Murder at Bardcon - Chicago

by GS Binkley


xxgsb@hotmail.com

© 2003 Binkley

Synopsis: Murder at Bardcon is filled with deception, intrigue, jealousy, murder and sex played out in the high stakes arena of the ultimate fandom as writers and fans converge at the Bard's convention in Chicago. While Cale confronts her haunting past and Lindsey faces her own secret desires, they find love in the midst of all the mayhem.

Sexual Content: F/F partners

Code:

L: Love between two people with kisses, embraces and tender moments.

LS: Love scenes described in more detail, involving scenes of lovemaking.

ES: Explicit love scenes.

· This story is rated: LS

Fiction (Alternative)

Language: Expletives spoken within the character's personality, mood and circumstance.

Acknowledgement: The songs mentioned in this story are 'Let's go to Bed' by No Angels, 'Skin on Skin' by Sarah Connor and 'Unbreakable' by Westlife. All three songs are hugely popular in Germany. And, besides that, they're great.

This is copyrighted material, © 2003 Binkley…all rights reserved. It may be reproduced, duplicated or printed for personal use only. For all other uses, please contact xxgsb@hotmail.com


Chapter One

Lindsey Wellington adjusted her seat and was vaguely aware of the older gentleman sitting next to her. As she gazed out the small window to the clouds below, her thoughts drifted with great anticipation to the upcoming adventure she faced. In pursuit of dreams she had long held, Lindsey decided to go ahead with her plans even though at the last minute her best friend was unable to accompany her on the trip they had planned for months. Lindsey never felt quite comfortable mixing with a crowd of strangers and she desperately wanted to make a good impression. Although some of them may not be total strangers. I have written to a few.

When an elbow jabbed her side, Lindsey jerked her head around. She watched the older man recklessly trying to get comfortable.

"Opps! Sorry." The gray headed man wearing glasses shifted once more toward her before replacing his elbow to his side of the arm holder that separated them. He had been secretly ogling Lindsey every chance he got until he noticed another passenger. Nodding at the person sitting directly across the aisle from him, he spat. "She's one of them."

"Excuse me?" Lindsey asked even though she would have preferred to return to her own thoughts.

The stout man raised his bushy eyebrows and let his hand do the talking. He held out his palm in a horizontal position and waved it back and forth.

The blonde leaned forward only to see a nice looking woman with light ash brown hair, intently reading her book. Lindsey looked back at the man before shrugging her shoulders.

He nodded again toward the woman. This time gesturing with the newspaper he held.

Once again, Lindsey chanced a quick look at the woman and took a few moments to study the cover of the book she was holding. A bright light illuminated her brain when she saw on the book cover two women in a passionate embrace. Leaning back in her chair, Lindsey sucked in a deep breath, wishing the man would disappear.

The man leaned over toward her and whispered. "They're everywhere these days. Don't worry, I'll protect your…. assets." The overconfident man revealed his total ignorance regarding how sexy he thought he was.

Lindsey smiled. "Sir, I'm going to immensely enjoy informing you that…" She closed the distance between them, creating an illusion of two conspirators. "…I'm one of them."

Shocked, the man jerked back and wailed. "Holy Shit! You…" He pointed at Lindsey then to the woman sitting across from him. "You're like her…. a queer?" He scooted as far away from Lindsey as he could only to find that he was getting closer to the woman he wanted no part of.

Lindsey tried but couldn't hold in a full belly laugh at the man's reaction as his jumped up, moving back a couple of steps. Her laughter quickly died when the irascible woman sprung up out of her seat. The book she was reading flew across the aisle and landed at Lindsey's feet.

Clenching her fists together, the irate woman puffed her chest out toward the older man in a threatening manner. "You got a problem old man?"

"What if I do?" He shot back. After all, a man with three years of military service under his belt wasn't going to be bullied by a….. woman. If that's what she is. "You gonna do something about it…. missy?"

"That did it you old fart." She lunged forward. "You're gonna get a piece of me."

Why me? Lindsey asked to herself before she climbed up on top of her seat and jumped between them. "Hold on!" For one dear second of her life, she honestly thought she was going to be squeezed to death as the woman and man's arms flailed around haphazardly in an attempt to strike each other. "Back off!" Her usual calm and soft demeanor high tailed it out of town only to be replaced with a fuming 5' 5" fireball. With the help of a few other passengers and one flight attendant, she shoved them away from each other. "Now!" Lindsey ran her hand through her long blonde hair, sucking in a much-needed calming breath. Capturing the winded man's attention, Lindsey said. "She didn't do anything to you."

"You're just taking up for her because you're one of her kind. I don't have to listen to you." He crossed his arms over his chest, shaking the hold another male passenger had on him.

Lindsey pursed her lips, mimicking his stance as she crossed her own arms. "Actually, sir, I'm not. I just said that to raz you." Lindsey was actually proud to have gotten the expected response from the repulsive man until it turned into a ruckus.

Swinging around, Lindsey glared at the slightly taller woman. She started to say something then hesitated, electing to proffer a question instead. "If someone gives you a gift and you refuse the gift to whom does the gift belong?"

Nervous dark beady eyes shifted around the crowd. Kelly Winslow hated to be put on the spot. And she knew this was a trick question. "I… ah…" Desperation raised it ugly head and Kelly had to do something to get the attention off of her so she pointed at the man directly behind the blonde. "Him…he's…"

"Your absolutely correct."

Lindsey's response shocked the older woman. "I am?"

"Yes. So, that means…. I'm sorry. I don't know your name."

The light haired woman smiled. I know this one. "Kelly." She said with smug assuredness.

"Kelly. That's a nice name. Anyway, Kelly, when he called you that… ugly name." Lindsey's green eyes briefly glared at the man. "Just think of it as a gift that you refused."

The not so bright Kelly finally lifted her head slightly, nodding. "I see… so that makes him…. a queer."

"I ain't no queer." He protested.

Swinging around, Lindsey countered. "Then I suggest you stop calling yourself one."

His angry eyes squinted when the crowd around him cheered the blonde. "Get out of my way."

"Sir?" The flight attendant stepped passed both Lindsey and Kelly. She grasped the man's arm and firmly suggested. "We have a very nice seat up here."

Lindsey pushed Kelly aside to where the she had been sitting, giving the man and flight attendant full leeway.

"Thank you." The flight attendant smiled at Lindsey before announcing to the crowd. "All right everybody… show's over."

"Why don't you sit next to the window, Kelly?" Lindsey offered herself up as a preventative barrier between the two combatants. "Maybe we could talk?"

"I'd rather read." Kelly searched the area for her errant book.

Lindsey bent down and scooped up said book. She glanced at it one more time, noting the author's name. I've read her stories. "Here."

"Thanks." Kelly took up residence in Lindsey's old seat as the blonde sat next to her. She quickly found the page she was reading and stared hard at the words.

Seeing that Kelly didn't want to talk which suited Lindsey just fine, she withdrew from her briefcase some notes for a story she had been working on. Within minutes, Lindsey was muttering to herself trying to work out a plausible scenario in her next romance story.

The older woman couldn't concentrate with Lindsey talking to herself and truth be told, Kelly was hoping that the blonde would have persisted in her offer to talk. Kelly Winslow didn't usually like to engage in conversations because inevitability someone would say something stupid. Stupidity coupled with name-calling was the one thing that would ratchet her composure right out of control. Slapping her book closed, Kelly conceded. "Ah, hell, we might as well talk….. you won't keep quiet."

Drawing Lindsey from her musings, she apologized. "I'm sorry. I get so wrapped up in my stories and it's better when I talk it out in my mind."

Tapping the blonde's head, Kelly said. "It might be happening in there but it's coming out here." Her finger dropped down to Lindsey's mouth.

Gathering her papers together, Lindsey folded her hands in her lap. "Okay, why don't you tell me how you like that book?"

"That's easy. It's great. All of her stories are." Kelly flipped though the paperback's pages. "This is her… tenth one and I got 'em all. Everyone one of them number one on the top ten list."

"Top ten list?"

"Yep, at the Bard's Legend Tome website." Kelly said proudly. "We're sorta… friends."

