THE WOMAN I LOVE

Cabin on the Lake

written by

G. S. Binkley

XXGSB@hotmail.com

© 2001 Binkley

Synopsis: The Woman I Love is about a beautiful television star on vacation with her family who meets a writer who in turn challenges and changes her life forever as she finds true love in a cabin on the lake.

Sexual Content: F/F partners with implied F/M relationship

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.

Chapter One

Lacy Levine’s long legs hurried down the corridor at LAX with her young daughter, Danielle, by her side, both toting their carryon bags. Looking back over his broad shoulder, David Levine, called to his television star wife, "Will you two hurry up." With a sharp jerk, David pulled at his son moving him along faster as he navigated around several other passengers en route to their perspective flights.

Oblivious to his father, Lacy noticed her three year old son’s unbalanced wobble. She nudged Danielle ahead, letting go of her hand, "Dani, you go with your dad while I get Derek." Dani happily skipped ahead of her raven-haired mother, allowing Lacy to rescue Derek from her pre-occupied husband then Dani grabbed her father’s hand, pulling him forward.

With loving gray eyes that matched his fathers, Derek smiled shyly at his mother as she scooped him up into her arms. His mother quickly kissed his cheek and readjusted her bag, before dashing off to find the rest of her family. Slightly out of breath, Lacy spotted Dani talking with an older woman seated near a window. With David nowhere in sight, her piercing blue eyes scanned the area quickly falling on her wayward husband in a heated discussion with a flight attendant.

Lacy walked up to her daughter, sitting her bag down along with her son. Derek quickly anchored himself on to his mother’s slender leg then looked at his sister and her new friend. Lacy sat down on a nearby seat, holding on to her son while addressing Dani. "Who’s your new friend?"

Anxious to show off, Dani said, "This is Grace. She’s 79 years old and married her high school sweetheart, has three kids and fourteen grandchildren and… nine great-grandchildren." There was a time when Lacy would have been surprised at all the information her daughter seemed to squeeze out of strangers in a short amount of time, but she had come to expect it of her curious and outgoing eight year old. "And, Grace….."

Grace Davidson interrupted the young girl’s dissertation. "Fifteen, remember, I said my youngest just had a little girl."

Dani spared the older woman a quick challenging glance for correcting her, but that expression held court for only a short moment before blooming into a full fledge smile. "Anyway, her husband’s dead now." Crossing her arms, daring the old lady to contradict her.

Grace smiled sweetly, turning her attention to the young boy holding on to his mother’s leg as if his life depended on it. "What’s your name, little one?"

Derek shoved his face deeper against his mother’s thigh. Dani tugged at Grace’s arm. "Derek. But he won’t talk to you. You’re a stranger."

"He’s a little shy." Lacy inserted, stroking her son’s short dark hair. Extending her other hand to Grace, she said, "My name’s Lacy Levine."

The old woman recognized the television star immediately upon seeing her. "I know. I watch your show on TV. I was sorry to hear it’s going off the air. There aren’t many shows with strong women in them." Grace shifted in her seat as Dani nudged closer to her.

Before Lacy could respond, her ever-boisterous daughter explained. "Mom needed a vacation." She glanced at her mother making sure she hadn’t overstepped her boundaries, catching the approving smile from her mother, Dani then added adamantly, "And we did too."

Grace remained interested as Lacy took up where her daughter left off. "We’re vacationing at a lake where my grandparents used to have a cabin."

"They’re dead now." Dani added as a matter-of-factly.

"Yes, anyway, it’s been ages since I’ve been there." Lacy smiled at the memories that flooded her mind. "My brothers and I had such a great time there when we were little and I…wanted to share that experience with my kids." Lacy was surprised, having divulged this information to a relative stranger, but then again her daughter had a way of making everyone they encountered familiar almost like family.

"Mom has a sister too. She’s my aunt… and my godmother." Dani stated proudly causing Grace to smile warmly at the confident young girl in front of her.

Lacy continued. "Anyway, after six long seasons, it was time to move on and I wanted to spend more time with my children." Lacy’s beautiful features turned sad. "I’ve missed so much these last few years."

Grace touched Lacy’s arm gently in reassurance. "They do grow up fast, don’t they? But, now, you and your family can have a great time together on vacation."

"Not all of our family." Dani’s bright blue eyes turned steely. "Dad can’t come with us. He’s too busy." Dani’s initial hurt feelings when her father explained he wouldn’t be going with them turned into a rare show of anger. It subsided a bit when he offered her some hope that he would try to meet up with them within the week.

With determination, David headed for his family and plopped down between Grace and his wife. Facing Lacy, he vented. "You won’t believe this. They’re running late… some kind of mechanical problem." Glancing at his watch, David rubbed his neck. "I don’t have time to sit here and wait."

Tugging at his sleeve, Dani pulled him around. "Daddy, this is my new friend, Grace."

Reluctantly, he shifted around slightly, throwing an off-handed greeting. "Hi." Turning back to his wife, he offered. "Listen, babe, I really need to get going. But, before I do, I’ll try to light a fire under these guys again so you won’t have to wait long."

"David, we’re not in a hurry." Lacy assured her husband.

"That’s not the point. They say the plane will leave at ten then it should leave at ten. There are schedules to keep, you know." David was a man who lived by a schedule his whole life, and it suited his present profession as producer and director to a tee. Keeping on schedule meant staying within budget and gave order to his life. If I ran my company the way they run this airline, I’d be out of business, over budget and looking for a new line of work.

"Excuse me, Mr. Levine." Drawing David from his thoughts, Grace continued. "If there is something wrong with the airplane, I, for one, am willing to wait for as long as it takes."

"Time is money." David briskly countered.

"More important than the safety of your family?" The new grandmother pointed out politely.

Getting David’s full attention, he turned around sternly eyeing the old woman who was holding onto his daughter. "Of course not. My family is of the utmost importance." David glared at the old woman before him seizing his daughter from Grace’s clutches.

Aware of her husband’s short temper, Lacy interceded before a verbal altercation could take root. "David, we’ll be all right here. I know you have a meeting."

Bolting up, David grabbed his wife urging her away from Grace in order to garnish some privacy. Lacy picked up Derek as David shoved his daughter along with him. He stopped a few feet away, glancing back to the old woman then turned back to his wife. "All right, if you want, I’ll go ahead and get to that meeting."

Lacy moved in closer, staring directly into her husband’s gray eyes, she searched for some reassurance. "Remember, you promised to come out next week."

David gave his wife a quick peck on the lips. "At the latest." He dropped down to his daughter and hugged her. "You be good for your daddy, okay?" Blue eyes turned teary. "Honey….." David began, but Dani shunned her father, turning away so he gently twisted her back around. "Sometimes you don’t always get what you want. I’d rather be with you and Derek and your mommy, but first I’ve got to work. Do you understand that?" His shoulders dropped, exasperated, his voice taking on a harsher edge. "Besides, I’ll see you next week."

Sadly, Dani asked. "Does work always have to come first?"

With no words to offer his daughter, he hugged her tightly. Dani held on never wanting to let go. The little girl prayed her father would keep his word this time.

Reluctantly letting go of his daughter, David rose letting his eyes fall on his son, still clinging to his mother. "Never thought I’d have a momma’s boy," he grumbled.

"David!" Lacy said sternly, fire blue eyes flaring.

David reached for his only son, coaxing him trying to get his attention. "Derek, come here." The three year old determinedly remained in his mother’s arms. "Aww, hell, I don’t have time for this. Come here!" David raised his voice as he took hold of his son. But, Derek let his stubborn streak shine through in defiance of his father. Frustrated, David’s anger blared as his face turned red, which did not go unnoticed by his daughter.

Retrieving Derek from her producer husband, Lacy shielded her son placing him on her side away from David. "You go on and get to that all important meeting. Your family wouldn’t want to make you late." Lacy’s sarcastic tone grated against her husband.

"I don’t need this, you know." David warned. The last six years had taken a toll on their relationship and David wasn’t happy when Lacy informed him a year ago that she was quitting her television show at the end of the sixth season. David planned to do at least two more seasons of the successful cop show starring his wife and her co-star Hayston Rawlings.

Yanking on his shirt, Dani successfully drew her father’s attention away from her mother. "Dad, are you mad at us?" She didn’t want anything standing in the way of her father joining them on vacation next week as he promised.

A reluctant smile spread across his face. "No, hon. I’m not."

"Are you mad at Derek? He really likes you. But….." Dani hesitated. "sometimes, you sorta scare him."

An unconscious smirk ran across his face at his daughter’s words. Great, I have a son who’s a scardy cat. If David had chosen to examine his words, he would have realized that he was not concerned that he was the source of his son’s fearfulness. His concern riveted on the fact that he felt his son was going to be a wimp of a man when he grew up. This was something that was unacceptable to him as a father. It was times like these that David questioned Derek’s parentage.

Drawing David from his selfish musings, Lacy suggested. " David, maybe you should go now."

Reluctantly, David offered. " I guess I could stay a while longer."

"No. We’ll be fine." She leaned over to kiss him diverting her lips to his cheek instead of the lips he offered. "Just make sure you show up later. I don’t want you to disappoint Dani again." She whispered in his ear before moving away and reaching for their young daughter.

Through a strained voice, David explained. "Do I have to clarify this again? The head of the studio, Ron Griffen, remember him? Your boss and mine…..demanded that I stay and make sure post production is complete."

"And your partner, Ryan White, remember him?" Lacy’s words ricocheted back at him matching his sarcastic tone. "Volunteered to take care of everything so you could be with us. We haven’t had a family vacation in over six years."

"I don’t want to argue about this, Lacy."

Ushering Dani ahead of her, she tossed the shared sentiment over her shoulder at him. "Good. Neither do I."

As David watched his family walk back to sit next to the old woman, his shoulders slumped in frustration. He couldn’t understand why she didn’t accept his explanation. My God, you’d think she thought I was lying about it. It was then a little voice in his head proffered, are you? Turning sharply on his heels, David briskly marched away.

Disappointed with the recent events, Lacy watched her husband negotiate his way through the horde of passengers. She didn’t want their goodbyes to be soiled in such a hateful manner. But lately every conversation they had turned sour. Feeling a need to talk to someone familiar, Lacy reached in her purse extracting her cell phone and punched a number. Lacy watched as Dani embarked on another long conversation with Grace while Derek remained tucked securely in her arms fighting sleep as she waited for the telephone to ring.

 

Chapter Two

With the deadly aerosol can in hand, Gage Ballant rushed back inside the cabin, jumping over the couch toward the ringing telephone only to knock it further away. Scrambling on the floor, Gage grabbed the phone, now out of breath, answered it. "Hello."

"Are you training for a marathon, being chased or just clumsy, as usual?" Straightening back up, Gage smiled at the familiar voice greeting her.

"I am not clumsy." Gage strongly denied the ribbing that was being served.

"Surely, it can’t be the only other thing I’m thinking of because you’re up there alone, right?" The voice on the telephone taunted.

"Very funny." Gage frowned. "And for your information, it’s chasing."

"I wish I was there to see who was doing the chasing… is it you or the same geese that were after you a few weeks ago?" The sound of laughter echoed through the telephone recoiling Gage to remember the unpleasant thought that fleetingly crossed her mind of being chased by a flock of geese.

Gage jumped up, with the telephone in one hand and a can of wasp killer in the other, determined to take her avenge on the wasps that had decided to take up residence on the front porch. "It’s a good thing you’re not here. I’m in pursuit of your favorite insect. You know the ones that chased you around mercilessly until you were stung, swelling up like a balloon." Gage said letting her lighthearted laugh drift through the telephone.

"Hey, I’m allergic to wasps." The unpleasant memory caused Mark to shift uncomfortably in his leather chair. He picked up an antique pen, tapping it on his equally antique desk. "Remember where I left the EpiPen just in case you end up getting stung. It can be deadly," he added seriously.

Running her hand nervously through her short blonde hair, Gage was immediately upset with her teasing words to her friend and now partner, Mark Calico. When Mark offered his cabin for Gage to write a new screenplay, they came up together to check the place out. The very first day Mark was stung and would have died if he had not already known he was allergic to wasps and always carried EpiPen with him, also having a spare at the cabin just in case. EpiPen stopped the inflammation that spread throughout his body upon being stung; which started to shut down all his major body functions.

"Sorry, Mark." Gage apologized then offered. "I don’t think I’m allergic though."

"Have you ever been stung?"

"I don’t remember really. I don’t think so." Gage was now more than ever determined to eradicate the vicious little creatures that had caused her friend harm.

Sensitive to his friend’s regret, Mark changed the subject and asked. "How’s the story going?"

With keen green eyes, Gage took careful aim and sent a direct hit, flooding the wasp’s nest, saturating it with the deadly spray. The aerosol can had a spray distance of up to twenty feet so Gage was safely tucked just inside the cabin door. "Great, actually, almost finished with it. Needs some editing though and you’ll have to read it."

"If it’s anything like the first one, then were in business." the CEO of Calico Corporation, a worldwide network, said as he gazed out his 70th floor high rise office window to the New York streets below.

"Listen, Mark, are you sure you want to venture into film making. I mean, for me, it’s a chance of a lifetime, but you have so many other businesses and things."

Mark gently cut Gage off. "Those other businesses were handed over to me by my grandfather. I want to do something on my own. That’s why I was on that board to judge the screenplay competition. Its always interested me and… I found myself a great writer on top of it."

"Oh, really, are you seeing another writer behind my back?" Gage pretended to pout. "Because if you are, I’ll just call up that same grandfather and have him yank his grandson by the ear. You know, he likes me."

"He loves you." Mark corrected her, thinking fondly of his grandfather who still lived in England at the ripe old age of 90. "No, you’re the only writer for me."

"You may want to reconsider after reading my screenplay." Gage felt confident it was a good story, but this was, after all, a new style of writing for the three times published author.

"I doubt that. By the way, your latest murder/mystery book just hit the top ten." Having taken over Gage’s writing contract to publish her work, Mark’s new company, Shadow Publishing, had its first bestseller.

Pre-occupied by the news of her book’s success, Gage lost sight of a renegade wasp making a beeline for her. Before she could secure the door, the little bugger slipped inside the cabin. A trained eye tracked the wasp curling busy circles through the living area. "Great news. But I gotta go. The enemy has infiltrated the encampment and I’ve got a seek and destroy mission at hand." The author chased after the intruder barely hearing Mark’s farewell as she spied the wasp fly into the master bedroom landing on the king size bed. Flipping the telephone on the couch, she declared all out war. "Oh, no, you don’t. Not in my bed."

She slammed the aerosol can on the kitchen counter and reached for her weapon of choice, yanking if from the side of the kitchen cabinet. With fly swatter in hand, she stealthily pursued her adversary. Gage’s sharp eyes surveyed the interior upon entering the master bedroom. She scanned the area immediately surrounding the huge bed located in the center of the room. Upon seeing no unidentified flying objects, Gage gracefully moved to the edge of the adjoining bathroom entrance. Peeking around the corner, she searched the room shifting her eyes from the counter to the large jet tub, next to the glass encased shower and finally checking the dressing area with no results.

As Gage stepped in, a buzzing object jetted by her. Twisting around quickly, she stalked the invader out of the master bedroom into the second bedroom just down the short hallway. The high cabin ceiling gave the wasp plenty of airspace, circling around one of the two twin beds placed on either side of the room. "I’ve got you now."

Gage leaped up on the twin bed on the right just when the wasp diverted its direction to the other side of the room. Jumping from one bed to the other one, she cocked her arm and swatted at the wasp. Damn, almost.

It made its escape past the door, taking a direct route though the open kitchen area, once around the living room then coming to rest on the screen door facing. "Come on you cagey little thing. Hold still just a little bit longer." Arm cocked and ready to strike, the fly swatter came barreling down on a direct path to its target. The lucky insect came within inches of its life before it quickly ducked out a small opening in the screen. When the fly swatter finally landed, it found no one home.

Gage pushed open the screen door, green eyes following the wasp on its happy flight to freedom. The smart wasp had lived to fight another day. Letting the door slam behind her, the defeated writer plopped down on the couch spying the discarded telephone. I don’t think I’ll tell Mark how this little encounter turned out. It would pleasure him way too much.

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

She zoomed around the first class cabin in her own flight of freedom. Dani loved to fly and was desperately encouraging her little brother to follow suit, but to no avail. The more she tried the more Derek shied deeper into his mother’s grasp.

Not having been able to reach her mom as they waited for their airplane, Lacy tried again, successfully this time, connecting with her mother while in flight. Now, she was having a hard time concentrating on her telephone conversation with her mother. "Mom, hold on just a second, will you?" Turning her attention to her excited daughter, she said. "Dani, why don’t you come sit down next to me?"

Oblivious to her mother’s gentle command, the self-proclaimed pilot smiled happily as she continued her flight though the aisle as other passengers delighted in the rambunctious antics of the young girl. Her infectious personality and laughter captured the other first class passengers when she made one more pass by her brother. "Vrrrroom. Come on, Derek. Fly like a plane. Fly like a plane." Dani’s shoulder length dark hair swayed from side to side while flapping her arms, dipping them back and forth wildly. Finally, forcing a reluctant smile from her brother.

Firmly, Lacy drew her daughter’s undivided attention. "Dani!"

Shoulders plummeted downward crowned by a crestfallen face as Dani spiraled back to her seat next to her mother. She looked apologetically at her audience when her performance came to an abrupt halt. A young steward, witnessing the show, followed her down the aisle.

Before she was even settled in her seat, Dani turned to her mother. "Can I go get Grace? She’s way in the back and I’m sure she doesn’t have anyone to talk to."

Finding it hard to deny her daughter anything, Lacy looked to the steward for help with the proffered question. "Is there any way our friend could come up here with us?"

Hesitant, the newly hired steward shook his head slightly while thinking. "I don’t know, ma’am, if we can allow that. Everyone has their assigned seats and we don’t…."

Dani jumped in before another word was spoken. "We have plenty of seats up here. Look. Right there." Pointing to the seat directly across from her.

Scanning his nametag, Lacy offered. "I could pay the difference, if that’s the problem, Tim." A brilliant smile accentuated the added, "Please." And the imploring look from the well-known actress settled the issue.

Giving in, Tim agreed. "Sure."

Shooting up from her seat, Dani grabbed the young man’s hand and bolted down the aisle in search of her friend. "I have to go with you since I know what she looks like." With a quick glance back to the steward, Dani continued. "She’s old and has wrinkles all over her face, but she says it gives her character. I don’t really know about that though she is rather funny at times."

Lacy returned to her long forgotten telephone conversation with her mother. "Oh, sorry, mom. I guess you heard."

"She hasn’t changed much, has she? Of course, I could be wrong. What has it been? Now, let’s see, almost a whole year since I’ve seen my grandkids." Lynn Lewis inserted making her point crystal clear.

"Message received, mom." With assurance, Lacy continued. "After our little vacation, we’ll try to stop by for a visit."

"Try?" Lynn’s voice housed disappointment. Ever since her actor daughter hit the big time with her television show, Lynn and her husband, Daniel, had rare sightings of their daughter and her children.

"Okay. It’s a definite visit then." Lacy hoped David wouldn’t object and come up with another one of his thousand reasons to thwart her plans for a little family time.

With that extracted promise from her daughter, Lynn, perked up. "Dan will be ecstatic to hear that. Now, how’s Derek? With all that carrying on I heard over the phone, you don’t have to tell me how Dani is doing."

Brushing warm lips across her son’s forehead, Derek smiled at his mother. "Just fine. Glad to have his mommy around full time now."

"Is that the plan?" Lynn hoped her daughter was sincere. Having raised five kids, three boys and two girls of her own, Lynn knew the importance of a mother’s role in their lives. With the good, steady construction job her husband had, Lynn had the luxury of staying at home with her children, something not afforded to many moms these days.

Lacy watched her daughter return with Grace in hand. As they settled down in their seats, she confirmed her mother’s hopes. "Yes. At least, after I get this next movie in. Then I intend to take off a few years. Maybe just do some guest spots or a movie a year."

"And no more series?" Lynn asked hopefully.

"Certainly not like this last one. It was too time consuming and exhausting." For six years, five days a week and twelve hours a day, Lacy and her co-star labored to make ‘Crackdown’ the number one rated show four years in a row. Even in its last two seasons, it stubbornly remained in the top ten. It was time to call a halt before it destroyed her sanity and worse yet adversely affected the lives of her children. She realized it had already taken a toll on her kids and her marriage. So, Lacy simply refused to re-negotiate her contract. Instead, she did commit to making a movie for the Hollywood mogul, Ron Griffen, with the persistent urging of her producer husband and with the understanding that she had completed her commitment to Griffen Studios. "Anyway, we should have plenty of time for visits in the coming years."

Satisfied with her daughter’s answer, Lynn changed the subject. "Honey, why’d you call?"

"I just wanted to hear a friendly voice." Her mother picked up the desolate feeling in her daughter’s sad voice.

"Is it David?" Lynn pinpointed the problem.

With a deep sigh, Lacy admitted. "Yeah, David. He couldn’t come with us yet. And, we kinda left it…. bad."

Targeting in on the frequent problems between her daughter and her husband, Lynn recognized Lacy’s latest decision to quit the show must have triggered an even greater distance between them. David was obsessed with both their careers especially his and, Lacy, once she had tasted fame realized that not all the flavors associated with it were sweet. "Honey, I suggest you and David have a heart to heart talk about your future. Mostly about what you both want out of a career."

"We will. Hopefully, next week." Suddenly not wanting to talk about this sore issue, Lacy capped the subject closed. "Anyway…."

The silence that fell between mother and daughter spoke volumes and Lynn took the hint. "Lacy, if you or the kids need anything, you know who to call. Okay? You know, your dad and I both love you."

"I do." Warmed by her mother’s words, a small smile sparked her ivory features before it descended quickly after she said goodbye.

While talking gleefully to her old friend, with knowing blue eyes Dani glimpsed the forlorn expression that permeated her mother’s face. Ever her mother’s savior, Dani spieled out any kind of nonsense that would deliberately take her mother’s mind off whatever dreadful thoughts that plagued her. "Mom, did you know that Grace built airplanes while her husband flew them in the big one?"

Curiously drawn from her dark musings, Lacy asked. "Big one?"

"World War II." Dani wondered why her mother even had to ask. Didn’t every one know about the big one?

 

Chapter Three

Sally Raye eased her old car down the secluded driveway to Cabin C all the while ignoring her passengers. After pulling to a stop, Sally’s dark brown eyes glanced through the rearview mirror at the child in the back seat who had been suspiciously eyeing her during the fifteen-minute drive from town.

Hurrying out of the car as fast as her old rickety body could carry her, Sally made her way to the front door, inserting the key. The landlord wanted to get her new tenants settled then head back in town as fast as she could so she wouldn’t miss her regular Wednesday night Bingo game.

As Lacy extracted Derek from his car seat, Dani slipped out of the back seat, jumped up on the short porch then headed for the front cabin railing that overlooked Lake MyKee.

Reluctant to help, Sally did pick up two of the lighter bags figuring it wouldn’t strain her bad back too much. If I don’t help, that gray haired old witch, Gladys, will be sure to get my spot at Bingo. At least I got the good sense to dye my hair. Sally smiled at that thought remembering how her handyman’s brown eyes had lit up after her first experiment with the hair coloring.

Lacy took the two steps up the porch carrying her son. "Dani, come take care of Derek while I get our bags."

Slowly, Dani tore herself away from the railing all the while keeping a close eye on Sally. She’s not like Grace at all.

With Derek under the watchful eye of his sister, Lacy started unloading their bags from the back of the station wagon. The slow process agitated the landlord so she retrieved another bag from her car.

"My son, Ned, was disappointed he missed you. But he should be by in the next day or two to check on things and see if you want to rent a car of your own." She flopped the last bag down on the porch. "He can drive you to town if you do. That will just tickle him pink. He’s a big fan of yours."

Figuring she had supplied enough chitchat and happy to get away from the young girl’s scrutiny, Sally hurried off without waiting for Lacy to reply.

Lacy Levine spared a moment to watch the landlord head down the road. "All right then, let’s get the bags inside and then how ‘bout a quick look around the place?" With those words, Dani jumped into action, picking up one of the heavy bags and tugging Derek inside behind her. Dropping the bag near the sofa, Dani lifted Derek onto it. "Now, stay right there. Okay?"

A sense of loss flashed across Derek’s face as his sister turned to leave him. Within two steps, the eight year old twisted back around meeting her brother’s soft gray pouting eyes. "Jeez." She walked back to him. "I’ll be right back. Then we get to go play. Okay?" With a quick hug from his sister, the young boy’s expression bloomed brighter.

Lacy observed her children’s interaction happy in the knowledge that they adored each other. Keeping a close eye on Derek, Lacy sat the two bags of grocery’s on the counter that she had purchased before leaving town then started to put them away.

Dani took no time at all in bringing their bags from the porch and piling them next to the sofa. "Okay, mom, ready to go exploring." She helped Derek off the couch and headed for the front door.

"Just a minute, Dani." Noticing the sliding door off the living room, she placed the last can of food on the shelf. "Let’s go out the back." Opening the sliding door that led to the porch, her kids slipped through quickly. Dani handed Derek off to his mom then bounded down the longer flight of steps onto the grassy area between the cabin and the lake.

Derek refused his mother’s inviting arms, insisting on taking the five steps down himself giving Dani plenty of time to greet the water’s edge instantly in search of interesting and unusual rocks. The gold mine she found would add handsomely to her already growing collection. Immediately claiming several rocks for her own, both of her hands were full.

As Lacy caught up to her older child, the brilliant smile blazing on the young girl’s face sprung open to her normal personality instead of the quiet demeanor Dani had shown since their arrival in town. "You were awfully quiet on the way here. Anything wrong?" Hoping Dani hadn’t been agonizing over her father’s absence.

"No." The look on her mother’s face demanded more than the laconic answer she offered, so she added. "I just don’t like her. She’s not at all like Grace." She continued stockpiling rocks, pulling her shirt out to hold them all. "Wouldn’t answer any of my questions." Mumbling to herself.

Lacy watched Derek waddle along the uneven shoreline in the opposite direction, but directed her comment to Dani. "No, she’s not though she seemed nice enough."

Dani stood back up after retrieving a star shaped rock. "She dyes her hair, you know."

Turning around to face her daughter, Lacy expressed concern at the remark. "And that makes her?"

"Highly suspicious. Like she has something to hide." One look at the old woman and Dani had completed her investigation of their landlord. Her deductions about the older woman revealed Sally to be someone with a dark past, probably involved in some kind of criminal activity, definitely something hiding behind those mean eyes. Six years of watching her mother’s cop show provided Dani with all the education she reasoned she needed to make her assessment. And of course, I got a gut feeling about her and it ain’t good.

While proud of her daughter’s language skills and intellect at such a young age, Lacy did not like the fact that Dani was making value judgments about others by the way they looked. "I’ve dyed my hair before. Does that mean I have something to hide too?"

"Yes." She said to the point.

An arched eyebrow prompted her daughter to continue. "Yourself." Dani supplied, laughing out loud. "In your show when your character, Samantha, went undercover, remember?" Lacy joined her daughter in laughter as she recalled the red spiked hairstyle she adorned for that scene. I should have worn a wig like Ryan suggested. It took days to get back to my natural hair coloring.

In the distance, Derek heard the chuckling sounds of his mother and sister waft through the air as he ploughed up a small embankment. Derek loved the out doors and could play for hours either by himself or with his mom or sister. It was in these alone times that an adventurous nature boldly peeked out from his shy personality. An outgoing personality he stole from, Devlin, the main character on his favorite cartoon show. Devlin was an audacious little guy with a curious and daring attitude cloaked with a bravado that inevitably led him to trouble. Therefore, it was a good thing that Devlin had his very own protector, Gentry.

Cresting the small hill near the top, which gave way to a sharp drop facing the shoreline, Derek’s eagle eyes caught sight of a moving object bouncing along.

Gage Ballant strolled along the sparsely sandy beach scanning the ground below for rocks while idly thinking about her new screenplay. She became much more discriminate in the rocks she selected for her collection as she became older. The arrival of her fortieth birthday two years ago had sobered her impulsive actions somewhat. If it hadn’t, she would have had to rent a warehouse for all the rocks she would have undoubtedly collected through the years.

Suddenly, her concentration from the many stones lying on the ground was jerked away by a soft shuffling noise a top the six-foot high embankment.

Looking up, green eyes locked with gray that sparked a proverbial connection. Rooted in place, Gage pondered the familiar link between them, then a quick movement from the young child spurred Gage into action.

From a distance, Lacy scanned the area in search of her wayward son. Tracking him as he moved toward the edge of the embankment, seeing him pick up speed, her heart thundered against her chest sensing the danger that awaited him at the edge of the short knoll. "Derek." She screamed.

Lacy bolted toward her son, terror reigning in every part of her body as she watched him run then jump over the edge. Dani felt the impending danger her brother was embarking upon and immediately dropped all her rocks.

With arms straight out to his side, Derek leaped into the wind off the small cliff as he yelled. "Fly plane, fly." The broad smile on his face left no doubt that the woman below would catch him. He sailed directly into her arms, knocking her down.

Having no idea what awaited her son’s takeoff, Lacy crested the hill winded and readied to jump too until her concerned eyes came to rest upon her son tucked safely in the arms of a stranger. Stopping quickly, Dani took a place along side her mother.

After recognizing that Derek had landed safely, she asked. "Did you see that, mom? He was flying like a plane." The levity her statement offered helped to alleviate the raging horror that had tornadoed though both of them.

Lacy scrambled down around the rise to collect her son. Dani contemplated jumping the distance to the shoreline below, but quickly reconsidered. Instead, she followed the same path as her mother.

Lying on her back, Gage smiled into the laughing face of the undaunted boy sitting on top of her. Noticing the still concerned face of what could only be the boy’s mother rushing forward, Gage pushed up to a sitting position. "I take it this obviously fearless boy belongs to you."

Lacy swooped her son into her arms temporarily ignoring her son’s savior. Hugging him desperately, the mother kissed Derek’s face over and over again. Following her mother’s instincts, her eyes and hands roamed all over his body ensuring that he was unhurt.

Dani soon arrived, carefully assessing the blonde stranger with a sharp quirk of an eye as Gage brushed herself off then stood erect. The young girl wondered what the stranger had did or said to get her bashful brother to jump off the ledge when she had no luck with him in playing along with her flying game on the airplane. With arms crossed, Dani silently let the scene unfold before her as she put on her invisible detective hat.

The young girl’s evident attitude directed at Gage did not go unnoticed. But, Gage altered her attention to mother and son. "He’s okay?" As Gage stepped closer, Derek leaned toward her, grabbing at the writer. Lacy, loath to let go, finally did at her son’s insistence. He immediately wrapped his right arm around Gage’s neck then kissed her on the cheek, creating a rare blush that filled the writer’s face. She then shifted her young charge to her side.

Stunned at Derek’s display of affection for the total stranger, Lacy thanked her son’s savior profusely then introduced herself. "My name’s Lacy Levine and this is my daughter." Pointing to a still quiet child. "And, well, I guess my son has already uniquely introduced himself to you. His name’s Derek, by the way."

Extending her hand, Gage peered into the amazing blue eyes of the boy’s mother. "Gage Ballant." Quickly taking in the other woman’s physique before nodding over her shoulder, Gage offered. "I’m staying at the cabin over there."

The warm hand that clasped around Lacy’s hand sent an unexpected shiver through her. She returned the intense gaze of the writer establishing a bond between them that traveled beyond the physical. Surprised, they both felt a yearning calling them home. Undeniably, both knew the familiar link would linger long into the night. While this emotional exchanged confused Lacy, it brought clarity to the writer.

Retrieving her hand, the writer shifted uncomfortably as Derek

played with the mariner linked gold necklace around her neck. Gage sensed Lacy’s need to hold her son again. "Here, back to your mom." With those encouraging words, Derek happily vaulted into his mother’s waiting arms as a quick kiss and a hug awaited him.

"Thank you again." Lacy smiled at Gage shyly. "We just arrived and was taking a look around before we unpacked." Feeling the need to explain why she lost sight of her son, Lacy continued. "Dani was collecting rocks on the shore and reminded me of something funny….big red hair." Gage’s offered a raised eyebrow in question. "Anyway, that’s no excuse to lose track of my son."

"Hey, don’t worry about it." The pain of guilt was evident on the actresses face. And Gage wanted to see her beautiful smile again. "I totally understand."

"You have kids?" Lacy asked.

"No."

"Brothers and sisters?"

"No." Hesitant, she continued. "Let me retract my earlier statement. I guess I don’t understand. Never been around kids much actually." Dark thoughts loomed through the writer’s head.

