare room was untouched. There was no surprise gift pinned to any parts of the furniture or walls. Then it was into the office. Although initially nothing seemed out of place, Jenny had a feeling that someone other than herself had been in there. Call it woman's intuition, or call it a distinct smell that was nothing like the way her house usually smelt. Sweaty, only slightly, but sweaty all the same.

Quickly, she scanned the small room. Then again. Then once more. Something was missing, but she couldn't see what it was.

'Are all these written by you? Oh ... your picture is on it.' Fiona turned and smiled at Jenny before adding, 'Although it doesn't do you justice.' A laugh popped out. 'Sorry. Old habits.'

That's it. My articles. I never used to have a space there.

'One is missing.' She walked over and stood in front of the pin board. Frantically she tried to place which one was gone, but there were so many - and a space, hence knowing that one was missing. 'See here? This place used to have a review I'd written there. It was there the last time I looked.' Jenny felt the colour seep from her face. Whoever had been in her house had also been in her office, although by the looks of things the person had been everywhere else, too.

'I think we should wait for CSI to give this place a sweep.' Jenny turned to face the policewoman and caught the trace of concern there before it changed into a reassuring smile. 'Let's go downstairs and wait. I'll send one of the lads out for coffee.' Moving towards the room's exit, Fiona stopped once again. 'And maybe we can continue trying to remember what happened last night. Might kill two birds with one stone.'

Making their way downstairs, Jenny's head was threatening to burst open. Whatever happened in the next couple of hours, she was not doing anything until she remembered some of what had happened. She didn't feel safe enough otherwise.


Chapter Five

Safety, as it appeared, was not obliging Jennifer Cartwright. Through the process of being interviewed, again, by Fiona, Jenny had remembered nearly nothing. Like usual. It wasn't until she thought about checking her planner, did any light come on the situation. All it said was 'CC's - 8pm' and a vague memory of walking into the softly lit restaurant slithered into her mind.

'I went to CC's, but I knew that already, didn't I?' Fiona just nodded. 'That was where the ambulance picked me up from. Yes?' Another nod. 'Has anyone been to talk to the owner? Maybe he could put some light on the matter.'

'We intend to go and talk to Ms Connolly later today.' Before the policewoman could continue, a member of the CSI unit coughed from the doorway.

'Can I interrupt?' Fiona nodded and patted Jenny on the knee for reassurance. The man stepped tentatively into the room, looking at Jenny, and then the hand still perched on the critic's knee, before turning his attention to Fiona. 'The team have dusted, but all we seem to have are fingerprints from Ms Cartwright. Even on the glass and handle on the window. Nothing.' Fiona was about to speak but the bloke continued. 'However. We did find this.' Pulling out a small transparent bag, he offered it to the policewoman. Inside was a small piece of paper. 'We are not sure how significant it is, but considering how tidy the office was, this was on the floor.'

Fiona lifted it towards the light coming through the window, her face initially serious before breaking into a grin. Scrambling around inside her body armour, she paused before pulling out a tissue. 'Maybe we have got something after all. See if you can match the paper inside here with the ones inside this.' The man lifted his eyebrows in surprise before gently taking the scrunched up parcel from the smiling officer. Carefully, he placed the contents within another transparent bag and labelled it with the date and time.

'Where should I say it was found?'

Fiona glanced at Jenny before admitting she had found it on the ward that morning.

'What! He was at the hospital too?' Jenny was on her feet and backing frantically towards the wall. 'He's been here and to the hospital?' She knew her voice was becoming high-pitched, but she couldn't do anything to stop it. Although she had never experienced a panic attack before, this was what she thought it would feel like. Breathing became difficult, her coordination was off, her legs were beginning to buckle, and as she staggered to the chair, lights were flashing in front of her eyes. Once again she felt the comforting hand of Fiona gently touch her back. She wanted to shrug it off, but she couldn't focus on the action enough to let it happen.

'I think it's about time we went to see Claire Connolly.' Jenny wasn't sure if Fiona was talking to her or the other officer in the room. One thing she did know was once she felt as if she could stand without keeling over, she was going to CC's whether she was accompanied by the police or not, although a change of clothes would need to be done. Her car was in the garage - the police had already checked it and there had been no sign of entry into anywhere else but the house. 'And before you think about it ... I'm driving.'


Claire Connolly couldn't concentrate. All she wanted to do was to call the hospital and find out what the hell was going on with the woman who had collapsed at her restaurant the previous evening. She had no doubt now that the woman's drink had been spiked, although she still didn't have any evidence to support it. She felt as if she couldn't talk to her staff again, as the last time she had done this they had become defensive, and she didn't want to alienate her workforce.

It was eleven forty five, and the restaurant was due to open in an hour. Clients had tables booked for one o'clock, and she wanted to be there to greet them as they entered. Everything was ready to go; therefore she took the opportunity to have time alone in her office before the madness of the Sunday lunch began.

Turning on her computer, she gazed at the changing screen as it came to life. Even the blue of Vista kicking in reminded her of Jennifer Cartwright. 'Just a little darker shade of blue,' she thought, and then chuckled sadly to herself.

Clicking on Internet Explorer, she opened the BBC news headlines on her favourites. 'Maybe ... maybe ...'

'Maybe what?' Turning sharply, Claire's eyes met those of an unfamiliar person whose head had appeared around the slowly opening door. Dark brown and twinkling eyes, but unknown all the same. Sitting back sharply in her chair, Claire tried to look professional. She opened her mouth as if to ask who it was that had poked her head around her door without being asked, but nothing came out. 'Sorry to startle you. I did knock.' The door moved back further to reveal a dark blue uniform. 'Sergeant Houghton. Your Head Waiter told me to come right on through.' Still Claire sat there still unable to speak. Finally, she gestured for the policewoman to enter. Fleetingly, she moved her attention from the movement at the doorway, pushing her chair backwards ready to stand and shake hands. 'And this is ...'

The policewoman didn't get a chance to finish, as Claire spluttered out, 'Jennifer Cartwright.' The thud her heart made in her chest made her gasp and sit back onto the chair, the wheels deciding to scoot her sideways. Gripping the edge of her desk, the blonde pulled herself back around to face her guests.

Although Claire had only seen the woman once before, she couldn't believe that the person standing in front of her was the renowned critic. She looked awful, and no way near the confident woman Claire had heard about. Vulnerable aptly summed her up. Vulnerable, lost, and rather intrigued, as Jenny was staring back at her open mouthed. Both women were thinking the same thing: Why is she looking at me like that? But neither could speak.

Electricity sparked in the air, and the temperature seemed to escalate, but neither woman seemed able to comment on it. It was as if a stalemate had occurred. Fiona stood in the middle of the women and looked from one to the other. Did they know each other before last night? It certainly feels as if there is some sort of unfinished business or history here. However, the policewoman also knew that Jenny had seemed unclear about ever being in CC's, never mind knowing the pretty blonde beforehand. 'I certainly wouldn't forget seeing you,' popped into her head before she shook it gently and became the professional she was known to be.

'Sorry to barge in like this, but we have a few questions about last night.' Claire nodded, not trusting herself to answer. 'Mainly if you could tell us what you remember, as Jennifer,' Fiona paused, 'Jenny,' no harm in being familiar, 'has a limited recollection.'


Fiona snorted, 'Although that keeps coming up.'

'Green. You have green eyes.' Claire just stared. Why is she commenting on the colour of my eyes? 'I could ... I can ... your eyes.' Jenny felt herself drawn into the beautiful greenness of the restaurant owner's eyes. They were the exact shade she had been thinking about ever since she had awoken on the ward in the early hours of that morning. The exact shade she knew had made her feel some semblance of security. And they were doing it again. 'Did you ... did I ... I can remember them.' Claire was transfixed. Watching the dark haired woman struggle to talk about her eyes was both unnerving and, strangely enough, flattering.

'You woke up when I was next to you.' Claire swallowed deeply, as there seemed to be a lump forming in her throat. 'It appeared you looked into my eyes before you passed out again.' And I remember looking into yours; that's all I can seem to think about. Claire also remembered the sense of loneliness, too, when Jennifer had closed her eyes once more. A deep heat forced its way up her throat and spread like pooling lava over her face. The more she thought about how badly she was blushing, the more she seemed to blush. 'I'm sorry ... I feel quite ... weird.'

Slumping back into her chair, the wheels once again decided to slip across the wooden floor. The chair, instead of being a support, decided that it would slam her into the table, cracking her thigh on the hard surface. 'Fuck!' A pause. 'Excuse me.' Could things get any worse?

Claire rubbed frantically on her leg before resigning herself to a life of embarrassment. Her hand tentatively lifted to her face, and she covered her eyes and released a sigh into the air. Someone was next to her. She could feel it. It was a warm, soothing presence, and something she couldn't resist looking at. Peeping through the gap of her fingers, she saw the same beautiful blue eyes from up close. They were even more absorbing than they had been when she had first seen them. Instead of looking frightened and lost, these blue orbs looked full of compassion and understanding.

'I bet that stung like a bitch.' Maybe compassion is the wrong word. 'You'll have a bruise there later.' A small smile hovered on Jenny's mouth, waiting, as it seemed, for permission to break into a full out grin.

The policewoman looked on with amusement. It didn't take years of training on the force to see that these two women had something lurking under the surface. However, her role here was not as a matchmaker. She had a job to do and a wanker to catch - they could do what the hell they liked with each other when she had her perp under lock and key.

'Shall we get started?' Her voice was authoritative, and both women looked at her with a sense of astonishment. For a few moments neither of them had thought of the reason why they were so close together in the first place. Standing up, Jenny backed slowly away from the blonde, a look of surprise on her face. She couldn't really remember moving towards the restaurant owner, never mind kneeling at her feet. If this was the way the woman made her feel when she was close, no wonder she couldn't remember a thing about what had happened. 'Before we begin.' Once again, the women looked at Sergeant Houghton, and the copper was beginning to think they had lost the ability to speak. Again. 'Any chance of a cuppa? I'm parched.'


It didn't take long to tell the policewoman what she knew about what had happened. Obviously, Claire missed out the bit about thinking of standing on her fingers or grabbing her by the lapels and screaming 'You fuckster!' in her face. The police woman noted everything; even the unspoken evidence. It was clear that Claire Connolly had nothing to do with the Rohypnol incident - even if she didn't already have an idea of who had done it. Images of the man's face from the hospital shop flitted in her head. She had thought he seemed a little nervous when she had spoken to him when being stitched up for Laura's chocolates, but as a copper, she was used to people mumbling and sweating when she made conversation with them. Then when she had spotted him in A and E, she had thought something was odd, even more so when she had found those bits of paper.

'I even called the hospital to see how you were, but they wouldn't tell me anything. Not family.' Fiona wanted to say that they were all family, but held back on the comment noting it as inappropriate.

'Shit. I need to call my brother.' Jenny stood quickly and turned to leave. However, she didn't move. An overwhelming feeling of insecurity hit her. If she left this room to make a call, there would be only her there. She didn't feel as if she could do that at that moment. 'Do you mind if I ...' a thin mobile appeared from inside her jacket pocket. Both Claire and Fiona shook their heads. Turning, Jenny pressed speed dial and tried to think of ways to break the news to her elder brother about what had happened to her. Knowing he was in Germany made it worse. Ian was protective at the best of times, and Jenny wasn't sure about the way he would react to his 'little sister' getting drugged, hospitalised, broken into, and, finally, stalked.

No answer. And as his voice mail recited its message, another memory came into her head. Hadn't Ian called her office last night? Something about Sally ringing her when she was - where? Not in the restaurant. It had been somewhere else. 'Call me back when you get this. Don't worry. Everything is fine.' Turning back to the waiting women, Jenny absentmindedly picked up her coffee and brought it to her lips. She paused and looked at the foam. It seemed as if it was déjà vu, as she remembered doing exactly the same action before. Without looking at the blonde, Jenny directed her next question her way. 'Did I have a coffee here last night?'


Watching her being driven away in a police car didn't faze David Foster in the slightest. He had all the ammunition he needed to bring this woman down. All he had to do now was get it in some kind of workable order. The two prints he had left in her house were two of a larger collection he had gleaned from his night's work. But, he was tired. He had been on the go for over twenty eight hours, and now he believed he deserved to sleep. There was plenty of time later to do what he planned to do.

After a quick shower, he climbed into bed, the smile still stuck on his lips. He couldn't wait for Monday.


Claire and Jenny were alone in the office. Sergeant Houghton had popped outside to call the station and report her findings, as well as 'Get the ball rolling to catch the bastard.' Following a recap on what had been discovered to have happened on the Saturday night, it was plain the spiking had not occurred at CC's. There had been no chance for coffee, and Jenny had the distinct impression she remembered having one. Unfortunately, she couldn't remember where it had been, as it was also obvious that if the coffee had been drugged, it had to have been close by - well, within ten minutes travelling distance at the most. Rohypnol's effects usually started within the first twenty minutes and Jenny had been in the restaurant for nearly that amount of time before she had started to act strangely.

Although Claire should have felt on edge being alone with the woman who had collapsed at her restaurant, she felt far from it. The room seemed to fill with quiet contentment, almost burgeoning with ease. A tick tock from the wall clock seemed to add to the metronome of fulfilment.

'What am I doing? Why am I not making conversation?' Claire's inner voice broke through the silence making her shuffle uneasily on her seat. From across the room, Jenny lifted her head and looked directly at the business woman fully expecting her to speak. 'Think of something to say. Anything. She's waiting.'

'So what are your plans now?' Mentally, Claire kicked herself. Of all the conversations she could've started, she had to refer back to the incident in some way. Blue eyes looked deeply into hers, before a sigh was released into the room.

'Well, I can't stay at my house.' That much was clear. 'Fiona suggested I stay with friends, but ... I ... well ... most of my friends live quite a way away.' And I don't have many - if any friends. But I'm not telling her that I'm a social pariah, a loner, a Billy No Mates.

'What about your parents'?'

The dark haired woman's eyes shot towards Claire and then looked down again. 'They ... they are both dead.'

Claire wanted the earth to open up and swallow her whole, but instead of clamming up she continued. 'I'm sorry.' Although the phrase seemed redundant at this time, it was the only thing she could think of saying. Silence, accompanied by the tick tocking of Claire's brain. Then a spark lit her eyes, 'What about your brother's house? Does he have a place in Norwich?'

Jenny nodded, but scrunched up her face. 'I suppose I could, but I wouldn't like to just go there without asking him first.' Lifting her fingers, she gazed intently at her nails before nibbling on her index fingernail. Jennifer Cartwright was nothing like the blonde had imagined. All the rumours about her being a bitch - a royal pain in the arse - abusive - insulting - the Queen of Spleen - didn't tie in with what she could see sitting demurely before her. The tall dark haired woman was sitting half slumped in the chair, one knee dangling over another, chewing her nails, and looking directly at her. Is she expecting me to say something else?

Sitting up straighter in the chair, Jenny leaned forward. 'I suppose I could check into a hotel for the night.' Even as she said this, Jenny didn't feel happy about being in a place she didn't know on her own when there was someone out there trying to hurt her. What she didn't allow for was all the emotions that had flitted through her mind in those few seconds were absorbed by Claire Connolly. It would have been obvious to anyone else who had been watching too, as all the mannerisms from the critic screamed 'don't leave me alone'.

'You are not checking into a hotel.' Claire had opened her mouth to say exactly that, but she was beaten to it by the policewoman who had decided now was the time to make her entrance again. 'And before you think about it, you can't go to your brother's either.'

Twisting her head around, Jenny looked up at the officer, her face displaying the confusion she was feeling. 'Why not?' The voice was small, and deep down Jenny didn't really want to know the answer.

Sighing, Fiona plonked herself down onto the chair next to Jenny and picked up her hand, holding it tightly. 'I've just made a few calls. Some to the station. Some to the hospital.' A gentle pat. 'It seems your brother called the hospital last night.'

'What! But ... he didn't. When?'

'Exactly.' Claire wasn't too sure why the policewoman had said exactly to something that made no sense to her whatsoever. 'I seem to think our perp called to check you were there and called himself your brother.'

'But how ...'

'I know.'

'Am I ever going to hear an end to her sentences?' shot through Claire's head. However, she was intrigued by what was going on and couldn't resist standing and moving closer to the policewoman and reviewer.

'By what I can make out, the bloke called your office pretending to be your brother. Your office called you, although you can't remember where you were at the time. You told them he was in Germany - and it makes sense that the person responsible for drugging you was in earshot.' Fiona took a deep breath before continuing. 'Therefore, unlike Ms Connolly here,' she turned and smiled up at Claire, 'our man has no worries about lying about who he is.'

'Wait.' Jenny pulled her hand away making Fiona slip forward a little. 'What has him calling got to do with me not staying over at my brother's house?'

It wasn't Fiona who spoke this time, but Claire. 'He knows your brother won't be there to protect you.' Her voice was low and calm, as she was trying not to freak out the woman in front of her. Unfortunately, it didn't work.

Pushing forwards, Jenny knocked Fiona to one side and barged past Claire, nearly sending her flying into her desk again. But there was nowhere for her to go. If she left the restaurant without the policewoman who knew what could happen. However, that wasn't the only thing stopping her leaving. Even if Fiona did accompany her to a hotel, there was no way she would stay with her - police protection was not given to a person who might have been followed - who might be in danger. Although the person had drugged her, broken into her home, and followed her into the hospital, this would not warrant a bodyguard.

Standing in front of the door, Jenny gripped the cold handle, forcing her knuckles to whiten. Her breathing was erratic, and she believed another bout of panic was trying to burst from within. Regulating it was uneventful, and gasps began to spurt out. Hot tears pooled and bubbled over her eyelids, and Jenny knew she was on the verge of breaking apart. She couldn't take it any longer - this uncertainty, this exposure to someone who wanted to harm her, especially when she didn't have a clue whom it could be. Nearly everyone she had ever come into contact with was a potential suspect - she knew that was part and parcel of her job. Telling people things about their business they didn't want to know didn't make friends.

Claire watched the woman standing at the door, her head leaning towards the wood, a hand ready to twist and release her into the outside world. She wanted to stop her; wanted to soothe the fear she could physically see racing through the tall dark haired woman's body. The effort it took for her to stay on the invisible marker that divided her from observer to comforter was agonising, especially now the marker was beginning to burn her feet. It wasn't until she heard the sob that she moved without thinking, moved without realising she was actually moving, and slipped her hands around the woman's shoulders. Shuddering sobs broke free from Jenny, and without thinking, the critic turned and pulled the blonde to her. To feel another body next to her, another human being who was warm and safe, allowed her to release what she needed to let go.

It felt so right holding her, and not because she knew she was a comfort. The emotions running through Claire were so much more than that. Holding Jennifer Cartwright felt as if she had found a reason to use her arms at last. Feeling the woman gripping onto her was beginning to cloud her judgment, as she was forgetting the boundaries that should have automatically erected as soon as she made contact. Deep within the blonde, a stirring erupted, a stirring that wanted to take the woman's face into her hands and gently brush away the tears that were falling freely. Claire wanted to shush, whisper words of gentle comfort, stroke long languid strokes down a trembling spine, across shaking shoulders, kiss away the fear that was still there.

But the shaking began to cease. The sobs were lessening, and Claire was readying herself for the loss of contact, which she knew would be imminent. Tilting her head back, she fully absorbed the woman in her arms. Tears streaked the pale skin and eyelashes were darker as they clumped together in the wetness. Slowly, those soaked eyelids fluttered open to reveal from such a close proximity, blueness that seemed even more mesmerising than she remembered. Inside her chest her heart thunked, whirled, and began to palpitate wildly. Being so near to Jenny, Claire honestly believed the woman would be able to feel, if not hear it. With a jerk, she pulled back, but her arms refused to release the woman from their grip. Like Claire, they too wanted to keep on holding her.

And like Claire, Jenny wanted to keep holding onto the blonde. Not just because of the safety - it was so much more than that. It could have been the green of her eyes; it could have been the warmth of the slow smile that was playing wondrously along those full ruby lips; or it could have been just because she didn't want to let go of this feeling of completeness - something Jennifer Cartwright hadn't felt for a long time.

Claire couldn't understand why a smile was forming. Couldn't grasp why she needed to reassure the woman she was still holding that she would never hurt her. She couldn't understand why there was a feeling flooding through her that made her believe if she kept this woman in her grasp, her life would be fuller than she had ever dreamed it could be.

'As I was saying.' the voice of Fiona broke through the silence. 'Our man has no worries lying about who he is.' With great difficulty, Jenny broke the eye contact and looked over Claire's shoulder at the policewoman who was standing near the desk. Realising she was still holding the restaurant owner, Jenny moved away from her as if she had been burned. The tell tale flush of embarrassment was fighting to appear, and all Jenny could think to do was to turn abruptly away, lifting her hand to her eyes to swipe away the remainder of the tears that had settled there. 'And that means, like Ms Connolly just said, you can't stay at your brother's until our man is behind bars - or your brother returns.'

Without turning, Jenny answered. 'He won't be back for at least a fortnight. He's ...' she swallowed, as the realisation she was completely alone hit her. Neither Claire nor Fiona spoke. Both of the women knew that they should let Jenny continue, although Claire felt she couldn't speak at the moment, as she was still reeling from the sudden loss of contact. Part of her thought she had exposed her inner longings; longings she didn't even know were there. 'He's trying to secure an important contract.' Although the other two women thought Jenny had stopped because of the thought of not having her brother back, it was mainly because she was still trying to dispel the thoughts of holding the woman behind her that made her speechless - made her feel more isolated than she had ever felt before. Come on Cartwright. Get a grip. You hardly know her. But as many times as that same thought made its way around her head, the feeling of wanting to turn back and lock eyes with the restaurant owner once again intensified. I have to get away. Book into a hotel. Do something but make a bigger nuisance - a bigger fool of myself than I have already.

'I think I may have a plan.' With the sound of Claire's voice, Jenny couldn't help but turn. The blonde was still in exactly the same place she remembered her standing before she had turned away in embarrassment, and still impossibly close. Jenny could smell her perfume, or more to the point, she could still smell her smell - the smell that was clinging to her clothes.

'You could stay with me.' Redness blazed over her face as she uttered the words, but Claire struggled on. 'I mean ... erm ... I know you don't know me and ... erm ... but ... if ...' The dark haired woman just stared at her, and Claire began to regret she had opened her mouth. For the life of her she didn't know why she had volunteered a bed at her place. This is Jennifer Cartwright, for Christ's sake! And I'm inviting her to stay at my house! Fuck! I should think of a way to get out of it.

Fiona, for once in her life, was taken off guard, but only momentarily. She watched the two women staring at each other in amazement, and she knew that if she didn't do anything the invitation would be retracted or refused. 'What a good idea! That way I can keep my eye on both of you.' Although Fiona was ninety nine percent sure the perp had no intention of harming Claire, it wouldn't hurt to have them both under the same roof for a while - well, just in case. She had to keep the snigger back as she witnessed both women vying for redness of the year award. It was another shock to the policewoman when Jenny seemed to straighten and step purposefully forward.

'Do you think Claire ... erm ... Ms Connolly is in danger then?'

Now at this moment Fiona should have said no, but she had a growing suspicion that if Jenny believed she had more than herself to look out for, then maybe she would not knock back the offer of a safer place to stay.

'In my job I have seen many cases similar to this one.' Both women looked at each other before resting their attention back on her. They were waiting for her to explain, but, unfortunately, Fiona couldn't think of anything to say. 'However, I am not at liberty to discuss those cases.' Once again the women looked at each other and back at her, and she witnessed them both sigh at exactly the same time before crossing their arms and glaring at her. 'What?' Neither woman answered. 'What did I say?'


'That's the point.'

And that was that. Offer made, nearly retracted, but then primed to perfection by an inwardly grinning police officer.

'I'll drive you back to collect some of your things.' Turning, Fiona released that grin at the empty doorway in front of her. 'We'll have to make sure you have stuff enough for at least a week.' She didn't wait to hear the response, as she almost darted out of the room and through to the back entrance to the restaurant.

Jenny didn't know how to react. In her mind she was beginning to believe that Claire might also be at risk, but she couldn't decide whether it would be because she would be staying with her or not. Sighing, she pursed her lips before she spoke, avoiding looking at the blonde in case she allowed her eyes to admit she wanted nothing more than to take up the offer. 'I don't want to intrude. This is nothing to do with you.' A pause, whilst she considered how that must've sounded. 'The trouble, I mean. Someone is out to get me not you. I don't want to invite all this crap into your home. I can stay at a hotel.'

'I wouldn't have offered if I didn't mean it.' Claire's voice came out softer than she thought it would be. All she wanted was the tall brunette to look at her again. It was strange to think that she was missing the blueness of her eyes already. Gauging that Jenny wasn't comfortable with the way things had panned out, Claire decided it was time she moved towards the woman and offered once again. This time she would do so without the doubt that had come flooding inside her head seconds after the last time. Gripping hold of the critic's arm, Claire gently turned her around to face her. 'I'm not going to force you, but the offer is there. And ...' another small tug made Jenny eventually lift and turn her face to hers 'it would be the smart way to go. Whoever is doing what they are doing will not think of looking for you with me.' She wished she could've placed her hand on her heart and believed that was the only motive why she wanted this beautiful woman under her roof, but that would have only been half of the reason. Not that she thought anything else would come of it - she had only known the woman to speak to for the matter of an hour. But she felt as if this was the right thing to do - in more ways than one.

Chewing her lip, Jenny began to think through her options. Hotel? Exposed and screaming 'Victim here!' Ian's place? Once again the annoying sound of 'Victim here!' screaming out. Her own place? 'Victim here and waiting for you to date rape her!' Claire's? Unknown entity. Unknown entity that might have a husband and three kids waiting for mummy to come home from work. Quickly, she glanced at Claire's left hand. No ring. But that didn't mean she wasn't married, did it? There was only one way to find out?

'What about your husband?' Claire's face wrinkled before she shook her head. 'Boyfriend?' Another shake. 'And now for the gold,' flashed through Jenny's head. 'Girlfriend?' Claire laughed before shaking her head.

'Just me, I'm afraid.'

'Are you ...'

'I wouldn't have offered if I wasn't sure.' Claire smiled at the woman opposite her before slowing nodding her head, as if she were trying to coax her into following the gesture. Slowly, Jenny did. And that was that. The deal was made.


Chapter Six

It was nearly five o'clock by the time Jenny arrived back at CC's. Fiona dropped her off at the door with her holdall and carrier bags ensconced in her grip.

'I'll call back later. I have to go to the station to follow some leads.' And then she was gone, the car's engine revving dramatically as it sped away. Jenny turned to the door and saw the 'Closed' sign firmly in place. It had not entered her head to call Claire and tell her that she would be longer than she first anticipated. The police were still collecting any grains of evidence from her place and had wanted to ask her a few more questions before she left. Her last memory of leaving her bedroom had been witnessing a bloke waving a semen detector over her underwear drawer. Now that was an image that would last her a lifetime. Therefore, she had insisted on stopping at a clothing store to buy new ones. There was no way she was going to risk using any she had at home.

'Shit!' What was she to do now? The only number she had for the restaurant owner was for the restaurant itself, and by the darkness emanating through the windows, it was empty. She was surprised that the overly protective policewoman had left her there exposed to all and sundry.

A huge drop of rain hit her squarely on the forehead making her jump with surprise. 'And exposed to the elements,' she thought wryly. Another plop, followed by another and another and another.

'Shit!' Struggling like a one handed chimp, she raised her bags to stop her getting soaked through to the bone. Thinking wildly, she tried to remember where she had shoved her mobile phone. There was only one thing for her to do - call a hotel and stay there. 'That's what I should have done when ...'

'There you are. I was wondering when you'd be back.' Claire was standing in the now open door, a look of surprise on her face. 'I thought you might have decided to stay in a hotel after all.' Leaning forward, she grabbed Jenny's jacket and pulled her into the dryness of the restaurant entrance. 'Although I'm glad you didn't.' As soon as the words came out, Claire believed she had said too much. 'I mean ...' she could feel the tell-tale flush spark once again, but she wasn't going to allow herself to feel embarrassed. A laugh broke free, albeit a shaky one. 'Come in. Get out of your clothes ... I mean ... you need to get dry.' Why do I insist on being a total twat?

'Erm.' For a fleeting moment, Jenny had deliberated the getting out of clothes part, and, unfortunately, this made her unable to think of anything constructive to say. Both women stood in the darkened corridor and waited for the other to break the ice, the scrunching of the carrier bags the only noise. 'I knew I should have gone to a hotel. This was a mistake.' Jenny didn't voice her thoughts, but a deep rooted longing was racing to the surface. Should she make her excuses and leave? Should she tell the blonde standing in front of her that it was too uncomfortable to stay at a place she didn't know? Although staying at a hotel would just be that - a place she didn't know. 'Bollocks!' Unfortunately, this didn't come out as the expected brain conversation Jenny had anticipated. This solitary word came out loud and strong into the still air making the woman in front of her stand straighter than she had previously. Stand straighter and lean forward as if she was expecting a continuation of the sentence. Back to 'Erm.'

'Bollocks, I've forgotten something? Or bollocks, why am I standing here?' A slight lift happened to the sides of Claire's mouth as she watched the brunette struggling for an answer. 'Or bollocks, I'm wet?' The smile shifted and became a full out grin, and instead of feeling stupid, or stupider, Jenny responded likewise.

'Bollocks, I'm rude.' Dropping her bags, she stuck her hand out towards the woman in greeting. 'I think I should start over again. I'm Jenny Cartwright, and I want to thank you for going above and beyond the call of duty.' As the smaller woman's hand clasped her own, Jenny felt something jolt and jangle its way up her arm - something that could only be described as electricity. However, it wasn't an unpleasant sensation, only unnerving. Was she the only one who felt it? Looking sharply into the green eyes of the restaurant owner, the surprise she saw there made her fully aware that she most definitely was not experiencing some isolated occurrence. There was no way she couldn't have. And like Jenny, Claire had still kept holding on; her fingers tightening rather than releasing.

It was now Claire's turn to be at a loss for words. The mumbled, 'Erm' seemed almost a mimic from minutes before. Swallowing deeply, she decided it was time to let go of the tall woman's fingers and become proactive. The tingling sparking sensation had unnerved her, too, but unlike Jenny, Claire had known straight away that the dark haired woman had felt it also. It wasn't just the reaction from the critic; it was a feeling welling up and spilling out as their fingers met and joined. Weird, but that was becoming part and parcel of her life. If someone would have told her twenty four hours ago that Jennifer Cartwright would be staying at her place tonight, and for the non foreseeable future, she would have thought them a playing card short of a deck. As for the growing attraction she felt for the dark haired beauty, she would have thought them to be tuppence short of a shilling; a can short of a six-pack; a sandwich short of a picnic; and many other equally dense expressions to reflected the even denser idea. Twenty four hours ago, Claire knew the critic to be the 'Bitch' - the 'Queen of Spleen' - the 'business breaker', but in reality, it appeared, Claire didn't know her at all. 'And at the rate I'm going, I still won't.'

'Do you want to get dried off here, or wait until I get you home?' With that, Claire slipped her fingers from Jenny's grasp and half turned into the darkness. This way, the woman behind her couldn't see the flush racing up her cheeks.

'Don't you have to work tonight?' The voice was low, almost husky.

Without turning, Claire answered, 'We only open for a short time on Sunday evenings. James can cope.' Then she began to walk away not daring herself to turn and check to see if she was being followed.


Half an hour later, Claire was pulling into her driveway. The modest semi detached house stood in darkness, and for a fleeting moment Jenny felt the fingertips of fear crawl up her spine. What if the person knew she would be coming back here? It wasn't fear for herself that made her nervous; it was worry that if the weirdo who had spiked her drink and done everything else to her was here, Claire would also be a target.

'Don't worry. No one knows you are here except me and Sergeant Houghton.' Pulling her keys from the ignition, the inside of the car illuminated. Turning to face Jenny, Claire had to fight back the urge to grab the woman's hand. Part of her wasn't ready for a repeat performance of their meeting in the restaurant - for the moment she wanted to avoid the surreal sensation of the other woman's touch. However, another, more primitive part of her wanted to curl her fingers around Jenny's and let the sensation roll over her. 'Did you want me to check everything out before you come in?'

At these words Jenny's back straightened. There was no way she wanted to appear to be a wimp. Fuck it. If anyone was there she would willingly kick the crap out of him to prove the point. But, she didn't answer - just unclipped her seatbelt, opened the door and climbed out. Once outside the car Jenny was once again at a loss. She couldn't just march up to the door and go inside - even if she had a key. Ah ... bags. Striding to the back of the car, she attempted to open the boot. Locked. Back to standing like a lemon, then.

'It's open now.' The laughter in Claire's voice was obvious, but the blonde didn't let it all out. Watching the speed in which Jenny had exited the car allowed her to see another facet of the critic. 'She doesn't like to be seen as weak. Sorted,' she muttered under her breath.

Whilst Jenny was getting her bags from the boot, Claire unlocked the front door and made sure she turned on every light before going back outside to help. However, help wasn't needed, as Jenny was half way up the steps toting all of her possessions in her arms. A tentative smile, a tilt of a dark haired head, a sparkle of blue eyes, and they were both inside the house, the door closing on the outside world.

After a quick tour of the house, Claire left Jenny to shower and get herself sorted. Just under an hour later, her visitor came down the stairs, dark hair wet, jogging bottoms on, a white t-shirt that was also a little damp, clung to a taut torso. All the moisture in Claire's mouth seemed to dry up, and she was left nodding her head towards the coffee pot. 'How can anyone look so bloody drop dead gorgeous when she has just stepped out of a bloody shower?' But, the thought stayed firmly inside her head - and all she could muster were some half formed sentences about showering and for Jenny to make herself at home before she fled for the safety of her bathroom.

Once there, Claire allowed the breath she had been holding to escape. Slumping against the door, she tried to regulate her heartbeat. It was confusing for her, as she had never reacted so strongly and quickly to someone before. 'Don't be a twat, Connolly,' Claire half-whispered. 'She is your guest. You keep your hands, and thoughts, to yourself.' Moving forward, she stood in front of the mirror, wiped the condensation away before repeating, 'She is your guest. You keep your hands, and thoughts, to yourself.' The reflection that greeted her seemed pale and confused - it also appeared to be extremely juxtaposed to the idea suggested. Leaning closer, Claire uttered through her teeth, 'Keep ... your ...hands ... off.' A sharp nod followed, and for a brief moment, Claire thought she had composed herself - until she spotted the towel - the very same towel that had dried the water from the taut and wonderful body downstairs. She tried to avoid touching it; tried to focus on getting her stuff ready for her shower. But that included taking the innocent looking towel to move it towards the washing basket. It was instinctual - the reaching out and pulling the drying towel into her hands; instinctual - the lifting of the aforementioned towel to her face; instinctually primitive the shriek she heard from downstairs.

Dropping the towel on the floor, Claire raced from the bathroom, downstairs and towards the kitchen. Jenny was standing with her back against the cabinets, fear written starkly over not only her face, but all over her. Frantically, Claire searched the kitchen for evidence that would suggest a reason for the outburst, but she came up with nothing. The blinds were drawn so no one could see in, ruling out the possibility of a shapeless face at the window. Once again, Claire looked to Jenny hoping that she could stop the frenetic emotions bubbling up inside her.

Slowly, too slowly for Claire, Jenny lifted her hand and pointed at the kitchen table. There, in all its glory, sat a mobile phone. What? Why was she ...

Lifting up the phone Claire saw the screen was showing the message 'Play again?'

'Play - again?' The two words stammered a little from Claire's mouth, as she mentally considered what the 'playing again' would result in. Click. Opening up on the small LCD screen a scene was depicted. The inside of her restaurant to be precise. Lights fought to illuminate the setting, but the drama on display was clear and vivid, almost like a memory coming to life. Jennifer Cartwright was swaying whilst shouting abuse at her staff. Watching it like this was even worse than watching the actual scene unfold in the flesh. Jenny looked awful: pale, sweating, pissed, and seemingly violent. However, it didn't stop there. The person videoing the episode had captured the exact point when the critic had vomited before landing on the floor. A small chuckle was audible just before the clip came to an end to display the message once again.

'We need to show this to the police.' Jenny was mute, a slow nod her only response. 'And I need to check whereabouts at CC's this was filmed from.' Should she wait for the police to arrive or get her butt moving and meet them there? 'You want to come or would you rather stay here?' The reaction from the tall woman indicated the last question was as stupid as it sounded. There was no way she was going to be left behind after that. 'Hurry. Get dressed whilst I call Sergeant Houghton.'


Fiona was just plucking up the courage to call Laura. Sitting in her car, she held her mobile like it was about to flee the scene. Most of the time the confident policewoman took everything in her stride, but when it came to physical attraction she found all the police training in the world could never prepare her. Words became a rare and confusing commodity; the ability to stand still was almost nonexistent. She found herself shuffling on the spot in an attempt to ready her for flight. Her work mates thought her to be a charmer - one of those women who could charm the birds from the trees, or even the birds out of their underclothes, and Fiona wanted them to continue thinking she was a female gigolo. It didn't hurt all the blokes she worked with day in day out to think there was a woman who could give them a run for their money. However, people who knew the real Fiona Houghton knew she was a sensitive woman - knew that all she really wanted was the real deal; someone she could curl up with; someone who would be there for her no matter what. Someone like Laura. And that's when words became enemies - that's when she shuffled harder than an hundred metre sprinter at the starting block. Even after having the balls to buy the chocolates, she hadn't had the guts to just give them to the nurse. Hiding them, or charmingly secreting them, as Fiona liked to term it, in the bottom drawer of the nurse's desk was all she could seem to manage - a scrawled phone number written under Laura's name the only message she could manage before the nurse returned and told her Jennifer Cartwright had gone AWOL.

'If there is a God, Laura will call me now.' Nothing. 'She would have found the chocolates, realised I am the woman of her dreams, and will call me now.' As soon as the words came out her phone began to shimmy and dance in her palm whilst wailing 'You Ain't Nothing But A Hound Dog'. It was almost as if someone had shoved the nozzle of a Dyson cleaner into her mouth and extracted every particle of moisture it could find. Swallowing frantically, Fiona tried to moisten the desert that used to be her mouth before clicking the accept button. She didn't recognise the number displayed, so her head totally believed that it was the nurse. 'Be calm, Nige. Be cool.' But the words came out at the same pitch of a twelve year old chorister. 'Pretend you are telling someone bad news.' Clearing her throat, she pressed accept and fought fervently for the cool collected and dreamlike tone that would make the woman on the other end go weak at the knees. 'Sergeant Houghton.'

Claire, although still concerned about the message delivered to Jenny, thought she had interrupted something as the policewoman's voice seemed strained and a little high-pitched.

'Sorry to interrupt ... I ... we ... we didn't know who else to call.' Fiona lifted the phone away from her ear and looked at the screen. It took a second or two to realise this was not whom she had believed it to be. 'It's Claire Connolly. CC's?'

With just that affirmation Fiona was back in control. 'You haven't interrupted anything, Ms Connolly. I was just on a break.' It was amazing how quickly she reverted to normal instead of a stammering squeaky wreck. 'What can I do you for?'

In less than three minutes Fiona was on her way to CC's to meet Claire and Jenny. She would call Laura later. Or tomorrow. Or sometime soon. Part of her seemed relieved, whilst another part of her felt like kicking herself. How was it that she could face the dregs of society day in day out, talk to any of them without so much as batting an eyelid, but when it came to something she really wanted she felt at a loss to know how to do it.

Thumping her car into gear, Fiona squealed out of the police parking lot and headed for something she knew she could cope with.


Initially, in the car on the way over, Jenny had been quiet. It wasn't until they were a few minutes away from the restaurant had she started to explain what had happened. By all accounts her brother had called her. After she had tried to downplay the events, he had still tried to insist he get on the next flight and be with her. Although Jenny had wanted him there, she also knew he really needed to nail the contract in Dusseldorf. She was safe, she told him. She was staying with a friend. Saying that had brought a smile to her face - amazing to think she classed Claire as a friend so quickly. Finally he had been appeased, well, enough to say he would call her tomorrow. A couple of minutes after she had ended the call the tone for new message appeared. Believing it to be her brother sending her a text, she hadn't thought twice when she was prompted to download the media message. Seeing herself there, in all her glory, made her blood initially run cold. When the realisation of what was happening hit, she emitted the scream Claire had heard from upstairs, and thrown the phone on the table.

By the time Jenny had regaled her side of the story, they were pulling up behind the stationary police cruiser parked outside CC's.

It was at the bar. It was so obvious once the video was played from that angle. Whoever had filmed it had been seated at the bar on Saturday night. After only one rerun it was so obvious a five year old could've spotted it. Pity no one had thought to look over at the bar when all the commotion was happening. But, that wasn't something a person would think about when there was a 'situation' to be dealt with, was it? Look around and see who is filming? The staff had been too busy trying to reduce the amount of people who could see what was happening than worry about the people at the bar getting out their mobile phones and snapping it with a casual flick.

After stock questions like who was working the bar, Fiona checked out the phone number. It had come through as 'unknown', but this didn't faze the female officer. To a lay person finding out the number may seem a feat in itself - but to the professional all it would take would be a couple of phone calls. Most people believe anonymity is an option when making a call, but unfortunately for them most people don't realise that all text messages and file sharing is noted by the phone company. It isn't as easy for the average Joe to find out this kind of information, but it isn't impossible either. The only downside to this is the Pay As You Go tariff. Anyone can buy a phone and use the sim card before tossing it away when the job is done. All they would have is the number for as long as the person held the phone for. Or they could just swap the sim over - simple.

Claire and Jenny waited for the policewoman to finish charming the operator at the end of the line, the taller woman playing with a napkin. The restaurant owner wanted to place her hand over the critic's and calm her, but something held her back. She didn't want to be over familiar with Jenny. That was the last thing the woman needed - the last thing they both needed. It would be so easy to take advantage of the situation. One scared woman comforted by another woman. With a shake of her head, Claire dismissed the images that were beginning to conjure from a deep seated longing welling within her.

'Here we go. No name registered but we have a number.' Fiona was grinning as she punched the numbers she had been given into Jenny's phone. All three women waited for the person to answer.


David Foster was more than surprised. Jennifer Cartwright was calling him. But that was impossible. He had blocked his own number - he was sure of it. Granted, he had been half asleep when he had sent the message, as he couldn't wait until morning to put phase two into action - the sending of the clips. One by email and the other by her phone. He thought bombarding her would be the best way to freak her out. That thought did it. Anger flooded through him. Not at himself and his own stupidity - that never came into it. It was anger at Jennifer Fucking Cartwright who must have nuts of steel to dare and call him. She should be shaking in her shoes; shitting a brick; falling over and pleading for asylum by now.

One thing he did note as the phone stopped ringing was that he needed to up his game a little. If she was still bold as brass after all he had done, then it was time to bring out the big guns. He would still email her with pictures and clips; still plague her phone; still stalk her house. However, he also needed to make sure she hurt - physically as well as mentally.

With a smile, he turned off the phone and tossed it onto his nightstand. 'I need to think, but first I need to get my beauty sleep.' An evil snigger slipped from his lips as he fluffed his pillows. 'Let her wait for me. Let her sweat a bit.'

Click. Lights off. David Foster slipped back into a fitful sleep, although if you asked him, he would say he slept like a baby.


No one actually expected him to answer. Unless he was a complete idiot, that is. Sergeant Houghton went through all she had done since she had seen them earlier in the day, and considering the short space of time she'd had, it was quite a lot. She had requested the CCTV footage from the hospital car park, the entrance, the gift shop, and from the street outside CC's. The policewoman had also arranged an interview with the woman from the hospital gift shop who had seen her talking to the sweating bloke, and found out there was some evidence to collect - something about a magazine that he refused to pay for. All in all, it had been a very eventful hour and a half before returning to the scene of the crime.

Clients were beginning to filter inside the restaurant ready for the evening set. Claire beckoned James over and spoke quietly to him, although no one else was aware there was anything untoward happening, even if a policewoman was sitting casually at the bar. When James asked whether Jennifer Cartwright was staying at Claire's, the blonde blushed and didn't answer, just informed him to check through the staffing rotas and check who was working the bar the previous evening. As it turned out, the woman who was on bar duty at the time of the incident was not in and wouldn't be in until Monday's early evening set. When Claire informed Fiona, she said the interview could wait as they had more than enough evidence to wade through as it was, and it might be better to have a clip from the CCTV to show.

Finally, the policewoman snapped her notebook closed and said that was it for the night. Leaving the two women to get back home made Fiona feel a little unsettled. At least they had each other, and as far as she was aware, Claire was totally safe. Therefore, they should both be safe. Shouldn't they? With that thought she started her engine and followed Claire's car. It wouldn't hurt to check it out, would it?

Arriving home, Claire sighed with relief. It wasn't because she was hungry, tired and dirty - it was because she knew the police officer was following her. In reality, this should have unnerved her, as why would the police give her an escort home if there was nothing to fear? However, she didn't say anything to Jenny, as she knew the woman had enough to worry about already.

'Thought I might be able to wrangle a cuppa out of you before I go off shift.' It was the only thing she could think of saying without openly admitting she wanted to check Claire's house for any signs of tampering or attempted entry. 'If that's ok with you, that is?' Claire grinned at the copper and nodded enthusiastically. 'I've just got to report back to the station. Give me two ticks.'

As soon as Jenny and Claire were in the door, Fiona was around the side checking for evidence of an intruder. There was nothing - especially since even she couldn't get past the back gate. As she turned to enter the house, she heard a noise coming from the location of the back wall. 'Here we go.' Instead of feeling worried, Fiona felt the surge of adrenaline pump through her. Stealthily, she made her way back to the gate and listened again. There it was - a clawing sound coming from above. Pulling her torch out she flicked on the switch and began to lift it towards the sound. Before she got a full shot something landed heavily against her neck and chest making the scream bubbling for release impossible to hit air.

'Fucking cat!' The tabby scampered off into the darkness leaving Fiona to turn her torch off whilst emitting a shaky laugh. 'Call yourself a professional, Houghton?' Another laugh, this time a little more controlled.

Entering the house it was apparent that no one had broken in and nothing had happened. There was no point in staying really, so it would only be a quick case of checking upstairs before she made her way home from a very long and tiring day. Jenny and Claire were in the kitchen, and to Fiona's keen observation, were standing a little closer than two people who barely knew each other would stand. Maybe something good could come of this after all. Pity I couldn't be as relaxed with someone I liked. Sighing deeply, Fiona apologised. 'Sorry, ladies. I can't stop for a brew. Something's come up.' Then she remembered. 'Could I just use your loo?'

Within five minutes, Fiona was back in her squad car. All she had to do was drop it off at the station, sign out, and then make her way home. She still had time to call Laura at the hospital. But then again, there was always tomorrow - if the nurse didn't find the chocolates and call her first. The word 'Chicken' popped into her head, but she dismissed it by saying, 'Chicken? I scared off a cat burglar on my own.' Laughing to herself, she pulled out of the driveway, content that the two women she was leaving behind were safe for the night.


Chapter Seven

Monday morning came around slowly. Especially for Jennifer Cartwright. All night she had nodded off before being plagued by reruns of the last two days. She couldn't think who would want to do this to her. Granted, she had made enemies, but for someone to want to wreck her life like this, she must've pissed them off big time.

Eventually, Jenny got out of bed at seven o'clock fully expecting to be waiting in the kitchen for Claire to emerge. Surprisingly, Claire was already up and about, and by the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen, had already started to prepare breakfast.

'I thought you might be hungry.' It was then Jenny's stomach kicked in and growled an initial response. She hadn't eaten much the day before - just a sandwich before she had arrived at Claire's. Food had been the last thing on her mind when she had been preparing herself to stay at the woman's house.

Sliding into the chair opposite where the blonde was dishing out scrambled eggs and bacon, Jenny watched how Claire moved with ease around the kitchen.

'Are you a cook?'


'Are you a trained cook?' The blush that swept over Claire's face didn't escape Jenny, considering the smaller woman tried to look away sharply.

With her back to Jenny, Claire admitted, 'I trained as a chef when I'd finished my A levels.' Turning, she lifted three plates into one hand and carried a pot of tea in the other. Whilst she was dishing out the food and arranging the toast into the rack, Claire continued. 'I took NVQs in Catering and Hospitality.' A short laugh bubbled out. 'But please, don't judge me on my breakfast. It is early after all.'

Jenny laughed too. 'I'm off the clock.' Picking up her knife and fork, she ushered some of the scrambled eggs into her mouth. Fluffy and buttery, and the best eggs she had tasted in a long time. 'This is ... fantastic.'

Claire blushed again before mumbling, 'Charmer.'

'Honestly. You should think about going into business.' Claire's head shot up and green eyes looked deeply into blue. What should have been a light hearted moment seemed to change. It wasn't because Claire was offended by what Jenny had said - it was the intense look that seemed to pass from one to the other without any control from either of the women. Those eyes. Why do they affect me so much? This wasn't a solitary thought - both of the women were thinking the same thing. Finally, Claire found the strength to break away and look down at her plate. 'I'm sorry if I offended you.' Jenny was still staring and hoping the blonde would look back at her with the same intensity. She missed them - the greenness - the calming yet wanting emotion they evoked. Jenny knew she could look into Claire's eyes for a lifetime and never get tired of them.

Fuck! I'm cracking up! Thankfully, the expletive and confession stayed inside her head, but it didn't stop the internal monologue. Why would I even consider staring into her eyes for a lifetime? How long have I known her?

'You haven't offended me.' Claire picked up the teapot and began to pour out two cups. 'Blame it on my brain still being half asleep.' Slipping a cup and saucer over to Jenny, Claire pointed to the milk jug and sugar pot. Jenny added some milk and pushed the jug back over to where Claire was sitting. Quietly, they continued eating their breakfast, both women thinking their own thoughts, which funnily enough were nearly the same. Both of which decided they actually knew very little about the other.

'Tell me some more about yourself.' Jenny surprised herself with her forwardness. Never before had she given a rat's butt about small talk. She had considered herself to be a woman who asked on a need to know basis. But I do need to know.

'I don't want to bore you. My life is definitely not like one of those TVs chefs.' At that moment, Claire wished that her life was more than schooling, training, apprenticeships and hard work. All she had to show for her life was a business that was still in its baby stage. No relationships; no understanding parents; only a handful of friends, and her sister, that backed her choice in opening her business and didn't care about her sexual preference. Most people she had grown up with - thought of as friends - had turned their backs on her when they had found out she was a lesbian. Including her parents. Claire wasn't in the closet, but she definitely had one foot wedged in its doorway ready to go scooting back at any given moment. Her staff didn't know, although she suspected James had an inkling, and that was how she wanted it to stay. She knew, although others seem to struggle with the idea, that it didn't matter whom you slept with. Therefore it was a case of a need to know basis. What she couldn't understand was why Jennifer Cartwright needed to know.