"Sorta friends?"

"We write back and forth. She's amazing. I've even got some autographed copies of her books." The excited fan revealed, frowning briefly when she realized the correspondence between them had dissipated somewhat. Kelly shoved the book toward Lindsey. "Wanna read it?"

"Actually, I already have."

"This is my fifth time though. So, you like it? I mean, these kinds of stories?" Kelly's dark eyes scanned the nicely shaped body next to her.

Lindsey let out a knowing laugh and declared. "I write those kinds of stories."

"You write these kinds of books… and you're not?" A disbelieving Kelly waved the book she had been reading in front of the blonde writer.

"No." The blonde answered succinctly.

Kelly's penetrating dark eyes scaled up and down the shorter woman. "I think not. I got my gaydar working and woman you are off the scale."

The knowing wink and nod the other woman shot Lindsey made her squirm under the intense burning and somewhat slightly malevolent stare. "Well…." Her voice cracked then gained some semblance of composure. "I really only write the stories. The characters come to me. It's not like I make them up."

"Uh huh." Kelly shifted toward Lindsey as she put her book away. "So, tell me about your story. Maybe I'll read it."

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

"So, tell me about your story. Maybe I'll write it." The passenger in the car popped her can of soda and stretched her long legs out for their road trip.

Glancing at her best friend, Cale Bennett smiled. "Yeah, like you do all the story ideas I give you. And you get all the credit. I even gave you your name."

"X. Straud DeNair." She offered Cale a smug smile. "Fits me to a 'T', don't you think?"

"Yes, it does Christine… perfectly." The dark haired woman couldn't help but tease her friend.

Pushing herself up in the seat, Chris Strauda protested loudly. "You know I don't like being called that…" As an afterthought, she added the nickname she gave her friend while they were in college together. "Cubby."

One dark and brooding eyebrow shot up and landed squarely on her friend. "Why don't we just leave that in the past… where it belongs?"

Chris slapped her friend on the arm. "Cuddly Cubby. All the girls thought so."

"I'm warning you… Christine."

"Oh, alright. Go ahead, tell me what my next story should be about."

"It takes place in Chicago." Cale started.

Chris tapped her chin as she sucked on the red licorice. "What a coincidence. That's where we're heading. Our old stomping grounds."

Briefly, Cale allowed her mind to drift down memory lane. She joined the police force right after college and the windy city offered up an assorted array of crime. When her thoughts traveled to the reason she quit, Cale slammed the brakes on. I'm not going there. Not right now. "Yes, Chicago. And the story takes place at a … let' see…" Cale pretended to ponder an elusive idea. "How about at a Bard's Convention?"

Excited, Chris practically jumped out of her seat. "Is there a murder? Oh, please, let there be a murder." Chris begged. "You know how my characters are. They love a good murder."

"A murder it is." Cale conceded, sighing. "Just what I need."

"Go on, tell me more." Taking a long swig of her soda, Chris' green eyes oozed pure jealousy. "I already know the motive."

"Ha! You know nothing." Cale laughed at her friend's almost innocent child-like glee. For the next hour, Cale spun together random thoughts, entertaining her friend with the story she was making up as she went along. Her telling of the story faded when Cale noticed a billboard sign with several huge letters plastered on it.

At first, Chris was too busy searching for the candy bar in her pack to notice the silence. When she found it, she quickly ripped into it and took a big bite. "So, what did the fan do then?" Chris asked then proceeded to add some chips to the mix. When Cale never answered, she demanded. "Are you paying attention to me?"

"Huh? Oh, I was thinking of her initials. What do you think they stand for? Lover Girl?" Cale smiled at her best friend and winked.

"LG? More like lazy gal…equals lousy lay."

Cale smacked Chris upside the head. "Stop that. She's my favorite author."

Chris clutched her chest. "I thought I was your favorite."

"Oh, you're my favorite all right. Favorite cut up. Favorite love 'em and leave 'em gal. Favorite player. Favorite all out weirdo."

Chris staunchly protested as she crunched her chips, spitting a few out in the process. "I am not weird… just my characters are."

"They get that from you." Cale handed Chris a napkin. "Here wipe your mouth. I give you wonderful romantic and… nice story ideas and then you go and turn them into some kind of wicked, nasty sex tale."

"My fans love me." Chris countered. "Thousands of X. Straud DeNair fans can't be wrong."

"Twisted you mean."

In mock protest, Chris said. "Hey, my stories resemble that remark."

"And so do you? Why can't you write a simple love story?"

Ignoring the question, Chris winked at Cale. "Come on, you love me. You know it."

Rubbing her friend's dark hair, Cale admitted. "Yeah, even as goofy as you are… I do."

"When you're finished up there, could you rub my tummy? It's a little queasy." Chris was a bit green around the gills.

Cale grabbed the bag of chips, half eaten chocolate bar and the bag of strawberry licorice sticks then tossed them in the back seat of her BMW X5. "I'm cuttin' you off."

Through a deep nauseous moan, Chris' green eyes popped wide open and she protested. "I can't go without sex."

"Nobody likes a lover that's praying to the porcelain godness, my friend."

"Stop at the next gas station. I need some alka seltzer." Weakly, Chris turned to her friend. "I can't disappoint my fans. You did reserve a room with king size beds, didn't you?"

Ignoring her friend, Cale reverted back to her fantasyland. "Luscious, lascivious…. lusty girl." The dark haired woman wagged her eyebrows. "I like that idea."

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

"I like that idea. Sounds wicked enough. Why didn't you use it?" As it turned out, Kelly was keenly interested in the writer's story.

"I thought it was a bit contrived." Lindsey was referring to an idea she ultimately dismissed when writing her murder mystery story.

"I brought my laptop with me. If I have time tonight, once I check out the place, I'll give it a read." She assured her new friend.

Excited, Lindsey clasped her hands together. "Oh, you're going to love this hotel. It's part of the Harbor Hotel and Resorts chain. I've not been to this particular one but they are all modeled the same. The resorts are more elaborate but… still the hotels are fantastic."

"Cool. Priorities first though. I'm going to meet… her." The light haired woman practically swooned.

"Ah, the author." Lindsey pointed to the book still clutched in Kelly's hand.

"Yep. I'm her biggest fan."

Chapter Two

Lindsey had finally arrived and the place was beautiful just like the resort she had visited two years ago on the island of Kolalo. It was at that resort when Lindsey came up with a story idea that turned into the story she wrote called 'Murder at Fountain Blue'. It was filled with deception, intrigue, jealousy, murder and sex played out in the high stakes arena of the rich and famous as they cavorted from party to party on the paradise island. It was the story she hoped to get published and the Bardcon was an idea place to meet fans and potential publishers. Without her best friend there though, she felt alone.

With bag in hand, Lindsey studied the huge replica water fountain each hotel featured. She backed up to get a better panoramic view and bumped into something.

"Whoa there miss." He laughed when the clearly embarrassed blonde spun around. "I'm not in your way, am I?"

"I'm so sorry. It's just this place… it's… it's absolutely stunning."

Summing up all of his courage, the shy and meek man said. "So are you, miss."

Drawing in quick breath upon hearing the compliment, all Lindsey could do was smile back and offer her thanks. "That was nice of you to say. But that fountain is stunning…. gorgeous at night." Remembering the island fountain, she quickly asked. "Does it light up at night, too?"

"Sure does. Come here." He gave a short wave directing the blonde to follow him as the dangling keys on his belt jiggled all the way. "Watch that there." He pointed to the stone bench. Waiting for Lindsey to negotiate around the bench, the maintenance man slipped through some bushes. "Here." He pointed to the one foot squared gray panel.

Lindsey pushed back a tall bush in order to see what the young man was pointing at. "Don't tell me. The light switch."

He opened the panel door. "Correct on the first try. This one here controls it. I mean the lights. The main power is over there behind that wire fence. High voltage."

"What colors can you select?"

"All of 'em." It was then the smitten young man had a bright idea. "What's your favorite, miss?"

Lindsey didn't have to think. "Blue."

"You're here for that writer's thing?" When Lindsey nodded, he assured her. "Then blue it is… all weekend."