Feeling she struck a nerve, Lacy changed the subject. "I guess we’re going to be neighbors. Have you been here long?"

"Bout five weeks." Gage’s voice stumbled as she offered. "I… I could… ah, show you around once you get settled, I mean." Looking up slightly at Lacy, Gage recaptured the piercing blue she knew she would never stop wanting to gaze into.

The bright smile that sprang on her mother’s face was countered by an expression of annoyance dawning upon Dani’s features. "We can explore on our own. Thank you very much."

"Dani!" Lacy cast her petulant daughter a dour look. "We would love it, wouldn’t we, Dani?"

Unenthusiastically, Dani agreed. "Yeah, I guess. Do you have anything interesting around here?" Keeping her tone in check. She didn’t want another stern warning from her mother, but was unwilling to accept this total stranger into the fold so easily as her mother and brother apparently did.

Gage thought frantically trying to remember what interested her as a child. "I’ve got a boat…. and there’s a cave about a quarter of a mile past my cabin." The bright smile that popped up on the young girl’s face clued Gage that she was on the right track. "If that interests you at all."

Becoming aware of the uninvited spontaneous smile she now displayed in front of this stranger at the mention of the boat and cave, Dani reigned in her unchecked emotion. "Could be interesting…." She paused purposely. "If you let me drive the boat."

"Dani!" Lacy was shocked at her daughter’s continued attitude.

"No. That’s okay." Gage sent an engaging smile to Lacy, then redirected her attention to Dani who took serious note of the silent exchanges between her mother and the stranger. "How ‘bout tomorrow we have a boat ride and check out the cave from the water?"

With a quick glance to her mother, Dani displayed her best behavior. "Yes, that would be delightful. Thank you." Dani turned to leave. Except for the boat ride and that cave, tomorrow may just very well be the longest day of my life. What’s up with those looks anyway? Dani didn’t turn back as she continued on her way to their cabin.

"I don’t know what has gotten in her today. Ever since we’ve arrived, she’s been…withdrawn. She’s usually outgoing …." Looking at Derek, she continued. "And he’s the shy one. But you couldn’t tell by the way things have gone today. He never takes to strangers. Never."

Gage stroked Derek’s soft cheek causing him to blush shyly with a sweet smile directed at his new best friend. "Tomorrow then?"

"Absolutely." Lacy reluctantly turned to leave, but Derek reached for Gage again. Lacy allowed her clearance as Gage stepped closer and Derek planted a wet kiss on her cheek.

"Goodbye." Gage watched as Lacy turned away.

Shaking her head at her son’s uncharacteristic display, Lacy walked quietly back to their cabin resisting the urge to look back over her shoulder at the enigmatic woman who affected her so.

Chapter Four

After an exhausting day, Lacy laid her dozing son on the bed. Leaning down she kissed him goodnight on the cheek. Derek desperately fought the onset of sleep when he again called. "Jage. Want Jage."

"Honey, Gage isn’t here. We’ll get to see her tomorrow, okay?" His disappointment carved a frown on his face. Lacy tucked him in securely, dropping closer, she softly sang to him lulling him into a deep reluctant slumber.

Dani watched with dismay. Her brother had been asking for the stranger all night long. I’m going to have to get to the bottom of this. She continued to ponder why Derek was so attracted to the stranger and didn’t notice her mother move up next to her.

"Dani, come on. It’s your turn." She nudged her daughter from her musings. "Did you brush your teeth?"

She decided to address the issue directly. "Mom, why do you think Derek likes that….. stranger?" A menacing tone accompanied the last word spoken.

Lacy directed Dani to her twin bed as she sat down beside her daughter. "What’s with you today, Dani? Any other time, you’re the one who’s so open to….. strangers." Mimicking her daughter’s tone.

The young girl crunched her face at the mother’s true words. "I don’t know." Dani intended to drop the subject, but the following words spilled out softly before she could stop herself. "Derek used to just like us."

Recognizing the source of her daughter’s problem, Lacy stroked Dani’s face lightly. "He still does. And you are the most important person in his life. He adores you, you know."

Brightly, Dani agreed. "He does, doesn’t he?" Adding, "You too, mom. He loves you the most." Then after some thought, she continued. "And dad, right?"

"Absolutely." Lacy smiled. "I’m very lucky to have both of you."

The astute child noticed her mother did not include her father. "And dad too?" An insistent tone questioned.

Lacy briefly allowed a far away thought to capture her attention. The slight nudge of an arm retrieved her thoughts back to the present. "And dad, too." She assured her daughter. "Now, it’s time for you to get into bed. And, Dani?" Blue eyes piqued at her mother’s question. "Tomorrow, would you please give Gage a chance? She did save your brother from getting hurt. Okay?"

Dani nodded. But, in her mind, Derek would never have jumped from that hill unless he was sucked into it. I’ll give her a chance. A devious smile crossed her face. A chance to slip up.

Dani was about to climb under the covers when they heard a knock at the door. "Stay here." Lacy directed her daughter. Unable to comply simply due to her ever-present curiosity and protective nature toward her mother, Dani covertly followed Lacy out the bedroom door down the short hall where she took up a concealed position.

She watched her mother complete the journey to the front entryway. Standing safely behind the locked door, Lacy called out. "Who is it?"

"Ah, Mrs. Levine? It’s Ned Raye." A friendly voice wafted through the three paned-covered glass door. "My mom dropped you off earlier. She wanted me to stop by and see if you’re okay."

Lacy was hesitant when she heard. "Can I come in?" Grasping the doorknob, she opened the door. A young good-looking boy around seventeen stood smiling at the prospect of meeting his favorite actress of all time.

"Hi." Ned waved, then immediately noticed Lacy’s blue eyes become aware of the guy behind him. Gesturing quickly to his friend. "Oh, this is Buddy Dunston."

Buddy leaned forward extending his hand. "It’s nice to meet you."

"You too." Lacy was impressed with his good manners, letting go of his reluctant hand; she directed her question to Ned. "I thought your mom said you’d stop by in a day or two."

"Oh, she did." Ned grabbed her hand, shaking it. He was already unhappy that Buddy seized the opportunity to touch the famous star first. "But, I’ve…" Buddy bumped him. "We’ve got an errand to run tomorrow out of town so we wouldn’t be able to stop by." Ned smiled broadly as he offered his explanation.

"I see." Lacy suspected that wasn’t the real reason, taking in the leering looks on their faces. She ascertained it was more likely they couldn’t wait to meet a real live television star. "Well, my husband should be here by the end of the week." She noticed their crestfallen faces. "I think we have everything we’ll need until he gets here. And, besides, we have a boat trip planned for tomorrow with our neighbor in the next cabin. So, we’ll be fine. Thanks. " Neither boy budged. "Although, if I do, I’ll be sure to call."

Both the young men perked up at that comment. "Cool." Ned pushed Buddy further from the door toward his mother’s station wagon. "Bye." He waved, missing the first step off the porch. He caught himself before hitting the ground. Buddy snickered at his friend.

Closing the door, Lacy twisted around noticing her oldest child at her stakeout post near the end of the hallway. "Everything okay?"

"I was just going to ask you that." Dani countered. "What did they want?"

She scooted her daughter down the hallway back to bed. "You tell me, I’m sure you heard every word."

The quick wink Lacy offered her daughter assured Dani she wasn’t in trouble though she had formulated a different opinion of the two unwelcome late night guests. "I don’t like them." They’re trouble, she added silently.

Tucking her daughter in, Lacy sat back on the bed. "Now, why does that not surprise me? You haven’t liked anyone today."

"Not true, I liked Grace." Diverting her mother’s attention. "Do you think she’s seen her new grandbaby yet?"

"Yes. And don’t think I didn’t notice you change the subject, my little suspicious daughter."

Dani decided not to share her reservations about the landlord’s son and his friend. She figured her mother would not be as receptive as she usually was in these types of situations. Must be because she’s on vacation, Dani concluded. Lacy was always concerned about the safety of her children ever since she’d become well-known, realizing the potential danger her children could be in due to her public persona.

After kissing her daughter goodnight, Lacy flipped the light switch allowing darkness to fall. As Lacy checked the cabin’s doors, she entertained the concerns her daughter had raised about the people they had met that day. Lacy first realized about a year ago Dani had developed a kind of sixth sense about people and decided not to dismiss her daughter’s qualms. She pondered the day’s events before Lacy allowed her mind to drift to the blonde haired woman in the cabin across the way.

Lying in bed, Lacy stretched her long frame burying herself in the covers. The cool night air chilled the cabin. She had forgotten to adjust the thermostat earlier in the evening upon getting lost in the process of settling in for a month’s stay. The last waking thought that ran through her head was of Gage’s lingering green eyes that bled into her dreams.

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

Shutting off her laptop computer, Gage completed the final scene of her new screenplay, HERE COMES JORDAN. Five weeks and presto, I’ve churned out another blockbuster. Gage laughed out loud at her egotistical thought. "I’ll be lucky if Mark likes it."

Then her thoughts turned to the extraordinarily talented actress she’d met earlier. I wonder if she’d like it. I could let her read it. "Yeah, sure. Tomorrow I’ll just mention it casually and see if she wants to read it." No! What if she doesn’t like it? And she’d feel obligated to say something nice if I did ask her to read it.

Gage picked up the draft copy of the screenplay from the printer, clamping it together. Maybe I’ll invite her and her kids back here after the boat ride and leave it out….laying….. Gage searched for the most obvious place available ….right there. Sitting it down then quickly retrieving it, she opened her leather satchel and shoved it in.

That settled Gage went about getting ready for bed. Burying herself under the covers as she laid in the huge bed, Gage chuckled at the audacity Derek had shown when he leaped off that ledge. Right before he jumped, she recognized something in his eyes that roared loudly the conviction he had in her that she would catch him.

That kind of blind faith shook Gage to the core. No one ever expressed such belief in her before except, of course, for Mark. And, she felt she didn’t deserve his unwavering devotion.

A trip down memory lane offered Gage a moment to ponder her relationship with Mark. When Gage opened the letter from the America’s Best Writing competition, the words ‘Thank you for entering our competition, but….’ leaped off the page at her. She tossed it aside to keep company with the numerous other rejection letters making their way quickly to the ceiling. Gage came up with a saying of sorts to help her handle these types of letters. I use rejections as stepping-stones on my way to success.

So it shocked her when she answered the telephone the next week and someone she had never met was offering to buy her first screenplay, A QUESTION OF MURDER. Within two weeks, Gage and Mark had hammered out a deal to produce her screenplay. To Gage’s delight, Mark revealed his long desire to start his own production company, asking her to join him in his new venture.

Even with the success of two murder/mystery books to her credit, Gage longed to write and produce screenplays. So she jumped at the chance into the symbolic arms of her knight in shining armor. Not unlike what the little boy had done earlier in the day with her.

Mark and Gage quickly became friends after discovering both had experienced difficult times during their lives. Each had suffered great losses, Mark lost his wife and parents in an airplane accident and Gage never even got to know that kind of family relationship in her life.

These thoughts led to another family across the way. I bet they’re all sleeping right now. The love mother had for son and vice versa permeated the air when Lacy encased her little daredevil in her arms. Gage smiled in contemplation briefly only to find her thoughts going along another path in wonder about the young girl who exhibited a distinct reservation toward her. I’ve got to do something about that.

She didn’t know why it was so important to her that this family like her, but Gage determined to do just that. The niggling feeling that pestered her thoughts demanded it, and it declared loudly with a thundering roar that her life would never reach true happiness if she failed.

Chapter Five

Gage Ballant paced outside Cabin C wondering if she should knock. She’d been up at the crack of dawn, editing her screenplay, straightening up the cabin, just in case, and fixing several sandwiches. Basically, just killing time until she thought it appropriate to see if Lacy and her kids were ready for their planned excursion.

Now after twenty minutes waiting in the cool morning air and not seeing a light come on in the cabin, Gage swung around back toward her cabin when she heard. "Jage."

Happily, Derek sprang across the porch to the steps. Lacy from behind and Gage out in front rushed in tandem toward him. "Oh, no. Not again, young man." Gage halted his progress, but had no affect on the beaming smile that welcomed her. Leaping up the stairs, Gage gave the little boy a big hug; which seemed to be returned tenfold.

"He’s usually hard to get up in the mornings." Lacy offered.

Gage rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. "Me, too."

Lacy continued. "Not today though. He was tugging at my covers bright and early insisting I get out of bed."

The writer sent the actress a questioning look. "I tried to persuade him to sleep in a little longer which turned into an all out tickle war when Dani joined in after jumping in my bed."

Gage pondered a delicious idea. "So your ticklish." Realization dawned on her. God, did I just say that out loud?

"Only a lucky few get to know that." Lacy bantered back. Suddenly turning around and entering the cabin, her skin flushed at her own unexpected boldness.

Swallowing hard, Gage whispered. "Lucky? I am lucky." She confirmed. "Though I’m not sure I could get that lucky." Doubt filled her thoughts. Shifting her eyes to Derek, she asked her potential ally. "You’re on my side, right?" His only response, a neutral giggle.

Within ten minutes, Gage was leading Lacy and her kids to the boathouse in front of her cabin. "I thought we could take a trip around the lake first. Just to get a general idea of the layout. Then…"

Remembering to be polite, Dani interjected. "Our mother was practically raised here. Her brothers and sister came up here to visit my great-grandparents every summer. So, I’m sure she doesn’t need to get the… general layout." Although, her voice was velvety sweet, it left the bitter taste she intended.

Gage stopped Lacy before she could chastise her daughter. "You’re right. I shouldn’t have assumed. And the assumption I made about you…." A pause created the affect she desired, getting Dani’s full attention. "….is probably wrong, too."

Dani cast her a looming look, careful not to go too far and push her mother’s mood over the edge.

Gage opened the wide boathouse door allowing everyone to peer inside. "I assumed you’d be a natural at navigating….." Gage pointed through the front door of the boathouse.

Excited blue eyes practically popped out of her head at the sight of the fire red ski boat. She rushed in ready to fulfill one of her lifelong dreams. Dani loved water. Any kind. Whether walking in the rain, swimming in it, drinking it or washing in it, but especially being the captain of her own boat sailing the seven seas. "No, you got that one right." Dani offered Gage her most sincere smile to date.

"Dani, you’ve never driven a boat." Lacy supplied.

"Yes, but I am a natural. Just like Gage said." Dani took her place along side her new best friend, willing her mother to defy her. Taking hold of Gage’s hand, Dani then looked purposely at her mother. "You’re not saying she’s wrong, are you?"

"No, no." She admitted. "I’m not going to win this one, am I?" Lacy threw up her hands in surrender.

Smiling up at Gage who was holding her brother, Dani asked politely through strained excitement. "Can we get in now, please?"

Surveying their clothes, Gage questioned. "Did you bring your swimsuits?"

Lacy raised the bag she was carrying.

"It’s bound to warm up today. Why don’t you put them on under your clothes before we get out on the water? That way we’ll be ready for anything." Gage suggested.

"I guess we should have did that back at the cabin." Lacy’s words created a dejected look to spill across Dani’s face. She was becoming impatient in her desire to get behind the helm of her very first boat.

Gage took a couple steps to a door inside the large boathouse and pushed it open. "You can change in here."

Lacy scanned the small, but spacious room. "It has a bed in there?"

"Yeah, well, this place belongs to a good friend of mine. He has a chauffer, sort of a personal assistant that goes with him just about everywhere. And…, well, Chance prefers to sleep in the boathouse even though there’s two bedrooms in the cabin." Gage shrugged her shoulders, preferring not to divulge anymore.

Dani unconcerned with why there was literally a bedroom in the boathouse pulled her mother inside and closed the door. "Let’s get changed."

With a speed that matched the roadrunner, Dani changed then stepped back outside offering a brief glimpse of a semi-naked Lacy as she changed into her swimsuit. Startled, Lacy commanded. "Dani, close the door."

Gage averted her eyes, but couldn’t keep the satisfied grin that saturated her face at bay. Quickly, pretending to adjust Derek’s shirt, she let the sexy vision she’d just witnessed flood her mind over and over again.

"Jeez. Hurry up, will ya?" Dani re-buttoned her top as she moved closer to the boat.

When the inside door finally opened again, Dani met the disapproving eyes of her mother. "Sorry, mom."

Hoping to help the young girl escape retribution, Gage said. "Let’s get going already. We’re burning daylight."

Surprised, but delighted that Gage was trying to divert her mother’s warning eyes off of her, Dani’s mouthed a silent ‘thank you’. It did the trick as Lacy took possession of her son to get him changed into his swimsuit.

Gage shrugged her shoulders at Dani and gave a quick wink, creating the first bond between them. Well, I couldn’t let her get in trouble. After all, she did inadvertently do me a huge favor. As hard as she tried, Gage could not wipe that happy smile off her face much to Lacy’s dismay.

After jumping in the boat, Gage meticulously went over some general safety instructions showing everyone the location of the kill switch, fire extinguisher and the extra life jackets. Placing her cellular phone on the boat’s console, she said. "And this, I usually carry it with me wherever I go, just in case."

Unusually patient, Dani astutely paid attention and held very still as Gage strapped her life jacket on. Lacy, in turn, did the same for her son.

With one quick check to see if everyone was ready, Gage fired up the engine and the crew was off for their great day of adventure. Dani slipped easily in front of Gage taking her captain’s role very seriously while Lacy lounged on the back seat of the boat with Derek.

Within an hour they had reached the other side of the lake, having followed the shoreline cruising at a low speed under the watchful eye of the young captain. "When are we going to get to the cave you talked about Gage?" Dani carefully guided the boat past a small marina.

"It’s a little ways further. Just keep heading East." Gage answered.

Dani eyed the compass on the dash in front of her. Remembering how Gage showed her how to read it, she turned the wheel to the right slightly. A tap on her shoulder drew her attention. "What?"

Gage pointed to the sandy beach just East of the marina. "Just beyond that beach, that’s where the county fair is going to be."

Fondly remembering the fun she and her siblings had at the fair, Lacy asked. "Do you know when it is this summer?"

Over her shoulder, Gage said. "The weekend after this coming one." A hesitant pause filled the air. "Do you plan on being here that long?"

"Yes. Yes, we do." Thinking it would be a great idea to take her kids, Lacy asked Gage. "You?"

Even if Gage had planned to leave earlier than that, she would have immediately changed her plans if it meant spending more time with them. But, the thrill of that prospect deflated at Dani’s next words.

"Great. Dad will be up here by then." Dani bounced a couple of times on Gage’s lap at the impending arrival of her father. "Then we can all go, right mom?"

"Sure. All of us." Lacy’s voice lacked the thrill of excitement at the mention of her husband. She realized she hadn’t given David a thought since she arrived at the cabin. Directing her attention on Gage. "You’ll still be here?" She asked, with a weak but hopeful tone.

Suddenly sullen, Gage smiled bleakly at Lacy. "Yeah." Great, she’s married. Don’t know how I overlooked that rock on her ring finger.

Thinking ahead, Dani came up with another reason to be captain of the fine vessel she was guiding effortlessly through the water. "Good because we’ll need the boat to get there."

"Dani, we can’t just expect Gage to chauffer us around. We can drive the long way around the lake." Lacy offered feebly, although it was the last thing she wanted.

Dani swiveled around to her mother. "But she’s coming with us." Then looked at Gage. "Right, Gage?" The young captain thought quickly. She wanted another reason to climb behind the wheel. "Please."

"Well, ahhh….either way, though, I’m sure Mark….my friend, wouldn’t mind you using it even if I didn’t tag along." Gage felt awkward about the prospect of being a third wheel when the husband showed up.

"No, we’re not going to use the boat if you’re not with us, Gage." Lacy said flatly, finding it unacceptable to go without her new friend. "And we wouldn’t have as much fun without you there."

With a reluctant nod, Gage proffered a vague agreement. "Yeah."

Quickly, Dani closed the discussion. "It’s settled then."

After a quiet ten minutes of cruising, they finally reached the water entrance of the cave. Gage helped Dani guide the boat to a small cove to the left of the cavern. "We can’t get to the cave from here, but I thought we’d anchor here awhile. Maybe do some swimming, it’s pretty shallow."

Gage flipped the switch, killing the engine. She gently lifted Dani from her lap and reached for a basket under the console. "And have some lunch, what’d ya say?"

"That would be great." Lacy said, then Derek hopped off her now that Gage’s lap was vacant. "Thanks for bringing the food." Sighing, "Some mother I am. It didn’t even occur to me."

Patting her mother’s knee, Dani consoled her. "We still love you, mom." Having done her daughterly duty, Dani rolled her eyes. Who cares about food? "Can we explore the cave now?" Her excitement spilled out.

"Honey, as I recall, we can’t get to the cave from this side."

"You’re mother’s right. We’d either have to climb up over it or head back to the cabin and take the trail from the other side to get there." Seeing the dejected expression Dani displayed, Gage offered. "Before we take off, we’ll get a closer look from the water. Okay?"

It wasn’t the answer Dani wanted, but she considered herself a reasonable kid and offered a compromise. "Tomorrow then?"

"We’ll see. Maybe later in the week." Temporarily defeated, Dani figured she’d have to settle with her mother’s uncertain promise. She rebounded quickly, stripping out of her clothes down to her swimsuit. She was determined to salvage the rest of the day filling it with fun. Dani stepped up on the side of the boat, jumping in the water. A splash rained on Gage and her new lap partner who just giggled at his sister’s antic.

During the next few hours, they ate, swam and Gage showed Dani how to tie a few sailor’s knots. Having explained it was a mandatory skill expected of all good Captains, so Dani gave it her full attention. She expertly learned several knots and was eagerly ready to add more to her arsenal before her mother stopped the lessons when Gage started to show her how to tie a hangman’s knot. Before they headed back home, Gage helped Dani guide the boat for a closer inspection of the cave’s entryway with a promise to explore it in a few days causing a concerned look from Lacy.

The clouds turned dark overhead and the threat of rain beckoned from the sky. The gushing wind picked up giving them a choppy water ride back to the boathouse.

 

Chapter Six

A few sprinkles fell from the sky just as they left the boathouse en route back to their cabins. Gage insisted on escorting them along the path as the sky cracked with thunder. Derek clung to her as each bolt of lighting flashed across the sky, wind whipping through the air.

Carrying Dani up the steps onto the porch, Lacy stopped short upon noticing the sliding door ajar. Swirling around, she caught Gage’s eyes, joining her on the porch with Derek in her arms. The frightened mother let Dani slide down as Gage stepped in front of her handing Lacy her son. The young mother pushed Dani back away from the door, shielding her.

"Momma." Derek whimpered, hanging tightly to his mother. Even as the storm raged, an eerie silence surrounded them. Scared, Dani wrapped her arms around her mother, anchoring herself against the unknown danger that swept chills though her body, raising the bumps on her skin.

"Stay here." Gage entered the cabin. The dark sky’s ambient light from the lingering lightning provided just enough illumination to scan the living room and adjourning kitchen. Gage immediately noticed the broken glass from the three paned front door. A loose shutter whacked the side of the house spurring Gage to practically jump out of her skin. But it was the bedroom door creaking open that persuaded her to take immediate action.

"Come on." Her tone brooked no argument. Grabbing Lacy’s hand, Gage led her and the kids down the steps along the path to her own cabin. Pushing the back door open, the four piled in just before the heavens opened up with an onslaught of water, light and thunder.

Rain beating down hard on the rooftop as the furious storm raged outside, Gage called the sheriff’s department reporting the break-in. Lacy settled the kids on the couch then went in search for a couple of towels.

Lacy reentered the living room to find Derek clinging to Gage on the couch with Dani snuggling close by. A bolt of lightning cast a streak across the room followed by a clap of thunder, jolting Lacy. Calming herself, she asked. "Are they coming?"

"Yeah. We’ll wait here while they check your place." Gage shifted, making room for Lacy to join them. "Sit down."

Handing Gage a towel to dry Derek, Lacy wrapped the other towel around her chilled daughter rubbing a bit of moisture from her hair and face dry. Dani climbed on her mother’s lap leaving a spot between the two adults open, which the actress unconsciously closed. Their arms brushed together sparking welcomed warmth between them carrying a familiar comfort felt by the touch.

Lacy gaped into green eyes and the soothing feeling she found there converged upon her entire being, seducing her into a sense of complete and utter trust for the woman who had become a necessary ingredient in her family’s life. Somehow even in the mist of lurking danger, Lacy felt safe. Comforted by this feeling, the dark haired woman leaned her head on Gage’s shoulder as the blonde held the star’s son tightly. With Dani in her arms, they waited.

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

An hour later, a loud knock jolted the cabin’s occupants. "I’ll get it." Gage said, handing Derek to his mother. The writer opened the door after the sheriff identified himself.

Stepping inside with his deputy, Sheriff Baylor, removed his wet hat. "Ms. Ballant?"

"Please call me Gage." She released his hand then turned to the much younger deputy.

The tall, light haired deputy claimed her hand, flashing a magnetic smile. "Deputy Simmons. But you can call me Ted." He noticed the sheriff’s slight disapproving glance.

The sixty-year-old sheriff grunted. "You’re the one that called about the break-in?"

"Yes. This is my cabin." Pointing to Lacy seated on the couch, she continued. "Mrs. Levine… she’s the one that is staying over there."

Nodding, he directed his attention to Lacy who gave Derek to his sister then stood up. Coming up to stand next to Gage, Lacy welcomed the two officers.

"Ma’am, we have a few questions and we’ll need you to go with us to see if anything is missing." The sheriff informed her.

Glimpsing the uneasy look forming on Lacy’s face, Gage offered an alternative. "Sheriff, we’d be glad to answer any of your questions, but would it be possible for Mrs. Levine to go in the morning. With the weather and…. well….." Gage directed his attention to the two scared children on the couch.

The sheriff hesitated. Damn, I wanted to get this done tonight. The sheriff’s frown did not go unnoticed by the deputy. "Sheriff, I’ll do it. I could come back by early and go with Mrs. Levine. Take care of the reports and everything." Deputy Simmons betted the sheriff would take up his offer. He knew the Sheriff had plans for his day off.

"You sure? You’re off tomorrow." The sheriff questioned, but was silently pleased.

Throwing the raven-haired star a charismatic smile, the deputy said. "Absolutely, it would be my pleasure."

Shaking his head at this deputy’s relentless flirting ways, the sheriff redirected Ted’s attention. "And you’re job."

Donning a serious professional demeanor, the deputy clipped his heels and assured his boss. "Yes, sir."

"Okay, Mrs. Levine, my deputy will need to get some information." Seeing her nod okay, the sheriff looked at his deputy. "Ted, I’ll go seal the door on the cabin that way in the morning you’ll know if anything’s been disturbed."

Familiar with the procedure, the deputy nodded, turning his attention to Lacy. "Ma’am?"

Lacy answered the handsome deputy’s questions stating that they had only arrived the day before and knew no one in the area except for Sally Raye, the landlord, who rented her the cabin, and, of course, Gage. She further explained that they had been out all day boating.

He stated that he would inform Sally about the break in then the deputy provided the results of the search they had conducted earlier. "Other than the broken glass from the front door, we couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. Though, it does look like someone went through your belongings, but we won’t know if anything is missing until we check it tomorrow. You know, money or personal effects."

"They didn’t get any money. I had my purse with me all day." Lacy supplied, smiling at the young man.

"Great then." He touched her knee reassuringly and smiled, spawning a jealous glare from Gage. Oblivious to the writer, the deputy offered. "Can I take you to a motel or something…. for tonight?"

Gage inserted quickly. "They’re staying with me." She bolted off the chair, herding him out the door. "I think I heard the sheriff drive up." With a sigh of relief, Gage closed the door, ridding the over zealous officer out of their lives. At least until morning then he’ll be back… smiling, touching. Great! This jealous thought weighed heavily on Gage’s mind.

Rubbing her forehead in deep contemplation, Gage was drawn from her thoughts at the sound of Lacy’s soft velvety voice. "Gage, are you sure? We could get a motel room."

"No!" Gage shouted, reeling her alarmed emotions back in at the idea of them leaving. "I mean, you don’t have to….I… I want you to stay. That is if you want."

"I want to stay." Dani jumped in, somewhat surprised to find she had no desire to leave especially after having been determined not to like the stranger. I mean Gage. Wanting to cement her plan, she added. "And Derek does too." She nudged him off her lap toward Gage.

Derek happily complied. He ran to the writer’s arms as she swooped him up. An imploring smile sent to his mother capped her decision. Of course, Lacy had no desire to part company with Gage and was easily swayed.

"It’s settled then." Lacy contemplated her next thought. "Though we don’t have anything to sleep in."

"Our swimsuits." Dani suggested seriously.

A shared chuckle from Lacy and Gage filled the room. "I think we can come up with something that will do…. at least for tonight."

Chapter Seven

Gage clumsily helped Lacy prepare her children for bed. Having no experience with raising children, she was in awe of Lacy’s infinite patience with her energetic off springs as they cheerfully splashed through their bath and scampered around the room while both Lacy and Gage tried to corral the racing children into their nightclothes.

Even two of the smallest tee shirts Gage had tented the young boy and his sister. Although, Dani’s borrowed nightwear fit more like an baggy shirt, Derek simply got lost in his loaned tee shirt. But it didn’t faze either child, happy to be fed and clean. Lacy slipped into an extra pair of jogging clothes Gage had brought along.

Settling her charges in the spare bedroom, Gage said her goodnights at the door. "If you need anything, I’m right down the hall. Although, I wished you would have taken the master bedroom."

"Nonsense, Gage. We’re perfectly fine here. Derek can sleep with me and the other twin bed will be fine for Dani."

"Are you sure? It has a huge bed and you could all sleep together." Gage felt bad about the arrangement. The master bedroom offered not only more space, but also a private bathroom and she thought the family would feel safer sleeping together especially after the break in at their cabin. Suddenly, a loud clap of roaring thunder filled the air, startling everyone. And then there’s the storm outside.

Lacy summoned her courage, reaffirming. "Really we’re good here."

Reluctantly, Gage waved goodbye. "Okay, I’ll check the doors and windows before I go to bed. Goodnight."

With Dani tucked in her bed, Lacy pulled the covers up, burying herself and her son. She listened to Gage’s soft footsteps travel throughout the cabin until silence filled the room. She must be in bed now. I don’t know what we would have done without her tonight. Another deafening slap of thunder on the heels of a lightning bolt shrouded the room in light. Dani stirred, Derek pushed closer and Lacy wished Gage was there with them. My God, what am I thinking? She’s right down hall. Yet, I want her here… with us. I feel so, I don’t know, protected with her near.

Gage yanked the covers, snugly fitting them around her. The storm outside beat against the cabin relentlessly. I better check the boathouse first thing in the morning. Suddenly, remembering. No, that will have to wait. That young deputy will be here for Lacy bright and early. She can’t handle the kids and search for missing belongings. So, I’ll have to go with her. That settled, Gage smiled, turned on her side facing the opened doorway. After a few moments, Gage slipped into a light sleep.

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

The piercing boom of thunder broke Gage from her light dozing. Dragging her sleepy eyes open, a flash of lightning silhouetted a small figure dwarfed by a taller one holding something in its grasp framed within the doorway. Rubbing her eyes, Gage alertly sat up.

"Gage?" A soft velvety voice called.

"Lacy. What is it?" Gage pushed back the covers, edging near the side of the bed.

"Can we sleep with you?" Lacy was relieved by her daughter’s request.

Hopping back, Gage allowed plenty of room in the king size bed for her welcomed and, apparently, eager guests as Dani lunged forward. "Of course, get in here."

Dani crawled in the middle of the bed, planting herself. Lacy eased Derek down who then immediately climbed on top of Gage. After Lacy laid down, she reached for her son. "Derek, honey, come sleep over here with me." He refused to budge, wanting to be in the middle. "Dani, you sleep on the other side of me, okay?"

She frowned. "I want to sleep next to Gage." Having secured a new first mate, Dani wanted to keep close ties to the owner of the boat to which she had become the self-appointed captain.

"Come on, Dani. I want Derek in the middle." Her mother commanded.

"Then I’ll sleep on the other side of Gage." Before another word was spoken, she vaulted over the writer.

Derek settled in between his mother and Gage while Dani made herself comfortable. Worried a bit by their uninvited intrusion and her daughter’s stubbornness, Lacy questioned Gage. "Is this okay? I mean…"

Feeling a bit awkward with both kids on either side of her, yet at the same time Gage savored the hominess she felt with them near. "Yeah, I think I’ll live." Cemented firmly between the two human walls. "Won’t be able to turn, but I’ll manage."

For some reason, even as the storm outside continued in its fitful rage, the kids seemed oblivious to it. Dani started spieling out question upon question to Gage about when could they ride in the boat again and if tomorrow would be a good day to explore the cave while Derek giggled at his sister’s non-stop queries.