'Good job too. I can't stand Jamie Oliver. Too spitty.' Claire looked up from her cooling breakfast and saw those blue eyes twinkle. A laugh gurgled up and hit the air and it felt wonderful, more so when Jenny's joined it.

'So true. And Ramsey! I don't understand half the swear words he says never mind using them myself.'

'I bet there have been times you've wanted to go into one Ramsey style haven't you?' How did Claire tell her that Jenny was the closest she had ever been to doing a Gordon Ramsey when she had been swearing and swaying in her restaurant? Jenny took the flush on Claire's face to mean she had effed and jeffed with the best of them and set about to tease the blonde. Claire laughed and pointed at the critic's plate. 'Eat up or else I give you a taste of how foul mouthed I can be.'

'Promises ... promises.' It shouldn't have made a jot of difference, but it was the tone that Jenny used. Instead of coming out cocky and self assured, it came out as invitational and suggestive. At least that shut her up. Lifting her fork again, she began to eat.

'Good girl.' Then it was Claire's turn. Her comment should've been like a reprimanding mother, but instead she sounded like a dominatrix. What each woman failed to recognise was what they had said only sounded that way to them - the other woman was unaware.

After breakfast, Claire went online to check her mails and see if James had sent her anything of interest whilst Jenny dressed. They had already decided that Claire would drop the critic at the newspaper office so she could speak to Sally. But it was all on the understanding that Sergeant Houghton would be available to meet her there. When Claire had suggested that, Jenny had pulled a face. 'I don't need to be molly coddled.' However, Claire just stared at her until she agreed. What Claire didn't know was that Jenny had no intention of calling the officer. She was going to go to the office, bollock Sally, and then go back to her place and get her car. Cadging lifts and waiting to be the next charity case was not her style. Jennifer Cartwright had prided herself on being independent, and no fruitcake was going to take that away from her.

And that's exactly what she did, although things didn't pan out quite the way she had envisioned them. Sally had been no help whatsoever, only remembering a call just as she was leaving. She couldn't remember exactly what the man said and totally believed it to be Jenny's brother. The only reason she had called the critic was to cover her back. There was no point pushing the matter - Sally wasn't renowned for having the best memory under the sun, especially when it came to Jennifer Cartwright. To say the two women didn't get on was an understatement. Jenny thanked God that the woman was a temp.

At a loss for what to do next, Jenny opened her mobile and dialled the number to a local taxi firm. As she was telling the man at the other end of the line where she was going and where to pick her up from, an image of Claire's face popped into her head. 'Don't forget to call Sergeant Houghton, will you?' And then the 'I'll see you later.' It wasn't what she said; it was the expression that was sticking with her. Total trust. Worry. Concern over her well being. It had been a long time since anyone had cared enough to worry about her, but it didn't stop her finishing the call and moving to wait outside for her lift to arrive.

Pulling up outside her house, fear crept over her once again. She couldn't shake the feeling of trepidation from snaking up her spine and settling across her shoulders. The last time she had been here it was alive with police, but now there was only her. With her keys gripped firmly in her hand, she made her way to the front door. Although to an observer she would have looked confident and in control, inside she was a wreck.

Opening the door, everything looked as she had left it. All the evidence from the police was gone. All that was there was some mail on her doormat. Bills. Bills. Fliers. A menu from the new Indian take away. Nothing of note. The house was eerily silent, almost as if she had been away from it for months instead of overnight.

'I have to get out of here.'

Slamming the door behind her, she felt peace wash over her once again. Well, until she opened the garage door. 'I thought this was locked,' flitted through her head as she began to lift it up. It wasn't until the door was all the way back and the sunlight lit up the inside of the garage did all her new found confidence drain away. Sitting there was what used to be her car. The wing mirrors were hanging off, lights smashed, dents all over the body work, key marks etched into the paint work accompanied by what appeared to be some form of acid that spelt out words such as 'BITCH', 'CUNT', and 'SLAG'. The side windows were smashed and she could see that the person who had ruined the outside of her car hadn't been content to leave it at that. All the seats were ripped, the foam bursting out trying to escape the carnage. Even the stereo had been smashed.

'What the ...'

Realising she was alone inside the dimly lit space, Jenny raced back into the light. Rummaging into her bag, she pulled out her mobile and dialled 999, her head moving frantically as if she was checking to see if she could spot the person who had done this. In reality she couldn't see anything. The action was automatic.

Sitting in his car David Foster had great difficulty containing his euphoria. Getting up early had been worth it, even though she hadn't been there when he sneaked into her house at five thirty. Finding the car had been just luck. The most difficult thing was trying to destroy it without anyone hearing him. Every time he got carried away he had to roll in his emotions and pause to collect his anger. He wanted this to be her; wanted each wound he inflicted on the car to be on Jennifer Cartwright's body. But it had to do - for now.

'Look at her.' he mumbled to himself. 'All defenceless. Bless.' Although the words should have seemed as if Foster actually gave a shit, the huge grin on his face said otherwise. 'Maybe I should go and help her. Offer her a lift to the police.' The laugh spurted out and he clamped his hand over his mouth.

Pushing the handle of the car, the door eased open. He wasn't concerned about Cartwright recognising him - just aware that there were many windows around and he didn't want any of the neighbours giving a description of him as being the last person to speak to Jennifer Cartwright.

One foot out, and then he stopped. A police car was pulling up outside Cartwright's house. How did it get here so quickly? The bitch had still been on the phone as I was getting out of the car - so how come the bizzies are here already? As the police car opened, a familiar shape got out. The copper from the hospital. Shit. Shit. Fuck and shit.

Although the anger was raging, Foster didn't slam the car door as he got his foot back inside. Even through his disorganised and irrational thoughts, he realised that any noise would make either one of the women acknowledge there was someone else on the nearly deserted street. Fingernails jabbed into the palms of his hands and he could feel the skin begin to tear. The pain was good. The pain was allowing the rage to disperse. The pain, he knew, would soon be her pain.

Sliding down in his seat he watched the reaction of Cartwright. The relief on her face made his stomach turn. All his hard work scuppered. In his head, Cartwright should be in pieces - literally and metaphorically. He watched as Cartwright pointed to the garage; watched as they both entered; watched as they both came out and looked up and down the road. For a fleeting moment, he believed the copper's gaze stopped on his car, making him slink into the foam of his seat. However, the woman moved her eyes away and looked back at Cartwright before ushering her towards the house. It wasn't until he saw them both enter and close the door behind them did he start his engine and pull away. There would be plenty of time, he thought, plenty of opportunities to get her on her own. The police couldn't watch her twenty four seven, and he had all the time in the world. Unlike her.


As it turned out, Claire had called Fiona as soon as she had got to work. Somewhere deep inside she knew that Jenny wouldn't do it - she had remembered the dark haired woman the previous evening and how she didn't like people to think she was scared of anything. There was bravery and there was stupidity. At the moment no one knew who the bloke was who had drugged Jenny's drink and then filmed her. No one knew the extent he was willing to go - what his intentions were, to be more precise. Did he just want to embarrass Jennifer Cartwright? Ruin her name and reputation? Or had his actions been interrupted? Had he intended raping her?

It was that thought that had prompted the blonde to take out the card the policewoman had given her the previous day and dial the mobile number hand written underneath the police station's number.

Within five minutes Fiona had agreed to pop around to Jennifer's house as soon as she had finished some administration. The relief Claire had felt when the officer had said this rolled through her body and the tension that was seizing up her shoulders seemed to dissipate slightly.

After hanging up the phone, Claire pulled out the staff list from the drawer of her desk and checked through the duty roster for the previous Saturday night. She had asked James to check it when they had come in last night, but she just wanted to see it for herself, although she couldn't understand why. It was still Paige, and Paige would not be in until this evening's early evening set.

Sighing deeply, Claire put the roster back into the drawer and then placed her elbows on her desk, her hands flapping around in front of her. She was fidgety, but she didn't know why. Gripping one hand with the other, she steadied herself, bringing the clasped hands up to her mouth. Why am I spending time worrying over this when I have a business to run? Another sigh. She didn't know the answer to that either. Swivelling around on her chair she gazed at her pin board, and to an observer it would have appeared she was reading what was haphazardly pinned there. But she wasn't. She was thinking of Jennifer Cartwright. Not about the incidents that had brought the two women into contact - just about Jennifer Cartwright. The blueness of her eyes; the black hair falling over her face as she was eating breakfast; the way her white t-shirt had gripped and defined her torso; the smile she gave that was slightly crooked and teasing; the redness of those perfectly chiselled lips.

'Crap. Not now.'

'Sorry.' The sound of James' voice behind her made her jump. She had been talking to herself completely unaware that her Head Waiter had been standing so close to her. Claire spun around on the chair, nearly toppling off it, the desk being the only thing she could grab onto to balance herself. James was just exiting the office as she called him back. Thinking about Jennifer Cartwright, and her realisation that she was more than attracted to the dark haired woman, would have to wait. As she had thought before, 'I have a business to run.'

Sitting more securely in her seat, Claire picked up her pen and tried to appear in control. Why on earth she thought holding a pen would help her achieve that, God only knew, but by doing so she completely missed the look on her Head Waiter's face. If someone was to try and describe it the outcome would be fawning and smug, perfectly fitting the weasel of the man.


Fiona didn't tell Jenny that Claire had called and opted for the 'I thought I'd just drop by' approach. Part of her job was to make people feel at ease, and if she admitted that Claire had been worried about her safety, then, obviously, the woman who was pacing anxiously in front of her would think there was something to worry about. Funnily enough, Fiona was beginning to think the same thing.

As she had been dozing off last night, after not calling Laura - again - she had started to think about the case. Collecting all the information she had inside her head, she had begun to believe that they would not hear from the perp again. His plan had been foiled, and if he had any sense whatsoever, he would know they were on to him. There was no way anyone in their right mind could make as many mistakes as he had without realising he was up Shit Creek sans paddle. And that's what she thought when she had woken up that morning; what she had thought when she had spoken to a worried Claire Connolly; what she had thought up until she had pulled into the street where Jennifer Cartwright lived. Pity she couldn't think that now, although she didn't have enough evidence as yet to link the destruction of Jenny's car to the events from the previous two days. CSI were on their way back again, and so were the SOCO. The words written on the car were an indication that the person who had done this was pinpointing Cartwright - they had known it was a woman's car for a start. But that wasn't enough. There weren't any photographs left this time to link the two crimes - nevertheless, Fiona's gut feeling was this was the same person. And this person was either an idiot, or too arrogant to believe he would get caught, or, worse still, too unhinged to give a shit. It was the last one that worried her the most.

'Do you keep all the reviews you write on your PC?' Jenny looked sharply at the officer, her face plainly stating this was not the time to make small talk. 'Maybe we could match the reviews on your wall with the ones you have on file.' Light dawned on the critic's face and was shortly followed by a smile.

'Good idea. I also have them all on back up.' Another smile. 'Just in case.'

Two hours later and the women were still trolling through articles, trying to pair the paper versions to the electronic file. The police were still fingerprinting the car and bagging evidence, but as yet none of them had come up with anything. Well, until the two women came across an article that was deftly titled 'Don't Waste Your Money'.

'I can't find that one. Are you sure you have all the ones you've written on your notice board?' Jenny just glared at the policewoman, who was juggling pieces of paper on her lap before placing them carefully on the floor in date order.

'I thought that was what we were looking for?' Fiona chuckled before muttering something along the lines of fair cop. 'Quickly reading through this article, I remember I wasn't too nice about the premises. The food was awful.' She concentrated on reading again before adding, 'And the service left a lot to be desired.'

'Where was it? Local?' The policewoman shuffled closer to the monitor. 'Can you remember who the owner is? Maybe this is linked to him - or her.'

'Not off the top of my head. I think it was a bloke, but I would have to check with the office to be on the safe side.' Picking up the phone, Jenny dialled her work's number. 'Come on, Sally! Pick up the damned phone!' But the phone stayed unanswered. 'I'll mail the editor. At this rate, it'll be quicker.'

Fiona began to pile up the articles, making sure she left them in the correct date order. As she as doing it she noticed that the articles were weekly. 'Do you ever miss a week?'

'Huh?' Jenny was still trying to get Internet Explorer to work as it had chosen that precise moment to update.

'Do you write an article every week? Or do you miss one now and again?'

Turning to face the policewoman, Jenny answered. 'Yes and then no. Yes, I write one every week. And no, I've not missed one since I've worked for them. And that's about three years now. Why?'

'August 10th of last year is missing. All the rest are here up until last week.' Although they had established the missing article was the one they had found on the computer, Fiona always liked that extra piece of evidence. It could be something else the critic could include in her email to her boss, and she told her so.

Eventually, Internet Explorer finished updating and Jenny clicked on her hotmail icon. The policewoman turned her head whilst the other woman entered her details, more out of politeness than interest. Hearing Jenny swear under her breath about the amount of junk she had received in her inbox made Fiona smile inwardly. She was constantly getting mails about improving the size of her penis; her bank needed updated information; she had won a holiday for two; MR OBWANA MOMBANGO'S DESK: URGENT... and also 'Viagra. Get it now. No prescription'.

'Wait a minute. This isn't my brother's email address.' A pause. 'Shit! It's downloading something!' Frantically, Jenny tried to stop the message opening, but to no avail. Media Player kicked in and opened on a scene that looked out from a window. It was a completely different setting to the video clip she had received the previous evening - a different building; a different time of day. There she was, stumbling and swaying as if she were pissed over the grassy area of the hospital yesterday morning. 'Fuck!'

'Exactly.' But the policewoman was grinning instead of looking mortified like the woman seated next to her. This was another piece of evidence that could link the sweating weird bloke from the hospital to the case. 'When was it sent?' Leaning over Jenny, she apologised before checking the time and date on the email. 'Have you got your mobile handy?' Jenny grabbed her handbag from the floor, brought out her phone and passed it to the officer. 'Thought so. They were sent within minutes of each other.' Fiona looked into blue worried eyes. 'That's a good thing.' The eyes still looked as if they needed convincing. 'Honestly. Listen.' As Fiona began to explain to Jenny that having two pieces of information sent so closely together could only mean the person who was doing this was trying to freak her out. It also meant that he was probably working alone - although it was possible there could be more than one. When those last few words hit the air, Fiona realised she should have kept them under wraps. There was no use in freaking the woman out even more with her hypothesising. 'Erm ... anyway.' Fiona cleared her throat and tried to ignore the glares coming from the woman in front of her. 'Hadn't you better write that mail?'

Thankfully the critic turned back to the screen and began to write, allowing the policewoman to release the breath she had been holding.

'And don't think the conversation is finished. Let me just do this.'

The only word swirling around Fiona's head was 'Bollocks.'


Deciding the best plan of action was to make sure Jenny was safe, there were only two places she could take her. One was to make sure she stayed with her all day - which wasn't feasible. She had a job to do after all. The second, more plausible place was to take her back to where Claire Connolly was. Inside she knew that was not the most brilliant plan, as the small blonde from the restaurant had taken on enough already. Jennifer Cartwright wasn't her problem. Jennifer Cartwright had just been on CC's property by the time the Rohypnol had taken effect. But there was nothing else for it. She had to go and interview the woman from the hospital shop in half an hour, as the woman would be finishing her shift.

Doubt flooded through her mind all the way back to CC's, but as soon as both Jenny and her walked into the restaurant she knew it had been the best call she had made all day. Claire was chatting to a member of staff, her face partly businesslike but also friendly and inviting.

Jennifer Cartwright was thinking the same thing. She wanted to be independent; wanted this all to be over; wanted to not be a burden on anyone else. However, as soon as she saw the owner of CC's standing chatting to a member of staff she felt something bang inside her chest. All Claire was doing was talking, but she looked beautiful. The graceful stance, the long blonde hair, the way her lips twisted and turned into the most charming smile, an open and honest smile, as soon as she saw both Fiona and herself standing in the entrance. Was that in my imagination, or did her eyes sparkle? Jenny wanted it to be real, not some fantastic image she had conjured up from the place where moments before the bang had erupted. Throughout her morning, all she had found was shit, shit, and then to top it off - more shit. But this, this wondrous woman making her way over to them both made everything else seem to take a back seat. So what if she was being stalked, drugged, her house broken into, her car vandalised. If that hadn't have happened, would she have ever got beyond the 'I'm Jennifer Cartwright. I'm here to review your restaurant'? She doubted it. If she had been fully focused on her job, nothing would have distracted her. It needed a dose of something like Rohypnol to make her see clearer than she had for a very long time.

'How are you?' Even the sound of Claire's voice affected the dark haired woman. Scratch the not noticing her. There is no way I could've ignored this woman. Another thud exploded inside her chest, and when Claire touched her on the arm, another. 'You look pale. Come. Sit down.' Jenny couldn't seem to move. The pressure of the blonde's hand on her arm seemed to freeze her to the spot. But, it wasn't unpleasant - far from unpleasant, actually. It felt as if she needed the pressure; needed the contact. 'What happened? What's the matter?' It was obvious that Claire was beginning to become unsettled.

It was Fiona who spoke. 'Can we go into the back? I think she's had a bit of a shock.'

Claire mumbled something that led along the affirmative, and slipped her hand into Jenny's to help lead her to the back room. Then it happened again: the spark; the electricity; the connection of sorts. Neither woman said anything - neither woman let go. Claire pulled and guided the reviewer behind her and into the back, all the while believing that the reason the woman she was holding was stunned from the shock of something that had transpired earlier in the day. Little did she know that was the furthest thing from Jenny's mind.

Within a few minutes of being in the office, Fiona told them to sit, and pulled a chair opposite the women. Before long, she had quickly sketched an outline of what had happened, all the while watching the way Claire Connolly still held onto Jennifer Cartwright's hand. It came as no surprise when the officer also spotted the thumb of Claire's hand begin to make small circular motions on the back of the aforementioned hand; small intimate motions that Fiona believed the blonde was completely unaware of. However, it was also apparent that Jennifer was more than aware of what was happening, but made no attempt to move her hand away. A small smile tried valiantly to free itself, but the policewoman held it back. There was no way she was going to expose the happenings unravelling before her eyes, because she knew that if they realised then they would stop, and that was the last thing she believed any of them wanted. Not because she thought of herself as a matchmaker - that wasn't the reason at all. What she believed Jenny needed was reassurance that human contact was a good thing. She had witnessed it so many times - a rape victim withdrawing from any form of contact, or even from a person who was in the same position as the beautiful Ms Cartwright. And if her training was worth anything, she would have bet her month's wages that Jennifer Cartwright had been averse to human contact even before the incident.

'I have to go.' Both Claire and Jenny jumped at the policewoman's statement. 'I have to interview someone and then follow some other leads.' Claire opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again. 'But I'll be back for the early evening shift to speak to your bar woman. Hopefully we'll have some stills for the CCTV for her, and a few other staff members, to look at.'

Standing up, Fiona smoothed down the front of her uniform. She was on her way back to the hospital and maybe, just maybe, she would be able to see the woman who had been haunting her dreams. Claire stood a couple of seconds after, and as soon as she did she realised she was still holding the critic's hand. Lifting it up, she seemed to examine it before the full impact of what she was doing hit home. The blush was instant, and so was the fumbled apology. Funnily enough, she still didn't let go immediately. Part of this could have been that Jenny's fingers were so tightly wrapped around the blonde's at that precise moment, or it could have been brain freeze - in other words - the ability to do fuck all.

'I'll leave you ladies to it.' With a snigger, Fiona was gone, leaving two very embarrassed women in her wake. 'If only I could be so bloody cool and collected when it's my private life.'

Claire eventually released her hold on the dark haired woman's hand, apologies ushering out at the speed that disables the words to be syntactically correct. All she wanted was the floor to open up and swallow her whole, but unfortunately those kinds of things never happen when you really want them to. The next best thing was escape. But how to escape without making her embarrassment more acute? Drink? Food? Anything? 'Would you like a drink? Something to eat? Anything?' The pitch was definitely high, and, in a weird way, this made Jenny feel more at ease.

Unfortunately for the blonde, the critic refused with a simple shake of her head. The colour had come back into Jenny's face, and she looked in control of herself, and not angry, Claire thought. 'I'm ok for now.' A smile appeared. 'But if you need to get back to work, don't think you have to babysit me. I'll be fine back here.' Claire still looked as if she was considering bolting without the proffered invitation to leave. 'Is there anything you would like me to do whilst I'm back here?' No answer. 'Filing? Your books?'


Standing up slowly, Jenny moved towards the woman in front of her. 'Look, Claire. I appreciate what you are doing for me.' Claire tried to speak, but Jenny hushed her gently. 'But don't think you have to give up your time to take care of me. I can occupy myself here.' Finding herself standing directly in front of the blonde, she realised how much taller she was than her. Suddenly a protective streak came into play, and for that split second all she knew was that she would do anything to protect this woman who had given up her life to take care of her. Placing her hand on the restaurant owner's arm, she allowed the warmth of the body to seep into her palm. Fleetingly she closed her eyes as if she was committing it to memory. When she opened them again and looked into the greenness of Claire Connolly's gaze, she wanted more than anything to dip her head and brush her lips over the ones that were parted and waiting in front of her, almost like a gift. Instead, she licked her own lips and watched in amazement as Claire did the exact same thing. 'Go on. Get gone. I'll be here when you get back.'

Momentarily, Claire found it impossible to do anything but stare. She had the distinct impression that Jennifer Cartwright was going to kiss her, right there and then; kiss her when they barely knew each other; kiss her when she didn't even know if the dark haired beauty was gay or not; kiss her when Jennifer Cartwright didn't know if she was a lesbian. And the most worrying thing was - she wanted her to kiss her. Wanted it so much that her mouth had already decided to become an ambassador for that very want; the messenger from within that wanted to deliver a note to Jenny's lips saying 'I want you.' It was an ache, a yearning, asimple chemical reaction, you idiot. You are doing the 'I'm confused about my role in this situation. So let's make out.'

'I'll be back soon, ok? If you want anything, just yell.' With that, Claire Connolly was through the door and back into the safety of her bustling restaurant. She didn't see the fleeting look of disappointment wash over Jennifer Cartwright's face. But then again, Jennifer Cartwright missed the exact expression on Claire's. Weird how that happens. Many people walk around and miss the obvious, only content to see what they allow themselves to see. Instead of weird, the word should be sad, really. Sad that most people miss out on the best things in their life because they are too frightened of seeing things in a different way - a way that would make them vulnerable, make them more human, make them open up and allow something into their life that could crack open that treasure chest within and make their life more than a secular experience.


Lunch had finished - finally, and Claire hadn't had the opportunity to pop into the back and check on her guest. She had wanted to, wanted to just stick her head around the door and ask if everything was ok. Well, more than that, really. If truth be known, she had wanted to check that Jennifer Cartwright was in fact there at all, or had it all been part of her imagination? Or did it stem back to want again? Want, as in the want that was buried deep inside her. The same want that she didn't realise she had. All her life she had focused on 'getting ahead' or 'making something out of her life' - there had been no time for romance or relationships of any worth. The last time she could honestly remember being so attracted to someone was when she was at school - Year 11, and that didn't go very far.

Holly Peterson. Dark, brooding, athletic, and very very straight. Having your heart broken at sixteen always appears to be the worst thing that could ever happen in anyone's life, but as well as the broken heart, Claire had also the stigma attached when people began to suspect she had tendencies that were not classified as the norm - whatever 'norm' meant. Looking back on this relationship - or one sided relationship - Claire smiled sadly. Not because Holly Peterson had ignored her; or even when it became common knowledge to everyone at school that Claire had a crush on another girl and the insults started flying. No. Not even when Holly made sure everyone also knew that there was no way on 'this goddamn earth I would ever be a rug muncher' as it was announced in a booming voice across the Year 11 common room. It was when her mother had read her diary - the diary where she thought, in her innocence, that everything she put in there would be private. That's when the shit hit the proverbial shit covered fan. If it hadn't been for her sister and her boyfriend, maybe her life would be a lot different now.

'Why am I thinking about this?' With a shake of her head, Claire finally locked the front door after her staff members left. Although fifteen years had passed since then, it still smarted when she remembered the hatred oozing from her mother's eyes, which was shortly followed by an exact imitation by her father. 'Stop. No more.'

Turning, she clicked off the lights to the signs and made her way to the back. Pushing open the door she saw what she believed was Jenny Cartwright asleep with her head on the desk. It wasn't until she was inside the room that she realised that the reviewer was bent over a notebook and was scribbling wildly. Watching the woman work made Claire pause before speaking. She just wanted to commit the image to a mental scrapbook. Jenny's hair was hanging over the side of her face, but that didn't hinder the beauty emanating from there. Finely chiselled cheekbones graduated into a classic look; long dark lashes outlined obscured eyes; a mouth that was plump yet not was slightly parted, and as she continued to watch she noticed a tongue slip out and moisten the bottom lip making it glisten in the light coming through the side window.

'There you are!' The sound of the rich alto hit the air and made Claire jump slightly. 'I've been listing all the contacts I know who could give you really good rates on stock.' The blonde just stared, as she was finding it difficult to take anything in. It seemed as if she had just been caught in the act of voyeurism. 'You don't have to use them, but they are there.' As she said this, Jenny pushed the paper towards the front of the desk before tossing the pen to the side, a smile breaking out and lighting her features.

Claire walked slowly to the desk and picked up the list. To an observer it would appear she was reading through all the names on numbers on the sheet, but in reality all she could see was the whiteness of the paper. 'Why is my hand shaking?' Lowering the sheet, Claire attempted to read it again. Nothing. Still white.

'Just tell them you are an associate of mine and you'll be ok.' A pause. 'Are you ok?'

Claire tried to answer, but it came out as a croak. Clearing her throat, a 'yes' hit the air with force before she controlled herself and continued with, 'It was a busy shift - just a little drained.' Holding the sheet aloft, Claire grinned her owner's grin. 'Thanks for this. I should imagine it will save me a packet.' Placing the sheet carefully back on the desk, she asked, 'Fancy a bite?' A loaded question, especially for Jenny who had been staring at the restaurant owner's mouth, the smile she had been sporting slipping away. 'We can eat here or I can cook something when we get back.' Still no answer. 'Home it is, then.'

Turning to leave Claire was stopped by the sound of the critic's voice repeating the word home. It sounded wistful, and Claire misunderstood the implications behind it. What she had believed to be a response to the question was in fact Jenny responding to the concept of home. Not her home, funnily enough, but the way the small blonde had used the term in conjunction to both of them. She knew that it was just an expression, but the feeling she had building up her throat seemed to want more than that. It wanted the conjoined 'home' to be just that. A place where she could be with somebody other than herself, a feeling that she had never wanted in her life before that moment. Struggling to pull herself out of her reverie, Jenny tried to build on the reference. 'Are you just going ... home because of me? Don't you have to come back tonight?'

Claire turned and faced the woman, who was sitting erect at the desk. With a slow smile she answered, 'After Fiona has been and spoken to Paige, I'm all yours.' The flush was instant, and totally gratifying for the blonde to see. She never expected to ever see the cool critic lose that coolness even for a split second, and there she was - lit up like a beacon and glowing majestically from the other side of the room. 'And that's not for another four hours.' Once again she turned to leave, but looked over her shoulder and added, 'So if I were you, I get yourself together and come on.'

Even after the restaurant owner had left the room, Jenny continued to sit there. Why did I react like that? Why does the thought of being all hers make me feel as if I can't stand up?

A voice from outside the room shouted, 'Come on! We're leaving now!'

Another slight pause before Jennifer Cartwright decided her legs could in fact hold her weight, and she had better get a move on before she wasted any more valuable time with the woman who was beginning to invade more than her thoughts.


Sergeant Fiona Houghton was knackered. She had spoken to the woman from the hospital and endured a lifetime of moaning. After countless rants about customers complaining about the prices; patients trying to get things on the knock; how she had given up her free time to work there with no pay; and myriads of other similar depressing turns of conversation, the woman actually got to the part Fiona had been waiting for. At one time the thought flitted through her head, 'Doesn't this woman speak to anyone and she is getting it all off her chest at the first opportunity?' but she pushed it away and smiled her most charming smile.

'I didn't think it was funny, luv. He was downright nasty to me.'

That wiped the smile off Fiona's face, and she resolved herself to look demure and maybe just a little bit simple.

However, she had the magazine, although what good it would do she didn't know. It looked as if everyone and their dog had touched it beforehand, and therefore it would be full of fingerprints, and possibly paw prints, of every Tom, Dick or Rover this side of the flatlands. But, she had it bagged and labelled ready for the lab.

When she returned back to the station, she found three video tapes already waiting for her - two from the hospital, and one from the CCTV camera on the road outside CC's. Tiredness was seeping into her bones, and she knew her shift should have been over nearly an hour ago, but one thing she always prided herself on was dedication. Even if she had to work in her free time, she would get the bastard who had made Jennifer Cartwright's life a misery. It wasn't just because the aforementioned woman was a fox. Nope. It was professionalism. As she thought this, Fiona fingered her sewn on badge and nodded. If the woman had been a right minger, a munter of the nth degree, she still would have given up rest to catch the perp. That was what being a copper meant to her - catching the bad guys. And there were enough of them around to keep her on her toes for a very long time.

Slipping the first tape into the recorder, she began to rewind it. A sigh released itself into the chilled office air, and she believed she could see her breath. Thinking back to the hospital, she remembered how she had warily made her way to the ward where Laura worked only to find another nurse on duty. Feeling momentarily flummoxed, Fiona decided it would be best to ... lie. Asking if Laura was in, as she was needed for a police enquiry, didn't actually feel like a lie, though. She was a policewoman, and although the reason why she was there in the first place was to enquire if the beautiful nurse would like to grab a coffee, covering her own cowardice wasn't so bad. Being told that she wouldn't be in for a couple of days felt as if she had been told Laura had run off to join the circus never to return, and was maybe living with either the lion tamer or the strong man. Two days! All I know is her work number. However, the day was saved as the nurse picked up a pen and scribbled something on a piece of paper. 'Her mobile number. Just in case it's urgent.'

The grin hurt. It felt as if her face was going to break into two and they would have to perform an emergency operation to stop her head flipping back of its own volition. It wasn't until she had walked half way back down the corridor that remembered that Laura hadn't called her when she had received the chocolates. The grin stopped. The mouth stayed straight, the brows furrowed, feet halted. 'Fuck! She doesn't want to know.' Epiphanies are sometimes a good thing, but in this instance it seemed as if it had taken shape as a huge iron bar and whacked itself across her stomach taking the air with it as it went. Or she didn't get them.

The policewoman wanted to go back and rummage through the drawer, but as she looked over her shoulder she saw the nurse staring intently at her. Maybe not. As well as epiphanies, doubt was also a bastard. Should I call her? Make out I need help? And I do. Need help, that is.

Click. The tape had stopped, but work was just beginning.

'I'll think about this later.' With that, once again the policewoman fingered the stitching of her badge, as behind it, and the tunic, was a neatly folded piece of paper with a very important number scrawled over it.


Chapter Eight

David Foster was not a happy man. Not happy in the slightest. It seemed as if he had been waiting for Jennifer Cartwright for hours outside her house, and there was still no sign of her coming back. Every time a car appeared in the street he expected it to be her, but, obviously, it never was. He also knew she wouldn't be in her own car - that had been towed away an hour and a half previously. A snicker bubbled out. If he only did think it himself, he had made a good job of that. Then back to serious. If only I knew where her brother lived. She must be there.

Looking at his watch he was surprised it was gone seven. Flick. A street light came on, blinking randomly as if surprised. Then another. Turning the key, his engine spurted into life. Thoughts of sitting in a warm cafe and having something to eat flooded his mind, and then he would be alert enough to come back again and continue his stake out. Maybe then she would be home - and it would be better if it was darker.

As he pulled away one side of his mouth lifted in an attempt to smile. But if you asked him, he would tell you he was laughing.


Fiona was almost at the restaurant and, unlike David Foster, she was grinning like an idiot. Beside her on the passenger seat was a brown envelope. Inside this envelope were stills from the CCTV footage: stills of a man - the same man, to be more precise. Approx five foot nine, receding short sandy hair, the same dark jacket and open necked shirt on all shots, dark trousers, and a very shifty look. To top it all off, it was the same man from the hospital gift shop - the same man she had spoken to early on Sunday morning. And another reason she was grinning was because she knew who he was. David Foster. Ex proprietor of Bon Maison. And all she had to do now was to get the bar maid to give it the nod and she would call in the rest of the gang and go and pick up the little creep.

The name and premises had been supplied to her by a very excited sounding Jennifer Cartwright, who had finally had contact from her editor. After a couple more calls, she had his address, and then the rest would soon be history, and instead of Bon Maison, it would be bon voyage to David Foster as she would make sure he got everything he had coming. The book would be thrown so hard at him that he would read the final chapter before reading the introduction.

Once inside the restaurant, she was ushered into the back office by the Head Waiter. Jenny Cartwright and Claire Connolly were waiting; the blonde was seated behind her desk, the air of expectancy thickening. However, instead of gushing and telling the women the man who had made Jenny's life a misery should be in custody before the evening was over, she asked to see the final witness.

Obviously, it was him. Paige didn't even flicker when she saw the pictures, just affirmed the policewoman's knowledge up to date.

After the barmaid had returned to her duties, it was Claire who spoke first.

'Are you going to arrest him now, then?'

Fiona wanted to say 'Does a bear shit in the woods', but thought better of it. A nod, followed by a grin, then finalised with a firm 'Yep.' Standing quickly, the officer pulled out her radio in readiness to call in the rest of the team. Although her gut instinct told her that Foster was nothing more than a coward, she still needed witnesses to help bring him in. 'I'll let you know when we've nabbed him, ok?'

'Do ... erm ... Can I go home now?' Fiona's ears pricked at the tone Jennifer used. It wasn't the expected happy trill that came when someone was told their life could back to normal. It was strained, a hint of disappointment tingeing the edges. And if she wasn't mistaken, the tall dark haired woman who was standing at the back of the room had almost said, 'Do I have to go home now?' Looking at the scene in front of her, she realised that although she had nearly nicked her man, she had probably stopped the blossoming of something special. If Cartwright was to go home tonight, would she ever contact Connolly again? Brown eyes flicked over to where Claire was standing. The blonde was half turned away from her, and her gaze seemed to be more interested in the wood finish on the desk.

'No. It would be best if you stayed exactly where you are for the time being.' Claire's face turned sharply towards the policewoman, the expression almost hopeful. 'I'll let you know when it's safe to return.' For once in her life Fiona didn't get the buzz she usually felt when she had solved a case. Part of her was feeling the same kind of disappointment the other two women were trying to hide. 'I'll call you later. But expect to stay at Ms Connelly's tonight.'

As she turned to the door, Fiona heard her name being called. Looking back she realised Jenny was standing right behind her, although she didn't even hear her move. 'Thank you, Sergeant Houghton. Thank you so much.' A hand was extended, but instead of the expected handshake, she felt herself wrapped in strong arms. For a fleeting moment, Fiona allowed the fullness of the embrace seep through her. It was good to allow someone in close once in a while - although it was a pity it wasn't the person she wanted to be holding her.


He wasn't in. Did they expect him to be? No. So why did they all feel disappointed? Even when they kicked his door down and found evidence of what he had plotted, the feeling of satisfaction and a job well done didn't come back. Police were swarming Foster's place, so if he did decide to come back he would have the heads up that his number was well and truly up.

Funnily enough, he did come back, but none of them knew it. David Foster had driven past the top of the road where he lived, and nearly been blinded by the blue flashing lights. After parking his car on a side street he had ventured towards his house. The police were completely unaware of his presence, probably because of the crowds of people coming out of their houses to see what was going on. He even heard his name mentioned a few times by both police and neighbours. He wanted to laugh aloud; wanted to shout his victory over the people he believed to be scum. Here he was, standing outside his home surrounded by at least thirty people, and no one knew. It never entered his head that no one give two shits about the insignificant man loitering on the edges - all he cared about was getting another one over the police.

Turning, he made his way back to his car. He had only come back to grab a jumper before he went back to Cartwright's house, but he felt that he didn't need to now. Knowing he was unstoppable made him feel a lot warmer.


Fiona made the call to Jennifer Cartwright and explained that for the moment David Foster was not in police custody. Even though she had witnessed the reticence the dark haired woman had shown when she had thought her life could get back to normal, the policewoman still didn't like to admit she had failed. After she finished the call she slumped back into the seat of her squad car. Her shift was over, but once again she didn't want to go home. What was the point? All that was waiting for her was her mail.

Forty five minutes later Fiona was slipping the key into the lock of Jennifer Cartwright's house. Something deep down had niggled her. David Foster was nowhere to be seen, and from what she knew about the man, there was no way he would just fade into the woodwork. As far as she knew he didn't know where Jenny was, so the most obvious place he would return to would be the place where she lived. And when he showed up, she would be there to nick him. She also knew deeper down that she should have told the rest of her team what her plans were.

Closing the door behind her, she fumbled along the walls trying to find the light switch. Flick. Nothing. Flick. Still nothing. 'Must have blown a fuse,' she muttered into the darkness. Moving forward, the policewoman felt for the doorway under the stairs, the usual place to find the fuse box, before laughing to herself. Slipping her hand inside her tunic she pulled out a torch. As she flicked it on, the light bounced from the woodwork of the stair cupboard and hit her in the eyes making her flinch momentarily.

Pulling the door open she leaned inside and flashed her torch into the space. Amazingly, Cartwright's closet space was not cluttered with crap like her own. It seemed organised in some weird way. Maybe if Fiona hadn't been thinking such random thoughts she may have heard the creak of the floorboards behind her - or maybe she didn't hear it was because her head was in a pseudo isolation booth. Whatever the reason, she didn't know a person was there until she felt the blow to the back of her head. Weirdly enough, being hit on the back of the head doesn't necessarily knock you out as it is supposed from all the movies. Sometimes it just hurts like hell and makes the receiver a little dazed and sluggish to react. It also has the same affect on the deliverer, but unfortunately for the policewoman, not for as long. That was when the rein of blows set in - the violent hammering of fists on her neck, head and shoulders, all of which were taking her further and further down the route of blackness. To give her credit, she did try to fight back, however, the lack of space to turn, the inability to lift her hands up and guard against the assailant's fists of fury were two of the things that stopped her being able to protect herself.

Then it was over. Black. The world around her had faded away into a realm of painless oblivion. It's just a pity it didn't stay that way.


Chapter Nine

Claire and Jenny stayed until closing. Both of them had expected to hear from the policewoman before the night was over, but nothing. As far as they knew she was still on the lookout for the bloke they now knew was David Foster. However, what they didn't know is that Fiona had found him, or, more like, he had found her, and not in the way they were expecting. Instead of him being carted off in the back of a police car and spending time behind bars, what in reality was happening was the female officer was in the boot of Foster's car and was being driven away from Norwich. Not too far from the city, but far enough to shake off the rest of the police he knew would be looking for the woman in the back.

So, it was back to Claire's place for both of them. And if truth be known, they were both feeling some kind of relief. Maybe relief is the wrong word, here. More like a guilty pleasure that they would have at least one more night together. That seems a better way to describe it. However, considering they were both unaware of the other woman's attraction, the extra night might as well have not existed. Neither woman was willing to move things on, which was probably the right way to go. What if Claire made a move on Jenny and then it became blaringly obvious that she only reciprocated because of what had happened to her? Or Jenny slipped an errant arm around the restaurant owner's shoulders and Claire thought she was doing so out of some kind of comfort? These are just two of the scenarios that were whirling around the women's heads, not to mention the point of knowing if the other woman was a lesbian or not. That seemed to be quite a biggy, although deep down in the deepest regions of their guts, they knew the other woman was of the same ilk. Once again, that didn't help matters much.

After showering, Claire began to prepare a light supper for them both, as they had not had the opportunity to sit down and eat. As she opened the fridge door, she felt all the hairs rise on the nape of her neck.

'Let me do that.' Turning, Claire saw Jenny standing in the doorway. Long, dark, wet hair was pushed away from the critic's face revealing the glow created from a hot shower. Blue eyes seemed lighter in the glare of the kitchen, and as Claire seemed to feel herself drawn in, the woman spoke again. 'It's the least I can do, considering all you have done for me.' Whilst she was speaking, the woman had moved closer, her height dwarfing the blonde. Gently, Jenny slipped her hand around the courgette Claire was holding, and paused. 'What do you fancy?' The question, albeit innocent, came out as a purr, making the restaurant owner's eyes dart from twinkling blue to the phallic object they were both holding - freeze - then move back to the waiting gaze of the beautiful woman before her. She could hear, as well as feel, the gulp pushing its way down her throat. 'Fancy something hot?' Another pause. 'Or quick?' Quick and hot, please. 'Are you hungry?'

Claire really wanted to ask 'Hungry for what?', but decided she had allowed the simple offer of something to eat turn into something she had more of an appetite for. Shifting her leg, Claire felt the telltale heat emanating from the apex of her legs, shortly followed by the lubricating sensation that made speaking difficult. What she wanted to do was to lean forward and brush her lips across the dark red mouth of the woman in front of her, as she believed that would taste better than anything either of them could conjure up. Her heart was thudding against her chest and she was having difficulty containing the erratic breathing that wanted to spurt out in ragged bursts. Looking down again, she stared at the vegetable they were both holding before she allowed her eyes to absorb the contours of Jennifer Cartwright's fingers. Long, firm, and strong, and only mere millimetres away from touching her own. This was getting ridiculous - she was getting turned on with the promise of something hot, quick, and positively fecund - but in reality was in fact food for her stomach rather than her libido. More was the pity. Cool air from the open fridge was hitting the back of her, but that wasn't the reason she had goose bumps racing down her arms. Realising she hadn't answered, she quickly looked up. Instead of seeing confusion, or irritation, for her silence, she believed she saw something very similar to what she had been experiencing. Those blue eyes were half closed and absorbing her face, especially her mouth. The reason why she knew this, considering the look was short, was because the taller woman realised she had been caught. Claire had watched the slow movement of the gaze travel from her mouth back to her eyes, and upon contact - blue into green - the critic had jumped back. This, in turn, allowed the courgette to be tossed into the air and fly as in slow motion into the space separating the startled women.

Splat. And silence.

'Maybe something without a courgette.' Claire's response seemed to hit the air with a punch, until Jennifer emitted a laugh. Then another. And another, which was shortly joined by Claire's laughter. Naturally the laughter quietened and the air became expectant once again.

'Claire?' Jennifer's tone was soft. 'Thank you.'

The reason for the thanks didn't need explaining, although Jenny wanted to add that she wasn't just thankful for the welcome she had been given, or even the support. If she had been brave enough, she had wanted to thank the blonde for saving her in more ways than one. For the first time in a long time, Jennifer Cartwright had realised that she could feel again. Claire nodded and smiled gently. 'Go and sit down. I'll call you when it's done.' Claire moved as if to pick up the splattered vegetable. 'And you can leave that. Go on. I'll sort this out.' As Claire chuckled and moved towards the door, Jenny watched her move. Why does this woman have such an effect on me? Sighing softly, she bent down to gather the mess into her hands, missing the longing look from the blonde woman in the doorway.

An hour later, food eaten and plates cleaned away, the two women were seated in the front room both nursing a hot drink. It seemed natural for them to be together; the only thing unnatural was the space between them. Both were tired, but both didn't want this evening to be over, as they believed this would be the final time they would be in each other's company. Both women wanted to ask the same thing. 'Will I ever see you again after this is all over?' But neither had the nerve. It was such a simple question - one that could be interpreted as innocent, as they were friends now, weren't they? The more they thought about it, the more insistent the question became, almost like the ultimate question.

'I would have thought we would have heard something by now.' Jenny's dulcet tone broke the silence, making Claire's head shoot up from its reverie. 'Fiona said she would call if they had caught him.' Part of her wanted the man who had made the last few days of her life a living nightmare behind bars, whilst another part of her wanted something completely different.

'It's late, though. Maybe she didn't want to disturb us at this time of night.' Or maybe that fruitcake was still on the loose and looking at them through night vision goggles as she spoke. 'She'll probably call tomorrow.' A nod of a dark head, then silence. A few minutes passed before Claire ventured on. 'Will you be happy to go back home?' Jenny's head shot up, blue eyes boring into her own, and momentarily unnerving the blonde. 'I mean ... erm ... to get back to your normal life?'

What is normal? Working? And when not working, doing nothing? Her life was not the most sociable, mainly out of choice. All she had was her home, and at that precise moment, the thought of leaving this beautiful woman behind and going back to a shell of a house was the furthest thing from her heart.

'To tell you the truth. No.' Shit. I don't want to go down this path. If I start now, I'll tell her everything. I'll tell her I have never felt so alive;. never wanted to be with someone as much as I want to be with her. 'I feel ... I feel like my home is no longer there.' I feel my home is with you - stupid, I know. I barely know you. 'Since Foster invaded my house - I don't think I'll feel safe there ever again.'

Stay with me. Stay. Please. I'll take care of you. I'll make you safe again. 'What will you do? Sell up? Move on?' Don't. Please. Don't leave here. Don't hide away. 'Make a fresh start somewhere else?'

'I'll probably move in with my brother.' And spend the rest of my life regretting what I am losing. 'He'll be home next week. I'm sure I can cope with a few days in my old place. Give me time to sort out estate agents and stuff.'

'You could ...' the words were jamming, 'You could always stay here.' too forward - you're being too forward, Connolly, 'until your brother comes back.' Both women couldn't understand the emotions that were racing through them. It had been the matter of days since they had first met, and the feelings that were already in place were bordering on completely irrational. With that thought in mind, Jenny decided to answer in the only way she thought appropriate.

'That's so kind of you. But you've done so much already.' Claire opened her mouth as if to say something, but the dark haired woman continued. 'I would feel much better if I tried to get my life back to some kind of order.' It sounded hard; it had to. Jennifer Cartwright didn't want to upset the small blonde by refusing her hospitality, but that's what it was. One woman reaching out a hand of friendship in a time of need, and the last thing she should do is take the offered hand and lead it in the wrong direction.

Although Claire knew it was the right answer, it didn't stop the feeling of disappointment welling up inside her. Yes. She had wanted Jennifer to stay - but it wasn't just for selfish reasons. David Foster wasn't in custody yet, so that meant he could still get his grubby paws on the object of his despise. Another thing, Claire also knew that the older woman was unnerved about living in a place on her own - which was totally understandable. Someone had invaded her life - physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally, and to walk back into a place once thought to be a refuge and have nothing there to make you feel safe. No. However much she wanted Jennifer to stay because she loved being with her, was nothing compared to why she wanted her to stay for her own well being. But, she would let the topic rest for the evening. Both of them had lived a totally exhausting day, and now was not the time to start arguing about where the best place the enigmatic critic should stay until her brother returned. Tomorrow was another thing, and Claire would make sure she made her views known.

'We'll see.' Claire smiled at the critic, watching her open and close her mouth in silent protest. 'Time for bed, I think.' Standing up, she offered the dark haired woman her hand in invitation. Claire could tell Jenny wasn't too sure what the invitation entailed, as blue eyes furtively shot from the extended hand to the watchful green gaze. 'You need to get some rest, lady.' Cool fingers slipped over Claire's palm and wrapped themselves around her own. A slight pull, and Jennifer was on her feet, her body pressed close to the blonde's. The connection was electric, as all senses switched to overdrive. Heat pumped from pores and fused together, and both women found they couldn't quite pull away. Claire's face was slightly turned upwards, and her gaze was directly in sight of the blue hooded eyes that were devouring her own hungry look. There was no doubt about the attraction now, if the heavy breathing, the rapid heartbeats, the moistening of lips weren't enough to notify the other woman of the intentions behind each action, then the pressing of erect nipples pushing themselves from thin cotton should have been the more than enough.

Heads tilted, mouths moved closer, eyes began to close readying themselves for the imminent contact. Blood pumped inside both their heads making it almost impossible to hear anything - this was it. This was the point that they had both been avoiding. That was not to be. It seemed there was no other way forward than to act upon this desire; this need crashing through them. Hands sidled around pliant flesh and found purchase on curves and softness. Fingers began to dig into skin and pull the other closer ... closer ... closer. It was here; the time was now.

A shrill beeping noise invaded their ears; invaded this moment of perfect connection. Jenny shook her head slightly as if the action would dismiss the noise and send it back to the place where it couldn't stop the joining of two hungry mouths. But no. It became more insistent. More demanding. Rising in pitch and anger. Claire pulled back slightly, the momentum of moment disturbed by reality - the ringing of Jenny's phone.

'You'd better ...'


Without loosening her grip, Jennifer slipped one had away and tucked it inside her sweat pants pocket. Flipping the lid, Claire watched as Jenny's pupils changed from dilation to small black orbs.

'It's Fiona.' Claire scrunched her face as if to voice both their thoughts. It was gone one o'clock in the morning. Why would the policewoman ring them at this time?

'Hello Jennifer.' Although Claire couldn't hear what was being said, she knew that something was terribly wrong. The colour fled the face of the woman she was holding, leaving her ashen.

'Who ... Who is this?' Jenny's voice broke slightly, as deep down she knew it was David Foster. The one thing she didn't know was why he was using Sergeant Houghton's phone. However, it wasn't long before she knew everything. And that was even more worrying.


Fiona watched the man talking on the phone. Although she had pains shooting through her skull, the gag round her mouth, and her hands tied tightly behind her back, the only feeling she could muster was anger. Not at him - at herself. All the way through her training and her career, she had been told - and even told the rookies she had trained - you don't go into a situation alone. And what did she do? Take all those years and warnings, put them in a bag, and then throw them to the wind. Now she had to sit and observe the grinning cretin taunting the woman she had sworn to protect. Thankfully, Foster was not aware she was in fact awake, but the amount of times he had dropped her whilst trying to get her into the motel room - it was either waking her or be in a bloody coma.

The conversation she could hear was one sided - obviously. David Foster was asking for a trade - Cartwright for her. Fiona felt her teeth grit together and tried to keep still as Foster looked over to her. Shit. Don't let him come over here. She heard him stand and step forward, feeling his nervousness fill the space in front of her. Her nostrils picked up the scent of sweat - not the pheromone filled scent of a man who has been working out, but the stale stench of someone unclean. Her stomach roiled, but she kept her eyes closed.

'No police. If I see anyone with you, she gets it.' Silence. 'Don't fuck me about. I'll call you when I have decided where and when.' Fiona heard the end call beep of her phone, the familiarity of the noise allowing some semblance of normalcy infiltrate the surreal situation. Then hot breath whipped across her face. Foster was leaning over her now and she concentrated on not moving a muscle. A sharp pain shot through her cheek as Foster pinched to see if this would wake her. Not satisfied with her lack of response, he pinched harder until his nail broke through the skin and she felt the telltale rush of blood slip from the wound and trickle down and soak into the gag. 'Fucking dyke.' Then he moved away. A slam came from somewhere over the other side of the room, but the policewoman still waited before tentatively opening her eyes a crack. The room was empty, and she hoped he had gone out for while. However, the sound of a shower starting up informed her that if she wanted to get out of this she would have to move fast.