"Thank you." As Lindsey looked around the area, she saw the adjourning patio and across from there she could see the indoor swimming pool. "Oh, I hope the other lights don't drowned out the fountain lights."

"Nope. At night the whole place is lit up just by the fountain."

Lindsey clutched her bag firmly and declared. "Then I shall come out late at night and just sit here…" She nodded at the nearest patio table and chairs. "…and enjoy the view." Turning back toward the maintenance man, Lindsey asked. "Do the lanterns on the table work? I mean, should something happen with the fountain lights." The very thing she was asking about happened to her while she was at the resort. Being alone in the dark was not something Lindsey cared to experience again.

"Don't worry about that. If something should happen to the power, there's a back up over there. Just don't move and in a minute the lights will come back on." He smiled. "Of course, miss, if you want, I could be out here …. you know, just in case."

"Thank you… ah?"

"Danny, miss. My name's Danny O'Brien."

"Well, Danny O'Brien should I need such services, I'll look you up." With that, Lindsey turned and walked toward the patio. When she came to the patio's exterior single chain linked barrier, the blonde gave Danny one quick glance, shrugged her shoulders then hiked her leg up on over the two-foot high chain.

"Excuse me, ma'am." The man's voice startled Lindsey. She swung an arm around and he caught it as she began to tip over. "Here. Allow me." The well-dressed man unhooked the chain from the nearby pole, allowing the blonde clear access.

"Thank you." Steady now; Lindsey studied the single chained fence before she turned back to the man in the hotel's uniformed dark blue suit. "Tricky thing, isn't it?" She let out a nervous laugh.

Grabbing her bag, the balding man offered. "I'll take that, ma'am. My name is Charles and I'm here to serve you." The genuine smile he offered coupled with an underlying edge of arrogance sent Lindsey on alert.

Trying to cover up her embarrassment from her near fall, Lindsey spoke hurriedly. "I was just admiring your beautiful fountain. The whole place actually." Lindsey swung her arm wildly. "Danny." She spared him another look. "Was a great help."

Clearing his throat, the man smirked out his reply. "I'm sure." Then shot Danny a hard glower. Waving a dismissive arm toward the entrance, he asked. "Shall we?"

"Absolutely. I can't wait to get settled."

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

Chris Strauda nudged her friend as they waited in line at the reception desk. "Here." She dropped her bag in front of Cale then nodded toward a group gathered near the small indoor fountain. "My fans await."

"Forgot Debbie already?" Cale teased.

"My dream girl? Never." Chris had been exchanging mails with Debbie Crane and was the main reason for her trip to this particular Bardcon. Debbie would be acting in the play scheduled on Saturday night. They had never met but talked on the telephone nearly every day for the last month. Chris smiled when she thought of the potential interlude. It's time to kick it up a notch.

Cale Bennett watched Chris strut her stuff as she approached the waiting fans. I come up with all the romantic story ideas and she gets all the women. It was then Cale's crisp blue eyes fell on the blonde with a sexy hitch in her walk as she followed one of the hotel's attendants. That could be interesting.

Charles stopped short when he spied Danny O'Brien through the huge glass corridor window, fraternizing with another one of the guests. "That's it. I'm going to put a stop to that right now!" He muttered angrily under his breath before he turned to Lindsey. "I'm sorry, ma'am. Check in is right over there." He pointed to the reception desk nearly fifty feet away. "I have something important to take care of."

"Of course." Lindsey hiked her bag over her shoulder when a voice from behind pulled her attention away from the small crowd at the reception desk.

"You just get here?" Waggling her eyes, Kelly Winslow who was on the airplane with Lindsey joked. "I took the express."

"They're still looking for my luggage. Good thing I had this one with me." From a distance, the shrill of laughter caught her attention. Lindsey's eyes scanned the area coming to rest on a small group of women just twenty feet or so past the reception area near the water fountain. Her green eyes paused there for only a brief moment before she continued on, almost drawn to the tall dark figure standing alone near the reception desk.

"Who is she?" Lindsey asked, falling into a light hearted sexual haze.

Looking well past the reception desk, Kelly proudly boasted. "X. Straud DeNair!" Having seen Chris at another Bardcon, the smitten woman easily recognized the writer's beautiful dark looks.

"I'll say." Lindsey was quite happy to venture further down her own little fantasy lane. Until a lightning bolt landed unexpectedly, Lindsey was dumb struck when the realization jolted her back to reality. That's a woman I'm … I'm…. She swallowed hard.

"The number one writer of all time." Kelly continued.

"Bullshit!"

That voice! Kelly swung around, eyes glaring at the owner of that unwelcome siren. "Judith." Kelly said loathingly.

"Kelly." Judith Keeney replied with equal distain.

Reluctantly withdrawing her attention from that magnetic woman, Lindsey's green eyes ricocheted between the two women locked in a Mexican standoff. "I take it you two know each other."

"Hate each other." Kelly threw out the first dig of the season.

"Love to hate each other." Judith countered before she took off her glasses and squinted at the blonde. "Judith Keeney." The shorthaired blonde woman jabbed out her hand. "And you?"

"Lindsey Wellington."

"Murder at Fountain Blue. I know you…. at least your story." Smiling smugly, Judith turned to Kelly. "Consorting with the enemy, I see."

"You bitch." Kelly spat.

"What is it with you two?" Bewildered, the blonde easily targeted the animosity between the two women but had yet to understand the reason why.

"It's just that your story is rising on the charts with a bullet and could easily keep her…." Judith nodded in the direction of the reception desk or was it the water fountain, Lindsey wasn't quite sure. "…latest story out of the number one spot."

Kelly took one giant step forward. "You're outta your noggin."

"Better watch it there, Kelly. You're face is getting all beet red… and I can see those big muscles you like to show off… tensing up." Judith taunted her archenemy. "Tell you what…" Judith cracked the knuckles on her large hands. "I'll give you a nice relaxing massage. I'm certified, you know."

"Completely. A certified nutcase."

"Ooookay." Lindsey used her hands to call timeout. "Why don't we all get checked in and then go get something to eat. I'm sure whatever it is can be worked out…. after all, it's just stories and who cares who's number one on the website." Well, I would love to get there at least once.

Neither Judith nor Kelly paid any attention to Lindsey when the tall Linda James walked by with her entourage. Both rivals surrendered for one brief peaceful moment when they spat simultaneously. "Romance Queen….. bitch!"

The overweight curly headed blonde with chubby cheeks glared back at them through her wire-rimmed glasses when she overheard the vile comment about her long time friend. I'll file that little comment away for …. later.

"A truce?" Lindsey joked as Judith and Kelly temporarily waved a white flag in unison.

Kelly shot her eyebrows up and glared at Judith once more. "The truth is …. I've got better things to do. See ya." She said over shoulder to Lindsey.

"You know, one of the reasons, I loved your story is that you were dead right when you described how the murderer snapped that woman's neck." Judith mimicked the action as an evil grin rose on her face. "Somebody outta do that to her."

"Actually, the murderer hit her over the head with a lantern."

"Whatever." Judith dismissed Lindsey's correction. "You want me to hang around with you till you get settled?"

"No, thank you." Lindsey sucked in a deep breath, hitched her bag up on her shoulder and walked toward the reception area. This is going to be one hell of a convention!

With every step Lindsey took, she felt a deep vibration igniting a slow tremor as it spiraled upward landing squarely at her core. God, it's hot! Her green eyes stapled themselves to the tall raven-haired woman who took the last few steps up to the counter.

Cale Bennett waited patiently for the pretty shorthaired blonde clerk to get off the telephone. She surmised the young woman to be in her late teens and as the tall woman leaned slightly over the nearly four foot high counter to get a better look, she concluded. Nice rearview. Suddenly, Cale felt drenched in a cold bath of ice water as a chill ran down her spine. Shaking her head, Cale twisted around to see the blonde staring at her with eyes that made her feel like a kid that had just been caught doing something naughty. It was just a quick peek. Cale silently tried to justify her actions to the blonde. When Cale's guilty blue eyes offered an apology, Lindsey spurred her. Roll your eyes at me you… you… God, she's good looking. A small cough averted Cale's attention to the young clerk.

