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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
by Helen Smith, (firstname.lastname@example.org)September, 2000
The light behind the seat belt sign died as the Ilyushin-McDonnell-Douglas 1201B finally leveled off. Quinn unfastened her belt with a sigh, and looked out the window. The late afternoon sun, glinting golden on the city below, seemed to swing around the plane as the big jet pivoted on one wing to head east, and home. Quinn stretched her legs out in front of her and thanked the powers that be, in this case, Edward, that they were in the first class section. She didn't think she could take the cramped quarters of economy. Goddess, she was glad this trip was almost over! Three weeks of rushing from one city to another, living out of suitcases and garment bags and eating restaurant meals, unfamiliar territory all around and a nutcase who had decided that Ariel should be silenced. If all went well, in a little over two hours they'd be landing. In four at most, they'd be home. Quinn could visualize the big bathtub that she intended to soak in until she turned into a prune. Of course, she rather hoped she'd have company while she did it.
Thinking of Ariel again brought to mind the state of their current problem. A frown crossed the security consultant's face as she thought about what they knew about the person--man, presumably--threatening Ariel. Nada. Bupkiss. Zip. Zilch. Absofuckinglutely nothing, period. That just about summarized the situation. The new note had been no more useful than the first one. No fingerprints inside. Nothing distinctive about the paper or the envelope or even the marking pen he'd used to print the threat in block letters. The only thing odd was, why had he photocopied the review from a newspaper. After all, this time the review was recent--he could have just bought a paper, couldn't he, for Goddess' sake?
At least there'd been no more threats since that last one. Of course, that seemed to be his pattern--threaten, then back off. Other than the drive-by there'd been no incident where physical harm to Ariel was even a possibility. So, did that mean he was just getting his nerve up, or what? When she and Kris had discussed the lab findings on the latest note, Kris had suggested that maybe Hank's theory was right: whoever the perp was, he had to work for a living so he had only limited opportunities to try to attack her. In other words, her schedule and his just hadn't coincided enough so that he felt he could make a stab at it. Quinn winced. Great! Now you're making puns about this.
"You're doing it again," a quiet voice murmured.
Quinn turned her head to look at her companion. "Yeah?"
"And here I believed all the books that said you could do Kegels without anyone being the wiser."
Ariel backhanded the taller woman across her stomach. "Wiseass!"
"One of my more loveable qualities," said Quinn as she caught the writer's hand and lifted it to her lips.
"In your mind, maybe." Ariel placed her other hand over Quinn's, which still held hers, and looked into the dark-haired woman's eyes. "It'll be alright, Quinn. Some way or another, it will be alright."
"Isn't that my line?"
"So, I can't use it now and then?"
Quinn gazed into her lover's eyes. Despite getting herself psyched up for the book signing on the day she'd gotten the latest threat, and rising to the occasion numerous times since, Ariel had once again become quiet, always an indication that she was feeling down. Phone calls from both Edward and Scott had buoyed her spirits somewhat but she still had a way to go to get back to the Ariel of old. Quinn grinned slowly and brushed the writer's lips with her own. "I guess you can."
"Good." Ariel sat back, but still kept her hand on Quinn's. She sat quietly for a moment, then turned again to the taller woman and said, "Now that that's settled, do you think Vanessa and Kelly have joined the mile high club, yet?"
"Mile... Oh! Well, I don't know. They've been pretty discrete, if they have. Are you sure they're even..." Quinn's voice trailed off as she raised an eyebrow.
"Do you mean to tell me that you don't think they're..." Ariel raised an eyebrow in return.
"Well, I haven't seen any excessive touching, heard any terms of endearment or seen any public displays of affection."
"Well, My Sweet, you've got to start using those beautiful blue eyes more skillfully then, because I've observed all of the above."
"Give me examples."
"Little things. A friendly touch on a shoulder that turns into a hand lingering longer than necessary, looks I've seen pass between them--I'm positive that Kelly even blew her a kiss the other day when she thought no one was looking. I repeat, little things."
Quinn snorted. "Microscopic things, you mean. When I say PDA I mean a big ol' wet kiss or a hand on an ass."
"Um. Subtlety thy name is Quinn," teased Ariel.
"If memory serves me correctly you are not exactly the queen of subtle yourself."
"Just because I sometimes eschew" Ariel grinned to underline the ten dollar word, "the subtle approach, doesn't mean I'm not the soul of subtlety at other times."
"That must explain it then."
"The very unsubtle way you approached me."
Ariel smiled and leaned closer. "I choose my approach to fit the person. Sometimes feather-like subtlety is all it takes. Other times, a jackhammer."
"And I needed a jackhammer?"