Darting her eyes around the room, she frantically searched for something she could use to free her hands. Nothing. Bloody bubble wrap nation and health and safety. Where had all the sharp edges gone? If she was in a Hollywood blockbuster she would have countless things to use, but alas, she was in Norfolk and the sharpest thing she had was her tongue, and even that had been blunted. Looking across the bed she saw a few things littered there: a laptop - turned off; paper and a pen; and her police notebook, open.

'Oh shit,' was mumbled behind the material stopping her releasing the epithet into the air. If Foster had read her notebook, he would know where Cartwright was staying now; know that she was alone with one other female. He would also know there was no entry about her going to Jennifer Cartwright's house that evening, therefore no one else would know she was missing. There was only one thing she could do, and that was get out of here. 'No shit.' Pulling her hand against the trappings around her wrist, she could feel the burn of the rope against her skin. However much it hurt, allowing Foster to carry on with whatever plan he had conjured up in his perverted little head would hurt a lot more. The sound of the water was still thundering in the bathroom, but she knew it would only be the matter of minutes before her captor would be back in the room. More hectic twisting and pulling - more heat and smarting of the material - more give in the bindings. If she could just have a little while longer, she would be able to break free.

Clunk. The water stopped and so had her chance. Standing swiftly, she turned her back to the bed and bent her knees, groping around on the covers to get what she needed. The cool metal slipped begrudgingly into her hand and she slipped the slender object up her sleeve before thudding the chair back on the floor. Fiona didn't have time to get back into her space before the door flew open and a half naked dripping Foster stood in the doorway, his mouth half open. Instinctively, he was on the defensive, picking up her own baton from just inside the doorway of the en suite. Holding the weapon in front of him, he edged forward.

'So, you decided to wake up did you?' His eyes flicked to the bed trying to discern if there was anything missing. 'What have you been up to?' His voice was sickly sweet, yet held that patronising tone parents use on naughty toddlers. 'Trying to get away, are you?' He tutted and shook his head. 'We can't have that, can we? Not when we have so much to do.' Foster was nervously looking past her, then at her, then past her again. Scrunching up his eyes, he deliberated before saying. 'You've taken something, haven't you? What did you take?' As if I'm going to tell him. Fiona rolled her eyes at him and jutted her face forward to indicate she was gagged, and that maybe he was a moron. Reaching forward, Foster slipped his fingers behind the material stopping the policewoman answering him and pulled it down sharply.

'Dickhead.' That was the only word Sergeant Houghton could say, as the next thing she knew the baton was flying to the side of her head at lightning speed. It felt as if the pain splintered into tiny pieces and ricocheted inside her head before allowing the darkness to take her over once again.


It had been over an hour since David Foster had first spoken to Jennifer Cartwright on the phone, and he still hadn't made contact with his demands. The kiss that they believed was destined to happen had been pushed to one side, almost forgotten, but not quite. Nervously, they sat in the kitchen, Jen's phone taking centre stage on the middle of the wooden dining table. Conversation had been limited after the initial shock, where both women had been stunned before trying to argue out what they should do. Claire had valiantly tried to divert Jenny's decision to agree to Foster's demands, as one thing she did know was this would not end well.

'It's my fault she's in this situation.'

'It's her job. This is what she is trained for.' Claire had tried to stop the tears from bursting from her, but to no avail. All the emotions came crashing over; the want she had for the woman in front of her; the fear the woman she wanted would get injured or worse still.

Softening her tone, the dark haired woman continued her argument, 'And by getting her out of that situation, she can do her job.' Jenny leaned forward and lifted Claire's hand into her own before raising it to her mouth. A tender kiss hit the skin, sending shivers down the blonde's spine, stopping the tears mid flow. Looking up she met concerned blue eyes and she wanted to cry again. Instead she lunged forward and grabbed the startled critic, pulling her into a hug.

'I ... don't ... I don't want you ... to go.' Sobs broke free and she cried harder. Jenny shushed the woman in her arms, rhythmically brushing her hands up and down the blonde's back. Honestly speaking, Jenny didn't want to go either, but there was no way she could let the policewoman get hurt on her account. Phoning the station was out of the question, as for all she knew Foster knew every move she made. She didn't want the responsibility of getting anyone hurt, especially the woman who had gone out of her way to solve her case.

Claire found the motion of the strong hands on her back almost hypnotic, and the tears subsided into solitary sobs that racked up from her chest like a child who has cried too long and too hard. If only I could just keep holding her - I would know she was safe. It wasn't that she didn't care for Fiona - not in the slightest. But she knew that in this situation the policewoman would have a better chance of getting out of this unscathed.

The atmosphere in the kitchen was charged yet weirdly calm: the air of expectation apparent, yet unnoticed. Until the phone rang.

Jenny lifted one hand from Claire's back, reached across the table and flipped the lid. This time she didn't announce who the caller was, as they both knew already. A dark head tilted to one side, as Jenny listened to what the caller had to say. 'Why don't you just get to the point, Foster? Too busy jacking off?' Claire's head shot up. What was she doing? Why was she taunting him? 'Yeah. Whatever.' Jennifer's tone seemed distant and disinterested, but the blonde could see the anticipation and worry on her face. 'No I haven't called the police. I don't need to.' A dismembered laugh travelled down the phone and its tinny sound hovered between both the women, as Jenny had moved the phone away before bringing it back. 'Where?' A nod. 'When?' another nod. 'Will it be a fair swap? I'm not going anywhere unless I see Sergeant Houghton is ok.' She listened again, and her top lip pulled back into a snarl making the blonde's heart race just a tad more than it was already. 'That's the deal. Take it or leave it. If I can't see her, you can go and fuck yourself.' The dark haired woman flipped the lid of her phone shut and ultimately finished the call. As soon as she did, the stoic expression she had sported evaporated and she revealed the fear and vulnerability once again. 'Crap. I think I pissed him off.'

Green eyes met blue and held them. 'Where are we meeting him?'

'We ... WE are not meeting him anywhere. I'm meeting him.' Jenny tried to move, but Claire held on.

'You are not going into this alone. You can't call the police - so, that leaves me.'

'And what if he hurts you too? What if Fiona is already out of the picture? I couldn't ...' at this Jenny's voice broke. 'I couldn't live with that, Claire. I couldn't let you get hurt on account of me.'

'And I can't let you walk into this alone.' Tears welled in the critic's eyes, but she refused to let them spill. 'He isn't a man to be trusted, Jen. How do we know he isn't outside right now watching every move we make?' One tear escaped. 'He could wait for you to leave and then come in here for me. More ammo for him that way.' Claire knew she was hitting below the belt, but she had to do everything and anything to make sure Jennifer Cartwright didn't venture out without her. Another tear escaped and raced to catch the previous one, which had just hit the rise of Jennifer's lip. Without a thought, Claire leaned forward and brushed her lips over the errant tear, and then brushed her lips over Jennifer's again just to feel the softness. Initially, the older woman was stunned by the action, but by the time Claire had nearly made contact twice, the critic responded. Lips met lips, softly, urgently, restrained although hungry. Mouths opened and tongues tentatively entered meeting no resistance. Whatever the initial reason for the kiss, it was forgotten, as desire raged in the place of concern. In this kiss, there was no threat, no trade, and no danger. In this kiss, all that mattered was the meeting of two people - the meeting of two mouths; two desires; two souls that longed for each other. Hands moved over backs, over arms, hovered over jaws. Mouths broke free and peppered small kisses over soft skin; over bare throats and collarbones and then back to mouths again. Claire moved over and slipped onto the dark haired woman's lap, her legs sliding around her waist. Not wanting to break the kiss, Jennifer leaned her head back and opened her mouth wider to allow the other woman inside. Reality was fading. Her surroundings were disappearing. Nothing mattered apart from this; this sensation rising in her gut and spreading like sunshine throughout her body. It felt as if the charge of life she was given was shooting through her fingers and toes, flying through the tips of her hair and illuminating the world around her. She felt alive.

On that thought reality came flooding back. Alive. Yes. But for how long?


Chapter Ten

She wasn't too sure how long she had been out for, all she knew was she was awake and stuffed back into the trunk of the car. By the movement and noise, she could also tell they were on the move again. Pity she didn't know where or for what purpose. Sharp pains raced around her head, and she vaguely remembered Foster brandishing her baton. 'Looks like he used it,' flitted through her head before she tried to laugh past the reapplied gag. 'Fuck!' The pain increased and she could feel the telltale clenching of her stomach. One thing she didn't want to do was throw up when her mouth was covered.

Testing the bindings on her wrists, she realised Foster had retied them. Then it hit her. Did he find what he was looking for? Bending her finger back, she deftly felt inside the cuff of her jacket. Just inside where the cuff of her shirt was, she felt the coolness of the object she had swiped from the bed. If she could have grinned at that moment, she would have.

Now to get out of these ties. In the darkness of the boot, Sergeant Fiona Houghton began to wriggle knowing that if Foster kept on driving for a little while longer, she would have no problem as soon as he pulled over. All she hoped was he actually got her out of the boot and didn't leave her waiting until she could be picked up by whoever was going to be there - if he was actually going to trade, that is.

That thought increased the urgency in her actions. If push comes to shove, I'll rip my way through the back seat and strangle the creep. A pause in both struggling and planning. But if he leaves me here, how can I strangle him? Fiona looked more confused with her sidetracking and blamed it on probable concussion before beginning to wriggle once again. Randomly, a thought of one of those stupid emails popped into her head. I could punch out the taillight and wave my hand out like they said. She stopped wriggling. If my hands were untied that it is. Snorting, she continued to impersonate a badly trained escapologist.

David Foster was too busy thinking about what he was going to do to hear the commotion coming from the rear of his car. The evening had not started the way he had envisioned it would. When he had heard the front door open at Jennifer Cartwright's house, he had thought it was the woman herself. It wasn't until he had smacked the bending figure countless times over the head that it occurred to him to check. Thankfully, the person had brought a torch; therefore he didn't have to go back upstairs where he had been hiding to get his own. To say he was disappointed at first would be an understatement. He had actually kicked the woman lying on the floor when he realised she was a cop. But on closer inspection, he realised it was the bitch from the hospital. God. That grin hurt. There, dead to the world, was his leverage.

Getting her out of the house unnoticed had been a problem, as he had to get his car from two streets down. There was no way he would be able to carry her that far without being spotted. 'Good job I thought to bring the rope,' flitted through his head as he raced back into Cartwright's bedroom. The rest had been a piece of cake. Well, in his mind anyway. He was even beginning to forgive Cartwright's insolence on the phone, putting it down to her attempting to put on a brave face. Not for long, though. He grinned once again.

Seeing the turn off to Mousehold Heath, he indicated and pulled in the empty car park. He was early - he made sure of it. The place he had arranged to meet Jennifer Cartwright was about a hundred yards from where he would leave his car, as he wanted to make sure he could get a good look about him in case she had been stupid enough to contact the boys in blue. It was gone three in the morning, and the woman who had haunted his every waking and sleeping moment would be arriving near the football field in less than thirty minutes.

Slamming the door shut, he slipped his palm over the bodywork of his car and stopped as it reached the boot. 'No point getting her out yet.' Turning, he sniffed the air, almost primitively. Foster didn't know why he did it; it just made him feel like he was in charge somehow. Leaning towards the boot of the car, he spoke.

'If you try to escape I will hunt you down. Got it?' He waited for a moment as if expecting a reply, forgetting that the woman he was talking to was gagged. Touching the inside pocket of his jacket, he felt the hard handle of the knife he was carrying - the same knife he couldn't wait to use on a tall, dark, bitch of a woman who had everything coming to her. Anger consumed him again, and he couldn't resist the urge to kick the bumper of his own car. If she fucks this up, I'll kill the both of them. Another kick, and he was so caught up in his hatred, he didn't even realise the noise that came with the action. Not that it mattered, as the only person to hear it was waiting patiently for him to get it out his system, mouthing the word, 'wanker' into the darkness.


Jennifer Cartwright was not happy about this. Not happy in the slightest. Not because a lunatic was out to get her; not because the policewoman was a hostage in her place; not even because she didn't know what the outcome would be. It was because Claire Connolly was sat next to her and refusing to get out of the car. It was Claire's car - granted - but they had both agreed that it wouldn't be the smartest move if she were to take a taxi to the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. However, on the 'smartest moves' list, it didn't encourage two people setting themselves up when one could do it just as well. But Claire wouldn't budge.

Starting the car, Jenny saw the glimmer of a smile flit across the blonde's face, and she let a sigh hit the air.

'Promise me you'll stay in the car.' Claire grunted out a response that sounded both like a yes and a no. 'Please.' Jenny turned to Claire and waited for her to make eye contact. The streetlight hovered nervously inside the car, and for a split second, the green eyes Jenny had spent the last few days dreaming about, glinted. Flashes of the kiss they had shared pushed their way to the forefront of the critic's mind, and she had to shake her head to dispel them. This was not the time to be distracted. 'You haven't answered me.'

'I did.' Claire looked out of the window, avoiding the older woman's waiting gaze. 'We'd better get going.' Truth be told, Claire couldn't continue with the conversation. She knew that if push came to shove, she would be out of the car and tearing at the man who had done so much damage to the woman next to her. Another reason she couldn't continue was because it would end up with one or two things. Firstly, she would sob uncontrollably and probably grip onto the dark haired woman's top. Or, more than likely, secondly, she would sob uncontrollably, grip the dark haired woman's top, and beg her not to go. Therefore, the best thing was to avoid looking at the beautiful woman who was seated next to her.

Slipping the car into gear, Jenny pulled out of the driveway and made her way to God only knew what.


David Foster saw the lights of the car meander around the intricate bends that lead to the car park on Mousehold Heath. His heart rate was out of control, sweat beaded his face and neck, and he was having a difficult time controlling the manic laughter that was building up from his gut. This was the point he had been waiting for. This was the time where he could get that interfering bitch Cartwright back for all the lies she had spouted about him. It wasn't until he saw the silhouettes of two people in the car did he let the anger spurt from within him, and he smacked his hand on the bark of the tree he was standing against. Skin tore from the palm, but in the state he was in, he didn't feel it.

'Stupid cunt!' hissed through his teeth, and he scrambled down the embankment to make his way closer to the car that had pulled into a space. His own car was parked further down - a good way to make her believe he hadn't arrived yet, therefore throwing her off her guard.

Straining his eyes, he could just about make out the shapes in the car. 'Cartwright is driving,' he thought. But it took him a little longer to figure out the person next to her; the person who was grabbing onto Cartwright as if trying to stop her getting out. Touching his jacket, he felt the comforting hardness of the knife he had stowed away there, allowing himself to grin with the scenarios he knew he would make her undergo. Then, by some freak of nature, the moon seemed to glint over the windshield of the car, exposing the frightened face of the blonde he had seen on Saturday night. 'Why ... What is she doing here?' Confusion clouded his thoughts for a few seconds, before the evil grin was back. A woman. Three women, in fact. In David Foster's head he believed that he could more than handle three women - he was a real man after all, not like that freak of nature stuffed into the boot of his car.

Click. The door opened and the interior light flashed on, lighting up the surrounding area. Foster could hear the women arguing - something about not leaving without the other. How noble - and how stupid. And better still - how on earth? As far as he was aware, Cartwright had no connections to the woman in the restaurant prior to Saturday night, and by what he had read of the copper's notes, Cartwright had been staying at someone called Claire Connelly's, whoever that could be.

'No. I said no. You stay here.' Back to reality to for Foster, and he moved behind a trunk close to where the two women were arguing. 'Claire. You can't come. I don't want you to get hurt.'

Right. That's not true. Cartwright would hurt anyone to get a good review.

Claire Connolly began to answer back, but the conversation was muffled. All Foster could hear was Cartwright's responses. Well, until the passenger side of the car swung back and a shorter woman stepped out.

'I'm here now. And I'm not letting you go in there alone.'

The atmosphere between the two women was electric, and this gave Foster another one of his great ideas. Why just go for Cartwright when it was obvious there was something else here she prized more than herself? Funnily enough, he had never thought of her as a lezza. In his head, all lesbians wore checked shirts and had crew cuts. The blonde hadn't struck him as one either. Nor the copper. If he didn't know himself better, he would have started to believe he was losing his touch.

And on that thought, he decided it was time.

'Good evening, ladies. Glad you could come and visit.'

Both women looked into the darkness surrounding them, the trees creating menacing shapes across the ground. Foster still held back - he wanted to see what they were going to do before he let them see him. It was almost as if he was creating the setting for an elaborate stage production and he was the director stroke stage manager. Everything was going his way now - he had the upper hand.

'Show yourself you cowardly little prick!' Jenny's voice ricocheted around the darkness. He felt his teeth grit together. 'What's the matter? Scared because there are two of us?' Claire tried to shush the tall woman next to her, but Jenny wasn't having any of it. She had spent too long being under the black cloud this man had cast over her life. 'I'm here! Or have you lost your bottle?'

That was it. Foster couldn't take anymore of her self-righteous heckling. He knew she was doing it to throw him off course - maybe make him do something wrong so she could wriggle her way out of another of his well planned scenarios. This time he wouldn't fall for it. He was in control - or so he believed.

'Ms Cartwright! So glad you could come.' Stepping out from his safety of the trees, the moonlight cast an eerie glow around the car park making it appear surreal. Both women turned in his direction, and he felt a rush of power race throughout him. Standing straighter, he walked closer, but still kept at a safe distance just in case one, or both, of the women took it upon themselves to become the hero. Pausing, he waited for some kind of acknowledgement, but when none appeared, he began to walk around the women like a cat stalking a mouse. 'It's been a long time, Jennifer.'

Even seeing Foster in the flesh didn't bring any memories back to the dark haired woman. This weedy little man with the trace of a six o'clock shadow prowling around them didn't incite fear - just anger, and it took all she had to not reach out and throttle him.

'Where's Sergeant Houghton?' Claire spoke first, mainly to get her presence recognised. Foster completely ignored her and directed his attention back to Jenny.

'I've been waiting to get you on your own for so long now. Glad you accepted my invitation.'

'Invitation!' Jenny almost shouted. 'You call drugging me, breaking into my home, stalking me, kidnapping a policewoman an invitation?' A snort left her mouth in disgust. 'You are one crazy son of a bitch.' Foster clenched his hands into fists and resisted the urge to slug the woman who had wrecked his life. Claire slipped her hand into the critic's and tried to pull her back. She didn't want this to get even more out of hand than it already was. There was no point aggravating the man circling them; he seemed agitated enough as it was. The blonde had not missed that the man in front of her was becoming distressed with Jenny's taunting. His hands appeared to be pumping the blood into his fingers, but in reality they were flexing in readiness. Although the moon did its best to illuminate David Foster, she still couldn't read his expression. And that's what worried her the most. He was like a wild card; a loose cannon; an overinflated balloon ready to burst with bile and violence taking them all down with him. Looking down, she absorbed the sight of her hand joined firmly with Jennifer Cartwright's. It felt so right to be holding hands with her; so right in a situation that was so wrong. Considering she had known the woman next to her for such a short period of time, she felt a connection so deep with her. And she didn't want this to end, on more than one level. A flood of self doubt washed through her, as she realised that if they both got out of this unscathed, it didn't guarantee that Jenny would want her when her life went back to normal.

Focus, Claire. Focus on the here and now.

And the here and now greeted her once again with the fucked up situation of a mad man, a deserted parking lot in the middle of the night; in the middle of the bloody woods. And then there was the woman standing next to her, the woman with the warm, confident grasp of her hand, the woman who was in danger from the aforementioned mad man in the aforementioned bloody dark woods in the middle of nowhere. The way Jennifer was riling him; the anger in her words; the matter of fact way she demanded answers - these were not characteristic to the woman she had been attracted to, and Claire also knew that they were all an act. However, it didn't stop the fact that this situation was one that had spiralled way out of control, act or no act.

Foster had stopped moving by now and was standing directly in front of the critic. His hands had stopped balling into fists, but one kept on stroking the front of his jacket in an almost loving way. Thoughts of rape entered both the women's minds, but neither of them said a word. Waiting for him to speak, the surrounding area had lost the silence that had resounded previously. Noises from the woods of nocturnal creatures filled out the atmosphere giving some semblance of reassurance that this was not a dream. Although, considering the situation, a dream would have been better that the stark reality of being in one of the loneliest spots with a man who had set out to destroy Jennifer Cartwright and already had a woman hidden away somewhere.

'Where's Sergeant Houghton?' Claire asked again, but this time Foster turned his attention to her, his top lip curling in distaste.

'You must be Claire Connolly.' It wasn't spoken like someone would say when being introduced. It was more like a statement that should be followed by an apology from the person spoken to for existing. 'And what is your purpose here?'

Claire didn't answer his question, just repeated, 'Where is Sergeant Houghton?'

The laugh Foster let out was bordering on the unhinged, and the echo of it rang around the area disturbing the birds from the trees. Stopping abruptly, he leaned forward as if taking the blonde into his confidence. 'Let's just say she won't be disturbing us again, shall we?' Without hesitation, Claire swung her free hand forcefully towards the grinning face of the twat of a man standing in front of her, a movement that was marred by the quick pull back from Jenny. 'Whoohoohoo! Feisty little bitch aren't you?'

Wrapping her free arm around the blonde, Jennifer Cartwright took stock of the situation. Claire was losing her cool, just like she had previously. But that was history now. There was no way to beat down Foster by a full frontal attack. He was too highly sprung; too wily; too comfortable with this situation. What she had to do was play along - take him unawares. Now that was the simple part over, what she had to figure out was how she would do that. The warmth of Claire's body next to hers seemed to calm her even more and she pulled her closer to her. It seemed as if she could do anything with this woman next to her. Furthermore, she would also do anything to make sure Claire didn't get hurt. It wasn't just because this was between David Foster and her; it was more to do with wanting Claire's safety more than her own.

'Enough of the games Foster. I'm here now.' Instinctively, she pushed Claire behind her before moving closer to the man. 'You don't need to hurt anyone else. I'm the one you want.' Foster tilted his head to the side as if trying to read her, his lips pursing as in contemplation. 'All you need to do is exchange me for Sergeant Houghton and let them both go.' She paused. 'And I'll come quietly.' She could hear Claire mumbling behind her, but she didn't turn - she didn't dare turn her back on this monster.

'Things have changed now.' Jenny's forehead creased in confusion. 'Maybe now I'm not content with just you.'

In retrospect, Jennifer Cartwright should have let the comment slide, but something primitive surged within her and all her thoughts about compliance and biding her time slipped away. Lurching forward, she thrust out her hand, palm upwards, and thumped the underside of his jaw making it clack against his top teeth. Claire's hands groped wildly at her jumper, as she hadn't seen what Jenny was trying to do, her gut reaction thought he had grabbed the woman in front of her. Foster reeled backwards, and if Claire had realised what had been going on, she would have let Jenny move forward and finish what she had started. Thump. Another hit to Foster's chest, but this time not as hard, but enough to take him to his knees.


Kicking out her leg, Jenny slammed into his upper arm, and instinctively he grabbed for it. However, by the time she went in for another kick, he was ready. He caught her ankle and twisted her leg. The pain shot through her knee and she cried out, her ability to keep standing quickly leaving her. Claire's hands grabbed for her shoulders in an attempt to steady her, but Foster twisted her leg again making the knee shoot out of the cap. An agonising pain filled her, nausea swamped her stomach, and her vision dimmed.

Foster was grunting now, and standing whilst still holding her leg. Slam. He brought his elbow down on the bend of her knee and she heard the crack before another bout of pain took her over. Vomit climbed her throat and she tried valiantly to swallow it back down. When she hit the floor, her ability to open her eyes evaded her momentarily. It appeared that her sense of hearing became keener, and she heard the cry Claire released. Initially it was one of anger, but after a slapping sound, it changed to pain.

'Don't. Fuck. With. Me.' Each word was accompanied by a blow, and by the depth of the sound, they were punches. Jenny tried to move, tried to open her eyes. She had to stop him. At this rate he would kill Claire. Scrambling around on the floor, she tried to find something - anything - to stop him with. Please. Let there be a rock, a branch, anything. But there was nothing - only dirt. As well as the pain in her leg, she had the pain of the guilt racing through her. It was her fault that Claire was in this situation; her fault that the beautiful and kind little blonde was in the midst of her battle. In fact, that hurt even more. If anything happens to her ...

With that thought, Jenny cracked her eyes open and searched for David Foster. Claire was on her knees and he had his hands around her throat. The blonde was valiantly trying to prise his fingers loose, but Jenny could tell she was weakening. She had to do something now, now before he killed Claire right in front of her. He didn't see her crouch, one leg completely useless. He didn't hear her drag herself over to where he was killing the woman she had come to care for more than her own life. Foster only paid attention when Jenny grabbed onto the back of his jeans and pulled him, her good leg giving way in the process making him land haphazardly on top of her.

Claire slumped forward, gasping air into burning lungs. Initially, all she knew was the vice like grip had gone, and her brain clawed for the reason why she was there in the first place. Then she heard the scrambling a few feet in front of her, and she lifted her face to see a mass of bodies moving in the darkness. Foster, it appeared, was sitting on top of Jenny, and the dark haired woman held him to her as if her life depended on it, which, in fact, it did. Frantically, he squirmed to free himself, uttering curses to the night sky. Claire knew she had to do something, and tentatively began to stand, unsure if she would make it without passing out. Then she saw it. The glint. What is ...

But she didn't have to finish asking herself the question, as she already knew the answer. It was a knife. He had a knife. Frozen, she watched helplessly as if in slow motion as the knife was lifted high into the air to catch the moon's rays before plummeting downwards. A scream hit the air, and she knew Jenny had received the full brunt of it. As his arm lifted once again, the metal was dulled. Pushing herself to move, it appeared as if she was trying to run in quicksand, her arms extended, the shout she omitted sounding like a 45 on 33. Another scream, and the person behind him slumped to the ground, the arms that had been holding him falling loosely like a rag doll.

'You bastard!' Claire was incensed; the blood racing around her body pumping her full of adrenaline. He was turning towards Jenny now, his arm was rising, and the dark haired critic was completely at his mercy. Before she reached him, she witnessed the knife thrust downwards once again, but this time there was no scream - just silence - and that's what made things a damned sight worse. As it lifted once again, Claire kicked out, slamming her foot into his elbow. The knife flew from his hand and landed a few feet away from him. The blonde wasn't going to make the same mistake that Jenny did and try to kick him again. She was going to find the knife and stop the son of a bitch for good. Racing past him, he clawed at her top trying to stop her getting it. Using her knuckles, Claire slammed at his fingers making him grunt in pain. But that didn't stop him. He scrambled up, standing on the prostrate woman in the process.

The panic racing through Claire made her legs like jelly. It was difficult running in a straight line, and even more difficult trying to find the knife in the darkness. What if I don't find it? What if he gets me and kills me before I can save Jenny? These thoughts made her panic more, made her change direction, made her disorientated. Breathing was ragged, her mouth was dry, her eyes flicked wildly over the ground praying that the moon would once again allow her to see the glint of the blade. Foster was right behind her, clutching at air, clutching at cloth. Like a victim of a sniper, Claire dodged, but not for long. A strong hand curled itself around the locks of her hair and yanked her back. Claire felt some of it rip out of her head, and instinctively lifted her hands back as if to free herself. A thump hit her squarely between the shoulders and knocked the wind from her lungs, sending her over before the hand pulled her back again. Another thump, and this time she went down.

David Foster leaned down and placed his mouth next to her ear. 'Your turn now.' However much Claire struggled, he held on. His hot breath slapped against her face. 'But maybe I could have a little fun with you first.'

'Or I could have a little fun with you.' Claire knew it wasn't Jenny. And so did Foster, as she felt him straighten. 'Sorry I took so long. I was a little ... tied up.' Foster didn't let go of her hair, and twisted it as he turned to face the lone voice behind him.

'Come to join the party, Sergeant?'

A pause.

'Nah. I've come to tell you to turn it down. The neighbours are complaining.' There was no humour in her voice, and Claire couldn't quite make out her face. 'So why don't you be a good little boy and move away, eh?'

Slap. Foster delivered a blow to the side of Claire's head knocking her to back to the ground. However, although she was stunned, she hadn't been knocked out, which she believed had been his purpose.

'That's no way to treat a lady, David. Would you treat your own mother like that?'

'Don't talk to me about that bitch,' he spat.

'Maybe you would then.' All the time she was talking, she was moving steadily closer to where they were. Claire saw Fiona glance over to where Jennifer Cartwright lay unmoving on the ground, but still she didn't quaver. 'Why don't you give it up? There is no way you are going to get past me.'

Foster snorted. 'I did before. Or have you forgotten the beating I gave you?'

Instinctively, Fiona raised her hand and touched the side of her face. 'Call that a beating? I've had worse.' She paused. 'In fact, you hit like a girl.' Another pause. 'Scratch that. Some girls hit quite hard. Let's say you hit like a ... um ... let me think.' All the while she was advancing on him, and if he had noticed he didn't move. 'A big fairy. A big weedy fairy.' As she finished the sentence she lurched forward, her head lowered like a raging bull and charged full pelt at the man in front of her. The policewoman's aim was perfect, as Claire heard the air gush from him as one hard head hit soft flesh. David Foster hit the ground with force, shortly followed by Fiona, who landed on top of him. A resounding slap echoed, and then another. Foster was struggling to break free from the hold the copper was delivering, and Claire spotted his arm searching frantically around his head trying to see if he could be lucky enough to find his weapon.

Considering he was a small man, he was wiry. Maybe because he was so full of adrenaline. This enabled him to squirm his other hand free, lock his fingers together, before slamming them as hard as he could into the policewoman's gut. Flying backwards, Fiona uttered a curse before landing full length on the ground in front of him. Claire tried to move, but her head was swimming. She dug her fingers into the ground and tried to pull herself forward, but the pace was too slow. By the time she got there, it would be all over. However, it didn't stop her trying. This was their only chance; and if Jenny was still alive, she had to do whatever she could to save her. Foster had stabbed her three times, and she didn't know where. If he hadn't hit a major organ and killed her instantly, the loss of blood would finish her off.

Foster was on his feet now, and advancing towards the policewoman. However, Fiona didn't look worried. If Claire was seeing things right, she would have sworn she saw her smile. The next action happened so fast it could have easily gone undetected. Sergeant Houghton appeared to flick her wrist before lunging towards Foster's calf. The scream he emitted made Claire freeze in her tracks. What on earth? Then she saw her twist her hand, and Foster released another pain wracked scream before slumping to the ground. Fiona was on her feet instantly, leaving Foster to search around his calf where a thin object was sticking out at an angle. Slam. She hit him squarely at the side of the head, directly at his temple. To say David Foster went down like a sack of shit would be an understatement.

'Now that's how you knock someone out, you dimshit.' Standing straight, she turned to where Claire was kneeling. 'You ok?' Claire nodded, words evading her. 'We need to get the services here.' Fiona walked over to where the blonde was and gently placed a hand on her shoulder, leaned down, and looked her in the eyes. 'It's all over now. Let's see how Jenny is, ok?' Claire nodded again.

One strong hand extended and invited her to take it. Trembling fingers looped through strong cool ones, and with a jerk she was standing again, her legs deliberating whether to hold her.

'He stabbed her. Three times, he stabbed her.' For fleeting moment, fear flashed through the policewoman eyes before she took control once again.

'Let's see how she is, ok?'

Jennifer Cartwright was sprawled on her back, nothing was moving. Fiona crouched beside her and placed her fingers on her neck, moved them slightly, then waited. Claire stood back and watched. It all seemed surreal. An hour ago, this beautiful vivacious woman was kissing her, the life within her pouring out through every pore, and now, now she was pale and still. There was no way she could have survived such a vicious attack. She had been stabbed three times, and by the sound of it, had had her leg broken too, not to mention the amount of blows she had taken.

'There's a pulse. Weak, but one there all the same.' Relief spread through Claire, but she knew it would only be a matter of time before that pulse would fade and Jennifer Cartwright would be no more. 'Check for wounds. We need to stop the bleeding.' Shifting forward, Claire knelt beside the dark haired woman, her hands sweeping over the material of the jeans to see where the dampness was coming from. It would have been so much easier to do if there had been a light. 'I need to see if Foster has my airwaves ... erm ... police radio. We need to get an ambulance here pronto.' Standing up, she paused before moving away. 'We also need to stop the bleeding where possible - it will buy us extra time. Rip up your top. Cover the wounds, then add pressure.'

Leaving her once again, Claire continued to search. A damp patch circled the critic's right thigh, and with more searching, the blonde found the part in the jeans where the knife would have penetrated. Slipping her fingers between the tear, she pulled, hearing the distinctive rip of the material separating. In the background, she heard the policewoman shout that she had found her radio, followed by her seeking assistance. However, she didn't have time to listen, as she had to stop the blood gushing from the wound. Lifting her hand from Jenny's leg, she swiftly took off her shirt and began trying to tear it. Amazing how easy this appears when watching it on TV, when in reality it was a damned sight harder. Frustration was taking over. Why can't I just tear the fucking thing?

Strong hands landed on her own, paused, and then gently took the garment from her. The sound of tearing followed soon after, and Claire was handed strips of her shirt and she placed a long bit over the wound and wrapped it around the thigh.

'Don't tie it yet. See if the bleeding eases with pressure. Only tie it when all else fails.' The orders were spoken calmly and quietly, and Claire felt the woman next to her crouch down once again and begin to search the rest of the victim's body. 'Here. On her upper arm.' More sounds of tearing, as Jenny's top was ripped away from the wound. The blonde scuttled upwards and covered another piece of cloth over the wound. 'Now where else would he ... oh shit ... shit shit shit!' Panic raced through Claire. It must be bad if Fiona has lost her cool. 'We need to make some kind of tourniquet - or raise the wound above heart level ... shit. How are we supposed to do either if we are supposed to do them at all?' Searching to where Fiona's hands were her heart sank. The policewoman was focused on the top left hand side of Jenny's left breast, thus making her heart sink even further. Hopefully, the knife has missed an artery.

'I don't think we should raise her top half - the bottom. We need to raise her legs.' Claire's voice was barely a whisper, but the policewoman nodded in approval.

'And I'm not too sure about a tourniquet either.'

Pushing back onto her haunches, Fiona Houghton assessed the situation, and that was difficult considering it was dark. If what she knew about medical procedure was worth anything, the knife would have missed vital organs, her lungs were further back, and she wasn't sure if the knife could have nipped one, but that didn't stop the bleeding. With three major cuts, this woman would be lucky to survive the trip to the hospital. However, there was no way she was going to tell the blonde woman who was staring at her for guidance - no point in making her hysterical. Swallowing, Fiona knelt back down.

'Right. What we need to do is lift her legs slightly. Get something underneath her, so we can concentrate on her other wounds.' Claire shot her a look that said 'Like what? We don't have anything.' Looking around, Fiona spotted David Foster sprawled on the floor. An idea shot into her head making her grin wolfishly. 'That would kill two birds.' Standing up again, the policewoman raced over to where Foster was, grabbed his legs and began dragging him over to where Jenny and Claire were, her breathing showing the strain of the action. Eventually, she dropped his legs next to the feet of Jennifer Cartwright. 'We'll use him,' she panted, leaned forward and gasping in lungfuls of air before continuing. 'That way we can make sure he doesn't wake up and bugger off - or try to get us when we're not looking.'

It wasn't long before Jenny was perched on the unconscious body of her attacker. Strange to think that the man who had put her in this situation was now the one who was lying in the recovery position at her feet and helping her. Fiona tore more material and pressed it against the cut on the lifeless body. 'Press as hard as you can. They'll be here soon.'

As she said it the wail of the emergency services broke through the quietness of the night. It seemed as if it took them forever to arrive, but in actual fact it had been just over five minutes since Fiona called to until they pulled into the car park. Police officers and paramedics flooded the area, and so did the light. Although Claire knew they had to do their job, it was difficult for her to let go of the soaked cloths that were clamped against Jennifer's body. Eventually, it was Fiona who guided her away to the waiting ambulance.

Sitting on the step, Claire watched them work on the woman lying on the ground. Fear was cascading through her unabashed, and if truth be known, she was more scared now than when Foster was trying to beat the crap out of her. What if she died? What if she left me now that I've only just found her? Tears welled in her eyes, and the sob bore down in her throat making her gasp out a rasping breath. A female paramedic called her name, and it took a moment or two to register that she, too, would be in need of medical attention. What was the point in being alive and well, when the only thing she now believed was worth living for was fighting for her life?

A small torch flashed in her eyes, making her cringe back. A soft hand landed on the top of hers, and Claire heard the woman speak for the first time. It hadn't been the first time the paramedic had tried to get through to the small blonde who seemed vacant, and she had began to worry that a severe concussion was to blame. But when Claire gave her attention, it was obvious the reason why she had seemed so distracted and unfocused was because she was looking at the scene unfolding on the ground behind her. The stretcher was set up, and the prostrate woman was being lifted onto the gurney, her leg strapped in a temporary splint, before two people carried her towards the ambulance where Claire was seated.

Seeing Jennifer so pale and helpless, so still and lifeless, seemed to drive home the fears the small blonde had been harbouring. Nothing. There was no life there whatsoever. Tears slipped unheeded from her eyes, and she didn't have the energy to wipe them away.

'You can get in this one, love.' A gentle voice came from behind her and she recognised it to be Sergeant Houghton's. 'I'm travelling with Foster.' On that note, Fiona cupped Claire's elbow and ushered her inside. 'I'll see you both at the hospital. Make sure you get checked over.' With that, the doors slammed shut. There were three people inside the ambulance: her, the female paramedic, who was still waiting to examine Claire, and the still body of Jennifer Cartwright.

Sitting heavily on the chair, Claire allowed the events to roll over her. Although she had survived the nightmare practically unscathed, it didn't hold much comfort. The paramedic leaned over Jenny, taking her pulse once again, her face solemn.

'Will she ...' the words stuck like broken glass in Claire's throat.

'She's lost a lot of blood, but she's still hanging in there.' The paramedic touched her shoulder gently before continuing. 'The chest wound appeared a lot worse than it was. Probably her attacker couldn't see where he was hitting.'

A trickle of hope seeped into Claire's chest. 'Can I ...'

The paramedic smiled and nodded, the question unspoken but obvious. Claire shifted her body closer to Jenny, her hand searching out the cold clammy one of the critic. Briefly, blue eyes fluttered open and looked straight into the waiting gaze of the small blonde. A trace of a smile hovered over pale lips before the eyes closed once again. It appeared this scenario had come full circle, but this time there was no muttered 'Thank you'. However, the vulnerability was still there. In the matter of days both their lives had been turned around by one man. This man had set out to destroy Jennifer Cartwright, and by the look of the pale woman lying on the stretcher, he had almost succeeded. Claire gritted her teeth in resolution. David Foster was going to pay - one way or another.


Chapter Eleven

Everything happened so fast when they reached the hospital. Ambulance doors flew back, and Jenny was gone before Claire had a chance to step out into the early morning air. Considering it had taken them such a short space of time to actually arrive at the hospital, dawn was breaking and making the day seem relatively safer. Well, it would have felt safer if Claire Connolly hadn't been full of anxiety about what was going to unfold once she entered the disinfectant fuelled smell of the Accident and Emergency unit. Not for herself, for Jenny. The way she had been almost snatched from the ambulance, the urgency in the voices of the people who were tending to the unconscious critic, all accompanied by what Claire had witnessed - something she knew she would never forget.

'Here. Sit in this.' A porter was standing in front of her with a wheelchair. 'Can't have you walking in there of your own free will, can I?' A smile twitched around his mouth, as he hoped it would alleviate the worry he saw on the blonde woman's face. However, he didn't get any response. Maybe not, flicked through his head before he asked her to please sit in the chair and let him guide her to where she was to be. He watched as she lowered herself, nodded in his general direction, and then directed her gaze forward. Although he was not a doctor, or a nurse, he could see the distinct characteristics of shock in this woman. Her concentration was elsewhere, she seemed dazed, her movements were sluggish, she appeared to not hear when he spoke to her, and there was no colour in her face whatsoever.

In truth, Claire was drained. To her, the world around her was working sluggishly and she was the only one who was moving at an accelerated pace. Even when she sat in the wheelchair, she did so to try and slow her movements down so she could get away from the feeling of drowning inside herself. If anyone were to ask her how she was feeling at that moment, she would have to have placed her hand on her heart and sworn that she didn't know. Nothing was real now. It seemed to happen when she had faced the light of the breaking day; faced the fact that Jenny had left and she was alone in the back of an ambulance trying to get out and get to the woman she needed to be with. But it was too much effort. All she wanted to do was sleep now, and let the world continue at its snail's pace; let the world continue to blur and distort.

And then everything went black. It felt peaceful leaving all the worry behind her for an unspecified space of time. If she could have thought anything more, she would have wished that the world would have once again righted itself when she regained consciousness. And that included Jennifer Cartwright being ok. Obviously.


Sergeant Fiona Houghton was fine. Bruised, but fine. In all her years on the police force, the incident the previous night had been in her top ten. Not because of the injuries, but of the being kidnapped and held hostage. Every time she thought of it she wanted to smack herself. She had never allowed herself to be open to such a clumsy attack - never gone into a situation without being on full alert. To go to Jennifer Cartwright's house and not tell anyone - that was stupid, granted. However, she had taken chances like that before and things had never ended up so fucked up. If David Foster had been more capable, maybe she wouldn't be waiting to enter his hospital room to give him his marching orders. The thought of what he could have done to her made her go cold. It was pure luck that she had survived at all, and one mistake she wouldn't repeat. One question that kept slipping into her head was why. Why had she allowed her professionalism and common sense to be so off?

'I'm glad to see you.'

The voice was soft, recognisable, and also the reason she had walked into a situation unguarded. The only thing she couldn't figure out was why that voice was there in the first place. Shouldn't the person who had that beautiful voice be off work until tomorrow? Or even the day after?

Looking around, Fiona faced Laura, who, unlike all the other times she had seen her, was in her everyday clothes. Her eagle eye spotted the rushed attempt to fasten buttons, and if she was correct, there was no bra underneath that shirt. And maybe staring at the woman's chest wasn't the best way to move forward. Moving her eyes upwards, she greeted a dark blue gaze.

'I ...' Laura seemed flummoxed, her face changing colour from pale to red in a wonderfully slow process. The policewoman sat back on the chair and enjoyed the transition from controlled to nervous. Not in a cruel way, though. It was just a pleasant change to see the nurse at a loss of something to say - and also not to be totally in charge of her faculties, something Fiona always seemed to have difficulty possessing when the gorgeous nurse was around. A smile slipped over her lips and she patted the chair next to her.

'Sit with me.'

Cautiously, the nurse sat next to Fiona, her hands resting nervously on her knees. The dark haired policewoman could have had fun with this situation, tormented the nurse for being there, but what was the point? They had both spent too long flirting and being cool with each other to continue it now. They had known each other for over two years, and most of that time the attraction had been there, especially in the last six months. If Fiona wanted to admit to how she felt about the nurse, she would have to say she loved her - had done for too long. When she had not been working, she had spent her time day dreaming about telling this woman sitting next to her how she felt. Then it had started to seep into her working day; slipping into everything she said or did. Leaving her a box of chocolates and her phone number seemed lame now, almost teenage. She should have had the balls to tell this woman what she meant to her - given her the chocolates personally instead of hiding them in a drawer and spending the rest of the day wondering if she had received them and was blanking her, or hadn't looked into the drawer in the desk. Considering Sergeant Fiona Houghton had received awards from bravery, when it came to matters of the heart she had been a coward. And that was one thing she didn't ever want to be.

The quiet between them was charged with expectancy, but also comfortable. Fiona knew she should break the silence, and opened her mouth to speak. However, Laura beat her to it.

'I bet you're wondering why I'm here, aren't you?' Fiona nodded, before slowly turning to face the nurse. 'Gill, the nurse you spoke to on my ward the other day, she called me to let me know what had happened.' A flush began again on Laura's throat, and the policewoman could see her swallowing nervously, as if she was trying to push down the words that wanted to come next. Instead of pressing her to continue, Fiona slipped her hand over the nurse's and tightened her fingers. Instead of calming Laura, the action seemed to break through the vulnerable barrier she had tried to erect. A sob tore out of her throat, and before Fiona had time to react, the nurse had flung her arms around her neck to cry unashamedly. 'I thought you were injured; thought he had done something terrible to you. They said you'd been held hostage, beaten and ...' then the words began to blend into the cries and became indistinguishable from anguish. Eventually, the startled policewoman reciprocated the embrace, but instead of gripping onto the nurse as if she were a lifeline, she tentatively slipped her arms around her and held her as if she were fragile porcelain. Soft strokes guided themselves over trembling muscles, and the sobs began to ebb and fade. Lifting her face away from Fiona's shoulder, dark blue eyes sought out the policewoman's, and opened wider when they saw what was so obvious. All the emotion Fiona felt was there, waiting to be found. She had spent too long trying to hide her feelings from Laura, and now was the time to reveal all, like a magician showing the tricks to his trade.

Laura's voice was low, thick, full. 'I was scared that I would never tell you how I feel about you.'

Licking her lips, Fiona paused to watch the nurse mimic her action. 'And how do you feel, Laura?'

Instead of words, the nurse decided that they could not convey all she needed to say, all she felt, all she wanted this wonderful woman to know - the same wonderful woman she had loved for too long but had been too afraid to tell. Leaning forward, jagged ragged breaths hit each other, blending before lips, blending before physical contact. Another inch, another centimetre, millimetre, and then it happened. Soft. Tentative. Unsure. Getting stronger. Deeper. Mouths opening, lips meeting again and again, tongues seeking, asking, accepting. Hands sliding. Bodies turning and spooning. Lights blinking and fading, just like the outside world. If Fiona had died and gone to heaven, then this must be what it felt like. And for once in her life she felt whole - something she wanted to feel for the rest of her life.


Claire Connolly had been prodded, poked and stared at. If another nurse came near her with a pocket torch and a 'Look straight ahead' with the light blinding her, she was going to scream. Obviously, she felt achy - who wouldn't after being flung here, there and everywhere by a mad man. The world around her had started to move at a more normal pace now; especially after the injection she had been given when she had woken from her faint. Apart from the examinations getting her down, the main reason why she was still edgy was because no one would answer her questions about how Jenny was. Every time she asked a nurse, a doctor, or even the passing porters, no one would give her a straight answer. She hadn't seen sight nor sound of Fiona since they had parted on Mousehold Heath and, for all she knew, David Foster may have done another runner and be somewhere in the hospital readying himself to seek revenge on the women who had nearly gotten him captured. At this thought, a shiver raced through her. 'Nah. He was out cold when the coppers arrived, wasn't he?' Although she knew that in reality there was no way Foster could have escaped the amount of police that had bundled into the car park, it didn't stop her moving her back towards the wall and facing the door.

It seemed as if the world continued to turn as Claire sat and watched it. Every now and again a nurse would come over and engage in conversation, but as soon as the blonde restaurant owner asked about Jennifer Cartwright, they made their excuses and left. This was getting ridiculous. Here she was, perfectly capable of finding out things on her own, and what was she doing? Sitting with her back to the wall and waiting for news to come to her.

Standing suddenly, Claire swayed slightly. She knew it was the effects of the pain killer that had been administered, but it still left her feeling slightly vulnerable. Reaching the doorway she looked left, then right, then straight ahead. The hospital was like a warren and she knew that if she ventured out there she would never find her way back again. If she knew where they had taken Jenny at least that would have been a start. However, no. Claire didn't have a clue; didn't know if the woman she had fallen for was still in A and E or moved to another part of the building.


Turning back, Claire was beginning to resign herself to sitting and waiting again until something caught her eye; something sticking out of the wall about five metres down to the right of her; something that would enable her to find out once and for all where Jennifer Cartwright was and how she was doing. Quite simply - it was a phone booth.

A grin split her face and left just as quickly. Patting her pockets, she realised she did have some change there, thus enabling the smile to return even wider than before, if that was possible. Scuttling down the corridor, she felt like a naughty schoolgirl as she planned what she was going to do. Fuck it. If they can't tell me to my face, then they sure as hell can tell me over the phone. Yes. It made no sense, but in the world of hospitals and receptionists, common sense rarely did.

Luckily, the hospital's phone number was above the telephone booth and Claire felt herself punching in the numbers as if her life depended on it. When she heard the phone ring down the corridor, followed by the moan of a nurse, she had to contain the laugh that wanted to eke out. She felt giddy.

As the nurse answered, and Claire felt the voice come like in stereo, she asked, 'I wonder if you could help me please. I'm calling about Jennifer Cartwright. She was brought in about half four this morning.' There was a pause, and then the nurse asked a question. 'Yes. I'm her sister,' then quickly clamped her hand over her mouth.


David Foster was livid. Here he was, cooped up in a tiny room waiting for the police to get their acts together and arrest him. The reason why he was so angry wasn't because he had been caught, or that he had been knocked out and stabbed in the leg by a dyke. No. He didn't care about that. In fact, he believed they had no reason to arrest him in the first place. He hadn't done anything wrong - just getting his revenge on someone who needed to be put in her place. Abducting the policewoman may have been a step off his chosen path, but he hadn't actually hurt her. More like she had hurt him. Raising his hand, he tentatively touched the side of his head and winced. The lump was the size of an egg and felt hard boiled. Maybe I can sue. Police brutality. The thought made him smile a little before the anger came over him again. It was as if a red veil dropped over his sense of reason and he lost the ability to see the stupidity of his actions.

Then a vision of Jennifer Cartwright lying on the floor popped into his head. Sprawled out and unconscious. Bleeding. His hands flexed as he remembered the feel of the knife entering her body, again and again and again. Although he wasn't too sure where his final shot had hit, he was hoping it had nailed her in what he believed her 'cold fucking heart'.

He shivered. God that felt good to do that. Maybe his role here was over after all. A grin cracked across his face, shortly followed by a wince. Maybe it was time I got out of here and check out my handiwork. Lifting himself from the bed, he gently placed his shoeless feet onto the cold linoleum flooring, the pain from the stab wound making him wince. A quick deliberation on whether to find his shoes ended with a shake of the head. There was no point wasting time - the pigs would be in here in a minute, and he didn't want to get caught even before he had tried to escape. Tiptoeing, albeit with a limp, over to the door, he placed his head against the fake wood and listened. Nothing. Gripping the handle in his hand, he eased it down, flinching when it gave a small squeak. He paused, and then tried again. Pulling the door slightly open, he peered into the corridor. Initially, he saw nothing, but as he pulled the door further back, he froze. There, right in front of him - right in front of all the rest of the world was a sight that made his blood pressure rocket. Sitting directly outside his room was the policewoman he had kidnapped. But that was not why he wanted to charge right out of the room and scream blue murder. The reason for that was what the freak was doing. Kissing another woman. Not just a peck, but a full on letch. A young woman was half straddled the copper and they were ensconced in what he would class as debauchery. How could two women do that? How could two decent human beings allow something so sickening to be displayed for all to see?