Lacy turned toward Gage, trying to settle her wiggling son between them. The ambient light from the stormy sky fell softly on the trusting features of the writer. "Sorry. She’s rather inquisitive. And he…" Tickling her son. "…won’t stay still."

"It’s okay." Gage had an idea. "Hey. If you two settle down and go to sleep, tomorrow night I’ll tell you a story of the Shanglon Master and the woman he loved. What’d ya say?"

"You tell stories?" Dani sat up.

"Yeah. Mostly I just write them though."

Derek clapped his hands. "Stories…yea."

"What kind of stories?" Lacy inquired.

"Good ones, I’d like to think." She smiled at Lacy who in turned did the same. "It’s been a long day, so tonight we sleep and tomorrow… a story."

"First, tell me about the story." Excited, Dani couldn’t contain herself.

"Dani. Sleep." Her mother’s voice brooked no argument.

"Jeez. I just wanted to know about the Shanglon Master." She pouted, but did as she was requested.

For a few moments silence reigned until Dani turned on her side, propping her head up with her arm. "Gage, how did you get your name anyway?"

A dark memory came barreling to the forefront of her mind. "My mother."

Seriously, Dani asked. "Didn’t she like you?"

A hearty laugh escaped Gage as Lacy scolded her daughter. "Dani, that’s not nice."

"Sorry." Dani scooted back down, tucking the covers around her. Mumbling, she couldn’t help, but add. "Jeez, it is a weird name, you know."

 

Chapter Nine

Through the night as the storm fizzled out, Gage, Lacy and the kids fell into a restful sleep. Sometime in the night a drowsy three year old climbed on top of Gage leaving a vacant space between Lacy and the writer which did not remain empty for long as they naturally gravitated toward each other.

As dawn peeked its radiant head, Gage woke from a peaceful sleep. She immediately felt the warmth of Lacy’s body curled up against her. Gage stretched, adjusting the small boy lying on her stomach, twisting her body on her side slightly as she turned away from Lacy, she glanced at Dani who slept quietly. I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be. Naturally a late sleeper, Gage acquiesced the urge to fall back to sleep easily. With a satisfied smile, happy, content and feeling the love of a real family, Gage closed her eyes.

Some time later, Lacy not fully awake, burrowed closer to the writer next to her. Fitting her long, slender form next to Gage like a glove, Lacy sighed in contentment. She smiled in the warmth that greeted her. Blue eyes popped open as she realized just whom she was snuggling up against. As shock dawned into comprehension of how they ended up together in the same bed, Lacy eased back away from the writer. But the immediate sense of loss overwhelmed her drawing her back next to Gage, snuggling even closer. I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be. This unexpected thought startled the star, but she didn’t budge from the place she had secured next to the writer, which strangely felt like home.

Lacy refused to dwell on these invading thoughts that could threaten her present way of life. Instead, she tucked them away, blaming them on the stressful events of the last few days. Naturally an early riser, Lacy fought the urge to get up. Happy, content and safe surrounded by the ones she loved Lacy closed her eyes.

A few long moments passed when small giggles woke Lacy from her light sleep. She met her son’s bright smile as he leaned over Gage, grabbing at his mother. Propping herself up on her elbow, Lacy reached over Gage and kissed her son good morning. He smiled then fell back between Gage and his sister, giggling. "Come on. Give me a kiss." She said.

"No." His small hands hid his face.

"Please. Just one little kiss. Okay?" She encouraged her son to return the good morning kiss.

Shaking his head, Derek wiggled.

Still sleeping, Gage shifted slightly back toward Lacy away from the small boy causing mother and child both to giggle at having almost awoken the writer.

"Shhhhh." Lacy waited for Gage to finally settle. "Now, come on, sweetheart, how bout a good morning kiss. Please." She implored.

From the depths of a light sleep, Gage heard the inviting plea. Eyes slowly dragging open, she turned to the sound of an intoxicating voice calling her. Kiss me. Is that what she said? Sleepy green gazed into waiting blue, debating the proffered request. Gage wetted her lips in anticipation.

Lacy swallowed hard at the realization of what Gage was thinking. She thinks I want her to kiss me. Do I? My God, where did that come from? Lacy dismissed the thought as easily as it had come.

Suddenly, Derek bolted up and over Gage at his mother, placing a wet kiss upon her cheek. He fell between them laughing at his antics, disrupting what may have been.

Gage pushed back away from Lacy, bumping up against Dani. "Hey, what’d doing trying to push me outta bed?" Dani protested. "If you wanted me to move, you coulda just asked."

Thankful for Dani’s early morning grumbling, Gage negotiated her way out of the huge bed. My God, I almost kissed her. What the hell would she have thought? What the hell was I thinking? She only wanted to kiss her son….not me. Gage stumbled around the room a bit, searching for something, anything to divert her thoughts from what almost happened. Tripping over a chair, Gage swooped up her clothes, then headed for the connecting bathroom. "I’ll be right back."

Lacy watched in amusement as Gage frantically recoiled from the near kiss. I wonder how she would have reacted if we’d actually kissed. That consideration drove Lacy deeper into her musings, questioning her own feelings.

"What’s wrong with her?" Dani asked, wiping the sleep out of her eyes.

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

"I’ve got it." Lacy whipped around Gage, grabbing the sausage filled skillet as the writer filled several glasses of orange juice. The kids waited patiently. Well, as patiently as Dani could.

"We’re going to explore the cave today, right?" Dani asked her mother. "Mom? Right?"

Lacy filled the plates full of food, ignoring her daughter. Her mind still lingering on the kiss she almost shared with Gage. As she sat a plate in front of Dani, she felt a tug at her arm. "Hmmmm?"

"Are we going to go to the cave or not?" Dani demanded. But soon regretted her sharp tone when her mother’s blue eyes met her own in disapproval.

Gage quietly sat next to Derek, helping him as he ate his breakfast. Her thoughts lingered on the early morning events. She could still feel the longing, the tingling at the mere idea of brushing her lips up against the sweet smile that now adorned the star’s face. Catching herself staring at Lacy, Gage reined her emotions in at the sound of Dani’s question.

"Gage, can we go to the cave today?" Dani decided to redirect her inquiry as her mother’s mind was obviously on something else only to find that Gage was equally not in the present.

Before Gage could answer, Lacy spoke up. "No, honey. The sheriff will be by today. I’ve got to go back to the cabin and see if anything is missing and…." She looked poignantly at Gage. "Maybe get some of our things, I guess."

Gage immediately heard the reluctance in her voice. "You’re not going back there. I mean you’re going to stay here, right? I mean, the window’s broken and who ever it was might come back and…." Great! Now she won’t want to stay.

A knock at the door temporarily prevented Lacy from answering. Lacy rose from the table to let the young deputy in. "Deputy. Please come in. Would you like some breakfast?" She walked back to the kitchen, the deputy close on her heels.

"No….no, thanks. And please call me Ted." He smiled sweetly.

"I’ll be right with you." Lacy called, stopping him from venturing further into the kitchen area where the family was enjoying their breakfast. Gage had been watching closely the interaction between the star and the deputy when Lacy leaned down to her. "Are you sure you don’t mind if we stay a little longer? At least until…."

"No. I mean, stay as long as you like." Gage released a breath she didn’t know she was holding.

Lacy squeezed the writer’s shoulder in thanks. "Then would you mind staying with the kids while I go? I don’t want them to have to go back there."

Casting a quick glimpse at the unreasonably handsome deputy, Gage reluctantly agreed with her. "Sure, we’ll find something to do." Standing up, concerned green eyes looked deeply at Lacy. "I’d rather you didn’t go alone though….maybe I could go instead."

Without thinking Lacy hugged Gage briefly. "Thank you." Her blue eyes filled with appreciation for the concern her new friend had shown. "But, you wouldn’t know if something was missing. Believe me, knowing you are taking care of the kids while I do this…. well, I appreciate it."

Gage walked Lacy and the deputy to the door, watching them drive off, she returned to the kitchen table wishing Lacy were back already.

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

The young deputy led the way, searching the cabin thoroughly before allowing Lacy inside. "It’s okay to come in now. Everything looks about the same as last night."

Lacy scanned the living room and adjoining kitchen. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until she entered her bedroom. Her clothes and some personal items were scattered haphazardly on the floor and bed. Lacy immediately began sorting through them, picking up the items off the floor.

Trying to be of help, the deputy reached for a few items pulling up a pair of red panties offering it to her.

"Thanks." Lacy grabbed them from him.

He blushed after realizing just what he had given her. Jumping up, he stepped back. "I guess you can get the rest. I’ll check the other rooms. You’ll be okay here?"

She nodded. Glad to be alone, Lacy collected the rest of her belongings. A short while later, with bag in hand, she walked into the living room to find Ted jotting down some notes in his logbook. "Other than some clothing and a broach, everything seems to be here."

Looking up from his notes, the deputy smiled. "I’ll need a list of the missing items."

"Just some of my clothes. Nothing of the kids stuff."

"I’ll need specifics, if you don’t mind." Ted offered her a seat at the kitchen table. "For my report."

Embarrassed, Lacy reluctantly informed him. "Okay, some bras and underwear."

Putting pen to paper, the deputy repeated. "Bras and under…." Realization hit him. "That’s it?"

"Yes, besides the broach, of course."

They spent the next few minutes detailing the description of the broach and underwear for the report before the deputy scooted his chair backwards. Noting that Lacy mentioned a red lacy bra was missing, the deputy quickly deduced it probably was the match to the pair of red lacy panties he picked up earlier. "I’ll help you get the rest of your things together and we can go now. Do you want a ride to town or something?"

Without notice the front door to the cabin opened, startling them. Toting a tool bag in one hand and a brown paper covered rectangular sheet under the other arm, Ralph walked in, grunted at the intruders then dropped the bag on the floor. "Deputy."

"Ralph, what are you doing here?" The deputy asked.

"Ms. Raye asked me to come by and fix the door." He slipped on a pair of gloves. Picking at the broken glass still lodged in the doorframe, Ralph ignored them.

"I guess it’s okay. The boys already did a check of the place. And we’re through here." He glanced at Lacy who nodded in agreement.

Grabbing a couple of bags, an unsettling shiver shot through Lacy as she walked around the handyman who reluctantly moved aside. "Excuse me."

His dark brown eyes bore a hole in her as she passed through the door to the porch. "Mrs. Levine." He said with a menacing tone, leering at her.

The handyman’s demeanor did not go unnoticed by the young deputy who also spied a pane of glass that appeared to be a perfect replacement for the one that was broken. "What’s that?"

"It’s going in here." The handyman grunted, pointing to the empty hole in the door.

"How’d you know what size you’d need?" The deputy asked suspiciously.

"Had an extra. These things get broken all the time with different people coming and going. Not caring cause they don’t own the place. Sally, I mean, Ms. Raye is just too nice… rents rooms to just anyone." Ralph strung together more words than he ever had in this lifetime.

Accepting his explanation for the time being, Ted marched past the handyman. "Ralph, I’ll see ya around."

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

When Lacy arrived back at the writer’s cabin, she found the breakfast dishes were clean and Gage and the kids lounging in the living room watching a movie on the television. Ted deposited her bags on the porch before he drove off. Unhappy that Lacy was staying with the writer, he decided to take his leave without further investing time in what he now considered a lost cause. The deputy wanted to get to know the television star a little better. Maybe next time.

Upon seeing her mother enter the cabin, Dani jumped up. "Can we go to the cave now?"

Gage intercepted the question, sensing that Lacy was a bit on edge. "I thought we’d go to town and get a few things. Like food, for instance."

Lacy nodded absent-mindedly then quickly turned off the television set. She continued to stare at the blank screen.

"Hey, Dani, why don’t you and Derek go get cleaned up before we go to town?" Gage asked.

With pursed lips, Dani shrugged yet went along with the request. "Come on." She grabbed her brother’s hand.

Gage called after her. "We’ll get some ice cream, okay?"

The bright smile that flashed across Derek’s face mirrored that of his sister. "I like ice scream." Derek said sincerely to his sister being scooted him down the hallway in front of her.

The writer turned her attention to the distraught Lacy. "What’s wrong?" Gage walked with Lacy to the couch.

"It’s nothing really." The smile she displayed didn’t reach her eyes. "Did you know Mrs. Raye has a handyman?"

"Ralph?"

"Yes. He’s…."

"A little, no, a lot weird." Gage supplied. "Was he there?"

"He came when we were about ready to leave. He was there to fix the door."

"Did he say something to you?" Gage asked, realizing that his appearance had upset the star.

"It wasn’t what he said, it was the way he looked at me. Like he didn’t like me or… I don’t know." Lacy shook her head. "It just unnerved me a bit."

Wrapping her arms around Lacy in comfort, Gage said. "Hey, I understand completely. He’s got that one eye that darts off in one direction while the other one looks like its making circular motions." Gage tried to mimic the movement in an attempt to lighten the mood.

The brevity of the moment took root and Lacy let her uneasy feelings about the handyman fade as Gage created an entirely different picture of a wild eyed Ralph in her mind. With that silly picture floating in her brain, the feeling of danger she experienced about the handyman disappeared. "You’re right. Come on." Lacy stood up. "Help me with the bags."

Gage followed closely, feeling something else was bothering the actress. "Did anything come up missing?"

With two bags in hand, Lacy passed the writer as she re-entered the cabin. "A broach my grandmother gave me and… some underwear." Lacy mumbled the last part.

Collecting the rest of the bags, Gage stepped by inside. "Some Tupperware? Why would they take Tupperware? Don’t tell me you have some…" Gage’s voice took on a dramatic posture. "Gucci Tupperware. Really, Lacy, I know you’re a big star and everything but…." Gage noticed a stern look on the star’s face.

"Not Tupperware….underwear." Lacy admitted then turned and marched to the bedroom.

Opening her mouth, Gage paused briefly before she replied. "I guess we’re going to town to get some food ….and underwear. Interesting combination." She said out loud.

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

After buying some personal items at the town’s only department store, Gage suggested getting some lunch before going to the grocery store. Lacy shook her head when Gage told everyone to get what they wanted upon their arrival at Sally’s Market.

Dani took her words literally, filling the cart with candy, Suzy-Qs and a couple of boxes of Captain Crunch cereal. Derek happily tried to rip open every item Dani tossed in while Lacy discreetly returned a few items to the shelves. Lacy spent a few moments perusing the few paperback books the store carried, but couldn’t find the one she was looking for.

When they reached the check out, Gage surveyed their overloaded cart. "I think we have room for one more item." The flippant sarcastic comment hung in the air until Derek grabbed for a toy water gun.

Lacy noticed her landlord, who was also the owner of Sally’s Market, was their check out clerk. "Hello Mrs. Raye. You heard about the break in I gather."

Sally scanned the items. "Ralph tells me you’re staying with her." Nodding toward the writer who was debating with Derek between the blue water gun and the green one.

"Yes. I’d rather not take the kids back to the cabin. At least not yet." Lacy offered in way of an explanation.

"You’ll still have to pay for the full stay." Sally informed her tenant. "It’s too late to get anyone else in there and I can’t be losing money."

"I believe my husband paid in advance. For the whole month. Correct?" The fact that her husband never paid in advance captured her attention only for a moment.

"Yeah, he did. It’s not my fault you know. People breaking in. There’s some crazy people come up here in the summer. We get all kinds." Sally shot a disapproving look at Gage. Sally broadcast the news of the break in to everyone she’d come into contact with, telling them that some crazed stalker must have followed the television star and is now threatening the community. Sally always did have a way of embellishing things. It was her way.

Lacy couldn’t help but notice Sally’s dislike for Gage. I wonder what that’s all about. "Keep the money."

"So you won’t be wanting the cabin for the rest of your stay?" Sally hoped she could get another renter in for the rest of the month thus getting double rent for the cabin.

"That’s correct." Lacy informed her, having decided she didn’t want to deal with Sally anymore.

Sally quickly finished scanning the purchases including the last minute toy Gage tossed on the counter.

With the Jeep loaded up, on their way out of town, Gage pulled her car in front of the hardware store. "I’ve got to pick up a piece of screen for the door. Be back in a minute."

Waiting patiently for Gage to return, Derek played with his new toy gun and Dani flipped through the magazine she picked out at the store while Lacy noticed Ralph exit the hardware store. He stopped abruptly upon seeing the television star. Scratched his week old whiskers, before deciding to approach the Jeep.

Lacy checked the door’s locks and squeezed the window shut tightly. Her heartbeat began to race with each step he took toward the Jeep. A deep sigh of relief fanned through her when she saw Gage whip around the handyman and jump into the Jeep.

Tossing the roll of screen in the seat behind her, Gage noticed a few beads of sweat hanging precariously from Lacy’s forehead then noticed the old man standing a few feet from the Jeep staring at them. "You okay?"

"No. Yes. Could we just leave please?" Lacy faced straight ahead.

Gage ignited the engine and gunned the Jeep onward, away from the staring man. A quick look around the car to each of the occupants, Gage observed Lacy relax a bit while Dani stared back at the man intently.

Dani’s sixth sense kicked in. "I don’t like him." He’s danger. I can sense it.

It was a long ride home with little more said.

 

Chapter Nine

The rest of the afternoon was spent around the cabin with each occupant quietly lost in his or her own thoughts. Derek was the only one oblivious to any of the unsettling events of late.

It was with great reluctance that they readied for bed except for Dani who jumped at the first mention of bedtime. She rushed off to the bathroom to change without the usual prompting by her mother. Derek hung sleepily to his mother after she readied him for bed. Not having seen her daughter return from the bathroom, Lacy went in search for her.

After checking the windows and doors, Gage ambled down the hallway practically running into Lacy, having just rushed out of the bathroom, still holding Derek. "Have you seen Dani? She’s not in here."

Panic rose as Gage raced through the cabin finding no trace of the missing child. Lacy tried to remain calm. Gage rejoined Lacy back in the hallway. "I couldn’t find her anywhere. The only place I haven’t looked…" Sharply turning around, Gage swept through the master bedroom doorway with Lacy right behind only to find Dani planted in the center of the bed.

"What took you so long?" Dani asked innocently.

"What are you doing in here?" The frightened mother asked sharper than she intended.

"Gage is going to tell us the story of the Shanglon Master and the woman he loved." She stared inquisitively at them. "Right?"

"Right." Gage looked at Lacy. "I did promise."

Derek quickly fell from his sleepy haze at the mention of a story. "Story, yea!" He bounced in his mother’s arms directing her to the bed.

Lacy caved. "Which side do you sleep on?" She asked, moving toward the huge bed.

Noticing for the first time the pristine white v-neck tee shirt Lacy was wearing, barely covering the top of her thighs, Gage was like a deer caught in a car’s headlights. Whichever side you do.

"Gage?" Lacy waited patiently for a reply.

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

Buried under the covers, Gage continued. "It was a day of great celebration in the land of Shang. The Shanglon Master, Geoffrey Saint Brandon, had led his kingdom in peace for many years now. Once a hard and demanding emperor the Shanglon Master had been tamed by the love of a beautiful dark haired maiden named Mecca. Today, Geoff was to announce the celebration of their impending marriage.

"His personal free-thinking computer, Quint, had allowed Geoff to sleep longer than he wanted causing him to be late as he wanted extra time to prepare for this special day. When Geoff asked why Quint had let him over sleep, Quint simply replied that the Shanglon Master needed the extra sleep. Geoff was aggravated that his computer tried to run his life so he demanded that Quint transfer him to, Edifice, the main building."

"That can’t happen." Dani corrected Gage.

"Well, yes, it can in this story. You see, this story takes place many years from now and technology is very advanced." Gage offered, then continued, as Derek listened intently with his two little hands propping up his chin. "Anyway the people of the land loved Mecca just as much as the Master for she alone had brought light to his dark heart. Mecca touched his soul with unconditional love. It was this love that swayed his dangerous nature to see beyond his own dreams of conquering the world for his own pleasure, bending it to his will. With that love she changed his life and the lives of his people. Of course, Quint was the first to see the depth of the love Mecca had for his Master. He was a bit of a matchmaker which thoroughly annoyed Geoff and the fact that Quint liked to buzz around through the air like a busy bee." Gage made a buzzing noise. "But in the end, Geoff could not deny the feelings he had for the woman he loved."

"Jage, I like Tent." Derek interrupted the story.

"Tent?" Gage asked. Derek giggled.

"He means Quint. Derek has trouble saying some words." Lacy explained. Her son’s speech difficulty was a main source of the problems between father and son. It was also the reason Derek didn’t talk much.

"Anyway, everything was going according to plan that day. The celebration was just about to begin when…….." Gage paused for dramatic effect. "Enter the evil Robida." (Row-bee-dah)

On edge, Dani waited with baited breath. "Well, what happened next?"

Looking at a sleepy eyed Derek, Gage said. "To be continued."

Shoulders slumped temporarily until an idea ran through her head. That means we get to sleep in here again. "Cool." Dani plopped down next to her mother and fell asleep.

Surprised at her daughter’s quick surrender, Lacy gathered Derek closer to her. "That’s a first. But I’m not complaining." I guess we really should go back to our bedroom. Lacy turned to Gage, studying her features. She’s not complaining. Giving in to her desires, Lacy decided to stay put. "Gage, thanks for everything."

A smile swept across her face as Gage thought, My pleasure.

As they did the night before, when sleep found a home in both, they gravitated to each other, comforted in the closeness.

 

Chapter Ten

The chilly air outside kept the group inside most of the morning so Gage Ballant took the time to replace the torn screen in the door. As usual, her shadow decided to help.

Gage tore the old screen out and tossed it in the trash. Holding the new screen up against the door, she searched for the screen tool only to find Derek rolling it across the floor. "Derek, hand me that, okay?"

"Vrrroom." Powered by his hand, the tool rolled faster around an invisible racetrack.

Watching the shy boy come out of his shell momentarily as he zoomed the screen tool faster and faster, Gage encouraged him. "That’s it, Derek. You’re out in the lead. You can make that turn, just once more around and you’ve…"

Derek scooted along behind his pretend racecar, redirecting it; he headed straight for Gage shoving the screen tool racecar between her legs.

"…crossed the finish line. And we have a new winner, Derek Levine. Yeah!" Gage said excitedly.

Derek threw up his hands in victory, giving the writer the opportunity she needed to grab the tool. "Yea, I win."

"Yes you do." Gage pushed the tool along the screen’s edges, tucking it securely in the door. When she was finished, Gage lifted the three-year-old high in the air, taking him on a victory lap.

Dani watched silently as Gage played with Derek. She decided to read her magazine after being disappointed that their exploration of the cave had been delayed due to weather.

"Lunch is ready." Lacy yelled.

Tucking her young charge under her arm, Gage flew across the room. Excited, Derek hollered. "Fly plane. Fly like plane." With a safe landing on the kitchen chair, Gage settled next to Derek.

Dani moseyed to the table, dropping her magazine on the table; she took a seat next to her mother. She watched Derek roll his make believe racecar along the table garnishing Gage’s full attention. The young girl noticed both of them were completely oblivious to her presence.

Lacy observed her usually boisterous daughter silently watch the playful interaction between her son and the writer. I think my little ‘always center of attention stage star’ is jealous.

After a relatively quiet meal, Gage suggested a trip outside since the afternoon sun burned down, warming the air. "What’d you say we go play outside? Check things out."

"What about going to the cave?" The frown frozen in place throughout lunch hadn’t thawed.

"Dani, it’s kinda late and I don’t think we’d have enough time today." Gage offered. Earlier Lacy had explained her unwillingness for Dani to explore the cave. Lacy knew from her own experience how dangerous caves could be and the fact that Dani seemed obsessed with it chased her reluctance to explore the cavern into a full-blown fear.

The young girl grabbed her magazine and retreated to the couch without a word.

Gage threw a questioning look at Lacy. "She’s just disappointed. She’ll be okay." Lacy gathered the plates, depositing them in the sink.

"Here, let me help." Jumping up, Gage collected the rest of the plates. Placing them in the sink, she turned back to help Derek down. He ran to the couch, raising his hands to his sister for help up on the couch. "I think he likes that tool better than the toy gun he got yesterday at the store."

Lacy smiled. Listening to her daughter read to Derek, she turned back to Gage. "I don’t really need help with these. There’s not that much." Lacy dipped her hands in the hot dishwater, scrubbing one of the plates.

Gage searched for and retrieved a dishtowel. Rising a glass, she toweled it dry. "I don’t mind. Besides…." She stopped short.

Curious, Lacy asked. "What?"

"Nothing." Gage shifted her eyes away quickly.

With soap bubbles on her hands, she cocked them on her hips. "Well, what is it?"

Knowing she was in deep trouble, Gage let her thought spill out. "I never saw a big television star…. washing dishes." Pinned by an arched eyebrow, Gage rambled on. "On TV sure but not… you know. At least not in person." Scrambled for another plate, she quickly gave it a thorough drying, concentrating on every last bit of moisture attached to it.

Returning to the soaking dishes, Lacy found another one to scrub. "Just because I have a very public job….." She sighed briefly at the lofty ideas most people had about actors. "I’m just a regular person."

"Are you?" Gage asked.

Lacy, drying her hands on the apron surrounding her small waist, gazed intently into the writer’s sincere green eyes. "Yes. With feelings like everyone else."

A contemplative moment stilled in time as a mixture of emotions ricocheted between them. Both shared the same thought simultaneously, I wonder what you’re feeling.

The spell broke when Derek tugged at Gage’s khaki shorts. "Jage, Dani don’t read no more."

"Why don’t you take Derek outside? He doesn’t like to be cooped up too long." Lacy suggested.

Tossing the dishtowel down, she nodded in agreement. "Come on, little guy." Swooping him up in her arms, Gage looked at the young girl on the couch. "Dani?" Gage jerked her head toward the door.

Dani ignored her completely.

Gage shrugged toward Lacy then lobbed Derek up in the air. "Guess it’s just you and me."

Bouncing down the porch steps, the writer let Derek down. They walked the short distance to the shore, taking in all the boating activities on the lake. Several boats pulled skiers around as the sun shone brightly down offering sparkling light glitters to cast off the water. Derek reached down and picked up a small shell. Offering it to Gage, he said. "Sssell."

Gage kneeled down next to him, smiling. "Shell."

"Sssell." He repeated.

Squeezing the sides of his mouth together, she repeated. "Shh…ell."

He spit out the word correctly. "Shhhell."

"Excellent. Shell."

"Shell." Derek smiled as he mimicked her.

"Okay, how bout….Quint."

Again, Gage helped Derek form his lips in order to produce the correct pronunciation. "Kkent." Derek said.

"Closer then tent." Encouraging him further, puckering her own lips to pronounce the word. "Qu….int."

Slowly, with Gage’s help, Derek sounded the word out. "Koo…Koo…Qu…ent."

"Okay, now faster. You can do it."

"Qu…ent."

"Yes." Gage jacked her arm in victory.

Mimicking his hero, Derek agreed. "Yes." With a sharp wave of his arm, he laughed so hard he fell flat on his bottom into the wet muddy sand.

Gage plopped down next to him, laughing. She landed flat on her back when Derek decided to pounce on her. "Hey." A glob of mud fell on her face when the young boy waved her arm above her.

They could have salvaged their slightly muddy clothes and not faced the wrath of the mother that waited inside the cabin had it not been for the ski boat that decided just then to whip around the cove hurling a huge wave directly at them. Water splashed around them as they rolled in the mud, every inch of their clothes wet and muddy. The sudden conclave of chilled water spurred a mighty yelp from both mud-covered bodies.

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

Finishing the dishes, Lacy took a seat next to her silent daughter. "What’s up?"

"Nothing." Dani absently flipped through her magazine.

"Nothing, huh? You sure are saying a lot of nothing for nothing to be wrong. You and I both know that’s not you’re usual modus operandi."

"You mean it’s not my style." Dani offered her mother a mock glare at her mother’s use of the big word, thinking she wouldn’t know the meaning. "I am almost nine, you know."

"Quite right. So, are you going to tell me why you were rude to Gage?"

Lacy curled her arm around her daughter. "She’s been nothing but nice to all of us. She let you drive her boat and do I have to remind you about the story she told you last night."

"To be continued." Dani offered as a way of deflecting that particular nicety. "She hasn’t taken me to the cave."

"What is it with you and that cave? Honey, I know you love exploring, but even for you this is a bit much. It’s like you’ve become obsessed with it."

Dani deliberated her mother’s words. She finally voiced her inner thoughts. "There’s something about that cave that…. it’s like it holds a secret or something. I don’t know. I get this weird feeling about it. And, what if Gage is trying to keep me from finding out….whatever it is." Her eyes scrunched at that mysterious implication.

Always respectful of her daughter’s peculiar insight, Lacy decided this time Dani’s feelings might stem from something else. "Are you sure you’re not jealous of the bond Gage has with Derek?"

Before she could retort her mother’s question, a shriek raged through the house.

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

Dani and Lacy ran over the small ridge toward the water’s edge. Slightly out of breath, they came to rest just short of where the grass met the muddy shore only to find two familiar figures. Covered in mud from head to toe, two sets of eyes popped up staring at them. The ‘we’re in trouble now’ expression that adorned both Gage and Derek’s dirty faces started a wave of amusement that crested into a hearty laugh from Dani and her mother.

Derek’s only reaction was to hold up a tiny object in his hand and proudly said. "Shell."

Lacy delicately lifted her son in her arms. "Come on, honey. Let me help you." Scanning her son all over, she shook her head. "You definitely need a bath." The dark haired women threw Gage a disapproving look that warmed into a smile. "You both do."

Yeah, but he gets you to help him with his bath. Wish you were going to help me.

As if she read her mind, Gage’s face brightened when Lacy suggested. "You’ll need some help, too." Lacy gawked at Gage, but said to her daughter. "Dani."

Gage’s wicked grin took a nosedive as Dani perked up. "I’ll get the hose."

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

A few hours later, well fed and dry, Gage carried Derek to bed followed by Lacy and Dani. After Lacy informed her that Dani had been jealous of the bond she shared with Derek, Gage altered the original version of the Shanglon Master story to include a cave.

"The evil Robida had kidnapped the beloved maiden, Mecca, and hid her in one of the nearby ancient caves." Gage took a moment to glance at the young girl who retained her neutral expression, but was obviously following the story closely. "The whole land was up in rage especially our hero, Geoff, the Shanglon Master. Along with his free thinking computer, Quint."

"Quint." Derek echoed.

"Yes, Quint. Geoff and a few of his fighting elite scoured the land. Two days had come and gone and no sign of Mecca. With Geoff fraught with anger and deep despair, Quint suggested he use his astral mental powers to connect with his love."

"Can they go through the cave walls?" Dani astutely asked.

"What are astral mental powers?" Lacy challenged.

Gage tossed Lacy a ‘why don’t you just go along with the story like your daughter’ look then addressed Dani. "Yes, they can due to the soul connection they have for each other. Only true soul mates are able to transmit these powerful rays through anything." Gage spared a quick glimpse to Lacy, seeing a flicker of recognition in her blue eyes.

"I thought as much." Dani pondered the notion while Lacy spared a doubtful look to Gage.

The storyteller noticed Derek trying to chase away his closing eyelids without much success and decided to conclude part two. "Anyway, Geoff connected with his love and felt an overwhelming damp, cold sensation surrounded by darkness. With this knowledge, Quint sent a scan out blanketing the countryside with his extra sensory terrain transmission. When Quint mentioned the ancient caves, Geoff dashed out the door before his computer could stop him. Suddenly reappearing, Geoff ordered Quint to transport him to the cave’s entrance." Gage paused, wanting to end the story for night.

"I hope this isn’t the kind of story where Mecca has to have a man to save her. Is it?" All the while, Dani had decided in her mind that she was Mecca and knew, without a doubt that if she were stuck in a cave, she’d surely find a way out without any help. Years of watching her mother’s cop show, Dani learned to differentiate between a helpless female and a strong one. Dani fancied herself after Samantha Gordon, the character her mother played was strong willed and independent.

"Well, no, not really." Gage quickly countered. "But she does have some help from Geoff. That’s okay, right?"

"Sure, why not?" Dani capitulated. "You did make him the hero of the story." Dani twisted around, pulling the covers up tightly. As sleep claimed her, Dani allowed her creative mind to soar deep inside the cave searching for ways Mecca could escape.

"She’s a hard sell." Gage sighed, not feeling she’d made any progress in her attempt to reconnect with the young girl.

Instinctively, Lacy moved closer. "She’s fine. And she really likes the story, you know. Adding the cave was brilliant."

"I’m not so sure. She had too much fun hosing me off earlier." Gage pinned Lacy with an adamant look. "I mean it, she was brutal. Having way too much fun at my expense. As a matter of fact, you did, too."

"You have to admit it was funny." The grin on her face would not let up. "You finally got all the mud out, huh?"