"Welcome to Safe Harbor. How may I help you?"

Waggling her eyes, the tall woman showcased her sexiest smile. Once again, she leaned forward. "Would you be my port in a storm….ah…."

"Tiffany."

"Well, would ya, Tiffany?" The way the young girl's name lilted off of Cale's velvet tongue every woman within hearing distance felt a hot liquid rush. Cale couldn't resist the temptation to look at the blonde.

To Lindsey's credit, the drenched feeling she had just experienced along with a very hot flash was somehow covered up discreetly by another exaggerated roll of the eyes, turning her head away as not to give away her real feelings. For further emphasis, she let out a deep sigh accompanied by the tapping of her foot against the marble floor.

Cale smirked. Must be straight. Oh, well, I'm here to meet 'lover girl' anyway. When Cale finally returned her attention to the statue like clerk who was still stunned from the dark haired woman's proposition, she grinned, snapping her fingers. "Hey, Tiffany…"

Coming out of her sexual stupor, the clerk repeated. "Welcome to Safe Harbor."

"Been there, done that." Cale teased.

From a distance, Kelly overheard the tall woman flirt with the reception clerk. I can't believe the gall that woman has. She's shameless. Kelly returned her attention to the writer she had come to see who was still surrounded by a bevy of adoring fans. I'll wait. I really want a chance to speak with her alone.

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

Savannah Miller jotted down every detail into her notebook as Danny O'Brien explained the workings of the hotel's electrical system. With the tip of her pen, she pushed up her glasses from the bridge of her nose. "One touch and wham… 10,000 volts and you're fried."

The lean writer's apparent glee made Danny a bit uneasy. "That's why it's fenced in. Only a few have the key." The maintenance man flipped the strong padlock that secured the gate.

Savannah reached over to jiggle the keys on his belt loop, surprising the young man. He jumped back before answering. "Me… and a couple of other guys. And, of course, Charles."

"Where do you turn it off?"

"The lights? Over there." Danny pointed to the gray panel. He was getting very anxious as the young woman quizzed him incisively. Nervously, he nodded to the side of the building where the light panel was located.

"I was talking about this power unit." She peeked over her glasses, stern eyes invading the man's personal space.

"The city… the city would have to do that." When he heard his name being called, Danny was both startled and relieved.

"Danny!" Charles clipped his heels, turning to the hotel's guest. "May I help you, ma'am?" Charles asked in a professional manner.

Scribbling her final thoughts down, Savannah answered without looking up. "No, thank you. I have all I need." Jotting the last word down, the writer finally met Charles' gray eyes. "Who are you?"

"I'm…."

She interrupted the older man, extending her hand. "CrazyBard. Crazy for a murder that is." The dark and brooding young woman revealed a crazed evil grin. She loved to keep others off-balanced with her esoteric façade. As a murder-mystery writer, Savannah Miller delved deeply into the lives of her characters, taking on their personality as she wrote her stories.

The ever-rigid hotel desk manager seemed unfazed by Savannah's creepy demeanor. "I hope everything is to your satisfaction and no one has been …. bothering you, ma'am." Charles shot Danny's a steely look.

Savannah pursed her lips, thought deeply for a moment, and then dismissed both men. "I'm through here." Her dark brown eyes turned upward. "How high is this building?"

"Five floors." Danny answered first.

Irritated by the younger man's response, Charles advised the young woman. "You're here for the Bardcon, I assume?" Savannah nodded without sparing him a glance. "You'll be on the third floor. We have your whole group slated there."

"Mmmmm, I wonder if someone jumped… or was pushed from that window balcony if they would… " Her deadly thought faded into silence as she walked away without saying goodbye.

Before Danny could slip away quietly, Charles summoned his full attention. "Mr. O'Brien! What have we discussed about you consorting with the guests?"

"Consorting?"

"Fraternizing…" Danny was still clueless until Charles downsized his vocabulary. "Mixing, talking with the guests."

"I was just…" Danny attempted to explain.

"I know what you were doing, Mr. O'Brien. This hotel cannot afford another incident." Charles straightened the issued hotel tie. "Stay away from the guests or I will be forced to sever your employment." Danny's quirked eyebrow caused the hotel desk manager to fume as he chose another approach. "Fire you, let you go. You do understand that, don't you?" With that, Charles spun around leaving Danny standing alone. I hate working with imbeciles.

The young man smiled as his boss marched off. Grumbling under his breath, Danny smirked. "Sure do. That was a rhetorical question."

Chapter Three

Lindsey paced around her hotel room with her cell phone plastered to her ear. "Rachel, I'm gonna kill you." Stopping long enough to yank the zipper open on her bag, she flipped several articles of clothes onto the bed.

Nearly four hundred miles away, the blonde Rachel Schmid cringed under the verbal lashing her friend was giving her then the line went silent. "Lindsey? Lindsey, I know you're still on the line."

Sighing, the blonde plopped down on the bed. "You're the one that talked me into this in the first place… now you desert me. Some best friend you are."

Rachel brushed back her light blonde bangs. "It couldn't be helped. Randy's just not feeling…."

"Rachel, doesn't it seem strange to you that every time we plan something, Randy comes up with some fatal disease." Lindsey was on the verge of falling into a very maddening pout.

Realizing her boyfriend's predictable pattern over the last few months after her friend had pointed it out the last time they planned a trip, Rachel vowed that it would not happen again yet she was also protective of Randy. "It's just that he's…. he's sensitive."

"Hypochondriac more like it."

Ignoring the truth of Lindsey's words, Rachel explored the reason for her friend's real frustration. "Lindsey, what's really going on?"

The unexpected reaction Lindsey had to the tall dark haired woman set the blonde on edge. It unnerved her so she loosened her top button. God, why is it so hot in here? The writer got up and walked to the huge sliding door, opening it. Leaning over, her green eyes spotted Charles walking briskly away from where Danny was standing then her eyes found their way to the fountain below. Sucking in a deep calming breath, the writer blurted out. "She's breathtaking."

"What? What did you say?"

Stunned by her own words, for one brief moment the blonde thought she might fall over the balcony's rail. "The fountain… the fountain is breathtaking." Regaining her composure, Lindsey practically bit off her friend's head with the sharp tone from her next works. "What did you think I said? I wasn't talking about her."

"Lindsey?" Rachel tried to calm her friend.

"I don't know what you mean."

"That's my line." Came Rachel's deadpan reply. "Take a deep breath and sit down. Okay?"

The writer did as she was instructed. She turned around; shutting the sliding door then proceeded to sit in the hotel chair. "I was doing well considering the near fight in flight…" Lindsey took a few moments to recount the episode on the plane. "…. and the few others I've met here are… let's say, interesting…." Combative would be more appropriate. "And… she acted like the hotel was serving up the poor reception clerk on a platter."

"Ah, now we get to the heart of the problem." Rachel surmised. "Who is she?"

"Just a woman who in my opinion's has a libido that is out of control." Lindsey spat.

"And, exactly why does that bother you?"

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

"And, exactly why does that bother you?" Chris watched Cale for the last fifteen minutes prowl around their hotel room, looking for something to kill.

Irritated by the blonde's disapproving stares, Cale asked. "Who does she think she is anyway?"

"Obviously someone that has gotten under your skin." Chris spread out on her king size bed. Her tall frame fit comfortably with lots of room left over. For company. Chris waggled her eyebrows at her own lascivious thought. Thoughts of Debbie Crane came to mind.

Cale shot Chris a deadly stare. "I don't need her to tell me how to act."

"Then don't."

"I won't."

"Good."

"Agggrrr…." Cale flopped down on the bed, pulling her hair.

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

"Agggrrr…." Lindsey growled. "It doesn't bother me."

"It won't?"

"Absolutely not."

"Good." Although Rachel knew it would aggravate her best friend until Lindsey finally faced the feelings she had been running from since college. Coming out was not easy especially when you didn't know you were in.

"This conversation is giving me a headache."

"Then take an aspirin and call me in the morning." Rachel laughed at her own joke. "That place has a restaurant… room service.. something, doesn't it?"