Foster felt himself lunge forward - felt himself want to grab that bitch, both bitches, in fact, by their hair and smash their skulls together. People like that made him more than angry - they made him want to do to them what he had done to Jennifer Cartwright, but make sure he finished them off. The world would be a better place without that kind of scum. Morality to them was just a word. And her a copper! She should have been setting an example for others to follow not flagrantly flaunting her fucked up lifestyle.

Stop, David. Stop. This is what they want you to do. They want you to react so they can pin something on you. Everyone is in on it - even that tart shoving her pussy into that dyke's stomach. If you react, they'll win. If you get them, you miss out on the one you want to finish off.

Decision made, David Foster eased the door shut once again. Looking around the room, he smiled when he saw the window poking from around the curtain. Padding softly over, he judged his escape. One floor. Not bad. Window's a bit small, it will be a squeeze, but I'll manage.

He only had his injured leg out when he felt the hand on his shoulder.

'I wouldn't do that if I were you.' He knew before he turned around that it was that interfering copper. Instead of coming quietly, Foster swung his free arm around a nearly caught the policewoman in the face, but she pulled back. 'It might be an ...' he swung again, but she deftly caught his hand within her own, pressing his fingers into the palm of his hand.

'You ... you ... you ... cunt sucker!'

Twisting his hand around, he thought she was going to break his wrist. He felt his knees buckle underneath him and he slowly slumped to the floor. Leaning down so her face was close to his, he shied away from her breath, believing he could catch something if he inhaled the same air as her. 'And for your information.' Click. A handcuff rested coolly against his wrist. 'It's ...' Click. The second half of the hand cuffs clamped around her own. 'Sergeant Cunt Sucker to you.'


Almost crouching on the chair in the waiting room, Claire Connolly held her head in her hands. At least now she knew how Jenny was doing, but that didn't make her feel better. If anything, it had made her feel worse. The critic was 'resting' now after having undergone tests to see if the stab wound to her chest had nicked a lung. Thankfully, it had missed, but they were still 'taking precautions' because of two things. One, she had lost a lot of blood. And secondly, Jennifer Cartwright had not regained consciousness yet. A fear enveloped the small blonde woman, a fear that was beginning to consume her. Her breathing began to hitch and tear from her lungs, and if she didn't get herself under some kind of control, there was a huge chance that she would lose it altogether. Pulling her back straight, she tried to swallow down mouthfuls of air, but she kept on feeling it jam inside her throat and threaten to suffocate her. Lying to the nurse had been easy, but the news she had received made her wish she hadn't called. Maybe being in the dark could have allowed me to believe everything would be ok. A groan eked past the confusion of breathing. Christ, Connolly. You want to know - you wish you didn't know. What do you fucking want?

A loaded question. A question that had too many answers - answers like: Jennifer Cartwright to wake up. Jennifer Cartwright to be ok. David Foster to have never been born. But if he had never been born, would she have ever met the woman lying in ICU? Would she be sitting here wishing her world would begin to turn again? And now I'm adding more questions. She sighed again, and then rested her head back into her hands. One thing she did know for definite was that she wasn't going anywhere until the first two answers had come true. What else did she have to do? Nothing. Her business could wait. James was more than capable of sorting everything out, and the way she was feeling made her think she would be as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike.

So it was back to waiting once again. It was a pity that sleep kept on evading her, as it would have been an excellent way to pass the time.


It was just after nine o'clock in the morning when David Foster was led to the cells in Bethnal Street Police station. Being arrested by what he deemed to be 'that depraved pig' didn't make it any easier on him, and the only time he shut up was when Fiona Houghton passed him over to the guard on duty. Obviously, she wanted to see them slam the door on him, as for some strange reason that made her feel a little better about the events of the last twelve hours. Probably because she would know for sure that he was actually behind bars and not lurking around trying to stab, rape, drug, beat, kidnap, and so the list goes on. He sat in the cell quietly at first. Every time someone checked on him he was sat on the edge of his bed, shoeless and beltless, and grinning inanely at the peep hole.

Then it happened. Whatever triggered it no one knew, but David Foster lost it big time. It started as a wail that escalated into something primitive. It could even be heard in reception. Sergeant Houghton was on the phone at the time he kicked off, and she had to shove her finger in her free ear to hear the worried voice of Ian Cartwright asking where his sister was now, was she conscious, had they caught the man who did this? Answering quickly, she was relieved to hear that he was going straight to the airport to see if he could get a flight back as soon as possible. Not because she believed there was anything to be worried about with concerns to the welfare of Jennifer Cartwright, more because she wanted to see what was going on downstairs.

Racing down the concrete steps, she was greeted by a sight that she could only describe as something she would have witnessed in a nineteen fifties mental health ward. Foster was kicking and screaming, the words spewing from him as if he were being exorcised. Four officers were in the process of trying to restrain him, but amazingly, they were losing. Considering she had stabbed him in his calf with a pen, he was still agile. Therefore, there was only one thing for it - Fiona had to join in. As soon as Foster spotted her, he stopped. His eyes rested on hers, and there was the element of the insane lurking there. Red veins stood out in contrast to the white of his eyes, and coupled with the grimace on his mouth, the same mouth that had a line of saliva trickling down, it made her spine tingle. 'I could be with Laura now instead of dealing with this,' flitted through her mind, but only briefly. The reason it was only briefly was not because she couldn't be bothered to continue with the line, it was more on account of his next action. A scream left him as if it had been knocked free, and accompanying this primal scream was a leap forward. He reminded her of an old film version of Jekyll and Hyde: apelike, de-evolved, cramped, swinging, violent and inhuman. Another scream, another lunge, followed by the grappling of four men who were trying to get him to the ground without hurting him or allowing him to hurt anyone else. Maybe my presence is winding him up further. Maybe it's time I buggered off. Decision made, Fiona stepped back.

'Time for psych to get here,' Fiona stated, and then turned to leave. Just before she got to the door, she looked back. Foster was pinned against the wall, his good leg stretched out in front of him, and his bandaged one half bent and at an angle. There he stayed, panting, drooling, and glaring straight at her.

The man's chest was heaving, and he struggled to get his breath. 'You'd ... better watch ... watch ... your back.' Words came slow, came low, came menacing. 'And that dyke of a girlfriend, too.' Silence hit the air and ricocheted around the corridor. Well, before Sergeant Houghton broke it.

'Are you threatening a police officer, Mr Foster?' His lips pulled back making his sneer wolf like. 'I should remind you that you are still under caution.' Turning back, Fiona advanced on Foster. Sighing dramatically, she spoke once more. 'I suppose I'd better tell you again.' Foster spat at her - she dodged 'You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in court.'

'Fuck you.'

Undeterred, Fiona moved closer. The policemen were holding him back, but even if they weren't she would have done exactly the same thing. Anger was bubbling away at her now. How dare he mention Laura. What had she ever done to him? 'Anything you do say may be given in evidence.'

'I said "Fuck. You."'

She was standing over him now, her face the epitome of power and calm. 'Do you understand these rights?'

'Fuck …'

'DO YOU UNDERSTAND THESE RIGHTS?' It wasn't a scream. It wasn't out of control. It was just dominant and direct. All the officers looked at her and back at Foster, and although he knew it was time to shut up, he just couldn't help himself. However, he waited until the policewoman was moving away before he spoke.

'What's it like to be a freak of nature?'

Without looking at him, Fiona answered clearly and low. 'I think that is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.'

With that, she left, ignoring the names that carried themselves after her … names that the woman had heard too many times in her life to get agitated about. Sticks and stones, and all that. In fact, when she heard rug muncher, she laughed. 'God. I've not heard that one in a while.' Then she finally shut the door on the man who was rapidly running out of insults, especially now he was beginning to repeat himself. She wanted to poke her head around the door and shout 'You've already called me that,' but it didn't seem the right time. Especially when she could hear how hard the coppers had to work to get him back into his cell. An image of a cat being put in a pillow case sprang to mind, making her laugh once again.

Back upstairs, Fiona finally allowed the events that had transpired to leave her. He was banged up, and she was knackered. Apart from the forced naps she'd had, she'd not had much sleep in the last forty eight hours. Although she wanted more than anything to see Laura, she knew she needed to rest. And that Laura was actually starting a shift soon, even though she wasn't due in to work until the following day. The nurse had offered to do some overtime, especially when Fiona had mentioned how worried she was about Jennifer Cartwright.

No wonder I think she's wonderful.


Chapter Twelve

'Are you Claire Connolly?' The voice seemed to be drifting down a passage, and Claire was having great difficulty opening her eyes. She hadn't even realized she had fallen asleep until the musical sound had penetrated her senses. Waking up slumped onto two plastic chairs was not the best way to wake up, and the pain ripping through her back paid testament to that. Blinking in the glare of the fluorescent lighting, the blonde had difficulty focusing on the face that was peering over her own. 'I'm Laura.' When the woman stared at her blankly, she added, 'A friend of Sergeant Houghton,' before blushing beautifully. Claire blinked, then blinked again. The woman in front of her wasn't a policewoman, so who … Then she noticed the uniform. 'I was wondering if you wanted to see Jennifer.'

Just the sound of Jenny's name made Claire shoot up, and instantly regret it. Pain shot through her body making her gasp. Both legs were cramped, her back clicked audibly, and the blood rushed valiantly to her head making her slam back against the plastic.

'Hey! You ok?' Claire saw the nurse go to her pocket, and she knew a mini flashlight would soon be blinding her. Quickly, she shoved her hand out to deflect the object she was beginning to loathe.

'I'm fine, honestly. Just got up too quickly.' Forcing a smile, she continued. 'You mentioned Jenny? Seeing her? Has she woken up?' Slipping her torch back into her pocket, Laura slowly shook her head. The blonde's heart sank. This couldn't be good. How long had Jenny been out? Glancing around the room, she spotted the clock. Eleven sixteen. That would make it over seven hours. Shit. Shit. And shit.

'It's not unusual for someone to be out for a few hours when they have undergone such a trauma.' Laura semi crouched, then stood up as her initial gesture seemed patronizing. 'Her body needs rest.' Although what she had said was true, the woman seated in front of her seemed to frown slightly. 'Come. See for yourself.' Offering her hand, she was relieved when it was taken immediately. One slight tug, and the blonde was on her feet, smoothing imaginary creases from her jeans.

Inside the room, Claire's eyes had to adjust to the dimness. Blinds were drawn, and all lights were low. Beeping came from the far side of the room, and she felt herself drawn to the shape under the covers. Jennifer Cartwright lay still, apart from the gentle rise and fall of her chest. If she didn't know any better, she would have believed she was sleeping. Well, that and the drips coming out of her arms accompanied by the monitors surrounding the top half of the bed.

Slowly, as if moving through quicksand, Claire approached. She didn't hear the quiet 'I'll leave you alone for a while' followed by the closing of the door. She was too intent on seeing the woman lying before her. Even in the dimness of the room she could make out the bruises covering the dark haired woman's face and arms. Lips were swollen, so were her cheeks, and black and purple shapes were surrounding the left hand side of Jenny's face. Thankfully, all the rest of the patient's body was covered, although just what was on display was more than enough for the woman to take in the rest. Tears pushed their way over Claire's lids, and she didn't attempt to brush them away.

Her beautiful face. Those beautiful lips. A sob tore out, and Claire found herself almost staggering to the bed to grip onto the lifeless hand that was sitting on top of the sheet. She feels so cold. So distant. Another sob broke free, and she lifted her free hand to cover her mouth. Inside she could feel a breaking … deep inside, somewhere behind her rib cage … somewhere where it used to be numb before she had met this wonderful woman. Don't leave me. Please. I can't bear to lose you now I've found you. Lifting the limp hand, she brought it to her mouth and placed a soft kiss on the cool skin. A few grazes scattered over the knuckles, so Claire kissed those too before raising the hand further to nestle against her cheek. It felt so right to be holding her like this, so right in a situation that was so wrong. Here they both were, barely escaped with their life, and for what? Words on a piece of paper. Someone's opinion. That's all it boiled down to. A review. A stupid article in a newspaper. It seemed unbelievable that someone would act this way - do this to another human being - just because he or she didn't like the truth. Even if the critic had elaborated on the poor quality of the restaurant, did she deserve this? Did anyone ever deserve this? No. Whatever the reason, no one deserved to be stalked, drugged, beaten and stabbed. This was a case of the pen not being mightier than the sword - a pen creates words … words can inflect pain, but what David Foster had done to them would haunt Claire Connolly for the rest of her life, and might have even take Jennifer Cartwright's if her attacker could have seen where he was planting the knife.

A throb boomed inside Claire's throat. It was attached to a sob … the same sob that hit the air to release the emotion in the blonde woman's body, allowing her to begin a grieving process that she had been waiting for. What was she grieving for? Events of the past few days? The beating she had undergone? The injuries Jennifer Cartwright had suffered? Or was it the loss of what could have been? All of them, but her heart was focusing on the last one. Tears came freely now, her legs giving way and landing her on her knees beside the bed of the unconscious woman. It appeared she was praying, but the words were muffled behind her crying. Claire still gripped onto the hand, as she believed if she let it go then it would be like releasing Jenny's hold onto the world. She was so absorbed in her mourning, she failed to notice the fingers she was holding begin to grip back.

'Hey.' The voice was soft, croaking, but soft. 'Don't cry.' Claire thought she was dreaming, thought the voice was through wishful thinking, but when it came again, she shot her gaze upwards to the top of the bed. 'Claire … don't cry.' Blue eyes met her own, although one was decidedly smaller through the swelling surrounding it. Lurching forward, Claire was beside the woman's face almost instantly, ignoring the pain ripping through her knees.

'You're … you're awake?' It meant to come out as a statement, but incredulity took over. Instead of speaking again, Jenny nodded her head slowly before wincing. 'Shall I get the doctor?'

Weakly, Jenny squeezed her hand before replying, 'Not yet. I want to look at you.' She swallowed audibly, the effort of talking obvious. 'How are you?' The dimness if the room made it difficult to see the myriad of bruises on Claire's face, and clothes disguised the beaten the small blonde had undergone.

Slipping onto the bed, Claire felt a semblance of heat coming from the other woman's body, and if she wasn't mistaken, her hand was beginning to feel as if blood was actually flowing through there again. 'Don't worry about me - I'm fine.' With her free hand, Claire began to stroke Jenny's face, her heart beating savagely inside her chest when she noticed those blue eyes flutter. Then it occurred to her. Did Jenny want to continue with what had happened before David Foster had tried to kill them both? They had never spoken about it - they hadn't had the time to discuss the kiss they had shared in the kitchen of Claire's home. Too much had been happening, as they had to go and meet a mad man on the Heath. Was she jumping the gun? Had Jenny kissed her because it had seemed the right thing to do at that time? Maybe a last connection with a human being before she had to face the unknown? There was only one thing to do. Ask her.

Pulling her hand away from Jenny's face, Claire leaned back on the bed, as to give the woman some space. Next, she released her hold on the hand. She waited a minute to assemble her thoughts on how to voice her concerns, not daring to look at the woman next to her, and then began.

'I'm unsure how you feel about this, Jenny. But …' she paused. 'But although the circumstances were not ideal … and … and … I barely know you.' But I feel like I do. I feel as if I've always known you were out there somewhere. 'I want us to get to know each other. Get to see each other when life gets back to normal.' It was simple and direct. It was stupid. 'How … do you feel about … that?' No answer. 'The kiss … erm … the kiss we shared, it was … it was the most intense kiss I've ever …' She was struggling to come up with anything else, so she stopped and waited. And then waited. No answer, once again. Fuck. She doesn't want to know, but she doesn't know how to tell me. Poor woman can't even escape. Tentatively, Claire looked back into the face of Jennifer Cartwright. The woman had her eyes closed. Crap. She's wishing I'd go - hoping that I will just fade into the woodwork and leave her to get over the trauma she's been through. A pain shot inside her chest again, but this time it wasn't because she was worried about the dark haired woman's recovery, it was more to do with the pain of rejection.

A soft snore came from the pillows. Jennifer Cartwright had fallen back to sleep. And unbeknownst to Claire Connolly, she hadn't heard a word the blonde had said. She had just felt so safe in the woman's company, she allowed herself to finally rest, lulled to sleep by the gentle stroking across her face and the medication she had received.

Slowly, and with a groan, Claire got up from the bed. Maybe another time, Jenny. I'll let you rest now.

After leaving the room, she went to the nurse's station and looked for Laura. The nurse was leaning over checking through patients' medication sheets when the blonde arrived, looking up with sparkling dark blue eyes and a ready smile.

'She woke up.' The nurse grinned, making her face even more attractive than before. 'But she's asleep again.'

Coming from behind the desk, Laura linked Claire's arm and ushered her to the chairs, almost pushing her to sit. 'Just sit there whilst I check you over, young lady.' She sat next to her, turning Claire's head towards her. 'I told you she'd be fine, didn't I?' The beautiful face of the nurse was scrunching as she examined the swelling and bruising to the blonde's face. 'But you need some attention.'

Claire didn't even get the chance to respond before the flash light was in her eyes. Shit. Didn't even see that one coming. But she just let the nurse continue with her examination, all the while deliberating whether Jenny had heard what she had said. Well, if she didn't I'll just have to tell her again. And if she did … a sigh slipped out. And if she did, I'll just have to get used to it.

An hour and a half later, Claire Connolly was opening the door to her house, smiling when she noticed her car back on her driveway. There was no point in her waiting, or so the nurse and the doctor had told her, as Jenny could be asleep for quite a while. This was the time where she could go home, eat, shower, and sleep. The police were going to take a statement from her later on in the day, so it would be better if she felt more human. Eating was difficult - each mouthful seeming like card board, the shower hurt her, as it bounced off her bruises, and sleep was intermittent. Images of what had transpired on Mousehold Heath kept on slipping in, and the sounds of Jenny's screams made her join her. Each time she fell back to sleep, the same visions would come, until the last time. This time it was different. This time it was more frightening than being faced by a mad man. This time it was just Jenny and herself. It was the kiss … so beautiful … so tender … so encompassing. She could actually feel the blue eyed woman's hands on her, and her heart was soaring, lifting higher and higher until it tried to come through her mouth and join the other woman's heart. Then it changed. It became darker … more sinister. The kiss stopped, almost as if it was torn away from her. Jenny glared into her eyes, the blue looking violet. One word came from her mouth, and the voice was that of David Foster's.

'Bitch!' With a shove, dream turned into reality and Claire Connolly jerked awake, sweat trickling from her brow. It had seemed so real. The rejection - the hate - the kiss. Which one hurt most was hard to say. The woman she had fallen for looking at her like that, speaking to her like that, or the knowledge that if things turned out the wrong way, Claire Connolly would never feel so whole again.

Then the weeping started, and lasted until the small curled up woman lying on the bed couldn't weep anymore.

Time to face the truth. Claire got up and dressed slowly. She was going back to the hospital to find out where her future lay.


Jennifer Cartwright heard voices around her, but this time she recognized both of them. One was the nurse she had met a few days ago, and the other was her brother. This time she also knew that she was in hospital - and she knew why, the pain in her body would not let her forget the events that had led her here. By the sound of her brother's voice, she knew he was upset, and she licked her lips readying herself to speak. Then she heard the nurse speak.

'Ms Connolly left here a few hours ago.'

Claire. Where was Claire? An image of the blonde's green eyes looking at her with such compassion came flooding back. She had been here, hadn't she? I didn't dream it, did I? Wracking her brains, she tried to conjure the scene and differentiate between reality and what she wished to have happened. Yes. She had been there - held my hand - stroked my face - but where was she now?

Ian was asking the nurse questions when Jenny finally spoke. 'Why aren't you in Dusseldorf?' Her chest physically ached when she spoke, and in reflex, her hand came up to cover it. Another shot of pain bore through her making her gasp.

'Hey! Don't speak. Rest.' Opening her eyes for the first time, she saw her brother's caring blue gaze looking straight into her own. 'Hello there, sis.' His voice was gentle, reassuring, and so like an older brother. All her life he had looked out for her, and she knew that he would be beating himself up for not coming home sooner. But what could he have done if he had been here? 'Taken a bit of a beating haven't you?' Jenny tried to lift herself, but groaned at the exertion, her kneecap screaming in defiance. 'So you don't want to be getting up too soon, now do you?'

'For fuck's sake, Ian. I'm not four!'

Ian looked stunned for a second, and then he started laughing. 'That's my girl.' Looking over his shoulder, he directed the next sentence to the nurse. 'See? I told you it would take more than one nut job to finish her off.' He turned back and smiled lovingly at her. 'And God knows I tried enough when we were kids.'

Jenny had to laugh, as what he had said had some truth in it. When they had been younger they had fought like cats and dogs, but ever since they had matured they had pushed the adolescent tantrums into the closet and bonded. This didn't mean they hated each other as kids - as most siblings are aware, if anyone else said anything bad about the other they would have torn their heads off and spat down their necks. It's law, by all accounts.

Ian wanted to hug his sister, make sure she was in fact ok, but he knew by talking to the doctors that his sister had taken quite a beating. When he had found out the extent of Jenny's experience, he had wanted to go to the police station and kick the crap out of David Foster. But, brotherly love and the welfare of his kid sister were more important. She had been sleeping when he had arrived, and he had spoken to anyone and everyone who had any news of what had happened and how his sister was, but still he wasn't satisfied. And he wouldn't be until she looked him in the eyes and swore that she was all right. That would mean she was awake, for a start. Reaching out, Ian Cartwright grabbed his sister's uninjured hand and brought it to his chest.

'I'm sorry, Jen.' Jenny's expression asked the unspoken question. 'For not being here with you - for letting this happen.'

'Look. Ian. You can't be with me twenty four seven.'

'But you told me. You told me that someone had drugged you - that someone was out to get you - and I stayed in Germany.' On the last part of the sentence, his voice broke, and the tears came. Instead of him comforting her, the tables switched. Jenny pushed herself up from the bed careful of her injuries, and slipped her hands around his shoulders. Laura looked on, and then felt embarrassed and left. This was a private time between the two siblings, and not something that should be watched as if it were a soap opera.

It was a matter of minutes before the door behind them opened quietly, and a small figure slipped in unseen by anyone.

'I just love you so much, Jen. You're all I have in the world.'

'And I love you, too.'

Claire Connolly looked on. She couldn't see either of the people's faces; therefore, they couldn't have seen her. It was a few seconds before she turned and left, and the reason why she waited as long as she did was because the pain inside her chest made it nearly impossible to move. Silently, she closed the door behind her and walked in the opposite direction and away from the nurse's station.

Her head was calm; her thoughts collected and logical. This wasn't another Holly Peterson episode. There would be no announcements of there being no way on 'this goddamn earth' Jennifer Cartwright would ever be with her. Claire Connolly wouldn't let it get that far. Seeing the love between the two people in the side room, she knew that there was no way Jenny was a lesbian. A voice in her head kept asking, 'But what about the kiss?' And another voice responded with 'Fuck the kiss. Move.' It amazed her that she had kept it together at all. She kept wondering why she wasn't crying - why she wasn't gripping onto her chest in agony as the invisible knife was plunged in further. Truthfully, she could only put it down to shock. Granted, she had gone back to the ward to ask Jennifer Cartwright where they went from here, and even though words were not used, she had got her answer. Claire was moving one way, and Jenny was going the other without her. Simple. What did she expect? The knock back to be written on a tablet of stone?

Turning the corner, she didn't see the person rushing towards her, but she sidestepped anyway. Then a hand grabbed her arm and pulled her back. Fear raced through her once again, and she stopped herself screaming in the nick of time.

'Sorry, Claire. I did speak, but you mustn't have heard me.' Sergeant Houghton still held onto Claire's arm, as she had the sneaking suspicion the woman in front of her was ready to bolt. 'Is this a bad time?' It would have been so easy for Claire to break down at that moment, so easy to blurt out how she was feeling to the policewoman standing next to her, but she didn't. Just nodded her head and allowed herself to be moved to a doorway close by and then into a room.

Throughout the interview, Fiona knew there was something wrong. Initially, she thought it may have been to do with the incidents from the previous night, but it was more than that. The thing that bugged her the most is that she couldn't put her finger on the reason. Claire Connolly was crisp in her evidence, and ensured she included everything that had happened. As a witness, she was perfect. Nevertheless, it didn't explain the coldness coming from her. In all the times she had been in contact with the blonde, Fiona had thought how full of life she was. Not now.

'Are you ok, Claire?' Green eyes that had seemed distant snapped into focus and absorbed the officer in one look. 'Would you like to speak to someone? Someone who can guide you through all of this?' Fiona didn't want to mention therapy, as that usually had people running for the hills, but after the trauma this woman had undergone, it would be a necessity really, although the victim had to agree first.

'What do you mean? A shrink?' The questions came out cold and harsh, and Claire wanted to bite her tongue. It wasn't the policewoman's fault that she had been rejected. With a sigh, Claire continued, but this time more gently. 'I'm fine, honestly.' A laugh spurted out, more from nerves. 'Nothing that a bit of time won't cure.' Moving edgily in her seat, she asked, 'So, what do you think he will get? Foster, I mean.'

Conversation about help over, I think.

'Well, off the top of my head I would say the main thing we are going for is attempted murder.' Green eyes widened and Claire's mouth moved to speak, but she said nothing. 'But we have a list … we try to include everything the perp has done to make sure they get what is coming to them. If they get away with one, we still have the rest.'

Claire leaned closer. 'Like?'

'Assault, battery, ABH, GBH, kidnap of a police officer, threatening behaviour, breaking and entering, falsely obtaining details, willful destruction …'

'And that's off the top of your head?' Claire couldn't help but smile, a smile that was greeted by one from the officer seated in front of her.

'You wait until I get time to write everything down.' Involuntarily, a laugh came. This woman was amazing. She had experienced so much last night, and if it wasn't for her both Jenny and I would be dead. That much was obvious. 'He's looking at fifteen to twenty years if he's found in his right mind. If he's not, then he's still away in mental hospital - indefinitely.' That should have made Claire feel better, but it didn't. Just because Foster was out of the picture, it didn't mean her life could go back to normal. There would be no normal for her for quite a while - her heart would make sure of that. 'Are you coming with me to see Jenny?' Claire froze, and the sharp eyed copper saw her straighten sharply. 'Mmmm … maybe I do know what's up,' she thought.

'I'd … I'd better get going. Business to run, and all that.'

'Don't tell me you're going into work!' But the policewoman stopped when she saw Claire Connolly's reaction. The blonde woman had started to stand; in other words - conversation over - again. Fiona stood also, and extended her hand. When Claire took it, the officer noted the cool clamminess. 'Thank you, Claire. Thank you for going above and beyond the call of duty.' Then she changed her mind. 'Aw stuff it. Come here.' Wrapping her arms around the restaurant owner, she felt the tension racing through the smaller woman's body. So she gripped on more tightly. Eventually, the blonde started to relax into her and Fiona could hear the staccato breathing of someone who is trying to keep it all together. And she was - Claire didn't know how she didn't break then … didn't know how the barrier didn't burst and flood the small room with all the hurt and devastation she was feeling. Moving her mouth to Claire's ear, Fiona whispered, 'If you need anything … anything at all, you call me, ok?' She left a small kiss on the woman's cheek before pulling back and releasing her hold. Claire nodded, once again unable to find the ability to speak without crying.


After leaving Claire at the main entrance, Fiona made her way back to the ward where Jennifer Cartwright was laid up. All the while she was walking she kept on going through the scenario. If it was something to do with Jenny, what on earth could it be? There was no way the dark haired woman had blown the gorgeous blonde off, as a blind man could have seen that the enigmatic critic was enchanted with the other woman. So, what gives?

Upon entering the room, Fiona noted a dark haired good looking man sitting on the bed with Jennifer Cartwright. Well, it can't be because of him - it's obvious he's her brother. Unless he told her to scram. Nah. Why would he do that? Claire Connolly had helped out his sister when she had really needed it.

'You must be the hero of the hour.' Standing, the man was huge. Fiona had look up to him - and so are his bloody hands! 'I have to thank you and thank you and thank you until my tongue bleeds, then thank you some more. You saved my sister's life. I am forever in your debt.' Instead of blushing furiously, Fiona was still trying to figure out why Claire had left. This man would not make her feel unwelcome. 'I'm still waiting to thank Ms Connolly, too. That woman is a saint.' See? I was right.

'Hasn't she been in?'

Upon saying these words, Jenny sat upright and leaned forward. 'Not recently. Why? Is she here?' The eagerness of the dark haired woman's expression also told Fiona that she hadn't given Claire any reason to be upset either. There was only one thing - the blonde had decided that she didn't want to see Jenny again. Why? She didn't know. When she had seen them both together, she had thought they seemed perfect for each other.

'Have you seen her?' Jenny's voice was low, but Fiona could hear the panic. 'Is she ok? Is she in the hospital?'

Taking a deep breath, Fiona moved closer to Jenny. She could lie, or tell her what she knew - dispassionately, of course. Deciding on the latter, she moved to the other side of Jenny's bed and perched on the side. 'She was here, but she has gone now.'

'Without coming in to see me?' The hurt was obvious.

'I had to take a statement. I think she was tired. She needs to rest, too.' Fiona watched Jenny slump back onto the pillows, and she could empathise. It wasn't easy being attracted to someone and not knowing where you stood. She had gone through that, although at her age going through the scenario of attraction seemed like it should have stopped when she left her teens. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Love can get you at any age, any gender, and rank. It was like the plague - no one was safe. Deciding once again, she changed the subject. 'No chance you are up for giving me a statement now, is there? I have a gorgeous nurse to woo.' Jenny smiled weakly, and then gave a short nod.

As soon as Fiona left, Ian believed his sister needed to get things off her chest. He had been astounded to hear all the events that had led up to the phone call he had received this morning, but that wasn't the reason why he wanted his sister to unburden herself. It had been her reaction to when she had discovered that Claire Connolly had left the hospital without coming to see her. He had never seen his sibling look so crushed. Women had come and gone in her life, and he had witnessed Jenny cope with detachment from the situation. In all the years she had been dating, he had never heard her say she loved anyone - never seen the evidence of it either. But just the mention of the restaurant owner's name and bam! Eyes had lilt up, shortly to be followed by bleakness. All through the interview she had answered curtly, only elaborating when pushed. When the door had opened, Jenny had eagerly looked passed him, then slowly moved back to slumping onto the pillows when all she saw was a pretty nurse and the entrance to the room.

And now he had his chance. Jenny was on her side, the monitors long gone, but the drips still in place. Her eyes were facing the curtained windows, and he knew she was in a world of her own.

'Jen?' She shuffled slightly. 'Jen? Look at me.' Slowly, the woman turned, and Ian gasped when he saw her eyes were glistening. The last time he had seen her cry was years ago at their parents' funeral, and ever since then she had just thrown herself into her work. 'Want to talk about it?' She shook her head and began to turn away once again. 'Or should I have said, "Tell me about her"?' Blue eyes turned back to face him again, and the tears that had been glistening were now making their lazy way down her face. 'It's good to let it out, sis.' And that was it. Jenny grabbed his hand and pulled him forward, her free hand gripping the top of his arm, sobs shuddering out and into the startled air of the room. Ian let her cry until she could cry no more. It was good to let everything free, all the events of the past few days, all the emotion, and all the feelings of loss. When the sobbing eased, he held her whilst the quivering breathing subsided, then he let her rest. She would speak when she needed to. Minutes passed, and he waited, his large hand stroking his kid sister's back, sadly smiling when he heard the grunting noise she always used to make when she was little.

'I thought … I thought it was too good to … to … to be true.' Her voice was muffled, stuttering and broken. 'Why' … hiccup … 'would she look twice at me?' Ian's eyes widened. Didn't his sister realise how gorgeous she was? 'She was so kind … so caring. She gave up her home for me.' The man holding her was confused. What exactly had the relationship been? He had a feeling that it was more than a place to stay, although he also knew that Jenny had only known the restaurant owner for a few days. Something must've happened to make Jen react like this. 'We kissed. It was … It was …' then the tears came again, and through them all, he heard the word 'perfect'. He knew then and there that as soon as Jenny went back to sleep, he would go to CC's and see the woman who he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt had his sister's heart. Maybe he could do some good after all. He had missed all the drama, but he would be here for the final scene. It wasn't just guilt talking either. One thing he always promised himself was that he would make his sister happy. And if Claire Connolly was the key, he was going to sort it.


The first thing Claire did when she arrived home was to go into the spare room. There, folded neatly on the chair, were Jenny's clothes. 'Shit. How do I get these back to her?' flitted through her head. Walking over, she had to push herself to reach out and take the white t-shirt from the top of the pile. Instinctively, she brought the cloth to her face and inhaled. A mixture of cleanliness and Jenny hit her senses, making her heart pound in her chest. Soft material seemed to envelop her, and the blonde found it difficult to break contact. But she had to. She had to pack everything that belonged to Jennifer Cartwright and take them somewhere where she could get them. That way she wouldn't have to face those blue eyes again.

In her heart, Claire knew she was being overly dramatic. Sitting on the bed, she allowed questions to pour through her head. Why had the critic affected her so much? What was it about the blue eyed beauty that had slipped inside her and refused to budge? She had only known her for the matter of a few days, so why such a feeling of connection? Of completion? Of needing to be with her? Even from the beginning, Claire had known there was something different about the dark haired woman - even from the mumbled "thank you" from the floor of her restaurant.

The restaurant. That's where I can take her things. She will go there, obviously, to see me, even if it is just to say thank you again. Even if she does come here, I don't have to answer the door, do I? She paused in her mental meandering. 'For fuck's sake, Connolly! Get over yourself!' Standing sharply, the t-shirt dropped to the floor. 'It was a reaction to the moment. That's all. All of it - a reaction.' Grabbing the tee she stuffed her free hand under the bed and dragged out the first bag. 'After a few days everything will be better. My life will go back to normal.' But she never asked herself why she wanted to avoid Jennifer Cartwright. Maybe because if she had she would have realized it would take more than a few days to feel as good as she had just before meeting David Foster on Mousehold Heath.

After packing, Claire decided to call the restaurant. As she approached the phone she noticed the flashing lights of the answering machine. Undeterred, she called the number she knew like the back of her hand. It rang three times until the distinctive voice of her Head Waiter answered.

'Good evening, CC's. Can I help you?' When James heard the voice of his employer, he started screaming, making Claire move the phone from her ear until he had finished. 'Where are you? Are you ok? Are you still in the hospital? You've been all over the news.' Waiting for an opportunity to speak, Claire finally said she was fine, and she was home. 'Did your sister get hold of you? She's called here about fifty times … and the hospital.' A pause. 'And your mother called.' My mother? 'They want you to call them … I think they are all at your sister's house, as they couldn't get any answer from yours.'

My mother called? Shit. She … we … haven't spoken for years.

'Ok. I'm coming over, James. I need to sort out a few things, drop some stuff off and then shoot off again.' Claire didn't wait until James answered. She had already hung up the phone and was readying herself to call her sister.

The phone only rang once before it was snatched from its cradle, the worried voice of her elder sister answering. 'Vicky? It's me. Claire.' And that was it. The crying started. Not from Claire, but from her sister. The blonde couldn't understand half of the things she was saying, so told her she would pop over in a little while to prove she was all right.

Collecting Jenny's things, Claire once again left her home. A quick stop at CC's was on the agenda, and then she would go over and face her family. Seeing her mother after all this time made her wish that she was meeting David Foster again. At least when he looked at her, the hatred there was not directed straight at her. With a sigh, she slammed the door and left.

It was nearly eleven in the evening when Claire pulled up outside her sister's house in Dereham. She had stopped at her restaurant and left Jennifer Cartwright's belongings in her office, making sure James was aware where to find them if someone came looking - including the faceless man she had seen on Jenny's bed. All she wanted to do was throw herself into her work, but everyone else had a different opinion on that. Considering how much she had gone through, and her staff not even knowing about her rejection, time off seemed the best policy. She was about to tell them she was fine, work would be the best thing for her, but then she spotted the sheets of paper with the critic's handwriting all over them. It was that that convinced her a few days at home to get her head together would be for the best - and let the bruising on my face fade - don't want to put my clients off their food.

Pressing the doorbell, Claire felt the tell tale rush of the butterflies in her gut. Her mother would be there, that much was obvious. One thing she didn't feel she could cope with was another altercation with Dorothy Connolly. The last one was still stinging.

The door swung back and there as if a blast from the past was her father. It had been nearly fifteen years since she had seen him, and those years had not treated him well. Thinning hair accompanied the paunch over his trousers. Claire didn't have time to digest anything else, as she was pulled into a crushing hug made even more painful by her injuries. She could feel his body shaking with the sobs that tore from inside, and although she didn't want to, she, too, began to cry. Then other hands touched her … other arms encircled her and made a cocoon around her. Words were spoken, but none were absorbed. All that surrounded her was love and safety. And that made her cry even more.


Laura walked quickly to the exit, as she knew a certain person would be waiting for her. Her heart was racing. Had it only been one day since I found out Fiona felt the same way as I do? On that note, she felt like skipping. For over two years she had hankered after the elusive policewoman. Flirting had happened, but by what she had heard, Sergeant Houghton had a reputation - and a nickname. People didn't get the moniker 'Nigel Havers' for nothing. However, the more she got to know her, the more she realised that the persona Fiona projected was in fact a mask. The real woman showed herself to her on many occasions, followed by a cough, a shuffle (usually on the spot), and a brusque voice. Initially, she had tried to pull away, but the more she discovered the gentleness, tenderness, and compassion lurking inside that hard coating, the more in love she fell. When she had received the call from Gill that morning, she barely had chance to throw on some clothes before she was racing out of the door.

Upon seeing Fiona sat on the chair, she took a few moments to fully 'see' the woman she had fallen for. She was off guard, and even with her back to Laura, she knew she was thinking about something important; it seemed a shame to interrupt. But she was glad she did. A giggle shot out her mouth and she raised her hand as if to stop it bellowing out in manic laughter.

'What're you laughing at, lady?' Fiona stepped from a doorway, her uniform long gone and replaced by jeans, a t-shirt, topped by a leather jacket. 'I hope I don't have to drag you down to the station for disturbing the peace.' A smile broke out, and Laura felt her heart stop in her chest before banging back to life. God, love. You look tired - beautiful, but tired. Circles were forming under the policewoman's eyes, and her face was pale. Fiona saw the concern on Laura's face. 'What's up? Have I got a bogie?' Dramatically she swiped at her nose, inspecting her hand, and then wiped it on the nurse's uniform. Not really the right thing to do on a first date, Fiona. Stuttering, she said, 'There was nothing there. Honestly.' Brown eyes widened with a childlike innocence. 'I was messing.'

Pushing herself up to Fiona, Laura looked up and into her eyes. 'Messing? You were only messing, eh?' Gently, she placed a kiss on the policewoman's mouth. 'How about we do some messing together?' As soon as the words came out, the blush began - for the both of them. 'I mean … you know … mess around … have a coffee … erm … mess …'

Fiona started laughing, the blush burning on her skin, but not as brightly as the nurse's. 'Messing with coffee, eh? What next? Dealing biscuits?'

A slap sounded on her jacket. 'You git!' Then she joined in with the laughter. Hands still held, and bodies still pressed against the other. It felt so right to be doing it - felt as if they had always held each other as close as this. As suddenly as it had started, the laughter stopped. Brown eyes stared into blue and held the gaze. Slowly, so slowly, mouths moved forward and relived the connection they had shared over twelve hours before. Fingers dug into clothes and pressed their bodies even closer. Both were thinking the same thing. 'I want to stay here.'

'Oi! You two. You can't stay here!' Reluctantly, the kiss broke apart, and Fiona peered over Laura's head to see Charlie from her team grinning. 'Can't you get a room, or something?' Surreptitiously, Fiona gave him the two fingered British salute from the safety of Laura's back. 'I saw that!' Moving closer, the officer came closer to the two women. 'I thought you went home. You need to rest, Fi.' Fiona tried to answer him, but he interrupted. 'You've been through the wringer, by all accounts. I mean, if the boss says you take time off to recover, you shouldn't be running around here at nearly midnight.'

'Who made you my mother?' The question was spoken good humouredly, as, in all truth, Fiona was knackered. She had been awake for too long, and after the fiasco with Foster, she felt as if her bed should be the best place for her to be. But how could she go home and crawl into bed with the knowledge that out there was a beautiful woman who felt the same way about her? Fiona would never drop off - therefore, the action of sleeping would be redundant.

'He's right. You look spent.' Laura remembered her thought upon seeing the policewoman and agreed that she should get home and into bed, then had to push the next thought she had which suggested she join her. Even though she felt so much for the woman who was holding her, Laura still believed it was too soon to take it to the next level. 'I'm off tomorrow … maybe I could see you then?' The question was timid, as if Laura was worried that Fiona would say no.

The policewoman looked from one to the other, then back again. 'It looks as if I'm surrounded by do gooders.' Holding her hands in the air, she said, 'It's a fair cop. You've got me. I'll go quietly.' When she looked back into Laura's face, she smiled softly before adding, 'As long as you let me drive you home.' A brush of the lips. 'Then I'll know where to pick you up from tomorrow.'

As the couple left, Fiona was sure she heard the voice of Charlie behind her mutter, 'Slick, Nige. Slick.' A snort shot out of her mouth. Can you believe that guy? Has he never had a girlfriend?

Girlfriend. A big grin broke over her face, followed by a gulp. I've got a girlfriend.

Pulling Laura closer, Fiona soon lost her smile when a softly spoken question came floating up from the nurse beside her.

'What're you grinning about?' Then the blush started all over again.

Fifteen minutes later, Fiona's car was pulling up outside Laura's house. Although the policewoman was feeling drained, the last thing she wanted to do was to leave the beautiful nurse. Turning the engine off, the car was quiet. Both Laura and Fiona were nervously waiting for the other to speak, waiting for the other to make the first move. It had all the appearances of a first date, the anticipation of the first kiss. But they were beyond that. Their first kiss had been in a hospital corridor, actually, so had their second. Maybe it was time to change the scenery.

'Thank you for the lift,' Laura's voice broke the silence. 'Although I'll have to go back and collect my car in the morning.'

Fiona's head swiveled around and looked at the nurse. 'What?'

'My car … I …'

'Why didn't you say? You didn't have to have a lift from me.' Brown eyes were wide, and Fiona's mouth was hanging open. Cool hands cupped the underside of the policewoman's chin and gently brought her face closer … and closer … until her face was close enough to feel the words coming from the nurse.

'But that would mean less time with you.' A finger moved from the jaw and rested on Fiona's mouth. 'And if I had told you, you would have insisted that I drive back …' the finger began to move in soft strokes, 'whilst you followed me.' The other hand broke loose from the chin area and began to stroke the strands of brown hair backwards, making Fiona's eyes flutter closed. 'As soon as we got here, you would have said goodnight and left.' A pause in both words and ministrations. 'True?'

A grunt came from the officer. She had lost all ability to speak. The feeling of those perfect hands on her face, her hair, touching so delicately on her mouth - she was lost all over again. Leaning forward, Fiona closed the space between them, brushing her lips softly over Laura's once … twice … until the other woman captured Fiona's mouth in a crushing kiss. Fingers gripped hair and pressed heads further to deepen the contact. Soft moans emitted, lips slick with want, mouths open and giving, tongues searching. Heat flared through both women, and breathing came in short bursts. Laura could feel herself moving backwards, as the policewoman took control, and she happily gave it over. This wasn't the time to consider who was in charge - this was a time to give - to take - to absorb the escalating emotions racing through her body. She could feel the gurgle of desire ignite in her gut, and knew that if this kiss continued her thoughts about waiting until she took it to the next level would soon be history. Without notice, the dark haired officer began to slow her kisses, slow them until eventually she pulled away, then offered another short one as a seal.

'I think we should stop there, don't you?' Fiona's breathing was ragged, and it was obvious that she didn't want to stop. Her pupils were dilated, and the brown eyed woman searched Laura's lips as if committing them to memory. Then they shot up to meet dark blue ones, the question repeated in the look. If she hadn't been feeling so turned on, Laura would have laughed. Sergeant Fiona Houghton was looking at her like a puppy stares at a treat. If her tongue had lolled out and she panted, the nurse wouldn't have been surprised. All the coolness, all the being in charge of every situation had completely disappeared. What was left was a ball of mush. This felt good. Knowing that the person she really wanted did, in fact, want her just as much.

'For now.' With the two words came a simple action, a caress of a brow, followed by brown eyes once again fluttering closed. Then the kissing started again.


An hour had passed, and Claire Connolly didn't know whether she wanted to run, or stay. Being in the same building, never mind room, as her parents was unnerving. All the while she was waiting for the inevitable 'Are you still gay?', but up until then everyone had been more concerned with her welfare. Newspaper articles had been shown to her, headlines blaring 'Local Restaurant Owner Attacked on Heath', and 'Cartwright Stabbed'. There were more, but she believed she had lived through it, so there was no point reading about it in glorious gaudy detail.

Weirdly enough, the reason why she wanted to stay was the same as the reason why she wanted to leave. Safety. She felt safe with her sister … safe away from her home and business where she knew she could be contacted by all and sundry. However, she also felt that if she had to be within the hub of her family again, nothing good would come from it. Fifteen years would never be enough to change her mother's mind about how Claire lived her life. Deep down she knew her father had just tagged along for a quiet life, and that hurt just as much. Why couldn't he put his foot down once in his life and stand up for her, and for himself? Why had he shrugged his shoulders when Dorothy Connolly had given her the ultimatum 'Change your ways or you are dead to me'? Why hadn't he stood in the doorway and made her stay - told his wife that whatever their daughter's sexual preferences were she was still their daughter?

Sitting there, in her own little world, Claire didn't realise that most of the people had left her in the front room. However, one person patiently waited for the small blonde to come back to reality before speaking.

'It's been a long time, Claire.' Her mother. Claire looked quickly around the room and noted it was just the two of them. Shit. 'Sorry it took you nearly losing your life for us to see each other again.' Most of her family had commented on Claire's appearance - how drained she'd appeared; how the bruising travelled from her face and to her throat. Claire didn't want to tell them what Foster had done - she didn't need to. The evidence was marked all over her.

'Your choice, Mum. You don't want to know a freak of nature like me, remember?' The words came out sharp and meaning to cut, but it still didn't make her feel any better. Dorothy Connolly looked to her lap, the tidy folded hands, and the prim skirt, before lifting her gaze to meet her daughter's.

'I was angry. Disappointed …'

'YOU were disappointed? Claire stood, the fire burning through her. 'YOU were disappointed? How do you think I felt? Just disappointed?' Claire moved closer until she was standing over her mother. 'Try betrayed … lost … alone … And if they don't fit, go for abandoned!' Dorothy dropped her head, and hid her expression. Softening her voice, the younger woman continued, this time moving away from her mother. 'I was sixteen. Sixteen and classed as an orphan for all you and dad cared. All I had were Vicky and Kevin - and they were just starting out.' Memories of that time came flooding back, and Claire felt the tell tale sign of emotion rushing up her throat. She couldn't continue with this now - too much had happened in the last few days to drag up events from the past. If she started crying now, she didn't think she would be able to stop. It wasn't just about her mother - or father - or living hand to mouth in order to put herself through college. It was everything. All the work, all the struggling, all the fear, and, mainly, all the rejection she was feeling. First her parents, and now … now … someone who in a matter of days had winkled her way inside her heart and set off a bomb, exploding her insides to splatter all over her future.

Something touched her shoulder. Something warm and familiar. Something she had told herself over the years that she hadn't missed. Turning, she looked straight into the same green eyes she remembered, but this time they were not full of hatred. This time they flowed with compassion, with regret, with love … the same love she had felt when she was younger - the same love and understanding she had known before the devastation one diary had caused. A hand stroked tentatively over Claire's face, the fingers outlining Claire's injuries, making the younger woman's eyes flutter briefly, a memory of childhood slipping through unbidden. A memory when her mum would always be there to take care of her; when injuries were treated with a kiss and a plaster. But this time it would take more than that to mend what hurt.

'I know it may be too late, but …' Dorothy swallowed, 'I'm … I'm sorry.'

'Yes. It is too late, Mum. Fifteen years too late.' The line seemed to pop out of a BBC drama, but such is life.

'I was angry, and a little bit humiliated.' She tried to turn her daughter to face her more fully. 'I know I shouldn't have read your diary, but I was concerned about you. For months you had been distant, and I just wanted to find out what was happening.'

Claire didn't want to hear anymore. It wasn't just a case of reading her personal writings; it was what came after that had hurt her the most. 'Humiliated? How humiliated do you think I felt when you kicked me out?' Dorothy scrunched her face and tried to answer, but her daughter stopped her. 'Why couldn't you ask? Why go behind my back? But then again, would that have changed anything?' Again, Dorothy was at a loss for words, or more to the point, at a loss for time in which to deliver them. 'You made me feel so ashamed of who I was … who I am. I have spent my life trying to be something different - spent my life hiding the part of me that makes up the real me.'

'I'm sorry.'

'Sorry doesn't change things. Sorry doesn't give me back those years … or give me back the respect I lost for myself.' Taking her mother's hand in her own, Claire had every intention of letting it drop. However, as soon as she felt how thin it was, she looked down at her mother's left hand. The wedding band and engagement ring were too big, and veins stood out like spilt juice. How did she get so old? So frail? Why has ignorance and bigotry taken away fifteen years of our lives together?

'I've never stopped loving you, you know?' Tearing her gaze away from the hand, she looked back into her mother's eyes. 'I've never stopped worrying … wondering … regretting what I did.' Tears were brimming now. 'I was just too stubborn to do anything about it.' Dorothy's voice caught, and she swallowed back the emotion. 'I didn't understand, you see? Didn't understand what I could have done differently when you were growing up. The person I was angry and disappointed at was me.'

Right in front of her, the blonde watched her mother crumble. It seemed as if her legs had been swept away from her, and the younger woman caught her just in time. Hands clawed for purchase on anything, and the only thing there was Claire. Whatever their differences, they could wait. Pulling her mother over to the sofa, she sat her down before sitting next to her. Cheeks were flushed, yet the rest of Dorothy's face was pale.

'When Vicky called me today, I just wanted to get to you. See you. Make sure you were all right.' Without looking, Dorothy grabbed Claire's hand and brought it to her chest. 'All we knew was what we heard on the news … even when we called the hospital … called CC's … called the police. Either they didn't want to tell us, or they didn't know.' Turning, the older woman caught Claire's eyes before continuing. 'For all we knew …' a sob came unbidden, the hand reaching to Claire's face once more but not quite getting there. Tears came readily, shortly followed by sobs. The young blonde didn't think about the past, didn't think about the reception, she just leaned over and slipped her arms around her mum. There, in the comfort of her daughter's arms, Dorothy Connolly wept for everything. Wept for years lost. Wept for the feel of her grown up daughter once again here with her. Wept for the knowledge that she was safe. And Claire held her.

