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Copyright: Although the main characters in the following do bear a strong resemblance to a cute couple with whom we are all familiar, all the characters in this work of fiction are the product of my own imagination and are therefore copyright to me.

For the rest of the disclaimers, please see the first chapter

Hunting Season

by Helen Smith, ( September, 2000

Chapter 3

At 8:00 am Quinn left the house and crossed the street. After carefully checking the car for tampering she waved over Ariel, who had remained in the entranceway, waiting. Quinn saw the shorter woman in safely before walking swiftly around to get in the other side. Ariel, lost in thought in one corner of the Mark 5's functional interior, was disinclined to talk, so the ride downtown was quiet. Quinn considered trying to distract her, but after discretely observing for a few minutes decided to leave things as they were. Instead she checked her messages and began to plan her day. Twenty minutes later found them entering the financial district where Edward McQuarry's publishing firm was located. Ariel roused herself from her reverie and gave Quinn a small smile.

"Sorry I'm such rotten company."

"No problem. You can't be a sparkling conversationalist all the time."

"Hmm. Considering it wasn't my conversational abilities that attracted you in the first place, I guess that's ok then," Ariel said as she squeezed Quinn's hand.

"True, but I soon developed an appreciation of your oral skills."

Ariel grinned, squeezed Quinn's hand again but declined to continue the banter, asking instead, "So how's your day shaping up?"

"Looks as if I'll be pretty busy, actually. A grateful client has recommended me to a couple of friends of his, both of whom want me to check over their business premises for security lapses. That should take a few hours. I've got a couple of residential homes to check on, make sure all the changes I recommended have been done right, so all in all it's looking to be a long day."

"Any idea when I'll see you this evening?"

"I don't know. I'll give you a call about mid-afternoon to let you know where I'm at, OK?"

"Ok." Ariel brushed her lips over Quinn's, then pulled back. "Oh, looks as if we're almost there." The car glided slowly down the street while it searched for a place to stop safely. Quinn let it do its thing and turned again to Ariel.

"So what about you? What do you have planned?"

"Well, the meeting with Edward should take about an hour and a half, then I might as well see how Jan's doing with the stuff I've sent her recently. Then I thought I'd go shopping for stuff to wear on the upcoming book tour," she poked her tall companion who was making a face at the word 'shopping,' "Sorry you can't come with me."

"I'd come with you anytime but I draw the line at shopping," Quinn smirked.

" Anyway," Ariel resumed, "I thought I'd check back with Jan to see if I could take her to lunch, and after lunch I'll go home and try to get some writing done."

"Hmm, sounds as if your day is equally full. Oh, ok, here we are." The car drew to a halt, double parked. Quinn checked outside before jumping out and jogging around to Ariel's side, checked the vicinity again, then opened the door for Ariel to exit and escorted her to the curb.

"Ok. Be careful, give the old buzzard my love, and remember that if you play footsie with Jan at lunch, I Will Know!"

"Always. Yes indeed. After you gave her "the Look" she's too scared to step out of line."

"Good, good and excellent." Quinn quickly kissed her companion, glared at a man watching them with disgust, then ushered Ariel through the doors of the building.

Back in the Mark 5 she gave it the address of her first call then settled back to get some paperwork done as the car picked up speed.

While Ariel waited for the elevator she thought back a year before to her first meeting with Quinn, in the very office toward which she was heading. She had received a death threat, by itself nothing new, but this one seemed to be from someone a bit more organized, and therefore a bit more scary than the usual.

"Edward, I'll be careful. I don't need a nursemaid."

"My dear, I'd rather be safe than sorry. You mean a lot to me," replied the snowy-haired man.

"But how am I supposed to work with some big oaf of a bodyguard hanging around?" exclaimed Ariel.

"I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. And I've been assured by all I've spoken with that she is excellent at her job."

"Humph. Quinn Thanatos. What kind of made up name is that?" sniffed Ariel as she fingered a business card on Edward's desk.

"I have no idea, my dear but with your winning ways I'm sure you'll soon find out," twinkled the man.

Startled, Ariel looked at him. "I am being a bitch, aren't I." She heaved a sigh. "Alright, I'll try this but if I don't like her or she gets in my way she's gone, ok?"

"We'll talk about it if and when, my dear. Right now, Ms. Thanatos is in the outer office and I 'd like to bring her in to introduce you."

Ariel ran her hand through her hair in exasperation. "Alright Edward. Bring her on."