"Hmmm. With no help from you."

"All you had to do was ask." Lacy said innocently.

Green eyes nearly skyrocketed out of her head. Ask! I would have begged. Gage glanced at Lacy as she rested her head softly on the pillow close by. An innocent look remained on her beautiful features causing Gage to shake her head in self-reproach. What I’m I doing? She hasn’t done one thing or gave one iota of a sign that she would ever be interested in me. Get a grip, Ballant. And I don’t even want to think about the fact that she’s married.

 

Chapter Eleven

The next morning the foursome spent a few hours hunting for rocks along the shoreline and surrounding area. Dani never mentioned the cave once. Happily, ensconced in one of her favorite pastimes, which she begrudgingly, admitted she shared with Gage. I guess I should cut her a little slack. Anyone who can get as excited as I do about collecting rocks must be okay. And she did let me drive the boat. But….I won’t mention the cave. I won’t mention the cave. Dani repeated as she continued her search alongside her new rock-hunting partner.

Lacy distracted Derek allowing her daughter time to re-establish a connection with Gage. Dani was not used to competition from anyone even her brother, Derek, when it came to people she decided was worthy of her attention. It wasn’t that Dani thought she was better than others, it was just that her natural gregarious disposition left her the center of attention that fit her like a glove and she usually wore it well.

Lacy deduced that Dani wasn’t so much jealous that Gage was closer to Derek then she was to Dani, but that outside of herself and Dani, Derek remained aloft to everyone else. For some reason, the fact that Derek had suddenly and unexpectedly expanded his realm of acceptance to include Gage was a mystery.

The rock hunt concluded when a deluge hit forcing them to the safety of the cabin where they had lunch and exchanged wet clothes for dry. The long, tiring morning induced the children into an afternoon nap.

Lacy and Gage were enjoying a quiet moment, sipping hot chocolate. "Sorry bout that movie the other day." Gage had been waiting for the opportunity to present itself and apology to Lacy, having realized that watching it had disturbed her.

"There’s no need. It brought back some unwelcome memories." When Lacy returned with the deputy to find Gage and the kids watching a movie she had starred in, the reminiscences shook her. The surrounding events in making the movie caused her pain. It took her a minute to recognize the movie playing was the first one she has starred in, releasing a flood of hurtful recollections. "I made that movie around the time Jason and I, he was my first husband, decided to get a divorce. David produced it. It was my first real break."

"Hey, you don’t have to explain." Gage felt bad at being the catalyst for the sad memories Lacy was now re-experiencing.

Lacy drew her long legs up underneath her, surprised to find she did want to talk about her failed marriage. "We were, would you believe, high school sweethearts. Anyway, Jason and I got married after I found out I was pregnant. He quit college, got a job in construction and I was going to forego my dream of an acting career to have a family."

"You have another child?"

"No, we…. I lost the baby." A sad reflection dawned before she continued. "After that, I was determined to forge head on in my career and demanded that we move to Hollywood. Jason gave in easily, giving up his plans of starting a construction company. He finally did, start a construction company, that is…. with my brother as a matter of fact. I got lost in the work while Jason just got lost. He didn’t like anything about Hollywood. Eventually, I auditioned for David and got the part. My career was steadily building and my marriage was crumbling. That’s when Jason gave me an ultimatum… my career or my marriage. Can you guess which one I chose?"

"Lacy." Gage covered Lacy’s hand, squeezing it in understanding. "Everything happens for a reason."

"I realized that later. And I wouldn’t have the two most precious joys of my life if I had chosen differently." A genuine smile escaped past the sad memories. "Jason and I were together almost three years and I can honestly say most of it was great. Although, we were more friends than…." She trailed off letting silence fill in the blank.

"At least you had friends." The unexpected words spilled out.

"What do you mean? Surely, you have friends and what about family?" Lacy reasoned.

Having opened the floodgates, Gage decided to share some of her history as Lacy had entrusted with her. "I really only have one friend, Mark Calico. He’s my partner, too. But, I don’t have any family."

"You have a mother though. You said she gave you your name, right?" Confusion played for a moment in Lacy’s mind.

"She did. But, I never knew her."

"I don’t understand."

"She gave me up for adoption. It was some kind of deal she made that I would be named Gage." Forestalling Lacy from the expected question. "I don’t know if it was a family name or what." Gage laughed. "Maybe Dani was right. She didn’t like me that’s why she gave it to me."

"Gage!" Lacy reached up and lightly touched her cheek. "I like your name."

A shy smile slowly rose. "There were times I thought about trying to find her…. I never got around to it. So, I figured it wasn’t really that important to me."

Somehow to Lacy that statement didn’t ring true. "I hope you do… one day."

"Yeah, maybe." Gage offered a hollow agreement. "Mark’s the only one I got that’s family. Oh, and his grandfather. They’re the only family I need." When Gage looked up to meet Lacy’s warm blue eyes all of a sudden Mark and his grandfather were no longer enough. She wanted more. Needed more.

Lacy’s mind jealously lingered a long moment on the relationship Gage shared with her friend, Mark Calico. Partner? What does she mean by partner? But it was the hint of something more that flickered in Gage’s green eyes that offered hope to Lacy that the writer would welcome and, yes, even come to need the friendship Lacy found she desperately craved to share with Gage.

************************
The rainy day kept them inside and after dinner, they settled in for an evening of games. Dani immediately chose her mother as her partner since she did not like to lose. And as much as she loved her brother, Dani figured Derek wouldn’t be much help as they played her favorite game.

Gage sitting on the floor with legs crossed, Derek plopped down on her lap, settling in as his sister geared up ready to give her mother the first clue. Gage had provided her with a movie title.

Dani offered her first clue to which her mother responded. "Three words, first word ‘the’."

Nodding her head, Dani proceeded to the next word. She finally got her partner to answer ‘little’ after Lacy listed several other possibilities to include small, short and tiny. It was on the third word of the movie title that Dani used her creative abilities. She ran into the bedroom then hurried back, fell to the floor and stuck her legs into a pillowcase. Lying on the floor, Dani pretended to swim.

"The Little Mermaid." Lacy answered causing Dani to jump up, legs still wrapped in the pillowcase, and hop around at having her partner correctly decipher the clues.

After several more volleys back and for between the teams, Dani was upset that her brother’s team was ahead in points. She couldn’t believe it. So, she suggested the movie title, The Poseidon Adventure, which Lacy shoot down and provided another one of her own for the other team to guess.

Lacy helped her son, giving him a small bowl of water so he could give the clue to his partner. Derek carefully carried the bowl from the kitchen to the living room area. His mother whispered in his ear.

"Hey, don’t help him. Gage has to get it on her own." Not liking to be behind in points, Dani ordered her partner.

Happily, Derek slapped his hand in the water again and again, spraying it all over his partner.

Wiping the flinging water from her face, Gage hurriedly yelled. "Splash. The movie’s Splash." But her answer didn’t stop the deluge from raining down. Throwing a mock angry look at Lacy who backed up quickly, Gage then jumped up, grabbing her partner in her arms after she whisked the empty bowl from him. "Okay, that’s enough, partner. We got the points." After she returned the bowl to the kitchen, Gage and Derek rejoined the opposing team.

"Our turn." Dani stood, anxiously waiting to get the title of the next movie from Gage.

"Dani, it’s my turn to give the clue." Lacy leaned down next to Gage as Dani reluctantly sat back down.

Dani waited eagerly. They had one last chance to forge ahead in the points and win the game if only her mother would cooperate. According to Dani, Lacy had provided the other team with too many easy movie titles and her team had seriously dropped behind in points after an early start out of the gate. The young girl scrunched her face seriously awaiting her first clue.

Dani was quick to deduce the movie title had two words and the first word was ‘sling’ after her mother slung her arms back and forth. Now, Lacy was diligently making a yanking motion from her side then waving her arm around in the air. Panic glared on Dani’s face, not having a clue as to what her mother was demonstrating. "Wave?" Lacy shook her head. "Are you making some kind of sign?"

Lacy rolled her eyes, then quickly started making jabbing motions in the air.

"Sword. You’ve got a sword." A smile tickled her face in expected triumph. "Two words and the first word is sling. Sword, sling sword?"

Lacy then ran her finger along an invisible sword pretending to cut it.

"Blade. Sling Blade?" Dani quizzed then watched her mother jump in elation. Bolting up, she joined her partner. After a few moments participating in a shared victory dance, Dani approached the lead member of the opposing team. "Pretty good, huh? Especially since I’ve never even seen a movie called ‘Sling Blade’."

A short while later, a very tired young boy laid in his mother’s arms. "Guess it’s time for bed, huh?"

"Good. Now we get to hear the end of the story and find out how Mecca gets out of that cave…." She eyed Gage carefully, before she continued. "With a little help from the Shanglon Master."

"Honey, Derek’s asleep. Maybe tomorrow night." Lacy offered.

"But…." She turned to Gage.

"No story tonight." Gage simply stated, then added after a prominent pout appeared on the disappointed girl’s face. "Would you want me to finish telling the story to Derek if you were sleeping?"

"No." Dani admitted. "But we still get to sleep in the big bed, right?" Even without her nightly dose of storytelling, Dani enjoyed the closeness the four of them shared sleeping in the same bed. It gave her a sense of being together as a family something she’d missed in the last several years with both her parents always working. But her hopeful mood dashed when her mother spoke.

"We really should stay in our own room tonight, I guess." She spoke the words half-heartedly, hoping her suggestion would fall on deaf ears.

Misunderstanding Lacy’s concern about intruding further on the hospitality offered, Gage loathed to agree. "Sure. I guess, well, whatever."

A rush of disappointment ran through both mother and daughter. Lacy grabbed her daughter’s hand and carried her son into their room when Gage shuffled off silently.

After Lacy secured the children in bed, she heard a small knock at the door. "Come in."

Gage offered a couple of blankets. "It’s chilly out tonight. That rain brought in a cold front, I guess."

Taking the blankets, Lacy thanked her. A deafening silence fell as they stood still both waiting, hoping for the other to propose a way to move back the hands of time and lead them into the direction they both desired. Each momentarily contemplated the last three nights when they had all sleep together, safe, secure and at peace.

Clearing her throat, Gage broke the silence. "If you need anything, anything at all, I’ll be…"

"Right down the hall." Lacy smiled at her.

"Yeah."

Both retreated into their own respective bedrooms, unhappy with the turn of events.

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

Gage wrapped herself in the covers, twisting and turning trying to find a comfortable position to sleep. It was funny, all her life she’d slept alone, but in the course of three nights, for the first time, Gage felt lonely. She missed the warm bodies crowded around her that somehow provided a calming comfort, lulling her to sleep.

She was still awake when the small knock at the door came. "Yes." Seeing Lacy enter with both her children, a smile jumped onto her face and refused to go away. Silently, she prayed neither would her new friends.

"The heater must be out in our bedroom. It’s pretty cold in there." Lacy explained.

Jumping out of bed, Gage raced toward them. "Okay, I’ll see if I can fix it."

Stopping the writer from leaving the room, Lacy suggested. "I thought maybe we could, you know, spend the night in here. Then tomorrow you could find the problem."

Seizing the unexpected opportunity, Gage hastily agreed. "Yeah, that’s a better idea. Come on." Gage took Derek from Lacy and headed to bed.

Once they were all snuggled down, Gage whispered. "Yeah, this is definitely a better idea. Glad you came up with it."

"Me too." Content Lacy fell asleep.

Chapter Twelve

Late the next morning after breakfast while Lacy cleaned the kitchen, Dani helped Gage fix the heater problem.

"We going to the cave today?" Dani asked hopefully, doing everything she could to get on the writer’s good side.

"Yeah. Thought we’d go out on the lake and check it out again." Gage answered, cognizant of Lacy’s reluctance to allow her daughter to explore it.

The idea didn’t suit Dani entirely, but driving the boat again appealed to her so she figured she’d let Gage off the hook again. But I will get to the bottom of this and explore that cave.

Twisting a new fuse in the electrical box, Gage declared. "There. That should do it."

"It’s fixed now, huh?" Dani asked.

"Should be. This place is heated by electric and the fuse was bad."

"That means tonight the bedroom will have heat." Dani stated, lost in her own thoughts.

Dani’s words raised their ugly head, reminding Gage of the fact that fixing the heater gave them one less excuse to share the same bed again. Great. That was smart. Well, at least I can use the excuse of finishing my story.

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

With the boat anchored just outside the cave’s water entranceway, Gage and the kids swam around exploring it as Lacy soaked up the sun. The weather turned quite warm by mid-afternoon and they were making the best of it.

Holding Derek next to her, Gage yelled at Dani. "Don’t go in too far."

Dani’s voice echoed back from under the cave’s ceiling then heard the expected response. "I won’t."

Gage wasn’t too worried the cave’s recess extended only about fifteen feet. That thought caused her to consider that the only person she ever had to be responsible for her whole life was herself. Now, watching the kids as they swam around in the water shed new light on what a huge responsibility laid on the shoulders of parents. It was quite an undertaking.

Green eyes darted back and forth between the two children. Both in their own ways were adventurous. Derek enjoyed floating in his lifejacket, mercilessly splashing Gage as Dani edged her way further in the cave.

Several hours later, waterlogged and pruned, Gage persuaded both kids to climb back into the boat. Dani wrapped a beach towel around her and parked herself in the captain’s chair while Derek decided his mother needed company and attempted to climb on her.

"Ohhh…" Lacy yelped as her son touched her sunburned back. Her sudden reaction caused Derek to whimper and retreat toward Gage who was pulling up the anchor.

Lacy hurried to wrap her arms around Derek. "I’m sorry, honey."

A few tears wet his face. "Sorry."

"It’s okay." She kissed him lightly. "You just startled me." Looking at Gage, Lacy added. "Guess I over did it."

"Here." Gage offered her a soft towel to cover her sunburned shoulders. "We’ll head back and put something on that." Turning to Dani, she asked. "You ready, Captain."

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

While Derek took a nap and Lacy struggled with a cold shower pelting her super sensitive skin, trying to wash off the apparently ineffectual sun tanning lotion, Dani practiced some of her rope tying skills.

Lacy stiffly walked into the living room after her shower wearing a white v-neck tee shirt and a pair of cotton shorts. She eased herself down on the couch and squirted some lotion in her hand. Delicately applying it to her arms and upper legs, she tensed at the contact. "I should have known better."

Concerned for her mother and her own plans, Dani asked. "You’ll be better by the weekend, right?"

"Yes, I think so. Why?"

"The fair’s this weekend. Jeez, mom, you promised."

Struggling to apply the lotion to her back, Lacy absent-mindedly agreed. "Hmmm."

From the kitchen, Gage watched Lacy smooth the lotion over her long arms and legs. Dropping the unpeeled potato on the counter, Gage dashed over to where Lacy was in need of some assistance. "Here let me." Gage procured the lotion from her. "Go ahead lay on your stomach."

Lacy lifted up and turned over, lying down. Gage hesitantly lifted the white tee shirt up to the top of the star’s shoulders. My God, she is beautiful. The soft, supple and sexy skin screamed to her and Gage didn’t resist the temptation.

Lacy basked in the soothing feel of pliant hands gliding over her sensitive skin. She allowed her mind to drift in the pleasure she was experiencing until the insistent sound of her daughter’s voice brought her abruptly back.

"We are going to the fair, right?" Dani demanded an answer.

Noting the tension sear through Lacy’s back muscles at the question, Gage interceded. "Absolutely." Poignantly looking at the young girl. "That’s a promise."

After securing the guarantee and having no interest in watching her mother and Gage, Dani returned to her knot tying.

Gage immediately felt the muscles under her hands relax so she lavishly continued her gentle, soothing massage. For long moments, both enjoyed the healing touch that passed between them. Stretching the enjoyable session out for as long as she could, Gage reluctantly pulled her hands away from the soft skin of the beautiful woman. "I’m done."

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

Readied for bed, Gage herded both kids to her bedroom and piled them up on it. "I’ll be right back." She met Lacy in the hallway just outside the door.

"You sure you don’t mind." Lacy asked.

"No, not at all. Besides, I’ve got to finish the story or I may not live another day." Looking the beautiful woman up and down, Gage asked. "What about you? You gonna be okay?"

"I’ll be fine. I guess it’s really best if I sleep alone with this sunburn and all." Lacy said. "Though I hate to miss the end of the story."

Gage laughed. "Well, I’ll make it up to you later. Give you your own personal story time." With that pledge, both Lacy and Gage returned to their respective bedrooms. My God, I am flirting dangerously close to the edge.

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

"With Quint hovering close behind, Geoff entered the cave with only a small torch and sword strapped to his side. Silently, they explored every entryway leading deeper inside the dark corridors. Geoff could sense Mecca’s closeness, sending her reassurance that he was coming for her.

"Mecca waited patiently for two days hoping for someone to rescue her. Feeling desolate, the evil Robida didn’t help matters by taunting her, describing in detail how she was going to rot in the dungeon because her future husband wouldn’t come and save her. So Mecca determined to save herself.

"Just then, Quint and Geoff peeked their heads around the cave’s wall, having infiltrated the interior dungeon. Watching from a distance, Geoff tried to get Mecca’s attention, pitching small pebbles near her, as the evil Robida swiped a sharp blade along her delicate neck. The evil Robida noticed the flicker of her blue eyes and turned to see Geoff step out from behind a cave wall with Quint buzzing in the air behind him.

"Drawing a sword, Geoff approached Robida ready for battle. While the evil Robida had diverted his attention from Mecca, she quickly scrapped the sharp rock she found on the ground against the rope tied around her hands.

"Quint warned Geoff that some of Robida’s henchmen were approaching from behind. Having to turn his attention to them, he had provided Mecca with the time needed to free herself. Untying the rope around her ankles, she formulated an idea as the evil Robida returned his attention to her.

"Quint and Geoff were engaged in an all out battle with the twenty henchmen. As Robida descended on Mecca, she pretended to be restrained by the ropes until he edged closer and closer….."

Lacy stepped inside and quietly announced. "I can’t sleep."

"Come on, mom. We’re just getting to the good part." Looking at the storyteller for assurance. "Right?"

Lacy slipped into bed next to Gage who only nodded in agreement. "Don’t let me stop you. Go on." Encouraging Gage to continue.

"Just as the evil Robida was about to slice Mecca’s neck she leaned back, kicking him right in the….." Gage corrected herself. "Face. Stunned, he fell back temporarily losing his balance. Scooping some dirt in her hand she quickly got up. As he was about to strike again, Mecca blew the handful of dirt in his face. In his confused state, Mecca took the opportunity that presented itself.

"Just as Quint and Geoff finished off the last of the henchmen they turned around ready to help free Mecca only to find she had bound the evil Robida securely with the rope that had previously held her feet. Geoff rushed to his love, wrapping her in his arms.

"The next day, the celebration continued throughout the land with the formal announcement of their marriage and all were relieved to hear that the evil Robida was transported in a capsule far away into the future."

Sensing the ending of the story, Dani concluded. "And they lived happily ever after." A short pause. "I knew she’d get out of it on her own."

"So you liked it, huh?"

"Oh, yes, I did. Very good story there, Gage. Perhaps I’ll let you tell me another." Dani yawned, closed her eyes and fell asleep.

Smiling at Lacy, Gage said. "That’s the highest praise I’ve ever gotten for one of my stories."

"Me too. Jage, I like story, too." Derek supplied his input.

Gage brushed her lips in a light kiss across his forehead as Lacy watched the sweet scene unfold. Derek laid his head down on her chest, closed his eyes and fell to sleep.

"That was nice." Lacy stated simply. She snuggled closer as near as her sun burnt body would allow and still be comfortable, shut her eyes and fell asleep.

Chapter Thirteen

Gage contorted her face in disgust as she slipped the slimy, wiggling worm on Derek’s fishing hook. The young boy giggled. "Fishy food."

"Yeah, fishy food. Yuk!" Gage spit out, dropping the line.

Screwing up his face to mimic the expression Gage displayed, Derek echoed. "Yuk!" Then dropped the baited line in the water off the dock. Dropping down on the edge of the dock, settling between her legs as she sat on a lawn chair.

Lacy sat next to her in a matched chair. She watched her daughter cast her line from the edge of the dock a few feet away. Dani, a serious fisherman, fished standing just in case she needed the extra leverage when she snagged a big fish while Derek enjoyed watching his cork bob up and down in the water unconcerned that a fish was nibbling on it. He’d splash the tip of his pole in and out of the water, effectively scaring them away.

"You don’t fish much, do you?" Lacy smirked at Gage’s reluctant assistance.

Wiping the slime from the worm on her blue jeans, Gage replied. "How’d you guess?" Sparing a glance to Lacy. "Not one of my skills. I guess you’re an expert fisherman though."

"I can hold my own. It’s been a long time….too long." Thinking back, Lacy continued. "Some of the best fishing I ever did was right here on this lake. My grandparents had a cabin up here years ago." Waving her arm out across the lake. "Things have changed in the last fifteen years. Back then, there was only about a third maybe less cabins here."

"Mark, my friend, has had his cabin for, gosh, I think he said forty, forty-five years. He’s remodeled some. Actually, it belonged to his mother’s family. Mark inherited." Gage offered.

"The two of you, you’re close?" Lacy hesitantly asked, intently studying Gage as she answered.

"Yeah, like I said the other night…. he’s family."

Not getting the answer she was searching for, Lacy redirected her question. "The two of you are involved, I mean, together?"

"Yes. Mark and I are partners." Gage said, dashing the star’s hope that they weren’t intimately involved and at the same time sparking a surge of jealousy that took Lacy by surprise.

"Oh." The writer noticed the beginnings of an expressive wave of disappointment cross Lacy’s face. For some reason, Gage felt the need to explain further. "We’ve only known each other for about a year. You see, we’re business partners."

"Oh?" When that expressive wave Lacy held hit the shore on her face it had turned into one of delight.

"We met after Mark read one of my stories. We both shared a dream of being in the movie making business, so with Mark’s connections and financial resources and me, well, I…. just finished my second screenplay. That’s why I came up here…..no distractions." Gage said. "Well, except for a little daredevil flying through the air right into my arms." Gage mussed Derek’s dark hair causing him to look up and smile. "I wanted to get it done before we start pre-production on my first screenplay."

"Any good parts for me?" The actor in her asked. "Seriously, I’d love to read it."

"Which one?"

"Both." Upon hearing her daughter squeal, Lacy turned her attention away from the writer. Watching Dani reel in her biggest catch of the day, Lacy congratulated her. "That’s a big one. Maybe Gage will clean it and we’ll have fish tonight."

Dani tossed her latest catch into the cooler with the other three fish she’d caught. Seeing Gage shake her head in disgust, Dani smirked. "Guess we’ll have to do it, mom. She can cook." Having baited the hook again, she flipped the line as far as she could.

"I’ll make you a deal, you clean what Derek catches and I’ll help Dani clean hers."

"Now, that’s a deal I can’t refuse." Patting his head once again, Gage encouraged Derek. "That’s it. Keep splashing."

"But you have to fry them." Lacy insisted. "I’ll be busy." Ducking her head sideways to get Gage’s full attention. "Hopefully reading?"

"I don’t know about that."

"Come on." Lacy pleaded.

Throwing her a doubtful look, Gage said. "What kind of stories do you like to read?"

"Different ones." Lacy answered. "But, there’s a new author that I’ve been reading. Ballantine. The latest one just came out. I was hoping to read it while I was here. I forgot to bring the book and couldn’t find a copy of it at the store the other day."

Interested by Lacy’s comment, Gage light heartedly said. "I see. So you’re desperate to read anything."

"No. Come on, please." The writer was on the verge of giving in at her request. "What kind of stories do you write anyway?" Lacy quizzed.

Before Gage completely caved and disclosed a relevant piece of information, a strong voice interrupted them. "Mrs. Levine?"

Twisting around, Lacy watched the sheriff and his deputy approach. "Sheriff? Hi."

Removing his hat, the sheriff nudged his young deputy who was gawking at the television star dressed in the scantly two-piece electric blue swimsuit. Waiting for Deputy Simmons to don a professional demeanor, the sheriff stated the facts. "Ma’am. We’ve caught the perps."

Flashing a white smile, the deputy translated. "He means the two guys that broke into your place the other night."

"Ted, I can do this by myself." If you weren’t my sister’s kid, I’d have thrown you off the force. The stern look he drilled into his nephew hit to the core. I may still do that yet. "Actually, it was Sally’s kid, Ned, and his friend, Buddy Dunston. Sally’s not going to press charges. She’s piss…. upset though since she was ranting and raving that some crazy nut broke into the cabin." He smiled at that thought. "But you can, since you were the legal occupant of the dwelling at the time and it was your stuff they took."

Ted supplied the information he found to be relevant. "We haven’t recovered your under…." Realizing two children were nearby he cleared his throat. "Personal items. They both claimed they threw the items away though."

"What about my broach? I don’t care about the other things." Lacy asked.

"We haven’t recovered it. Matter of fact, they maintain they didn’t take it." The sheriff said. "You want to file a complaint?"

"Not unless it would help me get my broach back. It belonged to my grandmother." Lacy felt all hope was lost in finding the family heirloom.

"How’d you find out it was them?" Gage asked.

The sheriff answered before his nephew spoke. "Loose lips. The boys, they were drinking at the time, were boasting about being in Mrs. Levine’s bedroom and what kind of…. nightwear she wore."

"When they described the red panties, I knew." Ted smiled.

Finalizing her decision, Lacy answered. "No. I just want the matter closed."

"Mrs. Levine, perhaps we could take another look through the cabin and see if it was misplaced." The young deputy offered.

"Thank you, deputy." Lacy stood up, covering herself with a swim wrap. Thinking Lacy was going to head off with the deputy right then, Gage jumped up, knocking back her chair. Then Lacy added. "I may talk with Mrs. Raye about checking out the cabin later to look for the broach. If I do, Gage can go with me."

Nodding, the sheriff corralled his frisky deputy and headed back to their patrol car, taking their leave. Gage, relieved by Lacy’s comments, came up next to her. "You okay?"

"Yes." Looking into concerned green eyes, Lacy asked. "You will go with me, won’t you?"

"Absolutely. I’ll call Sally right now if you want." Gage offered. "Come on, kids."

Grabbing the writer’s arm, Lacy stopped her. "Maybe I should call her. I don’t think she likes you."

Gage chuckled. "She doesn’t."

Lacy quirked an eyebrow in question.

"It’s Mark she really detests. You see, Sally owns all the cabins on this side of the lake except for this one. Mark refuses to sell. You wouldn’t know it by looks, but she’s a shrewd businesswoman. Owns the only grocery store in town and the only bar." Gage helped Derek pack up his fishing gear and motioned for Dani to join them. She reluctantly did, picking up her cooler full of fish. "You call and we’ll….." Astonished that she was actually going to make the offer to undertake such a disgusting task, Gage said. "Clean the fish."

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

Fish cleaned, fried and eaten, Gage and Lacy debated whether they all needed to search the cabin for Lacy’s broach. A compromise was reached. They walked the short distance to the cabin together. Dani took the opportunity to gather a few rocks that were definitely keepers. Derek squirmed in Gage’s arms when they passed the knoll he had taken flight from. Apparently, wanting to give it another try.

When they reached the cabin, Lacy handed the key she still had to Gage. The writer checked the house out first then waved the rest of her entourage in. Lacy set Derek loose after telling him what he was searching for. "Go on, Derek." He scrambled off in search of the missing item like a well-trained bloodhound.

The actress explained to Gage that while they had stayed at a hotel once, Derek, who has a natural instinct for finding things, retrieved what he described as a ‘battery holder’ from under the bed. "Suffice it to say, it was a…." Lacy scratched her forehead, then reluctantly confirmed. "A vibrator."

Gage’s jaw dropped, looking at the star in disbelief.

"No. It wasn’t mine." Lacy admonished the writer.

Backtracking fast. "I didn’t say anything." Gage hurried off, joining the search.

The half hour search yielded nothing. So, Lacy called off her little hound dog who retrieved a lost treasure trove that included a small yo-yo, fingernail clippers and his favorite find, a loud, very loud whistle dangling from a cord. Blowing it over and over again, Lacy swiped it from his mouth. "Let me clean that first, Derek."

Handing it to Gage, the writer made a closer inspection of the noisemaker, noting the slobber on it. "I think he already took care of that."

Snatching it from Gage, they young girl strung it around her neck and dropped on one knee to her brother. "Derek, can I have this? It can be for my birthday."

Shaking his head, Derek agreed, but not without a demand. "Blow."

Like the pied piper, Dani blew the whistle loudly as she led her followers out of the cabin, down the shoreline back to Gage’s place.

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

When it was time to go to bed, Lacy and the kids got ready and without prompting followed Gage down the hallway, finding their way to what had become the community bed.

It didn’t take long for the kids to curl up and find their way to sleepy town, but only after an acute discussion about when Dani was going to get to explore the cave. Lacy quickly diverted her daughter’s persistent request by bringing up the county fair that was starting in a few days. Lacy knew she would finally cave in, literally, and allow her daughter to explore it, but she needed to talk with Gage about it and maybe even have her scout it out first. The vivid memory Lacy carried of her harrowing experience in the cave years ago still played havoc in her mind like a bad rerun.

"With everything that happened I forgot to read your screenplay." Lacy turned toward the writer.

"That was the plan."

"Seriously, I’d love to read it." Lacy admitted.

"Okay. But not without a price." Gage waggled her eyebrows a little more seductively than she intended.

Cocking an eyebrow, Lacy played along. "And that would be?"

Thinking quickly, Gage made her request. "Tell me about your career."

Surprised by the request, and unexpectedly disappointed that Gage hadn’t requested something a little more personal, she complied. "I got lucky getting a few commercials when I first arrived in Hollywood, which paid the bills for awhile until I got the part in that movie you were watching with the kids which led to my TV series that just ended."

"I know all that." Gage assured her. Targeting specific questions to the answers she wanted, she continued. "Do you like it? Is it what you thought it would be? What kind of parts are you looking to do?"

"Well, I really love acting. And it’s mostly what I thought it would be… except for the public persona the fans have of you. You play a cop for six years and they get the impression you are that character."

Gage propped herself up on her elbow. "I’ve watched your show. And, there are some similarities between you and your character."

"You’ve watched the show, huh?" Lacy smiled, sitting up.

Having admitted something she’d avoided up till now, Gage relented. "Yes. I said I did. And, yes, I liked it."

Lacy felt privileged to hear the writer’s admission. "I’ll admit that as an actor you do put something of yourself in your character. I would imagine you do the same in your stories."

Gage thought about it for a minute. "I really didn’t think about it. That’s true, I guess."

"And you’ll find that people will conclude that everything you write about is about you or you had those experiences." Lacy suggested. "It’s just that they get a certain impression and it’s hard to live that image every day. I have good days and bad days like everyone else. But you’re not allowed to be yourself."

"Why not?" Gage truly didn’t understand her dilemma.

"Your agent, publicist, producers….everyone demands that you act the part even in your private life." I know David demands that we put on our best faces no matter what. "I realize because of my job that my private life is played out in the public arena. I just don’t understand why people associate my work, whether they like it or not, to what I do in private. It shouldn’t matter whether they approve of my life or not… if they like my acting then that should be enough." Lacy relaxed back down. "I’m just whining, aren’t I?"

"No." Gage insisted. "It’s hard for you, isn’t it?"

Shaking her head. "Yes. My greatest fear is that one day my private life will come into direct conflict with my professional life and I’ll have to choose one or the other."

It happened when Lacy became pregnant with Derek. To hear David rant and rave you’d think she just committed a sin putting her hugely successful show in jeopardy. He tried forcing her in making a decision and, suffice it to say, her up and coming producer husband demanded that she choose her career. It was the one decision she staunchly refused to be swayed his way. So, in every other decision regarding her career Lacy placated her husband wishes to avoid the inevitable confrontations. Following her husband’s directives and posturing a perfect public personal, Lacy went on automatic pilot.

"You’re extraordinarily talented, Lacy." Gage said sincerely. "I’m sure your fans would understand whatever you choose to do in your life."

"They’re not really the ones that concern me. It’s the perception producers have about what they think the public will accept, that’s the real issue."

Shooting for some brevity, Gage asked. "You’re not thinking of donning a covert façade and sell secrets to other countries like a Mata Hari, are you?"

It must have done the trick because Lacy let out a very relieved laugh, slapping Gage across the arm. "Get outta here."

A definite pout bloomed on her face, protesting. "But it’s my bed!" With a quick glance across the bed, seeing she was out numbers by the Levine brood, Gage conceded. "It was my bed."