By the time Dorothy stopped crying, Claire had allowed herself to release her own grief. One part of her life was slipping back, whilst another was growing further away from her. There was some semblance of guilt on the younger woman's side, as soon all she could think about was what had happened earlier in the evening. Walking in on a moment between Jennifer Cartwright and a man professing their undying love for each other had more than shocked her. Although Claire's gaydar was almost non-existent, something about the dark haired woman had triggered within her. Maybe it was the passionate kiss they had shared? Thoughts of her initial reaction to the events came flooding back. Was Jenny kissing her really the lust after human contact before stepping into the unknown? She didn't think so now. So what gives? Why would a woman who is in love with a man, of all things, kiss another woman? And why hadn't she gone to stay with him instead of coming to Claire's? It didn't make sense. Jenny had never mentioned her 'other half'. She had told her about her parents dying, her brother in Germany, but nothing about the man who she had told "And I love you, too".

The only thing she could do was ask her. Something she should have thought about at the time, but emotion had got in the way. She knew, there and then on the sofa in her sister's house whilst holding her mother, that tomorrow she would go to the hospital and see Jennifer Cartwright. She didn't want to be fifteen years down the line and feeling the same regret her mother was feeling at this precise moment.

After all, life is too short.


Chapter Thirteen

Morning came around, although not soon enough for Jennifer Cartwright. After the doctor had seen her and advised her it would be best for her to stay in, she felt her world crumple once again. She had to get out of here - get away from the smell; had to get away from the memories. All she wanted to do was pick up the pieces of her life, and that included seeing Claire Connolly again. Ian was her saviour, as he spoke to the staff and told them he would take care of his sister at his home. Dr Tilford, the man who had checked her over the previous night and again this morning, was adamant. In his honest opinion, although the injuries were not severe, his conscience told him that Jennifer Cartwright needed to be looked after by trained professionals. A worried brother with no medical training could be more of a hindrance than a help.

'Could I hire a nurse to come in?' Dr Tilford pulled his spectacles down and peered over the top at the tall dark haired man standing in front of him. Did I hear that right? This man wanted to hire a nurse to do something his sister could get for free if she stayed here? 'I'll do it now - before we leave.' Racing to the door, Ian stopped and rushed back to the Doctor. 'Could you ... erm ... How do I ... erm ... Can you tell me how to hire a nurse?'

Shaking his head, Dr Tilford chuckled quietly before turning the shake of disbelief into a nod. Looks like Ms Cartwright is going home after all. 'Follow me. I'll get you some numbers.' It had been a long shift for the Doctor, and he didn't have the strength to argue. As soon as he sorted out the private nurse for this patient, he was going home for a much needed rest.

Therefore, at eighteen minutes past ten, Jennifer Cartwright was wheeled to the waiting car outside the hospital, her brother helping her to get in. And then they were gone, Jenny not even looking behind her in reflection. The nurse was due to arrive at three in the afternoon, and would be calling in three times a day for the next week. Jenny sighed with relief, and although she really didn't want someone she didn't know coming around checking her over, if that's what it took to get her out of the Norfolk and Norwich, so be it.

At ten forty five, Claire Connolly pulled into the spot right near the entrance and hurried to see the woman who had plagued her thoughts all night. Considering it had been so late, Vicky had insisted she stay over for the night - even extending it to a few days. But Claire had somewhere to go - someone to see, so she left with a promise to call soon. She hadn't even gone home to shower - just went straight to the hospital. Her parents had left after the conversation Claire had had with her mother, but they wanted to see her soon, as they had missed so much of her life already. However, it was the hospital that drew her more than anything, and the prospect of looking into perfectly blue eyes.

Standing outside the door, Claire breathed deeply. Her heart was racing and thudding against her rib cage. It was shit or bust. She could walk in there and find out that she had been wrong the previous day, or ...

Just open the door, Connolly. Go get her. Pushing out the breath she'd been holding, a trembling hand reached around the door handle. Upon seeing the stripped bed, the blonde initially thought the worst had happened, the once shaking hand trembling visibly before clamping over her mouth, the sob banging against her fingers.

'You looking for someone, luv?' An orderly came back into the room, a stack of clean linen balanced precariously on his arm. Thankfully, he didn't even wait for her to speak, just continued. 'If you're looking for the woman who was in here, she's gone home.' But that didn't stop the emotion gushing through Claire, even if it was now relief, she believed her legs were going to give way. Placing her hand on the wall, she began to breathe deeply and slowly. Her fingers were tingling, the skin over her body charged and sensitive. 'You all right? You look as if you're gonna pass out.' Slowly, Claire nodded her head before changing it to a shake.

'I'm fine ... fine. Just ... fine.' She could feel his eyes on her, and she wanted to run, but there was no way her shaking legs could have carried her more than a few paces. 'Maybe I need to sit down for a while.' With that she slipped down the wall and landed on the floor with a bump. Lifting her knees, she placed her head between them and closed her eyes. Claire knew the orderly was standing over her waiting for her to say something, but at that moment, it was more than enough to not pass out. Jen's ok. She's gone home. She's ok. Breathe. Breathe. I'll just go to her house. Trying to stand again, she slumped back to the floor. Maybe I'll wait a minute.

A few minutes later, Claire felt better. However, she should have anticipated her near faint would result in the orderly scuttling away to find a nurse to check her over. Now that she felt ok, she didn't want to wait around whilst she had to be checked over, but the nurse had other ideas, promising that if she felt Claire was good to go, go she would.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Cartwright was arguing with her brother. It wasn't anything major - just that she wanted to be the one to ring the bell at Claire Connolly's house, and even if she had to struggle up the driveway on her crutches, it would be worth it to see those eyes again.

'Do you want me to take you back to the hospital? I will if you don't be a good girl and rest there for a minute.' Jenny knew her brother meant it too, so she shut up and waited whilst watching her brother make his way to the door. Claire's car wasn't there, but the dark haired woman didn't think twice about the absence of it. The last time she had seen it was when she was leaving it in the car park on Mousehold Heath - the police had probably not gotten around to bringing it back yet, flitted through her mind. Ian was messing around near the door, checking his pockets or something she couldn't quite define. Why is he taking so long? Ring the bloody bell.

Jerking the window down, Jenny shouted, 'Just ring the bell!' Her brother turned and grinned at her, and with agonisingly slow movements, he raised his hand and paused over the button. 'Press!' It was amazing the anticipation racing through her at that moment. Part of her wanted the door to fly open, Claire to see her and come racing over. Another, darker, part of her conjured the image of Claire opening the door, flinging her bags out and then slamming the aforementioned door in her brother's face. However, neither happened. Unbeknownst to either Jenny or Ian, Claire Connolly was at this point leaving the hospital main entrance and on her way to the critic's home.

Ian waited before pressing again. Still no response. One last time for luck, then he turned, shrugged his shoulders, and made his way back to the car. 'What about the place she owns? CC's, is it?' Jenny couldn't even answer, just nodded. 'Isn't that the place that used to be called The Pit?' Once again a nod. 'See you're feeling talkative. Mind if I stick the radio on to drown out your voice?' Without waiting for another nod, or another bout of silence, Ian turned the radio on to be greeted by the local news announcing the capture and detention of David Foster. A slender hand shot out and turned the radio off again. 'Or maybe a CD?' Slipping the silver disc into the slot, the car was soon filled with the thudding noise of some grungy band her brother liked. Usually, Jenny would have complained and made him change it, but in reality, she didn't even hear it. Her mind was too busy trying to work through what she was going to say to Claire. And if Ian thought this time she would wait in the car, he was very much mistaken.

It wasn't long before they pulled into the familiar street that housed CC's. It seemed so different now, empty somehow. Thankfully, Ian managed to park outside the restaurant, and when he ordered her to stay in the car, Jenny nodded meekly. Ian's eyes widened, as he had been expecting her to kick off again. After turning off the engine, he slipped from the car, leaving his keys in the ignition. A small smile crept onto the critic's face, as she leaned over and snatched them from the slot as soon as he was out of sight. A pain shot through her chest and her arm with the movement, but she sucked it down and gritted her teeth. There was no way she was going to let her brother go in there alone, not that she didn't trust him - no. It was more that she wanted to see the blonde woman. Since leaving her, involuntarily of course, Jenny had missed Claire's presence. Although a vague memory of the restaurant owner visiting her when she was groggy flitted into her head, and she could still feel the tender strokes across her brow, it wasn't the same as taking in all that was Claire Connolly when Jenny had all her faculties in working order.

'Shit!' Stepping out of the car hurt like buggery. Her leg throbbed a message to her arm, which, in turn, passed it over to the wound on her chest. She knew she shouldn't be doing this, but she also knew that if she didn't she would regret it even more. Hobbling around to the back of the car, she grabbed her crutches and jammed them under her armpits. It was only the thought of seeing the small blonde at the end of her journey that gave her the momentum to move, move slowly, but move all the same.

By the time she had reached the door, she could see Ian talking to the Head Waiter. 'James?' skittered through her head. Pushing the door open, blue eyes darted all around. Ian was moving away from her now, as the waiter was leading him into the back. 'Ah … he's taking Ian to her.' A smile shot up and the pain in her body seemed to cease with the expectation of looking into those green eyes again. Jenny felt almost giddy as she followed the pair, ignoring the looks from the other staff members who were readying the restaurant for opening. Just as she reached the door, she heard her brother's voice coming towards her. He sounded business like, although friendly. Is he bringing Claire out to see me? Her heart began to hammer in her chest and a slight sheen of sweat was coating her top lip. I look a mess. God! I should have got changed first. Trying to smooth down her hair, whilst balancing precariously on the crutches, Jenny waited for the door to push back and her brother and Claire to come through.

Alas, it was not to be. Two people emerged from the back of the premises, but neither was the one person Jenny wanted to be looking at. Disappointment flooded through her, and even more so when she spotted her bags in her brother's hands. Her eyes seemed to stick onto the baggage, as moving her eyes anywhere else would be acknowledging the absence of Claire.

'What are you doing here? I told you to stay in the car.' Ian tried to be reprimanding, but it came out with more concern than anger. 'Come here, luv. Let me take care of you.' The pain rushing through Jenny was so much more than physical, although Ian believed the sudden loss of colour was because his sister was moving about when she should have been resting. 'Sit … come on … sit here for a few minutes.' Ian tried to maneuver his sister to a nearby chair, but she was having none of it. Jennifer Cartwright wanted to leave, and she wanted to leave now. It was obvious to her that the blonde woman was avoiding her, even if she didn't know why. Maybe she felt it because she felt so low, or ill, or tired. Or maybe she felt it because deep down in her heart she knew that Claire Connolly wasn't interested in her. The kiss, she believed, was a spur of the moment thing. Not for her, by God no. For Claire. Maybe she had responded because of the circumstances. They were entering a situation that was dangerous after all. Could Claire have reacted to the feelings pouring from me? Fed from my want for her?

It took all her strength to speak, especially without breaking down. 'Take me home. I need to get away from here.'

And that's what Ian did. Plonked the bags on the ground and half carried his sister to the waiting car outside, before returning and claiming her things. He knew Jenny's response was so much more than exertion, although he didn't think it was the right time to interrogate her. Silently, he took his car keys from her grip, turned on the engine, and made his way to his house. She would be staying with him for as long as it took for her to feel safe, and that was plenty long enough to find out what was going on.


Obviously, Jennifer Cartwright wasn't at home. Claire knocked and knocked, and then knocked again. She was sure this was the address, although she had only heard it in passing. The blonde could have called Fiona, but she also knew the policewoman was due time off after all the events of the last few days, and the mobile number the policewoman had given her was her work one. Maybe she's resting? In bed. I mean, she did take a battering after all. It still surprised the restaurant owner that the hospital had released the dark haired woman, but apart from the 'she's gone home' from the orderly, no one there knew what had happened - although the nurse who had checked her over hadn't even gone to look at the notes to find out.

A sigh left her mouth, and she turned as if to leave. Claire decided she would come back later and check again. Maybe then she would be able to get the answer to her questions.

Deciding she didn't want to go home straight away, she thought she would nip into work and check a few things before claiming the much needed shower she had promised herself this morning. Claire hadn't wanted to waste time when she had got up, as all she wanted to do was go and see the blue eyed woman - there would be plenty of time for showering later. She lifted her arm and smelled underneath, 'A long shower … and clean clothes.' For the first time in a long time, Claire smiled. She didn't know why, but she did.

With one last press of the doorbell, she left. No one was answering, that was evident. But that wouldn't stop her trying again, and again, and again, until she had told Jennifer Cartwright how she felt, and also found out how the critic felt about her. A sick feeling crawled into the pit of her stomach; she wasn't sure it was nerves, apprehension, or a premonition. Claire was hoping it was one of the first two.

Arriving a CC's, Claire was greeted by James as soon as she entered. 'How're you today, Boss?' His smile was genuine, and she forced a smile from somewhere deep down. 'You've had visitors.' The smile she had conjured disappeared.

'Who?' The word seemed even shorter than its three letters.

'I didn't catch his name, but he was with Jennifer Cartwright.' James watched the colour drain from his employer's face. 'You've just missed them … They came to pick up her belongings.'

'Did … he … she … say anything … else?' The words were jamming. Maybe Jenny had left her a message, a contact number, a something.

James' face screwed up for a moment as he thought back to the conversation he'd had with the tall blue eyed man. 'Just wanted to see you and thank you for all you have done.' A dismissal, that's what it was. Thanks, and now we have to get back to our lives. He paused. 'But Ms Cartwright didn't look well, so they left.' Upon hearing this, Claire wanted to sit down on the floor in the middle of her restaurant and cry. She wasn't too sure whether it was because Jenny had arrived with a man, probably the same man from the hospital, or that she didn't look well, or, finally, because they had left.

Instead of slumping, Claire conjured the next sentence from deep within. 'Did they say they'd be in contact?'

'He did, but Ms Cartwright just wanted to leave.' He knew as soon as he said it that it had come out wrong, so he tried to rectify it. 'I think it was because she wasn't feeling well.' Even to his ears it sounded like an add on. But the words came back to him, the words Jennifer Cartwright had said, 'Take me home. I need to get away from here.' To him, they sounded like the words of a woman who wouldn't be coming back. Although he desperately wanted to tell her that Cartwright was an ungrateful bitch, tell her that she wasn't worth time and effort, he kept his mouth shut. By the look on his boss' face, that was the last thing she wanted to hear. James could wait. He would intimate to Claire that the blue eyed life wrecker wasn't what was needed in their life - the life he was beginning to want for himself and Claire Connolly.

'I'm just checking some … erm … orders, and then I'll be away for a while.' Claire moved passed him, but stopped and laid her hand on his arm before adding, 'Are you sure you'll be ok?' James nodded, his smarmy smile firmly in place.

'I'll be fine, and your business will be fine.' Pausing briefly, he said, 'We will be fine Claire.' He placed his hand over hers and gave a small smile. 'You need to take a break, Claire. Leave everything to me … to us.' She nodded and used her other hand to pat his before moving away and into the back where her office was. He watched her go, a feeling of wanting washing over him. Claire Connolly was such a beautiful person inside and out.Even from the outset, he had noticed there had been a connection, a fascination, between the blonde and the critic; it was just a shame that Jennifer Cartwright couldn't see what she was losing. A snigger shot out of his mouth. 'More fool her,' he muttered before going back to laying the tables. 'Maybe now I can make my move. Become Mr Indispensible - Mr Reliable - Mr and Mrs J Donohue.' God. That made him feel good. In his arrogance, he did not think for one second his feelings would not be reciprocated.

Once inside her office, with the door firmly closed, Claire leaned against the woodwork. That was it. Over. No point calling now, she doesn't want to know. She wanted to leave … get out … scarper. Jenny hadn't wanted to face her that much was obvious, although she had made the effort to come inside and thank her. Thank me for what? My hospitality? Getting the shit kicked out of me? The kiss?

Although the pain in her chest hurt more than all the bruises, she stifled the pain and moved over to her desk. Pushing the paper with the critic's handwriting to one side, she lifted the phone, and then turned her back to the table to make sure her eyes didn't go back to the sheets. After two rings a familiar voice answered.

'Hi. Vicky? It's me, Claire. I wondered if I could take you up about the offer of a few days away.' A pause, and then a short empty laugh to something her sister had said. 'Yeah … well, work is sorted, and all I need to do now is get some stuff together and shower.' Something else was said, and the blonde replied, 'Yeah … ok. I'll get my butt moving - and washed. See you in a bit.' Trying to place the phone in the holder brought back memories of the last time she'd had difficulty with it. It had been on the night that Jennifer Cartwright had been drugged - not even a week ago. Once again, Claire tried to get it into the cradle. Clank. Then the tone. Slam. Then again. 'For fuck's sake!' She gripped the long slender object in her fist and acted as if she wanted to choke the life out of it. 'And that's going to bring her back, how?' Realizing what she had said, Claire stopped, and gently moved the phone over the slot where it should happily sit. A wiggle and a click. 'Maybe I'll stop off and get a new one. Start afresh.' She didn't even consider what she meant by starting afresh, it just seemed to fit somehow, unlike the phone.

Decision made, Claire Connolly left CC's behind, waving to her staff on the way out, whilst sporting a fake smile.


Chapter Fourteen

Three months passed, and for both Claire Connolly and Jennifer Cartwright it seemed a lot longer. Claire had thrown herself back into work, spending up to sixteen hours there each day. She had never used the contacts Jenny had given her, although she had kept the list in the bottom of her desk drawer. Life had continued, although the sparkle had seemed to fade from her eyes, not that she got close enough anyone for them to notice.

The reason why the story picks up again at this point is simply this. David Foster was due to attend court. The magistrate's hearing had been weeks ago, and obviously the man had pleaded not guilty, quite loudly, well, at almost a scream level. He had been carted away and back to his cell at Norwich Prison until the hearing. A psychological review had deemed him fit to go to the Crown Court and the defense and prosecution had needed time to prepare. See? Simple.

As for Jennifer Cartwright - she was still living at her brother's. There was no way she wanted to go back to what had formerly been her home; it was now just a house, a house that had been sold near enough the moment it had hit the market. Probably because the price was cheaper than the usual asking price of the neighbourhood, contracts had been signed within two months of the events after the Mousehold Heath incident.

Ian loved having his sister living with him, although, to be honest, he was worried sick about her. Physically, she was fit, and the nurse he had hired had left after three days. However, Jenny was withdrawn - emotionally and spiritually she appeared broken. Initially, he had put this down to what had happened to her. Being drugged, beaten, and stabbed three times would take the fire out of anyone, but that wasn't it. She didn't give the impression she was nervous about going out, in fact she went out more now than he had ever known her to. Talking about Foster didn't incite nervous looks or make her edgy - far from it. Talking about Foster was done in the cold detached manner Jenny gave to anything that didn't interest her - which, at the moment, was everything. The only time she had shown any kind of emotion was when he had brought her home the first day. He had held her in his arms and thanked the Lord that she was alive, coupled with the fact that he was here to hold her. After she stopped crying, he mentioned Claire Connolly's name, and that's when things began to change.

'I want to forget all that.' At first he thought she meant about her near death experience, but that wasn't the case. Jenny had brought up Foster's name again before the first day was over, and he had willingly been there to listen. Then when he had mentioned going to see Claire Connolly the next day to thank her, Jenny had become angry and told him to leave her alone, and 'Hadn't she been through enough without us dragging her back into it.'

Whatever had gone on between the two women, he didn't know. All he understood was talking about violence and near death was ok, but mentioning someone who he believed his sister was attracted to was a huge no no. But, as people know, brothers are not renowned to leave things alone. They have to get involved and put their ha'penny in. Most of the time they do so with good intentions, and sometimes they do it to stir up the shit. In Ian Cartwright's case, it was the former, and he did it within two days of getting his sister back from the hospital.

Going to the restaurant without his sister's knowledge felt wrong somehow, but he was concerned. She wasn't eating properly, her sleep was intermittent with nightmares, and she was becoming more aloof. If going behind her back was the way to get her well, then he would, and did, do it.

Upon entering CC's, Ian was greeted by the same young man he had met before, a likeable man with a ready smile and a friendly manner. When Ian had asked to see Claire, he wasn't sure, but he sensed the smile wavering.

'I'm sorry. Ms Connolly has taken time off.' The waiter touched Ian's arm and semi guided him towards the exit.

'Do you know when she'll be back?' James shook his head and smiled. 'Or where I could contact her?' Another shake.

'I'm not at liberty to divulge the personal life of my employer. I'm sorry.' James didn't feel bad, and in his opinion, the life and welfare of his boss was more important than that of Jennifer Cartwright - and also his life and his welfare. He had seen how upset Claire had been when he had informed her of the behaviour of the dark haired woman, and there was no way he would be letting that happen again, especially if it meant Jennifer Cartwright would be back on the scene. James Donahue didn't realize that it wasn't his choice to make, but unlike Ian, he wasn't working on a 'Best Interest for the Women' basis, just on his own selfish interests.

'James! Phone!' A waitress called for him, shaking the phone in the air like he needed the visual affirmation.

'Once again, I'm sorry I couldn't be more of a help.' Then he left, leaving the wide eyed Ian Cartwright standing on his own wondering if the sorry was as fake as it had sounded.

It was less than a minute before Ian turned to leave. Just as his reached the door, he turned back, delved inside his jacket pocket, procured something white and small, and slipped it on the counter of the cashier's desk. Then he left. That was the last time he visited the restaurant, and the last time Claire Connolly's name had been mentioned.

A few days later, Claire had returned to work. In her office sat her mail, and on the top of it sat a business card. 'Ian Cartwright. Sales Executive.' At least her brother is back from Germany, she thought. If she doesn't want to stay at home, or with that bloke, she can stay with him. It sounded bitter, but she didn't mean it to come out that way. Claire was going for hurt. If her brother could be arsed to come and see me, you would think she would make the effort. Picking up the card, she shoved it in the desk drawer with the list of contacts, before she set about trying to sort out the new phone she had bought for her office. Picking up the receiver, she effortlessly slipped it back into its cradle. At least something is working out - more than I can say for my private life. A sigh escaped, and then Claire set about making her restaurant the centre of her world again. She was hoping it could have been the blue eyed woman, but alas, that was not to be.

It was never meant to be.


Sergeant Fiona Houghton looked the part. Her tunic was perfect; her buttons had a shine on them that would make the North Star blush, and the medals she had been awarded brightened up the darkness of the material. Smoothing away nonexistent creases, she felt slender arms encircle her waist, followed by a soft voice next to her ear.

'You'll have them eating out of your hands, love.'

Tilting her head, Fiona stared into the deep blue gaze of her lover, her heart skipping a beat the way it always did when she was next to Laura. 'But I only want you to do that.' It surprised the policewoman how mushy she had become over the last few months. Being in love certainly suited her, and although she had always had a cockiness in her walk, now it could be described as a swagger. Being with Laura had turned her life upside down and inside out, and to be honest, she loved it. Fiona was still dedicated to her job, but now she couldn't wait to finish her shift so she could see the woman who held her heart so easily, and so securely. Had it only been three months? It seemed like she had known the nurse for a lifetime, and it still wasn't enough.

'It's a shame you have to leave … I've got the whole day off with no one to share it with.' A soft kiss landed on Fiona's chin, and a gurgling of want bubbled in her gut. Memories of their lovemaking from the previous night skidded into her head, and that made the gurgle turn into a flame of desire. Laura sensed the change in the woman's body she was holding, knew that if she continued to tease the police woman, there would be no going to court today. Instead, that beautifully tailored uniform would be lying in a heap on the floor, and the day would pass in a blur of lovemaking. Sighing, she pulled her arms away, only to have them recaptured by strong hands. Turning easily, Fiona pulled the nurse to her, capturing her mouth with her own hungry one.

The kiss was powerful … consuming … all that it promised and more. Laura didn't want it to stop, but she also knew that if she didn't then neither of them would. Slowing down the kiss was torture, and the passion leisurely withdrew and hid itself under the surface of brown hooded eyes. Bringing her hands to the police officer's face, the nurse cupped her jaw. 'You …' a brush of lips 'can …' another brush 'finish that off later.' This time the brush was a soft kiss, a soft kiss that lingered and promised so much.

Sighing, Fiona let her hands leave the place they wanted to be. There was plenty of time for her to continue with showing this beautiful woman how much she meant to her, but for the next couple of weeks, it had to be work first. It had been a long wait for the court hearing today, as the Prosecution had argued over Foster's state of mind. If he was found to be not mentally sound, the case would waver if they didn't get it all in place beforehand. That coupled with the stretch he would have if he was found to be a danger to himself and others. By trying that angle, and found guilty, David Foster would not be seeing daylight from behind bars for a very long time. The court should rule he stay in a high security mental institution indefinitely, and if he did get better, then serve fifteen to twenty years in prison.

Another sigh left her. She knew the legal system was fucked up - knew that if they didn't get their facts perfect, David Foster would get off light. That was one thing the police woman didn't want to happen.

'It'll be ok, honey.' Laura stroked her arm, before picking a tuft of imaginary fluff from the sleeve. 'You have enough evidence to nail the bastard.' Flicking her eyes back to the face she loved, Fiona had to laugh at the serious look on Laura's face. 'And if not … you can always take him up the Heath again.' The face broke into a grin, then a laugh.

Another kiss followed, as both women still couldn't get enough of each other.

'And I doubt I ever will,' they both thought, as the kiss once again developed.


Entering reception, Fiona was greeted by Jennifer Cartwright and her brother, both of which looked sick to their stomachs. The time ahead would be tough on everyone, but especially the dark haired critic. The female officer had seen her off and on for the last few weeks, although she didn't have to. The case was passed over, as it was deemed that she had too much of a personal involvement with it, as well as to ease her workload. However, Fiona wanted to be there, for both women; help them get it off their chest; talk them through proceedings; go over evidence; do everything she could to put the women at ease. Weirdly enough, Jenny hadn't been too fazed by going to court. Well, that's what the police woman thought. She had always seemed perfectly in control, almost cold when discussing the incident, almost like it had happened to someone else. The only time any emotion surfaced was when the name Claire Connolly was raised. Even weirder, it was the same when Fiona had gone to see the small blonde. Having the shit kicked out of them in the middle of the night raised nothing but an answer. However, mention the other woman, and it was as if Fiona had started talking about kicking puppies. By what she had gathered, neither woman had seen the other. Why? Fuck knew. Most people would have become stronger - connected because of the events. But it had gone the complete opposite way. If she didn't already know how they felt about discussing David Foster, she would have said it was because they didn't want to be reminded of what would be the worst night of their life. But that wasn't the case. And if she knew Jennifer Cartwright the way she believed she did, the reason why she was pacing was not because of the up and coming case. It was because Claire Connolly would be here - if she wasn't already.

'Sergeant Houghton … Fiona … Good to see you again.' Ian Cartwright moved forward, grasping her hand in his. She was still surprised at the size of it, and how it made hers look like a baby's. 'I was hoping …' Ian lowered his voice, glancing nervously over his shoulder at his sister who was standing back, 'if I could meet Ms Connolly before proceedings?' Another nervous look, and back to looking at the policewoman with hope and anticipation. 'Without Jen knowing.' Fiona's eyebrows raised in question.

'Haven't you met her yet?' It seemed strange that Ian hadn't gone to see the restaurant owner, if only to thank her.

'I … erm … no. I only know what she looks like from the pictures in the paper.' Leaning closer, he whispered, 'I did try … left my card, but she didn't contact me. And …'

'Are you going to get out of the way so I can say hello?' The sound of Jenny's dulcet tone floated into the conspiratorial area between the officer and Ian Cartwright. Instantly, he sprang back, his face colouring like a child who has been caught doing something cruel to insects. 'You make a great door, but a crap window, Ian.' Humour was in her voice, and she smiled, then the smile wavered and tried valiantly to come back. Her expression showed confusion, and she looked from one to the other. 'What's going on?'

'Nothing!' Both Ian and Fiona answered, and even to an outsider it sounded false.

'I bet.' But instead of pushing the issue, Jenny opened her arms and hugged the policewoman to her. 'Good to see you again, Fiona. Let's go get the bastard.'

From a hidden place to the right of the threesome, Claire Connolly watched. This was the first time she had seen Jennifer Cartwright since the hospital. Part of her was glad the woman looked so well after all she had gone through, whereas another part was angry. She knew now beyond a shadow of a doubt that the man she had seen hugging Jenny and professing undying love had been her brother - the voice was the same - the build was the same - and if she had only hung around for a little longer, she would have been able to see the family resemblance. That wasn't the only reason why she was angry, though. Having another person in the equation actually had made things a little easier for her to cope with. Knowing that Jennifer Cartwright didn't want anything to do with her when she didn't have anyone else in the picture was a little harder to swallow.

When she had first come in to the court house she had been nervous, her bladder working ten to the dozen. Therefore, the toilets were her first pit stop. Upon leaving, she had seen the meeting of the three people - two of which she had known instantly. In fact, she had felt Jenny before she had actually seen her, another thing to be angry about. She didn't want to feel the presence of the woman who had broken her heart nearly three months ago. Claire wanted to forget her - forget everything about those few days, especially the attraction she had. However, seeing the tall dark haired woman had brought it all back - not the beating, the fear, the violence - no. The tenderness, the connection, the wanting to be with that woman who was standing there now laughing with her brother and Fiona. She wanted to forget that she wanted to be standing with them.

In all honesty, Claire Connolly could say that even though all contact with Jenny had stopped, she had not spent one single day since leaving the hospital without regretting what she had done. Deep down she knew she had been a coward, 'Why didn't I just go and find her? Why leave it up to her to make a decision on my future without knowing why?' Stupid questions, stupid actions. But the questions ignited that feeling once again. Why did she blow me off? Why has she never come to see me? What did I do?

Weirdly enough, Jennifer Cartwright was thinking nearly the exact same thing. Walking towards the waiting area, she felt a sense of loss so profound that she wanted to curl up and die. There was a pull in her chest that made her want to just turn around and walk back towards the door. She knew if she did, then everything would once again be all right. Pity she didn't, because if she had, she would have bumped straight into the woman who haunted her dreams.


Unlike Jenny, Claire had to wait outside of the court room until she was called. She felt a sense of relief when she initially walked into the room and found it empty. Fiona had already told her that Jennifer would be first up, and although Claire was involved with the part of the trial - Foster trying to beat the living crap out of her - the court had decided to concentrate on what he had done to the critic first. Attempted murder was more important, after all.

Fifteen minutes passed, and the small blonde was antsy. All she wanted was it all to be over so she could get back to her life. 'More like work,' flitted through her head. Leaning forward, she snatched a copy of the morning's newspaper, only to momentarily freeze when she read the headline 'Foster Faces Court' accompanied by a picture of the man being lead to a waiting police car. Grunting out a swear word, she turned the page and faced more stories of death, destruction, and the evil within mankind.

'Excuse me?' A voice came from behind the pages, a voice she remembered, a voice that made her go cold. 'Are you Claire Connolly?' She wanted to keep the paper raised, ignore the voice until it went away. However, she couldn't. Slowly, she dropped the paper to her lap and faced a pair of sparkling blue eyes and a smile that was waiting to make itself known. A hand shot out and waited for her to take it, although she hesitated slightly before doing so. Bam. The smile came, and the eyes sparkled even more, making Claire's stomach lurch. He is so much like her. 'I'm Ian Cartwright - Jen's brother?' The statement came out as a question, as if she might not know who 'Jen' was. 'I've wanted to meet you for so long.' His face was blushing, his hand still gripping onto hers. 'Thank you. Thank you, and thank you. You saved my sister.' But she didn't save me. 'I don't know how I'll ever repay you.'

Ian wasn't stupid, not by any stretch of the imagination. He knew that Claire Connolly wanted to run. Facing him, she also had to face his sister. Another thing he was definite about was that this woman felt the same way about Jen as the dark haired woman felt about her. Ian Cartwright also knew that this time he would be there to help. Last time his sister had needed him, when Foster was on the loose, he had been in Germany. But now … now he had the chance to actually give his sister her life back. And by the dark shadows underneath Claire Connolly's eyes, he believed, hers too. 'Before this trial is over,' he promised himself, 'these two women will have sorted out their differences. If it isn't meant to be, it won't happen.' But if it was, he was going to do everything in his power to help it on its way.

Not waiting for an invitation. Ian sat down next to the small blonde, noting how she was still gripping onto the newspaper as if it would help in some way. Nervously, he began to babble, bringing up why he wasn't there when it had all kicked off, what had happened when he had found out the extent of the meeting between the two women on Mousehold Heath, and how he had flown back as soon as he could. Turning, he leaned forward to catch the beautiful green eyes of the woman seated next to him. 'No wonder Jen is infatuated,' popped into his head. 'This woman is beautiful.' Momentarily he was lost in the swirling green, his heart missing a beat and starting again with a thud. Licking his lips, he tried to garner the nerves to say what he wanted to say. 'To be honest, I'm worried about her.' He noted the change in the posture of the restaurant owner. She, too, leaned closer, although he doubted she actually knew she had done it. 'Since the incident, Jenny's not been herself.'

'In what way?' Although Claire didn't want to get drawn into the life of Jennifer Cartwright, something deep inside prompted her to react. She was angry, hurt, disappointed, all of these and more besides, but she was also concerned. Just because Jenny had given her the shiny elbow didn't mean that she would want any harm to come to her, or for her to be hurting in any way.

Ian knew he had her. Knew if he said the right thing now things could go his way - and the way for his sister and the blonde.

'Well, I can't put my finger on it specifically.' By now he knew he had his finger exactly on the reason. 'Jenny doesn't sleep, rarely eats, and is withdrawn.' Dramatically, he placed his head into his hands and mimicked a sob. 'She just not my Jen anymore.' Tentatively, a hand slipped onto to his shoulder and began to rub across his back in comfort. Knowing it would be best to wait a few moments, Ian tried to squeeze a couple of tears from his eyes whilst his hands were shading them from the interested woman beside him.

'Has she talked to anyone about what happened?' The voice was soft, caring, and full of anxiety.

'Time for the big finale,' he thought.

Looking through his fingers, he sniffed, and then drew back, wiping his eyes as he went. 'I thought that would help, too. But it isn't because of what David Foster did to her that is making her act this way.' Green eyes widened, and Claire stopped rubbing his back. Then the same green eyes half closed as if she was trying to read him.

'What … why then?' Her voice was trying valiantly to sound calm, but Claire was finding it difficult. Swallowing, she tried again. 'What's ailing her?'

'A pause …for effect,' flitted through his head, before he counted up to five.


So simply put, so easy to understand, but Claire Connolly didn't. 'Me?'

'Yes. You. Plain and simple. She hasn't got over losing you.'

It seemed as if time stood still for what appeared to be forever. The blonde was stunned, the word 'you' resounding through her head. It felt as if someone had shoved their hand down her throat and punched her heart, her stomach, her everything. Then the room seemed to shrink … the light dimming, and for an awful moment Claire thought she was going to faint. Thankfully, another thought came into focus and allowed her reaction to actually become an action.

'Me! She hasn't got over losing ME!' Standing sharply, Claire staggered backwards almost making Ian fall. 'I'm sorry to inform you, Mr Cartwright, but your sister got over me just fine.' One word resounded through his head, and unlike Claire's echo of 'you' this one was the word 'fuck'. Where did I lose it? 'Your sister didn't even have the courtesy to come and say goodbye, never mind losing me.' Although he was shocked with the outburst, he couldn't help noticing how stunning the woman was in front of him - how when she got really angry her eyes sparkled … how her figure looked so trim and defined. 'I don't think it's anything to grin about, Mr Cartwright, do you?' Ian hadn't even realized he had been grinning, and gave her an apologetic nod and tried to wipe the smile from his face. If there was proof that Claire Connolly was as attracted to his sister as she was to the fiery blonde, here was his evidence. If Claire Connolly didn't give a crap, then she wouldn't be towering over him, her hands on her hips, those mesmerizing green eyes boring into his own.

Fuck. She's waiting for an answer.

'Erm …'

'And for your information, I had the decency to come to the hospital to see her and … and …' and Claire couldn't continue, because if she did, she would have to admit that she had buggered everything up in the first place. Why am I acting so bloody pious? I'm worse than my mother was. It seemed as if an invisible pin had sneaked in and pressed itself to the blonde's anger. Ian could almost hear the deflation as she sagged, then plopped back onto the plastic seat next to him. In truth, Claire had realized that she had acted the way she had mainly because of the hurt she had felt, and also that she knew they were all in this situation because she had jumped to conclusions.

Quiet pervaded the room. The kind of quiet that makes things seem too uncomfortable. The same kind of quiet that makes the people in that situation wrack their brains to try and break it. It seemed too long before Ian did. 'She kept asking for you.' Back to the quiet. Back to the uncomfortable silence that a statement like that brings. 'All the time … Every time the door opened, I could see it in her eyes … the disappointment that it wasn't you.' The words were spoken softly, but they resonated inside Claire's head as if they had been shouted. 'Even when we left the hospital, she wanted to find you. It was as if … as if …' Turning, he looked at the woman next to him. There seemed to be an air of resignation about her, a sadness, a willing him to continue. 'It seemed as if she had to see you and make sure she hadn't dreamt you.' The last line surprised even Ian. He had never thought of himself as a poet, or someone who could deliver a line that appeared to come straight from a romantic novel.

'But she said she wanted to leave … get away from the restaurant.' It wasn't spoken harshly this time - far from it. '"Take me home. I need to get away from here." That's what she said, wasn't it? Get me away from her?' Claire's voice was drifting, and she appeared to be looking into nothing.

'She was injured, Claire … in so much pain. But all she wanted to do was get to you.' Ian slipped his hand into the blonde's and gave a sad smile when he felt her fingers clutch at his. 'She wasn't even supposed to go home from hospital that day, but it was a case of if you weren't coming to see her, she was going to find you.' He could feel the trembling begin, as it rippled through his own hand. 'I had to hire a nurse for her before we were allowed to leave.' Ian sighed as he thought back how his sister had been those first few days. 'I told her to wait in the car whilst I went in to find you … she couldn't even wait that long. Followed me in and nearly collapsed.'

A sob broke through his memories, a sob that held so much pain he had felt it inside his own chest. Quickly looking at the small blonde, he saw that she appeared even smaller, as if she had folded into herself. Pulling her into a hug, Ian found that she came willingly. Tears were running freely down the woman's face, and he could see them glistening as they sat on the shoulder of his black suit jacket. So he pulled her closer, held her securely, held her like he had held his own sister three months earlier as she had cried for this delicate woman who was now breaking in his arms. It was a while before the crying ceased, as Claire Connolly had a lifetime of emotions to let out into the stunned waiting room of the Crown Court.


Jenny was uneasy. Here she was, sitting next to her barrister, and where was her brother? He is supposed to be here with me. Ian had made a stupid excuse just as they were entering the court, something about phoning work … something shallow and as see through as a pair of glasses. Except, unlike glasses, his excuse had only confused the issue instead of making it clearer. Court had been in session for nearly one and a half hours, and there was still no sign of him, but there was plenty to see standing in the dock. David Foster had not taken his eyes off her from the minute he had been lead in, and although there were court officials everywhere, Jen had the distinct impression that if he had the chance, he would be over that bar and trying to throttle the life out of her once again. It didn't help much when all that seemed to have transpired was the discussion on his mental health.

Looking around, she once again tried to find Claire Connolly, but like her brother, she, too, was nowhere to be seen. Thankfully, Fiona was present, and standing in the witness box looking professional and at ease. She had a bible in her hand and was swearing herself in, a small smile playing at the corner of her mouth. Unlike shows on TV where court seems so exciting, it was the complete opposite. Barristers spent time cross examining the witness, although it wasn't slamming hands down and shouting questions before declaring an accusation. It was more like clarifying everything she already knew. Jen was sure they knew what they were doing, but all she wanted to do was get it all over and get home, then she could shut out the past, move on, and forget everything and everyone who had been involved.

Once again, Jenny turned to see if anyone else had come into the room, and once again she was disappointed. This was going to be a long day.


Ian knew his sister was going to be livid - knew that as soon as he entered the court room two hours after proceedings had started. Even if he didn't think she would be mad, the ice blue glare he received as he settled himself next to her was enough to alert him that all was not well. A mumbled apology was met with coldness, another glare, and then a shift so she was slightly turned from him. Sergeant Fiona Houghton was still in the dock, her black notebook opened, her voice clearly informing the court on what had happened on Sunday May 17th, after she had arrived at the hospital and met Ms Jennifer Cartwright for the first time. Descriptions from the policewoman's notebook informed the court of how the woman had been: scared, ashamed, isolated, and myriads of other emotions. Words like 'drugged', 'Rohypnol' and 'rape' echoed through the chamber, and Jenny once again felt the shame she had initially felt when she had woken in the Norwich and Norfolk Hospital. A memory flitted through her head, the memory of deliberating whether she wanted to tell the police what had happened to her. Shaking her head to dismiss it, she once again focused on Fiona. She had done the right thing. Then the thought of what could have happened if she hadn't entered her mind. What if she had been arrogant, albeit through fear, and not wanted to press charges? Would she actually be alive today? Bored, yes? But alive?

'And that's when Ms Connolly volunteered to let Ms Cartwright stay at her residence.'

The mention of Claire's name made her jerk involuntarily, the thought, 'More like existing than alive' racing through her head without being checked. Ian sensed the shift in his sister's body, and slipped his hand onto her knee. Part of him thought she would ignore it, but when cold fingers searched out his own and tightened, he allowed the breath he didn't know he'd been holding to escape slowly and noiselessly.

On and on, the evidence against David Foster came, and it was all spoken in the clear controlled voice of the policewoman. It had been the first time that Ian had heard exactly what had gone on over those few days, and even though he knew it had been bad, he was feeling sick to his stomach by the time Fiona reached the end of her testimony. The events on Mousehold Heath were ten times more horrific than he had dared them to be, and he felt himself go weak. His sister had gone through all of that and not even mentioned it - seemed to ignore it - wanted to forget it. He couldn't believe the strength of her, and deep down he was proud. That being the case, he also knew that even though she had survived the ordeal, it was still affecting her life. Jenny had gone back to work, granted, but her usual enthusiasm had waned. Turning, he took in her profile. To an outsider it would appear that Jennifer Cartwright was at ease, but he knew her better than that. She was putting on a façade, acting the part of the cool collected critic she allowed the world to believe she was. He had heard the names his sister had been called over the years, especially the Queen of Spleen, and he also knew that was as far away from the truth as it could get. Whatever she had done in the line of her work had been exactly that - her work. She had never lied about service, or quality, of the places she visited. It all boiled down to one thing. People didn't like hearing the truth about themselves, or their business.

Ian glanced over at David Foster, who was still glaring at Jenny, and thought, 'And there's a prime example'. The hate on the defendant's face fit him like a grotesque mask, making his features twist and distort. There must be more to this, there must be more than one bad review that can incite such hatred. Unfortunately, Ian had missed the part of the preliminaries which brought up Foster's childhood, making the court believe that his relationship with his mother could also be a factor in his actions. However, most of the court had dismissed this as conjecture, as why would a man in his thirties suddenly blow a gasket over something like a bad review? Ian had also missed that Foster had no other record; the most the court could assert was he was a bastard to work for, although it didn't outwardly say the word.

'Court is adjourned for thirty minutes.'

The voice of the judge brought Ian back into reality. Foster was gone, and the people of the court were moving out. This would be the chance he needed to inform his sister what he had really been doing - maybe even get the two ladies to meet. A smile flickered over his face, before he turned to his sister. Jenny was staring at him, and he knew he would have to get past the irritation she was harbouring before he could say anything. 'You all right, sis?' Ian grinned, and then felt the smile slip away as Jenny continued to glare. 'Fancy a cuppa?'

Jenny opened her mouth to respond, but was interrupted by her barrister.

'Remember to go to the waiting area - Room 3. You must not talk to anyone about what has happened.' Aw shit, thought Ian, Claire was in Room 6. 'Refreshments will be provided, and there are toilets in the corridor.' Then he was gone, and Jenny was back to glaring at her sibling.

Pursing her lips, Jenny contemplated getting stuck into her brother right there and then, but then thought the privacy of the waiting area would be better. Scraping her bottom teeth over her top lip, she spoke with a clipped voice. 'I'm going to the loo. I'll deal with you when I get back.' Then she was gone, and Ian was left wracking his brains on how he would break the news to his sister that he had gone behind her back and spoken to the woman she so obviously didn't want him to speak to. Sighing, he stood up. 'I'll cross that bridge when I come to it, which, in fact, will be in about five minutes.' Warily, he made his way outside.

Jenny couldn't wait to get to the toilets. Not because she was bursting to go - mainly to just get away from the court environment … get away from Foster … get away from having Claire Connolly's name brought up left, right, and centre. As she was in the cubicle, she heard the outside door swing back and thud back into place. High heels made their way along the tiled floor, stopped next to her stall, and then moved on down to the far end of the room. She had finished her ablutions, and was just sitting on the loo thinking about what had gone on that morning. Considering the reason why she was in court, that wasn't the main thing floating through her mind. Why had her brother left her there to deal with it on her own? He would have usually been at her side, guiding her, helping her cope. But instead, he had made up a half cocked story about needing to contact work. Now, Ian was many things, but putting his job before her … that didn't seem right somehow. That was more her style - well, recently, anyway.

Sighing, Jenny stood up, straightening her skirt as she did. A quick flush, and she was outside and over to the sinks. As she washed her hands, she heard the end toilet flush, also, and the bolt being drawn back. It wasn't as if Jenny was interested in who was coming out, and would have usually just ignored them. But it wasn't as simple as that. It was a feeling cascading through her, a feeling that tugging inside her chest, inside her gut, and there was also the matter of a tingling sensation racing down her spine to contend with. Autonomously, her head lifted and looked into the mirror. Standing behind her, and a little to the left, was the woman who had invaded her thoughts, both awake and asleep. Green eyes widened in shock, the perfectly shaped lips contracting into an o. Inside her chest it seemed as if her heart had been kick started - the boom, she believed, to be almost audible. Part of her wanted to break away from the gaze of the woman behind her, but a bigger, more insistent part refused. She was mesmerized by the image. It seemed as if it were a figment of her imagination, the part of a person that appears when the need for something is so strong. But Claire Connolly was no mirage. She was real - flesh and blood - and moving her mouth as if to speak.

'How are you?' It was soft, inviting, non-committal. Claire was struggling to come up with anything else, as her brain was still in shock to see Jennifer Cartwright standing in front of her. She also knew that she shouldn't be talking to her - not because of what had happened, but because of the trial.

Jenny was finding it just as difficult to answer. Her mouth had suddenly dried, and she was sucking in air like it was going up in inflation. There was also the fact she wanted to blurt 'As if you cared,' and that was not the way to go.

'Been better. You?' After all this time, all those scenarios I've had in my head - that was the best I could muster?

Stepping forward, the restaurant owner moved to the side of Jenny and began the process of washing her hands. Giving her a sideward glance in the mirror, she muttered, 'I'm good.' A slight pause before she cautiously continued. 'You look great, if you don't mind me saying.' In her mind, Claire was thinking that the dark haired beauty looked more than just great. The woman next to her looked just how Claire remembered - breathtaking. Fleeting remarks from Ian Cartwright popped into her head, and that gave her the nerve to continue talking. 'Look, Jen … we …' Blue eyes shot up and met green. No one called her Jen but Ian. Lose strands of incidents began to dangle in her brain, and she ferociously tried to tie them together. 'We need to talk.'

'About what?' Turning fully to face the smaller woman, Jenny made the first real eye contact other than from in the mirror. Seeing the green once again made her remember the feeling of calm and safety they had given her after waking up in the hospital. They also made her painfully aware how she had wanted to be lost in those green eyes - to wake up with those green eyes - to be loved by those … green … eyes. 'I think you made yourself perfectly clear, don't you?'

Instead of reeling from the cold tone, Claire sucked in a breath and continued. 'It was a misunderstanding … I … thought …'

'What? You thought what? That I was the type of person who would use you? Kiss and run when you're no longer required. Is that it?' The words weren't cold anymore. They were getting hotter along with Jenny's anger.

'That's not …'

'Oh yes it is, Claire. You judged me. I don't know why, and I don't know how, but you did.' Stepping back, Jenny left a space between the two women. 'At first I thought you realized that I wasn't worth it, but then I began to doubt that.' Claire was stunned. 'You see, I believed you were ignoring me, trying to get away from me after grasping what had happened - what you were getting into.'

'I …'

'Please. Let me finish. I need to tell you, Claire. Need you to know how I feel.' She waited a few seconds before continuing. 'You did ask how I was after all.' Slowly, a blonde head nodded. 'You weren't the type of person, as I thought, that would step into something without meaning to. The kiss … we shared. That was real. All the feelings you had for me - I had for you …' It didn't go unnoticed by the smaller woman that Jenny had said 'had', and that made her head droop slightly. 'The way you protected me … wouldn't stay behind when I had to go to Mousehold. They weren't the actions of someone who didn't give a flying fuck.' A soft sigh broke out. 'I was so confused afterwards. So fucking confused.'

The pain inside Claire's chest was agony, and if she didn't know better, she would have believed she was having a heart attack. And the reason why she knew she wasn't was simple. Her heart was too broken to go into seizure.

'I remember waking up in the hospital - waking and seeing you there. It didn't matter that I was in such pain. That was nothing. I had you there with me … that's all that mattered. You and I had survived, and now we could move on with our lives. Together.' It wasn't easy for Jenny to say any of the things she was saying, but she felt she had to. 'Look. I've got to go. We're not supposed to be talking.' As she turned to leave, a hand grabbed her arm and pulled her back, making her turn and face the small blonde once again. Claire's face reflected the agony whirling through her, and Jenny could see her struggling to speak. A muffled 'please' accompanied the sob, and Jenny did the only thing she could think of doing. Tentatively, she slipped her arms around the woman in front of her and pulled her into an embrace. The feel of the body shaking, the feel of the woman she so desperately needed, the feel of completion, all of these raced through her making her close her eyes and absorb the moment.

Claire Connolly cried. She cried and cried and cried. Holding Jennifer Cartwright seemed so right, and she knew that after the taller woman released her that would be the last time she would feel her body so close to hers, smell her scent, and feel the gentle touch of hands rubbing slow circles over her back. But that wasn't the only reason why she was crying. The main reason was because of what Jennifer Cartwright had said - it was true. She had judged her, believed the worst, opted out. Yes. Claire had tried to make contact, but for how long? Long enough for her to jump the gun and draw her own conclusions before throwing herself into her work, that's how long. Why she had done it, she couldn't understand. Thoughts of her mother popped into her head - the way her mother had reacted when she had found her diary. She had jumped to conclusions too, and look where that had got them both. Fifteen years apart and full of regrets. Although she had said she wouldn't make the same mistake, she had. And what made it worse was the knowledge that she already knew what ignorance and jumping the gun could do, and she went and relived it all over again. This made her cry even harder. Like mother like daughter, eh?