The elderly man picked up the phone. "Julia, please ask Ms. Thanatos to step in now."

Within seconds the door behind Ariel opened and Edward moved past her to greet the new arrival.

"Ms. Thanatos, a pleasure. Sorry to keep you waiting. I'd like you to meet Ariel Pedersen, whom you'll be looking after for the next few days until we can clear up this unpleasantness."

Ariel turned. Whatever she had intended to say, fled.Yowza! shrieked a very loud voice, and for a second she thought she'd said it aloud. The woman who'd entered the office was Wow! offered her voice, unhelpfully. Six feet tall if she was an inch, with long dark hair, aristocratic features and riveting blue eyes. Judging by what Ariel could see of her body under a black leather coat, blue silk shirt, black jeans and boots, the woman also worked out.Um umm! Drool alert! Shut Up! she told herself mentally, then wondered again if she'd spoken out loud.

"Hi." Say something else you idiot! "Uh, just call me Ariel." Oh, that'll impress her.

"Ariel." The woman's handshake was brief but strong. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Please call me Quinn."

Oh Goddess! Ariel had hoped at least the voice would be, just, well, ordinary, so she could regain some of her equilibrium. I could listen to that the rest of my life, she thought, then abruptly realized Edward was saying something.

"so Ariel, don't you think that would be a good idea?" Edward beamed.

"Uh, oh, uh, sure. Yes indeed."

"Alright then. It's settled. Quinn or her deputy will be at your side day and night until the police catch this person. I'm sure that will happen any day now." Edward had turned to the door and was opening it.

Ariel hurriedly interjected "Uh, excuse me a moment, uh, Quinn. There's just one other thing I must check with Edward. I won't be a moment. You go ahead."

The dark-haired woman glanced from one to the other. "I'm right out here," she said. "Please leave the door open," she added.

Ariel dragged Edward to the far side of the office away from the door. She was aware of Quinn's eyes on them as she swung him around so she made sure she was between him and the door when she started to talk. The Valkyrie can probably read lips, she thought. "Are you crazy?" she hissed. "You think I can work with that around?"

"I thought you might enjoy her company" murmured Edward.

Ariel glared. She was not always sure when Edward was joking.

"Relax, my dear, if you aren't able to work, well, no harm done." The old man's face became serious. "I want you safe, my dear. Please. Do this for me." He squeezed her shoulders.

Ariel, stared at him a moment longer. "Alright." She thought of a half dozen other things to say but in the end simply repeated "Alright."

And it had been alright. In fact many orders of magnitude better than alright!

"Ariel! Good morning. He's all ready for you," Julia, Edward McQuarry's secretary of thirty years, welcomed her as she stepped off the elevator.

Ariel greeted Julia in turn and allowed herself to be shepherded through the inner office door. As it closed behind her, she saw Edward's smiling face.

"Ariel, my dear. So nice to see you!" He hugged her quickly and then stood back, keeping his hands on her shoulders. "How are you. And how is Tall Dark and Sexy?"

Ariel grinned. "I'm fine and so is Quinn. She asked me to give you her love."

"Did she! Did she now. She's wonderful, you know. I'm so happy for you." He guided her to the couch. "Please, sit. Sarah and I were just saying we hadn't seen you two in a while and how much we'd like you to come over for dinner some night. Would that be alright? Can Sarah give you a call to see what night would suit?"

"That would be wonderful, Edward. Thank you." Ariel thoroughly liked Edward and Sarah, his wife, and she was delighted that Quinn seemed to enjoy their company every bit as much as she did.

"Good! Well then, the most important thing on the agenda for today has been settled. Now for the other items ..."

Quinn pinched the bridge of her nose and then looked out the window. The Mark 5 was cruising at 70 mph down the Expressway toward an outlying industrial suburb. Quinn estimated she still had a few minutes before she reached her destination but decided to put away her paperwork and just kick back for the remaining travel time. With nothing to focus on, her mind wandered. The trip down to Edward McQuarry's publishing firm that morning made her recall her first meeting with Ariel.

She'd arrived on time but had to wait. Putting the delay to good use, she'd occupied herself looking at copies of some of the books the firm had published. McQuarry's was a small company but well thought of. She'd had other clients in the book trade and she'd heard nothing but good things about the company and its head.

Quinn picked up a copy of Ariel Pedersen's Midnight Madness and leafed through it. She'd read the author's first book and enjoyed it very much but hadn't yet had a chance to check this one out. Actually, looking at the black and white photo of the author on the dust jacket, she decided she wouldn't at all mind checking her out too. Blonde, she thought. Wonder if it's real. Too bad I can't see the colour of her eyes--that would help.