 

Chapter Fourteen

Luxuriating in peaceful contentment Lacy stretched languidly closer to the source of tranquility she craved. Dragging her eyes open from a deep and restful sleep, Lacy found herself draped over the writer. A slow satisfied smile crawled across her face, dropping her heavy eyelids and edged even closer. Lacy let her body and mind lounge in the wonderful feeling of being in a place where she wanted to be for the rest of her life. Her mind drifted, basking in this welcoming thought. She inhaled long and slow, breathing deeply until suddenly an alarm bell screamed in her head at the realization of the position her body was in and that this wasn’t a dream.

She jerked up, pushed herself back practically rolling over her daughter who had taken up residence on her left side. This abrupt movement woke the remaining sleeping occupants.

Containing a surge of frantic confusion at being abruptly awoken, a startled Gage asked. "What? What is it?"

Regaining her composure, Lacy calmly announced. "Nothing. I…must have had a bad dream." Yet, it was anything but a bad dream she grudgingly admitted. No, not a dream. It was real. I…. felt….I can’t think about this now. The previous fleeting feelings toward Gage had been effectively shoved back only to resurge, bombarding her senses into overload. Lacy stubbornly refused to pursue these intimate thoughts any further. It led down a path she’d never considered before. A road wrought with the unknown and on the surface grated against what she was brought up to believe. I’m married for God’s sake.

"Come on, kids." Lacy pulled Derek from the bed and nudged Dani off the mattress. "We need to get dressed." Trotting them out the door and down the hallway.

Before Gage could say a word, they were gone. Confused by the star’s actions, the writer stumbled out of bed herself. Mumbling, she said. "Wonder what that was all about?"

Gage was fixing breakfast when Lacy and the kids emerged from the second bedroom. The kids settled themselves at the table, receiving a glass of milk from Gage. Returning to the frying bacon, Gage covertly watched Lacy collect the plates and silverware. It was apparent Lacy was edgy and avoiding Gage, slipping around her with downcast eyes.

"Excuse me." Lacy shifted past Gage, averting her blue eyes.

Pulling the last piece of bacon from the pan, Gage sifted some flour in it, stirring till it turned golden brown then added some milk creating a delicious gravy. "It’s about ready." Turning abruptly to make the announcement, she nearly collided with Lacy who had retrieved some napkins.

After a few awkward passes around each other, Gage settled down to the table while Lacy filled her children’s plates. The silence was unsettling. The writer would briefly catch Lacy looking at her, only to see her turn away quickly.

Lacy felt the compelling yearnings about Gage begging to be considered overpower her already distraught emotions when a reprieve from her daughter broke the deafening silence. "What are we gonna do today?" Dani asked hopefully.

"We have to get some clothes washed this morning, clean up this place." Lacy said quickly, eyeing the living room that wasn’t really dirty it just looked lived in. "And we need to….." Lacy continued, apparently starting on a long list of unappealing things to do.

"I wanted to barbeque some hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch then take the boat out. What’d ya say?" Gage just as hurriedly inserted, diverting Lacy from the tasks she was listing.

Finally, looking straight into the writer’s concerned and questioning green eyes, Lacy acquiesced. She hasn’t done anything. I don’t know why I’m taking it out on her. "Actually, that sounds great."

A bright smile flashed across Dani’s face. At least that will get me closer to the cave than staying here. She jumped off her chair, helped her brother down and towed him along toward the bathroom. "We’ll get ready."

"Honey, first we’ve got to wash some clothes. Why don’t you gather them up?" Lacy called after her impatient daughter.

Dani rolled her eyes, but complied.

Gage collected the plates and dropped them in the hot, soapy water. She immediately started washing them without saying a word to her silent friend.

Within a few moments, Lacy joined her, drying the washed dishes. "I’m sorry."

Nonchalantly, the dishwasher asked. "What for?"

"This morning." Lacy opened the cabinet door, depositing the dried glasses. "You haven’t done anything and I’ve been rude to you."

"Distant, maybe, a little aloft, but not rude." Gage corrected her. "Anything I can help with?"

"I think I need to sort this out on my own." Lacy admitted.

"Okay." Gage accepted. "At least let me help with the clothes. I’ve got a few things to wash, too, if you don’t mind putting our clothes together."

Lacy let her mind travel a ways down the road she was attempting to avoid. Putting our clothes together isn’t what concerns me; it’s what’s under our clothes coming together that have made me dizzy, confused and…hot. Waving her hand in front of her face, Lacy’s mind strayed.

"Lacy?"

Whirling back from that disturbing yet intriguing wayward thought, Lacy said. "What? Oh, yeah, I think we can get together. I mean, our clothes can get… be put…."

Baffled by Lacy’s muddled words, Gage completed the sentence. "Washed together?"

Saved by an ear-piercing noise, Derek ran from his sister, blowing her whistle loudly. "Derek, give that back to me." She cornered him then calmly reminded him. "You gave that to me for my birthday, remember?"

He shook his head knowingly. But as she approached him to retrieve it, Derek dropped down between her legs, scrambled through them, heading straight for his savior of choice. "Jage. Jage. Help me."

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

Having decided to take a boat ride around the lake first then barbeque, Gage started the fire in preparation of dinner. Derek, with a frown on his face, watched his sister blowing her whistle while she searched the area for rocks and four-leaf clovers. Lacy walked out to the porch with a tray of uncooked hotdogs and ground beef. She handed them to Gage. "He’s still not happy."

Taking in her son’s frustrated disposition, Lacy had an idea. "I’ll be right back."

The slamming of a car door jerked Gage’s attention from the barbeque grill. Her keen hearing noted the soft footfalls of someone approaching the cabin from the side of the deck. Gage observed Derek repel at the sight of the strange man as he came around the corner of the porch. Without hesitation, Gage stepped between the three year old and the stranger. "Hello. Can I help you?"

The unexpected visitor remained silent, but surveyed the area, taking note of Derek who hovered behind Gage and Dani playing in the yard several feet away.

"Who are you?" Gage demanded an answer.

Just then, Lacy stepped out on the porch. Shocked by his presence, she said. "David! What are you doing here?"

David slid up next to her, brushing a kiss on her cheek. "Don’t sound so excited to see, babe." He then turned his attention to his son. "Derek, come here." He opened his arms to receive a welcome from Derek who didn’t budge.

Becoming aware of the confused look on Gage’s face, Lacy hurried the introduction. "I’m sorry. Gage, this is…. David."

The writer still held a questioning look. So, David leaned forward, extending his hand. "Her husband." He moved back, wrapping his arm around his wife’s shoulder.

"Daddy!" Dani squealed upon seeing her father. She rushed into his waiting arms.

David hugged his daughter tightly. "At least someone is glad to see me." He said sarcastically, glancing from his son to his wife as she dangled the yo-yo from her hand.

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

Dinner mirrored the same deafening silence that breakfast had served up, but for entirely different reasons. The group was now gathered in the living room. David patiently listened to his daughter explain the details of their vacation so far, spending an inordinate amount of time telling tales of her captaining the boat and of the cave nearby.

"There’s a fair this weekend. And now that you’re here, we can all go." She scooted up on his lap, happy at the prospect.

"Yes, well,….." David shifted his gray eyes toward Lacy. "We need to talk later."

Recognizing the hidden meaning behind David’s request, Lacy knew there would be a change of plans about to hit the fan. This time she was staunchly going to stand her ground. They had come here for a family vacation. A well deserved vacation and she was bound and determined to keep that promise to her kids.

"Gage is coming to….we’re going to use her boat." Dani continued, oblivious to the subtle battle glances between husband and wife.

"Honey, why don’t you take Derek and get ready for bed?" Lacy suggested to her daughter.

"What? It’s not even dark out yet." Dani nearly shouted in protest.

Sliding her off his lap, David ordered. "Go on, do as your mother says."

She complied suddenly recognizing the signs that her parents were going to have another one of their disagreements.

Turning his attention to Gage, David thanked her. "It was nice of you to spend some time with my family. The boat and all." He shifted slightly, coughed then continued. "If you don’t mind though, it’s getting late and I’d like to talk with my wife…. alone. We haven’t seen each other in a week." He winked. "Well, you know what I mean."

Bolting up, Gage shoved her hands in her pockets. Yeah, I know what you mean.

"David!" Lacy admonished him.

"That’s okay. I need to make a couple of calls anyway." Gage offered.

David stood up, walking away from her, but said over his shoulder. "Maybe we’ll see you around tomorrow."

Gage grabbed her leather satchel and cellular phone from the kitchen counter then marched toward the door. Just before reaching it, Lacy tugged at her arm, twisting her back around.

"Don’t go. This is your place." A quick glance back toward her husband who had grabbed his overnight bag and headed into the master bedroom, Lacy apologized. "I should have told him earlier about the break in and that we’re staying here with you."

Gently grasping Lacy’s arm, Gage offered her a genuine smile. "It’s okay. I’ll sleep in the boathouse and we’ll….sort it out in the morning."

"Thank you." Lacy said, before Gage slipped out into the darkening night. Lacy consciously decided not to tell her husband about the break in that evening even though she had made several calls back home in attempt to reach him. Suspecting he was about to cancel their vacation, she knew he would use that to validate his change of plans. Lacy reluctantly walked into the master bedroom to find David getting ready for bed.

"Is there a phone in here? I need to make some calls." David looked around, finding none. "Guess I’ll use my cell phone. I’ve got a couple of calls to make and we need to talk about your movie with Koda."

Ready for bed, the kids walked into the bedroom. Dani immediately jumped up on the bed while Derek stayed behind his mother. Slipping out of his shirt, David sternly eyed his daughter. "And just what do you think you’re doing, missy."

"Going to bed." Dani said straight to the point.

"And since when did you start sleeping with your mom and….." David was interrupted when Lacy leaped into action before Dani could answer; she herded her children from the master bedroom to the other bedroom.

Tucking her two kids in bed, Lacy kissed one then the other on their forehead. "Goodnight."

"Mom?" Dani asked.

"Mmmmm?" Lacy turned at the door.

"Are we gonna leave?"

"No." Lacy winked then added. "You be a good girl and watch your brother tonight. Okay?"

Dani nodded.

Lacy ambled down the short hallway to the master bedroom as if it was the longest walk of her life. This wasn’t a fight she wanted to face. David had changed, ready for bed and browsing through his day planner.

"Kids asleep?" He asked not hearing the answer.

Lacy crossed the room, gathering her clothes and entered the bathroom to change while David punched in several numbers on his cell phone.

A short while later, she crawled into bed as he replaced his cell phone on the night table. "I just talked to Griffen. He wants to step up the start date a couple of weeks for your movie with Koda."

"That’s just six weeks from now." Lacy sighed. "I promised mom we’d stop by for a visit after our vacation."

"Maybe after the movie." David said absent-mindedly, scribbling in his day planner. "Ryan’s stirring up a fuss about starting earlier than planned, but he’ll just have to adjust. Griffen is adamant about it. My partner doesn’t realize you can’t bite the hand that feeds you."

"That means Ryan will have to rush his latest project. What’s the hurry anyway?"

"Griffen’s got another movie he wants me to do…..it’s with Hayston." David said nonchalantly. "And his daughter, Kathy, just got out of film school and he wants her on the project." He added as an after thought.

"My co-star has a movie deal? Great. She was concerned about being stereotyped. What’s the role?"

"Detective."

"Oh." Then her thoughts turned to a young girl she’d met several times throughout her filming of her cop show. Kathy Griffen, the movie mogul’s only child. She was ambiguous and a go-getter. Lacy admired the fact that Kathy elected to attend film school before taking the standing job offer by her father to work on one of his movies. "It will be nice to see Kathy again."

Without really listening to his wife’s comment, David was preoccupied with Lacy’s future leading man. "And it works better for Koda." David shook his head, laid his day planner down and turned his complete attention to his wife. "He’s a pistol, isn’t he?"

A quirked eyebrow signaled him to proceed.

"He’s had an affair with all his leading ladies. The son of a bitch has some ego." David chuckled.

"Are you worried?"

"Me? Hell no." Lacy was happy to know her husband trusted her and wouldn’t succumb to Koda Kannon’s charming and, some say, irresistible ways. "He’s got nothing on me."

Her happy mood deflated, she said softly. "I thought it was because you trusted me."

Turning fully toward her, he pulled her closer. "I do trust you, babe. You’ve got better sense than that."

"I see." But she really didn’t and neither did her husband.

Noticing his lovely wife’s dejected expression, he offered a promise. "Listen, babe. After the movie, we’ll really be able to take a long vacation. That was the original plan anyway, right?" David slid down next to his wife.

Plan? All my plans have been bombarded of late. The seedlings of her unexpected feelings for Gage, the stress related to the break in and the subtle distance between them, eroding their relationship, that had invaded her marriage in the last few years weighed heavily on her mind. Lacy longed for the love and security her marriage once offered. Flooded by an array of mixed emotions, Lacy allowed her husband’s soft touches and seductive words wash over her. She needed to feel grounded and safe in a world that just recently offered up a plate of uncertainty.

After his fifteen minutes of fame in the sack, he rolled over and fell into a light sleep. Left unsatisfied, Lacy slipped out of bed, picked up her husband’s discarded clothes and headed to the bathroom for a shower.

She hung his jacket on the bathroom doorknob, slipped out of her clothes, plunging into the hot steamy water in hopes of washing away the day’s unsettling events.

When Lacy heard the telephone ring, she stepped out of the shower, water still running. Not wanting to wake her husband, she rushed to the bathroom door. Grasping her husband’s jacket, the doorknob slipped out of her hand causing the door to creak open slightly. With jacket in hand, Lacy heard her husband answer the telephone.

"Hello." He answered groggily, quickly looking around the room upon hearing the familiar voice on the other end of the telephone line. "I told you I’d call you."

Silence filled the room for a brief moment as Lacy listened.

"No, she’s in the shower." David sighed heavily. "I haven’t had time to talk with her about it." A brief pause. "Listen, Hayston, if I wasn’t serious about it then why do you think I killed her character off in the finale."

Shocked, Lacy couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

Leary of his wife’s return, David said hastily. "Yea, I’ll call ya later and I love you, too, babe." David closed the conversation with a proffered kiss that traveled the phone line and planted itself on the smiling lips of Hayston Rawlings. He replaced the cell phone on the nightstand, listened momentarily to the water still running in the bathroom then pulled the covers up over his head.

Her hands tightened around his jacket like a noose squeezing the neck of a condemned man. The crunch of papers inside his jacket drew her attention. She eased up on her grip, placing the jacket over a small chair. As she did, several papers fell to the floor. Retrieving them, Lacy scanned the contents without much regard until the word ‘divorce’ jumped out at her. Divorce papers! Her mind reeled from the conversation her husband had just shared with her co-star to several months ago when David laid out the reasons as to why it would be the best thing to do in killing off her character. A light flipped on in her mind shining brightly and more pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Lacy slid down the door to the floor, stunned.

For what seemed like eternity, she stared into space. Debating between waking David up or waiting till morning to ‘discuss’ this revelation. She found she didn’t have the strength for either. With her world crumbling before her, Lacy sought a safe haven, far away from her troubles. Unsteady on her feet, she threw on a robe, crossed the bedroom oblivious to the sleeping producer, down the hall for a quick check on her children then fled from the cabin. In the deep, darkness of the night, she found her way instinctively to the only place where she would find sanctuary.

Creeping softly across the damp boards, Lacy peeked inside the door. A stream of moonlight lay across the peaceful sleeping features of the only one that could redeem her soul from the dark abyss in which it was falling.

"Gage." Lacy called softly.

Gage had been watching Lacy as she hesitated briefly then called to her. "Lacy, what is it?"

She stepped in, closing the door behind. "I….would you mind…." Her voice wavered, on the verge of tears; Lacy succumbed to her heart’s desire. "I need you."

Gage threw back the covers on the twin bed, welcoming her friend. "Come here." The gentle command, like a magnet, pulled Lacy across the room, sliding into home. Safe at last.

Gage gathered Lacy in her arms, dragging the covers up over them. Lacy cried softly, releasing the flood of emotions whirling like a vortex throughout her mind, body and soul. "I…I…" Her words stumbled helplessly.

"Let it out. I’m here." Assuring Lacy of her devout friendship, the writer molded their bodies together in silent affirmation that Gage would be there forever if only Lacy would allow it.

Long moments later, sobbing, Lacy recounted the conversation she had witnessed between Hayston and her husband, adding the discovery of the divorce papers. She spilled out her doubts, her fears and the unsettling direction her future would take, not only for her, but, more importantly, for the kids.

Pulling the star even closer, Gage sent every bit of love she had for Lacy to her, willing it to heal the broken women in her arms. Gage determined then and there to do anything, everything, whatever it took to help Lacy, no matter what. For the woman I love.

Admitting this fact didn’t shock her. For Gage had fallen in love with Lacy from the first moment when forsaken green met soulful blue. She recalled seeing Lacy that day dressed casually in light blue jeans, a form fitting burgundy tank top and the bluest, sexiest eyes she’d ever seen. But it was the sound of her velvet voice that held Gage prisoner, happy to serve a life sentence.

Lacy finally fell into a deep sleep. Holding the beautiful woman in her arms, Gage brushed her lips against Lacy’s forehead, closed her eyes, and quietly whispered, "Goodnight."

 

Chapter Fifteen

A groggy David woke to the smell of frying bacon. He slipped out of bed, made his way down the short hallway to the kitchen to be greeted to what appeared to him to be a happy family moving about having their breakfast together. Scratching his head, What’s wrong with this picture?

A light bulb above his head switched on, as he stood there clothed only in his boxer shorts. This is my family. Glaring at the stranger from last night, Who the hell is she anyway? Gage went about fixing breakfast, ignoring the half naked producer staring a hole in her.

"David?" Lacy said, sitting a plate on the table. "Join us." The glee in her voice was strikingly annoying to the still jet-lagged producer. But it was the shrill grating noise of the whistle Dani blew that blasted against his early morning jagged edge.

"Dani!" Aggravated, he piped out. "Stop it."

Immediately, she let the ever-present whistle drop from her mouth to dangle on the cord around her neck. "Sorry."

"You’re going to be nine soon. Don’t you think it’s about time you grew up?" Agitated in a rare show beyond his usual placid demeanor with his daughter, David recoiled at Lacy’s next stern words.

"David! I suggest you go back and get some clothes on. And take some time to…. re-evaluate your attitude this morning." An arched eyebrow left no doubt to him that this was not a woman to be reckoned with. Not this morning anyway. It was uncommon for his wife’s angry temperament to raise its ugly head. "Now." This last word spoken with true grit caused the usual confidant and ‘I bow to no one’ producer to scoot down the hallway like a child in trouble.

"What the hell’s up with her this morning?" David cursed, as he jumped into his trouser, tucked in his shirt and hunted for his jacket. Slipping on his suit coat, David marched back into the kitchen with resolve to straighten his wife’s attitude out before he let the hammer fall.

"Lacy!" David said just short of a shout. "We need to talk. Now." Casting a hateful look to Gage, he added. "Alone."

"David." Lacy calmly said as her daughter carefully watched the interaction between her mother and father. "Sit down and have some breakfast first. Then we’ll talk." The sarcastic twist Lacy spun on her last word sent an odd shiver through him.

After breakfast, David determined to recapture domination of his family situation that was spiraling out of control since the break of dawn. He coughed then politely asked. "Gage, is it? I’d like to talk to my family alone. That is, if you don’t mind." The caustic tone cut sharp, but no one was within striking distance.

Gage remained steadfast as Lacy informed her, for the moment, husband. "Gage isn’t going anywhere. Unless she wants to. This is her cabin."

"What do you mean, her cabin?" David inquired, holding the razor sharp edge to his voice in check.

"Somebody broke into our cabin and we’ve been staying here with Gage. She tells stories you know." Dani supplied, finishing her last bite of food.

"Stories?" Derek happily clapped his hands.

"Later." Gage picked him up and sat Derek on her lap.

David glared at his wife. "Mind telling me what’s been going on?"

Picking up her plate, Lacy stood. "Dani, you go with Gage and Derek, I’d like to talk with your father alone." She nudged Dani up off the chair. "Now, go on." Lacy nodded to Gage adding a smile that said ‘everything would be alright’.

With both kids in tow, Gage walked outside, heading to the boathouse. Having looked back only twice, Gage hoped Lacy would be okay in handling the delicate situation with her husband. Uncertain of the influence David had over his wife, Gage was deeply concerned what the outcome of their talk my yield. Gage discovered that Lacy had a very trusting nature and generally was willing to go along with things, sometimes just to placate the person or the situation and not make waves. Gage had no idea how deeply ingrained in Lacy this had become due to her husband’s subtle manipulating domination.

Turning to David, Lacy gathered her strength. Generally, she didn’t like confrontations, steering clear of them at all costs. "David." Lacy started to explain.

"No. First, you explain to me why you didn’t inform me of the break in and why you’re staying here at …. her cabin. And," Slamming his fist on the table, he shouted. "Just who the fuck is she anyway?"

Like a picture frozen in time, Lacy remained still. David fumed, stalked across the floor then waited for some sort of explanation. Finally, she asked. "Have you calmed down yet?"

With controlled anger, he sat. "Go ahead." He said through clenched teeth.

"I did call you. The machine picked up. As a matter of fact, I haven’t been able to reach you at all. Been busy?" The sharp sarcastic tone edged from her voice did not go unnoticed by David. "And yesterday when you avoided Dani’s question about going to the fair, I knew you had a change of plans in mind. I didn’t want you to use the break in as an excuse to modify our plans."

He started to protest, but she cut him off. "Don’t even deny it. I’ve known you too long. It’s your usual style. We make plans with the family and something always….always comes up."

"That’s not true, babe. Besides, what do you want me to do? Just forget about work."

"David, what was I wearing when you showed up yesterday?"

"What?" Dumbfounded, David looked at her.

"It’s a simple question. What was I wearing?"

"I… clothes." David didn’t have a clue as usual. "Hell, babe, I don’t know… jeans, I think. What does this have to do with anything?"

"Apparently nothing." Lacy said, surprisingly calm. "I realized, just recently, I’ve become an…. ornament in your life. And our marriage, well, let’s just say, it’s a…. was a deal sweetener." Fueled by finding the divorce papers the evening before which hit her like a shock of icy cold water, Lacy took stock of her marriage with David and what it had become. The cold hard reality of it blew through her like a howling whip of shivering wind. The whirlpool of emotions froze solid and the whole comprehension of their relationship would take time to thaw.

"You’ve lost me completely."

"No, you’ve lost me." She corrected him.

"What?" Confusion reigned heavily in his mind.

She handed him the divorce papers. "I’ve signed them." Turning on him with a predatory glare, Lacy said with steel affirmation. "I get the kids."

Shocked, he fought to formulate words of protest.

Raising her hand, Lacy stopped him cold. "One, you didn’t want Derek. Remember your attempts at getting me to get an abortion. The show must go on you said. Two, you weren’t involved with them anyway. Work always came first and, three, I don’t think you’ll have time, not now, with your new girlfriend."

"Come again." How the hell could she know?

"Hayston Rawlings. My ever loyal co-star and even more supposed loyal husband in a clandestine tryst." Lacy shook her head in mock shame.

It was like a stun gun had slapped him in the face. She couldn’t know anything. I’ve been so careful and she’s always believed me before.

Seeing his bewilderment, she filled him in. "I overheard you’re conversation last night. The rest was easy. Oh, by the way, tell me again, why you killed off my character in the finale." She smiled sweetly. "You might want to tell the truth this time. Was it a deal you just couldn’t refuse? Maybe it has something to do with this mystery movie you have with Griffen and Hayston." Waving her hand, Lacy walked away before he could. "Never mind, I don’t want to know." Triumph filled her every pore albeit a sad one at that. "And don’t call me babe."

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

David, with bag in hand, reluctantly walked the short distance to his car.

"It’s okay. Go ahead, David. The shoes on the other foot, isn’t it?" Lacy said.

"I don’t mind telling you I haven’t understood one thing you’ve said since I arrived yesterday." David retorted snidely.

"Then let me explain. You’re usually the one that walks out when we’re having a ‘discussion’. How does it feel? You know I loathed that, didn’t you?"

He opened the car door, tossed in the bag then turned toward Lacy. "Apparently, I’m still the one walking out." David flashed a smile, syrupy sweet.

"You don’t get it, do you?" Lacy shook her head, feeling sorry for her husband of ten years.

Having a hard time understanding his wife’s new attitude, David slid into the car then said. "No, what I don’t get is you."

"That’s right you don’t." A firm voice confirmed. David turned to the origin of that steely voice, meeting cold green eyes. "The kids are inside. In case you wanted to say goodbye."

David slammed the door, started the engine and left. Dani stood at the window, gazing out as her father’s car traveled down the road away from her. She hadn’t heard the exchange between her parents, but she was wise enough to deduce that life would never be the same.

When Lacy and Gage walked back into the cabin, Dani asked. "Are we going back home now?"

"No, not quite yet." Lacy answered solemnly.

Hesitantly, she asked another question, waiting on bated breath for the answer. "When we do, will daddy be there waiting for us?"

Lacy dropped down next to her daughter, pulling her into a warm, comforting embrace. Dani had her answer in the silence that hung in the air.

Derek walked up to his mother, tugged on her sleeve and asked. "Jage go with us home?"

Tears welled in Dani, Lacy and Gage’s eyes, but for different reasons.

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

Night fell upon the cabin and the solemn mood that blanketed its residents the rest of the day was still held in check. When Lacy mentioned it was bedtime, Dani studiously grabbed her younger brother’s hand and led him to their bedroom to change. Lacy caught up with them in the bathroom as Dani was putting the finishing touches to brushing her teeth.

As she walked out the door, Dani turned right instead of left taking her into the second bedroom. Lacy followed with Derek on her heels. "Are you sleeping in here tonight?" Lacy asked, wondering why her daughter hadn’t decided to pounce on Gage’s bed as usual.

Tucking herself in, Dani confirmed. "Yes." Seeing the surprise on her mother’s face, the young girl continued. "Jeez, I am going to be nine soon." Her father’s words echoed in Lacy’s thoughts, but were firmly pounding away in the young girl’s mind.

"I see." She lifted Derek upon the other twin bed. "Then I guess you’re old enough to watch over your brother tonight."

"I am." The seriousness in her tone for some strange reason caused Derek to giggle.

Lacy leaned down to kiss her son then did the same to her daughter. "Then I’ll rest easy tonight. Thank you." She gave her daughter a confident wink.

Gage finished putting up some games that had occupied their subdued time for part of the evening. She watched Lacy amble across the room into the kitchen, drawing a glass of water. "You okay?"

Finishing her water, Lacy replaced the glass. Wandering back into the living room, she finally slipped down on the couch. Inhaling deeply, she let the chest full of air escape slowly in a deep sigh. "It’s just been a trying day."

"Want to talk about it?" Gage checked the doors, ensuring they were locked, but keeping a careful eye on the quiet star.

"Maybe later." The laconic answer left more questions begging to be answered, hanging heavily in the air.

"You going to bed then?" Gage was running out of things to say hoping to jumpstart Lacy into unleashing the foreboding feelings welling up inside.

"I think I’ll just read some." Lacy threw a quick glance to the writer. "Would you mind if I read one of your stories?"

Hesitant, Gage nodded. "Sure." She retrieved her latest screenplay from her leather satchel. Handing it to Lacy, the writer then turned, walking to the bedroom, she whispered. "Goodnight."

Lacy knew Gage wanted to talk and the irony was that it was the exact same thing she wanted, but found the irresistible urge to do that beyond her capabilities in that moment.

Instead of finding sleep, Gage called Mark Calico, her friend and partner. "Mark, hey, did I wake you up?"

"And if you did, would it really matter?" Mark’s sleepy voice offered an attempt at brevity.

Silent, Gage sighed. "Sorry."

"No, I’m sorry. I was just kidding." Mark recognized his friend’s troubled state easily now. "What’s wrong?"

"Nothing really. Hey, what did you say the other day about my book?"

Taking a moment to merge onto the same track as his friend, Mark recounted their conversation. "It hit the top ten. Great news, huh?"

A small chuckle escaped. "I wonder what I was thinking when you told me that. It sure didn’t sink in."

"I believe you were in hot pursuit of my arch enemy. The wasp." Mark laughed. "How’d that turn out?"

"Don’t ask?"

"Okay, what can I ask then?" Mark was concerned now.

"It’s what I want to ask of you."

"Anything." Mark assured her.

"Do you have any contacts in Hollywood? I know you do. But I’m talking about people you could find out information from on the QT." Gage asked.

"What do you want to know?" As always, she knew her good friend would come through for her.

As Gage hung up the phone, Lacy cleared her throat. "Hi."

"You finished already?" Gage asked surprised.

"No."

"Please don’t tell me it was boring or, heaven forbid, you didn’t like it." Gage smiled indicating she was joking.

"Can I come in?" Seeing Gage nod, Lacy walked in, not stopping until she slipped into bed along side the writer. "I didn’t even get started. Too much on my mind."

"Can I help?"

Lacy spent a few moments regaling Gage with her life story zeroing in on her relationship with David over the years along with snippets about Hayston Rawlings and how David referred to her as ‘babe’. Sarcasm dripped like venomous poison as she said that last word.

"You don’t like to be called ‘babe’?" Gage asked, making a mental note for later.

"I hate it." Disgust flashed across her face. "But when you lov..care about someone, I don’t know, it seems to fade into the background. He meant it as an endearment."

Another thing that bothered Lacy was the fact that David didn’t seem at all concerned about her upcoming pairing with Koda Kannon. Aware of Koda’s flirtatious ways, David showed no sign of jealousy. His only response was his humongous ego roaring loudly, unconcerned that Lacy would even be tempted by anyone else when compared to him. Lacy then wondered how the writer would feel if faced with the same situation. "Gage, if you cared for someone and, let’s say, the person you loved was doing a movie. And, well, the….there was a love scene and the other person was a real charmer always getting their co-star to fall for them. Well, how would you feel about that?" She peered deeply into the writer’s thoughtful green eyes.

"You mean, the woman I love….." Lacy took serious note of Gage’s gender reference. "Was being charmed by an irresistible Casanova. Would I be jealous? Most definitely…. yes."

"So you’d be jealous." She recounted more to herself.

A wide smile swept over Gage’s face. "I don’t have green eyes for nothing."

"What would you do?" Lacy asked tentatively.

She shrugged. "It’s her decision. Doesn’t mean I’d have to like it though." Gage turned. "Of course, I would trust her with our love. With all my heart." She finished, gazing into the star’s sparkling eyes.

Suspecting Gage’s feelings toward her ran parallel as her own feelings toward the writer, Lacy quizzed. "What was I wearing the first day we met?"

Surprised by the question, Gage offered a cavalier response. "Clothes." Quick to see it was not the answer Lacy was looking for, Gage turned resolute. "Let’s see, jeans, light blue and a deep burgundy tank top…" That was so tight I could… Gage cleared her throat. "…tennis shoes….." A smile rose on her face in remembrance, temporarily forgetting that the woman lying next to her was the same woman she was now intimately describing. "Blue eyes, very blue….beautiful blue eyes that reigned over a brilliant smile." Out of the side of her eyes, Gage saw that same brilliant smile shining back at her. Uh oh! Gage shifted alarmed green eyes back and forth waiting for the bomb to explode at her unexpected revelation.

"Thank you." With those words, Lacy scooted closer, shut her eyes and fell asleep. Then and only then did Gage let out a breath she knew she was holding.

 

Chapter Sixteen

With the quick turnaround regarding her father’s stay, Dani sunk into a bleak depression. Breakfast came and went only to be met by a silent eight year old. She refused any and all suggestions made by her mother. Lunch started out the same way as the early morning meal had and Lacy couldn’t take the unbearable stillness any longer. "Gage, I was thinking….. today might be a good day to explore that cave. What do you think?"

The unexpected suggestion jumpstarted the lifeless attitude Dani wore all day, perking up now, a slow smile crept across her face.

"We could do that. What do you say Dani?" Gage asked.

Not one to waste time when on the verge of getting want she’d craved for days, Dani jumped up ready to go. With her constant companion strung around her neck, Dani blew it loudly. "Let’s go."

This triggered Derek. "Yo-yo. Want yo-yo." He hopped down from his chair, wobbled a bit as he gained his balance, searching for his favorite toy. He finally pulled it from the depths of the couch and strung it around his neck. Derek insisted that his yo-yo have a lanyard just like his sister’s whistle. Happy now, he joined his sister waiting patiently at the door.

"It’s unanimous then." Lacy concluded. "Let me get some extra clothes. As I remember, it can get pretty damp inside that cave." Lacy dreaded and regaled in her decision to explore the cave. On the one hand, her daughter’s depression did a one-eighty flip, but on the other, an unpleasant buried memory was bound to make its presence known.