'Hey … come on … shush …' The voice of Jenny was calming, soothing, all that Claire wanted it to be, but that didn't stop her continuing to cry. Soft hands began to stroke her hair, long languid strokes that started at her crown and flowed all the way to the tip. 'I'm sorry … I didn't mean for it to come out that way.' Still Claire cried. 'I was hurt … confused … and I didn't know what I had done for you to just walk away from what we had.' The smaller woman tried to speak, but emotion got in the way. 'I still don't know why?' But instead of it coming out as accusatory, this time it was more like bewildered.

Minutes passed, and Jenny still held the blonde in her arms. Claire's crying was easing, and her body was shuddering with the aftermath. Lifting her head, green eyes met sparkling blue, sparkling because of the unshed tears that lurked there. 'There is … hic … nothing I … hic … can say that … can ma ma make everything better … ma ma make what I did seem less than stupid.' A shuddering sob rang out, reverberating through both women and liberating the tears in Jenny's eyes, allowing them to fall freely down her cheeks. 'I saw Ian - in the hospital.' Jenny smiled softly, her face confused. Ian hadn't mentioned seeing Claire considering that's all he'd rattled on about - wanting to meet her. 'In your room … holding you.' Jenny still didn't get it, but knew if she waited long enough maybe the blonde would finally tell her. 'I thought he … thought him and you …' Claire stopped, mainly because she felt so damned stupid. The dark haired woman waited patiently, still unsure where this was leading. 'It was dark - I only heard you both speaking.'

'And?' The question was gentle, the movement of Jenny's hands moving on their own volition in calming strokes.

'I heard you both say you loved each other.'

'And? That's what sisters and brothers do, Claire.' As soon as she said it she realized what had happened. Stilling her hands, Jenny pulled back and searched the blonde's face for affirmation. 'You thought … Ian! Me and Ian?' Then she also grasped that Claire didn't know the man holding her, saying he loved her, and she loved him, was her brother. Instead of looking mortified, feeling disregarded, left to rot, she felt a lightness descend accompanied by a happiness she hadn't felt in too long. Throwing her head back, Jennifer Cartwright laughed. It wasn't manic, wasn't sarcastic, wasn't anything but pure, unadulterated relief. She thought Ian and I were an item! She left me alone because she thought I didn't want her. She didn't judge me - I judged her. That thought should have made her feel some semblance of guilt, but this wasn't the time. Hadn't they both wasted enough of that?

Looking into green eyes, Jenny saw some lingering confusion. It was obvious that Claire couldn't understand why she had laughed, as in retrospect it did seem rather odd to be laughing at such a fragile time. Tentatively, Jenny lifted her hand and trailed her fingers down Claire's cheek, glorifying in the fluttering of the blonde's absorbing green eyes. 'Can I ask you something, Claire?' The smaller woman nodded, speech having left her as soon as she looked in to those beautiful blue eyes from such a close proximity. 'If there hadn't been … erm … how can I say it … a mix up …' A blonde head nodded, green eyes still fixated. 'Would you have wanted us to continue … erm … you know …' Claire's fingers had moved to Jenny's face now, and they were tracing the contours, moving slowly over an aquiline nose, a firm jaw, soft, sensuous lips. Both women's hearts were racing and emitting a deafening roar. It seemed to thunder in their ears, seemed to charge through their bodies at lightning speed, hitting tips of fingers and toes, and leaving the digits trembling after it had fled. Breathing was becoming a problem, air was becoming scarce and each woman found she was breathless; lips seemed painfully dry, seemed agonizingly alone.

'Still do.' As soon as the two words left Claire's mouth, it was covered by a hungry one. Jenny couldn't resist the woman she was holding, couldn't deny the feelings she felt. It was as if her world had suddenly been washed in techni colour, dismissing the stoic black and white of the last three months, leaving the film noir behind. There was no preliminary teasing of lips, no brushing and tempting, no toying with the notion of fulfilling the desire two mouths could incite. The kiss was hard. The kiss was passionate, controlling, affirming, wanton, deliciously decadent. Lips parted, tongues entered unbidden. Deeper, and deeper, and almost as if each woman was trying to enter the other by sheer osmosis, climb inside and root herself inside the other, camp in the place where the heart meets life and they decide on the future. There to sit, unashamed, bold and unwavering, and absolutely perfect in sealing their dreams and their hope.

From the doorway, a very amused Fiona Houghton looked on. I'm not perving, she told herself. I'm just keeping my eye on my witnesses, that's all - and I doubt they are discussing the case. Watching the two women kiss made her chuckle inwardly. About bloody time. Then she crooked her head and remembered what a coward she had been when she had lusted after Laura. Pot. Kettle. Another grin. Noticing the women before her were getting more involved, as hands were now playing at the hems of tops, she decided that maybe standing there gawping at them was in fact perving after all. I've got better things to do with my time, she thought. Stepping back, she gently allowed the door to slip into place. Standing outside, she arranged her tunic before standing in her guard duty stance. A middle aged woman came scuttling over and tried to get past her.

'Sorry, luv. This one's out of order. They're just cleaning up the mess.' As she said it, the policewoman smiled charmingly before straightening her back and reinstating her watch. It was true. It had been a bloody mess before. Another grin, a look at her watch, and back to being a lowly PC again, as Sergeants wouldn't dream of guarding a public toilet.


Chapter Fifteen

Ian Cartwright was concerned. The last he had seen of his sister was thirty minutes ago when she said she was popping to the loo. He had gone into Room 3, grabbed two coffees, and waited for her to come and rip his head off. And then waited some more, then some more. When she had been missing for over five minutes, slight worry kicked in. When it reached ten, he was up and pacing. By fifteen minutes he was in the corridor. All he could see was Sergeant Houghton speaking to a middle aged woman, so he went back into the room again. After nearly half an hour, he went back into the court room thinking she might have just gone back in there. But no. The seat she had been sitting in before the break was still empty. Turning, he decided to go back outside and look for her, but he was stopped by a court official who informed him if he left, he couldn't come back into the trial. Sighing dramatically, Ian made his way back to his seat, plonking himself loudly onto the chair.

QC Granger looked down at him, his eyebrows raised in question. Then he spotted the empty chair next to Ian, making the brows rise higher and pushing the grey wig back a little. Leaning forward, the barrister was just about to ask where Jennifer Cartwright was, but he stopped, looked over his shoulder, then nodded and sat down. Ian followed his gaze. There, as if nothing had happened, was his sister. But there was something different about her: a lightness, a spring in her step, a smile … a grin, actually. Lifting her hand, Jenny waved and gave him a cheesy teenager grin before closing the space between them and plonking herself just as noisily as her brother on the chair beside him.

'Sorry about not meeting for coffee.' But she didn't look sorry, not in the slightest. In fact, she had the air of someone who had, excuse the idiom, lost a shilling and found a pound, and was far from the character she was before the break in proceedings. The woman seated next to him, almost radiantly beaming, didn't appear to be the person who was in fact seated in this court room to be witness to the crime of attempted murder - and be the bloody victim to boot. She appeared as if she was watching a favourite play - a good film - an anything but a trial.

'The court calls Ms Claire Connolly to the stand.'

Expecting to see the smile slip from his sibling's face, Ian was once again surprised when she turned her body around to stare at the door at the back of the room, the smile even broader than previously. What the …

Claire Connolly entered the court, and there, too, was a shock for the man who was beginning to believe he had entered The Twilight Zone. Even though he had spoken with Claire earlier, she had been nothing like this radiant woman who was walking up the centre aisle, her eyes riveted on his sister, a matching smile firmly in place. Did she wink then? What had happened in those thirty minutes? Had Jenny gone looking for the small blonde? Had she sneaked into Room 6 and had it out with her? Found out that in fact Claire Connolly fancied the pants off her instead of wanting her to curl up and die - painfully?

'Chill, Ian.' What? 'You should concentrate in court.' Pulling his lip back, Ian Cartwright looked at his kid sister in disbelief. 'And stop fidgeting.' This was getting too bloody weird … too bloody surreal. For three months he had sat back and watched his sibling fold inside herself, blocking out things that were too painful to remember.

'Am I missing something?'

'Probably because you're not paying attention.' Then Jenny grinned fully, firstly at him, and then at the blonde who was taking the bible in her hand and swearing herself under oath. Although he knew he couldn't do his own cross examination on his sister as yet, there would no stopping him when they stopped for lunch. This time she would not be scooting off to the lavs on her own - she would have a bodyguard escort.

Sitting back in his chair, Ian once again focused on what was going on in court, but this time he had a sneaking suspicion that Claire Connolly's name would not be avoided in the future. And like his sister, a grin sneaked onto his face.

Throughout Claire's testimony, there was another person who had a fascination to the relationship between the two women. Unfortunately, it wasn't a good kind of fascination. It was dark, angry, twisted and self righteous. David Foster had tried to be good, tried to show the court what a good citizen he was. Up to this point, he was convinced he had succeeded, convinced the people in the jury had seen through that dyke of a copper - seen her for the freak she was. However, seeing the blonde and the woman he hated more than anything smile at each other, make lovey dovey eyes over a fucking bible of all things, that was taking it too far. Couldn't anyone else see what he could see? Couldn't they understand how wrong it was? Here he stood, a moral, law abiding man, being charged for trying to rid the world of the disease that had become too common. They should be thanking him instead of making him stand there with his hands cuffed.

Claire was cross examined by the prosecution, and then told she could step down. A murmur went around the court, and without thinking twice, Foster took his chance. In one leap, he was over the bar and racing across the room. He could hear the officials behind him, but he was quick. The blonde restaurant owner turned as if in slow motion, her face moving from relief to horror as the man pelted straight at her. She didn't have time to react, just held her hands up. Slam. Foster smashed into her sending her flying into one official, who went down like a sack of shit. Cartwright was getting to her feet, and although he could see the fear in her eyes, he didn't realize it wasn't because he was on his way to finish the job he had started. Jenny was more concerned about Claire - and had risen to help the woman, not run like he believed. That is why David Foster had the chance to slip his hands around her throat and press as hard as he could. People were on his back, trying to prise him off her, but he wouldn't budge. Blue eyes were wide, afraid, staring, and Foster could feel his erection kicking in. Her hands were clawing at his, nails biting through flesh, and even if he could see the blood, he couldn't feel the pain. She was going down, slipping down, as the fight was leaving her. All the pulling, all the hitting wouldn't make Foster release his grip.

Bam! Something blunt and hard hit him between the eyes, making him momentarily lose his hold. That's all the others needed, and with one swift movement, David Foster was on the floor being restrained. Screams came from the flaying body, screams that said Jenny was going to burn in hell, going to take that bitch Connolly with her; the screams of a mad man. Whatever the court had decided before, it was now apparent that David Foster was indeed a contender for a high security mental hospital.

Ian Cartwright dropped the metallic glasses case belonging to the barrister onto the floor. He had no idea why he thought he would hit Foster with it, but it was the only thing to hand at the time. Kneeling down, he scooped his sister into his arms, a sob breaking out as his saw the bruising already begin around her neck. He could hear voices, but he couldn't understand what was being said, they were just words after all. Stroking his sibling's face, he felt the coolness of her skin, noted the paleness. A hand touched his, and he looked into concerned and glistening green orbs.

'Let them look at her, Ian. Come on. Let them check her.' The voice was soft, calming, and almost hypnotic. A sense of failure washed through him, shortly followed by tears. Even when he was here, he couldn't take care of her. Gently, Claire stroked his arm, stroked until her fingers were tightly in his, then she tugged and brought him away, allowing the paramedics to do their job. Inside, the blonde was a mass of hysteria, however on the outside she seemed like the eye of the storm. She couldn't stand the thought that she could lose this woman again - once had been more than enough. She wanted to peer over the paramedic's shoulder, wanted to see those blue eyes flutter open as they had done twice before. And as if by telepathy, it happened. Slowly, Jenny's eyes moved underneath the lids - first one, then two, until both were blinking before squinting against the glare of the overhead lights.

'Thank God!' Ian's shout made Jenny's eyes widen even more, followed by a movement as the dark haired woman tried to get up.

'Just relax a moment, luv.' The paramedic was still checking her over making sure everything was as it should be. Satisfied, the man turned and faced Ian, Claire, and Fiona. 'She'll be fine. Just make sure she rests for the next few hours.' Looking back at Jenny he spoke calmly. 'You need to rest, ok?' A small nod, as Jenny was finding it increasingly difficult to speak. Her neck felt as if it was packed with barbed wire. 'Come on. Let's get you more comfortable. You should keep flat for a little while longer.'

Whilst the man was putting a pillow under the critic's head, Fiona spoke. 'Court has been halted for the day, so after she feels better, I can take you all home.'

'What about Foster? Where's he?' Claire nearly spat the mad man's name out as she said it.

'In contempt. And banged up in the cells with a lovely big needle being jammed up his arse …' The policewoman stopped, lifted her wrist and looked at her watch. 'Right about …' she mimicked counting, 'now.' A smile spread over her face, making her brown eyes twinkle. Just as quickly as it appeared, it was gone. 'This will go on his list of offences. That man will not be walking the streets for a long time.'

'Thank God.' This time the two words were not shouted. This time they came out as nearly a whisper. However, both women turned and looked at Ian. The huge man seemed somewhat smaller, almost as if he had sunk into himself. It was obvious he felt guilty about what had happened.

Placing her hand on the sleeve of his jacket, Fiona waited until he looked into her eyes. 'You were fantastic, Ian.' He semi shrugged, disbelief evident. 'If you hadn't smacked him one, God knows what could have happened.' A pause. 'Considering how many bizzies were here, you were the one who stopped him.' Blue eyes looked tentatively into hers, almost seeking confirmation. Fiona nodded sagely. 'Tell me …' Ian leaned forward. 'What on earth did you crack him with?'

Sheepishly, Ian moved past her and to the bench lifting up a small glinting object. 'This is all I could find.'

Reaching out, Fiona took the cool and slightly bent object, bringing it closer for inspection. A laugh burst out loud and clear. 'A glasses case! You donked him with a bloody glasses case?' He nodded, the grin spreading. 'Well I never.' A snort. 'I should tell the boss we should get these for all the plods. Save a fortune on batons.'

Claire peered over and looked at the dented case, a smile splitting her face. 'Should have gone to Specsavers … could have had two cases instead of one to hit him with.'

'I bet he didn't see that one coming.' Fiona added.

'I bet he has "Boots Opticians" stamped on his forehead like the mark of Cain,' Ian thought he might as well join in.

'Enough with the crap jokes!' Jenny's voice stopped them. Turning, they saw the paramedic packing away his equipment, and the dark haired woman semi propped up, her face serious. A sense of shame flooded through all three and they quickly wiped the grins off their faces. 'Vision Express is my personal favourite. Bigger, and harder, cases.' It was one of those moments when everyone laughs, whether the joke is funny or not. Relief was the factor - relief that Foster had not succeeded once again.


Claire followed Ian and Jenny, having refused a lift from Fiona. It seemed stupid to accept a lift when there were more than enough cars knocking around. The policewoman had left them in the car park outside the court house, promising to see them the following day. As she moved away, the sound of her ring tone echoed around, the tune 'Happy Days' matching the woman's upbeat personality.

Although Claire and Jenny had started to sort out their misunderstanding in the toilets, Claire was apprehensive about inviting herself to Ian Cartwright's home. However, as they approached Ian's car, he'd turned and said, 'I'll drive slowly so you can keep up, ok?' To him, there seemed no question that the small blonde would refuse, or even feel she might not be welcome. He had seen with his own eyes the transformation in his sister. Even though she had been half throttled in the court, she was still grinning stupidly as she climbed in the passenger's seat.

Fifteen minutes later, both cars were parked in Ian's driveway. To know that Jenny had been so close to where she worked every day made her sad in some fucked up way. Obviously, she had no reason to see the dark haired beauty, as they had still been in the 'You fucked me over' stage, but all the same, sadness was evident. However, once they entered the house, Claire's worries seemed to fizzle and fade. Ian had gone straight through, to what she later found out to be the kitchen, and left her alone with Jenny. The critic was waiting for her in the doorway, and as soon as Claire was within reach, she slipped her hand into hers and led her through to the lounge.

Once seated on the sofa, Jenny slipped her arm around the blonde and pulled her back and into her, her head resting comfortably on the taller woman's chest. Strong arms wrapped around Claire and hugged her close, and the restaurant owner glorified in the heat and the luscious scent coming from the woman who was acting as a pillow. Fingers slipped and tangled in hair, combing through the long strands in easy languid motion. A satisfied and lazy sigh slipped through Claire's lips. This feels so right … so perfectly right. Not one word had been spoken, as they were redundant. This was the time to regroup, to connect, to revel in the sensuousness of the moment. Turning her face, Claire snuggled in further, a soft breast her pillow. It wasn't sexual, it was more than that. It was safety, calmness, security, and home. For once in her life, Claire Connolly felt she belonged.

Holding Claire seemed the most natural thing in the world. Having the blonde in her arms made her feel as if she could take on the world and be the victor. What had happened in court earlier had shaken her, obviously, but now, at this moment, it didn't matter. Nothing else did, except for making sure this delectable woman in her embrace was safe and felt loved.

Blue eyes shot open. Loved? Where did that come from? Attraction, yes. But love? Who mentioned … But the thoughts died inside her head. If what she felt about Claire Connolly wasn't love, then when she did fall in love, it would probably kill her. Closing her eyes, she once again absorbed the moment, shutting off the tiny voice that once again began to whisper, 'But what if she doesn't love you back?'

Ian had decided to give the two women a few minutes to do what two women who were attracted to each other do. The only thing he could think of doing to occupy himself was to make a cuppa - so he did. By the time he had arranged everything on the tray, brought out the biscuits, and made his way to the lounge, he was too late. There, curled up on the sofa, lay backwards asleep, was his sister. Sprawled on top of her lay Claire Connolly, small snores sneaking out unbidden. Looking down at the tray, he let out a sigh. 'Aw well. More for me.' No malice or hurt lay in the few words - actually, if anyone had to gauge his mood at that precise time, it would have come out as contented. Not because of the copious amounts of tea and biscuits he had to wade through; more like contentment for his sibling. Now, by looking at the two women, he knew she would be fine - more than fine - more like whole. Grinning fully, he turned and went back to the kitchen, leaving the women to get used to the feel of each other after all that time apart.


It was dark when Claire opened her eyes. Not because the sun had suddenly vanished at half past five in the afternoon. Or because the curtains in the room were drawn. It was more of a case of having her head jammed under something soft and warm. Soft, warm, and making mewling noises. Moving her hand, she could feel softness under her fingertips. Curling those aforementioned fingers, she felt material, the same material that was moving aside and revealing to her warm skin. Even before her brain could rack up 'Where am I?' she already knew. It was the scent that gave it away, that and the feeling of perfect belonging. Instead of stopping her exploration, Claire continued. The feel of Jennifer Cartwright's skin was too much to resist. Softly, she grazed her nails over the silken surface, smiling when she heard a delicate gasp come from above her head. Goosebumps were lining her path, and the thought of that happening made her smile even more.

Jenny could feel the movement of Claire's hand on her stomach, and the gentleness of the movement was making her heart speed up. The gasp she had released had escaped, as she hadn't wanted to alert the blonde she was still holding in her arms that she was awake. It felt too good holding her for it to end. Looking down, she felt the air once again escape her as she met beautiful green eyes. If she had wanted to say something at that moment, she feared it would have come out as a mumble, as her mouth was not in the mood for talking. Leaning down, she kissed Claire's forehead, mainly because she couldn't quite reach her lips. Those marvelous green eyes fluttered closed before opening wider, this time appearing darker than before. A need hit the dark haired woman - a need to kiss those lips - a need to connect her mouth to Claire's and claim what she wanted. Sliding her hands up the blonde's back, she slipped them under Claire's arms and pulled, bringing the woman closer. Instead of diving in, taking, feeding, devouring those perfect lips, Jenny once again looked into those eyes she had dreamed about for three months. Silently, a question was asked, and green eyes answered it. Tentatively, Jenny moved closer, closer, until the space between them was minimal. She wanted to savour this, take this moment and imprint it to memory.

'Kiss me.' The breath Claire used to say those two words seemed to sneak over Jenny's skin like a balm, the warmth creating a rush of need within the critic so profound, she couldn't think of anything but tasting the source. Warm, soft, inviting. Moving delicately, moving deliciously, moving … moving … moving. A tentative tongue sneaked out, tracing lips, tasting need. Mouths opened slightly, the kiss deepening, the want developing. Claire was lifting up, her face above Jenny's, the contact strengthening. Legs straddled thighs, and hands cupped cheeks, fingers trailing and defining. Breathing became ragged, but the kiss continued, it had to continue. Lips moved from lips, searching throats, searching shoulders, collar bones, back to lips. Claire's hand broke away from the contact of Jenny's face, and trailed an inquisitive way down her neck, across one shoulder, along a collar bone, and then down … down … until it traced the curve of the dark haired woman's breast, making her gasp and push outwards, needing the contact. Curving her hand, Claire cupped the other woman's breast, feeling the hardness of one pert nipple press into her palm. The kiss became harder, as it seemed to be attached to Claire's ministrations on Jenny's chest. A movement, another jolt, a pressing, a rhythm, hips slipping forward and back, forward and back. Heat was spurting, desire was building, and hips rocked, hips … rocked, and hands cupped and stroked and explored, whilst mouths claimed.

A hand, a strong and slender hand slipped under Claire's top, the feeling of the overheated skin sparking more want, more need, more everything that could describe the absolute ecstasy of being touched by the other. The same hand snaked to the side, slipping up and down a curved hip, up and down a smooth arch. Jenny moved her free hand underneath, tracing her nails up and down Claire's spine. The blonde groaned and leaned back, the action of the other woman driving her crazy.

'Do you fancy something to eat?'

Fuck! Both women sprang back, Claire nearly landing on the floor, but saved by a flailing hand from the critic, who unceremoniously pulled her back onto the couch.

'Good. You're awake.' Ian stopped just inside the doorway. 'What's the matter? Don't you fancy grabbing something?' Instead of being annoyed, both women saw the funny side to it. If they could have discussed what they were thinking, they would have both come up with the same answer. 'Yes. I do fancy grabbing something.' And maybe, if they were honest, they would have said yes to something to eat, too. However, they just shook their heads and muttered something about getting something later. 'Suit yourself.' A happy sigh left Ian, and he plopped himself onto his armchair, his expression indicating that it was time to be sociable.

Claire straightened up, slipped off the lap of the dark haired woman and found a space of her own on the sofa. Unbeknownst to her, Jenny was trying valiantly to indicate to Ian that he should bugger off, her head jerking sideways, blue eyes flicking to the door.

'Are you alright, Jen? Got cramp?' Ian wasn't being a git, although that wasn't what Jenny was thinking. He was just being a bloke. It appeared he didn't realize what he had interrupted, because if he had, he would've sneaked back into the kitchen and finished off the rest of the biscuits. However, he was content just to be with them, content to see how his sister had changed in the matter of hours. The guilt he had felt over the incident in court had eased, as the humour afterwards had made him see that he had actually done what he had to do. Protecting his sister had been a job he had loved ever since he had first seen the tiny bundle when she was brought home from the hospital thirty three years ago. Fighting for her honour when the other kids had called her names, comforting her when she realized she was gay, telling her that if other people couldn't accept who she was, they weren't worth bothering with, all came under the 'Big Brother' role. The usual list. And when their parents had died in an head on collision when she was only nineteen, he had been the one who had scraped her up, brought her home, and made sure she made the most out her life. So, when David Foster had made her his target, all he wanted to do was save her again. But, he hadn't, and part of him knew he was being unreasonable, albeit the sting was still there.

Claire watched the man in front of her. It was so obvious that he thought the sun rose and set with his sister. And that made her feel good. All she wanted was everyone to see what a wonderful woman Jennifer Cartwright was, as after what Foster had done, she was sure it had hit her self confidence. Turning, she met blue, blue that shone with something she couldn't quite put her finger on, but it wasn't a bad ignorance. A smile broke out on the brunette's face, which suddenly turned into a grin.

'Why the hell are you two staring at me?'

'Because you're gorgeous.' Claire didn't mean for her thought to hit air, and the blush took hold almost immediately.

'Glad you agree.' Ian nodded. 'It runs in the family.' Jenny sniggered and slipped her arm around Claire's waist, pulling her closer. 'Jen?' The critic hummed a yes. 'Can we get take out? I'm starving. Biscuits make me giddy.' Claire could feel the rumble from Jenny's chest as she laughed at her brother.

'You soft git. Ok then.' Sometimes her elder brother had the characteristics of a five year old, but that just made him more endearing. Claire noted the closeness of the siblings. If only I felt as comfortable with my own family.

An hour later, all three were tucking into what the pamphlet termed, 'A Chinese Banquet', and by how much stuff they had received, it was for twenty people. Conversation was easy, and an onlooker would never have guessed all that preceded this affair. It seemed as if all three had known each other all their lives, although Ian and Jenny obviously had, and there was no evidence of a court case … no evidence of a misunderstanding. It was right. Perfect. All that a relationship should be and more besides.

The sound of Claire's mobile phone broke the conversation, and she was tempted to ignore it. However, sighing, she slipped her hand inside her bag and retrieved the screaming object. 'Work' showed on the caller ID, and she knew that if James had called her, it was for a very good reason. Her Head Waiter knew she had been attending court today and wouldn't be in. Little did she know that James was calling more on a 'I need to know where you are and if you have been tricked by Cartwright again.'

Hanging up the phone after a brief conversation, Claire pulled a face. 'I've got to go in. Two staff members have called in sick, and James couldn't get hold of anyone else.' For once in her life, Claire Connolly didn't want to go into work - didn't want to sort out a mess. She wanted to stay, chat, feel the presence of the woman she had missed. But, it was her business after all. James said he had only wanted to inform her, but she had heard the panic in his voice.

'Do you need any help? I used to be a waitress when I was at Uni.' Jenny stroked Claire's arm, and the blonde wanted to say yes just so she could spend more time with her, maybe even finish off the kiss they had started. Sighing, the blonde shook her head.

It was an effort to get up from the sofa … an effort to move towards the exit, to move towards work and leaving Jenny behind. But she made it. Just. At the doorway, the brunette slipped her hands around Claire's waist and pulled her close. A soft brush of the lips nearly made the blonde's resolve break and go back inside. Blue eyes sparkled from the reflection of the spot light on the driveway, and the shadows defined the beauty of the woman who was in her arms.

'I'll miss you.' It was weird saying that, considering she had spent three months apart from the restaurant owner. 'Will you be in court tomorrow?' Claire shook her head.

'Nope. As far as I'm aware, they've done with me.' She watched as Jenny's face fell just a little. 'Although I'm sure I can get away tomorrow night … erm … if you're free, that is?' The head straightened, a blinding smile lighting that beautiful face more than any spot light. 'I take that as a yes?' Rigorous nodding followed. Claire could feel her heart hammering inside her chest, and by the proximity of the woman holding her, she was definite Jenny could feel it too. What was it with this woman? Why did she incite such a sensation throughout her? A feeling of giddiness, elation, completion? 'Unless the sicklies are still off.' The dark haired woman pouted, making Claire laugh and pull Jenny closer. Tentatively, she leaned up, her eyes closing as the feel of softness covered her mouth. It was unlike the kiss they had shared on the sofa, but in its own way it was just as powerful. It had the ability to seal, to heal, to connect and hold. Hands didn't wander; they just acted as a scaffold. Claire didn't know if she could break away, and if the critic hadn't slowed down the kiss, she knew she would have been there all night. 'I'll call you tomorrow, ok?' Her voice sounded croaky, her breath almost panting. Jenny just nodded, as she too had lost the ability to speak clearly.

The brunette watched as Claire pulled out of the driveway, watched the taillights of her car disappear down the street, and then still watched a little longer, unable to move from the spot she had shared minutes before with the small blonde. Releasing a breath into the air, she turned, softly closing the door behind her.

In retrospect, she should have been expecting it, but it seemed her head was in Lah Lah Land. Walking back into the lounge, she was greeted by a smug Ian. He was reclining sloppily in the arm chair; his feet perched on the coffee table, the self-satisfied grin slapped onto his handsome face.


Leaning forward, Ian slowly extricated himself from his comfortable position. Standing, he walked past his sister. It wasn't until he reached the doorway, that he turned, the grin huge. Pushing his face closer to hers, he crowed, 'Jenny's got a girlfriend … Jenny's got a girlfriend!' Then ran off. Jenny stood and watched him go, a smile breaking over her face.

'At least I've got one!' she yelled after him, before deciding it would be good to chase him as well. As she ran, a thought popped into her head. 'I've got a girlfriend.' And on that thought, she ran even faster, wanting more than anything to catch her brother, wrestle him to the ground and jab her hands into his sides until he nearly peed himself. Considering it had been twenty seven years since she had last done it, by the sound of Ian squealing under her after she caught him, she still hadn't lost her touch.

All in all, the day had been perfect. And for once in far too long, Jennifer Cartwright was looking forward to her future.


Chapter Sixteen

For the next two weeks, time seemed to drag, yet speed by. The court case was drawing to a close, and Fiona couldn't wait to see the back of David Foster. Since the incident in the courtroom, he had been shackled to the railing, flanked either side by guards. It didn't stop him shouting abuse across the room, and didn't stop him ignoring the judge's warning of contempt of court. Rarely did he stop glaring at Jennifer, his sole purpose to intimidate her. However, it didn't seem to faze the woman in the slightest, and the policewoman knowing what she knew, boiled it down to one thing - or person. Claire Connolly. A grin spread over her face as she remembered the clinch she had witnessed in the ladies room.

Although she didn't need to come to court, she wanted to. Even when she was off duty, she could be seen in the stalls making notes, comparing evidence. She had wanted to laugh when they had brought out the woman from the hospital shop, as she remembered her own experience with her. The change in the elderly woman was amazing. Instead of telling off people, she was physically shaking, as this was probably the first time she had stood in the witness box to give evidence. When the prosecution had asked if she recognized the man who had refused to pay, the woman seemed to lapse into a rerun of LA Law. Her arm extended, the finger wiggling in Foster's direction, 'That's him!' she bellowed. 'That's the scoundrel right there!'

A laugh had shot out of Fiona's mouth so quickly, that she surprised even herself. When the judge had faced the courtroom, his eyes peering over his glasses and said, 'Any more of that, and I will hold you in contempt' she had wanted to curl into a ball, and maybe laugh down the sleeve of her jacket. In her career, she had been in contempt of court quite a few times, mainly because of laughing inappropriately, or pissing off the woman who sorted out which bible to swear on. Every time she went into court, the policewoman tried to angle a new religion, the last one being 'Polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints', which was met with a stern look, followed by a copy of a King James bible being thrust into her hand.

By the end of the day, all of the evidence had been given. The judge ruled that judgment and sentencing would happen the following day, as it was almost four fifteen. People started to move towards the exit, but the policewoman held back. She wanted to speak with Jenny, see how she was doing. Well, if true be known, she actually wanted to see if there had been any development between the critic and the blonde, not for her own benefit … no. It boiled down to a very interested Laura, who had asked her to find out 'the goss' nearly every day. It wasn't malicious, far from it. Laura just wanted to know that everything was as it should be, explaining how she had thought the two women had seemed so right for each other when she had met them both after the Mousehold incident.

'Yeah … right.' Fiona laughed softly. To quote Jane Austen, and to get it completely wrong, but to her purpose, 'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of good gossip must be in want of an outlet.'

'Hey there, you.' Jenny was standing in front of her, her face aglow. Fiona knew at that precise moment that she didn't need to ask - it was like indelible marker pen had scrawled over her face 'I'm with Claire, and I'm loving it!' 'I was hoping to catch you. You seem to disappear into the woodwork every time court finishes.' A chuckle slipped out. 'Have you got time for a coffee before you race off again to catch the bad guys and allow us all to sleep peacefully?'


'Good.' Another grin broke out across the critic's face, making Fiona notice once again what a stunning woman Jennifer Cartwright was. Not that she was interested - she already had her woman.

As they were exiting, she heard one of the policemen standing near the door mumble to her, 'Nice one, Nige.'

Instead of letting it rest, she stopped, turned and glared fiercely into the face of the young man she had worked with a few times. 'If I were you, sonny, I'd concentrate on not letting people jump out of witness boxes instead of perving over me.' Leaning closer, she whispered. 'And you're only jealous that I can pull 'em, 'cos all you can pull is a face.' Jenny hadn't heard the last bit, just paid witness to the dark hue that was coating the male officer like a rash. 'Right then. You mentioned wanting to get me on my own.' Linking the dark haired woman almost possessively, she ushered Jenny towards the canteen, briefly looking over her shoulder and winking at the man who was busy straightening his uniform.

Ten minutes later, both women were seated in the far corner of the canteen, Fiona facing the rest of the room, as she liked to keep her eye on what was going on. Nervously, Jenny looked around her before leaning forward, as if to take the officer into her confidence. 'I wanted you to know … I … well, me and Claire are … erm …' The policewoman watched in humorous fascination as the dark haired beauty in front of her stumbled over her words, blushed profusely, and played absently with the sugar dispenser. 'We … well … we're friends.' No shit, Sherlock! And the rest? 'No … it's more than that. We're … kind of seeing each other.' The beautiful face was so open and trusting, the mouth slightly open as if Jenny wanted to continue, but wanted to wait for the go ahead.

'About bloody time. I thought you were both too pig headed to see what was in front of you the whole time.' Jenny's mouth opened and closed a few times before breaking out into a grin. 'See? You're happy. Actually, the happiest I think I've ever seen you.' Stretching over the table, Fiona grabbed the brunette's hand and squeezed before gently saying, 'I'm so happy for you. For both of you.' And she meant it too. Ever since she had introduced the couple, Fiona had been aware of the connection they had shared. Obviously, the timing wasn't perfect - Jennifer Cartwright was being stalked by a nutter at the time, and then they had fallen out over something she didn't quite understand. However, that was in the past. Whatever grievances they'd had were null and void now.

'Thank you.' The answer was softly spoken, almost shy. 'I also wanted to thank you again for all you did for me … and for Claire. If it hadn't been for you …'

'No worries.'

'… I might not be sitting here …'

'No worries. It's part of my job, Jenny.' Jenny sat back, her hand still ensconced in Fiona's, blue eyes half closing as she assessed the policewoman, a part smile playing on her lips.

'It wasn't, Fiona. You went above and beyond the call of duty.' Fiona tried to speak, but Jenny cut her off. 'No arguments. You are a hero … my hero.' As Jenny uttered the last part, the same policeman Fiona had spoken to outside the courtroom was approaching the table. Instead of the snigger he wanted to release, he scuttled passed. He had wanted to inform the Sergeant that an Emily Hargreaves was waiting to speak to Jennifer Cartwright, but thought it was wisest to keep out of her way whilst she was rendezvousing, and holding hands, he noted, with the stunning woman.

Fiona surreptitiously watched him leave and wondered what he wanted. Maybe just wanted to listen in - he seems that thick. I'll grab him later. Turning back to Jennifer, Fiona asked, 'So … tell me about the wonderful Ms Connolly, then.' And then sat back and watched the blue eyed beauty become animated all over again.

Time flew. It didn't seem like two minutes since the women had sat down with their coffees and began catching up. Looking at her watch, Fiona realized she was going to be late to meet Laura from work. After making her hurried explanation, she almost ran from the canteen, leaving Jenny to sort herself out. Although the policewoman felt bad that she hadn't walked her to her car, Jenny had insisted that she was more than capable of walking there on her own, adding that Foster was now behind bars.

As she stood, slinging her bag over her shoulder, she heard a female voice behind her speaking her name in question. Turning, she had to lower her gaze to the elderly woman in front of her, who seemed stooped, either through age or illness.

'I'm sorry to bother you, Ms Cartwright, but I just wanted to apologize.' Jenny squinted and tried to recollect if she had ever seen this woman before in her life. The answer was maybe. Hadn't she been in the court room? 'I'm Emily Hargreaves … nee Foster. David's mum.' It makes things so different when you meet someone's mother - strange, but so true. The person is not an individual anymore, not someone who stands alone in their own orbit, someone who appears to have no connection to the human race. Here was his mother - here was his connection. Many times people look past the person who has committed the crime and start to point the finger at friends, family, anyone else that knew the perpetrator. However, Jenny couldn't think that way, not when she could see the utter desolation written like a scar over the frail woman. 'I'm sorry for what my son has put you through … put everyone through.' On this, the woman seemed to fold even smaller, the sob croaking from her chest and hitting the air in staccato bursts. Without thought, Jenny slipped her arm around the woman's shoulders, noting the brittleness and the vibrations coursing through her.

'Come.' Leading Mrs Hargreaves over to the table she had just vacated, Jenny ushered her to sit. 'I'll be right back.' And she was, too, carrying a cup of tea for the distraught woman. It was the only thing she could think of doing - tea for shock - cliché, but it still allowed the brunette to gather her thoughts. 'Here. Drink this.' Sliding the cup over, she watched as the elderly woman tried to lift the cup, her hands shaking too much to keep it steady.

'I'm … I'm … sorry.' Each word was punctuated by a sob, tears flowing freely down the wrinkled face. Struggling around inside her jacket pocket, Jenny brought out a handkerchief and held it out, and watched as crooked fingers gently pulled it free. Foster's mother slipped her glasses off and began to wipe the wetness away, valiantly trying to stifle the onset of fresh tears. Jenny waited for the woman in front of her to gather control … waited until she was able to formulate a sentence without breaking down again. Although Mrs Hargreaves attempted to speak a few times, she failed to manage it. It wasn't until over ten minutes had passed that she shuddered and straightened slightly, turning to look directly into Jenny's face. It was obvious that this woman was completely devastated by what had happened. 'Even after everything, I still love him, Ms Cartwright.' A shaky laugh broke free. 'I know you think I'm crazy … but when all is said and done, he's my son. I'd waited so long for him.' A nervous swallow. 'I couldn't conceive - well, as they thought. I was nearly forty by the time David came along.' Sighing, she picked up the tea, her hand still shaking, but was soon supported by the other. 'I haven't heard from him for eleven years - he seemed to disappear off the face of the earth.' Jenny poked her chin out as in confirmation to what the woman had said. She didn't want to interrupt her - it felt wrong somehow. 'I remarried, you see, it was so lonely being on my own. I had David, but he was grown up … I knew it wouldn't be long before he found a family of his own. David didn't like my new husband.' A nod from the brunette. 'His father left us, you see. Found someone younger - someone more fertile. David was only twelve at the time, but he blamed me for it - said I drove him away.' The story was coming out in no particular order, almost like a stream of consciousness.

Looking at the woman in front of her, Jenny couldn't imagine her driving anyone away. 'He turned violent. Used to … he used to … lash out. I didn't blame him, though. He was confused.' As she said this, the elderly woman rubbed her arm, as if she was reliving some injury. 'Then he got into trouble - petty things, really. Hanging around with the wrong crowd, that kind of thing.' At this, Jenny leaned closer. There had been no evidence of David Foster having a previous record. 'After he was caught breaking into the local shop, he changed … went back to being a good boy again.'

'How old was he?'

'Fifteen.' Turning, watery eyes looked deeply into Jenny's. 'That's why no one knows about it. He was a minor.' Heaving a sigh, Mrs Hargreaves leaned back on her chair. 'He did well at school … went to college … did all the things he said he was going to do. I was so proud.' A pause, and a flickering of a smile. 'And then I met George and it all started again, but this time only with me.' The woman went quiet for a few moments, the smile completely gone. Jenny wanted to ask why she hadn't pressed charges against her son for hitting her, but decided that most women in that situation don't. Unfortunately. 'By this time I had been on my own for nearly ten years, and I made the stupid mistake of thinking that David would get used to the idea.' As soon as the words were out, Emily Hargreaves began to cry once again. Part of her felt an acute empathy with the woman in front of her, whilst another part wanted to shake her and make her realize that her son was a bastard. Jenny wanted to tell Emily it wasn't her fault, no mistake of his upbringing, apart from the obvious coddling from a woman who had devoted her life to her only child.

'He was old enough to take responsibility for his actions, Mrs Hargreaves.' Jenny placed a placating hand on the woman's arm. 'Whatever you may think, you didn't drive him to do what he did.' The brunette paused to allow the words to sink in. 'Therefore, you have nothing to apologise to me for, and nothing …' Jenny slipped her fingers under the elderly woman's head and turned the gaze to meet her own, 'to feel guilty about.' More tears, more placating, more apologies thrown around like butterflies. The critic knew the reason why Mrs Hargreaves had come to see her was more than to get her son's story out - it was to get her own out too, alleviate the guilt, before taking responsibility once again for something her son had done. Jenny didn't believe he should get off so lightly. It had been him who had drugged her … stalked her … broken into her home … made her life a misery. It had been Foster who had kidnapped a police officer, beaten three women, stabbed one. Whatever had happened in his past, his inability to deal with his father leaving, his mother finding what he would deem to be a replacement, they didn't count. Foster had survived for eleven years without any lapses in judgment. Although the final straw had come when she had written the review, why hadn't he taken his anger out on the people who had started this mess? Easy. That hadn't been a factor. A psychologist could argue it was because he felt rejected, threatened, or whatever the fuck they wanted. What it all boiled down to was a very spoiled man who was acting like a twelve year old boy - a place in time where he seemed to have jammed his psyche into and refused to budge. It was a surprise he ever owned a restaurant at all.

'I'm sorry to have taken up your time like this … I just had to speak to you … let you know …'

'I understand.'

'I didn't know about it until I saw it in the paper. I tried to get to see him but he wouldn't see me - said I was dead to him.' Anger spurted through Jenny, and not because Foster was a twat. It was because over the years, she would have done anything just to speak to her parents one last time, just to let them know how much she loved them. And here was a man who had his mother alive and wanting to see him, throwing it away like garbage. Some people don't realize what they have until they no longer have it, but then again, some people still don't give a flying fuck.

'I have to go … George is waiting for me outside.' Unsteadily, the elder woman got to her feet, Jenny helping her. Making a move to leave, Foster's mother stopped and turned back. 'You are such a lovely girl. I wish I'd had a daughter like you.' And then Foster would be my brother - no thanks. 'I wish you all the best, whatever happens. I understand that he deserves what he will get.' With that she was gone, and Jenny was left wondering how a woman so frail and delicate could move at such a speed.

Reaching down, she scooped up her handbag, slinging it over her shoulder in one fluid movement. Court was over, as was nearly the day, and she still had a blonde haired beauty to see. With that thought, Jenny allowed the smile to break out over her face and a lightness once again to consume her soul. It was nearly over - nearly time to move on.


CC's was heaving when Jenny arrived at just after eight o'clock. She had decided to grab a quick shower before she went to see Claire, as she felt grubby after a day in court. Well, that and she wanted to look her best when she saw the woman who was quickly taking over her world. Staff members were rushing around meeting the demands of the clientele, and it took the brunette a few minutes to spot the person she needed to see. If she were honest, she would say that she didn't actually see Claire - she felt her. It was as if an electric charge had raced through her as she was gawping around in the complete opposite direction. All the small hairs at the nape of her neck seemed to stand on end, before tapping her insistently at the back the head, as if to say, 'This way.' Slowly, she turned and met the beautiful green eyes of the woman she had been dreaming about since the previous evening. Her heart seemed to still momentarily before kick starting so quickly her throat constricted making her gulp audibly. Jenny wasn't sure why, but every time she saw Claire Connolly it seemed as if she had been thrown back into the time she was a shy seventeen year old.

Claire felt the breath catch in her throat. It was amazing how the woman walking towards her affected her every time she saw her. A deep thudding sounded in her chest, and it seemed as if her blood had decided to begin a race throughout her body, making her tingle with anticipation. As Jenny approached, the blonde watched in fascination as a smile spread over such a beautiful face making it even more breathtaking.

'Hey, you. Busy?' Jenny's voice came out thick and full, taking over all the other noises in the teeming restaurant. Claire shook her head, unable to answer for a moment. 'Any chance I could steal five minutes?' Claire nodded and gestured to the door at the back of the room, indicating they should go to her office. The amount of time it took them both to disappear into the back was minimal, but it seemed as if it took too long.

Once Claire stepped inside the dark office, the door had barely closed before Jenny grabbed her waist and pulled her to her, luxuriating in the softness of the smaller woman. Leaning her head forward, she inhaled the blonde hair before releasing a sigh. Smell is the key sense to incite memories, and Jenny seemed as if she was bombarded with them, although she couldn't recollect any. All she knew was that with the feel and the scent of this woman, she felt as if she had come home at last, the day long forgotten. Claire could feel the warmth of the dark haired woman pressed against her back, and part of her wanted to turn around and look into the face she dreamed about. However, having the contact of the critic near her was enough to make her close her eyes and absorb the moment. Lifting her hands, Claire slipped them over the slender fingers of the woman behind her, trailing her nails over the skin of her hands and forearms. A smile broke over her face as she heard a long breath release before Jenny once again nestled her face into the blonde's hair.

'I missed you.' Although muffled, Claire heard each word deep down inside her, her stomach fluttering like a schoolgirl's. Turning in Jenny's embrace, Claire could barely make out the definitions of the woman's face, only the shape of her silhouetted in the doorway. Tentatively, Claire raised her hand and traced the outline of a finely chiseled cheek and jaw, contrasted with the softness of lips that played willingly under her gentle touch. A delicate kiss brushed against her inquisitive fingers, before she moved them up to once again find their place cupping a jaw. Hesitantly, Claire pulled the obscured face towards her, her eyes closing in anticipation. Lips touched, moved away, touched, moved away, and then captured the other. Warmth spread like honey throughout each woman, as heads tilted and pressed more insistently, longing taking over the inquisitiveness of discovery. A tongue slipped, brushed, and was admitted entrance; mouths parted; breathing became more labored. Hands began to snake and slither over clothes wanting to make contact with warm skin. Jenny pulled her mouth away and nestled her face into Claire's neck, breathing in more of the intoxicating scent that was Claire Connolly. As her lips captured the sleek throat, a gasp hit the air above her head making her push forward and press herself more fully into the woman she was holding. The pressure of Jenny's mouth made Claire stagger backwards, but not for long. Considering she was smaller than the dark haired beauty, Claire wasn't weaker, especially when the burn of desire was raging through her.

Slam. Jenny's body hit the solidness of the wooden door and she was covered by an insistent warm body. Hands lifted and grasped the side of her face, pulling her down and towards a hungry mouth. There was no time for chaste kisses now; want had taken over and was greedy for everything Jen had to give. Claire pushed into the other woman, slipping her thigh between the dark haired woman's legs; pushing it further into the vee before rubbing it hard against the spot she yearned to touch with her mouth, her hands, her fingers, her skin, her everything. A groan left Jenny and found residence inside the insistent mouth of the other woman. An ache was building, and with each press of lips, bodies, thighs, the ache increased until it was almost blinding. Fraught hands searched for entrance inside clothes, searched for admittance to the softness and delectable femininity that encapsulated both women. Jenny wanted to sample this delicacy, wanted to take everything from Claire before giving it back to her twofold. This wasn't just a kiss - far from it. It was a connection, and not just because they had not seen each other for a matter of hours. It seemed to be more deep rooted than that; it seemed to be primitive, more instinctual.

'I want you.' Claire's voice was low, almost a growl. The words slithered inside the brunette and seemed to slip effortlessly down into her core. More kisses, more insistence, more pushing, rubbing, grasping, pulling. Hands won their battle against cloth, and found themselves under shirts, slinking up warm flesh. The smoothness of a back was bliss; the feel of those hands on skin was ecstasy. 'I want you,' Claire repeated. And she did want her - wanted her more than anything she had ever wanted in her life. And this want was consuming her, making rational thought creep away and disappear into the blackness of the room.

Jenny paused. The lust in Claire's voice matched her own, and she wanted nothing more than to show Claire how much she wanted her also. All she could think about was being with her, touching her, kissing and loving her. Jenny wanted to show this woman how much she meant to her. She wanted every touch, kiss, caress to scream, 'I love you' until she was hoarse. But she didn't want their first time to only be to satiate raging desire. Claire was worth more than that. Much more.

Claire felt the deliberation in the taller woman. Felt her stiffen, pull away slightly, and then begin to stroke her skin more chastely. Embarrassment flared through her. Shit. I was too full on. Shit shit shit. Dropping her hands, she, too, pulled back, her eyes almost allowing her to see the expression on Jenny's face in the darkness. A glint from what Claire knew to be those beautiful eyes lit her way, and she leaned forward to grasp Jen's hand. She needed to apologise for rushing her. 'I … I …'

'I love you, Claire.' There they were. Three little words with the capability to affect any situation. However, what remained to be seen was how they would affect this situation. The air was thick, expectant, non-absorbing and those three words hovered around waiting to be acknowledged. Jenny, like those words, also waited for some reaction from the woman who had taken a step backwards, the small hand leaving its place on Jen's own. Fuck.

However, even though both women felt the strong connection, both of them were too stunned by the revelation to react appropriately. Words fought to shoot out and emblazon the air with reciprocation, but in their haste jammed at the apex of Claire's throat, making her emit sounds that sounded like choking, just as Jenny wished the three words she had uttered had stayed where they should have. Moving forward, Jen slipped a strong hand over Claire's forearm. Doubt didn't just creep into the dark haired woman's mind, it sprinted. Tears welled up in startled blue eyes. She didn't know why she had said those words, although she knew she meant them as they had tumbled out. But, it was too soon to say them. Too soon to open up her inner longings, inner feelings, too soon to bare the knowledge that Claire Connolly was the woman she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. It had only been two weeks since they admitted their attraction and nowhere near long enough to utter the words that appeared to casually trip off an overzealous and sexually aroused tongue. It seemed a cheap shot; a way to get inside a woman's pants - almost a bloke move.

Opening her mouth, Jenny went to speak, went to make an attempt to apologise. But why should I apologise for loving her?

'I love you, too, Jen.' The words were quiet, shy, reticent, deliberating standing boldly in their own right. However, to Jenny it seemed as if those words had missed the gap separating them and raced straight inside her chest to set up camp near the thudding organ that felt it belonged to someone else. I need to see her eyes - need to see if what she has said is true. But the darkness didn't allow for that, only the outline of the woman in front of her. Reaching backwards, Jenny attempted to find the light switch, knowing that it was somewhere near the side of the door. Claire watched the figure move away and wanted to move too - wanted to pull the taller woman to her and repeat those words that had finally escaped to lie brazenly in the air.

Click. The room around them was bathed in light, and fleetingly the sharpness made both women blink with the shock of it. Claire eventually got her pupils under control and focused on the inert form leaning backwards, one hand still on the switch.

'Tell me again.' The words were spoken gently, yet with a sense of urgency.