"Actually, I don't think you would have noticed a jackhammer. You were more in the steam roller class.
Quinn grinned. "So you rolled over all opposition."
"Well, somebody had to since you hadn't a clue."
"I was just maintaining a professional attitude."
"Is that what they're calling it these days."
Quinn grinned and leaned in to kiss the shorter woman. Ariel might be a creature of habit in some ways, but the security consultant had learned that she could also be quite unpredictable. Quinn remembered being taken by surprise after the book launch for Midnight Madness had concluded.
It didn't take much to know that Ariel was angry. Quinn had seen the writer glaring at her all through the launch. Afterward, even though the woman had mobilized Kris and Vanessa to drag the security consultant to the closest hospital emergency department, the tender loving care she half expected from the writer, given her personality, didn't materialize. Right now, seeing her in the illumination cast by the streetlights they passed, she looked like she wanted nothing to do with Quinn at all.
The security consultant put it down to her ordering Vanessa to pick Ariel up and take her into the launch, even though the writer had expressed a desire to go to the hospital with Quinn. Well, that was too bad, but the show had to go on, or at least it couldn't stop just because the hired help was inconvenienced. And after all, they'd gotten the guy, hadn't they? All in all, she felt pretty good. If this wacko could be proven to be the guy who had sent the crazy threat, then chalk up another job completed satisfactorily. Of course, that would mean she'd have no further excuse to spend time with Ariel, but, well, Quinn chewed her lip. Ok, yes, there was a down side to this, too. A very big down side.
She couldn't deny that at their first meeting she had felt a powerful physical attraction to the writer. But she soon learned that Ariel was far more than just a beautiful woman. In a very short time Quinn had to admit to herself that she was as attracted to the person Ariel was, as she had originally been to the body that Ariel inhabited.Well, said a little voice, that was too bad, wasn't it, since you don't mix pleasure with business. Shut up! She told the voice. But it went blithely on, adding, then you're shit out of luck, Honey. Oh, will you SHUT UP! She stormed internally.
"Did you say something?"
"What? Oh, uh, no." Quinn was very afraid she'd had some of that last conversation out loud.Great. Now she'll think you're loony tunes too, smirked the voice.Way to go. Of course, what does it matter? In a day or so you'll never see her again. Quinn gritted her teeth, hard, and tried to think of something else, but the images were all of Ariel, laughing, smiling, looking serious while she discussed the significant stuff beneath the surface of her work, concentrating as she watched political commentary on the info feed, or wiping away a tear as she listened to more horrors from the evening news.
Quinn was saved further reverie by the Mark 5 turning onto Ariel's street. It slowed and pulled into a parking spot just a couple of doors down from the writer's house. Quinn went into her automatic security routine, pausing only to look for Kris's car, which should have pulled in almost immediately after them. As they climbed the steps and punched in the code, she concluded that the other operative must have been held up by traffic.
Once inside, Ariel excused herself to go change. Quinn returned to the front door and checked the monitor. No Kris. Hmm. After the third check she pulled out her phone to give the other operative a call. It would be a pain if she'd had a breakdown.
"Put it away." Ariel had returned, dressed in jeans and a tight T-shirt that was short enough for Quinn to catch glimpses of the writer's taut belly.
"What?" Great, said her voice, nice view . SHUT UP ALREADY!
"The phone. Put it away."
"I was just going to call Kris..."
"I know. You don't need to. She isn't coming."
"She called? Why didn't she call me?"
"She didn't call. I told her she wasn't needed tonight."
Before Quinn could get out more than an indignant "Wha..?" Ariel's arms were around her neck and Ariel's lips were occupying Quinn's, totally.
The taller woman tore her mouth away. "Ariel! Stop this. I can't."
"No? You seemed to be carrying out your end of that last exchange remarkably well."
"I'm working," gasped Quinn as she unsuccessfully tried to disengage herself.
"Yeah, so am I, to get you to chill out," Ariel grinned, "or heat up, as the case may be."
"Look, I have a rule..."
"Oh, I know all about it. Don't mess with the client. Kris told me. Well, that's good because otherwise Edward might die of a heart attack, although I'd bet he'd die happy. Mind you, Sarah, his wife, wouldn't be. Happy that is."
"The point is..."
"No Quinn, the point is I'm NOT the client. Even if I were, I would say the HELL with your rules, I like you a lot and I'm pretty sure you like me. I want to pursue this, see where it goes. I am NOT willing to say, well bad guy's caught, so 'bye, 'bye."
Ariel's face was only inches away. Quinn could clearly see the shifting emotions--exasperation, affection, uncertainty and arousal--in her eyes. The dark haired woman took a breath to argue, but what came out was "Ok."