Walking up to the two would be explorers Gage opened the door. "And we need to get a few things ourselves." The three marched to the boathouse, retrieving two flashlights, matches, a universal tool, which included a small knife and some rope.

"What’s the rope for?" Dani questioned.

"You never know." Her vague answer seemed to appease the young girl who couldn’t care less as to why they would need some rope. "You remember the knots I showed you. Right?"

"Yep, sure do." Dani stated as her mother approach them. "I’ll lead." The self-appointed captain marched off confidently.

"Uh, hmmm. Dani?" Lacy caught the captain’s attention, pointing. "It’s this way."

Without missing a step, Dani did an about face leading her motley crew onward.

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

The mouth of the cave was wide and for the first fifty feet or so the ambient light illuminated it. Lacy delegated Gage to partner up with her son especially since he refused to leave her side while she glued herself to her overzealous daughter. "Let’s all stay together."

This did not sit well with Dani who had lofty ideas of trekking out on her own. "But I have my whistle in case…. you get lost."

"And just what good would a whistle do me if I got lost?" Lacy asked.

"If you got lost, I would just blow my whistle and you could head back toward it. Jeez." Grown ups! Adamantly sure that she would not be the one to lose her way; Dani cocked an eyebrow identical to the one her mother wore. The short battle of wills raged until Dani relented. I’ll let her have the glory. "Fine, stay close behind me." She trotted off deeper in the cave.

When the cave split, Lacy allowed her daughter to investigate the bigger tunnel that veered off to the right, staunchly refusing to entertain the idea of exploring the small tunnel which, of course, was much more enticing to Dani. Lacy nervously searched her bag for the extra flashlight and batteries, having found them she sighed in reassurance.

Gage astutely noticed beads of moisture form on Lacy’s forehead when she redirected her daughter to the larger tunnel. Before proceeding, Gage grasped her arm, with a soft whisper asked. "You okay?"

Nodding, Lacy’s mind took a short trip down memory lane. Her thoughts of the smaller tunnel bolted forward from the recesses of her mind. After a challenge from her older brother, Hank, the then eleven-year-old Lacy walked confidently into the cave armed with only a flashlight. Lacy discovered the small tunnel opened up to a fairly large theater like chamber. She gazed as the small pool glittered against the light from her flashlight just before the trick her mischievous three year older brother played on her came to light when her flashlight petered out as the batteries died. Deep in the alcove of the smaller cave’s opening, Lacy spent half a day wandering aimlessly around in the cold, dark, damp tunnel desperately searching for the way out.

When the rescue team led by her oldest brother, Denny, finally reached her, Lacy was in a state of hypothermia, barely conscious. After a full recovery, Lacy did find one advantage to the whole devastating event. She had her guilt-ridden brother, Hank, wrapped around her little finger for weeks.

Seizing the opportunity to explore further, Dani edged down the cave with flashlight in hand, blowing her whistle, amazed at the sound of its echo. Gage brought up the rear with the second flashlight. They searched the cave for a couple of hours before Lacy called a halt to their little adventure.

When one of the flashlights started to fade, Lacy quickly pulled out the extra one from her bag. Handing it to Gage, her hand shook violently. "I think its time we head back." Her words echoed in the cave emitting a tone that brooked no arguments.

Not happy with her mother’s proclamation, Dani pouted, but soon perked up when Gage announced. "The fair starts tomorrow and we want to get an early start. Right?" Gage touched Lacy’s arm in reassurance and whispered. "When we go to town, I’ll get some fresh batteries."

Retracing their steps, Dani paused a brief moment longingly eyeing the smaller tunnel opening before reluctantly following the rest of her crew out the mouth of the cave. I need to check that….soon. I got a funny feeling about it.

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

Happy with the outcome of the day, Dani was ready and willing to hit the bed. Once again, she guided her brother to their bedroom as Lacy tucked them in.

Gathering her nightclothes, Lacy entered the bathroom to change. A short time later she emerged, running into Gage who had just taken a quick peek in the second bedroom, checking on the children.

"Oh. Sorry." Gage apologized.

An awkward moment passed, blue searching green for the answer to her unspoken question, before Lacy reluctantly moved toward the second bedroom. "Good night." I don’t want to intrude but I wish……

Sucking in a deep breath of courage, the writer gently grabbed the star’s arm turning her back around. "You know, those beds are awfully small and…I got this huge bed just down the hall."

Her wish came true. Even as she followed Gage down the short hall, Lacy absent-mindedly made a case against sharing the huge bed. "Actually, they’re not any smaller than the one we shared in the boathouse."

Gage abruptly turned, confronting her invited guest. "And your point is?"

Understanding reigned supreme, quickly amending her earlier statement. "It was a bit uncomfortable." Gage offered a raised eyebrow of her own. "I mean, it was nice…. but small." Caught between a twin and a king size palette, she sighed. "Can we just go to bed?"

"My thought exactly."

It didn’t take long for Gage to change and join her bed companion. Neither ready to have the day end, they rested together in silence glancing covertly at each other from time to time until Lacy quietly asked. "Tell me about your friend Mark…..and your future plans. Making movies together." She added quickly, not wanting the writer to discover the remnants of jealousy that lingered when it came to Gage’s mysterious business partner.

"We’re just starting our production company really. Getting ready to produce my first screenplay. Mark’s been doing a lot of the pre-production, getting a crew lined up while I finished writing this other story." Gage said, glad to talk about her project. "Mostly, I guess, I really want to write, but I always thought it would be exciting making a movie." She propped herself up on her elbow, looking at the star lying next to her. "Is it?"

"Yes and no." Lacy answered, gazing at an unidentified spot in the air.

"Talkative, aren’t we?"

"I’m sorry. I was just thinking." Turning her full attention to Gage, she continued. "It can be. You get to experience so many different things. Learning to shoot a gun, self-defense, dressing up and… you get paid for it." Her expression turned grave. "Though it doesn’t make up for the long hours…. missed hours with your family, children…..failing them."

"Hey, I’ve seen you with your kids. They adore you."

Without really listening, she elucidated further. "Two failed marriages doesn’t….."

"You can have that and not be in show business." Gage stated.

"My first marriage failed because of my career and this one, well, it’s crumbling as we speak." Thoughtful, she continued. "It’s ironic, with Jason, I was full speed ahead on pursuing my career and he wanted something different for us. With David, I’m the one who is looking for something different. At least, slow down a bit while David keeps shifting into a higher gear."

"How long were you married to Jason?" Gage asked.

"Almost two years. It’s been ten with David. Why?"

"Why? Why do you keep categorizing your relationships as failures?"

"Because they ended. They didn’t last." Perplexed by the question.

"Lacy, from what you’ve told me about your first marriage… you said was mostly good and with David, two great kids and ten years together seems more of a success if you delete the forever clause. You did have lots of great times, didn’t you?"

"Yes, we did." A pause. "It was only after Derek was born that things started to… we grew apart, wanting different things." Lacy confirmed, adding more to her self. "I realize that now."

"In every relationship, no matter how long it lasts…. it seems to me if you enjoyed it, learned from it." Altering the pace of the conversation. "Listen, relationships change every day. They evolve…. grow. Once you stop growing, you start to die. Sometimes we grow together, sometimes not. Instead of calling it a failure, the worst you can say is that it changed or you can just as easily say these relationships were successes."

"I suppose so." A hiatus filled the air. "Society would disagree though."

"Are you a slave to society?" Gage countered.

"As much as I’d like to say no, I’m sure I am in some things." Lacy admitted, thinking of the feelings she’d recently been experiencing about Gage while still being married. And then there’s the fact that we’re both females.

Noticing the frown play on the star’s face, she changed the gloomy subject and Gage inquired. "What do you want out of life now?"

"I did want more children." Lacy didn’t hesitate. "But now…." She let this thought dangle in the air.

"What about your career?"

"I’d like to continue it. But not at the expense of my children. Never that again." The star vowed. "You?"

"I already told you about my career plans." Gage flopped back down. "Though what I really want is to be with the love of my life. My soul mate."

"You believe in that concept, huh?"

"Absolutely."

The writer’s assuredness to that question prompted the next one. "You know who it is?"

"I have an idea." Seeing the questioning look from the woman beside her, Gage allowed a wicked grin to grow on her face.

 

Chapter Seventeen

As Dani guided the boat to dock under Gage’s supervision, they saw the fair’s skyline against a cloudless sky. Derek tried to leap from his mother’s arm to get closer to the festive sound of carnival music playing that inevitability drew children like a magnet. Boat anchored securely to the dock, the foursome walked the short distance to the fairgrounds.

Derek could hardly contain himself, scrambling out of his mother’s arms onto the ground, making a beeline to the yellow rubber ducks floating in a small pond. "Ducky." He leaned over the short tank, grabbing at one of the ducks, on the verge of falling in until his mother rescued him from a certain watery fate. Pulling him back up in her arms, Derek ripped a huge smile across his face with his prize in hand.

The carnie cast a sharp eye at the young child and was about to protest when Gage stepped up between them. Knowing full well Derek would not part with his new friend. "Listen, sir. How bout I give you….." She jammed her hand in her pocket retrieving some money. "A twenty… for the duck."

"No can do." He scratched his week old beard. "But you can play."

So Gage, along with Dani and Lacy, selected numerous ducks, flipping them over to see what they didn’t win. Derek was oblivious to the outcome; he was already a happy little camper.

"Thank you." Lacy whispered to Gage.

A confused look washed over the writer’s face. "David would have made him put the duck back." A pause. "He’s a bit frugal with his money."

This made Gage smile, thinking. Twenty dollars was a drop in the bucket…pond, she amended. Compared to that smile the kid now wore.

Dani decided to take charge of her crew and led them directly to the Ferris wheel. She wanted to ride high on the round machine so she could see where everything was located. "First stop, Ferris wheel."

Dani rode with her mother while Gage escorted the three year old. He scooted closer as the chair rose higher and higher in the air. Dani waved frantically to Derek from the chair above them before her mother settled her daughter back down.

As if on cue, Dani’s got her wish when her chair stopped at the very peak of the wheel. "There’s the scrambler." She squealed. "And we have to go ride that round thing over there."

Following her daughter’s arm aim, Lacy noted. "I think that’s the ring of fire."

"Cool." Then her attention diverted to a building like structure across from the ring of fire. "Is that a fun house?" Dani leaned over the chair’s rail causing it to tip forward. "Derek, you want to go to the fun house?" She yelled below.

Lacy tried to equalize the rocking motion her daughter started, pulling her back. "Dani, you can ask him when we get down from this." Lacy didn’t really mind heights exactly though she was dubious of it. There was a near accident on the set of her show when her harness slipped, plummeting her to the ground only to stop a few feet from the hard concrete floor. She sucked in a deep breath, willing the chair to still and it did. But only for a brief moment before the carnie started the wheel on it’s circular journey.

Finally on the ground, Lacy suggested they have some lunch before taking any more rides. The high carb and all too sweet lunch served up did nothing to settle her stomach. So they decided to visit some of the farm animals to Derek’s delight and Dani’s consternation. She was the kinda girl that liked action.

Gage was all too happy to go along with whatever they wanted, savoring the time spent with what she had come to think of as her new family. She knew it was wishful thinking, but then again sometimes dreams do come true.

At last, Dani was leading her gang toward the fun house when Derek spied a big yellow giraffe that you would think the kid couldn’t live without the way he was carrying on. I’ll never get to the fun house at this rate. And we can’t go on rides hauling that big thing around. "Can’t we do that later?"

Her mother shot her a look that offered the young girl no alternative. Dropped shoulders gave away her resolve. "Then let’s get on with it."

"Dani!" Lacy said sharply, letting her daughter know that indignant tone was not acceptable. "This is a family outing. We all get to do something we want."

Lacy’s words regarding family did not go unnoticed by Gage. The smile on her face shown brightly and even someone in a space shuttle overhead would have easily seen it. So ecstatic by her companion’s words, Gage picked up the rifle on the table in front of her positive she would win the big yellow giraffe for Derek. Apparently, Derek’s favorite color is yellow. This was another fact she would stow away for later.

Slapping some money on the table, Gage took careful aim. Twenty dollars later, she still hadn’t got pass winning a couple of small gray elephants. Looking the rifle over, she demanded. "Got another one? This one’s sights are off." Shaking his head, the carnie offered her a third rifle.

With the last shot being fired and missed, Lacy took pity on her. "Here." Lacy traded her son for the rifle. Two dollars and three perfect shots later, Derek had his giraffe.

Lacy shrugged, looking directly at Gage. "I learned to shoot on the show."

With Derek in her arms and the giraffe wrapped in his arms, Gage strolled off. "Yeah, well, some people are just lucky. What’d ya say we hit that fun house." I should be able to do that without embarrassing myself.

Lacy rolled her eyes, holding a smirk firmly on her face. I think I bruised someone’s ego.

"It’s about time." Dani skipped off.

As they waited in line, Dani felt someone staring. She twisted her head around from side to side, intently taking in the crowd.

"What is it?" Gage asked.

"I don’t know." Her eyes fell on the young man moving behind her mother. "It’s him."

Ned, followed closely by his friend, Buddy, bumped into the star.

"Excuse me." Lacy turned, paling when her concerned blue eyes rested on the two teens.

Startled, both Ned and Buddy froze in place until a heated liberating voice thawed their bodies. "Ned, get up here!" Ned and his friend jumped ahead, joining his mother in the line near the steps of the fun house.

"That’s Mrs. Raye and her son." Dani informed Gage.

"I know. And that’s Ned’s friend." Nodding her head in landlord’s direction, Gage asked. "Who’s that guy with them?"

Dani shrugged as Lacy answered. "The handyman, Ralph. Remember, I told you about him when I went back to the cabin that next day."

He finally turned around facing them. Ralph’s mean brown eyes surveyed the couple then landed squarely on Dani. Her mother pulled her closer out of his view waiting until he turned back around.

Having now recognized Sally Raye’s handyman, Gage asked. "Do you want to do this later?" Concern written all over her face.

Dropping her eyes to her daughter, Lacy nodded. "No. We’re fine."

Dani jumped in the two-seated cart. She shared the front seat with her mother and as usual Gage and Derek partnered up again in the backseat, with giraffe tagging along.

The fun house turned out to be a haunted house, starting out with a ride through a long, dark and scary tunnel filled with objects meant to be menacing to its guests. At the end, they had to take a short walk out of a semi-lit corridor that led to the exit.

Dani loved it, making bloodcurdling sounds of her own while Derek climbed on Gage’s lap. When the ride was over, Dani jumped from the cart while Lacy helped her son out and Gage wrestled with the giraffe. Dani ran ahead down the dark corridor unmindful of any danger that might lie in its wake.

When Lacy heard the scream sail down the corridor, she scrambled ahead leaving Gage to take care of her son. Lacy approached an older man from behind, jerking him around as he was about to lean forward to where her frighten daughter stood. "What the hell are you doing?" She demanded, recognizing the handyman instantly.

Gage caught up with her, taking a place next to Dani, pulling her out of the line of fire from the anticipated altercation. "Come here."

"What’s it to ya?" The irascible handyman spat back, letting go of the whistle wrapped around the young girl’s neck. "Damn girl, just started screaming."

The protective mother clenched her fist, cocked and ready to fire even though it hung at her side. Through clenched teeth, she summoned all of her tolerance. "I suggest you get out of here…NOW!" The command left no room for doubt.

Ralph backed up a few steps. "You people are all alike. You think you’re better than everyone else. Well, I got news for……"

Stepping forward, Lacy loomed over the short man, cutting off any more of his spiteful retort. Ralph reasoned retreat was the better part of valor even though he didn’t know what it meant.

Scampering off quickly, hoping to catch up with Sally and let her know he’d stood up for her. Ralph, who had cared for Sally for years, appointed himself her protector, which automatically made him Ned’s protector, too. She’d let him hang around knowing full well he was in love with her even though Sally was just using him. It was nice having your very own puppy dog and she got him to do her bidding no matter how nasty.

Ralph listened well when his love ranted that if it weren't for that high kaflutten movie star seducing her innocent son into returning to the cabin, Ned wouldn’t be in trouble with the law. They both ignored the fact that nothing came of the break in since no one filed any charges.

Lacy rushed to her daughter. "Are you all right?" Running her hands over Dani’s face and arms, looking for any sign of harm, Lacy heaved a sigh in relief.

"He just scared me… a bit." Dani assured her.

Fussing the young girl’s dark hair, Gage subtly altered Dani’s perception of her admission. "You did good, yelling like that. I think though that you scared him." Gage presented a knowing wink.

Perking up considerably. "I did, didn’t I?" Her mother confirmed her own approval, giving her daughter a wink too. "What next?"

"Ducks." Derek piped up.

Rolling her blue eyes in surrender, Dani remembered her mother’s words about the family outing. "Ducks it is then." A short pause. "Again."

Derek splashed the water in the duck pond much to the vendor’s dismay, but he was helplessly to do anything when Lacy flashed him an endearing smile when she asked permission that he swore actually curled his toes. Of course, he would never admit that out loud. What would the rest of the carnies think?

A few rides later that included the scrambler, the ring of fire and the flying fisherman’s boat, the newly formed family was ready to call it a day. Even Dani admitted to being all tuckered out. Derek rested his sleepy head on his mother’s shoulder, arms wrapped securely around the little rubber duck while Dani latched onto Gage’s right hand since the other one was dutifully carrying the giraffe.

After the short walk to the boat in the dark, they carefully negotiated the dock lit only by a few lanterns. Gage settled Dani down on the back seat.

"I’m tired." She declared, laid down and closed her eyes, but not before claiming the giraffe as he bed partner.

Lacy stepped over the gunwale onto the boat. She laid her son on the other bench, pulling out a couple of extra shirts from her bag then covered both her children.

Gage fired up the engine then started to get out of the boat, but was stopped when Lacy grabbed her shoulder. "Here. Let me." She jumped out of the boat, unleashed the ropes attached to the dock, flipping them back in the boat. As she raised her foot, it slipped on the side of the boat. Unbalanced, Lacy fell forward into the surprised and delighted arms of the writer, knocking them back onto the captain’s seat.

When hopeful blue met welcoming green illuminated by the lanterns, both knew the pivotal moment had arrived. They felt the crackling current of energy running between them, pounding on the door as loudly as Lacy’s heart thundered against her chest. She begged admission into the entryway of Gage’s heart. Zeroing in on the luscious targeted lips before her, any doubt in the star’s mind crusaded past emotional and social barriers long standing, crumbling like the wall of Jericho.

For Gage, a riot of sensations cannoned through her fully alert tingling body. The gaze in Lacy’s penetrating blue eyes threatened to steal Gage’s breath away. What she had long desired, poised a finger’s width away, and on the verge of receiving as breaths mingled in delicious anticipation of fireworks primed to ignite at the sweet touch of their lips was at hand.

The tenderness of the kiss was staggering. Warm lips brushed against inviting ones in a dance so intoxicating they would both swear later they heard a harp play and blue birds soared high into the sky creating a vortex in which the two would be lovers lost themselves. Savoring the sensual kiss of the writer’s lips, Lacy’s mouth lounged there for what she hoped would be eternity, soaking in the depth of love she felt course through her body, filling it to the brim.

Suddenly, sensing they were being watched, Gage began the unbelievable task of bringing their first kiss to a close. While in retreat, Gage stole kiss after kiss, each shorter than the one before, but not in its intensity.

Swallowing hard, Lacy gasped. "That was nice." Allowing her head to rest against Gage’s flushed face.

The deep breath she took shuttered through her body. "Nice?"

"Mmmmmm." Lacy moaned. "Very nice."

Shifting her head around covertly, searching for an intruder. "Well, that’s a step up, I guess."

Lacy repositioned her forehead; laying it against Gage, nose touching nose. "I’ve never been kissed like that before."

"Baby, I need some clarification here…good or bad… and I need it now." Gage insisted, waiting on baited breath for the verdict.

"Very good." Ducking her head back down to capture the writer’s lips again. "Very, very good." She stole another kiss, although Gage would gladly give them away free of charge. "As a matter of fact…" Lacy dropped her voice to its lowest register. "That’s the best kiss I’ve ever received."

Just before Gage reclaimed the star’s inviting lips, she smiled. "Now you’re talking."

The shadow lurking near the boat dock slipped away having seen enough. Now I have you right where I want you.

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

It was a long ride home in the cool, dark night as Gage guided the boat back to their cabin. The kids never woke on the trip, easily putting them to bed.

It was inevitable that they would share a bed tonight and every other night if they had their way. Silently, as they readied for bed both lulled in deep thought. Unbeknownst to the other, sharing the same feelings about the kiss, the night, tomorrow and their future. Two roads had finally merged into one, forever linked.

Slipping into bed, Lacy crawled into the writer’s waiting arms. Snuggling ever closer, Gage’s wandering hands had a mind all their own. They cuddled and kissed, lazing against each other allowing soft moans of pleasure to escape. Grabbing at Lacy’s white v-neck tee shirt, Gage suggested seductively. "Let’s take your clothes off so they don’t get in the way."

With Gage’s persistent hands roaming her body unchecked, Lacy replied seriously. "I don’t think my clothes are hindering your hands any." A smile appeared briefly before she claimed the writer’s lips on the verge of objecting.

Protest stymied before it had a chance to be verbalized, Gage savored the defeat, becoming a willing participant in her own remonstration’s demise. "I could do this forever."

Yes, forever. That idea brought a chilling effect. Lacy pulled away slightly, breathless from the last kiss. "Gage, sweetheart….." The insistent lips that attacked the star’s neck distracted her momentarily. "Ahh…sweetheart, please." Unrelenting hands glided over the curve of her full, firm breast, pausing just the briefest of moments, Lacy moaned. Oh, God, that was nice.

"What?" Gage asked weakly, leaving a trail of soft kisses down Lacy’s neck to her collarbone.

"Sweetheart." You are driving me to distraction, Lacy thought, powered by the traveling hands of the writer. "We need to talk." It took all her effort, but she finally got it out.

"Okay." Gage said, but never stopped her sensual assault on the willing respondent.

Lacy reasoned she had to do something and fast before things went too far. A plan formulated quickly. I’ve got one shot at this in order to get her full attention. Corralling every feeling she held for the writer presently making mad, passionate love to her, Lacy commanded the lips before her, claiming them fully and conquered Gage, kissing her to exhaustion, sapping every last bit of passion that had just exploded forth from the writer.

Breathless and satiated, Gage fell back on the pillow, eyes closed, head spinning out of control. "Wow." Escaped in a sated sigh.

"Can we talk now?" Lacy’s own words weakly spilled forth, dizzied from the kiss herself.

Gage’s only reply, a wicked smile as dazed eyes slit open, gazing at the woman she loved.

"I’ll take that as a yes." In spite of the look Gage sent her. A long moment passed as Lacy constructed her next words. "I think we should… maybe for now…"

"Take it slow." Gage supplied, propping herself up on her elbow, she pulled Lacy into a smothering embrace. Whispering in her ear, Gage said the words Lacy struggled to enunciate. "It’s the kids." Her lips quickly nuzzled the enticing ear next to her mouth, nipping it, then Gage reluctantly moved back to look into concerned blue eyes.

"Yes." Lacy admitted. "And it’s me, too. This is all so soon after…." Her mind traveled the short distance over the last few days reclaiming the memory of David’s arrival, his declaration of love for Hayston Rawlings, her former co-star, and the divorce papers she’d so recently signed.

"Take all the time you want." Gage assured her. "I’ll wait for as along as it takes." The quick kiss punctuated the promise.

"Thank you." Lacy laid her head on Gage’s shoulder, draped her arm and long leg over the writer, closed her eyes and quietly whispered. "Goodnight."

 

Chapter Nineteen

It was pure torture for Gage to drag herself out of bed the next morning. But when the other half of her soul slipped from their warm haven, the emptiness left behind motivated her to get moving. After all, the kids will be up soon. I guess it was silly of me to think we could just lounge around in bed all day. Gage tracked Lacy as she walked across the room, well out of reach, only to exit mumbling something about getting something to eat. That thought appealed to the writer in a very perverse way. Thinking of what she’d like to devour, Gage reprimanded herself. I have got to get my mind out of the gutter.

Lacy, with a firm handle on getting breakfast ready, spun the knob on the stove, cranked the heat up under the pot of water warming for the oatmeal.

Gage approached silently from behind, slipped her arms around the star’s slender waist. She pulled Lacy close to her, molding their bodies together. Lacy allowed herself a moment to savor this feeling of love permeating her entire being, closing her eyes. The writer dispensed a series of kisses on the actresses neck then kissing her way up, slowly dragging the tip of her tongue along the edge of Lacy’s ear. A tantalizing tingle shot through the dark haired woman. After a brief stay playing with Lacy’s ear, Gage’s chin came to rest on the actresses shoulder.

Lacy clasped her hands on the arms circling her waist. "That was nice."

Gage perked up. "What is it with you? Everything is....nice?" Gage taunted with a serious edge of undercurrent flowing through her tone.

Twisting around in the writer’s arms, Lacy touched Gage’s cheek, gazing deeply into the profound verdant eyes before her. "Would you rather I use great, wonderful, excellent, outstanding or…..what would you suggest?"

"Sexy, sensual, superior, stupendous to name a few."

"Okay, you’re wanting something that starts with an ‘s’. It was….." An impious grin crossed her face. "Super nice."

"You are wicked. You know that, don’t you?" Gage claimed the lips being offered, drowning in the delicious taste of heaven. Gage put all the love she had for Lacy in that kiss, aiming for something beyond ‘nice’ even if it was described as super. I’m thinking more like marvelous, out of this world, fabulous, awe-inspiring or……

Breaking from the kiss, Lacy declared breathlessly. "Breathtaking."

That’s more like it. Gage reclaimed the star’s beckoning lips, spiraling, falling over the precipice into a seductive haze. Until. The boiling water bubbled over the pot, sizzling on the heat below, jerking them out of their revelry.

Lacy twisted out of Gage’s embrace, grabbed the pot then sat it down on an empty burner. Rotating back around to the writer, Lacy revealed. "Apparently, I love you to distraction."

Her simply stated words shocked Gage to the core. She was about to proclaim the love she felt for the woman standing before her until soft footfalls could be heard from the hardwood floor in the hallway. They both stepped back awkwardly.

Rubbing his sleepy eyes, Derek dragged the giraffe behind him into the kitchen. "Momma."

"Morning, honey." Lacy swung her son up in her arms. "You hungry?"

Barely holding onto the giraffe’s horn, Derek nodded, wiggling his friend. "He hungry too."

The sharp shriek of a whistle cut through the morning air. Lacy and Gage practically jumped at the noise of Dani’s whistle while Derek just giggled. "Good morning." Dani announced, her voice a little raspy. "What’s for breakfast? Captain Crunch?"

Gage placed a bowl of oatmeal before Dani, but said to Lacy. "I guess the captain here is planning an excursion today."

"Honey, what’s wrong with your voice?" The concerned mother felt her daughter’s forehead for fever.

"Nothing." Dani croaked. "Just a little sore."

"Mmmm. Maybe must be from all that bloodcurdling screaming you did in the haunted house." Lacy said, giving her a cough drop. "Here."

Lacy hoped to find some time to talk with Gage about the recent developments between them, but they had to tend to the kids first. Maybe tonight. A silent exchange of looks between writer and star aligned them on the same wavelength.

"Alright then. After breakfast, we’ll sail the high seas. Maybe go over to the public beach. Derek will like the playground they have there. Swimming, fishing, games later." Gage was quickly filling up the agenda for the day.

That’s it, Gage, a full day of activities for our young brood and they’ll be all tuckered out and go to bed extra early. "And if we need to…a long walk."

Dani scrunched her face. "A walk?" Then shrugged. "Okay, if we walk to the cave, that is."

Lacy cocked her hands on her hips. "No cave. We already did that." She had no desire to make that trek again even though their last expedition brought them back safe and sound.

Dani caved. "Okay, no cave. Jeez." Unbeknownst to everyone in the room expect for Derek, a devious thought bloomed as a smile widened at the prospect. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Dani quoted her father. Of course, her father only used that affirmation when it came to his work.

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

The full day of activities did the trick. Two very tired children crawled into bed, safely tucked in, falling easily as sleep claimed them. Lacy and Gage returned to the living room intent on further exploring their feelings toward each other.

Before even one word was spoken, the telephone rang. Gage shrugged, reached for the telephone and answered it. "Hello." A brief moment passed before she handed the telephone to Lacy, sitting next her.

Lacy grabbed it. "Hello."

"How’s my favorite client?" Arthur Graham asked, nervously tapping his pencil against the script he’d just finished reading.

"Oh, hello Art." Lacy mouthed ‘my agent’ to Gage. "We’re fine here. Having a great time actually." The star said with a smile and a wink to Gage. Scooting closer, Gage wrapped her arms around Lacy’s shoulders. "What’s up?"

"Not a thing. Just wanted to touch base." Arthur said nonchalantly.

"Ummm Hmm. Why don’t I believe that?" Lacy was always suspicious when her agent called ‘to touch base’. The underlining message usually meant trouble.

"You’ve got my number." Arthur cleared his throat. He knew Lacy, unlike other clients, didn’t like beating around the bush. "I heard a crazy rumor."

"You mean the divorce." Lacy stated simply.

"What! What divorce?" The ball came out of left field and hit him squarely on his balding head. "Where’s David?"

"In California, I’m sure." Lacy wished she’d have waited for her agent to deliver his news before she had to undertake this subject with him. "He wants a divorce, brought the papers out here a few days ago. I signed. End of story."

"You already gave me the end, now I want the beginning. When did this happen?" Arthur was bordering on the edge of becoming frantic. It wasn’t that he liked David so much. Together they made a powerful couple in Hollywood. And from an agent’s point of view, his client was served up better opportunities and had the inside track with a producer for a husband. Of course, being married to one of the most beautiful women in the world who also just happened to be a great actress bode well for the up and coming producer.

"At first, I’d have said it came out of nowhere when he showed up with the papers, but upon further reflection, I’d say it started around four years ago. Slowly but surely our marriage eroded along the way. And then there’s Hayston." Lacy added.

Hayston! Arthur Graham found out purely by accident about a year ago that David was having an affair with Hayston. He debated time and time again about telling Lacy, hoping that David would tire of the demanding actress. Arthur always pictured Hayston Rawlings sharpening her nails at the break of dawn before emerging from her dark abyss preying on anyone who could further her career. The twenty-three year old actress learned the Hollywood ropes quickly, coiling some of her own as she played the game with expertise.

Silence on the telephone line prompted Lacy. "Arthur. You still there."

"Yeah, I’m sorry to hear that." Arthur knew his thirty-year-old client was, even at that age, all too trusting. Lacy tended to take things at face value. "Are you sure it has to come to this?"

"Is this about my career?"

"No! I’m concerned about you, that’s all." He assured her.

"I’ll be fine. Divorce isn’t something new in Hollywood. It happens all time." Darting her eyes to Gage who locked onto the loving green gaze like a port in a storm. "Believe me." A long slender finger traveled down Gage’s jaw line, sending shivers through her.

"If you say so." Sucking in a deep breath. "There’s something else. And it is about your career."

Lacy waited.

"I got a call. Anonymous. But for some reason, it sounds legit. They knew where you are and described your kids. The caller said that you’ve…. you are engaged in….oh, hell, Lacy. They saw you kissing a woman and say they have pictures. And while this may not be new in Hollywood, it doesn’t happen all the time. Careers take a nasty and, may I say, hasty nose dive on something like this."

"Are they blackmailing me?" Lacy asked. At these words, Gage’s smiling eyes turned cold.

"No. Said they thought I should know before the world did. Their words." Arthur made a decision. "I’m here for you, Lacy. No matter what."

"Thank you, Art."

If Art had wanted her to confirm or deny this accusation, he didn’t ask. He respected her and stifled the question on the tip of his tongue. "I know you planned to stay there another few weeks, but it seems someone has been keeping close watch on your…..activities."

"It appears so." Lacy admitted. "Art, how far reaching would something like this be?"

"That depends on what this mysterious caller does. If they actually got pictures …trouble or if it’s just a rumor, it will blow over until something better comes along. You know how Hollywood is." Art said. "However, if it’s true and you decide to go public…..I’m afraid…. To be honest, Lacy, I don’t know. Things have come a long way." But that hint of society’s promising acceptance died on his lips.

"Thank you, Art. I plan on staying here unless my…..spy, stalker, whatever tries something. You will let me know if anything else comes up."

"Will do." With these words, Art placed the telephone back on its cradle, walked to the window and regurgitated the content of the mystery call once again.

While talking with her agent, Gage noticed Lacy shift slightly back away from her embrace. The phone call over, Lacy fell into deep thought. Finally, Lacy related the content of the call to Gage.

"Worried about your career?"