Swallowing, Claire looked straight into those blue eyes and allowed herself to speak once again. 'I love you, Jen.' The move was fluid, almost unnoticed, but as those words achieved their mission, Jennifer Cartwright was once again holding Claire Connolly. She hadn't needed to stare into those green eyes after all; it had been apparent that Claire had meant them as soon as she opened her mouth to speak. Holding Claire seemed so bloody right - so bloody safe and warm and imperative to living. Tears welled and spilled and landed in soft blonde hair, but this time they were tears of absolute joy. As she held on, Jen could feel a shaking rippling through her, and it took her a few moments to realize it wasn't her body caving in. It was coming from the shuddering of the small frame she was gripping in her arms.

'Hey … come on. Don't cry.' A gentle kiss hit the crown of Claire's head. 'Everything is good. Everything is fine. Everything …'

'Is perfect.'

And it was. Although the desire for the other was delayed for this evening, by both women's admission, it was guaranteed that they still had the rest of their lives to consummate the love that they both had.

More than enough emotion for one night, don't you think?


Chapter Seventeen

Court was waiting. In fact, it transcended that - everyone was waiting. The jury had been out for nearly two hours deliberating the outcome of David Foster, and reporters, prosecution, family, interested bystanders; everyone was holding their breath waiting for the yay or nay. The British legal system is renowned for its stupidity at times, but even that couldn't fail to recognize the seriousness of the case and the threat to society David Foster was. All it needed, though, were a couple of what they term as 'do gooders' on the jury for it all to go tits up. Sometimes it wasn't even that. The do gooders were outranked by the people who wanted to take charge and get to a quick decision, and they bullied other members of the jury until they had their own way. Even though we know it goes on, it still doesn't change the fact that it still happens. Therefore, Jennifer Cartwright was nervous. For her, this could go either way. It could be that Foster got his just desserts and she could get on with the rest of her life; or it could go against her, and she could be leaving court approximately at the same time as the man who had made it obvious that he wouldn't stop until he had his pound of her flesh. Her flesh, to be more precise.

It should be pointed out now that although Jenny was nervous, she wasn't as nervous as she had been ten minutes ago. It had been ten minutes ago that she, and everyone else in the court, had been outside the court waiting to here if the jury had come to a decision. Actually, it wasn't that either. The nervous part came into play because until ten minutes ago, Claire Connolly hadn't been around, and had come racing through the doors just as everyone was entering the court again, thus not enabling Jenny to speak to her. Last night, after they had kissed and held each other some more, Claire had been called back into the restaurant, and Jenny had gone home to rest before her big day. In reality, all she had wanted to do was go home with Claire, but that wasn't on the menu. It would have been too much of a temptation to continue the scene from the darkened office, and that would have left them both either drained or absent from the court today.

Turning, she saw green eyes looking directly into her own and a sense of relief washed through her. A smile lit her face, and she mouthed the words, 'How are you?' Jenny was almost giddy when the blonde grinned back, those green eyes sparkling, and mouthed 'I'm good. You?' The memory of the previous evening flitted through her mind, and she felt the creep of excitement begin in her gut, as if thousands of tiny butterflies had decided to come out to play. Taking in Claire's appearance, Jenny was pleased to see a new kind of glow about the younger woman. It seemed as if an aura was surrounding her, something along the lines of a painting of an angel. A sigh slipped out, shortly followed by a dopey smile. Whatever the outcome with Foster, Jenny knew that she would still believe the world was a perfect place, especially now she had Claire Connolly in it.

Claire, too, felt as if her world was surrounded by rose petals, a term she would never have thought could be in conjunction to her and her life, and also one she would never have ever used before. Nothing in her life had ever made her feel as mushy as the taller woman seated a few rows ahead of her, the same woman who had now turned to speak to her barrister. It was if all the novels, music, and films she had ever seen or heard and termed 'crap', were, in fact, made just for her. Before Jennifer Cartwright had entered her life, Claire would have done everything she possibly could to run from this kind of situation. But not now. All she wanted to do was be as close as she could be to the critic and allow those emotions to sweep over her, brushing away any kind of so called street cred away with it. A grin split her face. 'Jesus! I'm turning into Barbara Cartland! I'll be wearing a pink boa soon.' However, it didn't stop her racing through everything she had to do that morning so she could be seated in court when she should have been sorting through her accounts and getting everything ready for the onslaught for the weekend. Claire had made sure she would be in court today, as she knew Jenny would need support, and seeing the gorgeous woman hadn't been a hardship either. Another grin lit her face.

Glancing around, Claire could see Ian seated next to Jen, and a couple of rows near the back, the comforting figure of Sergeant Fiona Houghton. At this moment, Fiona was speaking quietly to the pretty woman next to her, and on closer inspection, Claire realized it was the nurse from the Norfolk and Norwich hospital. A smile slipped over her mouth when she saw the nurse lift her hand and wipe at Fiona's chin, nearly laughing out loud when she saw Fiona's reaction. Initially, the policewoman allowed the gesture, and then realized where she was. Sitting back, the officer furtively scanned the area to see if anyone had noticed her getting a semi spit wash. When she didn't find anyone interested in the action, she turned back to the pretty female next to her, her face looking down adoringly. Although Fiona Houghton tried to give the impression she was a tough woman, deep down she was a romantic ball of mush, and as much as she tried to refute it, evidence didn't lie, and she didn't need to swear on a bible either, whatever religion she had decided on that week.

'Could the court please rise.' A shuffle sounded as people stood in respect for the Judge. A few moments after they had seated, Foster was led into the court, his eyes never leaving the place where Jennifer Cartwright was sitting. By what Claire could see, Jennifer had her head lowered, trying to avoid riling him any further. It was obvious he was waiting for anything that could make him kick off once again, and she knew Jenny didn't want to be the catalyst that could make that happen.

Minutes passed. The Judge was seated, and so were the other people in the court. Silently, the jury returned from their deliberation and sat in their places. Stillness pervaded the air.

After what seemed to be an age, the Judge residing asked for the Lead Juror to stand, following this with 'Have you come to a verdict?' At this point, Jennifer Cartwright held her breath. This could go either way. If the decision was unanimous, it would be easier. If it was a majority, that still wouldn't be too bad. But the one that she was most worried about was if it was a hung jury - or even if they decided Foster was not guilty. Fuck. What would I do? He would feel vindicated. He would be loose. He would come after me again … Come after Claire …

Turning sharply, she met the cool green gaze of the woman seated behind her. With that one look, Jen felt a calmness wash over her. Whatever happened they would be alright. They had each other now - nothing, and no one, could ever hurt them again. The stifled breath was permitted freedom, and she omitted a soft smile to Claire before turning around and facing whatever life was going to throw her way.

She had missed the dialogue between the Judge and the jury, and even missed the question he had directed at them which resulted in a 'Guilty.' For what? Trying to kill me? Trying to kill Claire? Leaning forward, she keened her ears to the next question.

'For the abduction and detainment of a police officer?'


A quick glance at Fiona was greeted with a grin and a thumbs up.

'For breaking and entering …' And on and on and on … each question was followed by a 'Guilty'. Apart from the voices of the Judge and Lead Juror, nothing else could be heard. Well, apart from the hammering of her heart in her chest. Then it struck her. How was Foster taking the news? Slowly, Jenny turned her head in the direction of David Foster, fully expecting him to be glaring at her with vicious hatred. But he wasn't. He wasn't looking at anyone, just the counter of the booth he was standing in. Weird. I thought he would be kicking off good and proper by now. Is he feeling guilty? Has he realized what damage he has done? How many people he has hurt?

'For the attempted murder of Claire Connolly?'


One sandy coloured head raised and looked at the jury for the first time. It seemed as if he was surprised by the verdict - even surprised to find himself in the dock in the first place.

'For the attempted murder of Jennifer Cartwright?' Why did it seem as if time stood still at that precise moment? And why did it seem as if when the initial consonant sound of guilty came from the Lead Juror's mouth, it was drowned out by a scream so piercing that Jenny felt as if she was breaking apart?

Probably because David Foster had decided that was the time he would voice his disgust at the verdict. All the others meant nothing to him, but to accuse him of murdering that bitch Cartwright? It was justice, not attempted murder. The other things were just a means to get to her - didn't they understand that? He was doing his civic duty. She was a miasma of filth, of vengefulness, of immorality. She tarnished everything she touched.

The screaming continued, accompanied by frenzied banging of metal onto metal. Officials were trying to calm him, to restrain him, although the handcuffs were valiantly trying to do that.

'Order! ORDER!' The Judge's gavel was resoundingly thumping, but it could barely be heard over the commotion from Foster and the voices of the people in the courtroom. 'ORDER IN THE COURT!' The Judge was standing now, as if to try to contain the noise, but nothing was stopping. 'CLEAR THE COURTROOM!' People were on their feet, officials coming from outside to help to regain some semblance of quietness, ushering bodies from the room in waves.

Ian gripped Jenny's arm and turned her towards the exit. 'Come on, sis. Let's get out of here.' Initially, Jenny found it difficult to move, her feet appearing to refuse to work. It wasn't until she felt the familiar sensation of a gentle hand on her upper arm did she break away from the dreamlike state she was in. Claire knew that Jenny was shocked, even though Foster's reaction should have been a given. As soon as he had kicked off, she had tried to get to her, but people had got in her way. Now all she wanted to do was to get her somewhere quiet - somewhere safe.

'Come on, love. Let's go.' And as if by magic, with those few words, Jenny moved in to the aisle and towards the exit.

As she neared the door, Foster's voice cut through the noise.

'I'll kill you, Cartwright! I'll kill you! KILL YOU! FU-CKING KILL YOU!'

The threat should've made the dark haired woman move faster, make her want to flee the scene even more quickly than previously. Instead she stopped, turned and faced the man who had tried to ruin her life. Straightening her back, blue eyes met grey and held the stare. A calmness flowed through her, followed by so many things she wanted to say to him, most of them cutting and vile. Watching him standing there, sweating, drooling, his arms distended like an ape, she felt nothing but pity for the man who had tried so hard to hurt her. His body was heaving, as if he was trying to control himself before his next outburst drained him fully, but his eyes stayed the same. The hatred Jenny saw there was flashing insistently, although for the first time she realized something. The revulsion was not for her. She wasn't sure who it was for, but this loathing, this revulsion was more than a response to a review. It had to be. Maybe it was at himself, although it would take a team of psychiatrists to break through it.

'I forgive you, David.' Just four words. And those four words made Jennifer Cartwright feel freer than she had for a long time. Although she hadn't shouted them, she knew he had heard her. Grey eyes widened, the mouth slumped momentarily before curling into a snarl once again. But Jenny wasn't going to stand about and wait for his reaction. She had a life to live.

Turning to face the shocked expressions of her brother and Claire, Jenny smiled and nodded her head towards the door, as if to say, 'Shall we?'

And they did, but not before seeing a small, grey haired woman pleading with the officials for her to see her son. Amazing how life pans out.


Chapter Eighteen

Since the events in the court house, two weeks had passed. David Foster, after eventually calming down, had been sentenced. Even though his solicitor had tried to go for the diminished responsibility plea for his client, the court had unanimously decided he was guilty. However, his mental state was a cause for consideration, prompting the Judge to impose the indefinite hospital order under the Mental Health Act. But that wasn't it. The Judge also added that if there came a time where David Foster was deemed mentally fit, he would then serve a fifteen year jail sentence, although in all likelihood, that would equal just over seven years. Stupid to think if a person is given a term in prison, it rarely ever means they actually do the term specified.

But, that was enough for Jennifer Cartwright, and even Sergeant Fiona Houghton. The policewoman believed that somewhere along the line, some semblance of justice had prevailed. Too many times she spent hours upon hours catching a perp only to see him released on a technicality. At least this time her prisoner had got what he deserved, and maybe he might even see the error of his ways, although she doubted it.

After the court case had come to an end, Fiona had felt a sense of sorrow saying goodbye to the two women. It was a rare occurrence that she would ever become so emotionally involved in a case, as that made her feel as if she didn't have a proper perspective on what was happening around her. However, too much had happened in that short space of time to brush off with a simple farewell. It wasn't just the kidnapping incident either. Some good had come out of it, too. If it hadn't been what had happened on Mousehold Heath, would she now be contemplating taking the next step with Laura? No, she wasn't going to ask for her fair hand, or that they live together - it was far simpler than that. As simple as 'Can I leave my toothbrush here?' and 'Here's a key for my place if you want it' with the hopes of having the gesture reciprocated. However, she was still trying to pluck up the courage to do it.

So, as you can see, the goodbye she had to say didn't feel as if it should be goodbye after all. There was nothing in the rules of policing to say she couldn't befriend people she met whilst doing her job. Whatever had transpired between the three women had sealed their friendship, and it was just a shame they hadn't met in normal circumstances. Fiona had promised that the next night both Laura and her had free, they would go to CC's and see both the women. She didn't have to ask if Jennifer Cartwright would be there, just looking at how smitten the dark haired woman was told her wherever Claire was she would not be far away. It would be a good chance for them to all get to know each other. And that night was to be the following Saturday.

'Maybe I could ask Laura when we get back.' As soon as the words spilled out into the empty car she was seated in, she felt the telltale tingle of nerves begin. But it didn't stop the thought of where she could get a new toothbrush from on her way home. Thankfully, she had already had the spare key cut. She had done that over a month ago.

With a sigh, Fiona started her car. It was time to go to work and see how many other criminals she could get behind bars.


Jenny was nervous. More nervous than she had been in a long time. It wasn't as if she was going into battle, or facing Foster on the Heath again. No. She was going to see Claire. But unlike all the other times she had seen the blonde woman, this time it was different. This time she was taking her overnight bag with her. It wasn't a case of planning to stay over at Claire's for illicit meanderings - far from it. It was because for once Claire was not working on the Friday night, or Saturday, and they thought it would be a good chance for them to go out together that evening, and then meet Fiona and Laura the next. There was no point both of them getting into separate taxis, so Claire had asked her to stay for the weekend. So, why was she nervous? She had stayed at the blonde's house before and not been so het up about it. A stupid thought really, because the last time Jenny had stayed at Claire's had been just before the spectacle on Mousehold.

As it is plainly obvious, Jenny and Claire's relationship had not become physical - kissing, yes, but anything other than that - no. Considering their relationship had blossomed rapidly since the admission of their attraction nearly a month previously, so much had been going on in their lives, making time for them to be on their own nearly impossible. Not for the want of it - not for the need to feel the presence of the other. Every minute spent apart made each woman crave the other even more than she had previously.

Therefore, that was why Jennifer Cartwright was nervous. Tonight, she believed, could be the night. Just the thought of it made her knees weak and her heart beat so bloody hard it made her ribs ache. Obviously, she wanted it - wanted it so fucking much, but a tiny voice within her was questioning whether she would be good enough for the blonde restaurant owner.

Weirdly enough, Claire Connolly was having exactly the same thoughts. Not about speculating whether tonight could be the night that she lured the gorgeous Jennifer Cartwright to her bed, as she already knew it was going to happen. She had waited too long for her to leave it any longer. The thing that was connecting their thoughts was if she would be able to satisfy the woman who haunted every minute of her day, awake and asleep. It was as if her emotions were bubbling away like a pressure cooker, and with one touch from the beautiful critic, she would explode everywhere. If she was a bloke, it would be called premature ejaculation, and considering she wanted to show the woman she loved how much she loved her, she didn't want it to be a wham, bam, thank you ma'am. Just like a wonderful meal, she wanted to savour every single taste and experience, although to use a food cliché didn't sum up exactly what she wanted to savour.

Waiting for the door to open at Claire's house was agony, surprising considering as soon as Jenny pressed the doorbell, the blonde was standing in the open doorway. Both women's smiles were forced, nerves trying valiantly to turn lips into teeth clenching grimaces. Not the right facial expression to engage and impress; not the right expression that would suggest the inner longing both women shared.

'Hey. You're early.' Claire's voice wavered slightly, her hand gripping the handle of the door. Inside her stomach was battering to free itself, the nerves trying to show themselves in a flood, a flood that could so easily decorate her front door step, and the woman standing in front of her, with the evidence of her lunch.

'Really?' Jenny looked at her watch, although she couldn't see the time - her eyes had blurred with anxiety, and she was definite Claire could hear her heart thumping. 'Didn't want us to be late for ... erm ... for ... anything.'

Almost instantly, Claire relaxed. It was obvious Jenny was worried, obvious the woman standing in front of her knew that tonight was going to be the night they shared how they felt. Knowing that Jenny was as on edge as she was, made the thoughts of not being good enough fade into the background. Whatever happened, happened. All she could do was her best. A slight smile crept onto her face. What if I do cum as soon as she touches me? At least she'll know how much I want her.

'Here. Let me get that.' Stretching out her hand, she waited for Jenny to pass her the overnight bag she was gripping. As soon as she got it, she tossed it to the side and then stretched her hand out again. 'And let me get you.' A slight pause and then cool slender fingers slipped into her own waiting hand. Claire pulled the dark haired woman forward and into her arms, her hands slipping around Jen's waist. 'I've been waiting for a kiss all day.' Leaning up, she brushed her lips over Jenny's. It felt so good to feel the connection, connection from hands, bodies, lips. The next kiss wasn't as chaste, as Jenny seemed to snap out her stupor and react to the presence of the smaller woman. Pulling Claire more tightly to her, Jenny pressed her lips more fully, moving them leisurely and firmly, almost as if she was claiming them. The heat between them was building, the gurgling of want climbing then falling further down to the place that was making itself known more vehemently. There was no mistaking the need each woman felt for the other, and neither were thinking that they would be good enough by this point. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered apart from this perfect moment.

Stepping backwards, Claire pulled Jenny further into the house, kicking the door shut with the lunge of a well placed foot. Neither woman wanted to break the kiss, didn't want to break this connection, break this moment. Slam. Claire's back hit the wall and she was covered by an insistent body, an insistent mouth, an insistent pressing against her. A thigh pushed legs apart and pressed onto the crux of her need. A groan entered another's mouth, inciting the recipient even more. Another press, another groan, and another ... and another. Jenny was forcing herself into the body of the small blonde, almost as if she was loving her standing up and fully dressed.

Claire's hands were in dark hair, wrapping eager fingers into long locks, pulling her would be lover's head closer and closer, as if she wanted it to morph into her own. Lips were moving away from lips and claiming other parts, experiencing the soft skin of throats, the smooth skin of faces, yearning to taste the swell of breasts and taut stomachs. Gripping onto the back of Claire's head, Jenny's free hand slipped up the side of a smooth thigh, her brain acknowledging that it was covered by a skirt. Grasping the material, she lifted it, bunching it over her hand until she was free to roam the flesh that was waiting underneath. Muscles spasmed under her touch, and Jenny felt the knee bend as the calf wrapped itself around her, forcing her even closer than she had been. Her hand was around the back and clutching a firm ass. Lifting it slightly, she groaned as she felt the tilt of hips. It was within her reach - just a few inches. All it would take was for her to slide her hand further down and stroke along the place covering the treasure she sought. Would it be wet? As wet as I am? Will I feel it seeping through if I traced my fingers along it? Claire's legs were clasping, pushing, gripping. She wanted to increase the contact, wanted to literally and metaphorically force Jenny's hand; wanted to feel it slip effortlessly inside her underwear and take what belonged to the dark haired woman. Teeth were nipping her throat; a tongue was tracing, hips were moving in rhythm. There was no stopping, no waiting for the right time, the appropriate place. It was going to happen. Fingers were going to claim, slip inside and relieve the want that was screaming out.

Something was happening. Some other noise broke through the moans, the gasps, the hissed yeses. It seemed as if it built up, appeared through osmosis. Both women wanted to shut it out, wanted to continue with this joining, but how could they? The doorbell was sounding, announcing they were wanted elsewhere, although neither woman believed that they could be wanted anywhere quite as much as they were wanted right at this moment. Unhurriedly, the kiss slowed. Reticently, bodies moved away. Claire's foot once again felt terra firmer, although it felt so much better wrapped around the body of the woman she desired. Air seeped between the women, and as they pulled further apart, green eyes locked onto blue. Without words a promise passed from one woman to the other. This would continue, and when it did, nothing would stop them. Not even the impatient taxi driver who was once again ringing the doorbell.

'Time to go.' Claire's voice broke slightly, as it was still trying to engage with the normality of not being totally absorbed by the delectable woman standing in front of her. Blue eyes glistened, and the restaurant owner knew that Jenny was turned on. A small smile slipped fleetingly across her mouth. At least she knew it was a mutual thing. Tentatively, strong fingers stroked down the side of her face, traced over her eyebrows, slipped effortlessly down the plane of her nose to end in with gentle caress of her lips.

Jenny just wanted to touch those lips again before they left and entered the world of others. She wanted to etch the feel of Claire's skin to memory so she could conjure it at any time she wanted. However, she didn't expect to speak - didn't expect the three words to stumble out once again unbidden. 'I love you.' This was the first time Jenny had uttered these words since the time in Claire's office. They hadn't discussed the last time yet. And why should we? She thought. 'Let me take you ...' Jenny swallowed, wanting the sentence to end there, 'out.'

Claire didn't move. Green eyes were searching the dark haired woman's face making the critic a little nervous. Jenny turned as if to move towards the door, but a hand grabbed her arm and turned her back.

'I love you, Jenny. So bloody much.'

Another kiss. Another angry blare from the doorbell, followed by a muttering.

Tearing her mouth away, Claire shouted over Jenny's shoulder, 'We're coming!' How true that nearly was.


All evening both women's minds were in another place entirely. Yes, they loved being in each other's company, and yes, the food was wonderful in the restaurant where they ate. But it didn't stop the wanting to be somewhere else, more specifically, back at a certain blonde's house and re enacting the scene from earlier. Every touch they shared, whether it was merely passing the condiments across the table, sent sparks between the women. Eyes exposed their inner longing, and sporadically a sigh would hit the air. It was the longest date either woman had ever had. Considering all they wanted to do was spend time with each other, it was surprising to think they wanted to get the routine task of eating out of the way.

After the main course, Jenny slipped the menu over to Claire. 'What do you want for dessert?' The sentence almost choked her. All she wanted to do was tell the gorgeous green eyed woman in front of her that dessert could wait - dessert was overrated - dessert could never be as sweet as the taste of those perfect lips she had sampled earlier. However, one thing she didn't want was to be thought of as cheesy. Thoughts of chat up lines raced through her head. Ones like reordering the dictionary to get U and I next to each other. Or 'Are you tired? Because you've been running through my mind all night.' Did she want Claire to realise she was an idiot?

Pensively, blue eyes watched Claire reading through the choices. Slowly. And as she watched, she saw a small smile play at the corners of the blonde's mouth. Why is she smiling? 'Do you know what you want?' Her voice sounded eager, mainly because the sooner Claire picked, the sooner she would eat it, and then they could go. A nod from a blonde head, the menu attempting to hide the grin breaking out over the woman's face. 'What?'

A pause, before green eyes locked onto blue, the smile vanishing. Placing the menu on the table, Claire stretched her open hand over the surface of the wood. 'You. I want you.' That's all that was needed. The offered hand was accepted, followed by a slight dip of a dark head.

Ten minutes later they were both sat in a taxi and heading back to Claire Connolly's home.

They were barely in the front door when Jenny was pinning the blonde against the same wall they had been against earlier in the evening. Hungry mouths claimed, bodies pressed, and lust was once again rife. Unlike the last time, both women were trying to undress the other. There was no build up to the need to feel the sensation of flesh against flesh. Ping. The button from Jenny's shirt hit the floor and scuttled down the wooden hallway. Ping ping ping. More buttons followed. More skin was revealed.

'Up ... stairs.' It was only one word, but Claire found it so difficult to say it, as she believed her mouth was better occupied tasting the neck of the woman pressing against her. Although her body was willing to give itself over to the touch of Jennifer Cartwright right there in the hallway, deep down she wanted it to be perfect. And perfect, to her, was taking this gorgeous woman up a few steps, lead her to her bedroom, strip her leisurely, and then love her as fully as she possibly could.

Panting, she pulled away. Before her was one of the most beautiful scenes she had ever seen - a vision, in fact. Jenny's chest was heaving, a bra barely covering the delectable flesh underneath. Black hair was wild, and almost mimicked the primitive look in blue eyes. Lifting her hand, Claire tentatively touched the curve of a breast. Vibrations raced through her, and she watched with fascination as eyes fluttered, the breath catching in Jenny's throat. Slowly, with an almost sacred movement, the same finger trailed over the skin revelling in the texture of smoothness transforming itself into goose bumps. As the finger dipped around the side, the rest of the hand came into play. It curved and cupped, gently pressing against the shape. A gasp left Jenny's mouth. A thumb lifted and hovered over a pert nipple, as in deliberation. Then contact. Sweet, pure, contact. The gasp from previously was forgotten, as a moan freed itself. Leaning backwards, the dark haired woman pressed herself more firmly into the palm of Claire's hand. Every nerve in her body seemed to race to the point of contact; it was as if she was being supported by just that hold. One hand. One breast. Two women. One thing they had to do.

Slipping her hand over Claire's, Jenny pushed it more fully against her. There is something about touching another woman's breasts that is like nothing else on earth. The softness, the response, the feeling of stepping over the boundaries into something more carnal - it was a dizzying connection. But not the ultimate. The ultimate would come shortly, as the hand shifted and reached for another hand, clasping it in a definite tryst, before pulling it forward and towards the stairs.

Once in the bedroom, it began again. The slow exploration of skin every time a piece of clothing was released. There was no rush now. It was time to discover the new lands of each other. A dress was undone, and as it fluttered to the floor, a firm body was displayed. Then it was a bra, each strap slipping effortlessly from silken skin. Trousers soon found their way to the carpet, leaving both women naked from the waist down, well, apart from underwear, and that was easily slithered away from its place.

Naked. Waiting. Arms circling and pulling. Skin meeting skin in absolute connection. Gasps met air, mouths met mouths, lips moved and shifted, devouring throats, shoulders; heads dipping and tongues trailing. Moving forward, Jenny guided Claire towards the bed. She wanted to cover this woman with her body; give herself freely to this need; delight in pushing herself between ready thighs. But the thought of it could never match the actuality of doing it. Feeling Claire underneath her, naked, responsive, legs parting and allowing, calves wrapping around her body to squeeze and pull her more fully into her - that was perfection.

Push. Push. Push. Each movement pressed against the pool of desire seeping from the blonde woman underneath her. Nails trailed over skin, gradually becoming firmer, more insistent. Kisses tried to be paced, tried to be controlled, but everything else was making this nearly impossible. Breasts rubbed, connected, meshed and joined. Stomachs slipped against the other, as sweat began to ooze from pores to lubricate eager flesh. With each movement, both women felt the want escalate - felt the urge to lose control and break into a primitive uncontrolled thrusting. However, both women knew that still wouldn't be enough. At this point, they thought nothing could alleviate the desire coursing through them.

Jenny's hand was gripping a firm thigh, pulling it higher, opening the space below her so she could press even more against her lover. Moisture slicked itself over skin, moisture from the secret place - the sacred place that is searched for by all. Hot mouths still explored, still craved the taste of the other. A deep need vibrated inside each woman, a need to seep inside the other and stay.

'I need ... need more.' Claire's voice was ragged, want blocking the passage of words into the air. 'Please ... please touch me.'

Slipping her hand behind a thigh, Jenny moved it up and towards her goal. Heat met her fingers before the slick juice lubricating the passage to the blonde's desire coated the tips as if readying them. Gently, she touched the opening, a gasp leaving Claire's mouth, followed by a bucking of her hips. Again, Jenny touched the place she knew she had to touch, and not just for Claire. It was like a magnet drawing her closer, pulling her in. But, once again, it was not enough. The angle she was at stopped her from fully taking the woman who was trying valiantly to curve her body around towards taunting fingers.

Moving her hand back around to the front, she placed the palm upwards as if she was going to cup Claire's sex. But she didn't. She pushed downwards, making sure her fingers pushed the folds she found there whilst also connecting to the nub of quivering flesh.

'God - Yes!'

The response spurred the dark haired woman further, so she did it again, and again, and each time the response increased, the wetness increased, the movement of the hips ... increased. Coupled with the thrusting of her own hips, the pressing of her skin against her lover's, the sensation of her nerve endings screaming out for more ... more ... more.

'More. Please. More.'

Fingers waited impatiently outside Claire's entrance, and all Jenny was waiting for was green eyes to meet her own. She didn't have to wait long. Slowly, eyelashes fluttered and opened, shortly followed by the slight lift of a blonde head. Lips were parted as if in question, but Claire couldn't seem to say anything. Usually, Jenny would have just slipped one lone finger inside, but she knew that wouldn't be enough, if the expression on Claire's face was anything to go by. Two fingers met at the core; two fingers joined and pushed. Those same two fingers allowed a growl to free itself from Claire Connolly's throat.

Out. Wet. Ready to push inside again. In. Clutched. Out and in ... in and out. The rhythm was steady; the force was insistent; the feeling was sublime. Both women sensed it, both women experienced it. However, all they wanted to do was experience it over and over again.

It was building, clawing, raging. The gravity pulling Claire Connolly to climax was almost blinding her. Her hips were pushing, bucking, thrusting, and trying to absorb everything Jenny had to give. Even though the dark haired woman was as close as was physically possible, it still wasn't enough. She wanted her to climb inside, sit behind her skin, nestle against her heart and live there for eternity. Her lover was pressing into her, just as she wanted to press inside the deep secret of Jennifer Cartwright. Claire longed to feel the wetness clutch her hand, her fingers, coat her palm, cover her body. A desire to taste the essence of her woman made her throat feel dry, ache to be soothed by the moisture she knew was pooling at Jenny's core.

Breathing was erratic. Gasping breaths hit air, grasping hands clasped skin, pulling, nails digging, owning, needing more, needing it all. Claire knew it was coming; she knew she was cumming.

A shift. A break. A pause. A waiting.

'Yesssssssssssss ... God ... yessssssssssssssssssssss!' Her mouth twisted, words hitting the air, fingers digging into the firm flesh of Jenny's ass and pulling her closer almost crushing the hand that was firmly rooted there. Lights danced in front of her eyes, sensations rippled through her, and for once in her life Claire Connolly felt totally complete.

Jenny paused, mesmerised by the sight of the woman she loved climaxing. It nearly made her join her, nearly made her tip over the edge and scream her cumming alongside her lover's. But she was too awe struck, too captivated by the vision lying underneath her, the same sight she could feel clamping her fingers that were still buried deep within. Slipping her digits down slightly, the dark haired woman curved them and felt for the bump she knew was hiding. Almost immediately, it was there, and Jenny pushed against it. The reaction was explosive, as Claire sucked in a breath and released a yell accompanied by a thrusting of hips that lifted the critic higher. Thud thud thud ... more thrusts, more yells, more gripping onto flesh. Heat was seeping over Jenny's hand, eking down her wrist, dripping onto the waiting bed covers.

Gradually, the movement slowed. Jenny kissed Claire's face, almost in reassurance: soft, featherlike kisses coated skin that was flush with climax. Gently, the dark haired woman slipped from the throbbing body of her lover, curling behind her and pulling her into a hug. Strong arms held, hearts beat frantically, breaths were jagged, laboured, pausing. If I die at this moment, I will be happy. Not something Jennifer Cartwright had ever thought before. But then again, she had never felt so truly loved, in love, or contented in her life. Strange, considering all she had done is show the woman she was holding how much she loved her.

However, Claire Connolly was going to make sure that Jenny felt as she felt. Even though her orgasms had rocked her being, she still wanted to reciprocate the feeling. Not out of a feeling of having to, that wasn't it at all. The real reason was to show Jenny just how much she loved her, wanted her, needed her to feel as she had felt - how she still felt. And that feeling was whole - Claire Connolly felt whole. Nothing, and no one, could ever tell her that this wasn't right - that this love was wrong or unnatural. All her life she had thought people would judge her just as her mother had, spent her life being ashamed of being as she was. But not anymore. It didn't matter whom she loved, who loved her. What mattered was being with the person who completed her, made her feel as if she had the power to do anything, complete anything, be anything she wanted to be. Now the thing she had to do to finalise this new found emotion was to make the woman who was holding her so protectively feel the same way.

Turning, she pressed herself against the front of Jenny's body, her arms slipping effortlessly around her. Tenderly, she kissed a sweat slicked throat, the taste inciting the need to fully absorb the essence of her lover. Pushing gently, Claire slipped Jenny onto her back and climbed over her. Kisses lit trails over the dark haired woman's neck and face, finally settling on a ready mouth. The blonde was now above and straddling a toned body, her hands beginning their exploration; fingers etched to memory the curves and dips of the woman beneath, each stroke filling the critic with anticipation. Expertly, Claire's hands brushed over thighs, the same thighs that were rising and curving around her and pulling her closer.

Moving down, Claire sampled the delectable flesh waiting for her. Lips brushed across collarbones; a tongue delved into the dip of the throat; a head dipped further to explore the gradient of a rising chest. Claire's hand cupped a breast, circled it, weighed it, pressed it gently. Soon an eager mouth joined: lips parted, a tongue extended, a flick, a moan, before those same lips closed around the erect nipple and enclosed it within its wet warmth, and sucked.


It appeared that Claire was feeding from her lover, taking sustenance from the woman she knew had become everything to her. Although she felt she could stay here forever, she also knew there were many other places she needed to sample; knew there were other places she was needed more. Moving her mouth away, she moved to the other soft orb and performed the same ritual, her hand still massaging the abandoned breast.

'Please, Claire. I …' Jenny couldn't finish. The sensations rippling through her body were consuming her, collecting at one central place, a place that needed the ministrations of the woman above her to quell the ache, quell the need that was raging out of control, sending vibrations throughout her body.

Once again, Claire pulled her mouth away from a perfect breast. Green eyes looked into blue and witnessed the desire begging to be appeased. Who was she to refuse?

Dipping her head once again, Claire moved her lips over the skin of a taut stomach, a tongue helping to guide her way. Sliding her hands down the sides of Jenny's body, she allowed them to rest on hips - the same hips that were trying not to buck, trying not to rush the moment when contact was firm and constant.

Easing downwards, Claire's face hovered over the nest of dark downy hair, her nostrils flaring to capture the scent of her lover's arousal. There it was. Nectar. The scent she had always envisioned to be the epitome of a woman. And not just any woman. Jennifer Cartwright. The woman she had waited her whole life for. Claire's mouth was watering; lubricating itself for the feast she was to gorge herself with. Nestling her face into the soft hair, Claire inhaled more fully. This is what a woman should smell like. Without thought, an inquisitive and eager tongue poked out and slipped effortlessly through the folds. There, hidden, was honey. Although the blonde wanted to take her time with Jenny, her tongue thought otherwise. It slipped downwards, not even waiting for her to separate and reveal the thrumming nub.

At first it was just the tip of her tongue that teased, but as the blonde reached the end of her journey, she brought it back up using the flat of it. Hips jerked upwards, shortly followed by a gasp. Curling her hands over Jenny's hips, Claire stretched her fingers until they touched the inside top of each thigh. Open. Exposed. Glistening. Ready.

It was sweet agony waiting for Claire's tongue to reach the bundle of nerves dancing at the core of the dark haired woman. Sweet sweet rapturous agony. It felt as if her body was curling towards it; curling away from it; curling into it. Frantic hands gripped blonde hair; fingers grasped the locks and pulled the head closer needing more pressure. Twisting her hips, Jenny began a rhythm forcing the tongue to move across her folds, thus allowing her climax to build and build and build. But not for long, as Claire pulled her mouth away. Frustration raced through the brunette. However, she wasn't frustrated for long.

Opening her mouth more fully, Claire captured Jenny's clit inside and sucked.

'Jeeesus!' The force of the connection made the dark haired woman's hips spasm, but Claire kept control and continued to hold the quivering mass between her lips, her tongue rapidly flicking across the tip. 'Ohhh … Go - od!' Jenny's mouth was losing all moisture, and if she could have thought at that moment, she would have believed it had all raced to the spot it was needed the most.

Claire continued to thrust her face into her lover; continued to wrap her tongue around the trembling and swollen clit in her mouth; continued to suck and pull and suck. The taste of the woman she was making love to was divine, and the blonde couldn't believe it tasted better than the scent of it had. Moving her hand away from one side, Claire slipped it underneath, the fingers searching. It was so wet, whether it was the saliva coming from Claire or the desire pooling from Jenny. It didn't matter. All that mattered was the next part.

Without stopping the hold with her mouth, Claire's finger slowly circled Jenny's opening. She wanted this to be perfect, wanted it to be right: wanted to captivate and alleviate the want coursing through her, coursing through her woman. The blonde wanted to feel every nuance, experience every shudder and jolt the brunette would feel. Not out of egoism. No. Out of needing to feel the ultimate joining of two people. Claire wanted to glorify in the knowledge she had made Jennifer feel loved, feel desired, feel exactly how she was feeling.

It was supposed to be slow, supposed to be deliberately enticing. But the finger she was going to slip agonisingly slowly inside Jenny decided it needed help, needed power, needed to thrust inside and take what it craved. So it did. And with it came another finger - another finger with as much want as the first.

The body underneath Claire's seemed to freeze - seemed to hold as if suspended for a moment. A cry growled from parted lips as hips once again pushed hard against Claire's face and hand, allowing the blonde to immerse herself into the heat there. As much as she tried, Jenny couldn't seem to formulate words with which to pepper the air. Thoughts whirled unbidden, as emotions climaxed with her body. It was the most intense emotion she had ever experienced, and she couldn't tell anyone, couldn't let Claire know how she was feeling.

Another jolt raced through her, another charge of blinding muted cresting, shortly followed by another. But this time one word slipped through, filling the air with itself.

'Cl ...aire!'It was all that was needed.

On this admission, the blonde woman couldn't help curving her lips into a smile, the same lips that were still attached to a quivering mass. Gently, Claire slowed her actions, slipping her fingers free from inside her lover and placing a delicate kiss where her mouth had just been. Crawling up the body of Jenny, Claire trailed a path of kisses along sweat coated skin. The smell was intoxicating, and she knew that however many times she made love to this woman it would never be enough.

It was also at this precise moment that although she knew Jenny loved her it didn't mean she would want to spend the rest of her life with her, did it?

Strong, tender hands slipped around Claire and pulled her into a firm hot body. Being in Jenny's arms, being held so closely, so reverently, made the blonde's fears begin to slip away.

'She's mine now. Mine now,' ran through her head, the thought pushing her remaining worries aside.

Lying there, entwined in each other's arms, both women were comforted by the gentle breathing of the other. Legs tangled and held, a blonde head rested on a gently rising chest, and eyes began to flutter and close. The rhythm of heart beats acted as a lullaby, and sleep was easing herself into their lives.

Just before Claire drifted off completely, she heard a husky voice murmur, 'I love you, Claire Connolly.' A smile slipped lazily on her face, and the only response she could make was a contented mumble before sleep finally absorbed her.


Morning sneaked unbidden through the curtains, trailing her warming fingers across the bed covers and exposed skin. All night the two women had woken to rekindle their love making, each time seeming like the first. It was magically intense: magically all consuming. Each time a touch suggested more, the action was followed with kisses, caresses, bodies pressing and holding, mouths searching mouths whilst fingers gripped and claimed.

A shrill ringing broke the comfortable laziness of the room, and it took Claire a few seconds to realise it was the phone. Leaning over, she snatched the trilling object and slammed it against her head, releasing an 'ouch' into the air.

Jenny listened. Blue eyes blinking open erratically as the sunlight tried to blind her. Eventually, she focused on the smooth skin of her lover's back. Tentatively, she reached out and trailed a lone finger down Claire's spine, smiling to herself as she heard the other woman gasp before apologising to the person on the other end of the line.

'I'll try to come this afternoon … ok?' A pause whilst the unknown talker asked something else. 'I'm busy tonight.' Another pause. Another gasp as Jenny's lips met silken skin. 'Got to go, sis. Laters, yeah?' Claire didn't even wait until the person had stopped speaking before she clicked the off button and pounced onto the grinning critic.

Straddling her, Claire allowed her hair to trickle over sensitive breasts. Blue eyes widened, and then hooded, but the grin was still in place.

'Think you're funny, eh?' Jenny nodded and grinned wider. 'Getting me all hot and bothered when I'm talking to my sister. You should be ashamed.' Leaning forward, Claire kissed the brunette hard. Instantly, the action was returned. Hands snaked around the blonde and pulled her down to cover the waiting woman. Hips began to move, the action churning up want that seemed to be insatiable. Strong hands gripped firm buttocks and pulled them further into a warm, safe body.

Then it dawned on Jenny. Claire had to go somewhere else today. She was hoping to spend the day with her - maybe even repeat what they had done the evening before. Thoughts of letting the woman out of her sight made her feel suddenly nervous, although she had no clue why.

Breaking her mouth away from Claire, she waited until the blonde opened her eyes and met her own waiting gaze. When the green orbs fluttered open, Jenny wanted to laugh to see the surprise blatantly there. 'What's the matter?'

'Did you have to be somewhere else?' Claire cocked her head to the side as if she was struggling to understand the question. 'The call. This afternoon. You have to go to your sister's.' Claire continued to stare. 'Do you need to get ready?'

'We've got plenty of time. Afternoon is hours away.' As she said it, Claire leaned down and kissed Jenny, but the dark haired woman pulled away again.

'It's half ten. And if you want to go to your sister's smelling of sex, then yes, we've got plenty of time.' Claire seemed to think over what her lover had said before nodding sharply and releasing a sigh into the air. The truth of the matter was she didn't want to leave. All she wanted to do was curl up in strong arms again; place her head against a soft breast, feel wanted, and loved, and everything else she had begun to feel since she had been with her. It wasn't just about sex - the way she felt about the woman lying underneath her could never be just about sex.

Leaning down, Claire brushed her lips across Jenny's. It was a promise - a promise that this was not over. Blue eyes widened and absorbed her, a smile valiantly brimming up to the surface.

'Sorry I have to leave you. Are we still on for later?' Claire's voice was gentle. 'I shouldn't be long. Two hours max.' The dark haired woman's smile split across her face. Pushing back, Claire gazed into the most beautiful face she had ever seen. A thunk sounded inside her chest, and she knew it was her heart starting up again. 'We're meeting with Fiona tonight, remember?' The brunette nodded; the grin still in place. 'You can wait for me here if you like, or if you want to go back home for a while I can call you when I get back.' A hint of worry crept into her voice, and Claire cleared her throat as if she was pretending she needed to. If truth be told, Claire was worried that she would get back and Jenny would have left. Stupid. Yes. She knew that. What they had shared the previous evening, and even before that, was not as fickle as her brain was trying to say. The connection she had shared with Jennifer Cartwright was strong, one of the strongest bonds she had ever experienced, and she wanted to blush because she had allowed that seed of doubt to unexpectedly creep in.

Lifting herself up, Jenny adjusted the woman who was now straddling her. She had watched the furrow appear, even briefly, over Claire's face. 'Don't worry about me. I'll entertain myself whilst you're out.' Raising her hand she stroked down the side of the blonde's face, luxuriating in the softness she met, radiating in the presence of the woman she loved so very much. 'Now. Shower. Before I forget you have somewhere else to be.'

'Join me?'

A grin split across Jenny's face. What a way to save water.


An hour later Claire had gone and Jenny was left wondering how she could fill her time until she saw her again. The revelation that her life seemed pointless without the blonde hit her forcibly in her chest. Never before had she relied so utterly on another person. All her life she had existed without the need to want someone so badly. But that was it, wasn't it. All her life she had existed - not lived. Being with Claire had shown her how alone she had been; how alone she had wanted herself to be. She had Ian, true. But it was different having someone she loved more than just family love.

Deciding to watch the TV, she sprawled over the sofa, her long legs dangling over the arm. Flicking through the channels gave her fidgeting hands something to do. Jenny's brain couldn't process all of the flashes of programmes appearing before her, even if she had given them the opportunity to show what they were about. It was a relief to hear the front door bell ring.

Shooting up from the sofa, Jenny banged her leg against the coffee table, but carried on racing to answer not even uttering the beginning of a swear word. Part of her believed that Claire had come back home and for some reason had forgotten her key. Why she should forget the key that was dangling on the blonde's key ring that hosted her car keys seemed to escape the brunette. Well, until she pulled the door back and spotted a small, ferrety looking man hoisting a bouquet of flowers at her. Bless her heart. She sent me flowers. The grin hurt.

'Are you Claire Connolly?' To Jenny's ears, he even sounded like a ferret. 'Could ya sign here, luv?' What the fuck? Who's sending Claire flowers? I know it isn't me? The grin left as rapidly as it had arrived. Not that I wouldn't have sent her flo... 'Today, luv. I've got a van full and I don't want 'em wilting.' Mr Charm personified. Grabbing the flowers out of his hand, Jenny then snatched the pen he was thrusting at her with her other one. In retrospect, she was surprised she didn't go through the paper as she scrawled her name over the invoice, and also surprised that she didn't jab the ballpoint through the eye socket of the delivery man.

Without waiting for a thank you, he was gone, the sound of his van thundering down the road. Slowly, Jenny closed the door, the bouquet still ensconced in her grip. A card was poking through the wrapping, and it seemed to the critic that it was begging to be read.

'No. Not my flowers. Not my message.' This mantra was spoken louder and louder as the dark haired woman moved towards the kitchen. Filling the sink with cold water, Jenny knew she was trying to see through the white envelope, knew that she was willing it to disappear so she could reveal her competition. 'Pah! Competition!' A short laugh shot out, and even to her it sounded fake. Without thinking, she plonked the flowers into the water, the cold liquid shooting over the plastic and covering her. And the envelope. The same envelope that was smearing the writing over the surface making Claire's name almost intelligible. Obviously, Jenny had to do something. She couldn't let it be ruined, could she? The side of her mouth quivered slightly, as she tried to repress the smile she felt brimming there. Slipping the card from the safety of the stalks, Jenny noticed the water was seeping through. With one flick, the small envelope was open and imprisoned between her forefinger and her thumb was a white slip. 'Happy Birthday, Claire.' Happy? Birth-day? Claire? But how? I? What the? Lifting the card closer, Jenny read through the whole message. 'Happy Birthday, Claire. Hope you enjoy your night off. Love, the Team.'

Although it took a few seconds for the critic to digest the information, eventually she did. Jenny had never questioned why Claire had a Friday and Saturday night off, especially considering they were the blonde's busiest times. Thinking back, Jenny realised she had been a little surprised when Claire had announced she was going to see her sister. It wasn't that she didn't trust Claire, or think she didn't want Jenny to meet her family - that hadn't come into it. It was just so unexpected. One minute they were spooned around each other, and the next Claire was dashing around getting herself ready.

'The little bugger didn't want me to know.' Blue eyes scrunched up, and Jenny began chewing her lip. Then it came to her. She needed to get her a present, and get one quick. She also needed to make out she hadn't found out about the blonde's birthday. Two can play at that game. Looking up, she saw the flowers sitting dejectedly in the sink. That was easy. Placing the card back in the mini envelope, she grabbed the bouquet and shook the excess water from the packaging, then decided she wouldn't leave them on the front step after all. Jenny would let the blonde know she knew she had received flowers, but not let on she knew why. Stupid games really, but it did allow her to keep the pretence of not knowing it was Claire's birthday under wraps for the time being. Smiling to herself, Jenny placed the flowers back into the sink and left the room. It was time to go shopping.


God, it hurt. The stitches above his eyebrow were tugging against his flesh and making his eyebrow lift as in surprise. It had been a surprise too, the way he had received them - and the broken teeth and ribs. David Foster had never really been on the receiving end of a thorough beating, well, apart from the one he received on Mousehold Heath by the bitch, that is. But this time it was no female who had kicked ten tons of shit out of him. This time it had been a six foot three maniac who didn't possess a sense of humour. After all the time he had spent at the secure unit he still hadn't learned that he was not above everyone else, not more intelligent, cultured, higher class, and definitely not always right. Telling the other male patient that he was a waste of tax payers money seemed a fair comment at the time, and Foster truly believed it was the truth. Foster also believed he had said it in a way that could be deemed 'jovial and tactful', whereas he soon realised the recipient of his wit was an idiot with the social graces of a turd. As soon as the words had left his mouth he physically felt them return in the shape of a fist. Hitting the floor in one fluid motion made him want to recant his views, mainly because his mouth was stinging like a bastard. If he could have done, he would have, but the man who was by now kicking frantically at Foster's body didn't seem to want to hear his stuttered apologies. Foster blacked out when his head was bashed unceremoniously against the floor.

Waking up in his own bed, he was surprised to see a male nurse standing over him. Pain shot around his body, and as he opened his mouth to speak, the air alerted him to the taste of metal inside - the taste of blood congealing. Foster wanted to vomit, but his stomach hurt thinking about throwing up, so he had to be content with gagging.

'Well, David. Maybe next time you will think about what you want to say before antagonising Barry.' Was that laughter behind those words? Cunt. 'I think you got off lightly. Barry doesn't like people taking the juice out of him.'

Foster tried to sit up, but the pain in his chest forced him back. Gasping, he managed, 'Lightly? Light-ly? He's a lunatic. He nearly killed me.'

Moving to the washstand, the nurse spoke again, turning slightly to stare into Foster's eyes. 'And you would know about that, wouldn't you, David.' A splashing sound resounded in the room, as the nurse filled the bowl. Anger bubbled throughout Foster's body, the pain almost nonexistent. 'I should imagine that is how your victim felt when you attacked her, don't you think?' The tap snapped off, and the man turned back to where Foster was seething, but still lying on the bed. 'As for being a lunatic ... well, they all are, aren't they?' He paused, smiled, and continued. 'Including you.'

It seemed as if a red curtain fell in front of his eyes, and the screamed 'YOU CUNT!' echoed around his cell.

'Now now now, David. No need for foul language.' Foster attempted to get up, get up and beat the shit out of the grinning nurse. 'You don't want Barry to hear you, do you? He doesn't like profanity.'

The effort was too much, but that didn't stop Foster wanting to kill the man standing in front of him holding the bowl of water. Swiftly, more swiftly than he thought he would be able to manage, David Foster kicked out, hitting the bowl out of the nurse's hands and covering them both. A flash of pure hatred covered the nurse's face before he composed himself once again.

'Well. No bed bath for you today, Mr Foster.' The words were clipped - the anger contained. 'But any more outbursts like that and it's solitary for you.'

'Fuck you.'

The nurse didn't answer, just placed the bowl on the side and moved as if to leave. Just as he reached the door, he looked back at Foster. 'If you need anything, just yell. Doesn't mean we'll hear you, but you can yell anyway.'

'Fuck you.'

But the two words hit the closing door and ricocheted around the room. David Foster slumped back onto his bed, his clothes and covers soaked, his ribs aching, and the taste of blood more apparent. Lying there on his own he started his planning again. As well as getting Jennifer Cartwright, he also added the nurse and Barry to his payback schemes. Amazing to think that Foster had been in here for a few weeks and still hadn't realised he was there because of his own actions. All it seemed to do was inflame his sense of injustice. Deep down he knew he was innocent and they had all misunderstood what he was attempting to do with that bitch Cartwright and her dyke of a lover. He was cleaning up. Wasn't it obvious? And now there were others who needed sorting too. Loonies and sadists. Definitely. And as soon as he had sorted them out, he would work on getting back into society again - getting back to finishing the job he had started - get back to sorting out Jennifer Cartwright once and for all. If he was certain about one thing it was he would be the man who killed the bitch. He would be the one to stop her. He, David Foster, would make sure she could never hurt another person again. And it was going to be soon. Fuck his sentence - there was no way he would be waiting a minimum of fifteen years to watch the life trickle out of the woman he hated more than anything. All he had to do was play the game - play along with the 'treatment' he had been offered. Pretend he didn't hate her ... pretend he wouldn't hurt her ... pretend he was sorry for what he had done.