The information provided on the cover about the woman was almost non-existent: "Ariel Pedersen lives and works in a 150-year old brownstone in the Northeast." Hmm, she thought. Keeps to herself. Probably a mouse. All day, every day, tappety tap on the 'ol keyboard. Bed at 9:00pm after a glass of warm milk. Well, she'll probably be easy to guard, then.

"Ms. Thanatos? Mr. McQuarry will see you now." The secretary showed her through the publisher's office door, shutting it behind her. Quinn shook hands with the publisher then turned to meet the woman she'd been hired to guard. Her first thought was that black and white photos would never do this woman justice. The green eyes, although they looked a little distracted at that moment, were the focal point of her face. Quinn looked closely to see if they were helped out by green contacts but could detect none. Honey blonde hair, cut short and kinda wind-blown, cute nose, nice mouth, looked kissable too. Hold it right there! This is a client. We keep our hands off the clients, don't we, Quinn. The dark-haired woman made a quick and, she hoped, discrete survey of the rest of the body she was hired to protect, and decided that she wished she'd never made that rule.Then again, a little voice whispered in her mind,the client is actually the publishing company ... Stop that! This is business!

"and Ariel is like my own daughter. I wanted to ensure she had the best protection possible. I've told her you've been highly recommended. So Ariel, my dear," he turned to the shorter woman "Put your trust in Ms. Thanatos and do as she directs you." Edward McQuarry was saying.

Oh yeah! There's definitely some direction I'd love to give you "Either I or a member of my team will be with her 24 hours a day."

The publisher addressed some final words to the writer and then began guiding them out of his office, certain that everything had been taken care of, when the shorter woman suddenly requested that Quinn wait outside while she just attended to one last detail. Quinn looked at both, and agreed to the request, but since she was now on duty she asked that they leave the door open. The blonde hustled the old man to the far side of the office, turned her back, and engaged in a short but animated conversation. Quinn hoped she'd be able to lip read at least part of what transpired but since the two were of similar height, she was unable to see the publisher's lips. Then she saw the blond nodding and McQuarry give her a quick hug. Seconds later she and the woman were in the elevator on the way to the street.

Quinn checked outside again. Almost there, but not quite. She settled back once more and let her mind pick up where it had left off.

The author was adamant. She wanted to go shopping. She didn't get downtown that often so when she did, she wanted to make it worth her while, and no hopped up religious wingnut threatening her life was going to stop her. Quinn resisted at first but realized it was like trying to hold back the tide. So they went shopping.

Quinn stood guard patiently, surveying the other shoppers, while Ariel selected clothes to try on. In the changing area the security consultant stood outside the small cubicle while Ariel tried on a variety of outfits, occasionally stepping out to get Quinn's opinion. From Quinn's viewpoint it was tiring and boring, although, since it did give her a chance to spend some time legitimately checking out her charge, the boredom was mitigated. She'd definitely come to the conclusion that the woman followed some kind of athletic program. Those legs were shapely. And when the honey blonde tried on a sleeveless top she could see nicely defined deltoids and biceps. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The crunch came after more than an hour of this routine.

"Hey, swim suits. I need a new one. Actually, maybe I should get a couple," the smaller woman said.

Quinn looked at the suits. Bikinis. Oh Goddess. Her imagination was already in first gear. It didn't need anything to goose the gas pedal.

"Uh, I believe we should be moving along ..."

"I won't be a minute, I promise. C'mon."

Quinn gloomily followed her charge back to the changing area.

"So what do you think?"

Quinn abandoned her faithful watchdog routine with a sense of doom, and looked at Ariel. The smaller woman was dressed, if one could use that word for scraps of cloth that probably didn't amount to more than nine square inches, all told, in a maroon bikini with a bronze diagonal slash.

"So? How does it look??" Ariel asked, a little impatiently.

Spectacular! Fabulous! Phenomenal! I could bounce quarters off those abs! "Uh, fine."

"How about from the back?"

Oh, Goddess! I think I'm having a heart attack! I know where else I could bounce quarters! "Uh, very nice."

"Hmm, well. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but I guess it will have to do. I'll just try the aquamarine one on now."

They'd finally left the store sometime later, with Quinn feeling as if she'd been run over by a truck.

Quinn chuckled to herself. And that was her introduction to the most wonderful woman in the world.

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