"I’m not so much worried about my career. My kids, however, and how it will affect them is paramount on my mind. It’s not just about us, but the divorce, everything. Dani adores her father." Downcast blue eyes refused to meet concerned green ones. "It had to be last night at the fair when we kissed."

"I know." Gage bolted off the couch. "Damn it, there was a moment last night when I felt someone was watching us." A reflective pause. "But I…I got sidetracked."

Even through the turmoil of the news that spun around in Lacy’s head, Gage’s admission brought a smile to the star’s face. "Gage, it’s late and I need to think. Do you mind?"

"No, not at all. You want to go to bed?" Offered innocently.

Shifting her eyes away from the writer’s intense look. "I think I’ll stay up. Maybe sleep in the other….with Derek tonight." This scenario wasn’t what she craved, but it offered her a safe haven from the ubiquitous magnetic pull she felt around the writer. Lacy wanted nothing more than to retrace time and allow the telephone to ring and not be the carrier of this devastating news. She was not stupid, a little too trusting at times. No, Lacy knew exactly how this would affect her career. It seemed her greatest fear had become reality. It reminded her of her own words spoken not so long ago to Gage. My greatest fear is that one day my private life will come into direct conflict with my professional life and I’ll have to choose one or the other. Now that choice loomed over her like a dark cloud. She prayed it would have a silver lining.

"You want me to leave you alone, huh?" Feeling rejected, the writer’s shoulders slumped.

"I didn’t mean it that way."

Kneeling back down on the couch, Gage took Lacy’s hand in hers. "Listen, Lacy, I want to help. Please don’t push me away. No matter what becomes of us…" Motioning between them. "If nothing else happens, I still want us to be friends. I want to be there for you."

Bringing the writer’s hand up to her lips, she kissed it. "Thank you. I could sure use a friend about now."

"Always." A bright smile peeked through the gloom that hung heavily in the room. "We could just sit here a while…. if you want to talk."

 

Chapter Nineteen

Lacy’s original plan to avoid sleeping in the same bed with Gage was derailed. After her agent dumped the disturbing news on her, she sought a distance between them in order to think without having the intoxicating pull between them claim her. Yet, early morning brought a sleepy Lacy waking in the safe and comforting arms of the writer as they both lay on the couch. When Lacy shifted slightly so she could see the blond better, Gage’s green eyes slowly lifted.

"Guess my reluctance to share your bed last night was for nothing since we ended up sleeping together anyway." She found humor in her failed plan. Of course, my heart wasn’t really in that decision.

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

In the distance, Gage heard a hammer banging. The noise came from the general direction of the cabin Lacy had rented. Her attention returned to Derek and Dani playing along the shoreline. She allowed nagging thoughts to wash over her regarding her feelings about Lacy and the call the star received from her agent last night, interrupted only by the insistent noise Dani made with her whistle. It seemed that every time Dani discovered a rock that was worthy of her collection, she would blow the whistle proclaiming it to the world

Watching Dani peruse several rocks, Gage sighed heavily. That was a close call this morning. While Lacy fixed breakfast, the kids and Gage waited patiently at the table. When the toast popped up out of the toaster, seeing Lacy with her hands full, Gage jumped up. "I’ll get it."

Absent mindedly, Lacy replied. "Thank you, sweetheart." Then sent the writer a dazzling smile, provoking Gage to return one in kind.

For one brief moment neither woman noticed both of Dani’s eyebrows jerk up taking refuge under her dark bangs at her mother’s words. Shifting her curious blue eyes from mother to Gage then back to Lacy, Dani waited for an explanation that never came. Instead, Lacy’s words stumbled forth. "I mean, we can.. eat short…ly…… anytime now. Great, she’ll really believe I meant to say eat short…ly instead of sweetheart. It was clear to everyone except Derek that Dani was unconvinced. Except for Dani’s request for a cough drop for her sore throat, breakfast was a quiet affair.

Lacy used the quiet morning to read the writer’s screenplay. Gage insisted that as Lacy read the story, she and the kids would spend some quality time together outside. As she read the story, Lacy only allowed one thought to distract her. It was of Gage. Determined, she vowed, she could not and would not give up this woman who had become such an important part of her life. No, she has become my life. The only obstacles that would fall in the way of her declaration where Gage was concerned came in the form of two pairs of eyes. One set gray like his father and the other set matched her own. My children. What happened that morning at breakfast did not stray far from her mind.

When the sound of hammering stopped, Gage noticed Dani slipping further up the shoreline toward Cabin C. The writer shot a quick glance to find Derek only a few feet behind her and took hold of his tiny hand. He insisted on walking along side her. All morning Dani kept a distance from the writer lost in her own thoughts about what transpired between her mother and Gage.

The writer was concerned, but felt helpless to do anything. When Gage and Derek reached the knoll between the two cabins, the writer caught sight of Dani playing at the water’s edge. She observed Dani twist around slowly, staring back to shore. Gage tracked the direction in which the young girl was keenly glaring only to find an older man intently watching Dani.

"Dani!" Gage yelled. "Come here."

It didn’t take long for dark haired girl to obey the command.

"Dani, you stay here with Derek." She directed, keeping a close eye on the stranger who turned to walk away. "Mister, wait up." Gage shouted. Rushing up behind the man, Gage grabbed at his arm jerking him around. "Hey, I asked you to wait." Easily recognizing him now. "Ralph, was that you I heard hammering?"

"What’s it to ya?" His irascible nature raised its hideous head.

"Just wondering." Gage said, narrowing her green eyes. "You seemed to be taking quite an interest in the young girl. First at the fair and again now… I saw you watching her pretty closely."

"You’re nuts. I weren’t watching nobody. And what would the likes of you do about if I were?" Ralph taunted.

The writer stepped closer. "If I catch you anywhere near either child or Mrs. Levine, for that matter, you’ll wish you’d never came into contact with the likes of me." She hissed, venom dripping.

Sharply making an about face, Gage joined the children, taking each of them by the hand. No one looked back to see Ralph let out a nasty snicker as a twisted evil smirk rose up on his weathered face.

Taking a break from reading the screenplay, Lacy watched the trio head back to the cabin. "Where you been?"

Dani ran ahead. "Collecting rocks." She rushed past her mother and into the cabin. "I’ve gotta wash these."

As Gage and Derek reached the steps, Lacy lifted her son. "You look tired." Then gazed at the writer.

"It’s been a full morning. Finished the story?" Gage asked, stepping past the star on the porch.

"No. Thought I’d come outside for a while. Get some sun while I read."

"And we we’re just heading in." Gage smiled. "Are you sure you don’t want to join us?"

Lacy handed her son to Gage. "Tempting, but I better stick to my original plan if I want to finish this screenplay. You guys would be too much of a distraction."

"Go on then." Noticing Dani was nowhere near. "She’s been a little distant. Not saying much at all. Oh, and Ralph’s up near the other cabin. Caught him watching Dani."

"What happened?" A frantic edge clipped her voice.

"I talked to him." Gage stroked the star’s arm in silent comfort. "I don’t think he’s gonna hang around anymore. But stay close. Okay?"

"I will." Lacy smiled. "If Dani comes back out, tell her I’ll be on the dock."

Nodding, Gage longed to give Lacy a quick kiss, but crushed that desire effectively before she walked into the cabin with Derek. "Dani, where are you?"

"In here. Drying my rocks." Dani called from the bathroom.

"You’re mom’s down by the dock reading if you go back out, check with her, okay?" Gage instructed.

"Right." Dani jiggled the pile of rocks, wrapped in the towel, dry. She tossed them on her bed and began sorting them by size. These are pretty, but I saw some real nice ones in that cave. Oh yes, the cave. That thought was like a siren calling her, begging her, cajoling her to come. It was in a trance like state that Dani followed the call, formulating a plan as she went.

Hastily gathering her rocks in one of the drawers near her bed, Dani made a mental list of the things she’d need. Walking out to the living room, Dani noted Gage in the kitchen with Derek, getting some water. "I’m heading outside." Her whistle securely wrapped around her neck.

Gage didn’t notice the young girl had changed into a pair of jeans instead of the shorts she wore earlier. "Okay. You’re mom’s at the dock." The writer’s attention was glued on the three year old about to tip his glass too high.

The sneaky eight-year-old slipped out the cabin door. Seeing her mother in one of the loungers on the dock reading, Dani slipped inside the boathouse, retrieving a flashlight. She paused momentarily to stare at the rope, but decided against taking it. With a quick peek around the corner to her self-absorbed mother, Dani tipped toed slowly over the wood dock onto the grass. She crept up behind the tree line then took a path less traveled in the direction of the cave.

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

An hour later Lacy walked back into the cabin having finished the screenplay. Immediately she noticed asleep on the couch were two of her favorite people. Derek, perched on top of Gage, slept peacefully. Gage with one arm wrapped over the young boy was in her own tranquil slumber.

Lacy sat next to them on the coffee table, reaching out, she fussed with her son’s dark locks before running the back of her fingers against Gage’s soft cheek. The star’s touch caused the writer to smile in her sleep.

Gage leaned into the delicate and welcoming contact. She shifted slightly, stretching her legs before sluggish eyes finally lifted slightly, seeing the beautiful woman she loved before her. "Hi." I want to wake up like this forever. Gage wetted her lips finding strays bits of dark hair from Derek who had nestled tightly up against her. Spitting the stray locks out caused Derek to stir.

"Hello sleepy head." Gray eyes brighten upon seeing his mother.

"Momma." He wiggled against his human pillow.

"Hi, honey. Come here." Derek vaulted into her arms, kissing her soundly then giggled. "Where’s Dani?" Lacy asked, bouncing her son on her knee.

Rubbing her eyes, Gage stretched, replying off handedly. "She went outside earlier."

"I didn’t see her." Lacy said, concern washing over her face. "She’s not in here?"

Gage bolted off the couch, dashing into every room in the cabin, searching for the young girl. "She’s not in here."

"Dani!" The frightened mother screamed, running out the cabin door with son in hand. "Dani!" Over and over again, Lacy called for her daughter, silence the only answer. Dani was nowhere in sight no matter in what direction the mother looked. Turning to Gage, frantic and near the edge, Lacy sucked in a deep breath. "The cave."

"Maybe…." She hesitated at the possible scenario, but had to vocalize it. "The handyman, Ralph."

Shaking her head vehemently. "No, it’s the cave. When she came out earlier, she would have stopped to talk with me unless she had something up her sleeve. She had her whistle, didn’t she?"

"I think so. I haven’t seen her without it since Derek found it." Gage replied.

Deep in the recess of a mother’s instincts she knew her child held an unnatural obsession for that cave. Like mother, like daughter. "We have to go." Lacy darted off.

"Wait." Gage stopped her then ran to the boathouse retrieving the other flashlight and some rope. Gage flipped the light on, showing a bright beam.

Swallowing hard, Lacy whispered softly. "She’s got the one with the battery that’s about dead."

"Let’s go." Gage made a short detour to the cabin, grabbing her cell phone. Then the three traveled the path along the shoreline leading directly to the cave.

Not more than a hundred yards away from the cave they heard an engine roar in the distance, tires spinning. Catching the tail end of a beat up old truck, Lacy gasped. "That’s the handyman’s truck. I noticed it outside the cabin the day the deputy and I was there and Ralph showed up to fix the window in the door."

Flipping her cell phone on, Gage punched in several numbers. "I’d like to talk with Sheriff Baylor." She waited. "Sheriff, Mrs. Levine’s little girl is missing. We think she went to the cave just north of my cabin." A pause. "Yeah, that’s the one. But, we just saw Ralph heading down the old Reynolds road. He was high tailing it out of here pretty fast and, well, earlier today he was….hanging around, watching us. I don’t know if it’s anything…" The sheriff cut her off causing her to listen closely. "Thanks. We’re going to search the cave. Lacy…." The concerned mother shot her a look. "One of us will be at the entrance when you get here."

When they entered the mouth of the cave Gage determined to have Lacy wait with Derek while she searched it looking for the missing girl. "Lacy, I know…"

"I know what you’re going to say, but I know this cave….I was lost in it once." Tears spilled forth. "I know what she’s going through."

"Hold on." Gage took Lacy by both arms, steadying her. "We don’t know if her flashlight went dead yet. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves." Gage didn’t even want to explore the idea that Ralph had taken the girl and was less reluctant to bring it up, but she had too. "The sheriff said he’s gonna have one of his deputies pick up Ralph, just in case." Gage could not dismiss the horror that flooded the blue eyes in front of her when she spoke those words. "I don’t think that’s the case though." The writer said hurriedly in an attempt to calm the emotional woman fraught with fear.

In an amazing show of self-control and one look at her son who was getting very upset, Lacy calmed the storm raging inside. "I’ll stay here then." She pulled her son close, soothing him. "Wait for the sheriff."

Gage handed her the cell phone, jacked the rope up over her shoulder and flipped the flashlight on. "She’ll be alright, I promise." Stepping away then turning back swiftly, Gage embraced Lacy and child, savoring the moment. Before leaving, Gage shut her eyes and brushed her lips against Lacy’s cheek. I swear I will do everything I can to get her back safely. With that thought, Gage rushed off into the darkness lit only by a stream of light, barely hearing Lacy’s parting words.

Dani delved deep into the smaller tunnel, easily negotiating around the rocks and curves of the walls. This one is so much more interesting than the bigger one. And I’m sure that old handyman didn’t see me. Upon approaching the cave, Dani witnessed Ralph exit it hurriedly, get in his truck and leave. She waited until the vehicle was out of sight then entered the cave on her great adventures.

She traveled down the cavern path for a quarter mile before she sighted the large chamber opening. The pool glittered against the beam of her flashlight. "Wow. This is great." Blue eyes grew in excitement at the sight of the small waterfall, gushing from overhead into the pool.

Dani didn’t notice the illumination from her flashlight grow weaker. Her exhilaration over her discovery was enthralling, ridding her of any common sense as time stood still in this awe-inspiring world, which now belonged to her. "Yes!" She cocked her arm then noticed several objects near a small table like rock.

The young explorer flashed her light taking in her latest find. To her surprise, Dani saw a poster of her mother dressed as the cop, Samantha Gordon, from her show. She also found several of her mother’s things. Holding up a pair of red panties, Dani knew they matched the bra her mother wore sometimes. Darting the light around, searching for more items, the beam flickered over a small area where something shiny flashed out. Zeroing in on it, Dani found her mother’s broach. She grabbed it quickly, stuffing it in her pocket.

"Oh, I am good. I can’t wait till mom sees this." Pride beaming from her voice. But the thought of her mother brought her out of her revelry and into darkness as the flashlight died. As pitch dark surrounded her, Dani let the notion that ‘maybe this wasn’t such a good idea’ cross her mind.

Resolved to get herself out of this predicament just like Mecca did in Gage’s story of the Shanglon Master, Dani took stock of her bearing trying to remember where she was standing in conjunction to the where she had entered this part of the cave. Feeling her way along the rock wall, Dani inched forward, calmly reassuring herself. I will get out of this. I will get out of this. I am not one of those helpless females. Reluctantly admitting, but I could use a little help. Teeth chattering tickled her scratchy sore throat. The jeans kept her legs warm, but her short sleeve shirt did little to protect her against the chill she now felt. The coolness of the cavern went unnoticed when her mind was riveted on exploring the cave. But now, the chillness pierced clear to the bone.

Gage Ballant turned left at the fork in the cave following Lacy’s advice. "She’s sure to take the small tunnel." Echoed in the writer’s head before she let out an ear-piercing echo herself. "Dani!"

When Dani heard the distant voice barely greet her as a whisper, it startled her causing her to lose her footing, sliding on the slippery rock floor. The dark haired girl scooted back swiftly wondering if Ralph had come back to the cave then catching the steep slope’s edge, falling into an unknown abyss. Dani spiraled down the small opening, dropping steadily until she came to rest in a small pool of icy water, tucked neatly in the small cove. Her fingers gripped the mossy rocks above her. Unable to get a decent hold, Dani was trapped.

The light flickered back and forth across the theater like chamber, searching every nook and cranny, Gage yelled again. "Dani!"

The freezing cold threatened to over come the young girl, teeth rattling, fingers becoming numb and Dani couldn’t even feel her toes. Though now she did recognize Gage’s voice shouting for her. A weak attempt to call out died on her lips. The small waterfall in the cavern drowned Dani’s calls for help, already weakened from her sore throat.

Frustrated, Gage yelled again and again, searching for an opening that led further into the cave. The writer followed the beam of light from the flashlight as it traveled over the poster attached to the cave wall with the dark haired woman crouched down pointing a gun at some unseen assailant. In effect, she had discovered inside the chamber a shrine to Lacy Levine. Stepping closer, Gage heeded the welcome shriek of a whistle, blowing persistently at her. "Dani." Gage gravitated to the shrill sound.

Dani blew harder and harder with all her might, hearing the familiar voice of the writer grow louder. Finally, she halted her summons when it was clear Gage was at the top of the small hole she’d fell into.

"Dani? Are you okay?"

Through chattering teeth, Gage heard. "Yessss."

"How far down there, are you?"

"I don’t knowwwwwww."

"Okay, listen up. Dani, I’ve got some rope. I’m gonna lower it down." Gage inched closer over the steep slope, sliding over the mossy rock. Shooting both arms out to her sides, Gage stopped her descent. Breathing heavily, Gage tried to get a secure footing to no avail. One false move and the would be rescuer would need rescuing herself. She grabbed the rope coiled over her shoulder with her teeth, prying it loose which allowed it to slip down her arm. "Dani, do you remember how to tie the bowline knot? You remember, don’t you?"

A pause. "Yessss." Shivering against the cold, she spit out slowly.

"Good. Now, here it comes." Gage carefully worked the rope over her fingers attached to the rock wall, securing her position then lowered the rope about fifteen feet before it stopped its progression. "Got it?"

Dani tugged on it.

"Now, tie it around your waist and I’ll pull you up."

Frozen fingers tried to manipulate the stiff rope. "I…I can’t."

"Yes, you can. Dani, listen, you can do it. I know you can. Come on just tie the rope around you. Okay?" The rescuer asked weakly, allowing the hand of fear grip at her.

In complete darkness, Dani, against great resistance from the rigid rope, guided it into the knot Gage had shown her. Yanking on it as much as her strength allowed, Dani gave Gage the go ahead. "I got it."

Gage finally secured a precarious foothold, freeing her hands. Dragging Dani up the small, dark cavity, Gage encouraged Dani to talk. She was well aware of the chill that must be swallowing up the young girl. "I’m fine really…..just cold." Dani helped herself along using her legs, pushing herself upward.

When Dani reached Gage’s unstable position, she directed the young girl to crawl over her. "Climb up me."

Slow, but methodically, Dani inched up the human wall over her to the top of the slope and with one final push landed safely on top. Finally reaching the top herself, Gage pulled the freezing girl in her strong arms, holding on for dear life. The writer kissed her forehead oblivious to Dani’s wet clothes now soaking her own. "Come on. We’ve got to get you out of here."

When Gage and Dani emerged into the light, Lacy engulfed her daughters in her arms. "Honey, are you okay?" Lacy’s took a moment to let her worried eyes roam over her daughter.

"Derek, come here." Gage swept up her young charge when she saw the Sheriff approach. "Sheriff."

Nodding, he tipped his hat. "I see ya found her. We’ve got Ralph at the station for questioning. He’s mad as hell…." Eyeing the kids. "Excuse me."

"Sheriff." Lacy cut him off sharply. "Can you take us to the hospital? She’s too cold." The ice-cold skin she felt alarmed her.

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

As the doctor checked out Dani, Gage related what she had found in the cave to the sheriff. He left assuring her that he would get to bottom of it.

A couple of hours later found Dani dry and completely warmed. The doctor gave her approval to release the patient with strict instruction. The sheriff reappeared just in time to give Gage, Lacy and her kids a ride back to the cabin. He took the time to reveal the results of his investigation after Dani filled in a few blanks.

"I’m glad you found the broach. You can still press charges if you like." Sheriff Baylor informed her.

Gazing at her recovering daughter, Lacy shook her head. "No. I’d rather have nothing more to do with them."

"I hear ya." Baylor agreed. "Anyways, apparently Ralph has been following Ned and his friend, Buddy. That was their secret hiding place in the cave. Sally’s been worried about Ned, thinking he was doing drugs, drinking. You know, what most teenagers get into. Had Ralph checking on them. He admitted to following them to the cave, waited for them to leave then followed them again."

"I saw him when I got to the cave." Dani offered.

"Yeah, apparently, at least, he claims he never knew you were there."

"He was spying on my children earlier in the day, sheriff." Lacy stretched the facts a little.

"Yep, he admitted to being out there, but says he was just making sure Ned wasn’t following you like some ‘love sick puppy dog’. No offense, ma’am, but he don’t like you much. Ralph that is." The sheriff said, scooting his hat up to scratch his thinning dark head. "I’ll go back to the cave and collect your things and any evidence in case you change your mind."

"I won’t." She said adamantly. "And I don’t want any of it. Keep it, throw it away. I don’t care."

The sheriff stopped the car near the cabin. "Here we are." Twisting in his seat to Lacy and her children in the backseat, he assured them. "They won’t be bothering ya no more."

Gage and Derek sat out on the porch of the cabin allowing Lacy some time with her daughter. "Hey, kiddo. Come here."

Derek kept trying to climb up on the rail. "I Debin." He declared to Gage. A little more rambunctious than usual, the small child pulled himself up the rail, reaching out with his short little leg for the swing.

The writer grabbed for him as he slipped from the rail causing them both to land on the swing. The swing twisted and turned wildly under the unexpected load, releasing an unseen wasp’s nest.

"Gage." Lacy opened the screen door. "Dani would like to talk to you before she goes to sleep."

"Oh? Okay." Sitting Derek down, Gage walked past the actress.

Lacy watched Gage make her way across the living room losing sight of her as she turned the hallway corner. Long moments passed as Lacy allowed a welcome relief flood over her knowing the horrible day’s events had come to a happy conclusion.

Gage entered the bedroom, knocking from the door. "Hey, you wanted to see me?"

"Come on in." A happy, but very tired explorer beckoned.

Gage eased down on the side of the twin bed.

Dani slipped her small hand over the writer’s clasped hands resting on her lap. "You saved me." She stated simply.

"I may have helped a little. Blowing that whistle was a good idea. And you’re the one that tied the rope around you."

Dani brightened a bit in her sleepy state. "I did, didn’t I?" Mulling it over thoughtfully, she continued. "Guess I’m not one of those helpless females."

"No. No, you certainly are not." Gage confirmed.

Still standing in the cabin’s doorway that feeling of contentment Lacy reveled in sunk rapidly upon seeing her son fall to the porch floor with a yelp, desperately gasping for a breath. "Derek!" Lacy screamed. Derek continued to wheeze and his mother noticed his arm swelling around a red spot.

Scrambling out onto the porch, Gage stopped short at the sight of Lacy holding her lifeless son. "What’s wrong?"

"I don’t know. He just dropped down and….he’s having a hard time breathing." The mother loosened his clothes all the while kissing his face checking for fever and offering comfort.

Scanning the area quickly, Gage honed in on the source of the problem. Wrapped in a sheet Dani hurried through the door as Gage ran back inside, pushing Dani in along with her, heading to the medicine cabinet.

"Gage!" Lacy yelled.

Running back outside, Gage stooped down next to mother and child extracting a long tube from its cartoon.

"What are you doing?" The frightened mother asked.

"Look up there." Gage nodded toward the porch ceiling. "Dani, get inside now." She yelled at the young girl who peeked back outside, taking a wary step through the door.

Gage popped the cap off then jabbed the syringe into the small boy’s thigh. "There. He’ll be okay now." She assured the mother. "But we need to take him to the hospital so they can check him out."

"Hospital? But…" The mention of hospital did nothing to relieve her fears.

"Just a precaution and we’ll need to get another prescription. Apparently, this little guy is allergic to wasps." Scooping him up, pulling Lacy along up along with them, Gage led mother and child to the safety of the cabin. "Lacy, listen, Derek will be fine. Trust me. My friend, Mark, is allergic to wasps too. He keeps a spare dose of EpiPen here at the cabin."

Warmed by the trusting green eyes before her, Lacy nodded. "Dani, go get your clothes and bring them out here." Lacy held on tightly to her son who seemed to be making a slow recovery.

Gage scoured through one of the cabinets in the kitchen. Having found what she was searching for, headed out the screen door. "I’ll be right back. That’s the last time you little buggers have your way with my family." With diligent determination, Gage exterminated every last one of the wasps before she reentered the cabin, victorious. Any celebration would have to wait. Derek needed tending too.

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

As night fell and two trips to the hospital later, Gage found herself surrounded by the people she loved the most in the world. Dani lay next to her mother while Derek staked out a place between her and Gage. All happy and content, sleep claimed them.

 

Chapter Twenty

The kids lounged in bed with Gage most of the morning after the hectic day before. Lacy only left the safe and warm haven to answer the ringing telephone.

"Hello." Lacy sat down on the couch, wrapping her robe around her against the chill of the morning.

"Lacy, it’s David." A serious tone emitted from the receiver.

"I’m surprised to hear from you, David."

"I bet you are." The tone changed to one of sarcasm.

"What does that mean?"

"Let me get straight to the point." An evil laugh erupted. "Ha, ha, straight to the point. That’s a good one." David laughed at his own joke.

"You’ve lost me."

"That’s what you keep saying. Listen, bab…. Lacy, you’re agent called and….." The way David left his words hanging; Lacy thought she was supposed to fill in the blank.

"And?"

"And he says something funny is going on up there between you and that writer. Get the picture." Again, David laughed at his own joke. "No, I guess you haven’t seen it yet."

Well aware of what David was eluding to now, Lacy cut straight to the chase. "Let’s get to it, David. Why did you call and just what’s on your evil mind?"

"Oh, now that was nasty." David feeling a surge of courage continued. "Listen, babe, if you want I’ll toss the divorce papers in the trash and take ya back. But things are gonna to have to be my way."

"And since when has that changed?"

"Since you quit the show for one. You act like your career doesn’t mean a thing anymore. We were ridin’ high with that one and kaput…" He snapped his fingers. "Just like that you end it."

"I will not go back to….. blindly taking your advice about my career and how to act and how much time I should have with my children."

"Our children." He corrected her. "And if you still want the divorce then I get custody of the kids."

"I want the divorce?" Lacy was livid. "You had the papers drawn up. It came as a total surprise to me, but, you know what, David, I do want a divorce. And, no, the kids stay with me."

"You don’t really want me to bring up the sorted affair you’re carrying on with that writer, do you? No, it will be my way or you’ll take a quick detour off a highway to nowhere. Nobody in Hollywood will hire you. Got it?"

Sucking in a deep breath, Lacy willed herself to remain calm. "David, you didn’t even want Derek, remember?"

"Fine. I’ll just take Dani." His voice dropping to a mumble. "Who knows if the kid is really mine anyway."

"You son of a bitch. You would separate them, wouldn’t you? And I’m sorry to say this, but Derek is yours. I don’t know why you keep suggesting differently." Lacy yelled. Pulling herself in check as not to wake the kids, she regained her composure. "I’m calling my lawyer as soon as I get off the phone. You want a battle you’ll get one. I’m sure having you’re little girlfriend won’t bode well for you."

"Huh. Having a mistress is done everyday here. But, when you pull your lover out of the closet so to speak….." David couldn’t help it, he laughed again. I am just too funny. "That career of yours that I had flying high is gonna fall so fast you won’t know what hit you. Then you’ll be begging for me to take you back." David slapped the telephone down before she could reply.

The rest of the day was spent in relative silence. Lacy refused to talk about what soured her mood and her children were recovering from the traumatic events of the day before. Dani was particularly leery of mentioning the cave, not wanting to get in trouble from her mother.

Lacy tried several times to reach her agent to find out why he would have called David, informing her soon to be ex husband about the anonymous call. She left several messages.

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

After a long day of silence and having tucked the kids safely into bed for the night, Lacy revealed the contents of her call from David to Gage. Helpless to find out she was the source of Lacy’s problems, Gage prayed the Calvary would arrive and it did in the form of a phone call.

"Mark, hi." Gage breathed a sigh of relief. "Do you have anything for me?"

"I do." Her ever-faithful friend informed her.

Lacy watched from across the room as Gage spent the next twenty minutes talking with Mark Calico, her business partner. The few spurts of laughter and sincere thanks Gage offered her friend did not sit well with the actress. Even though Lacy was concerned about the potentially dangerous relationship blooming between them and how it would affect her life, her career and especially her children’s lives, she couldn’t help, but feel a persistent surge of jealousy ripped through her body at how easily Gage conversed with Mark.

When Gage finally hung up, she turned to Lacy offering a big smile. "Great news."

The expression on Lacy’s face was nothing short of lackadaisical.

"Okay, I’ll let you be the judge of that." Gage stated. "My friend, Mark…." She read a definite frown on Lacy’s face at the mention of her producing partner. "Let me back up. I called Mark a few days ago after David showed up with the divorce papers and asked him to check out a few things. Seems Ron Griffen was Mark’s roommate at college."

This bit of news piqued Lacy’s interest somewhat.

"He talked with Griffen and found out some interesting things. Like the word around the studio is that Hayston Rawlings is pregnant." Gage waited for this news to sink in.

"Go on." It didn’t seem to faze Lacy.

"Okay. And the reason your character was killed off after you decided to quit the show was to make way for a spin off…..after they do a TV movie of it."

"He actually told Mark that?" Lacy quizzed. "David and Griffen have always been tight."

"Griffen was only too glad to let his old college buddy in on this because, apparently, after David and Griffen made that deal to produce the spin off starring Hayston, David got greedy pitching it around to another studio, figuring he could get more money and have greater control over it. Needless to say…."

"Griffen was pissed." Lacy finished.

"Exactly. There’s something else that has to do with David’s partner…."

"Ryan White." Lacy supplied, crossing her legs.

"Some deal they had to make a movie together and David tried to circumvent their plans. Instead of making the movie for Griffen Studios…."

"That must be my movie with Koda Kannon." Lacy interjected.

"Well, David planned to sweeten the deal with this other studio in hopes of them carrying the spin off of your show starring…"

"I know Hayston Rawlings. A pregnant, by my husband, Hayston Rawlings."

Oh, I think I see her fangs now.

Reading the expression on Gage’s face, Lacy corrected her. "I’m not upset that he got her pregnant, or that they’re together, not in the least. Here he tried to browbeat me bringing up our relationship in order to get his way and he has a few dirty little details lurking around him of his own." Lacy said as she let her fuming ramblings spill out unchecked.

Astonished, Gage forced the next words out. "You think what we have is… dirty?"

Stunned by the insensitivity of her words, Lacy rushed to Gage, kneeling at her feet. "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way. It’s not the way I feel at all." Sorrowful blue eyes gazed into hurt green ones. "I didn’t mean to compare his relationship to ours. I don’t know what I was thinking." Lacy’s pleading blue eyes begged Gage for absolution. "It was insensitive, but, what I said was not… unforgivable?"

In that moment, Lacy proffered an opportunity for Gage to rise above her own hurt feelings. I would forgive you anything. Stunned by this prevailing and very true thought that resonated deep in her soul, Gage vocalized her resolve. "I would forgive you anything."

Lacy leaned forward capturing exonerating lips sending all the love she felt for this woman who so easily traipsed past her tactless remarks offering nothing but love.

 

Chapter Twenty-One

Lacy chased Gage into the bedroom, throwing both her arms around Gage’s neck as their lips met passionately. The force of the embrace sent them onto the bed, wrapped in each other’s arms.

"I’ve got you now." Lacy husked.

Gage smiled. You had me the first moment I saw you.

Smothering each other with kisses, lips moved in harmony savoring the sweet taste being offered. Melting in the intensity of their kisses fueled the jolts of pleasure that shot through Lacy’s body, now on fire. With a light feathery brush of the star’s lips, the writer’s demanding tongue asked and received entrance to explore at will.

Lacy tugged at Gage’s unwelcome shirt, invading fingers deftly manipulating the buttons, opening the offending shirt for her own exploration. The star’s hands caressed the supple skin below it memorizing this new territory in which she was staking claim. The writer’s breast ached in pleasure allowing a deep sigh to escape her lips as Lacy’s fingers slid over the firm yet soft mound.

Temporarily unnerved by Lacy’s roaming hands, Gage continued her own assault on the willing women above her letting her hungry lips migrate down Lacy’s sexy neck, leaving a trail of soft, tantalizing and, oh, so provocative kisses.

Yanking the star’s top then pulling it over her head, Gage’s eyes immediately zeroed in on the beautiful breast dangling above her. As Gage took possession of a mouthful of the delicious nipple before her, the star moaned at the contact, distracting her own journey further. Suckling the breast caused Lacy to push forward while pulling the writer even closer. Gage’s lips took advantage of this contact twirling her tongue around the firm nipple, sucking, kissing….. worshiping it.