Piece of piss.

Once again, the grin hurt. But it was worth it.


Fiona Houghton felt sick. Her stomach was roiling as if she were standing on deck of the sinking Titanic. 'It's a toothbrush for fuck's sake. A fucking toothbrush!' Looking over to the passenger seat, Fiona noted the brand name of the chemist she had bought her toothbrush from. Her electric toothbrush. The same toothbrush she had at home, even though Laura had taken the piss out of it because it sounded like a Wookiee when it hit certain speeds. Turning, the policewoman looked over to Laura's flat, and with a sigh lifted the carrier bag and slipped it inside her jacket before pulling it out again and sliding it behind the backseat.

'Chicken.' The voice inside her head was annoying. 'Can't even leave your toothbrush at her flat.' Gritting her teeth together, Fiona got out of the car. Part of her wished the voice would stay in the front seat of her car; however that was not to be. Every step she took closer to the block where Laura lived, the voice seemed to pick up momentum. 'All the things you do at work. All the bad guys you meet, and you can't even sort your life out.'

'Fuck off.'

A startled passer by stepped away from the dark haired officer, but Fiona didn't make a move to explain herself. Reaching the main entrance, she lifted her hand as if to press for admittance, stopped, and gritted her teeth once again. Moments later she was back at her car, the carrier bag in her hand.

'Time to start acting like and adult, Houghton.' A small smile worked its way over her mouth. She wanted this - wanted it more than she had ever wanted anything before. But how would she get it if she never took a chance? Sighing dramatically, she once again uttered, 'It's a toothbrush for fuck's sake. A fucking toothbrush!' But inside she knew it was way more than that. It was a piece of her future falling into place.

On the way back to the apartment block Fiona's step was lighter, her jaw slacker, and a distinct absence of an irritating voice. That had to be a good sign, didn't it? Patting her inside pocket, she felt the distinct shape of the spare key. 'In for a penny, in for a pound.'

Moments later, she was standing at Laura's open door, the grinning nurse holding it back in invitation. As time ticked, the nurse's grin began to slip, a degree of worry taking over.

'What's the matter honey?' Fiona moved her lips but words seemed to stick inside her mouth. The only movements she could muster were rapid blinking followed by shuffling on the spot. 'You ok? Come in ... You look white.' Laura slipped her hand around the policewoman's arm and gently tugged her inside, the sound of the door clicking into place the only thing Fiona could hear above the beating of her over excited heart. 'Has something happened?' Concern poured out of the nurse. Something was wrong - definitely wrong. The policewoman was always in control - always taking charge of everything. Considering all she knew the officer had been through, everything she had seen since being a policewoman, she knew that Fiona had always taken it as part of her job. The only time she had seen her off par was when they had first got together, and even then the charm had come through. But now? Now she looked like she was ready to keel over and crawl away into a corner and die.

Is she going to break up with me? A chill raced down Laura's spine. No. She couldn't want that, could she? We are getting along so well - so fucking well. She isn't going to dump me, is she?

'I want to ...' She is. She's going to tell me she wants to cool things off - take things slower - finish this. 'Leave ...'

'NO!' Laura grabbed Fiona's shoulders and started shaking the officer. 'You can't leave - I love you!' Shit. Don't. You're making it worse.

'My toothbrush.' Those two words sat in the air. Laura scrunched her face, the tears halting in her eyes, her hands loosening on the arms of Fiona.


'I want to leave my toothbrush here. If ... if ... that's ok?' Fiona swallowed deeply. 'If not, no worries.' A pause as the realisation of the nurse's words hit home. Although they had shown each other time and time again how much they cared, neither had, until now, ever spoken those three words aloud. But now it was time to change that. 'And I love you too, Laura.' Leaning forward, Fiona brushed her lips over her woman's before glancing into those dark blue eyes. 'And I want to spend the rest of my life with you.'

As Fiona watched, she saw the nurse's face crumple; saw the tears release themselves from the hold behind the lids; witnessed the smile break across her lover's face and relished the ache in her own breast as she heard the sob break free - from both of them.

'Same. I want - you ... in... my life - always.' The words were stuttered, as the emotion was interrupting any semblance of control. Fiona still gazed into Laura's eyes - still held her there - still fixated by both the beauty of the woman and the overwhelming emotion racing through her.

'Marry me, Laura. Marry me.' Even though the words were unexpected, they weren't foreign to her. Fiona's mind had drifted down this path on many occasions when she had thought about Laura, although she honestly believed she would have never had the courage to utter them. Laura didn't speak - just stared at her. Just held her there in suspension, the officer's heart suspended alongside it. Even if the answer was no, at least she had spoken her feelings. If she turns me down, at least she knows.

It was so fast the officer wasn't ready. All her career she had prided herself on what she termed her 'trigger response', but having her arms full of squealing, wriggling woman who was trying desperately to kiss her stupid was something all the amount of training in the world could not prepare a person for. And for once she didn't give a shit.

'Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!' Each affirmation was followed by a kiss, and soon the kissing turned into laughing, then laughing turned into crying. Fiona picked Laura up and luxuriated in the feel of the nurse's legs circling her waist. The kisses became more intense, the gripping more needful, and it wasn't long before the policewoman was carrying her lover to the bedroom. Now wasn't the time to hold back, or the time to discuss dates. Now was the time to show Laura just how much she was loved. No thoughts came to her about meeting up with Claire and Jenny - that would come later.

As she entered the bedroom, Fiona placed Laura onto the bed, kissing her fervently before leaning back and standing. Making sure the nurse was watching, she slipped open her jacket. Thunk. Something hit the ground making the nurse break eye contact and look towards the carpet. There, in a tumbled heap, was a carrier bag containing a toothbrush. Fiona stood there, her arms half in half out of her jacket, her eyes noting the bag, before they lifted and made contact with the grinning woman on the bed.

'You can brush your teeth later, baby.' The grin hurt the policewoman's face. Today was a good day. A full day. A day she had wanted for so long. And by the looks of the woman sprawling out on the bed, it was going to be a day that would lead to other days just as perfect.

In one leap, Fiona Houghton was on the bed and pulling her now laughing woman close to her. Everything else could wait.


When Claire Connolly got home, she found she was alone. Upon entering the house she knew it - she felt it. Even when she pointlessly shouted Jen's name around the house she knew there would be no response. Unlike before, she didn't panic - didn't think that the dark haired beauty had had a change of mind and left her. Things between them had gone too far for that. She knew deep inside that if Jenny wasn't there, there had to be a bloody good reason for it. But, it wasn't until she saw the scribbled note on the table did she fully relax.

'Meet you at CC's at 7:30. Love you. X'

Claire couldn't help the smile that launched itself over her face. Part of her felt bad for keeping her birthday a secret from her lover, but she didn't want to take away the specialness of their first night together. She had wanted it to be because they wanted to sleep together, not just a tag on as a birthday gift. The reasonable side of her knew it would have not been like that, but it didn't stop her hiding it anyway. When she had made the arrangements to spend the weekend with Jenny she hadn't known that her family had wanted to see her on the day. It seemed the events concerning Mousehold Heath had shaken them up and now they were trying to make up for lost time. A little voice tried valiantly to say it was fifteen years too late, nevertheless Claire had agreed anyway as long as it wasn't for too long. Obviously, she had more important things to do.

As the blonde looked over to check the time on the kitchen clock, she spied something sticking out of the sink. Flowers. For a fleeting moment Claire believed Jenny had bought them for her, but that would have been impossible - well, nearly impossible. Even if she could've gone out and bought them, she could not have got back into the house to put them in the sink. Although the possibility of getting them delivered was still an option.

Pulling out the card, she smiled to herself. Bless them - more like bless James. He was the only one at CC's that knew it was her birthday, and she had threatened him with pain of death to keep it low key. She didn't want to be like the customers she embarrassed on a regular basis with out of tune renditions of Happy Birthday accompanied by a glowing cake. Especially in front of Jen.

Jen. Jenny. Jennifer. However she said her name it still made her glow - made her swell with love. Thinking back to her last birthday, Claire shuddered at the recollection. All she had in her life was work, and the prospect of opening her own business. It was amazing what could happen in the space of a year. Opening her business, meeting the enigmatic Jennifer Cartwright, nearly getting killed, making up with her mother, realising that work was not the be all and end all of her existence ... But the most important thing she had found was love - obviously. Not just important, more like amazing. A year ago she would have never have thought anything could be more significant than getting her business up and running, but now it was different. Now she knew she had her priorities right. And Jenny was definitely her priority. In fact she was the priority to top any other priority.

Yes. Claire Connolly was totally and utterly in love.


Chapter Nineteen

Twenty past seven saw Jennifer Cartwright in Claire's office at CC's. Her heart was beating madly in her chest. 'I've gone too far. Shit. I've gone too fast.' Furtively, she glanced at the small box in her hand. 'She'll think I'm nuts.' Jenny snapped back the lid to see the single solitaire glistening from the cushion of the red velvet. When she had walked into the jewellers she had been intent on purchasing a necklace, a bracelet, an anything but an engagement ring. It appeared that her head was still out to lunch and her heart took over for the duration, because as soon as the assistant asked if he could be of service she had clearly said, 'I'm looking for a ring. An engagement ring.'


'A lovely way to greet me, I must say.' Upon hearing Claire's voice, Jenny stuffed the small box into the pocket of her jacket, her heart beat pushing all the blood up to her face. When she turned, she couldn't hold back the gasp. Claire looked stunning, the black dress hugging all her curves and making the critic's mouth water with the memory of the previous evening. All she wanted to do was scoop the small blonde up and whisk her away to show her how desirable she thought her. However, now was not the time. This specific time was reserved for more important things - things that included meeting Fiona and Laura ... enjoying a wonderful meal and company ... celebrating her lover's birthday. With the thought of birthday, Jenny touched her pocket.

'Ring.' Fuck.

'Ring? Ring who?' Claire scrunched her face and moved closer to blushing woman. 'Fiona?'

Think, you dim shit. 'Yeah.' Good call. Hardly noticeable. Not.

'She's already outside with Laura.' Claire slipped her hands around the taller woman's waist and pulled her closer. 'Sorry I had to leave you.' Lifting her chin, she brushed her lips over Jenny's. 'And sorry to have missed you this afternoon.' Another kiss, this time firmer. Instantaneously, the need welled in both women and the kiss developed. The thought of the ring in Jen's pocket made the kiss more demanding, more carnal. Pushing Claire back, Jenny pinned her against the wall, her hands tracing the contours of the dress, searching for the hem. Just as her fingers reached the spot, a noise was heard from the doorway.

Snapping her head back, Jenny spotted the retreating figure of James, and part of her knew she should call him back. When she looked back into Claire's face, she saw an element of worry harbouring there. 'Are you ok, baby?'

Claire tilted her head and gazed up into blue eyes. There was something going on that she didn't know about ... that much was obvious. 'Yes. Of course I am. Why shouldn't I be?' Her voice was low but controlled, and the volume didn't match the one her heart was beating to. She wasn't worried in the way that she believed that Jenny was not interested in her, it was the complete opposite. The way the tall, dark haired woman had kissed her, stroked her, slipped her hand up her silken thigh seemed to show more than just a longing for their lovemaking from last night to continue. If she didn't know any better, she would have definitely put it down to one thing: fear. But she couldn't understand why Jen would be feeling that emotion. It can't have been because I left her this afternoon, can it? Nah. Then it hit her. The flowers. Does Jenny think I am receiving flowers from other women?

'Thank you for taking in my flowers. They were from James and the crew.' Did she really need to justify herself? Looked like a yes. 'It's ... it's my ... erm ...' Claire felt stupid, almost like a teenager explaining why she was out after curfew. Jenny was still holding the small blonde in her arms, still gazing down into her beautiful face, but instead of feeling scared about the ring burning inside her pocket, she felt better about her decision. A dark head tilted, a smile slipped over her face, and Jen waited. 'My birthday.' Scrunching her face, Claire waited for the telling off ... the why didn't you tell mes, but there was nothing. Cracking an eye open, she saw her woman grinning at her. Why isn't she mad? I would be livid if she'd done that to me. 'Aren't you mad?' A shake of a dark head. 'Why not?'

'Because ...' she leaned in and brushed her lips over Claire's, 'I love you, my birthday girl.' She pursed her lips to continue, but a voice came from the doorway.

'Oi. Lovebirds. We're starving.' Fiona leaned on the door frame and grinned her cocky grin. 'You can feel each other up after we've eaten.' She turned, stopped, and looked back at the two opened mouthed women. 'Are you coming or what?' If the policewoman had not interrupted them at that precise time, then maybe 'coming' might have been interpreted differently.

A thought raced through Claire's head. 'I wonder if she has a relative who's a taxi driver?' However, the thought stayed as that, and both women almost scuttled after the retreating figure of Fiona Houghton, who, they both thought, was walking with even more of a cocky gait than usual.


Dinner was fantastic. The food, the company, the atmosphere. Stolen glances were taken filled with longing, and it wasn't just Jenny and Claire doing it. It was something about Fiona and Laura that was different to the last time Jenny and Claire had seen them that made them both give each other puzzled looks. It seemed as if there was a kind of glow, more than before, surrounding them. Obviously they were infatuated with each other, that much had been obvious from the very first moment the women had seen them. It was, however, much more than that tonight.

'Can I tell them?' Laura whispered a little too loudly for Fiona to say no. Jenny and Claire looked at each other, a smile forming. 'Or do you want to do it?'

'You tell them, honey.' The softness of her reply didn't go unnoticed; and neither did the loving smile.

Laura straightened her back, grabbed Fiona's hand and hugged it tightly to her. A dramatic clearing of the throat was followed by, 'We're getting married.' Fiona dipped her head slightly, a shy smile slipping across her face. 'This big lug popped the question right after frightening the crap out of me.'

'Heyyyyyy!' Fiona seemed to get her composure back. 'I didn't mean to frighten the crap out of you.' Laura giggled and kissed the policewoman quickly and surely, making her blink rapidly.

One thing was whirling through Jennifer Cartwright's head. 'Crap. How can I pop the question now? Claire'll think I'm only doing it because Fi and Laura have.' Glancing at the blonde, those thoughts quickly dissipated. Who gives a fuck anyway? It's not all about how others think.

'Congratulations. God! I'm SO happy for you.' Although Claire had been momentarily stunned, she was now reacting the way she meant to as soon as the words Laura spoke had hit the air. 'James! Champagne.' She leaned back, making sure James was listening. 'The good stuff, too.' Turning, she looked at Jenny. The critic was staring at her, her eyes hooded as if deep in thought. A tingle went up her spine, and a fleeting thought raced through her mind, 'I wish ...' before she shook her head and replaced it with 'too soon - she'd think I was mad.'

Fiona and Laura were still ribbing each other, but it seemed as if Jenny couldn't seem to pull herself away from staring at the woman she loved more than anything or anyone she had ever known. She knew she needed to react to the news, knew that she should stop trying to absorb the woman who was tilting her head and looking at her questioningly, but all she could think about was what it would be like to wake up every morning next to Claire Connolly. The ring burning her side didn't help either.

'Here you go ladies. Champagne.'

The sound of James' voice seemed to snap her out of her reverie, and she snatched a glass from the tray and hoisted it high into the air. 'Congratulations to Fi and Laura. May their future be full of love, light and laughter.' Sounds of chinking glasses resonated, followed by laughter. The decision was made. Jennifer Cartwright was going to follow her gut instinct.

James Donahue glared at the women from his spot near the bar. 'I fucking hate you, Cartwright' was the only thought he could muster.


Pushing her key into the lock of her home, Claire Connolly had the distinct impression that something was up. Jenny had been so quiet in the taxi on the way home, and, if truth be known, looked positively green around the gills. The blonde had asked if she was ok - if she felt sick - but the critic had smiled at her and said she was fine, then gripped onto Claire's hand as if trying to stop her bolting. It wasn't as if they had consumed too much alcohol, as they had only had a couple of glasses of wine followed by Champagne. Come to think of it, Jen didn't eat much either.

So there we are, just unlocking the door to Claire Connolly's home. A blonde woman worrying about what was wrong with her lover, and the lover worrying about how to present her question and the much felt at engagement ring in her pocket.

Slam. Door closed, and both of them standing in the doorway. The air was expectant, but each woman didn't know why it would be so for the other.

'Drink? Tea? Nightcap?' Claire was clutching her keys, readying herself for the 'I'm sorry, but I think it's best if I went home' speech. Jenny just stared into her eyes, fixated by the greenness. 'Anything?'

'You. That's all I want.' Her voice was croaky, and she was swallowing rapidly trying to pluck up the courage to say the next part.

Stepping forward, Claire slipped her hands around the taller woman's waist and pulled her closer. Lifting her head she gazed into the most amazing blue eyes she had even seen, the most beautiful face that captivated as it tilted down to look at her. Licking her lips, she whispered, 'You've got me, Jen. Now what do you want?' The kiss was hard, demanding. There was no teasing, no taunting, just raw need pouring from each woman and into the other. Hands began to grip, pull, slip off coats and scatter them relentlessly in the hallway.

Jenny's mouth moved away from swelling lips and travelled to a waiting throat. Nipping and licking; sucking and trailing; words hitting over sensitised flesh. 'You. I want you. Just you.' Heat was building, burning, travelling. Each woman needed the other. Each woman wanted to feel the skin pressing unashamedly against her own.

Staggering backwards, Jenny pushed Claire against the wall, only for the smaller woman to force herself forward, taking Jenny towards the living room. The couch was waiting, inviting, trilling out welcome for the soon to be lovers. Pushing Jenny flat on her back, Claire was on top of her and thrusting her legs apart so she could climb between them. A shirt was ripped open, the buttons racing away in fear. Not waiting to open the bra, Claire's mouth was on the skin, her hands pulling the material away to expose pert nipples straining towards her. Hunger engulfed her, and she wanted nothing more than to feed from the dark pink peaks. So she did, her fingers pressing against the pliant flesh, kneading them, bending them to her will. She could feel hands on her dress, the material gliding up her body, cool air hitting her back and making the hairs stand to attention. But it didn't stop her quest - didn't stop her gorging on the delicious flesh of the woman below her - didn't stop the rhythm building between them as she pushed harder and harder into Jennifer Cartwright, almost like she was fucking her through her trousers.

Off. I need to feel her. Need to be inside ... Hands left the bra, slipped down silken skin to reach for the button. Pop. Then the zip ... down ... pushing down, over hips, over thighs, a brief break from the delicious breasts as Jenny kicked her trousers free. Then panties, and a blouse, followed by bras. Heaven. Pure, unadulterated heaven. That's what the sensation felt like as both women glided effortlessly against the other, Claire picking up on her feasting on Jen's perfect breasts.

'God! God I want you ... want you ... want ... you.' Both women gasped it; both delving between legs; both feeling the want of the other pooling at the core; both slipping easily inside and pushing deep and hard. 'God! Yes!' Claire lifted back slightly, so she could fully fill her woman, as well as allow Jenny's fingers to slip inside more deeply. The tempo was fast, a fucking, a taking, an ownership. Each thrust accompanied by moans and groans and bucking of hips. Nails dug into skin, pulling the other closer, allowing the taking to be harder, firmer, deeper. Eyes locked: blue onto green. Dazed. Seemingly unfocused, but seeing everything clearly.

It was blinding. Lights hit the room, danced in front of the women, but neither stopped staring, plunging, thrusting into the other. Stiffening, clutching, screaming out the name of the woman each loved, the cumming was quick, their joint cumming was hard.

Falling forward, Claire's fingers slipped free from the confines of the gasping dark haired woman's delicious prison. She could feel the wetness clinging to her hand, and it felt divine. Sliding up Jen's body, Claire's mouth covered full lips. Soft, yet hard, the kiss sealed it all.

Jenny slipped her hands over Claire's ass and pulled her firmly to her, a moan entering a mouth. The hips rotated, as if they were squeezing out the last of the jolts from the orgasm she had experienced. It felt so natural to be together, so natural to slot so effortlessly against the other. It was as if their bodies were a jigsaw of two pieces that had finally found their place.

The kiss slowed and hands still explored, but this time with gentleness, almost reverently. Claire nuzzled Jenny's throat before placing her head on her woman's chest. A strong heartbeat thundered in her ear, but it wasn't disturbing - quite the opposite. Strong, capable fingers sifted through blonde hair, and Claire could feel her eyes closing. It was a surprise when she heard the other woman speak, although she felt the words more than heard them.

'I got you a present.'

Claire lifted her head and looked into blueness, a smile forming. 'You didn't have to, honey.' A lone finger lifted and trailed away a lock of dark hair. 'I have you. That's more than enough.' A small smile flittered over Jenny's features before she turned serious again. The blonde lifted higher, her imagination peaking. 'What?'

'What "what"?'

'Firstly - what's the matter? And secondly,' she grinned, 'what did you get me?'

'Erm ... well, I ...'


'Do we have to do that again?' A laugh, followed by green eyes glaring. Jenny sighed. It was now or never - now while I have the nerve. 'I need to get up.' A sigh came from above her. 'If you want your present, I need to get up.' Quickly, Claire was off Jen's body, grinning as she sat on her haunches.

Slowly, Jen got up. 'I'm waiting.' Only to be followed by a huffing and a mock glare.

'Give me chance, woman.'

Finally, Jenny was off the sofa and rummaging through her jacket pocket. It seemed like forever to the blonde, but to the other woman it seemed too fast. And that's exactly what she's going to think. Too fast.

Claire watched as Jenny stood straight and paused. The restaurant owner knew the dark haired woman had retrieved something from her coat pocket, but she couldn't see it. All she could see was Jenny looking down at something she was holding. The room was silent. Each molecule tried valiantly to make a noise to break the tension, and just as Claire was about to speak, Jenny beat her to it.

'Before I give you your present I want to tell you something.' The voice seemed distant, wistful. 'Ok?' Claire nodded then realised Jenny couldn't see her.


A cough sounded, and then back to silence again. Moments ticked by - moments that felt like hours.

'Are you telling me telepathically?' A snort came from the dark haired woman, followed by a sigh of resignation.

Turning, Jenny walked back to the sofa and perched herself on the edge as if ready to bolt at any given time. 'I love you, Claire Connolly.' The grin Claire was trying to conjure appeared as if the words Jenny had said were 'abracadabra'. 'And I know I will always love you.' The blonde moved forward as if to kiss the woman seated next to her, but Jenny held up her hand. 'Please. One moment.' Claire knew it wasn't a brush off; it was more intricate than that. 'And ... erm ...' Why am I so nervous? If she doesn't want to wear it as an engagement ring then she could wear it on the other hand. 'I was wondering if you, if we, if you, erm ... shit.'

'If I shit?' Claire's words came out before the blonde could stop them, but she was a little surprised by the question.

A giggle came from the critic, the verbal faux pas breaking the ice a little.

'No. Silly.' Another clearing of a throat, and then Jenny slipped off the sofa, green eyes fixated. 'I was wondering if you, Claire Connolly, would do ...' Jen shifted so she was on one knee. She knew she should have been feeling stupid by this stage, knew the move to the bended knee was archaic and mushy, but she had to. There was only going to be ever one time in her life that she was going to pop the question, and deep down in her gut she knew she wanted it to be right. 'me the honour of ...' Claire leaned forward, green eyes seemingly brighter, closer, 'becoming my wife?'

Quiet. The silence from previously seemed louder than a band rehearsing. It was painful - deafeningly painful. A car's stereo drifted into the room and then it was quiet again.



And fu ...


...cking fantastic!

But any other thoughts were pushed away, as the blonde woman grabbed hold of her lover and pulled in her for a searing kiss. Jenny reciprocated, the relief turning into a new need for the woman in her arms. There were not thoughts of this being too fast now. No niggling doubts that she had done the wrong thing. All that mattered to the critic was the woman she so desperately loved wanted to spend the rest of her life with her. What more could a woman want?

'Let's go to bed, baby,' trickled out of Claire's mouth and into Jen's.

Well. There is always that.


Unlike the frenetic coupling the women had experienced on entering the house, this time it was gentle, tender, and an all-consuming wonderful. Naked, both women slipped over waiting skin, the texture undeniably delicious. Mouths traced, tongues trailed, lips insisted on possessing all and relinquishing everything. Fingers stroked pliant muscles, as thighs bent and grasped bodies tighter. The rhythm was slow, arduously and agonisingly slow, but enchantingly encompassing. Hands dipped between ready folds, stroking, stoking, teasing, and taking. Hips bucked sharply before steadying to the rhythm once more. Mouths on mouths again, breaths ragged and clasping. Bodies pressed, kneaded, tortured the other, as they slipped and glided to the magical beat of their sumptuous love making.

Chests were heaving, gasps releasing, muttered pleas jittered into the darkened room and into acutely aware ears. Fingers delved into wetness, the thick juice cloying against needful penetration. Pushing hips together, a tempo started that felt it could never be quelled. Words filtered through skin, through pores, and bled through into thundering hearts. Gripping, tugging, pulling, and pressing into the other. Both women were lost in the other; both women were totally found because of it. Breasts, soft, compliant breasts, melded, absorbed, cushioned and tantalised, the metronome increasing to a frantic cadence as they rode their loving out.

Delirious ... hypnotised ... infatuated with the want coursing throughout them, the climax was burgeoning, blossoming, filling them with the maelstrom of lust only true loving can deliver.

Cries hit the air, the skin, the throats, necks, faces and lips of the other. Cries of I love yous ... cries of I need, I want, I'm lost in you. Cries that turned into tears, turned into choked sobs of joy, to end with the silent holding of the other, tears raining freely in their time of absolute connection.

And through this forging, both women knew this was real - knew this was it - knew that life could be filed under the heading 'Perfect' at long last. No fears about rejection; no worries about loss. How could that ever happen now that completeness had finally come home? No. Insecurity was no longer a factor, and both women mentally noted that she would tell her lover every day how much better life was now they were together.

Simple. 'You and Me' becoming an 'Us'. And all it took was one final step into the unknown - one final push - one final move to claiming what fate had decided long ago.



Chapter Twenty

Just over eleven months later, David Foster sat grinning in his cell. His plan had worked and he was feeling smug. It was unusual, but not unheard of, for a patient to move from a ward to a cell to finish out his or her sentence in less than a year, but he had achieved it. Amazing what a person can do when motivation is the key factor. He knew he would never be able to get to Cartwright if he continued to allow his hatred to bubble inside him and make him react to the sound of her name. Being in the hospital had prevented him from having access to too many things that would help him in his quest for freedom and the chance to finish the job he had started. So, he had played the game, slotted into the role of the converted and cured - shown his remorse, pretended to take the medication they forced upon him day in and day out. When the panel had come up with an idea for his transfer, Foster had thought his ship had come in. Not once did he consider that he would be at Wandsworth Prison for fifteen years. Never did he think that he wouldn't get the opportunity to sort out the bitch, her lover, and any other fucker who stepped in his path. And that included Barry the Nutter.

A sigh released into the air as Foster touched the scars on his lip. Cunt. Fleetingly, the happiness he was experiencing evaporated with the memory of having the crap beaten out of him almost daily by the other patient. If it hadn't been for Barry's transfer, maybe Foster couldn't have achieved his one goal. It was too difficult to focus on acting what they termed to be 'rational' when he was spending more and more time in the hospital ward rather than his own cell. But, Barry was the kind of person who definitely held a grudge, and it wasn't just with Foster. It appeared the majority of people he came into contact with seemed to fall foul of flying fists. Thankfully, Barry had decided that one of the doctors needed sorting out, and that's when he ended up in the back of a prison wagon and screaming like a bitch as they carted him away.

But. That was all in the past. Barry was gone, and Foster was away from the sterile smell and other nut jobs he had to endure for the last eleven months. All he needed to do now was find some connections. Just because he ached to watch Cartwright begging for mercy, longed to watch the fear in her eyes, he knew that it would be impossible to do that as quickly as he wanted. He wasn't an idiot after all. Therefore, he needed to get someone else to do it. Someone he could befriend. Someone he could influence and persuade to do his dirty work for him. Obviously, he would ask for footage. That was a given.

A laugh shot out and hit the walls of his cell. Good job he was on his own, as maybe an observer would think that early release from the psycho ward was a mistake.

He had been here for a week, and within that time he had kept himself to himself, eyeing up contenders for his plan. Apart from today. Today he had put into place his first step of the intricately planned operation he was about to undergo. Watching people around the prison, he had soon realised who held the weight, and who he could influence. He honestly believed that he was above the idiots that surrounded him, and he also believed he could make them do what he wanted. Even though he had seen his reflection in the mirror, what looked back at him was a strong, virile, intelligent man, although anyone else watching would actually see a small, slightly balding, flabby, and be speckled tosser. Amazing what perspective can do. It can make a beggar out of a king and a king out of a beggar. Shame to think that Foster was neither - he was just a twat.

A creaking noise came from behind and he felt the rush of anticipation drill through him. 'Right on time,' he thought, before feeling another wave of smugness race through him. Entering his cell were three men - three men who Foster believed would carry out his plan, or put him into contact with someone who would. He knew these three always knocked about together - knew the other inmates looked at them with disdain, mutters of hatred always seemed to follow them. Therefore, they were the perfect candidates - obviously. Maybe I could even become part of their gang - at least it would protect me.

'Good evening, gentlemen,' Foster's voice was controlled, confident. He needed them to want to work for him, needed them to see he was worthy of their energy. 'Take a seat.' Even though he made a gesture to the bed on the side of the cell, none of the men made a move to sit on it. They looked pensive, expectant, their eyes darting towards the corridor to see if they were going to be overheard. 'Why don't you just close it to? We don't want anyone eaves dropping do we?' A smile lit the words, and it spread full out when he received a nod from the biggest of the group.

'Dan. You keep a lookout.' Another nod, this time from the weasely looking bloke from the back of the group. Within seconds there were only the three of them in the room. 'So, what can we do for you?' As he spoke, the top part of his lip came up in what was supposed to be a smile. However, it had more of the appearance of a snarl, just like the ones Foster had seen on the wildlife programmes, the ones a wolf makes. But, like the idiot he was, Foster just kept to his plan. There were no alarm bells ringing at this stage, although if he had actually been in his right mind he would have been screaming and running for the door.

'I'd like to offer a proposal, gents. I would like you to do something for me. Something I think you will enjoy.' The bigger of the two men flicked a look over at his mate and raised an eyebrow before turning his face back to Foster. 'There's this woman, see?'

A laugh shot out. 'Ahhh ... Hear that, Tony? A woman. There is always a woman, isn't there?' There was no humour in either the laugh or the words. And when David Foster looked at both men he realised something. Maybe a little too late, but he realised it all the same. Deep in his gut he knew. These men were not the type to help anyone else, and that included pissing on you if you were on fire. 'We hear a lot of talk about women here. A lot.' The bigger man stepped forward, and Foster wanted to stare him down, show him he wasn't intimidated. But his attention was on Tony, because Tony was moving around the back of where he was standing. 'Shame though. No women in here. None.' A dramatic sigh hit the air. 'So ... we have to be ... what do we call it, Tony?'

'Creative, Steve.'

'Yeah ... creative.' The smile was back, and once again it wasn't one that followed a joke. Steve was standing in front of Foster now, his height dwarfing the panicking man. 'But, let me get this straight. We are not fags. Get it? We're just ... creative.' At this, Foster made a move to the door. Unfortunately, both men had anticipated the dart. Rough hands grabbed his shoulders, as one tightened fist hit him squarely at the side of the head. He felt himself falling, stumbling, trying to grab hold of something that would help him. However, there was nothing there to grab apart from two bodies. 'Come on now, Dave. It's not so bad. You'll get used to it after a while.' The words were stinging his ears, and he felt sick to his stomach.

Opening his mouth, Foster tried to scream out ... tried to alert the guards of what was happening. But before a note came out, something hard was shoved inside his gob. Something bitter. Something almost slimy. Soap. Soap. Fucking soap. His own fucking soap, he was sure of it. Before he had time to move, the soap was pushed further in and he felt himself gag. Strong arms pinned his own weedy ones in front of him, fingers digging into his skin. Trying valiantly, Foster gagged again to alleviate the choking sensation, his teeth biting down harder than he had anticipated. Snap. The soap broke, but still it was too big - still it threatened to suffocate him. He wanted to plead, wanted to tell them he would do what they said, as long as they let him breathe, but he couldn't. It was sliming, it was foaming, it was coating his throat. Part of him was slightly aware of hands grabbing his button, hands pulling his trousers down, bodies pressing against him, ragged breathing, foul words of fucking hitting the air making this even more horrific than it already was.

It was almost a relief when he was bent over, almost an attempt to open his airways. But the relief was short lived, as he felt coarse fingers grip onto his buttocks, spreading him, revealing him, exposing his worst fear. There was no waiting, no preparation. Although he couldn't see him, he knew it was Tony's penis ramming inside. Knew it was Tony's dick that was fucking him. Knew it was Tony who was grunting as he fucked him like a dog. All the time he was inside, all the time he could feel the tissues tearing, Steve held him in a vice like grip. The soap was collecting pace, collecting and collating, coating and choking him, just as the thrusting behind increased in its taking. The world was dimming, oblivion was welcoming. It was frantic. It was primal. It was agony. David Foster was being raped - he was dying and being raped - he was losing everything as he was being raped. And he knew that as soon as Tony had finished with him, Steve would be next, and the fucking would start again.

David Foster's throat was closing. Air was banging against the blockage trying to make him see this out ... trying to let him go through the shame of being raped all over again. Fingers gripped his hair and yanked him back, the cock of the other man filling him. He wanted to scream out in agony, but it was no use. His knees were giving, he was sagging, the air was used, and the fight to live had evaporated.

'Stand up, you cunt!' He didn't know who said. Didn't care. 'Fucking stand up!' But he couldn't. It was over. Everything was going black; everything was losing the sharpness of life and living.

David Foster's last thought before he died was about Jennifer Cartwright. Even after all he had been through, he still couldn't forget how much he hated her. Didn't think about how his life had ended up in a heap on the floor of a prison cell with his trousers around his ankles, soap foaming from his mouth, and blood seeping from his arse. All he thought was how he wished he had done the same to her.

Even in death, David Foster couldn't let it go. Even dying in one of the worst situations imaginable, he couldn't grasp the error of his ways. Maybe death was the best thing for him after all.


CC's was alive with bodies, all of which had the same purpose. And that purpose was to make sure that Fiona and Laura's wedding day went without a hitch. The months in between the proposal and acceptance had whirled by, for both couples actually. CC's was no longer solely owned by Claire Connolly - it now had a joint owner - a joint owner who was at this moment in time gazing lovingly across the room at the green eyed beauty.

An ache spread through Jennifer Cartwright. Not a bad ache - not by a long shot. This ache was the ache of the totally contented. Who would think that in such a short period of time her life would change so dramatically? Just over a year ago she had nothing to look forward to, and now ... God now, it seemed as if she had it all. Hers and Claire's wedding day was in three weeks time, but that wasn't the only reason why she felt totally content. It wasn't because she now had a blossoming business to help run, either. It was more perfect than that. The reason why Jenny felt so damned good was because life was sweet. Falling in love, although scary at the time, was the best thing that had happened to her - and if anyone would have told her that being drugged, attacked, stalked, and totally hated would end so beautifully she would have thought them to be a sandwich short of a picnic.

A sigh hit the air, one of those sighs that elaborate and flourish making the sigher feel even more contented.

Green eyes flicked her way and were followed by a brilliant smile. Another sigh followed the returning smile, but Jenny still found it difficult to break her gaze from her lover.

'Can I have a signature for this?' James' voice broke through and Jenny turned to greet the Head Waiter. She knew he still didn't like her, even though she had done everything she could to show him her being Claire's partner in both business and at a personal level shouldn't threaten his standing in the restaurant. The dark haired woman gave him a smile, a smile that wasn't returned, just the gesture of the invoice for delivery being shoved in front of her. This time a different kind of sigh slipped out. She had told him on numerous occasions that he had the authority to sign for things, but it was as if he was trying to prove a point - trying to show her he knew she was his boss, but still undermine her in some fucked up way.

'There you go.' Jenny tried to make her voice light, however it was getting more and more difficult to actually be nice to the man who had now snatched the paper back and was stalking away. 'Wanker.' Obviously she didn't say it so he could hear her, although, of late, Jenny had wanted to sit him down and ask him directly what his fucking problem was. However, she thought it would be best if she talked it over with Claire first. After all, the blonde had been the one who had hired him in the first place.

Lost in her musings, Jenny didn't see Claire break away from the band of waitresses and move next to her. But, she felt her. Tingles raced up her spine, through her hair, and then back down her body, a sensation she felt often when the blonde was near.

'You ok, baby?' Claire's voice was soft. She had witnessed the encounter with her woman and James and knew something was amiss. Like Jenny, Claire didn't have a clue what was going on, just knew that every time the two of them were in the same vicinity a change in the atmosphere was apparent. And not a good one. Slipping her hand over Jenny's arm, Claire moved her fingers over the tensing muscle lurking beneath the shirt. Blue eyes met hers and a tentative smile formed, shortly to be followed by the nod of a dark head. 'Sure?' The smile broadened, the eyes glistened, and for one agonising moment Claire believed her heart would crack and burst out of her chest. The only way to quell the ache was to capture those delicious lips with her own. So she did. Everything else melted away on contact and it was an effort to break away.

Still holding the waist of the other woman, Jenny looked down into those perfectly green eyes she loved so much. Tilting her head forward, she rested her forehead against Claire's.

Moments passed, and both women knew they should move, but it felt too good just to take five minutes out of their busy day just to be together. 'Honey?' Claire's voice was merely a whisper. 'It's time to get ready.'


'Ready? Fi's wedding?'

Even Jenny knew that although she wanted nothing more than to stay in the embrace of the woman she loved, she also wanted to go to the wedding of someone who had become one of her closest friends. However, that didn't stop her mumbling, 'One more minute,' before pulling the smaller woman into her arms and burying her face into soft blonde hair.


The word perfect doesn't do it justice - the day, that is. Fiona kept it all together, so that had to mean something, didn't it? There was a time just before they entered the church that a part of her felt the need to run, but her legs were shaking too damned much other than to precariously place one foot in front of the other at any other speed than shuffle. Not that she would have left Laura in the lurch, she loved her too much for that. Fiona knew deep down that this was it; this was what she had always wanted. The whole nine yards lined with everything she had always been too much of a coward to do in the past. No. That wasn't true. It wasn't a case of being a coward; it was more like she had not met the right woman before, someone she could be herself with - even the mushy Fi.

So, perfect it was. Nothing could mar the experience of joining two people together. Not even the rain clouds that had dared to hover for a while had the guts to stick around, because as soon as the photographer had lined them all up, they broke apart and allowed the sunshine to reign over the rest of the day. Both Jenny and Claire had offered their congratulations to the happy couple, and both held back grins as they watched the usually stoic copper blink rapidly whilst grinning stupidly. It was a good thing to witness - definitely material for piss taking in the future.

Festivities at CC's went without a hitch. Food was delectably served, service was impeccable, and guests were fully entertained. The usual, really, but this time Claire and Jenny wanted more than anything for it to run as smoothly as possible. It was their gift to Fiona after all. A gift she had adamantly refused, insisting she would pay her way. But the two women insisted. If it hadn't been for Fiona, who knew what could have happened. Maybe Foster would have had his evil way after all, and Jenny and Claire may not have been in the position to breathe never mind foot the bill for the reception.

It goes without saying that it was a long day. Fiona hadn't slept much the previous night, as the butterflies thudding around in her gut had put paid the chance to rest. They were too busy River Dancing up and down her intestines, and even doing encores for cash. Weirdly enough, if she had been able to sleep, she wouldn't have been up surfing the net at God knows what time in the morning. And if she hadn't been up, she wouldn't have seen the news on the local news website. To say she was surprised was an understatement, not that things like this hadn't happened before. Rape, unfortunately, wasn't a rare thing, but dying through asphyxiation on a block of soap was. And how the fuck David Foster had been murdered when he was supposed to be on constant watch when he went into Wandsworth was a mystery in itself. The guards were renowned for their vigilance, especially if the new inmate was a transfer from the local psychiatric hospital. Fiona also knew that Claire and Jenny were oblivious to it. They had to be. There was no way they could have acted the way they did today knowing that the man who had tried to kill them was himself lying on a slab in a mortuary in the prison wing. What she was now deliberating was whether she should tell them or not. Was today the right time?

No. Today is my wedding day. Today is the day I leave work where it belongs.

Although Fi tried to push it to the back of her mind, every time she saw the two women together thoughts of what could have happened flooded back. Therefore, she made what she liked to term 'an executive decision'. She would tell them at the end of the night. They had a right to know after all. And at least it would put the ghosts of the past to rest - they could get on with the rest of their lives without the threat of the early release of David Foster.

So, that's what she did.

The last of the guests had not long gone and all that remained were a few staff members and the four women. Tidying up was in progress, but Fiona, Laura, Jenny, and Claire decided that they would opt out of the clean up. They deserved to after all.

Bringing four glasses and a bottle of champagne over to the table, Claire filled them and handed them out. Three sets of eyes turned her way, and the blonde laughed nervously. 'I suppose you want me to make a speech do you?' Three heads nodded. 'Bugger. I'm crap at speech making.' Tilting her head to the side, Claire gave the appearance she was thinking of what to say. Lifting her gaze back to the waiting women, she blessed them with a full on grin, and raised her glass. 'Good luck.'

'Good luck? Is that it?'

'All right, big butch copper. You make a speech. It is your wedding day after all.'

Fiona glared at Claire, but couldn't keep the stern stare in place. A grin split her face as she turned to Laura. 'Our wedding day, baby. Ours.'

Jenny watched the couple. They seemed so perfectly happy, and she knew that whatever happened, Claire and her would be the same. In three weeks time she would be sitting next to her wife, her woman, her everything - and she couldn't wait. Amazing to think that a piece of paper could make such a difference considering they shared a home and a business, but it was more than pulped wood with writing on it. It was so much more. Not just because the government actually recognised that people of the same sex could want to spend their whole lives together - that wasn't it. It was the commitment, the wanting to sign up for more than a short term thing. It was the knowledge that the person you wanted to be with held the same values as you, wanted to be with you through sickness and in health, rich or poor ... forever and ever. Yes. She knew that all marriages didn't make it, knew that the statistics for divorce were on the rise, but she also knew if she had anything to do with it, Claire and her wouldn't be one of them.

A cough snapped Jenny out of her musings, and when she refocused her eyes she saw that Fiona was waiting to speak. The smile of the newly married was gone. Instead there was the look of the professional - something that none of the women were expecting today. Tilting her head, Jenny leaned forward and waited. It seemed as if everything around them stopped moving at the same time.

'What's the matter, baby?' Laura dipped her face to look at her woman. 'Don't tell me you're regretting it already.'

Fiona shook her head and gave her wife a reassuring smile. 'No way, love. Not a chance.' Turning back to Claire and Jenny, Fiona inhaled and sat back. 'I have some news for you.' Puzzled faces greeted her. 'About Foster.' Jenny sat back abruptly, her face showing nothing. For Fiona Houghton this was one of those times she hated being a police officer. It wasn't the same as going around to a person's home and informing the family of a death. It wasn't like breaking the news to another human that someone he or she loved had been tragically taken from them. However, it was still a death. It was still the loss of someone who has been a major factor in a life - either for good or bad. Therefore, it was not a nice thing to do - especially on the one day in your life where everything should be wonderful.

When she had finished all that greeted her was stunned silence. There were no cheers, no 'He deserved it', only a bewildered hush. Jenny felt nauseous, her breathing was laboured, and a sheen of sweat was crawling over her skin. David Foster is dead? Dead? Although he had tried his damndest to wreck her life, Jenny had never wanted him dead. Away from her, yes. Away from everyone she loved, most definitely. But ... dead? Raped and dead?

A warm hand slipped in hers. Gentle fingers wrapped around hers, and Jenny could feel the concern radiating from Claire. She wanted to speak but she couldn't. What could she say? God rest his soul? If she did it would have been a lie, but by thinking that she was going against her original thoughts of not wanting him to hurt in any way. From the moment she had seen his expression in the courtroom, Jenny had known the man was ill. His hatred wasn't because of her; she had just been the vehicle for him to unleash it. And what about his mother? What must she be going through today? What had she gone through until today, even? A son who refused to see her; a son who had terrorised and beaten three women; a son who had spent nearly a year in a psychiatric hospital only to be released into the care of a prison to end up on the floor of his cell raped and dead.

A sob broke out. A sob that didn't know exactly why it was there. Why? Why did life have to include things like this? What reason is there to have such horrors in it? We all know that life ends in death, but why can't it be the expected ... the lying in a bed surrounded by the people you love so you can say all the things you want them to know before you go and meet your maker? Why the suffering? War? Hatred? How can a little boy loved by his mother end his life lying on the cold hard floor of a cell, his dignity gone, his life ebbing away with knowledge he could never make amends, never change, never be released into a world that spurned him? Yes. David Foster had tried to kill Jennifer Cartwright - tried to kill Claire Connolly, but was this the action of a man who was in his right mind? And what about the people who had done this to him? Three men had been charged, but all they had was the DNA of one of them. Weren't they the children of someone? The apple of a mother's eye at one time?

Claire leaned against her lover. The news had hit her hard, but she knew that Jenny had taken it worse. She knew that Jenny was blaming herself in some way or another, although fuck knew why. David Foster didn't deserve what had happened to him, true, but he had, in his own way, brought it on himself. Free will and all that. She knew he wasn't in his right mind when he had done what he had, but it didn't stop her stomach roiling when she thought of what could have happened. The night on Mousehold Heath would stay with her forever. Not only had he tried to kill her, but he had stabbed Jenny three times in the hopes of acting out some fucked up revenge he believed he needed to fulfil because of a review that should have incited him to buck up his ideas and his business - not seek out to traumatise the woman who had written it. And then he had tried to kill her again in court.

But sitting there trying thinking about it didn't help Jenny. At this moment Claire knew that words could do nothing. Words were empty air. Words were scribbles on paper. Words, in fact, escaped her.

Minutes passed, and each woman seemed to draw inwards to reflect on what had happened. Each held a differing view of David Foster, but even though they differed, they all came out the same. No one deserved what he had gone through. No human being should have to undergo such horror, such acts of violence by another human being. Whether Foster was evil or ill, it didn't matter in the end, he was dead. And what had he left to the world, how had he made his mark? Not through altruistic gestures or great works of literature, not by inventing something marvellous or any other positive stamp on mankind. His mark was a black spot, a blemish, a septic hatred that leaked out of its confinement and attempted to mar the life of others. In the end it had come back to haunt him, come back to take him as violently and sadistically as if he had it conjured himself.

'I just thought you should know.' Fiona's voice was low, concerned. 'Maybe you can move on now without the threat of him getting out and bothering you again.' Jenny nodded sharply, unable to speak. Blue eyes sought out green. She just need affirmation from Claire, just needed her close, just needed to know she was safely with her. And she was. Those same green eyes were full of such love and understanding that Jenny's heart contracted and expanded in a moment making her sigh unbidden.

Turning back to Fiona and Laura, Jenny spoke. 'I have moved on, Fi. We have both moved on.' She paused. 'I didn't need Foster to die to know that.' Fiona looked to the figure seated next to the dark haired woman and saw the absolute devotion written all over her face. No. You have Claire. Nothing else matters.

And it didn't. No Fosters, no nothings. All that was needed was the love between two people to make everything else pale in significance. Life is full of the unexpected, the traumas and tragedies, but having someone with you to share those dark times lightens the load. Obviously, pain will still come, heartbreak and disaster will still be a factor in life, but that's what the world seems to be made up from. If the world was ruled by love, and being in love, then things would change wouldn't they? Couldn't they? The seven deadly sins would take a back seat and allow honour, trust, and love to drive with no help from the Satellite Navigation system that would take them the wrong way. Gut instinct should be enough to lead, enough to take the chance of turning down an unknown road and making your own way in life. And if it was left to the heart, maybe life could be the wonderful experience it is supposed to be.

Well. We can hope.


James Donahue looked on. Seeing his boss always made his heart skip just that little bit faster. He couldn't understand how it happened - this wanting, this yearning for Claire Connolly. Initially it had been concern, and some attraction, that had made him feel protective over the small blonde, but not now. It wasn't just concern that made him hate Jennifer Cartwright so much, make him wish she would just disappear and let everything go back to how it had been before she stumbled into their lives. Literally. James knew that if Cartwright wasn't on the scene then he would have a chance with Claire, knew that they had a connection that was being blocked by the presence of the 'new business partner'. To say he hated her would be an understatement. Most of the time he could barely look her in the eye never mind speak to her as his equal - he knew she was beneath him, and definitely beneath Claire.

Clearing the tables, James couldn't help trying to eavesdrop on the conversation the four women were having. All he could make out was the name Foster, and even though the news of the man's death should have made him feel some sort of compassion, he couldn't. For what Foster had done to Claire, James had wanted to snuff the guy out himself, but what he had done to Cartwright ... that was a different matter. If he could have shaken his hand it would have been an honour. James knew that Foster was like him; Foster had seen the true Jennifer Cartwright, not the loved up waste of space who was forever touching and kissing the woman that should have been his.

The time had come for him to do something a little more drastic than ignoring the dark haired bitch. Subtleties were lost on her. Jennifer Cartwright just didn't get that she wasn't needed at CC's, wasn't wanted either. Maybe Foster had the right idea. Maybe getting rid of Cartwright once and for all was the only thing left.

A grin broke out across the young man's face, before a laugh spurted out. Now all he had to do was to make sure he wasn't as stupid as Foster. He knew deep down that what he would do to Cartwright would never be traced back to him - he was far too smart for that.

Lifting his gaze once again he was met by very interested brown eyes. Fiona Houghton had been watching the Head Waiter for a few minutes and what she had seen made her skin crawl. She would have to keep a close eye on that one. She had seen expressions like that before, and they never turned out to be benign. The look of hatred she had seen aimed at the oblivious Jenny was enough to make her tetchy, but the shot sharp laugh that he emitted was the main reason for concern.

Yes. I'll have to keep a very close eye on that one.

All that remained to be seen was if Fiona Houghton could keep that close eye on James Donahue twenty four hours a day, because that was what was needed. Less than that would definitely not be enough.

The End

If you liked this then let me know. I'm very interested to learn what you thought of my writing in the third person.

And if you want to check out my published work ... big blush ... L T Smith

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