Rubbing her temples, Lindsey answered. "Yes, it does. But it's too early to eat. They have a gift shop… maybe I'll get something to drink there. Besides, I'm thirsty."

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

"I'm thirsty. This place has got a gift shop, doesn't it?" Cale slid off the bed.

"Give me a minute, I'll go with you." Chris jumped up and headed to the bathroom. Chris was protective of her best friend and wanted to ask Cale for a favor. Later.

"I'll wait outside." Cale was restless and needed some fresh air fast. She yanked the door open and stepped out in the hallway, sucking in a not so fresh breath of air. Rubbing her temple, the tall woman leaned against the doorframe and closed her eyes. Hearing the creak of a door, she opened them.

Surprised blue met shocked green.

"You!" Lindsey stared openly at the tall, lean woman.

Crossing her arms, Cale flippantly asked. "See something you like?"

"You wish." Even as there was no evidence to support her claim, Lindsey couldn't help but vocalize her unsettling desire. "Are you stalking me?"

"You wish." I know I do. Jerking her thumb over her shoulder toward the door, Cale said. "I'm in here."

"Just my luck." Lindsey said with a grim grin.

A sexy smirk jumped on Cale's face. "Yeah, but the question is…" The tall dark haired woman waggled her eyebrows. "Do you feel lucky?"

"Agggrrr… " Twisting around sharply, Lindsey pushed open her door. "I feel….. I feel disgusted." Slamming the door behind her, Lindsey leaned against it. She closed her eyes and sucked in a shaking breath.

"I suggest a nice long shower…. alone." Or not. As Cale yelled out to Lindsey's closed door, Chris walked out of their door.

Chris bumped her friend's hip with her own. "Okay by me but if we showered together it would save water… and time."

Through her closed door, Lindsey heard another woman's faint tease Cale, freeing the green-eyed monster that the blonde had always held onto with a tight rein. Oh, God, why am I letting that… that woman get to me.

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

In the third floor lobby as they waited for one of the four elevators, Chris advised her close friend. "Don't let her get to you. Okay?" Being the nearly the same height, it was easy for Chris to wrap her arm around Cale's shoulder. "I don't know what's gotten into you. What other people think never bothered you before?"

As Chris hugged Cale, one of the elevator doors opened and out stepped three women. The trio saw Chris hugging the slightly taller woman.

"I told you." Cindy Townsend shot her red haired friend a knowing glance. "Her bio may say she's single but….. a picture says a thousand words." Cindy was referring to the page on the Bardcon's website where all the attending writers biographies appeared. The shorthaired woman shrugged. "Guess she lied."

"She did not." Kelly fumed. "They're just friends."

The usually quiet Tippi Sevenson offered her observation. "Looks can be deceiving." But the redhead recanted her statement when Cindy shot her an outraged glance. "They do look awfully close."

Kelly did a one eighty, returning to the shelter of the elevator. "What do you know!"

As the door slowly closed, Cindy provided her qualifications. "I've been to every Bardcon and then some. I'm on every important list and…." The door sealed shut. Turning to her friend, Cindy finished. "I even run a Yahoo list of my own."

"Yes, I know." Tippi acknowledged. "And don't forget your page where you critique stories." Except your own.

I do, don't I? Cindy considered herself the most under appreciated fan in the fandom. That was one of the reasons she came to this Bardcon. She wanted to establish an auction where people would bid on a date with some of the writers for her charity. Cindy was planning her own Bardcon where she could be the star along with the fans. And I would be… Madame President. Cindy jutted her chin out.

It was a facial gesture Tippi easily recognized. She's on that Madame President fantasy trip again. Time to burst that bubble. "Cindy… Cindy? X. Straud DeNair has disappeared."

Scanning the third floor lobby, Cindy was livid. "You know I wanted a chance to talk with her before tomorrow."

Tippi shrugged. "What about the mixer tonight?"

"With everyone there? I wanted some time alone with her." Cindy was frustrated. Her plan had been laid out and had to be executed with absolute precision. The consistent number one writer on Bard's Legend Tome website was the key to making her plan materialize. Tapping her finger on her chin, Cindy thought quickly. Gotta go to plan B.

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

As Cale and Chris traversed the huge expanse of the main lobby several fans approached the noted author. "Excuse me, Cubby. My fans await." Waggling her dark eyebrows, she shot her best friend a knowing wink.

Cale crossed her arms as she leaned against the wood railing that surrounded the interior fountain. Shaking her head at how easily Chris fell into her celebrity role, the dark haired woman took a moment to peruse the main lobby. Being a security expert, Cale easily located the nearly invisible hotel cameras and noted the entryways and exits. She gave a short wave when her eyes fell on Tiffany who was busy behind the reception counter, waiting on a hotel guest.

"Is that her?" Cale overheard two would be fans of the infamous X. Straud DeNair pause a moment on the wooden bridge near the water fountain. They pulled out a couple of familiar books before their attention was commanded by a six foot determined woman confidently walking past her. The tapping of her cowboy boots against the marble floor echoed throughout the open lobby.

The tall shorthaired woman yelled. "Beth Ann Thornton! Is that you?"

Tiffany looked up but the guest she was waiting on didn't have to see who had just called her name. "There can only be one."

Giving Beth Ann a big hug, Terry Lang asked. "How's my gal from Texas?" Picking up the smaller woman, Terry swung her around.

"You better put me down before your wife see us."

Gently easing Beth Ann down, Terry piped. "Ah, shucks, Beth Ann…. you know she wouldn't care. She doesn't trust me but she trusts you." Terry grinned then gave a quick wink to the receptionist. "Besides, she had to stay home and take care of the kids."

"How are they?"

"The little one scratched the hell out of me." Terry jutted her neck out as proof. "And that old mangy brat bit me in the…. " The tall woman twisted around just enough for everyone to get the general idea that Terry would be having a hard time sitting for a few days.

Tiffany's eyes morphed into boulders as she listened to Terry described her kids. Beth Ann noticed and explained, pointing to the angry red mark on Terry's neck. "Kitten…. and the mangy one.. her dog."

Nodding, Tiffany returned to filling out her paperwork.

"Is Lori coming?" Beth Ann asked.

"She better be." Nudging her friend, Terry confided. "My wife put her in charge. She's the guardian for both of us."

With her attention on the new arrival, Cale didn't notice Lindsey stroll by on her way to the gift shop. Cale searched for Chris who was still entertaining her fans. She so easily regales them with her witty repartee but when it comes to Debbie… she's all tongue-tied. Guess I'll have to fix that. Watching some of the exotic fish below, she walked over the small bridge to the other side of the fountain. Hmmmm…. that reminds me.

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

Lindsey browsed the small gift shop finding many unique souvenirs of the Windy City. Although she didn't think Rachel, her best friend, deserved anything for deserting her, she still searched for something nice. The blonde found herself in the back of the shop as she selected a few items. I wonder if I should get Eric something?

Cale strolled into the gift shop and immediately noticed the young clerk reading a book. She yanked the mid-size refrigerator door open and retrieved a soft drink. The security expert noticed the blonde's reflection on one of the shop's security mirrors. Cale threw a few bills down on the counter before twisting open the bottle. She noticed the title of the clerk's book. "Good book."

Pushing her glasses up, the clerk agreed. "I love it… it's so romantic."

Cale leaned on the counter and smiled. "Cale."

The clerk gave the older woman her change and supplied the covertly requested information. "Brandy. Have you read her other stories?"

"Have I read them? Sweetheart, I practically wrote them." Cale winked. "I know her, you know. We're like that." Cale crossed her fingers.

"Is she here… this weekend? They said she would be." When Cale nodded, Brandy gushed. "Oh, god, I'd love an autograph."

"I think that can be arranged." Cale smiled at the innocent young girl before her. She's cute but way too young. Thinking of Tiffany, Cale shook her head. They all are. Just once I'd like to meet an older more mature woman. Cale had leaned in shoving her hand under her chin, as she got lost in that thought. She was roused from her musing when someone behind her coughed. Blue eyes widened in delicious surprise. I guess it's true all you have to do is ask and you shall receive.