Running her hands through the writer’s short blonde hair, Lacy gasped when Gage nipped ever so lightly planting slow, teasing kisses as she moved to give the other neglected breast the same attention. The pleasing tongue snaked out and playfully flicked the corral colored nipple. Her tongue continued to trace a lazy path over Lacy’s beautiful breast, reveling in the riot of sensations permeating both lovers.

The writer flipped the star over catching Lacy’s piercing blue eyes for a brief moment. With a sultry, predatory smile, Gage nibbled her way over the star’s soft, flat stomach pausing to languidly circle Lacy’s navel with her tongue.

The writer’s eager hands traveled along the curve of the star’s hips down her leg, pushing her jeans down as her fingers grazed over the supple skin. Lacy felt a liquid rush of fire between her legs as Gage’s fingertips danced up her inner thigh. Having rid the stunning woman of her clothes, the writer engaged in a full frontal attack. The blonde glided up the star’s tingling body, returning her hungry lips to take possession of Lacy’s mouth.

Breathlessly, Lacy pulled back to catch her breath. "I love you."

As Lacy reached up to claim the mouth she relished kissing, Gage stopped her, meeting a disappointed frown. "Lacy, you remember when you asked me what you were wearing the day I first met you?"

"Yes." Lacy reached again to take possession of those enticing lips a mere breath away. Frustrating the star one more time, Gage continued. "There’s something I didn’t tell you."

This statement got Lacy’s full attention. "What?" Almost afraid to ask.

"I remember having this notion crash over me, filling the depth of my soul." Sincere green eyes pinned blue.

Lacy arched a perfect sculptured eyebrow in question.

Simply stated, Gage revealed. "There stands before me the woman I love." Between soft, tantalizing kisses, Gage declared in a whisper over and over again. "I love you, Lacy, so very much."

Losing herself in the love and passion she felt, captivating every sensation, Gage luxuriated in the feelings that ran rampant through her being. Capturing the inviting lips of the dark haired woman again, roaming hands had their way bringing Lacy on the verge of unimaginable heights.

"I’m gonna love you till you scream out my name in passion." Gage declared, capturing her lover’s lips again, tongues dueling in a heated exchange.

Breaking from an intense kiss, heaving, Lacy countered. "And you’re so sure I’ll do that, huh?"

With a wicked grin, Gage’s tone held a promise. "Well, you will if I do it right." With that coaxing hands slithered across Lacy’s body while pleasing lips did their part driving the woman in her arms into a sensual vortex to a never before reached precipice, making good on that the pledge.

The last conscious thought prevailing in the star’s mind left no doubt that the promise offered had been delivered. Oh, you did it right, sweetheart, so very right. A satisfied smile framed the star’s beautiful face all night long, wrapped tightly in the possessive arms of her lover.

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

Morning found Lacy draped over the writer, happy and content. Lazing against the warm body next to her, Lacy climbed over Gage, settling her lower body between the writer’s legs.

Soft lips brushed against still sleeping ones. Gage smiled at the intoxicating contact. "Hmmmm. Do I get to wake up like this every morning?" Sleepy eyes opened, gazing at the gorgeous woman who took up residence on top of her.

Serious blue eyes stared into suddenly concerned green. "You are going to marry me." It was more of a command than a question.

Completely taken aback by the insistent request, Gage allowed only a millisecond to recover before responding. "Anytime, anywhere, anyway."

"Good." Lacy sealed the vow with a kiss before either one had time to think about the near impossible quest.

Both refused to allow uncertain invading thoughts such as: She’s not even divorced yet. Is there a place where two women can actually get married or will we just have a commitment ceremony? What will my parents think? How will her kids react? What about my career? What about her career?

"Lacy?" Gage gathered the woman on top of her closer; planting a soft kiss on her head allowing only one disrupting thought to intervene. "Are you sure?"

The dark head popped up. "Sure about what? Us?"

"No, not exactly. Me." Gage swallowed. "You deserve the very best."

"I have the very best." Dipping her head, capturing Gage’s lips in a passionate, reassuring kiss.

When the soft wet lips she craved pulled back slightly, Gage vowed. "Whatever happens, I will always love you no matter what. And, I’ll be there…through your divorce, custody of the kids. Everything. I promise."

Laying her head on Gage’s chest, Lacy closed her eyes and whispered. "I know." And I know things won’t be easy. Lacy rose up staring into lover’s eyes intently. I will always love you, too, no matter what…..I promise.

Her blue eyes told Gage what she didn’t say out loud. "I know." Gently laying Lacy’s head back to her chest, Gage sucked in a deep breath knowing their lives had been irrevocably changed the moment they met that day on the beach. Destiny had rode up and carted them away, forever entangling their lives and the soul they shared.

 

Chapter Twenty-Two

After dragging herself out of bed, Lacy made an early morning call to David’s partner, Ryan White, asking him to confirm the information Mark Calico supplied Gage the previous day.

When Lacy noted a raised eyebrow from Gage, she explained. "It’s not that I don’t believe Mark. I need to be sure of the facts before I go accusing David of anything. I can’t take chances where my kids are concerned."

Cocking her head sideways and displaying a lopsided smile, Gage took her lover into a warm embrace. "Then we won’t."

"I want to hang around here in case he calls back today." Lacy said, returning the hug fiercely. "Thank you."

Totally lost in the moment, sharing tender kisses, they didn’t notice a mischievous three-year-old sneak up on them until he tugged at his mother’s leg. "Momma." Derek reached up. "Want hug, too."

Lacy dipped down, retrieving her son, sandwiching him between the two lovers. "That better?"

"Unn hunnn." Wiggling between them, securing his place amongst two of the three most important people in his young life, Derek giggled when he saw the perplexing look his sister wore as he peeked over his mother’s shoulder. "Dani." He pointed then quickly hid his head, burying it between his mother and Gage.

With her back to her daughter, Lacy chilled to the bone, allowed every imaginable thought run through her mind of what Dani must be thinking. Lacy slowly turned around to face an expected accusation, meeting an annoyed expression instead.

"Derek!" Dani cocked her hands on her hips. She pointed back at her brother. "That is my whistle." She sauntered up to her mother and Gage. Reaching up she reclaimed it. "Thanks for trying to get it from him." Dani walked off ignorant of the shared lover’s embrace. "We going swimming today?"

The breath she held escaped slowing, relieving the mounting tension Lacy had felt rise. "No. I’m expecting a call."

As if on cue the telephone rang, Lacy bolted for it. "Hello." A pregnant pause. "Oh, hi, mom." She sat down on the edge of the couch. "No, I was expecting someone else. What’s up?"

"You still coming to visit us after you’re vacation?" Lynn asked avoiding what was really on her mind.

Lacy threw a quick look to Gage before she answered. "Yes. Yes, we will."

Hesitant, Lynn continued. "I take it that David won’t be coming along."

Silence reigned between them as Lacy processed the implication of her mother’s words. "David called you, didn’t he?" Connecting with concerned green eyes, Lacy gave Gage the only cue she needed. Gage gathered the kids up, herding them out the door on their way to the boathouse.

"Yes."

This simple reply left no doubt about what her mother was thinking. "What did he tell you? No, I have a fair idea." Summoning her courage, This isn’t the way I wanted my parents to find out. Lacy said. "He told you about the divorce, I take it."

"To be honest, honey, I’m more concerned about….." Lynn started to say.

"You don’t sound surprised about the divorce." Delaying the inevitable discussion between mother and daughter regarding Gage.

"Not really. I’ve seen it coming for a long time." Lynn decided not to beat around the bush. "What I didn’t see coming was David’s claim…." She emphasized that last word, not really believing it. "That you were cheating on him."

"What!" Lacy was livid, jumping off the couch only to pace around the room. "He cheated on me."

"With your co-star?" Lynn asked.

"Did you see that too?" The question held a biting sarcastic edge.

"Lacy Francine. I am still your mother." Lynn admonished her actor daughter.

"I’m sorry. My emotions have been on a roller coaster ride this last week." Lacy admitted.

"I’m sure they have. Now, tell me about this friend of yours." Her voice offered no judgment.

"Her name is Gage. She’s a writer and she saved both of your grandchildren’s lives." Lacy offered hopefully in a symbolic gesture to put Gage’s best foot forward before she realized the impact her words had.

Drawing in a deep breath, Lynn asked quietly. "They’re okay?"

"Yes. Absolutely perfect. Really."

"Then we’ll put that aside for now, but I will want every detail nothing left out. Understand? Now tell me about Gage."

Mother and daughter talked for the next hour. Lacy relating the highs and lows their vacation served up only leaving out the most intimate details of her relationship with the writer. Although her astute mother ploughed through Lacy’s evasive explanation, zeroing in on the concealed information her daughter refused to supply.

"Lacy, I just want you to know you can tell me anything. I am your mother and I love you. Your father and I both do…. no matter what."

No matter what? I’m gonna hold you to that mom. "I know and I love you too." Lacy suggested a compromise. "How bout we talk when we come to visit?"

"Will I meet Gage?" Like a bulldog reluctant to let go of the bone, Lynn held firm.

"Yes." With that the conversation ended.

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

Early afternoon brought the call Lacy was expecting. "Ryan, thank you." She hung up the telephone. All her suspicions confirmed. Walking outside, she met up with the happy trio fishing from the dock. Lacy took a seat next to Gage.

"Mom, look." Dani shoved the cooler full of fish at her mother. "Guess what’s for dinner."

Unexpectedly, Lacy pulled her daughter into a hug, squeezing her tightly, which practically knocked the cooler from the young girl’s hands.

"Hey." Dani complained.

"Sorry." She watched Dani move back to her original fishing position on the edge of the dock.

Covertly, the expert fishermen watched her mother’s sad expression turn even gloomier. I bet it’s because of dad. Why does he have to work all the time? And I won’t even think about the broken promises. Determined to bring a smile back to her mother’s face, Dani vowed to be the very best daughter she could. Suddenly, she rose, walked over to her mother and kissed her. "I love you."

Welcoming the unexpected gesture, Lacy kissed her daughter’s cheek. "What’s this all about?"

Having watched Dani, Derek wanted in on the action. He almost missed the early morning hug between his mother and Gage and would not be left out of this either. Derek carelessly tossed his fishing pole in the water, climbing up on his mother’s lap; he gave her a sloppy wet kiss.

Astonished by her brother actions, Dani yelled out, pointing to the murky water below. "The pole. Get the pole!"

If Gage would have taken the time to think, she would have realized ‘it’s just a fishing pole and we can get others’ but, no, spurred on by Dani’s hysterical screaming, Gage dove in.

A short while later Gage surfaced to find three concerned faces looming over the dock’s edge. Holding up the pole, the writer lifted herself up out of the water. Soaked, she sat on the dock, handing the discarded pole to Dani.

Taking it, she perused it carefully. "Oh, this is his old one. It was kinda broke." Giving it back to Gage, Dani casually said over her shoulder. "Thanks anyway."

A frustrated glance found its way from daughter to mother then to a happy three year old who decided Gage needed a kiss, too. The fact that it was a sloppy wet one just like the one he gave his mother didn’t have as much impact on the writer as trickles of water fell from her hair, sliding down her face. "You’re welcome."

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

A warm shower later along with dry clothes altered Gage’s mood considerable. As the kids watched some videos Lacy had brought with them, the star recounted to Gage her earlier conversation with Ryan White.

"It’s all true. Ryan was a bit shocked that David went behind his back. My next movie is with Griffen Studios."

"And that Casanova chap Koda Kannon." I won’t be jealous. I won’t be jealous.

Lacy covered the writer’s hand, squeezing it. As the kids were enthralled in the Derek’s favorite cartoon, Lacy took the opportunity to steal a quick kiss from her lover. "Griffen is financing it. And David and Ryan are….were the producers. Ryan was also scheduled to direct it."

"And now?"

"I don’t know what’s going to happen now. Anyway, when David killed off my character he secretly planned with Griffen to do a TV movie of the show then do a spin off. They didn’t want to just let it go since it was such a big success. Griffen tied me into doing a movie to make up for quitting. Now, as Mark found out and Ryan confirms, David went to MegaCom behind everyone’s back in an effort to get more control of the show’s spin off, sweetening the deal with the movie Koda and I are scheduled to do."

"How can he wheel and deal like that? Who holds the rights to the show anyway?" The business end of show business was foreign to Gage.

"David was setting it up. Then MegaCom would have initiated the deal with Griffen, buying out the rights to the show and David would have pulled out from Griffen Studios on my next movie tossing it to MegaCom. You see, Hayston hadn’t signed on for the spin off yet. With David controlling her, he potentially had Griffen over the barrel."

"And Ryan was left out of the loop?"

"Ryan would never have gone along with it." Lacy stated with absolute assuredness. "He’s very loyal. Where it leaves the two of them now, David and Ryan, who knows? I suspect Ryan will insist David holds to their original deal with Griffen about the movie and sort out the rest later. Though, hopefully, David will take a back seat in making it."

"Ryan sounds like a great guy." Gage said.

"He is. As a matter of fact, he found out from David that Sally called him about us……kissing. Ned, Ralph or Buddy must have saw us and told Sally."

"Jage….. it’s Jage." Derek yelled, pointing to the TV screen.

Rushing into the living room, Lacy and Gage watched Derek bounce on the floor, happily pointing to the cartoon character that looked amazingly like Gage.

"That’s it." Dani jumped up. "That’s why he threw himself at you. Yes." Dani jacked her arm in victory.

"Dani, what do you mean?" Lacy inquired of her overexcited daughter.

"You see, I couldn’t figure out why Derek liked her so much." Shifting a quick glimpse to the writer. "Sorry."

Waving a dismissive hand. "No problem."

Dani continued. "Derek thinks he’s Devlin. There." The eight year old pointed to the cartoon’s main character.

"Debin. Debin, Debin." Derek chanted.

When the character that looked like Gage reappeared, Dani explained further. "This character, Gentry, is Devlin’s hero. Kinda a protector."

"Genty. Jage." Derek said, pushing up from his seat on the floor then grabbing Gage’s hand, pulling her closer to the TV set.

Rubbing her chin in deep thought, Dani remembered. "There was a show once where Devlin had to jump off this cliff and Gentry caught him. That’s it. That’s why he jumped to her. Case closed." She concluded.

The mystery finally solved, the four sat down on the floor as Derek climbed on the lap of his favorite hero content to watch Gage’s hero counterpart on TV.

 

Chapter Twenty-Three

Backed into a corner, David Levine called his wife of ten years in order to make a deal that wouldn’t leave him out in the cold. After his partner, Ryan White and boss, Ron Griffen was through with him, David was ready to concede to just about anything. Though he swore he wouldn’t come off as a total weakling in front of his wife or Hayston, for that matter.

"So, it’s this way, Lacy. We both get custody of the kids." David insisted.

"I get full custody, David. There is no debate about this. Griffen knows I’ll back out of the movie deal and where would that leave you." Lacy used this leverage granted her by the head of Griffen Studios. Ron Griffen felt bad about pressing Lacy into making the movie exploiting her already guilty feelings about quitting. He led her to believe he’d lose tons of revenue. Although, Griffen and David had already hatched a plan for a spin off so they wouldn’t be hurting for anything. And, Griffen wanted to get at David for going behind his back with MegaCom. The movie mogul didn’t want to lose the talented thirty five year old producer; he just wanted to make David squirm.

And squirm he did. "Fine. But I get to see them when I want."

"I don’t intend to keep them away from you, David. I want what’s best for our children."

Lightening his harsh tone, David charmingly suggested. "I don’t guess there’s any chance we could get back together."

Nauseated, Lacy countered. "Why don’t you ask Hayston? She may have something to say about it."

"She has nothing to say about it." David smirked, but it swiftly turned into a weak and dismal grin that reached his pale gray eyes when Hayston walked up behind him, having heard the last part of their conversation, effectively ending his discussion with Lacy.

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

"What’s a matter?" Gage asked, grabbing hold of Lacy, steadying her as she stood over the toilet.

"Nothing." The star’s pale features told another story. "Just a little sick to my stomach."

Settling Lacy down on their bed, Gage felt the star’s head to see if she had a fever, brushing the stars dark bangs aside. "No wonder with everything you’ve gone through in the last few days. I’ll be right back."

"Where are you going?" Said weakly.

"To get you some crackers….I wonder if we have some seven-up." Gage said more to herself as she left the room.

Lacy slid down on the bed, turning on her side.

Returning quickly, Gage pulled the dark haired woman up. "Here." She handed Lacy the crackers and offered her a sip of the uncola. "How long have you felt like this?"

Taking only a couple of sips and nibbling on a cracker, Lacy laid back down. "It hurts." She grabbed her stomach. "It’s probably just cramps."

"Okay." Gage bolted out of the room, returning in a flash. "Here are some pain killers….take two." She gave them to Lacy who obediently did, washing them down with the soda. "I think there’s a heating pad somewhere." Gage entered the adjoining bathroom, rifling through the closet. "I got it."

She plugged it up, handing it carefully to Lacy, securing it in place. Then curled up behind the star, covering them then wrapped comforting arms around the woman she loved. Nestling even closer, Gage whispered. "I love you." Then brushed healing lips softly against Lacy’s smiling mouth.

Dani followed the worried writer after she had made two frantic trips to the kitchen and back to the bedroom. From the doorway, the engaging scene played out before the young girl’s blue eyes. Dani saw the love and tenderness Gage showed her mother.

Dani backed away from the door leaving the two women alone. Plopping down on the couch, she heard Derek laugh at his favorite cartoon character. Pondering the scene she’d just witnessed, Dani collected from her memory all the evidence she had accumulated over the last couple of weeks regarding the subtle yet intimate interactions between her mother and Gage, leading the almost nine year old to one conclusion. This revelation reminded her of her earlier vow to be the very best daughter she could be for her mother. It made her smile, but also left many questions unanswered.

That evening Dani readied her brother for bed then made a side trip to the master bedroom announcing that they were going to sleep and hoped her mother felt better. Dani didn’t raise an eyebrow upon seeing her mother positioned against the writer snugly, which did not go unnoticed by either of them.

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

The next day Lacy was feeling better. Though Dani diligently watched her recovering mother so she went along with plans to go to town and restock up on their supplies for the remaining two weeks of vacation without complaint.

That evening the foursome discussed plans for the rest of their vacation when Dani asked. "When’s daddy coming back?"

Breathing deeply, Lacy decided it was time to have that talk with her daughter. "Dani, come here." The thirty-year-old mother requested her daughter.

Dani sat down beside her mother on the couch when Gage picked up the young boy. "Why don’t I give you a bath, young man?" Gage offered, knowing green eyes sent a silent message to Lacy allowing her to have some privacy with her daughter. Tucked under the writer’s arm, Gage slipped quietly down the hall with the squealing child.

Shifting her daughter closer, Lacy began the long, laborious journey of explaining to an eight year old that her parents are separating. "Dani, you know, I love you? Both you and Derek."

Shaking her head adamantly, Dani agreed.

"And that will never change no matter what." She assured the young girl. "Though sometimes in adult relationships, people grow apart and that love…. changes."

The astute eight-year-old knew where this road was heading. "You and daddy."

Not surprised that her intelligent daughter surmised this conclusion, Lacy continued. "Yes. So your daddy… we’re filing for divorce. But, like I said, that doesn’t mean we don’t love you both. Or that we will ever stop…..a parent’s love for their child is forever. I love you, Dani."

"I love you, too, mom." The usually expressive blue eyes turned dark.

Pulling the dark haired girl closer, Lacy prayed whatever happened in the future she would do right by her kids. The children of divorced parents had a way of coming under fire between the battling ex-spouses and she vowed this would not happen to them. She also recognized that children sometimes withdrew, holding in their feelings and Lacy engineered a spontaneous plan to not let that happen. "As long as we talk about everything, things will be alright. I promise you. Can we promise to each other to do that…. about anything?" Then quickly added. "Do you have any questions?"

With dark blue eyes, Dani captured ones that matched her own and asked seriously. "Mom, can I still love daddy?"

Gathering her daughter in her arms. "Of course, you can." Kissing her daughter’s dark head, Lacy hugged her tightly. "You can love whomever you want. That doesn’t change and no one will ever make you choose between us. Okay?"

Relieved, Dani shook her head and made a definitive decision. "I think I’ll go to bed. If Derek’s through with his bath, I’ll read to him. He loves that. Do you want me to tell him about you and daddy?"

"How bout later, he’s still a little young." Stopping her daughter’s exit. "You know, Derek has the best big sister ever."

This shoved a bright smile up on her face. "He does, doesn’t he?"

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

"Oh, no, you don’t." Lacy scrambled under Gage, trying to get away. Straddling the star, Gage held her captive tightly as she leaned over her. "I’ve got you now."

"I could get away if I wanted to." Lacy assured her captor.

Gage’s smile widened. "Really?" Lacy wiggled again to no avail.

Reaching up, Lacy took possession of the writer’s waiting lips. The intoxicating sensations from the star’s magnetic lips sent a dizzying Gage beyond conscious awareness. The blonde loosened her hold, falling into the seductive haze the dark haired women wove around her. With each kiss delivered, soft and tantalizing leaving a trail of burning fire everywhere the star’s mouth touched. Gage moaned in appreciation.

Delving deeper into the mind-boggling kiss, Lacy tossed the writer on to her back as she claimed herself conqueror. The younger woman slowly drew back causing Gage’s beckoning lips to follow until Lacy left one last languid kiss between them.

Clambering off the writer, Lacy said in victory. "I told you I could get away."

Lacy was soon being chased by her eager lover. "Not for long." Gage in hot pursuit of her target jumped around a small chair, catching the leg’s edge, hitting the floor hard. Within seconds she was back on her feet, stalking her prey.

Lacy, cornered between the bed and the bathroom door, waited precisely for the moment Gage lunged at her then jumped on the bed trying to get away.

But not soon enough before the writer snared one of the Lacy’s long legs at the ankle, dropping her on the bed. Hastily climbing back on top the laughing star, Gage reclaimed her position. "Now you’re mine."

The words spoken silenced the pinned dark haired woman. Looking deeply into her lover’s eyes, Lacy concurred. "Yes, I am."

Lips met in an all-consuming passionate kiss, but ended too soon when Gage gently pushed her woman back down. "Stay there." As Gage knelt over Lacy she slowly, sensually removed every article of clothing on the woman below her. Hands pushed up the sides of her white t-shirt and over her head, flipping it behind her. Scooting down the writer released the snap at the top of her jeans then pulled the zipper down.

Lacy cocked an eyebrow.

Adroit fingers slipped under the edge of the jeans waistband, grasping the panties below. "Oh, these have got to go." In one quick smooth motion, Gage freed the younger woman from the confines of her pants. Laying back down on Lacy, the writer kissed her lover soundly. "Now that I have you where I want you."

"You mean completely naked."

Taking the opportunity to languidly let desire-filled green eyes linger down the sexy body of the star, Gage returned her hungry eyes to lust-filled blue ones.

Firing her hands into action, Lacy tugged and pulled at Gage’s clothes before they were stymied from any further pursuit.

"Not yet." Gage admonished.

Lacy’s persistent hand tried again and failed being clasped securely by her lover.

"Stay." Gage commanded allowing her voice to soften when she continued. "Please?"

Perfectly content to do as she was asked, Lacy basked in the surrounding warmth of love she felt from the blonde hovering over her.

Gage reached up, hesitating briefly to ensure that Lacy remained still then removed the gold mariner-linked necklace from around her neck. In silent question, Gage asked and received permission, placing the necklace around the lovely neck of her lover. "I wanted you to have something of mine."

Touching the necklace, Lacy smiled, placing her hand over Gage’s heart. "I already do." Then touching the gold necklace. "But I love this. Thank you."

Ducking her head to retrieve a quick kiss, Gage whispered. "You know if you wear this people will know….that you really do belong to me." A lopsided smile crossed her face. "Well, at least Mark."

Offering thankful lips to her lover, Lacy assured her. "I want everyone to know it." In a show of her commitment to Gage, Lacy shed the diamond wedding ring from her finger, placing it on the night table. Returning devoted eyes to her lover briefly before she heard.

"Momma." Derek called from the doorway.

Startled, Gage slid to the side protecting the naked mother from the view of her child.

Lacy popped her head up over her shield. "Honey, what is it?"

"I got to pee." Holding himself as he nervously pranced about.

Gage flipped the sheet up over Lacy before she hustled off the bed. Grabbing the young child’s hand, Gage led him down the hallway to the bathroom only allowing a quick glance back at her very naked lover wrapped haphazardly in the white cover.

After a few moments, Gage returned to find Lacy fully clothed again. "Oh, no, you don’t." Stealthily, Gage inched forward, waggling her eyebrows.

"That’s the second time you’ve said that to me tonight." Lacy posed seductively, waiting for her lover on the huge bed. "I didn’t know if you’d be coming back alone."

"I never want to come alone." Green eyes flashed over the wicked grin she proudly wore then Gage lunged for the bed. "He’s all tucked in." Nuzzling Lacy’s neck, the writer murmured. "Shall we continue?" Teeth gently nipped at the soft skin on Lacy’s throat.

"Do we dare?" Lacy yelped as Gage did an excellent impression of Count Dracula.

Scaling back on top of Lacy, she unintentionally tickled the star. Lacy squealed out in boisterous laughter. The blonde slide her hands along the same t-shirt she removed earlier intent on doing it again until two happy kids rushed into the room making a beeline for the bed.

"A tickle fight." Dani yelled before she jumped on the bed.

Derek pulled at the covers. "Me too. Me too." He complained before Gage pulled him up to join the spontaneous festivities.

The four wrestled on the big bed laughing, wiggling and engaging in what would become a regular family event. As Gage skillfully found Lacy’s bare ribs, she tickled her mercilessly. Dani and Derek enlisted in on the assault against their mother.

Recalling the tickle fest Lacy told Gage about the morning of their big boat ride, it reminded the writer when she asked Lacy if she was ticklish and the star replied. Only a lucky few get to know that. Gage grinned, delighting in a thought of her own. I guess I did get that lucky.

"I give. I give." Lacy surrendered to the trio.

Gage and Dani relented, falling to either side of Lacy. Derek refused to budge from his place on top of his mother. Gazing on the star’s perfect profile, Gage could see Dani on the other side of her mother intently staring at the gold necklace around the dark haired woman’s neck.

A sideways glance from Gage told Lacy something was wrong and that’s when she felt the scrutiny of her daughter’s stare send a shiver through her. Turning to face the young girl Lacy gritted for an explosive reaction.

Shifting her blue eyes from the necklace to her mother, Dani watched Derek reach up and tug at the necklace. "Jage." He pulled, wanting to return it to his hero.

Dani observed the apprehension on her mother’s face. So, in a show of conviction to be the very best daughter ever, Dani leaned in close and whispered. "I saw her kiss you, mom. When you were sick." A pause. "I think she loves you." Dani concluded without a hint of consternation. The young girl, who was on the verge of being a very mature nine year old, reached forward gathering all of them together, stretching her arms beyond their normal reach.

 

Epilogue: Four weeks later.

Settled in temporarily at Gage’s home, Lacy and the kids were preparing for their return to Hollywood the next week for the start of the star’s movie.

Lounging back on the bed, Gage waited for her lover to finish tucking in the kids. With her hands propped up behind her blonde head, Gage wiggled her eyebrows seductively when Lacy entered.

Lacy bypassed her eagerly waiting lover heading to the dresser then sorted through one of the drawers. She shoved it back then rifled through another one. That search didn’t yield what she was looking for so she pushed around the clothes Gage haphazardly slung over a chair.

"Lost something?" Gage inquired.

"No." Dropping several pieces of clothes after each inspection. Frustrated, Lacy’s shoulders drooped. "It’s more like something I missed."

"Can I help you find it?" Keenly eager to get on with the nightly activities, Gage started to rise.

"No. You’re not going to find it." Lacy offered vaguely, still sorting through some clothes. Then yanked a red nightgown from the behind the chair where Gage had flung it last night. Lacy quickly shed her clothes and slipped on the scantily clad nightgown, which barely reached the top of her thighs, showcasing her long, sexy legs.

"And you expect that to stay on for long?" Playfully teasing Lacy. When Lacy turned to her lover, Gage easily recognized distressed blue eyes capture her completely. "What’s wrong?"

"Nothing I hope." Lacy unintentionally walked seductively to the bed, lifting her knee up on the side next to Gage, sitting down.

Gage splayed her hand over Lacy’s soft thigh, rubbing it tenderly, allowing her lover all the time she needed.

"I’m not really missing anything." Lacy sighed. "I’m pregnant."

Not missing a beat, opening her arms wide, Gage beckoned. "Come here."

Finding comfort in Gage’s arms, a shudder followed the tears Lacy shed.

"I thought you wanted more kids." Gage reminded the younger woman.

Moving back, Lacy intently stared into green searching for any hint of displeasure with the news. "I did. I do. But… what…. how do you feel about it?"

Shrugging, Gage let a slip of jealousy shine through. "I didn’t like it one bit, but he was…is, at least for a few more months, your husband. I figured you… you know, the night he arrived at the cabin."

"I mean about the baby." Lacy corrected her.

As if drawn like a compass needle to the North Pole Gage’s hand made its way to Lacy’s firm, flat stomach, resting there. "I love you and Dani and Derek and I already love… your baby."

Falling on Gage’s chest, Lacy let forth a stream of tears. "I love you. You know that?"

"I know that."

Deploying her amorous body into action, Lacy maneuvered for a better position. "And now I’m gonna love you." With those words, Lacy seized the writer’s lips, moaning at the contact. Lacy’s tongue brushed against her lover’s mouth slipping past warm lips before her tongue swirled into the inviting cavern.

The younger woman’s hand kept busy, roaming over every inch of the body she’d come so familiar with in the last five weeks. Having taken a reluctant vacation from their nightly lovemaking during the week they visited Lacy’s parents, the lovers resumed their bedtime ritual with diligent resolve.

"Get this off." Lacy jerked the jersey off then hurriedly moved to free her lover of her cotton shorts. The dark haired woman settled between Gage’s legs, grinding her hips seductively causing her lover to groan in delight.

Gage met stroke for stroke, intending on taking control of the situation. Staking claim to her lover’s lips, Gage sent Lacy spiraling, out of control. Falling into the vortex of the powerful sensations from the kiss, Lacy lost all conscious thought of anything, but the sweet, seductive contact she savored on her own lips only feeling the licking, sucking wet touch that sent shivers through her oversensitive body. Gage’s unrelenting hands were doing their part in distracting the star as they glazed over the soft curve of Lacy’s breast.

Summoning every resource she could muster, Lacy broke the kiss. Determined, Lacy vowed. "I will have my way with you."

Intent fully on the target below her, Lacy’s hands found their way down the writer’s side, savoring the soft yet solid curve of Gage’s hips as she left a path of quick kisses down the blonde’s neck along her collarbone finally taking root over a waiting breast.

Sucking the breast into her hungry mouth, Lacy couldn’t help, but grin when Gage pushed up against her allowing a loud moan to escape. Gage wrapped her arms tightly around her lover, willing her to stay forever.

On the verge of meeting heaven on earth, Lacy husked. "I love you, Gage." Lacy’s hand slithered along the top of her lover’s thigh cresting briefly at the top of the blonde’s nexus before venturing to the nether region. Coaxing, teasing fingers delivered to its bounty a crescendo of pleasure, washing over the woman below her. Sending her lover over the edge having taken her to the place where their souls met again, reuniting for the journey that led to forever.

Slowly coming back from the precipice, with a heavy shudder, tears spilled forth unchecked from rapturous green eyes. The love that Gage desperately longed for came as a crashing wave, filling her completely breaking the emotional dam she’d kept in check all her life.

"Sweetheart, what’s wrong?" Lacy anxiously asked.

A tremble vibrated through her desire-spent body. "I just…. love you so very much."

As Gage wept, Lacy lured her lover closer, claiming those luscious lips again. "I love you."

After a soul melding kiss, Lacy draped her body over her lover. Between her husbands and all the leading men she had kissed, Lacy luxuriated in the fact that Gage was the best kisser that ever crossed her lips. Wrapped in Gage’s loving arms, Lacy smiled in contentment. "This is where I want to spend the rest of my life."

The End

Thank you for taking the time to read this story. Feedback is greatly appreciated at xxgsb@hotmail.com

The next story entitled A WOMAN LIKE YOU continues on with the lives of Lacy and Gage as the actress begins her movie with Koda Kannon.

The WOMAN I LOVE series is expected to have six installments where Lacy and Gage’s lives span over ten years. I hope you come along for the ride. Thanks again, GSB


Return to Main Page