Ariel's face lit up and Quinn found herself in a serious liplock a nanosecond later. At its conclusion, the writer slid her arms from around the taller woman's neck and slipped them around her waist, forgetting the knife wound the security consultant had suffered earlier. Quinn winced, and inhaled sharply.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" said Ariel, as she dropped her arms to rest on the taller woman's hips.
"S'ok. I'd forgotten about it."
"Ohh! Beautiful and tough too. Too bad. I was going to offer to kiss it and make it better."
"Yeah? Well the tough thing is just an act. I need all the help I can get. So if you want to kiss it..."
Ariel pulled Quinn's head down for one more lingering kiss before taking her hand and leading her to the stairs. "I'm sure I'll get there, eventually," she smiled.
And she had, thought Quinn. She just took the scenic route.
The taxi pulled to a stop under the street light. Quinn had sent Vanessa home, or presumably home since she'd last seen her with Kelly, from the airport, her duty done. From that point forward, additional security would be handled by Kris, whom Quinn had phoned to alert that they would arrive home soon. A second call just moments before had let Kris know they were almost there. The vehicle had scarcely stopped when the brown-haired woman appeared to guard Ariel while Quinn quickly unloaded the bags and took them into the house.
Inside, Kris and Michelle's things were piled ready to go. Michelle, a striking woman of Eurasian background, was just inside the door, holding one of the kittens. She and Ariel exchanged quick kisses while the kitten, Grise, squirmed to be put down.
"Wow! Have they grown!" exclaimed Ariel.
"Yes indeed, and are even more mischievous. I found this one rooting around in my bag the other day, looking for things he could play with." The kitten in question had finally managed to convince Michelle that he would be happier on the floor, and was currently sniffing the newly returned luggage. "But even so, I'm going to miss them," she said.
"Oh, I know what you mean. I missed them while we were gone. Well then, you'll just have to come back soon for dinner and a swim," smiled Ariel, much to the other woman's delight.
"Honey, I think we'd better get going," said Kris from the door, as she grabbed an armful of bags, "so these two can get settled."
"I agree," responded her lover. "Just let me get my bag and my jacket."
While Michelle collected her things, Kris and Quinn took the luggage out to the waiting taxi. When Kris and Michelle had moved in for the duration of the book launch trip, Quinn and Kris had decided that it was safer for them to use taxis in case the perp couldn't tell, or didn't care, that there was a difference among them.
"Glad you're back." said Kris as she lifted suitcases into the car's trunk. "I assume we go back to guarding Ariel in shifts like before?"
"Yeah, I think that's best," responded Quinn while she kept an eye on the street.
"Ok. You want me here tomorrow or will you take a day off?"
"I think we'll take a rest. You too, for that matter. John can handle the regular stuff for one more day. I'll call him to let him know. I'll give him a long weekend in exchange."
"Ok. Thanks. I could use a breather. By the way, a media reporter has been trying to get hold of Ariel today. It seems that there's renewed interest in the museum incident. From what the woman said, it sounds as if they're going on an anonymous phone call."
"Yeah? Who could have talked?"
"Who knows. Maybe your perp is just trying to stir things up," responded Kris, as she shut the trunk.
"Maybe. Ok, thanks for the warning. I'll let Ariel know so she can screen her calls."
"Are we ready?" asked Michelle, who had just joined them.
"Yup. Hop in," responded Kris.
Quinn bent over to speak to the two of them after Kris joined her lover in the vehicle. "Thanks, guys. It took a load off both our minds to know the place and the cats were well looked after while we were gone. We owe you."
"Just invite us over to use the pool once in a while and to visit the kittens and that will be sufficient," said Michelle.
"Shit, I was going to hit her up for a raise while she was all mellow and all," complained Kris. Then to Quinn she added "Yuh got off easy!"
Quinn grinned, tapped the roof of the car and retreated to the step as the taxi pulled out into the street and disappeared from sight around the corner.
When she returned inside she discovered that Ariel had already carried half the luggage to the bedroom. Grabbing the rest she climbed the stairs to the second floor. The sound of a tub being filled greeted her as she reached the master bedroom suite. Ariel entered the bedroom almost immediately from the adjoining bathroom.
"Oh, hi. I want a long, long soak in a bathtub big enough for two. Care to join me?"
Quinn dropped the luggage where she stood. Time enough to sort it out tomorrow. "I've been dreaming about that for the last four hours," she said, as she slipped her arms around Ariel's waist.
Ariel smiled. "Well then, welcome to dreamland," she said, as she started unbuttoning Quinn's shirt.
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