Lindsey Wellington stood before Cale, waiting patiently for the tall woman to finish with her flirting. Another one bites the dust. You'd think she would have the decency to leave the jailbait alone.

Cale easily read the indecent thoughts that crossed the blonde's mind. She turned back around to Brandy. "As I was saying, Brandy, you want a personalized autograph, you got it. And, I'll even introduce you to her." Cale winked, ensuring that Lindsey saw her every move. She leaned closer to the clerk. "But… it's gonna cost ya."

"Anything." The excited clerk replied.

"Anything?" Now that's interesting and much too easy.

Lindsey rolled her exasperated green eyes. Do they all fall so easily under her charm? The blonde refused to hear another overt flirtation between the two women. Correction. One child and one… oversexed …. "Excuse me. If you're through…." She sucked in a breath. "…flaunting yourself at that… child, I'd like to get these." Lindsey plopped down several items.

The clerk astutely noticed how the blonde couldn't keep her eyes off the tall woman as Cale taunted Lindsey. Brandy hurriedly made the sale, allowing the fuming blonde to make her exit quickly.

Cale gave one quick wink to Brandy. "I'll be sure the writer stops by to autograph your books." Before the clerk could thank the older woman, Cale was gone.

Rushing to the gift shop, Chris Strauda ran into her friend. "Hey, where you going so fast?"

Cale pushed past Chris, searching for the irritating blonde that got so easily under her skin. "There she is." Cale crossed her arms as she watched the blonde sashay away from her. "Hey, blondie!"

Chris stood next to her friend taking in the excellent rearview for herself. Nudging the slightly taller woman, Chris noted. "Nice ass."

Lindsey jerked around, glaring at the woman she thought made the crude comment.

Chris laughed when she realized the blonde threw green daggers at Cale instead of her. Chris stepped aside. "Cubby, you're on your own."

Ignoring her friend, Cale yelled after Lindsey. "Come on, admit it, you love me. I know it."

The fuming Lindsey threw another well-placed set of green daggers at Cale. The blonde knew she hit her mark when Cale shot a mock stabbing of her own heart into her chest. Further exasperated by the taller woman's antic, Lindsey flew around and walked steadily away from the woman who knew exactly what buttons to push.

Crossing over to her friend, Chris said. "You may not know it my friend… but she may take some time."

For her, I've got all the time in the world.

Chapter Four

Lindsey was so frustrated with Cale's display at the gift shop that she forgot the shot glass she bought for Rachel. Mumbling to herself as she entered the shop again, the clerk as well as another customer took note. "I could just shoot you instead I get you a shot glass."

"Excuse me?" Brandy put down her book.

Realizing she was speaking out loud, Lindsey looked around quickly then smiled. "I forgot…." She reached over near the cash register and picked up the glass. "…this."

"No problem." The young woman picked her book back up.

The book cover got the blonde's attention immediately. "You like that story?" It was one of the few books by X. Straud DeNair that was truly a sweet love story sans her usual twisted characters.

The clerk shoved the book wide open. "Look. She signed it. That … that woman that was in here when you were here… brought her in. She signed them all." Brandy yanked up her book bag that housed several of the writer's stories. "She's a hotty."

A quick flash of the dark haired woman's voluptuous body made an appearance in Lindsey's mind and her face flushed. Slightly embarrassed at the vision, the blonde rubbed her temple. "Yes, yes, I guess she is." With that, Lindsey rushed out. It's April, surely the Windy City has some fresh air.

Brandy returned to her book when she was interrupted again by a harsh knock on the counter. "Oh, hello, may I help you?"

Dark beady brown eyes squinted at the clerk. "What was all that about?"

"She forgot an item she purchased." The clerk offered the innocent reply.

"The hotty! What woman were the two of you talking about?" An insistent glare accompanied the question.

"X. Straud DeNair, of course." Brandy shoved her book at the customer then her thoughts returned to the blonde. "I think she likes the tall dark haired woman." When the customer seemingly didn't have a clue, the clerk added. "The one with the X-rated cool sexy eyes."

A frown posed upon the distraught face and would remain there throughout the evening.

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

"Hello." Answering her cell phone, Lindsey welcomed the slight wind blowing in her face.

"Hi… it's me. Your favorite person in the whole world." Rachel hoped her friend's disposition had turned sunny since when she had talked with her earlier because the news she was about to give Lindsey would cloud the rays.

"Every time you start with that line…there's always bad news. Give it to me, Rach."

"Eric called looking for you." Rachel said succinctly.

The blonde sighed.

"He said he needs to talk with you and that it's important." Rachel didn't want to deliver this next bit of news. "Something about a commitment." She paused but a moment. "You don't really want a commitment from that jerk, do you?" The light haired friend couldn't help but add her own opinion on the subject.

"Rach, he does have some good points." Lindsey countered.

"The only point he has is his pin head." When her friend didn't respond, Rachel backtracked quickly. "Listen, Lindsey, if he's the one… you know, you really want then I'm there for you. Okay?"

Lindsey thought for a moment before truthfully answering what was in her heart. "No, he's not what I want. It's just that…" She loosened her collar even as the cool wind nipped at her. "… I don't know what I want anymore."

I do.

When they were college roommates, Lindsey walked in on Rachel with another woman and the blonde was shocked. The two had a long talk where Rachel revealed she liked both men and women. The mental picture of Rachel and the dark haired woman entangled in a passionate embrace was permanently seared in the blonde's memory. It was a vision that bombarded the blonde at the oddest times, proffering questions to which she didn't have an answer. When she confided this to her best friend, Rachel knew the only answer to Lindsey's questioning quest would be found in the arms of a woman. Now it was time for Lindsey to find that out on her own.

"Then move back home. You only left and took that job with the federal government so you could be with him when he got that promotion. Getting away for a while will give you clarity…. back home where you belong." Rachel encouraged her friend.

Not wanting to entertain that appealing idea, Lindsey asked. "What did you tell Eric?"

"Nothing. He's knows you're out to town but not here with me. Does he still have a key to your apartment?"

After the big blow-up between them, Eric moved in with a buddy of his until he figured he could get his girlfriend to think logically about getting married. Eric had high aspirations of eventually becoming a senator and was totally focused on his career in government. While having a wife was definitely a benefit, Eric was unsure that Lindsey would be fitting wife material for a senator.

"Of course he does." That could be a problem. "I doubt that he'd have enough sense to even look for any clues there." Seeing Judith Keeney walk by with three other women, Lindsey concluded the conversation. "Keep me posted."

"You, too."

"Bye." Lindsey jammed her cell phone in her bag before hurrying off to catch up with Judith and her group. I hate to eat alone.

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

The beautiful room decorated like a ship's galley doubled as a restaurant and bar. The Bardcon committee had reserved the room for the mixer where fans and writers could mingle and get to know each other. Judith led her group to a side table with a great view of the dance floor. A piano stood silently next to them waiting for someone to tickle its ivories.

"Lindsey… this is Kip Reynolds." Judith pointed to the short woman with freckles who gave a short wave.

"She beta reads for Terry Lang and Beth Ann Thornton." A gray-eyed dishwater blonde added enthusiastically. When Lindsey's eyes quizzed the woman supplying the information, the slightly overweight woman quickly introduced herself. "My name's Karen Watson…. fan extraordinaire!"

Judith dismissed the overexcited curly shorthaired woman. "She thinks she knows everything."

"Extraordinaire? Don't tell me you're the writer's - X. Straud DeNair's - biggest fan?" Lindsey teased the woman.

Before answering Lindsey, Karen said adamantly to Judith. "Just ask… ask me anything!" She demanded before her gray eyes turned to gaze on Lindsey's gentle features. "Oh, I like her but I love all the stories out there on the net. Her real name is Chris, you know."

"I didn't."

A tall and lean woman offered her hand to Lindsey. "Before these two take over the conversation completely, my name's Daisy Newton and I beta read for Lori Colter. I've read your story Lindsey. Do you need someone to beta read for you?"

Lindsey spared a brief moment as she thought about the beta reader who had volunteered her services a while back. After sharing the story and basic plot, the partnership didn't last long when the beta reader wrote and said she was too busy. That's when Lindsey turned to her best friend to beta read. But before the blonde writer could answer, Karen interjected. "Oh, no, you don't, Daisy. She has one. Her name's Rachel and she's a very good friend."

Stunned by Karen's self-confident insertion, Lindsey asked. "How would you know that?"

Karen Watson scoffed it off as if it was nothing. "You list her in your disclaimer."

"But how did you know…"

"Rachel is just a friend?" The smug smile on Karen's face promised a long and winded explanation.

The beta reader Kip Reynolds raised a halting hand. "Don't go there, Karen. We don't have all day. Just give her the facts."

Sucking a deep breath, Karen started. "It's easy really. When thanking her, you don't use any special sweet endearments like Linda James or Terry Lang does in their disclaimers. Instead, yours is similar to what Chris does when she thanks Cale for beta reading her stories." Quickly looking around at the impatient sets of eyes, Karen concluded. "It's a simple heartfelt thank you albeit the endearments."

"Here we go again." Daisy Newton flipped her napkin up in the air.

And so it was the race horses were off and running. Judith got out of the gate first. "That does not prove anything, Karen. I've seen them together. You can't tell me that Chris and Cale aren't an item."

"Cale?" Lindsey was keenly interested in this name.

Completely ignoring Lindsey, Karen leaned in before spieling her position on the matter. "Seen them? This is the first and only Bardcon Chris has brought Cale to. She's a player. Her bio says she's single and Kelly says…."

"Don't you dare bring that ho into this?" The blonde Judith sneered.

Lindsey's green eyes volleyed back and forth between the heated exchange when Daisy attempted to intervene. "Does it really matter? Shall we order now? I know I could use a drink."

"Who's Cale?" Lindsey suspected but wanted confirmation.

Daisy's suggestion didn't alter the direction of the ongoing feud as Judith continued. "Kelly's just lusting for Chris like you and every…"

Kip Reynolds inserted her own opinion. "….every other red-blooded woman here. Including me." The short woman blushed through her freckles.

"Why Kip?" Daisy nudged her close friend. "The truth finally comes out."

Frustrated, Lindsey nearly shouted. "Would somebody tell me who Cale is?"

Ever-ready Karen supplied the missing link to Lindsey's curiosity. "Bennett."

"Chris' girlfriend." Judith quickly inserted causing Karen's gray eyes to flare.

The older blonde headed woman smiled until a distraught look crossed Judith's face when Kelly walked through the door. "They'll let just anybody in here, won't they?"

Lindsey studied the woman as Kelly searched the room. When a distraught look turned even gloomier on Kelly's face, Lindsey suggested. "Why don't we invite her over?"

Judith shifted away when Karen agreed then yelled. "Kelly!"

Not seeing the person she was looking for, Kelly relented and joined the small group. After Kelly greeted the women, giving even Judith a lukewarm nod, the brown-eyed woman asked. "So what are we talking about?"

Daisy hastily came up with what she thought would be a neutral subject. "The new top ten comes out tomorrow on Kate's website." She referred to the web-mistress of Bard's Legend Tome.

"I wonder if Linda James will hold her number one spot?" Kip asked.

"I hope not. She's all too good for her fans now that she's so famous." X. Straud DeNair's most protective fan, Kelly piped up.

Judith had to voice her agreement. "You got that right… she won't even write back anymore. You have to be on her list."

Just then, Linda James and her group entered the bar. Several fans got up to meet her, waving their books and napkins in hopes of getting an autograph. Linda smiled sweetly at her adoring fans.

When one fan got too close, the chubby cheeked Lois pushed her back. "Hey, back up!"

"Lois!" Linda spurred her upset friend before turning to the fan. "Here, let me." The famous writer took the napkin and signed it. Handing it back, she said. "Thank you for reading my books."

As they passed by, Lois jerked forward at the fan, growling.

"Knock it off." Shelby ordered.

"Ha… if you were any kind of girlfriend, I wouldn't have to do your job." The short blonde spat back at the redhead.

"Girls… girls? Come on, let's not go there." Tonya hated when sparks flew between the two rivals. She gently nudged her lover, Lois, in an attempt to calm the irascible woman.

The women at Lindsey table watched the slight verbal altercation between the chubby blonde and Linda James' redheaded partner. "What's up with them?" Lindsey asked.

"Oh, that's a story." Judith started. "They used to all live here in Chicago but the rumor is that Shelby took Linda away from Lois. And ever since…."

Karen corrected her friend. "The relationship was well over before Shelby became Linda's lover. They'd been friends for years but Lois never got over it… so, they moved away."

"Who the fuck cares?" Kelly Winslow was tired of the conversation. Her mind was on another writer.

Changing the subject back to the upcoming top ten list, the excited Karen bubbled with confidence when she said. "Lindsey, your story is great. You've got a good chance to make it this week. Everyone loves it. I've told all my friends about it.. and there's been talk on all the lists."

"Thank you, Karen. That's very nice of you. I must admit it would be nice to knock her off." The group of women stopped cold at Lindsey's devious counterfeit tone until the blonde smiled, giving away her kidding words.

An evil gleam passed over a distraught face. "Now, that's an idea."

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

After dinner, the beta readers joined Terry Lang and Beth Ann Thornton while Judith, Karen and Kelly remained talking with Lindsey. The crowd of women in the bar steadily grew as the evening progressed. Drinks flowed freely as some women danced while others engaged in conversations about the stories they loved, serving up a few rumors mixed with a heavy accent of gossip.

"Who's she?" Lindsey asked when she noticed a lean and brooding woman entered the room alone.

"CrazyBard." Judith supplied.

Karen completed the profile of the particular mysterious bard with more information. "Her real name's Savannah Miller. She always has a journal… writes everything in there. She wrote 'Suddenly One Stormy Night'. Pretty weird stuff really."

"It did well though. As a matter of fact, it's published, right?" Lindsey asked.

"No accounting for taste." Kelly spat.

When a spontaneous roar of laughter sounded from Linda James' table, Judith echoed her archrival's sentiments. "Speaking of no taste. There's High and Mighty."

Karen quickly defended the Romance Queen. "What's your problem?" The ultimate fan glared at both Judith and Kelly. "I love her stories. She writes the best sex scenes." Glancing at Lindsey, Karen added an amendment to her statement. "Your sex scenes are good, too. Just not as much." Karen crinkled her nose.

Waving a dismissive hand, Lindsey shrugged. "Oh, don't worry about it. I'll leave the sex to her."

From behind a velvety alto voice made Lindsey shudder to the core. "With a body like yours… that's a damn shame."

Goose bumps popped up everywhere imaginable on Lindsey's suddenly overheated body. The blonde didn't have to turn around, she knew the owner of that voice. The voice that made her tremble against her will. The sweet siren that called to her, raising the hair on her neck when she felt a hot breath on her neck ratchet the already spiraling inferno raging inside. With as much of a calm, cool and frosty glare Lindsey could manage, she finally turned to face the woman causing the meltdown. "Stalking again? I hope it's not your day job."

Cale flashed her fiery blue eyes, whispering. "No.. it's not. Maybe I should take up firefighting. Then I'd have a chance to melt your cold, cold glacier heart." With that Cale was gone, leaving an undeniable mysterious empty ache lingering in the blonde's heart.

"Can you believe it? Chris is right over there and she has the audacity to flirt with you Lindsey." Judith frowned.

Lindsey wrapped her arms close to her in an attempt to hold her composure together. "It wasn't anything like that at all. She's … for some reason she likes to give me a hard time. Toying with me, I think. Just to get to me." And by god she is. Lindsey was completely taken aback when Cale approached her from behind. With three sets of curious eyes on her, the blonde summoned a veil of annoyance at the dark haired woman's antics.

With astute gray eyes, Karen Watson detected something more between the blonde and her tall, dark and sexy nuisance. There are none so blind….. Her thought drifted off into an abyss.

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

As the night, song and drink brought the rowdy crowd to a heady rousing mixer, Lindsey barely contained her composure when Cale Bennett uncharacteristically jumped up on the piano. With a microphone in hand, she belted out the lurid lyrics to the upbeat song 'Let's go to bed'. Cale gyrated her hips to the adoring bar girls surrounding the piano with Chris at the piano keys. It seemed the group of women's attention was divided between the two dark haired tall women who in bar's dark light could pass for twins.

The eyes are different. Lindsey's mesmerized green eyes were placed prominently on Cale's swinging hips until the tall woman turned and gave the crowd her version of a 'booty' call. The whistles and howls from the adoring women conjured up a repellent feeling from the blonde.

Cale for her part was putting on the show of her life. While giving everyone woman in the bar ample attention sprinkling them with winks, smiles and a few 'come hither' looks, the dancing machine kept close watch on the blonde's every move and reaction. When Lindsey rolled her eyes after Cale gave the audience an up close and personal rear view slide show, the tall woman smirked. I think I'm getting under her skin.

"Give it to 'em, baby." Chris yelled from her seat at the piano, encouraging her friend on. As Chris pounded the ivory keys, Cale pounded her body to the rhythmic sexual music. Chris knew that Cale's outlandish behavior was out of the ordinary to be sure. Her friend was more subtly seductive with oozing charm while what Cale was displaying now was more indicative of her own style. Chris suspected the reason since Cale's eyes always strayed to the pretty blonde sitting quietly on the side, soaking in all of the her friend's seductive moves.

Kelly made her move as she sidled up to Chris when the previous occupant sitting next to the writer, Cindy Townsend, slipped away in order to retrieve a drink. "Hi."

"Hey, baby." Chris shifted her hips for a little one on one contact. Winking, the piano playing writer asked above the din. "What's your name?"

Kelly had to yell in order for her favorite writer to hear her. "Kelly." The writer only smiled so Kelly tried another tact. "We met once before at another convention… I'm BigK….@hotmail.com. I wrote to you." But the roar of the crowd drowned her words out when Cale dropped down on her knees. The writer heard only part of what the woman sitting next to her said since her attention was diverted by Cale's oh so seductive antics.

Once again, Cale seemed to direct her attention to the stunned wide-eyed blonde as if the words she sang were just for Lindsey. Still on her knees, Cale thrust her hips forward to the heavy beat and Chris could easily observe that the blonde was getting annoyed. Annoyed, irritated, interested… aroused? Chris concluded all her descriptions were true but the latter was striking home.

"I know how to play." Kelly indicated to Chris her ability to manipulate the keys on the piano.

"Me, too, baby." The writer winked. Even as Chris flirted with the woman next to her, she felt an odd inkling of discomfort.

With her friend's interest in the blonde on high alert, earlier in the day Chris asked around to find out just who this mysterious woman was. When she did, the dark haired writer immediately supplied Cale with the blonde's first name but left out a very important and relevant fact. She'll kill me tomorrow but tonight… we're gonna have some fun. It was time for Chris to join her friend a top the piano.

Nudging Kelly, Chris offered her sweetest smile. "Here baby… play for me." In short order, Chris jumped up on top of the piano. Driving the women crazy with desire, she gave them what they wanted. Double trouble!

When Kelly gently teased the keys with the notes to the languid sexy song 'Skin on Skin', the writer pulled her friend up from her knees and molded her body to Cale's backside. "They want a show, let's give it to 'em."

The hazy fog of lust and several strong drinks enticed the very smitten Cale to play along with her friend's frolics. She trusted Chris with her life as was evident so many years ago when Cale was on the Chicago police force. Chris' hands ran up and down Cale's long, lean sculptured body, seducing the taller woman to fantasize about another set of hands. Cale's blue eyes stayed glued on the blonde.

"Can you believe that…. ". Judith spat sarcastically. "She's got her buffaloed."

Briefly shaken from her lust filled state by Judith's words, Lindsey swallowed hard. Cale's cool ray blue eyes pierced the blonde's vulnerable veneer. Mistaking the dark haired woman's sexual interest, Lindsey rebuffed the proffered adoring look from Cale. She's taunting me. She thinks she can just play with me. It was as interesting idea but one Lindsey had to dismiss if only temporarily.

"A little more exposure and you won't need any imagination." Lindsey grumbled when Cale leaned forward allowing every woman in the place a bird's eye view of her assets.

When Cindy Townsend returned with two drinks only to find out that Kelly had taken her place. Jealousy reared its ugly head when she grabbed Kelly by the arm. The magical spell the two women a top the piano had woven over the crowd burst when the music stopped abruptly and Kelly hauled off and hit the unsuspecting woman.

As a small ruckus started, Cale jumped down from the piano. Her attention riveted on the blonde as pandemonium started among the crowd. Grabbing Lindsey's arm, Cale shielded the blonde's body from any errant arms and legs. "Get behind me."

At first, Lindsey found safe refuge behind the taller frame until it became clear the disruptive crowd's demeanor waxed and waned in one short outburst. The eruption of the impromptu altercation ended in short notice when Chris jumped between the two fighting women. "Hey… hey… stop it. Now come on girls … we're here to have some fun."

Several other patrons helped restrain both Kelly and Cindy even as beady brown eyes glared into steely brown ones.

Holding each woman at arm's length, Chris jested. "There's more than enough of me for both of you."

As the squabble died down, realization dawned on Lindsey as she plastered herself against Cale. Pushing herself away from the tall woman, Lindsey admonished Cale. "Get your hands off of me. You just can't stay away, can you?"

Stunned, Cale turned slowly. "I was just protec…" Shaking her head, she diverted her words. "I can't believe you. You ungrateful…" Silenced by the slap on her face, Cale stormed out.

Shocked by her own behavior, Lindsey eyes slammed shut. God, I can't believe I just did that. She didn't deserve it. Fortunately for Lindsey the only two people that took note of the exchange was Judith and Karen except for another set of curious eyes that had watched the whole exchange from a distance.

The bar manager advised all the patrons for one last call before they shut down. Most of the crowd began to disperse as Chris made her way over to Lindsey. "Hi. My name's Chris Strauda."

Nodding, Lindsey couldn't look her in the eyes. "Yes, I know."

Easing her arm around Lindsey, the tall writer suggested. "Do you mind?"

Quietly, Chris led Lindsey out of the bar, leading the trembling blonde to her room. "You want to talk about it?"

Silence was the answer as Lindsey stepped inside her room, leaving Chris standing alone in the hallway.

Sucking in a deep breath, the writer opened her door across the hall. She found Cale sprawled out on the bed. Even as the room was dark Chris knew her friend was still awake. "You want to talk about it?"

Silence was the answer.

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

Cindy Townsend and Tippi Sevenson walked into the lobby restroom. "All I'm saying Cindy is that what difference did it make?"

"She hit me."

"You didn't have to jerk her back though. She was just playing the piano." Tippi knew she was wasting her time. Her friend never took criticism well. She could dish it out though in heaping spoonfuls.

"She was honing in on my territory." Cindy studied her face in the mirror for any signs of bruising.

Leaning up against the wall, Tippi rolled her eyes. "You don't even like her stories… most of them. You pan them on Kate's website under your….." Tippi used her fingers to quote the next word. "..alias."

"X. Straud DeNair my ass… her stuff is crap." Touching the swelling under her left eye, Cindy thought of the person who caused it. "That vulture bitch."

Panning her favorite author's writing was one thing but name-calling was more than enough to cause Kelly Winslow to fly out of the restroom stall, arms flailing about. "Why you bitch!"

Frightened, Cindy dropped down once Tippi stepped in front of Kelly. "Get away from me!" Scrambling under the stall wall, Cindy made sure the door to the stall was secure.

"That's right hide." Kelly spat.

Gently pushing the fuming Kelly out the restroom door, Tippi attempted to calm her ruffled feathers. "It's not worth it… okay? Come on… I love X's stories. As a matter of fact I love the way she writes. Her characters are so vivid and, in a weird sorta way,… kinda real."

Kelly rubbed her chin, musing over Tippi's words. "Damn straight."

With a few more gentle words, Tippi was able to convince Kelly it was time to retire for the night and tomorrow would bring a new day. Briskly, she turned to gather up her frightened friend. Though Tippi couldn't stop herself from offering Cindy just a smidgen of taunting. "Come out, come out from wherever you are."

Continued in Part 2.


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